Ottawa Stories - Momentous Events in the City's Life

In the life of any city or community, there are some events that have a great impact on the people living there. In this section of Ottawa Stories, we've brought together a number of topics that illustrate this theme.

Vexing Vexillology

15 February 1965


Of all domestic issues that the Canadian government had to deal with during the first century following Confederation, the most vexing and enduring was our national flag, or, rather, our lack of one. Canadians couldn’t make up their minds how to be represented. Everybody could agree that the maple leaf was an important Canadian symbol, but that was the end of the consensus. The country was torn, not just down linguistic lines, but also between Canadian nationalists, who wanted something uniquely Canadian, Canadian imperialists, who wished to retain imperial symbols on the flag, and those who wanted a little from column A and a little from column B, to denote “a strong united Canada in a strong united Empire.” It was going to be hard to reconcile these sentiments.

Of course, views evolved and shifted over time. During the early, uncertain years immediately after Confederation, support for the British connection was very strong, politically and emotionally. With the United States casting an avaricious eye northwards, you can appreciate this sentiment. Even Quebecers were content to live under the British flag, in a land that provided a constitutional guarantee for their religious and linguistic rights. The flag most commonly, but unofficially, flown at that time was the British Red Ensign with the provincial shields of the four founding provinces on the fly. As additional provinces joined Confederation, their arms were added.

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While a Red Ensign with a Canadian coat of arms on the fly was approved by the British Admiralty for use by Canadian-registered ships in 1902, at home things seemed to go backwards. The federal government began flying the Union Flag, or Jack, over Parliament Hill after the Boer War reflecting the prevailing strong imperial feelings. But nationalist sentiment surged during World War I. Although Canadian soldiers fought under the Union Flag, they were identified by a maple leaf emblem on their uniforms. With Canada coming of age on the battlefield, and amidst growing national confidence, there was heightened interest in developing a distinctive Canadian flag. In 1922, the government of Mackenzie King replaced the provincial crests on the Red Ensign with the arms of Canada. Two years later, this new Canadian Red Ensign was authorized for use abroad to help identify Canadian foreign legations. However, the Union Flag continued to fly at home.

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The first flag debate started innocuously. In 1925, the Department of National Defence, noting that the Canadian Red Ensign was used on Canadian-registered ships and at overseas legations, asked for something distinctive to fly at home. King set up a committee of civil servants to come up with something. When news leaked to the press, a firestorm of opposition was ignited, especially in loyalist Ontario. Demands were made for a parliamentary resolution to confirm the Union Flag as the only official Canadian flag. Heading a minority government, King wilted under the pressure. Disbanding the flag committee, he said that there would be no change in flag unless sanctioned by Parliament.

graphicThe Statute of Westminster which effectively gave Canada its independence in 1931 spurred renewed efforts to design a national flag. World War II provided an additional fillip as Canadian servicemen abroad strongly favoured fighting under distinctive Canadian symbols. When Prime Minister King met Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in Quebec City in 1943 to plan the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Canadian Red Ensign flew proudly between Britain’s Union Flag and the American Stars and Stripes over La Citadelle. The following year, the Canadian Red Ensign was authorized for use by the Canadian Army on land. It temporarily replaced the Union Flag on the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill on Victory-in-Europe Day (8 May 1945), and became a permanent fixture there following an order-in-council on 5 September 1945.

Late in 1945, King tried again to come up with a new national flag. A committee examined roughly 2,700 designs submitted by the general public, the majority of which featured some sort of maple leaf motif. But the committee, like its 1920s’ predecessor, struggled to find a compromise between nationalists and imperialists. A vocal minority demanded the Union Flag to be retained. The committee finally agreed to a modest change—the Red Ensign adorned with a gold maple leaf instead of the Canadian arms on the fly. Although it received King’s approval, it didn’t go over well among nationalists both inside and outside Quebec who wanted to eliminate all foreign symbols. With the country still divided, the flag issue returned to the back burner and left to simmer for another twenty years.

The great flag debate of 1963-64 pitted Lester B. Pearson against John G. Diefenbaker. Pearson, at the head of a minority Liberal government, promised that Canada would have a new flag in time for its 1967 centennial. His point man on the flag issue was John Matheson, the Liberal MP for Leeds. Drawing on earlier maple-leaf proposals, and using the red and white colours of Canada proclaimed by King George V in 1921, he suggested a design of three red maple leaves on a white field. Matheson’s simple but striking proposal was subsequently modified by designer Allan Beddoe who added two vertical blue bars on either side to represent the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. A delighted Pearson presented this design to Parliament in June 1964.

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As in the past, the country was riven over the flag question. Diefenbaker, the old Conservative who cherished the imperial connection, fought tooth and nail against what he derisively called the “Pearson pennant.” Canadian veterans, who favoured retaining the Canadian Red Ensign, booed and hissed at Pearson when the prime minister came to address the Winnipeg Legion in May 1964. But a majority of Canadian were ready for change. A special 15-member committee, chaired by Herman Batten, was given the herculean task of finding a new flag. After gruelling discussions and the consideration of roughly 3,500 suggestions sent in by Canadians, three design archetypes made the finals: a flag containing the Union Flag or fleur-de-lys, a three-leaf flag represented by the Pearson pennant, and a one-leaf flag represented by the red and white maple leaf flag. The third design was inspired by the flag of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In March 1964, Col. George Stanley, the graphicDean of Arts at RMC, suggested to John Matheson that the RMC’s red and white flag might make a suitable national standard if the RMC crest were replaced with a red maple leaf. With a little tweaking of the design to enlarge the white central panel to better display the single, eleven-point red maple leaf of designer Jacques St. Cyr, our flag was conceived.

When the committee came to choose among the designs, Matheson outmanoeuvred the Conservatives. On a series of votes, the Canadian red ensign was eliminated, as was any new design containing the Union Flag or fleu-de-lys. That left in contention the Prime Minister’s three-leaf flag and Col. Stanley’s one-leaf flag. Expecting the Liberals to graphicsupport their leader’s cherished “pennant,” the Conservatives voted for the one-leaf flag. But Matheson, realizing that Pearson’s choice was a non-starter, had already solicited the other members’ support for the one-leaf design. When the secret ballots were tallied on 22 October 1964, Conservative members were horrified to discover that it was a unanimous committee decision for the red and white, single-leaf flag.

The kicking and screaming continued in the House of Commons for the next two months but this time the end was in sight. After closure was applied to limit debate, weary MPs voted 163-78 for the single-leaf design at 2:00am on 15 December 1964. Two days later the Senate passed the necessary legislation, and on 24 December Queen Elizabeth gave her approval. A Royal Proclamation, describing Canada’s new flag in appropriate heraldic terms, was released on 28 January 1965.

At noon, on 15 February 1965, in front of a crowd of 10,000 on Parliament Hill and in the presence of the Governor General, Georges Vanier, Prime Minister Pearson, and an unhappy Diefenbaker, RCMP constable Gaetan Secours lowered the old Canadian Red Ensign for the last time and raised Canada’s new national standard. As the Governor General’s flag was flying on top of the Peace Tower as protocol demanded, our new national flag was raised on a temporary flagstaff set up specially for the occasion. When it reached the top of the pole, a timely puff of wind unfurled our now much-beloved, red and white, Maple Leaf Flag for all to see. Canada’s official national flag was born.

Sources:

Archbold, Rick, 2014. A Flag for Canada.

Canada Heritage, 2014. Birth of the National Flag of Canada.

CBC, 2001. The Great Flag Debate.

Fraser, Alistair B., 1998. The Flags of Canada.

Le Citoyen, 1964. “Enfin! Un drapeau canadien,” 16 décembre.

The Globe and Mail, 1964. “Pearson Booed, Hissed Over Maple Leaf Flag,” 18 May.

——————–, 1965. “Pearson’s Address on the Maple Leaf Flag,” 16 February.

——————–, 1965, “PM Proclaims a New Era as Leaf Replaces Ensign,” 16 February.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1945. “Warm Debate In House On Contentious Canadian Flag Issue,” 9 November.

Le Salaberry, 1959. “Un drapeau canadien,” 22 janvier.

The Maple Leaf, 1945. “Canadian Flag,” 7 July 1945.

Yukon World, 1904. “The Canadian Flag,” 17 September.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Lights Out!

14 August 2003

It was a typical mid-August summer day in the nation’s capital—hot and muggy. Earlier that Thursday, the thermometer had topped 31 degrees Celsius. By mid-afternoon, the usual early rush hour of public servants was in full swing, with cars pouring out of the city, many heading north towards cottage country in the Gatineau hills to get some relief from the heat and humidity. But the evening was going to be anything but normal. Without warning at 4:11pm, street lights failed, air conditioners stopped, and computers went dark across Ottawa.

It took a while for the enormity of the situation to be fully appreciated. Electric power had failed across eight U.S. states and much of Ontario, reminiscent of the blackout that had plunged much of the U.S. North Eastern seaboard and Ontario into darkness in 1965. In the course of a few minutes, some one hundred electrical generating plants, including 22 nuclear power plants, shut down. More than 50 million people were left without power living in an area of roughly 24,000 square kilometres.

Less than two years following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, people’s first thoughts were of terrorism. While this possibility was quickly ruled out, politicians on both sides of the international border were quick to lay blame on others. Prime Minister Chrétien’s office suggested that a lightening strike at an upstate New York power station was responsible for the cascading failure across the international electrical grid. New York power authorities denied this, claiming that the problem originated outside of the United States, i.e. Canada. New York Governor Pataki also pointed the finger at Canada, while Canadian Defence Minister John McCallum blamed a failure at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plan. None were right.

The following year, the inelegantly named U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force concluded that the cascading failure originated in Ohio. High temperatures and a corresponding high demand for power had caused overloaded transmission wires to heat up and sag, touching unpruned trees. This in turn caused a generating plant in Eastlake, Ohio to shut down, putting an intolerable strain onto other transmission lines, which in turn tripped breakers shutting down power elsewhere as successive plants were overloaded. The outage could have been easily managed and the resulting blackout contained locally had there not been a computer software bug in the alarm system at FirstEnergy Corporation, the responsible Ohio-based power authority, that did not go off in time to warn system operators.

While the immediate cause of the blackout was high tension wires touching trees in Ohio, the Task Force highlighted a number of systemic failures which contributed to the power grid failure. Importantly, the Task Force identified shortcomings at FirstEnergy Corporation. These included a lack of understanding about the deteriorating conditions of its system, and a failure to maintain adequately its transmission right-of-ways. A number of minor violations of existing regulations were also noted. More generally, the Task Force concluded that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the not-for-profit agency tasked with overseeing North American power production, did not have the authority to develop or require compliance of strong reliability standards by member utilities. In the absence of such reliability standards, no financial penalty was levied on FirstEnergy for the power blackout.

Back in Ottawa, life carried on more or less as normal that evening. With street lights dead, all intersections became four-way stops. Rush-hour traffic moved, albeit slowly, with gridlock avoided in some cases by pedestrians who took over traffic control. Despite the muggy heat and fraying tempers, the commute home was described as “surprisingly civil” by a police official. Long delays in OC Transpo service led bus riders to hoof it; many receiving rides from passing private cars. With all flights at the MacDonald-Cartier International airport grounded, stranded passengers either dossed down at the terminal or found rooms in nearby hotels.

There were some also serious problems that night. There were apparently 22 cases of looting in the city, as well as an armed robbery at a Sparks Street jewellery store. There were also three fires, one of which claimed the life of a teenaged boy. Restaurants were also negatively affected by the loss of refrigeration; some gave away melting ice cream to passersby. On the upside, the blackout provided the perfect excuse for impromptu street parties. As well, the clear sky that night was a great opportunity to view the stars, undimmed by light pollution—as long as you looked south. The lights of Hull and Gatineau remained on as Quebec’s power grid was unaffected by the black-out. They provided a surreal backdrop to Mayor Bob Chiarelli’s televised address to the city in offices in front of Parliament Hill to explain why the city was in darkness.

By the next morning, the lights began to slowly come back on. The state of emergency announced the previous night by Ontario’s premier, Ernie Eaves, was eased. Within 24-48 hours, power had been largely restored. But the system remained unstable and unbalanced; you can’t restart power plants with a flip of a switch. Government offices and many businesses remained closed for up to week before the situation returned to normal. Besides holidays for unessential staff, the blackout provided a perfect test of backup systems that had been established following the September 2001 terrorist attacks. In total, it is estimated that the blackout cost Ontario 18.9 million in lost employment hours, with manufacturing shipments falling $2.3 billion.

Could it happen again? On the positive side, there have been major improvements to the reliability of the international grid since 2003. Significant investments have been made on both sides of the border which have made the grid more robust. As well, the NERC has established and now enforces reliability standards with electricity producers, and has the power to levy significant fines in the event of non-compliance. Grid operators also employ simulators to model a wide range of possible scenarios, and how to respond to various catastrophic situations. The development of smart grids and distributed power production by lots of small producers may have also reduced the risk of major blackouts. However, it is impossible to plan for all eventualities. Human error, computer viruses and terrorism remain risks. So, keep that flashlight handy.

Sources:

CBC News, 2013. “Ottawa reflects on decade after massive blackout,” 14 August.

——————, 2013. “Blackout ten years on: How smart grids help blackout-proof the power game,” 14 August 2013.

NERC, 2013. NERC Board Approves 2014 Budget, ESCC Charter and Adopts 3 Reliability Standards, 16 August 2013:.

The Ottawa Citizen, 2013. “In Blacked out Ottawa, life went on (almost) as usual,” 14 August.

The Toronto Star, 2013. “Blackout 2003: How Ontario went Dark,” 14 August.

U.S.-Canada Power System Power Outage Task Force, 2004. Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and Recommendations, April.

Wikipedia: Northeast Blackout of 2003.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Captains of the Clouds

16 July 1941

It was mid-summer 1941. Britain, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth had been at war with Nazi Germany for almost two years. Although the Royal Air Force had fought off the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the war news was grim. That June, German forces had launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. By mid-July, Russian forces, their officer corps decimated by Stalin’s purges, were in rapid retreat falling back towards Kiev and Moscow.

photoOn the other side of the globe, shooting of a very different sort got underway in Canada. A crew from Warner Brothers, the motion picture studio, arrived in Ottawa, their six-week mission to film Captains of the Clouds, the first ever Hollywood movie shot entirely in Canada. The movie was the story of brash, Canadian bush pilots joining the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) after hearing Churchill’s historic “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech following Dunkirk. Deemed too old for combat missions, they become instructors, but later are called upon to ferry bombers to Britain.

The BCATP was the largest-ever aircraft instructional programme, training Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen as well as men from other Commonwealth and foreign countries, including the United States. From when it commenced operations in early 1940 until it was wound down in late 1944, the Plan trained 131,553 pilots and crewmen, over half of whom (72,835) were Canadian. Costing $2.2 billion of which Canada paid $1.6 billion (equivalent to about $25 billion in today’s money), the Plan was Canada’s single-most important contribution to the Allied war effort. Recall also that Canada’s population at the time was only 12 million, a third of what it is currently.

The movie, which was directed by Michael Curtiz, starred James Cagney who was at the peak of his skills and at the height of his popularity. It was Cagney’s first movie to be filmed in Technicolor. Co-starring were Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale Senior, and George Tobias as his bush pilot pals, and Brenda Marshall as the love interest. The movie was filmed in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Air Marshal “Billy” Bishop played a cameo role as himself in a graduation, or “wings,” ceremony. Bishop was an ace Canadian pilot from the First World War, and a recipient of the Victory Cross. In 1941, he was the Director of the RCAF and in charge of recruitment. Hundreds of RCAF servicemen and women also appeared in the film as bit players and extras. Much of the movie was filmed at Uplands Airport (now the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport) in Ottawa, with the bush scenes filmed in the North Bay area at Trout Lake and Jumping Caribou Lake. Flying scenes were also filmed at air stations located in Trenton, Dartmouth, Jarvis and Mountain View.

Cagney arrived in Ottawa dressed in a white suit in the wee hours of the Sunday morning before the beginning of the shoot, scheduled for Wednesday, 16 July 1941 at Uplands Airport, site of the No. 2 Service Flying Training School. He arrived by train from his Martha’s Vineyard farm, and stayed in a suite on the second floor of the Château Laurier Hotel, accompanied by his brother William who was a producer on the movie. Initially reluctant to star in the movie, Carney apparently made his participation contingent on Warner Brothers hiring his brother. Despite the early hour of his arrival, there was a crowd of female fans and a large press contingent there to greet him in the lobby. The Ottawa Evening Citizen reported that Cagney was not the “tough guy of the screen” but rather a “mild spoken, quiet, mannerly, young fellow.”

The first scene filmed on the Wednesday morning was the “wings” ceremony starring Air Marshall Billy Bishop, along with Wing Commander, W.R. MacBrien, the chief instructor at Uplands, Group Captain W.A. Curtis, the airport’s commanding officer, and Flight Lieutenants Harry Wood and Paul Rodier. Behind the scenes, the Warner film technicians wore sky-blue overalls to identify themselves as the film crew so they wouldn’t be confused with possible “fifth columnists” and saboteurs. Although Bishop performed well—Cagney called him “a natural”— the shoot was a nightmare requiring many takes owing in part to bad weather, malfunctioning equipment and the need to coordinate the ground action with complex aerial manoeuvres. It was well worth the effort, however. The scene of the airmen receiving their wings set against the backdrop of bright yellow Harvard trainers and camouflaged bombers with the service flags of Canada, Britain and Australia flying overhead provided a stirring spectacle, especially when you remember that these weren’t actors but real, wartime servicemen who would shortly be thrown into combat.

Generally speaking, the film was difficult to make from other perspectives. The American movie crew was unused to filming in wartime conditions. America was still a neutral country when Captains was made, five months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ottawa was choc-a-block full of servicemen and women. Consequently, living space was at a premium. While Cagney and the other stars were put up at the Château Laurier, the rest of the crew slept in the barracks at the Uplands flight school, eating service food. They were also far from the amenities of Ottawa. Reportedly, the crew almost struck over unsatisfactory conditions. Working in the bush also proved challenging. Cagney, who did some of his own stunts, suffered a concussion that delayed filming for several days as he recovered. As well, Sol Polito, the cinematographer, who initially had trouble getting into Canada owing to his Italian birth, reportedly suffered a heart attack while the film was being made.

Cagney, the other stars, and the Warner Brothers’ crew stayed in Ottawa for ten days. For Ottawa residents, the filming provided a much needed morale boost and a distraction from wartime privations and worries. The Hollywood stars were mobbed in the streets and at their hotel. On one occasion, Alan Hale had to take refuge in a shop when spotted on Sparks Street by admirers. Dennis Morgan, described by a journalist as having “the shoulders of a football player, voice of an opera star, and the face of a matinee idol,” received hundreds of letters, many of the “mash” variety, from adoring female Ottawa fans. Small boys staked out the hotel in wait for their heroes. Four enterprising young teenagers, brothers Frankie and Buddy Russell and their two friends Jim McNally and Bob Vaive managed to evade security and knocked on Cagney’s hotel room door. Cagney cheerfully signed autographs for them.

The most serious occurrence took place on the Thursday night, the day after the initial shoot at Uplands Airport. Cagney and the other stars had agreed to perform for service people, wives and sweethearts at the Rockcliffe air station. When the news got out, more than a thousand fans stormed the Château Laurier to catch a glimpse of the stars as they left for their performance. Cagney was tackled by near hysterical girls who grabbed his arms, clutched at his clothing and ruffled his hair. Alan Hale and Dennis Morgan also had a difficult time getting through the crowds. It was only with the help of a security team of soldiers who held back the straining fans that filled the hotel’s rotunda that the celebrities were able to get to their automobile. The Citizen described the spectacle as resembling “a mob scene from one of the bigger Hollywood epics.” The stars were good natured about it, but arrived a half hour late for their performance.

For the servicemen, it was worth the wait. With Cagney acting as the impromptu master of ceremonies, the Warner Brothers’ gang put on a lively vaudeville show, complete with dancers and singers. Dennis Morgan sang “Annie Laurie,” accompanied by Miss Jean McGuire of Ottawa on the piano, followed by an encore of “A Little Bit of Heaven.” George Tobias and Alan Hale told jokes. Apparently, Hale had the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter. At the end of the evening, the stars acknowledged the Dominion’s war effort saying “For what you people are doing, we salute you.”

During their stay in Ottawa, the stars and members of the Warner Brothers technical crew also played two ball games with servicemen. The Hollywood stars lost the first softball game 8-6 at Rockcliffe air station. Claiming they knew nothing about softball, the Hollywood stars asked for a rematch hardball game. This second game was played at Landsdowne Park in front of 2,000 Ottawa fans; tickets were 25 cents each, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross, the RCAF Benevolent Fund and towards the construction of a sports field at No. 2 Flying School at Uplands. For the Hollywood visitors, James Cagney played catcher, Dennis Morgan played first base, and George Tobias pitched. Other members of the Warner Brothers technical and engineering team rounded out the team. Alan Hale was umpire. Hale said “I asked to be umpire because I am prejudiced. I want to see the air force win.” Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis threw the first pitch. The visitors won the five-inning game by a close 5-4 score. The winning pitcher was Dick Emmons, the Warner Brothers’ grip who relieved Tobias after the first inning. Douglas Heiman was the losing RCAF pitcher. Cagney played one inning, while Hale refereed for two. Dennis Morgan played the entire game.

After ten days of shooting, the Hollywood stars and the rest of the Warner team left Ottawa to go to their next film location at North Bay. Several hundred fans were at the Château to see their idols leave. As a birthday gift for Cagney, who turned 42 while in Ottawa, the “Upland boys” presented him with a silver identification tag engraved with his name and movie rank. It read “Flying Officer James Cagney, Captain of the Clouds, 1941.”

photoThe movie was released on 12 February 1942, with premieres in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, London, and Cairo. The Ottawa premiere was held in the Capitol Theatre located at the corner of Bank and Queen Streets. The cinema was filled to capacity. Among the official attendees was Lieutenant General Andrew McNaughton who commanded the Canadian Corps. Before the movie started, RCAF service men and a trumpet and drum band from Uplands paraded to the cinema. On the Capitol stage, the band of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police played a programme of patriotic, marching tunes. The Capitol’s management bought Victory bonds with the proceeds of the first week’s shows.

The same night, two hundred RCAF airmen attended the New York premiere at the Strand Theatre. The airmen were feted on their 36-hour stay in New York at the Waldorf hotel. For the showing of the film, each airman was escorted by a John Powers model. Also in attendance was Leighton McCarthy, the Canadian Minister to the United States.

While the aerial shots were applauded and the film garnered two Academy Award nominations, one for best colour cinematography, and the other for colour interior decoration, film critics gave the movie mixed reviews. The New York Times described the first half as a “routine, he-man fable,” but said the documentary-like, second half took on “some consequence.” The Times critic added that “he had the odd feeling throughout the second half of the film that a company of Hollywood actors, fugitive from a previous picture, had got loose amid the serious activities and flashing planes of the R.C.A.F.” Unsurprisingly, the movie was a big hit with Ottawa fans. The Citizen called it “breathtaking in its loveliness.” The paper gushed “There can be no doubt that “Captains of the Clouds” is without prejudice in any way, the finest aviation picture ever produced.”

Released only weeks after the United States’ entry into the war, Captains of the Clouds was a propaganda success for the RCAF. It also earned its place in cinematographic history as a forerunner of later combat movies. One modern critic called the film the Top Gun of its age. While IMDb gives Captains of the Clouds a middling 6.5 rating, it’s worth seeing if for no other reason than the spectacular aerial shots and the glimpses of Uplands Airport and downtown Ottawa as they were seventy-five years ago.

Sources:

Arnold, Jeremy, 2016. “Captains of the Clouds,” Turner Classic Films.

Evening Citizen (The), 1941. “Jimmy Cagney Arrives To Play Lead in Film,” 14 July.

————————-, 1941. Four Ottawa Boys ‘Blitz’ Jim Cagney For Autograph,” 15 July.

————————-, 1941. “Canadian Flying Ace Takes Speaking Role In Picture Filmed At Upland Airport,” 16 July.

————————-, 1941. “Movie Stars Will Entertain Airmen At Party Tonight,” 17 July.

————————-, 1941. “Soldiers Battle Crowd And Rescue Movie Stars, 18 July.

————————-, 1941. “Film Stars Due To Play Airmen,” 21 July.

————————-, 1941. “Fun Is Promised Tonight In Special Softball Game,” 23 July.

————————-, 1941. “Film Stars Turn Back Airmen In Benefit Softball Game,” 24 July.

————————-, 1942. “Captains of the Clouds Rated No. 1 Flying Film,” 13 February.

————————-, 1942. “Canadian Airmen Royally Feted on Manhattan Visit, 13 February.

Hatch, F.J., 1983. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945, Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Monograph Series No. 1.

IMDb, 2016. Captains of the Clouds.

New York, Times (The), 1942. “Captains of the Clouds, Heroic Film About The Royal Canadian Air Force and Starring James Cagney, Arrives At The Strand,” 13 February.

Taylor, Chris, 2016. “Inflight Movie: Captains of the Clouds (1942),” Taylor Empire Airways.

Youtube, 2011. Captain of the Clouds, trailer.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Marathon of Hope Reaches Ottawa


30 June 1980


In the pantheon of Canadian heroes stands a young, twenty-one year old man from British Columbia named Terry Fox. Fox, who had lost his right leg to cancer, inspired millions with his attempt in 1980 to run across Canada, from the Atlantic shore of Newfoundland to the Pacific coast of British Columbia, to raise funds for cancer research. Starting his journey in relative obscurity, Fox’s initial goal was to raise $1 million through his Marathon of Hope. But as the word began to spread about his journey, the entire country got behind him enabling him to increase his goal first to $10 million, and then to $24 million ($60 million in today’s money), or $1 for every Canadian.

With a distinctive hopping gait as he compensated for the limitations of his prosthetic limb, Fox ran close to a marathon every day. Weather, traffic, fatigue, blisters, equipment failure, and nagging thigh pain did not deter him. Only the return of his cancer which had metastasized to his lungs stopped him halfway from his goal, after he had run 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles) in 143 days from St John’s, Newfoundland to just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. Despite enduring further bouts of chemotherapy, Fox succumbed to the disease roughly nine months later. But his courage and self-sacrifice has had a lasting impact on people everywhere. School, roads, sports fields and even a mountain have been named after him to honour his memory. Each year, Terry Fox runs are held around the world to raise funds for cancer research. To date, more than $650 million has been raised worldwide by the Terry Fox Foundation. Thanks in part to these funds, considerable progress has been made in the war against cancer since Fox’s day. Indeed, osteosarcoma, the cancer which ultimately killed the young man, is now highly treatable, with a cure rate of 80 per cent. As well, most victims, typically young people, no longer face the pain and trauma of amputation.

Terry Fox’s story began in the fall of 1976 when he was in a traffic accident near his home town of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Fox seemingly hurt his right knee in the incident. But the pain persisted. In March 1977, X-rays and other tests confirmed the worst—cancer. In an effort to halt the spread of the disease, doctors amputated the leg six inches above the knee. Within weeks of the surgery, he was relearning to walk using a prosthetic limb. While undergoing follow-up chemotherapy, Fox, an avid athlete, joined the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association basketball team, and help the team win three national championships.

Inspired by a story of an amputee runner in the New York City Marathon, Fox decided to run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. Through 1979, he trained daily with weights to increase his upper-body strength. He also begun to run, just a half mile at the beginning. But by the fall he had built up his endurance sufficiently to run his first marathon in Prince George, British Columbia. Although he finished in last place, he crossed the finishing line to the cheers and applause of other contestants. Encouraged by his progress, he contacted the Canadian Cancer Society regarding his intentions for a cross-country run, and to get its support. Friends and family raised $3,000 though garage sales and dances to help fund his journey. Fox also approached corporations for financial assistance. Touched by his request, Ford Motors provided a van, Imperial Oil, the gasoline, Adidas, his running shoes, and Safeway, food coupons, redeemable in its stores.

On 12 April 1980, Fox dipped his artificial leg in the water of St. John’s harbour and commenced his Marathon of Hope. He hoped to reach the west coast by the following November. Accompanying him on his journey was his good friend Doug Alward who drove the van a short distance ahead of Fox, carrying supplies, including three spare legs and various parts. They were later joined by Fox’s younger brother Darryl. The early going was tough. Bad weather, including snow and heavy rain, hampered the run. Often, the boys were disappointed by poor receptions as they travelled through towns on their route, owing to a lack of publicity for the Marathon of Hope. While the run through the St Lawrence Valley of Quebec was beautiful, their inability to speak French hampered communication; they apparently went five days without showers. Traffic on the trans-Canada highway was another issue until the Quebec police gave them an escort. Happily, things markedly improved on their arrival in Montreal. There, they were greeted by Isadore Sharp, the CEO of the Four Seasons Hotel chain. Sharp, who had lost a son to cancer in 1978, took the young men under his wing, putting them up in his Montreal hotel. In addition to sponsoring the marathon, Sharp challenged other businesses to do likewise, an act which hugely raised their national profile.

Fox jogged into Ottawa on 30 June, 1980 to a hero’s welcome. At 11am, the young runner was received by Governor General Ed Schreyer at Rideau Hall. Still dressed in his sweaty, running clothes, the athlete, accompanied by his two t-shirted companions, drank orange juice, and lemonade out of champagne glasses in a grand reception room. He later spoke to a large crowd of supporters on the Sparks Street Mall who gave him a boisterous welcome. Jean Luc Pepin, the federal minister of transport, released a thousand helium balloons from the roof of Ottawa’s Four Seasons Hotel; each balloon advertised Fox’s Marathon of Hope. That night Fox dined with Ron Foxx, an outside linebacker for the Ottawa Rough Riders, as well as volunteers from the Ottawa branch of the Cancer Society.

The next day, Fox was honoured at the Canada Day football game between the Ottawa Rough Riders and their western arch-rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Despite some initial trepidation, he took the ceremonial opening kick-off, receiving a standing ovation from 16,705 Ottawa fans. Tony Gabriel, Ottawa’s star running back, gave Fox a football autographed by the whole team. Agreeing that he was “one tough kid,” Gabriel commented that there wasn’t a single player among them that could do what Fox was doing. Moved by his spirit, Gabriel hoped that Fox would achieve his dream, and was honoured to have had the opportunity to meet the courageous runner. Fox was later introduced to Prime Minister Trudeau, though the meeting was a bit awkward as the prime minister had not been properly briefed.

Following his rapturous greeting in Ottawa, Fox was a national celebrity. Concerns about publicity melted away, and funds in photosupport of his marathon began to pour in. Amounting to about $300,000 when he entered the nation’s capital at the end of June, pledges soared as he made his way to Toronto and through southern Ontario. By mid-August, $11.4 million had been raised for cancer research with more coming in each day.

But by the end of August, it was apparent that something was wrong; Fox had seemingly caught a bad cold. On 1 September, despite suffering from a hacking cough and chest pains, he resumed his run, unwilling to disappoint cheering fans who turned out to welcome him into Thunder Bay. Eighteen miles outside of town, he was forced to halt. Taken to hospital, doctors confirmed the worst; his cancer had returned. The next day, Fox and his parents held a press conference to announce the news, and that the Marathon of Hope would have to be suspended. The young runner returned to British Columbia to undergo more treatment.

News of Fox’s relapse stunned the country. Tens of thousands of letters of support poured into the hospital from across Canada, and around the world. Many came from young children. The CTV television network organized a nationwide, five-hour televised tribute to Terry Fox, raising more than $10 million for his cause. Celebrity singers, included Anne Murray, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Elton John, and Nana Mouskouri. Ballet dancers, Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn, performed a dance photofrom Romeo and Juliet on the broadcast. By February 1981, Fox’s Marathon of Hope had reached its goal of $24 million. Fox received many honours for his courage and self-sacrifice. Governor General Ed Schreyer flew out to British Columbia in September 1980 to make him the youngest ever Companion of the Order of Canada. Fox was also awarded the Order of the Dogwood by British Columbia’s Premier, Bill Bennett, and the Lou Marsh trophy for Canada’s top sportsman of 1980. Canadian Press named him Canada’s newsmaker of the year for 1980; an accolade which he again received in 1981 posthumously. With his family at his bedside,

Terry Fox passed away on 28 June 1981. He was later buried in his home town of Port Coquitlam. At a memorial service held on Parliament Hill attended by more than 8,000 people, Prime Minister Trudeau tearfully praised Fox saying that his “selfless generosity” “elevated him above the merely courageous to the exceedingly thin ranks of the truly heroic.” The Prime Minister called the Marathon of Hope “a gift of the spirit, and act of love for mankind.” On the twenty-five anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a special commemorative dollar coin. A statue of Terry Fox stands on Wellington Street across from the Parliament Buildings. In 2015, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau exhibited memorabilia from Fox’s marathon, including a jug of Atlantic Ocean water that Fox had wanted to pour into the Pacific, as well as two prosthetic legs, his camper, and scans of some 60,000 cards and letters well-wishers had sent him.

Sources:

Brown, Jeremy & Harvey, Gail, 1980. Terry Fox: A Pictorial Tribute To The Marathon Of Hope, General Publishing Co, Don Mills, Ontario. CBC, 2008. Terry Fox, http://www.cbc.ca/greatest/top_ten/nominee/fox-terry.html.

Greenizan, Nick, 2014. “Terry carried people’s emotions with him,” PeaceArch News, http://www.peacearchnews.com/community/274144061.html.

Skuce, Tony, 2014. Terry Fox is still inspiring Canadian kids,” Canadian Running; http://runningmagazine.ca/terry-fox-still-inspiring-canadian-kids/.

The Globe and Mail, 2015. “New Canadian Museum of History honours Terry Fox,” 1 April.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1980. “Cancer victim jogs into Ottawa on a leg and a prayer,” 28 June.

———————–, 1980. “Ottawans cheer for courageous one-legged runner,” 2 July.

———————–, 1980. “Prairie drought threatens to hit Roughriders,” 2 July.

———————–, 1981. “Terry Fox funeral to be televised,” 2 July.

The Tuscaloosa News, 1981. “Terry Fox is buried near home,” 3 July.

The Terry Fox Foundation, 2014, Mission Statement and History, http://www.terryfox.org/TerryFox/Mission_Statement.html.

Trottier, Maxine, 2005. Terry Fox, A Story of Hope, Scholastic Canada Ltd. Toronto.

Images: Terry Fox with Prime Minister Trudeau, July 1980, http://blogs.theprovince.com/tag/terry-fox/.

Terry Fox Statue, Wellington Street, 2015, by Nicolle Powell.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Return of "D" Company

3 November 1900


~ James Powell


It is said that Canada became a nation at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 during World War I when the Canadian Expeditionary Force took the German-held high ground amidst fierce fighting—an achievement that had eluded British and French forces in three years of fighting. Although there is no disputing the heroism and the accomplishment of the Canadian soldiers, some historians maintain that the significance given to Vimy Ridge in the development of Canadian nationalism is a modern invention. It also overlooks the impact of an earlier war on Canadian national confidence. That war was the South African War, also known as the Boer War.

The Boer War was a nasty colonial conflict that pitted Britain against two Boer (Afrikaans for farmer) republics called the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. There were actually two wars. The first, in which the British got a drubbing, lasted from 1880 to 1881, while the second more famous one lasted from 1899 to 1902. The wars resulted from British imperial designs over southern Africa butting up against the desire by Boer settlers for their own independent, white republics. Thrown into the mix was the discovery of gold in Boer territories, an influx of foreign, mostly British prospectors and miners (called uitlanders) who were denied political rights by Boer governments who feared being swamped by the incomers, rival British and Boer economic interests, British fears of German interference in southern Africa, and the ambitions of Cecil Rhodes, the premier of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

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The South African war began in October 1899 after talks between the British government and the Boer governments failed. Boer soldiers invaded the British Natal and Cape Colonies and subsequently laid siege to ill-prepared British troops at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The attacks galvanized pro-British sympathies throughout the Empire, whipped up by nationalistic newspapers. Australia and New Zealand sent troops to assist the Mother Country in its hour of need.

In Canada, public opinion in English Canada was likewise strongly in favour of Britain and the uitlanders. The Ottawa Evening Journal said “Britain, a democratic monarchy, is at war with a despotic republic, and seeks to give equality to the people of the Transvaal.” Pressured by English Canada, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier agreed to send 1,000 volunteers to support the British cause over the opposition of many French Canadians including fellow Liberal party member Henri Bourassa, who resigned his federal seat in protest. Bourassa later founded the newspaper Le Devoir. This was the first time Canada had committed troops to an overseas war. In 1884, Canadian volunteers, many from the Ottawa area, had agreed to serve as non-combatants in the relief of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum, Sudan.

In Ottawa, imperial sentiment was strong, even reportedly among its francophone population. One such resident opined that “French Canadians had no reason to be other than loyal to England…England had dealt fairly with us and we should be unhesitatingly be loyal.” Another said “Every British subject, whether of French or any other extraction, should be willing to bear the responsibilities of Empire.” Of the first 1,000 volunteers to serve in South Africa in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry under the command of Colonel Otter, sixty-seven came from the Ottawa area.

The Ottawa contingent, “D Company,” left the Capital for Quebec City by train in late October 1899 under the command of Captain Rogers, formerly Major Rogers of the 43rd Regiment based in Ottawa. Rogers had served with distinction in the North-West Rebellion. A crowd of 30,000 saw the volunteers off “to defend the honour of Britain.”

Many Ottawa residents took a special train to Quebec City to see their boys off on the Sardinian for South Africa on 30 October 1899. The Journal was moved by the occasion to write: “Descendants of the men who fought with Montcalm and Wolfe marched side by side to play their part in the great South African drama.” Before boarding the ship, the Canadian contingent was fêted at the Quebec City Drill Hall. The Ottawa volunteers cheered “Hobble, gobble, Razzle, dazzle, Sis boom bah, Ottawa, Ottawa, Rah. Rah. Rah.” as if they were going to a football game.

Over the next year, the soldiers of the Canadian contingent proved in battle that they were second to none. The Canadians distinguished themselves at the Battle of Paardeberg where after nine days of bloody fighting in late February 1900, British forces defeated a Boer army. It was their first major victory of the war. The Boer general, Piet Cronjé, surrendered when his soldiers woke to find themselves facing Canadian rifles from nearly point blank range. In the dead of night, the Canadian troops had silently dug trenches on the high ground overlooking the Boer line. In the fighting, the British forces sustained more than 1,400 casualties, of which 348 men died. Thirty-one Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the battle, including two Ottawa men. Many more were wounded. Boer losses amounted 350 killed or wounded and 4,019 captured. Canadian forces subsequently distinguished themselves in the capture of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria.

After completing their one year tour of duty, the first Canadian contingent to fight in the South Africa War returned home aboard the transport ship Idaho. The men were paid off in Halifax with the government also providing them new winter clothes. A special train then carried the veterans westward, dropping off soldiers along the way. Many had brought mementoes home. One man carried a little monkey on his shoulder while another had a parrot in a wooden box. Captain Rogers of Ottawa’s “D” Company brought home a Spitz dog from Cape Town. With the Idaho having stopped in St Helena on the way to Canada, another officer brought home sprigs of the willow trees that grew at Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave.

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Thirty-one Ottawa veterans arrived home at 2.45pm on Saturday, 3 November 1900. The famed “Confederation poet,” W. Wilfred Campbell, who lived in Ottawa, penned a poem to welcome them. Titled Return of the Troops, the first verse went:

Canadian heroes hailing home, War-worn and tempest smitten, Who circled leagues of rolling foam, To hold the earth for Britain.

The return of “D” Company was signalled by the ringing of the City Hall bell, a refrain that was taken up by church bells across the city. More than 40,000 flag-waving citizens were in the streets to watch their heroes arrive at the Elgin Street station and march to Parliament Hill to the tunes of Rule Britannia and Soldiers of the Queen. They were joined by other South African veterans who had been invalided home earlier. In the parade were elements of all regiments based in Ottawa, including the 43rd Regiment, the Dragoon Guards, the Field Battery, the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Army Medical Corps. The parade was led by members of the police force, on foot, horse, and bicycle to clear the streets of well-wishers, followed by members of the reception committee. Also present were veterans of the 1866 and 1870 Fenian raids.

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Along the parade route, homes and stores were bedecked with flags, bunting and streamers. Store fronts and window displays were also decorated in patriotic themes. In the window of George Blyth & Son was a figure of Queen Victoria in a triumphal arch with two khaki-clad soldiers standing in salute. In the background was a canvas tent. The words “Soldiers of the Queen” were written in roses in the foreground. Ross & Company displayed a crowned figure with a sceptre in her hand being saluted by two sailors. R.J. Devlin’s and R. Masson’s stores were lit with electrical lights with Queen Victoria’s cypher, “V.R.” displayed over their doors in large letters. The Ottawa Electric Company building on the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets was draped in bunting, flags and strands of electric lights. Above the main entrance there was a large maple leaf and beaver in coloured lights. Not to be left out, the usually staid citizens of Ottawa were also patriotically dressed. Women wore little flags in the hats while young men had flags for vests.

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Parliament Hill was decorated to greet the return of “D” Company. The central block was ornamented by two large pictures picked out in electric lights on either side of the main entrance. On the left was a soldier charging with a rifle in hand with the word “Paardeberg” underneath. On the right was a trooper on horseback with the word “Pretoria,” underneath. Other emblems mounted on the towers included “VRI,” which stood for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, over the main entrance, as well as a crown, maple leaf and beaver. All were illuminated with electric lights. Strings of lights also stretched from the Victoria Tower in the centre of the main block to the east and west corners of the building.

The returning soldiers marched in the khaki uniforms that they had worn in South Africa. As they passed by the cheering multitudes, men from the crowd jumped into the ranks to shake the hand of a friend or family member. At times the police had difficulty in controlling the seething crowd. The Journal reported that on a couple of occasions, “the police, without warning, caught the eager relative of the long-absent warrior by the throat and hurled him back into the crowd.”

On Parliament Hill, the veterans were welcomed home by Lord Minto, the Governor General, who told the troops that he was proud “to be able to receive the Ottawa contingent into the Capital of the Dominion, the Ottawa representatives of the regiment that won glory for Canada at Paardeberg.” He then read out a message of thanks from Queen Victoria. This was followed by speeches from the Hon. W. R. Scott, secretary of state, and Ottawa’s Mayor Payment.

Ottawa sparkled that night. In addition to the lights on Parliament Hill that scintillated like diamonds, Sparks Street was ablaze with strings of Chinese lanterns strung across the road from Bank Street to Sappers’ Bridge. Electric lights illuminated Wellington Street. The words “Our Boys,” and “Welcome Home” were written in lights on the Victoria Chambers and the Bank of Montreal buildings.

photoThe following Monday evening, another reception was held in honour of returning heroes at Lansdowne Park in the Aberdeen Pavilion. Close to ten thousand people cheered the Ottawa veterans. The biggest cheer was reserved for Private R. R. Thompson who had received the “Queen’s scarf” for bravery. The scarf was one of eight personally crocheted by Queen Victoria to be awarded to private soldiers for outstanding bravery in the South African conflict. Thompson had received his award for aiding wounded comrades at Paardeberg.

Canadians everywhere basked in the reflected glory of their returning heroes from the South Africa War with celebrations across the country. Canada had done its part in preserving the honour of Queen and Empire. Moreover, Canadian soldiers were seen as equals of the finest in the British Army. The Journal wrote: “One year ago they left a country that was little known to the world, save as a prosperous colony; only one year, and they returned to find a nation; a nation glorying in its newly acquired honor, and a nation that does them homage as the purchasers of that honor.” In an editorial titled Patriotism and Loyalty, the newspaper added that “Canadians have always been both patriotic and loyal to the Mother Country.” But now “the fruits of confederation have suddenly ripened, and we have begun to feel our nation-hood.”

Canadian soldiers subsequently gained distinction in later battles in South Africa, including at Leliefontein and Boschbult. Four Canadians received the Victoria Cross for valour during the war. In total, more than 7,000 Canadian soldiers and twelve nurses volunteered to serve in South Africa, of whom 267 died and whose names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance of the Canadian service personnel who have given their lives since Confederation while serving their country. In Ottawa, 30,000 children donated their allowances to build a statue to honour the sixteen Ottawa volunteers who died in the conflict.

After the Imperial forces defeated Boer armies on the field in 1900, the Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare for the next two years before surrendering. The British responded with a scorched earth policy and placed Boer women and children in concentration camps. Owing to neglect and disease due to overcrowding, tens of thousands of civilians died. Non-combatant deaths exceeded 43,000 including Afrikaaner women and children and black Africans. More than 22,000 British and allied soldiers died in the three-year conflict, while suffering a similar number of wounded. Boer military deaths numbered more than 6,000.

Sources:

BBC. 2010. “Second Boer War records database goes online,” 24 June.

Canadian War Museum, 2017. Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902.

Evening Citizen (The), 1900. “The Canadians Are At Halifax,” 1 November.

————————–, 1900. “The Boys Will Be Here On Time,” 3 November.

————————–, 1900. “It Was A Right Royal Welcome They Received,” 5 November.

————————–, 1900. “Form Paardeberg to Pretoria,” 5 November.

Evening Journal (The), 1899. “A Canadian Contingent,” 13 October.

————————————-, 1899. “Have Gone to Defend the Honor of Britain,” 25 October.

————————————-, 1900. “With the Ottawa Boys Down at the Citadel,” 30 October.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of “D” Company, 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of the Troops,” 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Patriotism and Loyalty,” 5 November.

————————————-, 1900, “Forty Thousand Glad Acclaims to Ottawa’s Brave Soldiers. 5 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Gold lockets Given to Ottawa’s Gallant Soldiers,” 6 November.

McKay, Ian & Swift, Jamie, 2016. The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Toronto: Between the Lines.

Miller, Carmen & Foot, Richard, 2016. “Canada and the South African War,” Historica Canada.

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War.

Pretorius, Fransjohan, 2014. “The Boer Wars,” BBC.

South African History Online, 2017. Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.


Project 4000

27 June 1979

The fall of Saigon to communist forces in April 1975, two years after American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, may have ended the Vietnam War but didn’t end the misery. Hundreds of thousands of people associated with the U.S.-backed, South Vietnamese regime fled the country. Millions more were sent to re-education camps, forcibly relocated within Vietnam, or imprisoned. Some were killed. In neighbouring Laos, Hmong tribesmen, an ethnic minority who had fought alongside U.S. troops, fled their homeland after the December 1975 communist takeover of that country. Three years later, thousands of starving Cambodians crossed the border into Thailand following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, then called Democratic Kampuchea, that toppled the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. When China retaliated and temporarily invaded northern Vietnam in support of its Khmer Rouge allies, ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, already viewed with suspicion, were forced to flee. It’s estimated that as many as 1.4 million refugees left their homelands in search of safety between 1975 and 1979. Many more were to follow.

photoWhile the majority of refugees fled overland, a sizeable minority left by sea. Some paid extortionate fees for the dubious privilege of leaving on crowded, rickety, old boats chartered by human traffickers. Many barely navigable vessels were swamped by rough seas as refugees attempted to make their way across the South China Sea to safety in neighbouring countries. The loss of life was appalling. Of the estimated 300,000 “boat people,” as many as one third may have died in transit. Those lucky enough to survive the harrowing sea passage were prey to pirates that robbed and raped the already traumatised people. Their arrival at a safe harbour didn’t end their ordeal. Neighbouring countries, already sheltering hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in appalling conditions, resisted new arrivals. Some boats packed to the gunnels with men, women and children were forcibly turned away within sight of land. With 50,000 refugees arriving monthly, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand issued a joint communique in June 1979 saying that they had had enough; they would not accept any more newcomers. In response, the UN called an emergency international conference to come up with a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

Ottawa’s Mayor Marion Dewar witnessed the unfolding tragedy in Asia on her television set while on a much needed summer holiday. Deeply moved, she held a private meeting on 27 June 1979 with community, church, and business leaders to see what the city could do to help. All were supportive of settling refugees in Ottawa. When a federal immigration official invited to the meeting suggested that Canada was already doing a lot, having already welcomed to Canada 4,000 refugees out of an expanded 8,000-person quota, an exasperated Mayor Dewar is reported to have said “Fine. We’ll take the other 4,000.”

photoWhat started off as an off-hand remark became the rallying cry for action. News of the meeting and the Mayor’s intentions were quickly picked up by the press which ran the story the following day. Initial commentary was sympathetic, though some doubted the city’s ability to absorb so many newcomers. At a press conference, Mayor Dewar, encouraged by the support she had received so far, challenged other cities and the federal government to do more to help the tidal wave of refugees.

On 4 July, Ottawa’s city council unanimously supported the mayor’s initiative. A public meeting was held at Lansdowne Park a week later to gauge the extent of the public’s interest. Expecting perhaps 500-800 people, as many as 3,000 people showed up to hear Dewar and experts speak about the situation in Asia, and what they could do to help. Bruce Cockburn, the popular Canadian guitarist, and a choir of Vietnamese children entertained the crowd. Also in attendance in support of the mayor were representatives of faith-based institutions which were already active in settling refugees in Canada. At the end of the meeting, the enthusiastic crowd gave Marion Dewar a standing ovation.

The City provided $25,000 to launch Project 4000 which was quickly established as a non-profit organization with a mission to assist Ottawa residents who sponsored a refugee individual or family under the federal government’s private sponsorship program. The new agency, directed by a volunteer board of directors drawn from a cross-section of the community, had a small paid staff of no more than four headed by project co-ordinator, Alan Breakspear. Volunteers ran six committees: accommodation, health, education, employment, media relations, and fund raising. Space downtown for the budding agency was donated by a property development company. Later, Project 4000 volunteers ran clothing and furniture depots for refugees and others in need. A newsletter was also published.

Private refugee sponsorship represented a considerable economic and emotional commitment. Sponsors were legally bound to financially support their refugee person or family for up to one year at an estimated cost of $8,000-$12,000 ($25,000-$38,000 in 2014 dollars). In addition to bearing these considerable financial costs, sponsors helped to integrate the newcomers into the community. A myriad of jobs needed to be done, such as finding adequate housing, enrolling children in schools, and organizing health checkups. While some of the refugees knew a little French, or had a smattering of English, language training was also essential. For the refugees, arriving in Ottawa represented a huge cultural shock, especially for those coming in the dead of winter, accustomed as they were to the tropical climate of Indochina. Even if greeted by eager sponsors, they had to orient themselves in a strange, city with unfamiliar food and customs in a foreign language.

Mayor Dewar’s “call to arms” galvanized the city, and, indeed, the entire nation. Thousands of Ottawa citizens organized themselves into sponsorship groups. The Ottawa Citizen, discarding its role as an independent, dispassionate reporter of the news, helped residents form groups by printing a sponsorship form on the front page of the newspaper. Anybody wanting to sponsor a refugee could send in the filled-out form to the Citizen which would then divide people into groups of about 30 households in the same neighbourhood. The newspaper stressed that sponsorship was “a moral and financial commitment not to be taken lightly,” and that only “seriously interested” people should send in a form. The newspaper also agreed to sponsor a refugee family and challenged other area businesses to do likewise.

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Citizens across Canada responded positively to the appeal to aid the refugees. In a flood of good will and compassion, more than 7,000 sponsorship groups were established across the country. In time for the UN conference held in late July 1979, the federal government under the leadership of Joe Clark increased the quota of refugees Canada was willing to take to 50,000 from 8,000—a politically courageous decision for a minority government. External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald later said that the Project 4000 initiative was instrumental in persuading hesitant Cabinet colleagues to approve the huge increase. The following year, the quota was raised again to 60,000 in response to the overwhelming sponsorship demand.

By the time Project 4000 was wound down at the end of 1983, roughly 2000 refugees had been resettled in Ottawa under the private sponsorship program, with an additional 1,600 sponsored by the government under a matching program. Nationally, 59,000 refugees found safety in Canada between 1979 and 1982, of which 34,000 were privately sponsored. 60 per cent of the refugees came from Vietnam, with the remainder roughly split between Cambodia and Laos. During these years, refugees accounted for roughly a quarter of all immigrants to Canada. In 1986, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees took the unprecedented step of awarding the Nansen Medal to the Canadian people in recognition of “their essential and constant contribution to the cause of refugees within their country and around the world.”

The winding down of Project 4000 did not stop the flow of Asian refugees to Ottawa, or to Canada more generally. When the torrent had slowed to a trickle by the late 1990s, more than 200,000 immigrants had come to Canada from Indochina. In contrast, there had been only 1,500 people of Vietnamese origin living in Canada in 1975, prior to the arrival of the boat people. By the time of the 2006 census, almost 60,000 residents in Ottawa-Gatineau identified themselves as having East or Southeast Asian roots. Successfully integrated into their new communities in all walks of life, the former boat people have greatly enriched the economic, cultural, and culinary fabric of the country. Marion Dewar was made member of the Order of Canada in 2002. She passed away in 2008, a year short of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Project 4000.

Sources:

Buckley, Brian, 2008. Gift of Freedom: How Ottawa welcomed the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

Canadian Council for Refugees, 1999. The Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees in Canada: Looking Back after Twenty Years.

Dorais, Louis-Jacques, 2003. From Refugees to Transmigrants: The Vietnamese in Canada, Laval University, paper presented at the 8th International Metropolis Conference, Vienna.

Statistics Canada, 2009. Population by selected origins, by census metropolitan areas (2006 census), Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1979. “The Refugees: Waning concern main fear facing refugee co-ordinator,” 10 July.

———————–, 1979. “Overwhelming show of support,” 13 July.

UNHCR, 2014. The People of Canada, Nansen Award Winners, 1986.

Ward, Bruce, 2008. “We’ll take them,” The Ottawa Citizen, 30 April.

Images: “Boat People,” History Learning Site.

Mayor Marion Dewar in 1979, The Ottawa Citizen.

Sponsorship Coupon, The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1979.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.


The End of the Crippler

18 April 1955


Thanks to vaccines we no longer live in fear of many infectious diseases that used to stalk the world killing millions each year, and maiming or crippling tens of millions more. By the early 1950s, Canadian children were routinely immunized against smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. But several diseases remained to be conquered. One of the most feared was poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis for its propensity to affect the young, or “the Crippler.”

PhotoThe disease is caused by the poliovirus, a type of enterovirus of the family Picornaviridae. It was first isolated in 1908 by the Austrian researchers and physicians Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper. The virus has three serotype versions (PV1-Brunhide, PV2-Lansing and PV3-Leon). All are virulent, though PV1-Brunhide is the most common strain, and the one most associated with paralysis. Most people who come into contact with the polio virus experience no symptoms beyond a sore throat, a gastrointestinal upset, a slight fever, and a general malaise. Called “abortive polio,” this is considered a minor illness that leaves no permanent effects. A small percentage of victims experience “aseptic” polio that also involves severe neck, back and muscle pain, as well as a bad fever. In a still smaller percentage of sufferers, the polio virus attacks the central nervous system leading to muscle flaccidity, especially of the limbs, and paralysis. Depending on what part of the nervous system is affected, “paralytic” polio is classified as spinal, bulbar, and bulbospinal. In some cases, the diaphragm and chest muscles are affected. Sufferers of this form of the disease need help to breath. In 1927, two Harvard researchers invented the “iron lung,” into which paralysed patients were placed to aid their breathing mechanically. Although most were able to leave the machine after several weeks, some were confined for years, or had to use a portable breathing apparatus. Polio suffers whose limbs had become paralyzed sometimes recovered their use after a few weeks. However, some many were left permanently disabled. Two to ten per cent of people stricken with paralytic polio died. There is no cure for the disease, only prevention.

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Although polio has been around for thousands of years, it didn’t use to have the fearful reputation that it had during the first half of the twentieth century. For the most part, people had acquired a natural immunity to the disease.  But as living standards and hygiene improved, the incidence of the disease paradoxically increased. The natural immunity that protected people had been weakened or lost. According to Christopher Rutty, a medical historian, fears about polio, heightened by publicity, were disproportionate to the risk of catching the paralytic form of the disease. But frightened parents told their children to “regard [polio] as a fierce monster” that was “more sinister than death itself.” The fact that people at the time didn’t understand the transmission mechanism of the disease (typically faecal-oral) made it all the scarier. You didn’t know what to do to protect yourself and your family. When outbreaks occurred, often during the summer months, health officials in epidemic areas closed cinemas, playgrounds, and delayed school openings. In Ottawa, when the federal government announced in 1950 that the water from the Rideau River would be temporarily diverted to allow for repairs near its outfall into the Ottawa River, residents of Sandy Hill, fearful of polio-infected flies that might breed in exposed marshes and refuse, lobbied for the repairs to be delayed until after the summer polio season.

People stricken with polio were sent to special isolation hospitals for a minimum of seven days required by provincial law. Their families were quarantined. Ottawa’s Strathcona Isolation Hospital was one of six designated centres for the treatment of polio in Ontario. The other centres were located in Toronto, Kingston, London, Hamilton and Windsor. The Strathcona Hospital’s “territory” ran from Pembroke to Morrisburg. In 1953, the old hospital was closed when a new East Lawn Pavilion with isolation facilities was opened at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Seventeen patients were transferred from the Strathcona facility, including one in an iron lung. Although this was a time before provincial health insurance (OHIP), the care for polio victims was paid for by the provincial government. Later, following complaints by doctors that they couldn’t submit bills to well-to-to polio patients, the government modified the rules to allow doctors to charge wealthy patients. Poor patients continued to receive free care at teaching hospitals connected to universities.

Following the election of Franklin Roosevelt at President of the United States in 1933, who was himself a polio survivor, the medical profession in the United States and Canada took aim at the disease. Funding for research into the development of a vaccine was provided in the United States by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis that had its roots in a private anti-polio organization started by the Roosevelt family. The Foundation sponsored an annual March of Dimes campaign supported by Hollywood stars to raise money to find a cure for the disease and to care for polio victims. In Canada, a parallel organization called the Canadian Foundation for Poliomyelitis was founded in Ottawa in 1949. The Canadian Foundation held the first Canadian March of Dimes campaign the following year. Newspapers across the country carried the photograph of “Linda,” a child polio victim wearing iron leg braces. In Ottawa, twenty-five hundred blue and red checkered collection boxes were distributed in stores, banks and restaurants.

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In 1953, North America experienced it worst outbreak of polio in decades. In Canada, there were 8,878 reported cases, mostly in Manitoba and Ontario, with a death rate of 3.3 persons per 100,000 population, far higher than during earlier outbreaks.  Ottawa had 100 recorded cases by the end of that year’s polio season with four deaths. To help control the spread of the disease, Dr J. J. Dey, the city’s medical officer of health, advised Ottawa citizens not to drink unpasteurized milk, not to jump into water when the body was tired, and to avoid fatigue. He also told people to stay away from crowds, to keep the house free from flies, and to wash all fruits and vegetables. More usefully, he advised people to wash their hands frequently, and to boil drinking water if one had any doubts.

Fortunately, by this time, a vaccine was close at hand. In 1949, Harvard scientist Dr John Enders discovered that the polio virus could be propagated in the organs of monkeys. The following year, the Polish-born virologist Hilary Koprowski developed an experimental oral vaccine using a live but weakened virus of the PV2-Lansing variety of the disease, and successfully immunized some twenty children in New York State.

Meanwhile, at the University of Pittsburgh, Jonas Salk was working on determining the number of different strains of polioviruses and developing a vaccine using dead viruses that would be effective against all strains of the disease. PhotoConnaught Laboratories at the University of Toronto, supported by a federal grant as well as money provided by the Canadian March of Dimes, was also developing the procedure for producing industrial-size quantities of the polio virus, a necessary and vital step for the mass production of the Salk vaccine. Related work was conducted at the Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene in Montreal. Connaught later supplied much of the virus that went into making the Salk vaccine in North America as well as making the vaccine itself for the Canadian inoculation campaign.

By 1954, Salk who had safely tested his vaccine first on his family and then on 700 volunteers was ready for a large-scale test. He organized a trial involving two million children. Half received a three-shot dose of the experimental vaccine over a period of several weeks with the other half receiving placebos. Most of the children were American. But U.S. authorities offered 50,000 doses to Canada. Health departments in Alberta and Nova Scotia took up the offer and inoculated thousands of young children. In mid-April 1955, the results of the trial were announced to a packed conference room at the University of Michigan: polio had been defeated! The vaccine had been 80% effective in protecting children from the disease. The relief was palpable. Immediately, steps were taken to inoculate all children in North America starting with those in Grades 1 and 2.

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In Canada, the inoculations were paid for on a 50:50 basis by the federal and provincial governments. Youngsters in Toronto and Pembroke received the first dose of the vaccine in early April even before the official announcement of Salk’s successful mass trial. The inoculation programme began in Ottawa on Monday, 18 April 1955. That morning, Grade 1 and 2 students at four public schools (Elgin, Lady Evelyn, Borden and Cambridge) and five separate schools (Ste Famille, St Patrick, St Jean Baptiste, St Anthony and Christ the King) received their first round of shots. That afternoon, five more schools were visited by teams of nurses. Children in remaining schools received their shots through the week. Parents had to sign a consent form for their children to receive the inoculation with the warning that if the children missed the first shot, they couldn’t receive the subsequent shots. Across the Ottawa River in Hull, the inoculation programme started in May with children aged two to three years since that age group had been most affected in Quebec during the 1953 epidemic.

In the midst of the roll-out of the continent-wide vaccination campaign, disaster struck.  Some children in the United States came down with polio after having received their shots. Several died. The problem was traced to poor quality control at the Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California, one of six American vaccine manufacturers. Their vaccine contained live instead of dead viruses. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, the vaccine had been rushed. The U.S. vaccination programme was temporarily suspended despite the coming onset of the 1955 polio season. In Canada, Health Minister Paul Martin Sr faced one of the toughest decisions of his life: should the Canadian programme also be suspended as Prime Minister St Laurent wished? With all of the Canadian vaccine produced at Toronto’s Connaught Laboratories, and having full confidence in Canadian scientists and doctors, he ordered the Canadian programme to go ahead as planned. No Canadian child came down with polio as result of the vaccine.

By August 1955, the number of polio cases in Canada and the United States had dropped dramatically even though only a portion of children had been immunized. In November, Paul Martin publicly stated “I don’t think there can be any doubt that it [the vaccine] has had some effect.” By 1962, the number of reported polio cases in Canada had fallen to only 89.

In the early 1960s, the Salk vaccine was generally replaced by an oral vaccine using live but weakened viruses developed by Albert Sabin who drew on the earlier work of Hilary Koprowski. The Sabin vaccine was cheap to produce and administer and was very powerful—95 per cent effective after three doses (one for each polio strain). Polio infection rates around the world plummeted. In 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a campaign to eradicated polio from the world supported by national governments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2000, the Americas were certified as polio free. In 2014, South-East Asia was certified as polio free. By 2016, the number of reported polio cases worldwide had dropped to only 37 located in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The WHO estimates that because of the global vaccination campaign, 16 million people walk today who otherwise would have been paralyzed. Many, many lives have also been saved. However, war and civil strife threaten this achievement. Endemic transmission of the disease continues in the three remaining polio hotspots. With vaccination efforts disrupted in these areas, the Crippler could well return.

Sources:

CBC Archives, 1993. A History of Polio in Canada, posted 7 April 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, Poliomyelitis.

Council Bluffs Nonpareil (Iowa), 1954. “Report Results of Polio Research,” 11 April.

MedicineNet.com. 2017. Medical Definition of Abortive Polio.

Museum of Health Care at Kingston, 2017, Polio.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1949. “First Fatal Polio Case,” 20 July.

————————–, 1949. “Ottawa Cases of Polio Total 29 This Year,” 15 August.

————————–, 1949. “Foundation Plans Drive For Funds to Fight Polio,” 4 November.

————————–, 1950. “Rideau Draining To Proceed,” 10 August.

————————–, 1950. “St. Germain’s Protest Against Rideau Draining,” 15 August.

————————–, 1950. “March of Dimes For Polio Victims Starts Sunday,” 30 December.

————————–, 1953. “Ontario Announces new Policy For Treating Polio,”6 January.

————————–, 1953. “MOH Issues Statement on Polio,” 17 July.

————————–, 1953. “Lab Producing Polio Virus In Quantities,” 25 September.

————————–, 1953. “Polio Season Is Over,” 14 October.

————————–, 1953. “Hope-Filled Polio Vaccine For Million U.S. Children,” 17 November.

————————–, 1953. “New East Lawn Pavilion Opened At Civic,” 16 December

————————–, 1954. “Provinces Offered U.S. Polio Vaccine,”26 May.

————————–, 1955. “Polio Shots April 18 For Ottawa Children,” 4 March.

————————–, 1955. “Ottawa Will Start Trials of Polio Vaccine April 18,” 9 April.

————————–, 1955. “SALK CONQUERS POLIO,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Salk Was So Confident of Success His Own Children Got Vaccine First,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Ontario to Provide Injections for All School Children,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Man’s Victory Over Polio,” 13 April.

————————–, 1955. “Duplessis Decides Quebec To Take Part In Anti-Polio Plan,” 15 April.

————————-, 1955. “First Week of Vaccine Shots Against Polio Start Monday,” 16 April.

————————–, 1955. “Salk Answers Critical Questions,” 7 June.

————————–, 1955. “Vaccine Producer Sued After boy Contracts Polio,” 24 June.

————————–, 1955. “U.S.A. ‘Polio Vaccine Mixup,’” 27 July.

————————–, 1955. “Big Drop In Deaths By Polio,” 12 August.

————————–, 1955. “U.S. Polio Fatalities Reduced Sharply,” 12 August.

————————–, 1955. “Martin Credits Salk Vaccine,” 1 November.

Rutty, Christopher, 1995. “Do Something!…Anything! Poliomyelitis in Canada, 1927-1962”.

———————-, 1999. The Middle-Class Plague: Epidemic Polio and the Canadian State, 1936-37.

Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, 2017. The Iron Lung and Other Equipment.

World Health Organization, 2017. Poliomyeliti.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

CANADA’S BIRTHDAY 1 July 1867
~ James Powell


Each 1 July, Canadians across the country celebrate Canada’s birthday with cultural events and fireworks. The anniversary, which officially became Canada Day in 1982, was originally known as Dominion Day. Nowhere is the national holiday more sumptuously celebrated than in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. On the greensward in front of the Parliament buildings, thousands of patriotic Canadians flock to see the “Changing of the Guard,” performed by the Governor General’s Foot Guards dressed in their traditional scarlet tunics and bearskin hats. Canadian performing artists entertain the crowds through the day on a large stage specially erected for the occasion. After dusk, Parliament Hill is lit up with a dazzling display of fireworks.

Given this annual burst of patriotic fervour, it may come as a surprise that many Canadians don’t fully understand the event they are celebrating. Even officialdom gets it wrong. The Official Website of Ottawa Tourism, describes Canada Day as “the anniversary of Confederation, when Canada became a country separate from the British Empire.” Yes, 1 July is indeed the anniversary of Confederation. But no, Canada did not become separate from the British Empire on that date. Canadian legislative autonomy did not come until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, when the imperial government in London gave up its right to legislate for Canada and other Dominions. Even then, Canadians remained British subjects, and regarded themselves as members of the British Empire. Canadian legal decisions could also still be appealed to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in London, and Canadian constitutional changes required the consent of the British Parliament.

Instead of representing the birth of a new independent country, Canada Day marks the anniversary of the union of three pre-existing British colonies in North America—the Province of Canada, which itself was the result of the fusion of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The new entity was called the Dominion of Canada, hence, the original name for the holiday. The proclamation of the new Dominion by Queen Victoria on 1 July 1867 was the culmination of years of negotiations to unite the colonies of British North America. Motivated by a range of economic and political factors, including fears of annexation by their U.S. neighbour to the south, the “fathers of Confederation” had met in 1864, first in Charlottetown and later in Quebec City, to thrash out the details of forming a federation. After working out most provisions dealing with the country’s organization and the distribution of powers between the federal and provincial governments, a small group of nation-builders met in London, England in December 1866 to put the final touches on draft legislation to be submitted to the British Parliament. John. A. Macdonald had wanted the official name of the new federation to be the “Kingdom of Canada.” But at the eleventh hour, the British government, concerned about offending the republican government to the south, suggested “Dominion” as a less provocative style.

The British North America Act was first submitted to the House of Lords on 19 February 1867. There, the colonial secretary, Lord Carnarvon, opened the proceedings by saying: “We are laying the foundations of a great State, perhaps one that at a future date may even overshadow this country.” A week later, the bill was introduced into the House of Commons. The bill passed through the British Parliament without change, and was given Royal Assent on 29 March 1867, to take effect on 1 July.

The Act, which became Canada’s constitution, delineated the respective powers of the federal and provincial governments, and guaranteed minority rights, including linguistic rights. The Province of Canada was also split into its two component parts, allowing Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) to separately govern their own local affairs instead of together—a source of considerable strife during the previous twenty-five year existence of the Province of Canada. Some saw Confederation as a bulwark against U.S.-style democracy where majority rule could trump minority rights. The Ottawa Times declared that “The first of July, A.D., 1867, will ever be a memorable day in the history of this continent. It will mark a very solemn era in the progress of British America. By the Constitution which this day comes in force will be solved the great problem—a problem in which not we alone, but the whole world is intimately concerned—whether British constitutional principles are to take root and flourish on the Western Hemisphere, or unbridled Democracy shall have a whole continent on which to erect the despotism of the mob.”

The constitutional arrangement between the new Dominion and Great Britain remained unchanged from that which had existed prior to Confederation between the colonies in British North America and the mother country. Like the colonial governments that had preceded it, the new Dominion government was responsible for domestic affairs, while the imperial government in London retained responsibility for foreign affairs. The imperial government (or more correctly the Crown on the advice of the imperial government) also continued to appoint the governor general as it had done previously for each of the colonies, and retained its right to override Canadian legislation. Consequently, when the new Dominion was born on 1 July 1867, it remained an integral part of the British Empire, its government subordinate to the imperial government in London.

The birth of the new Dominion of Canada was greeted with great enthusiasm in Ottawa. Selected by Queen Victoria in 1857 as the capital of the Province of Canada, it was now the capital of a far larger political entity; few had doubts that the remaining British colonies in North American would join the new Dominion, building a country that spanned the continent. This took some time, however; Newfoundland and Labrador, the last to join, didn’t sign up until 1949.

In Ottawa, the partying started the night before the big day as people made their way to Major’s Hill to welcome in the new Dominion at midnight. At the stroke of twelve of the Notre Dame Cathedral clock, a huge pyramidal bonfire made of firewood and tar barrels, surrounded by a ring of boulders to protect spectators, was set ablaze. Thousands of Ottawa citizens, including the Mayor and members of the city council, gave “three hearty cheers,” for the Queen, and three more for the new Dominion of Canada. Churches throughout the city rang their bells, while the Ottawa Field Battery at the drill shed in Lower Town gave a 101-gun salute to the new country. Rockets and Roman candles lit the sky. Paul Favreau and his band played music to the crowd until dawn.

With the arrival of daylight on Monday 1 July 1867, the city “never looked better” to greet the thousands of visitors that were streaming into the capital from the countryside to join in the festivities. Bunting, flags, and streamers decorated public and private buildings alike along Sparks, Rideau and Sussex streets. At 7am, a lacrosse tournament between the Huron and Union Clubs commenced on Ashburnham Hill, the area east of today’s Bronson Avenue, between Lisgar Street and Laurier Avenue. At 10am, an honour guard from the Rifle Brigade took up position in front of the East Block on Parliament Hill to await the arrival of Lord Monck, the newly designated governor general of the Dominion of Canada. A half hour later, a salute from the Field Battery announced Monck’s appearance who was received by guards with presented arms. At 11am, the Queen’s proclamation was read out by Ottawa’s mayor. Dignitaries then entered the Executive Council Chamber. Monck, in plain clothes, advanced to the head of the Council table, read the Royal Instructions making him Governor General, and was sworn in by Canada’s Chief Justice. After the various oaths, the Field Battery on Major Hill’s gave another salute. The Governor General then conferred the title of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on John A. Macdonald for his contribution to making Confederation a reality. Several others received knighthoods of lesser orders. George-Étienne Cartier, Macdonald’s partner, was also offered a knighthood, but he refused it on the grounds it was inferior to that awarded to Macdonald. The following year, Cartier was made a baronet, a more illustrious honour, which also carried the title “Sir.”

At noon, a massed military display was held on Parliament Hill, consisting of the Rifle Brigade, the Civil Service Rifles, the Carleton 43rd Infantry, the Ottawa Provisional Battalion of Rifles, the Ottawa Provisional Brigade of the Garrison Artillery, and the Ottawa and Victoria Cadet Corps. The show was slightly marred when the Civil Service Rifles fired a “feu de joie,” a sort of grande finale. Unfortunately, the order to “Fire” was not preceeded by the command “Remove ramrods.” A volley of ramrods was launched from Parliament Hill, across Wellington Street, to land in a hail of sparks on Sparks Street.

The military display was followed by athletic games on Major Hill. Games included the “standing” and “running” leaps, the 100-yard dash, as well as boat and canoe races. Across the city, a lunch was provided to the Carleton Infantry by Alderman Rochester at his own expense. The previous night, he had heard that the men would be arriving from the country for the parade and festivities without any refreshment organized for them. The alderman hosted the men and their families outdoors at his home, determined to rescue the “fair name of the city from the charge of want of hospitality.” More sporting events were held in New Edinburgh, including some unusual ones—a three legged race, a blindfold race, and a cricket ball throwing contest.

In the evening, another bonfire was lit, this time at Ashburnham Hill. Twenty-two cords of wood were sent up in flames. After dusk, fireworks were launched at Parliament Hill. Across the water in Hull, people picnicked as they watched the display. Music and dancing continued to the wee hours of the morning before Ottawa’s populace returned home exhausted, citizens of a new Dominion.

Sources:

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2014. “Cartier, Sir George-Étienne, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cartier_george_etienne_10E.html.

Foster, Robert, Capt.et al, 1999. Steady the Buttons, Two by Two, Regimental History of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, Ottawa.


Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

THE GREAT EPIZOOTIC
12 October 1872

~ James Powell

Imagine waking up one morning to discover that all motor vehicles had stopped working—no buses, no cars, no trucks, and no airplanes. People wouldn’t be able to get to work or school unless they lived close by. There would be no deliveries of food and merchandise to stores. Farmers would be left with mounds of rotting produce in the field, while factories would grind to a halt owing to a dearth of spare parts and absent workers. Meanwhile, police, firefighters and other emergency response workers would be unable to respond to urgent calls for help. Government would cease to function (okay, there might be an upside). In short, it would be a nightmare.

Rather than being a script worthy of a Hollywood post-apocalyptic movie, this effectively happened during the autumn of 1872, with disastrous consequences right across North America. It all started about fifteen miles north of Toronto during late September of that year. Horses in the townships of York, Scarborough and Markham began to sicken, coming down with a sore throat, a slight swelling of the glands, a severe hacking cough, a brownish-yellow discharge from the nose, a loss of appetite and general feebleness. Veterinaries hadn’t seen anything like it before. On 30 September, Andrew Smith, veterinary surgeon of the Ontario Veterinary College in Toronto, found fourteen stricken horses in one stable. Three days later, three-quarters of the horses in the district were infected.

The disease quickly spread to Toronto and beyond. It was reported in Ottawa on 12 October, and within a month had reached the east coast. Only Prince Edward Island, cut off from the mainland, escaped the disease. Horses in the United States also began to sicken, the disease striking Buffalo and Detroit by 13 October, and spreading within days to all the major cities on the eastern seaboard. The illness was identified in Chicago on 29 October after a number of horses imported from Toronto a few days earlier fell ill. By mid-March 1873, the disease had reached all the way to California, in the process disrupting a war between the U.S. cavalry and Apache warriors underway in Arizona Territory. With their horses incapacitated, cavalrymen and warriors fought on foot. A year after the Toronto-area outbreak, the illness had spread south to Nicaragua in Central America. The epidemic became known as the “Great Epizootic,” since it was an epidemic than infected animals, or “Canadian horse distemper.”

The horses were ill with equine influenza which we now know is caused by two types of related viruses, equine 1 (H7N7) and equine 2 (H3N8). But at the time, it was widely believed that the disease was due to something in the air. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported that it was the opinion of a well-known veterinary surgeon that the disease was caused by atmospheric influences, “probably having some connection with [] recent thunderstorms.” The disease was typically not fatal, having a mortality rate of 1-3 per cent though it reached 10 per cent in some areas. However, the morbidity rate approached 100 per cent. Horses were left incapacitated for up to a month, hobbling transportation across the continent.

AdWithin ten days of its first appearance in Ottawa, the situation had become serious in the capital, with the disease having “assumed a violent form as to cause considerable anxiety to horse owners.” All public livery stables were affected, as were an increasing number of stables owned by private citizens. By 21 October, veterinaries were dealing with hundreds of cases each day. It was estimated that fewer than 50 horses in the Ottawa region were unaffected. The horse-drawn street railway service that provided public transit from New Edinburgh through downtown to LeBreton Flats was temporarily suspended when all but six of its horses came down with influenza. One died.

The Ottawa Daily Citizen recommended that infected horses should be kept warm in well-ventilated stables and fed soft food, such as oatmeal, boiled oats, or gruel. To promote an appetite, the newspaper suggested that owners try to temp sick horses with a carrot or apple. It also recommended cleaning out stables with bromo-chloralum, a deodorant and disinfectant. According for an advertisement for the product, it protected against “atmospheric influences which contribute to the spreading of disease.”

Small-town Ottawa got off lightly. Big U.S. cities like New York City and Boston, where horses were crammed together in dirty, multi-storied, urban stables, fared far worse. In New York City, more than 30,000 horses sickened within the course of a few days. At least 1,400 animals died of the disease. City transit failed, a major inconvenience for people living in the suburbs. Businesses and draymen, who transported goods on flat-bed wagons, were reported to be the worst affected. In Boston, oxen were brought in to replace sick horses on some transit lines. Tragically, on 9 November 1872, a fire started in a hoop-skirt factory in downtown Boston. In normal circumstances, it would have been easily contained. However, with all its horses down with the flu, the fire service was unable to respond in time, and the fire quickly got out of control. More than 775 buildings housing in excess of 1,000 businesses were destroyed. As many as twenty people perished.

The economic consequences of the disease as it spread across the continent were immense. In addition to cities coming to a virtual standstill for close to a month, traffic on the important Erie Canal from New York to Buffalo came to a halt as the horses that pulled the barges sickened. Even railways were affected as they ran out of coal that was shipped to rail terminals by horse-drawn wagons. Things got so bad that the United States was forced to import healthy horses from Mexico. Many economists believe that the Great Epizootic set the stage for the “Panic” of 1873, an economic depression that lasted for six years. The disease underscored the fragility of an animal-dependent economy.

The epidemic was the first disease whose advance was closely tracked across a continent. In the process, it became abundantly clear that “atmospheric conditions” had nothing to do with the contagion. A study of the disease debunked the idea that “cold, heat, humidity, season, climate, or altitude” or any other “unrecognized atmospheric conditions” had any bearing on the disease. Rather, the disease was spread “by virtue of its communicability.” Everywhere the disease struck was in contact with other places by means of horses or mules. Supporting this conclusion was the fact that isolated places, such as Prince Edward Island in the east or Vancouver Island in the west, were spared the disease; PEI was cut off due to bad winter weather, while a quarantine against the importation of horses was established on Vancouver Island. This analysis helped overturn the “miasma” theory of disease, which attributed illnesses to poisonous vapours, in favour of the “germ theory” of disease. It also set the stage for a better understanding of how disease is transmitted among humans, something that would become of vital importance less than fifty years later with the spread of the Spanish flu, a similar human disease that conservatively killed fifty million people at the end of World War I.

Sources:

Churcher, C. 2014, “Local Railway Items from Ottawa newspapers—1872,The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “Ottawa City Passenger,” 19 October.

——————–, 2014, “Local Railway Items from Ottawa newspapers—1872,The Ottawa Free Press, 1872, “Ottawa City Passenger,” 23 October.

Facts on File, 2014. Great Epizootic, Entry 602.

Judson, Adoniram, B. M.D., 1873. “History and Course of the Epizootic Among Horses Upon The North American Continent, 1872-73,” American Public Health Association, Public Health, Reports and Papers, 1873.

Heritage Restorations, H2012. “The Great Epizootic of 1872,” SustainLife Quarterly Journal, (Fall), Ploughshares Institute for Sustainable Culture.

Horsetalk, 2014. “How Equine Flu brought the US to a standstill,” 17 February.

Murnane, Brigadier Dr. Thomas, 2014. James Law, America’s First Veterinary Epidemiologist and The Equine Influenza Epizootic of 1872, The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation.

Passing Strangeness, 2009. The Great Epizootic, 13 May,.

The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “Epizootic,” 21 October.

The Public Ledger, 1872. “The Epizootic in the United States,” 16 November.

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

FIRST ROYAL VISIT–PRINCE OF WALES LAYS CORNERSTONE OF PARLIAMENT
1 September 1860

~ James Powell

In May 1859, the Legislature of the Province of Canada invited Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert to come to British North America “to witness the progress and prosperity of this distant part of your dominions.” Specifically, the Legislature hoped that the Queen would officially open the Victoria Bridge (le pont Victoria), the first bridge to span the St Lawrence River, which joined Montreal on the north shore with St Lambert on the south shore, that was nearing completion. The visit would also “afford the opportunity the inhabitants [of the Province of Canada] of uniting in their expression of loyalty and attachment to the Throne and Empire.”

Queen Victoria regretfully declined the invitation, saying that “her duties at the seat of Empire prevent so long an absence.” Transatlantic travel in the mid nineteenth century was still an arduous journey, taking two weeks or longer, even if the weather was favourable. Instead, she offered to send her eldest son, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. It would be a “coming out” event for the nineteen-year old prince who would later become King Edward VII. Her suggestion was enthusiastically embraced. On hearing that the prince would be visiting British North America, U.S. President Buchanan invited him to tour the United States as well.

The extended North American tour took the young prince to all the major cities of the British colonies of North America, as well as to the major cities of the United States as far west as St Louis, Missouri. The prince’s tour naturally included Ottawa, the city selected by his mother to be the new capital of the United Province of Canada in 1857. Fortuitously, construction of the new Parliamentary buildings had commenced at the end of 1859, and the prince was invited to lay the cornerstone of the Legislature building while he was in the city.

PhotoThe Prince of Wales departed England for North America on 10 July 1860 on board HMS Hero, a 91-gun, screw and sail powered ship of the line, accompanied by HMS Ariadne, a wooden, screw frigate, and was met in Newfoundland by the screw steam sloop HMB Flying Fish. On board the Hero was a true hero–William Hall. The son of a slave who had escaped to Canada during the War of 1812, Hall, was the first Canadian seaman and the first black man to receive the Victoria Cross for gallantry. He received the honour for heroism at the siege of Lucknow in 1857 during the Indian Mutiny.

The Prince and his entourage arrived in St John’s during the evening of 23 July, after having encountered heavy seas and dense fog on the crossing. Although the Newfoundland government knew roughly when the prince’s would arrive, his ship’s entrance through the Narrows caught people by surprise; ship-to-shore telegraph communications was still in the distant future. That night, the city hastily finished erecting ceremonial arches made of evergreens, and put up flags and bunting, in preparation for the prince’s official landing the next morning.

Over the following month, the prince made his way across the Atlantic colonies with considerable pomp and ceremony. After St John’s, he visited Halifax, St John, Fredericton, and Charlottetown, before the royal squadron left for the Province of Canada. It arrived in Canadian waters on 13 August where it was met by the Governor General, Sir Edmund Head, and members of the Canadian government on board two Canadian steamers in the mouth of the St Lawrence River. The flotilla reached Quebec City on 18 August. The first major event was a reception at Parliament House where he was greeted by the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. The prince then knighted the speakers of the two houses of Parliament. He subsequently visited Trois Rivières and then Montreal, where he officially opened le pont Victoria, laying the cornerstone to the entrance to the bridge as well as setting in place a ceremonial “last rivet.” In truth, the bridge, the longest in the world at the time, had been completed the previous year, and was already open for rail traffic.

After a tour of the Eastern Townships, Prince Edward proceeded from Montreal to Ottawa on 31 August. As there was no direct train link, he travelled by way of a special train to Ste Anne-De-Bellevue, followed by boat trip to Carillion, another train ride to Grenville, where he picked up the steamer Phoenix for the last stage of his journey up the Ottawa River. He arrived in Ottawa at 7pm to be met by an armada of one hundred and fifty canoes paddled by several hundred lumbermen dressed in white trousers and red shirts with blue facing. The canoes, flying banners, escorted the steamer the last two miles to the Ottawa wharf. When the Phoenix rounded the Rockcliffe promontory, the Ottawa Field Battery fired a royal salute.

Little Ottawa, with a population of less than 15,000 people, was abuzz with excitement. Nothing like this had ever happened in the rough-and-tumble lumber town. Bunting and flags bedecked every home and office building. Ceremonial arches were built along the route to be taken by the prince and his party through the city. One such arch, spanning Spark’s Street near the Bate building, was constructed of evergreens, interspersed with heraldic shields, mottos, and 60 foot towers. It was topped by two immense urns of flowers and a huge statue of the goddess Minerva clad in armour.

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In front of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, “four chaste and elegant towers” were erected across Wellington Street “draped and festooned at their caps with cornucopias of flowers, royal standards, shields, and various other appropriate devices.” At the Ottawa end of the Union Suspension Bridge (where today’s Chaudière Bridge stands) to Hull was a massive wooden arch made of 180,000 feet of sawn lumber assembled without a single nail. The wood, worth $3,000, a huge sum in those days, was provided by the company Perley, Pattee & Brown. The suspension bridge itself was decorated with transparencies of the Queen, the Prince Consort, and the Prince of Wales which were illuminated after dusk. Similarly, Sappers’ Bridge, which connected Lower Town and Upper Town, was festooned with hundreds of Chinese lanterns. The Ottawa Citizen commented that “Ottawa appeared lovely and anxious as a bride awaiting the arrival of the bride-groom to complete her joy.”

PhotoUnfortunately, the start to the prince’s Ottawa visit was marred by a torrential rain shower just as Mayor Alexander Workman, dressed in his robes of office, commenced his dock-side welcome speech. While he soldiered on despite the soaking, the thousands of onlookers scattered for cover. After the prince thanked the mayor, he and his entourage were taken by carriage to the Victoria House Hotel at the corner of Wellington and O’Connor Streets. In their wake followed a somewhat bedraggled parade of soldiers, firemen, and government employees.

But the next day was bright and sunny for the laying of Parliament’s cornerstone. At 11am, the prince, followed by the Governor General, members of the prince’s party, Canadian Cabinet ministers dressed in blue and gold, and other dignitaries, entered the Parliamentary grounds through yet another triumphal arch; this one decorated in a Gothic style. The cornerstone ceremony was held on a dais under an elaborate canopy, surrounded by wooden bleachers to allow several thousand Ottawa citizens to view the proceedings. Following prayers offered by the chaplain to the Legislative Council, the prince approached the white Canadian marble stone. It bore the inscription This corner stone of the building intended to receive The Legislature of Canada was laid by Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales, on the first day of September MDCCCLX. The stone was suspended from a pulley above a Nepean limestone block in which there was a cavity. Into the cavity was placed a glass bottle containing a parchment scroll detailing the cornerstone ceremony and the names of the day’s participants. A collection of British and Canadian coins were also placed in the hole. The clerk of the works then supervised the laying of mortar, with the prince providing the last touch with a silver trowel engraved with a picture of the Parliament buildings. After the cornerstone was lowered into position, the prince tapped the stone three times. Following more prayers, and after officials had checked the stone with a plumb in the shape of a harp, and a level held by a lion and unicorn, the prince declared the stone to have been well and truly laid. At the end of the ceremony, Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones of Toronto and Thomas Stent and Augustus Lever of Ottawa, the architects of the three Parliament buildings under construction, were presented to the prince. The royal party then went to view a three-dimensional model of the future library made by Charles Emil Zollikofer, a Swedish-born sculptor.

PhotoAfter a lunch hosted by the legislature in a wooden building on the Parliamentary grounds, the afternoon was taken up with fun and games. After the prince and his entourage had toured the city on horseback to admire the city’s decorations and the many triumphal arches erected for the occasion, they were taken to the Chaudière Falls for a singular Ottawa experience—a ride down the Government log slide used to send wood down river to avoid the falls. Two cribs of timber had been constructed to accommodate the royal party and journalists. Cheered by thousands who stood on the shore or on the many bridges over the slide, the prince shot through it to be met by hundreds of canoes mid river. While the two cribs descended without incident, the Ottawa Citizen reported that “the visages of some of the occupants of the cribs were considerable elongated on descending the first shoot.” A regatta with several canoe races followed.

The evening was marked by a very curious event—a mounted torchlight procession of “physiocarnivalogicalists” to the residence of the Prince of Wales. The members of this obscure order, who billed themselves as “the tribes of Allobrentio Forgissario,” were dressed in some sort of costume. The procession was the source of considerable amusement on the part of onlookers. On reaching the prince’s residence, the group raised a loud cheer, which the prince acknowledged through the window, before they dispersed.

After Sunday services at Christ Church (the predecessor of the current Anglican cathedral) the following morning, the prince visited Rideau Hall, the home of John McKay, the noted New Edinburgh lumber baron, and toured its magnificent grounds. Five years later, the Canadian government leased the mansion for the home of the Governor General; it purchased the home in 1868.

At 8am, Monday, 3 September, the prince and his party, escorted by the Durnham Light Infantry, left Ottawa for Brockville, the next stop on the Canadian leg of his North American tour, via Alymer, Chats, and Armprior. He did not get back to Britain until the middle of November.

Fifty-six years to the day after the Prince of Wales had laid the cornerstone, his brother, the Duke of Connaught, re-laid it as the cornerstone of the new Parliament Building that replaced the original building, gutted in a mysterious fire in February 1916.

Sources:

Cellem, Robert, 1861. Visit Of His Royal Highness The Prince Of Wales To The British American Provinces And United States In The Year 1860, Henry Rowsell: Toronto.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1860. “Preparing To Receive The Prince! The Council & Citizens At Work!” 18 August.

———————–, 1860. “On Preparations To Receive H.R.H. The Prince of Wales,” 1 September.

————————, 1860. “The Prince in Ottawa,” 8 September.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1972. “Royal Nay hero was slave’s son,” 15 November.

Images: HMS Hero, anonymous, From Edward VII His Life and Times, published 1910.

Cornerstone Laying Ceremony, 1860, City of Ottawa Archives,

Lumbermen’s Arch, Illustrated London News.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

THE HISTORY OF OTTAWA
- Clifford Scott

We are fortunate to live in one of the world's most beautiful cities and history is all around us. Most of us really don't know of more than a few of the contributions that have been made by Ottawa citizens and institutions.

Ottawans have contributed much to Canadian folklore, inventions, science and economic, social and cultural growth of Canada, not to mention the political goings on that have been part and parcel of the City's history since 1867 and before.

label ... to tell the stories of some of the people who have lived here over the last 175 years. label

One purpose of this series of columns is to provide information on some of these happenings and also to tell the stories of some of the people who have lived here over the last 175 years. First, the native peoples and then the French explorers and Courieres-de-bois. Then came some people up from the new United States who had stayed loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution After the War of 1812, the British government decided military preparedness had to be improved and Colonel John By was sent here to build the Rideau Canal. With him and his construction plans came English officials, Scottish stone masons and Irish labourers to join the Natives and French who were already here.. From this earliest time, we have the stories of Colonel By, Duncan McNabb (who, it is said, still haunts the Bytown Museum and the famous lumberjack Joseph Montferrand, better known to Stompin' Tom Connors as Big Joe Mufferaw. Early settlers built their homes, churches and schools. In 1831, a publication that sought to attract emigration to Canada said the lands “about the Canal” should soon become very valuable and ecouraged settlers there “lest some lynx eyed American be attracted”. He commented that the country around there is very beautiful and suitable for farming.

“The scenery about Bytown is, next to that at the Falls of Niagara, the most picturesque of the inhabited regions of Canada”.

Wm. Catermole who wrote the pamphlet achieved his purpose. The “Smith's Gazetteer” published in 1846 gives a goodly amount of detail about the place then called Bytown. Smith's report also speaks to the beauty of the area. He says “The scenery about Bytown is, next to that at the Falls of Niagara, the most picturesque of the inhabited regions of Canada”. He notes the town has some 7000 inhabitants divided between Upper and Lower towns, and is principally supported by the lumber trade. Inhabitants of Lower Town are said to be about one third French and that the remainder are “principally Irish” There are five churches in Lower Town and three in Upper Town. There are three weekly newspapers—the “Ottawa Advocate”, the Bytown Gazette” and the “Packet”. .. Mail was available each day, carried on horseback from Kingston.

On the entertainment front there were a “Commercial Reading room” and a “Mercantile Library Association”, four taverns in Upper Town and thirty five taverns plus twenty beer shops in Lower town. Two breweries manufactured products for the above! Health care was provided by a physician and surgeon and four druggists, while legal needs were served by seven lawyers Economically, allowing five dollars to the pound sterling, over $1,700,000 in timber was shipped—white pine, red pine, oak and elm and saw logs. Logs were worth about $2.50 each and timber pieces were anywhere from 15 to 25 cents a foot.

Land values had risen rapidly eg “The land on which the Upper town is erected, together with a portion of that comprising the Lower Town, was purchased some years ago for the sum of $400, and is now computed to be worth some $250,000 to $300,000” Much more is contained in the “Gazetteer” on the various trades in Bytown, educational facilities and stores. If readers are interested more can be published later. Catermole's prediction was achieved!. Bytown had grown considerably in fourteen years and much more was to come!

A few questions:
(1) By what margin did drinking establishments outnumber churches?
(2) What year is represented by the facts above?
(3) From what source do you think those seven lawyers made their incomes?

Answers:
(1) At least seven to one.
(2) 1846
(3) Probably real estate and timber contract

 

Cliff Scott, an Ottawa resident since 1954 and a former history lecturer at the University of Ottawa (UOttawa), he also served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Public Service of Canada.

Since 1992, he has been active in the volunteer sector and has held executive positions with The Historical Society of Ottawa, the Friends of the Farm and the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa. He also inaugurated the Historica Heritage Fair in Ottawa and still serves on its organizing committee.


The 1939 Royal Visit

- James Powell

 

19 May 1939


In early May 1939, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth sailed from England on the Empress of Australia bound for Canada on a month-tour of North America. It was the first visit by a reigning sovereign to Canada, for that matter to any overseas Dominion. It was also the first time that a British monarch had visited the United States of America. With the clouds of war darkening Europe, the tour had tremendous political significance as Britain sought allies in the expected conflict with Nazi Germany. Lesser known is the constitutional significance of the trip, with the King visiting Canada, not as the King of Great Britain, but as the King of Canada.

Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada’s Governor General, raised the possibility of a Canadian Royal Tour in early 1937, with Prime Minister Mackenzie King extending the official invitation while he was in London for the King George’s coronation in May of that year. Tweedsmuir, also known as John Buchan, the famous Scottish novelist, was a passionate supporter of Canada. He sought to give substance to the Statute of Westminster. The Statute, passed in Britain in December 1931, effectively gave Canada its autonomy, recognizing that the Canadian government was in no way subordinate to the Imperial government in either domestic or international affairs, although they shared a common allegiance to the Crown. At a time when many Canadians saw their first loyalty as being to the Empire, Tweedsmuir hoped that a Royal Tour of Canada would strengthen a still nascent Canadian nationalism. He believed that it was essential that King George be seen in Canada doing his kingly duties as the King of Canada rather than a symbol of Empire. Earning the ire of Canadian imperialists, Tweedsmuir publicly stated that “A Canadian’s first loyalty is not to the British Commonwealth of Nations but to Canada and Canada’s King.” When U.S. President Roosevelt heard that a trip to Canada was being planned for the royal couple, he extended an invitation to the King and Queen to come to the United States as well, writing that a visit would be “an excellent thing for Anglo-American relations.”

Although the British Government was supportive of a North American Royal Tour, the trip was delayed for almost two years owing to the political situation in Europe. When the decision was finally made to proceed in the spring of 1939, the original plan to use a battleship for the transatlantic voyage was scrapped in favour of a civilian ocean liner in case the warship was needed to defend Britain. Even so, the trip was almost stillborn given deteriorating European political conditions. The cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Southampton provided a military escort for the King and Queen. The two vessels also secretly carried fifty tons of British gold destined for the Bank of Canada’s vault on Wellington Street, out of reach of Germany, and ready to be used to buy war material and other supplies, from Canada and the United States.

After taking leave of their daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, at Waterloo Station in London, the royal couple made their way to Portsmouth where they met the 20,000 ton Empress of Australia. Delayed two days by heavy seas and fog, the gleaming white ship received a rapturous welcome on its arrival in Québec City on 17 May. In the days before the Quiet Revolution, the Crown, seen as a guarantor of minority rights, was held in high esteem in French Canada. More than 250,000 people crammed onto the Plains of Abraham and along the heights overlooking the St Lawrence to greet the ocean liner, and for a glimpse of their King and Queen. The crowds roared Vive le Roi and Vive la Reine as the King and Queen alit on Canadian soil for the first time at Wolfe’s Cove. A National Film Board documentary covering the event described King George as the “symbol of the new Canada, a free nation inside a great Commonwealth.”

The royal couple was greeted by federal and provincial dignitaries, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, as well as an honour guard of the francophone Royal 22nd Regiment—colloquially known in English as the Van Doos—that escorted them through the crowded, flag-bedecked streets of old Québec to the provincial legislature building. There, the King and Queen were officially welcomed, with the King replying in both English and French in the slow, deliberate style he used to overcome his stammer.

The King and Queen spent two days in la belle province, also stopping in Trois Rivières, and Montreal before making their way to the nation’s capital. By one estimate, 2 million people were on the streets of Montreal to greet the monarchs. Their luxurious blue and white train, its twelve cars each equipped with a telephone and radio, pulled into Ottawa’s Island Park Station at about 11am on 19 May. Despite the cold, inclement weather—drizzle and what suspiciously looked like snow—tens of thousands had assembled to greet the King and Queen. Many had gone early, either to the train station, or to find a viewing spot along the processional route. At morning rush hour, downtown Ottawa was deserted “as though its entire population had been mysteriously wiped out overnight” according to the Ottawa Citizen. In actual fact, the city’s population had doubled with many coming from outlying areas to see the King and Queen. Thousands of Americans had also come north to witness history in the making.

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Descending from the train onto a red-carpeted platform under a canopy draped with bunting, King George and Queen Elizabeth were met by Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, members of cabinet who were not presented at Québec City, and Ottawa’s mayor Stanley Lewis. A 21-gun salute was fired by the 1st Field Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery to honour the sovereigns’ arrival. Church bells began pealing. With the clouds parting, the royal party, accompanied by an escort of the 4th Princess Louise’s Dragoon Guards, rode in an open landau from the Island Park Station through the Experimental Farm, along Highway 16, down the Driveway to Connaught Place, and finally along Mackenzie Avenue and Lady Grey Drive to Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. Along the route, the royal couple was greeted by a continuous rolling applause by the hundreds of thousands that line the eight-mile route.

With the King now resident in Canada, the Governor General, as the King’s representative in Canada, was essentially out of a job—exactly what Lord Tweedsmuir wanted to achieve with the Royal Visit. According to Gustave Lanctôt, the official historian of the tour, “when Their Majesties walked into their Canadian residence [Rideau Hall], the Statute of Westminster had assumed full reality: the King of Canada had come home.” One of his first acts as King of Canada was accepting the credentials of Daniel Roper as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, something that the Governor General would normally have done. Later that afternoon in the Senate, after another procession through the streets of Ottawa to Parliament Hill, the King gave Royal Assent to nine bills; again, this typically would have been the job of the Governor General. The King subsequently ratified two treaties with the United States—a trade agreement, and a convention on boundary waters at Rainy Lake, Ontario. For the first time ever, King George appended the Great Seal of Canada. Prior to the Royal Visit, The Seals Act 1939 had been passed specifically to allow the King to append Canada’s Seal rather than the Seal of the United Kingdom. Once again, this underscored Canada’s sovereignty as a distinct nation within the British Commonwealth.

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That evening, a State Dinner was held at the Château Laurier hotel for more than 700 guests consisting of clear soup, a mousse of chicken, lamb with asparagus, carrots, peas, and potatoes, followed by a fruit pudding with maple syrup. While a formal affair, the meal was held “in an atmosphere of democratic ease.” After dinner, the King and Queen stepped out on the balcony of the hotel to receive a thunderous applause from the 40,000 people in the Square below.

The following day, 20 May, was declared the King’s official birthday; his actual birthday was 14 December. With great pageantry, a Trooping of the Colours was held on Parliament Hill to mark the event. This was followed by the laying of the cornerstone of Canada’s Supreme Court building on Wellington Street by Queen Elizabeth as her husband looked on. Speaking in English and French, the Queen remarked that “Perhaps it is not inappropriate that this task [laying the cornerstone] should be performed by a woman; for a woman’s position in civilized society has depended upon the growth of law.”

After the laying the Supreme Court’s cornerstone, the royal couple had a quick tour of Hull, with an impromptu stop in front of the Normal School so that the Queen could accept a bouquet of flowers. They then returned to Ottawa via the Alexandra Bridge for a private lunch with the Prime Minister at Laurier House. That afternoon, the King and Queen took a break from their official duties to tour the Quebec countryside near Alymer. On their way back home to Rideau Hall, they stopped at Dow’s Lake where they talked to a small boy who was fishing. When informed that he was talking to the King and Queen, the little boy fled.

On Sunday, 21 May, the King formally unveiled the National War Memorial in front of more than 100,000 spectators and 10,000 veterans of the Great War. Commenting on the allegorical figures of Peace and Freedom at the top of the memorial, the King said that “It is well that we have in one of the world’s capitals a visible reminder of so great a truth that without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace, no enduring freedom.”

After the unveiling, God Save the King and O Canada were played. There was considerable press commentary that the King remained in salute for O Canada, which was until then just a popular patriotic song. It is from this point that the song became Canada’s unofficial national anthem, something which was finally officially recognized in 1980. The King and Queen then strolled into the crowd of veterans to greet and talk to them personally. This was an unprecedented event. Never before had the King and Queen walked unescorted and unprotected through such crowds; an act that delighted the ex-servicemen and terrified the security men.

Mid-afternoon, the King and Queen returned to their train, leaving Ottawa for Toronto, their next stop on their month-long Royal Tour of Canada and the United States. Interestingly, on their short U.S. visit, no British minister accompanied the King and Queen. Instead, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the sole minister present to advise the King. This underscored the point that King George was visiting the United States as King of Canada. After four days in the United States, with stops in Washington and New York, including a visit to Canada’s pavilion at the World Fair, the King and Queen resumed their Canadian tour in eastern Canada.

After crisscrossing the continent by train, King George and Queen Elizabeth bade farewell to Canada on 15 June, leaving Halifax on the Empress of Britain, bound for St John’s, capital of Newfoundland, then a separate Dominion. The royal couple left North America two days later, returning to England on 21 June.

The trip was an overwhelming success. The King was seen and widely acclaimed as King of Canada—the objective of the Governor General. It was a political triumph for Prime Minister Mackenzie King who accompanied the royal couple throughout their trip. It was also a huge success for the King and Queen. Later, the Queen remarked that “Canada had made us, the King and I.” The handsome, young couple charmed their Canadian subjects. With the world on the brink of war, they pushed the grim international headlines to the back pages, and reminded Canadians of their democratic institutions, and the freedoms they enjoyed. The King and Queen also enchanted President Roosevelt and the U.S. public. The goodwill they earned was to be of huge importance following the outbreak of war less than three months later. Lastly, the visit was a triumph for the new Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). With more than 100 journalists covering the Royal Tour, the event established the broadcaster as the authoritative voice of Canada.

Sources:

Bousfield, Arthur and Toffoli, Garry, 1989. Royal Spring: The Royal Tour of 1939 and the Queen Mother in Canada, Dundurn Press Ltd: Toronto.

British Pathé, 1939. Royal Banners Over Ottawa,

Canadian Crown, 2015. The Royal Tour of King George VI,

Galbraith, J. William, 1989. “Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1939 Royal Visit,” Canadian Parliamentary Review,

————————-, 2013. John Buchan: Model Governor General, Dundurn Press Ltd: Toronto.

Harris, Carolyn, 2015. “1939 Royal Tour,” Historica Canada,

Lanctôt, Gustave, 1964. The Royal Tour of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Canada and the United States of America, 1939. E.P. Taylor Foundation: Toronto.

National Film Board, 1939. “The Royal Visit,”

National Post, 2004. “It made Us, the King and I,”

The Ottawa Citizen, 1939. “Over 10,000 Veterans Ready To Line Route For Royalty,”1 May.

———————–, 1939. “Magnificent Royal Welcome Given By Quebec,” 17 May.

———————-, 1939. “Complete Official Program For Royal Visit To Ottawa Contains Ceremonial Detail,” 18 May.

———————, 1939. “Palace on Wheels Official Residence Of King And Queen,” 18 May.

———————, 1939. “Our King And Queen, God Bless Them!” 19 May.

———————, 1939. “Their Canadian Capital Extends Affectionate, Warm-Hearted, Greeting,”19 May.

ThemeTrains.com, 2015. “The Story of the Canadian: Royal Train of 1939,”

Vipond, Mary, 2010. “The Royal Tour of 1939 as a Media Event,” Canadian Journal of Communications, Vol. 35, 149-172.

Images:

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in State Landau, Wellington St, Ottawa, 19 May 1939, British Pathé, 1939. Royal Banners Over Ottawa.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth giving Royal Assent to Bills in Canada’s Senate, 19 May 1939, Imperial War Museum, C-033278.

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.


The Rideau Club Fire

- James Powell

23 October 1979


Ottawa’s history has been marked by major fires that have reshaped its contours. Most devastating were the massive conflagrations of 1870 and 1900 that twice destroyed much of the western suburbs of the capital, as well as large chunks of Hull on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. The mysterious and deadly fire of 1916 that gutted the Centre Block on Parliament Hill is also worthy of a “dishonourable” mention. Other historic buildings lost to flames include the Russell Hotel, destroyed in 1928 and the old City Hall, gone in 1931. The former stood at the corner of Elgin and Sparks Street, roughly where the War Memorial is located today, while the site of the latter is now Confederation Park on Elgin Street. A more recent calamity was the fire that consumed the Rideau Club building during the evening of Tuesday, 23 October 1979. The landmark building had one of the most prestigious addresses in the Capital, being located at 84 Wellington Street on the corner of Metcalfe Street, immediately across from the front gates of Parliament and right beside the then American embassy.

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For those unfamiliar with the Rideau Club, it is unquestionably the senior, and most exclusive, private club in Ottawa. It was founded in 1865, the year prior to Confederation, by an act of the Province of Canada. The Bill, titled an Act to Incorporate the Rideau Club of the City of Ottawa, sailed quickly through both the Provincial legislature and the Legislative Council (the upper house of Parliament), spurred no doubt by the fact that more than two-thirds of the Bill’s sixty-three petitioners were parliamentarians. The Club was modelled after the British gentlemen’s club that had become very popular in Victorian London. Such clubs provided a haven for gentlemen, or aspiring gentlemen, seeking a quiet respite from home life and a place to entertain guests. The clubs were also useful for business meetings and networking. Although Ottawa in 1865 had lots of taverns and bars catering to its many loggers, there was little in the way of refined amenities. The capital was still a small, rough-hewed, shanty town that had been cut out of the wilderness only thirty years earlier. At a stretch, its population may have been about 18,000. But having been named the capital of Canada in 1857, and with the construction of the parliamentary and government buildings nearing completion, the town was welcoming an influx of parliamentarians and senior civil servants used to the creature comforts of Toronto, Quebec or Montreal. The Rideau Club was their way of bringing some of the finer things of life to the nation’s capital.

The Club’s constitution and rules drew heavily from those of Montreal’s St-James Club established in 1858, with its membership transcending language, religion and political barriers. Its initial membership list reads like a roll call of Canada’s notables of the time. First on the list of petitioners was none other than the Conservative John A. Macdonald, who at that time was the Premier of Canada West, and, along with Sir Naricisse-Fortunat Belleau, who was the Premier of Canada East, headed the last government of the Province of Canada before Confederation. Macdonald subsequently became the first Premier of the new Dominion of Canada following Confederation in 1867, receiving a knighthood for his work in uniting the British colonies of North America. Macdonald was to become the Rideau Club’s first president. Second on the list was George-Étienne Cartier, who had shared the premiership with Macdonald in an earlier Provincial government. Like Macdonald, Cartier was a “father of Confederation,” and was made a baronet by Queen Victoria for his role in founding the Dominion of Canada. Eight other “fathers of Confederation” were on that first membership list, including D’Arcy McGee, who was assassinated in 1868, George Brown, the fiery Reform leader who founded The Globe newspaper, the above-mentioned Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, and Hector-Louis Langevin who was later embroiled in the Pacific Scandal of 1873 involving bribes in the bidding for a national railway. Another founding member of the Rideau Club was John Sandfield Macdonald who also had been a former Premier of the Province of Canada. After Confederation, he became the first Premier of Ontario. Ottawa’s entrepreneurial elite were also represented on the initial Club subscription list. Robert Bell, the editor and owner of The Ottawa Citizen newspaper and Alonzo Wright, a lumber baron, were founding members.

The club’s first home was at 200 Wellington Street, the location of Doran’s Hotel, Ottawa’s leading inn at the time. In 1869, the Club moved to the Queen’s Restaurant, located at the eastern corner of Wellington and Metcalfe Streets, the site of the Langevin Building today named in honour of Hector-Louis Langevin. In 1876, the Club moved to the other side of Metcalfe Street when the Rideau Club Building Association acquired land for $4,000 from the famed Ottawa photographer, James Topley, and built a modest clubhouse. With the subsequent purchase of an adjoining lot, the building was enlarged on three occasions, the last in 1911, to meet the needs of the Club’s expanding membership. This building, with its front doors facing Parliament Hill, would be the Club’s home for 103 years.

Although the Club welcomed members from all political stripes, francophones, anglophones, Catholics and Protestants, it was strictly men only. Also like most private gentlemen’s clubs of the time, Jews were not welcome; anti-Semitism, though often subtly expressed, was widespread in Canada. Although the Club’s membership rules did not explicitly reject Jewish membership, the selection process for members effectively did so. Should a member propose a Jew for membership, it only required a small, anti-Semitic minority to anonymously block the application. Two rejections meant that an applicant was “blackballed” (i.e. barred) for life. It took almost one hundred years before the Club admitted its first Jewish members in 1964, a reform made possible be changing in the selection mechanism so that members were required to give reasons for vetoing an application. Among the first Jewish members were Louis Rasminsky, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, and Lawrence Frieman, the owner of a major Ottawa department store and a prominent philanthropist. It took another fifteen years before women broke down similar discriminatory barriers. Jean Pigott, a former Member of Parliament and an adviser to Prime Minister Joe Clark became the first female member in the summer of 1979, just months before the Rideau Club was gutted by fire.

The fire, which destroyed the four-story edifice, began at about 5pm on the evening of 23 October 1979, a timing to which I can personally attest as I was outside the Rideau Club shortly after the fire was detected. I had been walking along Sparks Street after work on the way to W.H. Smith bookstore when I smelt an acrid odour as I approached the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe Streets. Seeing a curl of smoke coming off of the Rideau Club roof, I rushed to a gift shop on Metcalfe Street to use its telephone to raise the alarm. I was in the process of dialling when I heard the arrival of fire engines. Over the next several hours, I stayed to watch the unfolding drama from the safety of the Parliament Hill lawn, along with several thousand passersby, civil servants, and parliamentarians, including Prime Minister Joe Clark.

With the Club’s telephone lines dead, the fire was called in by a Club staff member who had gone to a Sparks Street clothing store to use their telephone. He had initially tried the neighbouring U.S. embassy, but got no response at the front door. At the time, there was only one member inside the Club, former Governor General Roland Michener who was eating toast and drinking tea while reading a newspaper in an upstairs sitting room. With considerable understatement, the Club’s bartender, Philip Sylvain, informed Michener that “there may be a slight fire,” and advised him to leave the building. After the hall porter help him to don his overcoat, the 80-year old former governor general made his way to the National Press Club for dinner where he created pandemonium when he informed journalists that the Rideau Club was on fire.

Apparently starting in the basement, near the elevator shaft, the blaze quickly spread through the building, its path facilitated by the building’s dry wooden interior coated by many layers of paint. Although the Club had recently been renovated, there were no sprinkler system. The cause of the fire was never clearly ascertained. Initial suspicions focused on the furnace boiler or faulty wiring, but Ontario’s Fire Marshall’s Office later rejected both possibilities. In the event, sixty fire fighters responded to the alarm with seven pumper trucks, three aerial trucks and two ladder trucks, as well as a squad truck and other emergency vehicles. Fifty policemen secured the scene and directed traffic, while an estimated 6,000 people looked on from Parliament Hill.

As night fell, the flames lit up the sky. At 6.20pm, the flag on the roof the Club caught fire. Shortly afterwards, the heavily-painted balcony burst into flame, spectacularly illuminating the structure. At the fire consumed the historic building, Rideau Club members, and indeed all of Ottawa, grieved. One member described the event as “going to the funeral of an old friend.” The building was completely gutted. Along with its meeting place, the Club lost priceless records, and many works of art, including two paintings by the famed Group of Seven artist, A.Y. Jackson. Surviving were some cutlery, plates, and seven 19th century Ottawa prints salvaged from the Ladies’ dining room. An Inuit soapstone carving used as a Billiard Trophy was also recovered from the wreckage. Amazingly, more than $10,000 worth of wine and liquor was additionally retrieved, having been stored in a cellar protected by thick, stone walls.

Also gone in the blaze were priceless artifacts housed in the National Capital Commission’s tourist centre located in a corner of the Rideau Club building. Lost treasures included 150-year old model of an 18th century fighting ship, tools used in the construction of the Rideau Canal during the 1820s, and a hand-woven tapestry. As well, tourist brochures worth $100,000 were destroyed.

With the wind blowing from the east, the Rideau Club’s immediate neighbour, the Beaux-Arts U. S. Embassy building constructed in 1931, avoided damage. A firewall and timely action by fire fighters also spared the adjoining Blackburn building at the rear. However, sparks and burning embers from the Rideau Club fire threatened the Langevin Building, home of the Prime Minister’s Office, on the western side of Metcalfe Street. Although the fire jumped the road, firemen were able to contain the blaze to the eastern roof of the Langevin Building, using a turret gun and two hand lines that pumped 750 gallons of water per minute onto the roof. As a precautionary measure, staff were evacuated and furniture and files were moved into the interior hallways. Even though the building was saved, the damage, estimated at $500,000, was extensive.

The next morning, Ottawa citizens awoke to the sight of a smoldering, burnt-out shell in the heart of their city. The cost of the fire was placed in the millions. Although Club members hoped that the exterior walls might be saved and the structure rebuilt, the government, which had expropriated the building in 1973, quickly concluded that the edifice was unsafe and beyond repair. With a pending visit by U.S. President Carter, the remains of the Rideau Club were demolished with almost unseemly haste three weeks after the fire.

Neither the Langevin Building nor the Rideau Club building were insured. When the government decided to expropriate the Rideau Club building to make way for a possible future Parliamentary building—an idea that was subsequently quashed owing to high costs—it had originally offered Club members a meagre $1.3 million in compensation. Taking the matter to Federal Court, Club members in 1980 were finally awarded $10.5 million, including interest, in compensation by Mr Justice James Jerome, one of the few Federal judges who was not a member of the Club.

photo

After using the Chateau Laurier as an interim home after the fire, Club members applied their compensation money to purchase the fifteenth floor of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building at 99 Bank Street, paying more than $5 million for the floor. An additional $3 million was spent on furnishings. From this penthouse floor, members have a fine view of the Parliament buildings and the surrounding Ottawa skyline.

Today, the site of the old Rideau Club building is an open square, featuring a stature honouring Terry Fox, the one-legged marathon runner who died from cancer in 1981 while attempting to run across Canada.

Sources:

Lynch, Charles, 1990. Up from the Ashes: The Rideau Club Story, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

McCreery, Christopher, 2015. Savoir-Faire, Savoir Vivre: Rideau Club 1865-2015, Dundurn: Toronto.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1979. “Historic Rideau Club In Ruins,” 24 October.

————————-, 1979. “Priceless exhibits lost from NCC’s Collection,” 24 October.

————————-, 1979. “Flames Posed Security Worry,” 24 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1979. “Members could only watch and grieve,” 24 October.

————————–, 1979. “Fire cause puzzles investigators,” 25 October.

————————–, 1979. “Entire city block lay at wind’s mercy.” 25 October.

————————–, 1979. “Rideau Club death marks changing face of Ottawa.” 25 October.

————————–, 1979. “Rideau Club blaze began near elevator.” 1 November.

————————–, 1979. “Rideau Club will crumble,” 7 November.

Province of Canada, 1865. Statutes, 4th Session of the 8th Parliament

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Armistice Day

- James Powell

11 November 1918

The headline in The Citizen said it all: “PEACE! World War Ends; Armistice Signed; Kaiser Is Out; Revolution Grows.” After four years and a half years of fighting, the war was over. Shortly after 5am, Paris time, on 11 November 1918, the German politician Mathias Ezberger signed the armistice on behalf of Germany in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne, about 60 kilometres north of Paris. It was to take effect six hours later, allowing time for the news to reach the front—a delay that cost many men their lives as fighting continued right up until 11am. The last Canadian soldier to die in the war was Private George Lawrence Price of the 2nd Canadian Division who was killed at 10.58am by a sniper while his unit attempted to take the small Belgian village of Havré near Mons.

News of the armistice reached Ottawa via an Associated Press dispatch at 3.06am that Monday morning. Seconds later, electric lights throughout the capital blinked four times—a pre-arranged signal organized by The Ottawa Citizen with the Ottawa Electric and Hydro-Electric Companies to indicate the arrival of peace. Except for patrons of all-night diners, most Ottawa citizens were home in bed, though many had left their lights on in hopes of witnessing history in the making.

Two days earlier, mid-Saturday afternoon, Ottawa’s electric lights had also blinked; that time twice on news that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated. Within minutes, the streets were a mass of exultant people, celebrating the end of the “Beast of Berlin,” and the overthrow of the House of Hohenzollern. Vehicles of all descriptions, flivvers, touring cars, tractors, and trucks, many decorated with flags and pennants, and loaded with people, slowly made their way down Sparks Street. The noise was deafening. In addition to horns, tin whistles, and the beat of pots and pans, some automobile owners had attached whistles to “cut outs” in their car exhaust pipes adding still more decibels to the cacophony. That evening, a mob of celebrating young people paraded through the revolving doors of the Château Laurier Hotel, past the statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the rotunda, and into the dining room, to the applause of diners. Shortly after 11pm, an effigy of Kaiser Bill, decorated with pictures of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, the instigator of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Austrian Emperor, and the German Crown Prince, was burnt on Connaught Square. The effigy had been made by the Citizen press-room staff using oil-soaked rags and waste. It was set alight by Chief Graham of the Ottawa Fire Department. The crowds started to disperse after midnight to await news that peace had arrived.

An armistice had been expected the following day. But Sunday came and went without an announcement. Nonetheless, plans for the big day went ahead. Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher announced that the day of the armistice would be a public holiday. A “monster” parade was scheduled. A request went out for all car owners to decorate their vehicles with flags of allied nations, and join the parade. Along with the war veterans and members of the 2nd Battalion stationed at Lansdowne Park, the letter carriers would parade in uniform. The pipe band of the St Andrew’s Society was also requested to gather for the march on Parliament. Kiwanis Club members were asked to form up at the entrance to Parliament Hill close to Bank Street. A series of floats were also planned, including one of a boat on which the Kaiser was on his knees tied to a winch.

When the news finally broke in the wee hours of Monday morning, the city went wild; the ensuring celebration far outstripped anything two days earlier. As the Citizen noted, Saturday’s celebrations merely marked the passing of a murderer and tyrant, while Monday’s “was a celebration of the greatest victory for civilization in the history of the world.” After the city’s lights flashed, Ottawa residents were summoned to the streets by the sound of fire station gongs and sirens, factory whistles, and church bells. In these days before radio, telephone girls quickly spread the word across telephone exchanges. Whole families, tousled haired and hastily dressed, stumbled out onto the early-morning streets waving flags or pennants, and blowing tin horns. The Postmaster-General, Lieutenant-Col. Hon. Pierre-Édouard Blondin was in his home library on Range Road when his electric lights blinked. Immediately, he and his family got dressed and drove in their car to Sparks Street where they found themselves at the head of an impromptu parade of celebrating citizens.

At 3.10am, the Citizen posted the new bulletin “GERMANY SURRENDERS” on their Sparks Street office window, eliciting prolonged cheers from the growing throng outside. A short time later, the skirl of bagpipes could be heard over the din, emanating from the corner of O’Connor and Slater Streets, followed by the sound of drums and horns of the “Victory Loan” and G.W.V.A. (Great War Veterans’ Association) bands that had quickly assembled. Making their way to Parliament Hill, they played “Maple Leaf Forever,” with thousands of voices joining in the song. After the last chorus, the bands struck up the famous tune of the “Old Hundred,” to which the crowd sang “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” After a moment of silence, an immense cheer went up that lasted for more than two minutes. The massed bands and then played another old church favourite “Our God Our Help In Ages Past.” As dawn approach, Reverend (Major) T. Thompson gave a concluding prayer. Afterwards, the bands struck up some familiar tunes, followed by the National Anthem, and, finally, “Tipperary,” in tribute to the boys a long way from home in the trenches in France and Belgium. Unabashed tears ran down the cheeks of many as they sang.

The Ottawa Citizen described the scene as one of “extreme beauty.” Above the heads of the crowds, stars sparkled, with a faint hint of dawn in the east. Over at Connaught Square, the lights illuminating the Victory Loan campaign, which included a huge promotional “cash register,” twinkled, giving the appearance of a “fairy spectacle.” High in the sky, the large electric sign mounted on top of the Château Laurier Hotel read “Victory” instead of “Buy Victory Bonds,” thanks to a quick-thinking hotel electrician. On Wellington Street, a bonfire cast an orange, flickering glow on the surrounding buildings and the milling crowds. The partying continued through the day. Stores, decorated in flags and bunting, experienced a run on Allied flags. One shop even sold out of old Diamond Jubilee Flags, bearing an image of Queen Victoria, left over and almost forgotten from the 1897 festivities.

The official celebrations began at 2pm that afternoon with more than 10,000 people assembled on Parliament Hill. In a huge parade, veterans and the G.W.V.A. band, directed by Lieutenant Jones, assembled on Cartier Square, and marched to the Hill. There, the “vets” met up once again with the “Victory Loan” band, conducted by Sergeant Cook, in front of the new Centre Block, still being rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1916. On either side of the steps leading up to the building were soldiers representing the allied nations holding their flags. At 2.30, the official party arrived, including the Governor General and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Borden, the wife of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden was in England at the time), Hon. Newton Rowell, the President of the Privy Council, as well as senior religious and military leaders.

After being introduced by Mr Rowell, the Governor General spoke of the major role played by Canadian troops in achieving victory, and how glad he was to be in Canada and “share in the pride that Canada had every right to feel.” He added “the Empire would never forget the deeds of its soldier sons, on land, in the air, and on the seas.” He concluded by saying that “we have laid the foundation for a long peace.” Although the Governor General was wildly cheered, the newspaper reported that his speech was difficult to hear owing to “small boys extracting horrible sounds from tin horns.” After prayers of thanksgiving offered by the clergy, the two bands reprised the hymns that they had played earlier in the morning in the spontaneous celebrations that had occurred immediately follow news of the armistice. The official ceremonies concluded by a speech from Rowell who spoke of the “debt of gratitude” owned by the nation to those who sacrificed their lives for the Empire in the fight for civilization. He also read out to the cheering crowd the armistice terms signed by Germany. The proceedings ended with a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia.”

That evening, a special Thanksgiving service was held at St Bartholomew’s Church with the Governor General reading the lesson. The following day, 12 November, another Thanksgiving service was held at Christ Church Cathedral at noon. Among the congregation were the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Lady Borden. Later that day, members of the Ottawa Motor Club assembled at the corner of Wellington and Bank Streets for the “Great Victory Parade” down Rideau, Bank, and Sparks Streets.

Sadly, as we all know, the Governor General’s hope that the war had laid the foundation for a lasting peace was not fulfilled. Twenty-one years later, a new generation of Canadian soldiers were called to arms.

Sources:

The Ottawa Citizen, 1918. “PEACE!,” 11 November.

————————, 1918. “When Peace Comes Ottawa Will Have Full Celebration, 11 November.

———————-, 1918. “Ottawa Joyfully Celebrated The News Of The Kaiser’s Abdication, 11 November.

———————–, 1918. “Ottawans Joined In Celebrations As Never Before,” 12 November.

The Ottawa Journal, 1918. “The Auto Parade,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. “People’s Victory, Says Bishop Roper,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. People Of Capital Celebrate Twenty-four Hours, 12 November.

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Sabotage on Parliament Hill?

- James Powell


3 February 1916


It was mid-winter. On the Western Front in France where tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers were entrenched, there was a lull in the fighting; the battle of Verdun was yet three weeks away. Back home in Ottawa, all too was quiet on the parliamentary front. But this was to quickly change. The House of Commons convened in the afternoon of 3 February 1916 with a light agenda. Among the items for discussion was a proposal by Mr. Clarence Jameson, deputy for Digby, Nova Scotia, for an inquiry into the large differential between the retail price of fish and the dock-side price received by fishermen. Shortly before 9.00 pm, Mr. William Loggie, member for Northumberland, New Brunswick, moved that the House refer the issue to the Marine and Fisheries Committee. Further debate was interrupted by a commotion at the far end of the Commons chamber facing the Speaker’s chair. In rushed Mr. R.C. Stewart, the Commons’ Chief Doorkeeper. As tersely reported in Hansard, the parliamentary record, Stewart exclaimed “There is a big fire in the reading room; everybody get out quickly.” Within seconds, the corridor leading to the House of Commons was in flames. With smoke billowing into the chamber, members, officials, and visitors in the gallery fled for their lives. It was a close call. Coughing and gasping for breath, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden had to be helped outside by a fifteen-year old page.

Firefighters from Ottawa’s Fire Department were on the scene within minutes to assist the Dominion Police who were responsible for fire protection on Parliament Hill. They were alerted by a signal sent to a nearby fire station by a newly-installed automatic fire alarm system which responded to the dramatic change of temperature inside Parliament’s centre block. But their quick response was to no avail. The gothic building which housed both the House of Commons and the Senate was quickly engulfed in flames. Constructed fifty years previously, its interior largely consisted of highly inflammable varnished wooden panelling and cabinets, its roof supported by massive pine beams. While furnished with modern fire extinguishers and hoses hooked up to the water system, the building was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, nor did it have fire doors which might have retarded the fire’s progress.

Seventy-eight firemen and Hill staff battled the blaze. Through the smoke and flames, the bell in the Victoria Tower tolled the hours until the stroke of midnight when it finally crashed to the ground. When fire fighters finally got the fire under control at 2.00am, the centre block was gutted. The only part spared was the Parliamentary Library to the rear, saved by the quick action of Michael MacCormac, assistant parliamentary librarian, who closed the iron doors which separated it from the main building.

Sadly, seven people lost their lives. Two were guests of Madame Sevigny, the wife of the Commons’ speaker. She had been hosting three friends in the Sevignys’ third floor apartment. When the alarm sounded, Madame Sevigny left the building with her two children and their nursemaids. Unfortunately, Madame Morin and Madame Brey didn’t immediately follow her, stopping first to retrieve valuables. Unfamiliar with the building, they were unable to find an exit in time and were overcome by smoke. Madame Dusseault, the third friend, survived by jumping from a third-floor window into a net held by firemen. Other victims included Mr Bowman Law, deputy for Yarmouth, and Mr J. Laplante, who were trapped in upstairs rooms. A policeman and two civil servants also perished when a wall fell on top of them as they battled the fire. Also lost in the blaze was the historic mace of the House of Commons, symbol of its authority, acquired in 1845 and used by the Province of Canada prior to Confederation.

Many believed that the fire was deliberately set by a German saboteur. This was not as far-fetched as it might sound. A year to the day prior to the fire, a German army reservist was partially successful in blowing up a railway bridge between Vanceboro, Maine and St. Croix, New Brunswick in an effort to disrupt troop movements. Chief Graham of the Ottawa Fire Department was convinced it was sabotage, saying that the “fire was set and well set.” He also clamed hearing five explosions that sounded like artillery shells.

A Royal Commission set up to examine the origins of the fire and its causes, looked closely at the sabotage allegations as well as other more mundane explanations, such as careless smoking or an electrical fault. It established that the blaze began in a lower shelf of one of six large wooden tables in the reading room located between the House of Commons and the Senate chambers at about 8.55pm. The first person to spot the fire was Mr Francis Glass, MP, who was in the reading room at that time. The only other occupant was Madame Verville, the wife of Alphonse Verville, another member of parliament. After Glass called for assistance, a policeman came in with a fire extinguisher but was unable to douse the flames which spread to newspapers hanging from a nearby wooden partition which in turn ignited the highly varnished wooden shelving that lined the room.

Experts testified how incendiary devices or fire accelerants might have been responsible, but no evidence of their use was found. Several people reported seeing strangers in the vicinity, including a “shifty” and “nervous” man with a “rather striking” grey moustache close to the House of Commons lobby shortly before 9.00pm. But nothing came of these allegations. Most damning was a statement from Mr John Rathom, editor of the Journal, a Rhode Island newspaper, who claimed that three weeks prior to the fire he had received information from employees at the German Embassy in the United States (then a neutral country) that Canada’s Parliament would shortly catch fire. While he had passed on this intelligence to a U.S. District Attorney, it was not sent to Canadian authorities. However, Mr Rathom declined to come to Ottawa for examination, and refused to reveal the names of his informants at the German Embassy.

Colonel Sherwood, head of the Dominion Police, was not convinced by the sabotage explanation. Given the times, he argued that fires were frequently but erroneously attributed to German sabotage, pointing to an incident in Brooklyn, New York where the explosion of two British munitions ships was initially thought to have been the handiwork of German saboteurs but was in fact due to faulty wiring. Although the general public had access to Parliament, including the reading room, the police had added staff at the start of the war and had taken additional security precautions following the Vanceboro incident. Any intruder would have been spotted by the constable on duty immediately outside the reading room.

With others testifying that the “No Smoking” signs in the reading room were routinely disregarded, a wayward cigar or cigarette seemed a plausible explanation for the fire, especially as burn marks marred the reading room’s furniture. But there was no evidence of anybody smoking immediately prior to the fire’s discovery. Alternatively, a fault in the building’s primitive electrical wiring system might have been responsible. However, experts ruled out the possibility of an electrical fire, testifying that the wires running to the lights on the tables in the reading room were safely housed in metal conduits.

One thing that became apparent at the Commission hearings was the considerable discord between the Dominion Police and the Ottawa Fire Department. Colonel Sherwood had refused to allow Chief Graham to station city firemen permanently on Parliament Hill. In his view, divided responsibility was “usually fatal and would always be vexatious and productive of friction.” He also maintained that all of his men were qualified to use fire equipment, and were trained to be more observant and alert than Ottawa’s firemen—a view disputed by Chief Graham. This dispute may have coloured the two men’s opposing views on the cause of the fire. A finding by the Commission that the fire had been the result of sabotage might have also reflected badly on the Dominion Police. On the other hand, Chief Graham seemed to see saboteurs behind every large Ottawa fire.

The Royal Commission concluded that “there are many circumstances connected with this fire that lead to a strong suspicion of incendiarism…But, while your commissioners are of such opinion, there is nothing in the evidence to justify your commissioners in finding that the fire was maliciously set.” They hoped that more evidence could be found in the future, and recommended that their report be treated as “interim” rather than “final.” While details of German espionage and sabotage activities in North American became known after the war, no additional evidence ever surfaced linking such activities to the Parliament fire. Nevertheless, the Commission’s suspicions provided grist to conspiracy theorists’ mills for decades to come.

Sources:

Grams, Grant, 2005. “Karl Respa and German Espionage in Canada During World War One,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Fall 2005, Vol. 8, Issue 1.

Royal Commission, 1916. Re: Parliament Hill Fire at Ottawa, February 3, 1916, Report of Commissioners and Evidence, Sessional Paper No. 72a, J. de la Tache, Ottawa.

The Maple Leaf, 1946. “Old clock tolled the hours until midnight when it crashed to the ground on the last stroke of 12,” 8 February 1946.

The Montreal Gazette, 1978. “Parliament on Fire,” 17 June.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1916. “Thousands View the Pathetic Spectacle on Parliament Hill,” 5 February.

———————–, 1946. “Mystery Still Shrouds the Burning of Parliament Buildings in 1916,” 1 February.

———————–, 1949. “Was Big Fire on “Hill” of Incendiary Origin?” 15 February.

———————–, 1949. “How One Mysterious New Resident Vanished,” 22 February.

———————-,1984. “He Helped save PM from 1916 Parliament,” 3 March.

———————-, 1985. “Parliament Can’t Function Without 17 1/2lb Symbol of Authority, 4 March.

Toronto Daily Star, 1945. “Saved Parliament’s Library in ’16, Dies,” 13 March.

Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Hill.

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Soviet Embassy Fire

- James Powell


1 January 1956

It was Sunday, 1 January 1956. Like most New Year’s Days, revellers from the previous night’s festivities were nursing sore heads. With Monday being a holiday, many Ottawa residents were happy to laze about the house and enjoy their long weekend. The virtuous and hardy braved sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures to go to church, or attend the annual Governor General’s New Year Levee. Held on Parliament Hill, more than 1,000 Ottawa residents filed into the crimson and gold Senate chamber late that morning to be greeted by Governor General Vincent Massey, before receiving a glass of punch and a light lunch in the nearby Railway Committee Room. As was customary at the time, it was a very masculine affair. Other than Charlotte Whitton, Ottawa’s formidable mayor, and some female members of the armed forces, there were very few women present. The city’s diplomatic corps was well represented, however. Among the foreign dignitaries at the reception to shake Massey’s hand were three uniformed representatives of the Soviet Embassy. Little did they realize they were about to have a very bad day.

Following the levee, which ended in the early afternoon, the three Russian officers undoubtedly hurried back to the Soviet embassy for their own New Year’s celebrations, hosted by Ambassador Dimitri Chuvahin. Located at 285 Charlotte Street in Sandy Hill, the embassy building had once been the mansion of the Booth family, Ottawa’s lumber barons. Requisitioned by the Canadian government in 1942 for use by the Royal Canadian Women’s Naval Services, the house was instead turned over to the Russians to house the growing Soviet legation. As guests left the Soviet reception at about 4.15pm, Miss Diane Destonis, a neighbour living in the apartment building across the street, spotted smoke drifting from a window on the third floor of the embassy building. Another neighbour, Mr W. Dore, also saw the smoke. Believing it was a kitchen fire, he tried to alert the Soviet embassy by telephone; he received no reply.

photoThe fire was caused by an electrical short circuit in the embassy’s communications room located on the upper floor of the three-storey building. Instead of immediately calling the Ottawa Fire Department for assistance, Soviet diplomats tried to put out the blaze themselves using hand extinguishers and a small fire hose installed in the building. Thirty minutes passed before the alarm was raised. Although firefighters were on the scene within ten minutes of receiving the call, flames had already engulfed the third floor. Entering by the front door of the embassy, Ottawa’s firemen, led by Chief John Foote, were stopped by embassy staff claiming diplomatic immunity. A Soviet official actually struck Chief Foote; the incident was later played down. Denied access to source of the fire, the firemen were obliged to tackle the blaze from the outside. The Soviet diplomats also impeded the firemen’s efforts by refusing to vacate the premises. Instead, they repeatedly went in and out of the embassy to retrieve filing cabinets, boxes, and files of documents. The last item to be saved from the flames was “a heavy piece of wireless equipment.” Two embassy cars, stuffed with documents, reportedly “careened” out of the embassy driveway onto Charlotte Street, running over deployed fire hoses, almost bursting them.

Incensed by the lack of Soviet co-operation, Chief Foote contacted Mayor Whitton who hurried to the scene. Shortly afterwards, R. M. Macdonnell, the deputy undersecretary of External Affairs arrived, as did Paul Martin, Sr, Minister for National Health and Welfare, substituting for Lester Pearson, Minister for External Affairs who was out of town. The mayor authorized Chief Foote to exercise all necessary emergencies powers at his disposal as Fire Marshall. At 6.30pm, he declared a state of emergency, calling in extra firemen and police support.

The fire was finally brought under control two hours later, but was not extinguished until close to midnight. One hundred firemen fought the blaze in biting cold weather, using equipment from four stations, including three pumper trucks and four ladder trucks. Although smoke and hot cinders filled the sky, a north-easterly breeze blew burning embers towards parkland and the Rideau River, sparing the embassy’s neighbours. More than three thousand spectators watched the night’s drama despite the cold. Hundreds of cars lined Riverside Drive. Meanwhile, streetcar service along Laurier Avenue East was blocked.

Thankfully, no lives were lost in the fire. But the embassy building was a write-off. Estimated losses amounted to $250,000 (equivalent to more than $2 million today). Ambassador Chuvahin and his wife, along with two other Soviet diplomats living in the building, lost their homes and their belongings. The Soviets set up a temporary embassy a short walk away at 24 Blackburn Avenue, the office of the Soviet commercial counsellor.

The next day, with the embassy building sheathed in ice, the blame game commenced. The Soviets claimed that the Ottawa Fire Department had been slow to respond, and that there had been insufficient water pressure. Mayor Whitton hotly denied the allegations, saying that the Russians had only themselves to blame by not calling in the firemen immediately, and then obstructing their access to the building. She also argued that the six-foot, spiked, iron fence installed around the perimeter of the property the previous year had made it difficult for fire equipment to be brought close to the embassy building. Additionally, extreme cold temperatures meant that water being directed onto the blaze vapourized before contact. At the city’s official New Year Reception held that afternoon, a hoarse and weary Mayor Whitton commented, “I’ve been fighting the Russians.”

The public was baffled by the Soviet effort to obstruct Ottawa’s firemen. A Citizen editorial called it “an incomprehensible act,” which put its neighbours at risk. Claims of “diplomatic immunity” in such circumstances were deemed “fantastic.” Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet cypher clerk who had defected from the Soviet Embassy nine years earlier, explained that the only reason for embassy officials to impede and delay Ottawa’s firemen was to ensure that it’s most secret documents, for example, lists of names of agents in the west and instructions from Moscow, were kept secret.

Mayor Whitton called upon the federal government to review its regulations governing diplomatic immunity in order to give firemen free access to buildings in the event of future fires. The government demurred, arguing that international rules governing diplomatic immunity had been finely crafted over many centuries, and that Canadian officials abroad were accorded the same privileges as foreign representatives were in Canada. When contacted, other diplomatic missions in Canada were also wary of any change to the law, though several commented that they would have allowed the firemen onto their premises had their embassies caught fire.

With the old Booth mansion a write-off, a new Soviet Embassy, built in the Socialist Classical style, was constructed on the same site. With the Cold War in full swing, RCMP counter-espionage agents, assisted by British MI5 agents, apparently concealed microphones in the windows of the new building while it was under construction. Called Operation Dew Worm, Igor Gouzenko provided advice to the Canadian and British spooks on the best locations to place the bugs.

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It seems, however, that western spy agencies gained little by this piece of high-tech skullduggery. Two books published in the 1980s, Their Trade is Treachery (1981) by journalist H. Chapman Pincher and Spycatcher (1987) by former MI5 agent Peter Wright, claim that the Russians were tipped off to the location of the bugs, and established a secure room elsewhere in the building. Allegedly, the source of the tip-off was a senior member of the British intelligence service, possibly Sir Roger Hollis, director-general of MI5 from 1956 to 1965, whom the authors claim was a Russian mole. The British government officially denied the allegations. But Wright’s memoir gained world-wide notoriety when the British government tried to keep it from being published. The case against Hollis, now dead (as are Pincher and Wright), remains unproven. The Soviet Embassy building now houses the Embassy of the Russian Federation.

As a postscript to this story, history repeated itself in January 1987. When a small, electrical fire broke out in the basement of the Soviet consulate on Avenue de Musée in Montreal, Soviet diplomats choose to fight the blaze themselves using garden hoses and snow. When neighbours called in the alarm to the fire department, Soviet officials delayed the firefighters’ entry into the building for fifteen minutes to protect documents. As a consequence, what had been a minor fire became a major five-alarm fire.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, 2014. “Soviet embassy fire,” goo.gl/dZFhuA

Gouzenko, Igor, 1956. “Secret Work of Russian Embassy Vastly Expanded Since Spy Trials,” The Ottawa Citizen, 4 January.

Lewiston Daily Sun, 1956. “Soviet Ottawa Embassy Destroyed By Fire; Aides Stay To Move Documents,” 2 January.

Los Angeles Times, 1987. “Soviets Keep Firemen Out, Montreal Consulate Burns,” 17 January.

The Globe and Mail, 1956. “Report Chief Struck—Embassy in Ottawa Burned As Russians Impede Firemen,” 2 January.

————————, 1956. “1000 Call on Massey at Levee,” 3 January 1956.

————————, 1981, “The Spy Scandal: Did Canada bug rebuilt Soviet Embassy?,” 27 March.

Toronto Star, 1987. “Fire at Soviet embassy revives 31-year puzzle,” 18 January.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1956. “Mayor Asks Way To Pry Open Embassies During Emergencies,” 3 January.

———————-, 1956. “Weary, Semi-Ill Mayor Entertains At Reception,” 3 January.

———————, 1956. “No ‘Immunity’ From Fire,” 3 January.

———————, 1956. “Flames Ruin Embassy, Red Tape Slows Fight,” 3 January.

———————, 1956. “Refused to Leave, Carried from Burning Building,” 3 January.

———————, 1956. “Senator Feared For Safety of Next-Door Residence,” 3 January.

———————, 1956. “Ottawa’s Diplomats Decidedly Cool Toward Any Curtailment of Privilege,” 4 January.

———————, 1956. “Traditional Colorful Scenes At Governor-General’s Levee,” 3 January.

Wright, Peter, 1987, Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd: Toronto.

Images: Soviet Embassy after the Fire, 1956, City of Ottawa, 2014. “Soviet embassy fire,” goo.gl/Na8YK7

Russian Embassy today, goo.gl/cFw2DY

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.


The Return of “D” Company

3 November 1900

It is said that Canada became a nation at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 during World War I when the Canadian Expeditionary Force took the German-held high ground amidst fierce fighting—an achievement that had eluded British and French forces in three years of fighting. Although there is no disputing the heroism and the accomplishment of the Canadian soldiers, some historians maintain that the significance given to Vimy Ridge in the development of Canadian nationalism is a modern invention. It also overlooks the impact of an earlier war on Canadian national confidence. That war was the South African War, also known as the Boer War.

The Boer War was a nasty colonial conflict that pitted Britain against two Boer (Afrikaans for farmer) republics called the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. There were actually two wars. The first, in which the British got a drubbing, lasted from 1880 to 1881, while the second more famous one lasted from 1899 to 1902. The wars resulted from British imperial designs over southern Africa butting up against the desire by Boer settlers for their own independent, white republics. Thrown into the mix was the discovery of gold in Boer territories, an influx of foreign, mostly British prospectors and miners (called uitlanders) who were denied political rights by Boer governments who feared being swamped by the incomers, rival British and Boer economic interests, British fears of German interference in southern Africa, and the ambitions of Cecil Rhodes, the premier of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

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The South African war began in October 1899 after talks between the British government and the Boer governments failed. Boer soldiers invaded the British Natal and Cape Colonies and subsequently laid siege to ill-prepared British troops at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The attacks galvanized pro-British sympathies throughout the Empire, whipped up by nationalistic newspapers. Australia and New Zealand sent troops to assist the Mother Country in its hour of need.

In Canada, public opinion in English Canada was likewise strongly in favour of Britain and the uitlanders. The Ottawa Evening Journal said “Britain, a democratic monarchy, is at war with a despotic republic, and seeks to give equality to the people of the Transvaal.” Pressured by English Canada, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier agreed to send 1,000 volunteers to support the British cause over the opposition of many French Canadians including fellow Liberal party member Henri Bourassa, who resigned his federal seat in protest. Bourassa later founded the newspaper Le Devoir. This was the first time Canada had committed troops to an overseas war. In 1884, Canadian volunteers, many from the Ottawa area, had agreed to serve as non-combatants in the relief of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum, Sudan.

In Ottawa, imperial sentiment was strong, even reportedly among its francophone population. One such resident opined that “French Canadians had no reason to be other than loyal to England…England had dealt fairly with us and we should be unhesitatingly be loyal.” Another said “Every British subject, whether of French or any other extraction, should be willing to bear the responsibilities of Empire.” Of the first 1,000 volunteers to serve in South Africa in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry under the command of Colonel Otter, sixty-seven came from the Ottawa area.

The Ottawa contingent, “D Company,” left the Capital for Quebec City by train in late October 1899 under the command of Captain Rogers, formerly Major Rogers of the 43rd Regiment based in Ottawa. Rogers had served with distinction in the North-West Rebellion. A crowd of 30,000 saw the volunteers off “to defend the honour of Britain.”

Many Ottawa residents took a special train to Quebec City to see their boys off on the Sardinian for South Africa on 30 October 1899. The Journal was moved by the occasion to write: “Descendants of the men who fought with Montcalm and Wolfe marched side by side to play their part in the great South African drama.” Before boarding the ship, the Canadian contingent was fêted at the Quebec City Drill Hall. The Ottawa volunteers cheered “Hobble, gobble, Razzle, dazzle, Sis boom bah, Ottawa, Ottawa, Rah. Rah. Rah.” as if they were going to a football game.

Over the next year, the soldiers of the Canadian contingent proved in battle that they were second to none. The Canadians distinguished themselves at the Battle of Paardeberg where after nine days of bloody fighting in late February 1900, British forces defeated a Boer army. It was their first major victory of the war. The Boer general, Piet Cronjé, surrendered when his soldiers woke to find themselves facing Canadian rifles from nearly point blank range. In the dead of night, the Canadian troops had silently dug trenches on the high ground overlooking the Boer line. In the fighting, the British forces sustained more than 1,400 casualties, of which 348 men died. Thirty-one Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the battle, including two Ottawa men. Many more were wounded. Boer losses amounted 350 killed or wounded and 4,019 captured. Canadian forces subsequently distinguished themselves in the capture of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria.

photoAfter completing their one year tour of duty, the first Canadian contingent to fight in the South Africa War returned home aboard the transport ship Idaho. The men were paid off in Halifax with the government also providing them new winter clothes. A special train then carried the veterans westward, dropping off soldiers along the way. Many had brought mementoes home. One man carried a little monkey on his shoulder while another had a parrot in a wooden box. Captain Rogers of Ottawa’s “D” Company brought home a Spitz dog from Cape Town. With the Idaho having stopped in St Helena on the way to Canada, another officer brought home sprigs of the willow trees that grew at Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave.

Thirty-one Ottawa veterans arrived home at 2.45pm on Saturday, 3 November 1900. The famed “Confederation poet,” W. Wilfred Campbell, who lived in Ottawa, penned a poem to welcome them. Titled Return of the Troops, the first verse went:

Canadian heroes hailing home, War-worn and tempest smitten, Who circled leagues of rolling foam, To hold the earth for Britain.

photoThe return of “D” Company was signalled by the ringing of the City Hall bell, a refrain that was taken up by church bells across the city. More than 40,000 flag-waving citizens were in the streets to watch their heroes arrive at the Elgin Street station and march to Parliament Hill to the tunes of Rule Britannia and Soldiers of the Queen. They were joined by other South African veterans who had been invalided home earlier. In the parade were elements of all regiments based in Ottawa, including the 43rd Regiment, the Dragoon Guards, the Field Battery, the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Army Medical Corps. The parade was led by members of the police force, on foot, horse, and bicycle to clear the streets of well-wishers, followed by members of the reception committee. Also present were veterans of the 1866 and 1870 Fenian raids.

Along the parade route, homes and stores were bedecked with flags, bunting and streamers. Store fronts and window displays were also decorated in patriotic themes. In the window of George Blyth & Son was a figure of Queen Victoria in a triumphal arch with two khaki-clad soldiers standing in salute. In the background was a canvas tent. The words “Soldiers of the Queen” were written in roses in the foreground. Ross & Company displayed a crowned figure with a sceptre in her hand being saluted by two sailors. R.J. Devlin’s and R. Masson’s stores were lit with electrical lights with Queen Victoria’s cypher, “V.R.” displayed over their doors in large letters. The Ottawa Electric Company building on the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets was draped in bunting, flags and strands of electric lights. Above the main entrance there was a large maple leaf and beaver in coloured lights. Not to be left out, the usually staid citizens of Ottawa were also patriotically dressed. Women wore little flags in the hats while young men had flags for vests.

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Parliament Hill was decorated to greet the return of “D” Company. The central block was ornamented by two large pictures picked out in electric lights on either side of the main entrance. On the left was a soldier charging with a rifle in hand with the word “Paardeberg” underneath. On the right was a trooper on horseback with the word “Pretoria,” underneath. Other emblems mounted on the towers included “VRI,” which stood for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, over the main entrance, as well as a crown, maple leaf and beaver. All were illuminated with electric lights. Strings of lights also stretched from the Victoria Tower in the centre of the main block to the east and west corners of the building.

The returning soldiers marched in the khaki uniforms that they had worn in South Africa. As they passed by the cheering multitudes, men from the crowd jumped into the ranks to shake the hand of a friend or family member. At times the police had difficulty in controlling the seething crowd. The Journal reported that on a couple of occasions, “the police, without warning, caught the eager relative of the long-absent warrior by the throat and hurled him back into the crowd.”

On Parliament Hill, the veterans were welcomed home by Lord Minto, the Governor General, who told the troops that he was proud “to be able to receive the Ottawa contingent into the Capital of the Dominion, the Ottawa representatives of the regiment that won glory for Canada at Paardeberg.” He then read out a message of thanks from Queen Victoria. This was followed by speeches from the Hon. W. R. Scott, secretary of state, and Ottawa’s Mayor Payment.

Ottawa sparkled that night. In addition to the lights on Parliament Hill that scintillated like diamonds, Sparks Street was ablaze with strings of Chinese lanterns strung across the road from Bank Street to Sappers’ Bridge. Electric lights illuminated Wellington Street. The words “Our Boys,” and “Welcome Home” were written in lights on the Victoria Chambers and the Bank of Montreal buildings.

The following Monday evening, another reception was held in honour of returning heroes at Lansdowne Park in the Aberdeen Pavilion. Close to ten thousand people cheered the Ottawa veterans. The biggest cheer was reserved for Private R. R. Thompson who had received the “Queen’s scarf” for bravery. The scarf was one of eight personally crocheted by Queen Victoria to be awarded to private soldiers for outstanding bravery in the South African conflict. Thompson had received his award for aiding wounded comrades at Paardeberg.

The Pavilion was decorated in bunting, flags and evergreen branches. Over the platform were the words “The heroes of our land. Their glory never dies. Ottawa welcomes her sons. Welcome to our heroes of Paardeberg.” The bands of the Governor General Foot Guards and the 43rd Regiment and the 200 member Ottawa Choral Society choir played and sang patriotic songs. After the speeches, Countess Minto presented each veteran with a golden locket.

photoCanadians everywhere basked in the reflected glory of their returning heroes from the South Africa War with celebrations across the country. Canada had done its part in preserving the honour of Queen and Empire. Moreover, Canadian soldiers were seen as equals of the finest in the British Army. The Journal wrote: “One year ago they left a country that was little known to the world, save as a prosperous colony; only one year, and they returned to find a nation; a nation glorying in its newly acquired honor, and a nation that does them homage as the purchasers of that honor.” In an editorial titled Patriotism and Loyalty, the newspaper added that “Canadians have always been both patriotic and loyal to the Mother Country.” But now “the fruits of confederation have suddenly ripened, and we have begun to feel our nation-hood.”

Canadian soldiers subsequently gained distinction in later battles in South Africa, including at Leliefontein and Boschbult. Four Canadians received the Victoria Cross for valour during the war. In total, more than 7,000 Canadian soldiers and twelve nurses volunteered to serve in South Africa, of whom 267 died and whose names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance of the Canadian service personnel who have given their lives since Confederation while serving their country. In Ottawa, 30,000 children donated their allowances to build a statue to honour the sixteen Ottawa volunteers who died in the conflict.

After the Imperial forces defeated Boer armies on the field in 1900, the Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare for the next two years before surrendering. The British responded with a scorched earth policy and placed Boer women and children in concentration camps. Owing to neglect and disease due to overcrowding, tens of thousands of civilians died. Non-combatant deaths exceeded 43,000 including Afrikaaner women and children and black Africans. More than 22,000 British and allied soldiers died in the three-year conflict, while suffering a similar number of wounded. Boer military deaths numbered more than 6,000.

Sources:

BBC. 2010. “Second Boer War records database goes online,” 24 June.

Canadian War Museum, 2017. Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902.

Evening Citizen (The), 1900. “The Canadians Are At Halifax,” 1 November.

————————–, 1900. “The Boys Will Be Here On Time,” 3 November.

————————–, 1900. “It Was A Right Royal Welcome They Received,” 5 November.

————————–, 1900. “Form Paardeberg to Pretoria,” 5 November.

Evening Journal (The), 1899. “A Canadian Contingent,” 13 October.

————————————-, 1899. “Have Gone to Defend the Honor of Britain,” 25 October.

————————————-, 1900. “With the Ottawa Boys Down at the Citadel,” 30 October.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of “D” Company, 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of the Troops,” 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Patriotism and Loyalty,” 5 November.

————————————-, 1900, “Forty Thousand Glad Acclaims to Ottawa’s Brave Soldiers. 5 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Gold lockets Given to Ottawa’s Gallant Soldiers,” 6 November.

McKay, Ian & Swift, Jamie, 2016. The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Toronto: Between the Lines.

Miller, Carmen & Foot, Richard, 2016. “Canada and the South African War,” Historica Canada.

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War.

Pretorius, Fransjohan, 2014. “The Boer Wars,” BBC.

South African History Online, 2017. Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.

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3 November 1894

Motion pictures have entertained and informed us for more than a hundred years. Through the media of the cinema, television, and most recently the internet, they are an integral part of western culture. They reflect our dreams, hopes, and nightmares, and have helped to shape who we are and who we aspire to be. Their appeal is universal. They fascinate us, and draw us together. Watching a movie in a darken cinema, or at home on a television or computer, provides a common experience, and the source of limitless debate and discussion.

The Kinetoscope, circa 1894
The Kinetoscope, circa 1894
Two Ottawa-born, nineteenth-century entrepreneurs, Andrew and George Holland, were midwives to this cultural phenomenon. Thanks to them, Ottawa was among the first cities in the world to witness motion pictures. The Holland brothers were business associates of Thomas Edison whose company invented the kinetoscope, an early motion picture machine. While conceived by Edison, the invention was largely developed by his employee William Dickson in the early 1890s. The electrically-powered device, which stood roughly four feet high in a wooden cabinet, drew a perforated 35 millimetre celluloid film strip bearing sequential images over an electric light. A high-speed shutter rapidly broke the beam of light, providing the illusion of movement when each frame of the film was illuminated in turn. The continuous film strip, roughly fifty feet in length, was looped around a series of spools in the body of the kinetoscope. A viewer looked at the film through a peep-hole about an inch in diameter at the top of the wooden cabinet. A magnifying lens enlarged the image. In one version, called a kinetophone, an audio cylinder was included in the cabinet which allowed the kinetoscope viewer to listen to sound by using a stethoscope-like instrument.

The Holland brothers, who were the Canadian agents for the distribution of Edison’s phonograph, were quick to spot the commercial possibilities of the new invention, and acquired the eastern U.S. and Canadian distribution rights. Andrew Holland, a founding partner of the Kinetoscope Company, opened the world’s first kinetoscope parlour in New York City in April 1894, roughly a year after the machine’s first public showing at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 May 1893. Similar parlours were quickly established in other major US cities, including Chicago and San Francisco. They were highly lucrative. On 3 November 1894, the Holland brothers brought the kinetoscope to Canada, setting up a machine for public viewing in Ottawa at the Perley building on Sparks Street.

Andrew M. Holland (left) and George C. Holland (right)
Andrew M. Holland (left) and George C. Holland (right)
To a modern moviegoer’s eye, the programme menu was hardly riveting stuff. Viewers could choose to watch a number of very short movies made by Edison’s film-production company. These included a ballet dance, a blacksmith at work, and a barber cutting somebody’s hair. For the sporting enthusiast, a clip of a boxing match between Champion Jim Corbett and P. Courtenay was also on offer. But to a nineteenth century audience, this was pure magic. Despite the steep ten-cent cost, the price of a good meal in those days, for a single viewing that lasted but a few seconds, the kinetoscope drew huge crowds. The Ottawa Journal reporter covering the machine’s arrival in Ottawa, was held spellbound by the ballet dance. He wrote: “There were three figures in the view and every motion of the dancers was perfectly reproduced. Even the slightest movements of the folds of the dancers’ fluffy skirts were shown. The view was quite as good as a ballet at an opera house.” He called the kinetoscope “the scientific wonder of the age.”

Two years later, the Holland brothers wowed Ottawa audiences again with an exhibition of the vitascope, a film projector that could cast moving images on a wall or screen, enabling many people to witness a show simultaneously. An earlier version of the device, called the phantascope, had been developed by Charles Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895. The machine was subsequently refined by Armat, who receive a U.S. patent in February 1896 for a modified version that he called the vitascope. The vitascope was manufactured under licence by the Edison Company, and marketed as a new Thomas Edison innovation to cash in on the inventor’s reputation. As was the case with the earlier kinetoscope, the Holland brothers purchased the exclusive rights to exhibit the vitascope in Canada.

Working with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OERC), the firm that operated Ottawa’s trams, the Holland brothers held the first exhibition of the vitascope in Canada on 21 July 1896 at the West End Park, an amusement park owned by the OERC in Hintonberg, then on the outskirts of the city. Located on Holland Avenue, which was named after the brothers, the park had previously been farmland owned by the duo. Later known as Victoria Park, the area is now roughly the site of the Fisher Park Public and Summit Alternative Schools, Fisher Park playground, and the Elmdale Tennis Club. Although this was the inaugural demonstration of the vitascope in Canada, it was not the first time a movie was projected in Canada. A month early, August and Louis Lumière, French competitors of Edison, demonstrated their cinematograph in Montreal.

Tickets to the vitascope screening cost ten cents for adults, and five cents for children. For twenty-five cents, people could buy a package deal from the OERC which included the price of the tram ride out to the West End Park, admission, and a reserved seat. The show also included a live performance by Belsoz, the magician, who warmed up a crowd of several hundred before the actual vitascope exhibition began. The short, silent films, which were projected onto a canvas screen the size of a bedsheet on an outdoor stage, included hand-tinted footage of an exotic dance, a moving train, and an Atlantic City bathing scene. Also featured was the first cinematic kiss—pretty risqué and controversial stuff for the Victoria era. The 47-second clip, widely known as The Kiss, was produced by Edison’s production company, and directed by William Heise. It starred stage and vaudeville actors Canadian-born May Irwin and John Rice. The vitascope exhibition was a great hit with Ottawa viewers. The Citizen newspaper enthused “It is safe to say that nothing has been brought out in the nineteenth century that has created anything like the enthusiasm, caused by Edison’s success in bringing the vitascope to perfection.”

Frame from “The Kiss,” starring May Ellen and John Rice, 1896
Frame from “The Kiss,” starring May Irwin and John Rice, 1896
The success of the vitascope helped launched the motion picture industry. To celebrate the centenary of the first projected movies in Ottawa, the Canadian Film Institute held in July 1996, a free public screening of the same four vitascope films at the Astrolabe Theatre at Nepean Point behind the National Gallery of Canada. In July 2014, cinema enthusiasts, in co-operation with Tamarack Homes, again paid homage to the event with a showing of The Kiss. The event, part of “Hintonberg Happenings,” was held on Wellington Street, not far from where the original vitascope films were first shown.

Sources:

About.com, 2014. “Inventors: Kinetophone,”.

EarlyCinema.com, 2014. An Introduction to Early Cinema, Technology, Kinetoscope.

Gutteridge, Robert, 2005. “The Holland Brothers,” The Photographic Historical Society of Canada.

Hum, Peter, 1996. “A hundred years at the movies: You can watch what great-grandad watched,” The Citizen, 21 July.

Kroon, Richard, W. 2010. A/V, A to Z: An Encyclopedia Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

McKernan, Luke, 2014. “Andrew M. Holland and George C. Holland,” Who’s Who in Victorian Cinema.

Miguelez, Alain, 2004, A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau, Penumbra Press.

Nyugen, Andrew, 2014. “Movie-lovers look to re-create first Ottawa film screening in Hintonberg,” The Citizen, 11 June.

Russell, Hilary, 2006, “All that Glitters: A Memorial to Ottawa’s Capitol Theatre and its Predecessors,” Canadian Historical Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, No. 13, Parks Canada.

The Evening Journal, 1894. “Kinetoscope Is Here,” 3 November 1894.

The Citizen, 1896. “Edison’s Vitascope,” 20 July.

————–, 1896. Edison’s Vitaschpe (sic),” 21 July.

Images: Kinetoscope.

Holland Brothers, Canadian Film Institute.

The Kiss, The Public Domain Review.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

 

The Trial of Agatha Chapman

 

26 November 1946

Agatha Chapman was born in England in 1907, and immigrated to Canada in 1918. She came from a very well-connected family. Her father had been a high court judge in India, while an uncle had been lieutenant governor of Manitoba. She was also the great grand-daughter of Sir Charles Tupper, a Father of Confederation, premier of Nova Scotia from 1864-67 and, briefly in 1896, sixth prime minister of Canada.

Chapman received a BA in commerce from the University of British Columbia, and subsequently, in 1931, a Masters degree. After working for an insurance company in Montreal, she joined the Bank of Canada in 1940. She was one of the first, if not the first, woman economist hired by the fledging central bank, which had itself only commenced operations five years earlier. Despite being a woman in a decidedly male profession—the Bank required female employees to resign upon marriage—Chapman excelled. In 1942, she was seconded to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, the forerunner of Statistics Canada, to join a team tasked with developing from scratch Canada’s national accounts. The national accounts provide estimates of a country’s economic activity, broadly measuring the income and expenditures of key economic agents, such as consumers, corporations and governments. Following the Great Depression, the development of an accurate set of national accounts was a prerequisite for governments seeking to support and sustain a high level of economic activity. In this exceedingly important area of economic research, Chapman quickly became one of the Canada’s leading experts.

Her apparent charmed life was shattered in July 1946 when she was identified by the Kellock-Taschereau Royal Commission as a member of a communist cell, and of having aided the transmission of secret information to the Soviet Union. The Royal Commission had been established by Prime Minister Mackenzie King in early 1946 to examine allegations of a Soviet spy ring operating in Canada involving military and government officials by Igor Gouzenko, a Russian cipher clerk stationed in Ottawa, who had defected the previous year.

Testifying at Commission hearings, Chapman readily admitted to having been a member of a number of study groups that had discussed, among other things, socialist and Marxist literature. These meetings were frequented by most of the people of interest to the committee, including Fred Rose, the communist federal MP for the Montreal riding of Cartier, whose names had come up in documents provided by Gourzenko, or in later testimony. Chapman also admitted to being a member of the Canadian Soviet Friendship Council, though this was nothing unusual at the time as the Russians had been viewed as close allies during the war, deserving Canadian support.

A day after the Kellock-Taschereau Commission had revealed her name in its final report filed on 15 July 1946, Chapman was suspended with pay from her job at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. With rumours about her alleged spy activities swirling through Ottawa, she successfully petitioned Louis St. Laurent, the Minister of Justice, for a trial so that she could clear her name and restore her reputation. On 18 September 1946, she was formally charged. The following day, she surrendered to police, and was arraigned before a magistrate and released on $2,000 bail.

With an early snowfall blanketing Ottawa, Chapman’s trial began mid-afternoon of Tuesday, 26 November in front of county court judge A. G. McDougall. Adjourned at 5:00pm, the trial recommenced at 10:30 the next morning. Two hours later, and after only 4 ½ hours of testimony, Judge McDougall dismissed the case against the 39-year old economist. The judge agreed with the defence counsel that “there was no evidence on which a jury could possibly have convicted.” Most tellingly, Gouzenko himself did not recall her name in Soviet documents, and did not recognize her despite living on the same street as Chapman.

Chapman’s ordeal was not over, however. Although she had hoped to get back to her beloved job working on Canada’s national accounts, this was not to be. In the midst of the crisis, she had applied for a permanent position at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics to do essentially what she had already been doing. Although the job competition was delayed until after she had been cleared of all wrong-doing, the position was given to a less qualified and less experienced man. The Bank of Canada also failed to support her, and Chapman left its employ. She stated “despite my acquittal by the courts, I find it impossible to continue satisfactorily to work in my own field at present.” Fortunately, her former boss and friend at the Bureau put her in touch with Cambridge University in England which quickly hired her so that she could continue her national accounting research.

In the early 1950s, Chapman returned to Canada and married an American advertising executive who had fled the McCarthyism of his native United States. She also went to work at a left-wing research consultancy firm in Montreal with Eric Adams, another former Bank of Canada employee who had also been named by the Kellock-Taschereau Commission as a Soviet agent and had been subsequently exonerated. It was a hand-to-mouth existence. On 17 October 1963, Agatha Chapman jumped to her death from her Bishop St apartment. There was no mention of her passing in the nation’s press.

Sources:

Canada, 1946. The report of the Royal Commission appointed under Order in Council P. C. 411 of February 5, 1946 to investigate the facts relating to and the circumstances surrounding the communication, by public officials and other persons in positions of trust, of secret and confidential information to agents of a foreign power, 27 June. Ottawa : E. Cloutier, Printer to the King.

Clément, Dominique, 2014. Canada’s Human Rights History: Agatha Chapman.

McDowall, Duncan, 2007. The Trial and Tribulations of Miss Agatha Chapman: Statistics in a Cold War Climate: Queen’s Quarterly, 114/3 (Fall), 357-373.

The Evening Citizen, 1946. “Chapman Acquitted by Judge”, 27 November.

——————–, 1947. “Agatha Chapman to do Research Work in England,” 25 March.

The Montreal Gazette, 1946. “Agatha Chapman Faces Spy Charge,” 20 September.

Image: The Evening Citizen, 26 November, 1946.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Eugène Larment: The Last Man Hanged in Ottawa

27 March 1946

Shortly after midnight on 27 March 1946, after playing checkers with his guards, a composed Eugène Larment, age 24, was led from the condemned cell in the Carleton County jail on Nicholas Street to the gallows. Hopes for a last minute reprieve had been dashed when his lawyer’s request for an appeal was refused by the Office of the Secretary of State. photoAfter Pastor Gordon Porter of the Salvation Army gave the young man spiritual consolation, Larment was hanged by the neck until he was dead. It was 12.32 am. This was the third and last judicial execution carried out in Ottawa’s historic jail. The first was the famous hanging in 1869 of Patrick Whelan, convicted for the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the father of Confederation struck down by an assassin’s bullet on Sparks Street the previous year. The second was that of William Seabrooke who was executed in early 1933 for slaying Paul-Émile Lavigne, a service-station attendant.

To paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Larment’s death marked the end of a life that was poor, nasty, brutish and short. Born into an impoverished family, Larment’s first brushes with the law came when he was but a child. A frequent truant from public school, Larment was sent to an industrial school in Alfred, Ontario at the tender age of twelve. Most likely it was the St Joseph’s Training School for delinquent boys run by the Christian Brothers from 1933 to the mid-1970s. Like the residential schools for indigenous children, such training schools, including St Joseph’s, became notorious for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of their young charges. During the three years he was confined there, Larment apparently received no visitors and no mail from home. He escaped and made his way to Ottawa. Picked up by the authorities, someone reportedly told him that if he confessed to purse snatching, he wouldn’t be returned to the industrial school. Desperate to avoid going back, he did so, and was instead sent to a government reformatory. After he got out on parole, he attended the Kent Street Public School for a short time. With his family described as being “in a bad fix,” he sold junk to scrap dealers to earn a pittance. He also worked as a delivery boy. In 1938, at age 16, he was charged with vagrancy and breaking and entering, and was returned to the reformatory.

Shortly after being released in early 1940, the now eighteen-year old Larment and four friends stole a taxi on McLaren Street in downtown Ottawa and drove to Preston, Ontario where they tied up and robbed two men at gun point at a service station. They netted a meagre $27. Spotted later that night on their return to Ottawa, the young men led police on a wild chase down Bronson Street into LeBreton Flats. Gunshots were exchanged. Turning onto the Chaudière Bridge heading for Hull, the joyriders hit an oncoming car and crashed into a guard rail. Dazed but uninjured, Larment and his companions were taken into custody. They received six-year terms in the Kingston Penitentiary for armed robbery. Larment was released from jail in late September 1945.

Less than two months after his release Larment, with Albert Henderson and Wilfrid D’Amour staged a daring robbery of the Canadian War Museum on Sussex Street (now Avenue). At about 9 pm on Monday, 22 October 1945, the trio smashed the plate glass of the front door of the museum within a few hundred feet of passersby on the sidewalk, and just a laneway away from the Government of Canada’s Laurentian Terrace girls’ hostel. The bandits made off in a stolen car with three Thompson submachine guns used in World War II, two automatic pistols and four World War I revolvers.

photo

The following night, a janitor at an O’Connor Street apartment building called the police to report some men acting suspiciously. A “prowler” car manned by Detective Thomas Stoneman and Constable Russell Berndt was dispatched to investigate. The officers found three men loitering outside of the Bytown Inn. The trio split up, with two, later identified as D’Amour and Henderson, walking in opposite directions along O’Connor Street. Detective Stoneman approached the middle man who had remained between the two canopied entrances of the Inn. “I want to talk to you,” the officer said after he got out of the driver’s side of the car. “What do you want?” replied a man in a khaki trench coat. Without warning, the man pulled a gun from his pocket and fired at Stoneman from a distance of only six feet. Stoneman was struck in the chest and fell to the ground grievously wounded.

His partner, Constable Berndt, who had just returned to the police force after 3 ½ years in the navy, ducked when the gunman subsequently aimed at him. Trading shots, the bandit fled through a maze of laneways and alleys, pursued by Berndt who disconcerting found himself followed by D’Amour. Fortunately, another police cruiser arrived on the scene. Constables Thomas Walsh and John Hardon joined the chase for Stoneman’s assailant, while Flight Lieutenant Appleby, a decorated pilot who had accompanied the police officers, tackled D’Amour. Meanwhile, the shooter, Eugène Larment, who had run out of ammunition, was chased into the arms of beat policeman, Constable René Grenville, at the corner of Metcalfe and Slater Streets. The third man of the trio, Albert Henderson, managed to evade immediate capture but was picked up at his home on Albert Street a few hours later. Back at Larment’s family home on Wellington Street and in an abandoned building next door, police discovered the missing weapons stolen from the War Museum.

photoInitially, the men were charged with attempted murder. But the charges were upgraded to murder when Detective Stoneman died a few days later. The fifteen-year veteran policeman with the Ottawa Police Force, aged 37, born in Mortlach Saskatchewan, left a wife Lois (Cleary) and one-year old twins, Richard Thomas and Jill Lois. Stoneman was accorded a civic funeral. Uniformed policemen from the Ottawa and Hull municipal police, the RCMP, the Ontario and Quebec Provincial Police Forces, the RCAF service police and the naval shore patrol marched in the funeral cortege. The slain policeman was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.

Even while in jail, the charges against Larment, D’Amour and Henderson continued to mount. In early January, the threesome tried to break out of the country jail. Before being recaptured, they brutally beat up Percy Hyndman, a prison guard. A blow to the head from a heavy broom opened a nasty gash in Hyndman’s scalp requiring five stiches to close.

The trial of the trio for the murder of Detective Stoneman began in mid-January 1946 in front of Justice F. H. Barlow of the Ontario High Court. Deputy Attorney General Cecil L. Snyder, who had an outstanding record of 37 convictions in 38 murder cases, was the special Crown prosecutor. For the defence was lawyer W. Edward Haughton, K.C. who represented the trio pro bono; there was no legal aid at this time. The trial lasted roughly a week. Throughout the proceedings the courtroom’s hard wooden benches were packed with people eager to witness the unfolding drama.

Snyder, the Crown prosecutor, quickly established that the gun that fired the fatal bullet was a revolver stolen in the War Museum heist. There was also no doubt that Larment was the shooter. Larment admitted to firing the weapon “from the hip” in two statements that he made to the police, the first, hours after being apprehended, and the second, a couple of days later. One of the jurors, Thomas Bradley, worried about police procedures in obtaining these statements, was permitted by Justice Barlow to question the police witness. Bradley enquired whether Larment had been asked if he wanted a lawyer before he made his statements. The detective answered no, though he added that Larment had been free to ask for one. Apparently, the detective had pursued standard Canadian police procedures of the time. Justice Barlow ruled that the statements were admissible in court, saying he was satisfied they had been obtained “in the proper manner.”

With the identity of the shooter determined, Snyder focused on whether Larment, D’Amour and Henderson had “a common intent to commit crime,” the test necessary to convict all three for murder. He argued that the three men had robbed the Museum together and had armed themselves with weapons the night that Stoneman died, even though Larment’s weapon was the only one loaded (with three bullets). He also noted evidence from D’Amour that the trio had tried to steal a car shortly before the shooting. Although the accused men had been drinking heavily before the shooting, a pathologist at the Ottawa Civic Hospital testified that a blood sample taken from Larment shortly after his arrest showed a “fair indication that the person was sober when it was taken.”

The trio’s lawyer stressed the deprived backgrounds of the accused. He argued that “society might very well be indicted for the death of Detective Stoneman in addition to Eugène Larment.” He also noted that the trio’s ability to reason had been impaired by alcohol. By one account, Larment had drunk as many as fifty beers (most likely the small draft glasses of beer popular in taverns at that time) at the Belmont Hotel in Ottawa and at the Avalon Club in Hull through the afternoon and evening prior to the shooting. The three had also reportedly consumed a bottle of liquor at Larment’s home. Haughton also contended that Larment was unaware that Stoneman was a policeman when Stoneman approached him. Fearing for his life, Larment had fired in self-defence. The killing was neither premeditated nor deliberate but rather was caused by a “misunderstanding” and a “genuine misconception of Stoneman’s intention.” He concluded that Larment should be acquitted of murder, or at worst found guilty of manslaughter. Finally, he asked for the acquittal of D’Amour and Henderson on the grounds that a “common intent” had not been proven. There was no evidence that they knew that Larment’s gun was loaded, they were drunk, and during the evening there had been no joint criminal venture.

In his instructions to the jury, Justice Barlow made it very clear that he thought all three defendants were guilty of murder. He rubbished the idea that Larment fired in self-defence and thought the degree of Larment’s drunkenness was “most exaggerated.” He said to the jury “gentlemen, in my opinion you ought to find Larment guilty without reasonable doubt, and in which you ought to find D’Amour and Henderson guilty beyond reasonable doubt as parties to a common design with Larment who resisted arrest by violence.”

After deliberating for 3 hours and 55 minutes, the jury returned with their verdict. Larment was found guilty of murder as charged. Notwithstanding the judge’s opinions, D’Amour and Henderson were found innocent. Some of the jury members broke down. William Bradley, the juror who asked questions during the trial, tearfully said that given the evidence he had no choice but to find Larment guilty even though he opposed the death penalty. He planned to donate his juror fees to the Ottawa Boys’ Club that worked with troubled youth. The Ottawa Journal had little sympathy for jurors’ tears, describing them as “maudlin.” If tears were to be shed “they should be shed for the widow and family of Detective Stoneman, ruthlessly murdered.”

Although Henderson and D’Amour were found innocent of murder, they were not free men. They were subsequently found guilty in Magistrates’ Court on a range of charges related to the assault of the prison guard in their abortive jail break, the theft of weapons from the War Museum, car theft and other crimes. Henderson received a 29-year sentence, while D’Amour received 27 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. These were the longest sentences ever handed down in Magistrates’ Court history.

Did the men receive a fair trial? They probably did by 1940’s standards. They were also fortunate to have been represented by an experienced trial lawyer who somehow managed to get two of them acquitted on the murder charge. But by today’s standards, the statements made by Larment and his companions would likely have been inadmissible in court. Under Section 10b of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to be informed of that right when they are arrested or detained. Also, the expressed opinion of the presiding judge that Larment (as well as D’Amour and Henderson) were guilty of murder would represent probable grounds for an appeal today.

After his execution, Eugène Larment’s body was turned over to his family for burial. It is reported that he was interred in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Beechwood Cemetery, the same cemetery where the remains of Thomas Stoneman were laid to rest.

The last judicial executions in Canada occurred in December 1962 when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were hanged for separate murders in the Don Jail in Toronto. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

Sources:

CBC, 2018. “MP calls for inquiry into abuse at Alfred training school, just east of Ottawa, in the 1970s,” 30 January.

Canada, Government of, 2018. “Constitution Act, 1982, Part I, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Justice Law Website.

Deachman, Bruce, 2018. “True crime story: How murder in the streets led to Ottawa’s least execution, The Ottawa Citizen, 15 January.

Evening Citizen (The), 1946. “Two-Hour Plea For Accused Holds Courtroom Spellbound,” 22 January.

————————–, 1946. “Eugene Larment Pays Penalty,” 27 March.

Globe and Mail (The), 1946. “Law Of Jungle Must Be Curbed Grand Jury Told,” 15 January.

————————–, 1946. “Murder Trial Juror To Donate Fee To Ottawa Boys’ Club,” 24 January.

————————–, 1946. “27 and 29-Year Sentences Given To Two Ottawa Men,” 7 February.

————————–, 1946. “Hang Slayer of Detective,” 27 March.

National Judicial Institute, 2018.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1940. “Youths Arrested After Gun Duel, Charged With Armed Robbery,” 3 April.

————————-, 1940. “Six-Year Terms For Three Arrested Here,” 6 May.

————————-, 1945. “Bandits Steal ‘Tommy’ Guns From Ottawa War Museum,” 23 October.

————————-, 1945. “Hold 3 For Shooting Ottawa Detective,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Thos. Stoneman’s Condition Serious After Gun Battle,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Remanded On Attempted Murder Charge,” 25 October.

————————-, 1945. “Civic Funeral Being Arranged For Detective Thos. Stoneman,” 30 October.

————————, 1945. “Son Was Drunk Before Shooting, Mother Sobs,” 22 November.

————————-, 1945. “Commit Trio on Charge of Killing Ottawa Detective,” 23 November.

————————-, 1946. “Will Get Tough With Thugs –Dunbar,” 5 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Used Gun Stolen From War Museum Witness Tells Murder Trial Of Ottawa Trio,” 17 January.

————————-, 1946. “Trio Sought To Steal Car, D’Amour Says,” 18 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Remembers ‘Firing From Hip,’” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Juror Questions Police Methods Getting Statements,” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Henderson Tells Court Of Actions,” 21 October.

————————-, 1946. “Evidence Completed In Murder Trial,” 21 January.

————————-, 1946. “Crown Blames Trio For Stoneman Death,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Defence Pleads For Lives Of Ottawa Men,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Jury Ponders Verdict In Stoneman Case,” 23 January.

————————-, 1946. “Ottawa Men To Face Several Charges in Court Saturday,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Will Hang On March 27 For Stoneman Murder,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Is It The Jurors Who Should Weep?” 25 January.

————————-, 1946. “D’Amour and Henderson Plead Guilty To 10 Charges,” 1 February.

————————-, 1946. “Long Terms For Henderson and D’Amour,” 6 February.

————————-, 1946. “Eugene Larment Hanged In Ottawa,” 27 March.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1946. “Murder Suspects Stage Riot in Ottawa Jail,” 5 January.