Here's a December Entry From James Powell's Blog:
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.
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.
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.
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.
And One More December Entry from James Powell's Blog:
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.
This 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.
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.”
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.
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.