Ottawa Recycles

5 June 1972

If you were to do a word search for “recycling” in North American newspapers, you would find very little prior to about 1970. Before then the word simply did not exist in our everyday lexicon. But that dramatically changed with the growing awareness of the consequences of pollution. In 1965, U.S. President Johnson warned Congress that the burning of fossil fuels was leading to “a steady increase in carbon dioxide” in the atmosphere. He added that “pollution destroys beauty and menaces health,” and “the longer we wait to act the greater the dangers and the larger the problem.” Four years later, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire (again). Startling images of flames shooting up from the surface of the river to engulf ships and bridges seared our collective consciousness. People began asking what they could personally do to help; recycling provided a partial answer.

This is not to say people didn’t care about pollution before then. People certainly did. In 1897, the editor of Ottawa’s Evening Journal complained about Ottawa’s high death rate and how it was affected by the lack of a system for disposing of the city’s refuse. “[T]here still remains the unsolved problem of disposing of house refuse, ashes, waste paper and an endless variety of more or less odorous and ornamental material which still disgraces our streets, pollutes our backyards, and in undergoing fermentative processes certainly endangers the health of the community.” But most viewed pollution as the unavoidable, albeit regrettable, consequence of industry, jobs and prosperity.

recycling 17-1-1900 toj

Government seeking tenders to collect waste paper, 17 January, 1900, The Ottawa Journal.

Recycling is nothing new either. Think of the traditional rag and bones man who scavenged for old clothes, bones, scrap metal, paper and other items. But the motivation was profit not pollution. Here in Canada, by 1900 the federal government was putting out the collection of its waste paper to tender to raise extra revenue. The first big city-wide paper recycling campaign in Canada was launched in Ottawa by the Laurentian chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.). In September 1915, the Chapter asked Ottawa’s Board of Control for permission to place bins on Ottawa’s streets to collect bundles of old newspapers, magazines, catalogues, and writing paper for collection. Within weeks, red waste paper bins sprouted on Ottawa street corners. The collected paper was taken to a warehouse where it was weighed and sold. The proceeds were used to supply “comforts” to Canadian troops in the trenches in France. The Chapter also asked car owners to volunteer their vehicles to pick up paper bundles that were too heavy to bring to the collection bins. A depot on Kent Street was also open every Thursday for anyone to drop off their waste paper. Later, one could call “Queen 631” for a truck to come and pick up bundles of unwanted paper.

recycling 2-3-20 toj

Advertisement for waste paper in aid of injured soldiers, 2 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

The program was a huge success. During the war, the waste paper scheme collected more than 1,500 tons of waste paper, raising some $20,000 for Canadian troops. In 1920, the I.O.D.E. scheme was merged with a similar but newer paper pick-up organized by the Y.W.C.A. The merged program was named The Amalgamated Paper Schemes. But the joint enterprise folded the following year owing to a decline in waste paper prices that made paper collection unprofitable. Subsequently, other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, and church groups, organized paper drives when waste paper prices rose to profitable levels. In 1939, the Journal reported that 3,000 tons of paper were being collected annually in Ottawa worth more than $25,000. The prevailing price at that time was about $8 a ton, but reportedly had been as high as $30 a ton in 1932. Prices varied according to the quality of the paper collected. Old writing paper was twice as valuable as waste newspaper.

recycling 3-4-20 toj

Advertisement for the Amalgamated Paper Schemes, 3 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

World War II saw a revival of regular waste paper collection in Ottawa. Within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, Mrs Anna. W. Margosches organized a regular paper drive under the auspices of the United War Services, with the proceeds going to fund entertainment for troops stationed in the capital. Residents were asked to telephone “Paper Collections” at 3-4097 for a truck to come by and pick up bundles of waste paper. Bags were handed out in which to collect the paper. People tagged them “For the Soldiers Entertainment Committee.” The organization later expanded its collections to cover good scrap metals (iron, brass, copper, steel, aluminium) and glass jars and bottles. Tin cans were also accepted for a time but their collection was discontinued owing to low tin prices.

After the war, service organizations and church groups persevered with scrap collections. One particularly successful waste paper collection was organized by L’Association Missionnaire de Marie Immaculée that operated from the 1940s until well into the 1970s. It collected 125-185 tons of waste paper annually, netting $1,000-1,500 for charity and mission work each year. The Boy Scouts were also very active.

Large-scale, regular collections of waste paper resumed in the Ottawa area in 1970 in Kanata, then part of March Township. This time pollution control rather than profit was the prime motivation, though earning money rather than spending money on waste was a great additional incentive. At the beginning of November of that year, the March Township Council in partnership with Pollution Probe organized a three-month trial collection of waste paper. The “Save-A-Tree” program was later extended to twelve months before it was made permanent. Instead of putting paper out for regular garbage pick-up, a private contractor collected the waste paper twice monthly and sold it to the Florence Paper Company for $8-10 per ton. This was a recycling first in Ontario. In its first year of operation, the collection brought in 162 tons of paper, realizing a small profit which in 1972 the township and Pollution Probe put towards bottle recycling—another first in the province. The Village of Rockcliffe followed Kanata’s lead and introduced regular paper collection in September 1971.

In Ottawa, encouraged by the success of the Kanata program, the Glebe Community Association spearheaded by Mrs Luke and Mrs A. C. Holden organized a successful paper drive in late April 1971. In June, a similar paper collection was jointly organized by a number of Ottawa community associations. That same month, Pollution Probe in co-operation with the University of Ottawa and supported by a grant from the government’s Opportunities for Youth program, opened depots across the city for residents to drop of their waste newspapers through the summer.

The City of Ottawa finally got into the act with trial waste-paper collection scheme at the end of October 1971. Each week for four weeks, a different quarter of the city was targeted for waste paper pick-up. The first zone to be serviced was the area north of the Queensway, between Fisher Avenue and the Rideau River, to the city limits in the south. Controller Lorry Greenberg, who led the project, expected the project to be economically viable once residents became aware of the new scheme. In the interim the city was willing to bear a loss.

Participation was lower than expected. The Journal said Ottawa residents suffered from “ecological apathy.” To boost participation, the city enlisted the help of clowns, some of whom were kids from Canterbury High School, to stir up excitement in neighbourhoods and boost paper collection. But during the four-week period, the city collected a much lower than expected 428 tons of waste paper, and incurred a net loss of $6,294 although it did save an estimated 4,488 trees.

For a while it looked like a permanent scheme was going to be still-born. The pilot project had been greeted with ennui by the majority of Ottawa citizens, and had lost a considerable amount of money. However, the outlook radically improved when Ottawa’s garbage contractor, H.O. Sanitation, offered to pick up the paper at no extra cost to the city. To reduce labour costs, the contractor modified its trucks so that paper could be placed in segregated containers. This allowed garbage collectors to pick up waste paper at the same time as regular garbage. The City also received petitions, and hundreds of telephone calls from citizens urging it to introduce a permanent recycling program. Citizens that attended a public meeting on recycling were also encouraging. Thus, starting on Monday, 5 June 1972, Ottawa homeowners began to put out bundles of paper for curbside collection on their regular garbage days.

To break even, H. O. Sanitation needed to collect at least 40 tons of paper per day. That first Monday’s pick-up was a success. Some 70 tons of paper were collected. By the end of the first week, 350 tons of paper were sent to E.B. Eddy for recycling. There were problems, however. Some apartment superintendents were not co-operating in the separation of garbage. And only half of the garbage trucks had been modified. More seriously, daily collection amounts began to drop. It seems that the early success was due to some homeowners storing their waste paper in anticipation of the start of the program. Once that backlog had been picked up, the day-to-day collections fell. Also, many households were not recycling their waste paper, finding it easier to throw it out with the rest of their garbage.  Still, Ottawa’s recycling program was deemed a sufficient success for John Turner, the then federal Finance Minister, to “plant” a tree behind City Hall on Green Island in recognition of Ottawa being the first Canadian city to launch a city-wide waste paper recycling program. In fact, the tree had been planted a month earlier, and Turner just moved a couple of spadesful of soil around its base.

In December 1974, paper recycling screeched to a halt when the City suspended the program. One thing the city hadn’t counted on was a fall in waste paper prices brought about by the increased supply. E.B. Eddy had foreshadowed this possibility back in 1971 when it cautioned people that they were already getting all the used paper they could use to produce cardboard. The City did, however, start to recycle bottles and tin cans at three drop-off depots. An experimental monthly pick-up was also established in Manor Park. The glass, separated by colour, was crushed and sent to Montreal to be converted into new glass products. Tin cans that had been washed and flattened with their bottoms and tops cut out were stored until sufficient stocks warranted being shipped to Hamilton for reprocessing.

Despite early setbacks, the three cities of Ottawa, Nepean and Gloucester jointly introduced in 1987 the curbside Blue Bin program to recover recyclable household waste. The program was operated under contract with Laidlaw Waste Systems. In 1991, the City distributed backyard composers to Ottawa households in an effort to divert kitchen waste from city landfills. In 2010, Ottawa began the curb-side collection of organic wastes. Through its current black bin (paper), blue bin (metals and plastics) and green bin (organics) program, the City earned $10 million in 2016, and diverted tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Trail Road Waste Facility, thereby extending its life. According to City figures, 93 per cent of newspaper and 90 per cent of cardboard are recycled. Concurrently, 71 per cent of steel and tin cans, 64 per cent of aluminium cans, and roughly 75 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled.

recycling ottawa

Ottawa Recycling Bins, Junk the Funk.

Despite this success, Ottawa only diverted 44 per cent of its waste from landfills in 2016, a smaller percentage than the Ontario average, and far lower than Toronto’s diversion rate. Only 51 per cent of Ottawa households use their green bins for recycling kitchen scraps into compost owing to what has been called “the yuck factor.” A quarter of Ottawa citizens don’t recycle at all. According to Waste Watch Ottawa, the City could take a number of measures to improve its diversion rate through better education of its citizens, targeting multi-residential buildings, and the provision of larger blue and black recycling bins. The organization also recommends that the City consider the adoption of a user pay system for garbage, the mandatory use of clear plastic bags (bags containing recyclable items would not be picked up), and a reduction in the number of bags of garbage that would be picked up from a household each week.

Sources:

CBC, 2017. “City of Ottawa earned $10m from your paper, plastic in 2016,” 18 April.

Johnson, Lyndon B. 1965. “Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration Of Natural Beauty,” Public Papers of the Presidents Of The United States, 8 February.

Junk That Funk, 2017. Report Indicates Ottawa Needs To Improve The Recycling Effort, 17 September, http://junkthatfunk.com/report-indicates-ottawa-needs-to-improve-the-recycling-effort/.

Ottawa, City of, 2018. Recycling, https://ottawa.ca/en/residents/garbage-and-recycling/recycling.

Ottawa, City of, various years. “Minutes,” City Council.

Ottawa Citizen, 2017. “Green Bin Program’s ‘Yuck Factor’ still bedevils city hall,” 17 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1897. “Ottawa’s Death Rate,” 5 November.

————————–, 1915. “10 Boxes To Collect Papers For Soldiers,” 22 September.

————————–, 1915. “Our Soldiers At The Front,” 20 October.

————————–, 1917. “Waste Paper Scheme,” 28 February.

————————–, 1919. “Make The Waste Paper Tell,” 15 May.

————————–, 1920. “Waste Paper Collection,” 8 May.

————————–, 1921. “Increase Discount Get Taxes Quickly,” 9 February.

————————–, 1939. “Earn $25,000 Annually On Old Paper,” 18 Februa

————————–, 1939, “Seek Waste Paper To Secure Funds Entertain Troops,” 24 October.

————————-, 1940. “For The Troops,” 23 September.

————————-, 1940. “Want Waste Paper,” 12 November.

————————-, 1971. “What Are You Doing About Pollution?” 15 April.

————————-, 1971. “City To Consider Garbage Recycling,” 20 May.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Drive To Be Conducted Saturday,” 14 June.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Recycling Drive ‘Catching,’” 26 July.

————————-, 1971. “Rockcliffe Park paper pickup starts Sept. 22,” 16 August.

————————-, 1971. “Recycling details set,” 1 October.

————————-, 1971. “Ottawa paper pick-up breaks new ground,” 16 October.

————————-, 1971. “Eddy’s contends waste-paper war misleading,” 29 October.

————————-, 1971. “Waste paper collection drive lags,” 3 November.

————————-, 1971. “Ecological Apathy,” 11 November.

————————-, 1971. “Two Clowns With A Cause,” 22 November.

————————-, 1971. “Public Meeting called to study permanent paper pick-up plan,” 26 November.

————————, 1972. “Kanata recycling glass,” 27 January.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-ups to start June 5,” 10 May.

————————, 1972. “Out of the woods: Paper pick-ups set preservation of trees,” 2 June.

————————, 1972. “Paper recycling rolls off to a successful start,” 6 June.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-up ‘verging on failure,’” 16 June.

————————, 1972. “Tough On The Ol’ Back,” 23 June.

————————, 1973. “Recycling,” 30 June.

————————, 1975. “City to continue glass, tin recycling,” 21 March.

Waste Watch Ottawa, 2017. Improving the City of Ottawa’s Waste Diversion Performance, https://ecologyottawa3.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/wwo-ottawa-waste-diversion-performance-sept-15-2017.pdf.

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The Victoria Memorial Museum

10 May 1901

At the end of Metcalfe Street between McLeod and Argyle Streets can be found the Canadian Museum of Nature, housed in a magnificent baronial building with beautiful stained glass windows. Constructed over a several-year period during the first decade of the twentieth century, the edifice’s official name is the Victoria Memorial Museum Building, in commemoration of Queen Victoria who died in January 1901. Within weeks of her death, the government chose to honour her reign by the construction of a museum.

Victoria Tower post card

Post Card of The Victoria Memorial Museum, before 1915, Valentine & Sons’ Publishing C. Ltd, London, Toronto Public Library.

On 10 May, 1901, a sum of $50,000 appeared in the supplementary estimates for the 1901-1902 fiscal year for the commencement of work on the Victoria Memorial Museum. After considerable debate, the appropriation was approved by the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, though the Conservative opposition complained about the lack of a definitive plan for the building.  The government was also uncertain of its location. It favoured siting the building at Major’s Hill Park, with a bridge across the Rideau Canal connecting the Park to Parliament Hill, roughly where the Château Laurier Hotel is situated today. However, others thought Nepean Point might be a good location. Still others objected to both locations arguing that the land should be conserved for parklands. They preferred a location somewhere in the south of the city. Mr. Joseph Tarte, the Minister of Public Works, assured the House that no work would commence until he and his colleagues were convinced they had found the best design and the best site for the new building. To that end, he had sent David Ewart, the Chief Dominion Architect, to Europe to look into museum designs.

The site finally selected for the new museum was a property owned by the Stewart family a mile due south of Parliament Hill. Located there was a stone building called Appin Place surrounded by fields and gardens. Appin Place was a homestead that dated back to 1856, though actual construction of the house was delayed until 1862 owing to the death of the property’s owner, William Stewart, who had been the Member of Parliament for Bytown in the Province of Canada legislature. Appin Place, whose paddock was sometimes used as a cricket pitch, was a well-known landmark. It was surrounded by a massive cedar hedge that was noted for its beauty. The hedge had been transplanted from a nearby swamp during the 1840s. The house itself was built on the highest point of land in “Stewarton” in a direct line and level with the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. Appin Place was reportedly where Lord Dufferin had presented the colours to the Governor General’s Foot Guards in 1874. The government acquired the land for $73,500 at a sheriff’s sale in 1903 or early 1904.

The museum was designed by David Ewart, and built by George Goodwin of Ottawa. Goodwin had won the contract for building the museum with his bid of $950,000, excluding the cost of the electrical work, heating and furnishings. His was the lowest of four bids on the government contract. He would later come to rue winning the contract. The total cost of the building came to roughly $1,250,000, equivalent to more than $27 million in today’s money. Goodwin had previously worked on other public works projects, including the construction of the Trent Valley and Soulonges Canals.  The new museum measured 430 feet by 169 feet with a tower 97 feet high. Its walls were built using Scottish work masonry in Nepean brown stone, with trimmings in Nova Scotia red stone. Credit Valley stone was also used. The four-story building was fire-proof with its floors made of porous terra cotta covered with concrete. Wooden sleepers were set into the concrete to which wooden floors were fastened. The walls of the basement were lined with enamelled brick.

Demolition of the old stone Appin Place took only three days in mid-April 1905. Work on the foundation of the new museum commenced almost immediately. The structure was scheduled to take four years to build. But problems, disputes, and tragedy dogged the construction which took longer than expected. Goodwin wanted to substitute stone quarried in Ohio for the Nova Scotia stone, but was overruled by government; the contract called for Canadian stone throughout. In 1908, a labourer fell to his death while working on the building. He apparently lost his footing when he was 70 feet up on the girders. While he survived the fall, he sustained grievous injuries and died at St. Luke’s Hospital. By 1911, six stone cutters who had worked on the building had died from “stone cutters’ lung disease”—an illness, now called silicosis, caused by the inhalation of dust—that causes shortness of breath, cough, bluish skin, and ultimately death.

The name and organization of the new museum also proved to be controversial. A delegation of Ottawa’s finest, including Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper (the partners who owned Ottawa’s electrical company and electric railway), J.R. Booth, the timber baron, and Erskine Henry Bronson, after whom Bronson Avenue was later named, appealed to the Prime Minister. They wanted the new museum to be called the National Museum of Canada that would report to a special government commission comparable to the British Museum in London and the National Museum in Washington D.C. Laurier promised to consult his Cabinet. The appeal failed.

Victoria Memorial Museum without tower LAC PA-48179

The Victoria Memorial Museum Without its Tower, Library and Archives Canada, PA-48179.

As the building was finally nearing completion in early 1911, cracks began to appear in the front tower owing to settling. A slight separation was also noted between the tower and the main building. The Ottawa Evening Journal ominously noted that the contractor, George Goodwin, was the builder of the Laurier Tower, an addition to the West Block on Parliament Hill erected a few years earlier that had subsequently collapsed. Government engineers initially thought that the cracks in the museum would soon be remedied. However, they proved to be wrong. By late 1911, cracks had appeared on both sides of the entrance rotunda. Some were as much as five inches across. The cracks were plastered over several times, only to reappear. In late 1913, the Department of Public Works denied that it was considering dismantling the tower. However, by the summer of 1915, it became obvious something had to be done to ensure public safety. There was even talk of tearing down the entire building. In the end, engineers decided that while the building could be saved, the tower had to come down. It was simply too heavy to be supported by the foundation which rested on unstable clay. Goodwin, the builder, who reportedly lost a fortune on the building, died later that same year. It is said that he had tried to warn the government about problems with the building’s specifications but his concerns had been brushed aside.

Victoria Memorial Museum inside, 1913, Geological Survey of Canada LAC-065507

Inside of the Victoria Memorial Museum, 1913, Geological Survey of Canada/Library and Archives Canada, C-065507.

Despite worries about its solidity, staff moved into the Victoria Memorial Museum in 1911 in order to get ready the many artifacts in the government collection. This included the Geological Survey’s collection of Canadian ores and minerals, fossils, stuffed mammals and birds, insects, as well as First Nations’ handicrafts, phonographic records of songs of indigenous peoples, as well as antiquities and other objects of scientific value. The National Gallery of Canada, with its over four hundred paintings, sketches, etchings and sculptures, also moved into the Museum. In 1913, the Museum acquired a complete skeleton of a “duck-billed” dinosaur, of the family Trachodonatae, discovered in the Red River Valley of Alberta. According to the Ottawa Evening Journal, the fossil was three million years old. Today, this animal is known as a hadrosaur, the old name of Trachodon no longer being used. The fossil, which can still be seen at the Museum of Nature, is actually about 65 million years old.

When the museum first opened its doors to the general public is a bit murky. The National Gallery of Canada located in the Museum building opened in mid-May 1912, from 9 am – 5 pm Monday to Saturday. It is probable that the Geological Survey’s collection opened at the same time. Admission was free. Owing to the great popularity of the museum, opening hours were subsequently extended to Sunday afternoons despite opposition from some clergy.

When the Centre Block on Parliament Hill was gutted by fire in early 1916, the Victoria Memorial Museum was quickly fitted out as the temporary home of the Senate and House of Commons. The House of Commons was located in the lecture hall while the Senate was housed in the hall previously devoted to fossils and extinct animals, a fact that caused great hilarity. Some wags noted that little had changed. Parliament met at the museum until 1920. The previous year, the body of Sir Wilfrid Laurier had laid in state in the temporary House of Commons chamber.

Victoria Memorial Museum today Google

Museum of Nature, Victoria Memorial Museum Building, 2017, Google Street View.

Over its life of more than 100 years, the Victoria Memorial Museum building has undergone two major renovations. During the early 1970s, it was closed to allow for workmen to stabilize the building which was still sinking into the Ottawa clay that lay beneath it. In 2010, a major building renewal and renovation took place. A 65-foot glass tower was installed in the same location as the old tower that was torn down in 1915. It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in 2010 and is called the “Queen’s Lantern.”

Sources:

Canadian Museum of Nature, 2018. Historical Timeline, https://nature.ca/en/about-us/history-buildings/historical-timeline.

Globe, 1912, “The National Art Gallery of Canada,” 4 May.

—————————–, 1915. “”Contractor Goodwin Dead,” 1 December.

—————————–, 1916. “Tempoarary House of Parliament,” 5 February.

Globe and Mail,” 2006. “New life for old bones,” 21 October.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1904. “Commons And Ottawa Items,” 25 March.

————————–, 1904. “To Build Royal Victoria Museum,” 27 September.

————————–, 1905. “Number One Hard Wheat Threated by the States,” 10 February.

————————–, 1905. “Appin Place, Historic House, Will Disappear,” 4 March.

————————–, 1905. “Stewart Homestead A thing Of The Past,” 17 April.

————————–, 1906. “He Must Use The Canadian,” 2 May.

————————–, 1908. “Fatal Fall From Victoria Museum,” 16 June.

————————–, 1910. “Deputation on Change of Name,” 8 December.

————————–, 1911. “One Million And A Quarter Dollars of Estimates Passed,” 24 March.

————————-, 1911. “Cracks In Museum Wall Is Not Growing Larger,”21 April.

————————-, 1911. “Five Stone Workers Dead,” 8 May.

————————-, 1912. “Art Gallery To Open On Saturday,” 14 May.

————————-, 1913. “Dinossaur (sic) Is Secured For Museum,” 4 January.

————————-, 1913. “Museum Tower,” 2 October.

————————-, 1915. “Sealed Tenders for Partial Removal Of Tower,” 11 August.

————————-, 1915. “Contractor For Museum Warned Minister Plans Would Not Suit,” 12 August.

————————-, 1914. “Fine Skeleton Of Dinosaur At Victoria Museum,” 12 September.

 

Ottawa’s Chinese Laundry Tax

20 April 1897

Like most countries, Canada has a long, history of racial discrimination and prejudice against minority groups that sadly persists in varying degrees to today. Visible minorities, including Canada’s indigenous peoples, and immigrants of African and Asian descent, have been particularly targeted as have been religious minorities, such as Jews, Muslims and certain Christian sects, and homosexuals. Chinese immigrants were the subject of draconian laws aimed at curtailing their numbers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They only received the right to vote in 1947. Canada’s race-based immigration system remained in force until 1962. Chinese immigrants and Canadians of Chinese descent were also barred from many professions, were forbidden from buying property in certain jurisdictions, and were subject to degrading segregation laws.

The first major wave of Chinese settlers to Canada came from California during the 1850s, attracted by the gold rush in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Immediately, they faced discrimination. British Columbia denied Chinese immigrants the right to vote. Later, the federal government did likewise. Another wave of Chinese entered Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway during the 1880s. The Chinese labourers worked for meagre pay in appalling conditions. Many perished. Bowing to pressure from British Columbia, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, instituting a $50 poll tax on Chinese immigrant labourers, roughly equivalent to the £10 poll tax imposed on Chinese immigrants in Australia and New Zealand. It was less draconian, however, than the Chinese Exclusion Act than effectively barred Chinese immigration to the United States. The poll tax was a sizeable financial impediment to Chinese immigrants who only earned about $300 per year, and often supported dependents back in China. Most Chinese men who worked on the railways and elsewhere could not afford to bring their wives and families to Canada. This led to broken families and a serious male-female imbalance within the Chinese community. The Imperial government in London, which was at the time in the process of negotiating with the Chinese government over Burma, was not amused. It was, however, reluctant to impose a veto over the Canadian legislation. The Evening Journal thundered in 1886 that “Canada was not interested in Burmah [sic] but she was in the Chinese problem in British Columbia and if the majority of her people desires to shut the Mongolians out, or tax them, it is their own business and nobody else’s.”

Organized labour in Canada was opposed to Chinese immigrants. In Vancouver, the Knights of Labour passed strong resolutions in 1886 against them and organized boycotts of Chinese businesses. A few years later, the Trade and Labour Congress sent a deputation to Sir John A. Macdonald demanding the prohibition of Chinese labour in Canada, saying they were an “undesirable class of immigrants.” The Prime Minister told the delegation that while it was the policy of the government to discourage Chinese immigration, there was no desire to actually prohibit the Chinese from entering the country. Macdonald also rejected a second demand that mines be banned from hiring Chinese workers.

In addition to boycotts, there were nasty anti-Chinese riots in several Western Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Calgary. But, not everybody was opposed to Chinese immigration. Charles Kaulbach, a Conservative member of parliament from Nova Scotia remarked in 1887 that the Chinese “were an essential element in building up the Province of British Columbia.” Despite its earlier remarks, Ottawa’s Evening Journal appears to have had a change of heart in 1887, coming out in support of Chinese merchants who were protesting the $50 poll tax. The newspaper said that the tax was “a political sop to sectional interests,” a “short-sighted folly,” and an “inexcusable injustice.” Subsequently, in response to an anti-Chinese tirade in the Victoria Times, which the Journal claimed was plagiarized from a “slavery paper published before the American [civil] war,” it wrote:

The tendency of English-speaking races to compete with other races by means of clubs has always been interesting. When we want to own negro slaves, or to kill off red men or to boycott Chinese, we cannot only prove ourselves morally right, but woe be to any one who argues with us about it! The rant of the Victoria Times sounds familiar, in fact exceedingly chestnutty.

Chinese laundry ad 21-4-97 TOEJ

Chinese laundry advertisement, The Evening Journal, 21 April 1897.

The first Chinese to come to Ottawa arrived in 1887. In October of that year, the Evening Journal noted that there was a new type of business sign on Spark’s Street—a Chinese laundry called “Wing On.” The following month, the newspaper reported that the city’s Chinese population was growing with the arrival of Chung Kee who was residing on Elgin Street. (In the 1891 census, there were only five Chinese residents of Ottawa, all men, out of a mere 97 in all of Ontario.) The newspaper reported that Chung had established a laundry, the third to have been established by Chinese over the previous six months. Coincidently, the signs of the laundries were all similar. Each used white lettering on a red background. Wing On also made the news the following year when he launched a legal claim against a local company that had supplied the laundry with washing machines. When one broke down after only a week in operation, the supplier refused to honour his warranty. Who won the case is not known. The Wing On laundry went on to become very successful, and by the late 1890s had two subsidiary stores, one on Sussex Street and another on Bank Street, and was a regular advertiser in local newspapers.

In 1888, official Chinese visitors to Ottawa, ran afoul of the $50 poll tax. Three “Celestial” commissioners, Y. l. Foo, H.K. Foo and H.B. Sanamissa, who were appointed by the Imperial Chinese Government to investigate Western agricultural techniques, were stopped at the Canada-U.S. border while on their way to the nation’s capital, presumably to visit the Central Experimental Farm.  The three commissioners refused to pay the $50 poll tax. Being government officials, they were supposed to have been exempt from the tax. However, the Canadian immigration officers at the border balked at letting them proceed, and only allowed them to continue their journey under a police escort. Their baggage was impounded as security, and a policeman slept outside their door at the Russell Hotel where they were staying. The Customs Department subsequently backed down, apologized, and returned their luggage.

In 1895, anti-Chinese sentiment in Ottawa began to take on more serious character. The Ottawa Trades and Labour Council passed a motion that all union men should refrain from using Chinese laundries and instead patronize “our own laundries run by white people.” Delegate St. Pierre, who introduced the motion, which was seconded by Delegate Chapman, reportedly said that “The Chinese were driving white people out of British Columbia and they would do the same in Ottawa.” He added that the Chinese were a curse to the city and that the sooner they were driven out the better.”

Two years later, on the 20 April 1897, Ottawa’s City Council voted to impose a $10 per year tax on Chinese laundries. Given the amount of water that laundries were using, the Council’s Waterworks Committee had earlier recommended that Council impose a $10 per year tax on “all Chinese laundries, or small laundries” using city water. However, when the recommendation came to the Board, the measure was limited to just Chinese laundries on an amendment moved by Alderman McGuire, seconded by Alderman Powell. Alderman McGuire, who was the unofficial labour union representative on City Council, said that the measure was a “matter of protection to the interests of our people [italics added] who are striving hard to make a living,” and that Ottawa realized nothing from the Chinese.

Others spoke up in defence of the Chinese. Alderman Campbell said that the Chinese were law-abiding, and always paid their water fees on time. Alderman S. Maynard Rogers thought that if the motion passed, Ottawa would become a laughing stock and didn’t want to act towards Chinese the way they do in the United States.  Other councilmen calling the tax “unBritish, “unChristian,” and “unjust.”  Nevertheless, the amendment passed on an eleven to six Council vote. The next day, the headline in the Evening Journal read No Pay Taxee; No Washee: Council drops on the Chinese.

Local Chinese residents were rightly appalled. Many gathered at Hong You’s laundry on Bank Street to discuss the tax and decide on what to do. It was agreed that they would find a lawyer and take the City to court on the grounds that Council could not impose a tax on any particular class or nationality. Although this was many years before the rights and freedoms of Canadians were constitutionally protected, the Chinese community had a good case.

At Council, Alderman Campbell tried to overturn the vote. But on two occasions when he raised the issue, supporters of the measure left the Council Chamber and broke the quorum. The issue had to be postponed. Campbell’s amendment, which would have applied the tax to all laundries not just Chinese ones, finally came to vote at the end of May 1897. It was defeated on a twelve to eight vote, thus leaving the discriminatory tax in place. The Evening Journal said that the tax was probably illegal, and seemed “in ill accord with British fair play.”

Behind the scenes, people must have been getting worried about potential law suits and bad publicity. An advisory committee was established to examine the issue that included the Mayor Samuel Bingham and the City’s solicitor M. O’Gara. In late June, the committee issued its report to Council saying that the committee was “of the opinion that the charges for the water rates on laundries should be dealt with irrespective of persons” and directed the waterworks committee to determine “what special rates, if any, should be charged upon premises where laundries are carried on.” The discriminatory tax was never implemented.

Despite this small victory over the forces of discrimination and prejudice, governments continued to pander to sectional interests and the inexcusable injustice inflicted on Chinese immigrants to Canada was to get worse before redress began after World War II. Due to anti-Chinese pressure from British Columbia, the poll tax was increased to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1903 despite there being only 17,312 Chinese settlers in all of Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Things were to go from bad to worse. In 1923, Chinese immigration to Canada was banned under the Chinese Immigration Act also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law remained in force until 1947.

In 2006, Prime Minister Harper issued an apology for the head tax that was enforced from 1885 to 1923 and the exclusionary laws in place from 1923 to 1947. A symbolic payment of $20,000 was also awarded to survivors of the head tax. In 2014, Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia apologized for the more than 160 historical racist and discriminatory policies imposed by the B.C. government on the Chinese. At the end of March 2018, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robinson announced that the Vancouver City government would apologize for its past discriminatory by-laws and practices.

Sources:

CBC News, 2006. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ottawa-issues-head-tax-redress-payments-to-chinese-canadians-1.600871.

CBC News, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/chinese-community-gets-apology-from-b-c-for-historical-wrongs-1.2643938.

CTV News, 2018. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/vancouver-mayor-to-apologize-to-residents-of-chinese-descent-for-past-wrongs-1.3862950.

Chan, Arlene. 2017. “Chinese Immigration Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chinese-immigration-act/.

Chan, Anthony, 2015. “Chinse Canadians,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chinese-canadians/.

Chong, Denise. 2013. Lives of the Family, Random House Canada: Toronto.

Ottawa City Council. 1897. Minutes, 20 April, 17 May, 30 May, 28 June.

Ottawa Chinese Community Centre and Denise Chong 2012. Lives of the Family, https://livesofthefamilies.wordpress.com/home/.

Evening Journal (Ottawa), 1886. “Editorial,” 3 March.

——————————–, 1886. “The Trades Congress,” 20 September.

——————————–, 1886. “Sparks,” 17 November.

——————————–, 1887. “The Chinese Question,” 19 May.

——————————–, 1887. “Editorial,” 8 September 1887.

——————————–, 1887. “City and Vicinity,” 19 October.

——————————–, 1887. “City and Vicinity,” 23 November.

——————————–, 1888. “On Wing On!,” 3 February.

——————————–, 1888. “Chinamen in Bond,” 22 September.

——————————–, 1889, “The Chinese Tax,” 14 October.

——————————–, 1890. “The Chinese In Canada,” 9 September.

——————————–, 1892. “The Chinese Question,” 28 March.

——————————–, 1892. “Riot in Calgary,” 4 August.

——————————–, 1895. “No Use For The Chinese,” 26 September 1895.

——————————–, 1897. “No Pay Taxee; No Washee,” 21 April.

——————————–, 1897. “Chinamen Indignant,” 3 May.

——————————–, 1897. “Must Be Responsible,” 18 May.

——————————–, 1897. “Editorial,” 2 June.

 

 

The Ottawa City Hall Fire

31 March 1931

Ottawa’s first city hall was a wooden structure built close to Elgin Street in 1848 by Nicholas Sparks. It had originally been a market. But when the market failed the following year, eclipsed by the more popular Byward Market in Lower Town, Sparks donated the building to Bytown (later known as Ottawa) as the town’s city hall. For close to thirty years it served in this capacity, for a time also doubling as the community’s fire hall. Pressed for space, the city’s municipal offices moved into a bespoke building constructed in 1876 on an adjacent lot located on Elgin Street between Queen and Albert Streets—roughly where the National Arts Centre is today. The four-storey, stone building was designed by the architects Henry H. Horsey of Ottawa and Matthew Sheard of Toronto in the French Empire style, a mode of architecture which was much admired during the late nineteenth century. The City Hall, built for $85,000, was apparently considered by many at the time as “the finest example of municipal architecture.”

City hall old LAC C002185

The first Ottawa City Hall constructed in 1848. The main floor was used as a fire hall.  Library and Archives Canada, C-002185.

But by the 1920s, the City had once again outgrown its now aging city hall. In 1927, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King came to an agreement with the City over the eventual expropriation of the building, along with the Police and Central (No. 8) Fire Station buildings located behind it, the Russell Hotel, the Russell Theatre, and the Post Office, in a grand plan to beautify Ottawa through the creation of Confederation Park, the construction of a War Memorial to honour Canadian service personnel who died during the Great War, and the widening of Elgin Street. Although the Russell Block was expropriated in 1927 by the federal government, and the City itself took over several buildings including Knox Presbyterian Church for the widening of Elgin Street, plans for the park stalled with the coming of the Great Depression in 1929 and the election of a parsimonious Conservative government under R. B. Bennett in 1930.

City Hall Topley StudiosLACMikkan3325359

Ottawa City Hall, 1877-1931, Elgin Street, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 3325359.

The municipal offices were still located in their Elgin Street premises when a fire gutted the building.  During the evening of 31 March 1931, two men passing by the nearby Post Office spotted smoke and flames coming from the top corner of the north-east side of the City Hall. The passers-by rushed to the No. 8 Fire Station. The fireman on duty initially thought the men were pulling an April Fool’s prank on him. But after stepping outside, he quickly call out the fire fighters. The first alarm sounded at 9.25 pm with a second alarm sounding a few minutes later, calling in fire fighters from across the city.

Firemen initially entered the east tower of the Hall that led to the office of Vincent Courtemanche, the City’s paymaster. Courtemanche was working late that night preparing workers’ pay sheets. Hearing the hubbub outside his office, he initially thought a prisoner had escaped from the police lock-up. On finding that the City Hall was ablaze, he rushed upstairs to warn Finance Commissioner Gordon who was also working late. The two men fled the building after retrieving $8,000 in cash and $20,000 in cheques. Gordon also managed to save a cheque-writing machine newly purchased for $1,000.  Reportedly, a one-ton safe was dragged be two policemen and two volunteers from the Treasury Department to the offices of Hugh Carson Ltd, the maker of leather goods at 72 Albert Street, for safe-keeping.

The fire started in the office of T. B. Rankin, the accountant of the City’s engineering department located on the northeastern corner of the top floor. Firemen were able to bring two hoses to Rankin’s office, but the blaze had already spread through the false ceiling and could not be contained. It quickly swept through the neighbouring offices of the Waterworks department and the draughting room of the Works department. The office of the building inspector was also consumed by the flames.

Downstairs, a meeting of the Central Council of Social Agencies was underway in the Board of Control boardroom. Controller J.W. York, who was attending the meeting, immediately called Mayor Allen and other councilmen. After saving the records of the Board of Control, Controllers Gelbert and York, along with a Journal newsman, went upstairs to salvage records from the Waterworks and Works departments. The three men had a narrow escape when a wall collapsed under the pressure of the water from the firemen’s hoses on the other side of the wall of the room they were in. They were forced to drop everything and flee to safety. Following his arrival on scene, Mayor Allen took charge of saving documents. Men frantically slid steel filing cabinets filled with important municipal records down the building’s marble staircase to get them outdoors.

The fire was intense. Seven firemen were injured when the top floor on which they were working collapsed without warning, dropping them more than fifty feet into the basement. Some were pinned for more than an hour under smoldering debris while their colleagues desperately dug to free them. Rev. Father J. L. Bergeron of Ottawa University smashed the glass of a basement window and crawled in to administer last rites to the pinned men. Fortunately, the sacrament was not needed. All the trapped firemen were rescued by their colleagues who “worked like Trojans” to get them out. None of their injuries proved to be life-threatening. But it was a narrow escape. Later in the Water Street hospital, one of the injured admitted that they had received “a real break,” though he phlegmatically added that it was “all part of the game.” Ironically, just two weeks before the fire, the City’s Board of Control had received a report indicating that the Works department vault was supported by only one girder that placed it at risk in the event of a fire. The Board of Control had discussed the building of a more secure vault at the rear of the City Hall at a cost of $70,000 dollars but no decision had been taken.

One hundred and twenty-five firemen from across the city were called out to fight the blaze. To help increase the water pressure, an old steam engine from No. 7 Fire Station was brought into action. A detachment of the RCMP was also called in to help Ottawa police keep more than 20,000 on-lookers from hindering the work of the fire brigade, and to keep them a safe distance from falling debris and flying embers. Just after midnight, tons of masonry from the stone tower at the south-west corner collapsed sending the vault in the Assessment department through the floor through the Health department, the Board of Control room, and the Central Canada Exhibition offices.

Fortunately, the fire didn’t reach the ground floor office of N. H. Lett, the City Clerk. His precious records of elections, plebiscites, and vital statistics survived the fire. Paintings and other valuables were also rescued, including portraits of former mayors and pictures of the King and Queen. Small busts of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier were later found in the Mayor’s Office intact albeit somewhat water damaged. The stock of a little cigar stall that stood at the front entrance was also saved. Estimated losses associated with the fire were placed at more than $200,000. Total insurance coverage amounted to only $91,200 for the building and $10,000 for contents. The cause of the blaze was never ascertained.

Even before the flames were extinguished, work began on finding temporary accommodations for civic workers. The City obtained permission from the federal Department of Public Works to use two floors of the Regal building on O’Connor Street that had just been vacated by the Department of Labour for the Confederation Building on Wellington Street. But efforts to move furniture into the building and set up a switch board were quickly halted when the owner of the building objected. As the City began seeking other alternatives, Mayor Allen and other City Controllers worked out of Controller York’s law office. Some city services set up temporary offices at the Coliseum on Bank Street, others on Bank Street and in LeBreton Flats. Three days after the fire, the City found satisfactory accommodations in the Transportation Building on Rideau Street. (The Transportation Building, built in 1916, stands at the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive and is now incorporated into the Rideau Centre.) Previously the home of the Auditor General, the City rented the top three floors at a cost of $22,500 per year, equivalent to $1.50 per square foot. Most civic departments eventually moved here.

Despite the confusion in the days immediately following the fire, most municipal services were unaffected. City staff were paid on time that week by City Paymaster Courtemanche using temporary facilities at the Police Station. Only Ottawa’s sweethearts were disappointed. City Clerk Lett halted the issuance of marriage licences for twenty-four hours owing to his stock of blank certificates being waterlogged.

The Mayor and Council quickly initiated talks with the Bennett government over the future of the gutted City Hall building. The Mayor proposed that the federal government purchase the land for $2 million consistent with the 1927 plan to establish Confederation Park on the site. But Bennett’s government demurred. The price tag was simply too great. Discussions then focused on whether to restore the damaged building, rebuilt on the same site, or seek an alternate site for a new City Hall. The Ottawa Journal was of the view that restoring the damaged building was a waste of money. It opined that the fire had shown the “folly and danger” of its “ugly, wooden towers which architects of a generation or two ago seemingly insisted upon.” It added “The truth is that a lot of mid-Victorian architecture was as slovenly as the dress of a lot of mid-Victorian women – and about as useless.” What had been viewed as the epitome of fine municipal architecture fifty years earlier was now thoroughly out of fashion and a fire hazard to boot.

It took some months for Council to make its decision to demolish the gutted building, contracting with D. E. Mackenzie to pull it down for $1,800 in October 1931. The City retained ownership over the cornerstone, and all plaques and memorials. The decision to demolish the old building was not unanimous. Mayor Allen and Controller Gelbert favoured erecting a temporary roof and using the basement as the civic employment office. A number of potential locations were discussed for a new home for the City Hall, including sites on Wellington Street next to St. Andrew’s Church between Kent and Lyon Streets, the west side of Elgin Street between Queen and Albert Streets, as well as rebuilding on the existing site. But with a price tag of $600,000, and in light of the considerable expenditures the City had recently incurred on sewer upgrades following the sewer explosions earlier that year, and the cost of building a water purification system, city fathers believed it prudent to wait until better economic conditions prevailed before re-building. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that Ottawa moved into new accommodations constructed on Green Island. The new City Hall building was officially opened by Princess Margaret in early August 1958. The structure, now known as the John G. Diefenbaker building, is currently occupied by Global Affairs Canada.

With the creation of a single-tier city structure, and the merger of surrounding communities into the City of Ottawa in 2001, city government moved to the offices of the defunct Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Elgin Street, facing Confederation Park. Interestingly, this is roughly the site proposed for Ottawa’s City Hall by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in 1931. 

Sources:

Citizen (The), 1931.”5 Firemen In Narrow Escape, Property Loss $15,000,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. “Ask Government If It Wants City Hall Razed,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. “City Hall Built in 1875-76, Renovated During 1910-11,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. ‘For A New City Hall,” 2 April.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1931. “Mayor and Board See Premier About City Hall,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “How Ottawa City Hall Looks Today After Night Blaze of Six Hours,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Three firemen Say They Had A Lucky Break,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Cause of Blaze – A Mystery To Chief Lemieux,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Thrilling Scenes And Brave Rescues Mark City Hall Fire,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Fourth Floor Collapses Trapping Seven Men Under Debris In Cellar,” 1 April.

———————————–, 1931. “Board in Special Meeting Decides on New Offices,” 1 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Ask Government $2,000,000 For City Hall Site,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “City Business Carried on Despite Difficulties Faced Securing Temporary Offices,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Why Waste $150,000 On An Inadequate Building,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Wretched Wooden Towers,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Will Consider Construction New City Hall on Present or Some Other Location,” 3 April.

———————————-, 1931. “New Quarters For City Staff Are Arranged,” 4 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Will Demolish The Fire Ruins Of City Hall,” 12 August.”

———————————-, 1931. “Another Site For New City Hall Offered,” 18 September.

———————————-, 1931. “Decide To Tear Down City Hall Ruins At Once,” 3 October.

———————————-, 1931. “Still Unable Start Tearing Down Building,” 6 October.

National Council of Women of Canada

11 April 1894

The National Council of Women of Canada, an Ottawa-based, women’s advocacy group, celebrates its 125 anniversary in October 2018. It was founded in 1893 in Toronto by Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the then Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Aberdeen. Lady Aberdeen, born Ishbel Marie Marjoribanks (pronounced Marshbanks), was a person of outstanding ability with a strong interest in social reform, an interest shared by her husband. In Scotland, she established, among other things, the Aberdeen Ladies’ Union that helped young girls in cities, and the Onward and Upward Association that provided education to servant girls. She was also head of the Women’s Liberal Federation that advocated for women’s suffrage.

Shortly after her husband took up his post as Governor General, Lady Aberdeen attended the congresses of the National Council of Women of the United States and the Women’s Alliance held at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in May 1893. There, she spoke on women as a force in politics. This was, of course, long before women’s suffrage. Canada’s Dr. Emily Howard Stowe also spoke at the same meeting. Stowe was the president of the Women’s Enfranchisement League of Canada. Subsequently, women convened at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago where it was decided to organize a National Council of Women in every country which in turn would be affiliated with the International Council of Women. Lady Aberdeen was elected as the International Council’s first president. She was to hold this position for three extended terms—1893 to 1899, 1904 to 1920, and 1922 to 1936. May Wright Sewell, an American pioneer for women’s rights, was elected Vice President. Sewell was famous for advocating sensible clothing for women at a time when women’s clothing, which included corsets, bustles, petticoats and floor-length skirts, was anything but sensible.

The small group of Canadian women who attended the meetings in Chicago returned home ready to organize a National Council of Women of Canada. Five months later in late October 1893, hundreds of women assembled in Toronto to launch the new organization under the leadership of Lady Aberdeen. Speaking to the assembly, she remarked on how wonderful it was to look at the advances made in the recognition given to “women’s work, women’s education, women’s influence, and women responsibilities in all directions.” She also commented that women of her day owed much to the heroism of such people as prisoner reformers Elizabeth Fry and Sarah Martin. As well, Lady Aberdeen outlined the plan for the National Council. She envisaged every town having a local council or union of women’s organizations which in turn would send delegates to a National Council so that the “work and thought of women in the Dominion” would be represented from “Halifax to Victoria.” The locals and National Council would be free of religious denomination and open to all. The only requirement would be that the institution or organization have as its objective the good of mankind. Besides sharing information about what each group was doing and identifying gaps, the idea behind a National Council was to draw strength from unity in order to advance nation-wide social objectives. At the meeting, Lady Aberdeen was elected President of the National Council of Women of Canada. She accepted the position on the condition that the women of Canada allowed her to be considered an adopted Canadian.

National Council of Women at Rideau Hall, Oct1898 LAC-PA-028033

Lady and Lord Aberdeen with the National Council of Women at Rideau Hall, shortly before their return to the United kingdom, October 1898, Topley Studios/Library and Archives Canada, PA-029033

After this inaugural conference, major cities in Canada began forming local councils of women’s organizations and associations. Organizations that had both male and female members could also join if the women of those organizations put forward a woman representative to participate in council meetings. Toronto was the first city to establish a local council in early November 1893 with 24 federated societies or associations. This was followed by Hamilton and Montreal later that same month with 25 and 32 member organizations, respectively. Ottawa followed in mid-January 1894 with 27 member organizations. These included: the Children’s Hospital, the Protestant Home for the Aged, the Home for Friendless Women, the Protestant Orphan’s Home, St. Patrick’s Asylum, the Ottawa Humane Society, the Women’s Enfranchisement Association, the Women Christian Temperance Union, and the Ladies’ Auxiliaries of many Protestant churches. There were few Catholic organizations as the Roman Catholic Church had not yet given its blessing to the new Women’s Council. The cost to affiliate with the Ottawa local council was $2.

Lady Ritchie, born Grace Vernon Nicholson, was elected the first President of the Ottawa chapter. She was the wife of Sir William Johnstone Ritchie, who at the time was Canada’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Lady Ritchie had for many years been the president of the Humane Society. She was also the Vice-President of the National Council of Women of Canada.  Other vice-presidents, all women with high-powered connections, included Mrs R.W. Scott (Mary Ann Heron), wife of Mr. Richard W. Scott (later Sir), Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Madame Taschereau (Marie-Antoinette Harwood), the wife of Supreme Court Justice Henri-Elzéar Taschereau (later Sir), Mrs Erskine Bronson (Ella Webster), the wife of Erskine Henry Bronson, the businessman and philanthropist, and Mrs Gwynne, the wife of another Supreme Court Justice, John Wellington Gwynne.

Normal School Ottawa, Topley-LAC-PA-008857

Ottawa Normal School, James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008857.

The first Convention of the National Council of Women of Canada took place in Ottawa over a two-day period beginning 11 April 1894 under the direction of Lady Aberdeen. The afternoon prior to the meeting, the Executive Committee of the Council met at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General, to finalize last-minute arrangements for the Convention. Around a large table set in the middle of the room sat the presidents of the various local councils and representatives of nationally-organized associations affiliated to the National Council. Lady Aberdeen chaired the meeting.  It was described as a very business-like affair with full regard given to Parliamentary rules. It was also described as “very womanly” as “the meeting did not adjourn without the inevitable cup of tea.” After the meeting, blotters and pens were removed and the table was reset for an Executive Council dinner hosted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen.

The Convention officially began the next morning at 10 a.m. in the convocation hall of the Normal School at Elgin and Lisgar Streets. (Today, this Gothic-revival building erected in 1874 forms part of the Ottawa City Hall.) The hall was decorated with flags and bunting with flower arrangements in the windows and on the platform. For the first session, roughly 120 women were present from all the principal cities of Canada. Lady Aberdeen presided over the proceedings. She began the meeting with a silent prayer after noting that the women present represented “different creeds, different churches, different races (i.e. English and French), have different views but are all children of the same Father.”

In her opening address, Lady Aberdeen provided a traditional assessment of woman’s place in society. She described the movement as “mothering.” While not everybody had children, all women were called upon to “mother” in some way, she said. As well, it was the responsibility of women to be the “true homemaker”—“her husband’s companion, her children’s guide” who “should always understand the changes that take place in the everyday world.” She hoped that the Council would be able “to forge a grand band of union between the members as homemakers and home builders.” Later in the conference, she noted that some thought that the Woman’s Council was only a cover for a campaign for women’s rights. She assured people that the women’s movement was “not seeking to agitate for rights or to glorify their own sex at the expense of the other.” Women’s duties rather than women’s rights were their watchwords. Such duties were to the poor, to the fallen and to the ill. Moreover, as well as finding cures, it was important to get to the root causes of the evils.

National Council ExCommitee Oct1898, Topley-LAC PA-028035

Executive Committee of the National Council of Women of Canada, October 1898, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-028035.

Lady Aberdeen’s description of women in their traditional roles as nurturers and caregivers may have in part been directed at disarming potential critics rather than being indicative of her own beliefs. Her position as the Governor General’s wife also limited her to what she could say or do. When approached by women’s suffrage supporters for her support, she refused to comment noting that the subject was politically too controversial.

Over the two-day convention, papers were presented and discussed covering three broad topics—co-operation in the workplace, women’s clubs and their advantages, and the relation of parents and children and their responsibilities—with three to four papers presented in each section. When the presenter on “co-operation of working women for protective purposes” was unable to speak, Lady Aberdeen stepped in and took her place. Lady Aberdeen spoke of women employed in Toronto factories and workshops earning as little as $2-3 per week, with the women’s pay docked for the slightest excuse. She also spoke about the impact of women who worked for pocket money on the wages of those who worked for a living. When buying cheap items in a bargain store, she thought that the purchaser needed to reflect upon the lives of those women who made those goods. Lady Aberdeen opined that a union was necessary—a radical position for somebody in her position at this time.

Also discussed was the issue of domestic service. While not a subject that resonates today, it was a major topic back in the late nineteenth century. Papers were provided from the mistress’s point of view, the servant’s point of view, and on possible solutions. While the report on the discussion was very limited, it would appear at issue was the difference between a mistress’s expectations and a servant’s rights. One suggestion to improve the lot of servants was for families to be content with cold dinners on Sundays.

The Ottawa author and poet Annie Howell Fréchette spoke on raising difficult children. In a very well received lecture, she told the audience that “no child should be asked to submit to a rule that will not permit the search-light of wisdom and right.” She added that “the rod of correction cannot be the diving road that searches the pure waters in the child’s soul.” In other words, corporal punishment doesn’t work—a very modern concept, and one that did not jibe with the biblically-derived proverb of “spare the rod, spoil the child” that many took literally at the time.

At the conclusion of the first day’s business, the Aberdeens hosted a huge reception for delegates and guests at Rideau Hall, opening up the entire ground floor of their home. More than one thousand people showed up despite a conflicting ball being held on the same night at the Russell House Hotel for the wives of members of parliament and senators. Many people attended both functions. Lady Aberdeen wore black with diamonds as she was in mourning for the death of her father the previous month. In the ballroom, amateur musicians and vocalists played and sang. Refreshments were served in the winter tennis court under a red and white marquee that was lowered from the roof.

The highlight of the second day’s afternoon session, which was open to the public, both men and women, was the appearance of Lord Aberdeen, the Governor General, and Sir John Thompson, the Prime Minister. Lord Aberdeen heartedly endorsed the formation of the National Council of Women of Canada, saying that it would promote “greater unity of heart, sympathy, and purpose among the women workers of all sections and classes of the people.” He also thought that it was no longer “a strange or fantastic thing that a body of ladies should be gathered together with the serious and definite purpose of promoting the public welfare.” Lord Aberdeen became the Council’s first patron, donating $100.

Sir John Thompson seconded the motion and congratulated himself that the National Council had been established during his premiership. He promised that “the sympathy of Parliament would be extended to the movement in any practical form.” This, of course, did not extend so far as supporting women’s suffrage though Lady Aberdeen was the first woman to address the House of Commons in 1898 immediately prior her departure from Canada.

At its first Convention, the National Council of Women of Canada approved a number of resolutions. It urged provincial governments to appoint women inspectors for factories and workshops that employed women. Another resolution advised provincial departments of education to supply schools with an improved history of Canada, with decent maps, that skillfully blended the “whole record of ‘Indian Romance,’ ‘French Chivalry,’ and British Endeavour.’” Governments were also called upon to use international arbitration to settle international disputes peacefully. As well, the National Council asked local councils to co-operate with the Children’s Aid Society to try to secure separate prisons and trials for young offenders, especially first-time offenders.

National Council of Women Lady Aberdeen Lady Taylor Mrs. John H. AchesonLACPA-057319

Lady Aberdeen (right) with Mrs John H. Acheson, 2nd President of the National Council of Women, October 1898, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-O57319.

Following the conclusion of the Convention, a number of affiliated associations held their own meetings at the Normal School. These included the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association, the Dominion Girls’ Friendly Society, the Montreal Hebrew Sewing Society, the Montreal Ladies Morning Musical, the King’s Daughters, and the Temperance Workers of Hamilton.

From this auspicious beginning, the National Council of Women of Canada grew and prospered. During the late 1890s, it was active in bringing free public libraries to Canadian cities, including Ottawa in 1906. It was also active in the development of the Victorian Order of Nurses formed in 1897 with Lady Aberdeen as its first president. In the early twentieth century, it came more involved in the women’s suffrage movement. The National Council also supported the “famous five” Alberta women, all of who were Council members, in their fight in 1930 for women to become eligible persons to sit in the Senate of Canada. Other work over the years included efforts related to public health, equal pay for equal value, rights of children, and consumer protection. These and other initiatives have improved the lives of countless Canadians.

The Council’s work continues today educating the public and working with governments on a host of issues including human rights, reproductive technologies, violence against women, development assistance and disarmament.

 

Sources:

Evening Journal (The), 1893. “The Divided Skirt At The World’s Fair,” 17 May.

—————————, 1893. “Lady Aberdeen Elected,” 20 May.

—————————, 1893. “The National Council of Women of Canada,” 2 December.

————————–, 1894. “Women For Women,” 17 January.

—————————, 1894. “Twenty-Five In Affiliation,” 8 February.

—————————, 1894. “Women’s Field,” 11 April.

—————————, 1894. “National Enthusiasm,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “Bargains and Sweating,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “Notes,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “It Has The Sympathy Of The House,” 13 April.

Globe (The), 1893. “Where Women Held Sway: National Council For Canada,” 28 October.

————–, 1893. “Women Of Canada,” 10 April.

————-, 1893. “The Women’s Council,” 13 April.

————-, 1893. “From A Woman’s Standpoint,” 21 April.

Harris, Carolyn, 2016, “Lady Aberdeen,” in Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ishbel-gordon-lady-aberdeen/.

National Council of Women of Canada, 2018. http://www.ncwcanada.com/.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 2017. “The Capital Builders: Lady Aberdeen, a feminist for Canada,” 25 June.

The Old Supreme Court Building

11 September 1956

Few Canadians are likely to be aware that there used to be another major building on Parliament Hill besides the Centre Block, home of the House of Commons and the Senate, and the East and West Blocks. (Starting in the Fall of 2018, the West Block will become the temporary home of the House of Commons while the Centre Block is restored and renovated, a process that is expected to take ten years.) That other structure was the old Supreme Court building located just inside the western gates of the Parliamentary Precinct, with its entrance on Bank Street. Bizarre and horrific as it might sound to history and architecture buffs, the building was torn down in the mid-1950s and replaced by a parking lot.

The story begins back before Confederation. During the early 1860s, the three iconic Parliamentary Buildings were constructed on what was then called Barracks Hill in the neo-Gothic style popular at that time. By 1865, the construction of the East and West Blocks were sufficiently advanced to permit civil servants to finally decamp from Quebec City to Ottawa, the new capital of the then Province of Canada. The following year, the Centre Block was ready for the opening of Parliament in June, though work on the Victoria Tower and the Library continued until 1873 and 1877, respectively.

Supreme Court-Topley StudioLAC-PA-008389

Old Supreme Court Building, with the West Block in the background,  late 19th century, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008389.

The same year the Tower was finished, work began on a two-story structure constructed of the same stone as that used to build the Parliament buildings at the base of the western side of Parliament Hill. Designed by the Chief Dominion Architect, Thomas Seaton Scott, the building was erected to house government workshops whose purpose was to construct and repair government furnishings, such as bookcases and cabinets. Previously, such work had been conducted in the basement of the West Block but the rooms used were too cramped and too dark. The new workshops were completed in 1874. It’s likely that the interior fittings for the Parliamentary Library were made there. Contrary to later folklore, there is little evidence to suggest that the workshops building was ever used as a stable.

An 1875 article entitled “The Workshops of the Board of Works” in the Ottawa Citizen gives a fascinating account of the building shortly after its opening.  Although the Citizen’s reporter didn’t care for the building’s architecture, claiming that it didn’t present “any great claims to beauty of style” and looked “unfinished,” he highly recommended tourists visiting the two-storey, mansard-roofed structure. Apparently, its director, Mr. Pruneau, proud of his domain, was ever ready to provide tours to visitors. The journalist opined that the workshops’ interior was “admirably arranged” with a 25-horse power engine in the basement that powered the machinery located above, and a boiler. He was also impressed that the building was heated by steam, and was consequently very comfortable to work in.

On the workshops’ ground floor were offices, including that of Mr. Pruneau, and storerooms filled with cupboards and drawers. There were also a machine shop and a turning shop used for making furniture. A variety of specialist wood-working tools were on hand, including a morticing machine, and lathes used to make table and chair legs. All were driven by steam. Upstairs was the carpenters’ shop containing twelve double benches, circular saws, and other tools. Next door was the cabinet makers’ shop. At the time of the visit from the Citizen’s journalist, a handsome black walnut bookcase was being readied to go to the finishing room for its final varnishing and polishing. The journalist’s opinion was the workshops were among the finest in the Dominion, and were a credit to all who worked in them.

But the government workshops were not to last. In July 1881, their fittings, tools and stock were sold off at auction. Either there was insufficient work to keep them fully employed following the completion of the Parliamentary Library, or in-house production of furnishing was not cost-effective. Instead, the building was renovated to house the new Supreme and Exchequer Courts of Canada. (The Exchequer Court became the Federal Court of Canada in 1971.)

The Supreme and Exchequer Courts came into existence in early January 1876. There were initially six Supreme Court Justices who at that time also sat on the Exchequer Court bench. The Justices were temporarily allocated four rooms in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill close to the House of Commons chamber. A reading room was used as a court room, while three nearby offices were used for the judges’ consulting room, office space for staff, and a room for counsel. No space was allocated for offices for the six Justices.

Plans were drawn up to build an extension onto the West Block to permanently house the two courts but with an economic recession underway in 1876, the $120,000 price tag was too much for the Liberal Government of Alexander Mackenzie. It didn’t help that the Supreme Court did not have the prestige that it has today. It wasn’t even the highest court of the land. That honour went to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. So, the Justices had to make do with their temporary offices in the Centre Block until the government workshops building was fitted out for them. They moved in during the spring of 1882.

$12,500 was allocated to convert the workshops into a court room and suitable offices. The outside of the building was improved and made more elaborate. Gabled windows were added to provide better lighting into the upstairs courtroom. On the ground floor were offices of the registrar and his clerks, and the précis writer. Upstairs, in addition to the courtroom, were six private rooms for the Justices, a conference room, a barristers’ room, a consulting room and a waiting room. The only thing the building lacked was a law library. The Justices and staff had to go to the Parliamentary Library at the top of Parliament Hill if they wanted to consult a legal tome. The National Gallery was also given space in the renovated building, occupying part of the ground floor to the rear with a staircase to another room on the second floor. This led to a lot of grumbling from the Justices who wanted that space for their Library.

Supreme Court 1890 interior James Topley-LAC-PA-027195

Interior of the old Supreme Court, 1890, James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-027195.

In 1887, a report was compiled listing the complaints of the building’s occupants. In addition to the lack of a library, there was a bad smell, the roof leaked, and there was insufficient storage space. The Justices also complained about a lack of privacy owing to the public going to and fro in front of their offices to look at the paintings in the National Gallery. To ease the congestion and address some of the concerns, the Gallery moved out later that year. But the freed-up space was needed for the Exchequer Court that had been split off from the Supreme Court and consequently needed its own staff and accommodations. The building was finally extended to the north in 1890, nearly doubling its size, at a cost of $30,457. The Justices moved into the new wing with their old offices converted into a law library. A private entrance was also built for senators. No longer did they have to mix with the general public when going to and leaving work. Most complaints ended.

By the late 1930s, the Supreme Court building was showing its age. In May 1939, during the Royal Visit just before the outbreak of World War II, Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI, laid the cornerstone of a new Supreme Court building on Wellington Street. It would be seven years, however, before the Supreme Court Justices managed to move into their new quarters. Their building, once finished, was temporarily used to house civil servants required to operate the bureaucratic war machine. It wasn’t until the end of 1945 did the Income Tax and National War Services Departments moved out to allow the Justices to move in.

For the next few years, the increasingly dilapidated old Supreme Court building continued to be used for government offices, first for Government Economy Control, then for the Government Travel Bureau. In 1954, it was briefly the stage for a television movie being made by CBC starring Lloyd Bridges, directed by the Hollywood director Victor Stoloff. (The film, to be one of a series of thirteen shows based on real life RCMP cases, subsequently disappeared off of the radar screen though a similar series was made for CBC television in 1959 by Ottawa’s Crawley Films.)

In the spring of 1956, the word came that the old building was to be demolished in phase one of a plan by the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, to build a grand mall from the West Block on Parliament Hill to the new National Library. The plan called for the western slope of Parliament Hill to be terraced with the mall running from that point, behind the Confederation and Justice buildings where Vittoria Street is located, and in front of the new Supreme Court building. (Earlier plans had also called for the demolition of the West Block and its replacement with a modern concrete building. Thankfully, this idea was dropped.) The site of the old Supreme Court would be used temporarily as a parking lot to relieve parking congestion on the Hill until work started on later phases of the plan.

In the House of Commons, Conservative opposition leader John G. Diefenbaker and George Nowlan, another senior Conservative, were appalled. They pleaded with the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent to save the old building, the home of more than fifty years of Canadian judicial history. Ottawa’s mayor Charlotte Whitton launched a “Save-the-Old-Supreme-Court” campaign. She also tried to put forward a motion at a meeting of the FDC to find other possibilities for the area that didn’t involve tearing down the old building. All was for naught. On 11 September 1956, workmen started stripping off the slate roof as the first step in demolishing the old building.

Supreme Court site Googe streetview august 2017

Site of old Supreme Court, Google Streetview, August 2017

Within a few short weeks the building was gone—“an act of engineering barbarism by the utilitarians” according to R. A. “Dick” Bell, later the Conservative Member of Parliament for Carleton. On the other hand, the Ottawa Journal opined that the old building was “not an embellishment to Parliament Hill from a landscaping or architectural standpoint.” It thought that the “national capital must grow even though among the growing pains are regrets that some of the old must necessarily be replaced.” In 1958, a commemorative plaque was affixed to a low wall made of salvaged stone that separates the parking lot from the sidewalk. Some of the stones from the building were also used to make a pond on the 14th hole of the Rivermead Golf Club in Gatineau, Quebec.

The public outcry from the demolition of the building apparently rattled the government. Future plans for the area were put on the backburner, and were shelved for good with the election of Diefenbaker’s conservatives in 1957.

The site of the old Supreme Court remains a parking lot.

 

Sources:

Globe (The), 1881. “Dominion Estimates: The Proposed Expenditures for the Year 1881-82,” 16 February.

—————, 1881. “Notes From the Capital,” 28 July.

Nowlan, George, 1956. House of Commons Debates, 22nd Parliament, 3rd Session, Vol. 4, p. 3377.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1875. “The Workshops of The Board of Works,” 23 March.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1946. “Eminent Judges Move Into Wellington Street Building,” 3 January.

———————–, 1949. “Diefenbaker Both Right and Wrong About Old Supreme Court history,” 24 December.

————————, 1954. “Ottawa Actors Face Camera, Start Shooting Mountie Film,” 25 January.

————————, 1955. “Build Sweeping Mall From Hill To New National Library Site,” 30 December.

————————, 1956. “Fails to Get Fate of Old Supreme Court Building Before House,” 4 May.

————————, 1956. ‘Mayor Unable to Save Old Supreme Court.” 7 July.

————————, 1956. “Old Supreme Court Being Demolished,” 11 September.

————————, 1956. “West Block Reconstruction Shelved,” 15 October.

————————, 1956. “Built Pond on 14th Hole at Rivermead,” 8 November.

————————, 1958. “A Plaque for the Old Court,” 29 March.

————————, 1958. “Bell Expects Early Action on Capital,” 23 May.

————————, 1979. “Gov’t studying future of ‘parliamentary precinct,’ 17 September.

Snell, James G. and Vaughan, Frederick, The Supreme Court of Canada: History of the Institution, Toronto: The Osgoode Society, 1985.

Urbsite, 2013. Workshops, The Old Supreme Court, 24 June, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2013/06/workshops-old-supreme-court.html.

 

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

22 June 1897

Queen Victoria was our longest reigning monarch until her record of 63 years, seven months was eclipsed by that of Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. When Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne in 1897, the British went wild with joy. They had lots to celebrate. During her reign, Britain had been transformed. The nation had undergone an industrial revolution that had sharply raised national income. Electricity illuminated city streets and was beginning to light British homes. The telephone and the telegraph provided rapid communications, while railways and fast steamships moved people and goods effectively and efficiently around a British Empire that covered a sixth of the globe. This is not to say Victoria had much to do with all this, but she was the symbol of British achievement. There were clouds on the horizon, however. Germany and the United States were both challenging Britain on multiple fronts. And trouble was brewing in South Africa with the Boers. But in that glorious summer of 1897, Britain was on top of the world, economically, militarily, and politically. The Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne was a good opportunity to celebrate. Although the actual anniversary date of her accession was Sunday, 20th June 1897, the official celebrations took place on Tuesday, 22nd June—declared an Empire-wide holiday.

QueenVictoriaCelebrationPH1897-William James TopleyLAC-PA-009636

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Parliament Hill, 22 June 1897, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009636.

In Ottawa, preparations for the celebrations began weeks before the big day. The Capital bedecked itself in festoons of red, white and blue bunting and flags. For the patriotically minded, John Murphy & Co. sold bunting at 5 1/2 cents per yard. Large flags went for 15 cents, while a bust of the Queen could be had for 39 cents, marked down from 75 cents. For those who could afford it and were connect to the grid, electric lights were the way to go. Thousands of electric lights were strung along streets, and on store fronts at a cost of 10 cents per light, and 25 cents per light installation. So many were the lights, they strained the capacity of the Ottawa Electric Company. On Parliament Hill, the Centre Block was completely illuminated. Above the main entranceway into the Victoria Tower was a massive circle of lights surmounted by a crown, enclosing the letters “V.R.I.” for Victoria Regina Imperatrix. On the top floor of the far western tower was a crown surrounded by a circle of lights. In the three small windows beneath was “1837.” This was matched by a circle of lights around a star with “1897” in the three small windows in the second western tower. Between the two dates were the words “Dieu sauve la Reine.” This decorative motif was repeated on the eastern side of the building but with the words “God save the Queen.”

Queen Victoria Jubilee Topley StudioLAC-PA-027878CAR SE corner of Sparks and Elgin

Front entrance of the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway Company at the south-east corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, June 1897, Topley Studio-Library and Archives Canada, PA-027878. Note the newly-asphalted roadway.

City streets were also illuminated. According to the Journal newspaper, “Sparks Street never looked gayer.” Flags lined both sides of the thoroughfare. Coloured streamers crossed the street from Sappers’ bridge to the Upper Town market (Lyon Street).” A “myriad” of lights lit up the street “like stars along the milky way.” The best display was reportedly at the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. Picked out in red, white and blue lights was a Union Jack over the front door, with the figures “37” and “97” on either side. The lights switched on and off giving the impression that the flag was waving. The words “Victoria” and “Regina” were written in electric lights at the top of the store windows on either side of the main door. In the Sparks Street window was the front of a railway engine, its cowcatcher covered with lights. On the front of the boiler were the dates 1837 and 1897 below the letters “V.R.” Next to the engine was the Queen’s portrait in a diamond-shaped frame surrounded by lights.

Dimboola, What we have we'll hod, Maud Earl Cdn War museum

Dimboola, the mastiff, by Maud Earl, “What we have we’ll hold,” 1896, Canadian War Museum.

Wilson & Sons Art Store on Sparks Street displayed a striking patriotic print of a painting by Maud Earl of the mastiff champion “Dimboola” standing defiantly on a Union Jack with war ships in the background. The inspiration for the painting was a speech by Joseph Chamberlain, a popular British imperialist, in the House of Common in London who said “What we have we’ll hold.” The print was later purchased by Colonel Sherwood and given to the officers’ mess of the 43rd Battalion stationed in Ottawa.

The bank buildings that lined the south side of Wellington Street were also decorated in electric lights. Most chose variants of “V.R.I.,” crowns, or stars. The Union Bank had both, adding the words “The Queen God Bless Her” for good measure. The Quebec Bank was a bit more original opting for a diamond surrounding the figure “60.” The American Bank Note Company was decorated by two large flags, one British and one America on either side of an electrically-lit crown. On Elgin Street, Ottawa’s city hall was decorated with a large crown inside a circle of electric lights as well as “chromos” (colour prints) of the Queen and various British emblems, with flags, colourful bunting and festoons of lights.

Queen Victoria Jubilee American Bank Note Co Topley StudioLAC-PA-027912

British American Bank Note Company, Wellington Street, decorated for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, June 1897. Note that the street is not asphalted. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027912.

Jubilee celebrations began on the Saturday with the release of Canada’s first issue of commemorative stamps–two portraits of the Queen, one as a teenager on her accession and the other as an elderly woman. There was a huge crush of people at the Ottawa post office all trying to buy stamps as souvenirs. Many went home disappointed as the supply was very limited, especially of the one half and six cent stamps. All were gone within an hour of the post office’s opening. Reportedly, premiums were being paid by people to acquire them.

On the Sunday, the actual anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession, churches across the city held Thanksgiving Services. That afternoon at 4pm, the Sons of the Empire sang God Save the Queen. Orders had gone out to all the lodges around the Empire to sing at that hour, starting in Fiji, “the exact antipodes to England.” Afterwards, the Sons of the Empire and other societies, including the Caledonian Society and the Boys’ Brigade, marched in a parade through Ottawa streets.

Queen Victoria 1-2 cent

½cent Canadian postage stamp, Canadian Commemorative Issue for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897.

On that Sunday, the Evening Journal ran a fascinating story on the reminiscences of old timers looking back at Queen Victoria’s accession to the Crown in 1837. Captain Thomas Jones, who arrived in Bytown in 1827 as a young boy, recounted that the news reach the community six or seven weeks after the event. At that time, Bytown boasted a population of just 2,000 souls—300-400 in Upper Town and 1,600-1,800 in Lower Town—apart from the “canallers” who lived in mud and wooden shanties along the canal. Jones recalled that some soldiers would have preferred her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, to have become the Sovereign. They expressed “strong feelings against a woman, especially a young one,” assuming the Crown. Paradoxically, he added that “loyalty was always prominent.” Rev. John Gourley of Nepean Street said Bytown residents were “reaping the wheat and saving the last of the hay” when the news finally reached them. In church, people were still praying for health of the old king, and the royal family, including Princess Victoria.  The news, when it finally came, was, however, overshadowed by the Rebellion of 1836-37. But “there was not a man in the land so rebellious as not to pray sincerely for the best health, longest peaceful reign, and the greatest prosperity.”  He added that in 1837 the city centre was a duck pond, Bank Street was a cedar and ash swale, and the garrison just a few stone huts. Another senior citizen, John Joyce of Henry Street, recalled that a celebratory bonfire had been lit at the corner of Nicholas and Rideau Streets, and everybody was there. “Cheer after cheer went up in honour of the youthful Queen.”

Tuesday, 22 June 1897 dawned to perfect weather—bright sunshine, warm and a refreshing breeze, though later there were some complaints of dust kicked up from unwatered city streets. (Most streets were still unasphalted.) At 7.59am, the bells at St. Patrick’s church began ringing, followed by those at St. George’s, and the Basilica. Within moments, thirty churches had joined in the peel. The whistle at E.B. Eddy’s then began to blow, and was shortly joined by factory and shop whistles across the city, followed locomotive horns at the train depots. The church bells continued at intervals for the next half hour, while the E.B. Eddy whistle went continuous for nine minutes. Adding to the cacophony was the barking of dogs and the shouting and cheering of Ottawa residents standing in front of their homes waving flags.

At 9am, a 1,000-man parade of the St. Jean Baptiste Society set out on a procession through the streets of Ottawa after a celebratory Mass at the Basilica to demonstrate “what loyalty exists in the hearts of French Canadians towards Her Majesty the Queen.” At the head of the procession was Monsieur F. Laroque, the grand marshal of the Society as well as the grand marshals of the Artisans. The Saint Anne band played marching tunes while various other societies that had joined the parade carried banners and flags.

Later in the day, 8,000 children—6,000 from Ottawa and 2,000 from Hull—dressed in white or pale blue with red, white and blue trimmings, waving tiny Union Jacks assembled on Parliament Hill. The Upper Town children had walked from Central West School with each class headed by their teacher, and each school headed by their principal. Lower Town children began their march to the Hill from the Byward Market. Separate school children were led by grey-gowned nuns. The children took their position on either side of the central walkway in front of the Centre Block where a large decorated stage had been erected. The dignitaries present for the event included the Governor General, Lord Aberdeen and senior Cabinet ministers, and civic leaders. Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, was absent. He was in London participating in the Queen’s parade as a guest of honour. He was knighted the same day.

Lord Aberdeen, wearing the uniform of a Lord Lieutenant with the star of a baronet of Nova Scotia and other honours pinned to his chest, spoke to the children and a crowd of 25,000 people about the Queen’s life of service, her dedication to duty, and the example she set for others. He also read out loud the Queen’s blessings and thanks to “my beloved people” in Canada, that he had received earlier that morning. Following a tremendous cheer from the crowd, he read out his response saying that Her Majesty’s “most gracious and touching message” will “stir afresh hearts already full.” To provide a lasting tribute to the Queen, Lord Aberdeen announced the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses to be dedicated to help and relief of the sick and lonely.

Following other speeches, Professor Birch of the College of Music stood on a chair and raised his baton—the signal for the Bandmaster McGillicuddy of the 43rd Battalion to sound the key for the National Anthem. Upon the third beat, the massed choir of children from Ottawa and Hull began to sing “God Save the Queen.” After singing the anthem twice through, “three cheers” were given to the Queen and Lord Aberdeen.

Later at Cartier Square by the Drill Hall, the 43rd Battalion held an inspection and completed complicated military practices, including sword drill, pursuit exercises on horseback, and independent firing drill. The battalion, accompanied by a company of Fenian Raid veterans, also did a “march past.” Crowds of onlookers stood five and six persons deep around the Square to witness the military manoeuvres. The Journal commented that “the main part of the rising generation occupied reserved seats on the trees and telephone poles.” Lord Aberdeen presented the Royal Humane Society medal to Pte Douglas Lyon of the 43rd Battalion for bravery in attempting to save the lives of two young boys who drowned after falling through the ice while skating on the Rideau Canal at the end of November the previous year. This was followed by a 21-gun Royal Salute by the Ottawa Field Battery from Nepean Point.

The afternoon of Jubilee Day was taken up by sporting events at Lansdowne Park, including a lacrosse match between the Capitals and the Shamrocks. The Capitals emerged victorious 6-1. After sundown, Ottawa residents and visitors strolled around downtown streets to admire the illuminated buildings. There was, however, a lighting glitch on Parliament Hill. When the lights were switched on shortly before 9pm, a portion stayed dim. Fortunately, the problem was quickly rectified. Musical entertainment was provided on the big stage in front of the Centre Block. Madame Arcand opened, singing a solo of The Land of the Maple. She was joined by a 300-voice choir. Other patriotic songs sung by other vocalists included: Hearts of Oak, British Tailors’ Toast and, of course, Rule Britannia. Mr. Choquette MP followed with Dieu Brigadier in French. A Highland Pipes band also played a number of tunes, followed by Scottish dances.

At 10pm, the fireworks began at Cartier Square. Paper balloons were sent up into the sky with multi-coloured lights attached to them. In addition to the usual rockets, and “whiz bang bombs” that exploded in red, white, blue and green stars, there were a number of set pieces on the ground. This included a triple wheel that changed colour, Prince of Wales feathers with red fire coming out of the top of each feather, and a diamond jewel. The piece de resistance was a double head of Queen Victoria thirty feet long and 20 feet high with the motto “Our Queen of 60 years, 1837-1897” at the base. The double head, which constantly changed colour, remained lit for five minutes as the band struck up God Save the Queen. For the grand finale, the words “Good night” were spelt out while sky fifty rockets exploded overhead.

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901.

Sources:

Evening Journal, 1896. “Sank To Death Together,” 1 December.

——————–, 1897, “John Murphy & Co.” 18 June.

——————–, 1897. “Will Follow The Beat of The Drum,” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “Oh! Did You Get One?” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “With United Vocies,” 19 June.

———————-, 1897. “Remember the Day the Queen Was Crowned,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “Pulpit Tributes to the Queen,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Jubilee Has Begun,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Capital Celebrates,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “City Illuminations,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Fireworks,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “Ten Thousand Lights,” 24 June.

———————-, 1897. “An Impressive Potrait,” 24 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1897. “A Striking Picture,” 22 June.

——————, 1897. “god Save The Queen,” 22 June.

VON Canada, 2018, About VON, http://www.von.ca/en/about-von.