The End of Road Tolls

9 February 1920

We’ve all heard the adage that there’s no certainty in life except for death and taxes. But, back in nineteenth-century Ottawa, it was more accurate to say there was no certainty in life except for death and tolls. People paid tolls, essentially user fees, on virtually everything. Commuters paid tolls to cross the Ottawa River on the Suspension Bridge. Boaters paid tolls to use the Rideau Canal. Lumbermen paid tolls to use the government timber slide. Farmers paid tolls to sell their produce at the Byward market. And, last but not least, everybody entering or leaving Ottawa paid a road toll.

The reason for this was simple. Governments had very few revenue sources in the nineteenth century. There was no income or sales taxes.  The federal government relied principally on custom duties and excise taxes for its revenues. Provincial governments relied on licences and permits, stumpage fees on timber, as well as grants from the federal government, while municipal governments depended on property taxes. Fortunately for governments, though not necessarily for their citizens, the problem of limited revenues was to a large extent mitigated by limited expenditures. There was no welfare state.

Habitants running the Toll Gate, 1867, watercolour copy of painting by Cornelius Krieghoff, artist unknown, Library and Archives Canada, 2837897.

Tolls were used to raise much needed cash to pay for necessary infrastructure, built either by the government or the private sector. Needless to say, there were lots of abuses and complaints.

The high cost of the tolls to use the Rideau Canal reportedly had a significant negative impact on trade. In 1850, the Ottawa Daily Citizen claimed that only a fifth of the wheat sold in Bytown was shipped there from points in Upper Canada via the canal owing to its high toll. It was cheaper to take freight the much longer route down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and then ship it back west on the Ottawa River to the town. Farmers also complained continually about the tolls that they were required to pay to sell grain and other produce at the Byward and Wellington Markets.

But, by far, the biggest gripe people had was with road tolls.

During the nineteenth century, roads, particularly inter-urban “highways” (a misnomer if there ever was one), throughout Canada were terrible. Indeed, the way to travel long distance was by water or railway. In the early years, rural roads were typically maintained by legislated labour. In Upper Canada, a 1793 Act of Parliament obliged settlers to work for up to twelve days each year on maintaining the roads that went by their property, or pay a fine. When that proved insufficient, cash-strapped provincial and county governments encouraged private companies to construct turnpikes, i.e., toll roads, to meet the growing demand for road transportation by settlers. The only requirement was for investors to set up a company for that purpose, and file with the government a statement of what they proposed to do. There was no regulation on where the road was to be built, how it was to be built, or the amount to be charged for using it.

Advertisement in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, seeking tenders for construction of a toll house and two gates by the Bytown and Nepean Road Company, 5 June 1852.

As a consequence, toll roads proliferated. In the Ottawa area, turnpikes were constructed from the outskirts of the city, to farming communities in the Carleton Country hinterland and beyond. In 1852, the Bytown and Nepean Road Company took over a rough, narrow and ill-maintained road (Richmond Road) that extended five miles west from the outskirts of Bytown.[1] The road was only fourteen feet wide for the first mile and a mere nine feet wide for the remaining four miles. The company undertook to widen the road to a standard fourteen feet width for its entire length and to build toll-houses and gates at a cost of £500 per mile. The company later extended the road to Bell’s Corners. In the five months from when the company assumed control of the road in July 1852, it collected £300 in toll charges, out of which the company maintained the road, paid the salary of a toll-keeper, and declared two dividends to its shareholders.

Initially, the toll roads provided a useful service, opening up rural areas and linking communities. However, road maintenance was often poor. Macadamized roads, which were made of graduated layers of stone, frequently washed out and required constant upkeep; something that toll-road operators were often slow to provide. It was said that the road companies exacted the most from, and returned the least to, the general public.

While the toll charges were typically small, they added up. In 1897, it was reported that a farmer driving a team of horses ten to fifteen miles into Ottawa with a load of produce destined for the Byward market would have to pay no less than 50-60 cents in road tolls, and another 30 cents in market tolls, on each round trip. Adding in other expenses, including 25 cents for the farmer’s lunch and 25 cents to feed the horses, there wasn’t much profit left out of the $8 to $10 dollars made at the market.

Mr. Sparrow, a farmer from Cumberland, told the Ottawa Journal in 1892 that his tolls amounted to between $5 and $7 per month. “That money would go a long way towards buying boots for the child, or clothes for my wife or myself.” Mr. Richard Spratt who lived twelve miles out on the Gloucester Road, echoed Mr. Sparrow’s sentiments saying “The different tolls often mount up to a sum which greatly runs away with the profits, and keeps me from coming into the city as regularly as we might.”

Tariff of tolls leaving from Hintonburg heading west on the Richmond Road issued by the Bytown and Nepean Road Company, 1895. It cost 25 cents to drive a two-horse vehicle the length of the road.

One irate person said in an 1889 letter to the editor of the Ottawa Daily Citizen that country people didn’t object to paying “liberally” for road maintenance, as good roads increased the value of their property, and protected horses from harm and vehicles from damage. However, Ottawa-area highways were badly rutted or muddy in summer, and almost impassible in winter owing to long delays in clearing snow drifts. Added to this was the annoyance of having to stop at the toll-gates to pay the tolls. One could expect lengthy delays if there was a line-up to get through the gate, or if the gate-keeper had to make change. Woe betide anybody short of cash. Then, travellers were at the mercy of the toll-gate keeper who may or may let them through. A case in point was a country family whose supply of coal ordered from the city for delivery on a mid-winter Saturday was stopped at a toll-gate because the deliveryman only had five cents instead of the required seven cents for the toll. The deliveryman had to return to the city and remake the journey on the following Monday, leaving the family cold over the weekend.

There were many similar complaints. One person was incensed by a toll-gate operator demanding a toll on a Sunday in an apparent breach of the Lord’s Day Act. Another complained that the woman keeping the toll-gate at Osgoode forced a party returning from a funeral in Metcalfe to pay a toll. The County Crown Attorney, who was a member of the funeral party, paid it under protest after a pole was “neatly dropped between the dashboard of the cutter and the horse” when the rig attempted to run the gate.

Described as “medieval obstructions to traffic,” pressure to eliminate toll-gates mounted towards the end of the nineteenth century throughout Ontario. In 1897, the City of Ottawa proposed to the County Councils of Carleton and Russell that it would discontinue market tolls paid by farmers if the counties would buy out the private road companies and abolish road tolls in their jurisdictions. Ottawa also indicated that it would support the counties in securing legislation under which the province would provide funds for every mile of macadamized road constructed by the counties. It was to no avail. The Ottawa Journal remarked that “country men have never shown any disposition to meet the city halfway in the matter.”

Still, the writing was on the wall for toll roads. Owing in part to changes in provincial legislation, by 1914 only sixteen toll roads remained in Ontario, half of which were in Carleton County. These were: the Bytown and Nepean Road (8 5/8 miles); the Richmond Road (7 miles); the Nepean and North Gower Road (5 1/8 miles); the River branch of the Nepean and North Gower Road (2 miles); the Gloucester and Metcalfe Road (9 5/8 miles); the Hunt Club branch of the Gloucester and Metcalfe Road (3 5/8 miles); the Russell Road (4 ¾ miles); and the Montreal Road (8 ¼ miles). But this meant that virtually all access roads into Ottawa were subject to tolls. The only exception was Nicholas Street. In 1912, the new Nicolas Street subdivision at Bannermount, was advertised as being located “just the other side of the Hurdsman’s Bridge” on “the only road free from tolls into the city.”

In 1920, the Carleton County Council finally gave in, enticed by provincial legislation under which the Ontario government would pay 40 per cent of the cost of expropriating the remaining toll roads. This was sweetened by a deal with the City of Ottawa under which Ottawa would pay a further 30 per cent of the cost. Many old county councillors who had previously rejected the elimination of tolls became enthusiastic supporters of toll-free roads. In the end, only one councillor, the representative of Osgoode, dissented.

On the order of the court, the toll roads operated by the Bytown and Nepean Company, the Nepean and North Gower Consolidated Road Company, the Ottawa and Gloucester Road Company and the Ottawa, Montreal and Russell Road Company passed into the control of Carleton County. Starting Monday, 9 February 1920, the nine remaining toll gates—two gates on Montreal Road, one on Russell Road, two on Metcalfe Road (Bank Street), two on Richmond Road, and two on Merivale Road—were lifted for good. (There was another toll-gate on Hunt Club/Bowesville Road but it was not in operation at that time due to the poor condition of the road.)

To the joy of car owners and the sadness of now unemployed toll-gate keepers, ownership of the roads was transferred to the Ottawa Suburban Roads Commission whose first chairman, Mr. John Bingham, was a director of the Ottawa Motor Club. This was no coincidence. The Club, indeed all motorists, had been a major force behind the elimination of toll gates.

The Commission immediately set engineers to work to assess the state of the unpaved roads and the cost of bringing them up to a satisfactory standard. Richmond and Montreal Roads were deemed to be in fairly good shape. Merivale and Bowesville Roads were assessed as being in poor shape with their road surfaces irregular and in need of grading. Stretches of Metcalfe Road (Bank Street) were also in very poor shape. All the roads needed proper drainage. The engineers provided two estimates, $80,000 for essential improvements and $182,000 for paving them with asphalt.

Most of the old toll-gate houses—toll-gate keepers lost their homes as well as their jobs—were sold off to the highest bidder with the proviso that the houses had to be moved. The Russell Road toll-house was sold to a Mr. William Gorman for $377. The shack at the Ottawa West gate went to Mr. M.P. Merryfield for the munificent amount of $20. The Ottawa West’s toll-keeper’s house, which was situated a short distance away from the toll-gate, was put up for rent.

The final contentious issue was the compensation to be paid to the shareholders of the four road companies. Naturally, the four companies set high estimates of their roads’ value. But if the owners had expected to receive these amounts, they were sorely disappointed. In December 2020, a judge awarded the four companies a total of $159,000 in compensation compared to the $202,000 the companies had submitted in claims.

Toll roads in Ontario passed into history for more than seventy years. But they re-emerged in the 1990s with the construction of Highway 407 which bypasses Toronto north of Highway 401. The “407” is owned by a consortium of Canadian and Spanish investors. Another toll road, Highway 412, which links the 401 to the 407, opened in 2016.

Sources:

Allston Dave, 2015. “Expanding on the old Richmond Road tollhouse & O’Neil house,” The Kitchissippi Museum, http://kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.com/2015/11/expanding-on-old-richmond-road.html.

Bytown and Nepean Road Company. 1895. Tariff of Tolls.

Gilchrist, C.W., 2015. “Roads and Highways,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/roads-and-highways.

Ontario, Government of, 1914. Report of the Public Roads and Highways Commission, L.K. Cameron, Toronto.

Ottawa Citizen, 1850. “Bytown and Prescott Railroad,” 16 November.

——————, 1852. “Slides,” 8 May.

——————, 1853, “Bytown and Nepean Macadamized Road,” 5 February.

——————, 1864. “Collection of Turnpike Tolls On Sunday, 9 February.

——————, 1873. “The Toll Gate,” 8 October.

——————, 1879. “The Market Grievance,” 7 February.

——————, 1887. “Our Municipal Free Lance,” 22 October.

——————, 1889, “Public Road,” 26 November.

——————, 1892. “The Abolition of Tolls,” 2 June.

——————, 1920. “Toll Roads Passing Hailed With Approval By Motorists,” 31 January.

——————, 1920. “Will Be Delay In Serving Notice On Toll Road Owners,” 2 February.

——————, 1920. “Suburban Road Commission Has Received Estimates From Engineers,” 13 February.

——————, 1920. “Carleton Sells Off Several Toll Houses,” 19 April.

——————, 1920. “Toll Road Award Has Been Agreed On By The Board,” 23 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1893. “Away With Tolls,” 22 February.

——————-, 1897. “Market Fees And Road Tolls,” 15 May.

——————-, 1897. “Favor A Free Market,” 21 May.

——————-, 1912. “This Is The House,” 23 May.

——————-, 1920. “Couty Council Is Out Against The Toll Roads,” 28 January.

——————-, 1920. “Can’t Charge Toll When County Acts,” 31 January.

——————-, 1920. “Toll Road Owners Get Notice Today,” 7 February.

——————-, 1920. “The Toll Roads A Thing Of The Past After Monday,” 6 February.

——————-, 1920. “The Toll Roads Gone,” 12 February.

——————-, 1920. “Sell Old Toll Gates To Highest Bidder,” 19 April.


[1] For a more detailed account of toll gates and toll houses on the Richmond Road, see Dave Allston’s excellent blog, The Kichissippi Museum.

The Sad Story of “Punch” Lavigne and “Billy” Seabrooke

10 January 1933

This sorry tale began on 12 December 1931. Paul Émile “Punch” Lavigne, age 24 years, was working the evening shift at the Domestic Service Station on Sussex Street, close to Redpath Street. (This is roughly the location of Foreign Affairs’ Lester B. Pearson Building today.) This wasn’t Lavigne’s usual work shift. He had swapped shifts with his friend and co-worker, Joe Meloche, who wanted to go to the Ottawa Auditorium for the wrestling. Gus Sonnenberg, the ex-world champion, was up against George Vassel, the “Grappling Greek,” in the feature bout.

Lavigne arrived for work at 7.20pm. Meloche handed Lavigne $47, the receipts for the day, and left the station at 7:30pm. Lavigne stuffed the cash in his pocket. A short time later, Hector Charbonneau, a truck driver, one of several who used the service station as an operating base travelling between Ottawa and Montreal, came into the station’s office and talked briefly to Lavigne before leaving. All was quiet. All was well.

At roughly 8:45pm, a young man wearing a brown overcoat and a brown hat walked into the station. Lavigne thought the man was going to use the telephone, a not uncommon occurrence, and went downstairs into the basement of the garage where supplies were kept. When Lavigne returned up the stairs a few minutes later, the stranger pointed a pistol at him and demanded money. Lavigne refused and grabbed the man’s wrist. In the ensuing struggle, the gun discharged, a bullet struck Lavigne in the upper abdomen. He fell to the floor critically wounded. The assailant rifled his pockets, took the cash, and then calmly walked out of the station. He then hopped in a taxi idling about 100 feet away, and was driven away from the scene of the crime.

The taxi driver, Oscar Paquette, who had been sent to the corner of Sussex and Redpath by his dispatcher, was hard of hearing and hadn’t heard the shot fired. The man who got into his car told him that he had ordered a taxi from a different company, but said that Paquette might as well take him. The young man spoke English without an accent. He got into the front seat of the taxi beside the driver. They didn’t go far, just to the corner of Cumberland and Boteler Streets—a 50-cent journey. When Paquette was unable to change a $2 bill, his passenger went into a nearby grocery store for change. When he left the store, the man brushed past a girl who was just entering. She didn’t pay him much attention. After paying Paquette, the man walked down Boteler Street towards King Edward Avenue where he was seen by two young girls. Paquette, believing that he might have another fare waiting, returned to the corner of Sussex and Redpath Streets.

At the same time, Richard Bingham, who was walking on Sussex, saw Paquette’s taxi idling. Owing to recent robberies in the neighbourhood, he took note of the licence number. Shortly afterwards, Bingham heard a gun shot and saw a man leaving the gas station and get into the taxi.

Paul Émile Lavigne, Ottawa Citizen, 14 December, 1931.

Lavigne staggered through the door of the gas station after his assailant and collapsed on the ground. Bingham rushed over to him. He tried to flag down a car to get help. The first passing car didn’t stop. The driver of the second refused to take the injured man to hospital but promised to drive uptown and get the police. Not wanting to wait, Bingham ran across the street to 160 Sussex Street, the home of J.A. Larocque, to call the police and an ambulance.

Lavigne was conveyed by ambulance to the Water Street General Hospital with Dr. Laframboise in attendance. On the way to the hospital, Lavigne told the doctor what had happened.

After a blood transfusion, Lavigne received an emergency operation in a desperate bid to save his life. The .32 calibre pistol bullet had entered the lower side of his chest below the diaphragm, perforated his intestines, and had nicked an artery before exiting Lavigne’s back. The slug was found caught in his clothes. The shell casing was later found at the scene of the crime.

For a short time, Lavigne rallied. Despite being in great pain, he was able to give a statement to Detective Jean Tissot. (A few years later, Tissot was fired from the Ottawa police force for circulating fascist literature and criminally libeling Archibald Freiman, the owner of Freiman’s Department Store.) Lavigne recalled that when he fell to the floor after being shot, he saw that his assailant was wearing buckled shoes. Shown a photograph of a man, he identified the person as his assailant though the man had no connection to the crime.

Paul Émile Lavigne, known as “Punch” by his many friends and co-workers, died a short time later in the early morning of December 14th, his family by his side. He was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery after a funeral at the Basilica. There were hundreds of mourners, including his grieving mother, his brothers Lucien and Albert, and sisters, Alice and Edith.

Ottawa Police were initially baffled by the crime. While the presumed assailant had been seen by many, the description provided—mid to late 20s in age, roughly 5 feet 8 inches in height, average build, wearing a brown overcoat and a brown fedora hat—could apply to many young Ottawa men. A $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Lavigne’s assailant ($500 provided by the City and $500 by Lavigne’s employer) was posted in an effort to shake people’s memories.

William Seabrooke, Ottawa Journal, 16 May 1932.

Police quickly got two breaks in the case. First, Montreal police received a report that an Ottawa man, William “Billy” G. Seabrooke, had stolen a rifle and automatic pistol from Roy McGregor, formerly of Ottawa. Seabrooke, who had been visiting McGregor in Montreal, had apparently left without saying goodbye a few days before Lavigne’s shooting, taking the weapons with him. McGregor had not called the police immediately hoping that Seabrooke might return. But when he heard of the gas station shooting in Ottawa, he worried that his missing pistol might have been used.

The second break in the case came after Christmas when two teenagers, Denis Mirabelle, 14, and Richard Falconer, 15, found a pistol in a leather shoulder holster lodged between rocks on the second pier of the CPR bridge over the Rideau River near the north end of King Edward Avenue. This was only a short distance from the scene of the crime. The boys brought the pistol home and showed it to Mrs Falconer, Richard’s mother. She told them to take it to the police station which the boys did, the gun hidden under Richard’s coat. Fortunately, they did so without incident; the pistol was loaded without the safety on. The weapon, with serial number 674493, was a .32 calibre automatic pistol made by the Herstahl Military Armoury of Belgium. It was an illegal weapon in Canada. Roy McGregor later identified the pistol and holster as the ones stolen by Seabrooke.

In an interview with the Citizen, Roy McGregor said that he and Seabrooke had been friends since their early teens, and that after his move to Montreal, Seabrooke had come several times to visit, always staying with him. McGregor said that Billy Seabrooke was a nice fellow. It was only recently that he had done things that had caused trouble.

Police brought William Seabrooke in for questioning. A search of his bedroom revealed a pair of black, buckled shoes.

Seabrooke, who was only 22 years of age, came from a good family who lived at 125 Spruce Street in Ottawa.  Known as “Bill” or “Billy” to his friends, he was popular and had been a paper tester in the Eddy factory in Hull. He had had one prior brush with the law. Just before Christmas he was in police court for obtaining money under false pretenses when he bounced a $15 cheque. The charge was, however, withdrawn when the “matter was adjusted.” Presumably, he found the funds to cover the cheque.

The police told Seabrooke that he was wanted for the theft of the guns in Montreal. However, they didn’t inform him that he was also a suspect in the murder of Paul Émile Lavigne until after he had been questioned. Without counsel present, Lavigne admitted stealing the weapons. He said he pawned the rifle for $8 in Montreal, an act later confirmed by the pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the seller. As for the pistol, Seabrooke said he threw it away in an alley near Bonaventure Station in Montreal. But when police showed him the pistol found by the two boys, he said: “That looks mighty bad for me.”

Richard Bingham, who had witnessed the assailant leave the gas station, Oscar Paquette, the taxi driver who drove the suspect away from the scene of the crime, Phileas Bisson who changed the suspect’s $2 bill at his grocery store, as well as the girls who saw the suspect walk down Boteler Street, were all brought in to identify Seabrooke. However, none were able to pick Seabrooke out of line-ups.

When asked what he had been doing on the night of murder, Seabrooke said he had gone to the Français Theatre where he watched Clare Bow in a film, and a western called “Cheyenne.” However, he had nobody to vouch for him. Leaving the cinema at about 10:00pm, he said that he boarded a streetcar, where he heard a car employee talking about a shooting. He then taxied to the Montcalm Club in Hull before taking a room for the night under the assumed name “Kingsbury.” The next day he returned to Ottawa and visited the gas station where Lavigne was killed before going home.

Dr. Rosario Fontaine, the medical expert for Quebec and an authority on ballistics, carried out tests on the slug that had killed Lavigne and the shell that had been found at the gas station. Dr. Fontaine positively identified the gun found by the two boys as the weapon that killed Paul Émile Lavigne.

William Seabrooke was sent to trial in front of Justice Logie in May 1932. His defence counsel was Walther F. Schroeder, a young Ottawa lawyer. Colonel J. Keiller was the Crown prosecutor.

The Crown focused importantly on Seabrooke’s admission that he had stolen a pistol from Roy McGregor who in turn positively identified the weapon found by the two boys as his own, and the ballistics evidence that concluded that it was the murder weapon. The Crown also made much of the fact that a previously broke Seabrooke had come into money, and was able to hire taxis, go drinking in Hull and afford to stay in a hotel.

The defence stressed that none of the witnesses of the events of December 12th could identify Seabrooke despite have been very close to the suspect. Seabrooke, at only 5 foot 4 inches tall, was shorter than the description of the assailant. Moreover, the buckled shoes described by Lavigne on his deathbed could have been owned by anyone. As for the pistol, there was nothing linking the weapon to Seabrooke after Montreal.

While Seabrooke’s young lawyer put up a stout defence, it was not enough. Even though the evidence was only circumstantial, William Seabrooke was found guilty by the jury after two hours of deliberation. Justice Logie then pronounced the death sentence to a crying Seabrooke. When the judge said “May God have mercy on his soul,” Seabrooke interjected: “He will.”

Seabrooke’s lawyer immediately launched an appeal on several grounds, including bias on the part of the trial judge who gave an unbalanced summary to jury members before their deliberations. The Court of Appeal, very critical of the actions of the trial judge as well as those of the Ottawa Police who did not inform Seabrooke that he was a suspect in Lavigne’s murder before he was questioned, ordered a new trial.

The second trial took place in October 1932. Again, Walther Schroeder appeared for Seabrooke with Colonel Keller acting as Crown prosecutor. Although the judge ruled that Seabrooke’s answers to police questions were inadmissible as they were improperly obtained, the jury once again concluded that Seabrooke was guilty of murder. When asked if he had anything to say, Seabrooke reiterated: “I did not do this.”

The $1,000 reward for the conviction of the murderer of Paul Émile Lavigne was divided four ways, with $250 going each to the Montreal pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the person who pawned the rifle he stole from Roy McGregor, the two young boys who discovered the pistol, and Roy McGregor who informed police of the pistol’s theft and subsequently identified the pistol found by the boys as his own.

When a plea to the federal Justice Minister for a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment failed, this sad story came to an end. William “Billy” Seabrooke was executed at 12:50am on 10 January 1933 on the same gallows used to execute Patrick Whelan for assassinating D’Arcy McGee in 1869. Unused for more than 60 years, it took workmen two days to put the gallows in working order. A small crowd gathered outside of the Carleton County Jail to watch the black flag hoisted indicating that the sentence had been carried out.

Seabrooke died with dignity, maintaining his innocence to the end. Before his execution, he said to Sheriff Samuel Crooks and Governor Alonzo Dawson: “Don’t worry. I will be all right.”

Seabrooke’s body was buried by his family in a private ceremony in Beechwood Cemetery.

Sources:

Edmonton Journal, 1933. “Murderer Pays Supreme Penalty, » 10 January.

Gazette (Montreal), 1933. “Seabrooke Is Hanged,” 10 January.

Leader-Post (Regina), 1933. “W.G. Seabrooke Hanged Today In East Jail,” 10 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1931. “No Clue To Slayer Of Service Station Worker,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Paul E. Lavigne Dies Of Gunshot Wound At Hands of Hold-Up Man,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Final Tribute Paid To Murder Victim,” 16 December.

——————, 1931. “Still Searching For Wanted Man,” 28 December.

——————, 1931. “Fatal Revolver Found By Boys On Bridge Pier,” 31 December.

——————, 1931. “Held W.G. Seabrooke, Ottawa, In Lavigne Murder,” 31 December.

——————, 1932. “Story Now Told By Seabrooke’s Former Friend,” 4 January.

——————, 1932. “Taxi Driver Unable To Give Description,” 18 January.

——————, 1932. “Unusual Marks On Shell Held As Sure Proof,” 29 January.

——————, 1932. “Begin Trial Of Ottawa Man On Capital Charge,” 12 May.

——————, 1932. “Expert Asserts He Is Positive In Conclusions,” 13 May.

——————, 1932. “William G. Seabrooke Held Guilty By Jury, Is Sentenced To Death,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Defence Counsel to Ask for Retrial of William Seabrooke,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Innocence Still Asserted While Sentence Given,” 22 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1931. “Curulars Go Out In Lavigne Case,” 28 December.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Case To Reach Jury This Afternoon,” 14 May.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Guilty of Murder; Protests His Innocence When Sentences To Hang on July 20,” 5 June.

——————, 1932. “Hear Seabrooke Appeal at Toronto,” 25 July.

——————, 1932. “Mistakes Made Causes Upset Court Verdict,” 9 August.

——————, 1932. “Case Against Seabrooke Likely To Reach Jury Some Time on Thursday,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Rules Out Seabrooke’s Answers To Police,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Jury Pay Visit To Scene of Crime Where Paul E. Lavigne Was Shot,” 20 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Sentences Seabrooke To Hang January 10,” 21 October.

——————, 1932. “Murder Reward Split Four Ways,” 28 November.

The Christmas Massacre

22 December 1963

Warning: this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Christmas is a holy time, a time for people to come together, a time for families to share their love and celebrate the blessings of the Christ child whose birth is being remembered. But Christmas 1963 for the parish of Christ-Le Roi (Christ the King) in downtown Ottawa was a bleak, sorrowful time. Instead of experiencing the joys of the season, parishioners mourned the sudden loss of friends and neighbours who died three days earlier in a hail of bullets in the church’s rectory located beside the church at 252 Argyle Street, just east of Bank Street.

Sunday, 22 December 1963 started as a normal pre-Christmas Sunday. Reverend Guillaume Chevrier greeted more than three hundred parishioners, including his distant cousin Lionel Chevrier, the Minster of Justice, to the service which celebrated the fourth Sunday in Advent. The mass started as usual at noon. At about 12:45pm, Agathe Jensen, who lived in a third-floor apartment in the neighbouring rectory building, pounded on the side door of the church. Frantic, she ran to Father Chevrier, saying that somebody had been shot. Chevrier stopped the service and asked for help from his parishioners. Four persons answered the call: Paul Mercier, John Horner, Roger Lecroix and Léo Binette.

Roger Binette (age 22) and Réginald Binette (age 17), Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1963.

Horner and Mercier got to the rectory first and began to climb the staircase. About five steps up, Horner came face to face with a youth pointing a revolver at him. A voice higher up shouted out in French “We have no choice.” Shoot them.” The young man fired two shots. Both Horner and Mercier fell backwards. Unhurt, Horner slumped to the ground, feigning death. Mercier, the parish’s young, 22-year-old scoutmaster, was not so fortunate. He was shot in the chest and died almost instantly. A few minutes later, when everything in the stairwell had gone quiet, Horner got up and fled the rectory. Meanwhile, Léo Binette hearing the shots, ducked, scampered from the front porch of the rectory, and sprinted down Argyle Street in a zig-zag pattern. When he cautiously returned, Roger Lecroix had organized a number of parishioners, mostly teenagers, to surround the rectory building to prevent the perpetrators from escaping. Later, Lecroix was shocked when he recalled his actions which put many young people at risk.

The police arrived at the scene roughly five minutes after receiving word that there was a shooter in the rectory. They entered the blood-splatted vestibule. After donning a bullet-proof vest, Detective Tom Flanigan slowly made his way up the stairs. The first body he discovered was that of Paul Mercier. On the second-floor landing, he came across the bodies of Alberte Guindon, age 45, the rectory’s housekeeper, and that of a young man, apparently an assailant who had shot himself in the temple. The revolver, a German 9mm Mauser, was still clutched in his hand. Word was passed to Flanigan that another person had been spotted in a window above. Flanigan shouted up “Come down or we’ll shoot.” A few seconds later, a slight, dark-haired youth, scarcely more than a boy, surrendered. When police led the young man out of the building, Léo Binette froze. The suspect was his younger son, Réginald, age 17. “What have you done? My God, what have you done?” he asked. Later, he heard that the other assailant found dead on the scene was none other than his older son, Roger, age 22.

Murder victim, Paul Mercier (age 22), scoutmaster at Christ-Le-Roi Church, Le Droit, 23 December 1963.

Also found on the second floor was Doralice Béchard, age 65, who was gravely injured with gunshot wounds to her abdomen and chest, and her sister Henédine, age 61, who had suffered a flesh wound to her hand. The two sisters shared an apartment on the second storey. Doralice was to die on the operating table at the General Hospital later that day.

The police also recovered a small arsenal of weapons, as well as bullets, knives, handcuffs, lengths of chains and padlocks, along with tape, blindfolds, fishing line and first aid kits. Each of the two young men had been armed with two revolvers which they had carried in home-made western-style leather belts and holsters. Two rabbit’s feet were sewn onto Roger’s belt. In addition to the Mauser found in his dead hand, Roger packed a .45 calibre Colt-style revolver. Réginald’s .45 calibre revolver was found on the kitchen table of apartment number five, the home of Agathe Jansen. His .38 calibre revolver was found on the fourth step of the stairway leading to the third floor where he had dropped it after being told to surrender.

In total, the two brothers fired twelve shots of which at least seven hit people. Slugs were found in the walls of the stairwell. A bullet had also shattered a second-storey window. The death toll could have been much higher. Roger’s homemade ammunition pouch, found in a cardboard box wrapped in Christmas paper, contained six spent cartridge cases and 38 fresh ones; Réginald’s held 42 live bullets.

Initially, police believed that the Binette brothers had intended to rob the church of its Sunday collection offerings, but their plans had been foiled when they were discovered by Alberte Guindon. The police reasoned that when she began screaming, the boys panicked and began firing. Later, following interviews with the police, psychiatrists and psychologists, Réginald revealed their intentions had been far more elaborate and bizarre. 

The pair had intended to kidnap Father Chevrier and force him to bring them to the homes of wealth Ottawa businessmen from whom they would extort money. Their aim was to steal $1 million. They would then force neurosurgeons to implant electronic equipment in the brains of people thereby turning them into robots. The Binette brothers would use the robotized individuals to commit crimes. They also wanted to build rocket ships and develop a longevity serum so they could live for 200-300 years. Needless to say, there were serious questions about Réginald’s sanity.

The Monday following the murders and suicide, young Réginald Binette was charged with the murder of Paul Mercier. It was his eighteenth birthday. Since the crime had been committed before he had turned eighteen, his sentence, if convicted, would be life imprisonment. Had he been eighteen, just one day older, when he shot Paul Mercier, he would have faced the death penalty. Binette looked on impassively as he was sent for psychiatric tests to see if he was sane enough to stand trial. His parents sat in the front row of the court room until his sobbing mother had to leave, escorted by her grieving husband and a police constable.

Léo and Valeda Binette had no idea that either of their sons were in Ottawa. The previous summer, they had sent young Réginald to stay with his older brother Robert who lived in British Columbia. The parents had been worried that Réginald was too much under the sway of Roger who seemed to control his every action. Réginald was their adopted son. They had started looking after him when he was five months old on behalf of the Children’s Aid Society. When he was five, they officially adopted him.

Roger Binette had left home on December 8th, two weeks before the shootings. His parents had thought he had gone to the United States. Instead, unbeknownst to their parents, Roger and Réginald had got in touch with each other and had moved in together in Room 9 in a boarding house at 170 Metcalfe Street.

Réginald was sent first to the hospital at Brockville and then to a secure government facility in Penetanguishene for psychiatric tests. Government doctors questioned him using hypnosis and drugs—sodium amytal, a drug sometimes used in psychiatric interviews at the time. The Ottawa Journal described it as a “truth serum.” Réginald was also given methadrine, also known as methamphetamine, or speed. (The use by investigators of truth serums, which were unreliable at best, was later discontinued or banned.)

The psychiatrists and psychologists concluded that Réginald was mentally ill with schizophrenia and lived in a fantasy world. He also suffered from paranoia and had delusions of grandeur and persecution. However, he was able to understand the charges against him and was capable of directing counsel. Consequently, they contended that he was fit to stand trial.

While his competency was being assessed, police tracked down the guns used by the brothers in the rectory attack. They had been stolen in a vicious home invasion and robbery staged by the two men the previous June at the house of Kenneth Mayhew, a gun collector, of 68 Pineglen Crescent in Nepean. The men, armed with brass knuckles, bounded and gagged Mayhew and his family, before making off with four revolvers. Mayhew’s daughter was wounded in the leg in the assault when one of the stolen revolvers went off. Réginald was charged with assaulting Kenneth Mayhew’s wife, discharging a firearm causing bodily harm to Mayhew’s daughter, and robbing Mayhew of his weapons.

Following a preliminary hearing held in March 1964, Réginald Binette’s trial began in late April in front of Justice Sam Hughes of Ontario’s Supreme Court. Witnesses described the horror of events on that tragic Sunday before Christmas. Henédine Béchard, who was in hospital at the time suffering from sciatica, was brought into the courtroom on a stretcher.

Agathe Jensen, who was also called to testify, was ordered from the witness box by Justice Hughes when she insisted on speaking in French even though she understood English. After conferring with both the defence and Crown counsels, the judge said she could speak in French and have an interpreter but warned her against turning his courtroom into a “demonstration.” He added that there was “nothing objectionable” about her testifying in her native tongue. In her testimony, Jensen said that the accused had twice put his gun to his head but couldn’t pull the trigger.

Louis Assaly, Réginald’s lawyer, asked for a not-guilty verdict on grounds that his client was insane. He noted that this would not mean that Binette would be free to walk Ottawa’s streets. Instead, Binette would be committed to the Penetanguishene maximum security mental hospital under a Lieutenant General’s warrant where he would stay until cured. In support of his plea, four defence psychiatrists testified that Binette was “certifiably insane.”

The Crown would have none of it, arguing that the shooting spree plan was carefully thought-out and logical. As well, schizophrenia was not enough to justify acquittal. The judge informed the jury that with an insanity plea, the burden of proof laid with the defence counsel. As well, he said that insanity was legally defined to be a state of natural imbecility or a disease of mind which rendered a person incapable of appreciating that an act was wrong.

After a ten-day trial, Réginald Binette was found guilty of killing Paul Mercier, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury deliberated for only four hours.

While defence counsel launched an appeal, it was subsequently withdrawn. Three months after his trial for murder Binette was tried for robbing Kenneth Mayhew. The other two charges were dropped. Binette received a sentence of five years to be service concurrently with his murder sentence of life imprisonment.

Sources:

American Addiction Centers, 2019. Methadrine, https://www.projectknow.com/prescription-drugs/methamphetamine-addiction-treatment/methadrine/.

Le Droit, 1963. “Un drame dans un presbytère : 4 morts,” 23 décembre.

Ottawa Citizen, 1963. “Black Sunday –official police story of killings,” 23 December.

——————, 1963. “Four killed at rectory,” 23 December.

——————, 1963. “Defence says boy ‘not responsible,’” 30 December.

——————, 1964. “Rectory murder suspect facing 3 more charges,” 3 January.

——————, 1964. “Mental Exam for Binette,” 4 January.

——————, 1964. “Mental test ordered for Binette,” 9 January.

——————, 1964. “Detective describes ‘arsenal,’” 12 March.

——————, 1964. “Rectory slaying trial underway,” 21 April.

——————, 1964. “My sister fell at my feet – witness sobs,” 23 April.

——————, 1964. “Twice put gun to his head,” 24 April.

——————, 1964. “‘I went wild,’ Binette said in statement,” 27 April.

——————, 1964. “Accused obeyed brother,” 28 April.

——————, 1964. “Shooting-spree plan logical – attorney,” 1 May.

——————, 1964. “Binette given life term for slaying scoutmaster,” 2 May.

——————, 1964. “Binette spared gallows by age,” 2 May.

——————, 1964. “Gun theft costs Binette 5 years,” 23 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1963. “It Was My Son, My Baby…. He’s Only 17…!” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “This Is What Happened In 30 Minutes of Madness,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Detectives Astonished By Weapons,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Standing at Back of Church When…”, 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “He Lived…Died As a Volunteer,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Arraigned on 18th Birthday,” 23 December.

——————-, 1964. “Accused Killed Victim – Witness,” 13 March.

——————-, 1964. “Woman Refuses To Speak English,” 22 April.

——————-, 1964. “Says Murder Accused Living ‘Fantasy Life,’” 23 April.

——————-, 1964. “Witnesses Recall Horror Of Four Rectory Killings,” 24 April.

——————-, 1964. “‘Fantastic’ Plot Told In Court,” 28 April.

——————-, 1964. “Says Youth Under Orders To Kill,” 29 April.

——————-, 1964. “Asks Not Guilty Verdict for Binette,” 30 April.

——————-, 1964. “Binette Admits Robbery,” 16 September.

Rinde Meir, 2015. “Stranger than Fiction,” Distillations, Science History Institute, https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/magazine/stranger-than-fiction.

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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

17 December 1939 and 5 August 1940

“You must get on with the war, and in order to enable you to do so I now declare No.2 Service Flying Training School [SFTS] open,” said the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, under bright blue skies at Uplands Airport just outside of Ottawa. With these words, the first intermediate flying school of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was open for business. (No. 1 SFTS, located at Camp Borden opened three months later.) Eight Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), located across the country, had already opened earlier that summer to provide basic flying skills to novice flyers.

Wings Ceremony, 16 July 1941, at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands Airport, Ottawa, PL5021, [Hatch, 1983].

The opening of No.2 SFTS came none too soon. Across the Atlantic that afternoon of 5 August 1940, the Battle of Britain was raging. With the RAF sorely stretched, trained pilots were desperately needed, both for the battle underway and for the successful future prosecution of the air war against the German Luftwaffe.

The genesis of the BCATP dated back to the mid-1930s when Britain, conscious of the growing Nazi threat, began to rebuild its armed forces, including its air service.  In 1936, a Scottish-Canadian in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Group Captain Robert Leckie, wrote a memorandum to Arthur Tedder, then Director of Training at the British Air Ministry, suggesting Canada as an ideal location to train air crews. Canada was safe from enemy attack, and was close to the U.S. industrial heartland which could supply necessary aircraft engines and parts.

Additionally, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had a close relationship with its British counterpart. As well, the RAF routinely recruited Canadians for both short-term and permanent positions. Moreover, during the latter years of World War I, flight training schools had been established in Canada by the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner of the RAF.

When Prime Minister Mackenzie King got wind of the idea, he was conflicted. On the one hand, he was very protective of Canada’s new sovereignty. Following the ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada was no longer subordinate to Great Britain either domestically or internationally. Consequently, he could not support RAF bases in Canada. The Prime Minister was also conscious of how the presence of British bases in Canada might appear to Quebec voters. On the other hand, he thought that if Canada’s contribution to the coming war effort could be largely focused on training air crews in Canada, it might be possible to avoid both large-scale casualties and a repeat of the conscription crisis that had divided the country during the previous war.

Agreement was reached to increase the number of Canadian-trained pilots for the RAF, and steps were taken to develop a common RAF/RCAF flying syllabus among other things. However, Leckie’s concept of using Canada for RAF training bases was put on the backburner until the outbreak of war in September 1939 when Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner in London, met with his Australian counterpart, Stanley Bruce. Out of this meeting was born the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Who came up with idea is unclear as both men took credit for it. Regardless, they made a joint submission to the British authorities. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister, was enthusiastic, and made a personal appeal to Mackenzie King asking him to give the proposal his very urgent attention. Chamberlain expressed the view that the establishment of training bases in Canada safe from German attack would have a psychological impact on Germany equivalent to that produced by the entry of the United States into the previous war.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King signing the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 17 December, 1939, LAC 3362872.

While Prime Minister King was initially upset that Massey had exceeded his authority, he quickly warmed to the idea…with conditions. Most importantly, Canadian sovereignty had to be respected. The flying schools would come under the authority of the Canadian government and would be administered by the RCAF. Consequently, trainees would be attached to the RCAF, would be subject to its jurisdiction, and would receive Canadian rates of pay. King also demanded that Britain agree to purchase Canadian wheat and that the BCATP would take priority over other Canadian war commitments. He also wanted Canadian pilots to be sent after graduation to RCAF squadrons in Britain as opposed to being subsumed into the RAF.

The Australians and Zealanders also had conditions of their own, importantly that costs be shared on the basis of population and that elementary flying instruction for their pilots would be conducted at home.

With these terms acceptable to the British, King sent his agreement in principle to Chamberlain at the end of September 1939 though his government continued to worry about the scale and cost of the venture.

Over the next three months, Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand negotiators thrashed out the fine print of the accord and how the costs would be divided. It was hard going at times. But in the wee hours of 17 December 1939, Mackenzie King’s birthday, the Canadian prime minister signed the accord, followed by Lord Riverdale on behalf of the British government. As the Australian and New Zealander delegates had already left Ottawa, their governments’ signatures were appended later.

The agreement was officially titled “An Agreement to the Training of Pilots and Aircraft Crews in Canada and their Subsequent Service.” Later that day, in a radio address to the nation, King described the agreement as “a co-operative undertaking of great magnitude.” Charles Power, the Minister of National Defence, called it “the most grandiose single enterprise which Canada has ever embarked.”  In a similar broadcast, Chamberlain, as requested by King, said that the BCATP would be more effective than any other kind of Canadian military co-operation. However, he added that the British Government would welcome “no less heartily” Canadian land forces in the theatre of conflict as soon as possible.

The cost of the agreement, which was to run until end-March 1943 unless otherwise extended, was placed at $607 million of which Canada’s share would be $353 million. The British contribution was set at $185 million, mainly in the form of airplanes and parts. The Australians and New Zealanders would contribute $40.2 million and $28.8 million, respectively.

Work immediately began to make the agreement a reality, with C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supply, taking charge. Within days, offices were organized in temporary buildings in Ottawa, and contracts signed. By early spring 1940, air fields were being prepared, and the construction of hangers and other facilities underway.

Here in Ottawa, No. 2 SFTS, making use of an existing civilian airfield, practically sprang out of the ground overnight. In the space of just a few months, roughly forty buildings were constructed at the edge of Uplands field on what the Citizen described as a “desert waste of hillocks, tufted here and there with rank, saffron-coloured grass.”

The flying school boasted five double hangars to store aircraft, each 224 feet by 160 feet with 20-foot sliding doors. There were also buildings to house ambulances, a fire truck, refueling tankers, tractors, and other vehicles. There were quarters for 1,100 military and civilian personnel with canteens, messes, a recreation building, and a sports pavilion. As well, there were a supply depot, a guard house, a watch office, a drill hall, a ground instruction school, two bombing instruction schools, and a 34-bed hospital. Special storage tanks held 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel. There was also a depot for aerial bombs and machine gun ammunition. Located close to the main runway was an air-traffic control room. The landing facilities consisted of three tarmacked landing strips and three grass strips. Planes could land in every direction. There were also two subsidiary air fields located at Edwards and Pendleton, Ontario.

As the Ottawa training school was for intermediate training, pilots assigned to No.2 SFTS had already received flight instruction on Fleet or Tiger Moth aircraft, accumulating 40-50 hours of solo training. The maximum speed of these airplanes was 90-100 miles per hour. In Ottawa, the men graduated to Harvard training craft, capable of a top speed of more than 200 mph.

The Harvards, which were painted bright yellow, were dual-controlled, and were powered by 400hp Pratt & Whitney engines. The twelve planes stationed initially at Ottawa were built by the North American Aviation Company of California. More were in transit. Later, Harvards were constructed under licence by the Noorduyn Aircraft Company in Montreal.

On the other side of the Bowesville Road across from the flying school, the Ottawa Car and Aircraft Company was in the process of erecting a new plant for the construction of parts for the Avro Anson twin-engine aircraft to be used for training bomber pilots.

On opening day, 5 August 1940, the Governor General was accompanied by a distinguished entourage, including Prime Minister King, Defence Minister Ralston, Air Minister Power, Air Vice Marshall Breadner, and Honorary Air Marshall W.A. (Billy) Bishop, VC. The twelve, yellow Harvard trainers were lined up in front of the hangars. In front of the aircraft was an honour guard standing at attention to take the salute of Earl Athlone. A RCAF band from Trenton played Land of Hope and Glory. After No.2 SFTS was declared open, the Harvard trainers were flown in various formations to the delight of the crowds there to witness the historic event.

In July 1941, a Warner Brothers crew from Hollywood filmed part of the feature movie Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney, at Uplands airfield. Billy Bishop played a cameo role in a “wings ceremony,” where actual pilots received their wings in a stirring graduation ceremony. (Click here for a preview of the movie: Captains of the Clouds.)

The BCATP was a huge success, training roughly 50 per cent of all Commonwealth airmen during the war. In addition to Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand personnel, men from many other Allied countries received their flight training in BCATP schools, including Norwegians, Poles, Belgians, Free French, Czechs and Americans. In a 1943 congratulatory letter to prime minister King. US President Roosevelt called Canada “the aerodrome of democracy.”  (As an interesting sidebar to history, Lester B. Pearson, then the number two person at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, was the person who coined the phrase—an allusion to Roosevelt naming the US the “arsenal of democracy” in a late 1940 speech. Breaking diplomatic protocol, the White House staff had contacted the Canadian embassy and had asked Pearson to help draft the latter.)

With an Allied victory on the horizon, the program started to be wound down in late 1944 and was terminated at the end of March 1945. During the BCATP’s time in operation, more than 131,553 aircrew graduated from 105 flight schools of various description at a cost of $2.23 billion (roughly $35 billion in today’s money). Of this amount, Canada paid $1.6 billion ($25 billion).  While the cost was considerable, victory in the air was made possible by the BCATP.

In 1949, representatives from all countries that had participated in the BCATP paraded at RCAF Station Trenton to witness the unveiling of a set of wrought-iron gates given to Canada by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, as a permanent memorial and a symbol of Commonwealth friendship and unity.

Sources:

Dunmore, Spencer, 1994. Wings for Victory, McClelland & Stewart, Inc. Toronto.

Evening Citizen, 1939. “Four Govts. Are ‘Well Pleased’ With Air Pact,” 19 December.

——————-, 1939. “Gives Further Details Of Air Training Plans,” 19 December.

——————-, 1940. “Governor-General Opens Empire Training School At Uplands Field,” 6 August.

——————, 1940. “Crowds Are Thrilled By Formation Flying,” 6 August.

Hatch, F. J., 1983. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945, Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Monograph Series No. 1.

The Marian Congress

18 June 1947

The Most Rev. Alexandre Vachon, the Archbishop of Ottawa, did not think small. With the approach of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Bytown (Ottawa) in 1847 by Bishop Joseph-Bruno Guigues, he wanted to celebrate the centenary in style. He also wanted the occasion to serve as a national, indeed international, opportunity to pray for lasting world peace. While World War II was over, global tensions were once again on the rise with the Cold War between the western Allies and the Soviet Union. The advent of atomic weapons and the ability of humankind to obliterate the world lent an additional degree of urgency to the plea for peace.

Archbishop Vachon with a model of the Repository constructed at Lansdowne Park for the Marian Congress. The Repository was torn down immediately after the Congress ended, Ottawa Citizen, 17 June 1947.

Devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, the archbishop also wanted the ceremonies to be directed especially to the Blessed Virgin, asking her to intercede with God for the achievement of world peace and justice. With this in mind, Vachon travelled to Rome to get the support of Pope Pius XII. He probably didn’t need to do much convincing. The Pope was also a strong supporter of the veneration of the Virgin Mary. Three years later, he invoked papal infallibility to define as Church dogma the belief that Mary did not die but was rather taken body and soul into heaven—the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The three other dogmas related to Marianism (the veneration of Mary) are that Mary is the Mother of God, that she was born without original sin (the Immaculate Conception), and that she was a perpetual virgin, i.e., she was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ.

The archbishop also toured European sites devoted to Mary to get a better understanding of how the Blessed Virgin was venerated at places such as Lourdes. He returned to Ottawa in February 1947, and immediately set to work organizing a Marian Congress, appointing two senior organizers—Monsignor Maxime Tessier and Monsignor John O’Neill—to put on the event. At the same time, Vachon announced the Congress to the world in a pastoral letter.

The Pope named James Cardinal McGuigan, the Archbishop of Toronto, legate a latere, the highest rank of papal representation, to the Congress. In other words, for the event, Cardinal McGuigan was the highest ranking Roman Catholic clergyman other than the Pope himself. In a message published in Ottawa newspapers, Cardinal McGuigan said that the Congress was the fulfillment of St. Luke’s prophesy regarding Mary being blessed among woman. According to the Cardinal, Mary “rescued woman from the contempt and degradation which it was her sad lot to experience under paganism.”  Cardinal McGuigan was assisted in his duties by a Papal Mission that came to Ottawa for the Congress.

Postcard: The Float of the Holy Virgin, Marian Congress, 1947, Ottawa

Six weeks prior to the official inauguration of the Marian Congress, a statue of Notre Dame du Cap (Our Lady of the Cape), was brought in stages from her sanctuary in Trois Rivières, Quebec, across 350 Catholic parishes in Quebec and Ontario to the Congress headquarters in Ottawa.

The shrine of Notre Dame du Cap marks the spot of two miracles attributed to Mary. The first was the miraculous building of an ice bridge in 1879 across the St. Lawrence River which enabled the transportation of stone across the river to build the church. The second occurred in 1888 when the statue of the Virgin in the church reportedly opened its eyes for ten minutes.

On arriving in Ottawa the evening before the official opening of the Congress, the statue was paraded through the streets of Lowertown led by the band of Lasalle Academy, followed by cadets of Notre Dame College. The Garde Champlain of Ottawa provided a guard of honour. A loudspeaker directed people in hymns and prayers. After passing through Lowertown, the parade made its way down the Driveway to Lansdowne Park. Along its path, thousands of people joined in. By the time the parade reached the Exhibition Grounds, the crowd had swollen to 40,000 people—too many to fit in the Coliseum for the official welcome. At the last moment, people were directed to the open-air stadium. As officials and police were unprepared for the huge crowd, there were some tense moments. At one point, a temporary steel scaffold was almost pushed over by the press of the crowd. The lights also temporarily went off when a cable became disconnected. Panic was averted when the reassuring voice of Archbishop Vachon calmed the crowd.

The main venue for the Marian Congress was Lansdowne Park. At the stadium, a Repository, (a place to hold the Blessed Sacrament) painted in blue and white—the colours of the Blessed Virgin—was constructed, 550 feet wide and 155 feet tall at the tower which was topped by a 27-foot statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a globe. The Repository had four stories with 30 confessionals on the ground floor and arcades higher up on which four fifteen-foot statutes of angels sounding bugles were positioned. On the top railing, written in three-foot letters, were the Latin words Ad Jesum Per Mariam, To Jesus through Mary—the theme of the Congress.  Illuminated at night, the Repository could be seen for miles.

Inside the structure was an altar 155 feet wide, an oratory, vestries for officiating clergy, bathrooms, a room for the carillonneur, and accommodations for thirty-two workmen who lived on site, ready to get to work at a moment’s notice. There was also a large stage for theatrical performances. Behind the Repository were huts and tents for contractors, repair shops and storage for the thousands of props, including stacks of battle-axes and angel wings, to be used in the theatrical productions.

In front of the Repository was a massive open-air sanctuary with circular rows of seats, divided into sections, with a combined length of 5,300 feet. Each section was furnished with its own communion stand. Three rows of seats were reserved for the many cardinals and archbishops who were in attendance. Additional rows were reserved for members of the diplomatic corps, other Church dignitaries, and important lay guests and VIPs. During the masses held throughout the Congress, 500 priests aided by 500 altar boys provided the Holy Eucharist to the faithful that numbered as many as 75,000 at one time. Two thousand Boy Scouts directed people to their places.

For the Congress, the Exhibition Hall was converted into a Chapel of Peace where Notre Dame du Cap was installed. 30,000 votive candles burned on either side of the altar. Five other buildings at Lansdowne Park were filled with religious exhibits that displayed the many works of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. The display of Ottawa’s Grey Nuns of the Cross depicted the work they were doing among Canada’s Innuit peoples. The Horticultural Building housed the Congress communications—telegraph, radio and cable. Reportedly, press coverage of the Congress included 122 reporters and 94 photographers.

The Congress officially began at 2:30pm on 18 June 1947 when Cardinal McGuigan was driven from the residence of the Apostolic Delegation at 520, the Driveway, to the Basilica for the liturgical reception. Thousands of spectators lined the route. Many knelt in the street to pray and to receive the Cardinal’s blessing. After the formal reading of the Pontifical brief in both French and English, Archbishop Vachon gave a personal welcome address. Among the visiting cardinals were Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Cardinal Frings of Cologne, his home cathedral still in ruins from the Allied fire bombing of his city less than three years earlier. After the Pontifical High Mass, an address by the Pope was broadcast. 140 bishops knelt to receive the papal blessing; the largest number ever gathered in a Canadian church.

That evening, there was an official reception given by Archbishop Vachon and the Government of Canada in honour of Cardinal McGuigan, the Papal Legate. Prime Minister King, who was not Roman Catholic, emphasized the need to affirm “the fundamental principles of Christianity,” and that a new age had began with the release of atomic energy, one that could lead to “unprecedented progress or unparalleled destruction.” He contended that which route humanity took would depend on “whether the affairs of nations are to be based on a Christian or a pagan philosophy.”

Later that night, notwithstanding frequent rain showers, a lavish tribute to the Virgin Mary written by Rev. Gustave Lamarche, entitled “Our Lady of the Crown,” was performed in French in front of an audience of more than 50,000. In the play, Mary is saddened by the selfishness of mankind. At one point, on a large screen, the world could be seen spinning in space amidst a barrage of bursting shells and soldiers charging with fixed bayonets, with the devil hovering over all. Finally, the world is obliterated by atomic bombs. Three ballets were also performed. In the Ballet of Flowers, florescent petals showered down, illuminated by ultraviolet lights. A shepherd offers a real lamb to Mary. During the Dove Ballet, in which dancers were costumed as white doves, hundreds of pigeons were released into the air. In the Ballet of Stars, the moon was brought down from the heavens as a gift for Mary. Finally, a troubadour entered on horseback and mounted the steps to Mary’s throne through an archway of crossed halberds carried by a bodyguard. The troubadour offered the Blessed Virgin the gift of the arts.

Through the Congress period, other performances were held, both in English and French, both at the Repository and elsewhere. At the Capitol Theatre, it was standing room only for repeated performances of “Our Lady of Fair Love.” This was a passion play telling the story of Christ’s last hours from his betrayal by Judas, to his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. Among the lighting effects used in the show, a tableau of the Last Supper as painted by Leonardo da Vinci was created.

Two parades were also held through the city. Thirty floats depicting the life of the Virgin Mary were drawn through Ottawa. Starting at Wellington and Lyon Streets, the floats, along with the RCMP band and troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, wended their way to Confederation Square, then along the Driveway to Lansdowne Park. Later, a similar parade was held at night by candlelight. At this one, McGuigan, the Cardinal Legate, carried the Blessed Sacrament. He was accompanied by bands, battalions of parochial guards and Papal Zouaves in full costume, floats, and 600 maids of honour dressed in costumes. Church officials, members of Parliament, judges and other civil officials also marched in the parade down the Driveway to the Repository.

But the big spectacle was a pageant called “Our Lady of the Bread” held at the Repository. On a two-level stage, two thousand Ottawa-area performers backed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and two choirs put on a show that was unlikely to be forgotten by any in attendance. The show had seven scenes, opening with angels and priests begging Mary to distribute the Bread of Life. This was followed by an appearance of the Blessed Virgin in front of a giant, 50-foot stained-glass window. Scene three had Mary giving the Bread of Life to the seraphines, while in scene four Mary accepts the invitation of the Church to distribute the Bread to the faithful. Messengers are then requested to invite the faithful to the banquet; priests are first to accept. Scene six is the response of humanity to this invitation, while the closing scene paid a final tribute to Mary as Queen of the Sacred Bread with her showing the world the Host of Salvation amidst an orchestral and choir crescendo. Tickets for the performances ranged from fifty cents to three dollars.

The Dionne Quintuplets arriving at the Marian Congress with their older sisters, National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, 3192104.

The climax of the Congress came on the last day overseen by Cardinal McGuigan. At the celebratory mass, there were four Cardinals, scores of bishops, monsignori and canons, and thousands of priests, wearing their formal garb which, for the cardinals, meant lengthy red trains carried by pages. But the splendour of the Roman Catholic Church was almost upstaged by the arrival of the Dionne quintuplets: Cécile, Annette, Yvonne, Marie and Émilie. Dressed identically in white dresses with little white hats, the girls, who had just turned thirteen, arrived at the Repository in a motorcade to sing Laudate Maria. To the disappointment of the crowd, after their performance, the girls were whisked away in the middle of a sermon given by Cardinal Gerlier of France. The cardinal couldn’t have been too pleased as six cars and motorcycle policemen roared in front of him as he spoke to pick up the quints and other members of their family.

That night, a massive, fireworks display lasting more than 40 minutes lit up the sky above the Exhibition Grounds. The piece de resistance was a blazing outline of the Virgin Mary ascending into Heaven.

The Marian Congress was a huge success, attracting more than 250,000 pilgrims. For five days, Ottawa was the centre of the Roman Catholic Church in North America. The city, bedecked with flags, was chock-a-block full. Hotels were full to bursting as were private homes. Even the parks were clogged with campers. To fill hungry tummies, eight hundred servers working for the Morrison-Lamothe bakery at the Exhibition Grounds, served 500,000 people over the five-day period, selling 15 tons of hot dogs, 3 tons of ham, 1 ton of cheese, 1 ton of coffee, ½ ton of tea, 100,000 chocolate bars, 200,000 ice creams, 125,000 doughnuts, and 1 million soft drinks.

To get a better sense of the scale and grandeur of the Marian Congress, here is a link to a short video of the event: The Marian Congress, Ottawa June 1947.

Sources:  

Ottawa Citizen, 1947. “Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter Announces Marian Congress,” 3 February.

——————, 1947. “Cardinal McGuigan Papal Legate At Marian Congress,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Papal Legate’s Marian Congress Message,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Giant Repository Is Rallying Point Of Ottawa Marian Congress,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Dionne Quints Making Ottawa Singing Debut,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Gigantic Fireworks Display,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Papal Legate To Be Guest At Dinner,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “40,000 Worshippers Pack Lansdowne Park,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “Planned Project Year Ago,” 17 June.

——————, 1947. “The Welcome Mat Is Out,” 18 June.

——————, 1947. “Counting Greatly On Canada, Says Pope,” 18 June.

——————, 1947. “Papal Legate Accorded Rousing Ovation at Official Reception,” 19 June.

——————, 1947. “Busy Unseen World Exists Behind Repository Façade,” 20 June.

——————, 1947. “80,000 Persons Throng In Lansdowne Park For Religious Drama,” 21 June.

——————, 1947. “Congress Parade In City Today,” 21 June.

——————, 1947. “Congress Procession To Be Brilliant Event,” 21 June.

——————, 1947. “Dionne Quintuplets Make First Public Appearance In Ottawa,” 21 June.

——————, 1947. “Adventure In Faith For Ottawa Is Ended,” 23 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1947. “Crowd of 25,000 Participate in Mass in Lower Town During Statue Tour,” 16 June.

——————-, 1947. “Large Audience Applauds Impressive Congress Pageant,” 19 June.

——————-, 1947. “The Marian Congress,” 19 June.

——————-, 1947. “Brilliant Pageantry Marks Opening Night of Congress,” 19 June.

——————-, 1947. “60,000 See Religious Drama at Lansdowne and Repository,” 19 June.

——————-, 1947. “Passion Play for Congress Draws Turnouts of 9,500,” 19 June.

——————-, 1947. “500,000 Served at Congress, Suppliers Ran Out at 3 am,” 23 June.

——————-, 1947. “Dionne Quintuplets Soloists At Marian Congress Concert,” 23 June.

Windsor Star, 1947. “140 Bishops Kneel to Get Papal Blessing,” 19 June.

Kidney Transplants and Artifical Kidneys

7 November 1963 and 18 December 1963

It’s hard to believe that less than sixty years ago, kidney failure was a virtual death sentence. Once the kidneys stopped their vital function of filtering toxins and excessive water out of one’s body via the bladder, death was inevitable owing to uremia, the condition where wastes back up into the blood system.  

In the early 1960s, hope for those with kidney disease arrived in the form of kidney transplants and dialysis machines, widely referred to at the time as artificial kidneys. The theory behind both procedures had been long known, but actually performing them successfully was another matter.

The first successful transplant reportedly occurred in 1950 when an American woman in Illinois received a kidney. It lasted for less than a year before it failed; this was a time before immunosuppressive drugs were available. However, the transplanted kidney lasted long enough for the woman’s remaining kidney to resume function. Four years later, a successful kidney transplant was made between twins. Owing to the close genetic similarities between twins, the transplanted kidney was not rejected. The recipient lived for eight years. However, transplants between unrelated persons were rarely attempted until the 1960s owing to rejection problems.

The first successful kidney transplant in Canada occurred in 1963 when a 55-year-old Ottawa man, Herbert Verne Trewin, of 2233 Braeside Drive in Alta Vista received a donated kidney at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. In late October 1963, Trewin had been told at the Ottawa Civic Hospital that his kidneys were failing and that his only hope was an experimental kidney transplant. He was transferred to the Royal Victoria to await the arrival of a suitable kidney.  That kidney became available on 7 November 1963, courtesy of an anonymous, 35-year-old man who had consented before dying to donating a kidney. Within an hour of the donor’s death, Trewin was on the operating table receiving his new organ. This time, a new immunosuppressive drug called Imuran would be used to counter rejection.

The operation was a success, as was the follow-up anti-rejection drug treatment. Unfortunately, there were complications, and Trewin was subjected to two further operations. He was in hospital for ten months before being well enough to return home. Throughout his ordeal, his wife Greta was at his side—contrary to hospital protocols that demanded him being kept in isolation. A bed was made up for her in his Montreal hospital room. Trewin’s hospitalization costs, amounting to $10,490, were covered by Ontario Hospital and Blue Cross insurance.

In August, 1964, a grateful Trewin, now back in his Alta Vista home, said that “It will be easier for others now. I understand they are already scheduling more kidney transplants – and someday it may even become a routine operation.” He hoped to return to his job as a Customs computing clerk at the Besserer St postal station at the beginning of October.

Newspaper clipping of Verne Trewin’s return home with his wife, Greta, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1964.

Sadly, Trewin continued to have serious health problems. In April 1965, he contracted pneumonia. Just weeks later, he was operated on to fix a bowel disorder. He died two days after the operation. His death was not directly attributed to the kidney transplant. But his body, weakened by successive operations and the anti-rejection drugs, had failed.

Within weeks of Verne Trewin’s receipt of a kidney in Montreal, the Ottawa General Hospital unveiled the first dialysis machine in the capital, and only the third in all of Canada, the other two being in Montreal and in Edmonton. On 18 December 1963, a small reception was held at the General for medical staff and a dozen donors who had contributed the $7,500 (roughly $66,000 in today’s money) to buy the machine. Press reports stressed that the machine could be used for both acute and chronic kidney problems. While it was not as efficient as a human kidney, some US patients had been kept alive for more than three years using similar machines.

The machine was made by a subsidiary of a Swedish company in Seattle, Washington, and was described as looking like a washing machine on the inside and a large soda pop dispenser or a fancy ice cream machine on the outside. The fact that the manufacturer of the machine also made soda pop dispensers and ice cream machines was perhaps not coincidental. It took several months of staff training before the machine was put into operation. The new hospital department was headed by Dr. Jaworski, with two urologists, four general surgeons and “a battery of nurses” said the Ottawa Journal.

Dialysis machines had been used for acute kidney problems for some time. Successful dialysis dated back to 1945 when Willem Kolff of the Netherlands used a type of rotating drum and membranous tubes made of cellophane. As the blood passed through the tubes, which were wrapped around the rotating drum filled with an electrolyte solution, the toxins passed through the membranes into the solution thereby cleansing the blood of toxins. The procedure was subsequently improved by the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston (now part of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital). The new Kolff-Brigham dialysis machine was used during the Korean War to save the lives of servicemen suffering acute kidney failure. Once their kidneys resumed normal function, the men were disconnected from the machine.

Later developments improved the ability off the kidney machine to remove excessive water in addition to the toxins. But a key advance that made the machine usable for cases of chronic kidney failure was the 1960 development by Dr. Belding Schriber of the University of Washington of a means of connecting a patient’s circulatory system to the dialysis machine via a shunt. The shunt was implanted in an artery and a vein of a patient which could then be opened repeatedly for dialysis. This shunt, initially composed of two thin, Teflon tubes, was subsequently manufactured out of flexible, plastic material. In 1962, a new connection procedure was established using an arteriovenous (AV) fistula whereby an artery was surgically connected to a vein. During dialysis, a nurse inserts two needles into the fistula, one needle removes the blood and sends it into the dialysis machine, while the other returns the cleaned blood back into the patient’s body.

In 1960, the American Clyde Schields of Seattle was the first chronic kidney disease sufferer to receive dialysis using Dr. Schriber’s new technique. He survived eleven years before succumbing to heart disease.

Newspaper clipping of Rachel Dicarie receiving dialysis at Ottawa General Hospital, Ottawa Citizen, 24 February 1964.

The first chronic sufferer of kidney disease to receive dialysis in Ottawa was Rachel Dicaire, a 25-year-old mother from Alexandria, Ontario. She had suffered from kidney disease from her youth, but matters became critical after her pregnancy. The procedure, undertaken in late April 1964, was a success. From then on, she returned to the General on a weekly basis for dialysis that took from six to eight hours per visit.

Dicarie was one of the lucky ones. The new dialysis machine could only accommodate five persons.

The hospital established a committee to choose candidates for the life-saving procedure. The criteria were stiff. A person needed to be between 20 and 40 years of age, be married, have children, and be of general good health other than for their kidneys.  In early 1965, only twenty patients in all of Canada received dialysis.

Choosing eligible candidates for dialysis must have been extraordinarily difficult for the committee as those rejected faced a bleak future. Mirroring reality, in early November 1965, CJOH television aired the first episode of a seven-part drama of Dr. Kildaire, entitled “The Life Machine.” In this show, Drs. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) and Gillespie (Raymond Massey) must choose four candidates out of fifty for dialysis.

With demand for dialysis vastly outstripping supply, there was a campaign to raise funds for a second machine at the Ottawa General Hospital. In 1965, the Rotary Club of West Ottawa put up $2,000 towards the purchase of a second dialysis machine in honour of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Club, while fifty Rotary members gave a promissory note for the remaining $5,000 that was needed. The Rotary Club hoped to raise these funds from the general public.

Dialysis machines were something very close to the hearts of Rotary Club members. A former president of the Ottawa branch, Cecil K. Wolff, was one of the lucky five chronic kidney disease sufferers who received regular dialysis on the first machine at the Ottawa General Hospital. Wolff was to become a member of the provisional committee that established the Kidney Foundation of Ottawa. Another member was Mr. Ken Hamilton, who was also a dialysis recipient. His wife Dorothy was another provisional committee member. In addition to raising funds for a second dialysis machine, the new Foundation hoped to raise $15,000 for special laboratory facilities as well as a further $7,000 for the training of medical staff.

The Ottawa community quickly took up the challenge. Within a week, more than $5,200 was received in cash donations. The Cradle Leaguers hockey players even turned over the proceeds of their final games of the season to the collection.

The second dialysis machine was up and running by the summer of 1965. One of its first patients was Mrs. Ann Gervais. While she waited for the second machine to become operational, she had received emergency dialysis through her stomach, submitting seventeen times to the procedure which at that time was very painful. It also could not be done indefinitely. Afterwards, Gervais wrote an open letter to the Ottawa Journal expressing her thanks to the Kidney Foundation, to the people of Ottawa who contributed so generously towards the purchase of a second dialysis machine, and to her doctors, nurses and technicians.

While dialysis offered life to kidney patients, it was not a cure. Many dreamt of the day they would receive a kidney transplant that would liberate them from long weekly stints at the hospital, and enable them to live normal lives. While Verne Trewin’s operation and his post-operative immunosuppressive drug treatment showed what was possible, it took some years before kidney transplants become routine in Ottawa. In the four years following Trewin’s transplant, the Ottawa General performed only two successful kidney transplants while the Ottawa Civic did three.

Things began to change in early 1968. In March of that year, two persons received kidneys from the same donor owing to a remarkable bequest of Jacques Patenaude who worked at the Besserer Street postal station, coincidentally the same place Verne Trewin used to work. After collapsing on the job, the victim of an aneurysm, his wife gave permission for Patenaude’s kidneys to be donated. Pregnant with their third child, the grieving woman said that this was something that her husband would have wanted. They had in fact discussed this very possibility.

Within minutes of Patenaude’s passing at the Ottawa General Hospital, surgeons removed his kidneys, one of which was taken across the city in a special organ preservation unit to the Civic Hospital. There, a team of eleven physicians, twelve nurses and two laboratory technicians transplanted the organ into W. James Harris from Vancouver. A similar team at the Ottawa General transplanted the other kidney into Jean Wright of Pembroke, Ontario. Both transplants were successful. A month after her operation, Jean Wright was back home. James Harris followed a week later. The dual, inter-hospital kidney transplant was a first in Canada.

Less than a month later, a second dual inter-hospital kidney transplant was performed in Ottawa. This time, the donor was leading seaman Roy McFarland, who had died at the Ottawa General Hospital following a traffic accident on Sussex Drive. After permission was received from McFarland’s mother, a 40-year-old man received a kidney at the Ottawa Civic Hospital while a woman received McFarland’s second kidney at the Ottawa General.

Today, Verne Trewin’s wish that some day a kidney transplant would be a routine operation has become a reality. More than 100 kidney transplants are undertaken annually in Ottawa alone. Roughly 1,700 kidney transplants were undertaken in Canada in 2018. As well, the Ottawa Hospital operates three dialysis centres at the Civic, General and Riverside campuses and at five satellite units. The centres provide dialysis services to more than 650 patients, with more than 200 receiving dialysis at home.

To help ensure that chronic kidney disease sufferers like Verne Trewin can receive a kidney, please sign your organ donor’s card to guide your family in the event of your untimely death. Organ donation is an act of love that will bring some joy amidst the grief. And who knows, you may be the lucky recipient.

Sources:

Fresenius Medical Care, 2021. The History of Dialysis.

Mapes, Diane, 2021. Shunting Death, University of Washington Alumni News.

Ottawa Hospital, 2021. In-Centre Hemodialysis.

Ottawa Citizen, 1964. “Kidney Machine offers mother new life,” 24 April.

——————, 1964.  “Surgery, wife’s love gave him a new life,” 13 August.

——————, 1965. “His Life Was Saved By A Medical Break-Through,” 9 January.

——————, 1968. “2 kidney patients in good condition,” 18 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1963. “Artificial Kidney Machine Unveiled,” 19 December.

——————-, 1963. “Kidney Machine Gives Woman New Lease on Life,” 24 April.

——————-, 1965. “Lucky Five Get New Life-Saving Kidney Treatment,” 6 February.

——————, 1965. “Gifts for Hospital, Crippled Children,” 24 February.

——————, 1965. “Cradle Leaguers Join Kidney Drive,” 26 February.

——————, 1965. “Funds, Forces Mount in War on Kidney Disease,” 8 March.

——————, 1965. “Thank You,” 25 September.

——————, 1965. “Dr. Kildare,” 6 November.

——————, 1968. “Second Inter-Hospital Kidney Transplant,” 27 April.

The Boston Red Stockings Come To Town

27 August 1872

In 1994, the federal government passed a bill naming hockey as Canada’s national sport of winter and lacrosse as the country’s national sport of summer. The latter might surprise some since I suspect relatively few Canadians have ever watched a lacrosse game. Football, soccer and even baseball have greater followings. Samuel Hill, author of an article titled Baseball in Canada that appeared in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, makes the audacious claim that if it wasn’t for baseball being the national summer game of the United States, it would be the national sport of Canada.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, there were three popular summer sports for Canadian men—lacrosse, cricket and baseball—that could claim to be the nation’s favourite. Lacrosse was a game first popularized by Indigenous Canadians and later adopted and adapted by European settlers. First Nations’ games could involve as many as 1,000 participants in a community event with religious overtones that could last for days. Apparently, it was combat by other means. The European version of the sport, codified by Montrealer William Beers in 1860, reduced the number on a team to twelve and drastically shortened the game. This version of the sport proved to be very popular, with lacrosse clubs and teams forming throughout Canada, and indeed in the United States and even in Britain and elsewhere.

Cricket was also popular, especially in what is now Atlantic Canada and in Ontario. While it may have had an elitist connotation, there were many cricket clubs across the country, including in Ottawa. Cricket was also enthusiastically played in the United States until baseball supplanted it. Perhaps Canada’s most prestigious cricket pitch in the nineteenth century, and even today, is found on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s governor general.

In 1869, the Ottawa Daily Citizen commented that cricket was growing in popularity among young men and that the sport deserved that popularity. It was “both a graceful and manly game and a healthy exercise.” The newspaper added that at one time it believed that lacrosse would supersede cricket in Canada and become the national game but that this was now unclear. “We are inclined to think that cricket will maintain a place in the regard of our young men for many a day to come.”

Baseball, or base ball (two words back in the nineteenth century) was also very popular throughout southern Ontario, with the first game reputedly played as early as 1838 in Beachville, Ontario. Apparently, the Canadian game was very different from that played today, or even in the United States at the time, as the sport’s rules had yet to be standardized. Among other things, there were five bases in the Canadian version instead of four, and the ball could be thrown directly at a runner for an “out”. According to Samuel Hill, “New York Rules,” which became the standard rules of baseball, were introduced to Canada during the 1850s. Canadian and US teams competed frequently, with north-south matches facilitated by easy rail access. The first international baseball match was a contest between Hamilton and Buffalo, New York. By 1877, London and Guelph baseball clubs joined the International Association which also included US teams, such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis. That year, the London Tecumsehs won the league championship over the Pittsburgh Alleghenies—Canada’s first major league baseball championship, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays by more than a century.

According to a splendid 2005 Citizen article on early Ottawa baseball written by David McDonald, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, the sport was brought to the nation’s capital in 1870 by Ottawa-native Tom Cluff. Cluff, who had been an avid lacrosse player, became enamoured with the new sport after a visit to the United States. He and others formed the Ottawa Base Ball Club, an amateur team.

By 1872, the Citizen was lamenting the disappearance of lacrosse in the city. The newspaper opined “What has become of our old Lacrosse Clubs? Are they disposed to let the national game die out in the capital of the Dominion? We hope they will take a lesson from the more enterprising devotees of the United States game and revive the excellent sport.”

That year, the Ottawa Base Ball Club leased a ten-acre field “in a line with Elgin Street and running close to the Rideau Canal, a ten-minute walk south from the old Post Office. It was accessible by foot and boat. The Club erected a 7 to 8-foot fence around the site, and built a grandstand with refreshment booths. Unlike games today, there was no alcohol served. According to the Citizen, this was “something which will, we are sure, meet with universal approval” as it will show that the “sport can be enjoyed without the use of the drinks that invariably ‘inebriate’ but seldom cheer.”

Cal McVey, Boston Red Stockings’ catcher who scored nine runs in the 64-0 rout over the Ottawa Base Ball Club, 27 August, 1872, Picture taken in 1874, New York Public Library, Public Domain.

The inaugural game played in the new ball field was a match between the Ottawa Base Ball Club and the Boston Red Stockings held on Tuesday, 27 August 1872, a civic holiday. The Boston team had been formed just the previous year and had been a great success, playing in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. It also toured throughout the United States and Canada playing exhibition games. The team should not be confused with the similar-sounding team, the Boston Red Sox. That team was founded in 1908. The Boston Red Stockings became the Boston Braves in 1912, and are now known as the Atlanta Braves.

The Boston Red Stockings were a professional team. The Citizen was awed that members were paid salaries ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 per annum “to do nothing else but play base ball.” The Boston Club had a capital base of $15,000 and was established under a Massachusetts charter.

That 1872 civic holiday in Ottawa was a sporting extravaganza. The day started with a cricket match at the Rideau Hall pitch between 22 selected Canadian players and the Eleven of England. On the English side were cricket luminaries Cuthbert Ottaway, deemed the most versatile athlete of the age, and William Gilbert Grace, generally considered one of the finest cricketers of all time. Grace, who was feeling ill during the match still managed to score 73 runs. The English team overwhelmed Ottawa, downing the home team 201 runs to 42. The Red Stockings, who were in the crowd of about three thousand, thought the batting was “very fine” but remarked that the game was “darned slow.”

After the match, the Red Stockings were driven to the baseball grounds by the Russell House’s horse-drawn bus. Team members were immediately surrounded by admiring fans. The Citizen journalist appreciatively called the Red Stockings the “most athletic looking lot of players that have ever visited the city.” He added that the “Red Stockings [were] all heavy men, very strong and active, in fact picked men.” The Boston players wore a loose-fitting uniform of light brown flannel with red belts and red stockings—“admirably adapted for their active play of sinew and muscles.”

The team took to the field and immediately began to practise pitching and catching. The crowd of several thousand, some of whom had walked to the baseball field across the newly opened Maria Street bridge over the Rideau Canal, quickly could see that the home team would have little chance against the tourists. “There were very few even of the most sanguine of the Ottawa men who would bet one to ten that our club would obtain a single run,” opined the Citizen’s journalist. Just the day before, the Red Stockings had beaten the Toronto “Dauntless” team 68 to nothing. Indeed, it was reported that nineteen of twenty amateur clubs they had played that season had lost without even being allowed to first base, let alone score a run. Up until their game with Ottawa, the Boston team had only been defeated three times that season, twice by the Athletics of Philadelphia and once by the Haymakers of Troy, both professional clubs. Against these three losses, the Red Stockings had more than forty victories.

The game’s box score, Ottawa Citizen, 28 August 1872.

The Ottawa Club won the toss and elected to field for the first inning. Initially, the Boston Club found the pitching of R. Lang to be “puzzling,” according to the Citizen. But they visitors soon figured him out. The Red Stockings had considerable praise for the fielding abilities of the home team, especially that of W. McMahon in left field. Reportedly, he made a number of very difficult catches. They also complemented the skills of Tom Cluff at first base.

It was Ottawa’s batting that fell very short. Boston said the home team suffered from the same fault as other amateur teams that they had faced—a lack of confidence that prevented balls leaving the in-field.

The Ottawa-Boston match-up lasted 2 hours and 13 minutes with the score an extraordinarily lopsided 64 to nothing. Mind you, that was better than how Toronto’s “Dauntless” team had fared. The Citizen very charitably noted that the final score was 18 earned runs to zero. The newspaper added that the Boston team was “undoubtedly the finest club in existence.”

This wasn’t the only appearance of the Red Stockings in Ottawa. The following year, the Boston team returned to the nation’s capital for a rematch with the Ottawa Base Ball Club. This time, the Ottawa Club managed to score not just once but four times in a losing cause, being downed 41 to 4 by the visitors.

Sources:

Hill, Samuel R., 2000. “Baseball in Canada,” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies: Vol. 8. Issue 1, Article 4.

Lemoine, Bob, 2015.  “April 6th 1871: Boston Red Stockings take to the field for the first time,” Society for American Baseball Research.

McDonald, David, 2005, “Aug. 27th: The day the tide turned in Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, 27 August.

Ottawa Citizen, 1868, “The Lacrosse Match At Prescott,” 2 October.

——————, 1869. “No title,” 6 September.

——————, 1872. “Many Sports,” 12 August.

——————, 1872. “Toronto,” 26 August.

——————, 1872. “The Civic Holiday,” 28 August.

——————, 1873. “The Base Ball Match,” 27 August.

The Pius X High School Tragedy

27 October 1975

Warning: this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Perhaps the greatest horror of a parent is something evil happening to their children. Sadly, on the afternoon of 27 October 1975, evil strode into Pius X High School causing mayhem and death. At roughly 2:30pm, Robert Poulin, a Grade 13 student, arrived at the school on his 10-speed bicycle carrying a large, army duffel bag. He entered the building located on Fisher Avenue in suburban Nepean and walked to classroom 71 on the ground floor. There, Father Bédard was conducting a religious instruction class. After pausing briefly at the lockers located outside the room, Poulin calmly took out a sawed-off, pump-action shotgun from his duffel bag and threw open the classroom door. With a smile on his face, he fired several shots into the crowded room. At first, students thought it was a joke. But the awful reality quickly became apparent as shotgun pellets shattered bodies, and peppered the back wall of the classroom. Students threw themselves to the ground or hid behind desks in a desperate attempt to protect themselves. Poulin then backed out of the classroom. In the hallway, he put the shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger, blowing his brains over the walls and lockers. The whole affair lasted just ten seconds.

Robert Poulin, Ottawa Journal, 28 October 1975.

It took several minutes for the teacher and the students to realize that the attack was over. School principal, Father Leonard Lunney, who had been in his office at the time of the attack, rushed to the classroom to find the shattered remains of Robert Poulin in the hallway in front. He told the students that they were safe and ordered another teacher to stand guard over the body and wait for the police. To avoid passing by Poulin’s body, the traumatized children broke the classroom’s windows and evacuated to safety through them.

Six students were wounded in the attack, one grievously. Shot in the head, Mark Hough, age 18, was later to succumb to his injuries after a five-week battle for his life. Also wounded were Marc Potvin (18), Terry Vanden Handenberg (18), Barclay Holbrook (16), Kurniadi Benggawen (16) and Michael Monette (17). Thankfully, they all recovered. The psychological wounds inflicted on the entire class were, however, long lasting.

As Robert Poulin was entering the school, firemen were entering his house at 5 Warrington Drive in Ottawa South. They had been called to the scene by a neighbour who had gone to Mrs. Stuart Poulin’s assistance after the latter had arrived home from shopping to find smoke billowing from her home. In the basement, the firemen make a horrifying discovery. Manacled to a bed was the charred body of a semi-clad girl.

The body was quickly identified as that of a 17-year-old neighbour, Kimberly Rabot, who lived less than two blocks away. Poulin and Rabot knew each other, having been in the same Grade 10 class at Pius X High School before Rabot changed schools three years earlier. Rabot had also gone to Poulin’s house on one occasion to play the boardgame Risk. Poulin had also reportedly asked her out, but she had declined. Kim Rabot, an avid swimmer, had a sunny disposition and abhorred violence.

In the days leading up to the tragedy, there had been little indication in Poulin’s demeanour to suggest anything was awry. To all, including his family, classmates and teachers, Poulin was a quiet, studious kid. His passions were war board games and the militia. He had joined the Cameron Highlanders, and was hoping to go to officer training school one day. Poulin also had a job delivering newspapers. He was, however, a loner with few friends. He typically arrived at school just as classes were about to start and left immediately afterwards. His write-up in his school yearbook was “Rob takes the cake for this year’s ‘Briefcase of the Year award.’” He never showed much emotion.

The Friday before the attack, Poulin had asked his principal Father Lunney about the chances of him being able to leave school prior to the end of the school year the following June. Poulin wanted to work with the militia on security for the upcoming Montreal Summer Olympic Games. Father Lunney assured him that with his marks and record there would be no problem. That Sunday evening, just hours before he snapped, Robert Poulin had played cards with his parents and three sisters. The only thing unusual to occur was that he quit early to go to his bedroom in the basement.

Second from top, Robert Poulin’s advertisement for companionship, Ottawa Journal, 7 October 1975.

Police worked diligently to trace Poulin’s actions in the days leading up to the attack. They discovered that he had purchased a 12-guage, single-barrel shotgun with the serial number L877371 from a Giant Tiger store on George Street in the Byward Market a few days earlier. Poulin subsequently sawed off the barrel in his home’s basement so that it would fit in his duffel bag. He had also placed an advertisement for companionship in the personals’ column of the Ottawa Journal newspaper. The ad ran the first week in October.

On the fateful Monday morning, he left early, ostensibly to go to school. His mother asked if he wanted breakfast but Poulin said he had already made himself a peanut butter sandwich. Shortly afterwards, his mother heard a door slam and heavy steps on the stairs going down into the basement. She did not investigate. The basement bedroom was her son’s sanctum where neither she nor her husband ever went. She later went down to another part of the basement and called out to her son who was in his room behind a curtain. He said everything was fine. All seemed normal. She could hear nothing unusual above the sound of a radio and an operating washing machine.

What came out at the inquest held in early December, was that poor Kim Rabot was also behind that curtain. She had left her home at about 8:00am to go to the bus stop to catch her bus for school. Her brother was with her. Fifteen minutes later, Poulin approached her and said “I’ve something to show you.” She initially refused to go with him, but then relented when he said that he would drive her to school so she wouldn’t be late for class. She went back to his house with him. That was the last anybody other than Poulin saw her alive. An autopsy showed that she had been raped, then asphyxiated with a plastic, dry-cleaning bag and stabbed eleven times.

After killing the girl, Poulin laid a trail of Playboy magazines throughout the basement and doused them with gasoline. His intent was to destroy his home. The police were later to find more than 250 pornographic magazines and books, some of which portrayed graphic scenes of women in bondage. Unknown to his parents, Poulin had rented a post office box for the delivery of the pornography, which he purchased with the earnings from his paper route. He also had a large collection of women’s undergarments.

Amongst Poulin’s other effects in his bedroom, police found a diary, from which excerpts were read out loud at the inquest. While there was no reference to a pending school attack, there were some very disturbing entries. Poulin fantasized about suicide. He also thought about killing his parents and sisters, but changed his mind. He thought death “was the true bliss” and that he didn’t want them to be happy. He also wrote about burning the house down in a way that would cause maximum hardship to his father. As well, he described his sexual fantasies and his fear of women. He ordered an “Everything doll” from an ad in one of his pornographic magazines, but it didn’t live up to his expectations. Not wanting to die a virgin, he considered buying a model revolver to abduct a neighbourhood girl and rape her. If the girl caused any trouble, he wrote that he would kill her because he had nothing to lose since he was planning to kill himself anyhow. Ominously, the police found a list of girls who lived in the area; Kim Rabot’s name was underlined.

Two psychiatrists at the inquest testified that Robert Poulin was “almost two people,” and that his sudden burst of violence could not have been predicted. They also absolved his parents for responsibility for his deviant behaviour. With this school attack coming just months after a similar attack in Brampton in which a student and teacher were killed, the psychiatrists recommended the complete abolition of hand guns, and tight controls on other firearms. They also recommended additional controls on pornography.

The three-man, two-woman coroner’s jury deliberated for six hours. Their main recommendations focused on guns and pornography. While they dismissed calls for a complete ban on all firearms, they urged the government to ban all hand guns and limit sales of other firearms to only people with valid reasons to own them, such as hunters and target shooters. In addition, they argued that there should be a 30-day cooling off period between gun sale and gun delivery. They also called for a complete ban on pornography which they defined as “anything showing or representing the genital parts of the human body.” As well, the jury castigated the media for sensationalist reporting, a charge the coroner disputed saying that the news coverage had been responsible—the public had the right to know. Other recommendations included schools making periodic, random searches of lockers, and for secondary schools to know where all students are within the first thirty minutes of the school day, and to inform parents of any absences within an hour.

Following the tragedy, Mayor Lorry Greenberg initiated a voluntary, “no-questions-asked” turn-in of weapons. More than 178 guns of which 68 were restricted weapons were handed in to the Ottawa Police, including one from a convict out on parole.

The Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau tightened controls on guns in 1977, two years after the Pius X High School shooting though not as far as the coroner’s jury recommended. Firearms were divided into three categories, unrestricted (rifles and shotguns) and restricted, such as handguns and semi-automatic weapons, and forbidden, such as sawed-off weapons. Fully automatic weapons were prohibited the following year, though existing weapons in private ownership were grandfathered.

While mass shootings, particularly in schools, are rare in Canada, they have occurred on several occasions since the Pius X High School attack. The most infamous was the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal when Marc Lépine killed fourteen women in an attack on feminism. This massacre led to further tightening of gun controls. In 1995, the Canadian Firearms Registry came into effect which required the registration of all firearms, including non-restricted weapons, such as rifles and shotguns. However, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper repealed the “long-gun” registry in 2012 and required all the information collected to be destroyed. While Quebec filed an injunction against the destruction of the data, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the province in 2015.

While there is no constitutional right to bear arms as there is in the United States, gun control remains a contentious issue in Canada. The issue broadly pits rural against urban interests and east versus west. Following the killing of twenty-two persons in Nova Scotia in 2020, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau banned 1,500 different types of assault-style weapons. In 2021, the federal government introduced further measures, including giving cities the ability to ban hand guns. The draft legislation is viewed as insufficient and unworkable by gun control advocates, and is opposed by gun enthusiasts.

Since the 1975 Pius X High School shooting, Canada’s laws on pornography have been liberalized, except in two important areas. Child pornography is prohibited. Pornography that involves crime, horror, cruelty and violence is also illegal.  

Sources:

CBC, 2020. “Trudeau announces ban on 1,500 types of ‘assault-style” firearms – effectively immediately,” 1 May, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-gun-control-measures-ban-1.5552131.

CNN. 2021. “Canada backs away from national hang gun ban and will leave it up to communities,” 16 February, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/16/americas/canada-handgun-ban/index.html.

Ottawa Citizen, 1975. “Rob – ‘a quiet lad’ says it all,” 27 October.

——————, 1975. “Two dead, six wounded,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Relationship with militia ‘psychopathic,’” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Seconds of terror related by witness,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Still no legislation enacted to toughen gun control laws,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “So precious, so loving,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Three of St. Pius injured to go home this weekend,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Kimberly stabbed—coroner,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Mayor invites Ottawans to turn in their guns,” 30 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin looked ‘INSANE,’” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin inquest,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Kim didn’t like to hurt feelings,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin’s Diary,” 3 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin almost 2 people,’” 4 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1975. “Student guns down classmates,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “His best friend was his bicycle,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin told Kim: ‘I’ve something to show you,’” 29 October.

——————-, 1975. “Robert’s room his castle,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Pornography surprise to father,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Porn, gun control a necessity – jury,” 5 December.

The Anishinabek

Time Immemorial

and 7 October 1763

Canada is widely viewed as a young country, its history stretching back no more than a few hundred years to the arrival of French and British settlers to its shores. But this is a very blinkered view of things. The territory that we now call Canada was not terra nullius when the Europeans arrived, far from it. It was instead populated by a diverse group of Indigenous peoples with their own cultures, traditions and languages from the Pacific Ocean in the west, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Great Lakes in the south, and to the Atlantic Ocean in the east. Pre-contact population estimates vary widely, but modern estimates place the population of the Pacific Northwest alone at as much as 500,000.  One, therefore, wonders what the population of the entire territory that was to become Canada might have been. Sadly, European traders and settlers brought diseases, such as smallpox, to which the native population had little or no resistance. Whole communities were virtually wiped out within a short period of time. By 1867, the Canadian Indigenous population had fallen to about 125,000 souls, out of a total Canadian population of about 3.7 million, and was to continue to fall for decades after.

Algonquins, 18th century watercolour, Wikiwand

Nobody could live in the Ottawa region until the glaciers of the Wisconsin glacial episode had retreated sufficiently to expose the territory. This occurred roughly 11,000 years ago. Recent archaeological work has found traces of humans dating back as much as 8,000 years. Excavations at several locations along the Ottawa River have uncovered many artifacts fashioned by the Laurentian people of the Archaic period. These included the discovery of spear throwers on Allumette Island in Quebec close to Pembroke, Ontario. These implements enabled hunters to propel spears with greater force than relying on muscle power alone. Also found were tools made of stone and bone, knives crafted from slate and copper, scrapers, harpoons, fish hooks, awls and finely-made needles, the latter requiring a high degree of sophistication to manufacture. On Morrison Island, also close to Pembroke, hundreds of grinding stones were found along with axes, drills, and adzes. These early residents were highly skilled and had a strong artistic sensibility. Many bone articles had been delicately engraved.

The archaeological record also shows a continuous human presence right in the National Capital Region since those early days, reflective of its strategic position at the confluence of three major river systems—the Ottawa which flows into the St. Lawrence and from thence to the Atlantic; the Gatineau which extends northward for almost 400 kilometres; and the Rideau which, via a series of portages, provides access southward to the Great Lakes. These waterways were major transportation and trade routes for indigenous peoples, and continued as such well after the arrival of European settlers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the Rideau Canal built in the late 1820s traced the well-travelled indigenous route from Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River.

Indicative of the importance of the region as a trading centre, archaeological digs in the National Capital Region have uncovered an extraordinary range of material brought many hundreds if not thousands of kilometres. These include quartzite from central Quebec, different types of chert (a type of rock) used for making tools from the Hudson Bay, Illinois, and Ohio, ceramics from south of the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, and copper from the western edge of Lake Superior.  Today’s Leamy Lake Park appears to have been a key stopping point with evidence indicating continuous seasonal occupation of the delta at the mouth of the Gatineau River for over 4,500 years. There, indigenous people from all over stopped to meet, trade, and enjoy the rich bounty of natural resources to be found there.

Ottawa First Nation family, J.G. de Sauveur, Engraving, 1801, Library and Archives Canada, 2937181.

Other excavations, pioneered by Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt, a prominent Bytown physician, identified in 1843 an “Indian burial ground” on the northern shore of the Ottawa River. He uncovered the remains of twenty individuals in communal and individual graves. Also found at this site were ashes from cremations. Recent investigations during the twenty-first century have confirmed the location of the site as Hull Landing, immediately opposite Parliament Hill, now the location of the Canadian Museum of History.

We also know that the Chaudière Falls was a site of considerable spiritual significance to the Indigenous peoples of the region. In 1613, Samuel de Champlain described in his journal the “usual” ceremony that was celebrated at that site. He wrote that after the people had assembled, and a speech given by one of the chiefs, an offering of tobacco on a wooden plate was thrown into the roiling waters of the cauldron to seek the intercession of the gods to protect them from their enemies.

It was Samuel de Champlain who popularized the name for these indigenous peoples—the “Algoumequins” a.k.a. the Algonquins. But the people knew themselves as the Anishinabek, sometimes translated as true men, or good humans.

Following first contact with Europeans at the beginning of the seventeenth century, many eastern First Nations became embroiled in the seemingly endless conflicts between European powers for political and economic ascendency in North America. The semi-nomadic Algonquins, who were superb hunters and trappers, became key partners with the French in the European fur trade. They supplied pelts from their own extensive territories in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Valleys, or acted as middlemen for the Cree to the north. In exchange, the Algonquins received firearms that they used to defend themselves from their traditional rivals, the Iroquois First Nations, who were important allies of Dutch settlers to the south, and subsequently the English.

These European struggles culminated in the long conflict between England and France in the mid-eighteenth century, called the Seven Years’ War, which ultimately led to an English victory and France’s loss of its North American colonies with the exception of the important fishing centres on the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon located in the mouth of the St. Lawrence close to Newfoundland.

When Montreal capitulated in 1760 to English forces, the English agreed to a French condition of surrender that their indigenous allies could remain in their traditional territories and would not be molested. Three years later, in June 1763, France ceded its North American territories to the English under the Treaty of Paris.

On 7 October 1763, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation outlining how his new territories in North America would be administered and how relations with the Indigenous communities would be undertaken. The Proclamation stated: “And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our interest and the Security of the Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.”

Another provision of the Proclamation forbade private purchases of land from Indigenous peoples, with this right reserved to the Crown. This provision set the basis for the negotiation of future treaties between the Crown and Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Notwithstanding this 1763 Royal Proclamation, Europeans quickly settled on indigenous territories. Following the American War of Independence, which ended in 1783, the Crown gave grants of land to Loyalist refugees coming north to Canadian territory according to their rank and service. These grants were given without the consent of the First Nations.

Here in the greater Ottawa area, Loyalists received grants of land on the Rideau River, including at such places as today’s Merrickville, Burritt’s Rapids, and Smiths Falls. Grants of land along the Ottawa River from Carillon westward to Fassett on the north shore in Quebec and at Hawkesbury in Ontario were also handed out.

In addition, European settlers began settling on indigenous territory in the National Capital Region in 1800 with the arrival of Philemon Wright in what is now the Hull sector of Gatineau. Initially hoping to farm, settlers almost immediately began to exploit the seemingly inexhaustible supply of pine for sale in the United Kingdom and later the United States. Settlement accelerated with the building of the Rideau Canal and the naming of Ottawa as the capital of Canada in 1857.

The clearance of vast tracks of land for farms, lumbering and urban development irrevocably altered the landscape of the Ottawa Valley. By the 1920s, less than four percent of the original, old growth forest was left. For the Algonquins, who had lived for untold centuries in harmony with nature, their way of life was also irrevocably changed. As no treaty had been made with the Crown, the Algonquin First Nations had been marginalized on their own territory. Canada’s capital continues to sit on unceded Algonquin territory in contravention of the 1763 Royal Proclamation.

Territorial claims of the Ontario Algonquins, Province of Ontario

Today, there are ten recognized Algonquin First Nations with a total population of about 11,000. Nine Algonquin communities are in Quebec—Kitigan Zibi, Barriere Lake, Kitcisakik, Lac Simon, Abitibiwinni, Long Point, Timiskaming, Kebaowek, and Wolf Lake. The tenth, Pikwakanagan, is located in Ontario. There are three additional Ontario First Nations that are related by kinship—the Temagami, the Wahgoshig and the Matchewan.

In October 2016, the Algonquins of Ontario reached an agreement-in principle-with the federal government and the government of Ontario to settle all land claims covering some 36,000 square kilometres of land in the watersheds of the Ottawa and Mattawa with a population of 1.2 million. Algonquin territorial claims in Quebec were not covered by the agreement. The agreement-in-principle is viewed as a major milestone towards reconciliation and renewed relations. If ratified, the agreement would lead to the transfer of 117,500 acres of provincial Crown land to Algonquin ownership, the provision of $300 million by the federal and provincial governments, and the definition of Algonquin rights related to lands and natural resources in Ontario. No land will be expropriated from private owners. The agreement would be Ontario’s first, modern-day, constitutionally protected treaty. As of time of writing (2021), a final agreement had not yet been reached.

Sources:

Algonquins of Ontario, 2021. Our Proud History.

Belshaw, John Douglas, 2018. “Natives by Numbers,” Canadian History: Post Confederation, BC Open Textbook Project.

Boswell, Randy & Pilon, Jean-Luc, 2015. The Archaeological Legacy of Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt, Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 39: 294-326.

Di Gangi, Peter, 2018.  Algonquin Territory, Canada’s History, 30 April.

Hall, Anthony, J. 2019. Royal Proclamation of 1763, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 February 2006.

Hele, Carl. 2020. Anishinaabe, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 16 July.

Ontario, Government of, 2021. The Algonquin Land Claim.

Neville, George A. 2018. Loyalist Land Grants Along the Grand (Ottawa) River 1788, Bytown Pamphlet, No. 103, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Pelletier, Gérard, 1997. “The First Inhabitants of the Outaouais; 6,000 years of History,” History of the Outaouais, ed. Chad Gaffield, Laval University.

Pilon, Jean-Luc & Boswell, Randy, 2015. “Below the Falls; An Ancient Cultural Landscape in the Centre of (Canada’s National Capital Region) Gatineau,” Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 39 (257-293).

The Green Valley Restaurant

30 June 1947

The Green Valley Restaurant, Prescott Highway, Ottawa

For more than fifty years, the family-run Green Valley Restaurant was a landmark on the Prescott Highway, later known as Prince of Wales Drive. Despite being far from the downtown core, the restaurant was an enduring favourite of Ottawa diners. It garnered a reputation for fine dining. Thousands made their way out past the Experimental Farm, tempted by the Green Valley’s traditional offerings of prime rib of beef, leg of lamb, chicken pot pie, salmon, trout and scallops. For those who still had room, a wide range of home-style desserts were served, including carrot cake, coconut cream pie, and cheesecake with raspberry sauce.  A dessert favourite among the younger set was the “Mickey Mouse” – scoops of ice cream decorated with chocolate wafers ears and maraschino cherry eyes. A Sunday brunch attracted the after-church crowd. The restaurant became the place to celebrate birthdays, Mothers’ Day, weddings and wakes.

Green Valley Cabins, Prescott Highway, Ottawa.

The Green Valley had an unlikely genesis in the depth of the Great Depression when Waldorf John Stewart, who had moved to the spot with his wife, Florence Irene, neé Mulligan, in around 1933, built an attractive play house for their young daughter Miriam on their property. Visible from the highway, travellers to the Ottawa area began stopping and asking whether they could rent it for short stays. Recognizing an investment opportunity, Stewart built twenty-four tourist cabins, which became known as the Green Valley Tourist Court. The new hostelry was open on a seasonal basis from May to mid-October. The new business was named after his wife’s nearby family farm. Stewart also began selling ice cream and hot dogs to holiday makers and day trippers from Ottawa out for an afternoon drive.

Waldorf J. Stewart, Ottawa Citizen, 18 September, 1956.

At the end of June 1947, Stewart expanded the food side of the business, opening the Green Valley Restaurant for guests staying in his cabins as well for the general public. He advertised his new restaurant in both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Journal noting that meals would be prepared by chef “Gustave,” formerly of the Engineers’ Club of Montreal and the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity of McGill University. The restaurant was an instant success.

The following year, Lyall M. Gillespie, married Stewart’s daughter Miriam, and joined the family business. Gillespie who had university degrees in business and commerce, took an active interest in the restaurant, doubling its capacity to 120 guests with the construction of the “Pine Room,” and expanding its menu.  Later, Gillespie left another enduring mark on Ottawa’s tourist fabric. As a member of Ottawa’s Board of Trade, he was the person responsible for persuading the federal government to hold a regular “Changing of the Guard” ceremony on Parliament Hill. So successful was the event among Ottawa’s tourists and residents that Prime Minister Diefenbaker made the temporary, summer season event a permanent feature of Ottawa’s tourist calendar in 1959.

Within a few years, the Green Valley Restaurant had eclipsed the tourist accommodations’ side of the business. In 1956, the restaurant expanded again with the building of the “Walnut Room.” Capacity increased to 225 guests. A gift shop called “Now and Then,” sold souvenir items, chinaware and jewellery. The expansion, along with the construction of new cooking facilities, which included two walk-in freezers, a poultry-prep station, a pastry station, a vegetable-prep station, as well as a dishwashing section and a dessert table, cost $300,000—a huge investment, roughly equivalent to $3 million in today’s money.

Green Valley Restaurant and Tourist Court, Prescott Highway, Ottawa

These changes vaulted the Green Valley Restaurant into the top echelon of Canadian restaurants. Duncan Hines recommended it in his book Adventures in Good Eating that described good eating places in North America. Hines, now best known for the eponymous brand of cake mixes and icings owned by Proctor and Gamble, was an American pioneer in rating restaurants for travellers. The Green Valley was also recommended by the Automobile Association of America, Gourmet Magazine, and Diners’ Club, one of the first purveyors of credit cards. It was also voted by readers of the American Business magazine as the fourth-best restaurant in Canada for business people to entertain clients. Not bad for a family-run eatery on the outskirts of little Ottawa! Graham Kerr, a.k.a. the Galloping Gourmet, was also a frequent patron of the Green Valley Restaurant while he and his family lived in Ottawa for the filming his world-famous television show.

In 1967, Waldorf Steward died, and the Green Valley Tourist Court and Restaurant passed into the hands of his daughter Miriam and son-in-law Lyall Gillespie. That same year, the cabins were closed, leaving the firm to concentrate on its restaurant business. Two years later, Miriam died leaving the firm to her husband Lyall who later ran the business with his second wife, Linda, until his death in 1987. Linda Gillespie with brother John Meyers subsequently managed the business.

Advertisement, Ottawa Journal, 30 June 1947.

By this time, the restaurant was deeply entrenched in the fabric of Ottawa’s hospitality industry. One much loved restaurant tradition was its Christmas tree. Each Christmas season, the restaurant decorated a neighbouring forty-foot spruce with 2,500 coloured lights. Seen for miles, it became a welcome beacon for drivers on the Prescot Highway.

In 1985, this festive tradition was threatened when the owner of the land on which the tree stood decided to develop the property. The land had originally been part of old Green Valley Tourist Court acreage, but had been sold off in 1972. With the tree slated to be cut down to make way for an entrance way, Ottawa residents rose up in arms in an effort to save the landmark tree. A petition to keep the Christmas tree attracted a thousand signatures, while several hundred people protested in person. Mayor Dewar was warned that she would be “a grinch” if the tree was cut down.

During the negotiations between the developer, the restaurant and the city to find a way of saving the tree, somebody tried to kill it by drilling holes around the base of the tree’s trunk and injecting it with an unknown fluid. Arborists opined that the tree, which was already stressed by the cutting of its roots to build a nearby watermain, was unlikely to survive. The magnificent spruce was cut down. Fortunately, the Christmas tradition was maintained when a local tree company donated a replacement tree that the restaurant owners planted on their property.

In 1995, the Green Valley Restaurant passed out of Gillespie/Myers family hands when the business was sold to an outsider, Ron Karam, a lawyer. But for its patrons, little changed. Karam retained the name and the oldy-worldy atmosphere of the restaurant, and its staff.

However, by this time, the still popular but increasingly old-fashioned restaurant was losing ground to more hip downtown eateries. The Green Valley was disparagingly referred to as catering to the “blue rinse set.”

Festive family meal, 1961, National Film Board, Library and Archives Canada, 40301886.

In 2002, the business was sold again. This time to restauranteur Peter Thorp who was the owner of Oscar’s on Queen Street, a purveyor of wood-fired pizzas. At the end of May of that year, the Green Valley Restaurant served it last prime rib. A month later, the redecorated restaurant reopened as Gilmour’s, named after John Gilmour, the pioneer Ottawa lumberman.

Gilmour’s, the successor restaurant to the Green Valley, did not last long. On New Year’s Eve, 2002, just months after it opened, the restaurant was destroyed by fire.

At 7:30pm, while staff were catering to the needs of roughly twenty guests, smoke was detected coming from one of the back vents to the restaurant. The alarm was sounded, and staff and guests were evacuated. There was little hope of stopping the blaze. The building was made of wood with little or no fire stops or flame-retardant materials. Extreme heat prevented fire fighters from entering the building for a time. While the fire was contained by midnight, the fire department remained on the scene until about 6:00am the following morning. Damage was estimated at $1.5 million–$1 million for the building and another $500,000 for its contents.

The building was not replaced. Today, all that is left of the venerable Green Valley Restaurant, an Ottawa landmark for 67 years, is its driveway blocked by concrete traffic barriers.

Sources:

Ottawa Citizen, 1948. “Green Valley Restaurant Newly Enlarged,” 19 May.

——————, 1956. “Green Valley Expands With New Walnut Room,” 18 July.

——————, 1956. “Stewart’s Green Valley Restaurant, 17 September.

——————, 1967. “Stewart, Waldorf John,” 3 February.

——————, 1985. “Huge Christmas Tree vandalized,” 11 July.

——————, 1985. “Developer submits new plan to keep Christmas tree alive,” 13 July.

——————, 1985. “Ottawa Tradition Continues,” 29 August.

——————, 1987. “Local restauranteur dead at 66,” 21 January.

——————, 1987. “Green Valley Restaurant offers consistency, tradition,” 25 August.

——————, 1992. “What’s on the menu?,” 1 October.

——————, 1996. “Recipe for trouble?,” 25 May.

——————, 2002. “Favourite haunt of the blue-rinse set seeks younger clientele, 22 May.

——————, 2002. “After 67 years the Green Valley succumbs to changing tastes,” 12 June.

——————, 2003. “Landmark goes up in flames,” 2 January.

——————, 2003. “How Green was this Beloved Valley?”, 7 January.