The Great Farini Crosses the Chaudière Falls

9 September 1864

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the world was wowed by Jean François Gravelet, better known as the Great Blondin. In June 1859, in front of a crowd of 25,000 fascinated and horrified onlookers, Blondin crossed the Niagara Gorge from the United States to Canada on a tightrope. On his return trip, he brought a daguerreotype camera with him to take a photo of the spectators.

One of Blondin’s greatest fans was a young man from Port Hope, Ontario named William Leonard Hunt. Hunt was born in June 1838 in Lockport, New York but grew up close to Port Hope where his parents settled after living for a time in the United States. As a child, he was a daredevil and was fascinated with all things related to the circus—much to his parents’ chagrin who view such activities as dishonourable. Hunt gave his first professional performance as a funambulist (tightrope walker) at age twenty-one by crossing the Ganaraska River in Port Hope on a rope stretched eighty feet high between two buildings, just months after Blondin’s conquest of Niagara Falls. Hunt chose the stage name Signor Guillermo (Italian for William) Farini, or the “Great Farini.”

Farini, Earl W. Brydges Public library 15 Sept 1860

The Great Farini crossing the Niagara Gorge with an Empire Washing Machine strapped to his back, 15 August 1860, Earl W. Brydges Public Library, New York.

The Great Farini challenged Blondin to a battle of who would be considered the greatest tightrope walker in the world. Signor Farini matched his idol’s feat by crossing the Niagara Gorge in June 1860. He topped off his performance by hanging from the rope mid-river by one hand, then suspending himself by just his feet. On a subsequent trip, after securing his pole, he climbed down a rope to the tourist boat Maid of the Mist circling below in the Niagara River, drank a glass of wine, and then climbed back up to finish his journey across the Gorge.

The rivalry of the two men took off. Blondin walked across the Falls with his feet in bushel baskets, pushed his manager in a wheel barrow, and even cooked omelettes on a portable stove high above the whirlpools, which he lowered to sightseers on the Maid of the Mist below. Farini responded by carrying his much larger manager across the Falls. Mid-river, Farini somehow unloaded his manager onto the rope, crawled on the underside of the rope beneath his friend to emerge on the other side, and then reloaded him onto his back before finishing the crossing. (Where do you find friends like this?!) Subsequently, Farini washed hankies mid-river using an Empire Washing Machine that he had brought with him across the high wire.

Needless to say, Farini was a sensation. It helped that he was darkly handsome, muscular, with brilliant blue eyes and slicked back black hair. He also worn a goatee with a waxed moustache that extended horizontally several inches on either side of his nose in a style popularized by France’s Napoleon III. He was also extremely articulate and spoke several languages.

After a brief stint in the Union Army in the United States during the American Civil War where he rose to the rank of Captain in the Engineers, he returned to the circus. While performing with his first wife, Mary, in a high wire act above the Plaza de Toros in Havana, Cuba in December 1862, tragedy struck. On their fifth crossing with his wife on his back, Mary unexpectedly waved to cheering spectators. Losing her balance, she fell. Somehow, Farini managed to grab her costume as she tumbled past him, but it was not enough. The fabric ripped and she fell sixty feet in front of a horrified crowd of 15,000 people. She died a few days later.

This catastrophe did not stop his high-wire career. In 1864, he came to Ottawa, which was then in the news owing to negotiations underway in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island among the British colonies in North America on Confederation. If those negotiations were successful, Ottawa would become the capital of a large new nation.

Farini Chaudiere Falls from Suspension bridgeTopley StudioLACPA-012695c.1867

The Chaudière Falls with the Union Suspension Bridge on the right, circa 1869, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-102695

According to Shane Peacock, the author of the definitive biography of the famed tightrope walker, Farini arrived in Ottawa in mid-August, 1864, booking into the Russell House, Ottawa’s premier hotel at the time. His first job was to suss out a likely spot for a high-wire act. He initially thought of crossing the Rideau Canal on a rope strung from Barrick Hill, where the new Parliament buildings were still under construction, to a tower located in what is now Major’s Hill Park. Deciding that such a route was insufficiently death-defying, he chose instead to cross the Ottawa River above the Chaudière Falls. Back in those days, the Chaudière Falls were not the tamed affair they are now but a raging torrent. The Ring Dam that regulates the flow of water over the Falls for the purpose of generating hydro-electricity would not be built for another fifty years. The only way over them at that time, and the only way between Ottawa and Hull, was the Union Suspension Bridge built in 1843. This bridge was later replaced by today’s Chaudière Bridge.

In the days prior to his much advertised crossing, set for Friday, 9 September 1864, work began on suspending a two-inch diameter rope from two heavily-braced wooden towers, one on Table Rock on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, a short distance upstream from the Union Suspension Bridge, and the other on the Booth lumber mill on Chaudière Island on the Ontario side. The rope was advertised as being 1,000 feet long and 100 feet high. Messrs Perley and Booth along with other mill owners constructed a private viewing stand complete with comfortable seats for the pleasure of Ottawa’s elite. Cost was 25 cents per seat with access to the site provided through the Perley & Company Mill and Brewery or through Mr Booth’s new mill. The general public could watch for free from other vantage points.

The Chaudière Falls stunt wasn’t the only performance planned for Ottawa by the Great Farini. On the Wednesday before his aerial show, Farini gave a charity performance in aid of the new General Hospital, “putting his acrobatic skills at the disposal of the Sisters of Charity.” On the day of his crossing, he also performed at the Theatre Royal where he again demonstrated his gymnastic virtuosity as well as his circus tricks, including the flying trapeze and placing a 400-pound stone on his chest and having somebody smash it with an 18-pound sledge hammer. He also held a man up at arm’s length, a feat that had previously earned him a silver medal from New York gymnasts.

Farini Chaudiere

The J.R. Booth Lumber Mill, Chaudière Island, where Farini started his crossing of the Ottawa River. The Prince of Wales Bridge, built in 1880, is in the background. Late 19th century, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-012377.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of press hype for Senior Farini’s death-defying tight rope act across the Ottawa River. Half-price trains and excursion boats ran on the Friday of his performance. A special train brought up U.S. spectators from Ogdensburg, New York with extra ferries laid on to take them across the St Lawrence River to meet a special train leaving Prescott for Ottawa at 8am and to return late that night. The Ogdensburg Advance wrote that Farini was “said to excel the great Blondin, not only in hazardous undertakings, by in ease and grace of their accomplishment.” The newspaper also put a plug in for the Russell Hotel saying that its proprietor, “our friend Gouin,” was “always alive to the comfort and convenience of the public,” and dispensed services that “epicures most delight in.” It added that the Russell House ranked among the finest hotels in Canada, and urged excursionists going to Ottawa to “drop in at the Russell House and ‘smile.’”

Monsieur Gouin, of course, hoped they would do more than smile. He advertised first class rooms at only “$4 US currency per day” for visitors to Ottawa to watch Farini cross the Chaudière Falls. This was a real bargain. With the United States in the midst of its Civil War, US$4 was worth much less in Canadian dollar terms. (In mid-July 1864, the U.S. dollar, which was off the gold standard, touched an all-time low against its Canadian counterpart of US$2.78 to one Canadian dollar.) Of course, visitors could also find the best food and drink at the Russell House.

Friday, 9 September 1864 was a perfect day for Farini’s crossings of the Ottawa River. Two performances were organized, with the first beginning at 3pm and the second at 9 pm after his show at the Theatre Royal. Some 15,000 people turned out to watch. Given that the population of Ottawa was less than 15,000 in the 1861 census this is a remarkable number of people, even allowing for population growth and visitors. One of the best vantage points was on the Union Suspension Bridge. However, fearing an accident given the number of people crowding on to it, the bridge keeper closed the gates leading from the Ottawa side.

Farini TOC 6-9-1864

Advertisement for the Great Farini. The Ottawa Citizen, 6 September 1864

Spectators were not disappointed. Farini put on a masterful show. Dressed like a circus acrobat, Farini crossed the Chaudière Falls three times during the one hour-long afternoon show. He crossed with and without a pole, did acrobatics, and hanged upside down from his feet over the raging water. On his second trip, he wore wooden bushel baskets typically used for measuring oats on his feet. For a finale, he crossed in a sack.

As Farini was performing, he was almost upstaged by a young boy, no more than eleven years of age, who managed to climb around a fence that jutted out over the fast-flowing river and cordoned off the eastern side of the reserved area at the Perely and Booth mills. When spectators finally saw what the lad was doing, many rushed over to pull him to safety. But before they could do so, he swung himself around the end of the fence, dangling temporarily over the rapids, before pulling himself to safety and disappearing into the milling crowd.

After talking to the press and well-wishers at the Russell Hotel following his afternoon performance, and giving his evening show at the Theatre Royal—tickets were 25 cents each—Farini repeated his Chaudière Falls crossings at 9pm. As it was well past sunset, he performed to the light of fire-works. According to Shane Peacock, he cut short the evening performance at the request of Ottawa authorities who feared an accident owing to the press of the crowds.

Farini left Ottawa shortly afterwards to perform in Montreal; he never returned. By 1866, he had begun regular performances in England with a young boy, Samuel Wasgatt, whom he later adopted. Called El Niño (the child), young Sam and Farini performed as The Flying Farinis. When El Niño got a bit older, he began performing aerial acrobatics as a woman with long blond hair under the stage name “The Beautiful Lulu, the Circassian Catapultist.” He wasn’t “outed” as a man until 1878.

By this time, the elder Farini, had married an English girl, Alice Carpenter, and had retired his leotards in favour of managing celebrity performers and developing new circus tricks, including the first human cannonball act. For a time, he partnered with the famed P.T. Barnum assembling human oddities, included Krao, a hairy Laotian girl who Farini advertised as The Missing Link. He later adopted the girl. During the mid-1880s, the now divorced Hunt, accompanied by his son Sam, the former Lulu, trekked through southern Africa where they claimed to have discovered the Lost Kingdom of the Kalahari. Photographs taken by Sam and a paper written by Farini, which he presented at the Royal Geographic Society in London, caused a sensation…and sparked a decades’ long quest by explorers. Reportedly, some twenty-five expeditions were launched to find the fabled kingdom which stubbornly remained lost.

In 1886, he married his third wife, German-born Anna Mueller. A man of many parts, he took up horticulture, writing books on New Zealand ferns, and begonias. He later began to paint. In the early 1900s, he and his wife moved back to Canada from England. In Toronto, he apparently dabbled in the stock market, and was involved in a gold mining company. He was also an inventor of some renown, including, among other things, folding theatre seats. Moving to Germany in 1909, Farini spent World War I in that country where he wrote a multi-volume account of the war from a German perspective. In 1920, Farini and his wife returned to North America. After moving around a bit, the couple settled down in Farini’s home town of Port Hope, where he died of the flu in 1929 at the ripe old age of 90.

Sources:

Itchy Feet, Itchy Mind, 2014. The Great Farini, Lulu Farini, And The Lost City Of The Kalahari, 2014, https://itchyfeetandmore.com/2014/12/16/the-farinis-and-the-kalahari-lost-city/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1864. “Signor Farini performing at Theatre Royal,” 9 September.

——————, 1864. “Signor Farini,” 6 September.

——————, 1864, “No title,” 7 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1931. “Signor Farini was a Great Rope Man,” 31 October.

——————, 1950. “340 Years of History Flowed by Chaudiere,” 17 June.

Peacock, Shane, 1995. The Great Farini: The Hire-Wire Life OF William Hunt,” Viking: Toronto.

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Freiman’s becomes The Bay

24 November 1971

The A. J. Freiman Department Store was an Ottawa retailing institution that dated back to the end of the nineteenth century. Its founder was Archibald (Archie) Jacob Freiman who had immigrated to Canada as a child with his family in the late 19th century from Lithuania. Coming to Ottawa from Hamilton in 1899, the nineteen-year old Freiman and his partner Moses Cramer started the Canadian Home Furnishing Company at 223 Rideau Street close to Cumberland Street. The company sold carpets, oilcloth and other types of household furnishings. The following year, the firm expanded, moving into next door 221 Rideau as well. In 1902, the firm moved into still larger quarters at 73 Rideau Street.

Freiman logo 1911-10-23 TOJ

Freiman’s logo after Archie Freiman bought out his father’s interest in the company, 23 October 1911, The Ottawa Journal

Despite the company’s success, the Freiman-Cramer partnership foundered when Freiman announced his intention of opening a credit department which would permit customers to purchase goods on installment. This was just too risky for the conservative-minded Cramer. Fortunately, Frieman’s father, Hersh, stepped in, becoming young Archie’s partner. In 1911, Archie was ready to go it alone, and he bought out his father’s share of the business. Over time, the name of the store morphed from The Canadian Home Furnishing Company, A.J. Freiman, Proprietor, to A. J. Freiman Ltd. Ottawa residents knew it simply as Frieman’s. In part, the change in name reflected the shift in the nature of the firm’s business. In a 1925 interview, Freiman said that he had always been interested in the possibilities of a general store.

Freiman 1920-11-12 TOJ

Freiman’s logo, 12 November 1920, The Ottawa Journal

Consequently, he added a men’s and women’s clothing to his line of products, thus setting the stage for the development of a department store. He also indicated that beyond hard work, the secret of his success was advertising.

In 1944, Archie died suddenly after he had unveiled a plaque in the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue on King Edward Street in honour of his friend, the synagogue’s cantor. Archie’s son, Lawrence, took over the family business.

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Freiman’s Department Store, Rideau Street, decorated for the 1939 Royal Visit, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4169781.

Under Lawrence Freiman’s direction, the retail company continued to thrive and expand, always keeping up with the times. Freiman’s was one of the first Ottawa stores to have an escalator, and as markets moved and changed, the company moved and changed with them. When people began settling in the suburbs after World War II, Freiman’s followed, opening a branch store in Ottawa’s first mall, the Westgate Shopping Centre on Carling Avenue in 1955. Freiman’s was also quick to introduce basement discount outlets for the budget conscious and in-house boutiques for the fashion minded. As well, it offered a phone-in service called Freiman’s Buy-Line. With its Charge-a-Plate, customers could also put things “on their account.”

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Freiman’s first fashion shop after the War, April 1946, National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4310145.

However, by the late 1960s, it was increasingly difficult for the firm to compete successfully. Lawrence Freiman’s health began to fail. He starting spending several months each year in Palm Springs, California or Palm Beach, Florida; his doctors felt the warm weather would do him good. He also had other interests. He was a two-term President of the Zionist Organization of Canada and was the Chairman of the Board of the new National Arts Centre. Of necessity, the direction of the company passed to the next generation—A. J. Freiman II and son-in-law Gordon Roston. While the two were capable young men, the company lacked depth. Lawrence feared that Freiman’s didn’t have the calibre of senior management necessary for both the present and the future.

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Freiman’s art deco logo from the 1940s, 5 Ocotber 1946, The Ottawa Journal

Family-owned, quality department stores also found it difficult to attract the talent needed to compete with the larger, nation-wide chain stores that offered better career possibilities. Expansion also required vast sums of money that family-owned business, like Freiman’s, simply didn’t have.

As well, the Ottawa market was becoming increasingly competitive with no less than eight new department stores under construction or under consideration during the summer of 1971 says Lawrence Freiman in his autobiography. Simpson-Sears had gone into Carlingwood Mall when it opened in the late 1950s, and had moved into the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in 1967 and was about to take over the former Murphy-Gamble store on Sparks Street. Eaton’s was also entering the Ottawa market with an anchor store in the new Bayshore Shopping Centre scheduled to open in 1973. The Hudson’s Bay Company of Winnipeg was also eager to have an Ottawa presence. In August 1971, the firm approached Lawrence Freiman about a friendly take-over.

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Freiman’s logo, early 1960s, 2 April 1965, The Ottawa Journal

It was an opportunity that the ailing Lawrence couldn’t refuse. Although he had hoped to leave Freiman’s to the next generation, neither his son nor his son-in-law were interested in running the company as they would not have a controlling interest. With the family’s shareholding becoming increasingly dispersed over time, they would be at the mercy of people with no direct involvement in the firm’s operations. As Lawrence said in his autobiography, his son and son-in-law wanted to be “their own people.” The clincher of the deal was the Bay’s promise to honour Freiman’s pension commitments to staff. Lawrence himself was to receive an annual pension of $35,000.

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Freiman’s logo, late 1960s, 22 March 1967, The Ottawa Journal

On 24 November 1971, the news broke in both Ottawa and Winnipeg: The Hudson Bay Company was to buy Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street, its two branch stores located in the Westgate Shopping Centre and on St. Laurent Boulevard and its two discount “Freimart” outlets. It was virtually a “done deal.” The Freiman family had already agreed to sell their 70 per cent share of the publicly–traded company for $6 per share, a mark-up of $1.25 over the last trading price on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The deal valued the company at $4.59 million.

That day, staff crowded into Lawrence Freiman’s office on Rideau Street to hear the news. Also present was Don McGiverin, the Managing Director of the Bay’s 200 retail outlets across Canada. Freiman and McGiverin reassured employees that their futures in the company was secure and that their pension rights had been preserved. McGiverin added that Freiman staff could “aspire” to any position in the Canada-wide company.

The investment dealer community was surprised by the comparatively low price put on Freiman’s shares. Even though the company’s profitability had slipped somewhat during the first half of 1971 to $86,626 from $101,274 over the same period the previous year on sales of almost $14 million, the company was in sound financial shape. According to one broker, Freiman’s book value was greater than $9 per share—but still down from the $9.75 per share price the company had been valued at when it had gone public roughly ten years earlier. The company’s shares had traded as high as $13 some months earlier, but their value had fallen in tandem with a broad sell-off in the Canadian stock market. Another dealer thought the $6 price was deceptive. As the Freiman’s pension plan was unfunded, the Bay’s all-included cost of purchasing the company was roughly $8 per share if one included the cost of the Bay assuming the firm’s pension liabilities.

News of the take-over was greeted with sorrow and concern in some quarters. The company had a reputation of being a good employer. A letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen appeared shortly after the announcement. Written by Mansab Ali Khan, the letter read: “The magnanimity and generosity [of Freiman’s] toward colored people is very well known. Any qualified person from Asia or Africa who applied for a job in that company was never refused employment because of color or nationality.” Mr. Ali Khan hoped that the new owners would “follow in the footsteps of A.J. Freiman.” The Citizen opined that it was “not a surprise to see Freiman’s go,” but Ottawa “won’t be quite the same.”

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The Arrival of “Bayman,” 26 June 1973, The Ottawa Citizen

The Bay officially took control of Freiman’s shortly before Christmas 1971 and began operating under the name Freiman-Hudson Bay Company. Freiman’s shareholders received one last dividend of 5 cents per share, payable in mid-January 1972. Gordon Roston, Lawrence Freiman’s son-in-law was appointed Vice-President and General Manager. A senior HBC executive was appointed Assistant General Manager. A.J. Freiman II remained on the company’s Board of Directors.

In June 1973, Freiman’s was subsumed completely within the Bay, and the Freiman name disappeared from Ottawa retailing. To mark the event, there was a one-day celebration at the Rideau Street, Westgate and St. Laurent stores. Models showed fashions worn by people over the Bay’s 300-year history. The store also launched “Bayman,” a superhero who fought inflation with Bay Day flyers “full of top quality merchandise at great savings,”

Lawrence Freiman died in 1986. The eponymous Lawrence Freiman Lane that runs behind the National Arts Centre recognizes Lawrence’s contribution to the arts in Ottawa. An arcade enclosed within the Hudson Bay Company between Rideau Street and George Street is officially known as the Freiman Mall. This passage had previously been known as Freiman Street, and before that as Mosgrove Street. When the Rideau Centre was constructed at the beginning of the 1980s, the City of Ottawa closed the street and leased it to the Bay on the proviso that the company enclosed the space and allowed through access to the Byward Market. A plaque in the Mall unveiled by Mayor Marion Dewer in 1983 honours Freiman’s Department Store and the Freiman family. The pedestrian bridge that links the Rideau Centre to the Hudson Bay Company above Rideau Street is also officially known as the Freiman Bridge.

Sources:

Figler, Bernard, 1959. Lillian and Archie Freiman, Biographies, Northern Printing and Lithography Co.: Montreal.

Freiman, Lawrence, 1978. Don’t Fall Off The Rocking Horse: An Autobiography of Lawrence Freiman, McClellan and Stewart: Toronto.

Ottawa Citizen (The), “Bay buying Freiman’s Company offering $6/shr.” 24 November.

————————-, 1971. “A.J. Freiman Sales Higher,” 8 October.

——————, 1971, “Freiman sale surprises financial community,” 25 November.

——————, 1971. “Freiman terms out,” 9 December.

——————, 1971. “Brocker backs Freiman deal, 10 December.

——————, 1971. “New Freiman top brass includes present hands,” 15 December.

——————, 1971. “Open to all,” 17 December.

——————, 1973. “Big store chains learning capital a strong market,” 21 July.

——————, 2015. “Council approves Freiman bridge deal,” 13 May.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1971. “Hudson’s Bay buying Freiman’s,” 24 November

————————–, 1971. “Enter The Giants,” 25 November.

————————–, 1971. “The Bay takes over Freiman’s Dec. 20,” 15 December.

————————–, 1973. “Freiman’s Becomes The Bay,” 25 June.

Eugène Ysaÿe, the Tsar of the Violin

6 March 1905

To draw up a list of the top violinists of all time acceptable to everybody would be a nigh impossible task. Selection criteria and their appropriate weights would be open to debate. Recency bias, where we put disproportionate weight on more recent events or observations, could lead us to favour living artists over the dead, especially those whose careers preceded sound recordings. Regardless of such difficulties, on any list purporting to represent the best would appear such virtuosos as Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler and Isaac Stern. Of early masters, Niccolo Paganini, who was active in the early 19th century and was the composer of the fiendishly complex 24 caprices for solo violin, would also be on everybody’s list.  Of those currently playing, Itzhak Pearlman, Viktoria Mullova and Pinchas Zucherman, the Musical Director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1999-2015, stand in the highest regard.

Another master, though one less known outside of music circles today, who would be a candidate for the world’s finest list is the Belgium-born violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (pronounced “Ee-zah-ee).” The late, great Russian violinist, Nathen Milstein, once dubbed him the tsar of the violin. Kreisler reportedly wouldn’t play Ysaÿe compositions in the man’s presence, and said that Ysaÿe was the greatest interpreter of the Elgar Violin Concerto. This Concerto had been expressly written for Kreisler by Edward Elgar and is widely viewed as among the most difficult of a violinist’s repertoire.

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Eugène Ysaÿe, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1905

Ysaÿe was born in 1858 in Liège. During his very early years, he and his older brother were taught the violin by their musician father who scrapped a living by playing in an orchestra in nearby Germany. He made his first public appearance as a violinist at age seven. He later studied music at the Liège Conservatory. His older brother was apparently the one who was supposed to have a musical career. But once he heard his little brother play a violin solo at age nineteen, he abandoned his career and is quoted as saying, “I shall never play again.”

As a young man, Ysaÿe’s talent was recognized by some the leading composers of the time. Ferdinand Hiller, the German-born composer and conductor, introduced Ysaÿe to Jacob Joachim, who at the time was considered one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century. On hearing Ysaÿe play, Joachim delphically said that he had never heard the violin played like that before. While it is unclear whether Joachim liked what he heard, his pronouncement illustrated the originality and freshness for which Ysaÿe was later to become famous.

At age 20, Ysaÿe came under the tutelage of the great Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps. (As a sidebar, Vieuxtemps owned and played a violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 that Ysaÿe used during his early career. In recent years, that same violin, now known as the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesù, was played by Pinchas Zucherman. It was sold in 2013 for more than US$13 million and is currently on lifetime loan to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.) Vieuxtemps enabled Ysaÿe to study music in Brussels for three years and gave him private lessons. In 1880, Ysaÿe became the leader of the Bilse’s orchestra in Berlin. In 1886, he became professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory. He made his first trans-Atlantic tour in 1894.

Ysaye Wikipedia US Library of Congress

Eugène Ysaÿe, later in life, Wikipedia, U.S. Library of Congress.

By the early 20th century, Ysaÿe was in top form and was an international star of the first magnitude. He was described as a polar bear of a man—“huge, massive and royal,” with a broad brow and dark, flowing locks.  “Thoroughly bohemian,” he appreciated the finer pleasures of life, especially good food. He also was keen on the sporting world. However, money seemed to have come second behind his art. In an 1895 interview given in San Francisco, Ysaÿe claimed that he rather earn $80 a month working as a professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory than take home $10,000 per year as a professor in Cincinnati. As fate would have it, he was to become conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1919, a post he held for three years.

He also valued highly his family life, and for many years lived in near seclusion with his first wife Louise Bourdau with whom he had five children—three sons and two daughters—in the small Belgian town of Godinne, south of Namur in Wallonia. (After his first wife died in 1924, Ysaÿe married his student, the American violinist Jeanette Dincin, in 1927.) To an American journalist to whom he gave an interview in his country home in 1904, Ysaÿe said that he found inspiration in the pre-dawn hours of the morning paddling in his small boat on a creek near Godinne.

Ysaÿe owned two famous violins—a Stradivarius and a Guarneri. The Stradivarius, dubbed the “Hercules,” was made in 1734 by Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy. Ysaÿe used this violin when he practised, preferring the Guarneri for concert work as it was less “fatiguing” for him to play. The Stradivarius was stolen from Ysaÿe’s dressing room in 1908 while he was performing on-stage at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was recovered from a Paris stop in 1925. In 1972, the violinist Henryk Szeryng donated the instrument to the City of Jerusalem where it is played by the concert master of the Israel Philharmoic Orchestra.

Ysaye violin Shinichi Yokoyama Nippon Muic Foundation

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri Violin, Nippon Music Foundation, photo by Shinichi Yokoyama.

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri violin was made Bartolomeo Giuseppe, also known as Joseph, Guarneri of Cremona in 1740. The violin bears the original label of its maker—“Joseph Guarnerius, fecit Cremonae, anno 1740, I.H.S.” In 1928, Ysaÿe reportedly added a second label “Ce Del Jesus fut le fidèle compagnone [sic] de ma vie,” which means “this Del Jesus [the name of the violin] was the faithful companion of my life.” Stories about how he acquired the violin vary. One newspaper account says that he had originally purchased the instrument in Paris for 30,000 francs on behalf of man who gave it to his daughter who was a pupil of Ysaÿe. The girl insisted that Ysaÿe play the violin in concerts. When Ysaÿe found it to be the ideal instrument for his temperament, he bought the violin from the pupil’s father for the same 30,000 francs. Another account has him borrowing the violin from the woman for his first North American tour. On his return to Belgium, he traded his own violin made by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and an additional 40,000 francs for the Guarneri. In recent years, the violin was played by Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman who seems to favour instruments used by Ysaÿe. The instrument is owned by the Nippon Music Foundation and is currently played by Sergey Khachatryan.

In February 1905, Ysaÿe came to New York aboard the first super trans-Atlantic liner, the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of the North German Lloyd line for a massive 75 concert tour of North America with Canadian stops in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. By this time, he was the highest priced violinist in the world. His income was said to be enormous. For this North American tour, which was organized by Robert E. Johnston who managed all the great violinists of the time, he was given a $50,000 advance (equivalent to roughly $1.3 million today) before he even left Belgium.

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Advertisement for Ysaÿe’s Ottawa performance, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 4 March 1905.

Ysaÿe arrived in Ottawa on Monday, 6 March 1905 for a single performance at the Russell Theatre. Ticket prices ranged from 75 cents to $2.00. On the day of the performance, 300 rush seats were released at 50 cents each. It was a sell-out crowd. 1,400 spectators came to see Ysaÿe perform. The Ottawa Evening Journal claimed it was the largest audience ever to greet an artist. Ysaÿe was accompanied by M. Jules De Befve on the piano. De Befve was the head of the piano department at the Liège Conservatory.

Without a doubt, the performance was the social climax of the winter season. All of Ottawa’s elite was there to listen to Ysaÿe, including the Earl and Countess of Grey. The programme started with Handel’s Sonata in G minor. The Citizen’s reporter wrote “every pianissimo crescendo, fortissimo, was brought out clear as a silver bell and the audience could have listened till morning.”  Other pieces played included the Ballade et polonaise by Vieuxtemps, the Chaconne by Bach, and Saint-Saëns’ violin concerto No. 3.

The evening was a huge success. The appreciative Ottawa audience gave Ysaÿe five encores.  A local musician of considerable personal reputation called Ysaÿe’s performance “the finest example of tone production and artistic impression he had ever heard.” One observer recounted that only the presence of the Governor General and Lady Grey restrained the exuberance of the crowd. Otherwise “the men would have stood up and thrown their hats into the air.” The Evening Journal enthused that Ysaÿe began where technique left off. “The soul of Bach will sing itself away to everlasting bliss so long as giants like Ysaÿe are raised upon earth” wrote the Journal’s reporter. When the master played Abendlied by Robert Schuman, the journalist wrote that his delicate muted tones seemed to wail and sing at his command and as his face became illuminated with the beauty of the thoughts suggested to him by Schuman so the music itself took on the form of beauty and together Ysaÿe and his audience were absorbed, spell-bound, lost, nor was the spell broken when the music ceased.

The journalist feared that this might be one of the last public performances by Ysaÿe outside of Belgium as there were rumours that the master was exchanging his violin for a conductor’s baton. Fortunately, this was not the case, though over time Ysaÿe devoted an increasing amount of time to composing, teaching and conducting. In part this reflected persistent health problems that plagued the virtuoso, especially in later life. According to Canadian violinist Maurice Solway who was a pupil of Ysaÿe in the late 1920s, ill-health went a long way to explaining why Ysaÿe sometimes trembled his bow hand while playing—that and apparently his unconventional bow grip using only three or even only two of his right-hand fingers.

In 1929, afflicted by diabetes and phlebitis, Ysaÿe lost part of a leg. But he continued to work. Two months before he died, his opus magnum, the opera Peter the Miner, was played in Liège. As he was too ill to attend the debut, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians organized a radio broadcast so Ysaÿe could listen to it from his bed.

Following his death in May 1931, Belgium gave Ysaÿe a state funeral. On a pillow in front of his coffin laid his beloved Guarneri violin.

 

Sources:

Corzio.com, 2018. Eugène Ysaÿe (b1858; d1931), Belgium, Violinist, https://web.archive.org/web/20110522002804/http://www.cozio.com/Musician.aspx?id=20.

Cumberland Evening Times, 1931. “Eugene Ysaye, Violinist, Dies In Brussels,” 12 May.

Globe (The), 1931. “Ysaye Is Mourned In Music World,” 13 May.

Globe and Mail (The), 1981. “Grateful Solway’s Memories Pay Homage to Eugene Ysaye,” 23 October.

Detroit Free Press (The), 1904. “A Day With Ysaye.” 6 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1905. “Coming Amusements,” 6 March.

————————————-. 1905. “Ysaye, a King Among Violinists,” 7 March.

Ottawa Citizen, (The), 1905. “Ysaye’s Recital,” 7 March.

Nippon Music Foundation, 2018. Instruments, https://www.nmf.or.jp/instruments/eng.html.

Salt Lake Herald (The), 1905, “This Week In The Theatres,” 2 May, 1905.

San Francisco Call (The), 1905. “With the Players and the Music Folk,” 21 May.

San Francisco Chronicle (The), 1895. “He Talks Of His Art,” 12 May.

Smithsonian, 2018. Violins: Guarneri Family of Violin Makers, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/violins/guarneri.

Tarisio Fine Instruments and Bows, 2018. Antonio Stradivarius, Cremona, 1734, the ‘Hercules,’

Ysaye, Szeryng, Kinor David, Semel, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=41564.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1740, the Ysaÿe, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40064.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1741, the Vieuxtemps, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40433.

Topeka State Journal, 1905. “Ysaye Is Next.” 18 February.

 

 

Sappers’ Bridge

23 July 1912

It ended with a crash that sounded like a great gun going off, the noise reverberating off the buildings of downtown Ottawa. After faithfully serving the Capital for more than eighty years, Sappers’ Bridge finally succumbed to the wreckers in the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, 23 July 1912. However, the old girl didn’t go gently into that good night. It took seven hours for the structure to finally collapse in pieces into the Rideau Canal below. After trying dynamite with little success, the demolition crew rigged a derrick and for hours repeatedly dropped a 2 ½ ton block onto the platform of the bridge before the arch spanning the Canal gave way. Mr. O’Toole the man in charge of the demolition, said that the bridge was “one of the best pieces of masonry that he [had] ever taken apart.”

Sappers' Bridge Burrowes

View of the Rideau Canal and Sappers’ Bridge – Painting by Thomas Burrowes, c. 1845, Archives of Ontario, Wikipedia.

The bridge, the first and for many decades the only bridge across the Rideau Canal, dated back to the dawn of Bytown. In the summer of 1827, Thomas Burrowes, a member of Lieutenant Colonel John By’s staff, gave his boss a sketch of a proposed wooden bridge to span the Rideau Canal, which was then under construction, from the end of Rideau Street in Lower Bytown on the Canal’s eastern side to the opposing high ground on the western side. Colonel By accepted the proposal but opted in favour of building the bridge out of stone rather than wood. Work got underway almost immediately, with the foundation of the eastern pier begun by Mr. Charles Barrett, a civilian stone mason, though the vast majority of the workers were Royal Sappers and Miners. On 23 August 1827, Colonel By laid the bridge’s cornerstone with the name Sappers’ Bridge cut into it. The arch over the Canal was completed in only two months. On the keystone on the northern face of the bridge, Private Thomas Smith carved the Arms of the Board of Ordnance who owned the Canal and surrounding land. The original bridge was only eighteen feet wide and had no sidewalks.

Reportedly, one of the first civilians to cross Sappers’ Bridge was little Eliza Litle (later Milligan), the six-year old daughter of John Litle, a blacksmith who had set up a tent and workshop where the Château Laurier Hotel stands today. Apparently, Eliza was playing close to the Canal bank on the western side when she was frightened by some passing First Nations’ women. She ran screaming towards Sappers’ Bridge which was then under construction. A big sapper picked Eliza up and carried her over a temporary wooden walkway and dropped her off at her father’s smithy.

Back in those early days, there were two Bytowns. Most people lived in Lower Bytown. It had a population of about 1,500 souls, mostly French and Irish Catholics. The much smaller Upper Bytown, which was centred around Wellington Street roughly where the Supreme Court is situated today, had a population of no more than 500. This was where the community’s elite lived, mainly English and Scottish Protestants. The two distinct worlds, one rowdy and working class, the other stuffy and upper class, were linked by Sappers’ Bridge. While the bridge joined up Rideau Street on its eastern side, there was only a small footpath on its western side. The path wound its way around the base of Barrack Hill (later called Parliament Hill), which was then heavily wooded, past a cemetery on its south side that extended from roughly today’s Elgin Street to Metcalfe Street, until it reached the Wellington and Bank Streets intersection where Upper Bytown started. It wasn’t until 1849 that Sparks Street, which had previously run only from Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) to Bank Street, was linked directly to Sappers’ Bridge. During the 1840s, that stretch of path to Sappers’ Bridge was a lonely and desolate area. It was also dangerous, especially at night. It was the favourite haunt of the lawless who often attacked unwary travellers. Many a score was settled by somebody being turfed over the side of the bridge into the Canal. People travelled across Sappers’ Bridge in groups: there was safety in numbers.

Bytown, which became Ottawa in 1855, quickly outgrew the original narrow Sappers’ Bridge. In 1860, immediately prior the visit of the Prince of Wales who laid the cornerstone of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, six-foot wide wooden pedestrian sidewalks supported by scaffolding were added to each side of the existing stone bridge. This permitted the entire 18-foot width of the bridge to be used for vehicular traffic.

But only ten years later, the bridge was again having difficulty in coping with traffic across the Rideau Canal. There was discussion on demolishing Sappers’ Bridge and replacing it with something much wider. The Ottawa Citizen opined that such talk verged on the sacrilegious as Sappers’ Bridge was “an old landmark in the history of Bytown.” The newspaper also thought that it was far too expensive to demolish especially as the bridge had “at least another century of wear in it.” It supported an alternative proposal to build a second bridge over the Canal.

In late 1871, work began on the construction of that second bridge across the Canal linking Wellington Street to Rideau Street, immediately to the north of Sappers’ Bridge. It was completed at a cost of $55,000 in 1874. It was called the Dufferin Bridge after Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General at that time. Another $22,000 was spent on widening the old Sappers’ Bridge on which were laid the tracks of the horse-drawn Ottawa Street Passenger Railway.

Despite the upgrade, Ottawa residents were still not happy with the old bridge. Sappers’ Bridge was a quagmire after a rainstorm. On wag stated that “It is estimated that the present condition of the bridge has produced more new adjectives that all the bad whiskey in Lower Town.” One Mr. Whicher of the Marine and Fisheries Department was moved to write a 24-verse parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Bridge about Sappers’ Bridge. In it, he referred to “many thousands of mud-encumbered men, each bearing his splatter of nuisance.” He hoped that a gallant colonel “with a mine of powder, a pick and a sure fusee (sic)” would blow it up. His poem was well received when he recited it at Gowan’s Hall in Ottawa.

Sappers' Bridge 1878 Wiliam Topley -Library and Archives Canada

Sappers’ Bridge (left) and Dufferin Bridge (right), c. 1878, Topley Studio and Library and Archives Canada. The old Post Office is in the centre of the photograph. Notice the horse-drawn passenger railway in operation on Sappers’ Bridge.

But it took another thirty-five years before the government contemplated doing just that.  As part of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s plan to beautify the city and make Ottawa “the Washington of the North,” the Grand Trunk Railway began in 1909 the construction of Château Laurier Hotel on the edge of Major’s Hill Park, and a new train station across the street. Getting wind of government plans to build a piazza in the triangular area above the canal between the Dufferin Bridge and Sappers’ Bridge in front of the new hotel, Mayor Hopewell suggested that Sappers’ Bridge might be widened as part of these plans in order to permit the planting of a boulevard of flowers and rockeries to hid the railway yards from pedestrians walking over the bridge. He also added that public lavatories might be installed beneath the piazza.

Sappers' Bridge Demolition Ottawahh

Demolition of Sappers’ Bridge, 1912. The arch of Sapper’s bridge is gone leaving only the broken abutments and rubble in the Canal. The newly built Château Laurier hotel in in the background on the right. Dufferin Bridge is in the centre of the photograph. Bytown Museum, P799, Ottawahh.

In the event, the federal government decided to demolish Sappers’ Bridge. Both the Dufferin and Sappers’ Bridges were replaced by one large bridge—Plaza bridge. This new bridge was completed in December 1912. The piazza over the Canal was also built. It was bordered by the Château Laurier Hotel, Union Station, the Russell House Hotel and the General Post Office. A straw poll conducted by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of its readership, favoured naming the new piazza “The Plaza.” However, the government, the owner of the site, had other ideas. It decided on calling it Connaught Place, after Lord Connaught, the third son (and seventh child) of Queen Victoria who had taken up his vice-regal duties as Canada’s Governor General in 1911.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the beautification of downtown Ottawa continued. The Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Russell Block of buildings and the Old Post Office to provide space for a national monument to honour Canada’s war dead. The war memorial was officially opened in 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In the process, Connaught Place was transformed into Confederation Square.

Little now remains of the old Sappers’ Bridge. Hidden underneath the Plaza Bridge is a small pile of stones preserved from the old bridge with a plaque installed by the NCC in 2004 in honour of Canadian military engineers. The bridge’s keystone with the chiselled emblem of the Ordnance Board was also saved from destruction. For a time it was housed in the government archives building but its current location is unknown.

 

Sources:

Ross, A. H. D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, Toronto: The Musson Book Company.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1871. “editorial,” 3 May.

————————, 1972. “A Dirty Bridge,” 10 April.

————————, 1874. “Sappers’ Bridge,” 9 October.

————————, 1913. “‘Connaught Place’, Cabinet’s Choice of Name for Area Formed By Union of Sappers’ and Dufferin Bridges,” 24 March.

————————, 1925. “Muddy Sappers’ Bridge In the Seventies,” 18 July.

———————–, 1928. “Girl of Six Was the First Female To Cross Sappers’ Bridge Over Canal,” 23 June.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1910. “Widening of the Bridges,” 3 June.

———————————–, 1912. “Early Days In Bytown Some Reminiscences,” 27 April.

———————————–, 1912. “When Ottawa Was Chosen The Capital of Canada,” 4 May.

———————————–, 1912. “Bridge Is Blown Down,” 23 July.

———————————–, 1914. “Notable Stones In the History Of The Capital,” 16 March.

 

Ottawa’s First Newspaper

24 February 1836

Bytown independent title 24-2-1836On 24 February 1836, the first edition of the first local newspaper appeared on the streets of Bytown, the small village that was destined to become Ottawa. That newspaper was called The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate. Its banner on the front page under its name proudly read:

“Let it be impressed upon your minds, Let it be instilled in your children, that the Liberty of the Press is the Palladium of all your civil, political and religious rights.—Sumus.”

The newspaper’s proprietor and editor was James Johnson. An Irish Protestant, Johnson had come to Canada in 1815. In May 1827, he settled in Bytown, which had only been founded the previous year. Reportedly a blacksmith by trade, Johnson quickly became a man of considerable property, earning a living as a merchant and auctioneer in the rough, tough frontier community that was Bytown.

The establishment of a newspaper in the small community was no easy feat, and must have taken many months in put into effect. Johnson purchased his press in Montreal. He personally disassembled it and packed the pieces along with its moveable type in boxes for shipment to Bytown. Most likely, he sent the equipment via boat as there were no railways or good highways linking Bytown to the outside world.

The Prospectus of The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate was dated December 16, 1835, indicating that Johnson had been working on the newspaper for several months before he released its first issue. He committed to publishing the newspaper every Thursday until demand was such that a semi-weekly publication was warranted. He intended “to advocate the national character and interest of every true Briton—Irishmen and their descendants first on the list.” In addition to being the spokesman for the Irish, Johnson promised to “promote the interests and prosperity of the County of Carleton and the Province [Canada West, i.e. Ontario] in general.” However, he also promised to take “the occasional peep into the affairs of our Sister [Canada East, i.e. Quebec]” since the prosperity of the two Provinces were tightly connected.

Johnson proclaimed that on “all occasions,” the newspaper will “uphold the King, and Constitution by enforcing obedience to the laws.” “May the Union Jack of Great Britain never cease to proudly wave over the Citadel of Quebec,” he declared. However, Johnson was very clear that his allegiance did not extend to the King’s ministers and officers, many of whom he believed incompetent and who put their own self-interest ahead of that of the citizens of the two Provinces. He said that they should be “turned adrift to gain a livelihood by their own industry.” Johnson added that “at all times,” would the newspaper speak out against “any misapplication of public monies, or malefaction with which public officers may be charged.”

One thing the newspaper would not do is to wade into religious controversies, except if “a wonton attack is made upon any body of Christians.” Johnson wrote “every man should be allowed to walk in his own peaceful ways without intolerance, as he is responsible for them to God alone.”

The cost of subscribing to the newspaper, which Johnson promised to publish on “good paper” of “a fair size,” was an expensive £1 or $4 per year, exclusive of postage payable semi-annually in advance. Rates for advertising in the newspaper were set at 2 shillings and sixpence for six lines for the first insertion, with every subsequent insertion set at 7 1/2d. Rates went up for larger advertisements. From six to ten lines, the initial rate was 3s. 6d. with subsequent insertions costing 10d. For submissions of great than ten lines, the rate would be 4d. per line for the first time, and 1d. per line for subsequent insertions.

That first edition had a run of about 500 copies, four pages long, which he produced with the help of John Stewart, his compositor. Johnson tried to deliver by hand all the copies of that inaugural issue of the Bytown Independent as he didn’t want to use the Post Office. Johnson, an irascible and opinionated man, was angry at Bytown’s Deputy Post Master and didn’t want to give him the business. “We have always been ill treated by the Deputy Post Master,” he raged. “To have him enlarge his bags for five hundred copies of the Bytown Independent would be unreasonable on our part.”

Johnson requested that friends and foes alike peruse the newspaper and if they didn’t agree with the paper’s politics they could return the issue by the post. Those who retained the issue would be placed on the Subscribers’ List—an early example of what today is called unsolicited supply. Johnson also advised recipients not to keep a copy out of compassion since if necessary he would seek reforms even if they affected “our best friend.”

Johnson pledged that at the end of the year if he was satisfied with himself, he would treat himself and any well-wishers to a bottle of something that would remain nameless.

Politically, Johnson pledged himself to being neither Whig (Reform) or Tory (Conservative). However, it is evident from the newspaper’s coverage of political events that Johnson was an ardent reformer. The newspaper’s account in its first issue of the evolving Canadian political scene provides a fascinating contemporary look into the turbulent period immediately prior to the Rebellions of 1837 when radical reformers took up arms against repressive, non-representative governments in Upper and Lower Canada.

The first issue of the Bytown Independent took place against the backdrop of a change in the leadership of Upper Canada. Sir John Colborne had just been replaced by Sir Francis Bond Head as Lieutenant Governor. Colborne, a military man who had served under the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic War, was conservative by nature and served Upper Canada with an unostentatious style. He successively increased the population of Upper Canada through emigration from Britain and instituted a major public works programme to improve communications across the Province. However, while conscious of the need for constitutional reform, Colborne did nothing to address the provincial political grievances.  While many moderates approved of his administration, radical reformers resented his treatment of the House of Assembly, the cost of assisting immigrants, and his use of public funds without the support of the legislature.

Johnson comments on Colborne were scathing and were often close to being libelous. He wrote:

“We can speak of Sir John’s administration from our own knowledge—not from rumours afloat; and we do say this of it, that it was the most puny, partial and political Government that ever any Colony was governed by.”

As well, Johnson, who called Colborne “a scanty head,” accused the Lieutenant Governor of interference in the 1832 by-election in Carleton County. He blamed the election of Hamnet Pinney (or Pinhey), a Tory, over George Lyon, a reformer, by Colborne’s appointment of a corrupt and biased returning officer.

In the newspaper’s first issue, Johnson published the first half of a letter of instructions to Sir Francis Bond Head from Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in London. (The second half was to appear in the second issue of the Independent.) The instructions refer to the mammoth Seventh Report of the Select Committee, which had been chaired by William Lyon Mackenzie, on the grievances of Upper Canada’s House of Assembly. The chief grievance was the “almost unlimited extent of the patronage of the Crown,” exercised by the Colonial minister and his advisers. Lord Glenelg made it very clear that he did not favour the appointment of public officials by the legislature, or by any form of popular election. He feared that such public officials would not work for the general good and “would be virtually exempt from responsibility.” Far better for the Lieutenant Governor to appoint able men who would not promote “any narrow, exclusive or party design.” Given the explosive contents of Glenelg’s letter, it was astonishing that Head released it to the press.

A lengthy response to Glenelg’s instructions written by William Lyon Mackenzie, which originally appeared in a Toronto newspaper, was also published. Mackenzie wrote that throughout the two Canadas there was a “general feeling of disappointment and regret.” He added:

“If Sir Francis appoints to Executive Council men…known for their ability, integrity, firmness and sincere attachment to reform principles, his path will be smooth and easy…but if His Excellency shall retain in office the avowed enemies of free institutions, men whom the basest governments of England ever knew, have made use of their minions to oppress our country, it will be our duty at once to demand his recall and insist that a government which is in itself the greatest of all grievances be made suitable to our wants.”

Unfortunately, Head went on to alienate reformers—his arrogance and ignorance a disastrous combination.  Although Tories won the General Election in June 1836 owing to Head’s appeals of loyalty to the Crown, his actions against reformers led to rebellion. In late 1837, Mackenzie declared himself president of the short-lived Republic of Canada. But the insurrection quickly fizzled. Mackenzie fled to the United States while Head was recalled in disgrace. These events set the stage for the introduction of responsible government under the leadership of moderates such as Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine during the following decade.

In addition to giving a contemporary account of the political struggle between reformers seeking what Americans might call a “government by the people for the people,” and Tories desiring to preserve an autocracy run by the Governor, the Bytown Independent also provides a fascinating window into economic life of early 19th century Canada. During these years, it was unclear whether British North America would use pounds, shillings and pence or dollars and cents as its currency. British and America coins circulated side by side. Canadian banks, which had just began to circulate their own bank notes, issued paper money in both pounds and dollars, sometimes simultaneously in the form of dual denominated notes. This currency ambivalence can be seen by Johnson setting the price of an annual subscription to his newspaper at $4 dollars in one place and at 20 shillings (£1) in another. It wasn’t until 1857 that the Province of Canada (the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada united in 1841) finally chose dollars and cents—economic ties with its U.S. neighbour trumped political and emotional ties with Britain.

There is also a reference in the newspaper to “bons”–a form of alterative paper scrip, usually of small denomination issued by merchants which could be used to buy goods in the issuer’s store. Bon stood for “Bon pour,” French for “Good for.”

Bytown independent 24-2-1836

During the early 19th century, promissory notes (notes of hand) were often used as currency. Endorsed on the back, the notes would pass from person to person as money. Ruglass Wright is probably Ruggles Wright, a son of Philemon Wright who founded Hull. Ruggles, a lumberman like his father, built the first timber slide to transport logs around the Chaudière Falls. In this case, Hugh McGreer is warning potential buyers of the note that he will not pay it if presented.

As well, there is a fascinating reference to “Halifax Currency.” Halifax Currency denoted a way of converting pounds into silver dollars. (It was called Halifax currency after the city where it originated.) One pound, Halifax currency, converted into four silver dollars, or 5 shillings equalled $1. The issuer of a promissory note specified Halifax currency because of the existence of other conversion ratings. For example, in York Currency, which was still in use in parts of Upper Canada in 1836, one silver dollar was worth 8 shillings. To avoid confusion and being short-changed on repayment, it was a sensible precaution to specify the type of currency being used in financial contracts.

Among the advertisements in the newspaper’s first issue are notices from the Post Office listing the times when letters destined for various communities in Upper and Lower Canada had to be received by the Post Office and when letters were delivered at Bytown from these communities. A long list of names of people with mail waiting for them at the Post Office was also provided along with the amount of postage due by them. As these were the days before postage stamps, the recipient of a letter paid the delivery fee. G.W. Baker, the Post Master, warned that unless the amounts were paid by April 5th, the letters would be sent to the dead letter box in Quebec.

Bytown independent Personal ad 24-2-1836

The first personal advertisement. Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, 24 February 1836. One must wonder whether Daniel Murphy ever reconnected with his sisters.

In another advertisement, Mr. William Northgraves, a watch and clock maker with an office “nearly opposite the Butcher’s Shambles in Lower Bytown,” announced to Bytown residents that from long experience he had acquired “a perfect knowledge of the practical as well as the theoretical part of the science” and was ready to clean and repair all kinds of watches and clocks. Among other things, he could also repair mathematical and surgical instruments, and make all kinds of fine screws. As a side line, he bought old gold and silver.

Two advertisements were placed in the newspaper by Alexander J. Christie. The first he inserted in his capacity as Secretary of the Ottawa Lumber Association announcing a meeting to be held on March 1st at 10 am at J. Chitty’s Hotel to promote the prosperity of the lumber trade. The second was a request for tenders to clear one hundred acres of land close to Bytown.

Christie must have taken a keen liking in the newspaper. He purchased the The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate from James Johnson after its second issue.  The sale must have surprised the small Bytown community. Christie was a Tory who had helped Hamnet Pinhey win the disputed 1832 Carleton County by-election. Dr. Christie, as he was generally known, was a medical practitioner of uncertain qualifications who had been appointed coroner in 1830 for the Bathurst District in which Bytown was situated. He was also appointed a public notary by Sir John Colborne. Consequently, he represented everything that Johnson had railed against in his newspaper.

Christie relaunched the newspaper a few months later as the Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser. In his prospectus, Christie claimed that “he comes forward unfettered by a blind adherence to any party.” However, the Gazette’s coverage of political events had a strong Tory bias. The Bytown Gazette folded in 1845 two years after the death of Dr. Christie.

Bytown regained a local reformist newspaper with the establishment of The Packet in 1843 by William Harris. The Packet was to be renamed The Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and remains the most prominent newspaper in the city to this day.

Sources:

Ballstadt, Carl, 2003. “Christie, Alexander James,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 7. University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/christie_alexander_james_7E.html.

Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate (The), 24 February 1836.

House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1835, The Seventh Report from the Select Committee on Grievances, chaired by W. L. Mackenzie, Esq., M. Reynolds: Toronto.

Powell, James, 2005, History of the Canadian Dollar, Bank of Canada.

Wilson, Alan, 2003. “Colborne, John, Baron Seaton,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/colborne_john_9E.html.

Wise, S. W., 1972. “Head, Sir Francis Bond,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/head_francis_bond_10E.html.

 

Archbishop Boris

10 December 1955

It was the height of the Cold War. In 1955, West Germany joined NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites established the Warsaw Pact as a military counterweight to the Western Alliance.  In November of that year, the Soviet Union tested an inter-continental ballistic missile that could deliver a hydrogen bomb, many times more potent that the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the U.S. mainland. Tension was also rising over the future of Berlin, with Russia seeking to end four-power control of the German city. Another blockade was feared. Amidst this tense international environment, Archbishop Boris (Vik) of the Russian Orthodox Church came to Canada.

Boris

Archbishop Boris (Vik) 1906-1965, http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Archbishop Boris was appointed Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America and Exarch of North and South America in late 1954. His Canadian visit was organized by the United Church of Canada. The trip was the result of an invitation extended by the United Church to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1952. Two other Russians accompanied Boris—Archpriest Constantine Ruzitsky, the rector of the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Anatole Gorbatchov, the lay inspector of seminaries. Bishop Paladeus of Volynack and Rovensk was also supposed to visit Canada, but he was a no-show. No reason was given. The Russians were supposed to arrive in late November. However, the visit was delayed a week owing to an unexplained “mix-up” with their passport and visa arrangements.

Boris had hoped to twin a visit to Canada with a trip to the United States. But after initially granting the Archbishop a visa, the U.S. State Department retracted it. Boris had become caught up in a tit-for-tat struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union over religious representation. After he had received his appointment in late 1954, Boris had come to the United States on a 60-day visa. However, the U.S. State Department turned down his request for the visa to be extended when it expired at the end of February 1955. U.S. authorities were afraid that the United States might become the headquarters of a Moscow-controlled faction of the Russian Orthodox Church. In response, the Russians expelled Georges Bissonnette, an American Roman Catholic priest who was administering to the religious needs of U.S. citizens living in the Soviet Union and the broader diplomatic community. According to the 1933 Roosevelt-Litvinov agreement under which the United States recognized the Soviet regime, the U.S.S.R. had agreed that Americans in Russia would have freedom of worship. While the agreement did not clearly state that officiating clergy must be American, the Russian authorities typically granted a permanent visa to an American priest as long as he did not minister to Russian citizens.

The Soviet government finally agreed to give a visa to Father Dion, a replacement for Father Bissonnette, in November 1955, and the U.S. State Department in return issued a visa for Archbishop Boris to come to the United States. However, it retracted the visa a few days later on the grounds that the exchange of clergymen was not reciprocal. Father Dion was not permitted preach to Russians whereas Archbishop Boris could preach to Americans. This impasse was not broken until the beginning of 1959 when Dion finally went to Moscow and Boris received a three-month visitors’ visa to the United States.

In the meantime, Archbishop Bois and his colleagues made do with a two-week visit at the end of 1955 to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton. The Russians arrived by airplane at the Dorval Airport in early December and was met by a welcoming committee of United Church dignitaries and G.F. Popov from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa. Dr Ernest Long, Secretary of the General Council of the United Church of Canada, said that the three-fold purpose of the visit was to promote understanding, give visibility to Christian unity, and to foster goodwill between Canadian and Russian Christians.

Conspicuously absent from the welcoming party was any representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Canada. The rector of the Orthodox St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in Montreal said that he would ignore the visit as the delegation did “not represent the true and continuing branch of the orthodox church” and that the Russian Orthodox Church had become “a mere political organ of the Soviet government.” The Russian visitors also had to sidestep a small group of about fifty demonstrators with banners who were handing out leaflets at the airport in protest of the visit. In answering questions from Canadian and American journalists, Archbishop Boris said through an interpreter that he was not a communist and did not have a personal acquaintance with either Party Secretary Khrushchev or Premier Bulgarin. He added that many Russians believed in God and practised those beliefs: there was no ban on practising religion in the Soviet Union. When asked about Canadian Orthodox churches, Boris said that there were fewer than ten Russian Orthodox churches in Canada and that they were “unfriendly” to the Russian hierarchy. As reconciliation attempts had proven unfeasible, the churches were considered to be “in schism.”

After a short stay in Montreal, Boris and his entourage took a train to Toronto. There, two Ukrainian Catholic priests presented him with a letter asking him to negotiate the release of Bishop Joseph Slipyj from a Siberian labour camp. Slipyj and eleven other Ukrainian Catholic bishops had been sent to Siberian gulags after the war. Slipyj received an eight-year sentence in 1946 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis and for his refusal to accept the forced take-over of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church by the Russian Orthodox Church. (Constatine Ruzitsky, one of Boris’ travelling companions, was reportedly one of the masterminds behind this takeover.) Despite the conclusion of his sentence, Slipyj remained in custody. Archbishop Boris promised to place the request before the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on his return to Moscow. If Boris did anything, it was not effective. Slipyj remained in a Soviet prison for another eight years, and was only released through the intervention of President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII in 1963. Expelled from Russia, the Pope made Slipyj a cardinal in 1965.

While in Toronto, Archbishop Boris visited the large department stores, took a side trip to Niagara Falls, and officiated at a service at the Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church dressed in full Orthodox regalia including a golden mitre studded with precious stones, a purple robe banded with scarlet and white, a lavender stole, two large golden crosses, one around his neck and another in his hand, and a glittering bracelet on his left wrist. When a newspaper reporter took pictures in a gallery, Anatole Gorbachov followed him and asked if he had permission to take pictures. When the journalist said no, Gorbachov told him to go. This put paid to the notion that none of the Russians spoke English.

Archbishop Boris, Archpriest Ruzitsky and Anatole Gorbatchov arrived by train at Union Station in Ottawa at 8.30 am on Saturday, 10 December 1955.  An Ottawa Citizen article described Boris as a “huge man” with a “long ginger-coloured beard flowing over the front of his long black cloak,” carrying a silver-topped staff. Rev. Frank Fidler of Toronto and Rev. Herman Neufeld of the United Church College in Winnipeg accompanied the Russians. As they were being welcomed by United Church dignitaries, Lydia Szarwarkowska of 325 Laurier Avenue pushed ahead of the greeters to plead for help from the Russian prelate. In tears, she asked in Russian for his intercession on her behalf with the Soviet government for an exit permit for her 70-year old mother who lived alone, the rest of her family having been killed in the War.

After checking into the Château Laurier Hotel, the Russians were taken on a tour of the capital, visited the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street (the embassy was to burn down three weeks later on New Year’s Day 1956), and was taken out to dine at a restaurant by the Ottawa Presbytery of the United Church. Apparently, the Archbishop spent the evening relaxing and watching Russian movies.

Boris The Ottawa Journal 10-12-1955

Advertising a church service with Archbishop Boris, The Ottawa Journal, 10 December 1955

The next day, the Russian delegation joined the congregations of the Greek Orthodox Church on Albert Street and St Elijah’s Syrian Orthodox Church on Lyon Street for Sunday services. The Russians were also given a tour of the Parliament buildings—the Archbishop was surprised there was a Liberal government in power. Boris, a big man weighing close to 300 pounds, reportedly “beamed” when he was told that Jack Garland, the Liberal member for Nippising, tipped the scales at 400 pounds. The group also went to the National Galley. While Boris was not impressed with a modern Henry Moore sculpture, he liked art made by Canada’s native peoples. That evening, the Russians attended a candlelit service at the Dominion United Church for the Canadian Girls in Training. Archbishop Boris, wearing a cross of thirty two diamonds, sat behind the pulpit with the Rt Rev. George Dorey, the Moderator of the United Church and the Rev. J. Lorne Graham, minister and Presbytery Chairman. Boris spoke at the service, urging Christian unity and told the girls the Russian legend of the Christmas tree. Moderator Dorey warned against western propaganda that religion was non-existent in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a dozen men, apparently immigrants from Communist-ruled Eastern Europe, handed out anti-Russian pamphlets.

The following day, a luncheon was held in Archbishop Boris’ honour attended by senior representatives of the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church, as well as a representative of Canada’s External Affairs. Afterwards, Archbishop Boris, accompanied by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator and Lorne Graham, the Presbytery Chairman, held a press conference. Boris, dressed in flowing black robes spoke of his experience so far in Canada, saying he found Canadians to be “hospitable and hard-working.” He was also impressed with the church services. Boris also took this opportunity to denounce the U.S. decision to rescind his visa. He said it amounted to “pressure on religion.” In contrast, he said that although communists were unbelievers, he knew that some came to his church. Moreover, he had seen with his own eyes the good work the communist government was doing. He posed the rhetorical question “Is the American Government Christian?” He also insisted that there was no interference in the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet Government. He added that Russians were entitled to their own opinion and could practice religion. After a final service at Southminster United Church, the Russian clerics headed west, stopping first in Toronto.

Archbishop Boris did not have a good flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Leaving on a small DC-3 airplane, he was given two seats to accommodate his size. However, he had trouble buckling his seatbelt. After an attempt to use two seatbelts failed, an attendant managed to fasten him in using a cargo belt. Unfortunately, Boris’ long whiskers got caught in the strap. Reportedly, he “let out an unchurchmanlike roar,” as he, his two Russian aides, and a stewardess struggled to free him.

After a brief stay in Edmonton, the Russians returned to Montreal, before heading back to Moscow via Amsterdam.

The two-week visit was a great propaganda coup for the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet Union. Well covered by Canadian and American press, Boris faithfully toed the Communist party line that religion, while not encouraged, was thriving in the Soviet Union, and that Russians were free to practice without hindrance. This view was openly supported by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator. Boris also had the opportunity to literally demonize the United States for barring his entry. “I believe in God, but there is also a devil [a.k.a. the U.S. Government],” he thundered. Of course, the reality was quite different. Although there had been some thawing of government-church relations which began during the War when the Soviets sought the help of the Orthodox Church in defeating the Nazis, that window of relative tolerance was fast closing. Despite religious freedom being enshrined in law, the Soviet Union was militantly atheist. Thousands had died or had been imprisoned for their faith. Nonetheless, Boris disingenuously claimed that “the Russian government had never persecuted the church as such but only church members who had been against the government.” Also, communist toleration of religion, if you can call it that, only went so far. Persecution of believers, especially non-Orthodox practitioners, continued. Roman Catholics, given their “allegiance” to the Pope, were under particular suspicion.

The pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Echo Drive called the United Church “tragically naïve” in arranging the visit. He added that Archbishop Boris is trusted by the Communist Party.  He likened the Russian trip to “a secret police mission.” Before inviting Archbishop to Canada, the United Church ought to have consulted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada. “We have no quarrel with the United Church. But we do after all know a little more than them about Russia. We know that the Soviets executed 38 bishops of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine alone.”

Following Archbishop Boris’s visit to Canada, Soviet oppression of religious organizations increased under Nikita Khrushchev during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many anti-religious measures taken was the closure of thousands of churches and monasteries. Clergymen who criticized atheism were forcibly retired or imprisoned, while parents were forbidden to teach religion to their children.

Sources:

Bishop, Donald Gordon, 1965. The Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements, An American View, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.

Decatur Sunday Herald and Review (The), 1955. “Delegation From The Russian Church Hits Opposition on Visit to Canada,” 25 December.

Globe and Mail (The), “U.S. Cancelled A Visa Granted To Boris 11 Days Earlier,” 15 November.

————————–, 1955. “Forbidden To Enter U.S., Moscow Prelate Due In Canada On Monday,” 22 November.

————————–, 1955. “Expect Four Russian Clerics To Arrive Sunday,” 30 November.

————————–, 1955. “Russians Pledge Action on Priests’ Requests,” 8 December.

————————–, 1955. “Satisfied With Reds,” 13 December.

Orthodox Canada, 2018. Archbishop Boris (Vik), http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1955. “Woman In Tears Pleads For Aid From Russ Cleric,” 10 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Archbishop Tells Christmas Legend,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Protest Visit of Russian Clerics Here,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “‘Our Only Aim to Live In Peace,’ Archbishop Affirms At Luncheon,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Red Priests Called Moscow Spies,” 13 December.

Ottawa Journal, The, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Escape Demonstrators at Montreal,” 5 December.

————————-, 1955. “Russian Archbishop Shows Interest,” 7 December.

————————-, 1955. “United Moderator Says Russian Church Autonomous,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “U.S. Bars Russian Bishop,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Display Keen Interest In Parliament,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “At CGIT Service, Russian Inspector Pockets Pamphlets,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Ottawa Clergyman Calls Visiting Russians Stooges,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Tangled in Strap, Couldn’t Be Freed,” 13 December.

Soviet History Museum, 2018. Hydrogen Bomb, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/hydrogen-bomb/.

The Mystery of the Wandering Ballots

28 February 1928

At the beginning of December 1926, the Conservative government of George Howard Ferguson was returned to power in a General Election with an overwhelming majority in the Ontario Legislature. Although the Conservatives lost three seats from the previous election, they won over 57 per cent of the popular vote and claimed 73 of the Legislature’s 112 seats. The principal issue of the election was prohibition. Ferguson, who had already eased the ban on liquor by permitting the sale of low-alcohol beer, promised to repeal the Ontario Temperance Act and replace it with Liquor Control Act which would allow alcohol sales in government-owned liquor stores. The two major opposition parties, the Progressive Party under William Raney and the Liberal Party under William E.N. Sinclair, supported continued prohibition. In Ottawa, Conservatives took two of three city seats. Conservative Thomas Birkett took the South Ottawa riding with a large majority over his Liberal rival, Robert Russell Sparks—9,171 votes to 5,526. In North Ottawa, Conservative Albert Honeywell also triumphed with a large majority. In East Ottawa, Joseph Pinard, an Independent Liberal supporter of liquor control rather than prohibition, eked out a narrow victory in a three-way contest.

Ten months later, at the beginning of October 1927, George Landerkin, a civil servant working for the Ministry of the Interior living at 171 Fifth Avenue, was walking along Alymer Avenue which runs parallel to Sunnyside Avenue. As he strode along the road, he spotted black-edged papers lying on the pavement and blowing in the wind. He reached down and picked one up. On it was printed two names—Thomas M. Birkett and Robert Russell Sparks. It was a blank ballot from the previous year’s provincial election for the South Ottawa constituency. Counting at least 75 ballots littering the roadway, he picked up nineteen and took them home.

Ballots TOEJ 24-2-1928

Photograph of one of the nineteen ballot papers found by George Landerkin and sent to Liberal leader W.E.N. Sinclair, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 24 February 1928.

The matter might have gone no further except Landerkin, not knowing what to do with the ballots he found, gave them to his solicitor, Alexander Smith, of the Ottawa legal firm Smith and Johnson. Smith sent the ballots to Russell Sparks, the losing Liberal candidate for the South Ottawa constituency, who in turn forwarded them to W.E.N. Sinclair, Opposition Leader and leader of the Liberal Party.

A few months later, in mid-February 1928, (the reason for the delay is unclear) Sinclair stood in the Ontario Legislature and announced that he had in his possession a number of ballots from the 1926 provincial election for the South Ottawa constituency. Suggesting that a crime might have been committed, he demanded an explanation from the government. Premier Ferguson replied that this was the first time that he had heard of the matter. He added that his government would make every effort to investigate and invited Sinclair’s co-operation.

Approached by the press after the news broke, Francis M. Scott, the returning officer responsible for conducting the election in the South Ottawa riding, emphatically denied that there had been any election irregularities on his watch. “There were positively no irregularities and so far as I am concerned, a careful check was made throughout election day on all ballots and polling places.” Other prominent Conservatives (Scott was a Conservative appointee) in Ottawa expressed their “full confidence in the manner in which the election had been carried out by returning officers and other election officials.” Thomas Birkett, the South Ottawa deputy, denied having any knowledge of the ballots until the Liberal leader “sprang” the issue in his speech. Birkett, who wasn’t in the House at the time, hurried into the chamber when colleagues told him that his riding was being discussed.

The mystery of the wandering ballots was referred to the Privileges and Elections Committee. Sinclair, who was a member of the Committee, insisted that it conduct a complete scrutiny of the South Ottawa ballots, tracing their movement from the Office of the King’s Printer in Toronto to the polling booth and then their return for safekeeping with the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, the civil servant responsible for elections’ administration. Conservative members demanded that Sinclair produce the ballots before launching an investigation.

Several days of political wrangling ensued with Sinclair unwilling to cough up the ballots until the government started a scrutiny of the South Ottawa ballots. A motion to subpoena Sinclair and force him to produce his ballots and tell the committee where he got them easily passed given the Conservative majority on the committee. Only the Liberal and Progressive members dissented. Sinclair protested, calling the motion “political byplay.” He added “I haven’t got them about me. Do you suppose I’d walk around in this crowd with all those ballots?” Sinclair did admit, however, that he received the ballots from Russell Sparks, the defeated Liberal candidate. He later added that Sparks got them from the law firm Smith and Johnson.

Meanwhile, Sinclair allowed journalists to see and photograph one of the wayward ballots, something that offended members of the Privileges and Elections Committee who had been denied a similar opportunity. Conservatives said that Sinclair’s stance was “unprecedented” and “farcical.” Sinclair replied that he didn’t understand why the Conservative Party didn’t want the inquiry to proceed, “but the man in the street is believing more and more every day that there is something wrong.”

With Sinclair refusing to hand over the nineteen ballots, the Committee was deadlocked. The issue returned to the Legislature unresolved. To break the impasse, and sooth those who had become “agitated and high strung,” Premier Ferguson agreed on 28 February 1928 to appoint a Royal Commission headed by two Ontario Supreme Court Justices, The Honourable James Magee and The Honourable Frank Egerton Hodgins, to examine the matter. “Nothing should be left undone to preserve that sacredness [of the ballot] or to protect it against suspicion,” said the Premier in the Legislature.

The Commission quickly got down to work in Toronto calling witnesses and perusing evidence. Sinclair, the first witness, finally produced the nineteen ballots. After the clerk of the Crown in Chancery verified their authenticity, the Commission traced the ballots’ movements starting from the King’s Printer who supplied the specially watermarked ballot paper to the United Press in Toronto who printed blank sheets of black-bordered ballots for the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. The Clerk in turn supplied blank sheets in packages to constituencies for a local printer to add the names of candidates to the ballots and cutting. Each sheet has spaces for twelve names. Consequently, in the South Ottawa riding where there were only two candidates, each sheet could be cut into six ballots. The Clerk sent Francis Scott, the South Ottawa returning officer, 8,000 sheets of ballot paper. On their arrival in Ottawa, the packets of ballot paper was dropped off at Scott’s residence. He subsequently sent them to Modern Press in Ottawa to print 30,000 ballots made into pads. Once printed with Birkett’s and Sparks’ names, the ballots were sent back to Scott. Each ballot consisted of a numbered stub, a counterfoil similarly numbered, and the actual ballot itself.

On election day, returning officers tore off a ballot from the stub, and gave it with the counterfoil to each voter. After the ballot was marked in secret, the voter returned to the returning officer and gave him the ballot. The counterfoil was then torn off and the ballot placed in the ballot box. Left behind would be stubs and counterfoils that could be verified against each other. The number of ballots cast could also be compared to the number of counterfoils or stubs to ensure against ballot-box stuffing. The Commission’s lawyer noted that the Sinclair ballots did not have attached counterfoils. Consequently, he argued that “with ordinary care” they could not have be used.

The Commission determined that a lot more than Sinclair’s nineteen ballots had gone astray. Other people came forward with stories of finding ballots. The daughter of Mrs Charles Dore of 16 Alymer Avenue brought home more than 100 ballots, some loose, some still in packets. Charles Mullin and Thomas O’Neil also saw ballots lying on the same roadway. Fred Taggert of Fairburn Avenue testified that a newsboy collecting money from his wife had showed her a pad of clean ballots. Another newsboy, Nelson Wilkins, gave W. J. Lowrie of Ottawa in February 1927 a pad of twenty ballots, complete with counterfoils and stubs. Lowrie in turn gave the ballots to Thomas Birkett, the Conservative winner.  Wilkins had found the ballots in a back room of the Hill building at 282 Sunnyside Avenue where Scott had rented rooms prior to the election as his office and a polling station. After the provincial election, the rooms had been used as a polling station for Ottawa’s municipal election held a few days later. They then were occupied by a Conservative Club. In early 1927, the rooms become a newsboy’s newspaper distribution centre. Finding pads of unused ballots on the floor of a back storage room and in a waste paper basket, the newsboys began to play with them. Harry Nicholson, one of the newsboys, told the inquiry that he and his friends took away 15-20 pads of ballots “for fun.” Many found their way outside—the apparent source of the ballots littering nearby Aylmer Avenue.

Called to testify, Francis Scott, the responsible returning officer, admitted that he did not verify the number of ballots received from the Modern Press, nor did he note how many ballots he provided to each polling station. He swore, however, that after the election he returned all used and unused ballots along with unused sheets of ballot paper to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in sealed boxes as required under the elections legislation.

However, when boxes containing election materials were opened up at the inquiry, Scott was shocked to discover one box was empty and another contained only three packets of ballot stubs without counterfoils. To add to the mystery, the seals on the boxes had been previously broken. Scott told Justices McGee and Hodgins that there was a “long story” behind the missing ballots which he could not reveal for family reasons, claiming that his wife was sick to death of the affair. “I will take the blame of the whole thing rather than say anything,” he is reported to have said. He added that a number of persons had tampered with the boxes.  Scott wrote down three names on a piece of paper and gave it to the Justices. He ominously remarked that the story will reflect on “somebody in Ottawa.” Their motive was jealousy or spite. His initial suspicion was somebody in the Liberal Party but when Birkett brought in his ballots, he thought both parties might be involved.

The Ontario Provincial Police were called in to investigate. Inspector Stringer examined the rooms on Sunnyside Avenue, and personally found additional blank ballots. Testimony from newsboy Nelson Wilkins and a number of Conservative Party workers, including the three whose names were on Scott’s piece of paper, did not shed much further light on the issue. None of the three were in the rooms on election day.

In subsequent testimony, Scott declined to give his “long story.” Contrary to what he had said earlier, he admitted that he might not have packed up and shipped to Toronto the unused ballots and excess ballot paper. Indeed, a worker from the Modern Press testified to having found the blank election paper in the company’s storage four months after the election. The worker burnt the sheets. As for the unused ballots, Scott considered them “waste election paper” and simply threw them away. Finally, Scott admitted to the Commission that he had been “in a particular frame of mind” when he alleged that jealous persons had broken into the sealed boxes. His stories were untrue.  In order to clear himself of wrongdoing, he had tried to blame others.

In the end, the Commission found many irregularities in the handling of the ballots and ballot paper, but concluded that the outcome of the South Ottawa election had not been affected. The Justices believed that the unused ballot paper had been fully accounted for—the paper had been burnt at the premises of the Modern Press. While only a portion of the unused ballots were ever found, the Justices were also satisfied that they had been strewn about the street by the newsboys.

However, the Justices were concerned that the discovery of loose ballots might have created suspicion and uncertainty about the election outcome. While deciding that no criminal act had been committed, the Commission declared Francis Scott, the returning officer, to be “guilty of carelessness, irregularity, negligence and incompetence as well as unintentional wrongdoing.” The Justices also remarked that returning officers needed to be honest and “thoroughly competent and careful.”  Some blame for the incident was also placed on the Modern Press which couldn’t say with certainty how much ballot paper it had received, and how many ballots it had printed. It also didn’t return unused ballot paper to the returning officer as required by law. However, this again was judged as an unintentional wrongdoing rather than a criminal act.

The Justices made a number of recommendations to protect the integrity of the election process including a recommendation for strict accounting of ballots and ballot paper with receipts issued at every stage of the printing and distribution process.

The Justices’ decision was accepted by everybody including Russell Sparks, the defeated Liberal candidate. Of course, the two political parties tried to spin the outcome in their favour. Premier Ferguson called the mystery of the wandering ballots a “dud.” Liberal Leader Sinclair saw the outcome as a “condemnation of the government.”

 

Sources:

Elections Canada, 2018. Canada at the Polls. http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?dir=yth/stu/gui&document=dx&lang=e&section=vot.

Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario from the 9th February to 3rd April, 1928, inclusive. Second Session of the Seventeenth Legislature of the Province of Ontario, Session 1928, Vol. LXII.

Globe (The), 1928. “High Court Judges To Probe Ballot Mystery,” 29 February.

————–, 1928. “Flaws in Election Act Noted at Last Session of South Ottawa Probe,” 27 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1926. “Decisive Mandate At Polls For Premier Ferguson,” 2 December.

————————————-, 1928. “Now Asks For Investigation Of Evidence Of Corruption In Riding Of South Ottawa,” 15 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Will Summon Two Election Officials Now,” 17 February.

————————————, 1928. “Hectic Verbal Tilts Between TheMembers,” 21 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Ballots Were Handed To Him By Legal Firm,” 24 February.

————————————-, 1928. “In Warm Debate On Clearing Up Ballot Mix-up,” 25 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Ballot Enquiry To Open Monday Next,” 2 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Must Deiscover If The Ballots Were Genuine,” 5 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Stray Ballots Are Produced At the Enquiry,” 15 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Brings Out Fact That Other Ballots Also Missing,” 16 March.

————————————, 1928. “F.M. Scott Gives Evidence In Ballot Inquiry,” 16 March.

————————————, 1928. “Civil Servant Who Provided Ballots Names,” 19 March.

————————————, 1928. “Given Surprise On Opening Up Ballot Boxes,” 20 March.

————————————, 1928. “Police To Solve Ottawa Ballot Mystery,” 20 March.

————————————, 1928.  “Provincial Man Makes Search Hill Premises,” 21 March.

————————————, 1928.  “Inquiry Likely To Terminate This Afternoon,” 22 March.

————————————, 1928. “Police Officer Tells Of Visit Paid To Ottawa,” 23 March.

————————————, 1928. “He Now Admits Did Not Return The Left-Overs,” 24 March.

————————————, 1928. “Mystery Over South |Ottawa Ballots Ends,” 26 March.

————————————, 1928. “Scott Careless The Election Judges Deeclare,” 13 April.

————————————, 1928. “States Ballot Affair Turned Out To Be “Dud,” 24 April.

Report of The Honourable James MaGee, and the Honourable Frank Egerton Hodgins, appointed by Order-In-Council to enquire into certain matters regarding the election held on December 1st, 1926 in the electoral district of South Ottawa, April, 11, 1928, https://archive.org/stream/b249458#page/n0/mode/2up.