The McKellar Train Disaster

25 June 1913

It was a bright, warm, early summer day without a cloud in the sky. At about 1.30pm on Wednesday, 25 June 1913, a westbound C.P.R. train pulled out of Ottawa’s downtown Central Station headed for Winnipeg. The train consisted of the locomotive, two mail and baggage cars, three colonist (third class) cars, two tourist (second class) cars, one first class passenger coach, a diner car and a Pullman sleeping car. Most of the train’s passengers were immigrants, newly arrived in Canada from Scotland and Ireland. Many had left Glasgow ten days earlier on the SS Pretorian of the Allan Line. Before steaming across the North Atlantic for Canada, the ship made a brief stop at Moville on the northern tip of Ireland in County Donegal, thirty kilometres north of Londonderry, to pick up more immigrants.

Train CPR colonist 1920s, LAC, Wikipedia

Interior of a “colonist” class C.P.R. train car, 1920s, Library and Archives Canada, Wikipedia.

The ship docked in Montreal, where its weary passengers spent the night before embarking on the next leg of their odyssey, the long train journey to Winnipeg and points further west. Most of the newcomers to Canada were riding in spartan “colonist” cars. Furnished with hard benches with little padding, the colonist cars were designed to cheaply transport the hundreds of thousands of poor immigrants who were pouring into Canada from the British Isles to settle in the Prairies. The immigrants came in search of a new, more prosperous life, lured by government advertisements of cheap land, clean, healthy living, and idyllic, western farming communities. The arrival of the SS Pretorian occurred during the peak of the Canadian immigration boom. A record number of more than 400,000 new arrivals came in 1913 alone, mostly from the British Isles and the United States. Canada’s population was less than 8 million at the time. By way of contrast, Canada welcomed 286,000 new permanent residents in 2017 when its population stood at 36.7 million.

For the slightly better-heeled immigrant, a step up from the very basic “colonist” class of car was “tourist” class. Tourist cars offered more comfortable seats and carpeting. Riders were still required to prepare their own meals in a kitchenette. First class customers, who road in luxury in their own carriage, and slept in a Pullman sleeper, patronized a dining car where they were served by uniformed waiters.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025116

The colonist class car lying on its side in the Ottawa River, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025116, 25 June 1913.

Leaving downtown Montreal at 9.45 am, the train pulled into Ottawa’s newly built Central Station at about noon. The station was located across the street from the opulent Château Laurier Hotel which had opened the previous year.  After picking up more passengers, it resumed its journey, first heading across the Alexandra Bridge to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, then travelling through Hull before returning to the Ontario side via the Prince of Wales bridge. A few kilometres outside of Ottawa, the train passed through cottage country along the shore of the Ottawa River. At one point, it travelled parallel to a streetcar making its way to the little resort community of Britannia, the site of the popular amusement park. Children and women leaned out the windows to wave handkerchiefs to people on the shore. As it entered McKellar Townsite, a new, residential development, the train began to rock. With a loud grinding sound, the train buckled and twisted. Two colonist cars located in the centre of the train jumped the tracks and slide down an embankment into the Ottawa River, landing in shallow water on their side. Two tourist cars also left the rails on the south side of the tracks away from the water, and jackknifed in the air. The first class carriage, dining car and Pullman sleeper at the rear of the train remained up right, as did the locomotive and the first three cars.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025111

Another view of the wrecked colonist cars, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025111, 25 June 1913.

On board, people screamed in terror and pain as they and their belongings were flung about the carriages. In the dining car, luncheon was in the process of being served. Diners and waiters were knocked off their feet; dishes and cutlery crashed to the floor. Oddly, in the rear Pullman sleeping car, passengers experienced only a minor jolting.

People travelling in the two colonist cars, which had tumbled down the embankment to lie partly submerged in the Ottawa River, suffered the worst. Many were severely injured. Several died either from impact injuries or from drowning despite the water being no more than three feet deep, having been knocked unconscious or trapped under debris. In total, eight people died, and another 65 were injured. All the fatalities were Irish or Scottish immigrants, ranging in age from 10 months to 55 years of age.[1]

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025115

The jackknifed tourist cars with some of the Ottawa onlookers, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025115, 25 June 1913.

Newspaper accounts say that there was little panic after the accident, with passengers helping each other out of broken windows. Assistance also came from nearby homes, passersby and passengers on the streetcars. News of the accident was telephoned into the police in Ottawa, with ambulances quickly arriving on the scene. The Citizen remarked that the automobile had proved it worth, and that lives were undoubtedly saved by the speedy response made possible by the internal combustion engine. It was reported that half of Ottawa’s doctors were at the scene of the accident at some point in the afternoon to render medical help. The Victorian Order of Nurses also responded to the call for emergency medical assistance. Spiritual solace came from the Bishop Charlebois, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Keewatin, who had been travelling in the first class carriage along with two other clergymen; all three had escaped the wreck unscathed.

The injured were conveyed to two Ottawa hospitals, St. Luke’s, located at the corner of Elgin Street and Gladstone Avenue, and the General on Water Street. The uninjured were put up in Ottawa hotels by the C.P.R. The bodies of the victims were sent to two local funeral homes, Rogers & Burney’s on Laurier Ave and Brady & Harris on Lisgar Avenue.

There was a lot of confusion about the identity of one of the deceased women. At the funeral home, the only piece of identification found on her body was a piece of paper with a hand-written address on it discovered in a coat pocket. The address was for a Mrs Bunting of Winnipeg. However, after a telephone call to Winnipeg, it turned out that Mrs Bunting and her four children, all of whom had been on the train, were safe at a home on Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa. Mrs Bunting had written her address on a piece of paper and had given it to the victim prior to the accident so that she might be able to contact Mrs Bunting after she had settled out west. Instead, it was the body of Mrs John McClure. Mrs McClure had been travelling from County Antrim with her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren John, aged 5, and Matilda, age 10 months, to join her son in Edmonton. Only the daughter-in-law, the junior Mrs McClure, survived the wreck, saved by a quirk of fate. She had just gone to the kitchen to prepare lunch for her children when the train went off the rails. Bruised and understandably distraught after the accident, the young mother was taken to the home of Mrs Sarsfield who had found her at the site of the accident to recuperate. A telegram was sent to her husband, Henry McClure, who hastened to Ottawa, arriving on the Sunday after the accident.

There were other tragic tales. Mrs Jane McNealy, who was travelling from Glasgow with her three children to meet her husband in Edmonton was also killed, while her oldest son James, aged 18, was severely injured. He was taken to the General Hospital for treatment. Initially not expected to live, he made a surprising recovery and was released a few days later. His younger siblings, Robert, “a bright, red-headed little chap,” and his little sister, Maggie, while uninjured, were taken to St. Luke’s for observation overnight. They had been separated from their mother and brother, and did not immediately know what had become of them. After receiving news of the death of his wife, their father, Robert McNealy, went the C.P.R. office in Edmonton. In a highly emotional state, he had to be escorted from the premises by the police who held him at the station for several hours. He was later released without charge, and took the train to Ottawa to be with his children and attend his wife’s funeral.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025114

Another view of the wrecked C.P.R. train with the hoards of Ottawa onlookers who came to take in the scene of the disaster, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025114, 25 June 1913.

Wrecking crews from Ottawa and Smith’s Falls were quickly on the scene to help clear the tracks. Another serious accident was only narrowly averted by the quick thinking of Robert Scott, a brakeman from Smith’s Falls, when a large crane car broke free from the wrecking train while it was being manoeuvred into position to upright the wrecked cars. Gathering speed as it went down a hill, Scott stood at the end of the car shouting to rescuers and workmen on the track to get out of the way. Just before the crane itself left the rails at the site of the accident, Scott jumped into a ditch. The crane sank into the soft ground, hitting the wrecked cars but fortunately without any force. Although knocked unconscious for a time, Scott quickly recovered. His first words were to ask if anybody had been hurt. He then asked for nobody to tell his wife.

Immediately after the accident and through the afternoon and night, thousands of Ottawa residents descended on the accident site to watch the wrecking crews recover the mangled cars and clear the tracks. Many walked on top of the toppled cars to get a better view. So huge were the crowds, the Ottawa Electric Railway laid on extra streetcars on the Britannia route. At midnight, there were still several hundred gawkers on site. The track was reopened early the next morning.

An inquiry was immediately launched into the cause of the train accident. The coroner focused on three possibilities: a defect in the train; a defect in the roadbed; or a “sun kink.” A sun kink occurs when the heat of the sun warms the track sufficiently that the iron rails bow out. However, the inquiry was hampered by the refusal of the Railway Commission to allow its expert to testify on the extraordinary grounds that they don’t work for the public. While its experts investigated every train accident on behalf of the Board, their findings were reported in confidence and then shared with the railway company which made changes if required to help prevent further accidents. While a sun kink, a rare phenomenon, was believed initially to have been the cause of the accident, during the inquest the conductor noted that there had been no sign of a kink as the train approached the accident site. As well, one observer thought that a sun kink was unlikely in that location owing to the cooling air off of the Ottawa River. An examination of the rails also showed that they were in perfect alignment both to the east and west of the accident site. Work had been underway to straighten and trim the railway ties in the area. Consequently, it was possible that on descending the grade, the train hit a loose roadbed. Alternatively, there was evidence that something fell from the train which might have caused it to derail.

Some passengers on the train also thought it was going very fast at the time of the accident (about 25 m.p.h.) though speed was not mentioned as a possible contributing factor. Railway officials also disputed a story by Mrs Bunting that there had been a problem with the train prior to arriving in Ottawa. She had said that the train had come to a grinding stop about three quarters of an hour prior to reaching Ottawa, and that the conductor had rushed through the train saying something had broken. As the train resumed its journey, she had not thought much of the incident until after the train wreck. She admitted, however, that her memory was a bit fuzzy.

In the end, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict that the cause of the wreck was “unknown.”

Seven of the eight victims of the McKellar train accident were buried in the Beechwood Cemetery. Patrick Mulvenna, the last to be laid to rest, was buried in the Notre Dame Cemetery. Many Ottawa residents came out to bid them farewell.

Sources:

CBC. 2013. Deadly Ottawa Train Crash 100 Years Later, 25 June.

Canada, 2019. 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/annual-report-parliament-immigration-2018/report.html.

Chandler, Graham, 2016. “Selling the Prairie Good Life,” Canada’s History, 7 September, https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/settlement-immigration/selling-the-prairie-good-life.

Edmonton Journal, 1913. :Pathetic Story Is Pictured OF Wreck Victims,” 27 June.

Leader-Post (Regina), 1913. “Case of Nerves,” 1 July.

Ottawa Citizen, 1913. “Heavy Loss Of Life In Wreck Near City,” 25 June.

——————, 1913.  “All Victims Of Railway Wreck Have Now Been Identified. Eight Are Dead And Little Hope For One Of The Injured,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Casualties 8 Killed, About 65 Injured,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Graphic And Pathetic Stories Told In Philosophical Manner By Passengers,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Bereaved Husband,” 27 June.

——————, 1913. “Railway Commission Experts Don’t’ Work For The Benefit Of The Public Who Pay,” 10 July.

——————, 1913. “Unable To Determine Cause of Accident,” 16 July.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1913. “Enquiry Into The Cause Of Fatal Wreck Ordered, Injured Recovering,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Death List in M’Kellar Townsite Wreck Totals 8; Sixty-five Injured; Pathetic Scenes Among Debris; Many Visited Scene,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Cause of The Wreck Puzzle For Railwaymen,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Triple Funeral,” 30 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Obituary,” 2 July.

[1]  The victims were Patrick Mulvenna, County Antrim age 25, John Moodie, Orkney, age 17, John Hogg, Derry, age 30, Mrs Jane McNealy, Glasgow, age 40, John Peace, Glasgw, age 21, Mrs John McClure, County Antrim, age 55, John McClure, County Antrim, age 5, and Matilda McClure, County Antrim, age 10 months.

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The Queen’s Plate

31 May 1872

The most famous and prestigious thoroughbred horse race in Canada is the Queen’s Plate, open to Canadian-bred, three-year-old horses. It’s also the oldest continuously-run horse race in North America, dating back to 1860, seven years before first running of the Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the “Triple Crown” races in the United States. Over its illustrious history, many members of the Royal family have attended this storied event from Princess Louise in 1881, to the Queen Mother in 1965, and to Queen Elizabeth in 1959, 1973, 1997 and, most recently, 2010. Horse racing is indeed the “sport of kings!”

Queen's Plate 6-5-1872

Advertisement for the 1872 running of the Queen’s Plate, Ottawa Daily Citizen

The story of the Queen’s Plate begins in 1859 when Sir Casimir Gzowski, the president of the Toronto Turf Club, petitioned the Governor General for an annual horse racing prize to be awarded by Queen Victoria to horses bred and reared in Upper Canada (Ontario). He correctly believed that the cachet of winning a royal prize would encourage the development of horse breeding in Canada. Queen Victoria graciously agreed to the request providing an annual prize of 50 guineas for a race to be called the Queen’s Plate. (A guinea is defunct British gold coin no longer minted by the mid nineteenth century but widely used as a unit of account in horse racing, the art world, and certain professions well into the twentieth century. It had a value of 21 shillings sterling.)

The Royal Privy Purse continues to provide this annual prize though instead of 50 guineas, it reportedly sends a bank draft for the sterling equivalent except when a member of the Royal Family is present for the race. Then, the winner receives 50 gold sovereigns in a purple bag. The winner also receives 60 per cent of the race purse of $1 million. Confusingly, the “Plate” is a foot-high golden cup on a black base rather than a plate. (The traditional royal prize for a horse race had been a silver plate, hence the name. However, over time the nature of the prize changed but the name stuck.)

The first running of the Queen’s Plate took place at the end of June in 1860 at the Carleton Race Course in Toronto. It was open to all horses reared in Upper Canada which had never won public money. During the early years of the Queen’s Plate, horses competed in three heats rather than a single race as is the case today. The first winner was a five-year old horse by the name of Don Juan, owned by a Mr. White and ridden by Charles Littlefield. Don Juan came in second in the first heat, but won the second and third heats of the competition over a one-mile track with his best time of 1 minute 58 seconds.

Although the next several Queen’s Plates were held at the Carleton Race Course, it subsequently moved around the province depending on the lobbying powers of various racing clubs and politicians before it settled down for good at the Woodbine Race Course in Toronto in 1883. Until 1956, the race was held at the old Woodbine site at the end of Woodbine Street in Toronto close to Lake Ontario. It then moved to the current Woodbine location on Rexdale Boulevard, north of the Pearson Airport in Etobicoke.  During the Queen’s Plate’s journey around Ontario, the race came to Ottawa on two occasions, the first in 1872 and the second in 1880.

The organization that brought the Queen’s Plate to Ottawa in 1872 was the Ottawa Turf Club, founded in 1869 with the patronage of Sir John Young, later known as Lord Lisgar, the Governor General, who was an avid horseman. The President of the Club was Joseph Aumond, Vice-President was Nicholas Sparks, and  Edward Barber was the Secretary.  While the lobbying of Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier, may have helped the new Ottawa Turf Club win the event, Lord Lisgar was likely the one most responsible for bringing the race to Ottawa. With His Excellency as its patron, the Ottawa Turf Club definitely had the inside track for hosting the event. News that the Queen’s Plate had been conferred on Ottawa was officially relayed to the Ottawa Turf Club in February 1872, with the race planned for late spring. The conditions of the race were: “For horses, geldings or mares, bred, raised, trained and owned, in the Province of Ontario, who have not previously won public money at any race meeting. The whole stake to go to the winner.”

The Club organized a two-day racing extravaganza for Friday and Saturday, the 31th of May and the 1st of June, 1872. The event was held at the new Mutchmor Driving Park which had opened the previous year. The race track and the adjoining Turf Hotel were owned by Ralph Muchmor and Edward Barber, the Turf Club’s Secretary. Total prize money for the two-day event amounted to $2,850—a fair sum in those days.

Long before race time, pedestrians and carriages packed Bank Street, all heading for the race track located now where the Mutchmor Public School is today. Race conditions were perfect with the track having just been rolled after a recent rain. The main attraction of the day was, of course, the Queen’s Plate, the third race of the afternoon. By the time Lord and Lady Lisgar arrived at 3 pm, every vantage point was taken up, the stands filled to capacity with ladies and gentlemen, while less fortunate punters made do with fence tops, and the seats of cabs and wagons. According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, it was difficult to estimate the size of the crowd, but the stands scarcely accommodated a quarter of the numbers. Many of the visitors came from other parts of Canada and even from the United States to witness the Queen’s Plate which was already the highlight of the Canadian racing calendar.

The first race of the day was the $300 Hurdles Race, a two-mile run with eight hurdles 3’ 6” high, which was won by Duffy by three lengths. The second race was the $100 Steward’s Race won by Mohawk who took both heats. Up next was the Queen’s Plate. The prize was 50 guineas ($256), the gift of “Her Most Gracious Majesty.” The winning horse may have received an additional purse but the report relating to this was obscurely written. It read: “T.C.W. Entrance, $10 p.p. to go with the plate.”[1] The Ottawa Turf Club provided $100 to the second-place horse.

Six horses were entered in the 1½ mile race (no heats): Blacksmith, a 4-year old, black horse, with its jockey wearing a black jacket and blue cap; Fearnaught, a bay horse with its jockey in scarlet with a dove colour cap; Alzora, a chestnut mare, whose jockey wore brown and white; Jack Vandall, a bay gelding, its jockey in blue and white; Bay Boston, a 5-year old, bay horse, (colours not identified), and Halton, a 5-year old bay horse whose jockey wore scarlet. Halton was the favourite. Three of the horses in the running, Fearnaught, Alzora and Jack Vandall, had the same sire, Jack the Barber, a celebrated thoroughbred horse originally from Kentucky.

Queen's Plate Canadian Museum of History

The Trophy awarded for winning the Queen’s Plate, Canadian Museum of History.

At post time, there were four false starts. But after they were finally off, it was deemed a “splendid race.” After the first half mile, it became apparent that the race belonged to Fearnaught, with the favourite, Halton, fading. In a time of 2 minutes 54 ½ seconds, Fearnaugh, ridden by Richard Leary and owned by Alexander Simpson, won the 13th running of the Queen’s Plate. Jack Vandall came in second and Halton third. Richard Leary, the winning jockey who was also a resident of Ottawa and the horse’s trainer, was presented with a gold-mounted riding whip by Mr. William Young of the firm Young & Radford, a watchmaker and jewellery manufacturer located at 30 Sparks Street.

Two more races followed the Queen’s Plate to round out the racing for the afternoon. These were the $300 Tally Ho! Stakes and the $150 Memorial Plate.

Betting had been fierce in the lead-up to all the races. But all the favourites came up short that day causing “a monetary twinge among the sporting fraternity,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Pelting rain almost caused the postponement of the second day of racing from the Saturday to the following Monday. Racing on a Sunday, the Sabbath, was forbidden. However, as many of the horses were slatted to race in Montreal the following week, the decision was made to go ahead on the principle “run, rain or shine.” Fortunately, at race time the clouds cleared, though attendance suffered. Four more races were held: the $600 Carleton Plate; the $400 Lumbermen’s Purse; the $300 Merchants’ Plate; and, finally, the $150 Consolation Stakes. There was a bit of excitement surrounding the running of the Lumbermen’s Purse. Owing to “a misunderstanding or improper interference,” the race had to be run twice. People almost came to blows before the Club Secretary announced that all pools and bets were off for the race.

The Ottawa Turf Club, the host of the 1872 Queen’s Plate, disappeared from the Ottawa racing news in the decade following its big race weekend but not before becoming mired in controversy. At the end of a racing fixture held in October 1874, the Club held a “deer hunt” as a grande finale to the day’s events. A half-starved deer was released onto the field. It was barely able to run having been cooped up in a small cage, its joints stiffened from lack of use. Instead of taking off into the nearby bush to be hunted by a pack of dogs followed by riders, it stumbled into the crowd. It only took ten seconds for it to be taken down and torn to pieces by the hunting dogs amidst the spectators’ carriages. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thought that this was a case for the S.P.C.A. and “hoped that the people of Ottawa will never be asked to patronize such a “sport” again.”

The Ottawa Racing Association hosted the 21st running of the Queen’s Plate at the end of June 1880. It was the second race of the first day of racing entertainment again held at the Mutchmor track. Five horses were at the post come race time; a sixth, the mare Footstep, had been pulled on a challenge on the grounds of ineligibility since it had not been trained in Ontario. The winner was Bonnie Bird, owned by John Forbes and ridden by Richard Leary, the same jockey who rode to victory in the 1872 Queen’s Plate. Bonnie Bird also ran he following day in the first Dominion Day Derby carrying five pounds extra owing to having been the Queen’s Plate winner. Owing to a very bad send off, Bonnie Bird was virtually out of the race at the start but Richard Leary, the jockey, somehow manage to close the gap with the leaders on the turn but was unable to catch Lord Dufferin who won by a length.

Today, Ottawa horse-racing fans can enjoy standardbred harness racing at the Rideau Carleton Raceway on the Albion Road. But if you want to dress up, wear a fascinator, and otherwise enjoy the excitement of the annual running of the Queen’s Plate, you will need to head to the Woodbine Race Track in Toronto.

Sources:

Anderson-Labarge, 2015. “Canada History Week: Spotlight on Sports (Part 2),” Canadian Museum of History, https://www.historymuseum.ca/blog/canada-history-week-spotlight-on-sports-part-2/.

Buffalo Commercial, 1861, “Great Race at Detroit,” 10 July.

Daily Citizen, 1872. “The Queen’s Plate,” 16 February.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club Races,” 31 May.

—————–, 1872.  “Ottawa Turf Club,” 1 June.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club,” 3 June.

—————–, 1880. “Mutchmor Park,” 2 July 1880.

Dulay, Cindy Pierson, 2018. “2010 Queen’s Plate Royal Visit,” Horse-Races.Net, http://www.horse-races.net/library/qp10-royal.htm.

Rideau Carleton Raceway, 2019. https://rcr.net/.

Smith, Beverley, 2018. “Horse Racing: Queen’s Plate,” Globe and Mail, 17 April.

Wencer, David. 2019. “Toronto’s Horse Racing History,” Heritage Toronto, http://heritagetoronto.org/torontos-horse-racing-history/.

Woodbine, 2019. Queen’s Plate 2019, https://woodbine.com/queensplate/.

Wikipedia, 2019. Queen’s Plate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Plate.

[1] If any reader can decipher this cryptic phrase, please let me know.

Lovers’ Walk

14 May 1938

When visitors come to Ottawa, they naturally gravitate to Parliament Hill to view the magnificent neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings, to stroll in the surrounding gardens where statues and memorials to Canadian sovereigns and statesmen abound and, of course, to take in the stunning views across the Ottawa River towards Hull and the Gatineau Hills. One hundred years ago, the number two Ottawa tourist destination was Lovers’ Walk—a pathway that wended its way around the Parliament Hill bluff roughly half-way up the escarpment. Surrounded by a hardwood forest and flowering shrubs, including lilacs and honeysuckle, the pathway commanded splendid views of the Ottawa River, with benches for the weary or for the amorous. Visitors to this tranquil wilderness could easily forget that they were in the heart of Canada’s capital city. According to a 1920s’ guide book, anyone who has not taken a stroll there “has not seen all the charms of the capital. In fact, he has missed one of the greatest of them.” Fast forward to today, you would be hard pressed to find an Ottawa resident who has any knowledge about this once-famous pathway.

LoversLaneAlbertype Company LAC PA-032894

Lovers’ Walk, Parliament Hill, Albertype Company, Library and Archives Canada, PA023894.

The history of Lovers’ Walk apparently dates back long before the arrival of the first Europeans to the Ottawa Valley. Accounts say that the pathway was used by Canada’s native peoples travelling along the southern banks of the Ottawa River. During the first half of the nineteenth century, raftsmen took this same route as a short cut moving to and from their homes in Lower Bytown and the timber chutes at the Chaudière Falls. Sometime after Confederation in 1867, the rough path was widened, decorative iron railings were fitted to protect users from falling, and staircases were installed at several points to give the general public ready access.

One story says that William Macdougall, the Minister of Public Works from 1867-69 in Sir John A. Macdonald’s first Dominion government, was responsible for upgrading the trail from a rough, dangerous track to a gentle path that even women dressed in the long gowns of the period could stroll along without fear of tripping. Macdougall, who was apparently a “hands on” type of Minister, stumbled upon the footpath when he was inspecting the construction of a ventilation shaft for the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Another story gives the credit for Lovers’ Walk to Thomas Seaton Scott, the Dominion Chief Architect from 1872-1881. Seaton was responsible for laying out the structured gardens that surround the Parliament Buildings as well as designing the Drill Hall on Elgin Street. According to this account, Seaton constructed the steps down from the formal gardens on top of Parliament Hill to allow the general public access to the wilder charms of the pathway.

Who actually came up with the name Lovers’ Walk is unknown. The first newspaper reference to this name appears in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in 1873. A visitor at about this time said that “no more appropriate name could be devised.”

LoversWalkDept. of InteriorLACPA-034227c.1920s

Steps down to Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Dept  of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-034227, circa 1920s.

In addition to tourists and Ottawa residents, the denizens of Parliament on top of the bluff also took advantage of the pathway, seduced by Lovers’ Walk’s winsome charms. Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Senators and ordinary Members of Parliament were all known to take breaks from the hard work of politicking to refresh themselves with a stroll through its sylvan beauty. Lovers’ Walk also attracted bird watchers. One avid amateur naturalist in the early 1930s spotted 59 different species from the pathway.

Lovers’ Walk could be accessed from either side of the Parliament Buildings. On the eastern side, there was a flight of stairs leading from roughly where the equestrian statue of Queen Elizabeth stands today. Another flight of stairs started from a location behind the Bytown Museum close to the locks on the Rideau Canal. On the western side of Parliament Hill at the end of Bank Street, behind the old Supreme Court of Canada, which was demolished in 1956, strollers entered the Walk through a stone gateway. Midway on the path there was a lookout with benches for those wanting to stop to rest or admire the views. There was also a lion-headed water fountain to refresh the thirsty. Unfortunately, strollers and lovers sometimes came across less-savoury elements who also frequented Lovers’ Walk. In 1875, there was a call for police to exclude “roughs” who amused themselves by throwing burrs onto ladies’ dresses. It was also advisable not to pick the flowers. In 1931, Mrs Pamela Cummings of 726 Cooper Street was fined $3 plus $2 court costs for stealing lilacs.

Lovers’ Walk was closed in the winter owing to snow and ice that made walking dangerous, but re-opened each spring, typically in May, once conditions were suitable. Given the steep nature of the hillside, there were frequent rockslides that were dealt with by the Department of Public Works. At the start of the First World War, the pathway was closed to the public and was patrolled by the Dominion Police. The authorities feared that German saboteurs could use Lovers’ Walk to access the ventilation shafts that aired the Centre Block. By cutting the iron protective grills, saboteurs could potentially plant explosives under the building and blow up Parliament. These precautions were discontinued after the Centre Block was destroyed by fire in February 1916.

LoversWalkTopley StudioLACPA-009322

Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA039-220.

By the 1930s, Lovers’ Walk was becoming less popular. With the Depression at its peak, the pathway had become the haunt of panhandlers and the homeless, and was considered unsafe for casual strollers. The Ottawa Journal reported that “the dregs of humanity would pan handle the lovers, even seek to molest them.” A “jungle” of tin-patched shacks built by homeless men sprung near the path close to the western entrance. The eastern end, close to the Canal locks, was described as the haunt of drunks whose wild shouts could be heard from men drinking denatured alcohol. Regular police patrols and RCMP efforts to dismantle the shacks did little. There were also dark allegations of immorality.

In the winter of 1937-38, two landslides washed out more than sixty feet of Lovers’ Walk. It never officially re-opened. On 14 May 1938, the Ottawa Citizen reported that to repair the pathway would cost over $30,000. Although the Senate Standing Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, chaired by Cairine Wilson, recommended that the Department of Public Works take steps to stabilize the cliff face and reopen Lovers’ Walk, the repairs were not undertaken. During a time of depressed economic conditions, $30,000 was simply too much.

Besides landslides and the presence of “undesirables,” another possible factor behind the closure of Lovers’ Walk was concerns about Government liability. In 1933, a young boy had climbed over a gate when Lovers’ Walk was closed for the winter. He slipped on the ice, fell 50 feet, and was lucky to get away with only a broken femur. His father unsuccessfully tried to sue the government for his doctor’s bill. In 1937, a man, who had been sitting on a guard railing, broke his spine when he lost his balance and plunged down the cliff.

Some say that it was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King who ordered the closure of Lovers’ Walk. However, another account says that King had wanted to keep it open and that it was only following extensive discussions with the RCMP, Public Works, and the Speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons that the decision to close it was reluctantly taken. High barricades were installed at both ends to stop people from using the path now deemed unsafe.

By the 1950s, Lovers’ Walk was a “desolate ruin of crumbling masonry, rusted and broken iron guardrails and rotten wooden shoring.” What was left of the pathway was overgrown and narrowed by erosion. Empty bottles, and other refuse littered the place—evidence that the deteriorating ruins of Lovers’ Walk remained a refuge for the homeless sleeping rough during the summer months. After an intoxicated painter fell to his death in 1960, a coroner’s jury recommended that what was left of the pathway be destroyed to ensure public safety.

Nothing was done. The area got a fearsome reputation, especially at night. By the late 1960s, secretaries and clerical staff working late on Parliament Hill were fearful of using the stairs, which cross Lovers’ Walk, to get to the parking area known as “the Pit,” despite, according to the Ottawa Journal, “routine flushing out by the RCMP foot patrols of winos, ‘rub-a-dubs,’ vagrants and, more recently, hippies from their dormitory-pad along Lovers’ Walk.” In July 1968, ex-MP Herman Laverdière was stabbed and robbed by hooligans when he went to investigate a scream that had emanated from the wooded area after he left his office at 11 pm.

Notwithstanding the increasingly bad press, there were attempts during the 1960s to restore Lovers’ Walk to its former glory. Members of all major parties championed the pathway at various times. But with the price tag rising steadily, the government in power always demurred owing to the difficulty in controlling erosion on the escarpment. In the 1980s, when Jean Pigott was Chair of the National Capital Commission, there was another look at restoring the pathway. Again, it was deemed too expensive. In 2000, the Department of Public Works looked at rebuilding the pathway given the historic nature of Lovers’ Walk and the magnificent views of the Ottawa River. Again, the issue was put on the back burner.

Most recently, LANDinc was commissioned by Public Works to develop a strategy “to restore and reforest the slopes [of Parliament Hill] to ensure long-term sustainability.” Over time, invasive species, including the lilacs, would be removed and replaced by endemic shrubs and trees. In 2014, Graebeck Construction won a $4.78 million contract to rehabilitate the western slope of Parliament Hill and the perimeter wall. There was, however, no mention of re-opening Lovers’ Walk to the general public.

 

Sources:

Capital Gems, 2018, Lover’s Walk Ruins, http://www.capitalgems.ca/lovers-walk-ruins.html.

Canada, 1938. Senate Journals, 18th Parliament, 3nd Session, Vol. 76, p. 344, 24 June.

———-, 1960. House of Commons Debates, 24 Parliament, 3rd Session: Vol. 6, p. 6605-06, 20 July 1960.

LANDinc, 200? Parliament Hill Stabilization,” http://www.landinc.ca/escarpmentwalkway-1.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1873. “Town Talk,” 7 July

————————-, 1875. “The Parliament Hill,” 20 March.

————————-, 1875. “The Lovers Walk,” 23 August.

————————-, 1926. “Lovers Walk As Seen In Seventies,” 24 December.

————————–, 1933. “Boy Injured On Parliament Hill,” 27 March.

————————-, 1937. “Has Romance Departed From Lovers’ Walk.” 16 January.

————————-, 1937. “When Sturdy Raftsmen Used Lovers’ Walk as Short Cut,” 6 February.

————————-, 1938. “Repair Works on Lovers’ Walk May Cost Over $30,000,” 14 May.

————————-, 1960. “Destroy Lovers’ Walk Jury’s Recommendation,” 20 May.

————————-, 1966. “Lovers find road to romance rocky on Parliament Hill,” 14 May.

————————-, 2000. “Behind the Hill: A Walk into history,” 22 May.

Ottawa Construction News, 2014. Graebeck Construction wins bid for Parliament Hill slope stabilization work, 1 February, https://ottawaconstructionnews.com/local-news/graebeck-construction-wins-bid-for-parliament-hill-slope-stabilization-work/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1931. “Magistrate Warns Flower-Bed Vandals,” 29 May.

————————–, 1937. “Fear Spine May Be Broken,” 15 June.

————————–, 1938. “Sweethearts Missing Famous Lovers’ Walk,” 18 July.

————————–, 1939. “May Not Re-open Lovers’ Walk,” 26 May.

————————–, 1939. “Remember When?” 8 July.

————————–, 1942. “Lovers’ Walk Ruled ‘Dangerous,’ It Won’t Be Reopened,” 31 July.

————————–, 1968. “Perils of ‘The Pit’ Worry Hill Security Staffs,” 12 July.

Urbsite, 2009. Lovers’ Walk,” http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2009/12/lovers-walk.html, 29 December.

Windsor Star (The), 1952. “Today in Ottawa,” 23 August.

 

The Cross-City Tunnel

5 May 1910

With the imminent opening of Ottawa’s light rail metro system with its 2.5-kilometre tunnel under the heart of the city, it’s timely to look back at an earlier plan to build a tunnel under the Capital that almost came to fruition more than a century ago.

On 5 May 1910, the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) announced its intention to build a new railway entrance into the Capital. Its arch rival, the Grand Truck Railway (G.T.R.), had already commenced construction of a new Central Station in downtown Ottawa located on the east side of the Rideau Canal.  Across the street from the station, the railway was also building a baronial-style hotel to be called the Château Laurier after the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Railway tunnel

Map of Ottawa that appeared in major Ottawa newspapers indicating the proposed route of the C.P.R. tracks in black running along the bed of the Rideau Canal (upper right) and under Wellington Street to LeBreton Flats, Ottawa Citizen 5 May 1910.

While the C.P.R. had been using the old Central Station for its transcontinental service since 1901, it was not happy with its access to downtown Ottawa. For starters, it had to use its competitor’s tracks and station for which the C.P.R. was forced to pay through the nose. Secondly, its trains coming to downtown Ottawa from points west had to take a long detour crossing the Prince of Wales Bridge located on the western outskirts of the city to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, travel through Hull, and then retrace their journey across the river, this time over the Inter-Provincial Bridge (a.k.a. the Alexandra Bridge), to arrive at the Central Station. As well, trains travelling westward from Central Station had to reverse their way into the C.P.R.’s Union Station located on Broad Street in LeBreton Flats. This was considered dangerous.

To correct these deficiencies, the C.P.R. proposed a massive re-structuring of Ottawa’s transportation infrastructure. First, it announced its intention of acquiring from the Dominion government the bed of the Rideau Canal from the head of the “Deep Cut,” at roughly Waverely Street, to Sappers’ Bridge (approximately were the Plaza Bridge is today). The railway would dam and drain the Canal from that point and run a new track along its bed from a rail hook-up near Nicholas Street to a point roughly opposite the new G.T.R. Central Station. To keep the water in the blocked Canal from going stagnant, the C.P.R. proposed either a drain to the Rideau River or a drain to the locks beside the Château Laurier Hotel.

Second, the railway proposed running a double-track line from the downtown terminal through a tunnel fifty feet underground that would go from Sappers’ bridge under much of Wellington Street before coming out near the Aqueduct in LeBreton Flats. There, the new track would link up with the existing C.P.R. tracks and proceed into Union Station.

By using this new tunnel, trains could travel from Union Station in LeBreton Flats to downtown Ottawa in five minutes, lopping off as much as 25 minutes in time from their former circuitous route. The C.P.R.’s Montreal Express train could also start at Union Station and stop at the downtown station before heading east.

While the cost, estimated at roughly $1 million, was considerable, the railway would no longer have to pay the exorbitant charges for the use of its competitor’s tracks. As well, the shorter route would reduce costs, and by saving time offer a more attractive travel option for C.P.R. customers. Backing into Union Station would also be a thing of the past.

From the outset, the C.P.R. realized that the Achilles’ heel of its plan was its proposal to dam the Rideau Canal. It argued that the Canal would be little missed as only a comparatively modest amount of freight moved along its length, especially down the portion of the Canal from Dow’s Lake to Sappers’ Bridge. It contended that opposition to closing it was based on sentiment rather than economics.

To set against the loss of the Canal, railway executives argued that more efficient train access to the downtown core would benefit Ottawa residents and help to boost the tourist business. The new entrance into Ottawa would also improve the city’s position on transcontinental rail routes and would help make a reality the Capital’s ambition of becoming a major railway hub.

The idea met widespread opposition, especially from the mercantile and shipping companies that depended on the Rideau Canal. At a meeting of Ottawa’s Board of Trade sentiment was unanimous against any interference with the Canal. Communities located on the Canal south of Ottawa also objected strenuously. Kingston was particularly vocal in its opposition. Ottawa’s Evening Journal opined that the C.P.R. “ought to be ashamed of itself” for proposing the destruction of a national water route.

Some critics thought the C.P.R. was not really serious, and that the plan was  a stalking horse for another objective, presumably some sort of concession from the government. They noted that the C.P.R. would face the difficult task of obtaining approvals from the Ottawa City Council, the Railway Commission, and the Dominion government, possibly even from the Imperial government in London, since the Canal was built for military purposes by the Imperial government. An unnamed Militia official told the Evening Journal that the Rideau Canal formed a “most important portion of the military defence system of this country.” The same official opined that “any government trying to interfere with the defence works of Canada and the Empire to suit a railway…would drive them out of office.” He thought the proposal was “a bluff.” Of course, for many, the idea of the Rideau Canal still being considered as part of Canada’s defence system bordered on the ridiculous.

At a presentation to Ottawa City Council, Mr. D. McNicoll, the C.P.R.’s Vice-President and General Manager, was asked if the proposal was a “bluff.” He replied: “I’m willing to spend a million to show it isn’t.” He added that the C.P.R.’s president, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, and the company’s Board of Directors had approved the plan and had appropriated the required funds. The only thing needed was the necessary approvals from the various levels of government.

Almost immediately, alternative plans were put forward that would avoid blocking the Rideau Canal. Mayor Hopewell came up with a daffy suggestion to build a 3,000-foot long curved bridge, with a pier on a small island in the middle of the Ottawa River, that would loop around Parliament Hill linking Victoria Island close to the Chaudière Falls in LeBreton Flats to a point near the locks of the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa. The C.P.R. rubbished the idea arguing that the mayor’s proposal would cost triple the amount of the tunnel idea, the grade would be too great for its trains, and that it would not solve the problem of having to back into Union Station at LeBreton Flats. Another plan that was briefly considered was shifting the Rideau Canal twenty feet to the west from the Deep Cut to Central Station to allow for the construction of additional C.P.R. lines into Central Station.

An alternative that gained more traction was proposed by Mr N. Cauchon of the engineering firm Cauchon & Haycock who worked as a consultant to the C.P.R. To address the concerns of shippers while sticking with the C.P.R.’s proposal, Cauchon suggested digging a new canal from Dow’s Lake to the Ottawa River using the same route through Mechanicsville first proposed by British engineers in the 1820s. The new canal outlet would be situated above the Chaudière Falls and hence require a new set of locks to pass the rapids to be located where the timber slide was.

Cauchon envisaged linking the Rideau Canal system with the Georgian Bay Ship Canal then under consideration by the Dominion government.  The Georgian Bay Ship Canal was a massive construction project aimed at permitting ocean-going freighters to transport grain from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean via a canal that linked Lake Huron with the St Lawrence River and from there the Atlantic Ocean via the French River, Lake Nipissing, the Mattawa River and the Ottawa River.

Ottawa City Council was receptive to the C.P.R.’s desire to have a new entrance to the Capital as long as the Rideau Canal was not blocked. Working with the Board of Trade, it commissioned two engineers to examine a variety of proposals from a citywide perspective. The engineers endorsed Cauchon’s plan of a cross-town tunnel combined with re-routing the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River at Dow’s Lake. However, they proposed that both the C.P.R. and the G.T.R. use the tunnel to Central Station. They also recommended that the City buy and pull up the cross-city G.T.R. tracks that ran along Isabella Street and hindered Ottawa’s growth to the south. In their place, they advised the City to build a scenic boulevard and resell the adjoining land for development or parks. As well, they recommended that the new portion of the Rideau Canal through Mechanicsville and Hintonburg should be deep enough to accommodate the ocean-going vessels using the Georgian Bay Ship Canal with appropriate harbour and port facilities constructed at the juncture of the diverted Canal and the Ottawa River. They also thought that a large factory site could be constructed for manufacturing industries alongside the Mechanicsville waterfront on the Ottawa River heading westward.  As for the old locks beside the Château Laurier Hotel, one suggestion was to re-purpose them as public swimming baths. Mayor Hopewell thought that a series of small cascades over each lock gate would look very pretty lit up at night.

The engineers’ proposal was predicated on the Georgian Bay Ship Canal being completed within five to six years. The engineers also hoped that the Dominion Government could be persuaded to contribute the funds needed to construct the diverted Rideau Canal since the estimated cost only represented an additional 1-2 per cent of the $125 million price tag for the Georgian Bay Ship Canal.

In April 1911, roughly eleven months after the C.P.R. had announced its plan for a tunnel, Ottawa City Council endorsed the engineers’ report with the recommendation that the City begin negotiations with the G.T.R. over acquiring its cross-city tracks. However, many remained sceptical. One member of Council thought that people were “insane” if they believed that C.P.R. would build a tunnel under Wellington Street within 25 years.

How right the councillor was! Problems immediately arose. First, the G.T.R. refused to sell its cross-city tracks to the City. Second, the Dominion government, at best lukewarm to the City’s grand design, was not willing to pay for diverting the Rideau Canal or to closing it at the Deep Cut. Third, plans to build the Georgian Bay Ship Canal fizzled after Laurier’s Liberal Party was defeated in the 1911 General Election. They were later abandoned, a victim of cost considerations and changing government priorities.

With the proposal to divert the Rideau Canal a non-starter, a modified plan involving narrowing it from the Deep Cut to Sappers’ Bridge to provide space for the C.P.R. tracks to come into downtown Ottawa briefly gave the tunnel proposal new life. As an adjunct to this modified proposal, the C.P.R. planned to locate its downtown station on Canal Street to the south of Sappers’ Bridge on the western side of the Canal across the Canal from the G.T.R. station; rumour had it on the site of the Russell Hotel.

Although the C.P.R. evinced its willingness to start construction as soon as the municipal and Dominion governments gave their approval, the railway seemed to lose interest despite Vice President McNicoll repeatedly saying that the plan was “not dead, but sleeping.” However, by 1913, the tunnel proposal was abandoned.

Ultimately, the C.P.R. negotiated a new deal with the G.T.R. to use the new downtown Central Station which in 1920 was renamed Union Station following the closure of the old Union Station in LeBreton Flats. The G.T.R.’s cross-city tracks (now owed by its successor company, the Canadian National Railway) were finally pulled up during the 1950s. Instead of becoming a scenic boulevard, the site of the old tracks became the location of a cross-city highway—the Queensway. While the Georgian Bay Ship Canal never got off of the drawing board, the St Lawrence Seaway, which allowed ocean-going ships to go from the Great Lakes to Montreal and beyond, was opened in 1959.

As a final sidebar to this story, on 4 May 2018, virtually 108 years to the day from when news of the C.P.R.’s intention to build a cross-town train tunnel became public, city officials, politicians, and company representatives converged on the eastern end of the LRT to drive in a ceremonial “last spike” in the Confederation Line’s tunnel under the city of Ottawa. Similar to its proposed early twentieth century counterpart, the tunnel is roughly 50 feet underground, and runs from a location near Ottawa University to LeBreton Flats. Instead of following the C.P.R.’s route below Wellington Street, it is located two blocks further south under Queen Street.

Sources:

CBC, 2018. “There was no last spike, but the Confederation Line track is finished,” 4 May, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/lrt-tunnel-track-finished-1.4649177.

Churcher, Colin, 2018, The Railways of Ottawa, https://churcher.crcml.org/circle/findings.htm#CCRUnion.

Evening Journal, 1910. “C.P.R. Want To Build A Tunnel Under The City,” 6 May.

——————–, 1910. “Will Consider Other Scheme,” 10 May.

——————–, 1910. “Mr. M’Nicoll Explains C.P.R. Tunnel Scheme,” 8 June.

——————–, 1910. “Board Of Trade Is Opposed To Tunnel,” 17 June.

——————-, 1910. “Mayor’s Plan Went Further,” 8 July.

——————-, 1910. “Proposed Diversion Of The Canal By Way Of Dow’s Lake And The Chaudiere,” 16 July.

——————, 1910. “New Scheme For A C.P.R. Entrance To The City,” 8 December.

——————, 1911. “Experts’ Report Railway Entrance,” 3 April.

——————, 1911. “Mr. Tye’s Solution Ottawa’s Problem,” 4 April.

——————, 1911. “How Engineer Tye Would Solve Ottawa’s Problem Of The Railways,” 4 April.

——————, 1911. “Government Should Pay,” 5 April.

——————, 1911. “Approved The Entrance Plan.” 8 April.

——————, 1911. “Abandon Moving Canal: New City Entrance Plan,” 19 August.

——————, 1911. “Approves Of Tunnel,” 22 August.

——————, 1912. “States C.P.R. Scheme Is Certainty Say V-P M’Nicoll, 25 July.

——————-, 1913, “Revivies Tunnel Scheme,” 21 March.

——————-, 1913. “Is C.P.R. To Abandon Its Tunnel Scheme Now?” 24 April.

——————-, 1913. “C.P.R. Tunnel Scheme Is Temporarily Abandoned,” 18 June.

——————-, 1913. “C.P.R. Finally Abandons Scheme For Local Tunnel,” 9 September.

Griffiths, John, 2007. “Broad Street Station in Ottawa,” Branchline, http://www.bytownrailwaysociety.ca/phocadownload/branchline/2007/2007-06.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen, 1910. “Gigantic Project of C.P.R. — New Railway Entrance And Underground Line Through The City,” 5 May.

—————–, 1910. “The C.P.R. Entrance,” 13 May.

—————–, 1910. “C.P.R. Entrance,” 31 May.

—————–, 1910. “Plan Not Suitable,” 2 June.

—————–, 1910. “C.P.R. Asks City To Approve Plans New Railway Entrance,” 8 June.

—————–, 1910. “See Ocean-Going Ships In Ottawa Adjunct Of C.P.R. Tunnel Scheme, 15 September.

—————-, 1910. “Ask Outside Engineer To Report On Feasibility Of C.P.R. Tunnel,” 22 October.

——————, 1911. Engineers’ Report On Railway Entrance Embraces C.P.R. Canal Closing Plan, 3 April.

—————–, 1911. “Minister Favors Joining Canals,” 7 April.

—————–, 1912. “Tunnel May Be Held Up,” 28 May.

OTrain, Confederation Line, 2018, https://www.ligneconfederationline.ca/the-build/pimisi/overview/.

 

Sunday Shopping

7 June 1992

Millennials and post-Millennials may be astounded to learn that as little as a generation ago shopping on Sundays was not permitted except under very limited circumstances. Service stations could remain open as could corner stores, and shops in designated tourist zones, such as Ottawa’s Byward Market. However, shopping malls and grocery stores were required to be closed. And people didn’t even dream of buying alcohol on a Sunday. The reason was the Lord’s Day Act which forbade shopping on Sunday, a.k.a. the Sabbath.

Codex

The Codex Theodosianus, which was compiled by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, was a collection of ancient Roman laws, Wikipedia.

A prohibition on Sunday business has a very old pedigree, dating back to 321 A.D. to the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. All city residents and tradesmen were required to rest on Sunday. There were exceptions where a cessation of work was not practical such as in agriculture. The interesting thing is that this first Sunday shopping ban occurred during pagan times. In 386 A.D., shortly after Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, the first reference to the “Lord’s Day” appears. Contained in the Codex Theodosianus, the law stated that “on the day of the sun, properly called the Lord’s Day, by our ancestors, let there be a cessation of lawsuits, business and indictments.”

Similar laws were promulgated in England during Saxon times and after the Norman Conquest in 1066. There were, however, slippages in practices during the fourteenth and fifteen centuries when Sunday increasingly became a market day and taverns remained open, much to the displeasure of the Church. In 1448, the Sunday Fairs Act was passed banning all fairs and markets on a Sunday, except for necessary “victuals” and four harvest Sundays. In the seventeenth century, amidst growing Puritanism, three more Sunday Observance Acts were passed tightening restrictions, including a ban on recreation and travelling. Church service attendance was, of course, mandatory.

After the conquest of Quebec in 1763, the four English Sunday observance laws applied to what was to become Canada, as did the 1780 English Act for Preventing Certain Abuses and Profanations on the Lord’s Day, called Sunday. In 1845, under pressure from Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the legislature of the Province of Canada passed its own strict Sunday observance act for Upper Canada called “An Act to Prevent the Profanation of the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday. Prohibited were all “worldly labour, business or work” as well as tippling, public political meetings, skittles, ball, football, racket, or any other noisy game, gambling, foot races, horse races, swimming, fishing, hunting, or shooting. In other words, anything that was fun was forbidden. There were exceptions. If you were attacked by a wolf, you could shoot it. Also, conveying travellers and Her Majesty’s mail, selling drugs or medicine, works of charity and “other such works of necessity” were permitted.

The rationale for this law was to ensure that everybody spent Sunday in prayer or doing godly things rather than anything that might be considered worldly or pleasurable. Note for the religiously strict even laughing was frowned upon as there is no reference to Christ laughing in the Bible.

The Bytown City Council passed its own Sunday By-law in 1847 to prevent “nuisances.” Such nuisances including anybody who kept open a grocery or eating house on the Sabbath-day within the limits of the Town. The penalty was up to 25 shillings.

For the most part, the Sunday Observance Acts were effective in shutting down virtually all business. The one major exception—the transmission of the mail on Sundays—was very controversial. Church groups protested.  In 1850, Bytown inhabitants also complained, sending a memorial to the Governor General noting “with deep regret the extensive and legalized system of Sabbath desecration caused by the transmission of Her Majesty’s mail, the opening of Post Offices, and the delivery of letter and papers on the Lord’s Day.” The government resisted such entreaties, and the mail continued.

Lord's Day Act

Article that appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 12 June 1876

Of course, not everybody obeyed the law. Certain industries in remote areas, such as forestry and mining, were serial offenders. As well, those in domestic service didn’t seem to qualify for a day of rest.

Many complained about boys playing ball or cricket in Ottawa’s streets and on vacant lots on Sundays. Some took umbrage at kids fishing on the Sabbath in the Rideau River at Hogsback, especially when they openly carried fishing poles and fish past the residences of “respectable” people. “Unless they drop their evil practices they will be summarily brought to justice.”  On one occasion, five “delinquents” were fined $1 each plus court costs for fishing and bathing on the Sabbath.

In 1866-67, there was an extensive debate in the Daily Citizen on whether skating on a Sunday was legal.  Writing under the pseudonym “Christian Liberty,” one citizen maintained that “there was no statute, Imperial or Provincial, which made Sunday skating illegal. “Ruris” wrote that “whether or not there be such a law…, [he] was not prepared to skate” and that “there is an enactment of the statute of the Book of the King of kings which says remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” “Anti-Cant” called Sabbatarians (people who believe in a literal reading of the of the fourth Commandment such as Ruris), “a set of humbugs and hypocrites.” He added “You big boys and little, who, after close confinement for six days, want to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh, invigorating air of Heaven on the seventh, slide and skate away, and get roses in your cheeks, and don’t be afraid of the police.”

The definition of a “work of necessity” was also unclear. In July 1877, Chief Langrell of the Ottawa Police instructed his men to tell all milk dealers that they must observe the Sabbath or face the consequences—a fine of up to $50. This injunction set off a wave of protest. Ottawa police were called the “milk inquisition” and that the Chief was “elevating public morality through the medium of the milk pail.” After it was pointed out that milk, especially at the height of an Ottawa summer, was a perishable product and that children needed to drink fresh not sour milk, Chief Langrell relented. However, a few years later, five barbers were less successful. They received summons for shaving customers on the Sabbath. One irate citizen wrote that “it certainly seems ridiculous that bathing or shaving or any other toilet operation should be a crime on Sunday.”

Sunday laws

Sunday Laws in Ontario, early 20th century, Source: Seventh Day Adventist Church

In 1888, Sabbatarian churches formed the Ontario Lord’s Day Alliance to fight an emerging new unholy threat to Sabbath observance—the Sunday operation of streetcars in Ontario. After legal challenges, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the Lord’s Day Act did not apply to streetcars, railways, telegraph, canal, and steamship companies that operated under a Dominion charter. Appealed again, the case went to the Privy Council in London. In a shocking move to Sabbatarians, the Privy Council ruled in 1903 that the entire Ontario Lord’s Day Act was ultra vires, since criminal law was a Dominion responsibility under the British North America Act.

The Dominion Lord’s Day Alliance fought back with its members launching a campaign to pressure the Laurier Government to pass a federal Lord’s Day Act. In 1905 two members of the Alliance came to Ottawa to address church groups. At Erksine Presbyterian Church, they argued that “our national well-being required that the sacredness of the Sabbath be preserved.”

In 1906, the Federal Government complied, passing the Act over the opposition of other religious groups, including Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews, who worship on Saturdays. Sunday business, including sports, was sharply circumscribed. There was, however, a list of exclusions, including work of domestic servants and health care workers, bakers after 4pm, fishermen after 6pm and newspaper operators after 8pm. Telegraphs, telephones, the postal service, electrical works, animal husbandry, and certain industrial repairs were also permitted. Maple syrup production was also deemed a work of necessity.

During the Second World War, Sunday restrictions eased slightly. Cinemas in some cities opened on Sundays to provide entertainment for the troops. However, war didn’t stop the Lord’s Day Alliance from trying to stop market gardeners from tending their gardens on Sundays in 1943.

In 1950, Ontario passed the Lord’s Day (Ontario) Act, which complemented the federal law but permitted municipalities to decide for themselves whether to permit sporting events on Sunday afternoons. Here in Ottawa, it took three public votes on the issue before the Ottawa Rough Riders were finally allowed to play football on Sundays starting in 1965.

To reinforce the provincial Lord’s Day Act, the Ontario government passed the Retail Business Holidays Act in 1975 which prohibited most retail stores from operating on a Sunday. The cited reason was to give workers a common day of pause. Now there was two Ontario laws banning Sunday shopping, one religious and one ostensibly secular.

But by the 1980s, popular opinion was beginning to shift in favour of Sunday shopping. In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd that the Lord’s Day Act was unconstitutional under section 2b (freedom of thought, belief opinion and expression) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Expecting the Retail Business Holiday Act to also be found unconstitutional, stores in Ontario began to open illegally on Sundays. However, the Supreme Court surprised everybody by ruling in the government’s favour. Stores again closed their doors.

Pressure for change shifted to the political front. Libertarian groups, such as the Freedom Party of Ontario, and the Committee for Fair Shopping, a coalition of grocery store chains, lobbied for freedom of choice. Border communities also lobbied for change as U.S. shops were open on Sundays and attracted Canadian customers. In 1989, the Ontario government dumped the issue into the laps of municipalities by introducing the “local option,” where municipalities could decide whether stores in their jurisdictions could open on Sundays. This satisfied nobody.

Sunday shopping

Government Announcement regarding Sunday Shopping, Ottawa Citizen, 8 June 1992.

In June 1990, an Ontario High Court judge ruled the Retail Business Holiday Act unconstitutional. Stores in Ontario, including Ottawa, reopened on Sundays. However, eight months later, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision, much to the delight of organized labour and church groups. Subsequently, three Nepean stores, Fresh Fruit Co on Robertson Road, Top Banana on Merivale Road, and Leather Liquidation also on Merivale Road, were charged with illegally doing business on a Sunday.

But the public had a taste of the forbidden fruit and found it delicious. Public opinion polls began to strongly favour Sunday shopping. At the beginning of June 1992, the NDP government of Bob Rae, which had previously insisted on a “common pause day to strengthen the family and community life while protecting small businesses and the rights of workers,” caved under the pressure. Over the protests of labour unions and the complaints of a psychologist who argued that Sunday shopping would do serious psychological harm to families, the Rae government allowed unfettered Sunday shopping.   A few days later, on Sunday, 7 June 1992, malls and grocery stores opened for business across the province, including Ottawa. A new era in retailing had begun.

On that first day of Sunday shopping in Ottawa, “mom and pop” stores apparently took a beating as shoppers flocked to the malls. Small independent fruit stores as well as Byward Market shops also experienced a fall in revenues. The iconic Boushey’s Fruit Market on Elgin Street posted a 25 per cent decline in sales, and worried that it might have to lay off staff.

In the event, a new retail equilibrium emerged over time. Contrary to the fears of some, a 2005 study concluded that stores, on average, did not increase the hours of work of existing employees but instead hired a significant number of new employees to accommodate Sunday shopping. Also contrary to some church fears, Sunday shopping did not lead to social Armageddon, though church attendance continued its decline. As for Boushey’s, the store survived the introduction of Sunday shopping and lasted another 24 years. It closed its doors in 2016. Financial reasons were not a factor.

 

Sources:

CBC. 2016. “Boushey’s Fruit Market on Elgin Street closing after 70 years in business,” 31 May, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/bousheys-grocery-elgin-closing-1.3608630.

Canada, Province of, 1845. An Act to prevent the Profanation of the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, in Upper Canada, https://bnald.lib.unb.ca/sites/default/files/UnC.1845.ch%2045.pdf.

Canada, 1906, The Lord’s Day Act, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/History_of_Seventh-day_Adventist_freedom_of_religion_in_Canada.

Crocker, Rev. Chris W. 2013. A Worthy Cause: The Lord’s Day in the Baptist Press Amongst Nineteenth-Century, Upper Canadian Regular Baptists,  McMaster Divinity College, https://macsphere.mcmaster.ca/bitstream/11375/16873/1/Crocker%20Chris.pdf.

Freedom Party of Ontario, 2012. Sunday Shopping in Ontario: The 85 year Ban and its Defeat, http://www.freedomparty.on.ca/sundayshopping/.

Garner, Hugh 1956. “How Canada’s ‘blue-law’ busybodies boss you on Sunday,” Liberty, November, http://www.freedomparty.on.ca/sundayshopping/1955-11-xx.Liberty-Magazine.blue-law-busibodies.pdf.

Ontario Law Reform Committee, 1970. Report on Sunday Observance Legislation, Department of Justice, http://www.ontla.on.ca/library/repository/mon/27010/22192.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen, 1861. “Fall Assizes,” 25 October.

—————–, 1869. “Vigilant,” 13 July.

——————, 1865. “Sabbath Breakers,” 20 June.

——————, 1876. “Disgraceful,” 12 June.

——————, 1877. “Sabbath Desecration,” 9 July.

——————, 1877. “No title,” 24 July.

——————, 1877. “Not title,” 27 July.

——————, 1903. “Lord’s Day Act,” 15 July.

——————. 1992. “Its Been Brutal,” 8 June.

——————, 1883. “Sunday Shaving,” 3 July.

——————, 1990. “Attention, Sunday Shoppers,” 6 July.

——————, 1991. “NDP can’t keep its promises,” 12 February.

——————, 1991. “Sunday Shopping,” 21 March.

——————, 1991.  “Sunday Shopping,” 30 June.

——————, 1991. “Bill Allows 4 Weeks of Sunday Shopping,” 26 November.

——————. 1992. “Bedeviled!” 30 May.

——————. 1992. “Stores open Sunday,” 4 June.

——————, 1992. “It’s Been Brutal,” 8 June.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1905. “Preserving The Sabbath,” 8 May.

Packet, 1847. “By-Law to prevent Nuisances,” 4 December.

——–, 1850 “Sabbath Desecration,” 26 January.

——–, 1850. “Memorial of the Inhabitants of Bytown and its Vicinity,” 20 July.

Skuterud, Mikal, 2005. “The impact of Sunday shopping one employment and hours of work in the retail industry: evidence from Canada,” European Economic Review, Vol. 49, Issue 8, November, pp. 1953-1978.

Wikiwand, 2019. History of Seventh-Day Adventist freedom of religion in Canada, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/History_of_Seventh-day_Adventist_freedom_of_religion_in_Canada.

 

The OC Transpo Massacre

6 April, 1999

Of all of the events that have occurred through Ottawa’s history, one of the most tragic is the OC Transpo Massacre. For many Ottawa residents, the terrible events of 6 April 1999 are seared into their memory. They will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. While time heals, the scars remain both for the families directly affected, as well for Ottawa more generally. In a way, the city lost its innocence that day. We discovered that the mass shootings that we associate with places far away can happen in peaceful, law-abiding Ottawa.

Pierre Lebrun

Pierre Lebrun, Murderopedia

It began on a normal, early spring, Tuesday afternoon. At about 2.30 pm, Pierre Lebrun, a shy, 40-year old man who had left OC Transpo’s employ the previous January, pulled into the bus company’s garage at 1500 St. Laurent Boulevard in the city’s east end. He parked his 1997 Pontiac Sunfire a few yards away from a supervisor’s office. After getting out of his car, he pulled out a high-powered, Remington, pump-action rifle capable of killing a moose from a mile away. Entering the building, Lebrun shouted out a line from the movie The Terminator—It’s Judgement Day!

Lebrun quickly fired his first shot that reportedly hit a steel drum before going through a metal locker and lodging in a computer monitor. Fragments struck two men, Richard Guertin and Joe Casagrande, injuring them, fortunately not seriously. Both fled down a hall, shouting for someone to call 911. A message quickly went out over the PA system that there was a man in the garage with a loaded gun. The more than 150 occupants of the building tried to get out of the building or hid in lockers or under tables.

Walking down a hallway, Lebrun claimed his first victim, shipper Brian Guay, 46, shooting him in the chest. Stepping over Guay’s prostrate body, Lebrun continued into the interior of the garage where a group of people were taking a coffee break at the back of a bus. The workers watched in horror as Lebrun fired a third time, killing mechanic Harry Schoenmakers, 44, before entering the bus where the terrified workers were standing. With his gun across his shoulder, he swore at them and snarled You think it’s funny now. Lebrun did not shoot but instead left the garage bay, set a small fire in a chemical room, and proceeded to a store room where four men were sitting. There, Lebrun claimed his third and fourth victims, Clare Davidson, 52, and David Lemay, 35.

Leaving the store room, Lebrun walked upstairs to a loft that overlooked the engine room. A few seconds later, another shot rang out. Lebrun had killed himself. His pockets were full of ammunition. From the time, he entered the garage to the time he took his only life was only a matter of minutes.

Outside the garage, the emergency 911 system receive a call at 2.39 pm that there was a shooter at the OC Transpo garage. The first police arrived at 2.44 pm, with the heavily armed tactical unit arriving on the scene at 2.55 pm. But they didn’t know what they were dealing with. They moved cautiously. Police entered the building at 3.47 pm and began to methodically comb the rooms and buses in the garage. Meanwhile, OC Transpo workers and onlookers waited outside, fearful of the fate of their colleagues and friends. By 6 pm, the police had found Pierre Lebrun’s body in a pool of blood and could begin to stand down.

Information about Pierre Lebrun quickly surfaced. He had been born in Northern Ontario in the small town of Moonbeam located south-east of Kapuskasing. A quiet child with a stammer, he had been teased by other children throughout his childhood. His mother said he had been a “good son.” He had started working for OC Transpo in the mid-1980s, but had quit his job as an audit clerk in January 1999. He had no criminal record.

Originally hired as a bus driver, he had been transferred to jobs that did not require as much interaction with people. A quiet man, who struggled with depression, he had been at the receiving end of jabs and taunts about his speech impediment from certain co-workers. Some said that the harassment got worse after a 1996 transit strike during which Lebrun had gone on sick leave on the advice of a doctor rather than joining the picket line with his striking colleagues. In 1997, Lebrun was fired after he hit a co-worker for allegedly making fun of his stammer. After the union intervened in his support, management rehired Lebrun on the proviso that he attend anger management counselling. But problems continued. Lebrun actually approached Al Loney, the chairman of the OC Transit Commission, to complain about two colleagues. However, Lebrun did not provide details and asked Loney not to intervene. Instead, Lebrun said would go to his supervisor.

After leaving the employ of OC Transpo early in 1999, Lebrun travelled by car across Canada, spending time in British Columbia before heading south to Las Vegas. After losing his money gambling, he drove directly back to Ottawa, arriving in the capital shortly before his assault on the OC Transpo garage. He left a suicide note for his parents. In it, he said that he knew that he was “going to commit an unforgiveable act,” but that he had “no choice.” He said he feared for his life and that people from the union had followed him out west and that they had “destroyed his life.” He added that OC Transpo and the union “can’t hid from what they do to me,” that he was “not crazy, but very intelligent, too intelligent.” He also listed the names of four co-workers who he didn’t like, and three who had tried to help him. None of Lebrun’s victims’ names appeared on his “hate list;” they were simply bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the days that followed the tragic event, grieving families, OC Transpo employees, and the broader community tried to come to terms with what had happened. An impromptu memorial of flowers and black ribbons appeared in front of the bus company’s head office on St. Laurent Boulevard. Among the tributes was a poem by Stacey Lemay, the daughter of David Lemay, entitled “My Dad, My Friend.” The poem was also read out over the intercom at Stacey’s high school. Three days after the shootings, buses across North America pulled over at 2.45 pm to observe a minute of silence as a tribute to their fallen comrades.

Later, an official five-member Coroner’s jury sat down to hear the evidence about what happened that fateful day and what might have provoked Pierre Lebrun’s actions. On their first day on the job, members of the jury along with the general public were shocked to learn that the events of 6 April 1999 had claimed another life. A co-worker of Lebrun had hanged himself out of remorse. In a suicide note, he wrote that Lebrun had talked to him about shooting his managers but the co-worker had said nothing. He thought it had been a dark fantasy, not something Lebrun would ever do.

For eight weeks, the jury listened to testimony of OC Transpo management and workers, police, doctors, family members and other witnesses. Portions of the 911 call were played out, and jury members were taken on a tour of the crime scene. Time was spent examining how long it took for the police to respond, and how Lebrun had obtained ammunition for his rifle despite his firearm licence having expired. A detailed step-by-step analysis was made of Lebrun’s movements and actions from the moment he arrived at the OC Transpo garage until he killed himself. Much attention was also placed on the work environment at the OC Transpo garage. It was very clear that management-worker relations had been poor for some time. One witness claimed that some managers didn’t treated their employees as human beings.  Worker morale was described as being low prior to the shooting.

Witnesses also testified that Lebrun had been a “loner” who had been repeatedly teased because of his stammer. A forensic psychiatrist argued that workplace harassment and what he called “a poisoned work environment” were factors in the tragedy. The 1997 incident when Lebrun had gone “berserk” and slapped a co-worker was also scrutinized. Testimony revealed that after the incident Lebrun had not reached “set goals” in his required anger management training. As well, co-worker concerns about Lebrun’s behaviour had been behind his transfer to the audit position.

After eight weeks of testimony, the coroner’s jury came out with 77 recommendations of which 51 applied directly to OC Transpo. Sixteen recommendations addressed workplace harassment issues, including the development and implementation of workplace violence and harassment prevention policies and procedures by OC Transpo, and the delivery of a respectful workplace training program to all employees. The jury demanded zero tolerance for harassment and violence in the workplace. A further twelve recommendations were directed at workplace safety and security concerns, including such things as the establishment of emergency escape plans, the installation of emergency “pick-up” phones similar to ones in place at transit stops, and the accessibility of maps and blueprints of all buildings to police and other emergency workers.  Other recommendations were given to the police and government.

Most of the recommendations were quickly adopted. However, it took many years for the provinces to update their legislation to require employers to take preventative measures against workplace harassment and violence.  Quebec was the first, amending in 2004 its Act Respecting Labour Standards to ensure employees have the right to a working environment that is free from psychological harassment. Employers were also required to introduce measures to prevent such harassment. Manitoba and Saskatchewan followed in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Ontario’s Bill 168, which was an amendment to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, came into force in 2010. Under the legislation, employers are, among other things, required to determine the risks of workplace harassment and violence, and develop policies for investigating employee complaints and incidents. In 2016, Bill 132, otherwise known as the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, came into force. The new legislation expanded the definition of workplace harassment to include sexual harassment. It also broadened employer responsibilities to conduct investigations into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was additionally amended to empower inspectors to require an employer to commission a report made by an unbiased person into a harassment incident or complaint. As well, the Limitations Act was amended to permit the prosecution of cases that occurred prior to the introduction of the Act.

With the laws and regulations in place, implementation is now key. We can only hope that instances of workplace violence and harassment are addressed early enough that similar future tragedies are averted.

Sources:

Bawden, Sean, 2015. “Bill 132… Picking up where Bill 168 left off?”  Labour Pains, 7 November.

Branswell, Brenda, 200. “Pierre Lebrun and his bloody rampage through an OC Transpo building,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 28 April.

CBC News, 2000. “OC Transpo Inquest rocked by revelation,” 10 January.

————–, 2000. “List of recommendation after OC Transpo inquiry,” 29 February.

City of Ottawa, 2001. “Report to Transportation and Transit Committee and Council,” 18 April.

Globe and Mail (The), 2000. “Shooting rampage had deadly echo,” 7 January.

Miniken Employment Lawyers, 2010. “Bill  168 – Ontario’s Law on Workplace Violence and Harassment,” https://www.minkenemploymentlawyers.com/employment-law-issues/bill-168-ontarios-law-on-workplace-violence-and-harassment/.

Murderpedia, 2000(?) “Pierre Lebrun,” http://murderpedia.org/male.L/l/lebrun-pierre.htm.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1999. “Scene ‘frantic’ after carnage,” 7 April.

————————-, 1999. “Massacre at OC Transpo,” 7 April.

————————-, 1999. “A reminder of what really matters,” 8 April

————————-, 1999. “Impromptu memorial,” 9 April.

————————-, 1999. “Transit services to pause in continent-wide tribute.” 9 April.

————————-, 1999. “Ridicule made ‘good son’ a mass killer.” 9 April.

————————-, 2000. “Jury’s still out on OC Transpo,” 1 March.

————————-, 2000. “OC Transpo Inquest Chronology,” 1 March.

Ottawa Sun (The|), 2013. “OC Transpo driver remembers deadly 1999 shooting,” 19 September.

RH Proactive Inc. 2016. “Bill 132: Prevent Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Workplace,” http://bill132.ca/.

 

 

The Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy

2 February 1907 and 29 February 1908

Each November, thousands of rabid Canadian football fans huddle in the freezing cold, or more typically settle back on their chesterfields, to watch the Grey Cup game that pits the Canadian Football League’s Western Division Champions against the Eastern Division Champions in the quest for bragging rights as Canada’s best football team. The trophy was first given by Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, in 1909 as the top prize in Canadian amateur rugby football. The first Grey Cup champions were the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

Lord Grey

Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911

During his term as Governor General from 1904 to 1911, Lord Grey handed out trophies for all sorts of events, including skating, horse racing, and even for the best dog in show at the Ottawa Kennel Club championships. Not to be outdone, Lady Grey had her own award for best Ottawa garden. Of all these prizes, the Grey Cup is probably the only one that has survived. However, for a few years, the Grey Trophy, properly known as the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy, was likely the best known of all of Lord Grey’s awards, and was highly coveted across the country.

Government House announced the trophy in late 1906 as means of promoting the performing arts in Canada and Newfoundland, then a separate dominion. Very early on, it was decided to offer two trophies, one for the country’s top amateur musical or choral group, and another for the best amateur theatrical company. Entrants were initially limited to provincial capitals, including St. John’s, and cities with a population of more than 50,000. Multiple city entries were permitted though it was expected that provincial government houses would limit the numbers to about fourteen, enough for two shows per evening during a week-long musical and dramatic extravaganza. Colonel J. Hanbury-Williams, the Governor General’s secretary, who was also a friend of Rudyard Kipling, took charge of the event, with the help of at least eight committees that dealt with such things as transportation, finance, entertainment, and the press. There was also a special committee for women. Provincial chairmen were also appointed.

The competition was open to amateurs, defined as persons who had not “lived by the profession” within the previous five years. However, the rule was not intended to exclude those that had been paid a nominal amount for performing in a choir or with a dramatic organization. The performances of each company would be limited to ninety minutes, and no company could have more than 50 members.

The first competition was held in Ottawa from 28 January to 2 February 1907 at the Russell Theatre. Sixteen companies—eight musical and eight dramatic—entered the competition from Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s. To ensure impartiality, the judges for the competition were American. George Chadwick, the director of the New England Conservatory in Boston judged the musical entries. Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Langdon Mitchell, a Broadway playwright, judged the dramatic productions.

Earl Grey Trophy ii

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy. The trophy was designed and executed by Louis Philippe Hébert from suggestions of Lord Grey. The woman holding the mask symbolizes drama while the man holding the lyre symbolizes music. The fence between the two figures indicates that music and drama have their own territories. Each figure has a foot on the lowest rail to indicate a willingness to cross onto the other side. See Souvenir Programme, the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition, Ottawa 1912.

Competitors had to pay their own way to Ottawa but the transportation committee organized discount fares on the railways. Group rates were also provided by area hotels, though the main venue hotel was the Victoria Hotel in Alymer which was completely booked for the event. In downtown Ottawa, a Reception Committee organized a city “rendezvous” spot at the Racket Club at 153 Metcalfe Street where a dancing hall was converted into a large, temporary drawing room complete with settees, comfortable arm chairs, and other amenities. There, performers, who were made honorary members for the competition, could relax, write letters, use the telephone, or read newspapers. It was staffed throughout the week with volunteers. Social events were organized for contestants, including a skating and toboggan party at Rideau Hall hosted by Lord and Lady Grey. There was also a tea at the Wright’s Greenhouse, a seven-acre, glass-covered conservatory, in Aylmer.

Two shows were held each evening through the week at the Russell Theatre—one musical and one dramatic—with ticket prices of up to $1. Ottawa led off the competition on the first evening with the D.F.P. Minstrels in the musical event. Shockingly racist, the minstrel show, in which its performers wore “black face,” was warmly received by the Ottawa audience. The finale of the show was “a medley of plantation songs and Southern war ballads.” Later that same evening, the Ottawa Dramatic Company put on Gringoire, a short comedy by Théodore de Banville about a poet forced to play in front of Louis XI of France. The play was performed in English despite it being written in French and all the actors, francophone.

The finale of the event was held on Saturday, 2 February in front of the largest and “most fashionable” audience. After the last two performances of the week, the judges announced the winners of the competition. The winner for best dramatic performance was Winnipeg’s The Release of Allan Danvers. The play had been expressly written for the Earl Grey competition by three amateur Winnipeg authors, Messrs. Beaufort, Devine and Blue, two of whom acted in the show while the third was the stage manager. According to the Ottawa Citizen, it was the first time a Canadian-written play had debuted in Canada. It was a three-act play with a very heavy plot line. Danvers, afflicted with locomotor ataxia, a muscle disorder, falls in love. Although his love is reciprocated, Danvers refrains from declaring his affections to his lady love since he is dying. Before running off to England to hide from her, his lady indicates her affection for him, but Danvers falls dead at her feet—hence, his “release.”

Based on criteria which included stage setting and the company acting as a unit, individual excellence in grace, diction, make-up and dress, and the power to impersonate and express a range of emotions, the Winnipeg Dramatic Club was selected as the competition winner with a total of 49 out of 50 marks. The Ottawa Dramatic Company managed 41 points for its Gringoire.

Overall, the two drama judges were impressed by the high quality of all the theatrical performances. They added that amateur theatre was typically “a crucifixion of the soul,” but that wasn’t the case over the week-long competition. They opined that Lord Grey’s competition should have a positive impact on both the amateur and professional stage. They hoped that it would help address the lack of a standard spoken English which was a deficiency of North America.

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1904 and led by its conductor, Joseph Vezina won the musical trophy. It had presented a classical programme but one of its best numbers, Valse de Concert, was written by Vezina himself. According to the Citizen, it was hard to believe that the orchestra consisted of amateurs, so good was the playing. Spontaneous applause broke out on several occasions during their performance. In scoring the competition, the judge gave the Quebec orchestra 27 out of a possible 40 points in four categories—attack, precision, and accuracy; intonation (singing/playing in tune); technical proficiency; and expression and interpretation. Ottawa’s minstrels received 16 points.

So successful was the week-long competition, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced on the last night of the performances that Lord Grey was making the competition an annual event.

The following year, thirteen teams competed in the second annual Lord Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition. The competition was again held at the Russell Theatre in Ottawa. Subscription tickets for the full six nights of the competition cost $5. Again, the judges were American to avoid the appearance of bias.  Although competition rules had been eased for 1908 to allow any musical or theatrical group from a town or city of any size to compete, all the competing groups came from major eastern cities. Six of the contestants came from Ottawa, with the remaining participants coming from Quebec City (2), Toronto (2) and Montreal (3).

Again, the week-long series of musical and theatrical performances were judged a great success. Ottawa fared particularly well. On 29 February, 1908, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced that Ottawa teams had won both the musical and dramatic events. The musical trophy went to the Canadian Conservatory of Music, conducted by Donald Heins. The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the 1907 winner, and Ottawa’s Orpheus Glee Club came in tied for second place. The Canadian Conservatory of Music’s entry was essentially a string orchestra consisting of thirty violins, violas, violincellos and basses plus a grand piano. Its classical programme included Grieg’s Elegiac Melody, Minuet by Motzart, and La Dernier Sommeil by de la Vierge.

On the theatrical side, Ottawa’s Thespian Club won the Earl Grey Trophy for its two short productions of Food and Folly, a two-act “gastronomic” farce and A Light From St. Agnes, a one-act Broadway tragedy. Although the eventual winner of the competition, the Citizen’s reviewer was not terribly impressed by the Thespians’ farce. He described the play as “impossible,” thin on humour, with dialogue that tended to drag. He had much kinder words for A Light From St. Agnes. He thought the climax of the play was “admirably acted” with both the leading man and leading woman putting on strong performances.

Earl Grey Trophy

Souvenir Programme for the last Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition held in Ottawa in 1912, City of Ottawa Archives.

The Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition continued to be held for the next four years, moving to Montreal in 1909, Toronto in 1910, Winnipeg in 1911, and back to Ottawa in 1912. The 1912, and ultimately the final winners of the Lord Grey Trophy, were the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (for the fourth time) and Winnipeg’s Dramatic Society.

In late 1912, Colonel Lowther, the military secretary to HRH the Duke of Connaught who had succeeded Lord Grey as Governor General the previous year, said that the 1913 Competition would be dropped for “various reasons.”  It is possible that the new Governor General had other priorities, and didn’t see the point of adding to the lustre of his predecessor’s reputation. Organizing the competition must also have been a considerable challenge. Given its scale and the huge number of volunteers needed to organize and run it, the necessary logistics may have been too onerous to sustain.

Did the competition succeed in its mission in encouraging amateur music and drama? It’s difficult to say, not knowing the counterfactual. However, in 1913, just months after the cancellation of the Earl Grey Competition, the Canadian Federation of University Women launched the Ottawa Drama League (ODL), later known as the Ottawa Little Theatre. Over time, “little theatres” were also established in other Canadian cities. The ODL presented its first production at the Russell Theatre in 1914. In 1933, the Earl of Bessborough launched the Dominion Drama Festival in co-operation with the ODL at its Little Theatre on King Edward Avenue.

As for the Earl Grey trophies themselves, they seem to have disappeared.[1] An Earl Grey Trophy continues to be awarded at the Winnipeg Music Festival for the best school chorus. But it only dates back to 1923, six years after Lord Grey’s death. It is likely named for the “Earl Grey School,” the first winner of the cup-like trophy.

 

Sources:

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition, 1912, Programme, City of Ottawa Archives.

Manitoba Free Press, 1907. “Through Milady’s Lorgnette,” 12 January.

Montreal Gazette, 1906. “Earl Grey’s Contest,” 21 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1908. “Ability Shown by Ottawans,” 29 February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1906. “The Musical Competition,” 27 October.

——————-, 1907. “Judges For The Competition,” 18 January.

——————-, 1907. “Today Opens Competition,” 28 January.

——————-, 1907. “Last Night’s Performances,” 30 January.

——————-, 1907. “Winnipeg Dramatic Club and Quebec Orchestra,” 4 February.

——————-, 1907. “Earl Grey Competitions,” 4 March.

——————-, 1907. “Arranging For A 2nd Competition,” 26 March.

——————-, 1908. “Earl Grey Trophy,” 14 February.

——————-, 1908. “Not In Ottawa,” 18 March.

——————-, 1908.  “Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competitions and Competitors,” 19 February.

——————-, 1912. “No Earl Grey Competition,” 16 November.

Ottawa Little Theatre, 2019. History, http://www.ottawalittletheatre.com/history/.

Winnipeg Music Festival, 2019. Trophies, https://www.winnipegmusicfestival.org/earl-grey-trophy/

 

[1] If you are aware of the location of a trophy please send me an email.