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Lady Aberdeen’s Historical Fancy Dress Ball

 

17 February 1896


~ James Powell

 

These days, dressing up in fancy costumes is mostly confined to Halloween parties and fantasy conventions such as Comic Con, where super heroes and fairy princesses abound. But back in the latter part of the nineteenth century, costume parties were very fashionable, especially among the upper and middle classes in Britain and North America. Popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, dress-up balls were quickly adopted by high society. People delighted in wearing fantastic costumes as long as there was some ostensible historical or literary theme to provide social cover; one couldn’t just have fun. Balls hosted by socialites or aristocrats were widely covered by newspapers and magazines just as today’s tabloids report on celebrity events. The names of the invited, the costumes they wore, and the evening’s entertainments were often front page news even in the most serious broadsheet.

For the sexually repressed and sober-minded Victorians, being able to dress up provided relief from convention’s restrictions, as well as scope for self-expression. A lady, whose normal clothing consisted of a floor-length dress with multitudinous petticoats and long sleeves, could provocatively display her ankles, or wear a diaphanous silk gown, as long as she was portraying a peasant girl or some exotic Oriental princess. Instead of a severe chignon, she might wear her hair loose on her shoulders, a style suggestive of the bedroom, without fear of social opprobrium. For a gentleman, the fancy dress ball allowed him to become the peacock. For an evening, a man could put aside his black frock coat in favour of brightly coloured satins, ruffs, and lace, and transform himself into an Elizabethan courtier, a Stuart cavalier, or a Georgian dandy.

While many rented their outfits from professional costumiers, others spent small fortunes having their costumes specially made following extensive historical research. No higher accolade could be received than to be called historically accurate. Even better would be to wear actual period clothing handed down through the generations, or to buckle on an ancestral sword.

In February 1876, Canada’s Governor General, the Earl of Dufferin, and his wife hosted a historical fancy dress ball at Rideau Hall. Lord Dufferin appeared as James V of Scotland, while Lady Dufferin came as Mary of Guise, James V’s wife. The event, which was widely covered by journalists in North America and Britain, put Ottawa, and for that matter Canada, on the social map of the world. No longer could the city be considered a rough, shanty-town in some distant, frigid land. The ball was effectively Ottawa’s “coming out” party.

The Dufferin ball was the talk of the town for a generation. However, by all accounts, it was eclipsed by an even more spectacular ball hosted by a later governor general and his wife, Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Lady Aberdeen, born Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, was the prime mover behind the event. A considerable personality in her own right, she had strong social views, founding the Victorian Order of Nurses. She was also a proto-feminist, establishing the Canadian branch of the National Council of Women whose mission was to advance women through education and encouragement. She also loved historical pageants and fancy dress. The Aberdeens hosted three major fancy dress balls during the late 1890s, held respectively in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

The first of the three was held in the Senate Chamber in the old Centre Block on Parliament Hill on Monday, 17 February 1896. Its theme was outstanding episodes in Canadian history. It was no accident that the contributions of French Canadians were highlighted. The late nineteenth century was a time of major religious and linguistic divisions in Canada. The decision of the Manitoba government in 1890 to eliminate Catholic public school education, and to make English the sole language of instruction in publicly-funded schools brought these divisions into the open, and threatened the unity of the country. After a number of court decisions, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, Canada’s highest appellant court, ruled in 1895 that the Dominion government had the power to force the province to fund French-language, Catholic schools. This ruling split the weak, vacillating Conservative government of Sir Mackenzie Bowell, some of whose members were anti-Catholic and anti-French. The progressive Lord and Lady Aberdeen, who were very conscious of the prevailing religious and linguistic undercurrents, wanted to underscore and honour the richness of French Canadian history, thereby helping to education English Canadians about the role played by their Francophone co-citizens in the discovery and development of Canada.

Approximately 1,300 invitations to the ball were sent out in early February, but planning for the event started much earlier. Lady Aberdeen and eight society women (the wives of judges and members of parliament) each took responsibility for enlisting their friends and acquaintances to participate in nine historical groups of twenty or so members. Each group dressed in period costumes, with individuals representing historical figures, such as Jacques Cartier, or supporting characters such as peasants, trappers, and aboriginal peoples. The theme for each group was chosen with the help of Dr John Bourinot, the clerk of the House of Commons, the author of a number of books on Canadian history. In chronological order, the groups included: i) the Voyage of the Norsemen to North America, circa 986-1015; ii) the Discovery of the Continent by Jean Cabot,1497; iii) the Discovery of Canada by Jacques Cartier, 1534-36; iv) the Foundation of Port Royal (Annapolis) and the Settlement of Acadia, 1604-1677; v) the Foundation of Montreal and the Settlement of the Surrounding District, 1641-1670; vi) Days of Settlement and Exploration from Tracy to Frontenac, 1665-98; vii) the Days of Montcalm and Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada, 1754-60; viii) from the Fall of Port Royal (Annapolis) to the Second Taking of Louisbourg, including the Expatriation of the Acadians,1710-58; and, finally, ix) the Coming of the United Empire Loyalists, 1775-92.

The ball was almost cancelled before the formal invitations went out owing to the death in late January of Prince Henry of Battenberg who was married to Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. Court protocol called for six weeks of public mourning, meaning no court entertainments. Notwithstanding this, the Aberdeens went ahead with their plans. As a nod to protocol, the governor general and his wife did not dress up for the ball. Instead, Lady Aberdeen wore formal court dress with ostrich feathers and veil while her husband wore his official Windsor uniform.

Prior to the big day, the historical groups practiced the period dances they were asked to perform, as well as a number of special poses, or attitudes, that illustrated their particular subject. A dress rehearsal was held two days before the actual ball. Some groups hired dance instructors to help them with their steps as some of the dances were quite intricate. For example, the group portraying Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada performed a quadrille, while the participants in the “Days of Montcalm and Wolfe” danced a faranole. Other dances included a gavotte, a bourrée, and a pavane. For the expatriation of the Acadians, young girls danced around a maypole; there was little reference to the Acadians’ expulsion despite the title of the theme, though perhaps a direct reference to that unpleasantness would not have been well received given the circumstances.

To keep down the personal expenses of guests, Lady Aberdeen invited two costumiers from Montreal to come to Ottawa to help outfit her invitees. People could rent their outfits for the night for $5 to $10 dollars (roughly $100-200 in today’s money). In preparation for the ball, the Senate chamber was closed for two days prior to the big event to permit workmen to lay a temporary pine dance floor at a cost of $25,000, equivalent to at least a half million dollars today, the tab for which was picked up by the Dominion government. This exorbitant cost was later the source of criticism, as was the allegation that labourers worked through the Sabbath to complete the floor in time for the ball.

In addition to the dance floor, bunting and decorations were also installed in the Senate chamber. Each pillar was draped with blue silk banners, topped with a crown. On one side of the vice-regal throne the armorial shields of the governors of New France were installed along with the white royal standard of France decorated with golden fleur-de-lys. On the other side were placed the shields of English governors and Union flags. The escutcheons of Great Britain and Canada were also displayed. One of the galleries overlooking the Senate chamber was set aside for the orchestra, while the Parliamentary rotunda was converted into buffet-style dining room.

The ball began at 9pm, guests having previously arrived on Parliament Hill on sleighs, their invitations checked at the door by policemen. Most of the guests were initially confined to the upstairs Senate galleries to watch the performances of the nine historical groups who began their routines after the arrival of the Governor General and Lady Aberdeen, along with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and Supreme Court Judges. After each historical groups had performed its dances, their members were formally presented to the vice regal couple. The Aberdeens marked their appreciation for the dancers’ efforts by giving each participant a silver brooch or a scarf pin carrying their family motto, Fortuna sequitur. At about 11pm, the roughly 240 participants in the nine historical groups and the vice-regal party left the dance floor to take refreshments in the Parliamentary rotunda. With the floor cleared, the other guests who had been watching from the upstairs galleries were allowed onto the dance floor. Dancing continued until 5am.

Just before the vice-regal party and the nine groups of historical performers left the Senate chamber, the performers who had played parts of First Nations’ people in the earlier historical groups rushed to the centre of the room war-whooping in a stereotypical display of “the savage Indian.” The impromptu group was led by Hayter Reed, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. Hayter, who was dressed in a full-length, Plains feather headdress, was supposed to represent the sixteenth-century, Iroquois leader Donnacona, who travelled to France with Jacques Cartier. Ostensibly speaking in Cree, with his words “interpreted” by another individual representing the Algonquin chief Tessouat, Hayter spoke of the Indians’ love for the “great chief,” and passed Aberdeen a peace pipe. It was not evident that anybody minded or was even aware of the cultural insensitivity and historical inaccuracy of the portrayal of Canada’s first inhabitants.

The ball was deemed a great success. Toronto’s Globe newspaper said “the brilliant spectacle was beyond comparison.” The Aberdeens could take comfort watching “Montcalm” and “Wolfe” dancing on the same floor. Their efforts at bringing together English and French in harmony was achieved at least for one night, the nation’s linguistic and religious divisions temporarily forgotten.

Sources:

Bourinot, J. G. 1896. Historical Fancy Dress Ball held in the Senate Chamber, Ottawa, John Derie & Sons Publishers.

Buchart, Amber, 2012. In the Spotlight: An Unofficial History of Fancy Dress, 26 October.

Canadian Museum of History, 2015. Dressing Up Canada.

Cooper, Cynthia, 1997. Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada’s Governors General, 1876-1898, Goose Lane Editions and Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The Globe, 1896. “Vice-Regal Ball, The Brilliant Affair, The Talk of the City,” 19 February.

————, 1896. “Vice-Regal Ball: Senate Chamber Thronged with Youth and Beauty,” 19 February.

————, 1896. “The Commons Bar,” 13 April.

Image: The Aberdeens’ Fancy Dress Ball in the Senate Chambers, Ottawa, Ontario, 1896, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3384402, Samuel J. Jarvis Fonds, C-010108.

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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.

Lord Elgin Visits Bytown

27 July 1853

What a difference a few years can make! In 1849, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kincardine, and Governor General of the Province of Canada, had been vilified in the Tory press in Bytown. News of a planned visit by him was greeted with jeers and worse. Shots were fired and rocks thrown in what later became known as the Stony Monday riots between Tories (Conservatives) and Reformers. One man died and many were injured. Serious fighting was only averted by the quick thinking of soldiers stationed on Barrick Hill who interposed themselves on Sappers’ Bridge between the furious armed factions. Needless to say, Elgin’s trip to Bytown was cancelled.

photoThe affray was caused by Tory disgruntlement over compensation granted by the Provincial government to citizens of Lower Canada who had incurred losses in the 1837-38 Rebellion. While convicted traitors were denied compensation, the law applied even to those who opposed the government and Royal authority. To Conservatives, this smacked of rewarding disloyalty. Despite Tory pressure and his own personal qualms, Lord Elgin gave Royal Asset to the compensation bill. This action underscored the arrival of responsible government to Canada. On hearing that the bill had passed into law, an enraged Tory mob burnt down the Parliament buildings in Montreal in 1848, thereby launching the quest for a new, safer site for Canada’s capital.

By 1853, tempers had cooled and the vice-regal tour of the Ottawa Valley could finally proceed. This was now an opportunity for the Governor General to take the measure of the small community of Bytown as a possible site for Canada’s new capital city. This time, Bytown citizens and neighbouring communities were going to put their best foot forward in a charm offensive to elicit vice-regal support for the Ottawa Valley. It was a pivotal moment in Bytown’s history.

We are fortunate that Lord Elgin’s visit to Bytown and nearby towns along the Ottawa River was extensively covered in the Ottawa Citizen. As well, we have a remarkable first-hand account written by Mary Anne Friel, the widow of the last Mayor of Bytown and three times mayor of Ottawa. Penned in 1901, when she was quite elderly, Mary Anne Friel’s recollection of the visit corroborates the Citizen’s account of events while adding a delightful personal touches, including a vignette of her dancing with the Governor General at a ball held at the Aylmer home of John Egan, MPP, a prominent area lumberman and politician.

Travelling from Quebec City, the then seat of government, to remote Bytown in 1853 was not easy. Lord Elgin and his entourage left Quebec on Tuesday the 26th of November on the steam John Munn, arriving in Montreal shortly before 6am the following morning. Despite the early hour, the steamer was met at the wharf by hundreds of well-wishers and a full honour guard. From Montreal, the party took the train to Lachine on the St. Lawrence River where it met the steamer Lady Simpson for the journey to Carillon, arriving shortly after noon. At Carillon, Lord Elgin was met by a carriage and four horses sent the previous day from Bytown to convey him over the rough and uncomfortable road to Grenville. From there, Lord Elgin and his company embarked at 3.30pm on the Ottawa Mail Steamer Phoenix for the last stage of his journey to Bytown. The Phoenix, which was met partway by the steamboat Otter filled with well-wishers, finally arrived at Bytown at about 8.30 pm on 27 November 1853—the journey from Quebec having taken more than 24 hours.

At each stop along the way, Lord Elgin was feted, with local dignitaries welcoming him and expressing their support and loyalty. All stressed the importance of the Ottawa River and its tributaries as “repositories of great wealth” that only needed the “fostering hand of Government to make them a source of great individual and provincial prosperity.”

At Bytown, huge crowds started to gather as early as 6pm along the high banks of the Ottawa River and at the wharves to await the arrival of the Governor General and his staff. When the Phoenix came into view, a cannon mounted high above the river, most likely on Barrick Hill or Nepean Point, fired a 21-gun salute. On board the steamship, a band played God Save the Queen which was followed by the skirl of bagpipes. Disembarking from the Phoenix, a tired Lord Elgin was taken by carriage to Rideau Hall, the residence of Thomas McKay, where he was to stay during his short visit to Bytown. (A few years later, the home was rented and then purchased by the Canadian government as the official residence of the Governor General.)

At 10am the next morning, a large procession formed on Sussex Street and greeted Lord Elgin at the Rideau Bridge on the road that led to Rideau Hall. Proceeded by two constables with “wands” (most likely, decorated truncheons indicating their office), the Union Jack and a further two constables with wands, came Lord Elgin’s carriage. Thomas McKay was seated beside him. Following behind the Governor General’s carriage were carriages carrying Mayor Joseph-Balsora Turgeon and members of the Corporation of Bytown, the Warden and County Council, Members of Parliament, the County Judge, the County Sheriff, various members of organizing committees, the clergy and members of professions in their robes of office, including lawyers, doctors, and magistrates. Pulling up the rear were local residents on horseback and members of the public on foot.

The procession wended its way through the streets of Lower Town, crossed Sappers’ Bridge before heading to Barrick Hill where a bower, or arch, was erected at a spot described as commanding “one of the finest views on this continent.” (This was the very spot where the future Houses of Parliament would later be built.) There, Mayor Turgeon addressed Lord Elgin in both English and French. He assured the Governor General of Bytown’s “inalienable attachment to Her Majesty’s person and Government.” In light of what had transpired four years earlier, these words were not just a diplomatic nicety. Without explicitly lobbying for Bytown to become the new capital of Canada, the Mayor stressed the geographical position of the community “in the very Centre of Canada, situate on the banks of the majestic Ottawa, one of the largest rivers in British America, at the junction of the Rideau Canal with that river, —having extensive fertile salubrious country above and around us, inexhaustible in timber and minerals, and unequalled in water powers, —therefore we hope we may be excused in anticipating for our intended City a high rank in the future destiny of this great and fast growing country.”

In response, Lord Elgin thanked the Mayor for the hearty welcome accorded to him and said that the purpose of his visit was to become personally acquainted with “the capabilities and requirements of the Valley of the Ottawa.” He concluded by saying that “Bytown and the region of the Ottawa may henceforward reckon me among their most evident admirers.” These words were greeted by “loud and continued cheering,” said the Citizen.

Following more speeches by the Sons and Cadets of Temperance, who lobbied for total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, the Governor General, his entourage and other notables continued their progress, through the principle streets of Upper Town, before arriving at the Mechanics’ Institute and Athenaeum where an Exhibition had been hastily organized in only ten days by a committee headed by Dr. Van Courtlandt. There were four categories of exhibits—fine arts, manufactured goods, mechanical objects, specimens of natural history, and geological finds. The Exhibition Hall had been tastefully decorated with flowering plants and flags, with a birch bark canoe suspended from the ceiling. High up near the roof was a banner with the words “Only the presage of a coming time.”

The purpose of the displays was to show Lord Elgin that in spite of the rough-hewn outward nature of Bytown, the community was both cultured and prosperous with a sterling future. The highlight of the fine arts collection on display was the Flight into Egypt by Murillo lent by the Bishop of Bytown from the Roman Catholic Cathedral. In the manufactured goods section, fine tweeds produced by the textile factory owned by Thomas McKay were on display as well as other fabrics made in Bytown and New Edinburgh mills. There were also displays of hats, furs and leather products. In the mechanical section were carriages and sleds made by Humphreys and McDougall, agricultural implements, and a biscuit-making machine from Mr. A. Scott, and a lathe and portable bellows supplied by J.R. Booth. Thirty-three specimens of wood were on show as well as window blinds furnished by Messrs. Cherrier, Dickenson & Co. of New Edinburgh. Specimens of natural history included fossils, provided by Mr Billings, and other curiosities were displayed on a wide table that ran up the middle of the hall. To underscore the mineral wealth of the Ottawa Valley, six different kinds of iron ore were on show, along with samples of Nepean cement stone.

Naturally, there were speeches, lots of them. Elgin commented about how pleased he was to hear the addresses read “in the Scottish tongue.” He also indicated that he was fully aware of the importance of the lumber industry to the region saying “the Lumberman is followed by the Farmer who finds in the wants of the lumberman a ready market for the produce of his industry, and the Farmer, in his turn is immediately succeeded by the Mechanic and the Artisan.”

After his stop at the Mechanics’ Institute, Lord Elgin held a levee at Doran’s Hotel that ended at 1.45pm. This was followed by visits to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals before returning to Rideau Hall for a sumptuous collation for fifty guests held in a tent erected on the lawn of the residence.

After luncheon, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages to Alymer in Canada East (Quebec) to dine at the residence of John Egan, M.P.P. He party passed again through Bytown, then over the Ottawa River via the Union Suspension Bridge. The streets of the town were decorated with flags and evergreen branches. Several arches ornamented with flags and banners spanned the roads. In front of Messrs. G. Herou & Co., eight trees had been planted, with a large evergreen wreath hung from the front of the building with a twenty-foot banner. In the centre was a large crown.

At the Union Bridge, Lord Elgin witnessed an exciting descent of three cribs of timber decorated with flags through the timber slide around the Chaudière Falls. The signal to launch was given by a musket discharge. In the middle of the Bridge, the Governor General was met by a mounted deputation from Aymer, escorted by a “cavalcade of the Yeomanry of the Country” to accompany him to Egan’s residence. He then witnessed another timber crib slide on the Canada East side of the bridge before passing under an archway of pines into the village of Hull and onto the road to Aylmer.

The small town of Alymer was decorated for the great man’s arrival, with a reception held outside as the Town Hall was too small to accommodate the crowds. After the customary speeches, the vice-regal party repaired to the Egan residence where dinner was served, followed by a ball that started at 10pm and Mary Anne Friel’s dance with the Governor General. This was followed by fireworks.

The next day, Lord Elgin’s party voyaged up the Ottawa River on the steamship Emerald, passing Horaceville, the seat of the Honourable Hamnett Pinhey, where the Governor General was greeted by a 21-gun salute, before docking at Quillon (Quyon) for more speeches. From Quyon, the Emerald steamed to Union Village where the vice-regal party took the Chats Falls Horse Railway to portage around the Falls. At the other end of the portage railway, the group boarded the steamer Oregon at Chats Lake to run first to Arnprior, then to the home of Alexander McDonnell at Sand Point, Bonnechere Point, and finally Portage Du Fort, with speeches given at each stop. At Portage Du Fort, Lord Elgin was greeted by 250 Orangemen in full regalia with four white and green banners. The Oregon then retraced its journey, stopping at Fitzroy Harbour where the vice-regal party disembarked for a walk through the village to the mills amidst cheering crowds and gunfire. The citizens of Fitzroy Harbour weren’t shy about recommending Bytown as the new capital of Canada. In an address presented at that stop, the community said that they were glad that Lord Elgin had visited Bytown, “which from its central position in the Province [of Canada], its salubrious climate and its position in the valley of the Ottawa possesses the first claim to be the permanent seat of government.”

Lord Elgin replied that it gave him great pleasure to see “a large number of people of all creeds and races – English, Irish, Scotch and Canadians [French] – living together in the upmost harmony and exerting themselves for the advancement of Canada, the common country of the all.” Alluding to the disturbances of 1848-49, he added that “His day in Canada, as they were aware, had not been entirely cloudless, —but what care we now for the storm that has passed away… We had our dark and cloudy morning here in Canada—we now enjoy our noon-day sunshine.”

Afterwards, Lord Elgin and his party took the portage railway again and re-embarked on the Emerald for the return journey to Alymer. On the way, some of the ladies and gentlemen, “tripped the light fantastic on the upper deck.” It was dark by the time the group arrived in Alymer which was brilliantly illuminated. After a short halt, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages back to Bytown, the route lit up by large bonfires set at strategic points.

After spending the night at Rideau Hall, Lord Elgin left Bytown for good at 5.30 the next morning bound for Montreal on the Phoenix—his trip through the Ottawa Valley an unqualified success.

Four years later, Queen Victoria chose Bytown, now renamed Ottawa, as the capital of the Province of Canada.

Sources:

Friel, Mary A. By. 1901. A Reminiscence, 4 November, Historical Society of Ottawa, A 2009-0147, Box #12, City of Ottawa Archives.

Leggett, R.F. 1968. The Chats Falls Horse Railway,” Science Museum, London, 7 February.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1853. “Lord Elgin’s Visit to Ottawa,” 30 July.

————————, 1853. “Exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute,” 30 July.

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.

Sir Galahad


6 December 1901

The next time you go for a stroll down Wellington Street, stop and take a look at the statue right in front of Parliament Hill at Metcalfe Street. Instead of honouring monarchs or prime ministers, it’s a statue of Sir Galahad, the legendary knight of King Arthur’s Round Table renowned for his gallantry. It was erected in 1905 to commemorate a singular act of heroism that had occurred four years earlier.

That fateful Friday, 6 December, 1901 was a bitterly cold day with the temperature in Ottawa struggling to reach -9 Celsius. But it was bright and sunny, encouraging skaters to test the sheet of seductively smooth but treacherous ice that had formed on the Ottawa River during the first cold snap of the season. In the early afternoon, a skating party from Government House had ventured out onto the ice without mishap. Later, as dusk fell, another party set out. The foursome consisted on Miss Bessie Blair, age 21, the youngest daughter of the Honourable A.G. Blair, former premier of New Brunswick, and then Minister of Railways and Canals in the Liberal Government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Alex Creelman, aged 28, an employee of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Miss Snowball, daughter of Senator Jabez Snowball of New Brunswick, who had been visiting the Blair residence, and Henry Albert Harper, aged 28, the assistant editor of the Labour Gazette, the monthly journal of the newly-established Dominion Department of Labour.

photoThe young people set out from the newly constructed Interprovincial Bridge and headed east towards Kettle Island, with Miss Blair and Creelman skating hand-in-hand in front, with Harper and Miss Snowball pulling up the rear. Unexpectedly, the leading couple came upon an area of open water near the confluence with the Gatineau River, Unable to halt in time, Blair and Creelman plunged into the icy, dark water.

After sending Miss Snowball back to the shore for help, Harper moved to assist the couple who were frantically struggling in the frigid water weighted down by their heavy winter clothing. Lying prone on the thin ice, Harper extended his walking stick to Bessie Blair but to no avail; she was too far away. Despite entreaties not to venture further, Harper took off his overcoat and gloves and dove into the water to help the sinking woman. Before entering the water, Harper said: “What else can I do?” Moments later, both he and Blair disappeared from sight. Drowned, their lifeless bodies were recovered the following morning.

Almost miraculously, Blair’s companion, Alex Creelman, survived, saved by Mr Arthur Treadgold, a member of the Government House skating party whom Miss Snowball had encountered on her desperate race back to shore for help. Informed of what had happened, he immediately rushed over to the site of the accident in time to pull the unconscious Creelman from the water. Suffering from hypothermia and shock, Creelman was taken to a nearby home to recover, before returning to his rooms at the Turkish Baths Hotel under a doctor’s care. It was Creelman who recounted Harper’s act of sacrifice.

The heroic action of Henry Harper stuck a cord among Ottawa’s citizens. Within days, a large public meeting was held at City Hall where a resolution was passed to commemorate Harper’s heroism by the erection of a memorial statue using funds raised through public subscription. The initiative was photostrongly supported by William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s future prime minister. He and Harper had been the best of friends at university, and had even shared rooms for a time. King, as Deputy Minister of Labour and editor of the Labour Gazette, had hired Harper in 1900 and was his boss.

The statue was to be symbolic of heroism and nobility of character. One of Harper’s prized possessions was a reproduction of the 1862 painting of Sir Galahad by the British symbolist artist George Frederic Watts, R.A. (1817-1904) which had hung behind Harper’s desk in his office. According to friends, Harper saw Sir Galahad as his “ideal knight.” The painting became the model for the statue.

The American sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser from Baltimore, Maryland won an open competition for the commission. His bronze statue set on a granite plinth was unveiled by the Governor General Earl Grey on 18 November 1905 before a crowd of more than 3,000 people as the regimental band of the Governor General’s photoFoot Guards played “The Maple Leaf” and “God Save the King.” At the unveiling, Sir Wilfrid Laurier told the crowd that “The stranger to our city will pause as he passes this monument and wonder what deed called for its erection. He will be told of the noble act of self-sacrifice of a life given in an effort to save another.” P. D. Ross, the chairman of the memorial committee, said that “Harper had lost his life. But in that sacrifice, he left to the rest of us a great lesson and a great inspiration.”

The following year, Mackenzie King published a biography of Harper—“his oldest and most intimate friend,”—titled The Secret of Heroism. In it, King recounts the details of Harper’s short life from his birth and school days, to his life as a reporter, first in London, Ontario and later at the Montreal Herald, and finally to his work at the Labour Gazette. King described Harper as a man of “fearless integrity of heart and mind.” Like King, Harper was a practising Presbyterian, with “a strong belief in a definite moral order and the ultimate triumph of right.” King mourned that Canada had lost a “true patriot in sentiment and aspiration,” and had Harper had lived he would have been “an earnest and practical reformer.” Harper’s political and economic sentiments described in the book are believed to mirror King’s own views, and provided the inspiration that motivated the future prime minister over his long career.

Harper was buried in a hill cemetery overlooking Cookstown, Ontario, the town of his birth, on what would have been his 28th birthday.

Sources:

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Henry Albert Harper.

———————–, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

King, W. L. Mackenzie, 1906. The Secret of Heroism, A Memoir of Henry Albert Harper, Fleming, H. Revell Company, Toronto. 2nd Edition.

Mayer, Roy, 2012. Galahad Cried, Createspace, Ottawa.

The Globe, 1901. “DROWNED IN THE OTTAWA: Miss Bessie Blair and Mr. H.A. Harper the Victims THROUGH THE ICE Mr. Harper Lost His Life Trying to Save the Lady,” 7 December.

St. John Daily Sun, 1905. “Sir Galahad,” 19 November.

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1947. “Sir Galahad,” 18 September.

———————————, 1948, “Happy Memorable Years at University of Toronto,” 7 July.

Images:

Henry Albert Harper, from King, W. L. Mackenzie, The Secret of Heroism.

Sir Galahad by G. F. Watts.

Sir Galahad, Wellington Street, Ottawa by James Powell

The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

Long before Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay worked their culinary magic on television, there was Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet. While Kerr (pronounced “Care”) was not by any means the first gourmet chef to appear on the small screen—that honour goes to James Beard in 1946—he, like Julia Child, did much to popularize fine cooking in North America. At a time when the acme of fine dining for many Americans and Canadians was a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, and Italian cuisine was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Kerr introduced millions to the likes of Lamb Apollo, Red Snapper in Pernod, Crab Captain Cook, and Gateau Saint Honoré. His zany antics, lightning fast wit and double entendres delivered while chopping and sautéing delighted television audiences around the world. At the peak of his popularity in 1970, his television show, The Galloping Gourmet, was seen in thirty-eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, with more than 200 million viewers. Dubbed into French, it was called the Le Gourmet Farfelu on the CBC’s French-language network. Amazingly, The Galloping Gourmet was made in Ottawa.

photoThe British-born Kerr learnt how to cook as a teenager during the late 1940s in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel. After five years in the British Army’s catering corps, he moved to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Air Force as a catering adviser. It was in New Zealand in 1959 that he got his first televised cooking show—Eggs with Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Performing in uniform, the young Kerr received a munificent $25 for his weekly television programme. Spotted by a promoter with links to Australia, Kerr was launched on Australian television with a programme called Entertaining with Kerr in 1964 on the Ten Network.

In 1968, he and his wife Treena came to Ottawa to film The Galloping Gourmet for Freemantle International, a television production/distribution company. Although the show was aimed at an American audience, the Kerrs chose Canada as their base of operations because they wanted to bring a British/Australian flavour to the show that they thought might be lost in an American-made production. Also, Canada had first class television studios that could make colour programmes. Colour television had been introduced to the Canadian market in 1966, whereas Australian television was still operating in black and white. To make the daily 23-minute programme, the Kerrs went to the CJOH studios located at the corner of Merivale Road and Clyde Avenue in Ottawa. Then owned by Bushnell Communications, CJOH was the third busiest television production centre in Canada. Under the direction of Bill McKee, an exceptional staff of 160 people, of whom 100 were directly in production, worked ten hour days seven days a week producing as many as dozen different television series as well as films for government departments. In a 1970 interview, Kerr stated that CJOH had the “finest” television crew with whom they had ever worked.

Production of The Galloping Gourmet began in the summer of 1968, making six shows a day, thirty shows per week. It was a gruelling schedule. The Kerrs worked as a team, Graham in front of the camera, and Treena as the show’s producer. Initially, there was little to distinguish the new show. Indeed, the television studio’s audience relations staff found it difficult to find people willing to fill the seats in the studio equipped with a full kitchen with an autumn brown fridge and stove, dining room, bar and wine rack. However, this was to quickly change.

The programme first aired on CBC television (CBOT, channel 4 in Ottawa) at 4pm on Monday, 30 December, 1968, up against the likes of Match Game, Big Spender, House Party, and the cartoon show Hercules. The show was also syndicated throughout the United States. CBOT advertised it as “a cooking show…but what a cooking show! It is as entertaining as the best comedy shows and as informative as a documentary because of the talent of the host Graham Kerr, a world famous gourmet, formerly of England, now living in Australia.” It added that Kerr was nicknamed the galloping gourmet, “because of the lightning speed at which he moves his six foot, three-inch frame while alternately singing, dancing, telling stories and giving homely advice…all while cooking sumptuous dishes with dazzling dexterity.”

It was an apt description though his nickname was more likely based on a book that he co-authored with wine expert Len Evans called The Galloping Gourmets published in 1967. The book chronicled the authors’ globetrotting efforts to find the world’s best restaurants in 35 days. His address was also wrong. By this time, Graham, Treena and the Kerr children had taken up residence in the tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in Ottawa.

The Galloping Gourmet was an instant and huge success though some stations censored the more naughty bits. The Globe and Mail, in a rant about the poor quality of daytime television filled with Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island re-runs, soap operas, and second-rate talk shows, likened The Galloping Gourmet to “a flower growing in a crammed wall.” It opined that “while Graham gallops, there is hope.” Tickets to attend the show’s tapings became as rare as hen’s teeth. Kerr’s most faithful admirers were female. One die-hard fan attended 49 times during the show’s first year. It helped that he was a culinary James Bond with a sense of humour—young, good looking, always impeccably dressed, and a superb British accent.

photoBut the show appealed to all, women and men, young and old. The reason—it was fun. Each show began with Kerr jumping over a chair with a glass of wine in his hand. The manoeuvre, suggested by wife Treena, became his signature move. Most shows had some gag that were sure to provoke guffaws, such as stirring a pot with a five-foot spoon called “Big Mouth,” or pulling a brassiere out of a rolling pin. Shows also featured clips of exciting places around the world visited by the Kerrs for culinary inspiration. But the most endearing feature of the show was Kerr’s unbounded enthusiasm, excellent comic timing, and an ability to roll with whatever happened. To watch him try to unstick a reluctant cake out of a mould while a cherry sauce is cooking on the stove is hysterically funny. The show was nominated for two Daytime Emmys, but lost out to The Today Show. However, Kerr received the ultimate public recognition when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970.

But what about the food? Kerr’s culinary critics poo-pooed his skills, seeing him as a showman rather than an expert at fine cuisine. One called him the Liberace of the cooking world. There may be an element of truth to this. But he introduced people to a range of cuisines from Cajun jambalaya and British beer and rump pot roast to Mexican huevos rancheros and Russian shrimp povlik. One thing that was clear, however, his food was rich…very rich. There were few vegetables. In his recipes, Kerr used copious amounts of clarified butter, fat and sugar. Just watching him lard an already well-marbled, two-inch steak, then fry it in butter, bacon fat and brown sugar is sufficient to clog the arteries. But this was a more innocent time. Certainly, willing volunteers, usually women pulled from the audience at the end of each show to taste his culinary creations, appeared to love his food.

At the height of his popularity, disaster struck. In April 1971, Kerr was seriously hurt when a truck rear-ended his car in California, leaving him with a damaged spine and a weakened right arm. The couple returned to Ottawa to try to tape another season, but things were not the same. With Kerr injured, shows were mostly cobbled together using bits of earlier programmes with celebrities brought in to give their opinions of past shows and dishes. In the summer of that year, the Kerrs bade Ottawa good bye after taping 560 shows in front of 46,000 people. He lauded Ottawans for their support, coming out for tapings in the midst of snowstorms, and stoically sitting through an overheated studio when summer air conditioning failed.

From leafy Rockcliffe, the family charted a new course aboard their $300,000, 71-foot yacht with an aim to visit the world’s beauty spots while they recuperated and worked on new projects, including a Galloping Gourmet line of kitchens, cook books, and cooking utensils. But things didn’t turn out as expected. Treena was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis proved to be wrong; it turned out to be tuberculosis. But she still lost part of a lung and became hooked on both prescription and non-prescription drugs. They also lost $800,000 to a man they had trusted. The couple subsequently became born-again Christians and abjured their earlier lives. Turning his back on the galloping gourmet, Kerr gave up alcohol, which had featured prominently in his earlier shows, and his risqué behaviour. The couple visited Ottawa in 1975 to appear at an evangelical rally at the Earl Armstrong Arena in Gloucester. The same year, Kerr returned to television hosting Take Kerr, a five-minute, syndicated cooking show featuring a mix of alcohol-free recipes with a dash of Christianity.

In 1987, Treena suffered a stroke and heart attack exacerbated husband Graham was convinced by his high fat, high sugar recipes of earlier years. In response, he re-doubled his efforts to create healthy “minmax” recipes—minimum fat and cholesterol with maximum flavour and aroma. More television shows, including The Graham Kerr Show, made in Seattle, Washington, and cook books that emphasized wholesome foods followed. In 1997, Kerr returned to Canada, this time to the Bay’s Arcadian Court in Toronto to tape yet another cooking programme called Graham Kerr’s Gathering Place.

Treena Keer died in September 2015 just short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Graham Keer, who turned 85 in January 2017 lives in Mount Vernon in Skaget County, near Seattle. Today, Keer has come to terms with his galloping gourmet past. His latest passion is “upstreaming,” that he describes as the “conversion of habits that can harm” into “resources that can heal” ourselves and the planet. Reruns of The Galloping Gourmet can be seen occasionally on late night television or on the Cooking Channel. Some have also been posted on YouTube. They are worth watching for the Sixties clothes and hairstyles, and, of course, for Graham Kerr’s incomparable cooking style and humour.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune (The), 1972. “A Glimpse of Graham, the Gourmet,” 9 November.

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1968. “CBOT Highlights,” 28 December.

————————–, 1969. “A Watched Nockerln,” 30 April.

————————–, 1970. “The Galloping Gourmet in Moscow,” 7 February.

————————–, 1970. “Graham Loves Us,” 8 August.

————————–, 1971. “The Galloping Gourmet goes, salutes ‘fabulous’ Ottawans,” 23 August.

————————–, 1972. “Battle of the Sexes Name of the Game,” 11 March.

————————–, 1972. “Galloping Gourmet hungers for the sea,” 19 July.

————————–, 1974. “Ottawa TV production centre is one of Canada’s busiest,” 21 December.

————————–, 1975. “Galloping Gourmet has come up with a recipe for a good life after his recent conversion,” 23 August.

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet,

Eastview Birth Control Trial


17 March 1937


Birth control is an accepted part of modern life by all except the most religiously conservative. Competing brands of condoms in garish packages jostle for attention on the druggist’s shelves, while contraceptive pills, easily obtained by prescription, are covered by health insurance plans. It might therefore come as a surprise to learn that as recent as 1969 contraceptives were illegal in Canada. Even the dissemination of basic information about birth control was prohibited unless it could be shown to be “in the public good.” One of the big steps along the long road to repealing the law took place in Ottawa in the 1930s. However, the landmark legal decision that set change in motion had little to do with a woman’s right to control her body. Far more important were efforts to control the size of Canada’s poorer classes.

On 14 September 1936, Dorothea Palmer was arrested after visiting a welfare mother in the community of Eastview, now called Vanier. A week before her arrest, Palmer, who had received some training as a nurse in her native Britain before immigrating to Canada in 1928, had taken a part-time job in Ottawa with the Parents’ Information Bureau (PIB). The PIB, started in 1930 by Alvin Ratz Kaufman, a wealthy, Kitchener-based industrialist and philanthropist, provided poor families with pamphlets about birth control, as well as sample contraceptives. PIB workers would make house calls on poor mothers, typically by referral of a doctor or friend. After a mother filled out an application form, which asked a slew of questions, including her race, the number of pregnancies she had had, her husband’s occupation and salary, she could acquire contraceptives through mail order from the PIB for a small fee, or for free, if she were destitute.

Palmer was arrested by Constable Emil Martel and brought to the police station where she was questioned by Chief Richard Mannion. Believing she was not going to be charged, Palmer freely told the police what she was doing in Eastview, adding that “A woman should be master of her own body.” Mannion called the Crown Attorney who charged her with three counts under Section 207(c) of the 1892 Criminal Code for selling, advertising, and disposing of contraceptives. Although Palmer figured she would get in trouble with the Catholic Church, she was surprised to have been arrested. PIB workers had been told that what they were doing was legal as their actions were covered by the “public good” clause of the Act. However, the broad applicability of the clause, which was intended to protect doctors, was untested in court. Eager to set a legal precedent, Kaufman provided the $500 bail for Palmer’s release, and paid $25,000 for a top-rate legal team for her defence.

The trial, one of the longest in Canadian history, lasted six months. Witnesses, included social workers, clergy, and doctors, as well as twenty-one poor, francophone women visited by Palmer in Eastview. Judge Lester Clayton quickly dismissed two charges against Palmer, those of selling and disposing of contraceptives devices, due to lack of evidence, leaving the trial focused on whether or not the distribution of pamphlets on birth control fell under the “public good” clause of the Act.

The prosecution relied on medical opinions to show that birth control was unnatural, or dangerous, and that the distribution of birth control literature by lay people was not in the public interest. One obstetrician-gynaecologist called by the Crown argued that the control of a woman’s organs was above man’s law, and that birth control would lead to a woman experiencing “pathological conditions.” Another, a professor of gynaecology at the University of Montreal, spoke against all forms of birth control other than the rhythm method. On cross examination, he admitted that his objection was religious. Some doctors, while supporting birth control for existing mothers who wanted to space future pregnancies, argued that it should be handled solely by medical professionals. However, the testimony of medical experts was undermined when they acknowledged that they actually knew little about birth control; the subject was not taught in medical school.

Palmer’s defence team focus its arguments on the supposed sociological and economic virtues of birth control rather than human rights. Although the directors, both women, of the Toronto and Hamilton birth control clinics spoke about a woman’s reproductive rights, and the welfare of mothers, as did the Eastview mothers who didn’t want more children, their testimony was overshadowed by eugenic views expressed by male witnesses.

Prior to World War II, eugenics was a respected scientific theory, based on Darwinism, that aimed to improve mankind through selective breeding for beneficial human characteristics (positive eugenics) and the discouragement of negative traits through birth control or sterilization (negative eugenics). The Eugenics Society of Canada, established in the early 1930s, lobbied for the establishment of a national policy of “race betterment” by enacting legislation to “safeguard racial progress.” Many respected progressive Canadians were eugenics supporters, including Tommy Douglas and Nellie McClung. Both Alberta and British Columbia enacted legislation permitting the sterilization of unfit and feeble-minded individuals that wasn’t repealed until the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the terms “unfit,” and “feeble-minded” were open for interpretation. For many, racial improvement meant advancing the white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant “race” at the expense of others. Eugenics supporters also argued that the upper and middle classes were being outbred by the poor and mentally ill, leading to genetic, social, and economic disaster. To correct the birth differential, birth control should be made available to the masses. The reputation of eugenics crashed during World War II when Nazi Germany used the theory as justification for its racial policies that led to the death of millions in its concentration camps.

A number of prominent Canadian eugenicists testified at Palmer’ trial, including Alvin Kaufman, Treasurer and founding member of the Eugenics Society of Canada, Dr. William Hutton, the Society’s president as well as the Brantford Medical Doctor of Health, and the Reverend Dr. C.E. Silox, the Secretary General of the Social Service Council of Canada. Both Kaufman and Silox testified that since poor, unemployed workers were having large families, the only alternative to birth control was revolution or communism. Silox raised the Malthusian spectre of uncontrolled population growth requiring state intervention, or the “invention of new deadly diseases, more terrible famines, and bigger and better wars” to stop it. If that wasn’t controversial enough, Silox argued that French Canadians were deliberately outbreeding English Canadians while driving down their standard of living. By giving poor francophone families access to birth control, he claimed that Anglo-French tensions would be eliminated, and English dominance maintained. Le Droit, Ottawa’s French language newspaper, angrily retorted that the trial was all about killing French Canadians in the womb.

Dr. William Hutton presented dubious statistics purporting to show that the average intelligence of Canadians was declining due to a higher fertility rate of the less intelligent, a view supported by a University of Toronto psychiatrist who argued that Canada faced a biological crisis as a consequence. Further testimony by a Toronto economist underscored the burden to society of supporting the unemployed of Eastview, noting that the community’s unemployment rate was more than double the national average, and that births in the town outnumbered deaths by more than 150 per year. Similarly, the Secretary of the Toronto District Labour Council argued that birth control should be used to “govern the level of the nation’s population” until surplus workers were absorbed, or the economic system changed.

On 17 March 1937, Judge Clayton, swayed by the economic and social arguments made by the defence, ruled that Dorothea Palmer’s actions were indeed in the public interest. In his summing up, there was no mention of women’s rights. With the subsequent appeal by the Crown dismissed, Clayton’s ruling opened the door a crack for birth control in Canada.

Sadly, for all her courage, Palmer received little support from her husband, relatives and Church who disapproved of her stand. During her trial, a stranger, passing on the street, slapped her face. Palmer received obscene phone calls at all hours, and was sexually assaulted by a man who told her “I’ll show you what it’s like without any birth control.” Fortunately, a knee in the groin and a punch in the face stopped her assailant. After the trial, she quit the PIB, saying her work was done, and faded into obscurity. Palmer, a pioneer for women’s rights, died in 1992.

Sources:

Annau, Catherine, 1994. “Eager Eugenicists: A Reprisal of the Birth Control Society of Hamilton,” Social History, Volume XXVII, Number 53, p. 111-133.

Bonikowsky, Laura, 2011, “It’s About Control: Dorothea Palmer and Contraception,” Historica Canada Blog, 13 September.

Dodd, Dianne, 1983, “The Canadian Birth Control Movement on Trial, 1936-37,” Social History, Volume XVI, Number 32, p. 411-28.

Jasmin, Olivier, 2012. Eugenics in Canada.

Martel, Marcel, 2014, Canada The Good, A Short History of Vice since 1500, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo.

National Post, 2012. “Canadians airbrush the truth Tommy Douglas’s enthusiasm for eugenics: MD,” 14 March.

Revie, Linda, 2006. “More Than Just Boots! The Eugenic and Commercial Concerns behind A. R. Kaufman’s Birth Controlling Activities,” Canadian Bulletin of Mental Health, Volume 23:1, p. 119-143, file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/1269-1271-1-PB.pdf.

The Globe, 1936. “Palmer acquitted on one birth control count,” 21 October.

—————, 1936. “Public Good, Is Defense Point in Palmer Case,” 2 November.

—————, 1936. “Birth Control or Red Regime, Pastor States,” 3 November.

—————, 1936. “Rabbi, Pastors, Doctor Defend Birth Control,” 6 November.

—————, 1937. “Deny Charge of Obscenity,” 2 February.

The Globe and Mail, 1937. “Birth Control Case Dismissed,” 18 March.

———————–, 1978. “Did Dirty Work for men at trial, pioneer of birth control says,” 30 November.

Image: http://www.intlawgrrls.com/2010/09/on-september-14.html.

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 Last Drop


11 February 1869


~ James Powell


Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the much revered Canadian statesman, nationalist, poet, and orator, died by an assassin’s bullet on 7 April 1868 as he was entering his boarding house on Sparks Street. Immediately, suspicion fell on the Fenian Brotherhood, a secretive group of Irish extremists founded in the United States mid-19th century, but with cells and sympathizers in major Canadian cities, including Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. At that time, waves of poor, Irish immigrants were flooding North America each year to escape the potato famine, poverty, and British neglect and misrule in Ireland. Bringing anti-British sentiments with them, most settled in the major U.S. northeastern cities. Between 1866 and 1870, armed groups of Fenians, many battle-hardened from service in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War (1861-65), launched a series of raids into Ontario and Quebec from the United States in an attempt to hold the country hostage and force Britain to free Ireland. In one of the worst of these incursions, some 1,300 Fenian soldiers led by a former U.S. Civil War colonel captured Fort Erie in southern Ontario in June 1866 before being forced to retreat back to the United States.

McGee, an Irish radical himself during his younger days, had provoked the wrath of Irish extremists when he became their most outspoken critic. Being a senior member of the Canadian government, McGee was seen as a traitor to the Irish cause, a sell-out to British interests. What probably hurt the most was that McGee ridiculed the Fenians, calling them deluded and foolish. He also poked holes in Irish nationalist shibboleths, arguing that Canada under the British Crown was a far better place for Irish immigrants to settle than republican United States. Instead of discrimination and exploitation, Irish Catholics would find acceptance and equality. In Canada, Irish settlers were becoming prosperous landowners, and were well represented in the professions and business.

After McGee’s assassination, Ottawa police swooped down on known Fenian sympathizers, arresting several and held them for questioning. But a sandy-haired, whiskered man named Patrick James Whelan quickly became a subject of interest, and was charged by Detective Edward O’Neill with McGee’s murder. Police searched Whelan’s room in a nearby hotel and found copies of the Irish American, a Fenian newspaper, that had supported the invasion of Canada. Also discovered were Whelan’s membership cards and badges for radical Irish societies, and, most incriminating of all, a Smith & Wesson revolver. Power residue suggested that it had been fired within the previous two days. Later, evidence emerged that Whelan had been stalking McGee, twice going to his boarding house in the days preceding the murder. He had also watched McGee from the House of Commons visitors’ gallery on the night he died. In an odd encounter, Whelan had shown up at McGee’s Montreal home late at night the previous New Year’s Day. When McGee’s half-brother opened the door, Whelan, using an assumed name, had warned the family that their house was about to be fire bombed. Fortunately, nothing happened.

The ensuing trial was a sensation, pitting two of Canada’s top legal minds. Ironically, for the prosecution was James O’Reilly, an Irish, Catholic, Queen’s Counsel from Kingston, who excluded all Catholics from the jury on the grounds that they might be prejudiced in favour of Whelan. For the defence was John Hillyard Cameron, grandmaster of the Orange Order, a rabidly Protestant, Loyalist society. He took the job of defending Whelan on principle, and for the money; his considerable fees were paid for by funds raised by Irish Catholics who feared hasty justice.

There was general agreement that both attorneys were in top form. The defence counsel proved that six weeks before McGee’s murder a maid at the hotel where Whelan had been staying had accidentally discharged his revolver when she found it in his bed. But this did not explain the powder residue which experts testified was no more than two days old. More successfully, Cameron rubbished the supposed eye-witness testimony of Jean-Baptiste Lacroix who didn’t show up at the police station until two weeks after the assassination. Lacroix said he saw a small, whiskered man follow McGee down Sparks Street to McGee’s boarding house. But in reality, Whelan was a big man, taller than McGee. He also said McGee had been wearing a black hat whereas the hat had actually been white. The defence also presented witnesses who cast doubt on Lacroix’s reliability, and said that he had only come forward for the reward money—$10,000, a considerable sum in those days. Harder to shake was testimony that Whelan had repeatedly threatened to kill McGee, and that Whelan’s New Year’s Day visit to McGee home was an aborted assassination attempt. Even more damning was testimony by Gaelic-speaking Detective Andrew Cullen who, when planted in a nearby cell to Whelan’s in the Ottawa jail, overheard him say to a fellow prisoner “I shot the fellow…I shot him like a dog.”

Following six days of testimony, and superlative closing addresses by the two attorneys, the jury found Whelan guilty of murdering Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Whelan was sentenced to hang by the neck until he was dead. Defence counsel appealed on the grounds that the judge had incorrectly ruled that Whelan couldn’t challenge potential jurymen for cause until after he had exhausted his 30 peremptory (i.e. without cause) challenges. The appeal failed. Two days before his date with the hangman, Whelan reiterated his innocence. He told his wife that it was better to hang than to be an informer. Whelan also said that he knew who shot McGee because he had been there.

After sleeping soundly for six hours, Whelan was roused at about 5.00am on 11 February 1869. After Mass in the prison’s chapel, he had some breakfast. Despite a driving snowstorm, people started to arrive at the prison at 9.00 to get a good view of the gallows. By 10.30, a rowdy throng of some 8,000 people were crowded into the streets in front of the jail. The Globe newspaper was shocked that many respectable women were in the crowd, along with hundreds of boys and girls. At 11.00, the sheriff appeared with Whelan on the balcony, with three priests in surplices. The bound Whelan looked “pale and excited” with beads of sweat on his forehead. After repeating the Pater Noster, Whelan moved to the railing to address the crowd. He begged pardon for any offences he might have committed and forgave all parties who had injured him. His last words were “God save Ireland and God save my soul.” He then stepped back over the drop.

At 11.15, the executioner drew a white bag over Whelan’s head and adjusted the rope. He then opened the trap door, and Whelan dropped to his death. It was not an easy one. Many in the crowd clapped as Whelan kicked his heels in the air before expiring. It was the last public hanging in Canada.

Many have subsequently questioned Whelan’s guilt and the fairness of his trial. Anti-Fenian feelings were running high in Canada at the time, and McGee had been a popular politician. The evidence, while compelling, was largely circumstantial; the only eyewitness was unreliable. Jailhouse confessions also have a dubious record of veracity. Moreover, while there were no complaints about how the trial was handled, even by Irish nationalist papers, it was flawed by today’s standards. Sir John A. Macdonald, the Attorney General as well as Premier, sat beside the judge during Whelan’s trial. While his presence didn’t raise negative comment at the time, it would be seen as prejudicial today. As well, the judge, William Richards, who presided over the trial had been appointed to the Court of Appeal by the time defence counsel launched an appeal. As a consequence, he sat on the court that listened to the appeal of his own ruling—a clear conflict of interest. He also sat on the bench when a subsequent appeal was made. In both cases, he made the deciding vote. However, the breach in court procedure regarding the selection of a jury by the defence was highly technical, and it’s hard to see how it might have affected the course of the trial.

Modern-day ballistic tests were conducted in 1973 on Whelan’s Smith & Wesson revolver and the bullet that killed McGee. However, owning to corrosion, it was impossible to conclusively say that the bullet had been fired from McGee’s gun. It would, of course, have be impossible for the tests to determine that it was Whelan’s hand that had held the gun.

Whelan was likely a Fenian, and he certainly held a grudge against McGee. His own words prior to his execution placed him at the scene of the crime. But there is no hard evidence that he was the triggerman.

The fascinating story of Whelan’s innocence or guilt is the subject of a play Blood on the Moon, a one-man production written and performed by Pierre Breau. The play premiered in 1999 in Ottawa in the same building that once was the court house where Whelan’s trial was held and adjacent to the prison where Whelan was hanged.

Sources:

CBC, 2009. “Shadows on Sparks Street,” Ideas with Paul Kennedy.

Slattery, T.P., 1968. The Assassination of D’Arcy McGee, Doubleday Canada Ltd. Toronto.

Scott, C., 2014. “Patrick Whelan,” Ottawa Stories, The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Sleeping Dog Theatre, 2004, Blood on the Moon.

The Globe, 1869. “Execution of Whelan: Closing Scenes and the Agony of Death. A Short Speech and No Confession,” 12 February.

The Montreal Gazette, 1973. “Ballistic Experts Not Sure on Gun that Killed McGee,” 19 October.

Wilson, David. A., 2011. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Volume 2, The Extreme Moderate, 1857-1868, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston.

Image: Library and archives Canada, #3194915.

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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 First Woman Senator

- James Powell


20 February 1930


At roughly 3.30 pm on Thursday, 20 February 1930, two newly-appointed senators to Canada’s Upper House of Parliament were introduced and took their seats. They were the Hon. Robert Forke of Pipestone, Manitoba, and the Hon. Cairine Mackay Wilson of Ottawa, Ontario. In and of itself, this event was not unusual, senators are routinely appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister when vacancies result from retirement or death. What made this occurrence special was that it was the first time a woman had taken a seat in Canada’s Senate. Only four months earlier, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London had ruled that women were indeed “eligible persons” to sit in Canada’s Upper House, overturning an early judgement to the contrary by Canada’s Supreme Court.

The elevation of Cairine Wilson to the Senate, announced a few days earlier on 15 February 1930, did not come as a great surprise. Her name had been mooted as a likely candidate almost immediately after the Privy Council had made its ruling. On her appointment, Prime Minister Mackenzie King said that “the government [had availed] itself of the first opportunity to meet the new conditions created by the finding of the Privy Council as to the eligibility of women for the Senate.” However, her appointment was almost stillborn as her husband was apparently opposed to her taking paid employment, and had informed the Governor General that she would decline the nomination. She quickly set the record straight and accepted the Prime Minister’s nomination over her husband’s objections.

Press reports of her appointment were positive, though they focused more on her personal attributes and family connections rather than her qualifications. Wilson was described as a tall women, still in her 40s, with a “dignified bearing.” She was “highly educated, tactful, and had unaffected manners,” with “dark hair and bright blue eyes.” The bilingual mother of eight lived at 192 Daly Avenue in Ottawa, though she and her husband were in the process of renovating and moving to the old Keefer manor house in Rockcliffe. The family also owned a summer residence in St Andrews in New Brunswick. Newspapers speculated on how she would be addressed when she entered the Senate, and on what she would wear. One newspaper article thought that she would bring to the Senate, “the feminine and hostess touch.”

Born in 1885, Wilson came from a wealthy and socially prominent Montreal family that had strong ties to the Liberal Party of Canada. Her father, Robert Mackay, a director of many leading Canadian firms including the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railway, had been appointed to the Senate in 1901 by his good friend Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a position he held until his death in 1916. Cairine Wilson’s husband, Norman Wilson, had been a Liberal member of parliament for Russell County in Eastern Ontario prior to their marriage in 1909. She herself was a Liberal Party activist, having chaired the first meeting of the Ottawa Women’s Liberal Club in 1922, and was Club president for the following three years. In 1928, she was a key organizer of the National Federal of Liberal Women of Canada.

Perhaps surprisingly, given her political credentials, Cairine Wilson had not been active in the suffrage movement, nor had she been involved in the legal suit, known as the “Persons Case,” that challenged the exclusion of women from the Senate. However, in her first Senate speech, given in French to honour her natal province, she saluted the “valiant work” of the five women, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, commonly referred to as the “Famous Five,” who made her appointment possible. She also expressed “profound gratitude to the Government for having facilitated the admission of women to the Senate by referring to the courts the question of the right to membership.” She added that she had not sought the “great honour of representing Canadian women in the Upper House,” but desired to eliminate any misapprehension that “a woman cannot engage in public affairs without deserting the home and neglecting the duties that Motherhood imposes.”

The “Persons Case,” launched by the “Famous Five” in 1927, was a landmark decision in Canadian jurisprudence that not only opened the door for women to participate more fully in public life, but also determined how Canada’s Constitution, the British North America Act, now called the Constitution Act 1867, should be interpreted. Although women were given the vote in federal elections in 1920, with Agnes McPhail of the Progressive Party of Canada elected in the 1921 General Election in the Ontario riding of Grey Southwest, women were still barred from sitting in the Senate on the grounds that the BNA Act referred only to male senators. Successive governments did nothing to change the law despite evincing support for women’s rights.

After years of frustration, the “Famous Five” petitioned the federal government in 1927 to refer the issue to the Supreme Court for its judgement. After some discussion on the exact wording of the question, the government did so, with the Supreme Court reaching its decision on 24 April 1928. The Justices unanimously ruled against admitting women into the Senate. While they agreed there was no doubt that women were “persons,” the Justices contended that women were not “qualified persons” within the meaning of Section 24 of the BNA Act. In contrast, women could become members of the House of Commons as Parliament had the authority under Section 41 of the Act to determine membership and qualifications of Commons’ members, a latitude that did not extend to senators.

The Justices argued that under English common law women were traditionally subject to a legal incapacity to hold public office, “chiefly out of respect to women, and in a sense of decorum, and not from want of intellect, or their being for any other reason unfit to take part in the government of the country.” While the word “person” was often used as a synonym for human being, and there was legal precedent that allowed for the word to be interpreted as either a man or a woman, such an interpretation was deemed inapplicable to this case. The Justices argued that it was important to examine the use of the word in light of circumstances and constitutional law. When the BNA Act was drafted in 1867, it was clear that the drafters intended that only men would be “qualified persons” as this was the convention of the time. The section, which listed the qualifications of members of the upper house, had also been clearly modelled on earlier provincial statutes, and under those statutes women were not eligible for appointment. This restrictive interpretation of the word “person” was underscored by the use of the pronoun “he” in the relevant sections of the Act. The Justices argued that had the BNA Act’s drafters intended to allow women to become senators, something that was inconsistent with common law practices of that time, they would have explicitly included women in the definition of “qualified persons” rather than rely on an obscure interpretation of the word “person.”

The Famous Five, with the support of the Government, took the case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, at the time the highest appellant court of Canada. On 29 October 1929, the Judicial Committee overturned the Supreme Court’s judgement ruling that women were indeed “qualified persons” to sit in Canada’s Senate. Speaking on behalf of the Committee, Lord Chancellor Viscount Sankey said that the “exclusion of woman from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.” Standing the question on its head, he asked why the word “person” should not include women. He put forward a “living tree” interpretation of Canada‘s Constitution, viewing it as something organic “capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.“ Consequently, the Committee interpreted the Act in “a large and liberal” fashion rather than by “a narrow and technical constraint.“ Lord Sankey’s “living tree” doctrine subsequently became, and continues to be, the basis of how Canada’s Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to this very day.

Cairine Wilson went on to have a long and distinguished career in the Senate. She was the first woman to chair a Senate Standing Committee, presiding over the Public Works and Grounds Committee from 1930 to 1947. She chaired the important Immigration and Labour Committee from 1947 to 1961, a time when Canada was welcoming hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe each year despite its population being less than half of what it is today. In 1957 alone, Canada welcomed more than 280,000 immigrants, of which more than 37,000 were refugees who had fled Hungary after the failed Hungarian Revolution. In 1955, she was appointed Deputy Speaker in the Senate.

As chair of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees, a position she held from 1938 to 1948, Wilson controversially went against her own government’s support for British and French efforts to appease Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. She was also an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism, and fought (sadly with only limited success) to open Canada’s doors to Jewish refugees fleeing fascism in Europe. In 1945, she became the honorary chair of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada founded by Lotta Hitschmanova. The USC Canada became one of Canada’s leading non-governmental organizations, providing food, educational supplies, and housing to refugees, notably children, in war-ravaged Europe during the late 1940s and 1950s. It continues to be active today in developing countries. France made Wilson a knight of the Legion of Honour for her humanitarian efforts.

Cairine Wilson died on 3 March 1962, still an active senator. A secondary school in Orleans, Ontario, now a part of Ottawa, is named in her honour.

As a postscript to this story, it took the federal government four years to nominate the second woman to the Senate. Iva Fallis was appointed in 1935 by the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett. In 2009, the “Famous Five” were posthumously made senators. As of September 2015, 32 of 83 senators were women.

Sources:

About.com. 2015. Cairine Wilson, goo.gl/EvnXVt.

Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2015. Reference to Meaning of Word “Persons” in Section 24 of British North America Act, 1867, (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council), Edwards c. A.G. of Canada [1930] A.C. 124, goo.gl/whJ2mZ.

Hughes Vivian, 2001/2002, “How the Famous Five in Canada Won Personhood for Women, London Journal Of Canadian Studies, Volume 17.

Parliament of Canada, 2015. Wilson, The Hon. Cairine Reay, goo.gl/Tk89Qs

Senate of Canada, 1930. Debates, 16th Parliament, 4th Session,Vol. 1.

The Evening Citizen, 1930. “Woman Senator Is Appointed By Gov’t of Canada,“17 February.

———————–, 1930. “Canada’s First Woman Senator Is Well Qualified By Her Talents And Training For Part She Is Called To,” 17 February.

University of Calgary, 1999. Global Perspectives on Personhood: Rights and Responsibilities: the “Persons” Case, goo.gl/xiFHvh.

Supreme Court of Canada, 2015. Judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada, Reference re meaning of the word “Persons” in sec. 24 of British North America Act, 1928-04-24, goo.gl/xF9uuc.

Image: Cairine Wilson, Shelburne Studios, Library and Archives Canada, C-0052280.

 

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.

Santa Claus Comes To Town

 

24 December 1896

 

~ James Powell


It’s hard sometimes not to get a little cynical about Christmas. Even before the last Halloween candy or pumpkin pie is consumed, it seems that stores have already put up the lights and tinsel of Christmas. Television advertisements urge us to buy things that neither we nor our family need. Christmas catalogues and store flyers clog our mailboxes, both real and virtual. Every shopping centre has its mall Santa, complete with faux ice palace, throne, green-clad helpers, and a posted list of times of when that jolly old elf dressed in red polyester and a fake white beard will be there to hear children’s wish lists. Christmas craft fairs and Santa Claus parades abound. For 2016, a local tourism site listed no less than seventeen Santa parades in the Ottawa area, most taking place in November to help rev up the Christmas spirit and encourage us to shop.


photoThis is not to say the “good old days” were necessarily any less commercial. In the lead-up to Christmas 1896, Bryson, Graham Company, a large department store on Sparks Street, billed itself as the “Headquarters of Santa” and advertised “Special Xmas Offerings to the Little Folks.” For boys, these included small iron trains for 25 cents, fire ladder wagons with horse for $1.45, and tops, “some musical, some goers,” for 50 cents, as well as “spring guns, harmless pistols, and cannons.” (One hopes that the spring guns and cannons were also harmless.) For little girls, there were doll perambulators for 25 cents, and “very pretty” doll parlour suites for 15 cents or 25 cents. Games of all kinds, including Bagatelle [a forerunner of pinball], Parlour Croquet, and Go Bang [similar to Go], were also “expressly priced for Christmas.” The store also told shoppers not to forget while they were at the store to buy three dozen oranges or five pounds of candies for 25 cents.

John Murphy & Company, another big Ottawa retailer, urged “everyone to take a stroll round our store and see the sights of Xmas displays. Everything is looking marvellous.” It advertised “Christmas Dresses at Santa Claus’ prices.” For one day, full length dress robes were only $2.15. Best quality dresses were $3.00. Camel hair cloth was marked down to 50 cents a yard, from 75 cents, while brown and grey all wool homespun was reduced to 75 cents a yard from $1.25. On Christmas Eve, the store advertised a free bottle of perfume with every pair of kid gloves purchased. In the toy department, one thousand games were on sale at half price. While 40 extra staff had been hired for the day, it warned that “Christmas Buyers should do their shopping early” to avoid the rush and to get “better service and better suited.” Store hours were extended to 10pm for the convenience of shoppers, as well as, of course, to provide more opportunity for the store to pry hard-earned cash from the wallets and purses of Ottawa citizens.

Despite the commercialism of Christmas, then and now, once in a while something happens that restore one’s faith in the generosity of mankind, and the almighty dollar is pushed aside for a time. One such occasion occurred in 1896. Three days before Christmas, the Ottawa Evening Journal received a mysterious, little letter from Santa Claus. Dated the previous week from the North Pole, the letter read:

I have arranged to visit Ottawa on Thursday, the day before Christmas, and wish you would let all the little children know that I shall appear on the principal streets during Thursday afternoon on top of an electric [street]car.

Santa added that he would visit Sparks and other streets but would have to disappear by 4.30pm so that he could prepare for the visits he intended to make “that night to the homes of all Ottawa children who are good.” He closed by promising that he would telegraph ahead to tell people his progress on his trip south. The Daily Citizen remarked that Santa’s visit was not connected to any advertising scheme but was “simply the outcome of a desire upon the part of an Ottawa gentleman that the children of the city may see Santa in person.”

The following day, a second letter appeared. Writing from 31 Mile Lake, north east of Gracefield, Quebec, Santa announced his arrival in the region, saying that he would be in Ottawa the next afternoon.

I am bringing my best reindeer and will have him with me on top of a special electric car. I am also bringing with me a couple of thousand oranges and will distribute them from the car to the little boys and girls.

 

photo


He also announced his stops in the city, starting at 2.45pm at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, followed by the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie at 3pm, corner of Queen Street West and Bridge Street, Chaudière, at 3.15 pm, corner of Richmond Road and Albert Street at 3.20 pm, corner of Bank and Maria [now Laurier Avenue] Streets at 3.35 pm and, finally, at the corner of Bank and Ann [now Gloucester Avenue] Streets at 3.45 pm. He would then return to the Post Office and immediately disappear. He apologized to the children of New Edinburgh that he was unable to make it to the town since his reindeer’s horns were so high he couldn’t take his car through the bridges. However, he promised to make his usual visits that night to the homes of all good boys and girls who have gone to bed early and were fast asleep. He asked grown-ups to tell their youngsters to look out for him on Thursday afternoon as it would be his only appearance in Ottawa.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Thursday, 24 December 1896, the excitement in the city was palpable. Thousands of people of all ages converged on the street corners where Santa Claus was scheduled to appear. They were not disappointed. The Ottawa Evening Journal noted that “the rules of etiquette, or whatever else is supposed to govern the movements of that most mysterious personage Santa Claus, and which from the oldest tradition led most individuals to believe that his visits are of a midnight nature, were rudely broken today.” Right on the scheduled time, Father Christmas arrived. “For convenience sake in transportation about the city streets,” his sleigh and reindeer were mounted on a streetcar of the Ottawa Electric Railway, which was decorated as a snow-covered cabin complete with chimney, and festooned with garlands. On its sides were signs reading “Merry Xmas To All.”

Santa himself was dressed in a fur cap and a long fur coat—very different from the red and white coated Saint Nick described in the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and popularized by Coca Cola in its commercials. He did, however, have white whiskers, though press reports don’t mention if he also had “a little round belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly.”

 

photo


Who was that Ottawa gentleman who brought Santa Claus to Ottawa for his first ever official visit to the nation’s capital (outside of his usual Christmas Eve tour of Ottawa rooftops, of course)? The answer was Warren Soper, the wealthy industrialist who, with his partner Thomas Ahearn, owned the city’s streetcar company, as well as other area businesses. Mobbed by adoring children, their parents and grandparents, Santa Claus handed out more than three thousand oranges to the city’s little boys and girls during his short stay. The Ottawa Evening Journal said that the visit was “quite the treat even for the grown people to see a real Santa Claus and such a good and generous one at that.”

The Daily Citizen opined that “No wretched doubter will ever again be able to hold his head in Ottawa and say that good, kindly Santy did not exist.”

Sadly, among the crowds of people that came out to meet the visitor from the North Pole, there was a grinch who stole $4 from the purse of poor Miss Scheik of 20 Keefer Street, New Edinburgh while she waited to see Santa at the corner of Dalhousie and Rideau Streets.

Sources:

Daily Citizen (The), 1896. “Santa Claus in Ottawa,” 22 December.

———————–, 1896. “Santa Clause [sic] Coming,” 24 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1896. “Santa Claus Coming,” 22 December.

————————————, 1896. “Special Xmas Offerings for the Little Folks,” 22 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Trip To Ottawa,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “John Murphy & Co, Seasons Greetings,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa Comes To Town,” 24 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Entre Nous,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Appearance,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Jottings About Town,” 28 December.

 

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.

Ahoy-hoy Ottawa


9 November 1877


~ James Powell

Even though one hundred and forty years have passed since Alexander Graham Bell was awarded a patent for the telephone, there is still bitter disagreement over whether he was truly the inventor of the device. Many others were working simultaneously in the field, including Antonio Meucci, Elisha Gray and Johann Reis. All have claims on being the telephone’s “father.” Even if priority of claim is accorded to Bell, the telephone is hardly an all-Canadian invention as many Canadians believe. According to Bell himself, the telephone was conceived in Brantford but developed at his workshop in Boston. Moreover, three countries can consider Bell to be one of their own as he was born in Scotland, moved to Canada in 1870, but subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Later, he divided his time between Canada and the United States, dying at his country retreat near Baddeck, Nova Scotia in 1922.

In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution (No. 269) drafted by Congressman Vito Fossella that in essence gave priority of claim to Antonio Meucci, an Italian inventor who had immigrated to New York in the nineteenth century, based on a patent caveat (a notice of an intention to file a patent) for a “sound telegraph” filed with the U.S. Patent Office in 1871. Worse still, the Congressional resolution insinuated that Bell had stolen Meucci’s invention.

Appalled by this slight on Canadian history and Bell’s integrity, the Canadian House of Commons responded ten days later by passing a parliamentary motion affirming Bell as the inventor of the telephone. While there is no evidence that Bell stole Meucci’s ideas, it’s true that Meucci had been working on developing a similar instrument for some years. However, his patent caveat application did not describe an ability to transmit voices. Unable to afford the small fee to maintain his position, Meucci let his patent caveat lapse.

On the same day that Bell’s lawyer filed a patent application at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington D.C. in February 1876, Elisha Gray submitted a patent caveat for his telephone. The two submissions were remarkably similar. While many accounts say Bell’s submission beat Gray’s by two hours, it’s not clear which got to the Patent Office first. A contrary view has Gray getting his application in ahead of Bell only for it to end up at the bottom of an “In” basket. Regardless, under the law at the time who got to the Patent Office first mattered less than who could demonstrate that he came up with the idea first. Bell successfully made his case to the patent examiner, and was awarded U.S. patent #174,465 in March 1876 for “The method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically…by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.” His case was strengthened by the fact that Gray withdrew his patent caveat and did not immediately challenge Bell’s claim.

Three days after receiving his patent, Bell produced a functioning telephone. While tinkering with a device at his Boston workshop, Bell’s famous words “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” were heard by his assistant, Thomas Watson, who was working in a separate room down the hall. For that particular experiment, Bell had used a water-based transmitter similar to the one proposed by Gray in his patent caveat—providing Bell naysayers “proof” that he had lifted Gray’s idea. However, Bell never used this type of transmitter in public demonstrations, working instead on the electromagnetic telephone that he demonstrated at the Centennial Exposition in June 1876 in Philadelphia. As an aside, Bell recommended that people answering the phone should say “Ahoy-hoy” rather than “Hello.” This suggestion never caught on, though it did gain a following after its use by “Mr Burns” on the popular television cartoon series The Simpsons.

Needless to say, with the similarities between the Bell and Gray submissions, legal suits began to fly, especially after Gray re-submitted his patent application in 1877. But after two years of litigation, Bell was credited with the invention. This did not stop the legal challenges. Over the next decade, as it became increasingly apparent that there were huge profits to be had in the telephone industry and as new advances in telephone technology were made, the Bell Telephone Company, which was established in 1876 by Bell, his father-in-law, and a Boston financier, was embroiled in hundreds of patent challenges. Some of these law suits went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A U.S. Congressional study into the telephone was also undertaken in 1886. Despite all the hearings and all the law suits, the Bell Telephone Company emerged triumphant, its patent rights confirmed.

North of the U.S. border, Alexander Graham Bell received Canadian patent #7,789 for his telephone in August 1877. Canadians did not appear to be greatly impressed by the new technology. In early 1878, The Globe newspaper ran an article posing the question Is the telephone a failure? While saying that the invention was “awe-striking” and that it “had faced little popular or scientific hostility,” the newspaper opined that the telephone had serious operational problems, in, particular interference from other lines and “leakage” that led to “the force of the voice to be lost.” Just as we have concerns today about internet security, the newspaper also fretted about telephone security; telephone lines could be easily tapped.

Alexander Melville Bell, the inventor’s father, wrote a blistering riposte, saying that he regretted “that it should be necessary to defend the merits of so original an invention against the pretensions of pottering envy and wise-after-the-event detraction.” Bell senior called the telephone “a triumphant success,” and that they were “learning and improving,” noting that the problem with interference with other wires had already been remedied.

Notwithstanding this stout defence of his son’s invention, there were no Canadian buyers for Bell’s Canadian patent rights when they came on the market. In 1879, Bell senior, to whom his inventor son had earlier given his Canadian patent rights, could not find a Canadian buyer willing to pay his $100,000 asking price. (This is equivalent to about $2.5 million today.) Instead, he sold them to the National Bell Telephone Company of Boston that was later to be become the American Bell Telephone Company. The American company in turn established the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, based in Montreal, under a federal charter at the end of April 1880.

Ottawa’s introduction to the new communications technology occurred in the fall of 1877. After a demonstration of the telephone at the Ottawa Agricultural Exposition in September of that year by William Pettigrew, a friend of Bell senior, the first telephone line was installed on 9 November 1877, linking the office of Alexander Mackenzie, the Premier of the Dominion of Canada, in his capacity as the Minister of Public Works to the office of Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General, at Rideau Hall. It was a private line. Telephone exchanges that would allow multiple people to be connected to each other through an operator were still in the future.

The contract between Bell senior and the Premier called for the installation of two wooden hand telephones #18 and #19 and two wooden box telephones, #25 and #26, at a fee of $42.50 per annum, payable in advance, due annually on 21 September each year. While the lease was executed on 9 November, the lease was backdated to 21 September so that the honour of Canada’s first telephone lease could go to the government. In actuality, the first Canadian commercial telephone lease was signed by Hugh Cosset Baker, an entrepreneur in Hamilton, Ontario, with the District Telegraph Company in October 1877. The telephone line linked Baker’s office to that of a colleague.

Dave Allston, in his Ottawa blog titled The Kichissippi Museum, recounts a delightful story of the first telephone test call between Rideau Hall and Mackenzie’s office. It seems that Mackenzie’s private secretary, William Buckingham, who was stationed at Rideau Hall for the test, was so rattled by hearing the Premier’s voice coming out of a wooden box, that he flubbed reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Admonished by the Premier, he was forced to repeat himself. Following that embarrassing introduction, the Premier and the Governor General spoke to each other for the first official telephone call.

Makenzie was not terribly impressed with the new-fangled communications instrument owing to its unreliability. It must also have been awkward to use; the same hole was employed for both listening and talking. But when the Premier asked for the telephone to be removed, he was overruled by the Governor General. Apparently, Lady Dufferin, the Governor General’s formidable consort, was much taken with the telephone. According to a 1961 Citizen article she would sing and play the piano into the phone to people at the Premier’s office. Captain Gourdeau of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards would sing back to her.

With the invention of the telephone exchange—the first exchange in Canada (and, indeed, the first in the British Empire) was installed in 1878 in Hamilton, Ontario—a telephone service similar to what we know today was made possible. In the major Canadian cities, service was initially provided by two competing companies—the Dominion Telegraph Company that marketed Bell equipment and the Montreal Telegraph Company that marketed Edison equipment. This competitive struggle between the two companies paralleled the patent war underway at that time in the United States between the Bell Telephone Company that naturally used Bell equipment and the Western Union Telegraph Company that used Edison equipment. Inconveniently to telephone users, subscribers of one service could not make or receive telephone calls from the other service. The Dominion Telegraph Company opened its Ottawa telephone exchange managed by Warren Soper in January 1880. Its first telephone directory consisted of two pages with less than 80 subscribers. The Montreal Telegraph Company followed suit a month later with its Ottawa office managed by Thomas Ahearn.

Almost immediately after it was established in April 1880, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada purchased the Dominion Telegraph Company. Later that same year, it also acquired the Montreal Telegraph Company, thereby uniting the two large Canadian providers of phone services under one company, and in the process stopping the ruinous war between the two companies that brought them to the point of bankruptcy. In Ottawa, the new Bell Telephone Company was managed by Thomas Ahearn who later went on to fame and fortune as Ottawa’s electricity baron when he joined forces with Warren Soper to create the electrical firm called Ahearn and Soper.

Through the 1880s, the Bell Telephone Company successfully saw off other challengers in the Ottawa market through acquisitions and legal threats. Mid-decade, the company issued a public notice that it would prosecute anyone using the “Wallace” Telephone, or any other telephone provider that infringed on patents originally granted to Bell, Edison, Berliner, and others,” that were still in force and were owned by the Bell Telephone Company of Canada. Instead, the company advertised “instruments under the protection of company patents and are entirely free of risks of litigation.” Would-be buyers of competing equipment were also reminded that such telephones “will not be allowed to connect…into the Company’s lines or exchanges.” The announcement was signed by Thomas Ahearn, Bell’s agent in Ottawa.

By early 1886, Bell Telephone had roughly 400 telephone subscribers in Ottawa, and was growing rapidly. (There were 1,400 subscribers in Montreal.) In October the following year, direct long distance service between Ottawa and Montreal was inaugurated. Previously, callers were routed through Brockville and Prescott. Within weeks, a rapid increase in traffic led to plans for additional long distance lines. In 1888, new telephone poles were erected on Rideau Street and Sussex Avenue to replace old ones that were too short to carry the increasing number of wires. The Ottawa Journal complained that “a telephone company has been stringing wires all over the streets at its own sweet will, without the slightest reference to any civic authority.” In April 1900, Ottawa was the first Canadian city to do away with the old hand-cranked telephones. With batteries installed in a central office instead of in a customer’s telephone, a person could now reach an operator by simply picking up the receiver. The familiar, table-top telephone that would dominate the telephone scene for the next century had arrived.

Sources:

Allston Dave, 2015. “When the telephone arrived in Kitchissippi,” The Kitchissippi Museum.

Bell Homestead: National Historic Site, City of Brantford, 2016. Telephone History.

BCE, 2016. History: From Alexander Graham Bell Until Today.

CBC Digital Archives, 2016. Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone.

Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell, 2016. Wikipedia.

Casson, Herbert N. 1910. The History of the Telephone.

Globe (The), 1878. “Is The Telephone A Failure,” 4 January.

———, 1878. “The Telephone,” 12 January.

———, 1883. “Discovery of the Telephone: Interview with Pref. Bell,” 1 September.

Globeandmail.com. 2016, Bell Canada: The History of One of Canada’s Oldest Companies.

Mccord Museum, Operator. May I help you?: Bell Canada’s 125 years.

Motherboard, 2012, No-one remembers who invented the telephone,” 17 July.

Ogle. E. B. 1979. Long Distance Please: The Story of the Trans-Canada Telephone System, Toronto: Collings Publishers.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1961. “Line Veterans Revive Old Days,” 28 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1886. “Public Notice,” 1 February.

—————-, 1886. “Ottawa to Montreal,” 21 April.

—————-, 1886. “Montreal and Ottawa,” 22 July.

—————-, 1887. “Another Telephone Line,” 22 November.

—————-, 1888. “The Overhead Network Growing,” 5 June.

—————-, 1888. “Civic Notes,” 25 June.

Stritof, Bob and Sheri, 2006. “Who Really Invented The Telephone,” Telephone Tribute.

Uren, Janet, 2006. “The man who lit up Ottawa,”.

U.S.Patent Office, 1876. Improvements in telegraphy, Patent #174465, 7 March.

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.

"Rib"
4 August 1914

~ James Powell

On the night of 4 August 1914, a slender, athletic, 21-year old man know as “Rib” took the night train from Ottawa to New York, never to return. That afternoon, he had been playing tennis with three friends at the Rideau Club when he received word that Great Britain had declared war on Germany which meant that Canada was also at war. Being a German national, Rib, along with other citizens of hostile countries including the Austrian chef at the Château Laurier, had four days to settle their affairs and leave the country, or be interned. Rib made a few hurried telephone calls, packed his bag, and dined with friends at the Chateau Laurier before catching his train. So quick was his departure that he had to borrow $10 from James Sherwood, the son of Col. Sir Arthur Percy Sherwood, Commissioner of the Dominion Police Force. Rib was sorry to leave. More than thirty years later, shortly before his death, he commented that if the war hadn’t come along, he might have never had left Ottawa. There, he had been “indescribably happy.”

PhotoRib first arrived in Canada with his big brother Lothar in 1910. In an age before passports and visas, Rib, just 17 years old, quickly found employment. He worked for a time at a Molson’s Bank branch as a clerk in Montreal, before being employed by an engineering firm rebuilding the Quebec Bridge that had tragically collapsed in 1907. This was followed by a stint on a railway as a car checker, and a job as a logger in British Columbia. After briefly returning to Germany to convalesce after a bout of tuberculosis, Rib came back to North America. Arriving in New York, friends suggested that he go to Ottawa, where he turned up in late 1913, that halcyon time before the outbreak of World War I.

What he did in Ottawa for a living during the next year is not entirely clear. Using a small legacy left to him by his mother, Rib began importing German wines and champagne, helping to supply Ottawa’s wealthy lumber barons, politicians and lobbyists with their favourite tipple. But his earnings could not have amounted to much. Other reports suggested that he was briefly a civil servant, or that he worked as a clerk, again at Molson’s Bank. But there is no solid evidence to support either contention. Others claimed that he was a German spy. While Rib might have been a bit of a snoop, this allegation is barely credible either. There was very little to spy on in pre-World War I Canada. Moreover, the German government was unlikely to employ a secret agent who was barely out of his teens. One thing certain, however, is that Rib made a huge splash on Ottawa’s small social scene.

Fluent in English and French as well as German, the tall, elegant, blue-eyed Teuton presented a dashing figure, and was an immediate hit among Ottawa society debutantes. A champion schmoozer, he became a fixture at the best parties. Being an expert violinist, Rib also joined an amateur Ottawa orchestra deemed the best in Canada. This too facilitated his access to the cream of society who was starved for good entertainment. His first known appearance at a society event was at a Christmas charity function for needy children put on in December 1913 by the May Court Club. Rib helped Father Christmas hand out presents.

In May 1914, Rib appeared in Ottawa’s premier “Kermiss,” a charity theatrical event held at the Russell Theatre on behalf of the Victorian Order of Nurses. The production drew rave reviews. The Evening Citizen enthused that “not for many years has the capital seen a spectacle so surpassing in brilliance, so bewildering in its riot of color, yet so wholly enjoyable.” Powdered and bewigged, Rib performed a stately “Royal Minuet” with other young men and women of Ottawa’s high society.

The centre of the social whirl in Ottawa during those pre-war years was Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s Governor General, the Duke of Connaught. The German-speaking Duke was the third son of Queen Victoria. His wife was Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. Rib was introduced to the vice-regal couple, by Arthur Fitzpatrick, the son of Canada’s Chief Justice, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick. The suave and debonair German was invited to Rideau Hall for dinner on at least two occasions, where he conversed with the Duchess in her first language.

PhotoRib was also popular with the young men of the city. At his rooms at the Sherbrooke boarding house located at the corner of O’Connor and Slater Streets, Rib installed parallel bars, a flying swing, and a vaulting horse. There, he entertained his friends with gymnastic feats. In the evenings, he dined regularly with other residents of the house, which included a reporter for the Ottawa Free Press, an employee at the Parliamentary Library, an Ashbury College teacher, and a public servant. Never the retiring type, Rib told his friends that “a great future was in store for him.” Rib had few vices. Despite being a wine seller, he was a teetotaller. While he enjoyed a game of poker, he never played for large stakes. On weekends, he went for walks in Rockcliffe, or played tennis at the Rideau Club. Considered one of the Club’s best players, you could count on Rib to turn out nattily attired in court whites, completed with a black bow tie. In the winter of 1913-14, Rib also joined the Minto Skating Club, and accompanied its skating team to a competition that February for the “Ellis Memorial Trophy” in Boston.

This charmed existence came to an end with Rib’s hurried departure for New York on that fateful August day. He left without paying a number of bills. Sometime after Rib had left the country, his doctor received a letter requesting that his medical bill be sent to an address in Switzerland. The $156 bill, a large sum in those days, was paid in full. Rib neglected, however, to pay his druggist, Harry Skinner of Wellington Street, to whom he owed $1.38. And he never repaid the $10 he borrowed from James Sherwood.

The “Ottawa lad” known as “Rib” to his friends was indeed destined to go far…and to fall even farther. Better known to the world as Joachim von Ribbentrop, he became Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1938, the architect of the Russian-German non-aggression pact that immediately preceded the start of World War II. The pleasant young man that had charmed Ottawa high society a quarter century earlier had morphed into an ardent Nazi, fanatically loyal to Adolph Hitler. Following his trial by the Allies in Nuremburg after the war, he was hanged on 16 October, 1946 for war crimes, including his participation in Nazi efforts to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

Sources:

Bloch, Michael, 1992. Ribbentrop, A Biography, Crown Publishers, Inc.

Gwyn, Sandra, 1992. Tapestry of War, Harper Collins, Toronto.

Lawson, Robert, 2007. “Joachim von Ribbentrop in Canada, 1910-1914, A Note,” The International History Review, Vol. 29, No. 4.

von Ribbentrop, Joachim 1954. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1954.

Schwartz, Paul, 1943. This Man Ribbentrop: His Life and Times, Julian Messner Inc. New York.

Boston Evening Transcript, “Boston Skaters Winners,” 24 February 1914.

Hamilton Spectator, “Ribbentrop Sold His Wines in Ottawa,” 15 December 1945.

Ottawa Journal, “Ottawa’s Premier Kermiss Was a Feast of Song and Dance for Charity,” 6 May 1914.

—————–, “In Ottawa, Von Rib Foresaw Great Future, 15 June 1945.

——————, “Von Rib’s Days in Ottawa, Nazi Gangster Has C.S. Post, Paid Up Physician in Full,” 16 June 1945.

The Evening Citizen, “The Kermiss,” 6 May 1914.

Toronto Daily Star, “Ribbentrop a Cad Owed Ottawa Bill,” 16 June 1945.

Image: “Rib,” 1913, unknown.

Image: Reichsaussenminister, 1938, unknown.

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 Evening Journal — Woman’s Edition

~ James Powell

 

13 April 1895

Prior to the twentieth century, women in Canada, and indeed throughout most of the world, had few political, economic or social rights. Typically, women went directly from the jurisdiction of their fathers to that of their husbands. They had little control over property, income, children, or their own bodies. Women were denied the franchise, banned from most professions, and were often forbidden university-level education. A woman’s place in society was limited to caring for her husband, raising a family and managing the household. Few married women were in the paid labour force. If a single woman was forced by poverty to seek out paid employment, she was confined to occupations that were extensions of home life—carrying for children, sick, or elderly, or being a seamstress, or a house maid. Teaching was also acceptable. Once married, however, a woman was expected to resign her position so that she could devote her time to wifely duties. In 1901, only 14 per cent of Canadian women were in the paid labour force, many earning only a pittance, much less than their male counterparts doing the same work, a rationale being that a man had a family to support whereas a woman had only herself.

However, during the later decades of the nineteenth century, Canadian women began to organize and agitated for change. They challenged the widely-held belief that it was ordained by God that a woman’s place was in the home. They also rejected the paternalistic notion that they were the weaker sex, who must be sheltered from the hurly burly of politics, or worse did not have the intellectual capacity to work in the professions. But change came slowly in Canada, and when it did it came in small steps. In 1872, the Married Women’s Property Act gave married women the right to their own wages. Three years later, Dr Jennie Trout became the first woman to be licensed to practise medicine in Ontario. In 1876, Toronto women formed the Women’s Literary Society with a covert aim of obtaining equal rights; it later was transformed into the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Association. The Young Women’s Christian Association and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were also formed during the 1870s, with a mission, among other things, to improve the lot of women. In 1884, Ontario granted married women the right to own and dispose of their own property without the consent of their husbands. In 1889, the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association grouped local suffrage groups into a national body, giving them more political clout. In 1893, Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General at that time and an early feminist, formed the National Council of Women in Canada to improve the status of women. The Council’s initial efforts focussed on women immigrants, factory workers and prisoners. In 1895, the Law Society of Upper Canada agreed to admit women as barristers.

Female suffrage was still a dream, however. In June 1895, the House of Commons debated votes for women…and thoroughly rejected such an outlandish idea. One Member of Parliament, Flavien Dupont, expressed the prevailing sentiment of the time. He argued against throwing “upon woman’s shoulders one of the heaviest burdens that bears on those of men, the burden of politics, the burden of electoral contests, the burdens of representation.” He contended “To invite the fair sex to take part in our political contests seems to me to be as humiliating and as shocking a proposition as to invite her to form part of our militia battalions.” Women over 21 years of age had to wait until 1917 to be enfranchised in Ontario, and until 1918 to be able to vote in federal elections.

Against this backdrop, the Ottawa Evening Journal ran a unique edition on Saturday, 13 April 1885—an all-women production of the newspaper. For that one day, Ottawa women assumed all the responsibilities, including managing, editing and reporting, necessary for producing a newspaper. The Editor for the day was Annie Howells Fréchette, a poet and the author of many magazine articles, some of which were published in Harper’s Magazine. She was the wife of the translator for the House of Commons. The Managing Editor was Mary McKay Scott, while the News Editor was Ellie Cronin. The Journal’s office boy was “the only person of the male persuasion” who assisted in the newspaper’s production. Female reporters selected and edited international stories that came in over the newswires, as well as covered local newsworthy events, including sports. Instead of a “Woman’s” column, a common feature in newspapers of the age, a “Gentleman’s” column appeared. Women also solicited advertisements from area businesses, and all letters to the Editor were written by women.

PhotoThis special edition of The Evening Journal was in support of the creation of a “Free” or Public Library in Ottawa. At that time, library resources in the Capital was essentially limited to the Parliamentary Library, the University of Ottawa library and the library of the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society (OLSS). The OLSS, which had a small, circulating collection of roughly 3,100 volumes in 1895, was funded by Society members and an annual grant from the Ontario government. The Ottawa Council of Women, founded by Lady Aberdeen, together with women’s church groups and other charities, were the principal advocate of a free Ottawa Library that would be open to all. The special newspaper edition was a way of rallying support for the initiative. More tangibly, the profits from the issue would form the nucleus of a library fund. Library supporters hoped that others would contribute and, in time, lead to a grant from the City that would fund a Public Library.

Given the purpose of the special, twenty-page, newspaper edition, there was an extensive front-page article making the case for a free, public library in Ottawa. Three principal motivations were outlined: a way of uplifting men and women to a higher plane; a means of securing greater remuneration for work; and a way to form better citizens, thereby adding to the advancement and stability of the state. A public library was viewed as an extension of the school system—a “peoples’ university where “rich and poor, old and young, may drink at its inexhaustible fountain.”

Besides articles in support of an Ottawa library, there was an array of fascinating news stories, both national and international, that emphasized women. One article titled La Penetenciaria featured a hard-hitting report on an Ottawa lady’s visit to a Mexican state prison in Guadalajara. Other story focussed on Canadian women in poetry. Front and centre was Emily Pauline Johnson, the daughter of a Mohawk hereditary chief and an English mother. Johnson’s poem “In Sunset” was published. Johnson is recognized today as one of Canada’s leading poets of the nineteenth century. Others profiled included Ethelwyn Wetherald, author and journalist at The Globe newspaper in Toronto, who wrote under the nom de plume Bel Thistlewaite, and Agnes Maule Machar. As well as being an early feminist, Machar wrote about Christianity and Darwinism, arguing that Christians should accept evolution as part of God’s divine plan.

Others stories had a more domestic focus. One provided tips on how to deal with servants: “If the mistress wishes her household machinery to run smoothly, give her orders for the day immediately after breakfast.” In turn, servants were advised never to “put white handled knives into hot water, and to “cleanse the sink with concentrated lye at least once a day.” In the light-hearted “Gentlemen’s Column,” “matters pertaining to the sterner sex” were dealt with, including “men’s rights, and, “the age when a man ceases to be attractive.” Regarding the former, the columnist thought that men looked after their own rights and the needs of their own sex far better than did women, “because they probably know more about them.” As for the latter issue, she thought that there was no definite conclusion.

PhotoNotable women in the Ottawa community also contributed articles to the special newspaper edition. Lady Aberdeen wrote a lengthy column about what “society girls” might do. She opined that “service is the solution of the problem of life.” In Experimental Farm Notes, Mrs William Saunders, the wife of the director of Ottawa’s Experimental Farm, described life on the Farm, and wrote about what the visitor could see in April, which included a “good display of early spring flowering bulbs.” Mrs Alexander, the Assistant Librarian at the Geological Museum, located at the Geological Survey at the corner of Sussex Avenue and George Street, wrote about the many treasures to be found there. In addition to an extensive collection of rocks and minerals, there were botanical, entomological exhibits as well as a collection of birds and mammals. A range of “Indian relics” were also on display from western Ontario, Yukon and the Queen Charlotte Islands, including a sacrificial stone of the Blackfoot Indians, also known as the Niitsitapi, presented to the Geological Survey by the Marquis of Lorne, a previous Governor General. The Geological Museum later became known as the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The most fascinating stories deal with women’s rights, providing a glimpse of the state of play at that time, and the aspirations of Canadian women in the late nineteenth century. There were at least two references to the decision just made by the Law Society of Upper Canada to admit women as barristers. One reporter with considerable foresight wrote:

Until two weeks ago, women in the province of Ontario had only the privilege of obeying or breaking the law. Now, however, they may assist men in interpreting it. And who can say that he is altogether wrong who looks forward to the time when they shall share in making it, either through the ballot box or the legislative assembles, or becoming its interpreters upon the bench?

In an article called “The Home,” Mrs Stone-Wiggins drew readers’ attention to the proverb “Women’s sphere is the home and of it she should be queen.” Notwithstanding the proverb’s wide acceptance by society, she asked “how many wives in Canada have a legal title to their home over which they preside so that it may be safe from the bailiff in case of financial loss on the part of the husband?” As only one in one hundred women owned their own home, she argued that the proverb “has no significance in our age.” She contended that “If the stronger sex have the almost exclusive right to possess themselves of all the offices, and the professions in the state, surely women make a modest request when they ask that the home should be the legal property of the wife.”

Another article looked toward the position of women in the upcoming twentieth century. Its author wrote:

It is my cherished belief that in the twentieth century there will be no artificial restrictions placed upon women by laws which bar them out of certain employments, professions and careers, or by that public sentiment, stronger than law, which now practically closes to them many paths of usefulness for which they seem to me to be specially adapted. All the most progressive pioneers have ever dreamed of asking is that, in the case of women as in that of men, they should not be hedged about by barriers made by the privileged classes, who, in politics, ecclesiastical, professional and business life, have secured the power to say who shall come in and who shall stay out....I confidently expect that they [women] will win their greatest laurels in the realm of government. Many of the great statesmen of the future will be women; many of the most successful diplomatists will be women; many of the greatest preachers will be women.

The special one-day “Woman’s Edition” of The Evening Journal was a great success. The newspaper sold 3,000 additional copies beyond its normal daily circulation. Many local businesses also supported the issue through their advertisements. It demonstrated that women could do men’s jobs, and excel at them. However, the women’s campaign to establish a Free, or Public Library in Ottawa foundered, at least for a time. The Capital had to wait another decade before Andrew Carnegie, the American millionaire, came to the rescue, and provided the money necessary to build a Public Library.

How have women fared in Canada since that 1895 special newspaper edition in government, in the church, in the courts, and in business? Have the “artificial restrictions” and societal pressures been eliminated? The answer is mixed. Despite the approaching hundredth anniversary of female enfranchisement in Ontario and at the federal level, women still account for a minority of federal Members of Parliament and Senators. Kim Campbell has been the only woman to become Prime Minister of Canada, holding power for only 133 days in 1993. At the provincial level, women have fared better. Kathleen Wynne is the current Premier of Ontario, while women currently head governments in Alberta and British Columbia. For a short period in 2013, six of ten provinces had a woman premier. The ordination of women as ministers or priests has been permitted since 1936 in the United Church of Canada, and since 1975 in the Anglican Church of Canada. The first woman Moderator of the United Church was elected in 1980. The ordination of the first Canadian Anglican bishop occurred in 1994. There are, of course, no woman Roman Catholic priests. At the Supreme Court of Canada, women are well represented, four of nine Justices are women, including the Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin. In business, however, women continue to fare poorly, According to the 2013 Catalyst Census, only 15.9 per cent of board seats of Canadian companies are filled by women.

Sources:

Anglican Church of Canada, 2016. Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada (Deacons, Priests and Bishops), http://www.anglican.ca/help/faq/ordination-of-women/.

Catalyst, 2013. Catalyst Accord: Women On Corporate Boards In Canada, http://www.catalyst.org/catalyst-accord-women-corporate-boards-canada.

Connelly, M.P. 2015. “Women in the Labour Force,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/women-in-the-labour-force/.

Evening Journal (The), 1895. “Saturday is the Day,” 11 April.

--------------------------, 1895. “Woman’s Edition,” 13 April.

--------------------------, 1895. “The Woman’s Number,” 15 April.

Gaizauskas, Barbara. 1990. Feed The Flame: A Natural History Of The Ottawa Literary And Scientific Society, Carleton University, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, https://curve.carleton.ca/b81c434b-04c8-4886-9c97-cfc1a560ff51.

House of Commons, 1895. Debates, 7th Parliament, 5th Session, Vol. 1, page 2141, http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0705_01/1081?r=0&s=1.

Ottawa Council of Women, 2016, About, http://www.ottawacw.ca/index.html.

National Council of Women of Canada, 2016. History, http://www.ncwcanada.com/about-us/our-history/.

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.

Sex and Security

~ James Powell

4 March 1966


It would be hard to find a better demonstration of the adage that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones than the Gerda Munsinger case, a scandal that burst without warning onto the Ottawa political scene in early 1966. On 4 March, Lucien Cardin, the Justice Minister in Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal minority government, came under a blistering, personal attack by John G. Diefenbaker, the Progressive Conservative leader of the opposition. The object of Diefenbaker’s ire was the government’s handling of George Victor Spencer, a Vancouver postal clerk who had been fired from his job for selling information to the Russians. Two Soviet diplomats were expelled from Canada in the case. Spencer had provided names of dead people, bankrupt companies, and closed schools, which would have been useful in creating background cover stories for Russian agents based in the lower mainland area, as well as information about post office security. There was also evidence that the Russians were grooming Spencer to act as a “letter box” for passing on messages. In return, Spencer was paid several thousand dollars to meet with his Soviet handlers in Ottawa. He had also hoped to get a free ticket to visit Russia.

On that fateful March afternoon, Cardin was defending his department’s decision not to press criminal charges against Spencer. The opposition, sensing blood, demanded a formal inquiry to examine possible weaknesses in Canada’s security system, and to give Spencer, who had been fired without the right of appeal, an opportunity of a hearing. Cardin refused. Baited by Diefenbaker, Cardin lashed out saying that Diefenbaker was “the last person in the house to give advice on the handling of security cases in Canada.” He then added “I want the right hon. gentleman to tell the house about his participation in the Monseignor (sic) case when he was prime minister of this country.” His words caught people’s attention.

photoPrime Minister Pearson, who was in a weak political position, caved in to demands for an inquiry into the Spencer case. Overruled by Pearson, Cardin tendered his resignation from cabinet. But he almost immediately backtracked after receiving encouragement to stay on from his cabinet colleagues and the Quebec caucus of the Liberal Party. With rumours swirling in Ottawa about Cardin’s future, and a new security scandal, Cardin called a press conference where he acknowledged his aborted resignation over the Spencer file. He also reiterated what he said in the House of Commons, and provided startling new details. This time he got the name right. He claimed that a former Soviet spy named Gerda Munsinger had been involved with two or more Conservative Cabinet ministers during the Diefenbaker years. He claimed that the affair was worse that the Profumo case in Britain. (In 1961, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, resigned his cabinet position and his parliamentary seat after admitting to having had an affair with a young woman, Christine Keeler, who allegedly was also sleeping with the Soviet naval attaché in London.) Cardin also claimed that Diefenbaker and David Fulton, who was Justice Minister at the time, had known that cabinet ministers were involved with Munsinger, but did nothing, despite the evident security risks. He added that he believed Munsinger had died of leukemia.

Cardin’s sensational allegations rocked the House of Commons. Normal business came to abrupt halt. Outraged Conservative MPs demanded that Cardin reveal the names of the former ministers, or resign. In turn, Prime Minister Pearson announced a judicial inquiry into the affair, and challenged the opposition to defeat his government.

Toronto Star journalist Robert Reguly tracked down a very much alive Gerda Munsinger in Munich, Germany, and got an exclusive interview with her. She readily admitted her involvement with Conservative cabinet ministers. Quickly, details of Munsinger’s life, and who she had been dating, were circulating in the press.

She was born Gerda Heseler in Königsberg, East Prussia in 1929, which became Kaliningrad, after the war when the Soviet Union expelled its German inhabitants, and annexed the city. In 1952, she married Michael Munsinger, a U.S. serviceman stationed in Germany. But when the couple subsequently tried to move to the United States, Gerda Munsinger was denied entry on security grounds; she had a record of petty theft and prostitution in West Germany. As well, she had apparently admitted to having had a relationship with a Soviet KGB agent, and of having worked as a low-level Soviet spy. Their marriage was annulled. Later in 1952, Gerda Munsinger tried to immigrate to Canada under her maiden name, but was rejected on security grounds. She tried again in 1955, using her married name. This time, she was successful. Settling in Montreal, the aspiring model worked in various nightclubs connected with Montreal mobsters as a cashier or hostess. Allegedly, she was also a sometime prostitute.

In August 1959, she was introduced to Pierre Sévigny, the Associate Minister for Defence in Diefenbaker’s Conservative government. Sévigny was a much decorated veteran of World War II, who had lost a leg at the battle of the Rhineland. Their relationship became intimate. She was also introduced to George Hees, Minister for Trade and Commerce, and dined with him on several occasions. In late 1960, Munsinger applied with Sévigny’s help for a Canadian passport. Through their passport vetting process, the RCMP discovered that she had been denied entry into Canada eight years earlier. After placing Munsinger under surveillance, which included a wiretap, they discovered she was Sévigny’s “mistress.” The RCMP briefed David Fulton who informed the prime minister. Diefenbaker told Sévigny to break off the relationship. This he did, a decision made easier by Munsinger’s decision to return to Germany in early 1961. No further action was taken. Sévigny remained in his cabinet post as Associate Minister for National Defence until his resignation in 1963. Diefenbaker and Fulton kept the RCMP file confidential; other members of the cabinet were not informed.

When Sévigny’s name was publicly linked to that of Munsinger, the former minister went on the offensive. Appearing on CBC television, flanked by his wife and daughter, Sévigny admitted to having met Gerda Munsinger at a party in August 1959, and afterwards seeing her a few times socially, but their relationship was “just that, a social one.” He said he never had any reason to think she was a foreign agent, and was convinced that she never presented a security risk. He called Cardin “a despicable, rotten, little politician.”

photo

Within days, the two judicial inquiries, one into the Pearson government’s handling the of the Spencer case, the other into the Munsinger Affair, were in full swing. The former case was handled by Justice Dalton Wells, while the latter was conducted by Justice Wishart Spence. Justice Wells completed his report in late July 1966. He completely vindicated the Pearson government’s actions in the Spencer case. He contended that George Spencer had been treated with “forbearance and fairness” by the Pearson government. Justice Wells also supported the government’s decision not to prosecute; Spencer was fatally ill with lung cancer, and died days before the Wells Commission started its hearings.

Two months later, Justice Spence gave his report on the Munsinger affair. It was devastating. While there was no evidence to suggest that Munsinger had worked as a spy in Canada, Justice Spence tore into the previous Conservative government’s handling of the case. While commending Fulton for bringing the RCMP brief on Munsinger promptly to the prime minister’s attention, he faulted him for not initiating a full investigation into whether there had been a security breach. One of the issues not investigated was the arrest and release of Munsinger for bouncing cheques in Montreal shops immediately before her return to Germany. Reportedly, Montreal police had been subjected to political pressure to release Munsinger, and were told that, if charges were pressed, a prominent politician would be blackmailed.

Diefenbaker, who refused to testify at the inquiry, came out very badly. Justice Spence argued that Diefenbaker had relied solely on his personal assessment of Sévigny’s character to retain him in cabinet. Had he read the background documents that supported the RCMP brief, Spence said that Diefenbaker would have clearly seen that Sévigny “was not telling the whole truth.” Moreover, Sévigny’s relationship with Munsinger was known by persons “said to be of unsavory reputation,” and had Diefenbaker done a bit of research “the danger of blackmail and improper pressure would have been revealed as startling.” He also chastised the former prime minister for not bringing the issue to his cabinet for discussion, and especially for not informing Douglas Harkness, the senior cabinet minister for national defence, as well as George Hees, who knew Munsinger on a casual basis, of the RCMP investigation. He also argued that if Diefenbaker had, despite everything, wanted to retain Sévigny in cabinet, he should have moved him to a less sensitive portfolio.

Justice Spence concluded that Pierre Sévigny had understated the closeness and the extent of his relationship with Gerda Munsinger, both to Diefenbaker and to the inquiry. While it had been argued that Sévigny’s strength of character was such that he could not have been pressured or blackmailed, Spence noted that Sévigny had not exhibited “such sterling qualities” on the one instance of pressure—when Diefenbaker confronted him about Munsinger. In addition, despite vague denials, there was no question that he had “actively used his influence to try to obtain Canadian citizenship for Mrs Munsinger.”

Finally, Justice Spence stated that all the allegations made by Lucien Cardin at his March press conference were true. Importantly, there were indeed aspects of the case that were worse than the Profumo affair in Britain. There, the cabinet minister in question had resigned his position and had apologized to Parliament. Sévigny had done neither.

One thing that Justice Spence did not comment on was why the Pearson government had taken so long to initiate an inquiry. Pearson had been informed of the Munsinger case almost two years previously. Consequently, was Cardin’s revelation in the House on 4 March 1966 a slip of the tongue, made while under pressure, or was it something planned to divert attention away from a weak, minority government assailed on many fronts? Fulton called the Spence report “one man’s opinion,” while Diefenbaker called it “the shabby device of a political trial.”

Pierre Sévigny never apologized for his actions. He believed “the scandal was built up out of nothing” by senior people in the Liberal Party. He claimed that he was “framed,” and that the scandal was use to cover up greater misdeeds. He saw himself as “the victim.” He died in 2004.

Gerda Munsinger, the woman at the centre of the affair, remarried after the Spence inquiry. She died in 1998.

Sources:

CBC Digital Archives, 1966. “Pierre Sévigny lashes out,” 12 March, CBC Television.

—————————–, 1966, “Gerda Munsinger Found in Munich, CBC Television,13 March, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/cold-war/politics-sex-and-gerda-munsinger/munsinger-found-in-munich.html.

—————————-, 1973. “Sévigny looks back at Munsinger affair,” 23 July. This Country in the Morning, CBC Radio.

English, John, 2005-15. “Pearson, Lester Bowles,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

House of Commons, 1966. Debates, 27th Parliament, Volumes 2 and 3. March.

The Gazette, “Cardin Retracts Resignation Bowing To Party Pressure,” Montreal, 10 March.

————–, 1966. “Tempest Blows Up In Parliament After MP-Spy Romance Charge,” Montreal, 11 March.

————–, 1966. “Government Fully Supported By Report On Spencer Case,” 27 July.

The Globe and Mail, 1966. “U.S. denied Gerda entry: ex-husband,” 14 March.

————————, 1966. “Gerda spied for Soviet, risked blackmail: RCMP,” 26 April.

————————, 1966. “‘Sevigny told less than the whole truth,’” 24 September.

————————, 1966. “Wretchedly served,” 24 September.

————————, 2011, “Reporter found Hal Banks, Gerda Munsinger,” 5 March.

The Sun, 1966. “Spencer ‘Russian Spy Tool,’” Vancouver, 5 May.

Images: Gerda Munsinger, circa 1966.

Pierre Sévigny.


Charlotte Whitton Becomes Mayor

- James Powell

1 October 1951

On 1 October 1951, there was a seismic shift in Ottawa’s political landscape. That evening, Charlotte Whitton was unanimously chosen mayor by Ottawa’s city council to complete Mayor Grenville W. Goodwin’s term of office. Five weeks earlier, Goodwin had died of a heart attack only seven months after he was elected. Whitton’s appointment was remarkable and unexpected. At that time, there were virtually no female politicians at any level of government. Whitton subsequently went on to win four mayoral elections, dominating Ottawa municipal politics for almost fifteen years. In the process, she shook up what had been a comfortable bastion of male privilege, cleaned up City Hall that had become mired in patronage and nepotism, fought the cozy links between developers and city counsellors, built a new city hall, and presided over a rapidly growing city, all while keeping a firm grip of the municipal purse strings.

However, her years on city council were marred by an inability to work with others, and violent outbursts of temper which went far beyond verbal jousting. On one occasion, the diminutive mayor took several swings at a fellow council member, Paul Tardif. Fortunately, she didn’t connect. On another, she pulled a toy gun from her desk drawer after a heated debate, prompting Tardif to half-jokingly say “Don’t shoot!” Whitton’s council antics, acerbic wit, strong views on virtually everything, and a penchant for the theatrical, which included a fondness for dressing up in medieval robes of office complete with a tricorne hat, kept her in the press spotlight for years. Already well known as an expert on social and welfare programmes, and a newspaper columnist, Charlotte Whitton, the mayor, became a celebrity, even appearing on the U.S. television show What’s My Line in 1955.

photoWhitton was born in Renfrew, Ontario on 8 March 1896. Her father, an English Methodist, did odd jobs in the area, while her mother, an Irish Catholic, ran a boarding house. As “mixed” marriages were frowned on in the late nineteenth century, her parents eloped, and were married in the Anglican Church. Whitton remained a life-long Anglican though her siblings became Catholic. Rare for women of that era, she received a university education, obtaining an undergraduate arts degree in 1917 from Queen’s University. By virtue of her high academic standing, the university granted her a master’s degree. Later, when she received the first of several honorary doctorates, she became known as Dr Charlotte Whitton.

After university, Whitton joined the Social Service Council of Canada, and became assistant editor of the journal Social Welfare. In 1920, she moved to the Canadian National Council on Child Welfare following its establishment by the federal government, becoming its director in 1925. With its mandate expanding over time to encompass family welfare, the agency later became known as the Canadian Council on Social Development. During her twenty-year career with the Council, Whitton became nationally prominent for her social welfare work, especially her advocacy for improved and standardized child welfare legislation across the country. She also worked on behalf of children and families at the international level, representing Canada on the League of Nations’ child welfare committee in Geneva. In 1934, she was named Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her pioneering child welfare activities.

Whitton was also a passionate advocate for women’s rights. She disapproved of the prevailing moral double standard where mothers were blamed for illegitimate pregnancies but not the fathers. She also believed that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job. She encouraged women to stand for election at all level of government, though she though they were best suited for municipal government on the grounds that cities dealt with issues closer to the family. In her view, women were better than men in caring for the sick, the elderly, and the young. In reality, she figured that women could outperform men at anything. She famously said “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Fortunately, this is not difficult.”

While “progressive” in some areas, she was anything but a left-wing radical. She supported capital punishment, opposed official bilingualism, abortion, and divorce. While a strong proponent of the traditional family, she never married, but instead devoted her life to her career, modelling herself on Elizabeth I, the powerful “virgin” queen. Whitton lived with her best friend Margaret Grier for more than a quarter century until Grier’s death in 1947. While the two women shared their lives, and had a strong emotional bond, there is no evidence of a physical relationship. When the Great Depression struck, Whitton became well-known for her “tough love” recommendations to deal with high unemployment, including the establishment of remote, quasi-military, work camps for unemployed men. She also opposed income support programmes except for the deserving poor, viewing government aid as dehumanizing, something that would diminish people’s responsibility for their family and neighbours. She unsuccessfully lobbied against the introduction of the “baby bonus,” arguing that it put an economic value on people’s “powers of reproduction rather than production.” Echoing the sentiments of supporters of the eugenics movement widely popular during the first half of the twentieth century, she also feared that the baby bonus would weaken Canadian blood lines by encouraging mental and moral “defectives” to have more children.

Whitton adamantly opposed immigration that might alter the complexion of Canada, both literally and figuratively. While she could do little to affect the French fact in Canada, she didn’t want to dilute Canada’s Englishness. Although she generally tolerated “Anglo-Saxon” immigrants, anybody else, including Jews, Asians and Blacks, were not welcome. Even when it came to British immigrants, Whitton was selective, wanting solid, yeoman stock who could support themselves; the poor, the sick, the huddled masses were not for her. She lobbied strenuously against child immigration from Britain partly due to the conditions that many children experienced on their arrival in Canada, but also due to her concern that they were not the right sort of people, often being the illegitimate offspring of the poorer classes. Again, she seemed to be influenced by the eugenics movement that viewed poverty as a pathological condition.

Most controversially of all, in 1940, Whitton opposed the evacuation to Canada of nine thousand, mostly Jewish, children from war-torn Europe. According to Irving Abella and Harold Troper, in their book None Is Too Many, the Canadian Jewish Congress saw her as “an enemy of Jewish immigration.” But Whitton views on race were mainstream stuff seventy years ago. Reflecting the mood of the population, the Canadian government refused to accept the child refugees, though it subsequently authorized ten thousand British children to take shelter in Canada.

In 1950, prompted by the Ottawa Council of Women, Whitton run for public office, winning one of the city’s four Board of Control positions in that year’s municipal elections. The Board, which formed a sort of municipal “cabinet,” was elected by citizens at large in the same fashion as the mayor; in contrast, aldermen were elected by residents of specific city wards. Whitton topped the slate of prospective controllers on the back of widespread support from Ottawa’s female voters. She was the first woman ever elected to Ottawa’s City Council.

In the same election, Grenville W. Goodwin, the soft-spoken owner of an optical company, was elected mayor, toppling Edouard Bourque, the previous incumbent. Despite opposition because of her sex, Whitton was selected by Council as Deputy Mayor reflecting her top place finish in the Board of Control race. When Goodwin passed away in August 1951, Whitton stepped in as Acting Mayor. However, her appointment as Mayor to fill the unexpired portion of Goodwin’s term was far from assured. The city’s solicitor argued that the “Acting” position was only temporary, and had to be ratified by a vote of Council. Many thought the position should go to a man. A poll of council members gave Whitton only one vote, with most favouring Leonard Coulter who had been Deputy Mayor under Bourque. However, following several weeks of back-room politicking, Coulter pulled out of the race, bidding his time until the next election. With the track now clear, Whitton became mayor. She immediately set out a five-point civic programme which included measures to reduce a shortage of low-cost housing (an issue dear to her heart), and steps to streamline City Hall. It was the start of a tumultuous period in Ottawa’s civic administration as Whitton shook up a complacent municipal bureaucracy.

Whitton subsequently went on to win the 1952 and 1954 municipal elections. Bowing out of the 1956 elections, she entered federal politics running as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the Liberal stronghold of Ottawa West in the 1958 General Election. While John G. Diefenbaker’s Conservatives swept to power, his coattails were insufficient to elect Whitton who lost by roughly 1,000 votes to the popular Liberal incumbent, George McIlraith. A disappointed Whitton returned to writing and lecturing before re-entering Ottawa municipal politics, winning the 1960 mayoral election. She won again in 1962. But by 1964, Ottawa residents were tired of Whitton’s theatrics and the constant battles at City Hall. That year they elected the gentle giant Donald Reid as mayor. Whitton experienced the indignity of placing third behind Frank Ryan, her own brother-in-law who had the audacity to run against her. But her council days were not over. She returned to City Hall in 1966 as an alderman for Capital Ward, championing the cause of the elderly. She was successfully re-elected two more times, before retiring in 1972 after suffering a broken hip. She died in Ottawa at the age of seventy-eight in 1975.

During her lifetime, Charlotte Whitton received many honours. In addition to the CBE awarded her in 1934, she became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1968, and received six honorary doctorates from Canadian and American universities. In 1973, the City Council chamber in the old City Hall was named the Whitton Hall in her honour. At the ceremony, Mayor Pierre Benoit called her “one of the greatest municipal politicians Ottawa has ever had.” She also received laudatory messages from the Queen, Governor General Michener, Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Premier Davis.

However, as controversial she was in life, Whitton remained controversial in death. In 2010, when Major Jim Watson proposed naming the city’s new archives building after her, the Canadian Jewish Labour Congress objected on the grounds that Whitton had been anti-Semitic, citing her role in barring Jewish child refugees from Canada in 1940. Dave Mullington, a Whitton biographer, came to her defence, noting that despite what happened in 1940, her relationship with the Jewish community was far more positive than this one incident suggested. Among other things, she had been a staunch supporter of Israel through the Suez Crisis in 1957, had been named “woman of the year” in 1964 by Toronto’s B’nai Brith organization, and was among the first persons to sign Lorry Greenberg’s nomination papers in his election for mayor in 1974. Greenberg subsequently became Ottawa’s first Jewish mayor. However, the controversy caused Mayor Watson to withdraw his suggestion. Instead, the archives building was named after James Bartleman, a former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

Sources:

Abella, Irving & Troper, Harold, 1982. None Is too Many, Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948, Lester & Orpen Dennys, Publishers: Toronto.

Brown, Dave, 2010. “Charlotte Whitton’s ‘disappearing’ a disgrace; Former Ottawa mayor’s reputation on line,” The Ottawa Citizen, 22 October.

McCarthy, Stuart, 2010. “Recognize Charlotte Whitton’s Dark Side, i, 16 August.

Mullington, Dave, 2010. Charlotte, The Last Suffragette, Refrew, Ontario: General Store Publishing Company.

———————. 2010. “Whitton Deserves a Fair Shake,” The Ottawa Citizen, 25 August.

Rooke, P.T. & Schnell, R.L., 1987. No Bleeding Heart: Charlotte Whitton, A Feminist on the Right, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

The Evening Citizen, 1951. "Dr. Whitton Takes Over As Mayor; Gren Goodwin’s Funeral Thursday" 28 August.

————————-, 1951. “Coulter Favored In Poll,” 29 August.

————————, 1951. “Charlotte Whitton Urges Public Life Partnership at Inter-Club Council for Women,” 15 September.

————————, 1951. “New Mayor’s Program, Dr. Whitton Outlines 5-Point Civic Schedule,” 2 October.

The Ottawa Citizen, 2010. “Jewish Congress opposes Whitton recognition, Group cites role in barring child refugees fleeing Holocaust in Second World War,”14 August 2010.

Image: Charlotte Whitton in full mayoral regalia, by Douglas Bartlett, 1954, Library and Archives Canada, CA19128.

 

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 Jersey Lilly - 8 November 1883

- James Powell

During the early 1880s, the population of Ottawa, while growing rapidly, totalled less than 30,000 souls, far smaller than Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City. But being the capital of the new Dominion of Canada, and therefore home to the Governor General and Parliament, what the community lacked in numbers it made up in political and social clout. The town also boasted a small but wealthy group of industrialists who had mostly made their fortunes in the forestry industry. Because of these political and economic elites, Ottawa enjoyed the amenities of a far larger city, including the luxurious Russell Hotel, Ottawa’s premier hostelry, and the Grand Opera House, a top-quality hall for theatrical and other performances. With such facilities, Ottawa was equipped to welcome the international celebrities of the age, including the witty Oscar Wilde, the divine Sarah Bernhardt, and the incomparable Mrs Lillie Langtry. Mrs Langtry, a.k.a. “The Jersey Lilly,” captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for more than forty years. She made three visits to Ottawa during her career, the first occurring on 8 November 1883.

Mrs Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1853, the daughter of a prominent clergyman. While brought up in a liberal, loving family, island life was confining for the beautiful young girl, known to everyone as “Lillie.” To get off the island and experience a taste of adventure, she married Edward Langtry in 1874, a widower ten years her senior. The couple settled in London. Sadly, the marriage quickly soured. Husband Edward drank heavily, and lived beyond his means. Although he had two racing yachts, his family’s wealth had been largely dissipated by the time it reached him. High living quickly went through the remaining fortune.

photoLillie Langtry’s society career was launched when she was introduced to the artist John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a non-conformist group of Victorian artists who aimed to revive a medieval, artistic aesthetic. Attracted by her great beauty and charm, she became the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, posing for Millais, George Francis Miles, and others, including Sir Edward Poynter. Oscar Wilde also became a close friend and mentor, introducing her to his friends in the Aesthetics Movement, including the American artist, James Whistler.

Mrs Langtry arrival in society coincided with photography going mainstream, and the beginning of a mass celebrity culture. Joining the ranks of the “Professional Beauties,” her photograph graced the store fronts and middle-class sitting rooms of Britain. As part of this elite group, Langtry gained an entreé into the dining rooms and ball rooms of the aristocracy ever eager to seek out the latest sensation. Male admirers, known as “Langtry’s lancers,” followed her as she rode daily in Hyde Park, a popular society past time that provided an opportunity to see people and be seen. In 1877, she caught the philandering eye of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, the oldest son of Queen Victoria. The married prince and Mrs Langtry began a well-publicized affair that raised her to the pinnacle of British society. Although the relationship cooled after a time, and the prince looked elsewhere for extra-marital affection, they remained close friends. On his coronation as Edward VII in 1902, Mrs Langtry, along with other former mistresses, attended the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in a special box, known sotto voce as the “King’s Loose Box.” After the prince, Mrs Langtry went on to have many other affairs that brought her considerable notoriety, including one with Prince Louis of Battenberg, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Prince Louis is reputed to have been the father of Mrs Langtry’s only child, a daughter, Jeanne Marie, though she was also in a relationship with another man at the time.

In 1881, with the Langtrys close to bankruptcy, Lillie embarked on a stage career on the advice of Oscar Wilde, after taking acting lessons from the English actress Henrietta Hodson, the mistress and later wife of the politician Henry Labouchère. (As an aside, Labouchère’s uncle, also Henry, was the person who conveyed Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada to Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General, in 1857.) The theatre was a daring career decision. In the late nineteenth century, acting was not viewed a proper vocation for gentlewomen. Actresses were often looked upon as little more than prostitutes. Mrs Langtry’s stage career, which was supported by the Prince of Wales, helped to change attitudes. She also broke convention by handling all her bookings herself, as well as hiring a theatre troupe.

Mrs Langtry went on to have an illustrious stage career on both sides of the Atlantic that lasted several decades. While her acting was uneven, especially during the early years of her career, her beauty and notoriety brought people out in droves to her performances. Her fame also led her to become an advertising pioneer. As one of the first, if not the first celebrity endorser, she allowed the producers of Pears’ soap to use images of her, in various stages of undress, in its advertising. She also provided a testimonial that her flawless complexion was due to Pears’ soap. Langtry promoted other products during her long career, including cigarettes, hair tonic, dresses and accessories.

Needless to say, her marriage with Edward Langtry, never strong owing to his excessive drinking, suffered further due to her affairs and notoriety. They mostly lived apart while she pursued her acting career and a series of liaisons in the United States and in Britain. After twenty-three years of marriage, Lillie got a divorce in 1897. Edward died shortly afterwards. In 1899, she married 28 year-old Sir Hugo de Bathe, eighteen years her junior, against the wishes of the groom’s parents. This marriage also foundered. Lillie Langtry died in Monaco in 1929, and was buried is St Saviour Church in Jersey.

Lillie Langtry’s first visit to Ottawa in November 1883 occurred at the start of her long stage career. She and her company performed the appropriately named play The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan in front of an audience described as “large and fashionable.” It was unclear, however, whether people had shown up to watch the classic comedy or just to catch a glimpse of the famous Mrs Langtry. Tickets for reserved seats, which had gone on sale at Nordheimer’s Music Store for $1.50 each a week ahead of the production, were quickly snapped up. The performance was held with the patronage of the Governor General and the Marchioness of Lansdowne, though, oddly, the vice-regal couple arrived someway into the first act, perhaps an indication of a certain reserve towards the notorious actress. Also in the audience were Lord Melgund, an aide of the Governor General, as well as several Cabinet ministers. The performance was the first of a series of evening and matinee shows that ran over three days. In addition to The School for Scandal, Langtry and her troupe put on She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. This was a reprise of the first play in which Langtry performed in 1881 at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, gave Mrs Langtry rave reviews for her performance as Mrs Teazle in The School for Scandal, saying that she “played with an artistic delicacy we have seldom seen equal.” In her role as Miss Hardcastle in She Stoops To Conquer, the Journal said that she displayed “versatility as an actress” and a “genuine appreciation of the requirements of the character.” The review looked forward to seeing Mrs Langtry in a dramatic role and opined that “from the little we have seen we believe she possesses many of the qualities which go to make a leading actress.”

Mrs Langtry returned to Ottawa and the Grand Opera House for a one-evening event on Good Friday, 12 April 1895. Billed as the “Society Event of the Season,” she appeared in Gossip, a play by Leo Ditrichstein and Clyde Fitch, supported by the American actor Eben Plympton. Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents to $1.50. Advertisements for the show noted that electric cars would be at the Opera House to take theatre goers home after the production; the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company had opened for business five years earlier.

As soon as the performance date was announced, there was controversy. Churches objected saying that a Good Friday show “was an insult.” At a prayer meeting, The Rev. W. Witten of the Reform Episcopal Church stated that “he would rather [people] went to the theatre Sunday than Good Friday. Those of his people who did go could not expect to come to church on Sunday and take part in communion.” Of course, the controversy only heightened the excitement, and provided Mrs Langtry with free advertising.

Fittingly given the name of the play, there was also much talk about what Mrs Langtry was going to wear for the production. Her new gowns were designed by Mme Laferrière of Paris and were “modelled after the style to prevail the coming summer.” Ottawa was even more agog over her jewels. According to the Journal, the coronet she wore in Gossip, which was made up of 2,000 diamonds “of the first purity and brilliance,” and twenty-five large Oriental pearls, was valued at $180,000. Her necklace of rubies and diamonds were said to be worth $25,000 while a jewelled broach consisting of a 44 carat ruby surrounded by diamonds was appraised at $300,000, an immense sum today let alone 120 years ago.

photoIn a curt review the day after the performance, the Evening Journal reported that while there was a large and appreciative audience, Mrs Langtry was disappointing in the first act though she “showed a marked improvement” as the play progressed. The most attractive feature of the play was the dresses.

Lillie Langtry’s last appearance in Ottawa occurred in May 1900. This time she appeared at the Russell Theatre in a production of The Degenerates by the English dramatist Sydney Grundy. With the patronage of the Governor General, Lord Minto, and Lady Minto, the play was held as a benefit, with all profits going to the fire relief fund.

She played to a full house and received numerous curtain calls. At the end of the performance, she made a short patriotic speech and recited a poem by Rudyard Kipling titled “The Absent-Minded Beggar,” in support of British soldiers then fighting in the Boer War. The first lines of the poem read:

When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia:” When you’ve sung “God Save The Queen,” When you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth: Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine For a gentleman in khaki ordered South?

Quite a few coins were thrown on stage in response. At that time, some 1,000 Canadian volunteers organized into the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, were fighting in South Africa.

The Journal claimed that Mrs Langtry, now 47 years old, had the looks and figure of a woman of 25—“years seem to have left no impression on her.” However, the comment may have been more gentlemanly than factual. Two months earlier, it was reported that in New York, Mrs Langtry had insisted that all the gas jets in the theatre in which she was about to perform be covered with tinted mosquito netting because the glaring lights brought into “unpleasant evidence ‘crow’s’ feet.” After the netting caught fire, the gas lights were replaced with electric lights with the bulbs softened with pink fabric.

Although Lillie Langtry made several more North American tours, she never again appeared in Ottawa. She retired from acting in 1917. The life of Lillie Langtry has been the subject of numerous books. In 1978, London Weekend Television produced an excellent mini-series on her life titled Lillie, starring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.

Sources:

Beatty Laura, 1999. Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals, London: Chatto & Windus.

Brough James, 1975. The Prince and the Lily, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan Inc.

Evening Journal (The),

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry Coming,” 28 March.

—————————, 1895. Mrs. Langtry’s Gems and Gowns,” 11 April.

—————————, 1895. “Lillie Langtry at Grand Opera House One Night Only, 12 April.

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry At The Grand,” 13 April.

—————————, 1900. “Personal and Pertinent,” 20 March.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 10 May.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 17 May.

Globe (The), 1883. “Mrs Langry At Ottawa,” 9 November.

—————, 1895. “A Good Advertisement for the Jersey Lily,” 12 April.

Holland, Evangeline, 2008. “The Professional Beauty,” Edwardian Promenade, goo.gl/kwVeWR.

Holmes, Su & Negra, Diane, Eds. 2011. In the Limelight and Under the Microscope, Forms and Functions of Female Celebrity, New York and London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 9 November.

————————, 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 10 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.

THE MAHARAJA OF THE KEYBOARD

- James Powell

 

5 December 1945

In the firmament of great jazz musicians, few stars sparkle as brightly as that of Oscar Peterson. Born in 1925 to a hard-working, immigrant family from the poor St Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, Peterson burst like a fiery comet onto the jazz scene while still a teenager. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Peterson wowed audiences around the world with his prodigious piano technique, his amazing talent for improvisation, and a range that encompassed everything from the classics to stride, blues, boogie and bebop. He played with all the jazz greats of his age, including trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and such famed vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Demonstrating his range, he also accompanied such artistic luminaries as Fred Astaire, and the great violinist Itzhak Pearlman. It was Roy Eldridge who dubbed Peterson the “Maharaja of the Keyboard. Louis Armstrong called him “the man with four hands.” As well as playing the piano, Peterson was a talented composer, and had a singing voice comparable to that of Nat King Cole. His best known compositions are the Canadiana Suite, an album released in 1964, and Hymn to Freedom, composed in 1962. Oscar Peterson and his trio played Hymn to Freedom in 2003 at a gala in Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. In 2008, the Hymn was played at U.S. President Obama’s inauguration.

photo

Jazz was in Peterson’s blood. Both his parents, Daniel and Olive Peterson, had a passion for music, and encouraged their five children to learn instruments. A tight family budget was stretched to include a piano. Daniel Peterson, a self-taught piano player, instructed his wife and their five children how to play. Young Oscar initially studied the trumpet as well as the piano. But after a lengthy bout with tuberculosis in the early 1930s, which claimed the life of his older brother Fred, Oscar concentrated on the piano. Father Daniel was a demanding teacher, insisting on daily practice and assigning musical homework for his children while he was absent working as a porter on the railway. But Oscar, with his perfect pitch and ability to play songs by ear, was up to the challenge. Later, his older sister Daisy became his piano instructor. His first exposure to jazz came from listening to radio. His father, however, looked down on jazz seeing it as music for the uneducated. He insisted that Oscar learn the classics. Peterson later studied under two classically-trained pianists, Lou Harper and Paul de Marky, the latter was Canada’s most acclaimed classical pianist of the time who taught music at McGill University in Montreal. He also instructed private students, charging $15 hour, a huge sum for Oscar’s parents (equivalent to more than $200 in today’s money). From a very early age, Oscar played in churches, community centres, and schools. It was in such venues, Oscar began to learn how to improvise.

Peterson’s first big break came in 1940 when he auditioned for an amateur music contest hosted by CBC radio. He went on to win not only the Montreal competition but also the national finals held in Toronto. He was only 15 years old, and the only black contestant. He received a cheque for $250 (close to $4,000 today). From there, there was no looking back. He quickly out-grew his Montreal High School band, the Victory Serenaders, and gigs in the school gym. In 1943, he dropped out to play full-time in a popular Montreal big band led by the trumpet player Johnny Holmes after a spot for a pianist opened up when the group’s regular pianist was drafted into the army.

Peterson received further national exposure in 1945 when RCA Victor, one of Canada’s largest recording studios agreed to record him, releasing two 78 rpm records. They were hugely successfully. In early June 1945, Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street advertised in The Ottawa Journal “A new VICTOR ‘discovery’ for your piano pin-up collection. Name: OSCAR PETERSON, just a youngster of eighteen, a Canadian lad of inspired rhythm that flows from his fingertips in a sparkling, ear tingling, original style all his own.” The store encouraged people to come listen to a sample recording of I Got Rhythm at Freiman’s Record Studios located on the third floor of the department store, daring them to try to keep their toes quiet!

Peterson’s first known public performance in Ottawa took place on Wednesday, 5 December 1945 at the Glebe Collegiate Auditorium at 8.30pm. The performance called Hot Jazz, featured Oscar Peterson and his jazz trio: Peterson on the piano, Russ Dufort on drums, and George Murphy on bass. The prices of admission was 90 cents, $1.20, and $1.50. The trio played to a capacity crowd, with people standing two and three deep at the back of the auditorium. Extra seats were placed on the stage. Students from Carleton College’s (later Carleton University) sat or stood behind the stage, so that they could at least hear the music even if they couldn’t see the artists. The Ottawa Journal reporter described the twenty-year old Peterson as “one of the foremost exponents of jazz.” The night’s programme featured both classical pieces such as Chopin’s Polonaise as well as jazz pieces, including Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues and Peterson’s own composition “The Boogie Blues.” The enthusiastic crowd gave the trio three encores. At one of the encores, Peterson played the Sheik of Araby that he had recently recorded. The journalist concluded by saying that Peterson’s boogie-woogie was “probably the best heard in Ottawa for some time.” The trio returned to the Glebe Collegiate the following May. More than 1,200 people crammed into the school auditorium to hear them again perform a selection of classical and jazz numbers, including Peterson’s own compositions.

Between these two Ottawa performances, Peterson made his debut at the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto in early March 1946. Most of the audience that night had only heard Peterson through his records. As in Ottawa and elsewhere, the crowd was dazzled by his technique and imagination; Oscar Peterson had made it to the big time. Appearances on the CBC radio series Canadian Cavalcade cemented his reputation for being the country’s most popular, up-and-coming, young artist. He made his American debut in 1949 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, where he played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Ella Fitzgerald. Peterson had been “discovered” by music promoter Norman Granz who had been in Montreal for a meeting. Hearing Peterson play on the radio, Grantz, who produced the “Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)” series of concerts, tours, and recordings, invited him to perform in New York. From then on, Oscar Peterson was an international star. In 1950, Grantz, who later became Peterson manager, signed him to a contract to perform with JATP. Over the following decade, Peterson participated in fifteen, cross-continent JATP tours. Peterson’s business relationship and friendship with Granz lasted until the latter’s death in 2001.

Over the decades, Peterson performed in a number of small groups, usually trios. During the 1950s, the other two members of the group were Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar. In 1958, Ellis left the trio and was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen. During the 1970s and 1980s, Peterson played with Joe Pass on guitar and bassist Niels-Henning Pederson. In the late 1990s, Peterson formed a quartet, with Pederson on bass, Martin Drew on drums, and Ulf Wakenius on guitar.

Although successful from an early age, Oscar Peterson faced major challenges, not least of which was the racism that he confronted, especially when he toured the U.S. south during the 1950s and 1960s. Even in Canada, he had to endure discrimination, with hotels unwilling to hire black musicians. On one highly publicized occasion in 1951, he was denied a haircut in Hamilton, Ontario owing to his colour. The city’s mayor later apologized. In his quiet, understated way, Peterson fought back. He wrote his Hymn to Freedom in support of the civil rights movement. He was also instrumental in Canadian television advertising becoming more inclusive of minorities. Peterson’s home life also suffered from his constant touring. He was married four times. He also largely missed out on seeing his seven children grow up. Late in life, after suffering a stroke while performing in New York, his ability to use his left hand was impaired. Peterson fought through depression, and continued to perform to adoring audiences. He passed away from kidney failure on 23 December 2007 at 82 years of age.

photo

During his lifetime, Peterson received many honours. Sixteen universities, including Carleton University, awarded him honorary doctorates. From 1991-94, he was Chancellor of the University of York in Toronto. He also received eight Grammies from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including a lifetime achievement award in 1997 for his more than 200 records. In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was promoted to Officer of the Order in 1984. In May 2010, just over two years after his death, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a statue of Oscar Peterson seated at his piano outside of the National Art Centre, a place where he had played many times during his long and productive career.

Sources:

Batten, Jack. 2012. Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz, Tundra Books: Toronto

Globe and Mail, 1946. “Swing Pianist Stirs Massey Hall throng,” 8 March.

——————-, 2007. “Oscar Peterson, Musician, ‘Man with four hands was one of the greatest piano players of all time.” 26 December.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1945. “Freiman’s platter chatter,” 7 June.

—————————, 1945. “Hot Jazz.” 5 December.

————————–, 1945. “Peterson played to packed audience in Glebe, 6 December

————————–, 1946. “Oscar Peterson Plays to 1,200.” 10 May.

Marin, Riva, 2003. Oscar: The Life and Music of Oscar Peterson, Groundwood Books: Toronto.

Milner, Mike, 2012. “Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson and the maharaja of the keyboard,” CBC Music, goo.gl/hDVvlF, 6 March.

Peterson, Oscar, 1964. Hymn to Freedom, YouTube: goo.gl/gRDt1b.

Images:

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Author Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A., goo.gl/ZcpyN0.

Oscar Peterson statue at the National Arts Centre, 2016 by James 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.

A “Canadian” Princess

- James Powell

19 January 1943

If there ever was a time for an emotional pick-me-up, you couldn’t have found a better moment than mid-January 1943. It was brutally cold, and Canada was in its fourth year of war with the Axis Powers with no end in sight. Hundreds of thousands of Canada’s young men and women had left their homes, families and jobs to serve in the armed forces, or in the merchant marine bringing much needed food and other supplies to embattled Britain. Coupon rationing for gasoline and tires had been introduced the previous spring and had been extended through 1942 to cover many food staples, including sugar, tea, coffee and butter. And it was only to get worse. On 19 January 1943, Ottawa’s Evening Citizen reported that meat rationing was about to be introduced. “Bacon, ham and even pork sausage [was] unable to be had for love or money in many places.” The butter ration was also about to be reduced by a third to 5 1/3 ounces per week per person. But there was one piece of news that bleak mid-winter that raised spirits and boosted the morale of a war-weary population. At 7pm on that snowy January day, a princess was born at Ottawa’s Civic Hospital, the third daughter of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands.

Three years earlier in May 1940, the Dutch Royal Family had fled to Britain from the Netherlands, one step ahead of the invading German army. While Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Government established a government-in-exile in London, her daughter, Crown Princess Juliana, and her two young daughters, Princess Beatrix, aged 2 ½ years and Princess Irene, 9 months, were evacuated to Canada. Her German-born husband, Prince Bernhard, now a Dutch subject, was stationed in London becoming an active RAF spitfire pilot.

Princess Juliana and her two daughters arrived in Halifax on 11 June 1940 on a Dutch cruiser. She had been offered asylum by Canada’s new governor general, the Earl of Athlone. His wife, Princess Alice, was an aunt of Princess Juliana. After staying temporarily at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence, the young family settled in Ottawa at 120 Landsdowne Road in Rockcliffe Park. They dubbed their home “Nooit Gedacht,” meaning “Never Imagined.” Princess Juliana later leased Stornaway at 541 Acacia Drive, now the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition.

In September 1942, Prince Bernard announced over Radio Orange that Princess Juliana was pregnant with their baby due sometime in late January the following year. In anticipation of the royal birth, the Canadian Government declared in December the hospital room in the Civic Hospital where the birth was to occur “extraterritorial” to ensure that the child would not be born a Canadian citizen and British subject; an important consideration should the child be a boy and hence heir to the Dutch throne.

Four rooms were set aside for Princess Juliana on the third floor of the Civic Hospital—one room for Princess Juliana, one room for the baby, another for her nurse, and a fourth for a security guard. Fittingly, the rooms overlooked Holland Avenue. The corridor outside of the rooms was also decorated with the Dutch flag.

Suffering from mumps and with the birth due anytime, Princess Juliana was admitted to hospital by her physician, Dr. Puddicombe, on Monday, 18 January 1943. Princess Margriet Francisca, the first and only North American-born princess, was born the following day. She was named after the marguerite, a daisy-like flower and symbol of Dutch resistance. Prince Bernhard who flew to Ottawa for the birth reported the glad tidings by telephone via Montreal and New York to Queen Wilhelmina in London. The news was then sent to reporters waiting at the Château Laurier Hotel, and broadcasted around the world.

At 7.45pm, the Civic Hospital released its first press statement saying that both mother and daughter were doing well, with the new princess weighing in at seven pounds, five ounces. The next day, the Peace Tower carillon on Parliament Hill played the Dutch National Anthem and other Dutch songs, while the Dutch tricolour flew overhead; the first time a foreign flag had flown from the Tower. In keeping with Dutch tradition, the baby’s birth was celebrated by eating beschuit met muisjes—a rusk topped with sugar and anise seed sprinkles. Typically coloured white and pink, the sprinkles were coloured orange in honour of the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau. The rusks were wrapped in orange paper and tied with a red, white and blue ribbon. A journalist described one as “hard as a chunk of the city’s ice encrusted pavement” but “with rationing what it is” it tasted “pretty good.”

News of the princess’s birth, was a major morale boost for oppressed Dutch citizens living in occupied Netherlands. The underground Dutch newspaper De Oranjerkrant wrote: “Little Margriet, you will be our princess of peace. We long to have you in our midst…Come soon Margriet. We are awaiting you with open arms.”

Princess Margriet was christened in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington St on 29 June 1943 at 1:00pm. It was a bright, sunny afternoon. Among the dignitaries in attendance for the occasion were her father, Prince Bernhard, her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina who was making her second trip to Ottawa, the Governor General and his wife, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. The packed service was conducted in Dutch by Rev. Dr Winfield Burggraaff, a Dutch naval chaplain and a minister of the Reformed Church on Staten Island, NY. Also presiding were Rev. A. Ian Burnett, minister of St. Andrew’s and Rev. Robert Good, former moderator of St. Andrew’s. Godparents for the little princess included U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, the Governor General, and the entire Dutch merchant marine who were represented at the church by seven of its members. Marine Roell, who had accompanied Princess Juliana into exile in Canada, was also made a godmother, though she was identified only as a widow of a Dutch martyr who gave his life for his country in order to protect her family still in Holland from reprisals. The christening service was broadcasted by short-wave radio live to London via New York and was rebroadcasted to the occupied Netherlands. Prince Bernhard advised his countrymen not to celebrate too openly for fear of German retaliation. Following the ceremony, hundreds of Ottawa citizens welcomed the little princess with loud applause as the Royal Family emerged from the church.

The Dutch Royal Family stayed in Ottawa for the remainder of the war, returning to the Netherlands in early May 1945 after its liberation for the most part by Canadian troops. Before leaving, Princess Juliana gave an oak lectern to St Andrew’s Church carved with the royal coat of arms, marguerites, and the four evangelists. The birth of Princess Margriet helped cement a lasting bond between the peoples of Canada and the Netherlands. Princess Juliana is reported to have said “My baby will always be a link with Canada not only for my own family but for the Netherlands.” As way of thanks for her family’s treatment in Canada, Princess Juliana sent 100,000 tulips to Ottawa in the fall of 1945. It was the start of a beautiful friendship that has lasted to the present day.

Sources:

CBC Digital Archives, 1943: Netherlands’ Princess Margriet Born in Ottawa, goo.gl/D008s1.

Het Koninklijk Huis, Princess Margriet, goo.gl/LFutjK.

The Evening Citizen, 1940. “Crown Princess of Netherlands Reaches Canada,” 11 June.

——————–, 1943. “Wider Powers for Economy Controller, Meat Rationing to Include Pork, Lamb and Veal,” 19 January.

———————, 1943. “News of Birth of New Princess Flashed to Royal Grandmother,” 20 January.

———————, 1943. “Third Daughter Born to Princess Juliana Early Tuesday Evening,” 20 January.

———————, 1943. “Butter Ration for Next Six Weeks Cut by Third,” 20 January.

———————, 1945. “Gift of Bulbs to Commemorate Great Friendship,” 3 October.

VanderMay, Andrew, 1992. When Canada was Home: The Story of Dutch Princess Margriet, Vanderheide Publishing Co. Ltd, Surray, B.C.

Image: goo.gl/l7r03B.

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.

By Andrew Kavchak

On the eve of World War Two the Nazis and the Soviets signed a “non-aggression pact” (August 23, 1939) and started the war with the invasion and partition of Poland in September, 1939. Following the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941, the Soviets were engaged with the western allies in a joint effort to defeat Hitler. Canada and the U.S.S.R. established relations, and the Soviets opened an embassy in Ottawa. However, the embassy proved to be a major centre of espionage and intrigue against Canada and its allies.

photoIgor Gouzenko was born just outside of Moscow in 1919. At the start of World War Two, he joined the Red Army and was trained as a lieutenant in military intelligence operations. In June 1943, he was stationed in Ottawa, where for over two years as a clandestine cipher clerk at the embassy. He deciphered incoming messages from Moscow and enciphered outgoing messages for the Red Army intelligence. His position gave him knowledge of Soviet espionage and infiltration activities in Canada and he became aware of Soviet agents active in numerous Canadian government offices, including the House of Commons, national defence, and external affairs. He also became aware of Soviet penetration of the Manhattan Project (the U.S. effort to develop the atom bomb).

Gouzenko found life in Ottawa, where he lived with his wife and infant son, to be a stark contrast to the lives of people in the Soviet Union, and the false propaganda which he and his fellow Soviets were subjected to about the West. Knowing that Stalin was infiltrating his western allies, as well as trying to develop an atomic bomb, was disturbing to Gouzenko, particularly as the espionage and infiltration increased after the defeat of the Nazis in May, 1945.

photoThe Japanese formally surrendered to the Americans on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Just three days later, on September 5, 1945, Igor Gouzenko walked out of the Soviet embassy with 109 documents detailing the extent of Soviet espionage in Canada. For forty-eight hours no one at the offices of the Ottawa Journal would listen to him, and he was refused access to the Minister of Justice. Gouzenko could not return to the embassy and instead hid in a neighbour’s apartment (at 511 Somerset Street, across from Dundonald Park) with his family, while Soviet security officials broke into his apartment looking for him. At that point the RCMP finally listened to him.
As a result of Gouzenko’s defection, Prime Minister Mackenzie King informed U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee of the new challenges posed by Stalin. A Royal Commission of Inquiry was established here in 1946 and twenty-six Soviet agents were arrested and prosecuted for treasonous activities. Approximately half were convicted.

While the world expected the end of the war to result in a period of peace, a new Cold War had begun. The “Gouzenko Affair”, which occurred in Ottawa, was thus the first significant international incident of the Cold War.

In 2003, the City of Ottawa unveiled a historic plaque in Dundonald Park across from the building where Gouzenko lived at the time of his defection, and in 2002, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the “Gouzenko Affair” as an event of national historic significance and unveiled a corresponding plaque in the park in 2004.

(Editor’s note: Mr. Kavchak was especially involved in lobbying for the placement of the plaques in Dundonald Park.)

THE RED MENACE
5 September 1945

~ James Powell

On Wednesday evening, 5 September 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, defected, or at least tried to defect as it took him almost two days to convince anybody that he was serious. He first showed up at the office of the Ottawa Journal with secret documents that he had smuggled out of the embassy. But the city editor was busy and told Gouzenko to come back the following day. He then tried the office of Louis St. Laurent, then the Minister of Justice. But the minister and his staff had long gone home for the night. Again, Gouzenko was told to return in the morning. After going back to the Journal for another fruitless attempt to attract somebody’s attention, Gouzenko returned to his Somerset St apartment building. Terrified that he was being followed by Soviet operatives, Gouzenko, his wife and young child, took shelter with a neighbour. This was a wise decision as later that night members of the Soviet Embassy broke down the front door of their apartment looking for them.

Fortunately, the break-in brought Gouzenko to the attention of the Ottawa police who asked for guidance from the RCMP. The Mounties called Norman Robertson, the Undersecretary of State for External Affairs, who in turn conferred with Sir William Stephenson, the diminutive, Canadian-born, British spy chief, code-named “Intrepid.” Gouzenko and his family were finally “brought in from the cold” on Friday, 7 September and whisked away to a secret location outside of Oshawa for debriefing. The documents he brought with him were breathtaking. They provided details of a Soviet spy ring in Canada. Its objective was to obtain intelligence about the U.S. atomic bomb which the Americans had just dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ottawa was an ideal locale for spies. Its National Research Council was a major weapons research centre during the war. Its scientists, along with their British and U.S. counterparts, worked on “the bomb” in secret laboratories at the University of Montreal. Canada was also the source of the uranium fuel for the weapon, and had built a top-secret nuclear reactor at Chalk River, a tiny community 180 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

The reasons for Gouzenko’s defection were straightforward. He had been a committed Stalinist when he had arrived in Canada via Siberia in 1943. Although living conditions in the Soviet Union were difficult, he had been told that conditions were worse in the capitalist countries. However, he was shocked to discover Canadian stores stocked with goods that Soviet citizens could only dream of. Ordinary Canadian workers lived in their own houses and drove cars, unthinkable in Soviet Russia. He was also dumbstruck that people freely spoke their minds about their government without fear of arrest. After two years in Ottawa, he could not face returning to the Soviet Union.

The Canadian government’s initial response to Gouzenko’s defection was lukewarm owing to fears about upsetting the Soviets, key wartime allies. Prime Minister Mackenzie King did, however, personally inform U.S. President Truman and British Prime Minister Attlee of Gouzenko’s defection and the contents of the documents that he had brought with him. But the news was kept under wraps for months.

Rumours of a Soviet spy ring operating in Canada began to circulate in the United States on 4 February 1946. With the news about to break, King briefed his Cabinet the following day and established a Royal Commission headed by two Supreme Court Justices, Roy Kellock and Robert Taschereau, to examine the evidence and allegations made by Gouzenko. The Commission immediately began secret hearings. On 15 February, the RCMP arrested thirteen men and women named in the Soviet documents. More arrests were to follow. Later that day, the government made an official announcement to the public. Still protective of Soviet feelings, it did not mention the Soviet Union by name, saying only that secret and confidential information had been disclosed to “some members on the staff of a foreign mission in Ottawa.”

The news burst like a bombshell. The Globe and Mail’s headline the next day screamed “Atom Secret Leaks to Soviet, Canadians Suspected.” Canadian public opinion which had been very favourable towards the Soviet Union because of its role in defeating Hitler swung sharply negative. On the basis of documents and testimony gathered by the Royal Commission, twenty-three persons who mostly worked for the military, government, or Crown agencies were arrested. Eleven were subsequently found guilty of spying, including Fred Rose, the communist Member of Parliament for the Montreal riding of Cartier. He was expelled from Parliament in 1947 and sentenced to six years in prison. Allan Nunn May, a British physicist working on the bomb project in Montreal, was tried in the United Kingdom and received a sentence of ten years hard labour. Several others also received prison terms. However, courts later dismissed charges against more than half of those publicly accused by the Commission. Several had only been members of study groups, a popular activity in wartime Ottawa, which had discussed Marxism and other left-wing subjects.

The King Government’s handling of Gouzenko’s defection marked a low point for Canadian civil liberties. Suspected spies were arrested on the basis of a secret order-in-council. Their basic right of habeas corpus were suspended. Suspects were held indefinitely without legal council and without a court able to challenge their detention. Justices Kellock and Taschereau were harsh with witnesses. At times, they seemed to forget that their mission was to collect the facts and not to be judge and jury. The accusations they publicly levelled against many who were later exonerated ruined reputations and destroyed careers.

The Gouzenko affair marked the beginning of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies that was to last until the fall of the Berlin War in 1989. News of Soviet spies in North America fuelled growing U.S. anxieties about Soviet activities at a time when the Russians were consolidating their grip on Eastern Europe. On 5 March 1946, three weeks after the Gouzenko affair became public, Winston Churchill famously said that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Also that year, Joe McCarthy was elected junior senator for Wisconsin. In 1950, he catapulted to infamy with his unsubstantiated claim of hundreds of communists working in the U.S. federal bureaucracy. The communist witch-hunts subsequently orchestrated by the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities blighted countless lives. We now have a word for this—McCarthyism. And it all began that warm September evening in Ottawa.

Sources:

Bothwell, R. & Granastein, J.L., 1981. The Gouzenko Transcripts: The “Evidence Presented to the Kellock-Taschereau Royal Commission of 1946,” Deneau Publishers & Company, Ottawa.

Edmonton Journal, 1948. “Gouzenko Tells His Own Story,” 8 May.

The Globe and Mail, 1946. “Atom Secret Leaks to Soviet, Canadians Suspected,” 16 February, 1946.

Clément, Dominque, 2014. “The Gouzenko Affair,” Canada Civil Rights Histor.

——————, 2004. “It is Not the Beliefs but the Crime that Matters: Post-War Civil Liberties Debates in Canada and Australia,” Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, No. 86, May.

Image: Library and Archives Canada, creator unknown.

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.

 

BIG JOE MUFFERAW
- Clifford Scott

A lot of people think Joe was a legend. There are even some who say he was the model for Paul Bunyan, the legendary North Woods logger. In his book, “The Lumberjacks”, Donald MacKay has the following word about it, quoting Charlie MacCormick of Port Menier, Anticosti. "My God, my grandfather worked with him! He and my grandfather, Michael MacCormick rafted wood on the Ottawa River. Together! Sure!" So, the song sung by Stompin' Tom Connors tells a real story, even allowing for a little poetic license.

label ...he was fair haired and blue eyed and very popular with the ladies. label

Joseph Montferrand was born in 1802 and grew up with the square timber trade. He died in October of 1864 and is buried in Notre Dame des Neiges cemetery in Montreal. He was a big man for his time, standing 6'2” and was famous for his boxing prowess before he left Montreal to take part in the timber trade in the Ottawa Valley as well as parts of Quebec. His origins were in the north east of France and he was fair haired and blue eyed and very popular with the ladies. One of his favourite tricks was to do a back flip and put the imprint of his logging boots on an eight foot ceiling. The story is that he got his athletic ability and balance from his grandfather who had been a fencing master.. Joe is famous locally for two memorable fights on the bridge that spanned the Ottawa between Bytown and Hull. In one case he is said to have held off a crowd of 150 “Shiners” or Irish labourers who had worked on building the Rideau Canal and were competing with the French Canadian “bucherons” for work in the timber industry. There are actually three famous stories of his ”doings” in Ottawa about the same time Colonel John By was getting the Rideau Canal built.

One night while drinking...
Joe explained the situation to a new, pretty barmaid and explained they had no money.

One night, Joe and his confreres were out drinking, probably in what is now Lower Town or in the Byward Market. There were certainly enough pubs to go around. They went to the pub of an old acquaintance only to find ownership had changed hands. Joe explained the situation to a new, pretty barmaid and explained they had no money. She said they could stay and be served because they looked like men of honour. Montferrand thanked her; and from the centre of the tavern did his famous back flip and kicked his boot marks into the ceiling to show that he had been there! It is said visitors came from miles away to admire the work of Joe Montferrand and the pub prospered! Maybe the mark is still there if you visit the right pub.

Another story also involves a pretty girl! Joe was taken with a girl in Bytown and decided to court her. She was also of interest to a large Highlander named Macdonald, who had six large brothers. The seven MacDonalds decided to jump Big Joe and teach him a lesson. They cornered him on the Bytown side of the bridge to Hull. Joe grabbed a pole from the bridge and, swinging it like a , club damaged the seven brothers badly and drove them all off.

The competition between the Irish “shiners” and the French “bucherons” was fierce. Joe ws the leader of the French loggers and the shiners decided that if they eliminated him, there would be more work for them. According to Peter Mackay it was in 1829 that a gang of 150 ambushed Joe on the same bridge, armed with clubs Saying a little prayer for the odds were pretty bleak, Joe walked forward and picked up the largest Irishman by his feet. Swinging this gentleman like a club, Joe did terrible damage to the front rank of his enemies. The carnage was terrific and, avoiding the same treatment, the balance of the Shiners ran up the road.

Lots of stories
He was a character in early Bytown and the fact that he actually existed is not disputed.

These are only a few of the stories about the almost legendary logger. He was a character in early Bytown and the fact hat he actually existed is not disputed. There are stories of his life all over eastern Ontario and Quebec. Bytown, Kingston and Montreal are prominently featured. How many recognize names like Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, who were real people as well. Our friends to the south seem to do a much better job of remembering their heroes. Joseph Montferrand married at the age of sixty and had one son. He died quietly at home in Montreal (212 Rue Sanguine) on October 4, 1864.

Questions:
(1) What was the family name of the brothers Joe defeated on the bridge?
(2) What was Big Joe's trademark?
(3) Could Colonel By and Joe have met?

Answers:
(1) MacDonald
(2)
Boot marks on the ceiling
(3) Certainly possible. Both here in 1829.

 

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.

JOHN RUDOLPHUS BOOTH
- Clifford Scott

Once the Rideau Canal was finished in 1832, Bytown had to find a new economic base. Surrounded by trees and with England crying out for lumber, it was only natural that the timber trade, in different phases, would become a staple of the new town situated on a major transportation route. One of the giants of the lumber business was J. R Booth, born in Waterloo, Quebec, who arrived in Ottawa in 1857 and lived here until his death on Dec. 8, 1925.

There are many anecdotes about Booth and his various idiosyncrasies but a good, recent book is J. R. Trinnell's “J. R. Booth—The Life and Times of an Ottawa Lumber King” It is a mixture of anecdotes and business statistics and a chronological list of happenings in Booth's long life In that life, Booth built and operated three railways in Ontario, was burned out a number of times, but always rebuilt, married off one of his grand daughters to a Danish prince and lived almost 99 years, outliving five of his eight children in the process.

labelBooth was known as a frugal man who didn't put on airs, despite his wealth and position. label

Booth was known as a frugal man who didn't put on airs, despite his wealth and position. One anecdote concerns a particularly self satisfied salesperson who cane to meet Booth one morning for a business meeting. Spying a scruffy looking individual standing outside the office, he offered him a dime to carry his sample case upstairs to Mr. Booth's office. The man obliged and, when asked where Mr. Booth was, said “You're looking at him! ” Where's my dime? ” This is a story from my wife's grandfather who knew Booth in the early part of the last century. Another well known anecdote concerns the time Booth was criticized by a driver for only giving a ten cent tip. The rationale was tha t Booth's son always gave a quarter. Booth replied, gruffly “That's alright, the boy has a rich father, but I was an orphan! ”.

Booth came to the town now known as Ottawa in 1857 and, many years later, shortly before his death was asked about his earliest memories of the town. He responded by commenting on the smell of the place. Thomas Anglin, a Montreal MP also commented in Hansard about the smell and dirt of “Ourtown” in the early 1880's. One of my own recollections from when I first arrived in Ottawa in 1954 was the overwhelming smell of the pulp mills across the river early one April morning While the closing of the pulp mills was an economic disaster for some, it did improve air quality! Before the famous fire of April 26, 1900, Booth lived at the corner of Wellington and Preston streets, only a block or two from his mill. His neighbours on Wellington (also known as Richmond Road at the time) were the Salvation Army Rescue home and the Victoria Brewery. Further up Wellington were a “lying in” hospital, a Mr. Frank Morgan and the Victoria Hotel. All were destroyed in the fire. Mr. Booth then built his home on Metcalfe St., near Somerset which later became the Laurentian Club.

"The big event of the 1924 social season was the wedding of Booth's grand-daughter Lois, to Prince Erik of Denmark."

The big event of the 1924 social season was the wedding of Booth's grand-daughter Lois, to Prince Erik of Denmark. They were married at All Saints Anglican Church in Sandy Hill and the deputy chief of police at the time, Gilhooly, said “Yesterday afternoon, every available man was pressed into service, but ten men could not handle a crowd of ten thousand, 90% of whim were women who would not do as they were told but smiled and giggled all the time” (Ottawa Journal, Feb. 12,'24) J. R. Booth did not attend the wedding. There was no fairy tale ending to the wedding. The couple had two children but Prince Erik arranged an annulment of the wedding because of a friendship between Lois and Thorkeld Julesberg, the Prince's secretary. Lois married Julesberg after the annulment, bu t died in Denmark in 1941. Her body was transported back to Canada and she was buried in Beechwood cemetery Her father's home was at 285 Charlotte St., and was eventually sold to the Soviet government for their Embassy. The old building burned down on January 1, 1956, because the Embassy staff refused to allow Ottawa firefighters access to “Soviet Territory”!

So ends one of the interesting stories about Ottawa history, of a “poor boy” who made good and whose money was able to advance his family to the highest levels of society.

One final comment—on the day after the wedding, the bride's father joked that he was naming himself the Count de Cost for the proceedings. After his death in Dec. 1925, at his request, J.R. was buried in a relatively simple ceremony but crowds still lined the streets to honour the “Old man of the lumber industry”

 

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.

 

Patrick Whelan
- Clifford Scott


On February 11, 1869 in the Carleton county gaol, Patrick James Whelan was hanged for the murder of Thomas D'Arcy McGee. He went to the gallows protesting his innocence and, without all the forensic evidence TV keeps showing ,there is no way we can ever be sure he was truly guilty. There are some who believe he was innocent and that his conviction was rushed to show the efficiency of the police, prosecutors and the government of the day. The murder of McGee had taken place the previous April and Whelan was arrested within 20 hours The basis of his conviction was his possession of a revolver of the same calibre as the murder weapon, stories that he was a Fenian and the testimony of a person who had shared his cell in the gaol who swore Whelan had confessed to him that he, Whelan, had indeed carried out the shooting. This evidence was enough to convict Whelan and led to the last public hanging in Canada, right here in staid old Ottawa. A Wikipedia article states that five thousand people attended the event. Whelan was buried on the grounds of the gaol, but no one knows exactly where. Remains were discovered some years later, but could not be confirmed as those of Whelan, Whelan's ghost is still said to haunt the gaol, still protesting his innocence. One fact is that public hangings were banned in Canada about five months after the execution.

Whelan was of Irish extraction having been born in County Galway c. 1840. He was a tailor by occupation and apparently considered good at it. He came to Ottawa from Montreal in 1867 and was employed by the firm of Peter Eagleson. The Canadian on line encyclopedia describes him as "skilled at this trade, fond of horses, shooting, dancing and drink". This would describe my own Irish ancestors and many current Irish Canadians! While he was an apprentice tailor in Quebec City after 1865, he volunteered for military duty to oppose Fenian invasions of Canada. He married Bridget Boyle in 1867 and made his home in Ottawa. Perhaps a dedicated researcher can find where his residence in Ottawa was, or his immigration record. Ship landing records are on file at the National Library and Archives from 1865 on. Names and residences are in the City directories.

To the Canada of 1866-67 the Fenians were a scary commodity. Mostly Irish expatriates and many of them hardened veterans of the US Civil War (both Union and Confederate) they were dedicated to conquering Canada to hold as ransom for Ireland. They invaded Canada in 1866 and defeated a hastily organized force of militia and some British regulars at Lime Ridge near Fort Erie. They hoped for an Irish uprising in Canada, and when that did not occur they retreated to the United States where they continued to agitate. Another attempt was made south of Montreal in 1870. All the details can be found in Senior's book The Last Invasion of Canada for those interested.

Whelan was said to be sympathetic to this group, but there is little, if any, hard evidence to go on. Why did he volunteer to fight the Fenians in 1866? There are several facts that suggest he may have been a scapegoat. There was intense political interest in his trial as evidenced by the fact that the Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald sat beside the presiding judge during the initial trial. The judge was William Richards who was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench after that trial just in time to preside over the appeal of Whelan's death sentence. The vote to reject the appeal was 2-1, with Richards casting the deciding vote. While historians are not supposed to use today's standards to make judgments on pat events, there seems to be grounds for suspicion, at least.

A play, “Blood on the Moon” has been written that queries the conviction and a song "The Hangman's Eyes" has been composed about Whelan's execution A little known historical fact is that real Fenians, who invaded Canada were originally sentenced to death, then the sentence was commuted to life in prison. All of the individuals concerned were out of prison within a decade after the events, except for one individual who died of natural causes during his incarceration A review of government records indicates that a question as to what correspondence there had been about these prisoners was not answered in the House on the recommendation of a House review committee. If this kind of generous treatment was accorded to the real Fenians, why not Whelan? An answer to that question eludes us to this day.

 

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.

An Assassination in Ottawa
- Clifford Scott

Back in April, 1868 the only murder of a federal MP happened right here on Sparks Street! It was, in fact , the murder of a “Father of Confederation “as the individual had played an active part in the Constitutional conference at Charlottetown P.E.I in 1864 that brought us the British North America Act of 1867. Charlottetown was the original conference concerned with the foundation of Canada as a nation. The murdered man's name was Thomas D'Arcy McGee, of Irish extraction. The man who was convicted of murdering him, Patrick Whelan, the last individual subject to a public hanging in Canada was also an Irishman and a member of the Fenian Brotherhood.

The Fenian brotherhood was dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule and were the last official invaders of Canada in 1866 and 1870. The presence of the Fenians, who were largely US Civil War veterans, probably added extra pressure to the idea of forming the Canadian nation. Their aim was to conquer Canada and then trade it back to Britain for Irish freedom. McGee had begun his political career as a strong proponent of Irish freedom, but became a stronger proponent of Canadian Confederation and argued against Fenian ambitions, which may have convinced the Fenians that he was a traitor to their cause. In any event, McGee was shot with a bullet to the back of the head outside his lodgings at 142 Sparks Street on April 7, 1868. He was retuning late from the House of Commons and there was no witness to his shooting.

McGee was born in Ireland in 1825 and first came to Canada in 1857 after a career as a journalist and political activist both in Ireland and the United States. He argued vigorously for Irish freedom, but was opposed to the measures expressed by the Fenian brotherhood He rose in Canadian politics and, at the time of the Charlottetown Conference was Minister of Agriculture in John A. Macdonald's government. He was a fiery orator in th e days when oratory was an art form. There are several pictures of McGee on pages 372 and 376 in Charlotte Gray's excellent book The Museum called Canada. There is also a pamphlet available from the Bytown Museum that fully discusses McGee's career.

Needless to say, McGee's death caused an uproar in local circles. Extreme pressure was exerted on the local police authorities to find arrest and punish the perpetrator. Suspicion fell on a local Fenian, Patrick Whelan and Gray's book has examples of the wanted posters offering substantial rewards for Whelan's capture, even though there was little evidence available to connect him to the crime. He was eventually captured and incarcerated in the Ottawa gaol. The story of Whelan's trial, conviction and execution is a story in itself and will appear here in the not too distant future.

McGee's funeral in Montreal was a large one with literally thousands of people lining the streets. Special testimonial dinners were held in Ottawa and Montreal, speeches were made and the threat of the Fenians was underscored. In those days, it was usual to make a plaster cast of a famous dead person's face so that people would remember what the deceased looked like. This was especiallytrue if no painting existed. While photography was rapidly developing, it was not yet to the level of popularity it would later enjoy. One problem existed—McGee had been shot in the back of the head and there probably was extreme facial damage. Therefore, to commemorate McGee's oratorical skillsa plaster cast was made of his hand with which he used to gesticulate while making his speeches! A picture of this cast appears in Gray's book also but you only have to visit the Bytown Museum to see the real thing. The Museum has a section devoted to the memory of McGee and the death cast is there together with other mementos. For a while, the Museum also exhibited the gun that was used to shoot McGee. This gun belonged to a descendant of the Judge that tried Whelan, but was recently acquired by a National Museum which loaned it to the Bytown for an exhibit.

The next time you are walking down the Sparks Street mall, between Metcalfe and O'Connor look for the plaque that marks the spot where McGee was shot.

Who says. Ottawa doesn't have stories to tell?

 

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 Nile Voyageurs

 

13 September 1884

 

Like today, the Middle East during the late nineteenth century experienced an Islamist uprising, kindled by a revival of religious fervour, oppressive political regimes, and resentment towards growing Western influence in the region. In 1881, a Sudanese fanatic, Muhammad Ahmad, proclaimed he was the Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer of Islam, with a mission to revitalize the Faith, restore unity to the Muslim community, and prepare for Judgement Day. He then started a military campaign against the Egyptian-controlled, Sudanese government. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the Khedive, or viceroy, of Egypt. Ostensibly a subject of the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople, the semi-autonomous Khedive, Tewfik Pasha, owed his throne thanks largely to Britain who had come to his aid when a military coup, which almost toppled his regime, threatened British control of the Suez Canal, the Empire’s vital link to India.

But British Prime Minister Gladstone, concerned about the cost of providing military aid, was unwilling to help the Khedive suppress the Mahdi. Instead his government advised Tewfik Pasha to evacuate his soldiers and civilians from the Sudan, and form a defensive perimeter on the Egyptian-Sudanese border. This the Khedive agreed to do. The British government asked Major-General “Chinese” Gordon to go to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to facilitate the Egyptian withdrawal.

photoOn the surface Gordon appeared ideal for the job. A deeply religious man, Gordon was a veteran of many campaigns, including the Crimean War. In the 1860s, he had served with distinction in China, rising to command with British approval the Imperial Chinese forces that suppressed the Taiping Rebellion–hence his nickname “Chinese.” Subsequently, with the support of the British government, he had worked for the Egyptian Khedive, and had for a time been his Governor General of Sudan. During this interlude Gordon suppressed the Sudanese slave trade.

However, according to the senior British representative in Cairo, “a more unfortunate choice could scarcely have been made that that of General Gordon” who he described as “hot-headed, impulsive, and swayed by his emotions.” Gordon arrived in Khartoum from London in February 1884, after he had stopped off in Cairo and had been reappointed Sudan’s governor general by the Khedive. But after sending a few hundred sick Egyptian soldiers, women and children down the Nile to safety, evacuation plans were abandoned. Convinced that the Mahdi threatened Egyptian and British interests, and had to be stopped, Gordon put the Egyptian garrison and Sudanese civilians to work building earthwork defences to repell the Islamist forces. By March 1884, Khartoum was besieged by the Mahdi’s army of some 50,000 men. Gordon appealed home for aid to a reluctant government that didn’t want to get involved.

Pressured by British public opinion that had been stirred by an imperialist press that portrayed Gordon as a dashing and romantic figure, Gladstone’s government buckled. A relief force under the command of General Garnet Wolseley was dispatched to Khartoum in late 1884. Wolseley was as renowned as Gordon, having served in India, China, and Egypt. Parenthetically, he was also the army officer caracaturized by Gilbert and Sullivan in the song “I am the model of a modern Major-General,” in their play Pirates of Penzance.

Most importantly for this story, Wolseley had campaigned in Canada, having commanded the Red River Expedition in 1870 that put down the rebellion of Louis Riel in what became Manitoba. Remembering the prowess of native and Métis canoers, Wolseley contacted Canada’s Governor General, Lord Lansdowne, through the Colonial Office asking for 300 voyageurs from Caughnawaga [Kahnawake], St Regis [Akwesasne] and Manitoba. Their non-combatant, six-month tour of duty was to act as steersmen for his Nile Expedition, transporting soldiers down the Nile to Khartoum. Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald agreed to the request on the proviso that all expenses would be paid by the British government.

photo


Despite insistence from the Colonial Office that the British Army wanted native voyageurs, the Canadian government argued that the day of the voyageur was over, and that white raftsmen who drove logs down the Ottawa River had better navigational skills that native boatsmen. Of the 386 officers and men who volunteered for the Nile Expedition, roughly half were hired from the lumber shanty towns of Ottawa-Hull. Another 56 Mohawks came from the Caughnawaga and St Regis areas. A further 92 men heeded the call from the Winnipeg area, of whom roughly one third were Manitoba Ojibwas, led by Chief William Prince. Many were veterans of the Red River campaign. The remainder came from Trois Rivières, Sherbrooke and Peterborough. Roughly half of the men spoke French, one-third English, with the remainder speaking native languages. The majority of the volunteers were experienced boatsmen, though according to one account about a dozen from Winnipeg appeared “to be more at home driving a quill [pen] than handling an oar.”

The appeal for volunteers met widespread public support. Imperialist sentiment in Canada was strong. There was a keen desire, especially among English-speaking Canadians, to prove to Britain that Canada was not just some far-flung outpost but was willing to do its part for Queen and Empire.

It took less than a month after Wolseley’s appeal to assemble the Canadian Nile contingent under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Denison of the Governor General’s Body Guard, a unit of the Canadian militia. Denison, only 37 years of age, was a veteran of the Red River Expedition. He was also well known to Wolseley, having been his aide-de-camp during that campaign. Other senior officers included Major William Kennedy of the 90th Winnipeg Rifles (another Red River veteran), Captain Telmont Aumond of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, and Captain Alexander MacRae of London’s 7th Battalion. Surgeon-Major John Neilson (another Red River veteran) provided medical care, while Abbé Arthur Bouchard, who had been a missionary in Sudan, accompanied the contingent as chaplain.

The Ottawa contingent assembled on Saturday, 13 September 1884 at the office of T.J. Lambert, the recruiting agent, on Wellington Street at 11am. The sidewalk in front of the office building quickly became so crowded with men and well-wishers that the throng spilled onto the grounds of Parliament Hill across the street. There, a photographer from Notman’s studio took photographs of the men in front of the main entrance to the Centre Block. Also present to entertain the crowd and to provide a fitting send-off to the Ottawa volunteers was the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards that played a selection of popular tunes, including En roulant ma boule roulant, Home Sweet Home, The Girl I Left Behind, and Auld Lang Syne. At about noon, the men fell in and marched to the Union Depot in LeBreton Flats. A large crowd assembled at the train station to see them off, including most of the area’s lumber mill workers. A special CPR train took the men to Montreal where they joined up with the other contingents, and boarded the 2,500 ton steamer Ocean King for Alexandria.

The expedition was well organized. Each volunteer received a rigorous medical exam. Pay was set at $40 per month plus rations. Each man also received a $2.25 per day allowance from the date of their engagement to their departure date, as well as free passage to and from their destination. Additionally, the volunteers each received a kit consisting of a blanket, towel, smock, home-spun trousers and a jersey, woolen undershirt and drawers, two pairs of socks, a pair of knee-high moccasins, a flannel belt, a grey, wide-brim, soft hat, a canvas bag, and a tumpline to help carry things. Oddly, an optician from London, England offered to supply 450 pairs of spectacles free of charge. A Montreal evangelical group also provided a bible to every man. The men were given an advance of $10 and could make arrangements for any part of their pay to be sent to another person. Most arranged for three quarters of their pay to be sent to wives or parents. In addition to transporting the men, the Ocean King also shipped a birch bark canoe for the personal use of General Wolseley on the Nile.

Needless to say given the background of the men, a potent mixture of French Canadians, Irish, Scots, English, Métis and native peoples, most used to hard drinking and rough living in the lumber camps and the bush, it was a rowdy bunch. A reporter from the Montreal Gazette recounted a brawl that broke out aboard ship on the day the volunteers arrived from Ottawa after “a French Canadian struck an Indian.” He commented that was nothing to distinguish between the so-called “quiet and orderly Winnipeggers from the Ottawaites in the melee.” They were undoubtedly brought to heel by Captains Aumont and MacRae who were described as “two of the toughest customers.” On the day of departure, Sunday 14 September, the Governor General and Lady Lansdowne, and the Minister of the Militia and Defence, Adolphe-Philippe Caron, saw the Nile Voyageurs off to Egypt. Although the Ocean King had apparently been well provisioned, the Governor General sent beans, cabbages and apples to supplement the men’s rations.

The Canadian contingent arrived in Alexandria in early October, and quickly made their way up the Nile on a steamer to the main British base at Wadi Halfa. There, the voyageurs were divided into detachments and located at the six cataracts, or rapids, that needed to be traversed before the British forces could reach Khartoum. The boats, converted Royal Navy whalers, were 32 feet long, with a 7 foot beam, and a depth of 3 ½ feet. The voyageurs didn’t think much of them. The complained that they were made of inferior wood and had keels; flat bottoms would have been better given the circumstances. Despite the boats’ shortcomings, the men provided invaluable service to the British relief force, working long, grueling days in the desert heat to transport the troops through the treacherous Nile rapids. Despite their success, some British officers were shocked by the Canadians’ lack of discipline and deference to authority. This undoubtedly was due to the fact that the men were civilians, not soldiers, even if they were led by military men.

In early 1885, knowing that Gordon could not hold out much longer, Wolseley split his forces. While one detachment continued to make its way down the Nile to Khartoum, another was sent on a desperate trek across the desert to cut off the “Great Bend” in the river. By this point the number of Canadians supporting the mission had been greatly reduced. With their six-month tour of duty about to expire, most had started home in order to make it back for the logging season; a fifty percent increase in pay was insufficient inducement to stay. A rump of about 75 men re-enlisted to assist the British forces down the remainder of the Nile to Khartoum. Fortunately, the rapids were less severe by this point, and with a smaller number of troops to transport the diminished Canadian contingent was equal to the task.

Wolseley’s Nile Expedition ended in failure. The British relief forces arrived in Khartoum two days after the Mahdi’s forces had stormed Khartoum. General Gordon had been killed in the fighting, his head cut off and sent to the Mahdi, reportedly against the Muslim leader’s wishes. Apparently, the Mahdi and Gordon had great respect for each other, with each trying to convert the other. As for the besieged residents of Khartoum, some 10,000 soldiers and civilians were massacred. After successfully engaging a force of Sudanese fighters at nearby Kirbekan, the British relief column was ordered back to Egypt, with the Canadians again assisting the British forces through the Nile rapids, this time down river.

The bulk of the Nile Voyageurs returned to Canada through Halifax in early March 1885 aboard the Allan steamer the Hanoverian. The Ottawa contingent arrived home by train on 7 March. Much of the city’s population came out to greet them. The Frontenac Snowshoe Club lined the train platform to welcome them. After greeting their friends and families, the men paraded downtown led by two musical bands. A celebratory lunch followed. Ottawa residents eagerly snapped up pictures of their heroes. Twenty-five cents bought engravings of General Gordon or General Wolseley, while one dollar purchased a picture of the Nile contingent. The British Parliament later passed a motion of thanks to the Canadian voyageurs for their contribution to the Nile Expedition.

Of the 386 Nile voyageurs, twelve perished from drowning, disease, or accident on the expedition. Of these, M. Brennan and William Doyle were from Ottawa. Today, the Nile Voyageurs, Canada’s first foray on the international scene, have been largely forgotten. A memorial plaque to the Voyageurs was erected in 1966 in Ottawa at Kichissippi Lookout close to the Champlain Bridge. The names of the Nile voyageurs who perished are also recorded in the South Africa-Nile Expedition Book of Remebrance located in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.

Sources:

Boileau, John, 2004. “Voyagers on the Nile,” Legion Magazine, 1 January.

Canada, Government of, 2011. “The Nile Expedition, 1884-85,” Canadian Military History Gateway.

Daily Citizen, (The), 1884. “Nile Boatman,” Ottawa, 13 September.

————————, “Off to Egypt,” 15 September.

————————, 1885. “Safe Voyage,” 5 March.

Gazette, (The), 1884. “The Canadian Contingent,” Montreal, 15 September.

————————. “Off for Alexandria,” 16 September.

———————–. “Home Again,” 5 March.

MacLaren, Roy, 1978. Canadians on the Nile, 1882-1898, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Michel, Anthony, 2004. “To Represent the Country in Egypt: Aboriginality, Britishness, Anglophone Canadian Identities, and the Nile Voyageur Contingent, 1884-1885,” Social History.

Plummer, Kevin, 2015. “Ascending the Nile,” Torontoist, 21 February.

Images:

Major-General Charles Gordon.

The Canadian Voyageurs in front of the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, 1884, author unknown, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3623770.

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 Champagne Bank Robber

27 October, 1958

When Mr W.W. Pegg, manager of the Imperial Bank of Canada’s main Ottawa branch at 62 Sparks Street, arrived at work on Monday, 27 October 1958, he had no idea that he was about to experience the worst day of his long and successful career. Entering the classic, Temple-style, granite and sandstone building, his thoughts must have undoubtedly been on the Slater Street gas main explosion that had rocked Ottawa’s downtown core just two days earlier, injuring scores, demolishing buildings, and shattering store fronts and glass windows in a several block area from Sparks Street to Somerset Street. But on opening the bank’s vault for the start of the day’s business, all thoughts about the explosion would have been forgotten by the sight that confronted him, or, more correctly by what he didn’t see. The cash reserves of the bank were gone. Also missing, were funds transferred to his branch from smaller Imperial bank branches across the city the previous week. How the audacious theft was committed was not immediately apparent. There was no signs of forced entry. It took head office auditors days to determine the precise amount of the shortfall—an astonishing $260,958 (equivalent to $2.2 million today), the largest theft ever from an Ottawa bank.

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Suspicion immediately fell on Boyne Lester Johnson, Pegg’s 27-year old, trusted, chief teller. Johnson, a Renfrew native, was a seven-year veteran of the Imperial Bank, having joined the financial institution out of high school. Among his duties were handling the cash deposits brought in from other Imperial branches. Consequently, a large volume of money routinely passed through his hands. Although everything had appeared normal when he had left work with other bank employees the previous Friday, he had failed to show up Monday morning.

When police arrived at Johnson’s home, apartment #20 at 350 Chapel Street in Sandy Hill, there was no sign of him, or his wife Bernice. A search revealed a large sum of cash though there was no way of knowing whether the money was part of the missing bank funds; the bank had no record of the serial numbers of the stolen notes. The Johnsons’ family car was in the basement parking lot, a .22 calibre hunting rifle, hunting clothes, and maps were found in its trunk. The building’s caretaker told the police that he had last seen Boyne Johnson on Sunday morning when the young man had awoken him at 8.30am to ask to be let into his apartment. Johnson had told him that he had forgotten his key after going to church with his wife. The superintendent thought this was odd as Boyne was dressed in old clothes rather than his Sunday best. Police immediately issued a warrant for his arrest, alerting law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as the FBI in the United States. Rail stations, airports, car rental agencies, and customs posts were also advised to be on the watch for Boyne Lester Johnson.

While Ottawa police were trying to track down Boyne, Bernice Johnson was becoming frantic with worry. On the Saturday, the couple had driven to Renfrew to visit their mothers, Mrs Mary Johnson and Mrs Julia Narlock who lived in the town. They had supper that evening with the two parents in a Cobden restaurant. Everything seemed normal. The couple spent the night at the home of Bernice’s mother. The next day, Boyne had risen early, telling his wife that he was going hunting close to the Renfrew golf course. She last saw him at 6.30 Sunday morning. He never returned. On Monday morning, she and a friend began searching the Renfrew area for her missing husband. Having no luck, and fearing that some serious had happened to him, she turned to the Renfrew police department for assistance. She was shocked to find out that her husband had become the subject of a nation-wide alert.

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Johnson’s trail went cold. There were few clues to his whereabouts. Police speculated that he was still in the vicinity, but admitted they really didn’t know. To help their inquiries, the Ottawa police and RCMP issued a detailed “wanted” poster with a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. He was described as age 27, height 5’ 8,” weight 135 pounds, with a fair complexion. Also noted was that he was a neat dresser, frequented night clubs, and had a penchant for champagne and the ladies. The poster went out to police stations and post offices across North America. Tips started to come in. A Trans-Canada Airways (TCA) stewardess thought she had spotted Johnson on a flight from Ottawa to Montreal. On 5 November, Montreal police were sent “scurrying” on receiving a phone call from a man who identified himself as Inspector Osborne, a vacationing Ontario Provincial policeman. He called Montreal police headquarters telling them that he had captured Johnson, and sought aid to bring him in. He also claimed to have the money in an airline carry-on bag. It was a hoax. No Inspector Osborne worked for the OPP.

The big break came on Monday, 10 November when Geneva Flowers, a waitress at Chez Paree, a Denver, Colorado night club, recognized Johnson from his wanted poster shown to her by a friend in the Denver police department. Another server, Ormonde Wynn, had spotted Johnson sipping champagne sitting at the bar. The Denver police were called, arresting Johnson without a fuss. He took the policemen to his YMCA room where they found a suitcase crammed with more than $233,000 in mostly Canadian cash. He also told them that on arrving in Denver he had bought a $4,150 sports car, and had planned to go skiing in the mountains. He said that he always wanted to know what it was like to have lots of money. He admitted that he knew he would eventually be caught, and was glad it was all over. He had wanted to experience the “have fun while you can principle.” Denver policemen said that the highly detailed wanted poster circulated by Canadian police that had highlighted Johnson’s love of champagne was responsible for his capture.

Under police questioning, Johnson freely explained how he robbed the bank, and his movements over the previous two weeks. Through the day on Friday, 24 October, he had removed cash from the vault, secreting the money in accessible spots around the bank. At some point, exactly when is not clear, he converted $7,000 into U.S. currency at another Ottawa bank. That night, he returned to the Imperial Bank’s Sparks Street branch, letting himself in using the key with which he had been entrusted as chief teller. He then retrieved the money from their caches, filled a suitcase, and left via a rear laneway exit to his car. There were no witnesses. Returning home with the suitcase in the trunk, he calmly drove with his wife to Renfrew the following day, the suitcase still in the back of the car. On Sunday morning, instead of hunting, he returned to Ottawa, stopping off at his apartment, where he left some money for his wife. He then flew to Windsor, Ontario. At the Windsor airport, he stored the cash-stuffed suitcase in a locker, and took a taxi to the Detroit airport. Pretending to have accidently forgotten his suitcase, he persuaded a Detroit taxi driver to go to the Windsor airport and fetch it for him. Incredibly, the driver agreed to do so, passing through US customs without incident. Johnson gave him a $20 tip for his trouble. From Detroit, he flew to Los Angeles, before going to Salt Lake City, Twin Falls, Idaho, Cheyenne Wisconsin, and finally Denver, where the law finally caught up with him. While in Cheyenne, Johnson, feeling blue, had telephoned a friend, Gerald Cotie, the third assistant accountant at the Imperial Bank branch. Cotie had urged Johnson to give himself up, but without success.

With Johnson waiving an extradition hearing, two Ottawa police officers, Inspector Ab Cavan and Detective Gordon Lowry, went to Denver on November 11 to officially identify him, and to return him to Ottawa. With a stop at Malton Airport in Toronto, Johnson arrived at Uplands Airport, Ottawa, accompanied by the two officers, on a regular TCA flight, at shortly before 10pm on 14 November, three weeks after the heist. On arriving in the city, he politely thanked the two detectives. Wearing a suede windbreaker, dark grey trousers, and running shoes, Johnson walked briskly down the steps to be greeted by flashing light bulbs and television cameras. More than 300 spectators were on hand to meet his plane. When asked why he did it by a Citizen reporter, Johnson replied “It’s hard to explain. I guess it was the climax to a lot of personal trouble.” He also told journalists that “It’s nice to have met you. But when you write this, don’t say ‘Go west, young man!’ It just doesn’t work out.”

On the following Monday, he was officially charged, and was remanded into custody by Magistrate Glenn E. Strike. No plea was entered, and no bail was set. In the crowded court room was his wife, Bernice. Johnson, who did not speak at the hearing, was represented by John Dunlop; James Maloney, QC, Member of Parliament for Renfrew, was retained as Johnson’s defence counsel. A month later, Johnson plead guilty, and was convicted. In court, it was revealed that all $260,958 that he had stolen from the Imperial Bank had been returned. The bulk of the money was discovered by Denver police in Johnson’s YMCA room. A further $5,000 was recovered from his Chapel Street apartment. He had spent only $12,050. Johnson’s father, Hartzell Johnson, made up the shortfall. His father also told the judge that he was planning to start a business in another city, and would offer Boyne a job on his release from jail. Wife Bernice also said she would stand by her man, and wait for him.

During his short hearing, police officers testified that Boyne had been “a model prisoner,” and it seemed that “he was glad to have been caught.” One testified that Johnson seemed to have been trying to run away from himself. Defence counsel argued that Johnson was “not really a criminal.” The prosecuting Crown attorney, Raoul Mercier, countered that it was important for society to be protected from thefts by trusted employees.

On Thursday 18 December, in front of several Johnson family members, Judge Strike pronounced sentence. The magistrate said that he had little sympathy for Boyne. His was a very serious crime involving a very large sum of money, and that Boyne had been disloyal to both his employer and his family. A pale but composed Boyne Johnson received his sentence—four years in the Kingston Penitentiary.

Sources:

McGuire, C.R., A History of 62 Sparks Street, Ian Kimmerly Stamps.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1958. “Ottawa Bank Teller Hunted After $250,000 Cash Taken, Sparks Street Branch Looted,” 27 October.

————————, 1958. “‘Tip’ on Man Hunt ‘Phony,’” 6 November.

————————, 1958. “Boyne Johnson Nabbed In Denver,” 11 November.

————————, 1958. “Led To Arrest,” 11 November.

————————, 1958. “Give The Mechanics Of Returning Banker,” 12 November.

————————, 1958. “‘Why?’ Hard To Explain,” 15 November.

————————, 1958. “Remanded, Boyne Silent After Charge,” 17 November.

————————, 1958. “All Fund Returned, Teller Admits $260,000 Robbery,” 10 December.

————————, 1958. “‘You Were Disloyal’—Magistrate, Four Years In Prison For Johnson,” 18 December.

————————, 2015. “Mover and shakers in capital’s foodie scene,” 26 April.

Images:

Imperial Bank of Canada, 62 Sparks Street, Ottawa.

Wanted Poster, The Ottawa Citizen, 7 November, 1958

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 Stopwatch Gang

 

17 April 1974

If Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were the quintessential bank robbers of the late nineteenth century, the Stopwatch Gang was their late twentieth-century alter egos. Both gangs became infamous for their audacious heists throughout the American west. While armed robbery was their profession, the two gangs avoided bloodshed. For a time, they both ran rings around the police. They were finally brought to book but not before they entered popular folklore. The story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was romanticized and immortalized in the 1969 classic movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Similarly, the fascinating tale of the Stopwatch Gang has been recounted in numerous newspaper articles, books and documentaries.

The story of the Stopwatch Gang begins in, of all places, Ottawa. It was in Canada’s capital that three young men, Stephen Reid, Patrick “Paddy” Mitchell and Lionel Wright, met. Combining their skills, they pulled a daring gold heist at the Ottawa airport in 1974. Although arrested and subsequently sentenced to long jail terms, they escaped from prison, fleeing to the United States. There, the trio became known as the “Stopwatch Gang,” knocking off banks with clockwork precision. Police estimate that they stole as much as $15 million from as many as 100 banks during their crime spree. Fuelled by their illicit earnings, the gang experienced the high life. But the money quickly drained away. Life on the run was expensive and lost its allure. In a perennial search of the big score that would allow them to retire, the men began to make mistakes. With the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as state and local police on their trail, the trio was finally apprehended. They had run afoul not only of the people’s law but also the law of averages.

photoTheir story starts in 1973. Stephen Reid, a young, troubled, bank robber from Massey, Ontario who had escaped policy custody by jumping out of a restaurant window while on a day-pass from the Kingston Penitentiary, arrived in Ottawa and hooked-up with Paddy Mitchell, a handsome, articulate crook from Stittsville, a small town outside of Ottawa. Mitchell had previously taken under his wing Lionel Wright, a socially-awkward introvert with a passion for details. The duo had been stealing goods from delivery trucks, making use of information Wright received in his job as a night clerk in a shipping yard. In late 1973, Mitchell got wind of a far larger score. A crooked Air Canada baggage handler who had been thieving from Air Canada shipments, told Mitchell that Air Canada regularly shipped gold destined for the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa. The gold bars were temporarily stored in the freight building at the Ottawa International Airport. The baggage handler agreed to tip off Mitchell when a shipment arrived in return for a cut of the proceeds. Mitchell, Reid and Wright immediately set about planning a gold heist that would allow them to live and retire in style.

On 17 April 1974, Mitchell received word that a shipment of gold from the Campbell Red Lake Mines in northern Ontario had arrived in Ottawa on Air Canada flight 444. Five wooden boxes containing six gold bars totalling 5,167 ounces, worth $750,000 (roughly $8 million at 2016 Canadian prices) were stored in a wire security cage in the airport warehouse, awaiting pickup by armoured car.

Shortly before midnight, Reid, dressed in an Air Canada parka and wearing a counterfeit security pass, knocked on the warehouse door. When the Universal Security guard answered, Reid pulled a gun. After disarming the guard, Reid marched him over to the security cage and demanded the key. Discovering to his dismay that the key was kept overnight in the main air terminal, Reid used tools from the warehouse repair shop to snap the padlock securing the 16-by-10 foot wire cage. With the guard handcuffed to a metal pipe, and a cardboard box placed over his head, the gang loaded the gold onto a small, metal handcart for transport across the warehouse to their get-away car, a green station wagon. Although the heist took longer than expected—twenty-five minutes instead of the planned five minutes—the gang successfully eluded the roadblocks set up by Gloucester Police after janitorial staff found the handcuffed guard and raised the alarm.

From early on, police had a strong conviction that an insider was involved. How else could the thieves have known of the gold shipment? Paddy Mitchell also quickly became a person of interest. But there was insufficient evidence for an arrest warrant. The gold had vanished and nobody was talking.

Behind the scenes, Mitchell sold the gold to California mobsters for only a fraction of its market value; fencing hot bullion is not easy. After Reid left temporarily for the United States, Mitchell and Wright, running short of cash, organized an airport drug smuggling racket with the aid of their baggage-handler contact. Things started to go wrong. The cocaine were intercepted by a sniffer dog. The baggage handler also ignored Mitchell’s advice and started to spend lavishly, buying a diamond ring, a motor-cycle and a boat. Picked up by police and questioned, he squealed on the others. Meanwhile, police who had wire-tapped Mitchell’s telephone overheard him talking about the sale of the airport gold.

In 1976, Mitchell and Wright each got 17 years for cocaine smuggling. Mitchell received an additional three years for possession of the stolen bullion. Reid, although not involved in the drugs deal, was picked up for escaping custody after he had returned to Canada. Identified in the airport heist, he received an additional ten years for armed robbery. As for the gold, only a small portion was ever recovered.

With the three behind bars, one would have thought this was the end of Reid, Mitchell and Wright. But their story had only just begun. Wright almost immediately escaped from the Ottawa Detention Centre and disappeared. Reid and Mitchell were both sent to the notorious, maximum-security Millhaven Penitentiary. There, the two worked hard to become model prisoners in an effort to get transferred to a more salubrious jail. Reid even took a hair-dressing course. It was a con. Out on a day-pass to visit a hair salon, the well-spoken, polite Reid reprised his earlier jail break by convincing the accompanying policeman to stop for fish and chips. Saying he had to go to the bathroom, Reid vanished out the restaurant’s washroom window.

Mitchell too managed to escape from prison. He feigned a heart attack by poisoning himself with nicotine obtained by soaking cigarettes in water. Rushed to the hospital with chest pains, confusion and nausea, his ambulance was met by gowned hospital attendants. They were Reid and Wright. The armed duo locked Mitchell’s guards in the back of the ambulance, and transferred the near-comatose Mitchell to a Chevy van, and vanished into the night.

The trio made their way to the United States, hiding for a time in a cheap, Florida motel where Wright worked as a clerk under an assumed alias. In Florida, the gang began their crime wave, robbing a department store before shifting to banks. When things got too hot, they headed west. It was in California that the trio became known as the “Stopwatch Gang” hitting bank after bank with the same modus operandi. One man with a gun held up the place, another jumped over the counter and grabbed the cash, and a third drove the get-away car. All wore masks or disguises. One member of the gang typically carried a stopwatch around his neck. They were in and out in under two minutes.

After taking a short break, during which time Reid and Wright rented a luxurious cabin on a creek in Sedona, Arizona, the trio hit a Bank of America branch in San Diego, California in late September 1980. Mitchell was again the driver while Reid and Wright disguised with make-up, wigs, and fake beards held up the branch with an Uzi machine gun and a magnum revolver. The gang made off with US$283,000 in cash.

In their haste to get away, Wright threw their wigs, empty money bags, stolen licence plates used to disguise the get-away car, and other incriminating evidence in a nearby dumpster. The material was later found by dumpster divers looking for cans who alerted the police. Investigators were able to find a partial fingerprint on one of the Bank of America money bags. Also found was a copy of the fake car licence Wright used to rent a car. The noose began to tighten around the gang.

The trio decamped to their Sedona hide-out to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. They seemingly fitted in well into the small community, and were even befriended by the local sheriff’s deputy. Reid took flight lessons and bought a plane. But FBI agent Steve Chenoweth and his colleagues were watching and waiting. Tipped off regarding their true identities, the partial fingerprint was sent to the RCMP in Canada for positive identification. With the identity of one of the gang members confirmed, a judge provided a warrant for their arrest on bank robbery and conspiracy charges. At the end of October 1980, Lionel Wright was arrested naked in bed in the Sedona hide-out. Stephen Reid was later stopped without a struggle as he drove to the airport to go flying. By chance, Mitchell was on holiday and escaped the police dragnet.

In April 1981, Wright and Reid pled guilty to the armed robbery of the San Diego Bank of America branch. The duo each received twenty-year sentences in federal prisons; their sentences were later reduced to ten years. Both were eventually transferred to Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario to finish their time in Canada. Here, the story takes a novel twist. Reid began to write about his experiences, producing a semi-autobiographical book called Jackrabbit Parole. In a neighbouring cell, Wright typed the manuscript. The book caught the attention of Susan Musgrave, a noted Canadian poet and editor. Reid and she started to correspond. Later, they married in the prison chapel at Millhaven. By this time, the couple had become famous; the CBC television programme The Fifth Estate was invited to the ceremony. Reid was later moved to a British Columbian prison to be close to Musgrave. He was paroled in 1987 and for a time led a model life, raising a family with Musgrave on Vancouver Island. Writing appeared to have been his salvation.

As for the other two, Wright didn’t get out of jail until the mid-1990s. He then disappeared, this time permanently. Mitchell, who remained at large after Reid and Wright’s arrest in Sedona, went solo in the robbery business. Robbing department stores and banks from Florida to Arizona, Reid became number seven on the FBI’s most wanted list. He was described as “armed and dangerous and an escape risk.” Mitchell missed his two colleagues who had previously taken care of all those important heist details. He got sloppy and was finally tracked down in early 1983 to the small town of Astatula, Florida, and was apprehended by the FBI. He was transferred to San Diego to stand trial for the Bank of America heist as well as for the robbery of an Arizona Bank. He ended up in the Arizona State Penitentiary looking at decades behind bars. But after four years, he and two other inmates successfully broke out via a ventilation shaft. He fled to the Philippines, got married, and had a son. He supported his family through an occasional trip back state-side to rob more banks. His career finally came to an end in 1994 in the little town of Southaven, Mississippi when be bungled his last bank robbery. He got 30 years in Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. In 2006, Mitchell died of cancer in a prison hospital in Butner, North Carolina, his request to be transferred to Canada denied.

The story of the Stopwatch Gang wasn’t quite over. Stephen Reid couldn’t adapt to his new life on the outside. Back on drugs, he held up a bank in 1999 with an accomplice in Victoria, British Columbia, making off with $93,000. In the ensuing chase, he fired shots at the police. He was apprehended and sentenced to eighteen years for armed robbery and attempted murder. Returned in prison, he resumed writing. In 2013, he published a collection of essays titled A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison. After his release from jail, he resumed his life with Susan Musgrave who stood by her man despite everything. On 12 June 2018, Stephen Reid died in a Haida Gwaii hospital in British Columbia. He was 68 years old.

Sources:

Story idea courtesy of André LaFlamme, Ottawa Free Tours, http://www.ottawafreetour.com/.

CBC, 2011. “My Friend The Bank Robber,” The Fifth Estate, 25 March.

Citizen, (The), 1974. “Airport bandits escape with $165,000 in gold,” 18 April.

—————–, 1974. “Great gold caper baffles detectives,” 19 April.

—————–, 2006. “Paddy Mitchell’s dying wish,” 30 July.

—————–, 2014. “Ottawa Stopwatch Gang’s Stephen Reid is out of prison,” 19 February.

Dean, Josh. 2015. “The Life and Times of the Stopwatch Gang,” The Atavist Magazine.

Meissner, Dirk, 2014. “Stopwatch Gang bank robber and author Stephen Reid denied full parole,” The Globe and Mail, 3 March.

Star Phoenix (The), 2007. “Time runs out on Stopwatch Gang leader,” 16 January.

Tuscaloosa News (The), 1995. “Bank robber proud of precision work,” 29 August.

Weston, Greg. 1992. The Stopwatch Gang, Macmillan: Toronto.

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.