Death of Queen Victoria

22 January 1901

Despite her deteriorating health, Queen Victoria continued to work from her favourite palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On Monday, 14 January 1901, she asked Field Marshal Lord Roberts pointed questions about the Boer War. Roberts had just returned from South Africa, having turned over command of British forces there to Lord Kitchener. It must have been a difficult interview as the Queen opposed the conflict. On Tuesday, the Queen went for a ride in the palace grounds. However, it became clear that something was wrong; she was visibly affected by some malady. On Wednesday, she suffered a paralytic stroke and experienced an intense physical weakness that caused the left side of her face to sag. Queen Victoria never recovered.

For the next few days, as she moved in and out of consciousness, family members, including Edward, the Prince of Wales, and her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, gathered at Osborne House. At the Queen’s request, Turi, her pet Pomeranian dog, was brough to her. Throughout her last days, she was cared for by two nurses and four dressers, overseen by a matron. The Ottawa Journal reported that she was nourished through these last days with “warm milk, champagne and brandy.”

HM Queen Victoria, c. 1895, W. & D. Downey, Library and Archives Canada, 3623494.

Shortly after 9:00 am on Tuesday, 22 January 1901, her doctors summoned members of the Royal Family and the Rector of the Royal Chapel. The end was near. For a short period, the Queen was strong enough to greet her children and grandchildren one last time, reportedly receiving them singly and in groups of two or three, before she relapsed into unconsciousness. She died peacefully that evening at 6:30 pm.

The news of her passing quickly spread throughout Britain and across the Empire. Despite her advanced age, people had difficulty comprehending that the Queen had died. She was the longest reigning monarch at that time, and had become the embodiment of an age. She seemed indestructible. Even the Court was flummoxed with few arrangements for her funeral prepared ahead of time. Nobody knew what the protocol was. All the courtiers who had organized the funeral of Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, were long dead.

Official news of the Queen’s passing was conveyed to Lord Minto, Canada’s Governor General, by cable from Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Minto replied that “No greater sovereign has ever ruled over the British people, or been more beloved and honoured by her subjects than Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and by none has this love and respect been more deeply felt than by the people of His Majesty’s Dominion of Canada.”

Ottawa’s newspapers immediately posted bulletins announcing the Queen’s death at their offices. The Ottawa Journal also telephoned the news to schools and other places in the city. Within the hour, the bell at Ottawa City Hall began to toll, followed by the city’s church bells. Flags were lowered to half mast. Large crowds appeared in front of the offices of the Ottawa Journal and the Ottawa Citizen to await news updates. Everywhere, the death of Queen Victoria was the sole subject of conversation.

At City Hall, the Council met to pass a resolution of regret. The Ottawa Journal reported that “never before in the history of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa has such solemnity reigned over a council meeting.”  The council chamber was immediately draped in black. A large engraving of Queen Victoria surrounded by heavy black drapes appeared above the front entrance of City Hall on Elgin Street.

A sombre Mayor William Morris said: “The Queen had been so long inseparably connected in our minds with the Empire which has grown to such vastness during her reign that we can scarcely realise the possibility of the awful loss which will be felt in every portion of the globe, and will be mourned by every nation. Windsor Castle and Rideau Hall in Ottawa have been linked by the ties of Royalty almost since Confederation. Ottawans have had better opportunities of judging Her Majesty’s representatives than have had other Canadian communities. She has been reverently esteemed by the Radical and the Loyalist alike in an irreverent age. I think the judgement of history will concede her the foremost place among the monarchs and colossal figures of the nineteenth century.”

The Ottawa City Council’s resolution was moved by Aldermen R.J. Davidson and Napoleon Champagne. It began: “The Council of the City of Ottawa assembled on the occasion of the death of our late beloved Sovereign, Queen Victoria, hereby, on its own behalf and on behalf of the citizens, records the deep and heartfelt sorrow experienced by our people by the decease of one who for upwards of sixty years has ruled over the destinies of our Empire and by the innate nobility of her character and her many great and estimable qualities of head and heart, has been enshrined in the affections of her subjects.” In addition to extending Ottawa’s “loving sympathy” to members of the Royal Family, the resolution authorized the mayor to proclaim the suspension of business of the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, and to lower flags to half mast between then and the day of the funeral.

City Council then adjourned and made its way to Rideau Hall to present the resolution to Lord Minto, who personally welcomed them to Government House. After the City Clerk read the address, the Governor General thanked the mayor and council and said he would forward the resolution to the proper place. He added that Queen Victoria was “a model Queen and a model woman.”

Queen Victoria’s funeral was held on 2 February 1901. Following instructions she had left behind, the Queen’s body was dressed in a white gown with her wedding veil over her face. In her coffin, attendants placed mementos of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who had died forty years earlier, including his dressing gown and a plaster cast of his hand. King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, and her youngest son the Duke of Connaught took responsibility for placing her body in her coffin. (The duke was to become Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916.) Later, again according to her instructions, her personal physician folded her hand over a photograph of John Brown, the Scottish gillie who had worked for Prince Albert and had later become the Queen’s personal attendant and friend. The doctor covered the photograph with flowers so that it could not be seen.

Queen Victoria’s body was conveyed from Osborne House and placed on the ship Alberta, for the short trip across the Solent to Portsmouth. From there, it was transported via train to London where her coffin was placed on a gun carriage drawn by eight white horses. (See the British Pathé film of Queen Victoria’s funeral.) After the funeral cortege, her remains went by train to Windsor where her coffin rested in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for two days before she was buried beside her beloved husband at Frogmore Mausoleum.

Centre Block in Mourning for HM Queen Victoria, January 1901, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada

All of Canada went into mourning. Federal buildings across the country were draped in black or purple through the mourning period. The front of the centre block on Parliament Hill was swathed in bunting in a similar fashion as during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee held in 1897 except in the colours of mourning instead of celebration. Above the front entrance to the Victoria Tower was a crown wreathed in black. Most principal buildings and shop windows in the city were also draped in mourning colours. The window of Wright’s Flower Shop at 63 Sparks Street was the exception. In it was a picture of the late Queen surrounded by a wreath of white roses, calla lilies, white carnations and white hyacinths, topped by two white doves looking downward with a third with its wings outspread at the bottom of the display. On the right of the Queen’s picture was a large cross of roses, carnations and white hyacinths. On the left was a crown of yellow daffodils, violets, white carnations and lilies of the valley.

On the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, all business came to a standstill. At 11:00 am, the City Hall bell began tolling and guns boomed from Nepean Point. Schools and churches across Ottawa held memorial services. At Notre Dame Basilica, Archbishop Duhamel and Monseigneur Routhier held a High Mass in honour of the late Queen.

Thousands of people watched a military parade, consisting of men from the 43rd Regiment and the Garrison Battery, make its way from Parliament Hill to Christ Church Cathedral where Lord and Lady Minto was to attend. Regimental colours were draped in black. The interior of the cathedral was draped in royal blue, sable and purple. With the military in their bright dress uniforms the Ottawa Journal described the scene as one of “serene beauty.” Archbishop Machray, Primate of Canada, gave the sermon. In addition to speaking of the late Queen’s attributes as a monarch and mother, he stressed the scientific progress made during her long reign. “The discoveries and inventions of men of science have almost made a greater change during it in the conditions of life than in all the 2,000 years before. Comforts and conveniences in countless ways are brought to the man of very ordinary means that previously the greatest monarch was a stranger to… The world is not only a richer and brighter but a happier, kinder and probably better world than she found it.”

Fast forward 121 years, the world witnessed another epoch-marking event with the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The parallels between the passing of the two monarchs are striking. Both held the record for the longest reign, with generations of people knowing only one monarch on the throne. Both died leaving the Crown in the uncertain hands of Kings who in other circumstances would be long retired. Queen Victoria witnessed the apogee of an Empire on which the sun never set, while Queen Elizabeth saw the dissolution of Empire, though also perhaps the creation of something better, the development of a Commonwealth of equals where countries freely join out of bonds of friendship and shared history rather than imperial conquest. Just as Archbishop Machray spoke of the amazing technological achievements of the Victorian age that had improved the lives of millions, one can also marvel at humankind’s achievements over the seventy years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. However, the archbishop’s view that the world of 1901 was a “happier, kinder and probably better world” than the one Queen Victoria saw on her coronation in 1838 is clouded by our knowledge of what was to come.  Just thirteen years later, the world would be at war. The German Kaiser who had lovingly rushed to the side of his dying grandmother, would become Britain’s greatest foe. As people around the world today mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, another European war is underway.


Ottawa Citizen, “Loyal Millions Bid A Farewell,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “The Schools,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “Empire’s Grief –World’s Sorrow,” 4 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1901. “The End of An Era,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “When The News Came,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “All Britain is Silent With Grief,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “Her Majesty’s Funeral Takes Place Feb. 2,” 24 January.

——————, 1901. “Silent Thousands Saw The Dead Queen Pass,” 2 February.

——————, 1901. “Memorial Services in Ottawa Today,” 2 February.

Rosenberg, Jennifer, 2019. Queen Victoria’s Death and Final Arrangements, ThoughtCo., 21 June.

World History Edu, 2020. Queen Victoria’s Death: How, When & Where Queen Victoria Died, 30 June.

Ottawa Foot Ball Club a.k.a. Rough Riders

19 September 1876

A small advertisement appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in mid-September 1876 inviting those interested in forming a “Foot Ball” club to meet on Monday afternoon, 18 September next, at 4:30pm sharp at the pavilion of the Ottawa Cricket Club located at Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor General.

Announcing a meeting to form the Ottawa Football Club, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 16 September 1876.

The meeting went on a long time as it was adjourned until the following evening when “a goodly number of gentlemen” assembled in a private room at the Russell House hotel. There, on 19 September 1876, a club to be called the Ottawa Football Club was formed with thirty-four members. The president of the new sports club was Mr. Allan Gilmour, a pioneering Ottawa lumberman for whom Gilmour Street is named.  

There seems to have been little doubt that a team would be established as the uniforms for the Ottawa Club’s footballers had already been ordered from England and were expected to arrive in Ottawa in ten days or less. The jerseys and stockings were in cerise and French grey—the colours of the new team. Their trousers were navy blue knickerbockers.

The new football club wasted no time in getting on the field. The following Saturday, the Ottawa Football Club took on the Aylmer Football Club. The game lasted one and a half hours with Ottawa emerging victorious. The score of the closely contested game was not reported. But Ottawa secured its first victory when Mr. Sherwood kicked the ball through the Aylmer goal.

During much of their early years, the team played in either the Quebec or Ontario Rugby Unions under the name the Ottawa Football Club, or more colloquially known as the “Ottawas” or even the “Senators.” It didn’t get the moniker, the “Rough Riders,” until 1898, the year the team won its first Canadian championship title.

1898 was the year of the Spanish-American War in which the United States intervened on the side of Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule. In this conflict, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, later President Roosevelt, came to popular attention as the commander of the “Rough Riders” who distinguished themselves at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Up until then, a rough rider was synonymous with a horse breaker. Roosevelt’s regiment apparently received its nickname owing to many of its members being “bronco busters” from the western plains.

Ottawa Football Club, November 1890, Topley, Library and Archives Canada 3386008.

In mid-October 1898, the sobriquet “Rough Riders” was given to the Ottawa Football Club by disgruntled Hamilton sports journalists following a hard-fought game in Ottawa where the home town team defeated the visiting Hamilton Tigers 9 to 1. According to Hamilton players, the game was one of the roughest they had ever played in. The Hamilton captain said that “Ottawa has three of the dirtiest football players that ever played on a Canadian gridiron.” A news report from Hamilton declared that the “Westerners” (a.k.a. Hamilton) were “foully used in the capital.”

Ottawa had something of a reputation. The previous year, the Ottawa Football Club had been expelled from the Quebec Rugby Football Union in which it had played due to rough play. Ottawa journalists, however, attributed the team’s expulsion to personal spite and a desire to eliminate a contender for the Quebec Union championship. One article in the Journal called the team’s expulsion “the most disgraceful exhibition of unfairness recorded in Canada sports.”

The Toronto Star demanded an investigation into Hamilton’s allegations of Ottawa dirty playing saying that “either Ottawa does play a foul game, or that its disappointed rivals are not above the trick of exciting popular opinion against the team to such an extent that it may be expelled from the Ontario Union.” According to the Ottawa Journal, one aspect of the game in which the Ottawa Club was very weak was its lack of squealers. It also called the Hamilton claims “a very bad libel on truth.”

The rematch was held in Hamilton at the end of October. Again, Ottawa vanquished the Tigers. This time, there were few complaints. The Toronto Star reported that while fairly rough, “it was not a dirty game.” Even the Hamilton Herald thought that the Rough Riders’ [italics added] victory was well-deserved and that the team was forgiven for their treatment of the Tigers in the earlier game in Ottawa. This is possibly the first time that the Ottawa team was referred to as the Rough Riders.

As an interesting aside, the Montreal Herald said that the Ottawa team was “composed of heavy men.” But the average weight of an Ottawa footballer was only 169 pounds—very light by today’s standards. Frank McGee, the nephew of D’Arcy McGee, the famed “father of Confederation,” who played for both the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Ottawa Senators hockey team, weighed in at only 143 pounds. Today, the average weight of a CFL football player is roughly 230 pounds, while the average NFLer weighs close to 250 pounds.

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, soprano, whose Troubadours entertained Ottawa and Hamilton footballers at the Russell Theatre, October, 1898, Wikipedia.

Despite the supposed roughness of the game, there was no apparent animosity between the two teams. They went out partying together after the game and had a “good time” at the Russell Theatre where the footballers occupied two boxes to watch the Troubadours, courtesy of the manager of the Troubadours and Mr. Drowne, the theatre’s manager. Between acts, the footballers sang songs.

The Troubadours were an African-American musical and acrobatic group led by Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones. A New England Conservatory-trained soprano, she was the highest paid African-American singer of her age, performing for US presidents and the Royal Family.

The moniker Rough Riders given to the team by Hamilton journalists as a poke at Ottawa’s alleged rough play, was adopted by the Ottawa Club. Just days later, Ottawa footballer Fred Chittick showed off his Rough Rider cufflinks that were 1 1/8 inches in diameter, bearing the figure of a rough rider with a football enclosed in a border of red, white and black.

Along with the new name came new colours. While the original team colours had been cerise and French grey, at some point Ottawa footballers began to play in black and white. This posed a problem for the 1898 season when Ottawa shifted to the Ontario Rugby Football Union after its expulsion from the Quebec Union, as the Osgoode team from Toronto also played in black and white uniforms. Ottawa opted to dress in new colours, wearing heavy white jerseys with scarlet sleeves and scarlet stockings. The new outfits went on display in Young Brothers’ windows—a local store. There is no mention of black in the initial newspaper descriptions, but presumably the pants were in that colour.

Ottawa won the 1898 Ontario Rugby Football Union title as well as the Inter-Collegiate Championship when it vanquished the Toronto University’s Varsity squad 7 to 3—according to the Journal the team’s “greatest and most glorious victory.” The game was vicious. The Varsity men “liberally used knee or anything else to stop Ottawa runners.”  But notwithstanding the provocation, the Journal reported that the Rough Riders played a “clean, square game without a sign of temper.”  This win, in front of 2,000 fans, set the stage for the Dominion Championships between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Ottawa College, the champion of the Quebec Rugby Football Union for two years in succession. Ottawa College’s garnet and grey colours are today the colours of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Rough Riders’ Harvey Pulford who suffered a broken collar bone in the Dominion Championship with Ottawa College, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 25 November 1898.

The inter-city, Dominion championship was held at the Metropolitan Grounds. The grandstand and bleachers were packed with more than 3,000 rabid football fans. In a bruising contest in which the tackling was described as “vicious and in some cases brutal,” the perhaps aptly named Rough Riders won with a score of 11 to 1. But the College team gave as good as they got.  Rough Riders Harvey Pulford and Weldy Young received a broken collar bone and a concussion, respectively. (Weldy Young later left Ottawa to try his luck in the Klondike gold rush. Young, who like Frank McGee and Harvey Pulford also played for the Ottawa Senators hockey club, was to captain the Dawson City Nuggets, the team that challenged the Ottawa club for the Stanley Cup in 1905.)

Over the seven-game, 1898 football season, the Rough Riders went undefeated, scoring 188 points to only 24 points against.

In early December, a celebratory banquet for the team was held at the Russell House Hotel, hosted by its eccentric manager, François Xavier St. Jacques. More than 200 persons were invited to the feast, including Major Bigham. The dining room was decorated with streamers in the team’s red, white and black colours. In show of friendship, the Hamilton Tigers’ colours of yellow and black were also on display. Each table was decorated with bouquets of carnations, roses, mums and ferns. The menu featured such dishes as oysters à la scrimmage, boiled Saguenay salmon (Hold on the line) with referee sauce and Spec-“taters.” Also served were Stuffed young Vermont turkey (Tackled on the Run) with offside green beans and “scragged” potatoes. The meal ended with the “Sweets of Victory” consisting of a choice between umpire pudding with grandstand sauce and an apple turnover with a sauce “ruled off.”

In the following speeches, Fred Colson, President of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association noted that “Ottawa had defied the Tigers in their jungle, by Hamilton’s mole hill which was called a mountain.” President Seybold of the Ottawa Club said that the team was “called the Rough Riders like Roosevelt’s men.”

The 1898 Dominion Championship was the first of three Dominion championships and nine Grey Cup titles that the Ottawa Rough Riders were to win during their long, storied career. The club folded for good in 1996. Today, The Ottawa RedBlacks wear the historic red, black and white colours.


McAuley, Jim, 2016. Inside The Huddle: Rough Riders To Redblacks, John Ruddy, publisher.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1876. “Ottawa Football Club,” 20 September.

————————–, 1876. “Football,” 25 September.

————————-, 1898. “No title,” 28 September.

————————–, 1898. “Tigers Trounced By The Ottawas,” 17 October.

————————–, 1898. “The Rough Riders In Championship,” 25 November.

————————–, 1898. “Rough Riders At the Festive Board,” 10 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1897. “The Football Trouble,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas’ New Uniforms,” 28 September.

——————-, 1898. “The Ottawa Suits,” 6 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Tigers Were Downed,” 17 October.

——————-, 1898. “Should Be Investigated,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “Where Ottawas Are Very Weak,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Toronto Star Man Can Always See Two Sides Of A Game,” 18 October.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Need To Be Careful,” 20 October.

——————-, 1898. “It Was Great Football,” 31 October.

——————-, 1898. “Seen Through Other Eyes,” 1 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Rider Buttons,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Down ‘Varsity,” 21 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Riders Win A Great Struggle,” 21 November.

Organized Labour Praises Conservative Prime Minister

3 September 1872

The notion that organized labour might celebrate a Conservative prime minister seems far-fetched. Think of Stephen Harper being feted by the Canadian Labour Congress. Doesn’t sound particularly likely. But something like that occurred in 1872 when Ottawa trades unions held a torchlit procession in honour of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, the leader of the Conservative Party.

Behind this incredible event was the growing trades’ union movement in Canada and their push for a nine-hour work-week. Typically, people laboured at least ten hours each day, including Saturdays. But, starting in Hamilton, and later spreading to Toronto, Montreal and other major cities, trade unionists in early 1872 took up the call for a shorter work-week. A major supporter of the movement was the Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) which had been formed the previous year, consisting of fourteen unions, including the important Toronto Typographical Society.

At this time, union activity in Canada was essentially illegal, even though trade unions had been active in the country for at least forty years. Prior to 1872, Canadian law viewed any group of workers banding together to seek higher wages as a conspiracy to restrain trade. This was illegal under the Canadian criminal code.

March in support of the Nine-Hour Movement, Hamilton, Canadian Illustrated News, 8 June 1872.

In March 1872, the Toronto Typographical Society submitted a range of demands, including the introduction of a nine-hour work-day to the master printers, a.k.a. the Toronto newspapers, including The Globe, owned and edited by George Brown, the fiery journalist and Liberal politician. At the same time, the TTA organized a massive demonstration of more that 10,000 workers in support of the nine-hour work-day. This was to be a major test of the Nine-Hour Work-Day movement.

All but one newspaper rejected the demands, and the master printers retaliated. In The Globe, Brown wrote: “[I]t is impossible that an organized system from without can be allowed to be brought to bear on an establishment to coerce higher wages, or internal arrangements, contrary to the wishes of the proprietors.” Striking union members were fired, and fourteen leaders of the Toronto demonstration were charged for restraint of trade under the existing anti-union legislation. The judge’s preliminary ruling went against the strikers. He said that the facts disclosed by both parties were sufficient to establish guilt: workers had combined; the accused were members of the combination; and a strike had occurred. A second hearing was organized for early May 1872.

The very day set for the second hearing, Macdonald’s Conservative government introduced The Trades Unions’ Act, 1872. The bill, which was modelled after similar British legislation passed the previous year, provided that “the purpose of a trade union shall not, by reason merely they are in restraint of trade, be deemed to be unlawful so as to render any member of a union liable to criminal prosecution for conspiracy.” While giving with one hand, the Conservative government seemingly took with the other. It also introduced a second bill, An Act to Amend the Criminal Law relating to Violence, Threats and Molestation, that made picketing an offence.

In the House of Commons, Macdonald introduced the draft legislation, saying that “the English mechanic who came to this country, as well as the Canadian mechanic, was subject to penalties imposed by statutes that had been repealed in England, as opposed to the spirit of the liberty of the individual.” He added that the bill was the same in principle as the law in England and provided the same freedom of action and the same right to combine. He intimated that the issue of trade unions was under discussion in Britain and should the law be revised in that country, Canada would take similar steps. He also expressed concern that without parallel Canadian legislation, British workers would be deterred from emigrating to Canada.

At the second reading of the proposed legislation a month later, only one member of Parliament spoke against the bill, regretting the “late hour of submitting the bill,” just weeks before the end of that session of Parliament. Macdonald responded that there was nothing in the bill that “could do injustice to either employers or employees” and that a similar bill had passed without dissent in England as “the old law was too oppressive to be endorsed by free men.” He added that recent events in Toronto “had shown the necessity of adopting some amendment here.” Alexander Mackenzie, a senior Liberal Party member who later became prime minister, said he saw no reason for the objection.

The Trades Unions’ Act, 1872 as well as the amendment to the Criminal Code received Royal Assent on 14 June 1872, hours before the Governor General closed the fifth session of the first Parliament of the Dominion.

Organized labour was jubilant and showered Macdonald with praise, notwithstanding the amendment to the Criminal Code that made striking illegal. The fact that trades unions had been legitimized was sufficient. Ottawa trade unions organized a massive parade in honour of Sir John on his return from the western part of Ontario where workingmen in London, Hamilton and Toronto had already expressed their appreciation. Reportedly, it was the first political demonstration ever made by Ottawa labour.

After dusk on 3 September 1872, members of various trades unions in the capital along with the Fire Department marched to Macdonald’s home on Rideau Street where the Premier was escorted to a horse-drawn carriage. Also in the carriage were the Hon. Mr. Samuel Tilley, Minister of Customs, Joseph Currier, the Conservative member for Ottawa, Ottawa Mayor Martineau, as well as the Chairman of the unions’ welcoming committee, Mr. D. O’Donaghue.

The dignitaries were driven between two processional columns of uniformed Ottawa firemen bearing lit torches. A man holding the Union Jack led the parade, followed by the Band Brigade of the Garrison Artillery, the Stone Cutters’ Union and friends, the Typographical Union and friends, the Marshal (mounted), the Bricklayers’ and Masons’ Union and friends, the Plasterers’ Union and friends, the Carpenters’ Union and friends, Gowlan’s Band, and finally the carriages. Following the parade were an immense crowd of well wishers.

At roughly 9:00pm, Macdonald arrived at City Hall on Elgin Street. The crowd was called to order with the firemen standing in front of the building to provide light. O’Donaghue explained to the crowd why they had assembled in case anybody might still be unaware. He said that there previously had been a law that provided that no more than three men could combine together to form a trade union. This law prevented workingmen from telling employers the price they would be willing to sell their labour. “To say it was a great infamy to the workingmen was putting it very mildly,” he said. He noted the recent events in Toronto and praised Macdonald for giving workers equal rights and privileges to those enjoyed by workingmen in Britain. Looking at the assembled crowd, he added that he never knew that there were so many workingmen in Ottawa, and he looked forward to the day when workingmen could put a man of their own class in Parliament to represent them.

Another union man then read out a letter addressed to Macdonald expressing their gratitude and welcoming Sir John back to Ottawa.

Macdonald then stepped to the front to thank the members of the trade unions. He said “The unwise and oppressive action, pursued towards some of the workingmen of Toronto in causing them to be arrested as criminals, forced my attention on the necessity of immediately repealing laws altogether unsuited to and unworthy of this age, and opposed to the first principles of freedom.”

After Macdonald’s speech, many others stepped forward to say a few words. Samuel Tilly said that his first political speech made in 1848 was on behalf of a mechanic who was seeking to represent the men of St. John against a doctor and a lawyer. Joseph Currier, who was a prominent and wealthy lumberman as well as MP for Ottawa, claimed to have always been a workingman. Mr. Williams, the Secretary of the Trades Association of Toronto, said the demonstration indicated the gratitude felt by the workingmen of the Dominion for the services Macdonald had rendered them. Mayor Martineau followed with similar words in French.

The procession then reformed and escorted Sir John back to his residence.

Looking back at these events, many historians have cast doubt on how committed Macdonald was to the trade union movement. It was likely that he had ulterior motives. In a 1984 journal article that studied the 1872 trade union legislation, Mark Chartrand agreed that the growth of trade unionism in Canada had made a number of the statutes on the legal books “anachronistic and oppressive.” However, if it were Macdonald’s intention to remove shackles on the trade union movement, he argued that the 1872 changes “did little,” calling them “a virtually sterile concession to the trade union movement.” Other restrictive laws, including the amendment to the Criminal Code to ban picketing, remained in force. Consequently, while unions were legal, the means by which unions could achieve their purposes remained illegal. There were also provincial statutes. In Ontario, under the Master and Servant Act an employee could not refuse to go to work and had to obey the employer during the period of an employment contract on penalty of a fine or imprisonment. The act was often used to stop workers from organizing to obtain better working conditions. This act was not repealed until 1877.

Instead of bettering the lot of the working man, Macdonald was likely strongly influenced by the approaching election held after the parliamentary session ended in June 1872. The political winds were shifting against the Conservatives, so attracting the workingman’s vote was an astute political manoeuvre.

An even more compelling motivation for the legislation was to metaphorically stick his finger in the eye of his long-time political opponent, George Brown, the editor and owner of The Globe newspaper who was in the thick of the fight with the Toronto Typographical Society and its demand for a nine-hour work-day. Macdonald and Brown had been rivals for decades. The two had even fought over the location of the capital of Canada during the 1850s, with Macdonald calling Brown disloyal for not accepting Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa.

Regardless of his motivations and the minimal practical changes to Canadian trade union legislation, Macdonald gained the goodwill of workingmen. It might have been enough to tip the balance of the 1872 election in favour of the Conservative Party which retained power, albeit just—the first minority government.

Workingmen were less successful in achieving their aims. The printers’ strike in Toronto failed. The quest for nine-hour work-day was over—for now. According to the Hamilton Standard, The Globe had triumphed over its workers. The newspaper was now a non-union shop. In the opinion of the Hamilton newspaper, the printers’ strike had been ill-advised and had only led to considerable pecuniary losses.

While the Hamilton Standard may have been correct in a narrow sense, the printer’s strike marked an important step in the fight by organized labour in Canada for recognition, and their struggle for better wages and working conditions.


Canadian Labour Congress, 2021. 1872: The fight for a shorter work-week.

Chartrand, Mark, 1984. “The First Canadian Trade Union Legislation: An Historical Perspective,” Public Law, 1 January.

The Globe, 1872. “Printers’ Strike,” 22 March.

————-, 1872. “The Printers’ Strike,” 26 March.

Hamilton Standard, 1872. As reported in The Globe under “Canada,” 15 June.

House of Commons Debates, 1872. Fifth Session, First Parliament, 7 May.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “No title,” 15 May.

————————–, 1872. “The Premier, Grand Ovation by the Workmen,” 4 September.

Ottawa’s First Labour Day

1 September 1890

In Canada, Labour Day, held on the first Monday of September, is the fourth and last statutory holiday of the summer season—for Ontarians, after Victoria Day in late May, Canada Day on July 1st and the Civic holiday in early August.  As such, it also informally marks the end of summer with most kids, those in French school boards being the big exception, heading back to class on the following Tuesday. It is typically a day for family leisure activities—a last dip in the lake before heading home, a barbecue in the backyard or in a park, or a trip to the cinema to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  In bygone years, however, the holiday had a deeper significance. Its purpose was to celebrate the achievements of workers, especially those of organized labour.

Some historians contend that Labour Day celebrations had their origins in the parades and demonstrations held in support of a nine-hour work-week during the early 1870s, like the ones organized in Hamilton and Toronto in 1872. Two American men are believed to have first conceived the idea of a statutory holiday in honour of the “labouring classes”—Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, and Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labour Union of New York. Both men appeared in the first US Labor Day parade held in New York on 5 September 1882.

Here is Canada, organized labour with links to US unions, such as the Knights of Labor, began to lobby for similar workers’ celebrations and the creation of a workers’ holiday. They received official support in 1889 with the report of the Royal Commission on the Relations between Labour and Capital that recommended the establishment of a statutory holiday throughout Canada to be known as Labour Day.

Ottawa celebrated its first official Labour Day on Monday, 1 September 1890, a day that Mayor Erratt declared a municipal holiday. The Ottawa Journal indicated that this was not only a first for Ottawa, but “the first holiday of this kind in this country.” The capital’s trade unions were enthusiastic participants. All participated in the morning parade, some sporting their union badges and most likely dressed in their Sunday best. However, members of the Typographical Union voted down a resolution in favour of its members wearing “plug” hats in the parade. Plug hats were formal wear, such as bowler and top hats. It is likely that such heard gear was rejected on class grounds; they were not suitable for a parade in honour of the working classes. The afternoon was devoted to a picnic, dancing, and athletic events.

Not all people were keen participants in the Labour Day events. In the lead-up to the holiday, one alderman at city hall grumbled about firemen participating in the parade, arguing that they were there to put out fires, not parade in streets. Chief McVeity, the head of the Ottawa Police Department, objected to his department participating in a tug-of-war contest with their Dominion Police Force counterparts. At the last moment, a substitute tug-of-war contest between the Ottawa and Hull Fire Departments was arranged.

Advertisement, Ottawa Journal, 26 August 1890.

The organized events were a very masculine affair. There is no reference to women participating in the parade. The Ottawa Journal did note that there would be “plentiful provisions” for the care of the wives of union members and their families. Women also didn’t participate in the afternoon sporting contests either. Instead, they were invited to a needle-threading contest—how many needles could they thread in five minutes.

Monday, 1 September 1890 dawned a perfect day. Many homes and businesses were decorated for the event. Canadian, British, French and US flags flew along the parade route. While the Mayor had declared the day to be a holiday, not all firms were closed for the full day. Bryson, Graham & Company, the big, retail store on Sparks Street, held a mammoth “Trades and Labour Sale” from 7:00am to 1:00pm on that first Labour Day. It did close for the afternoon to allow its employees to participate in the scheduled athletic events.

Union members participating in the big parade were encourage to get to the union offices early in preparation for the walk to Cartier Square where the parade marshals would assign them their position in the procession, scheduled to depart at 8:15 am sharp. The order of the route took parade participants from Cartier Square at Maria Street (now Laurier Avenue) to Nicholas Street, into the Byward Market area, to St. Patrick Street, along Sussex Street, back to Rideau, then to Sparks Street, to Bank, Wellington and Lyon Streets, before returning to Cartier Square, via Sparks, Bank, and Maria Streets.

The Labour Day Procession was as follows:

First Division

Grand Marshal

Governor General’s Foot Guard’s Band

Deputy Grand Marshal

Standard Bearer

Capital Assembly—Knights of Labor

Carpenters’ Union

Ottawa Typographical Union

Pressmen’s Union No. 5

Bookbinders’ Union

Brick Layers’ and Masons Union

Second Division

Deputy Grand Marshal

Barrett’s Band

General Labourers’ Union

Plasterers’ Union

Frontenac Assembly—Knights of Labor

Painters’ Union

Ottawa Assembly (Plumbers’ Union)—Knights of Labor

Rideau Assembly (Cabinet Makers)—Knights of Labor

General Trades

Contractors’ Association of Ottawa

Trade and Labour Council

Third Division

Deputy Grand Marshal

La Lyre Canadienne

Ottawa Fire Brigade, including steamer “Conqueror,” extension ladder truck, hook & ladder truck, and different reels

Butchers’ Union (mounted)

Hackmen’s Union with visiting dignitaries, including Mayor Erratt

Roughly two thousand men marched in the parade which took almost a half hour to pass a given spot on the route. Of all the marchers, the Pressmen were stood out as they carried Japanese parasols. The also sported buttonhole bouquets and silver badges. As well, the men printed handbills, which they distributed to the crowds of well-wishers watching the parade, using a small Gordon job press.

In the afternoon there were an athletic competition and a dance at Lansdowne Park. More than five thousand people attended with the grand stand overflowing. Music was provided by the McGillicuddy’s Orchestra. Those who didn’t want to dance could visit an art show also held at Lansdowne Park.

Route of the 1890 Labour Day Procession

The sporting events were very popular. There were foot faces, hackman races, bicycle races, a butchers’ cart race, a lacrosse ball throwing contest and, as noted earlier, a tug of war contest between the Ottawa and Hull fire brigades. For those who were wondering about the needle-threading contest, sixty-three women entered the event with Miss O’Neill emerging victorious, having threaded 35 needles in five minutes. Miss Raney and Miss O’Meara were tied for second place with 31 needles. In the tie breaker, Miss Raney won with 39 needles threaded in five minutes.

The finale of the sporting events was the greasy pig contest. In the midst of a mob of several hundred men, a greased pig was released. Whoever caught it, kept it. After a long struggle, the terrified porker was finally captured by a French-speaking man. However, the battle was not yet over. More than thirty policemen had to intervene to stop a fight and to permit the winner to make off with his prize.

The first Labour Day was considered to be a great success. According to the Ottawa Journal, men of every nationality, creed, political party and social class participated harmoniously in the parade “on the basis of fraternity, mutual assistance and dependence.” The Ottawa Citizen said that “Ottawa had ever reason to be proud.” Its labour organizations showed that they were “second to none in their enthusiasm, pride in their various callings, and their numerical strength.” The newspaper heartily thanked the organizers of the day’s events.

In 1894, the government of Conservative Prime Minister John Thompson officially made the first Monday in the month of September a statutory holiday called “Labour Day.” The Act of Parliament received Royal Assent just days after a similar bill in the United States was signed by President Grover Cleveland.


Ottawa Citizen, 1890. “A Grand Demonstration.” 2 September.

——————, 1890. “Labour Has A Holiday,” 2 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1890. “Laborers Organized,” 30 July.

——————-, 1890. “Labor Day,” 18 August.

——————-, 1890. “The Labor Day Procession,” 25 August.

——————-, 1890. “The Labor Day Parade,” 26 August.

——————-, 1890. “Labor Day Arrangements,” 26 August.

——————, 1890. “Labor Day, » 30 August.

——————, 1890. “Ottawa’s First Labor Day,” 2 September.

——————, 1890. “Labor’s Great Day,” 2 September.

——————, 1890. “The Sports and Races,” 2 September.

Royal Commission, 1889. Report of the Royal Commission on the Relations Between Labor and Capital in Canada.

US Department of Labor, 2022. History of Labor Day.

The Ottawa Journal Closes

27 August 1980

Headline, Ottawa Journal, 27 August 1980

Rumours had been circulating that the Ottawa Journal was living on borrowed time. Staff were worried. But Jim Rennie, the executive editor, met with the newspaper’s editorial staff to provide some reassurance. They were doing good work, and circulation was on the rise. After falling to a low of only 52,000 copies per day the previous year, readership had risen to 77,000. The goal of 80,000 by mid-September 1980 was in sight.  But on the very evening of that staff pep talk, Rennie received an unexpected and unwanted telephone call; the newspaper was folding.

The next morning, under the headline “Ottawa Journal closed,” Arthur E. Wood, the publisher, wrote: “It is with deepest regret that I am obliged to announce the cessation of publication and closure of The Ottawa Journal effective with this morning’s edition, Wednesday, August 27, 1980.”

Less than a year earlier, Wood, then the publisher of the Montreal Star, delivered the same bad news to that newspaper’s staff.  A few months after a ruinous and lengthy pressmen’s strike that saw the newspaper lose circulation and advertisers to its rival, the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Star collapsed.

Wood explained to Journal staff that over the past five years, the paper’s financial losses had grown from $112,000 in 1975 to $3,400,000 in the first eight months of 1980. Such losses were simply not sustainable. Although circulation has risen significantly in recent months, more newspaper sales ironically increased the red ink as advertising revenue didn’t rise commensurately, and the cost of producing the additional newspapers outweighed the higher circulation revenue. Advertisers stuck with the Ottawa Citizen despite its higher advertising rate per column inch. Even The Bay, then owned by the Thomson group, the proprietors of the Journal, cut back its advertising in the Journal. Among the reasons cited for the inability of the Journal to attract advertisers was that both newspapers were going after the same demographic group. One observer also suggested that the newspaper’s failure to switch to offset printing from hot lead typesetting when the Ottawa Citizen did in 1973 was an important factor as advertisers had to prepare two different types of advertisements, one for the Citizen and one for the Journal. The additional expense was not worth the effort.

With the closure of the newspaper, 375 people lost their jobs. Only Wood was assured of a new position within the Thomson newspaper empire, the owner of the Ottawa Journal since the beginning of 1980.

The Journal had a long history in Ottawa. It had been founded almost 95 years earlier in 1885 by Alexander Smith Woodburn. In its first edition, which came out on 10 December of that year, Woodburn stated that the reason for a new daily newspaper in Ottawa was obvious. But to ensure there was no doubt, he added that Ottawa needed a newspaper that was “able and independent,” ready to express the opinions of, and advocate for, the interests of the city’s citizens. He opined that there was a “pressing need” for a daily newspaper of “high moral form, free from political partisanship and party prejudices,” and “loyal to the Empire and zealous in the promotion of the best interest of its noblest member—the Dominion of Canada.” As the Ottawa Citizen was the leading English-language newspaper in Ottawa, Woodburn’s words were a not so veiled attack on that newspaper.

Woodburn added that the new Ottawa Evening Journal would not be the mouthpiece of any clique, political party or religious denomination, and would cover the news without favour to friend or foe. While the newspaper would provide news of the world, it would, of necessity do so in a condensed fashion. Its principal focus would be on matters pertaining to Ottawa, especially civic affairs.

The Journal’s office was located at 36 Elgin St. The cost of the daily newspaper was two cents. The newspaper’s first editor was John Wesley Defoe. He held the position for only six months before he headed out to Winnipeg to work for the Manitoba Free Press. He was later to become that newspaper’s editor, a position he held from 1901 to 1944. Defoe was succeeded at the Journal by Mr. A. H. U. Colquhoun. 

P. D. Ross, Ottawa Citizen, 18 January 1910.

In 1886, Philip Dansken Ross bought a 50 per cent interest in the financially shaky Journal from Woodburn. Four years later, he bought out his partner, and became president of the company. He was to remain at the head of the newspaper until his death in 1949. In 1917, Ross organized the merger of the Journal with the Ottawa Free Press. An eminent pressman, he was also a founder of the Canadian Press newspaper association. Four months before his death, he sold his shares in the Ottawa Journal to his colleagues working for the newspaper.

Ross was a man of many parts. In his early years, he was an outstanding athlete both at McGill University and later as a player for the Ottawa Senators. In 1892, he was named as one of the original trustees of the Stanley Cup. He later became chairman of Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission. Politically, he was a conservative, and was active in Ottawa politics at all levels of government. Reflecting his political affinity, the Ottawa Journal was broadly seen as a Conservative newspaper.

In July 1959, ten years after Ross’s death, the newspaper, never financially strong, was acquired by the newly-formed FP Publications Ltd. The company, based in Winnipeg, was owned by Colonel Victor Sifton of Winnipeg and G. Max Bell of Calgary. Other newspapers owned by the group at that time included the Winnipeg Free Press, the Victoria Daily Times and the Daily Colonist as well as several Albertan newspapers. In January 1980, the Ottawa Journal was purchased by the Thomson Corporation, established by the Canadian Roy Thomson, 1st Baron of Fleet. The Thomson group owned roughly 200 Canadian and British newspapers, including London’s prestigious Times and Sunday Times.

The closure of the Journal, just months after it was acquired by the Thompson group, came as a shock to Ottawa citizens as well as its employees. When woken at 3:00 am by a journalist with the news, Mayor Marion Dewer thought she was having a bad dream. Jean Pigot, president of the Morrison-Lemothe Bakery and the Progressive-Conservative MP for Ottawa-Carleton from 1976 to 1980, and later Chair of the National Capital Commission, is reported to have exclaimed: “Good Lord, I don’t believe it.”

Shock changed to anger when it was revealed that on the same day the Thomson group closed the Ottawa Journal, it’s arch rival the Southam group of newspapers closed the Winnipeg Tribune. The dual closures left the Southam-owned Ottawa Citizen the sole English-language newspaper in Ottawa, and the Thomson-owned Winnipeg Tribune the sole English-language newspaper in Winnipeg. Southam’s also sold the fixed assets of the Tribune to the Thomson group for $2.5 million.

The chairman of Southam’s, St. Clair Balfour, claimed that there had been no deal between the two newspaper groups, though there had been discussions about the losses each had been suffering. Balfour said the both groups believed that confusion and uncertainty among employees and shareholders would have been heightened had the decisions to close the two newspapers been separated by weeks or months. The situations at the Tribune and the Journal were mirror images of each other.

Outrage over the closure of the two newspapers that left the Southam and Thomson newspaper chains with monopolies in Ottawa and Winnipeg, respectively, led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Newspapers, commonly referred to as the “Kent Commission” in 1980. Among other things the Commission recommended that the government block further cross-media concentration, and that newspapers put on public record reports on their editorial purpose and policy, and establish advisory committees composed of journalists and outsiders. The Commission also advised the establishment of a Press Rights Council within the government’s Human Rights Commission to review the annual reports of newspapers’ advisory committees.

Following widespread outrage within the newspaper industry, and fears of “Big Brother,” the recommendations of the Kent Commission were set aside. At a time when the government of Pierre Trudeau faced more pressing issues, such as a deep economic recession, and Quebec separation, it was unwilling to take on the wrath of the newspaper industry. However, the upshot of this was further concentration in the industry. By the year 2000, three chains (Hollinger/Southam, Quebecor/Sun Media and Torstar) reportedly controlled 72% of daily newspaper circulation in Canada.

Today, concerns about concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry are overshadowed by broader issues. The rise of digital media has led to a major shift away from print media. Newspapers are closing around the globe, leading to the loss of thousands of journalist positions, as readers and advertisers gravitate towards on-line content. In the process, the likes of Google and Facebook have scooped up the lion’s share of advertising revenue. According to Canadian Media Concentration Report, there has been a breakdown of the three-way beneficial relationship between advertisers, journalists and the public.

Not all are concerned about this, with some arguing that media fragmentation rather than media concentration is more relevant. However, the democratization of news provision—everybody can be a “journalist” and upload material to the web—and the algorithms used by search engines to disseminate content has led to “echo chambers” where readers only see material that support their world view. This phenomenon, combined with “fake news,” pushed by those with a particular agenda, have contributed to widening social divisions.


Creely, Tim. 1984. “Out of Commission,” Ryerson Review of Journalism,, Spring.

Keshen, Richard & MacAskill, Kent, 2000. I Told You So: The Kent Commission,”

New York Times, 1949. “P.R. Ross, Headed Ottawa Journal; President of newspaper since 1886 Is Dead at 91 – Acquired Publication for $8,000, 6 July 1949.

Ottawa Citizen, 1980. “Ottawa Journal folds,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Citizen to fill the void,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Without advertising increases, circulation hike actually hurt,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Shutdown confirms rumors,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Massive changes revealed,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1885. “Prospectus,” 10 December.

——————-, 1949. “P.D. Ross, Journal President, Dies At 91,” 5 July.

——————-, 1980. “Ottawa Journal Closed,” 27 August.

Royal Commission on Newspapers, The Kent Commission, 1980.

Victoria Daily Times, 1959, “Victoria Newspapers Join National Group,” 16 July.

Winseck, Swayne, 2017. Canadian Media Concentration Research Report,

Miss Civil Service

12 August 1946

For many years, one of the most anticipated fixtures on Ottawa’s public service social calendar was the annual Miss Civil Service contest. It was first held in 1946, the same year that the Miss Canada pageant was founded. Like the Miss Canada pageant, the Miss Civil Service contest was explicitly sexist and objectifying. There was zero focus on contestants’ job performances—surprise! The attribute on which contestants were judged was beauty. Later other “factors” were added. These comprised grooming, posture, clothes and personality. While supremely cringeworthy today, it’s remarkable how accepted the event was during its day. There was extensive press coverage of the various departmental contests to choose departmental “queens” and “princesses” in the lead up to the big event when Miss Civil Service was selected from among the departmental beauties. This coverage was replete with juvenile double entendres, offensive sexual comments and stereotypes that would be totally unacceptable today.

Ada Redsell, Miss Civil Service Commission, is congratulated by Paul Martin, Senior, 12 August 1946, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1946.

The first Miss Civil Service Commission competition was held on 12 August 1946. It was the highlight of the annual Civil Service Commission picnic held at Britannia Park. The day also featured tugs of war, softball, races, a sing-a-long, a dance in one of Britannia’s pavilions and a picnic supper. More than three hundred persons attended the day’s events. There were forty-four entrants into the Miss Civil Service pageant, but only seventeen contestants showed up. The winner was Ada Redsell, a Grade 2 Clerk working at the Central Registry. While her measurements were thankfully not divulged (this often happened in later competitions), the newspapers reported that she had brown eyes and dimples, weighed 120 pounds and stood 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. She wore a pale blue jersey dress with a string of pearls and white pumps. Redsell, who lived at 199 Boteler Street in Ottawa, said that her boss had made here enter the contest. She won an all-expense paid airplane trip to Montreal. Second prize went to Eileen Gagne who won a free airplane ride over the capital, while third prize, a pair of nylons, went to Muriel Keogh.

The prizes were presented by Paul Martin (senior), who was Secretary of State in the federal government at that time. He gave each of the winners an “unofficial gift” of a kiss on the cheek. Judges complained that they hadn’t got kisses (from the girls, not Martin). C.H. Bland, the Civil Service Commissioner, remarked that he would have liked to have chosen them all.

Four years went by until the next Miss Civil Service contest was held. This time it was an event of the Civil Service Recreation Association’s Ice Carnival held on 23 February 1950. From then on, the Miss Civil Service pageant was an annual fixture organized by the RA. It ran into the early 1970s.

In the lead-up to the RA’s first annual event in 1950, federal departments held contests to chose their respective representatives in the pageant. These contests were covered in the press. Under a photo of the Post Office’s contestants, the Ottawa Journal had a caption “How would you like to play post office with these three?” (For those unaware, “post office” was a kissing game popular at the time where a group was divided into boys and girls, with one group going into another room which became the “post office.” Then, one by one, each person in the other room entered the “post office” and was kissed by everybody in that room.) The caption under a photo of the three winners from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics read “Statistical Figures” that proved that statistics aren’t “all cold and hard.”  

The Miss Civil Service contest, which presumed to select the ideal government girl, was the highlight of a four-hour carnival program held at the RA rink located at the foot of Bronson Avenue. Other events included broomball, speed skating and figure skating and a parade of floats featuring departmental “queens” and “princesses.” The Ottawa Journal reported that there were “38 luscious beauties.” “If you are looking for the tops in sophisticated swish, the gal with person-al-i-t-y, the blonde bombshell, brunette heartbreaker, or redhot redhead, you can find the peak of perfection among the 15,000 females who adorn the halls of the public service.” Yikes!

The winner, selected by five judges appointed by the Recreation Association, was 23-year-old Teresa Nugent, a five-year veteran at the Tax Branch of the Department of National Revenue. She was described as “the all-Canadian girl” –”a blond, dimple-cheeked, blue-eyed, five-foot, seven-inch bundle of outdoor charm.” Nugent won a wrist watch, two return fares to Montreal, a dinner out with her and her escort at the Copacabana, a permanent wave, and a complete cosmetics kit. Janie Walters, from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs placed second, while third place went to 20-year-old “brownette,” Margaret Skuce from the Department of Mining and Technical Surveys. The caption under a photo of Teresa Nugent read “fellow workers (males of the opposite sex, of course) had mentally reserved her for their own when they saw her crowned queen.”

The “crowning ceremony” was performed by George McIlraith, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West and Jean Richard, the Liberal MP for Ottawa East. Also in attendance were several city aldermen.

During subsequent pageants, the prizes became increasingly lavish, with large numbers of people in attendance. In 1953, some 5,000 whistling and “whoo-whooing” spectators witnessed the crowing of Miss Kathleen Willisher as Miss Civil Service. The 20-year-old “auburn-haired” employee of Defence Construction, won $250, or an all-expense paid trip to Bermuda, or a trip for two to New York City, in addition to a sash, crown and a silver trophy. In 1956, Miss Marie MacDonald, from the National Research Council, weighing 110 pounds and standing five feet three inches with a 34-23-34 figure, had a choice between a 10-day trip to Bermuda, a 7-day trip for two to New York, or $225. She also received a complete spring wardrobe valued at $125, a sheared muskrat stole, a silver rose bowl, an all-expense paid weekend at Adanac Lodge at Lake Le Peche, and dinner for two at a local restaurant. In 1958, first prize included an impressive trip to Europe.

The 1954 Miss Civil Service contest didn’t go as expected. After being crowned, 22-year-old Betty Burton from Defence Productions revealed she was married. This must have come as quite a shock as there were very few married women in the federal public service at this time. Restrictions on married women holding federal jobs weren’t lifted until 1955. Single female employees were forced to resign when they got married. The Ottawa Citizen commented “stand back, fellahs, she’s married.” In 1960, the contest was officially opened to married women. The title was also changed to RA Queen, though the former Miss Civil Service title continued to be widely used.

Another first occurred in 1962, when Barbados-born Betty Gitters, won the coveted title. The mother of two was working at Transport Canada to support her family as her husband attended medical school at the University of Ottawa. The former 1959 Miss Barbados was the first and only woman of colour to win the Miss Civil Service/RA Queen title. The Ottawa Citizen called her the “brown-eyed dusky queen” and erroneously said that this was the first time a married woman had won the title. Gitters won $200, a wrist watch, an all-expense paid weekend in an un-named New York State tourist resort, a free hair styling and a bouquet of tulips. That year, she opened the National Tulip Festival.

By the beginning of the 1970s, the RA Queen contest was fading rapidly in popularity. While it still attracted contestants, it was increasingly out of step with the times. The prizes were also becoming less interesting. Trips to foreign locales were long gone, and a $200 first prize just didn’t go as far as it once did. In 1970, anti-pageant protesters picketed the RA Centre, the venue of the contest.

“Miss Civil Service” also came under attack from another quarter. In an article titled Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity? the Ottawa Journal wrote in 1970: “Now take those long-lacquered fingernails. They can slow down Miss Civil Service to a leisurely 30 words-a-minute as she tippie-pinkies, oh, so very, very carefully to preserve all ten gleaming mirrors of her stylist nails. And those, long, fetching artificial eyelashes—they go with the long-tinted fingernails, the miniskirts, and maxihair – can slow her down too, when they tend to shed off every time she flutters them at her boss or that toothsome bachelor assistant-deputy at the next table in the government cafeteria.”

The last RA Queen pageant was held in May 1973. Out of twenty-two contestants, 20-year-old Lorraine Leduc took home the title. Judges were Mayor Pierre Benoit, former 67s hockey player, Brian McSheffrey (who later briefly played in the NHL), and Miss Ottawa Rough Rider, Lynn Lawson. Only 200 people were in attendance at the RA Centre.

Mercifully, Miss Civil Service then disappeared into the dustbin of history.


Gentile, Patrizia, 1996. Searching for “Miss Civil Service” and “Mr. Civil Service”: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, MA Thesis, Carleton University.

Ottawa Citizen, 1946. “Queen Ada Gets A Crown,” 13 August.

——————, 1954. “Betty Burton Named ‘Miss Civil Service,’” 20 March.

——————, 1956. “Beauty From Saskatchewan Crowned Miss Civil Service,” 16 March.

——————, 1960. “RA Queen of Year Replaces Miss Civil Service,” 23 January.

——————, 1962. “Beauty Reigns,” 17 May.

——————, 1962. RA Queen Captured by Mother of Two,” 17 May.

——————, 1973. NRC Has a Queen,” 26 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1946. “Beauty Contest Win at Picnic by Ada Redsell, Grade 2 Clerk,” 13 August.

——————-, 1946. “Free ‘Plane Trip For Miss Civil Service Commission Of 1946,” 13 August.

——————-, 1950. “CS Beauty Queens Try On Crowns for Size,” 14 February.

——————-, 1950. “Queen Of Queens In Civil Service ‘a Dimpled Blue-Eyes Blonde,’” 24 February.

——————-, 1953. “5,000 Cheering Spectators See ‘Miss Civil Service’ Crowned,” 28 March.

——————-, 1958. “Need No Imports For This Contest,” 14 July.

——————-, 1962. “Miss Civil Service,” 17 May.

——————-, 1970. “Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity?”, 24 August.

The Last Train to Union Station

31 July 1966

In November 1949, Jacques Gréber, the French urban planner and architect, released his report on the beautification of Ottawa which was then a grimy, industrial city filled with war-time temporary buildings. One of his key recommendations was the removal of the railway lines than ran through the city’s downtown core, and the abandonment of Union Station which stood beside the Rideau Canal across the street from the Château Laurier Hotel.

This was a gutsy call. It was hard to think of a major city that did not have a centrally-located train station. Toronto’s Union Station was, and remains today, but a short walk away from the financial district. Similarly, Montreal’s Central Station is conveniently located in the heart of the city, and today is linked to the city’s metro as well as to hotels, retail and commercial enterprises.

Union Station, the railway tracks, and the chimney to the Power Plant from Laurier Bridge, 1920s, Library and Archives Canada, 3358822. The Château Laurier Hotel can be seen behind Union Station.

Underpinning Gréber’s recommendation was a belief that the automobile was becoming increasingly important, and that Ottawa’s railroads, having been built in the nineteenth century with the needs of the lumber industry in mind, were no longer appropriately sited. As well, the tracks cut up neighbourhoods and were unsightly.

It took more than a decade before the National Capital Commission acted on this controversial recommendation. In May 1961, it announced that a new railway terminal would be built on a 440-acre site near the Hurdman Bridge. The new site was easily accessible from the Queensway, the new cross-city highway which was then under construction and was itself sited on an old railway right of way. The NCC also noted that the new terminal was only two miles from Confederation Square. Other factors behind the decision included a view that the old Union Station, built in 1912, was obsolete, that it had inadequate parking, and that Ottawa’s population was shifting southward. Consequently, it was more convenient for a growing fraction of the city’s residents to have the terminal situated outside of the downtown core. Another consideration was that the land was already largely owned by the railways and the federal government. The NCC claimed that the new station would permit “a harmonious integration of bus, taxi, passenger car and truck movements in the area” with ample parking. It also envisaged the terminal becoming the hub of a new commercial and industrial area. It took another five years before Gréber’s vision became reality. The last train to Ottawa’s downtown Union Station, was the CNR’s “Panorama,” arriving at 1:30 am, Sunday, 31 July 1966 from Montreal. It departed fifteen minutes later on its way to Vancouver. Three hundred people were on hand to wave goodbye to the train and bid adieu to the old station.

Union Station, interior, date unknown, Library and Archives Canada

It was the end of an era. For fifty-four years, Union Station had witnessed the arrival and departure of untold thousands. Its cavernous rotunda had seen tears of sadness and joy as soldiers departed and returned from two world wars. It had greeted world leaders, royalty, sports heroes, and pop stars. Now, all was quiet. Immediately after that last train had pulled out of the station, the building was handed over to the National Capital Commission. The Corps of Commissionaires moved in to re-direct bewildered, would-be passengers who showed up looking for their trains.

The first train to the spanking new Ottawa Station located off of Tremblay Road arrived a few hours later. It was the CPR’s “Rideau” from Montreal. It left shortly afterwards at 9:04 am. The hand-off from the old to the new station, while postponed by a couple of weeks owing to delays in the installation of the centralized control system, was carried out smoothly and without a hitch.

In addition to passengers and friends, hundreds of curious Ottawa residents were on hand to check out the new train facilities. What they saw was a utilitarian, glass, steel and concrete building. Its interior colour scheme was black and cream with touches of crimson. The Ottawa Journal described its architectural design as “airport hangar modern.” It had an exceptional loudspeaker system, far superior to the one at the old Union Station. Finally, announcements could be easily heard throughout the station. The newspapers were impressed. The Ottawa Citizen opined that the new Ottawa Station was far superior to the old Union Station.

Ottawa Station, main entrance, 2013 by JustSomePics

However, the new Ottawa Station was unfinished. Train schedule signs had to be brought in from the old station. The restaurant wasn’t ready. In its place was a temporary lunch counter. The station’s furniture had not been installed so people had to wait on uncomfortable, backless seats. Additionally, the parking lots were unfinished.

So poor were the conditions, the railways felt obliged to apologize to customers for any inconvenience. Cards were left on train seats saying that it was due to the urgency to complete the Colonel By extension and the Queensway that they railways had been asked by the NCC to vacate Union Station even though the new station and the approaches to the new station were not finished.

But worst of all for travellers was that there was no municipal bus service between the new station and downtown, despite years of foreknowledge that the Ottawa Station was to open in 1966. The only way to get downtown directly from the station was either by private car or taxi, with a fare of roughly $2.00 (roughly $17.00 in today’s money) including gratuity to the Château Laurier Hotel. If somebody wanted to catch a bus, they had to walk a quarter of a mile to the closest #61 bus stop on Alta Vista Drive. So much for the NCC’s talk of a “harmonious integration” of taxi, bus and passenger car service to the station.

The problem was the cost of supplying the buses and drivers to service the new station. The Ottawa Transportation Commission estimated that it would lose $100,000 per year on a bus link to downtown, and that it couldn’t afford to deliver service to “out-of-way places.” The Commission sought a subsidy from the railways. The railways were not amused. They didn’t subsidize buses in other cities, and they weren’t about to start now in Ottawa.

In mid-October 1966, the OTC finally caved in and started a dedicated bus service, 6:00 am to midnight, between the Ottawa Station and Confederation Square downtown, but only at an extra 25 cent per passenger fee. The regular cash fare was 20 cents. No free transfers to the main bus system were allowed. The cost of the service would be paid for out of general revenues but the OTC still hoped for a subsidy.

The special bus route lost money, lots of it, just as the OTC had predicted. On the first day of service, the buses took in only $83.25 in fares on the 35 round trips that costed OTC $300 to operate. In mid-January 1967, the dedicated bus route to downtown service was discontinued with service to the station provided by extending the Cyrville and Trembley leg of route #21. But problems continued. In late November 1968, a New Brunswick senator complained that he and fifty passengers had been left stranded at the station without taxi or buses. He called the transit service “obsolete, inefficient, unbearable and shameful for the capital city of Canada.” He added that when coming in by train, he didn’t want to be dropped off on the outskirts of Ottawa.

Despite complaints about the location of Ottawa’s new train station, it was a fait accompli. Some $35 million had been spent on the new train station, tracks and equipment. It was not about to be changed. As for the old Union Station, its future looked grim. The NCC planned to immediately demolish it along with neighbouring buildings and train sheds to allow for the construction of a national auditorium to complement the National Arts Centre (NAC) then under construction on the other side of the Rideau Canal. In the short term, a park was planned. As well, with the construction of the NAC, the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, hitherto the prime way of entering Ottawa’s downtown via automobile, was blocked. An extension of Colonel By Driveway on the other side of the Rideau Canal to Rideau Street was a necessary replacement.

Within three weeks of the closure of Union Station, some 42,000 feet of railway track and 2,000 railway ties had been torn up to make way for the Colonel By Extension. Controversially, the old department of transport warehouse complex, which was built at the “Deep Cut” shortly after the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832, was also demolished despite pleas to preserve it by Ottawa architects and heritage conservationists. One of the last things to go was the Union Station heating plant with its 160-foot smokestack. Used to heat Union Station, the Château Laurier Hotel and the Besserer Street Post Office, the stack crashed to the ground in May 1967 causing a huge cloud of black soot and dust. In its heyday, the power plant had consumed more than a train car’s load of coal every day.

Almost immediately, people began to have reservations about demolishing the grimy Union Station, at least right away. Heritage advocates, who were the founders of Heritage Ottawa, argued strenuously for saving the historic building. Topmost among the concerns of politicians was the possibility that its demolition would leave another unsightly mess in downtown Ottawa just in time for Canada’s centennial. In the end, the NCC decided to postpone its destruction until after the 1967 centennial celebrations. In the meantime, it was renamed the Centennial Centre and used to host special events, exhibits, a tourist bureau, a St. John’s Ambulance station as well as a day nursery. In early, February 1967, the renamed Union Station was swamped by teenagers for the Winter Carnival’s “Hopsville” to hear the rock bands, “Deuces,” “Beau Gestes,” and “Eyes of Dawn.”

In late 1967, the old station received another stay of execution until 1970. In a time of government austerity, the estimated $500,000 in demolition costs were seen as too high. It was more economical to spend a small amount of money and repurpose the building. Consequently, the federal government spent $43,000 on minor renovations to provide meeting rooms for federal government offices as well as offices for the Privy Council. Eight private offices and two conference rooms, one for 80 people and the other for 120 people plus a lounge were created on the fourth floor. Other offices were used by staff of the Eastern Ontario Children’s Hospital. The lower levels of the old station continued to be used for social events and public meetings. The City of Ottawa’s tourist bureau also moved into space on the ground floor.

A short time later, the reprieve became permanent when the federal government announced that it would spend a further $600,000 to make the old Union Station suitable for meetings between Pierre Trudeau and provincial premiers as the West Block’s Confederation Room was deemed unsuitable as it lacked adjoining office space.

The remodelled station, now called the Government Conference Centre, was ready for the December 1969 federal-provincial meetings, with the main conference room in the old rotunda able to accommodate 500 delegates and 150 observers. There were also facilities for simultaneous translation into five languages. It was estimated that the plush new facility would last at least another ten to fifteen years. Demolition was off the table—permanently.

In 1989, the old Union Station was classified as a federal heritage building. In 2006, the building was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

In 2014, work began on a $269 million project to remodel both the exterior and interior of the old station to transform it into the temporary home of the Senate of Canada while the Centre Block on Parliament Hill is renovated. The work was completed by heritage architects ERA, along with Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects. In 2020, the building received the international Civic Trust Award that recognizes “outstanding architecture, planning and design in the built environment.”

The Senate moved into its new quarters in 2019 and is expected to stay there until the Centre Block renovations are completed in 2030.

Despite the passage of more than 55 years since the last train left Union Station, the lack of a downtown Ottawa inter-urban train station remains a bone of contention.


ERA, 2020. Senate of Canada Building receives international recognition with 2020 Civic Trust Award.

Heritage Ottawa, 2022. Union Station, Government Conference Centre.

Ottawa Citizen, 1961. “New Station “Gateway To Capital” – NCC Chief,” 17 May.

——————, 1966. Ottawa Station, 15 July.

——————, 1966. “Union Station Closing,” 30 July.

——————, 1966. “Smooth Station Switch, 2 August.

——————, 1966. “How To Get To The New Station,” 2 August.

——————, 1966. “Ottawa’s new railway station,” 3 August.

——————, 1966. “Avenue to heart of Ottawa to follow lifting of rail line,” 19 September.

——————, 1966. “Bus to Ottawa Station to run twice an hour,” 14 October.

——————, 1967. “Government economies hit Ottawa area,” 31 November.

——————, 1968. “Govt. spending $43,000 on doomed Union Station,” 10 July.

——————, 1968. “Govt. to spend $600,000 on old station,” 3 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1966. “Saving the Union Station for Centennial Year?”, 9 March.

——————-, 1966. “Union Station to Stay?”, 4 July.

——————-, 1966. “Curious Crowds Jam New Rail Station,” 2 August.

——————-, 1966. “It’s Called Planning,” 3 October.

——————-, 1967. “Teeny-Boppers Swamp Union Station,” 4 February.

——————-, 1967. “One Last Angry Belch of Black Soot,” 23 May.

——————-, 1968, “Stranded Senator Blasts Ottawa Station Transit,” 22 November.

——————, 1969. “An Old Station Gets a New Life,” 5 December.

The Passing of William Lyon Mackenzie King

22 July 1950

Friends and family knew the end was coming; the enigmatic, political warrior had been fading for some time. But his death still came as a shock. It was a warm summer day. Picnickers had left the heat of the capital for the Gatineau hills oblivious to the human drama that was playing out at Kingsmere, close to Chelsea, Quebec. There, at his summer residence, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime minister and leader through the dark days of World War II, was breathing his last. He had slipped into a coma two days earlier. At times, he appeared to rally, but the end came on Saturday, 22 July 1950. At his side throughout his final hours was the Rev. Ian Burnett, the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street, the church where King had faithfully attended for decades. Three nephews were also at his bedside—Arthur King, the son of King’s late brother, Dougall Macdougall “Max” King, as well as John and Harry Lay Jr., the sons of his sister, Janet “Jenny” Lay.

King addressing the Nation on VE Day, 8 May 1945, Library and Archives, Canada, 3623420.

Mackenzie King was born in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario in 1874, the son of John King and Isabel Grace King (née McKenzie). He was named after his grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto and the prominent Reformer leader of the failed 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. The future prime minster was immensely proud of his grandfather, and in many respects inherited his reforming zeal.

King was highly educated, with a BA and MA from the University of Toronto, an LLB from Osgoode Law School and a PhD in political economy from Harvard—the only Canadian prime minister to have earned a doctorate. In 1900, he was appointed the first deputy minister of labour. Eight years later, he ran for Parliament, winning the riding of Waterloo North for the Liberals. He entered the cabinet of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1909 as Minister of Labour. After being defeated in the 1911 General Election he was in the political wilderness for eight years until he was elected leader of the Liberal Party in 1919 after the death of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the first leadership convention held in Canada. A surprising choice in many ways as he was an indifferent orator, awkward with most people, and could not speak French. Shortly afterwards, he re-entered Parliament through a by-election. Healing internal rifts within the party caused by the conscription crisis during the Great War that had divided English and French Canadians, he led the Liberal Party to victory in the 1922 General Election—the first of many victories over the coming decades.

In 1926, leading a minority government, King was defeated in the House of Commons where the opposition Conservative Party had a plurality of votes. The Governor General of the day, Lord Byng, refused a request by Mackenzie King to dissolve Parliament and hold a General Election, but instead offered Conservative Leader, Arthur Meighan, the opportunity to form a government. But when Meighen also failed to command the confidence of the House, an election was called. King triumphantly returned to power. This constitutional crisis, called the King-Byng Affair, pitted the prime minster against the Crown. While Byng’s actions were constitutionally correct, King took political advantage of the situation campaigning on a platform that the British government, which still appointed Canada’s governors general, was interfering in the domestic politics of Canadians.

Losing in 1930 to R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives, King and the Liberal Party were re-elected in 1936. King remained in power through successive elections through the war years until his retirement in 1948. He was succeeded by Louis St. Laurent, his former Minister of Justice.

After King’s death, his body was placed in an open, mahogany casket by the fireplace in the sitting room at Laurier House, his Ottawa residence, the same room where he had received so many people during his lifetime. Close friends, senior officials, including Governor General the Viscount Alexander, who had flown back to Ottawa from holiday out west, came to pay their last respects. Prime Minister St. Laurent who had been at his summer residence in St. Patrice, Quebec also quickly returned to the capital to pay his respects. On top of the casket was the golden, enamelled Order of Merit and its green and red ribbon given to him by King George in 1947. The order, of which there were only twenty-four members, had been created by Edward VII. In accordance with King’s wishes, there was no sign of mourning at Laurier House, its windows open, and the blinds undrawn. Callers at Laurier House were received by King’s relatives, Edouard Hardy, who had been King’s private secretary, and Fred McGregor, his former secretary and friend who had been helping King prepare his memoirs.

Telegrams of condolences poured in from around the world. His Majesty King George said that the prime minister’s “lifelong service to Canada will ensure him a place in the history of his country and in the hearts of its people…his wisdom and wide experience were of constant value in the counsels of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” US President Truman called King “an unwavering champion” of freedom-loving peoples and democratic institutions. Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said that he was “a great statesman and a friend.”

Mackenzie King’s body was subsequently moved from Laurier House to the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings to lie is state in the Hall of Fame. At each corner of his casket was a constant guard of honour of men representing the armed services and the RCMP. Over the next two days, more than 30,000 ordinary citizens filed past his bier to pay their last respects to the man to had led the country through both war and peace. Flags flew at half mast over the capital.

Remains of Mackenzie King laying in state, Centre Block, July 1950, Library and Archives Canada, 4084263.

At 2:00pm on 26 July 1950, the doors to the Centre Block were closed. When the last mourners had left, Fred McGregor, accompanied by Defence Minister Brooke Claxton, removed the Order of Merit from the top of the casket. Charles A. Hulse, the undertaker, then closed the lid.

Mackenzie King’s remains were taken in procession with muffled drums and funeral music from the Peace Tower to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at the corner of Wellington and Kent Streets for the funeral service. The short route was lined with members of the armed services and veterans, standing shoulder to shoulder. An estimated 50,000 people watched the funeral cortege. Accompanying the casket were thirty-nine honorary pallbearers, headed by prime minister St. Laurent. Also in the procession were detachments of four regiments—the Royal 22nd, the Régiment de Hull, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and the Royal Canadian Regiment. The RCAF Central Band and naval detachments were also in the cortege.

In the church, King’s customary pew was draped with purple crepe. Viscount Alexander and Lady Alexander, who has arrived early, sat directly in front of the pulpit close to the coffin. Also in front of the pulpit was a massive display of red roses, a tribute from King’s family. Other floral arrangements on display were from the Government of Canada, Lord Alexander, HM the King, and US President Truman.

Officiating at the service was Rev. Ian Burnett and the Rev, A. F. Scott Mackenzie, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. King’s favourite hymns were sung, including John Oxenham’s “My Own Dear Land” sent to the tune of Londonderry Air, which had been specifically chosen by Mackenzie King. Rev. Burnett gave the eulogy. He said that Mackenzie King was a man wedded to a few great, basic principles of righteousness and truth. First, he was a man of peace who proved to be one of the best leaders through the storms of war. Second, he believed in liberty and detested dictators. Third, he felt deeply for the poor and opposed the unscrupulous use of wealth and power.

Following the service, King’s remains were conveyed in a black hearse to Union Station, preceded by the RCMP and RCAF bands. The route was lined with RCMP constables. At the station, to the beat of a single drum, the coffin was carried to the purple and black draped funeral train. The mahogany casket was then placed in a car by six RCMP constables where it was placed on blocks. In front of it was a bank of flowers.

At 6:00pm, the 15-car funeral train, which included coaches for King’s family, prime minster St. Laurent and others, pulled slowly out of Union station destined for Toronto. On the platform the RCMP band played “Nearer My God To Thee.”

At 10:00am the next morning, William Lyon Mackenzie King’s body was committed to the ground in the family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. He was laid to rest beside the remains of father and beloved mother.

Mackenzie King left a vast legacy. In total, he was prime minister of Canada for more than 21 years, a record that stands to this day. He did much to fashion the modern country that we know today. The King-Byng Affair, held against the backdrop of the 1926 Imperial Conference, set the stage for the Statute of Westminster in 1931 which recognized that the dominions, of which Canada was one, were in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom. This statute was given clear meaning at the outbreak of World War II. Unlike during the previous world conflict, Canada did not automatically enter the war when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Instead, Mackenzie King called for a debate in the Canadian Parliament before a formal declaration of war was signed by George VI as King of Canada a week later.

King also oversaw the revival of the Canadian economy in the late 1930s, negotiating trade deals with both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the war, King became recognized as a major Allied war leader, and Canada as an important ally on the international scene. King also undertook social reforms, introducing unemployment insurance and family allowances, that set the ground for the social safety net that Canadians take for granted today. Adroit political management based on a respect for different traditions and views successfully managed the English-French divide. King also successfully negotiated the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation. Keen to foster a distinct Canadian identity, he crafted a new Canadian citizenship law that came into effect in early 1947; King himself received Canadian citizen certificate number 1.

There were, however, blots on Mackenzie King’s political escutcheon. Like many Western leaders during the 1930s, he was duped by Adolf Hitler, and for a time looked favourably upon the dictator. He also supported Neville Chamberlin’s policy of appeasement. Reflective of prevailing attitudes, Canada’s immigration policies were anti-Semitic during the pre-war years.  The Chinese Exclusion Act, was also enacted during King’s first administration and was only repealed in 1947. Even then non-white immigration continued to be discouraged. First Nations peoples also continued to be denied Canadian citizenship through the King era. His reputation has also suffered from his quirkiness, especially his belief in spiritualism and his communing with his dead mother, something that he kept concealed during his lifetime.

Despite these faults, William Lyon Mackenzie King ranked as Canada’s best prime minister in a 2016 Maclean’s Magazine poll. He is commemorated on Canada’s $50 banknote.


Hilman, Norman and Azzi, Stephen, 2016. “Ranking Canada’s Best and Worst Prime Ministers,” Maclean’s, 7 October.

National Film Board of Canada, Date unknown, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

 Ottawa Citizen, 1950. “Scene At Kingsmere, Home During Mr. King’s Final Hours, 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1874-1950,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “The Career of Mackenzie King,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “U.S. Envoy Pays Tribute, » 25 July.

——————-, 1950. “Cabinet Meeting Draws Up Plans For Funeral of Mr. King,” 25 July.

——————-, 1950. “Nearly 50,000 Line Streets For Mackenzie King’s Funeral,” 27 July.

Ottawa Journal, 1950. “World Leaders Speak of Their Deep Regret of Canada’s Great Loss,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “The End of An Era,” 24 July.

Tennis Comes to Ottawa

13 June 1876

Tennis has a long pedigree, dating back to the Middle Ages, with its roots in a ball game called jeu de paume, played indoors using the bare or gloved hand. By the 1500s, racquets had been introduced, and the game became popular in the courts of England, France and Scotland. King Henry VIII was a fan of the sport, playing at his favourite palace of Hampton Court. It was also at about this time that the sport became known as “tennis.” However, the game was far different from the modern sport. Among other things, players could bounce the ball off walls. This version of tennis is today known as “real tennis” or “royal tennis,” and continues to be played by a small number of devotees.

The Indoor Tennis Court at Rideau Hall acting as a supper room, 1876. The decorated room was used for both the February 1876 Fancy Dress Ball as well as for the March 1876 theatrical performances. Topley Studio, LAC 3325566.

Modern tennis, sometimes referred to as lawn tennis, became popular during the early 1870s in Britain. It quickly crossed the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. The Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, which is still going strong, was established in 1876. Here in Ottawa, the earliest mention of tennis being played in the capital also dates back to 1876 when Governor General Lord Dufferin had an indoor court built at Rideau Hall.

The court was also used for special events. In late February, 1876, the newly-built court was decorated for diners attending a Fancy Dress Ball. For the event, which was the social highlight of that winter, the upper part of the court was festooned with rose and white bunting. Along its sides were placed twelve large shields on banners, including those of the United Kingdom, the Royal Arms, the Dominion Arms, the Arms of Canada, and the Arms of each Province. Each was surmounted by a Royal Crown. The Arms of Blackwood, Hamilton and Temple, which were the quarterings of the Governor General, were surmounted by an earl’s coronet. A week later, the court, still so decorated, was again used as a supper room for guests who attended an evening of theatrical performances that starred none other than Lady Dufferin herself, as well as her brother Lord Hamilton.

Besides the Governor General’s family, it’s not clear who initially used the tennis court. Most likely, friends played there too as Lord Dufferin appeared willing to allow others to use the facilities. On 13 June 1876, his secretary, E.G.P. Littleton, sent a letter on behalf of Lord Dufferin to E.A. Meredith, the Chairman of the Civil Service Board, making the court available to the gentlemen of the Civil Service while the Governor General was in residence at La Citadelle in Quebec City. He wrote that Lord Dufferin was “desirous of giving every facility to the members of the Civil Service to make use of the Tennis Court at Government House during his absence.”

While the Governor General’s primary wish was “to provide a healthy recreation during the summer” to members of the Civil Service, he did not want to preclude men who were not members of the Civic Service from becoming members. He also instructed that a committee be formed to make the necessary arrangements regarding such things as the hours of play and the supply of balls. The latter must have been a major issue before such companies as Slazenger, Dunlop or Wilson began mass producing tennis balls. They were probably handmade as are balls used today in “real tennis.”

Out of this “generous act,” as described by the Ottawa Daily Citizen, the Vice-Regal Tennis Club was born. A few weeks later, the Club was opened to gentlemen who were not members of the Civil Service.

It’s not clear how long the Vice-Regal Tennis Club was active; references to it quickly disappear from the columns of the Ottawa Daily Citizen. It’s possible it only operated that one summer, or only when the Dufferins were in residence in Quebec City.

Prior to their departure from Ottawa in 1878 at the end of Lord Dufferin’s posting to Canada as Governor General, a children’s bazaar was held in the tennis court for the benefit of the children of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New Edinburgh where the Dufferin family worshipped. Among the items sold was a watercolour painted by Lord Dufferin and a “handsome cushion” worked by Lady Dufferin.

If the departure of the Dufferins meant the end of tennis in the capital, the drought did not last long. In November 1879, the Ottawa Racquet Club was established to provide “a much desired and long wanted means of winter recreation.” Lord Dufferin’s successor, the Marquess of Lorne, became the patron of the new club. The Marquess of Lorne, later known as the Duke of Argyle, was married to Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Francis Clemow was the president of the new club. There were 45 founding members. In addition to tennis, members could play handball and racquets in the indoor court located at the corner of Gloucester and Metcalfe Streets. A ladies’ morning was set aside for women tennis players.

In early 1881, a ladies’ tennis tournament was held over a period of several days at the Racquet Club. Thirteen women from as far away as Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City and Halifax participated. Lord Lorne donated the prizes. There were two viewing galleries for the event. Club members and ladies were admitted free to watch the games, while non-member men paid 25 cents.

Court conditions must have been challenging as there was no heating and it was mid-winter. Not only was the lighting undependable, it was reported that the cold was so intense one day that the balls were “too dead to encourage long rallies.” How participants dressed was not reported.

First prize in the competition, “a pretty silver looking-glass,” went to Lily Fleming. In second place was Ethel Schreiber, winner of a “tasteful ink stand.” The third-place winner was one of two Almon sisters of Halifax. Miss Almon, her first name was not reported, won a silver bracelet adorned with a silver racquet.

The popularity of the matches led the Ottawa Daily Citizen to hope that this “really excellent game will gain popularity and become both on the lawns and various courts of Canada a national amusement.” The newspaper went on to say that the sport promoted healthful exercise and should be encouraged. It added that the fact that women could readily play gave the sport an advantage over other pastimes.

The Club House and members of the Ottawa Lawn Tennis Club at Cartier Square, circa 1890, Courtesy of the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club

The Citizen was spot on. Later that same year, on 24 October 1881, the establishment of the Ottawa Lawn Tennis Club (OLTC) under the patronage of Lord Lorne and Princess Louise took tennis in the capital to a new level. There were thirty-five founding members. Women were allowed to hold associate memberships, but were restricted in terms of when they were allowed to play. The Club’s first grass court was located at the corner of Elgin and Cooper Streets.

A ladies’ tournament was held in March 1883 under the auspices of the OLTC at the Drill Hall on Elgin Street. There were four indoor courts. Although the tournament was governed by the 1883 rules of the All England Lawn Tennis Association, play off of the walls was permitted similar to “real tennis.” As with the earlier tournament at the Racquet Club, Lord Lorne provided the prizes. Lily Fleming again took first prize—a “handsome broach” consisting of golden crossed racquets with a tennis ball hanging from a chain in the centre.

In 1888, the OLTC moved to a new clubhouse and grounds close to the Drill Hall at Cartier Square, a location it occupied until 1902. After two more moves, first to Patterson Avenue from 1903 to 1906, and then to 3rd Avenue in the Glebe, the Club, now called the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club, found a permanent home in 1922 on Cameron Avenue on the banks of the Rideau River where it remains today.

Tennis Group, May 1884, Marquess of Lorne and Princess Louise are seated to the centre right of the picture, Library and Archives, Canada.

By the 1920s, tennis was thriving in Ottawa with as many as 29 clubs in the Ottawa District Lawn Tennis League. However, there was a cloud over Ottawa’s tennis community. Club membership was via invitation, and members of Ottawa’s Jewish community were not welcome. These were the days of rampant anti-Semitism in Canada which, while often unspoken, was very present with bars on access to universities and clubs, including Ottawa’s prestigious Rideau Club.

The Tent Room, formerly the indoor tennis court, at Rideau Hall, Government of Canada

In a fascinating article that appeared in the Globe and Mail, Barry Padolsky recounts the history of the Tel Aviv Tennis Club (TATC), established in 1936 to give a venue to Jewish tennis players. That year, the TATC, supported by a group of prominent members of Ottawa’s Jewish community, purchased the financially troubled Riverdale Tennis Club on Russell Road (now North River Road). After the war, with the elimination of discrimination in Ottawa clubs, the fortunes of the TATC declined. In 1958, the Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Club’s land to make way for a park, consistent with the recommendations of the Greber Report to beautify Ottawa. There is no monument to the existence of the historic Tel Aviv Tennis Club except in the memories of Ottawa’s Jewish community.

Today, thousands of Ottawa residents, young and old, play tennis in clubs as well as on neighbourhood courts run by community members. The former indoor tennis court at Rideau Hall, now called the Tent Room, continues to be used for special events.


Governor General of Canada, 2022. “The Tent Room.”

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1876. “Rideau Hall,” 30 March 1876.

————————–, 1876. “A Gracious Act,” 15 June.

————————–, 1879. “The Ottawa Racquet Club,” 27 November.

————————–, 1881. “Ottawa Racquet Club,” 31 January.

————————–, 1881. “Ottawa Racket Court,” 11 February.

————————–, 1881. “The Tennis Tournament,” 12 February.

————————–, 1881. “The Tennis Tournament,” 14 February.

————————–, 1883. “Lawn Tennis,” 9 March.

————————–, 1887. “The Lawn Tennis Club, 11 May.

Ottawa Tennis & Lawn Bowling Club, 2022. “Your Cottage in the City.”

Padolsky, Barry, 2020. “The short, wonderous life of Ottawa’s Tel Aviv Tennis Club,” Globe and Mail, 7 August 2020.

Pretty, Greg and Jackson, John L. 2015. “Tennis,” Canadian Encyclopedia.

Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, 2022. Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.

Instant Mashed Potatoes…

7 February 1961

The post-war years saw a revolution in the kitchen, both in terms of what we ate and how our food was prepared. With growing affluence and improving technology, out went the icebox and in came the modern electric refrigerator. Electric stoves became commonplace. In 1955, early adopters bought their first microwave ovens. Processed foods were rapidly filling up the new suburban supermarkets. Swanson’s TV dinners, the first successful frozen meal, hit groceries’ freezer shelves in 1954, allowing the entire family to enjoy the dinner of their choice in front of that new household necessity, the television. For 98 cents, one could choose among Salisbury steak, meatloaf, fried chicken, or turkey, accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas. Later, a dessert was added. Technological improvements also made canned and frozen foods more palatable. Processed foods were a hit with harried women who did the grocery shopping and prepared the meals along with raising a family and, in increasing numbers, entering the paid workforce.

One of the earliest convenience foods was dehydrated potatoes. In 1905, Ernest W. Cooke applied for a US patent for “Dehydrated Potatoes and Process of Preparing the Same.” It was granted in 1912 (No. 1,025,373). Under Cooke’s process, potatoes were cut up into small pieces, shredded, cooked slightly, then dried. They could be reconstituted by simply adding water. Cooke claimed that his process preserved the majority of the cell walls of the potato, making a palatable product. Previously, the hydration of dried potatoes whose cell walls had been crushed resulted in a “mucilaginous starchy mess, which is entirely inedible,” he said.

Advertisement for French’s instant mashed potatoes, Ottawa Citizen, 19 December 1959.

The demand for dehydrated potatoes was not strong, however. After rising somewhat during World War I, demand for the product cratered during the 1920s and 1930s. It wasn’t until the United States entered World War II that the product found a major buyer in the US military looking for ways of feeding its troops. Military demand for other types of dehydrated vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage and carrots also rose though potatoes was by far the number one dehydrated vegetable.

Following the war, demand for dehydrated potatoes remained strong with the US government purchasing large amounts to support potato prices and to send overseas as foreign aid. The product, while nourishing, wasn’t very good. American GIs who were forced to eat the potato mush during the war hated it.

It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that RT French Company, then a subsidiary of the British firm Reckitt & Colman, successfully launched instant mashed potatoes onto the retail market. Its process for making the instant spuds was based on a British patent for the product developed during the war by Theodore Rendle. The patent was for “improvements in and relating to the preparation of cooked starchy vegetables in powdered form,” such as mashed potatoes. This product was available on Ottawa’s supermarket shelves by the late 1950s.

At this point, enter Dr. Edward A.M. Asselbergs, a senior researcher at the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Research Centre at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa. On 7 February 1961, he and two colleagues, Hugh Hamilton and Patricia Saidak, filed a Canadian patent application for a new process for preparing dehydrated cooked mashed potatoes. The patent (CA 620541) was granted the following May. A US patent was granted in 1966 (No. 3,260,607). Asselbergs had immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands in 1950. He held a BSc from the University of Wageningen, an MA from the University of Toronto, and a PhD from Cornell University.

Dr. Asselbergs showing his thin film of processed potatoes, Ottawa Journal, Dominion Wide, 30 November 1961.

Asselbergs’ team had invented a new form of instant mashed potato, one that was neither in the form of granules nor flakes, which were already available, but rather took the form of “crystal-like particles” with an average thickness of three to four potato cells. The new production process consisted of cooking cut-up potatoes for roughly six minutes in boiling water, “fluffing” them to facilitate the removal of moisture, then mashing them between two rollers to form a continuous, perforated layer. This potato layer was then dried on a heated surface to produce the crystal-like particles. The physical structure of the new instant mashed potatoes was different from both granular and flaked instant mashed potatoes. Experiments were carried out on Idaho Russet potatoes as well as potatoes grown in Canada, including the Sebago potato grown in Prince Edward Island.

The impetus for the invention came from the Canadian potato industry. They hoped that a new product would revive demand for potatoes that had been weakening for some years. As well, it was hoped that the establishment of instant mashed potato factories close to potato fields would allow for the economical use of fresh potatoes that could not be profitably transported long distance. Instant mashed potatoes could also be stored indefinitely.

The new recipe for instant mashed potatoes was big news in Canada. Alvin Hamilton, the federal minister of agriculture personally congratulated Asselbergs for his invention.

Asselbergs and his research team didn’t rest on their laurels. Success with instant mashed potatoes led them to experiment with other vegetables and mixtures. Less than a year later, they came up with a number of dehydrated products including, fish and potatoes, lamb and potatoes, beef and potatoes, pork and potatoes, chicken and potatoes, cheese and potatoes, as well as dehydrated turnips and pumpkins. For the fish and meat dishes, the bones were first removed, the meat was then cut up and mixed with various amounts of mashed potatoes with the mixtures subsequently fed into a drum dryer at a pressure of 90 pounds per square inch and at a temperature of 280°F. The product was then rolled out into a tissue thin layer that crumbled into flacks.

Asselbergs said that these meals could be stockpiled for emergency use and would keep indefinitely in the kitchen. He added that both the instant and reconstituted mixtures had excellent flavour and colour. Spices were already added. As well, the loss in nutritional value was no greater than that involved in an ordinary cooking process.

The dehydrated mixtures could be converted into hot meals within minutes, or even eaten dry without any preparation. The fish and potato mixture was produced at an experimental fish processing plant in Valleyfield, Newfoundland. An Ottawa women’s auxiliary church group tested the new product on their families and reported back to the Asselbergs team and the Test Kitchen at the Experimental Farm on its reception. The Ottawa Journal reported that “By merely adding water or milk to the fine crystalline mixture, and warming it up, the housewife can prepare tasty fillings for fish cakes, meat pies, casseroles, croquettes and even pumpkin pies in a matter of minutes.” The newspaper offensively added “If she is too lazy to do even this, the basic mixture can be eaten in its instant form.”

The inventions earned Asselbergs more congratulations from Alvin Hamilton, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture.

Not everybody was enthusiastic. The Kingston Whig Standard, in another journalistic “Leave it to Beaver-June Cleaver” moment, wrote that the “only reward or thanks [for the new instant foods] came from the bride with no cooking talents at all.” Instant food might be “a boon to the camper or the all-thumbs bachelor-for-a-weekend, but there is something in this note of progress which makes for some dismal contemplation of the future.”

Advertisement, c. 1965, for Shirriff’s Instant Mashed Potatoes, source unknown.

What was the upshot of these culinary innovations? Well, the food industry didn’t rush to license Asselbergs’ patents. His instant mashed potatoes patent was, however, assigned to Salada-Shirriff-Horsey which had a potato processing plant in Alliston, Ontario, and produced instant mashed potatoes, possibly using Asselbergs’ patented process in Canada. The other patents for meat and potato flakes didn’t catch on. Apparently, they were a little too “instant” for most people.

Dr. Edward Asselbergs did not profit from his inventions. Being a public servant, his inventions belonged to the Crown. In 1962, Asselbergs was elected president of the Canadian Institute of Food Technology, which had roughly 700 members from the Canadian food industry. He subsequently left the Department of Agriculture to take up a senior position at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy.

He retired and returned to Canada in 1985. He died in 1996 in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Instant mashed potatoes continue to be sold in North American grocery stores as a quick and easy replacement for fresh spuds. Major producers include Idahoan Foods and Betty Crocker.


Canadian Patent Data Base, 1961. “Preparation of Dehydrated Cooked Mashed Potato,” inventor: Asselbergs, Edward A.M., Hamilton, Hugh A. and Saidak, Patricia, Patent # 620541, 23 May.

Kingston Whig-Standard, 1961. “Instant Everything,” 6 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1961. “If You Like Them Mashed,” 3 March.

——————, 1961. “Yet Another Instant Dish,” 7 December.

——————, 1996. “Edward Asselbergs,” obituary, 5 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1961. “Revolution in ‘Instant’ Food, Ottawa Scientists’ Project,” 30 November.

——————-, 1963. “Eight New Dried Food Mixes Developed,” 6 July.

——————-, 1965. “Fish Potatoes May Be Added To Instant Food Varieties,” 21 January.

Sault Star, 1962. “Instant Foods,” 19 January.

Rasmussen, Clyde L. and Shaw, W. Lawrence, 1953. Preliminary Planning for Vegetable Dehydration, US Department of Agriculture, Western Regional Research Laboratory, Bureau pf Agriculture and Industrial Chemistry, Albany, California.

UK Patents, 1944. “Improvements in and relating to the preparation of cooked starchy vegetables in powder form,” inventor: Rendle, Theodore, Patent # GB566167A, 18 December.

United States Patent Office, 1912. “Dehydrated Potatoes and Process for Processing the Same,” Ernest William Cooke, inventor, Patent # 1,025,373, 7 May.

———————————, 1966. “Preparation of Dehydrated Cooked Mashed Potato,” inventors: Asselbergs, Edward A.M., Hamilton, Hugh A. and Saidak, Patricia, Patent # US3,260,607, 12 July.