Ottawa Stories

Ottawa has a long, rich and varied history. The stories below illustrate and explain this history. Check back often because we are constantly adding new material.

The Return of "D" Company

3 November 1900


~ James Powell


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War.

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

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

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

CANADA’S BIRTHDAY 1 July 1867
~ James Powell


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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


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

THE GREAT EPIZOOTIC
12 October 1872

~ James Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

~ James Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornerstone Laying Ceremony, 1860, City of Ottawa Archives,

Lumbermen’s Arch, Illustrated London News.

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

THE HISTORY OF OTTAWA
- Clifford Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


The 1939 Royal Visit

- James Powell

 

19 May 1939


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

British Pathé, 1939. Royal Banners Over Ottawa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images:

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

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

 

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


The Rideau Club Fire

- James Powell

23 October 1979


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Armistice Day

- James Powell

11 November 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sabotage on Parliament Hill?

- James Powell


3 February 1916


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Soviet Embassy Fire

- James Powell


1 January 1956

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Embassy today, goo.gl/cFw2DY

 

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

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.

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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.

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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.


Lord Stanley’s Cup

- James Powell


18 March 1892


Each spring as winter’s snows begin to recede, the thoughts of Canadians turn to the Stanley Cup. One of the oldest sporting trophies in the world, the Cup is the symbol of hockey supremacy in North America. Its provenance is well known; it was purchased and given to the hockey community by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s Governor General, in 1892. What is less well known is that Ottawa featured prominently in the Cup’s story. It was in Ottawa that Stanley let it be known his intention to provide a championship trophy. As well, during his vice-regal tenure in the nation’s capital, the Governor General, an avid hockey fan, and his equally hockey-mad children, did much to make hockey Canada’s national game. The Ottawa Hockey Club also played in the first Stanley Cup championship game.

The sport of ice hockey has a long history. It probably originated in “ball and stick” games played by both Europeans and natives peoples in North America. Shinny, an early form of ice hockey, was played on rivers or ponds in Nova Scotia during the early nineteenth century. Shinny could involve scores of players on each team, using a wooden puck, one-piece hockey sticks and hockey skates. Modern ice hockey dates from early 1875 when Halifax native James Creighton organized an indoor game at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. Given the constrained skating surface, teams were limited to nine per side (reduced to seven in 1880). Played with a flat wooden disk using hockey sticks made by Mi’kmaq carvers from Nova Scotia, the game used “Halifax Rules” that included a prohibition on the puck leaving the ice and no shift changes. The match was an overwhelming success for both its participants and its appreciative audience.

In response to growing interest in the sport in central Canada, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) was formed in 1886 with five teams, four from Montreal (the Victorias, the Crystals, the Montreal Hockey Club, and McGill College) and one from Ottawa, the Ottawa Hockey Club, known as the Ottawas. The Ottawas were established in 1883 and were a frequent participant in hockey games held during the Montreal Winter Carnival during the 1880s.

photoLord Stanley of Preston arrived in Canada in 1888 to take up his position as the Dominion’s sixth Governor General. An avid sportsman, he was introduced to the game of ice hockey in February 1889 when he and members of his family, including his eldest son Edward and daughter Isobel, visited the Montreal Winter Carnival. Arriving while a hockey game was in progress—play was temporarily halted on his arrival—the Governor General, his family and friends watched the Montreal Victorias defeat the Montreal Hockey Club.

Lord Stanley was instantly hooked on the game. He quickly built an outdoor rink at Rideau Hall, his Ottawa residence, for the use of his family and staff. He took to the ice himself, though he apparently got into some trouble for skating on the Sabbath. In March 1889, his Rideau Hall rink was the site of what is believed to be the first woman’s hockey match between a Government House team on which Isobel Stanley played, and a Rideau ladies team. Her brothers, Edward, Arthur, Victor and Algernon, were also keen hockey players. They played with various official aides, MPs and senators on a team dubbed the “Rideau Rebels,” but more formally known as the Vice-Regal and Parliamentary Hockey Club. The Rebels played exhibition games throughout eastern Ontario including Kingston and Toronto that helped to popularize the game. The fact that Lord Stanley had placed his vice-regal stamp of approval on the game was another important factor in hockey’s rapid acceptance as Canada’s national winter sport.

In 1890, Lord Stanley’s son, Arthur, along with two team mates from the Rideau Rebels, helped create the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), composed of thirteen teams from Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa, later joined by a team from Lindsay. Today, the OHA oversees junior hockey in Ontario. During the late nineteenth century, long before there was a National Hockey League and professional players, OHA teams represented the cream of Ontario hockey. The Ottawa Hockey Club team played in both the OHA and the AHAC centred in Montreal.

The Stanley Cup dates from 18 March 1892. That night, a celebratory dinner for members of the Ottawa Hockey Club was held at the Russell House Hotel. The Russell House was Ottawa’s top watering hole at the time, standing at the north-eastern corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, roughly between today’s National War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. The Ottawas had just finished a championship year, winning the Cosby Cup of the OHA and holding the AHAC championship from January to early March before losing it to the Montreal Hockey Club. The Ottawa Evening Journal noted that the back of the dinner’s menu cards recorded the achievements of the team: nine championship matches won to only a single defeat, during which the team scored 53 goals “against the best teams in Canada,” allowing only 19 goals the other way.

Accounts differ on the number of people at the dinner. The Journal reported that there were between 70 and 80 present, while the Montreal Gazette said that about 200 admirers attended. The latter, larger number probably reflected the addition of the ladies who joined the men after the dinner for “ices.” Mr J.W. McRae, president of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association, the senior umbrella sporting association to which the Ottawa Hockey Club was affiliated, presided over the soirée, while the band of Governor General’s Foot Guards provided suitable musical entertainment.

At about 10pm, after the loyal toast to Queen Victoria, followed by another toast to the health of the Governor General, Lord Kilcoursie, an aide to Lord Stanley, rose to reply on behalf of the Governor General who had been unable to attend the evening’s event. After thanking the gathering, Kilcoursie read out a letter from Stanley. Dated 18 March 1892, it said:

I have for some time past been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion. There does not appear to be any such outward and visible sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and in the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup, which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.

I am not quite certain that the present regulations governing the arrangement of matches give entire satisfaction, and it would be worth considering whether they could not be arranged so that each team would play once at home and once at the place where their opponents hail.

The letter was enthusiastically received by the partisan hockey crowd.

Kilcoursie also revealed that the Governor General had commissioned his former military secretary, Captain Charles Colville of the Grenadier Guards, who had recently returned to Britain, to purchase an appropriate trophy on Stanley’s behalf.

After a series of more toasts, including one to the Ottawa Hockey team as well as others to members of the league, the Press and the Ladies, the dinner broke up at about midnight, though not before many songs were sung. In particular, Lord Kilcoursie entertained the party goers by singing a “ditty” titled The Hockey Men that he had personally composed to honour the members of the Ottawa Hockey Club. The first two verses went:

There is a game called hockey
There is no finer game
For though some call it ‘knockey’
Yet we love it all the same.

This played in His Dominion
Well played both near and far
There’s only one opinion
How ’tis played in Ottawa.

At the end, the crowd gave “a rousing chorus, rendered in stentorian style” according to the Journal, repeating the third verse of the eighteen-verse poem:

Then give three cheers for Russell
The captain of the boys.
However tough the tussle
His position he enjoys.

And then for all the others
Let’s shout as loud we may
O-T-T-A-W-A!

Over in England, Captain Colville purchased Stanley’s Cup from the London silversmiths G.R. Collis of Regent Street for the sum of 10 guineas (ten pounds, ten shillings). As one pound was worth $4.8666 in Canadian money, this was the equivalent to $51.10, a considerable sum in 1892. On one side of the silver bowl with a gilt interior was engraved “Dominion Hockey Challenge Trophy,” while the inscription “From Stanley of Preston” with his family coat of arms was on the other. The Cup arrived in Ottawa the end of April 1893 and was entrusted to two trustees, Sheriff John Sweetland and Philip D. Ross.

photoThe trustees announced that the Cup would henceforth be called the “Stanley Cup” in honour of its donor and, as specified by Lord Stanley, it would be a “challenge” cup. In other words, the Cup would be open for all. Any team could challenge the holder of the Cup for the championship title though the two trustees had the final say on whether a challenge would be accepted. Other conditions included the requirements that a winning team keep the trophy “in good order,” that each winning team (except for the first winner) would engrave its name on a silver ring fixed to the trophy at its own cost, that the Cup was not the property of any one team, and that in case of doubt over who was rightly the champion team in the Dominion, the trustees’ decision was final.

Unfortunately, the presentation of the first Stanley Cup in May 1893 was mired in controversy. The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) was awarded the trophy by virtue of the 7-1 victory of its affiliated hockey team, the Montreal Hockey Club, over the Ottawa Hockey Club, the OHA champions. The trustees duly engraved Montreal AAA on the Cup, and arranged for Sheriff Sweetland to present the trophy at the Association’s Annual General Meeting. The president of the Montreal Hockey Club, James Stewart, who was also a player on the team, was asked to attend the Annual General Meeting to receive the Cup. However, Stewart refused to accept the trophy until the terms and conditions related to holding the Cup were clarified. Enraged by this decision, and not willing to embarrass the Governor General’s emissary, Stewart accepted the Cup from Sweetland on behalf of the MAAA.

The spat between the MAAA and the Montreal Hockey Club went on for some months. After a number of letters between the two organizations and between Sweetland and Ross, a reconciliation was achieved, and the Stanley Cup was finally transferred to the Montreal Hockey Club in time for the 1894 championship game. Held in late March of that year with the Ottawa Hockey Club, their long-time rivals, the match attracted some five thousand cheering fans to the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. After Ottawa took a one-goal lead, the Montreal team stormed back with three unanswered goals to win the game 3-1 and the Cup. Later, the neutral words “Montreal 1894” were engraved on the Cup to avoid any hard feelings between the parent Montreal Association and its related Montreal Hockey Club.

Sadly, Lord Stanley, the man behind the Cup, was not there to witness the first challenge match for his trophy. He had returned home the previous summer to take up the duties as the 16th Earl of Derby following the death of his elder brother.

Sources:

Batten, Jack, Hornby Lance, Johnson, George, Milton Steve, 2001. Quest for the Cup, A History of the Stanley Cup Finals 1893-2001, Jack Falla, Genera Editor, Thunder Bay Press: San Diego.

Hockey Hall Of Fame, 2016. Stanley Cup Journal.

Jenish, D’Arcy, 1992. The Stanley Cup: A Hundred Years of Hockey At Its Best, McClelland & Stewart Inc.: Toronto.

McKinley, Michael. 2000. Putting A Roof On Winter, Greystone Books: Vancouver.

Montreal, Gazette (The), 1892. “Lord Stanley Promises To Give A Championship Cup,” 19 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1892. “Stars of the Ice.” 19 March.

————————————, 1893. “The Stanley Cup.” 1 May.

Shea, Kevin & Wilson, John J., 2006. Lord Stanley: The Man Behind The Cup, Fenn Publishing Company Ltd: Bolton, Ontario.

Vaughan, Garth, 1999. The Birthplace of Hockey.

Wikipedia, 1891-92, 2014. Ottawa Hockey Club Season.

Images:

Lord Stanley of Preston, 1889. Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-027166.

The Stanley Cup, Library and Archives Canada.

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.

Ottawa's Street Railways
- Clifford Scott

With all the growth in our City in the past fifty years, I wonder how many people remember the days when you could take a streetcar from, among other routes, from the old train station out to Rideau and Charlotte? Thanks to Professor Don Davis of the University of Ottawa we have a detailed history of the streetcar system and how it grew and how it was eventually done away with! (see Keshen and St. Onge eds, Ottawa—Making a Capital.).

Ottawa's street railway system died in 1959 after a life of 68 years. Did citizens love or hate the system? Davis notes that the love of the system was like some marriages—initial great enthusiasm followed by many years of declining interest in our rapidly changing technological world. Perhaps the streetcar era has lessons to teach in the consideration of expanded light rail?

The new streetcar system was opened on June 29, 1891—largely as a result of the work of two local entrepreneurs, Thomas Aherne and William Soper. Everyone thought that such a project would fail because of Ottawa's winters. However, at the time, unless you could afford a horse and buggy plus sleigh in the winter, there was no way to get around the growing city except by walking. The system proved to be an immediate success, even in the winter. The system had the first electrically heated cars in Canada, maybe even the world. The Ottawa Car Manufacturing Company made streetcars that were exported to other parts of Canada. In the early days of the system, “ridership” rose seven times faster than the population. In 1921 at the peak of the system. Each citizen took an average of 336 rides per year. The fares were low—about three tickets for ten cents Despite attempts at updating and revival, Ottawa's Street Railway went steadily downhill from this point....

Public love for the automobile was probably a contributing factor, as was the rising costs of maintenance, expanding the roadbed and new streetcar technology The investors also played a part as they took an increasing amount of dividends out of the system and did not develop a good reserve fund for necessary expansion and repairs. By 1924, the automobile was using up the space needed for transit cars.. They blocked the progress of streetcars by parking on city streets, forcing other cars to drive on the track allowance and stopping to pick up passengers and make left turns. Streetcar trips became longer. Davis points out that “trains in 1956 were slower than they had been in 1901. Downtown it was faster to walk”

Having made money for years, the owners of the OER now wanted to sell the system to the city. While the City Council was willing to buy, assuming they would have a monopoly on inner city transit. But, over a five year period to 1929, plebiscites were rejected four times. The taxpayers did not want to pay. In January, 1924, the City and the OER reached an agreement to extend the service and monopoly for five years, subject to renewal in 1929. This agreement created more problems than it solved. First, the carfare was frozen at five cents per ride, lower than nearly all other North American systems, and the five year term was not conducive to the kind of capital investment that was becoming increasingly necessary. Thanks to the increasing competition from the automobile, streets became even more clogged and streetcar trips ever longer. In 1929, it was apparent that new equipment was necessary, and the five year contract emboldened the owners to buy new equipment with borrowed money. Contracts were let and then came October 1929. Pressure for loan payment became intense but the fare was still frozen at five cents. When authority was finally obtained to raise the fare to seven cents, “ridership” dropped by 16%, despite a revenue increase of 10%. The OER staggered on until the end of World War 2, but the handwriting was on the wall revenues could never match increasing costs of new equipment, track extensions, competition from the auto and pressures from various interest groups. For example, Glebe residents would not permit streetcar routes along residential streets, The forerunners of the NCC did not want unsightly power lines overhead and riders demanded more comfortable and frequent service The federal government increased business taxes enormously during the War. Trams were crowded and noisy—people preferred buses before the environmental effects of buses were discovered. Despite the eventual creation of the Ottawa Transit Commission in. 1947/48 these questions continued and new ones arose. It was obvious—too many groups wanted the tram lines to disappear. By 1958/59 the pressures became too much and the old streetcar lines were removed. The only mourners at the time were the older population who had fond memories of the great days before and during the First World War.

 

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 NABU NETWORK
26 October 1983


~ James Powell

By the early 1980s, Ottawa was a hot-bed of high tech activity. Surrounding established companies, such as Bell Northern Research and Mitel, a cluster of small, ambitious telecommunications and computer-related firms with exotic names had emerged. These included Gandalf Data, Norpak, Xicom, and Orcatech, to name but a few. Many fizzed for a while, only to quickly disappear due to competition, rapidly changing technology, weak consumer demand, and inadequate funding. One that for a time stood out from the pack was NABU. Named for the Babylonian god of wisdom and writing, NABU was an acronym for “Natural Access to Bidirectional Utilities.” In its initial incarnation, the start-up was formally known as NABU Manufacturing Corporation. It was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in December 1982, raising $26 million in its initial public offering. The Ottawa-area company was itself the product of a number of mergers and acquisitions, including Bruce Instruments of Almonte, a manufacturer of remote television converters, Computer Innovations, a seller of computer hardware and software, Mobius Software, Andicon Technical Products of Toronto, a producer of small business computers, Volker-Craig of Kitchener, a manufacturer of video-display terminals, and Consolidated Computer Inc.(CCI), a relatively large, but troubled, government-owned, Canadian computer manufacturer and distributor. NABU bought CCI for one dollar from the federal government after the company had burned through $118 million of taxpayers’ money.

With close to 900 employees, half of whom were based in the Ottawa area, NABU had a multi-faceted business strategy. First, it planned to take on the business market, selling desk-top computers for word processing and data management. Initially producing the NABU 1100 in its Almonte plant, it released the 16-bit NABU 1600 in 1983. The 1600 version had 256 kilobytes of random-access memory (RAM), expandable to 512K, and a 10-megabyte hard drive, and used Intel’s 8086 processor. (Today’s laptop computers have eight to sixteen gigabytes of RAM, with up to 4 terabytes of hard drive, though with cloud computing, the sky is the limit for data storage.) It also came with a high density mini-floppy disk drive with storage for 800K of formatted data. Three people could use the NABU computer simultaneously doing different tasks. The price for the NABU 1600 was a breathtaking $9,800, equivalent to more than $21,000 in today’s money.

Second, NABU aimed to produce the first Canadian microcomputer for home use, taking on the likes of Commodore, IBM, Xerox, and a fledgling company that had gone public in December 1980 called Apple Computer. Third, the company envisaged selling on-line services to households. After buying or renting a NABU home microcomputer, and using its television as a monitor, a familiy could access programmes and data stored in NABU’s central server (a DEC mainframe) through a cable company’s broadband network. As the transmission of television signals only used a portion of the information-carrying capacity of cable networks, there was ample space for the transmission of other data-carrying services without degrading the television signals. The speed that the data could be transmitted on the coaxial cables employed by the cable companies (6.5 megabits per second) was also hundreds of times faster than what could be achieved over telephone lines.

By joining what was advertised as the NABU Network, cable company subscribers who bought the NABU package of services would have access to a wide range of educational and financial programmes, video games, news, weather, sports, and financial data including stock market quotations. In addition to consulting the Ottawa Citizen’s “Dining Out” guide, subscribers could read their daily horoscope, learn to type, balance household budgets, and improve their maths skills. A number of video games were also developed specifically for NABU with the help of another talented Ottawa firm, Atkinson Film Arts, featuring the comic strip characters, the Wizard of Id and B.C. In one game, called The Spook, billed to be superior to the popular arcade game Pac-Man, a player could guide a character through the dungeons of the kingdom of Id to freedom. Subscribers also had access to the space games Demotrons and Astrolander, a tennis game, and a downhill skiing game.

An even more outstanding feature of the NABU Network was two-way communication made possible by Telidon, a videotext/teletext service developed by the Canadian Communications Research Centre. NABU envisaged subscribers doing their banking and shopping from the comfort of their home. Also possible were electronic mail and remote data storage—an early form of cloud computing. In essence, NABU had foreshadowed today’s wired world, a decade before the launch of the Internet.

After rolling out their home computers at the end of May 1983, NABU launched its Network services in Ottawa on 26 October 1983. Initially, the service was only available to Ottawa Cablevision subscribers, i.e. people who resided west of Bank Street. One could purchase the NABU home computer for $950, or rent the unit for $19.95 per month, plus an addition $9.95 for NABU’s “lifestyle software.” For this price, one received the NABU 80K personal computer, a cable adaptor, a keyboard, a games controller, and thirty lifestyle games and programmes; the inventory of games and programmes later rose to roughly one hundred. For an extra $4.95 per month, subscribers had access to LOGO, an educational-based programming language, and LOGO-based programmes. NABU executives hoped to receive orders from at least five per cent of Ottawa Cablevision’s 90,000 customers within six months. In early 1984, the service was made available to subscribers of Skyline Cablevision, i.e. people who resided east of Bank Street. The plan was to introduce the NABU Network to forty cities across North American by the end of 1985. NABU’s first foray into the U.S. market took place in Alexandria, Virginia, close to Washington D.C., in the spring of 1984. To lead the U.S. charge, NABU hired Thomas Wheeler, former president of the US National Cable Television Association.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. When NABU’s line of business computers failed to meet expectations, the company hunkered down to focus on its more promising NABU Network. A corporate restructuring at the end of October 1983 led to the NABU Manufacturing Corporation being split into two companies, the NABU Network Corporation and Computer Innovations. The latter company quickly disappeared into oblivion. NABU Network struggled on for a time. By late 1984, it had about 1,500 customers in the Ottawa region, and a further 700 in Alexandria. This was not enough to make the enterprise viable. With the home computer market seen as being too competitive, the company de-emphasized its proprietary hardware to focus on the delivery of its software. In in a last ditch effort to attract subscribers, adaptors were offered so that owners of Commodore and other home computers could access the NABU Network.

It was not enough. In November 1984, the Campeau Corporation, NABU’s principal shareholder and largest creditor, pulled the plug on the failing enterprise. Having already invested more than $25 million, and, with little indication that NABU could attract sufficient subscribers to break even, let alone turn a profit, Campeau was unwilling to pour more money into the venture. NABU’s remaining 200 employees were laid off. John Kelly resigned as CEO and chairman of the NABU Network Corporation. Trading in NABU Network shares were suspended, with the company delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in January 1985. When it finally provided financial statements as of September 1984, the company had assets of only $4 million, with liabilities of $30 million. NABU shares, which were sold for $12.75 each at the company’s IPO two years earlier, were worthless.

Still confident about the concept of linking home computers to a central server using cable networks, Kelly formed a new, private company called the NABU Network (1984) to continue providing programmes and video games under licence to NABU subscribers in Ottawa; the U.S. service in Alexandria was discontinued. The new successor company hired back roughly 30 of the staff previously laid off. Subscriptions were sold door-to-door by Amway. Forever the optimist, Kelly hoped to have 6,000-8,000 subscribers by the summer of 1986. It was not to be. Limping along for eighteen months, the company ceased operations at the end of August 1986. The NABU Network dream was no more.

Why did NABU Network fail? In 1986, Kelly attributed its failure to the network concept being “ahead of its time,” and a slump in the home computer industry that killed the NABU personal computer. Part of the problem was that home computers themselves were not widely accepted; relatively few homes had them in the mid-80s. Many saw them as expensive toys rather than an indispensable part of everyday life. Content on the NABU Network was also an issue. Thomas Wheeler, who headed the company’s U.S. operations, and who is currently the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States, attributed the company’s failure to its dependence on cable company operators for its subscribers. In contrast, America Online (AOL) in the United States, which launched a similar, but far inferior, dial-up service in 1989, was wildly successful, at least for a time. Wheeler credits AOL’s success to it being available to anyone with a telephone and a modem. Ironically, cable companies later became important internet service providers.

In 2005, the York University Computer Museum began a programme to reconstruct the NABU Network, and develop an on-line collection documenting the NABU technology. It called the NABU Network “a technologically and culturally significant achievement.” Four years later, the Museum’s version of the NABU network was officially demonstrated. There for the event was John Kelly, NABU’s president and chief executive officer.

Sources:

IEEE Canada, 200? (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), The Internet Before Its Time: NABU Network in the Nation’s Capital.

McCracken, Harry, 2010. “A History of AOL, as Told in its Own Old Press Releases,” Technologizer, 24 May.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1983. “Nabu banking on its ‘network.’” 18 November.

———————–, 1985. “Amway to sell Nabu software,” 29 January.

———————–, 1985. “Nabu files statement,” 1 March.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1982. “Nabu goal: To make first Canadian microcomputers,” 23 March.

——————-, 1982. “Nabu adds videogames to service, 31 May.

——————-, 1982. “Nabu teaches computer ‘albatross” how to fly again,” 8 December.

——————-, 1983. “Nabu 1600 hits market across U.S., 27 May.

——————-, 1983. “Nabu 16-Bit Micro Features Intel 8086, 8087 Co-Processors,” 26 October.

——————-, 1983. “World’s first cable-TV computer on line,” 26 October.

——————-, 1983. “The Magic of The Nabu Network, 28 October.

——————-, 1984. “Skyline cable custmoers to get Nabu Network,” 25 April.

——————-, 1984. “Nabu Network reports $2.5 million loss,” 29 May.

——————-, 1984. “Role of Nabu’s own computer played down,” 19 June.

——————-, 1984. “Nabu proving technology before any expansion,” 19 June.

——————-, 1984. “Nabu chief forms new company,” 23 November.

——————-, 1985. “Trading stopped on Nabu shares by Ontario Securities Commission,” 24 January.

——————-, 1986. “Plug finally pulled on failing Nabu Network,” 19 July.

Reyes, Julian, 2014. “How Tom Wheeler Almost Invested The Internet,” Fusion, 27 May.

Wheeler, Tom, 2015, “This is how we will ensure net neutrality,” Wired, 4 February.

York University, 2009. NABU Network Reconstruction Project at YUCoM, (York University Computer Museum).

 

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.

Britannia-on-the-Bay

- James Powell


24 May 1900


During the late nineteenth century, electricity was the big new invention that was transforming peoples’ lives. Within a short span of years, electric lights replaced gas lamps in homes, in businesses and on city streets in the major cities of North America. Horse-drawn public transportation was also retired in favour of electric streetcars, also known as trolleys. But while the fast and comfortable trolleys were very popular on weekdays and on Saturday mornings transporting commuters from the suburbs to downtown offices, streetcar companies found their vehicles underused on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. What to do? The answer was to increase weekend ridership by giving people someplace to go and something to do on their time off. Spurred by the success of Coney Island in New York City, transit companies in many major North American cities built amusement parks, colloquially known as “electric parks.” Constructed at the end of a streetcar line, these parks attracted thousands of working class men, women and children seeking weekend fun and excitement. Of course, people had to buy a streetcar ticket to get there; the days of the automobile were still in the future.

Ottawa-Hull was no exception to these trends. Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper introduced the electric streetcar to the nation’s capital in 1891. Four years later, their Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OERC) opened the West End Park on Holland Avenue in Hintonberg, which was then on the outskirts of the city. Later known as Victoria Park, following the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, the park was the home to many rides and musical entertainments. The West End Park was the location of the showing of the first motion pictures in Ottawa in 1896. Across the Ottawa River two miles west of Alymer, the Hull-Alymer Electric Railway Company opened “Queen’s Park,” in May 1897, again named in honour of Queen Victoria, at the western terminus of its line. Among the attractions at this park, located on Lac Deschênes (a widening in the Ottawa River rather than an actual lake), were a merry-go-round, a water chute and a “mystic maze.”

photoTo compete with the Queen’s Park development in Quebec, the OERC acquired eighteen acres of land in the little summer cottage community of Britannia Village to the west of Ottawa. There, it established in 1900 an amusement park, with swimming and boating facilities on the Ontario side of Lac Deschênes, with a purpose-built tramline linking the new park to downtown Ottawa. Appropriately, it was called the Britannia line. Thomas Ahearn gave journalists a sneak preview of the new line in mid-January 1900. Although the rails had been laid all the way to Britannia Village, at that date the electric lines only went as far as Richmond Road. But the tramline was completed in time for its official opening at 6am on the Queen’s Birthday holiday on 24 May 1900. From the post office at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets to Britannia-on-the-Bay tram stop took just twenty-eight minutes, much of which was through the city. The trip from Holland Avenue, the previous end of the line, to Britannia-on-the Bay, with stops at Westboro, Barry’s Wharf and Baker’s Bush, took only eight minutes. The cost for the trip from downtown was initially set at 10 cents—the usual 5 cent fare plus another five cents to travel on the newly completed Britannia line. The five-cent supplement was later dropped.

In and of itself, the trip to Britannia-on-the-Bay was an exciting adventure for Ottawa citizens at the dawn of the twentieth century. Carried in specially-made carriages, trolley goers were taken along rails that ran close to the south side of Richmond Road except for the last mile or so where they crossed Richmond Road to head into Britannia. After leaving the city, which essentially ended at Preston Street, people journeyed through fields of grain and cow pastures, past fine homes and shoreline cottages before reaching their destination. A journalist on the initial January test run said there was a number of long grades with several sharp turns that give the route “a rolling appearance” which will “add zest,” since “pleasure-seeking humanity likes a spice of danger with its bit of fun.” He added that between Hintonburg and Britannia, there were a number of lovely spots.

ohoto On reaching Britannia-on-the-Bay, riders crossed to the park, its beach and a long pier via a high footbridge, built at a cost of $1,500 by the OERC, which went over the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) tracks that ran north of the tramline. The footbridge allowed visitors to the park to avoid any danger of being hit by passing trains. On the other side were picnic gardens, concession stands as well as bathing and boating facilities on a thirty-foot wide pier that extended 1,050 feet into Lac Deschênes. The pier was built of wood with a stone base, using material excavated by the Metropolitan Power Company in an earlier failed attempt to build a canal and hydroelectric generating station at Britannia. Lit by electric lights at night, the pier was furnished with seating that ran along its length, perfect for visitors to sit and enjoy the sights, listen to band concerts, and to watch the promenading crowds. At the end of the pier was a perpendicular, two hundred foot long breakwater that protected moorings for boats. At the land end, two octagonal pavilions were erected at a cost of $2,500, housing a restaurant, changing rooms and bathrooms, a ladies’ parlour and sitting rooms.

The weather on opening day was bright and fine, attracting thousands of Ottawa picnickers to try out the OERC’s new park and pier at Britannia. Although the pavilions were not quite completed, they “were temporarily fitted up for use” for the estimated crowd of 12,000-15,000 visitors. The band of the 43rd Battalion gave a concert in the afternoon and evening to the multitudes. When darkness fell, the park was brilliantly illuminated by electric lights. Ten large arc lights lit up the pier.

photoThe new Britannia Park was a big success, and over the next several years was considerably improved and expanded. With the new waterside park eclipsing the old Victoria Park on Holland Avenue, the OERC cannibalized the latter’s attractions, moving its merry-go-round and auditorium to Britannia. In 1904, the OERC increased the size of the park by buying the 35-acre Mosgrove property close to Carling Avenue. It also extended the pier by four hundred feet, at the end of which a three-story boat house was erected that became the Britannia Boating Club’s clubhouse. In addition to rooms for members and a lower storage area for boats and canoes, which were available for rent by visitors, the clubhouse had a large ballroom and grandstand for spectators. At night, a searchlight on top of the building played over the darkened waters of Lac Deschênes. Other attractions at Britannia Park included excursions on the double-decker, side-wheeler, steamer G.B. Greene, the “Queen” of the Ottawa River which took tourists upstream to Chats Falls two or three times a week. Through the summer, holidaymakers were entertained by the festivities and music of “Venetian Nights.”

photoBritannia Park enjoyed its peak of popularity before World War I. Then things started to sour. In 1916, the G.B. Greene burnt. Though it was rebuilt, with Canada at war sightseeing wasn’t as popular as in the past. The steamer ended up towing logs and was dismantled in 1946. In August 1918, the Clubhouse at the end of the pier was consumed by flames. Some two hundred canoes and boats, along with the personal effects of members as well as trophies, furnishings and other valuables were lost. Although the cause of the $50,000 fire was never accurately determined, it was believed that a lighted cigarette carelessly thrown into the window of a bathroom was to blame.

Through the 1920s, amusement parks everywhere began to lose their allure. With more and more families owning their own automobile, people had the luxury of exploring other entertainment options. No longer were they limited to where the trolley could take them. Queen’s Park outside of Aylmer closed. Britannia limped on. The Park’s Lakeside Gardens Pavilion still managed to pull in the crowds for dances through the 1930s. Sunday band concerts also remained popular. In the early 1930s, the OERC began promoting the Park as a great place for parents to send their children. For youngsters under 51 inches tall, (i.e. roughly 8 years old or less) the trolley company advertised that they could travel to Britannia for only 6 4/7 cents, total fare, if they purchased a book of seven tickets for 25 cents plus an additional 3 cent fare for the Britannia line. Under its policy of “Safety First,” the trolley company said that special attention and care would be given to children by its car men. “It is therefore possible to send children to Britannia-on-the-Bay with the assurance that they will be safe while going, while at the beach and while returning.” Clearly this was a different time with a different level of care expected of parents. Few today would consider sending young children to swim at a public beach on city transit without formal supervision.

By the late 1940s, Britannia Park and Britannia beach were becoming shabby from years of use and limited maintenance. Transit consultants advised the financially weak OERC to close the park. In 1948, the Ottawa Transport Commission, which was owned by the City of Ottawa, took over the transit company, including its Britannia property. Concerned that the park was continuing to deteriorate, the City decided in 1951 to operate it directly. Some improvements were made, including the building of a children’s miniature railway at the park. However, more grandiose plans that include a zoo, stock-car racing and two artificial pools never left the drawing board. Park infrastructure continued to rot. Meanwhile, the beach was becoming fouled by weeds and pollution. By 1954, what had been one of Canada’s top tourist attractions was now considered “Canada’s worst.” That year, the footbridge over the CPR tracks was demolished. (The trains themselves continued to go through the Park until they were re-located out of downtown Ottawa in 1966.) In 1955, the aging Lakeside Gardens burnt to the ground.

photoNew investments were finally made into the park in 1958. The rotting wooden pier, now deemed unsafe, was demolished. The stone base of the original 1,050 foot pier built in 1900 was widened and the beach expanded. Lakeside Gardens was also rebuilt for dances. With these changes, the Park experienced a brief renaissance. However, it was not to last, doomed by changing tastes, and for Lakeside Gardens, the lack of a liquor licence. The beach was also increasingly shunned owing to a persistent weed problem. City efforts to control the weeds using bulldozers, chemicals and tons of rock salt proved fruitless. (This was a time before much consideration was given to the environment.) In any event, pollution closed the beach for extended periods. During the 1960s and 1970s, Britannia Park was threatened by a planned extension of the Ottawa River Parkway (today’s Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway) through the Park using the old CPR right-of-way, now turned into a bike path, as well as the construction of the Deschênes Bridge that would have link Alymer to Ottawa. Both ideas were finally scuppered by opposition from area residents and changing government priorities.

Today, Britannia Village, annexed by Ottawa in 1950, is no longer a remote summer cottage community. Businesses and housing have long filled the open space between the old City of Ottawa and Britannia and beyond. The streetcars that once linked it to downtown are gone; the last trolley to Britannia-on-the-Bay rode into history in 1959. But the magnificent park and beach endure. Owing to the marked improvement to the water quality of the Ottawa River due to the closure of the pulp and paper mills that had polluted it with their effluent, and the treatment of sewage by riverine communities, boaters and swimmers have returned. While Britannia Park and its beach may no longer attract the hordes of day trippers they did every weekend one hundred years ago, they remain a popular summer destination for people trying to escape the heat of the City. The Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre, formerly the Lakeside Gardens, also continues to host big band dances as well as education courses ranging from the arts and crafts and dog obedience, to yoga and fitness.

Sources:

Evening Journal, (The), 1897. “Handled The Motor,” 27 May.

—————————-, 1900. “The New Electric Line To Britannia,” 15 January.

—————————-, 1900. “Searchlight on Lake Deschenes,” 2 April.

—————————, 1900. “Ottawans Loyally Observed the 24th,” 25 May.

—————————, 1906. “A Good Show At Britannia,” 22 May.

—————————, 1918. “Britannia Club House Is Destroyed By Fire Loss Nearly $50,000,” 30 August.

—————————, 1931. “The Children’s Beach At Britannia-on-the-Bay.” 13 July.

—————————, 1948, “Battle Of Seaweed Goes On At Britannia,” 1 May.

—————————, 1951. “Britannia Park Is Saved,” 21 June.

—————————, 1954. “Recommend Closing Britannia Park Amusement Centre,” 27 May.

—————————, 1954. “State of Britannia Park,” 28 May.

—————————, 1954, “At Last New Deal Coming For Battered Britannia Park,” 23 July.

Ottawa, (City of), 2016. Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre,

Taylor, Eva & Kennedy, James, 1983. Ottawa’s Britannia, Britannia Historical Association, Ottawa.

 

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

THE ARRIVAL OF THE IRON HORSE

- James Powell

 

25 December 1854

An iconic image of the Industrial Revolution is the train, powering across the countryside, with clouds of smoke and steam billowing from its locomotive’s smokestack. Not only a new, rapid form of communication, the train embodied the scientific and technological discoveries of the age, the heavy industries needed to make and power it, and the innovative manufacturing techniques required to turn out the miles of iron rails on which it ran. Within twenty years of the inauguration of the world’s first steam-powered, interurban rail line between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830, Europe and the Americas were in the grip of a railway mania, similar to the “dot com” bubble of the 1990s. Hundreds of railway companies were formed; many went bust, though not before leaving behind a massive railway infrastructure legacy. The railway transformed the economies of the world, linking distant communities and opening new markets. In the Americas, the railway provided European settlers with access to virgin territory to exploit (and native communities to despoil), and, in the case of Canada, gave birth to a nation that spanned a continent.

The first Canadian railway was constructed in 1836 in Lower Canada, now Quebec. The Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad ran between La Prairie on the St Lawrence to St Jean on the Richelieu River, a navigable waterway that debouches into Lake Champlain. The railway cut hours off the long journey between Montreal and New York City. Railway building began in earnest in Canada following the Guarantee Act of 1849 under which the Province of Canada government offered cheap financing to companies building railways of at least 75 miles in length. Additional government financing was forthcoming after the 1852 Municipal Loan Act. In 1850 there was less than 110 kilometres of railroad laid down in Canada. Ten years later, there was more than 3,200 kilometres.

photo

Discussions to bring the “iron horse” to the Ottawa valley began in 1848. In May of that year, The Packet, the precursor of The Ottawa Citizen, began to enthusiastically promote the building of a railway between Bytown, later to become Ottawa, and Prescott, a small community on the St Lawrence River. Prescott was immediately opposite Ogdensburg, New York which was to be the terminus of a railway linking the St Lawrence River to New York City and Boston. As the only way in or out of Bytown during winter was by sleigh, a rail link from Bytown to Prescott offered the tantalizing possibility of an all-season transportation route for exporting lumber cut from Ottawa valley forests to the important U.S. markets, one that was much speedier and less costly than using the Rideau Canal or the Ottawa River that were locked in ice for four months of the year.

Prescott’s leading citizens held an exploratory meeting with engineers and surveyors in June 1848. A similar meeting took place at the Court House in Bytown the following month. Receiving wide support from both communities, the Bytown and Prescott Railway was incorporated by an act of the Provincial government on 10 May 1850. A prospectus was issued describing the length of the line, its likely location, and its construction and outfitting costs, estimated at £150,000-200,000 (£1=C$4.87). To make it pay, annual revenues of £21,000-30,000 were needed. The possibility of extending the line eastward to link up with the Lachine to Montreal railway was also mooted. The line’s chairman was John McKinnon, the son-in-law of Thomas McKay, whose company helped to build the Rideau Canal, and who was a major lumber mill owner in New Edinburgh, a village he started.

Through the winter of 1850-51, the surveyor, Walter Shanley, with two assistants, mapped out four possible routes from Prescott to Bytown, covering more than 300 miles on snowshoe. On 7 April 1851, Shanley gave his report to the president and directors of the railway company. While stressing the preliminary nature of his survey, he favoured a route to the east of the Rideau River that took the tracks from Prescott through Spencerville, Oxford, Kemptville, Osgoode, Manotick, and Gloucester, before arriving in Bytown. While the terminus at Prescott on the St Lawrence was not controversial, the location of the Bytown terminus was. Some shareholders favoured a spot beside the Rideau Canal Basin (roughly where Confederation Park and the Shaw Centre is located today), while others wanted to build the station on land originally set aside for the military between Nepean Point and the Rideau Falls. The latter option was chosen. It was perhaps not entirely coincidental that the train would conveniently pass in front of Thomas MacKay’s lumber mills. With hindsight, Lebreton Flats, which later was to become the centre of Ottawa’s lumber industry, would have been a much better location, but at the time the area was largely undeveloped.

Funds to build the railway were raised partly by subscription from private shareholders, partly from municipalities, and partly through loans raised in England and Canada. Unfortunately for the railway’s backers, the line, only 52 miles long, was too short to qualify for the provincial subsidy. However, Bytown kicked in £15,000 in equity, and, after the 1852 Municipal Loan Act was passed, provided a massive loan guarantee of £50,000. Tiny Prescott, with a population of only 2,000, provided another £8,000 in capital and £25,000 in loan guarantees. The township of Gloucester chipped in a further £5,000 in equity financing. The links between the towns that provided support, the railway’s largest shareholders, and the railway’s most prominent advocate were unhealthily close, at least by today’s standards. Robert Bell, editor and later owner of the Ottawa Citizen, was the railway’s secretary, as well as a Bytown councilman. John McKinnon, the company’s president, was the reeve of Gloucester.

Workers started to clear land for the railway in early September 1851, with the official ground-breaking ceremony held on 9 October, 1851. A celebratory parade started in front of the railway office on Rideau Street and made its way down Sussex Street. On hand for the big event, were Bytown’s mayor, members of the Town Corporation, the directors and officers of the Bytown and Prescott Railway, a senior magistrate, the area’s member of parliament, the county sheriff, and the “Sons and Cadets of Temperance” in full regalia. That evening, McKinnon and the directors hosted a self-congratulatory dinner at “Doran’s,” a top Bytown hotel. Notwithstanding the presence of temperance followers in the afternoon parade, copious amounts of champagne and wine was consumed, leading to a “number of jovial songs…sung in the course of the evening.”

Construction was initially slow but for the most part straightforward; Shanley had done a good job siting the tracks. The most difficult part was crossing a swamp north of Prescott. Here, engineers laid down a wooden causeway as a bed for the train tracks. Once the rails arrived from England from the Ebbw Vale Iron Company in late 1853 and early 1854, the pace of construction picked up. The railway company laid down a narrow 4 ft 8 1/2 in. gauge track, commonly used in the United States and elsewhere, rather than the broad 5 ft 6 in. “provincial” gauge typically used in Canada at that time. The carriages and locomotives were sourced in the United States, with the first locomotive, the “Oxford” delivered by barge in May 1854. Two more, the “St Lawrence and the “Ottawa,” arrived in July. Immediately, the locomotives and carriages were put into service, servicing Kemptville by August, and Gloucester, just three and a half miles from Bytown, by 11 November.

photo

When the first train arrived in Bytown is a bit controversial. An advertisement placed by the railway in the Ottawa Citizen, dated 14 December 1854, informed its Bytown customers that “trains will start from the Montreal Road near the Rideau Bridge, at the East end of Bytown, at 7 o’clock, A.M. (Railway time).” Simultaneously, the railway discontinued its temporary stage coach service from Bytown to the Gloucester train station. The place of embarkation was just outside Bytown’s city limits. Most authorities place the date of the first train as Christmas Day, 1854, based in part on a later newspaper advertisement which said the train would leave Bytown at 6am, Railway time, staring on 25 December (see above). However, in a speech given eleven years after the event, President Bell of the Railway said the date of the first train was 29 December. Differences in timing may relate to when the Rideau Bridge was finally ready for rail traffic, whether the train carried freight or passengers, or the fog of memory. The official opening of the line occurred on 10 May 1855, exactly five years after the railway company was incorporated. Its name was also changed from the Bytown and Prescott Railway to the Ottawa and Prescott Railway to reflect the city’s new name.

Like many similar ventures of the period, the railway never lived up to the hopes of its shareholders and creditors, and was quickly in financial difficulty. An economic depression in the late 1850s cut into the revenues of the heavily-indebted line. The railway’s Ottawa station was also inconvenient for much of the city’s growing lumber industry located in Lebreton Flats. The building of other rail lines meant more competition and lower prices. At the Ottawa & Prescott’s annual general meeting in May 1863, a faction of shareholders tried to seize control of the failing company; an unseemly brawl ensued. Subsequently, with the railway bankrupt, the company’s senior creditors, most importantly, the Ebbw Vale Iron Company, assumed control. Shareholders and junior creditors, including the municipalities, got nothing. Following a corporate re-organization, the line re-emerged in 1867 as the St Lawrence and Ottawa Railway. In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway took over the line, and began using it as a feeder link to its main east-west route. Declining traffic during the 1950s led to the closure of the line, and its rails pulled up. Much of the route was converted into a recreational path. In downtown Ottawa, the Vanier Parkway was constructed where the old Bytown & Prescott Railway used to run. A portion of the old line’s route is still used today by Ottawa’s “O” train.

Sources:

Churcher, Colin, 2005. The First Railway in Ottawa, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Articles/Article2005_1.html.

——————, 2005. First Trips and Early Excursions in the Ottawa Area, http://www.railways.incanada.net/circle/excursions.htm#B&Psod.

Elliot. S. R., 1979. Bytown & Prescott Railway, Bytown Railway Society.

Pilon, Henri, 1972. “Robert Bell (1821-73),” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bell_robert_1821_73_10E.html.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1851. “Report, Bytown and Prescott Railway Office, Prescott,” 26 April.

———————-, 1851, “no title,” [official opening of the Bytown and Prescott Railroad], 11 October.

———————-, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railway,” 16 December.

———————-, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railway,” 23 December.

———————-, 1862. “Railway Celebration,” 23 August.

———————-, 1863, “The Railway Meeting, Disgraceful Scenes!” 22 May.

The Packet, 1848, “The Ogdensburg Railway,” Bytown, 13 May.

————-, 1848. “Proceeding of a Meeting of the Inhabitants of the town of Prescott,” 19 June.

————–, 1848. “Most Important Intelligence – Prescott & Bytown Railroad,” 24 June.

————–, 1848. “Prescott and Bytown Railroad from Prescott Telegraph,” 24 June.

————–, 1848, “Bytown & Prescott Railroad,” 7 July.

————–, 1850. “Prospectus of the Bytown & Prescott Railroad, 30 November.

————–, 1851. “Public Meeting in Gloucester.” 19 April.

————–, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railroad, 6 May.

Vanier Now, 2013. The History of the Vanier Parkway-Part One: Bytown and Prescott Railway Company, http://vaniernow.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-history-of-vanier-parkway-part-one.html.

Images: Churcher, Colin, “All Change at Prescott,” picture of the Ottawa & Prescott Railway’s locomotive “Ottawa,” circa 1861, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Articles/Article2008_01.html.

Bytown & Prescott Railway Advertisement, The Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1854.

 

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 LORD ELGIN HOTEL 19 July 1941

~ James Powell


Across from Confederation Park on Elgin Street stands The Lord Elgin Hotel. Built in the French Chatêau style with a copper roof, and clad in the famous Queenston limestone from Niagara, the hotel has been an Ottawa landmark for 75 years. While conceived prior to the outbreak of World War II, the hotel was erected during the first half of 1941, helping to alleviate the shortage of affordable accommodation in the nation’s capital, made worse by an influx of thousands of service men and women. So urgent was the housing crisis, 1,000 tons of steel and 30,000 tons of other construction materials were appropriated for the hotel’s construction despite pressing war-related needs. The municipal government also provided considerable financial inducements to the owner of the building.

photoAccording to John Udd, the President of the Ford Hotels Company that built and managed The Lord Elgin, the construction of a hotel in Ottawa had been his dream since 1930. However, it was the City of Ottawa that made the first overture in February 1939 when a delegation of city officials canvassed hotel chains in the United States and Canada with a view to finding a hotel company willing to build a modern, fireproof hotel in Ottawa. The delegation eventually chose the Ford Hotels group based in Rochester, N.Y. that operated major hotels in Toronto and Montreal as well as Buffalo, Rochester, and Erie in the United States. Serious negotiations were subsequently held between Udd and the federal and municipal governments in the spring of 1940 with a final agreement reached in July of that year. Udd is reported to have said that the “entire undertaking was conceived and determined at Laurier House [Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s residence] in the relatively short course of an informal interview.” King indicated Dominion support for the venture as long as the building was consistent with government plans aimed at beautifying the capital.

The City of Ottawa and Udd agreed that Ford Hotels would erect a hotel of at least 350 rooms, each equipped with a private bath or shower, at a cost of at least $900,000 in downtown Ottawa. Design upgrades to win the Prime Minister’s support plus other improvements brought the bill to $1.5 million (equivalent to roughly $23.5 million today). The hotel’s Elgin Street site was made possible when the Dominion government agreed to let a portion of the land to the Ford group for $5,000 per year with a 99-year lease. The contract also called for the edifice to have a “pleasing stone exterior,” and would be constructed using local labour and materials as far as possible. The room rates would start at a modest $2.50 per day for single occupancy and $3.50 for double occupancy.

The City furthermore agreed to provide a sizeable property tax break. The hotel’s assessment for tax purposes was fixed at one third of its normal assessed value for fifteen years. There was considerable opposition to this concession at City Council. Opponents noted that such concessions were not granted to the hotel chain for the construction of similar hotels in Toronto and Montreal. They also argued that a tax break would be unfair to competitors. However, the hotel’s supporters won the Council debate. They pointed to the amount of new construction spending that would be brought to the city as well as the hotel’s expected annual payroll. Although the property taxes paid to the city would be temporarily reduced, they would still amount to $15,000 per year. It was also hoped that the hotel would attract U.S. tourists to the capital, bringing with them much needed U.S. dollars—an important consideration during the war years when Canada was desperate for American currency to buy war materiel.

Once the contract was signed, attention turned to the name for the new hotel. Hundreds of names were proposed by the general public. Among the favourites were the “Kingsford,” a catchy combination of the Prime Minister’s name and the name of the hotel chain, the “Empire,” the “Tweedsmuir” after Canada’s much-loved Governor General who died in office in early 1940, the “Churchill,” after Britain’s Prime Minister, and “The Lord Elgin,” after James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, who was the governor general of the Province of Canada from 1847-54. The street on which the hotel was to be constructed was already named in his honour. The original idea for “The Lord Elgin” came from Ottawa resident C. Sheppard in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen’s editor. It was later championed at City Hall by Alderman H. P. Hill Jr. After two ballots, City Council’s Industry and Publicity Committee unanimously chose it for the new hotel. The name was subsequently approved by John Udd on behalf of the Ford Hotels Company.

The ink was scarcely dry on the contract when construction work began on the new hotel. Mayor Stanley Lewis turned the first sod in late September 1940. Its architects were Messrs Ross & Macdonald of Montreal, the successor firm that designed the Chatêau Laurier Hotel and Union Station a generation earlier. The main contractor was John Wilson of Ottawa. Following the erection of the hotel’s steel girders, which began at the beginning of January 1941, the building was constructed by skilled masons in six months. Each stone of the hotel was cut at the quarry to a pattern, numbered, and shipped to Ottawa for assembly like a big jig-saw puzzle. While most workers came from Ottawa, there was a shortage of masons, scores of whom were needed for the project. The contractor said that they “had to raise a cry to gather the old Scottish masons to a sufficient number for the job.”

By the end of February, work was sufficiently advanced to allow Prime Minister Mackenzie King to lay the cornerstone of the new hotel. At the ceremony, he praised the co-operation of all parties that had made the hotel possible. He also underscored the appropriateness of naming the hotel after Lord Elgin saying “few names in Canadian history were more associated with freedom that Lord Elgin.” It was during Elgin’s tenure as Governor General during the mid-nineteenth century that responsible government came to Canada. Elgin’s successful trip to Bytown, later called Ottawa, in 1853 also marked the first step towards the city being named Canada’s capital by Queen Victoria in 1857. King also thought it appropriate that the new hotel was located on the corner of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue as it was Sir Wilfred Laurier that initiated plans to beautify the capital. The prime minister likened Elgin Street and its approach to the Parliament Buildings to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Whitehall Street in London, and the Avenue Champs-Élysées in Paris.

photoAt lunchtime on Thursday the 17 July 1941, the brand-new hotel was officially opened. Mayor Lewis had the honour of cutting a white silk ribbon that was bound around the four pillars of the hotel’s porte cochère that protected arriving guests from the elements. The mayor was handed the shears by the ten year-old daughter of the City’s controller, Chester Pickering, who did much to make the hotel a reality. The Prime Minister’s car then drove up to the hotel’s entrance to be met by civic officials and senior hotel officials, including John Udd, president of the Ford Hotels Company and Richard Ford, the company’s chairman of the board.

Inside, the prime minister unveiled two marble busts of the 8th Earl and Countess of Elgin and Kincardine that were donated to the Dominion by the 10th Earl with the intention that they be put on display in the new hotel that bore the name of his illustrious grandfather. The bust of Lord Elgin was made by William Behnes, while that of the Countess was by Amelia Hill. The busts were brought to Canada from the Bruce family home in Scotland on a Royal Navy warship. Afterwards, the prime minister and Mr Udd sent telegrams of thanks to the 10th Earl. Mackenzie King then signed the hotel’s register as its first guest, followed by Mayor Lewis. Then came a celebratory lunch for one hundred guests in the dining room and a hotel tour.

The Lord Elgin was designed with relatively few of the facilities commonly expected in a hotel of this calibre. Hotel management stressed that there was no ballroom or grill, and that the “beverage rooms” were of modest scale aimed to serve the needs of its transient residents rather than compete with existing bars and restaurants in the city. Room service was provided, however, by Murray’s Lunch, a new, independent restaurant that could be accessed through the hotel’s premises as well as from the street.

Entering the lobby on the ground floor of the twelve-storey hotel, one could find directly ahead, the registration desk, an information desk and a cashier’s wicket. To the right of the entrance was a newsstand and a passageway to Murray’s Lunch and the bank of elevators. To the left was a travel and transportation desk, along with a corridor to a convention room, beverage rooms, and the barber and hair salon. The “men’s” beverage room had a club-like atmosphere, and could accommodate 150 persons. It was furnished with settees and light-coloured furniture. The table tops were blue with a mark-proof veneer. The “ladies’” beverage room was larger, holding 250 persons. Its colours were grey, mauve and orchid. Both beverage rooms were air-conditioned.

The hotel boasted 371 private guest rooms, each with private washrooms, located on the second to twelfth stories. The lower stories each had forty-six guestrooms, while upper level floors had either thirty-one or sixteen larger guestrooms or suites. Rooms were decorated in three colour schemes, with matching drapes and appointments. The lower three guest floors were decorated in blue-grey and dusty rose, the next four floors were in mauve and dusty rose, while the upper floors were in suntan buff and ivory. Drapes had a matching floral design. Instead of antiseptic white, the bathrooms were painted a suntan buff with ivory baked enamel walls. For the comfort of the guests, the bathroom floors were made of rubber rather than tile. Guestrooms were furnished in natural oak, with four armchairs. The hotel noted with pride that beds were five inches longer than usual with a reading lamp mounted onto the headboards. Each room was also equipped with a radio built into the telephone stand. Residents had their choice of two channels. Each room door was equipped with an indicator to alert the maid to whether the room was occupied. Although guestrooms were not air-conditioned, they had casement windows with extension hinges that the hotel claimed induced air currents to enter the room regardless of wind direction. Doors were also equipped with “peek-proof” ventilators.

On opening day, The Lord Elgin had a staff of 225, most of whom were women, with a payroll of roughly $200,000 per annum. Indicative of the close relationship the hotel had with the municipal government, both the hotel’s manager, Redverse F. Pratt, and the night manager, Gerald Cherry, were both previously employed by the Ottawa Tourist Bureau. Chester Pickering, member of the Ottawa’s Board of Control, later joined the hotel’s board of directors.

In 1949, the Ford Hotels Company was acquired by the Sheraton Group of hotels. Shortly thereafter it was reported that Sheraton Hotels had sold The Lord Elgin to a group of Ottawa and Montreal businessmen. President of the new company was Mr P. H. Bruneau of Montreal. Chester Pickering was named vice-president. The hotel subsequently changed hands several times. The Lord Elgin has been owned by Ottawa’s Gillin family since 1987.

In 2003, the busts of Lord and Lady Elgin were moved to Rideau Hall for an exhibit on the contribution the Earl made to Canadian culture and democracy. They were never returned despite entreaties from the hotel. Government officials argued that the busts were only “on loan” to the hotel, and could be moved at any time. The hotel replaced the busts with replicas. Possibly to make partial amends, the National Capital Commission loaned a portrait of Lord Elgin to the hotel in 2015 to help celebrate the hotel’s 75th anniversary. Previously, the painting had hung in Rideau Hall. The portrait, which was purchased by Lord Grey, a later governor general, in 1907 is believed to have been painted at the beginning of the 20th century by an unknown artist in the style of Sir Francis Grant. The portrait is currently on display in the hotel’s lobby.

Sources:

Boswell, Randy, 2016, The Lord Elgin Hotel, Mackenzie King’s capital vision and birth of a landmark, Lord Elgin Hotel.

Gazette (Montreal) The, 1949, “Lord Elgin Hotel Sale Is Announced,” 19 December.

—————————-, 1950. “Lord Elgin Hotel Purchasers Named,” 12 January.

Lord Elgin Hotel, 2016. A historic landmark in downtown Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1941, “The Lord Elgin Hotel,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Former Director of Ottawa’s Civic Publicity Appointed Hotel Manager,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Co-operation of Municipality Is Eulogized by Premier King,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “All Available Space Above First Floor Guest Rooms,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “400 Guest Rooms In The New Lord Elgin Designed For Rest and Comfort,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “All The Most Modern Features Are To Be Found In The Lord Elgin,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Stones Of New Hotel Fitted Together As If A Huge Jig-saw Puzzle,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Ottawa Aldermen And Civic Officials Opened Negotiations For New Hotel,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Construction Work Completed In Little More Than Six Months,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Murray’s Lunch In The Lord Elgin,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Many Suggestions Put Forward Before Name Selected by Civic Committee,” 19 July.

————————-, 2011. Sculptures of Lord and Lady Elgin Have moved from Hotel to Rideau Hall, 20 February.

————————-, 2016, “Expectations of Grandeur: The Lord Elgin Turns 75,” 3 March.

Petchloff, Tom, 2015. “Lord Elgin to undergo major renovations as it celebrates its 75th anniversary, Ottawa Business Journal, 29 February.

Images:

The Lord Elgin Hotel, by Phixed, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Elgin_Hotel.

Lord Elgin, 2016, by James Powell

Lady Elgin, 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.

Building Parliament

20 December 1859

 

~ James Powell

 

In early May 1859, roughly a year after the Canadian Parliament had ratified Queen Victoria’s selection of Ottawa as the permanent capital of the United Province of Canada, steps were taken to turn the regal decision into reality. John Rose, the provincial Commissioner of Public Works, announced an architectural competition for four government buildings to be constructed in Ottawa, still a rough-and-tumble lumber town that lacked the facilities and amenities of a capital city. Three were slated to be built on Barrack Hill, a spectacular 25-acre plot of land overlooking the Ottawa River. These comprised a new Provincial Legislature, and two Departmental buildings to house civil servants. A fourth, called Government House, was planned for nearby Major’s Hill, and was to be the official residence of the Governor General. Submissions were anonymous, with entries identified solely by a motto; the name(s) of the entrants were submitted in sealed envelopes that were opened only after the winning designs had been selected. The first and second-placed entries received prize money: £250 and £100 for the Parliament building, £250 and £100 for the two departmental buildings, and £100 and £50 for Government House.

The scale of the project was monumental, far larger than anything previously commissioned in British North America. Arguably, the buildings and their expected grandeur were out of keeping with both the size of Ottawa, and the population of the Province of Canada, which totalled only 2.5 million in 1860. But as was the case with the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, people were planning for the future.

The government specified that the Legislature building was to contain a Council Chamber and a Hall of Assembly for the upper and lower houses of Parliament, a lobby, a semi-detached library, a picture gallery, and 85 reading rooms, wardrobes, Speakers’ apartments, committee rooms, and clerk rooms, totalling 55,000 square feet. The two Departmental buildings, which together amounted to roughly the same square footage as the Legislature building, required 170 offices to house the entire Canadian public service, including space for the Governor General, the Executive Council, the Indian Department, Provincial Secretary, Crown Law Offices, the Adjutant General for the Militia, Agriculture, Public Works, Crown Lands, Finance, Customs, Audit, the Receiver General, and the Postmaster General. Specifications for the Governor General’s residence called for a 27,000 square foot mansion with 75 rooms, of which 40 would consist of staterooms, a ball room, dining room, private apartments, and a library, with the remainder taken up with domestic offices. In keeping with Victorian sensibilities, there was no direct reference to washrooms in any of the buildings. Presumably, they came under “&c., &c.” in the specifications. The most detailed requirements were stipulated for the Parliamentary Library for which the Parliamentary Librarian, Alpheus Todd, had insisted on state-of-the-art facilities, and rigorous fire precautions. These latter measures spared the Library the centre block’s fate when the main building was gutted by fire in 1916.

The government call for submissions did not specify any particular architectural style for the buildings beyond saying that it should be “plain” and “substantial,” with “hammer-dressed masonry, with neatly-pointed joints, and cut stone quoits, window dressings, cornices and entablatures,” and that the materials for construction should be found locally. The budget for the buildings was set at $300,000 for Parliament House, $240,000 for the two Departmental buildings which were to flank the Legislature building, and $100,000 for Government House.

Despite the size and complexity of the government’s requirements, architects were given little time to design and draw detailed architectural drawings; completed plans had to be submitted by the following 1 August. The competition had two judges, Samuel Keefer, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, and Frederick Rubridge. Both were engineers. Rubridge was also a trained surveyor and architect.

Thirty-two designs and 298 drawings for the four buildings were submitted in a variety of styles, including Civil Gothic, Classical, Norman, Tudor, and Italian. They were judged on the basis of ten criteria: fitness of the plan and interior arrangement, economy of construction, beauty of design, adaptation to site, climate, and materials available locally, economy of heating and ventilation, conformity with required conditions, and safety against fire. Of the sixteen proposals submitted for the Parliament building and library, a Civic Gothic design by “Semper Paratus,” the nom de plume of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones of Toronto, emerged victorious. Of the seven designs submitted for the departmental buildings that were to flank the Legislature building, the Civic Gothic proposal of “Stat nomen in umbra,” (Ottawa architects Thomas Stent and Augustus Lever), took first place. Frederic Cumberland and W. George Storm’s Venetian-style design, submitted under the name “Odahwah,” won the contest for Government House.

It was perhaps no surprise that the two judges, Keefer and Rubridge, selected the Gothic style for the three most important buildings. This was the architectural style chosen for the British Houses of Parliament built during the 1830s. In contrast, the classical style, chosen for the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C., was associated with U.S. republicanism. The Gothic style, symbolic of ties with Britain, was enthusiastically embraced by Canadians who used it extensively over the next fifty years.

photo

Site preparation on Barrack Hill for the Legislature building and the Departmental buildings began promptly, with the official ground-breaking ceremony taking place on Tuesday, 20 December 1859. It was a low-key affair, and little advertised. Nonetheless, thousands of Ottawa citizens walked to the construction site at noon to be part of the historic event. Mr Rose, the Commissioner of Public Works, the government department responsible for the buildings’ construction, turned the first sod for the Legislature building. In a short speech, he reflected on how laws would be enacted on this spot for the benefit of future generations. He also referred to the acrimonious debate surrounding the selection of Ottawa as the capital of Canada. While ostensibly expressing no opinion on the subject, he contended that the very continuance of the Canadian Union depended on Parliament being in Ottawa. Foreshadowing future constitutional debates, he expressed a “sincere hope that the cries of disunion, which is as yet but faintly heard, may never find an echo in the breasts of any considerable number of Canadian people.” He added that in light of the “moral and material progress made since the Union of Upper and Lower Canada, he could not reconcile himself to the idea that a desire for separation is prompted by…any sentiment of true patriotism.” At the conclusion of his speech, a cannon salute was fired.

Mr Keefer, the Deputy Commissioner and one of the two judges in the architectural competition for the Parliament buildings, was supposed to turn the first sod for the flanking departmental buildings. However, given the cold, and with people already drifting away after Rose’s speech, that part of the ceremony was dropped. Instead the official party, which include Ottawa’s mayor, Edward McGillivray, members of city council, the architects, and contractors, retired to Doran’s Hotel for refreshments.

Within weeks, Barrack Hill, later known as Parliament Hill, was a beehive of activity, employing thousands of labourers, representing a huge portion of Ottawa’s workforce—the city’s entire population numbered less than 15,000. Construction almost immediately ran into trouble leading to cost overruns and delays, though the foundations were sufficiently advanced for the Prince of Wales to lay the cornerstone of the Legislative building at the beginning of September 1860. But by October 1861, despite more than $1.4 million having been spent, the project was far from complete. Work was halted, and some 3,000 men lost their jobs, at least temporarily. To save money, the government also dropped the idea of building Government House.

photo

In June 1862, the government appointed a commission to look into charges of financial mismanagement. Reporting back in January 1863, the commission concluded that the excessive costs were due to a number of factors including: a failure of Public Works to assess the depth of the bedrock on the site prior to signing contracts, the improper awarding of the construction contract to Thomas McGreevy, the principal building contractor, who received the job on the basis of patronage rather than price, and a failure to adequately factor in the cost of heating and ventilating the buildings. The architects were also taken to task for inadequately monitoring the progress of the construction. Samuel Keefer, the Deputy Commissioner, took the blame for the fiasco, and was fired.

Construction resumed in 1863 under the general supervision of Frederick Rubridge, the other judge in the architectural contest. By the fall of 1865, the East and West Blocks were sufficiently ready for civil servants to move from Quebec City into their new quarters. The Legislature building (Centre Block) was officially opened on 6 June 1866, roughly a year before Confederation. Construction on the Victoria Tower in the Centre block continued until 1873, while work on the Library lasted until 1877. The final cost of the three buildings was $2.9 million, four times the original budget.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, 2001-15. A Virtual Exhibit: Ottawa Becomes the Capital.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1859. “Breaking Ground for the Commencement of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa,” 23 December.

Gowans, Alan, 2012, “Parliament Buildings,” The Canadian Encyclopedia .

Young, Carolyn A., 1995. The Glory of Ottawa: Canada’s First Parliament Buildings, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston.

Images: West Block under construction, 1861, Samuel McLaughlin, Library and Archives Canada, C-018354 .

Centre Block under construction, 1865, Samuel McLaughlin, Library and Archives Canada, C-003039.

 

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.

OLD BUILDINGS
- Clifford Scott

A while back I told you about the Old Registry Office that was built in 1873. There are even older buildings around Ottawa and many of them can be seen in a quick trip around Lower Town and in Sandy Hill.. A cluster of them is viewable near the Basilica at Sussex and St. Patrick. The Basilica itself is one of the oldest surviving structures in Ottawa.

The oldest of all Ottawa buildings is the Bytown Museum beside the canal, built in 1826 as Colonel By's storehouse for the construction of the Rideau Canal. The Canal was officially opened 175 years ago, in 1832. Houses were built in Lower Town as the community grew and, as Canada became a nation, many upscale houses were built in Sandy Hill. This article will focus on a few of these house, but a good walking tour will show off even more.

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

There is a particularly well preserved house at 138 St. Patrick St. that belonged to Flavien Rochon. Built circa 1832, it is typical of a workingman's home of the era Before it became the property of Mr. Rochon, four sisters of the Grey Nuns of the Cross (now the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa) lived there from 1845-1851 Mr. Rochon was a carpenter by trade who also sculpted wood and who was involved in the construction of both Notre Dame Basilica as well as the Parliamentary library. The house was acqired by the NCC in 1965. His next door neighbour at 142 St. Patrick was Dr. Francois-Xavier Valade whose imposing house was built circa 1864. The Valade house is typical of of ancestral homes in Normandy Dr Valade lived there from 1866 to 1918, was one of Ottawa's first doctors and was also one of the doctors responsible for examining Louis Riel before Riel's 1885 trial in Regina.. The house was known as Le Balcon Blanc because of the white veranda overhanging the entrance. The original balcony was replaced at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Before leaving Lower Town for Sandy Hill, we should mention Notre Dame Basilica, the oldest church in the capital, built between 1841 and 1865 on the site of an earlier church built in 1832. It contains beautiful statues and woodwork carved by Louis Philippe Hebert, Phillipe Pariseau and Flavien Rochon whose house was described above. The tower of the Basilica stands nearly 55 metres high and the organ has more than 4000 pipes!. This just a small sample of buildings constructed before Canada became a nation in 1867.

Louis Besserer, a lawyer from Quebec, bought a large parcel of land that became the area known as Sandy Hill, one of the first “elite” neighborhoods in Ottawa. Besserer's land purchase took place in 1828, but the area did not really develop before Ottawa was picked as the site of Canada's capital by Queen Victoria in 1857. Growth accelerated after Confederation and the area became home to many politicians and senior government officials.

One of the oldest houses in Sandy Hill is the Besserer House built c. 1844 where L. J. Besserer lived from 1844 to 1866. It was later occupied by W. T. McDougal, one of the fathers of Confederation. The house is at 149 Daly Ave and is really the center of Sandy Hill development. Some changes to the verandas and the western face have taken place since 1844, but the house is still largely the same as when it was originally built.

Another older house is the Lyon house, built c. 1850. It's first occupant was a son of the original builder Colonel George Lyon Fellowes. Robert Fellowes, the son, was a member of Parliament and in 1876, the Mayor of Ottawa. The pamphlet put together by the Regroupment des Organismes du Patrimoine Franco-Ontarienne states as follows “The bay window, the magnificent wooden portico and the decorative flourishes on the facade make it one of the most charming residences. ” The Toller House, built c. 1875. Its first occupant, T. Fournier, was a creator of the Supreme Court of Canada and one of the first Justices. The next occupant, for whom the house is named, was Frederik Toller, Auditor General of Canada The next occupant was Louis-Phillipe Brodeur who was simultaneously Minister of Finance and Oceans, a Justice of the Supreme Court and Lieutenant Governor of Quebec. How he managed to handle all four jobs, we'll have to guess! The City of Ottawa designated the house an historic property in 1982.

These are only a few of the historic buildings in downtown Ottawa. Take a tour under the auspices of ROPFO or Heritage Ottawa and discover much, much more!

 

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 Russell House Hotel

- James Powell

8 June 1863

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the centre of Ottawa’s social life was the Russell House Hotel that stood on the southeast corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. It was a grand and stately hostelry that dated back to about 1845. Originally, the hotel was a three-storey structure with an attic and tin roof known as Campbell’s House after its first owner. Located in Upper Town close to the Rideau Canal, it was the main stopping point for people vising Bytown, later known as Ottawa. Its food and other supplies came from Montreal by river in the summer and overland by sled in the winter. 

photoWhen Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada in 1857, the future of the small community was secured. Its population soared after the Parliamentary and Governmental buildings were completed in the early 1860s, and civil servants and Members of Parliament decamped from Quebec City to Ottawa. Thinking ahead to the business opportunities that this influx of people would bring, Mr James A. Gouin from Quebec City bought Campbell’s Hotel. He renamed it the Russell House after the Russell Hotel in Quebec City where he had worked. 

Advertisements dated 8 June 1863 appeared regularly in the Ottawa Citizen through the latter part of that year announcing that Gouin, the new proprietor of the Russell House, had completely repainted and refurnished “this commodious Establishment,” and that “on the 10th instant” would be ready to receive photovisitors. The hotel could accept twenty five to thirty boarders “at reasonable rates.” The advertisement added that Gouin had been “connected for many years with Russell’s Hotel, Palace Street [Côte du Palais], Quebec.” This hotel, located just a few blocks from the provincial parliament buildings (now the site of Parc Montmorency), had been owned by the Russell family, Americans who had apparently settled in Quebec when it had been the centre of the lumber industry. Gouin later built the Caledonia Springs Hotel, a famous spa in eastern Ontario, and was appointed Ottawa Postmaster by Sir John A. Macdonald.

Like its namesake at Quebec, the new Russell House Hotel was conveniently located at short stroll from Parliament Hill. It immediately attracted the great and powerful, becoming the home for many Members of Parliament, including Sir John A. Macdonald, in need of a place to live while the House of Commons and Senate were in session. On Confederation Day, 1 July 1867, the Russell House was full, hosting prominent Canadians from across the photocountry who had come to Ottawa to bear witness to that first Dominion Day, now known as Canada Day. Other prominent early guests included George Brown, the fiery Liberal MP. He was apparently staying at the Russell when he penned a complaint to Macdonald regarding the cost of building the Parliament buildings saying: Never mind expenses. Go ahead. Ruin the Country. Stop at nothing. Why not fountains and parks and gardens? It is also believed D’Arcy McGee, the Canadian nationalist and Father of Confederation who was assassinated in 1868 penned some of his poems at the Russell House Hotel. 

The hotel was enlarged during the 1870s, with the “New Wing” erected on the Elgin Street side across from the Central Chambers (which still stand today). The hotel’s dining room was located in this wing. In 1880, the original Campbell’s Hotel building was torn down and was replaced by a new, larger, five-storey building on Sparks Street, built in the French Second Empire style, with shops located at ground level. Shortly afterwards, a final extension was made on the east side of the building towards what was then known as Canal Street. (Canal Street disappeared with the building of Confederation Plaza and the extension of the Driveway in 1928.) In the end, the hotel boasted more than 250 rooms.

photoThe hotel reached its peak of popularity during the 1880s and 1890s, and was famous across the country as the place to stay while visiting the nation’s capital. The hotel’s manager, François Xavier St Jacques, who succeeded Gouin, was a living legend. Known as “the Count,” St Jacques was a great eccentric who greeted guests wearing high heel shoes that gave him an odd gait. Visiting Victorian luminaries, such as Oscar Wilde, Lilly Langtry, Lillian Russell, and the boxer “Gentleman” Jim Corbett were Russell House guests. Sir Mackenzie Bowell lived there for seventeen years, including when he was prime minister from 1894 to 1896. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was another long-term tenant, staying at the Russell for ten years before moving to Laurier House in 1897. The hostelry with its long bar and leather chairs was also the site of many political intrigues and debates over the decades, second only to the Parliament buildings themselves. 

The Russell House Hotel, synonymous with Ottawa and renowned across the country for elegance and fine dining, was eclipsed by the Château Laurier Hotel when that hotel opened for business a short distance away in 1912. By then, the grand old lady had become worn and shabby. In 1923, several photothousand dollars was spent upgrading the main entrance and the rotunda, but it was too little too late. By that point, the hotel was rat and cockroach infested.

At noon on 1 October 1925, the hotel closed for good, a victim of rising costs and declining occupancy rates. Paradoxically, bookings during the hotel’s last summer had been strong, with the hotel attracting both tourist and convention business; the Russell was the headquarters of the Dominion Trades & Labour Congress that year. But that was not enough to keep the venerable hotel from closing. On its last night, more than 150 guests were booked into the hotel. They had to take “pot luck” for supper in the cafeteria as food supplies were limited. In the rotunda, a number of old timers sat on battered chairs reminiscing about happier times. One hotel veteran was moved by the occasion to pen a poem entitled “Old Russell Farewell.” Its first verse went:

Adieu, adieu old rendezvous

With saddened hearts we’re leaving you;

‘Twas here friends were wont to meet;

Here argued we affairs of state,

How oft’ we talked long and late,

To make the other fellow know.

Ah! Life is but a passing show.

The next morning, with guests forced to seek their breakfast outside of the hotel, the place was virtually deserted. By shortly after noon, the only employee left out of a staff of 150 was a desk clerk tallying up the last day’s receipts. Gone also were the hotel’s “permanent” residents who had called the hotel home. One had been living at the Russell for thirty-three years.

Initially, its then owner, Russell L. Blackburn, planned to tear down the old hotel and replace it with a modern $1 million hostelry. However, Ottawa City Council balked at his demand to fix his property tax at $7,400 for twenty years. The empty building went into limbo, though the many ground-floor stores continued to operate until the Federal Capital District (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Russell block of buildings and torn them down as part of its efforts to beautify the capital. In its place, the FDC built Confederation Plaza in commemoration of the diamond anniversary of Confederation in 1927.

The FDC bought the hotel property and the adjacent Russell Theatre property for $1,270,379.15 (equivalent to roughly $17.7 million in today’s money). The deal was still incomplete when just before midnight on 14 April 1928, the hotel went up in flames in a massive fire. Virtually all of Ottawa’s available fire equipment, which at the time was still being pulled by horses, were called in to tackle the blaze. Five firemen were injured by falling debris and flying glass. The cause of the fire was never ascertained. There was a suspicion of arson as first responders found fires in various places on different floors. However, the fire marshal speculated that had the fire been due to an electrical fault, the fire could have easily spread through the walls and floors before the alarm was called in. Alternatively, the evening’s high winds could have carried embers from floor to floor through the hotel’s many broken and open windows. 

photoThousands of Ottawa citizens watched the firemen fight the blaze. Many were in evening clothes having just left parties and dances. Guests at the Château Laurier Hotel located across Connaught Plaza from the Russell watched the fire from the windows of their rooms. Other spectators arrived by car, with the best parking spots on Parliament Hill near the East Block. There, people watched in the comfort of their heated automobiles. Knowing that the building was slated for demolition, people cheered as the fire progressed. It reached its height at about 2.30am when the flag pole over the central entrance succumbed to the flames. At 4am, more than a thousand hardy spectators were still on hand despite the cold. The firemen were able to contain the blaze, and stop the conflagration from spreading to other structures. At one point Ottawa’s City Hall further down on Elgin Street was threatened. Ironically, the City Hall was to be destroyed by fire three years later. 

Losses from the Russell Hotel fire were relatively modest given the scale of the blaze. The Hotel was insured for only $30,000, the low amount reflecting the fact that it was almost derelict and had been emptied of its contents. Some of the small, street-levels shops were not so lucky. “The Treasure House” owned by Herbert Grierson, which sold jewellery, pottery, paintings, china and leather goods, suffered losses of $15,000-$20,000, of which only $8,000 was covered by insurance. The Premier Hat Company lost $10,000 in stock but carried only $2,500 photoin insurance. Looters also walked off with dozens of hats; one was seen carrying seventeen. Although the owner, Mr Samuel Gluck, was on hand, he was unable to rescue his stock in time owning to difficulty in obtaining a moving truck. Eighteen crates of Persian and Chinese carpets worth $90,000 were also stored in the former cafeteria of the Russell on Elgin Street awaiting auction. Fortunately, the carpets escaped with only minor water damage. They were disposed of in a “fire sale” held a few days later.

With the hotel ruined, the authorities moved to clear the rubble. It took longer than expected with the city threatening legal action against the wrecking company if it didn’t hurry up. But at precisely 1.06 pm on Saturday 10 November 1928 the grand old Russell House Hotel, which had been the focal point of Ottawa social and political life for over sixty years, entered history. The last remnant to go was its 80-foot chimney. Recognizing the historic nature of the event, A. Brahinsky, a representative of City Iron & Bottle Company, announced the time of the pending demolition to allow citizens to come and watch the spectacle. Hundreds cheered as the chimney crash to the ground, brought down by heavy cables and a horse truck. There must have been a few tears, however. The Ottawa Journal commented that “there must be many among us who, as one by one the old landmarks go, feel little but loss of happy reminders of a brave and gracious past.”

Today, no trace of the old Russell House Hotel remains. The site of the hotel is now occupied by the War Memorial.

Sources:

Cockrane, William, Rev., 1895. The Canadian Album. Men of Canada; or Success by Example in Religion, Patriotism, Business, Law, Medicine, Education and Agriculture, Bradley Garretson & Co: Brantford,

Evening Journal (The), 1924. “Fixed Hotel Assessments,” 2 October.-

—————————, 1925. “Reached No Decision Over Hotel Request, 23 January.

—————————, 1925. “New Russell House Is Going Out Of Business After Being In Operation Over 50 Years,” 1 September.

—————————, 1925. “Russell Hotel Comes To An End Of Long Career,” 1 October.

—————————, 1928. “Five Firemen Hurt When Russell Block Is Prey To Flames,” 16 April.

—————————, 1928. “Russell Hotel For 60 Years Past An Intimate Part Of City Life,” 16 April.

—————————, 1928. “Demolish Russell,” 9 November.

—————————, 1928. “Hundreds Watch Demolition of Big Chimney At Russell,” 12 November.

—————————, 1928. “The Old Russell House: Some Memories,” 13 November.

—————————, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King, Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City, 6 January.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1863. “Russell House,” 17 July.

————————-, 1925. “Russell Hotel Closes Doors: Passing of Historic Hotel Is Devoid Of Any Ceremony,” 1 October.

————————-, 1928. “Fire Will Help Park Scheme To Pass Commons,” 16 April.

 

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.

 

Ottawa's Castle

- James Powell


June 1, 1912

The Château Laurier Hotel with its fairyland turrets and copper roof is one of Ottawa’s iconic buildings. Majestically located beside the Rideau Canal locks on Wellington Street and backing onto Major Hill’s Park, it has breathtaking views of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, and the Gatineau Hills. Given its aristocratic bearing and central location, one can almost forgive tourists for confusing it with Canada’s Parliament buildings but a short walk away. Indeed, its architecture was deliberately chosen to complement the Gothic Revival style of Canada’s legislative buildings.

The hotel and the Union Train Station (now the Conference Centre), located across the street and connected via a pedestrian subway, were constructed by the Grand Trunk Railway Company (GTR) during the early twentieth century. They were lynchpins in a new trans-continental rail and hotel network being developed by the GTR to compete head on with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the travel and hospitality industry. The Château Laurier was the first in a series of grand railway hotels that the GTR was to build, including the Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton and the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. For the federal government, which had an almost symbiotic relationship with the GTR, the hotel and train station were part of a broader plan to beautify Ottawa. They provided a striking entrance to the city, helping to realize Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s dream of turning it into the “Washington of the North.”

The preliminary design for the hotel was drafted by U.S. architect Bradford Lee Gilbert who had been hired in 1907 by fellow American, Charles Melville Hays, then General Manager and later President of the Grand Trunk Railway. Gilbert was famous for designing the “Tower Building” in New York City, that city’s first skyscraper. The French château architecture he proposed for Ottawa’s new hotel was a style popularized by the CPR which had previously built several grand baronial hotels, including the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, and the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta. After submitting drawings of the proposed hotel to Hays, the railway tycoon fired Gilbert, replacing him with George Ross and David McFarlane of Montreal. However, the new Ross-McFarlane design was remarkably similar to that originally submitted by Gilbert, leading to charges of architectural plagiarism. Gilbert sued in 1908, and received $20,000 (close to $500,000 in today’s money) in an out-of-court settlement with the Grand Trunk Railway. Although their ethics were debatable, the controversy did not dent Ross and McFarlane’s careers. Their success with the Château Laurier demonstrated that Canadians were competent to tackle large architectural projects, hitherto typically given to Americans. Their company subsequently gained national prominence, winning major contracts across the country.

With a budget of $1.5 million, construction on the new hotel began in 1909 and was competed in 1912. It was named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the sitting prime minister of Canada. If this sounds a bit odd, it was. But it was an astute political move. Laurier had used his influence to carve out a piece of Major’s Hill Park for the site of the new hotel; an action that had provoked considerable controversy in Ottawa. Also, the railway owed its survival to the federal government that had provided it with millions in subsidies and loan guarantees. Even as the Château was being readied for its opening day in the spring of 1912, the GTR’s finances were on shaky grounds, with President Hays in London trying to find fresh funds for the railway. Indeed, the Grand Trunk was destined to be nationalized roughly a decade later to form, along with other bankrupt lines, the Canadian National Railway (CNR).

The grand opening of the hotel, with guests coming from across Canada and the United States, was scheduled for late April 1912. But catastrophe struck. Charles Hays and his family, which had accompanied him to England, elected to return to North America for the hotel’s opening on the RMS Titanic. They were the special guests of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line that owned the “unsinkable” liner. As we all know, the ship struck an iceberg four hundred miles south of Newfoundland and sank. More than 1,500 people perished in the cold North Atlantic waters. Although Hays’s wife and daughter survived the ship’s sinking, as did Ismay, Hays, his son-in-law, and his secretary drowned. Hays’s body was subsequently recovered, and was buried in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. Also lost in the sinking of the Titanic were dining room furniture and other decorations purchased in London by Hays for his new hotel.

Paul Chevré, the Belgain-born sculptor of the bust of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which can be seen today in the lobby of the Château Laurier, was also aboard the Titanic. He boarded the ship as a first class passenger at Cherbourg, France. Chevré was on his way to Canada for the installation of his statue of former Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier on the grounds of the National Assembly in Quebec City, and for the unveiling of his Laurier bust in Ottawa. Chevré survived the sinking, having been persuaded to board the first life boat to be lowered into the water. Contrary to rumours, the bust, which was also making its way across the Atlantic, neither went down with the Titanic, nor was smuggled onto one of the Titanic’s life boats. Instead, it was safely shipped aboard another ship, La Bretagne, arriving in Ottawa in time for the hotel’s official opening.

On 1 June 1912, the magnificent Château Laurier and Union Station were officially opened to the public. With Hays’s death just six weeks before, the opening was a subdued affair. A silent toast was drunk to his memory. In attendance were senior executives of the Grand Truck Railway who played hosts at an informal banquet for the Parliamentary Press Gallery and a few journalists from Montreal, Boston and New York. That day, two hundred guests registered, with Sir Wilfrid Laurier the first to sign the hotel’s register.

The Château Laurier received rave reviews. The day after the opening, the reporter from Toronto’s Globe newspaper enthused “The latest word in palace hotels on this continent in point of chaste and impressive architecture, in point of beauty of interior decorations, and in point of completeness of arrangements for the comfort and convenience of guests, was spoken last night.” The hotel was indeed a masterpiece. Its walls were built of Indiana limestone, its lobby of Belgian marble, and its windows by Tiffany. Each of its principal public rooms on the main floor was thematically decorated: the lobby in simple Flemish style, the “palm room” in Renaissance style, and the waiting room in wainscoted oak, reminiscent of Tudor England. The dining rooms were fitted out in the manner of Louis XVI, with panels painted with classical subjects. In the basement, was the grill-room, bar, and barber shop, while on the mezzanine were the ladies’ parlours and the corridor writing room; a balcony overlooked the rotunda. As well as being beautiful, the hotel had all the modern comforts of the time, with electricity, and a state-of-the art kitchen and refrigeration plant. Also almost unheard of for the era, 155 of the hotel’s 350 bedrooms had private baths. The rest were equipped with washstands, complete with running hot and cold water. Room rates started as low as $2 per night, (equivalent to roughly $42 today).

The hotel immediately became the premier resting spot for visitors to the capital, eclipsing the old Russell hotel which subsequently fell on hard times. The Château also became the watering hole of choice for MPs and senators; so much so that it became known as the “third chamber of Parliament”—and not necessarily the least important being the location of many smoke-filled, back-room, political deals. In 1929, the hotel underwent a major expansion, adding its east wing and the installation of an art deco swimming pool. Another major refit occurred in 1983 that saw many of its small rooms enlarged to present-day standards.

In recent years, the hotel has changed hands several times. It’s currently owned by Capital Hotel Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Larco Investments of Vancouver. Larco is a family-run private company co-owned by Amin and Mansour Lalji. The Laljis purchased it in late 2013 from Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate subsidiary of Quebec’s Caisse du dépôt et placement, for an undisclosed amount, but believed to have been in the range of $100-150 million.

Over its storied past, the Château has hosted kings, queens, princes and princesses, as well as a host of celebrities and politicians, including Shirley Temple, Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, the Beatles, Roger Moore, and Nelson Mandela. R.B. Bennett called it home from 1930 to 1935 while he was prime minister of Canada. Yousuf Karsh, the famed portrait photographer, had his studio in the Château from 1973 until his retirement in 1992. The sixth floor of the Château was also the home of the Canadian National Railway Radio Station (CNRO) from 1924 until 1937 when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) took it over. CBC continued to broadcast from the same location until it moved to its new headquarters on Sparks Street in 2004. The Château Laurier Hotel was designated a national historic site in 1981.

Sources:

CBC News, 2013. “Ottawa’s Iconic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel sold,” 2 November.

Charles, R., 2012. “Fairmont Château Laurier,’s Unsinkable Titanic Link,” Vacay.ca, .

Encylopedia Titanica, 2014. “Paul Romaine Marie Léonce Chevré,”

Fairmont Chateau Laurier, 2014. Hotel History.

Lachapelle. J., 2001. “Le Fantasme Métropolitaine,” Érudit,

National Post, “Not just any hotel: Ottawa’s Château Laurier celebrates 100 years of celebrity,”

The Citizen, 1929. “Fills a Long Felt Want In The Capital,” 8 June.

The Globe, 1908. “Chateau Laurier Plans,” 10 October.

—————, 1912. “Mr. Chevre Repudiates False ‘Interviews,’” 13 April.

—————, 1912. “Chateau Laurier Opened in Ottawa,” 3 June.

Wikipedia, 2014. “Château Laurier,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_Laurier.

Image: Château Laurier, circa 1912, City of Ottawa Archives

 

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.

Old Registry Office
- Clifford Scott


Part of this series on Ottawa in the "old days" will be to tell you about buildings that have been around for a long time. There is an active organization called Heritage Ottawa that specializes in commemorating the older buildings in the City. They team up with the City every year in May to make building tours available to anyone interested. The event is called "Doors Open Ottawa" and many interesting facets of both "Old" and modern Ottawa are presented. If Architecture and our relatively ancient buildings( for Canada) are of interest, Heritage Ottawa is a wonderful source of information. Some of us call them the "Building Protective Society" of Ottawa!

Many passers by on the Mackenzie King bridge or driving up Nicholas Street wonder what the old, rectangular building across the street from the old City Jail represents. It has been featured in several of the Doors Open Ottawa events and has a very interesting and chequered history. Owned now by the people who own the Rideau Centre, it began life in 1873 as the City Registry office where all official records of the City were kept. If you needed to know the history of a piece of land or building together with who owned or had owned it, you had to go to the City Registry Office. All official records of Bytown and the City of Ottawa were kept there. Inside the building is a unique set of rails, now covered, that allowed cast iron shelving to be moved back and forth as if on railway tracks.

When you first enter the building, you go into what was the office where clerks would take information or draw files from the storage room which was next through the building. After passing through the file storage area there are a number of small offices, much smaller than today's office space allotment. There is one small bathroom and a storage closet The whole building was heated by a pot bellied stove burning wood and coal that the clerks had to keep going. You can imagine what it was like on a cold winter day! In 1910 the registry office needed to get bigger, so a brand new one was built. This replacement is no longer with us, and the files we spoke of earlier are now at City Hall. The original registry office is still standing, while the replacement is long gone!

This building has had a number of uses over the years, not the least of which was to function as the original Bytown Museum from 1917 until 1951. The Historical Society, founded in 1898 as the Women's Historical Society of Ottawa needed space for its growing collection of artifacts and convinced the City fathers of the time that the old registry office would make an ideal Museum. The "railway tracks" of the file handling shelves were covered over and exhibits of things like Colonel By's furniture replaced them.

After 1951, the Museum moved to its present quarters in the old Commissariat Building beside the locks of the Rideau Canal. Did you know that in 2007, it will be 175 years since the Canal wasopened in 1832? Did you know the Canal is now a world heritage site?

The old registry office, with its very solid 12 foot foundations, to prevent thievery of critical land ownership records by tunneling , has served other purposes over the years. It was also a legal office and home of the Tourist and Convention Bureau of Ottawa, for example. Now it sits, cold deserted and damp until opened for "Doors Open Ottawa" Many people wonder what's going to happen to it next. The Rideau Centre people have talked about expanding the shopping mall and the old building would be in the way of such an expansion. We'll have to wait to see what transpires, but one alternative would be to encase the old building in the expansion and thereby keep alive a piece of the City's heritage Another alternative would be to move the building to another site There are probably others that readers can think of, but the economic issues may predominate and we will lose a familiar landmark. Only the future, not the past, will tell!.

Today's Historical Note: Did you know that on December 13 in 1907 the Women's Canadian Club was inaugurated by Governor General Earl Gray?

Questions:
(1) When did the Old Registry Office become the Bytown Museum? Answer 1917.

(2) How deep are its foundations? Answer 12 feet

(3) What other purposes has the building served? Answer Legal office; HQ, Ottawa Tourist and Convention Bureau

 

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.

HEALTH CARE IN EARLY BYTOWN
- Clifford Scott

After my first article some weeks ago, I was asked how only the one doctor and pharmacist mentioned in Smith's 1846 summary could possibly have provided health care to a town of 7000 souls. The truth is that there were other sources of medical help and why Smith did not mention them is a good question. Very recently, the Historical Society of Ottawa published a paper of the latest winner of the Colonel By award for local history (Mike Nelles of Carleton University) and it is an excellent source of information on early medical care and a good bibliography of sources on the subject. The Bytown pamphlet series is available through the Historical Society and is also available at the National Library of Canada and the Ottawa Public library.

labelThe first ever medical facility in Ottawa was a twenty bed military hospital established by John By... label

The first ever medical facility in Ottawa was a twenty bed military hospital established by John By in 1826 on Barracks Hill where the West Block now stands. It operated for fifty years. It was only available to the civilian population in dire emergencies such as outbreaks of malaria, typhus and cholera. These kind of outbreaks occurred in 1827, 1832 and 1847. The Sisters of Charity under the capable leadership of Sister Elizabeth Bruyere opened the first civilian general hospital in 1845. It is curious this was not mentioned in Smith's 1846 Gazetteer.

In 1903 a memoir of the early days of medicine in Bytown was written by Dr. Beaumont Small who recalled the days when doctors rode around the settlements dispensing care to the settlers Another account of the early days was written in 1993 by Linda Tresham, as one of the Bytown pamphlet series mentioned before, of the great cholera epidemic of 1832. Both authors decry the lack of interest and attention given to medical care.

The earliest recorded doctor in Bytown was Dr. A.J. Christie who became a prominent advocate for medical care. He also founded the first (in 1836) newspaper in Bytown---The Bytown Gazette. - He first came to Bytown in 1827 as a military doctor for Rideau Canal workers. He was one of the few doctors to stay in the town after the completion of the canal in 1832. There is some debate over his medical training but he appears to have served the populace until his death in 1843. In those days, according to Charles Roland in Ontario Medicine (1983) doctors were paid in such things as "chickens, eggs, home brew, a slab of bacon or chores".

"The real 'driver' of improved medical care in the town was a series of epidemics that threatened the local population."

The real "driver" of improved medical care in the town was a series of epidemics that threatened the local population. The worst of these was the cholera epidemic of 1832 which is deserving of a column in itself! In June 1832, Lt. Governor Colborne authorized the first Board of Health in Bytown under the chairmanship of Dr. Christie. One of its first acts was to close all schools and public buildings to prevent the spread of disease. A temporary wooden hospital was constructed on what is now the site of the Royal Canadian Mint. It was the first medical facility constructed for the benefit of the civilian population. By a month later 15 of 35 cholera patients had died—an indication of the mortality of cholera in those days.. This hospital was scrapped in 1834 and sold as firewood. Probably the lack of medical knowledge of the time contributed greatly to the death rate in 1832.. By 1844, it was definite that the military hospital was inadequate for a town that was growing with the lumber industry.

In February 1845, a group of nuns arrived by sleigh, led by the 27 year old Sister Bruyere. The Sisters took up visiting the sick and opened a seven bed hospital in the spring. Within a year the facility was inadequate and a petition was made for a land grant to build a larger facility. Of the signers of the petition only four were Roman Catholic, so the need was widely felt. Fourteen lots were provided and plans went ahead for the construction of a hospital that stood on the same ground occupied by the old general hospital, still operated by the Sisters as the Bruyere Centre The town was immediately challenged with the great typhus epidemic of 1847-48. This was brought to Ottawa by unfortunate immigrants who died in great numbers on the trip to Canada and after they arrived. The bulk of these immigrants were Irish, fleeing the potato famine in Ireland.

Following the example of the Catholic General Hospital, approval was granted in 1847 for the construction of a Protestant General Hospital. While medical care was still chancy at best the foundation had been laid for the proper medical treatment of citizens The first permanent health Board was created in 1851 and the first stone hospital was erected on the northwest corner of Rideau and Wurtemburg Streets From these early beginnings grew the excellent if sometimes crowded medical services we enjoy today.

 

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.

 

Everybody Out!

~ James Powell


18 April 1962


It came without warning; a notice addressed to residents of LeBreton Flats reading “This letter will advise you that on April 18, 1962, the National Capital Commission [NCC] filed a notice of expropriation covering the property at [your address.]” With that, 2,800 residents, along with hundreds of businesses, were obliged to move. They were given two years to relocate. The decision to raze the neighbourhood was taken without public consultations, presumably to avoid land speculation. Even Ottawa’s mayor, Charlotte Whitton, was kept in the dark.

In total, 53 acres of land was forcibly acquired from 240 landlords. The government paid fair market value for the land at a cost of about $17 million. The expropriation was part of a project to redevelop the entire LeBreton Flats area of roughly 154 acres. The federal government already owned 60 acres of railway yards and tracks purchased from the Canadian Pacific Railway in an initiative to remove trains from downtown Ottawa. Another 29 acres were to be reclaimed from Nepean Bay, with streets accounting for the remaining 12 acres. The last building to fall to the wrecking ball was the Duke House, the former Couillard Hotel, in October 1965. More than 250 people had crowded into the tavern the previous St Patrick’s Day, its last day in operation, to celebrate its passing. With the Duke House’s demolition, LeBreton Flats, a historic neighbourhood that dated back to the mid 19th century, was nothing but a memory. Its final days were memorialized in oil paintings by local artist Ralph Burton which now hang in the Ottawa City Hall.

photoThe rationale for the expropriation was to eliminate “a real eye sore” of deteriorating housing stock and dirty industry within walking distance of Parliament Hill. The NCC planned to transform the area into something worthy of a national capital, with the construction of up to ten government buildings, along with monuments, parks and parkways. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s ambition to complete the project in time for Canada’s centennial on 1 July 1967, Lebreton Flats remained a barren wasteland of weeds, rubble, car parks, and snow dumps for more than 40 years.

There are a myriad of explanations for what went wrong. Changing priorities, cost, recessions, ineptitude, and the discovery of toxins in the soil all played a part in slowing the Flats’ renaissance. The fact that the area was owned for much of the time by three different levels of government, the NCC, the regional government, and the City of Ottawa, didn’t help either.

Many have questioned the original decision by the NCC to bulldoze the Flats, viewing it as a crime committed against the poor. Some look back with nostalgia to a neighbourhood, while hardscrabbled, had a sense of community. But others argue that LeBreton Flats was a gritty, dirty slum. Many of its buildings had been hastily constructed after the 1900 fire which had gutted the area. Only two structures had survived the flames, one ironically being the Couillard Hotel, the last building to demolished in 1965. By the early 1960s, the area was unquestionably rundown, an unhealthy mix of dilapidated houses, scrap yards, metal working plants, mill suppliers, and rail yards. Odours from a paint factory and a brewery poisoned the air.

Regardless of the merits of levelling LeBreton Flats, the fact that the NCC left the brown-field site fallow for more than a generation beggars belief. A succession of proposals was announced for the site with great fanfare only to submerge without a trace. In the late 1960s, the area was to become home of a new headquarters for National Defence. But the three-tower, $40 million project never got off the ground; cost considerations were the likely reason. Instead, National Defence moved to its current location on Colonel By Drive. Subsequent plans for the Flats included a highway interchange with a half-clover leaf, low-cost housing, a convention centre, a national aquarium, a railway terminal for a proposed high-speed train between Windsor and Montreal, and a theme park. While waiting for the NCC to decide, the Flats have been used for special events, including an open-air mass by Pope Jean Paul II in 1984, and performances by the Cirque du Soleil. The land has also been used as a site for hot-air ballooning and as a camping ground.

In the late 1980s, plans for the area focused on five competing concepts with beguiling but obscure names: “Consolidating the Capital,” “Symbolic Bridge,” “A Multi-use Node,” Creating an Urbane Capital,” and “An Agora for the Capital.” Each was assessed on their biophysical, social-cultural, and other characteristics. Under the winning “Agora” concept, the Flats would be populated with museums, offices, roughly 2,500 residential units, of which 1/3 would be social housing, and commercial buildings. There would also be ample green space, including a park (the agora), located in the centre of LeBreton Flats. The Ottawa River Parkway (now Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway) would be relocated to become an urban boulevard through the Flats.

This plan too stalled, in large part on a 1991 environmental study that detailed the various toxins found in the soil and groundwater of LeBreton Flats, a legacy from its industrial past. Before redevelopment could take place, measures would have to be taken to deal with high levels of benzene and other contaminants that had leaked into the soil from the paint factory, underground oil tanks, and waste disposal sites. Snow dumps had also lead to high levels of lead from vehicle emissions, and chloride in the groundwater. Dangerously high levels of methane from rotting household and municipal wastes used as infill were also found in the land reclaimed from Nepean Bay. The cost of remediation and clean-up, which included scrapping off and replacing the topsoil, had risen to more than $70 million by 2012.

photo

After more than 40 years of delay, the redevelopment of the LeBreton Flats finally got underway in 2003 with the construction of a new Canadian War Museum. Located close to the Ottawa River, the facility, which cost more than $135 million, opened its doors to the public in 2005. Its environmentally-friendly “green” roof is planted with self-sowing grasses found along the Ottawa River. The fields to the south and east of the Museum are currently used for summer festivals, such as Bluesfest.

In 2004, the NCC contacted developers regarding the construction of residential units on a large 11 acre (4.4 hectares) parcel of land. Only three developers, Minto, Alliance Prevel and Claridge, submitted expressions of interest. Controversially, when decision time came, Claridge, judged third on experience and design, was the only contender left standing. The other two had pulled out of the competition owing to changes demanded by the NCC which in their view had made the project nonviable. Since then, Claridge has built two 13-storey condominium towers on LeBreton Flats which some critics panned as “pedestrian.” A third phase consisting of “boutique-style stacked townhomes” is underway.

The LeBreton Flats odyssey is far from over. More residential units are planned though their timing will depend on market demand. The decision to build a light rail transit (LRT) system in Ottawa has also affected development on the Flats. On the positive side, LeBreton Flats will have its own stop, better linking the area to the rest of the city, and increasing its attractiveness to potential residents. On the negative side, the LRT project has prompted the NCC to reassess its approach to the Flats. In September 2014, the Crown Corporation abandoned its twenty-year old plans for mixed-use development for the area saying that they were out-dated and inconsistent with contemporary approaches to development and city needs. It now wants a “signature” attraction of regional, national, or even international significance. Ideas including a downtown hockey arena, or a new site for the Museum of Science and Technology. While the federal government supports this change in direction, it has also indicated that it has no money to finance development. The NCC has invited the private sector to submit proposals for 9.3 hectares of land south of the Parkway and west of Boothe Street. An additional 12.1 hectares might also be made available. The hope is that something could be approved by the NCC Board and the federal government by early 2016.

Sources:

Jenkins, Phil, 2008, An Acre Of Time, Chelsea Books.

McClelland, David, 2009, “The Ottawa Project".

National Capital Commission Planning Branch, Environmental Assessment Section, 1991, LeBreton Flats/Bayview Concept Plans: Initial Environmental Evaluation, Final Report, May.

NCC Watch, The LeBreton Flats.

Ottawa Business Journal, 2012, “Construction crews returning to LeBreton Flats in December,” 29 August.

Ottawagraphy, LeBreton Flats.

Ottawa Sun, 2012, “Cost of Cleaning up Contaminated Soil at Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats would top $71 million, National Capital Commission says,” 22 December.

Rappaport, Michael, LeBreton Flats: Ottawa’s Field of Dreams.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1962, “Huge Expropriation, 10 Gov’t Buildings Planned to”Beautify” Central Area,” 19 April.

———————, 2013, NCC to rethink plans for LeBreton Flats,” 31 August.

——————–, 2014. “Everything you need to know about the NCC’s vision for LeBreton Flats,” 30 September.

The Globe and Mail, 1970, “Paid $1,771,966 for unused HQ Plan,” 20 January.

Trailpeak, 2013, LeBreton Flats, 1950s.

Urbsite, 2010, Ralph Burton on Lebreton Flats.

—————, 2012, Revisiting the Flats after 50 years (and 100, 150, 200 years).

Wikipedia, LeBreton Flats.

Images:

LeBreton Flats, circa 1960.

LeBreton Flats, circa 2010.

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 Origins of Street Names
- Clifford Scott


Considering how many people in Ottawa are new to the city, it seemed reasonable to do a little research and find out who or what some, of the oldest Ottawa streets are named after. The book mentioned in the last version of this article in September (Ottawa—Making a Capital) has a good article written by Serge Barbe, a member of the City Archives on this subject. Many persons who contributed to the foundation and growth of our City are not well known, and I understand both City staff and the Historical Society of Ottawa have developed tentative plans to make early Bytowners or Ottawans better known. This is a project deserving support! No article of this size can hope to do much more than scratch the surface of this topic. So only a few streets are covered. If readers are interested in the subject, further articles can be written.

Much has been said and written about the proper use of Lebreton Flats which contained Lebreton Street. These were named after Charles LEBRETON (1779-1848) who was a native of Jersey and one of Nepean Township's earliest settlers. He came to our area from Newfoundland and served with distinction in the War of 1812. With a partner, he purchased Lebreton Flats in 1820 and, in 1826 got into a legal wrangle with Colonel By and the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie over the price he wanted for his land. He spent a good deal of money defending the legality of his land ownership against the government of the day He retained his land, but the Rideau Canal was built elsewhere probably because Dalhousie and By rather disliked him after the court battle. Was sour grapes involved in the location of the canal?.

Nicholas SPARKS (1792-1862) for whom Sparks Street is named is much better known,. but the extent of his good works in Ottawa is less known Sparks came to Canada in 1816, from Ireland, to avoid religious strife. He married the widow of Philemon Wright Jr. in 1826... He owned a sawmill and vast timber rights in the area. In 1821, for the equivalent of $500 he purchased land that extended from what is now Wellington St. to Laurier Ave. West and from Waller St. to Bronson Ave. He sold part of his land to construct the Rideau Canal, but, because of the price he asked, another 96 acres were expropriated much to his chagrin!.

Perhaps wishing to avoid religious strife in Canada, he donated landfor churches to both the Anglicans and the Presbyterians. Sparks went on to serve for many years in local government. Sparks named a street on his land after a friend, Daniel O' CONNOR, who became Treasurer of the Dalhousie District (later Ottawa-Carleton) and another after his son-in-law, \ James SLATER Slater Street was first named Waugh Street, after a local merchant Caldwell Waugh., James Slater came to Canada about 1830, married Sparks' daughter in 1847 and went on to be, successively, Provincial Land surveyor, Superintendent of the Rideau Canal and Chairman of the Ottawa School Board.

Robert BELL (1821-1873) was a promoter of railway construction, a land surveyor and eventually, a journalist. He bought the Bytown Packet in 1849 and two years later changed the name to the Citizen, He sold the paper in 1865 to I. B. Taylor. One of the people from whom he bought the paper, Henry J. FRIEL (1823-1869) served as Mayor of Bytown in 1854 and Mayor of Ottawa in 1857, 1863, 1868 and finally, 1869 Pictures of both Bell and Friel are available at the City Archives.

Both had streets named after them

In Lower Town, Bruyere Street is named after Mother Elizabeth BRUYERE (1818-1876) the founder of the Grey nuns and the Ottawa Hospital (1845) She also established an orphanage, a hospice and an asylum for destitute women. GUIGUES Street is named after Monsignor Joseph-Eugene-- Bruno Guigues (1805-1874), Ottawa's first Roman Catholic Bishop. He founded what became the University of Ottawa on land donated by Louis BESSERER.

Further west, BRONSON Ave. was named after Erskine Henry Bronson, a prominent businessman, whose father Henry Bronson had founded a local lumbering firm. Speaking of lumbering, who else could BOOTH Street be named after other than J. R. Booth “the Ottawa Valley Lumber King”, featured in an earlier article.

These are only a few of the origins of Ottawa street names. Serge Barbe is working on a book that will identify many more.

 

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.

MECHANICS INSTITUTES—EARLY ADULT EDUCATION
- Clifford Scott

Not very many people in early Ottawa had the educational advantages of today's society—many wished for it, but had to leave school, where it existed, as soon as they were of money earning age Those who could afford a classical or technical education tended to be those whose parents had already had some measure of success.. Technical knowledge came through apprenticeship and on the job learning. Women and girls were almost excluded from the education systems that did exist. However, a good portion of those already educated believed that all persons were educable and education was the key to a better society, both socially and economically.

labelMost factory workers preferred relaxing in the local pub with their buddies.label

In the early 1820's organizations called Mechanic's Institutes were begun in Great Britain and the United States, dedicated to “improving the mind of the working class”. In Bytown in the 1840's several attempts were made to establish similar institutions but final success did not come until 1853. The institutes were aimed at factory workers but were more used by clerks and shop assistants. After the typical 12-14 hour day of the times. Most factory workers preferred relaxing in the local pub with their buddies. Late closing on work days led to letters to the Bytown Gazette in 1837 suggesting both a movement for earlier closing and the opening of a Newsroom or a library. By 1838, as it happened, two Newsrooms had opened—one in the Upper Town's British Hotel and one in the Lower Town's McArthur's Hotel. The Lower Town Newsroom closed by 1844, but there is a record of a gathering of “clerks” in the British Hotel in 1845.

On January 28, 1847 there was a meeting of prominent citizens in the Oddfellow's Hall to create a Bytown Mechanic's Institute. All resident clergymen were members of the founding Council as were magistrates, factory owners, the current Mayor (John Scott) and a past Mayor and City Clerk. Despite their best efforts at fund raising and the purchase of a collection of books (210 available in 1848), the Institute became defunct in 1849. The organizers wanted to show Bytown as progressive. In early 1853, a provisional committee with the strong support of Robert Bell publisher of the Ottawa Citizen was struck to start a “Bytown Mechanic's Institute and Athenaeum”. Again, prominent men were involved. Judge C. Armstrong, Dr. S Sewell, Elkanah Billings, Richard W. Scott Mayor H. J. Friel and Thomas McKay, among others,. formed the committee. At the time, Bytown was a flourishing town of 8000 souls.

Begun in 1847
All resident clergymen were members of the founding Council as were magistrates, factory owners, the current Mayor (John Scott) and a past Mayor and City Clerk.

A Province of Canada Act was passed in 1853, establishing the Mechanic's Institute in Bytown.. Fees were set at $5 per annum. While this fee may seem small today, it could be as much as one week's salary for a working man then. This may have been a factor in the later history of the Institute. We now enter a phase when the idea of training for working class people gradually gave way to a club largely for intellectuals of the day. The organization apparently died in 1907 as professional societies, museums and public libraries proliferated in Ottawa. The highest point of Institute membership was 438 in 1866/67. At a general meeting in 1867 a recorded vote of 109 attendees showed the following mix—13 professionals, 16 merchants, 12 civil servants, 3 lumber merchants, 16 in service industries 10 bookkeepers and clerks, one farmer, 4 labourers, 2 servants, 2 gentlemen and 20 where no occupation was given. Hardly representative of workers!

The Society's activities in the1880's and the 1890' were confined to winter lectures and the maintenance of the library. In 1902, the President still felt the Society's activities were useful but the handwriting was on the wall with the opening of the Carnegie public library in 1906. In November 1906, Dr. Otto Klotz, the President still promoted the work of the Society but stated “the great mass of the people is not hungering for intellectual development but is rather in search of amusement entertainment and forms of diversion as involve little or no mental effort”.

R. Forbes Hirsch who researched the history of Mechanic's Institutes had the following comments in a 1991 publication. “It cannot be said that the Institute suffered from competition in its early days for the limited leisure time of the residents they hoped to attract—the only competition were the pubs, worship services and other church activities. ” Hirsch felt that what really evolved was a social club where the lecture topics were of more interest to better educated middle and upper class citizens. For workers who put in long hours by today's standards and who really couldn't afford the fees charged, th eidea was great, but the implementation suffered from many problems.

 

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.

 

WATER WOES
23 August 1912

~ James Powell

Pure, sparkling clean, tap water. We tend to take it for granted. Occasionally our complacency is shaken, as it was in 2000 when seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario when e. coli contaminated the town’s drinking water. But, thankfully, that was a rare event. Ottawa’s tap water consistently gets top grades for quality. Raw water from the Ottawa River is filtered and chemically treated in several steps to remove bacteria, viruses, algae, and suspended particles. More than 100,000 tests are conducted each year to ensure that crystal clear, odourless, and, above all, safe water is supplied to Ottawa’s households and businesses.

But this was not always the case. One hundred years ago, two old, poorly maintained intake pipes that drew untreated water from mid-river were the source of the city’s water supply. But the Ottawa River was dangerously polluted. The region’s many lumber mills routinely dumped tons of waste each year into the river. Decomposing sawdust was actually responsible for the death of a man from Montebello in 1897 when he was thrown from his boat by a methane explosion. Meanwhile, raw sewage from Ottawa’s burgeoning population, as well as from Hull and other riverside communities, was simply flushed into the river. Sewage from inadequately maintained outdoor privies also leaked into the region’s many creeks and streams that fed the Ottawa River. It was a recipe for typhoid fever.

While typhoid stalked all major Canadian cities during the first years of the twentieth century, Ottawa was among the worst affected. The disease annually claimed on average twenty lives, a shockingly high number for a community of perhaps 75,000 souls. Most of the deaths were recorded in the poor, squalid districts of Lower Town and LeBreton Flats. Civic officials, at best complaisant, at worse criminally negligent, did nothing. It was perhaps easier, and cheaper, to blame the poor’s unhygienic living conditions than to do something about the water supply. But even the death in 1907 of the eldest daughter of Lord Grey, the Governor General, who had been visiting her parents from London, didn’t prompt action.

Ignorance wasn’t a viable defence for civic leaders’ lack of action. By 1900, health officials were very familiar with Samonella enterica typhi, the bacteria that caused typhoid, and how to combat it. They were fully aware that the most common form of transmission was drinking water polluted by human sewage. They also knew that chlorine could be used as a disinfectant, rendering the water safe for consumption. Typhoid was a fully preventable disease.

In 1910, an American expert was finally called in to look at ways of improving Ottawa’s water supply. He recommended the immediate addition of hypochlorite of lime, a bactericide, as an interim remedy until a mechanical filtration plant could be constructed. Alternatively, he proposed that cleaner, albeit much more expensive, water be piped in from Lake McGregor in the Gatineau Hills. His report was shelved.

Disaster struck in early January 1911. In the space of weeks, there were hundreds of typhoid cases in the city. By the end of March, sixty people had died. By year-end, the death toll had reached eighty seven. Even before the epidemic had run its course, the first investigation by the chief medical health officer of Ontario concluded that it was due to contaminated city water. Owing to low pressure, an emergency intake valve in Nepean Bay had been opened to raise water pressure in case of fire. The intake had sucked in raw sewage into the water mains. The source of pollution was traced to Cave Creek (now a sewer) that ran through Hintonburg, a heavily populated area which relied on outdoor privies that emptied into the creek. Blame for the epidemic was placed squarely on civic officials who had done nothing to ensure a safe water supply for Ottawa citizens. A second study concluded that had hypochlorite of lime been added to the city’s water as recommended in the 1910 study, the outbreak could have been averted.

Some modest steps were taken to address the situation. Hypochlorite of lime was finally added to the water, but various technical problems prevented the full amount of the chemical from being used. A new intake pipe was also put down in 1911 and was in use by the following April. But the water remained contaminated as a significant portion of the city’s water continued to be sourced through the old, leaky intake pipes. Although Ottawa’s engineer warned city officials that the water supply remained in a dangerous condition, nothing further was done.

In June 1912, typhoid returned to Ottawa with a vengeance. So bad were conditions that MPs were reluctant to return to Ottawa for the autumn1912 parliamentary session, and lobbied for Parliament to be shifted at least temporarily to Toronto, or even Winnipeg. More radical voices wanted Canada’s capital to be moved permanently if Ottawa could not provide government workers with clean water. The Toronto World thundered that the city was advertising itself “from Vancouver to Halifax as a pest hole of diseases.”

With the disease striking during the prime tourist season, civic and business leaders were keen to play down the extent of the problem and the underlying causes. In mid-August, a secret meeting was held between business leaders, Mayor Charles Hopewell and the city’s medical officer of health to discuss the impact of the epidemic on commerce. On 23 August, the medical officer of health announced that the “typhoid epidemic had run its course” and that the water was now safe to drink; bacteriological tests for the previous five weeks having showed “conclusively” that the water was free from contaminants and was “fit for consumption without boiling or otherwise treating it.” It was a barefaced lie. Cases of typhoid continued to occur. Tragically, there were twelve additional deaths in September and a further nineteen in October, weeks after the epidemic had supposedly ended. In total, roughly 1,400 cases of typhoid were recorded in 1912 with 98 fatalities. In November 1912, City Council self-servingly declared that it was “not legally responsible to the [typhoid] sufferers, but only morally so.” It voted a mere $3,000 to cover urgent relief needs.

This time a judicial inquiry was held into the two epidemics. An investigation by provincial authorities indicated continued gross contamination of the water notwithstanding what the medical officer of health had said. It was also shown that contamination occurred due to leaks in both old and new pipes. The city engineer was suspended and Ottawa’s medical officer of health resigned. Although there was insufficient evidence to indict Mayor Hopewell, his reputation was ruined. He declined to run again as mayor in the 1912 election. In 1914, the provincial board of health concluded that “after careful investigations” the outbreaks of typhoid fever were “caused by the use of sewage-polluted water from the Ottawa River.” It added that it was “a disgraceful fact that up to the present date no satisfactory plan for a pure supply for that city has been adopted.”

While repairs were made to the intake pipes and the water was treated with ammonia and chlorine, it was only a temporary fix to Ottawa’s water woes. A permanent solution had to wait almost twenty years as debate raged on city council and in the courts between those that supported the purification of Ottawa River water and the “Lakers” who wanted to pipe in clean water from 31-Mile Lake or Lake Pemichangan north of the city in the Gatineau Hills. Construction on the Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant finally began in 1928. When the plant opened three years later, Ottawa finally had safe tap water.

Sources:

Bourque, André, 2013. City of Ottawa Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant (82 Years Young and Going Strong), Atlantic Canada Water & Wastewater Association.

City of Ottawa, 2014. Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant.

H2O Urban, 2008. Ottawa Report, 22 November.

Jacangelo, Joseph G. and Trussell, R. Rhodes, 2009. “International Report: Water and Wastewater Disinfection: Trends, Issues and Practices,”.

Lloyd, Sheila, 1979. “The Ottawa Typhoid Epidemics of 1911 and 1912: A Case Study of Disease as a Catalyst for Urban Reform,” Urban History Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 66-89.

Murray, Mathew, 2012. Dealing with Wastewater and Water Purification from the Age of Early Modernity to the Present: An Inquiry Into the Management of the Ottawa River, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of Ottawa.

Ottawa Riverkeeper, 2007. Notes on a Water Quality and Pollution History of the Ottawa River.

Provincial Board of Health, 1914. 1913 Annual Report.

The Citizen, 1912. “City’s Responsible for Typhoid Claims,” 12 November.

—————–, 1913. “Harsh Condemnation of Ottawa’s Civic Government by Members of Commons in Discussing Pollution of Streams Bill,” 26 April.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1953. “History of Ottawa’s Water System Long and Bloody One,” 28 April.

The Evening Telegram, 1907. “Earl Grey’s Daughter Dead,” 4 February.

The Toronto World, 1912. “M.P.’s Afraid To Go To Ottawa,” 5 August.

——————-, 1912, “Typhoid Epidemic in Ottawa Nearly Over,” 24 August.

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 Canadian Army in Ottawa
- Clifford Scott


As Remembrance Day approaches, we remember the sacrifices of World Wars 1 and 2. But we also had military units in Ottawa getting ready to go to the Fenian Raids, the Northwest Rebellion and the Boer War. Regardless of the justice or non justice of these events, we still had men willing to risk their lives for the rest of us. Let's look at our involvement in these conflicts.

Some years ago, Colonel Strome Galloway who commanded the Royal Canadian Regiment in the battle for Ortona in World War 2 summarized the early history of the Ottawa military for the Historical Society of Ottawa ,and I am indebted to him for the information in this article. Mush of the early history of the military in Ottawa concerns militia or reserve units made up of ordinary citizens who “answered the call” when danger threatened. According to Galloway, no regular army fighting unit has ever been garrisoned in Ottawa. This is not true of the RCAF who based interceptor and reconnaissance squadrons here during the height of the Cold War However we are looking at a much earlier time.

Before we look at some unit histories, the “interesting” events that involved Ottawa citizen soldiers were the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870 when the “Civil Service Rifles” were called up to repel invasion if necessary. The Governor General's Foot Guards provided several offices to command the 150 “voyageurs” who ferried British troops up the Nile river in 1884. Ottawa provided a group of 50 “sharpshooters”, mostly from the Foot Guards, to the troops dispatched to Saskatchewan at the time of the Northwest difficulties in 1885. About 100 men were provided by the 43rd Rifles and the Governor General's Foot Guards Foot Guards as reinforcements for the Royal Canadian Regiment in the Boer War of 1899 A member of the Rifles was awarded a “Queen's Scarf” of Honour for his involvement. Queen Victoria personally knitted seven scarves for special acts of valour in the field. She knitted three for the British forces and one each for Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African forces By the time World War 1 began in August of 1914, Ottawans were fully involved.

The first military unit organized in Ottawa was the Ottawa Volunteer Field Battery or “Bytown Gunners” which still exists today. It was formed in 1855 and its members have served in many conflicts. It's Second Battery, serving in the Boer War had among its members John McRae, later and still famous for his poem “In Flanders Fields” They have served in all wars since the, and are most recognizable for the salutes they fire on Parliament Hill on national occasions such as Remembrance Day.

The senior infantry regiment in Ottawa is the Governor General's Foot Guards, formed in 1861in Quebec City as the Civil Service Rifles. When government moved to Ottawa, so did the Rifles. During the Fenian Raids, all male civil servants were conscripted to guard government buildings—our first example of military conscription! In 1872, it was considered that he new Dominion should have a regiment of Guards, similar to those who guarded the Queen in London. The unit was modeled on the Coldstream Guards of the British Army Colours were first presented to the Guards by the wife of the Governor General in 1874 and the Cartier Square Armoury was constructed to house them and others in 1878 .By Royal decree, this Regiment has military precedence over all other Canadian regiments.

In 1881, 43rd Ottawa and Carleton Rifles became the Duke of Cornwall's Own Rifles and, in 1933, their name was changed to the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa.

In 1872, there had been organized an Ottawa Troop of Cavalry. This troop became the forerunner of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards and the 4th Hussars. WE stopped using horses in War after the First World War so most “horse regiments” became armoured units and rode tanks instead of horses

Other units assembled in Ottawa, but were not really Ottawa Units. The first, in 1898, was the Yukon Field Force which was mustered to aid the RNWMP in policing the Yukon, in face of the lawlessness associated with the Yukon gold rush. In December 1899, with the Royal Canadian Regiment already on the way to South Africa., Lord Strathcona, then Canada's High Commissioner in Great Britain offered a blank cheque to recruit a cavalry regiment to serve in South Africa. This unit became known as The Lord Strathcona's Horse In 1914, another generous person, put up $100,000 of his own money to form a regiment to be named after the then Governor General's daughter, Princess Patricia. This unit became known as the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and has just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan, as well as serving in both World Wars. So did the Lord Strathcona's Horse, on horses in World War 1 and in tanks in World War 2 They assembled in Ottawa so all of these units have links to Ottawa and they only represent Army units. Ottawa has contributed much to Canada's military history and that fact should be better known!

 

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.