Bryson, Graham Ltd: “Ottawa’s Greatest Store”

6 September 1870

Sparks Street used to be the beating heart of Ottawa commerce, home to several major local department stores that had their roots in the late nineteenth century. These included L. N. Poulin’s Dry Goods store, R.J. Devlin & Company, Murphy-Gamble, and Bryson, Graham Ltd. One by one they disappeared into history. Most were bought out by larger chain stores before they too succumbed as shoppers flocked to exciting new suburban shopping centres with ample parking facilities that were closer to where people lived. But back during the early twentieth century when Sparks Street was at its zenith, the place to shop was Bryson, Graham Ltd, then known as “Ottawa’s Greatest Store.”

Bryson 1875 William James TopleyLAC-002237

Charles Bryson’s Dry Goods Store, 53 Sparks Street, 1875, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-002237.

It opened for business on 6 September 1870 as Patterson & Bryson at 53 Sparks Street on the north side of the street, west of Elgin. The firm was named after its two principals, Joseph H. Patterson and Charles B. Bryson. Initially, there wasn’t much going for the modest dry-goods business. With the main commercial streets in Ottawa at that time being Rideau, Sussex and Wellington, the store had an unpromising location. Business was tough during those early years. Indeed, in 1873, the partnership ended, with Patterson decamping to New York City to establish a dry goods business there. Bryson, a country boy from Richmond who had come to Ottawa in 1864 and learnt the dry-good business working at the firm T. Hunt & Sons, soldiered on alone. The split-up appeared to have been relatively amicable, or at least any hard feelings healed over time. On the firm’s silver anniversary in 1895, Patterson sent Bryson from New York a souvenir of their first day in business. Concealed inside twenty-five nested envelopes was the first 5-cent piece the store took in. On one side was engraved “P & B” with “6th Sept., 1870” inscribed on the other.

Things began to pick up in the 1880s after Bryson welcomed Frederick Graham into the business which by this point had moved along the road first to 110 Sparks Street and then to 152 Sparks Street. Like his colleague, Graham was a country boy. He had come to Ottawa to sell agricultural equipment for William Arnold on Wellington Street. Dissatisfied with his career choice, he joined Bryson in 1880 and very quickly proved his worth. After only a year, he was offered a piece of the business and became a junior partner. Bryson, Graham & Company was born. It was a partnership that was to last close to fifty years. Bryson took charge of the management of the company while Graham took responsibility for buying. In 1882, Graham became part of the family as well, marrying Miss Margaret Bryson, Charles Bryson’s sister.

Bryson Graham Topley StudioLAC-PA-033935-April 1982

Bryson, Graham & Company, Corner of Sparks Street and O’Connor Street, April 1882, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA-03935.

During the early 1880s, the duo introduced a radical innovation to Ottawa—“One Price for All.” Hitherto, Ottawa residents haggled with merchants for all their purchases, a process that wasted valuable time and typically left somebody dissatisfied. At the same time, Bryson and Graham advertised “Maximum Value for the Money.” Initially, this novel approach to selling cost the partners business, but the general public quickly caught on.

In one possibly apocryphal story set sometime in the 1880s, ten lumbermen entered Bryson Graham to purchase their gear for the coming logging season. They picked out goods worth $650, a very large sum back in those days. The foreman offered to pay $600. The salesman refused. The foreman then asked if he would throw in a vest for each of the workers. Again, the salesman refused. A pair of braces? Again, the answer was no. The group left the store in a huff, repairing to “The Brunswick” for a drink. They later came back, their leader indicating that they would pay the $650 if the salesman threw in a collar button for each of the men. Again, the salesman refused. When called over, Bryson backed up his salesman and explained the store’s pricing policy to the lumbermen. Giving up and paying the full amount, the foreman admitted that he had bet $10 that he could beat down the store. He added that “it was worth more than $10 to find there is one honest price store in Ottawa.”

The reputation of Bryson and Graham for integrity and straight dealing was the backbone of their company. Over the next fifty years, the company prospered mightily. In 1883, the company expanded eastward, leasing the adjoining store. In 1887, the firm added home furnishings when it acquired the stock and premises of Shouldbred & Company, followed by the acquisition of the stock of dress-goods and silks from Mr John Garland. In 1890, John Bryson, the brother of Charles opened a grocery store in the Bryson-Graham premises. This business was later formally consolidated into the family enterprise. This was a gutsy step. The grocery business in Ottawa had previously been an albatross for other department stores. In 1892, the firm bought the china and crockery business of Mr Sam Ashfield in the neighbouring store. Two years later, the company expanded yet again and acquired the entire block when it took over the corset business of yet another neighbour, Mrs Scott. On their silver anniversary in 1895, the firm built a factory extension to Queen Street.

To mark twenty-five years of progress and expansion, the store’s staff gave Charles Bryson a gold-mounted ebony cane. They also presented a testimonial to their boss reading “…under your control, we are happy to labour, and hope that our constant efforts and devotion to business will meet with your appreciation. With great pleasure do we take this opportunity to congratulate you on your past success, and to say that we are proud to see your business house classed amongst the most important and successful houses of the Dominion.”

Innovations and expansion continued during the store’s second twenty-five years. In 1898, Bryson, Graham & Company was the first in Ottawa to use the “comptometer,” the first successful, key-driven, calculating machine. It was used for adding and calculating work, sales checks, statements and invoicing. In 1909, the partnership was transformed into a limited liability company. Two years later, the company erected a large warehouse on Queen Street to store its extensive inventory.

Bryson Graham 28-2-1920 TOC

Cover to the Special Supplement in Celebration of Bryson-Graham’s Golden Anniversary, The Ottawa Citizen, 28 February 1920.

In 1917, the long and successful partnership of Charles Bryson and Frederick Graham came to an end with the former’s death. Graham became the company’s president, with Mr James B. Bryson, the son of Charles, as vice-president. In 1920, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper celebrated the golden anniversary of the company with a supplement dedicated exclusively to the department store, its history, and its successes. The newspaper opined that the secret of the retailer’s success was the character of Charles Bryson—“his untiring efforts, his forceful personality and his integrity.” The paper also re-published his obituary that stated that Bryson “was a gentleman in business as in his private life; a kind employer, a devoted friend, a real Christian.” The newspaper stated that the many friends of “Ottawa’s Greatest Store” hoped that “the next fifty years will witness an expansion proportionate to that of those gone by.”

This wish was not granted. Three years later, in 1923, Frederick Graham died, and the venerable company on Sparks Street passed fully into the hands of the next generation of Brysons and Grahams. James Bryson took over as president and W.M. Graham stepped into the vice-president’s position. For a time, Bryson-Graham continued to do well, but its years of expansion were over. It had apparently transitioned into a comfortable middle age. While it continued to provide a wide range of quality goods to Ottawa customers at reasonable prices, the drive and determination of its founders were gone.

Bryson graham sale oj 17ap1953

Bryson-Graham’s Last Advertisement, The Ottawa Journal, 17 April 1953

Business suffered through the lean years of the Depression and World War II. By the late 1940s, the company was dowdy and old fashioned. In May 1950, Ormie A. Awrey, who had been vice-president and general manager of the firm for the previous eleven years acquired control of the business from the children of the late Charles Bryson and Frederick Graham, buying 85 per cent of the company for $1 million. He later bought the remaining shares. Awrey promised to carry on the traditions of the old firm, but the retailer continued to decline. Parts of the old building were rented out to other retailers, including Bata Shoes, Swears and Wells, and Dolcis.  In February 1953, he sold the Bryson-Graham block in February 1953 to J. B. and Archie Dover of Dover’s Ltd for only $310,000. After holding a clearance sale of its stock and fittings, Bryson-Graham, now billed as “Ottawa’s Oldest Department Store,” closed for good on 18 April 1953, ending an 83-year presence on Sparks Street.

 

Bryson Graham 2017

The Bryson-Graham building today, corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets, July 2017, Nicolle Powell

Today, the Bryson-Graham building at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets still stands. The ground floor is occupied by Nate’s Delicatessen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Elder, Ken, 2009. Bryson, Graham & Co., Ottawa Canada, http://www.eeldersite.com/Bryson-_Graham_-_Co.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1920. “Bryson-Graham Ltd Celebrates Its Golden Jubilee, 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Silver Anniversary of Store,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Character of Founder Largely Responsible For Store’s Success,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Battery of Comptometers Used in Bryson-Graham’s Stores,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Hard Work One Secret Of The Success Won By Messrs. Bryson-Graham,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “One-Price Policy Was Introduced In Ottawa By Bryson-Graham Co.” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1895. “A Five Cents With A History,” 10 September.

————————–, 1935. “The Shops of the Capital, What they Were and Are,” 10 December.

————————–, 1950. “O.A. Awrey Acquires Control of Bryson Graham Ltd,” 5 May.

————————–, 1953. “Dovers Buy Bryson Blok,” 12 February.

————————–, 1953. “$10,000, Bryson-Graham Sale Heads May Property Deals,” 4 July.

Urbsite, 2012, Sparks Street Deartment Stores: Bryson Graham and Company, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2012/10/sparks-department-stores-bryson-graham.html.

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The Return of “D” Company

3 November 1900

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

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

Boer War going-near post office 1899 ottawa LAC C-003950

Ottawa soldiers departing for the South African War, 1899, Library and Archives Canada, C-003950.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boer War return 1900 C-007978

Crowds welcoming home Ottawa’s “D” Company at the Canada Atlantic Railway Company’s Elgin Street Train Station, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-007978.

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

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

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

Boer War first Cdn contingent return 3-11-00 LAC-C-002067

Return of “D” Company, Parade along Wellington Street, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-002067.

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

Boer War return 1900 MIKAN no. 3407088

“D” Company parading in front of the central block on Parliament Hill, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan No. 3407088.

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

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

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

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

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

The Pavilion was decorated in bunting, flags and evergreen branches. Over the platform were the words “The heroes of our land. Their glory never dies. Ottawa welcomes her sons. Welcome to our heroes of Paardeberg.” The bands of the Governor General Foot Guards and the 43rd Regiment and the 200 member Ottawa Choral Society choir played and sang patriotic songs. After the speeches, Countess Minto presented each veteran with a golden locket.

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

Boer War statue Topley Studio LAC PA-008912

The statue honouring Ottawa soldiers who died in the South African War once stood on Elgin Street in front of the City Hall which burnt down in 1931. It currently stands in Confederation Park, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA-008912.

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

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

Sources:

BBC. 2010. “Second Boer War records database goes online,” 24 June, http://www.bbc.com/news/10390469.

Canadian War Museum, 2017. Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902, http://www.museedelaguerre.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/boerwarhistory_e.shtml.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller, Carmen & Foot, Richard, 2016. “Canada and the South African War,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/south-african-war/.

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/south-african-boer-war.

Pretorius, Fransjohan, 2014. “The Boer Wars,” BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml.

South African History Online, 2017. Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/second-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902.

 

 

The Villa St-Louis Tragedy

15 May 1956

Tuesday, the 15th of May 1956 was an unremarkable spring day. The Grey Nuns of the Cross who were staying at Villa St-Louis on the bank of the Ottawa River in Orléans a few miles east of Ottawa went about the timeless routine of convent life.  After celebrating Compline, the final church service of the day, the thirty-five mostly elderly residents retired to their spartan cells for the night. There should have been more people staying at the 70-room rest and convalescent home built just two years earlier for $1 million. A group of sixteen student nurses who were about to start a two-week vacation at Villa St-Louis had delayed their arrival to see a play in downtown Ottawa.

Villa St-Louis, CF-100, Mk V, RCAF

The CF-100 “Canuck” Mark V, all-weather fighter/interceptor made by Avro Canada, RCAF photo.

As the nuns slumbered, two CF-100 “Canuck” Mark V interceptor jet fighters from the 445 Air Squadron based at RCAF Station Uplands were in the dark skies above Ottawa. The fighters had been scrambled to seek out and identify an intruder that had entered their operational airspace. The CF-100s were the most sophisticated flying machines in the RCAF arsenal. They were built by A.V. Roe Canada Ltd, also known as the Avro Canada Company, at the time one of the largest corporations in Canada. The company later became famous for the ill-fated Avro Arrow (CF-105), possibly the most advanced fighter aircraft of the age, cancelled by the Diefenbaker government in 1959.

The fighters were scarcely in the air when the intruder was identified as an RCAF North Star cargo airplane, a four-engine propeller aircraft, travelling from Resolute Bay high in the Arctic to St Hubert, near Montreal. Although the airplane had filed a flight plan, the information had not been received at Uplands. So when an unidentified “ping” appeared on the radar screen, the interceptors were sent up, consistent with military protocol at the height of the Cold War.

With the mystery quickly resolved, one CF-100 returned to base. While accounts vary, the other aircraft, number 18367, piloted by Flying Officer (FO) William Schmidt (age 25) with navigator FO Kenneth Thomas (age 20), apparently asked Uplands for permission to join up with two other Canuck fighters that were heading south at 35,000 feet. The request was denied. So, Schmidt continued west to burn off excess fuel before landing. It was the last flight control heard from the aircraft that vanished from the radar screen over Orléans, falling from 33,000 feet in less than a minute. There had been no hint of trouble.

Villa St-Louis Chapel PowellCA004409

Interior of the Villa St-Louis Chapel, Orléans, circa 1956, City of Ottawa Archives, MG393-NP-31447-001.

At 10:17pm, the CF-100 fighter, fully armed with rockets and machine guns, and with its two crew members aboard, plunged into the chapel of the Villa St-Louis rest home at a speed approaching 700 mph. In an instant, the three-storey, brick building was shattered by a thunderous explosion that sent debris and flames hundreds of feet into the air. Eyewitnesses said the jet had plummeted to ground in an almost vertical dive, the airplane spinning in tight circles, its wing lights flashing in the dark.

The blast could be heard fifteen miles away. A red glow in the sky was seen in distant Richmond and Manotick. A Trans-Canada Airway (TCA) pilot flying from Montreal to Toronto witnessed an orange ball of fire that lit up the whole sky for seconds. The Villa’s neighbours in the nearby residential area known as Hiawatha Park were thrown from their beds by the force of the blast that also shattered twenty-four windows in St Joseph’s School a mile and a half away. The explosion and ensuing fire, stoked by gallons of aviation fuel and tons of coal stored in the convent’s basement, totally destroyed Villa St-Louis. Within five minutes, the roof of the building collapsed. Two hours later, there was virtually nothing left save a forty-foot chimney and steel girders twisted in the white heat of the blaze.

Villa St-Louis

The glowing remains of Villa St-Louis, 15 May 1956, Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds/ City of Ottawa Archives/ MG393-AN-043317-005.

The speed and intensity of the fire left little time for survivors from the crash to escape. Sister Marie des Martyrs recounted that she had gone to bed at about 9.30pm but had trouble falling asleep. Shortly afterwards, she heard the sound of a low flying airplane—not an unusual sound given that Rockcliffe air force base was but a short distance away. Suddenly, the building was shaken by a terrific explosion that sounded like a thunderclap, followed by splintering wood and breaking glass. There was fire everywhere. Putting on her slippers and robe, she joined other nuns making their way to the fire escape. There was no panic. She descended to the bottom of the fire escape but flames had already reached the lower floor, partially blocking her exit. However, she managed to jump clear and landed uninjured. She believed that she was the last to get out alive.

On being awakened by the explosion, neighbours of Villa St-Louis in Hiawatha Park courageously ran across farmers’ fields to the stricken rest home to help. Many were regular attendees at Mass in the convent’s chapel and knew the resident nuns by name. Rhéal (Ray) Rainville, whose home was less than a mile from the Villa, helped a number of sisters escape from the burning convent. He broke the fall of one elderly resident who leapt from the third floor. He also witnessed the death of Father Richard Ward, the chaplain of the Grey Nuns, who had been blown 150 feet from the Villa by the force of the blast. The priest died in the arms of Joseph Potvin, another neighbour. Lorne Barber, who managed to enter the building, tried to force his way into bedrooms but flames turned him back. He could hear the screams of nuns pounding on the walls for help. Meanwhile, others tried to enter the burning building through its ground floor doors.

Rescued nuns, many burnt or with broken bones, huddled together in the nightclothes on the lawn outside of the burning building. The distraught sisters were taken in neighbours’ cars or by ambulance to the hospital or to their motherhouse in downtown Ottawa. The first survivors arrived at about midnight. Many of the injured were sent to the Ottawa General Hospital where they were cared for by the student nurses who were to have begun their holiday that evening at the destroyed home.

Three fire departments, Orléans, Gloucester and the Rockcliffe Air Station, responded to the blaze. But there was little that they could do. RCAF personnel set up road blocks in a vain attempt to stop thousands of spectators from approaching the area. People simply climbed over fences and walked through ploughed fields to get a good look. Cars were parked alongside roads for miles before police began turning vehicles away. People stayed until the early hours of the morning before returning home when the blaze was finally extinguished, aided by a light rain. Many were back at first light.

The next day, the grim task of recovering and identifying the bodies began. Of the thirty-five residents of Villa St-Louis, there were thirteen deaths, eleven Grey Nuns, a lay-woman cook, and Father Ward. Also dying in the crash and explosion were the two young flying officers. Many others were injured by the fire or suffered broken bones. As well as looking for human remains, RCAF specialists combed through the debris to recover the unexploded rockets that the CF-100 carried. Within hours, all but one had been safely found. Souvenir hunters were warned that the missing rocket was dangerous in the wrong hands.

The improbability of the disaster shook Ottawa and neighbouring communities. How could an airplane on a routine interception mission fall out of the sky and strike an isolated convent?  Even a slight deviation in the airplane’s flight path would have spared the Villa. Why was such pain and suffering inflicted on a religious order devoted to the care of the sick and injured? What was God thinking? There were no answers to these questions.

Despite subsequent inquiries, the cause of the fatal crash was never ascertained. The two flying officers never sent a distress signal, nor did they use their ejector seats that were standard equipment on CF-100 airplanes. The most likely explanation for the crash was a malfunction in their oxygen system that caused the two men to lose consciousness. This would explain the radio silence in the seconds prior to the crash. The accident report also raised two other possibilities. It was conceivable that the pilot had tried to descend through a gap in the cloud cover and experienced a “tuck under” at supersonic speeds. A “tuck under” can occur when the nose of an airplane continues to rotate downward (i.e. tuck under) at an increasing speed during a high-speed dive. This phenomenon has been known to be fatal if the pilot cannot control the descent owing to high stick forces. Alternatively, Schmidt might have lost control of his aircraft in heavy turbulence caused by the wash of the two other CF-100 fighters that were in the area.

The funeral for Father Ward, who in addition to being the chaplain to the Grey Nuns was also assistant Roman Catholic chaplain to the Fleet, was held the Friday after the disaster at St Patrick’s Church. Archbishop Roy of Quebec, the Bishop Ordinary of the Canadian Armed Forces, officiated. Along with the Grey Nuns, representatives of every congregation of nuns in Ottawa attended. He was buried in Toronto. The following day, a joint funeral service was held for the eleven nuns at Notre Dame Basilica. Thousands of Ottawa citizens lined Sussex Street to witness the funeral cortege—eleven coffins covered by simple grey cloths followed by seven hundred mourning Grey Nuns. Archbishop J.M. Lemieux officiated at the funeral Mass. The deceased were buried in Notre Dame Cemetery.

Villa St-Louis cross

Memorial Cross at the site of the Villa St-Louis disaster, August 2017 by Nicolle Powell

The following week a memorial service was held for FO William Schmidt and FO Kenneth Thomas, the two flying officers who died in the crash, as well as for a third airman, Flight Lieutenant Al Marshall, who had been killed in the crash of another CF-100 Mark V at a U.S. Armed Forces airshow at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on the weekend after the Villa St-Louis tragedy.

Today, not far from Residence St-Louis, a francophone seniors’ home that replaced the ill-fated Villa St-Louis, a twenty-foot cross embellished with a jet fighter pointing downwards, marks the spot of the tragedy. At its base are fifteen stones, one for each victim, taken from the convent’s rubble. Plaques list the names of the nuns, the priest, the lay cook, and the two flying officers who lost their lives.

In 2016, sixty years after the disaster, sixty veterans and RCAF members, along with friends and family of those who perished, gathered at the site to remember the lives that were lost that dreadful night in 1956. A bagpiper played the Piper’s Lament.

Sources:

Baillie-David, Alexandra, 2016. “RCAF marks 60th anniversary of Canuck 18367 crash,” Royal Canadian Air Force, 15 May, http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/news-template-standard.page?doc=rcaf-marks-60th-anniversary-of-canuck-18367-crash/iophk1cm.

CBC News, 2016. Archives of the 1956 plane crash at the Villa St-Louis, http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/ottawa/archives-of-the-1956-plane-crash-at-the-villa-st-louis-1.3581477.

Disasters of the Century, 20? CF 100 Convent Crash, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O89MgA0HDY.

Egan, Kelly, 2015.  “Ceremony to mark deadly 1956 jet crash that killed 11 nuns in Orléans,” The Ottawa Citizen, 15 May.

King, Andrew, 2016. “When hell fell from the sky: Fighter jet slammed into convent 60 years ago,” Ottawa Rewind, https://ottawarewind.com/2016/05/14/when-hell-fell-from-the-sky/.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1956. “Crashing Jet Kills 15,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Will Conduct Mass Funeral For Eleven Nuns on Saturday,” 17 May.

————————-, 1956. “Thousands In Streets To Witness Funeral Of 11 Nuns Burned In Fire,” 22 May.

Ottawa, City of, 2017, Disasters, Jet Crash at Villa St. Louis, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-heritage-and-culture/city-ottawa-archives/exhibitions/witness-change-visions-5.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1956. “Jet Explodes Convent. Struck at 10.15 pm,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Thousands Clog Roads Near Fire,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Villa Suddenly Enveloped By Great Cloud of Flames,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Orleans Scene Of Jet Inferno,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Helped Nuns To Safety And Saw Priest Die On Grass,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “I Was the Last Out of the Building,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Two Jet Chasing Unknown Aircraft,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “TCA Pilot 10 Miles Away Saw ‘Orange Ball of Fire,’” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Hunt Unexploded Rocket Warhead,” 18 May.

————————-, 1956. “Memorial Service Held For Air Victims,” 23 May.

Schmidt, Louis V. 1998. Introduction to Aircraft Flight Dynamics, AIAA Education Series, Reston, Virginia.

Sherwin, Fred, 2006. “Ceremony marks 50th anniversary of Villa St-Louis disaster, Orléans Online, http://www.orleansonline.ca/pages/N2006051501.htm.

Skaarup, Harold A. 2009. “1 Canadian Air Group, Canadian Forces Europe,” Military History Books, http://silverhawkauthor.com/1-canadian-air-group-canadian-forces-europe_367.html.

 

 

 

The Penny Bank

1 March 1909

Canadians are known for being careful with their money. While this may have been true in the past, the reputation is more apparent than real today. The average Canadian household’s debt to income ratio is much higher than that of households in other countries, and seems to touch a new record level every year. Canadians also save a much smaller portion of their incomes today than they did their parents or grandparents. Still, Canadian financial institutions have been more conservatively run than their American and British counterparts, a factor that helped them get through the 2008 global financial crisis with only minor bruises. The Canadian reputation for thrift and prudence may have originated with our canny Scottish forebears, who founded many of Canada’s chartered banks during the nineteenth century, such as the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of Montreal.

The thriftiness of our grandparents’ generation was also undoubtedly influenced by the Great Depression when they had little choice but to scrimp and save. But another important factor was the Penny Bank of Toronto, later known as the Penny Bank of Ontario. While a tiddler in the Canadian financial seas, the Penny Bank helped to instill a sense of thrift in hundreds of thousands of youngsters throughout Ontario and beyond during the early decades of the twentieth century. And, yes, Scots played a big role in its establishment too.

Penny BAnk Mcmurchy

Angus McMurchy, K.C., Key backer and organizer of the Penny Bank of Toronto. Carmichael Family Online.

The Penny Bank had its roots in informal saving associations established by religious groups in the late nineteenth century for working class men and women. At that time, one needed to make a minimum deposit of $1, more than $25 in today’s money, to open an account at a bank, or at the government-owned Post Office Savings Bank. This was beyond the means of the very poor. Two such groups in Toronto were the Savings Association of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church and the Victor Five-Cent Savings Association organized by the Fred Victor Mission. The Mission, which continues to thrive today, was established by Hart Massey, a prominent Toronto industrialist and devout Methodist who founded Massey-Ferguson, the agricultural equipment company. The Mission was named after his son, Fred Victor, who died in 1890 at age thirteen. In 1900, the Mission organized an informal “penny bank” with the Toronto Board of Education through which students at the Lord Dufferin School could make small deposits and earn interest. It was very successful. So successful that its backers thought that a more formal structure for the savings association would be advisable, and approached the Dominion Government for legislation.

Instead of incorporating the Penny Bank of Toronto through a private Act of Parliament, the government favoured more generic legislation to allow for the incorporation of penny banks throughout Canada. The Penny Bank Act was passed by the Dominion Government in 1903 as a way of encouraging thrift among the “labouring classes,” especially their children. In the event, the Penny Bank of Toronto was apparently the only such bank to be incorporated under the Act though there is a brief reference in the legislative record of the 1920s to a very small Penny Bank of Chicoutimi in Quebec.

The Penny Bank of Toronto, which brought together the St Andrews and Victor thrift organizations, was not an ordinary bank, but rather a philanthropic institution supported by many of Toronto’s prominent citizens. Early backers included Angus McMurchy, K.C., the solicitor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir William Hearst, who became Premier of Ontario from 1914-1919, and Sir Byron Edmund Walker, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1907 to his death in 1924. Sir George Burn of the Bank of Ottawa later joined the Penny Bank’s Board of Directors. The manager of the Penny Bank was H. D. Lockhart Gordon, a principal in the Canadian accounting Clarkson, Gordon & Dilworth.  The Penny Bank, a not-for-profit institution, had no shareholders and no capital. Its backers provided a guarantee fund, initially $10,000, to support the organization. They also managed the institution. However, they were forbidden by the legislation from receiving any dividend or compensation for their work. The Bank payed depositors 3 per cent interest, the standard rate of interest of the day. All funds raised by the Bank were deposited with the Post Office Savings Bank owned by the Dominion Government. The maximum size of an account was $300. Despite the Bank’s backers managing the institution for free, there were clerical costs associated with keeping track of deposits and withdrawals. These costs were partially offset by interest earned on the guarantee fund. As well, the Post Office Savings Bank financially assisted the Penny Bank by giving it a preferential interest rate. Initially, this rate was set at ½ percentage point above the 3 per cent rate the Post Office paid on its deposits. The government increased this margin to 1 percentage point in 1911. Over time, the Penny Bank also received various grants from the Ontario and Dominion governments to help sustain its operations.

While the Penny Bank was open to all, its focus was on public school children. Supporters hoped that young, working class kids who might not otherwise be exposed to the banking system would learn through personal experience the value of thrift and the wonders of compound interest, thereby improving their quality of life in later years. Youngsters could bring in their pennies every Monday to their classroom teacher who would record their deposits in their personal passbooks. Deposits as low as one cent were accepted. School principals would receive the funds and in turn deposit them in the Penny Bank. Students or their parents went to a designated chartered bank to withdraw funds.

The Penny Bank of Toronto quickly spread throughout the Toronto School Board and beyond. Within five years, it was operating in schools in Oakville, Guelph, Galt, Port Hope and Orangeville. It reached Ottawa in 1909, though not without considerable discussion and opposition by Ottawa teachers who had to run the programme in their classrooms. It was estimated that it took thirty minutes a week for a teacher to handle Penny Bank deposits. The Ottawa’s Public School Board recommended a pilot project at five public schools—Glashan, Cambridge, Creighton, Osgoode and Elgin. But at a meeting of teachers on the issue, of the sixty-nine teachers that attended only seventeen supported the Penny Bank. School trustees were also divided, with some calling the Penny Bank “a fad” that had no bearing on education, and would cost as much as $1,200 per year to operate. One trustee believed that the Penny Bank would make “mammon worshippers of the children.” He maintained that the proper place “to teach little ones the value and importance of thrift [was] in the home.” (Sounds like what some people say about sex education today!)

Among the strong supporters of the Penny Bank was the Ottawa Journal newspaper. Several editorials in favour of the Bank appeared in the paper. It rejected the teachers’ opposition as being irrelevant saying that it was for the School Board to decide. The newspaper argued that the Penny Bank had direct and practical educational benefits that would prepare children, especially those from working-class backgrounds, “for the battle of life.” It noted that 95 per cent of public school children went directly from school to earning their living. Consequently, “it naturally follows that the education be as utilitarian in nature as possible.”

Toronto’s successful experience was also noted. The newspaper claimed that children there were saving with a definite objective in mind rather than simply hoarding their money. “What wasted 5-cent pieces could not buy, saved 5-cent pieces, which invariably bulked into five dollars, could buy.” It also opined that during a recent economic downturn, which it described as an “out-of-work spell,” children’s savings helped their parents over “a most critical and trying time,” that prevented them from appealing to “the charity department.”

Despite teacher opposition, the pilot programme went ahead as planned though with one small change. Owing to concern expressed by school principals that they would have to leave their schools during the school day to deposit their Penny Bank collections, it was arranged that a clerk from the Traders Bank of Canada, the institution in Ottawa that initially handled the funds on behalf of the Penny Bank, would pick up the cash. Start-up expenses for ledgers, stationery and passbooks in the five schools was estimated at $65.

Penny Bank passbook 1

Passbook (exterior) for the Penny Bank of Ontario, October 1939, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

On 1 March 1909, principals in the five test schools explained the Penny Bank system to students in assembly. Small passbooks were handed out. Pennies, nickels and dimes quickly flowed in. Of the five schools that participated in the pilot project, Glashan School topped the list that first day, raising $52.16 from 173 depositors out of a school body of 550 pupils. Deposits ranged in size from one cent to three dollars. The collection might have been higher as many students had forgotten to bring in their pennies that morning. Two months later, the youngsters in the five schools had squirreled away over $1,000 (equivalent to more than $22,000 in today’s money).

Penny Bank passbook 2

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for depositor and weekly deposits, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

With the pilot project a great success, it was expanded the following year to the Rosemont Avenue, Kent Street, Percy Street and Wellington Street Public Schools, and subsequently to all nineteen Ottawa public schools.  By end-March 1910, Ottawa students had more than $3,800 on deposit in their names in the Penny Bank of Toronto. By December, the amount had topped $8,500. That Christmas, the youngsters “had the means to be generous gift-givers” said the Ottawa Journal that also opined that without the Penny Bank, the money would “likely to have been long spent.”

Penny Bank passbook 3

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for teachers, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

Over the next two decades, deposits in the Penny Bank grew steadily as schools across Ontario and in other provinces joined the programme. The Y.M.C.A. also participated. Newspapers regularly reported on deposit growth. Schools competed on how much they could save. In 1921, Penny Bank directors initiated a contest for a banner to the school that had “made the best use of the bank.” The banner read: “Prize Banner, Province of Ontario, Penny Bank Competition” with a maple leaf and a penny centred on it, with space for the names of five schools and the years in which they won it. That first year, St Patrick’s Public School in Guelph won the banner, with the Hester How school of Toronto in second place.

The 1920s brought changes to the Penny Bank. With more and more schools outside of Toronto joining the scheme, its name was changed to the Penny Bank of Ontario in 1923. More schools and rapidly growing deposits also meant rising administrative costs. Bank directors sought and received government approval to invest the institution’s growing guarantee fund in higher-yielding assets, including Victory bonds and subsequently mortgages to help offset costs. Penny bank deposits continued to be invested with the Post Office. Reflecting the growth of the scheme in Ottawa, the Penny Bank hired Mrs Evelyn Topley in 1924 to administer the scheme, a position she held until her retirement in early 1939.

By 1929, total Penny Bank deposits had topped the $1 million mark with more than 350 participating schools. Ottawa deposits reached almost $53,000. Although teachers complained about the detailed work required to keep track of thousands of small deposits, the Journal reckoned that the “moral effect on children [was] incalculable.”

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Penny Bank deposits continued to grow during the early 1930s, peaking at about $1.5 million in 1932 with 466 participating schools. Deposits of Ottawa’s nineteen public schools touched almost $59,000. However, the prevailing poor economic conditions began to take its toll. Ottawa school deposits began to slip, falling to just over $43,000 by the end of 1937. At the depth of the Depression, the Ontario Government provided a $150,000 guarantee to back-stop the Bank and protect the children from losses. There were allegations in the Provincial legislature that the provincial guarantee was required because the guarantee fund put up by the Penny Bank private backers had sustained losses.

Penny BAnk Winding up 6-7-48

Liquidation notice for the Penny Bank of Ontario, The Ottawa Journal, 6 July 1948.

But it was the onset of World War II that crippled the Penny Bank. Anxious to do their bit, children began withdrawing their savings to invest in war bonds and war savings stamps. Deposits dropped precipitously. By December 1942, Ottawa deposits in the Penny Bank had dropped by almost two thirds from their peak. At the end of February 1943, the directors of the institution suspended new deposits in the Penny Bank for the duration of the war. Existing account holders could keep their funds in the Bank and continue to earn interest but they could not make additional deposits.

The Bank never again re-opened for business. At the request of its managers, the Penny Bank was put into liquidation and ceased operations as of the beginning of August 1948. The winding up of the institution was supervised by the Inspector General of Banks. At that time, total deposits and accrued interest stood at roughly $164,000 in 128,000 accounts. Most of these accounts were dormant. Depositors had the choice of receiving a cheque for their balances or transferring their accounts to the Post Office Savings Bank. Just over $51,000 was so transferred. Deposit liabilities in dormant, unclaimed accounts of less than $1 were immediately extinguished. After paying all remaining liabilities, the Penny Bank gave the residual balance of $101,941.14 to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Sources:

Carmichael Family Online, 2017. McMurchy Obituaries, https://carmichaelfamilyonline.wordpress.com/mcmurchy-family/mcmurchy-documents-pictures/mcmurchy-obituraries/.

Debates of the House of Commons, various years.

Debates of the Senate of Canada, various years.

Filey, Mike, 1994. Toronto Sketches 3, The Way We Were, Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd.

Fred Victor, 2017. Fred Victor Beginnings, http://www.fredvictor.org/home.

Germain, Richard N, 1996. Dollars Through The Doors, A Pre-1930 History of Bank Marketing in America, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Globe (The), 1922. “Penny Bank Banner,” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1904. “The Penny Bank in Toronto,” 21 June.

————————–, 1906. “A Philanthropic Institution,” 2 June.

————————–, 1907. “Toronto Penny Bank,” 17 October.

————————–, 1909, “Penny Banks,” 8 January.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Savings Banks,” 2 February.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks To Open Here Soon,” 10 February.

————————–, 1909. “Deposits Made Into Penny Banks,” 1 March.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks Are Opened,” 28 February.

————————–, 1910. “The Children At Christmas,” 2 December.

————————–, 1912. “Criticism of R.A. Sproule,” 12 February.

————————–, 1921, “Penny Bank’s Directors Will Give A Prize Banner,” 25 January.

————————–, 1921. “Save The Pennies Campaign Coming,” 15 February.

————————–, 1926. ‘Have Never Had Run On The Penny Banks,” 26 February.

————————–, 1927. “Sir William Hearst,” 30 June.

————————–, 1929. “Ontario Children Save A Million,” 9 January.

————————–, 1929. “Penny Bank Bill Passes Senate,” 21 May.

————————–, 1931. “Increase Is Shown Penny Bank Savings,” 17 June.

————————–, 1936. “Says Poor Investments Made By Penny Bank,” 31 March.

————————–, 1939. “Toronto Girl Succeeds Mrs E.E. Topley,” 19 April.

————————–, 1943. “Suspend Deposits in Penny Bank,” 26 February.

————————-, 1948. “End of the Penny Bank,” 22 March.

————————-, 1948. “Ontario Penny Bank Finally Closes Its Doors,” 3 August.

 

We Want The Animals!

1 March 1967

In the mid-1960s, one of the most promising, up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll groups was The Animals. The British group, formed in 1963 with the gravel-voiced, bluesy Eric Burdon as lead vocalist, followed The Beatles across the Atlantic and helped to spearhead the “British Invasion” of North America. By Canada’s centennial year, the band already had a number of hit singles in the United States and Canada. It’s rendition of The House of the Rising Sun (Click here), which had topped the British singles’ charts in the summer of 1964, became number one in the United States that October. Another song, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Click here) recorded in 1965, took the number two spot in Canada. The song became the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Other big hits of the time included See See Rider and Don’t Bring Me Down, both released in 1966. The group appeared a phenomenal six times on the Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most avidly watched television shows of the era, once in 1964, three times in 1965 and twice in 1966.

The Animals

Early Publicity Photo of the original Animals, c. 1964, author: Richard William Laws, Wikipedia.

Imagine the excitement for Ottawa rock fans when it was announced that Eric Burdon and the Animals were to play on 1 March 1967 in the Coliseum at Lansdowne Park. This wasn’t the same group that recorded the band’s initial hits. That early group consisted of Erik Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (keyboard), John Steel (drums), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Byron “Chas” Chandler (bass). But by late 1966, the group had disintegrated owing to a combination of drugs, alcohol, egos, and bad management. Frayed tempers due to long days of performing and touring didn’t help either.  In late 1966, Eric Burdon put together a new group called Eric Burdon and the Animals, consisting of Erik Burdon (vocals), Vic Braggs (guitar), Barry Jenkins (drums), Danny McCulloch (bass), and John Weider (guitar). The addition of John Weider, who also played classical violin, gave a different dimension to the band. It was this version of the Animals, playing many of the old Animals tunes, that toured North America in early1967, starting at Hunter College in New York in February 1967. (Click here for their rendition of See See Rider.) They came to Canada in late February with stops in Hamilton and then Ottawa before returning to New York to continue their U.S. tour.

The Ottawa concert was organized by Peter Charrier through an agency, assisted by James McConnell, a dance promoter, who helped with advertising and the distribution of tickets. Tickets were $2.50 or $3.00, equivalent to roughly $18-$22 today. The venue for the event was the Coliseum on Bank Street at Lansdowne Park. The Coliseum, constructed in 1926, was the venue for innumerable Ottawa political, social and athletic events. Before it was demolished in 2010 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, it was the home of the Ottawa 67s Junior A hockey team’s ticket office.

Eric Burdon and the Animals

Eric Burdon and the Animals, Publicity Photograph, 1967, Copyright ABKCO Records, Inc., Wikipedia.

The warm-up band for the event was Ottawa’s own five-piece The Eyes of Dawn. Formed in 1966, the group came to local prominence after winning a music contest in Hull. It subsequently became the house band for La Petite Souris coffee shop. In January 1967, it released its debut single Time To Be Going, (Click here) a cover of a song by The Fortunes, under the Sir John A. label. Being asked to be the warm-up band to Eric Burdon and the Animals represented the peak of the group’s short career.

The concert, which attracted more than 2,500 excited teenagers to the Coliseum, began without incident. But when The Eyes of Dawn had finished warming up the crowd and had left the stage, Eric Burdon and the Animals failed to show. For an hour and a half, an increasingly irritated and annoyed audience was left waiting without any announcements. Chants of “We want the Animals” changed to shouts of “Refund” and “We want our money.” Behind the scenes, the concert promoter was engaged in frantic negotiations with the band. While accounts vary, it seems there was a contract dispute. Apparently, the group was contracted to play two 40-minute sessions for $3,500. However, the Animals wanted to give one 50-minute performance. Charrier was agreeable as long as there was a pay cut. He claimed that he had already paid $1,750 up front, and was willing to give another $500, but the group wanted $1,000. Another report suggested that Charrier had offered the group only $300 in advance of the concert. Eric Burdon is quoted as saying “I am a product. I deliver my product and it’s over. Therefore the agency requires I be paid before I deliver.” Regardless, Charrier walked out of the negotiations expecting that the band would be forced to play. Burdon called his bluff and the Animals left the Coliseum without playing a single song. Later, Dan McCullough, the group’s bass guitarist, said that this was the first time that they had run into money troubles. While he said they were sorry, they had no choice but to refuse to play.

Inside, tempers were rising. When somebody turned the Coliseum’s lights out, the fans went wild. A sit-in to get ticket refunds turned violent as hundreds of annoyed teenagers vented their anger on their surroundings. The stage was destroyed, chairs thrown, and equipment damaged. Even floorboards were ripped up. A small fire was also reportedly set in a washroom. Damage and clean-up costs were later placed at $7,917. It took more than fifty police and security guards ninety minutes to restore order. At one point, the police threatened to turn fire hoses onto the demonstrators. From time to time, the crowd shouted “police brutality.” Twenty-five teenagers were arrested, though most were subsequently released without charge. A measure of peace was restored when police officers organized a return of ticket stubs to the audience so that spectators could receive a refund. Concert goers had handed in their entire ticket when they entered the Coliseum, rather than retain a ticket stub. Charrier claimed that is was a requirement of the Canada Central Exhibition Association, the Coliseum’s management, to facilitate the operation of automatic ticket-counting machines.

Two days after the riot, five teenagers arrested in the affray pled guilty in magistrates’ court for causing a disturbance, and received a suspended sentence and six-month probation. The magistrate, L.A. Sherwood, stressed that he was being lenient since many more teenagers had been involved in the riot but had not been caught. He also noted that while he had considerable sympathy for the offenders, there was no excuse for what they did. A charge against another teenager for destroying property owned by the Canada Central Exhibition Association was subsequently dropped on a technicality; the CCEA didn’t own the destroyed property. Another charge of underage drinking against the same individual was also dropped as police couldn’t prove that the young man had been imbibing from the half-empty flask of vodka found in his back pocket.

The Ottawa Journal ran an editorial entitled “Youth Running Wild.” It opined that the crowd had “every right to be angry,” but was shocked by “the wanton destruction and contempt for authority.” The newspaper placed the blame on the glorification of civil disobedience. “Teenagers have precedent aplenty for defying the police and taking matters into their own hands.” It thought that “crooked thinking” needed “some straightening out,” and that “discipline in home and school should be tightened up, police must be rapid and thorough…and courts should be clear that the price of lawlessness is intimidating.”

The following day, a remorseful crowd of 50 to 75 young men and women marched from the Ottawa police station to City Hall to apologize for their actions. Their initial intention was to confront the police and seek an explanation for police actions during the riot. However, the youths decided instead to march to City Hall. Acting Mayor Ken Fogarty met the teenagers on the front steps. Group spokesman, Tom Boyle, age 17, said “We have come to make a public apology.” He mentioned that when the Animals didn’t appear, a sit-down had been planned, but things got out of hand. Fogarty replied that the riot had blackened the name of Ottawa and that the city’s youth had been branded as irresponsible. He added, however, that the promoter had been at fault for not explaining the situation. He reminded the group that when somebody owes you something, you have a financial claim; “you don’t knock their block off.” The Acting Mayor thought their apology would go a long way towards correcting the image of the city’s teenagers.

The Animals TOJ, 20-3-67

Refund Advertisement for the Concert, The Ottawa Journal, 20 March 1967.

It took some time for the police to track down Peter Charrier, the principal organizer of the concert, as Charrier had initially disappeared, unwilling to be interviewed until he sought legal counsel. He later said that rumours that he had bunked off to Jamaica were untrue. He promised that all money would be refunded to all concert spectators even those who did not receive a ticket stub from the police. Subsequently, advertisements appeared in local newspapers indicating that concert goers were entitled to “refunds or part thereof” if they applied to certain Treble Clef stores and sign an affidavit indicating that they had purchased a ticket. The operative words were “part thereof.” The organizer later indicated that ticket holders would only get half refunds as they had enjoyed half a concert. In the event, the record is unclear how many concert goers actually received a refund. By the end of May, the Ottawa Journal had been unable to find anybody who had received a refund.

As for the musicians, Eric Burdon and the Animals left the Coliseum immediately for New York. Over coming years, the Animals continued to morph and change as band members came and went. Two days after the riot, The Eyes of Dawn went on to play a gig at The Oak Door, a teen nightclub at 485 Bank Street. The group put out a second single in late 1967 called Kaleidoscope, (Click here) and folded the next year.

After much discussion, the City of Ottawa on a 16-7 Council vote agreed to cover the cost of damages to the Coliseum. With a $5,000 deductible, insurance covered the remaining $2,917. The Coliseum never again held a rock ‘n’ roll concert.

Eric Burdon returned to Ottawa in 2013 for Bluesfest. At age 76 (as of 2017), he continues to perform, bringing the old Animals tunes as well as new ones to appreciative audiences.

 

Sources:

Bunch, Adam, 2017. “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Riot in Ottawa,” Canadian Music Hall of Fame (The), http://canadianmusichalloffame.ca/tag/the-eyes-of-dawn/.

Canadian Music Blog, 2017. Top Hits of 1967, https://musiccanada.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/top-100-singles-of-1967-in-canada/.

Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, 2015. The Eyes of Dawn, http://jam.canoe.com/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/E/Eyes_Of_Dawn.html.

Canuckistan Music, 2017. The Eyes Of Dawn, http://www.canuckistanmusic.com/index.php?maid=194.

Classic Pop Icons, 2010. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, http://www.classicpopicons.com/song-of-the-week-26-we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place/.

Hannan, Ross & Arnold, Cory, 2010. Eric Burdon and The Animals, http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Eric%20Burdon.htm.

Globe and Mail (The), 1967. “5 Youths On Probation For Ottawa Riot Roles,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Animals’ Fans Win A Refund,” 4 March.

Official Ed Sullivan Site (The), 2010. The Animals, http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-animals.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1967. “Animals: Wouldn’t Appear, 2,500 Teens Riot, Coliseum Wrecked. 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “five Admit Charges,” 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “Yourth Running Wild,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Promoter Hopes to Refund Money,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Apology – Protest For A Riot,” 4 March.

————————–, 1967. “Youth Charges Dismissed,” 25 March.

————————–, 1967. “Below the Hill,” 27 May.

————————–, 1967. “City Balks At Paying Riot Costs,” 1 June.

————————–, 1967. “City to Pay Coliseum Riot Damages,” 17 October.

Ottawa Tonite, 2013. “Eric Burdon at Bluesfest, 2013,” http://www.ottawatonite.com/2013/07/eric-burdon-at-ottawa-bluesfest-2013/.

Rolling Stones, 1991(?), “Eric Burdon – The Animals and Beyond,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPUcvLMs36E.

 

 

The Royal Canadian Mint

2 January 1908

The right to mint coins has long been a jealously-held prerogative of the sovereign. During ancient and medieval times, those that tried to usurp this privilege risked dire punishments if caught, including death by decapitation, or by hanging, drawing and quartering. The severity of the punishment reflected the perceived severity of the crime—treason. A nation’s coinage was an extension of the sovereign whose image those coins carried. The making of money was also a very profitable business that the Crown wanted to protect for itself. The face value of the gold, silver or copper coins was higher than the intrinsic or bullion value of the metal. The difference was profit called “seigniorage,” meaning “belonging to the seigneur (lord).”  The counterfeiting of coins carried the death penalty in Canada well into the nineteenth century.

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First series of distinctive Canadian coins, minted in England in 1858. Note the 20 cent piece. Bank of Canada Museum

In 1850, a shortage of coins led the government of the Province of Canada to pass legislation to establish a mint in Canada. Hitherto, all coins in circulation in Canada were minted in other countries, mostly Britain, the United States, Mexico and France. Although the legislation was signed into law by the Governor General, Lord Elgin, the act was “disallowed” by the Imperial government in London on the grounds that it involved “an uncalled for and most objectionable interference with the Prerogative of the ‘Crown.’” It didn’t help that the issue was part of a much broader tussle between the Canadian and British governments on whether Canada’s currency should be consistent with that of the United States, i.e. dollars and cents, or should conform to that used throughout the British Empire, i.e. pounds, shillings and pence.

In the event, the forces in favour of using dollars and cents won the day. In 1858, the first distinctive Canadian coins, denominated in cents, were produced. However, the coins were made in England by the Royal Mint, the principal supplier of Canadian coinage for the next fifty years. Canadian coins were also minted by Ralph Heaton & Sons, a private Birmingham mint, when the Royal Mint was too busy to fill a Canadian coinage order. Such coins are identical to those made at the Royal Mint except for a small letter “H.”

In 1862, a mint was briefly established in New Westminster, British Columbia to convert gold that was being panned or mined along the banks of the Fraser River into useable coins. Hitherto, the gold bullion had to be transported at considerable cost to San Francisco for conversion with the profit going to the San Francisco mint. As James Douglas, the Governor of the colony, was initially supportive of the initiative, minting equipment was purchased from the United States. However, Douglas subsequently changed his mind. Nevertheless, he permitted a very small number of trial gold and silver pieces called patterns to be struck for the London Industrial Exhibition of 1862. Although most of the patterns were melted down after the exhibition, a few, which had been given to senior government officials, survived. These trial coins are among the rarest of Canadian coins. Examples were recently acquired by the Bank of Canada Museum.

Following the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, Canadian coins continued to be made in England. In the 1890s, Senator Thomas McInnes of British Columbia was the most prominent champion for the establishment of a mint in Canada. He argued that under the British North America Act the Dominion had the authority to establish a mint, and that a Canadian mint could profitably convert Canadian-mined gold, which mostly came from British Columbia, into coins. He added that mints had been established in Australia at both Melbourne and Sydney some thirty years earlier.

The federal government was not enthusiastic. It its judgement, there was not a lot of profit to be had in making gold coins. As well, the government feared that Canadian gold coins would displace Dominion notes that were already in circulation. (U.S. gold eagles and British gold sovereigns, while both legal tender in Canada, were seldom used.) Some also feared that a domestic mint would lead to pressures to make excessive amounts of subsidiary silver coins leading to inflation. Opponents also noted that the Australian examples cited by McInnes were not relevant as Australia used the same currency as Britain. Hence, the sovereigns, which were produced by the Australian mints to the same specifications as British-made sovereigns, could circulate freely in Britain. There were also concerns about the cost of establishing a Canadian mint. Some claimed that the annual demand for Canadian coins could be minted in just one month, leaving a domestic mint idle eleven months out of twelve.

Despite these objections, Senator McInnes introduced resolutions in the Senate in favour of a mint on at least two occasions. Each time, he was asked to withdraw it, something that he reluctantly did. Sitting as an independent, he did not have the backing of any political party. He was also known for championing the quixotic idea of making Gaelic an official language in Canada. Senator McInnes was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia in 1897. Out of his depth in his new capacity, he was later fired by Governor General, Lord Minto, at the request of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The Canadian banking community was divided over the issue of a Canadian mint. Some saw merit in having one from a nationalistic standpoint. National mints were established in all important countries, including many smaller than Canada. However, others worried that Canadian-minted gold coins would find little acceptance outside of Canada. In transactions with the United States, they feared that U.S. banks would demand U.S. gold coins or bullion. Hence, Canadian gold coins would have to be melted down before the gold could be transferred to U.S. banks. Consequently, Canadian banks would likely continue to hold their reserves in readily usable U.S. gold coins.

But McInnes’ idea for a Canadian mint found supporters. Several Boards of Trade, including that of Ottawa, came out in favour of his plan on both economic and nationalistic grounds. In 1894, John Mara, a Conservative MP also from British Columbia, advocated the establishment of a Canadian mint to make silver coins using metal mined from his province. However, Sir George Eulas Foster, the Conservative Minister of Finance at the time, quashed the idea.

Government attitudes towards the establishment of a mint in Canada began to shift in 1899. In May of that year, the now Liberal Finance Minister William Fielding indicated that steps might be taken to establish a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada. In October 1900, he announced in Montreal that the government had entered negotiations with the British government and that enabling legislation to permit the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada would be introduced in the next session of Parliament. He stated that since the new branch would be making British coins when not needed to mint Canadian coins, concerns that a Canadian mint would be underutilized had been addressed.

The Ottawa Mint Act was well received by both sides of the House of Commons, and was given Royal Assent in May 1901. The legislation appropriated up to $75,000 per year to cover salaries, contingencies, other allowances and expenses incurred in operating the branch of the Royal Mint. In return, all fees, duties or charges received or collected by the branch would be paid to the Canadian government. Mr Fielding, the Finance Minister, told the House that the Mint would be under the direction of experts from the Royal Mint in London, and that plans for a building had been submitted to Public Works with the cost of construction estimated at about $259,000. The minting machinery would cost an additional $64,000. While most of the minting equipment were to come from England, the electrical equipment for the facility was to be provided by Ottawa’s own Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. Annual maintenance expenses were placed at $65,000 annually. This would be more than covered by the seigniorage profits on the production of silver and copper coins; little profit was expected on the making of gold coins. Profit after expenses were estimated at no less than $20,000 per year. When not producing Canadian coinage, the branch would be making British sovereigns using Canadian gold.

The Minister also assured the House that there would not be a “reckless” coinage of silver coins. The silver issue would only be as large as the Canadian economy could absorb. He stated that no one wanted a “silver question” in this country. This was an allusion to the currency “battles” underway in the United States at that time between those who wanted easy money achieved through the free minting of silver coins, and those who favoured a strict adherence to the gold standard.

Royal Mint, c.1908 Topley Studio Fonds Library and Archives Canada PA-012645

Royal Mint, Sussex Street, Ottawa, circa 1908. The building remains largely unchanged today. Topley Studio Fonds/Library and Archives Canada, PA-012645.

Despite widespread support for the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada, it took several years to find an appropriate location for the new mint. One suggestion was to locate it at Nepean Point. This idea was rejected by the militia authorities who owned the land. The government took so long to find a building site that Mr Thomas Birkett, the MP for Ottawa, asked “if it was their [the government’s] intention to erect a mint or just dangle it in front of the electors of Ottawa.”

A site on Sussex Street was finally acquired in 1905 after lengthy negotiations with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the owner of the property. The CPR had initially asked $40,000 but settled for $21,500 after the government moved to expropriate the land that had an assessed value of $19,000. The government also acquired a neighbouring lot for $5,000. The actual building, which was constructed by Sullivan and Langdon of Kingston, Ontario, took two years to erect at an all-in cost (land, building and machinery) of $509,000, far higher than the original estimate. However, the government owned a state-of-the-art facility that was unmatched in the world. While senior officials and experts were brought over from the Royal Mint in London to manage and operate the new branch, most of the 60 plus Mint workers were Canadian, largely from the Ottawa area.

Royal Mint, 1909, Steaming Operation, William James Topley Library and Archives Canada PA-009646

Steaming Operations, Royal Mint, Ottawa, 1909, Topley Studios/Library & Archives, PA-009646.

At 3pm on 2 January 1908, the Governor General, Lord Grey, formally declared the Canadian branch of the Royal Mint open in front of roughly 300 guests, including Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, MPs, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, managers of all local banks, and other dignitaries, including Sir Sanford Fleming, the man who first proposed worldwide standard time zones. The guests were received by Dr J. Bonar, the head of the Ottawa Mint and his wife Mrs Bonar. Dr Bonar’s official title was Deputy Master since the British Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Master of the Royal Mint. Dr Bonar sent a cablegram to his counterpart at the Royal Mint in London announcing the formal start of Canadian operations. After the typical congratulatory speeches, guests were taken on a tour of the facility by Dr Bonar and Mr A. W. Cleeve, the Superintendent of the Mint.

Royal mint 50 cents

1908 Canadian silver 50 cent piece, the same as the first coin ceremonially struck by Lord Grey.

The highlight of the afternoon was the striking of the first silver coin—a 50 cent piece—by the Governor General. This coin was placed in a small box with a blue satin interior and presented to Lady Grey. After this ceremony, the party moved to a copper stamping machine. There, Lady Grey raised the lever and struck the first copper coin to be minted in Canada. Each guest was presented with a newly-struck copper penny to commemorate the event.

Mint sovereign

Canadian-minted British sovereign, 1908. The small “C” (indicated by red arrrow) above the date indicates its Canadian provenance.

At the start, the new Royal Mint branch focused on making subsidiary, i.e. silver and copper, Canadian coins. Its production of British sovereigns was limited to only 636 during 1908, the Mint’s first year of operation, though production did ramp up to almost 257,000 in 1911. (Given the limited production of the 1908 sovereign, the numismatic value of this coin today is considerable.) The gold sovereigns minted in Ottawa are identified with the letter “C” for Canada just above the date, but are otherwise identical to sovereigns minted in Britain. The Mint didn’t get around to coining Canadian $5 and $10 coins until 1912. Production was discontinued in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. The minting of gold sovereigns was also halted for a time. Production resumed from 1916 to 1919.

Royal Mint $10, J&M

Canadian $10 gold piece, minted in Ottawa, 1914.

In August 1931, the Conservative Government of R.B. Bennett severed the link between the Royal Mint and its Canadian branch. Under new legislation, the Ottawa facility commenced operations as the Royal Canadian Mint reporting to the Minister of Finance. In 1969, the Mint became a Crown Corporation. Today, the Royal Canadian Mint’s Sussex Avenue facility produces Canadian collector and commemorative coins. Circulating Canadian coins are produced at the Mint’s Winnipeg’s facility that was opened in 1976. This facility also produces coins for many other countries. 

Sources:

Berry, Paul, 2017. “New Acquisitions: British Columbia Gold Pieces,” Bank of Canada Museum, 30 May.

Canada, Government of, 1931. An Act respecting the establishment of the Royal Canadian Mint.

Canada, Province of, 1851. Appendix to Journals of the Legislative Assembly, “Message, Dispatch from Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies communicating Her Majesty’s disallowance of an Act of last Session, entitled, “An Act to Amend the Currency Act of this Province,” also, of sundry communications in relation to that Act,” 28 July.

Canadian Coin News, 2015. Rare 1862 gilt coins offer glimpse into B.C.’s gold rush, 18 August, http://canadiancoinnews.com/rare-1862-gilt-coins-offer-glimpse-into-b-c-s-gold-rush/.

Chard, 2017. Gold Sovereigns, Branch Mints – Ottawa Canada, https://goldsovereigns.co.uk/ottawamintcanada.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1907. “Mint Will Open Thursday,” 31 December.

Evening Journal (The), 1890, “The Question Of A Mint For Canada,” 5 May.

————————–, 1894. “Canada’s Native Silver,” 19 July.

————————–, 1897. “Wanted A National Mint,” 18 May.

————————–, 1897. “National Mint Wanted,” 3 June.

————————–, 1899. “Resolution Favoring A Canadian Mint,” 16 May.

————————–, 1900. “A Dominion Gold Coinage,” 24 October.

————————–, 1907. “Money Making Experts Here,” 12 September.

————————–, 1908. “Formal Opening of Royal Mint,” 3 January.

————————–, 1909. “A Gold Coinage,” 20 October.

————————–, 1912. “The Annual Address of the Imperial Bank’s President,” 28 May.

J&M Coin & Jewellery Ltd. 2017. Canadian Gold Sovereigns, 1908-1919, https://www.jandm.com/script/getitem.asp?CID=3&PID=50.

Powell, J. 2005. A History of the Canadian Dollar, Bank of Canada.

Powell, J. & Moxley, J. 2013. Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, General Store Publishing House: Renfrew.

Royal Engineer (The), 2017. The Gosset Gold Coin Affair, http://www.royalengineers.ca/GossetGold.html

 

The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

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

Graham Kerr 2

Graham Kerr—The Galloping Gourmet, The Cooking Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr larding a steak in episode “Beer and Rump Pot Roast,” 1970, The Cooking Channel.

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking, http://www.startyourrestaurantbusiness.com/the-galloping-gourmet-graham-kerr-the-monty-python-of-cooking/.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow. http://www.grahamkerr.com/.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May, http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2010/05/21/loving-the-galloping-gourmet/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet, http://www.worldlibrary.org/