The Grand Vice-Regal Fancy Dress Ball

23 February 1876

It was hard times. In late 1875, Canada, indeed all of North America, was mired in what today is known as the “Long Depression” which began with the Panic of 1873 and lasted, according to some economic historians, for more than twenty years. To encourage business, Canada’s Governor General, Lord Dufferin, came up with an ingenious idea: Let’s host a gala fancy dress ball! This was a nineteenth-century version of the “trickle down theory” of aiding the poor. Invitations were sent out at the end of November for the event to be held at Rideau Hall on 23 February 1876.

There was precedent for such an event. Twenty-five years earlier in 1851, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held a grand costume ball at Buckingham Palace “as an impetus to the trade of the British metropolis” according to the Ottawa Daily Citizen. At that event, the Queen wore le grand habit de court of Louis XIV. Her entire costume was made of material of British manufacture. In the depressed financial climate of late 1875, Lord and Lady Dufferin aimed to emulate Her Majesty and give a boost to the local economy.

Illustration of Lord and Lady Dufferin’s Fancy Dress Ball, Canadian Illustrated News, 16 March 1876

Others weren’t so sure about the idea. The Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, René-Édouard Caron, decided against holding his annual ball that year, instead donating $1,000 to a fund for the relief of the poor. Pierre Garneau, the recently-retired mayor of Quebec City, donated $500 to the same fund. The Ottawa Evening Citizen opined that it would be well for the Governor General and private citizens to follow their example. The newspaper added that it believed that a majority of people who received invitations to the ball could not “with justice to themselves and their creditors accept the invitation.” It advised a postponement of the event, or that the ball be abandoned altogether. Given the prevailing financial distress, “the strictest economy is necessary in pleasure as well as in business” the newspaper argued.

Despite such reservations, the Dufferins’ fancy dress ball proceeded as planned. In the three months leading up to the big night, dressmakers, tailors, and costumers worked flat out to dress the 1,500 guests. The Canadian Illustrated News said that “one long golden harvest was reaped by tradesmen” and that “in the present ‘tightness’ of things monetary, the Ball [had] been a perfect godsend.” Maybe Lord Dufferin was right.

Lord Dufferin as King James, 1876, Topley, LAC 3819846.

There were costume mishaps. A Mr. Baird, who purported to be the agent for Miss Jennie Kimball, a well-known Boston-based costumier, announced that he could be found in room 52 at the Russell House Hotel and was taking orders for any costume desired, either for sale or lease. However, a short time later, Miss Kimball wrote to the Citizen denouncing Baird, calling him a “speculator and a very dangerous one.” He was not her agent. However, should somebody wish to procure a gown or costume for the Ball, they should contact Mr. St. Jacques, the manager of the Russell House, who would forward the request to her. She had costumes available for rent, including “Sir Rupert” in silver armour ($20), a Spanish matador ($20), the “Duke of Buckingham ($12) and “King Charles,” a snip at only $10.

The vice-regal Fancy Dress Ball began at 9:00pm. Getting to it must have presented challenges given that Rideau Hall was located on the outskirts of Ottawa and it was mid-winter. Indeed, it was bitterly cold on 23 February with a high of only -19 degrees Celsius that day. It was unlikely that many carriages could be “parked” at Rideau Hall, which, given the temperature, would have been brutal for the horses unless they could be accommodated in the Hall’s stables. Some people may have come by private sleigh, with servants dropping them off and picking them up at an appointed time. For those without private conveyance, there was hired sleighs, and Ottawa’s “mass transit” system of the day, ran by the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company. The Company offered rides on its sleighs to and from Rideau Hall by arrangement.

Lady Dufferin, 1876, Topley, LAC 2315138.

The Ottawa Citizen called the Ball, “the crowing triumph of social life in Canada.” The attendees read like a “who’s who” list of Canadian political, legal and commercial heavyweights. Top of the list was Alexander Mackenzie, the prime minister, and his wife. The frugal Mackenzie, perhaps in sympathy with the hard economic times, wore his official court uniform which featured a lot of gold braid, rather than a more fanciful outfit.

Lord Dufferin and his family and staff were dressed in the style of the Court of King James of Scotland. Dufferin wore a doublet, with trunk hose, pearl-grey bas-de-chausses (stockings that covered the lower part of his legs), a short coat of black velvet trimmed with gold thread, topped off with a black velvet cap with a white feather fastened with a diamond aigrette. Apparently, his costume was considered quite sombre compared to those of his guests, and was the high of good taste.

Lady Dufferin was clad in a crimson petticoat with a satin train with two rows of gold embroidery. Her gown had closed sleeves of white satin puffed with crimson. Over this was a crimson velvet robe lined with white satin, with ermine trim. On her head was a crimson velvet hat decorated with white feathers. She also wore a girdle of jewels and necklace of diamond stars. The three eldest Dufferin children, Helen, Archibald and Terrence, also attended the ball in costume.

The Dufferin children, Terrence, Archie, and Helen, Topley, LAC 5107175.

On arrival, guests were shown into the ballroom which was lit by hundreds of wax candles as well as gas chandeliers. Floor-to-ceiling festoons of roses covered the pilasters than lined the room. At the far end was a dais raised up on three crimson steps on which were two state chairs. A passage through the middle of the room to the dais was cordoned off. Two bands provided the music—the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Gruenwald band from Montreal. The guests were dressed in all sort of costumes—gods and goddesses, cavaliers, roundheads, Britannia, Father Christmas, Quebec guardsmen from 1759, Lady Liberty, and Jacques Cartier were all represented, as were more humbler Campagna peasant women, fishwives and shepherdesses. William Topley, the famed Ottawa photographer, took scores of pictures for posterity that now form part of the collection at Library and Archives Canada.

At 9:30pm, Their Excellencies, accompanied by their attendants, which included two pages, their son Terrence and his friend, Master A. Littleton, who was the son of the Governor General’s secretary, entered the ballroom at the head of a procession of the cream of Ottawa’s society. After the opening bars of “God Save the Queen” were played, the ball began.

The opening dance was a state quadrille, the first of two such dances, the second one being held mid-evening. Eight couples performed the intricate dance, including Lord and Lady Dufferin. The stately dance was almost eclipsed by young Terrence and Master Littleton. Dressed in fancy costumes and equipped with toy swords, the two did what any self-respecting youngster their age would do. While lounging in the two state chairs, the two boys began duelling. The Canadian Illustrated News reported that the clash of steel was covered by the music. No fingers were lost in the affray.

A novel feature of the Ball was its “singing quadrilles” where the dancers provided the vocals to the accompaniment of a piano. The songs were in the form of nursery rhymes “very ingeniously and sweetly harmonized” by Mr. F.W. Mills, who had composed the previous year a one act operetta called “The Mayor of St.-Brieux” for Lady Dufferin’s theatricals.

His Excellency had a busy night. Partnering his wife in at least two dances, Lord Dufferin also danced with fifteen other women.

The dance floor was packed, especially at the beginning. But things opened up as guests drifted through other parts of Rideau Hall, including its drawing rooms and corridors, which were decorated with banks of flowers, card-rooms, and the conservatories lit by Chinese lanterns. Quiet lounges were set aside for those who wished to take a breather from the dances and engage in a quiet tête-à-tête, or whatever.

The indoor tennis court at Rideau Hall decorated as a supper room for the Fancy Dress Ball, February 1876, Topley Studio, LAC 3325566.

At midnight, the Governor General escorting Mrs. Mackenzie, the prime minister’s wife, led the way to the new indoor tennis court which was richly decorated and converted into a supper room. The upper part of the court was festooned with rose and white bunting. Along its sides were placed twelve large shields on banners, including those of the United Kingdom, the Royal Arms, the Dominion Arms, the Arms of Canada, and the Arms of each Province. Each were surmounted by a Royal Crown. The Arms of Blackwood, Hamilton and Temple, which were the quarterings of the Governor General, were each surmounted by an earl’s coronet. At the other end of the room was a display of gold plate, heavy golden spurs and roses.

Three long tables ran the length of the room set with gold and silver services. There was a large candelabrum and a massive golden centrepiece which apparently had at one time graced imperial banquets in France in the court of Napoleon III.

At a “late” hour the next morning, the opening bars of “God Save the Queen,” brought the festivities to a close. According to the Canadian Illustrated News, the patriotic strains “sent a tired but delighted crowd from the charms of the unreal world back into the daily monotony of this very real and grimy, practical nineteenth century.”

A few days later, another ball was held in Rideau Hall. This one was for the servants who laboured so hard at the Fancy Dress Ball. A supper was also laid out for them in the still decorated tennis court.

If you were wondering about all those expensive costumes, many were reused less than a week after the event at Rideau Hall at the Quebec Members’ Ball, held in the newly finished Parliamentary Library. Such were the financially straitened times.

While the Fancy Dress Ball may have given a temporary financial boost to tradesmen as suggested by the Canadian Illustrated News, hard times continued in Ottawa and throughout Canada. The following year, unemployed labourers in search of work stormed Parliament Hill looking for the prime minister. Mackenzie said there was little he could do beyond public works that were already underway. He advised the men to seek their fortune out west.

His advice did not go over well. In 1878, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives sweep Mackenzie and his Liberals from power.


Canadian Illustrated News, 1876. “The Governor General’s Fancy Dress Ball,” 18 March.

Hamilton-Hobbs, Emma, 2019. “Dressing Up at Ottawa’s Fancy Dress Balls and Skating Carnivals (1876-1896),” Library and Archives Canada Blog, 9 May.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1875. “No title,” 30 November.

————————–, 1876. “The Fancy Dress Ball,” 22 January.

————————–, 1876. “A Letter from Jeannie Kimball, 4 February.

————————–, 1876. “Grand Vice-Regal Fete,” 24 February.

————————–, 1876. “The Servants Ball,” 26 February.

————————–, 1876. “Quebec Members’ Ball, 29 February.

Eastview’s Election Irregularities

5 January 1920

Over the past few years, rumours of widespread election irregularities and voter fraud have gripped our neighbours south of the border despite the lack of any evidence that has stood up to court scrutiny. While Canada has so far avoided similar claims, we shouldn’t be too smug. Charges of voter fraud have occurred here. Indeed, so bad were the irregularities in municipal elections in Eastview, a suburban community neighbouring Ottawa, a hundred years ago, one mayor was unseated by the court, and another given a suspended sentence before his sentence was overturned on appeal.

Eastview, now known as Vanier, was the product of the merger in 1908 of two smaller communities located to the east of the Rideau River called Janesville and Clarkstown. It was promoted to the dignity of a “town” in 1913. Predominantly French-speaking, the town changed its name to Vanier in 1969 to honour Georges Vanier, Canada’s first Francophone governor general. Vanier was amalgamated with Ottawa in 2001.

On 5 January 1920, municipal elections were held across Ontario. The following day, Ottawa newspapers reported that in Eastview, Mr. J. Herbert (Herb) White had emerged victorious in a hard-fought battle for the position of mayor. He had won with a plurality of only 19 votes over the second-place candidate, Camille Gladu. White garnered 428 votes to his rival’s 409. The third-place candidate, Mr. M. Desert, received 125 votes.

Camille Gladu, Ottawa Citizen, 29 May, 1920.

Gladu and White were long-time rivals in Eastview politics. Gladu had been the reeve of the village of Eastview and became its mayor in 1913 when the village became a town, a post he held for three consecutive years. White had won the mayor’s seat over Gladu in the 1916 election with a slim 14 vote majority. Both subsequently lost to Dr. Arthur DesRosiers in 1917 and 1918, with Gladu returning to the mayor’s chair in 1919.

Almost immediately after the 1920 municipal election, Gladu alleged that there had been grave voting irregularities. He claimed that when some of his supporters showed up at their polling stations, they found that somebody else had already voted for them. He additionally claimed that in at least one case, a voter had voted multiple times. He also called for a judicial recount given the narrowness of White’s victory.

Two weeks later in front of Justice Gunn, Eastview’s six ballot boxes were brought into court. Gunn was horrified by what he found. So mixed up were the ballots in four of the six boxes, Gunn didn’t even try to do a recount. He said that their contents were “in such a condition that it [would] be a difficult and tedious task to count… and then with no degree of certainty or satisfaction.” He said the responsible deputy returning officers were apparently unaware of their duties despite having done this job for years at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. He also said that Gladu was a “public benefactor” for seeking a recount and exposing this state of affairs. He then adjourned the recount and called upon White and Gladu to agree on whether he should proceed with a recount, or whether a new election should be held.

There was no agreement. Gladu filed a petition for the election to be set aside on grounds of election fraud.

A month later, again in front of Justice Gunn, Gladu’s lawyer laid out the extent of the fraud. Nearly a dozen affidavits were filed. In one case, a dead man, H. Joinette, had voted. In another, John Brady of 282 Nicholas Street admitted to having voted five times for the promise of a couple drinks. (Prohibition was underway at the time.) It seems he borrowed a cabman’s coat to disguise himself when he voted for a second time at one polling station. In addition, Mr. J.R. Snow of Toronto, who was an Eastview voter, was not in Eastview on the day of the election, but his vote had been cast nonetheless. (In 1920, property owners were eligible to vote in municipal elections regardless of where they lived.) The same was true for R. J. Dougall of Hallsville, and Patrick Finnigan and D. Daze, both of Montreal. All had votes cast in their name despite them not being in Eastview for the election.

There were also allegations that the third candidate in the election, Mr. M. Desert, was put up to run by an agent of Mr. White for the sole purpose of splitting the Francophone vote, thereby improving the odds of White winning. At that time, French-speaking voters in Eastview outnumbered English-speaking voters by slightly more than 100 votes. Camille Gladu also affirmed under oath that the voters’ list had been stuffed by Eastview’s assessor, Mr. Arthur Guilbeault, who was a political foe of Gladu. In all, there were at least 101 ineligible names on a voters’ list of roughly 900 names.

Judge Gunn then had the six ballot boxes re-opened. Their contents were described as looking like “a shingle mill the morning after a bad explosion.” It was also revealed that at some polling stations, the returning officers had left their posts for periods of time.

Under oath, Herb White testified that he knew nothing of the fraud, and denied that Guilbeault was his agent though he admitted that he had asked Guilbeault for a list of out-of-town voters, information that was not shared with the other two candidates. He further denied any knowledge of liquor being distributed. He added that he had paid nobody in the election, had held no meetings prior to the election, and had promised nothing. The cross-examining lawyer wondered why he had run at all.

When it was Guilbeault’s turn to be questioned, Judge Gunn cautioned him, saying that if the allegations made against him were true, he potentially faced a fine or jail time. Guilbeault admitted that there were bad feelings between him and Gladu. Guilbeault feared losing his job should Gladu be elected mayor as he had taken over Gladu’s role as the Liberal party’s Eastview organizer in 1917.

Justice Gunn’s verdict was scathing. The judge called the election irregularities “both before and after the polls closed” a deliberate disregard of laws by election officials that justified the overturning of the entire election. “In four polls out of six the neglect [was] so flagrant that confidence [was] entirely destroyed in the election.”  The judge voided the mayoral election, unseating Mayor White. The judge strongly advised all councillors to resign as they had potentially benefitted from the voting irregularities. However, Judge Gunn absolved White of blame, saying that there was no evidence suggesting that he had attempted to gain “any illegal advantage or unwarranted gain.” He blamed the returning officers. Mayor White still had to pay the court costs.

While the verdict was appealed, Mayor White and other Eastview council members sat tight. Nobody resigned. Weeks went by. At one council meeting, it was claimed that the “whole issue [was] a created one, born and hatched in the minds of some malcontents masquerading under the guise of defenders of the law.” Business went on as usual.

But, in early May 1920, Justice Ross of the Supreme Court of Ontario heard Mayor White’s appeal. The judge swiftly dismissed the case. White was out, and a new election was called.

Herb White did not run in the re-election, Instead, he threw his support behind Dr. Arthur DesRosiers, an Eastview ex-mayor. DesRosiers also had the support of five of Eastview’s six councillors. It was another hard-fought campaign. At one campaign meeting, Gladu told his supporters that he had asked the sexton of Notre Dame Cemetery to lock it up on election day to stop the dead from voting. Camille Gladu emerged victorious, 466 votes to 457—a margin of only nine votes. Gladu’s supporters were jubilant. Lifted onto their shoulders, Camille Gladu gave an impromptu speech saying that after a five-month legal fight, Eastview citizens stood with him. One of Gladu’s council opponents said he shouldn’t be too impressed with a victory of only nine votes. This almost led to blows before cooler heads prevailed. Afterwards, Gladu was seated in the back of a carriage and pulled through the streets of Eastview by his admirers.

If you thought that this was the end of the saga, you would be wrong. Again, there were allegations of election irregularities. This time they were pointed at Camille Gladu. Less than a week after the re-running of the election, Gladu was in court fighting charges of aiding and abetting election fraud, specifically of aiding a person to impersonate another voter. Justice Cummings found Gladu guilty and sentenced him to ten days in jail. The judge subsequently suspended the sentence owing to Gladu’s poor health. On imposing the sentence, Justice Cummings oddly commented that he didn’t think Gladu was “morally guilty,” since he only committed the offence “in the heat of an election fight” but the law required him to find Gladu guilty.

Despite being found guilty by Judge Cummings, Gladu sat in the mayor’ chair. The temperature in Eastview’s council chamber was downright frosty. Gladu appealed. A month later, back this time in front of Justice Gunn, he was found not guilty of corrupt practices. The judge ruled that after carful scrutiny of the evidence, “no illegality or irregularity affecting the result of the voting was clearly established.” Mayor Gladu retained the mayor’s chair in Eastview.

Camille Gladu was re-elected mayor of Eastview in January 1921. Once again there were allegations of electoral fraud, this time levelled by ex-mayor Herb White. White claimed that a number of people not on the voters’ list had voted in the election, and that Gladu had offered jobs in exchange for votes should he win. Judge T. A. McGillivary dismissed the case on the grounds that the election was carried out in accordance with the principles laid out by law, and that any irregularity or mistake did not affect the outcome of the election.

Camille Gladu died in office the following November after a long illness. He was 49 years old. Both ex-mayors Herb White and Arthur DesRosiers, his political enemies, attended his funeral. The Ottawa Journal called Gladu a “picturesque personality,” who was “rather positive in his likes and dislikes,” a “hard fighter but a loyal friend.”


Ottawa Citizen, 1912. “Eastview Is A Town,” 24 December.

——————, 1913. “Eastview Election,” 7 January.

——————, 1919. “Will Run Again,” 11 December.

——————, 1920. “Carleton Co’y Election Results; Recount Likely In Huntley Twp.,” 6 January.

——————, 1920. “Ballots So Muddled Judge Suggests A New Election,” 20 January.

——————, 1920. “Moves To Set Aside Eastview Election,” 2 February.

——————, 1920. “Allege Dead Men ‘Voted’ As Well As Many Outsiders,” 23 February.

—————–, 1920. “Mayor Of Eastview Unseated But Councillors Continue In Office,” 1 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor Is Likely To Be Unseated Monday,” 2 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Old Guard Stays By Its Past,” 4 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor Is Unseated And Councillors Must Show Cause Why They Shouldn’t Go,” 8 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Council Sitting Tight, Call Special Meeting Wednesday,” 9 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor And Council ‘Stand Pat’” 11 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Appeal On Saturday In Weekly Court,” 16 March.

—————–, 1920. “New Evidence In The Eastview Case,” 30 March.

—————–, 1920. “New Elections Not Necessary, States Eastview Defence,” 3 May.

—————–, 1920. “Fraud Charged In Eastview’s New Election,” 28 May.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Factions In Keen Election,” 28 May.

—————–, 1920. “Gladu Elected Eastview Mayor, Bitter Battle,” 29 May.

—————–, 1920. “Declare Mayor Aided Woman To Vote Illegally,” 1 June.

—————–, 1920. “Still Another Charge Against Eastview Mayor,” 2 June.

—————–, 1920. “New Move To Unseat Mayor Of Eastview,” 8 June.

—————–, 1920. “Writ Issued In Action To Unseat Eastview’s Mayor,” 10 June.

—————–, 1920. “Hearing Action To Unseat The Eastview Mayor,” 22 June.

—————–, 1920. “Mayor C. Gladu To Retain Seat In Eastview,” 10 July.

—————–, 1921. “Mayor of Eastview Died This Morning,” 5 November.

Ottawa Journal,

——————-, 1920. “Eastview To Again Vote For Mayor,” 15 May.

——————-, 1920. “Mr. Gladu Is Likely To Run In Eastview,” 7 May.

——————-, 1920. “Gladu Says He’ll Close Cemetery During Eastview Elections Today,” 28 May.

——————-, 1920. “Old Eggs, Hard Words And Writs Flying In Turbulent Eastview,” 31 May.

——————, 1920. “Mayor Gladu Found Guilty By Magistrate,” 5 June.

——————-, 1921. “Notes and Comments,” 7 November.

The Byward Market in Flames

28 April 1874 and 2 January 1957

Ottawa’s Byward Market is one of the capital’s top attractions for both residents and tourists. Home to the oldest and largest farmers’ market in the city, the streets surrounding the main market building host a myriad of restaurants and chic bars intermingled with trendy shops and specialty stores. Long a Francophone, working-class, residential area as well as commercial district, the market area has in recent years begun to attract the well-heeled looking for residences in close proximity to work as well as to the vibrant nightlife that is here on offer. The district is also a draw for the city’s less fortunate with shelters for the homeless close by. This combination of wealth and poverty and old buildings cheek by jowl with glitzy, new condominiums gives the neighbourhood an eclectic, edgy vibe.

While some of its buildings date back to the mid-nineteenth century, most structures in the Byward Market neighbourhood are newer, owing to recurring fires that have beset the area over the decades. Indeed, the current market building only dates to 1926, when the previous market building was destroyed by fire.

Newspaper clipping, 2 May 1874, Ottawa Citizen.

There had been at least two major conflagrations that destroyed entire blocks of homes and stores. The first broke out early in the morning of Tuesday, 28 April 1874. It was to be one of the most destructive fires every to occur in Ottawa up to that point, causing in excess of $100,000 in damages, a huge sum of money in those days. Insurance covered only a portion of the losses.

The fire encompassed more than an entire city block, extending from the market square at York Street to Clarence Street to Sussex Street. Destroyed on the west side of the market square were a row of wooden stalls and shops owned by the City of Ottawa and leased to a number of businesses. One of those businesses was a fish shop owned by Moise Lapointe. The family-owned business fortunately survived the blaze, and continues to operate in the Market to this very day.

Other buildings burnt to the ground included the City Hotel, the Smith’s block, the Henry Block, the McCann Block, and the Gibson building. Mr. T. Forfar’s agricultural implement warehouse was lost, as was a furniture store, a grocer located in the Gibson building, a fruit store in the McCann Block and Mr. A.B. Macdonald’s Auction and Commission Rooms which were full of furniture at the time ready to be auctioned off. Godbout’s Tailor and Lamontagne’s Jewellery, both located in the nearby Lyon Building, were damaged. Fortunately, no one was killed in the fire though there several individuals were hurt by falling debris or received burns. Many were left homeless.

The fire was fanned by a strong northerly wind that whipped sparks and cinders over adjacent blocks. According to the Ottawa Citizen, for a time, people feared that the entire Lower Town business district would go up in flames. Residents in the affected area began throwing personal belongings and furniture out into street. Neighbour merchants did likewise in attempts to save their stock. York and Clarence Streets were soon clogged with these effects. Reportedly, costly pianos stood side by side with old household stoves, some supposedly still lit with fires inside them. Their owners ranged in age “from helpless infancy to worn out old age.”

There was considerable criticism of the response of the Ottawa Fire Brigade under Chief Young. It took a long time before the firemen were able to bring their horse-drawn, steam engine, the “Conqueror,” to the scene of the fire despite the short distance from the fire station. There were also delays in getting the hoses into action with the result that the firemen didn’t really begin to fight the blaze until an hour after the alarm was sounded. The Citizen opined that the buildings on the south side of York Street might have been saved had there been better fire management.

When the hoses were finally brought into play, water pressure was lost owing to leaks in the hoses. One leak was so powerful that a spray of water was sent fifteen feet high into the air, with gallons of water wasted down the drains. None of the hoses were able to send streams of water over the roofs of the burning buildings.

There were other problems. The water level in the By-Wash, which led from the Rideau Canal through the market area towards the Rideau River and was the source of water to fight the fire, was low. A quick-thinking engineer built a dam made using an old door to raise the water level. Even so, gravel clogged up the suction pipe. There was also insufficient coal on hand to power the “Conqueror.”

Fortunately, the volunteer Chaudière Fire Company and its “Union” steam engine came to help the Ottawa Fire Brigade. The Citizen causticallynoted that they had no leaking hoses.

An inquest was held a few days later in Starr’s Hotel on Clarence Street. (This was the same hotel/tavern where Patrick James Whelan, the man executed for assassinating Thomas D’Arcy McGee, had been arrested in 1868.) The fire began in a pile of straw in a shed behind the Cardinal Hotel—another tavern—owned by Felix Cardinal to the rear of the McCann Block. The Cardinal family lived above. The alarm was sounded by Felix Cardinal Junior.  The junior Cardinal, who was a heavy drinker, had fallen asleep in the downstairs bar the previous night, after having downed four or five glasses of whiskey. Sometime before 5:00am, he awoke and spotted a fire in the back stable area. He called out to his father, and the two of them attempted to extinguish the blaze and save their horse. In the process, the senior Cardinal’s hands were badly burnt. Neither of the two Cardinals knew the cause of the blaze.

Mr and Mrs John Hurley, the neighbours to the rear of the Cardinal Hotel, testified seeing Felix Cardinal trying to extinguish a fire by raking the straw out into the yard, but that only made the fire worse. John Hurley, while not knowing the cause of the fire, alluded to regular fights and quarrels in the Cardinal household and said that he typically slept in his clothes in order to be ready in case there was a fire. However, while there had been a fight the night before the blaze, all had been quiet with no lights showing when he saw the fire.

The inquest never resolved the cause of the fire, beyond concluding that it started in Felix Cardinal’s shed. The Ottawa Fire Brigade was highly criticized, with the inquest saying that it had insufficient men to attend to the hoses and that it was not organized efficiently. In addition, the Brigade had not taken steps to ensure the adequacy of water in the By-Wash and that no measures had been taken to keep sand and gravel away from the suction pipe. The inquest’s jury found that Chief Young was either too relaxed in taking his responsibilities, or did not have the necessary authority to fulfill his duties as Fire Chief. The jury also censured the City’s Light and Fire Committee for not organizing a sufficient force to operate the steam engine efficiently. The jury furthermore recommended the prohibition of erecting wooden sheds behind buildings on the principal streets of Ottawa.

The aftermath of the disastrous 2 January 1957 blaze in the Byward Market neighbourhood, City of Ottawa Archives

Another huge fire struck the Byward Market area on 2 January 1957, consuming the block between Clarence Street in the south to Murray Street to the north, between Sussex and Parent Streets, overlapping the site of the 1874 conflagration. The1957 fire started in the elevator shaft of the Book Unit and Typewriter Unit of the Department of Printing and Stationery, located at 47 Clarence Street. It was discovered shortly before 6:30 am by Gordon Low, a member of the cleaning staff in the building. Yvon Saumier of Navan, who was having an early morning coffee in the restaurant at the Chez Lucien Hotel at the corner of Clarence Street and Parent Avenue heard a blast and saw flames shooting through the roof of the government building. With a stiff north-westerly breeze blowing, the fire quickly spread through neighbouring buildings, eating its way along Clarence and Murray Streets toward Parent Avenue, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Flames shot up some 150 feet in the air. Scantily clad residents from area homes and apartments fled into the streets, shivering from the cold, clutching whatever they could rescue with them.

In addition to the government building, lost in the blaze were the Victoria Hotel, the 60-room Chez Lucien Hotel, which had been renovated two years earlier for $200,000, two apartment buildings, several rooming houses, Pioneer Distributing on Murray Street, Camille Methot’s barber shop, the Soublière Supply Company, Beaudry’s Confectionary, and Aline’s Dress Shop. Total losses were in excess of $1 million and roughly 200 people were left homeless. The Chez Lucien Hotel was later rebuilt.

More than three hundred firefighters fought the blaze, including off-duty men and firemen from Hull. Tackling the fire was made more difficult by the bone-chilling cold. It was -23 degrees Celsius that night, with the wind chill considerably lower. Ice was everywhere, making the footing dangerous. Hoses quickly froze as the firemen moved from hydrant to hydrant down the street as they chased the fire. Downed hydro wires lying in the streets were another hazard.

The Sisters of Joan of Arc, whose convent stood at the corner of Clarence and Sussex Streets, opened an emergency kitchen serving hot soup, coffee, doughnuts and toast with jam to weary firefighters and the homeless. The Salvation Army also set up a booth providing hot drinks. Additionally, a coffee kitchen was set up across from the Victoria Hotel on Murray Street at the John C. Preston Office Equipment Company. When firemen came in with frozen mitts, one of the workers in the company who was distributing refreshments, called A.J. Freiman’s, the big department store on Rideau Street. Within minutes, two large bags full of heavy, cowhide mitts were delivered for the firemen.

Given the size of the blaze and its intensity, it was surprising that there were no fatalities. Three firemen were hurt when a wall fell onto them. Two women were also temporarily hospitalized due to shock; one had a mild heart attack.

The city stepped in to provide assistance for the homeless. A week later, a fire victims’ benefit was held at the Français Theatre, sponsored by the East Ottawa Municipal Association. This included variety acts, and a full-length colour feature movie donated by Robert Maynard, the owner of the cinema. The film was a US civil war epic titled Great Day in the Morning, starring Virginia Mayo and Robert Stack. A “silver” collection was held, collecting $300 from the crowd of 500 cinema goers.

Despite the fire, the Byward Market, while physically altered, endured.


Ottawa Citizen, 1874. “Destructive Conflagration,” 28 April.

——————, 1874. “Fire Investigation,” 2 May.

——————, 1874. “Fire Investigation,” 4 May.

—————-, 1957. “$1,000,000 Blaze,” 2 January.

—————-, 1957. “City Set To Provide Aid To Fire Homeless—Nelms,” 3 January.

—————-, 1957. “Fire Victims Benefit Show,” 11 January.

—————-, 1957. “200 Homeless In Ottawa Fire,” 2 January.

The Statute of Westminster

11 December 1931

One of the most important dates in Canada’s constitutional development from colony to independent country and for Ottawa as its capital is 11 December 1931. Yet, few Canadians know anything about what happened on that momentous day. This is perhaps not surprising. Even on that day more than ninety years ago, the event was scarcely noticed—no banner newspaper headlines, no fireworks, no celebrations. The Ottawa Journal didn’t even bother to cover the story. The Ottawa Citizen did, but the small article was sandwiched between an item about a University of Vermont student being located in Montreal after disappearing from Burlington, and a story about Christmas turkeys waiting for their owners at the police station. (If you were wondering, four Christmas turkeys had been found in the snow behind a billboard on Wellington Street. The police were keeping them chilled outside of a window until their owners collected them or they were donated to charity.)  This momentous but seemingly barely newsworthy event was the passage into law of the Statute of Westminster.

First page, Statute of Westminster,

The Statute of Westminster was a short twelve clause Act of the British Parliament that gave effect to resolutions passed at the 1926 and 1930 Imperial Conferences on constitutional changes affecting the overseas dominions of the British Empire—the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, and Newfoundland—with respect to their relationship with each other and with the Imperial government in London. The Statute repealed the Colonial Validity Act of 1865, under which the British government could void any act of a dominion government that if felt was “repugnant to the law of England.” As well, dominion governments were empowered to make treaties with foreign governments without the consent of the British Parliament.

After the Statute of Westminster came into force, no law passed by the government of the United Kingdom extended to any of the dominions except at the request and the consent of that dominion. In effect, while the dominions remained united by a common allegiance to the Crown, they became independent states.

Other parts of the Statute covered issues particular to various dominions. Section 7, the Canada clause, ensured that the Statute of Westminster did not repeal, amend or alter the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1930, or applied to any rules, orders, or regulations made thereunder. This clause was inserted at the request of the Canadian government after consultation with the provinces as no domestic agreement had been reached on how to change the British North America Act, which was itself another act of the British Parliament and served as Canada’s constitution. Owing to a lack of agreement on an amending formula, this issue remained unresolved until Pierre Trudeau controversially patriated the Act in 1982 over the wishes of the Quebec government.

In the decades leading up to the 1926 Imperial conference, the future of the British Empire had been under wide discussion. The Imperial Federation League, founded in 1884, envisaged a closer union of the governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions which ultimately could take the form of an imperial federation, akin to the Canadian Confederation. Sir Charles Tupper, who was briefly Canada’s prime minister in 1896, was a supporter of the Imperial Federation League. The British Empire League, a successor organization to the Imperial Federation League, also sought greater imperial unity. Lord Strathcona, president of the Bank of Montreal and co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was one of the league’s founding members. The British Empire League lobbied hard for a preferential trading arrangement within the British Empire as a means of strengthening imperial ties.

However, many viewed a closer union of the disparate parts of the British Empire as a pipe dream owing to the geographic distances involved and divergent political and economic interests of the various territories. The idea of an Empire-wide preferential trading arrangement foundered on Britain’s long-standing policy of free trade as it implied Britain imposing tariffs on non-Empire imports which would lead to higher import costs, and risk retaliation from its non-Empire trading partners. Here in Canada, a tightening of imperial ties was also a non-starter among Francophones. As well, growing Canadian nationalism, nurtured by Canadian successes first in the South African War and later on the battlefields of France, was increasingly at odds with tighter ties to the United Kingdom.

William Lyon Mackenzie King and Stanley Baldwin in London, 1926 Imperial Conference, 1926, LAC 013263.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference held in London, British prime minister Stanley Baldwin, and dominion leaders, which included William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister, unambiguously recognized that the dominions were equal in status to the Mother Country. “The position and mutual relation of the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions may be readily defined. They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” This was the first time the term “British Commonwealth of Nations” was used.  In foreign relations, it was underscored that the dominions would not be required to accept any obligation of the British government without the consent of their own governments.

The role of the governor general was also addressed. Hitherto, governors general in the dominions had a dual role. They represented the Crown and were also the conduit for relations between the dominions and the British government. But at the 1926 Imperial Conference, it was agreed that governors general would solely represent the Crown, while communications between dominion governments and the British government would be conducted on a government-to-government basis.

An unnamed Canadian delegate to the Conference, undoubtedly Mackenzie King himself, described the Conference’s resolutions to the press as “the Magna Carta of the Dominions.”

The public response to this outcome was broadly positive, though many were uncertain about what it meant or whether there was any practical change. The Ottawa Journal opined that the resolutions, “so far as we have been able to compare, involve practically no change.” The paper went on to say: “We are no freer today than we were this time last week or this time last year, for the simple reason that this time last year, we were completely unfettered and free.” As well, it felt that the resolutions did not weaken the British connection. As for Canada taking control of its external relations, the paper argued that “the plain truth is that since the war [Canada’s control of its] domestic and external affairs have been absolute, unfettered, complete.”

The Ottawa Citizen thought that the statute was a “document of historic importance” and a “big step forward in the evolution of Imperial relations.” However, it added, “Extremists here and there might talk of secession and absolute independence, but the real feeling of Empire as a whole is for maintaining the ties that bind but do not chafe,” for both practical and sentimental reasons. While there was a general desire for Imperial unity, there was also a “need of a greater detachment” for each of the dominions.

Opinions in the United States on the outcome of the Imperial Conference ranged from a view that it marked the end of the British Empire to the “beginning of a new epoch of power and influence” for the Empire, bolstered by the elimination of “frictions” and “embarrassments” that had handicapped the Empire in the past. The average view was that the British Empire would be little affected by the proposed constitutional changes, serenely moving ahead as it had in the past.

The 1930 Imperial Conference essentially reiterated the resolutions made four years earlier, underscoring the point that the appointment of the governor general of a dominion was a matter between the King and his dominion government, not the British government. As well, the ministers who provide advice to the Crown are the ministers in the dominion concerned.

Australia was quick off the mark. On the advice of James Scullin, the Australian prime minister, King George V appointed Sir Isaac Isaacs as the first Australian-born Governor General in December 1930. Canada continued to nominate titled Britons to the post of governor general until Canadian Vincent Massey’s appointment in 1952.

In the months that followed the conclusion of the 1930 Imperial Conference, the six dominions each undertook the necessary domestic steps to adhere to the Statute of Westminster. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Bennett met with his provincial counterparts to debate the issues and write the “Canada clause” in the draft Statute of Westminster. All six dominions formally agreed to the Statute by the 1 August 1931, the date set by the British government.

Once the dominions had signed off on the draft statute, debate began in London. The Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas, secretary of state for dominion affairs, described the bill “as being one of the most important and far-reaching issues presented to the House for many generations, representing the culmination of many years’ constitutional development by the dominions.” Approval was far from universal. Winston Churchill, the great imperialist, was concerned that approval of the statute would allow the Irish Free State to break its link with the Crown. He was also concerned that should India be granted dominion status, something that was under discussion, it too could leave the Empire. Notwithstanding this opposition, the bill quickly passed the House of Commons and the Lords, receiving Royal Assent on 11 December 1931.

Like in Canada, the passage of the Statute of Westminster was hardly noticed in the London press. One of the few papers who mentioned it that day, gave the statute equal billing to the passage of a Horticultural Products Bill. So much for the view that it was one of the most important pieces of legislation in generations!

Here in Ottawa, and indeed the rest of Canada, the lack of interest in the passage of the Statute may have been due to its anti-climatic nature. Having been the subject of two Imperial Conferences, as well as a Dominion-Provincial Conference, which had received newspaper headlines, it was hard to evince much enthusiasm for an act of the British Parliament that seem only to codify something that was already done in practice. However, in constitutional terms, the difference couldn’t have been more different than night and day. Canada, and the other dominions were now master in their own houses, or as the Ottawa Citizen put it “Now, in theory, Jack is as good as his master.”

The real-world implications of the Statute of Westminster became apparent eight years later at the start of World War II. Unlike in 1914, Britain’s declaration of war against Germany did not automatically mean Canada and the other dominions were also at war. Canada only declared war on Germany after a week of debate in Parliament. For that week, Canada was a neutral country despite Britain already being at war.

In 1959, Quebec MP Maurice Allard submitted a private member’s bill to recognize 11 December as Canada’s Independence Day. As is the case with most private member’s bills, Allard’s bill went nowhere. With Dominion Day, now called Canada Day, already a mid-summer holiday, a new holiday in cold December must have had little appeal.

If you were of the view that the Statute of Westminster is now ancient history, think again. In 2011, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sydney, Australia, the government of the United Kingdom and fifteen other countries (the Queen’s other realms) agreed to eliminate old, discriminatory laws under which the Royal Succession went to the eldest male son of the monarch unless the monarch had no son (male primogeniture) and which prohibited the monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic. A law to this effect was enacted in the UK in 2013. The question then was how to put this into effect in Canada—via the Canadian Parliament’s consent to the alteration of the succession rule implemented by the British Parliament, or via a constitutional amendment requiring provincial consent. Note that the preamble of the Statute of Westminster says any law touching on the Succession to the Throne of the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the consent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions [now known as realms] as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The government contended that through the issue of “symmetry,” Canada had the same monarch as the United Kingdom. So long as the British government consulted the Queen’s other realms, and received their consent, a constitutional amendment was not necessary. A bill to that effect was debated and passed in the House of Commons and the Senate, and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2013.

Legal challenges followed. In 2019, the Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court ruling that the Succession to the Throne Act 2013 was consistent with Canada’s constitutional framework. In 2020, Canada’s Supreme Court dismissed an application for an appeal to this ruling.


Canada, Government of, Department of Justice, 2015. Statute of Westminster, 1931 – Enactment No. 17.

Daily Herald, 1931. “Churchill Amendment re: India,” 3 December.

—————-, 1931. “Peers Stop Law Lords’ Work,” 12 December 1931.

Daily Telegraph, 1931. “India And Statute of Westminster, Specific Inclusion Necessary,” 3 December.

Jackson, D. Michael, 2022. The Succession to the Throne in Canada, Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, 31 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1926. “Dominions Are Of Equal Status In The Empire,” 20 November.

——————, 1926. “British Public Opinion Welcomes Decisions of Imperial Conference,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Imperial Conference Report,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Says British Empire Will Go Ahead in the Old Way,” 22 November.

——————, “Opinions at Washington,” 22 November.

——————, 1930. “Canada Proposes Empire Tariff Preference to Conference,” 8 October.

——————, 1930. “Gratified That Australian Was Named Governor,” 24 December.

——————-, 1931. “All Other Dominions In Favor Of Enlarging Constitutional Status,” 19 January.

——————, 1931. “Hon. H. Guthrie States Purpose Of Conference,” 3 April.

——————, 1931. “Constitution Of Canada Will be Fully Protected.” 9 April.

——————, 1931. “Approved By All Of The Dominions,” 1 August.

——————, 1931. “Around Parliament Hill,” 14 November.

——————, 1931. “Second Reading Given Statute Of Westminster,” 20 November.

——————, 1931. “Each Dominion Must Bear Own Share Of Load,” 24 November.

——————, 1931. “Westminster Statute Given Royal Assent,” 11 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1926. “Dominions To Sign All Future Treaties,” 20 November.

——————-, 1926. “That New ‘Magna Carta,’” 22 November.

——————-, 1931. “Will Maintain Present Order Over B.N.A. Act.” 8 April.

——————-, 1931. “Quebec Accepts Drat of Statute Passed in Ottawa,” 17 April.

——————-, 1931. “Equality Ideal Within Empire Nears Reality,” 25 November.

Canada at War with Japan

8 December 1941

All those interested in history know the date 7 December 1941. This was, of course, the date of the surprise Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack, which commenced shortly before 8:00 am Hawaii time, took the lives of more than 2,300 service people and destroyed or damaged twenty-one US ships. The battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were complete right-offs. Several other battleships were also sunk in the attack though they were later refloated and restored to service. Also destroyed in the attack were almost two hundred US airplanes; scores more were damaged.

As horrific as the loss of personnel and ships and other major assets was, it could have been worse. The aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga, which were stationed at Pearl Harbor, were not in port at the time of the attack.

The next day, in front of a joint session of Congress, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that 7 December 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy” since the Japanese government had not declared war before the attack.

Proclamation of War with Japan, 8 December 1941, The Canada Gazette.

The assault was supposed to have occurred a half hour after the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. had delivered its declaration of war. But, owing to decoding and translation delays, the diplomatic note was not delivered until after the attack was underway. The United States declared war upon Japan one hour after Roosevelt’s “Infamy Speech.”

While the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a big shock to all—Americans, British and Canadians—few were surprised by the outbreak of hostilities given the deterioration of the political situation in Asia over the previous months. On hearing the news, the United Kingdom quickly declared war on Japan, even before the United States did. In Ottawa, following a Cabinet meeting during the evening of 7 December, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced the Canadian government’s decision to declare war. King George VI approved Canada’s declaration in a proclamation announced on 8 December 1941 but backdated to the previous day. 

Whereas by and with the advice of Our Privy Council of Canada We have signified our Approval of the issue of a Proclamation in the Canada Gazette declaring that a State of War with Japan exists and has existed in Canada as and from the 7th day of December 1941.”

One of the more surreal events of that time occurred in Ottawa the evening before the Pearl Harbor attack. As the Japanese naval ships were approaching the Hawaiian Islands and Japanese pilots were being given their last-minute briefings, Seijiro Yoshizawa, the Japanese Minister to Canada, was hosting a sumptuous banquet at the Japanese Residence at 192 Daly Avenue. (The Japanese rented the house from Senator Carine Wilson, Canada’s first woman senator.) Yoshizawa was a career diplomat, and described as a member of the business clique in Tokyo that opposed the army. He had presented his credentials to the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, in October 1940, replacing Baron Tomii as Japan’s Minister to Canada.

Invited to Mr and Mrs Yoshizawa’s diplomatic soirée were: Commander W. Strother, US Naval Attaché; Mr Lewis Clark, Third Secretary at the US Legation; Mr D. B. Jordan, US Legation; the Brazilian Minister to Canada; the Argentine Minister to Canada; the Argentine First Secretary; the Commercial Councillor for Brazil; and S Kanaya of the Japanese Legation. All were accompanied by their wives. The Japanese also invited two Canadian couples—Mr and Mrs E. F. Newcome, KC and Mr and Mrs J. G. MacPhail.

Guests were courteously greeted at the door of the Residence by white-coated servants who passed around Martini and Bacardi rum cocktails along with canapés and other hors d’oeuvres. Sherry was served with the opening course, a clear asparagus consommé with a soupçon of carrot. This was followed by white fish, garnished with lobster and washed down by a slightly chilled Sauterne. A dry Burgundy and a sherry were served with the next course—breast of chicken and stuffed tomatoes. The meal concluded with a strawberry mousse accompanied by French Champagne.

After the sumptuous meal, Yoshizawa played eight reels of coloured film that he had personally taken of that year’s fall colours at Kingsmere and at the Seigniory Club at Montebello. Meanwhile, waiters circulated amongst the guests, serving orangeade, or something stronger if requested.

According to attendees at the dinner, the evening’s conversation avoided politics and the situation in the Far East, focusing instead on inconsequential, inoffensive subjects. Some felt uncomfortable to be there. While the Japanese were always courteous, and entertained lavishly, there was a growing disinclination to accept invitations, given their relationship with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and their war in China. However, it was sometimes difficult to say no; there are only so many excuses one could give. For some, especially the Americans, attendance was virtually a diplomatic necessity given the strained circumstances.

In hindsight, one of the guests described the dinner party “as something out of a dream” as it had a disturbing feeling of unreality. It was likened to the 1939 Hollywood movie Idiot’s Delight, a comedy drama that starred Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. The film featured events in a fictious Alpine country on the day before war was declared. (The movie is notable for being the only film in which Clark Gable sings and dances.) Another guest called it the “dinner of destiny,” one that could not have occurred twelve hours later.

With a state of war existing between Canada and Japan, the office of the Japanese Legation in Ottawa located on the sixth floor of the Victoria Building on Wellington Street closed immediately. Its lights were turned out and telephones disconnected. An RCMP officer was stationed outside of the Legation office to keep away the curious.

There was a report that on 7 December, immediately prior to the Peral Harbour attack, Yoshizawa and three others had left the Legation office with three large bags, contents unknown. An employee in the building also recalled seeing bits of charred paper floating in the street just a few days before. Given what happened in Hawaii, he surmised that embassy staff had been burning documents.

With the Legation’s offices closed, reporters flocked to the Japanese Residence on Daly Avenue seeking a statement from Yoshizawa. However, they were met at the door by a polite official who told them that while the Minister was home, he was not speaking to the press. Through the windows, the reporters could see staff packing.  

The next issue was how to get the Japanese officials back to Japan and, conversely, Canadian diplomats stationed in Japanese territory back to Canada. Previously, diplomats of newly belligerent countries were sent to a neighbouring neutral country to travel home. However, with the United States also at war, this was no longer an option. In a radio broadcast, Prime Minister King said that the passports of the Japanese Legation and consular officials would be returned as soon as satisfactory arrangements had been made for the safe return of Canadian diplomatic staff in the Far East.

Meanwhile, Yoshizawa and his colleagues were under RCMP guard—reportedly more for their own safety rather to prevent them from doing something nefarious. They were permitted to move about Ottawa, as long as they were accompanied. However, they were not allowed to communicate with anybody outside of the city. The big question now was money. With their bank accounts frozen, the Japanese officials had to rely on credit, but who would be willing to extend credit to them? There was also the issue of outstanding bills. Mrs Yoshizawa had her hair done the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor and had asked for the bill to be sent to the Legation. There were also the monthly rent payments owed to Senator Wilson. The Canadian government told creditors to be patient. Frozen Japanese assets would be used to cover such expenses.

The declaration of war also meant the Legation’s Canadian chauffeur lost both his job and his home, an apartment in the Legation Residence. Jack Long, who had won a DCM in the World War I, doubted his ability to find another job that compared as well to the one he had had for more than twelve years with the Japanese.

It wasn’t until early May 1942 that the Japanese Legation staff left Ottawa. Six months to the day from the Pearl Harbor attack, RCMP guards escorted twenty Japanese diplomats to Union Station to catch the evening CNR train to Montreal from whence they would travel through the United States, presumably meeting up with Japanese officials departing from that country, to leave North America. How they did so is not clear though they most likely travelled to still neutral Mexico which did not enter the war against the Axis powers until 22 May 1942. Senator Wilson subsequently rented the now vacated Japanese Legation at 192 Daly Avenue to the Norwegian Legation and Military Mission.

Canadian diplomats in Tokyo were treated in a similar fashion to the Japanese diplomats in Ottawa. The staff at the Canadian Legation was headed by E. D’Arcy McGeer, the first Secretary and Chargé d’affaires, as the post of Canadian Minister to Japan had been unfilled since the resignation of Robert R. Bruce in 1938. McGeer and his staff of seven were confined to the Canadian Legation’s grounds while awaiting repatriation and were only allowed out with an escort.  McGeer said that the Japanese authorities made sure that they had adequate food. Indeed, he believed that the food’s quality was superior to that available to most Japanese citizens. McGreer and his companions left Japan on in July 1942 on the Japanese steamer Asama Maru bound for Lourenco Marques in neutral Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), the first leg on the arduous and dangerous trip back to Canada.

Years later after the war, then External Affairs Minster Lester B. Pearson visited Tokyo for preparatory talks to re-establish diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan. There, he met three former Japanese Ministers to Canada, including Seijiro Yoshizawa. Pearson said it was something like a home reunion. The Japanese ex-ministers wanted to know the latest Ottawa gossip and asked Pearson about people they had known in Ottawa, golf and other activities they had enjoyed during their pre-war postings in Canada.

Full diplomatic ties between Canada and Japan were re-established with the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952.


Expositor (Branford), “Japan Invades Thailand, U.S. Congress Declares War,” 8 December.

Gazette (Montreal), 1941. “Jap Minister Is Home at Ottawa But Not to Inquiring Reporters,” 8 December.

Montreal Daily Star, 1941. “Premier King Explains Action,” 9 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1941. “Jap Minister’s Departure Poses Problem For Driver,” 8 December.

——————, 1941. “Tackle Problem of How to Get Diplomats Home,” 9 December.

——————, 1942. “Japanese Legation Staff In Capital Leaving Tomorrow,” 7 May.

——————, 1942. “Norwegians Take Over Former Jap Legation,” 2 October.

——————, 1950. “Jap Ex-Ministers Remember Ottawa,” 11 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1941. “Japs Dine U.S. Diplomats on Eve of Pacific Treachery,” 8 December.

——————-, 1941. “Jap Minister and Staff Can Move as They Please,” 10 December.

——————-, 1941. “Ottawa Firms Worry Officials Over Japanese Beauty Bills,” 17 December.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 1942. “Hong Kong Prisoners’ Fate As Desperate As Americans,” 29 July.

Vancouver Sun, 1942. “Total War,” 23 July.


18 November 1887

Once upon a time, Ottawa was the home of many high-quality, independent department stores. The discriminating shopper had a choice between Devlin’s and Murphy-Gamble on Sparks Street and Freiman’s, Ogilvy’s, Larocque’s, and Caplan’s only a short walk away on Rideau Street. However, one by one, they succumbed to changing tastes and the formidable competitive power of the national chain stores, such as Simpson-Sears, Eaton’s and The Bay. The last to fall was the doyen of the group—Ogilvy’s. The store, which could not compete with the opening of the glitzy Rideau Centre in 1983, was sold in 1984, lost its name in 1989, and was shuttered for good in 1992. 

Advertisement, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 18 November 1887.

Ogilvy’s began operations on 18 November 1887 at 92 Rideau Street near Mosgrove Street, now roughly the location of the Rideau Centre. Its proud owner was Charles Ogilvy, a devout, Scottish-born Presbyterian, who was only 23 years old at the time, but already had twelve years’ experience in the dry-goods business, working for the firm Elliott & Hamilton in Ottawa.  His small shop measured only twenty by thirty feet, and employed two others besides himself—Bob Halkett, a clerk, and John Pittaway, the messenger boy.

From those humble beginnings, the store, originally known as Charles Ogilvy’s, prospered under its “one-price” policy. It quickly became respected for its truth in advertising and the attention it paid to customers. Charles Ogilvy and his two colleagues worked long hours. Pittaway arrived at 7:30 am each day to sweep out the shop, refresh the displays and otherwise get the shop ready for business. The store stayed open late at night, even past midnight, to accommodate shoppers dropping in to pick up items that had been set aside for them earlier in the day. This close attention to customer service paid off. Within a year, the firm had expanded to include 94 Rideau Street next door. And by 1900, it had grown further to encompass 96 and 98 Rideau Street as well.

Charles Ogilvy, circa 1901, Library and Archives Canada.

In 1903, Charles Ogilvy bought the Doran property, then occupied by a number of shacks, at the corner of Rideau and Nicholas Streets for $17,500 in anticipation of future expansion. The site was considered to be one of the best commercial properties in Lower Town. Ogilvy’s dream was realized four years later when he constructed a new store on this site. The modern, three-storey, steel and concrete building was designed by Ottawa architect Werner E. Noffke of the firm Messrs. Northwood & Noffke. Before designing the structure, Noffke visited similar stores across Canada and the United States for the latest ideas. Noffke chose a classical design for the new department store with simple Grecian accents. Its external cladding consisted of buff-coloured brick with trimmings of Indiana limestone. The building’s biggest innovation was the large display windows that lined Rideau and Nicholas Streets. Its interior fittings were of a rich, golden oak.

Charles Ogilvy’s moved to its new premises at 126 Rideau in August 1907. On the ground floor was a large men’s wear department, a special counter for the “justly celebrated Ladies’ Home Journal Patterns,” silks, gloves, hosiery, underwear, ladies’ neckwear, ribbons, laces, and embroidery. Customers had their choice of taking a broad staircase or an elevator up to the second floor where the Ladies’ Ready-to-Wear Department was located. Also on that floor women could purchase corsets and “whitewear.” As well, fashions for infants and children were located on this floor as were home furnishings. The third floor housed dress-making rooms for those people who might have purchased patterns and fabric on the ground floor. Reserve stock was stored in the basement, also the location of lockers and staff toilets.

In 1908, the store was incorporated as a limited liability company, with the new firm known as Charles Ogilvy Ltd. The share capital of the company was $150,000 divided into 7,500 shares with a par value of $20. Ogilvy gave shares to some of his long-time employees, including William McGiffin, and John Pittaway, the company’s former messenger boy twenty-one years earlier. Pittaway later became a director of the firm and the superintendent of the store’s operations.

Drawing of the new Ogilvy building by Werner Noffke, Ottawa Journal, 12 May 1906

Ogilvy’s continued to prosper, with an extension added to the rear of the building to Besserer Street in 1917. This addition effectively doubled the floor space of the firm. Later, Charles Ogilvy bucked the Great Depression, adding a fourth floor to the business in 1931 and a fifth in 1934. A parking lot was also purchased near the store in 1938 to accommodate 100 cars. A cafeteria was set up on Besserer Street for employees in 1947, where lunches could be had at cost or less along with coffee, cold drinks and sandwiches for staff during their morning and afternoon breaks.

The expanding store offered a wide range of additional departments and services, including workshops for upholstery and fur coats, a power tool shop, a “Sportsman’s Lodge, a full-range furniture store, and an electrical department, offering the latest innovations in home appliances, such as electric refrigerators, ranges and vacuum cleaners, with specially trained staff on hand to help guide the customer in the use of her new purchase.

Much of Ogilvy’s success was due to the firm’s treatment of its employees which rose in numbers from three in 1887 to more than 600 by 1953. Staff were treated well, especially through the dark years of the Great Depression when not one person was let go. Service people were also given half pay while in the armed forces, with a job guaranteed for them on demobilization. Moreover, Charles Ogilvy gave shares in the firm to long-time employees. Indeed, the department store became owned by its employees after Ogilvy’s death in 1950. Employees were additionally given a benefit package far superior to that offered by most enterprises at the time, including a group life and health insurance plan, a retirement annuity plan, and a shorter work week to permit better work-life balance. Employees were also members of The Employees’ Club of Charles Ogilvy, or the “ECCO Club” for short, which hosted sporting and social events and even had a recreation centre on the Rideau River. The company had a hockey team for a time called the Ogilvy’s Dry Goods Earthquakes.

Charles Ogilvy died in January 1950, leaving a relatively small estate of less than $300,000. His chief beneficiary was his second wife, Elizabeth Johnstone Kennedy Ogilvy, who he had married in 1947. (His first wife of many years, Elizabeth Roby Addison, had died in 1946.) He also left shares in Ogilvy’s to key employees, including to the faithful John Pittaway who was still attached to the firm. A provision of his will left the family residence at 488 Edison Avenue to his wife for her use until her death after which it would be given to Charles Ogilvy’s Ltd as a rest and convalescence home for employees. Also after the death of his wife, the residue of his estate was to be divided equally among Ottawa charities, including the May Court Club, Union Mission, the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Ottawa Day Nursery, the Salvation Army, the Lady Grey Hospital, the Perley Home, and the Ottawa Association for the Blind.

The department store continued to flourish after Charles Ogilvy’s death through the 1950s and 1960s. The Ogilvy’s Annex, a two-storey addition on the western side of the main building, was added in 1960. Two new outlets were opened at Billings Bridge and at Lincoln Fields, and staff increased to 700-800 persons. However, in 1969, Ogilvy’s main store on Rideau Street suffered a major fire with damages estimated at $1.2 million. The store lost its entire stock and was closed for close to three weeks. Other retail outlets were also affected by the three-hour blaze including Trudel Hardware, Classy Formal Wear and the Guardsman Restaurant.

While Ogilvy’s recovered from this blow, the store then began to feel the competitive pressures from the big nation retail chain stores that entered the Ottawa market in the early 1970s. Profitability declined. But the big blow came in 1983 with the opening of the Rideau Centre just a few steps to the west of Ogilvy’s main store. After posting a profit of $482,000 on sales of $23.2 million in 1982, Ogilvy’s lost $280,000 on sales of $25.4 million in 1983. The firm never returned to profitability.

After months of dickering, the 240 shareholders of Charles Ogilvy Ltd. sold the business outright to Joseph Segal and his partner John Levy, the owners of Robinson’s, a regional department store chain based in Hamilton, Ontario. The price was $10.9 million, of which $10 million represented the value of the Rideau Street main store. This valued the business along with its inventory at less than $1 million. The shareholders, mostly store employees, did well out of the deal. They received $87 per share, half in cash and half in preferred shares in Robinson’s payable in full by 1989. This compared to $20-25 they had paid for their shares originally.

The closed Ogilvy building on Rideau Street, 2005 by SimonP, Wikipedia Commons

Segal and Levy immediately sold the Rideau Street main building for $10 million to a subsidiary of Comark Inc., the operator of high-fashion ladies’ fashion stores. The Ottawa retail business, now called Robinson-Ogilvy, was consolidated onto the first two floors and the basement of the Rideau Street building, which the firm rented on a long lease from Comark. The upper floors were rented out to other businesses. The Robinson’s chain also invested $2 million in upgrades to attract a more youthful clientele.

The investment failed. In 1986, Segal and Levy sold the Robinson’s chain of stores including the three Robinson-Ogilvy stores in Ottawa to Comark Services Inc, the firm that owned Irene Hill and Brettons. But Comark also struggled to make a go of it. Ogilvy’s, once the largest department store in Ottawa, now had less than one half of the floor space of Eaton’s or The Bay. Moreover, it never found its niche market, and struggled to re-build customer loyalty. The firm also lost the loyalty of its staff owing to layoffs.

Ogilvy’s three-storey façade, 2019, Google Streetview

In 1989, in a last-ditch effort to rebrand itself, the Ogilvy name was dropped, leaving the firm to operate solely as Robinson’s. The chain briefly opened a big branch store in the new Place d’Orléans Mall in the East end, but it was quickly forced to sell that business to The Bay in May 1992. The following month, the firm that Charles Ogilvy had started in 1887 disappeared into history.

The mortal remains of the firm—the old head office building on Rideau Street—remained. Vacant, the building was purchased in 1995 by Viking Rideau Corp. with a view to incorporating the structure into the Rideau Centre. In 2000, the five-story building was designated as having historical and architectural significance under the Ontario Heritage Act. However, Viking Rideau objected to this designation and sought permission from Ottawa City Council to demolish the building. Heritage organizations, especially Heritage Ottawa, strenuously objected. In the end, an agreement was reached to conserve the original three-storey façade along Rideau and Nicholas Streets. This agreement was carried out by Cadillac Fairview as part of a larger renovation of the neighbourhood in 2015 following its purchase of the building from Viking Rideau.


Heritage Ottawa, 2022. Charles Ogilvy Ltd. Department Store.

Ottawa Citizen, 1902. “Hockey,” 21 February.

——————, 1903. “Real Estate Deal,” 30 October.

——————, 1906. “To Build A Fine New Store,” 11 May.

——————, 1907. “Charles Ogilvy’s New Store Opened Tuesday,” 7 August.

——————, 1908. “Is Now A Company,” 13 April.

——————, 1908. “New Company Gazetted,” 20 April.

——————, 1931. “Ogilvy’s,” 8 May.

——————, 1933. “Chas. Ogilvy Shows Confidence By Store Addition,” 26 June.

——————, 1950. “Charles Ogilvy, Noted Ottawa Merchant, Is Dead,” 27 March.

——————, 1956. “Charles Ogilvy Ltd. Completes 66 Years’ Service to Area,” 31 October.

——————, 1960. “Expansion By Ogilvy’s to Start This Summer,” 13 June.

——————, 1984. “Talks resume in bid to buy Ogilvy chain,” 29 November.

——————, 1984. “New-Look image follows Ogilvy’s $10 million merger,” 28 December.

——————, 1986. “Ogilvy’s two-pronged challenge,” 11 March.

——————, 1986, “Ogilvy’s workers bitter after a week of layoffs,” 12 April.

——————, 1986. “Comark wrapping up purchase pf Ogilvy stores,” 1986.

——————-, 1988. “An institution struggles to recover its dignity,|” 18 December.

——————-, 1989. “Ogilvy’s name Robinson’s in name-dropping move,” 11 August.

——————-, 1992. “No Case for Robinsons,” 23 June.

——————, 1992. On the eve of demolition, the history of Ogilvy’s shines,” 15 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1912. “Charles Ogilvy, Ltd. To Enlarge Present Store,” 25 July 1914.

——————-, 1931. “Charles Ogilvy, Ltd. Opens New Section,” 5 March 1931.

——————-, 1950. “Pioneering Merchant Charles Ogilvy Dead,” 27 March.

——————-, 1950. “Charles Ogilvy Leaves Estate of $299,404,” 14 June.

——————-, 1969. “Fire Damage Estimate: Nearly $1,200,000,” 30 December.


3 January 1850, 15 April 1872 and 6 November 1879

Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada on the second Monday of October. Traditionally, it is the time to give thanks to the Almighty for the year’s harvest. And, indeed, it is still so celebrated in homes and churches across the country. However, in today’s secular times, the religious aspect of the holiday has diminished. Instead, the long Thanksgiving weekend provides a wonderful opportunity for family get-togethers between the Labour Day weekend in early September and the Christmas and Boxing Day holidays in December. For many Canadians, the Thanksgiving weekend is also traditionally the time for closing up cottages and camps for the winter, turning off their water, draining the pipes and clearing out any food in pantries that might attract both little and big critters.  

Turkey farm near Ottawa, circa 1920, Library and Archives Canada, 3360573.

The Canadian Thanksgiving shares the same rituals and traditions as its American counterpart. Both holidays focus on family, food, and sports. The customary Thanksgiving feast in both countries features turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce with pumpkin pie for dessert. However, the Canadian holiday is roughly six weeks before the American Thanksgiving, consistent with its earlier harvest season.

While most people, at least in North America, are somewhat familiar with the story of the first American Thanksgiving (which it wasn’t) when pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts and members of the Wampanoag First Nation sat down to celebrate a bountiful harvest in the autumn of 1621, the first thanksgiving in the territory that would later become known as Canada is less well known. It had nothing to do with the harvest but rather refers to the thanks given to the Almighty by the British explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew for their safe arrival in 1578 in what is now Frobisher Bay in Nunavut. This occurred forty-three years before the Pilgrims broke bread with their Indigenous neighbours.

Turkey and cranberry sauce, already a tradition in 1907, Ottawa Journal, 30 October 1907.

In more modern times, three dates stand out in the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, and none of them are in October. These are 3 January 1850, 15 April 1872 and 6 November 1879. Only the last is related to giving thanks for the harvest.

The first refers to a Royal Proclamation by Lord Elgin, the Governor General of the Province of Canada, issued in mid-December 1849, announcing that Thursday, 3 January 1850 would be a day of “General Thanksgiving to Almighty God” to thank Him for his mercies, especially in delivering Canadians from “the grievous disease [cholera] which many places in the Province had been lately visited.”   

The announcement came after press reports of a comparable holiday recommended that year by US President Taylor. The Globe newspaper noted approvingly that the president had “recommended” rather than “ordered” the public to celebrate the event as a recommendation was consistent with religious freedom whereas a command was not. However, it added that this formula was “marvellous proof of republican selfishness to guard the privileged class with scrupulosity against the least encroachment of arbitrary power and yet suffer the bondage of the most foul mental and physical slavery to rest upon millions.” It added “in a country where there is extensive domestic slavery it is strangely inconsistent.”

Businesses throughout the Province of Canada were closed on that cold January Thanksgiving Day, with special services held in churches. According to the Globe, services were well attended “as on a Sabbath,” and sermons were given that were appropriate to the occasion. Unfortunately, a report on how Ottawa celebrated that first Thanksgiving is not available.

While days of Thanksgiving were subsequently sporadically organized by colonial governments in British North America, the first official Dominion-wide Thanksgiving Day was held on Monday, 15 April 1872. The occasion was to give thanks for the recovery of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, from a serious bout of typhus that he had contracted while staying as a guest at country estate in North Yorkshire. Another guest at the estate had died from the disease, and for a time, there were serious concerns about whether the prince would recover. Typhus was the disease that had killed his father, Prince Albert, ten years earlier.

In Britain, a national day of Thanksgiving had been called for 27 February 1872. But in Canada, only New Brunswick had followed suit, much to the embarrassment of many. The Ottawa Daily Citizen opined that “this great national event, in which all British subjects must be deeply concerned, has been allowed to pass unhonored and forgotten.” This oversight was quickly rectified.

On 15 April 1872, commerce was suspended across Canada, including in Ottawa, with Divine services held to thank God for the Prince’s deliverance. The Citizen wrote: The loyalty of the Canadian people, which only requires an event of this kind to call forth an enthusiastic response, found fitting expression in every pulpit in the city, and in joining prayer of thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince of Wales the people of the Dominion felt that they were welding another link of love to bind them to the altar and the throne of their forefathers.”

All denominations held services. The Methodists met together at the Metcalfe Street Church. The Presbyterians prayed in the Bank Street Church, while the Roman Catholics met at Notre Dame Cathedral. Governor General Lord Lisgar and his wife celebrated at the Bishop’s Chapel, which held a joint service with the congregation of Christ’s Church. The Bishop’s Chapel, located at the corner of Somerset and Elgin Streets, became known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist in 1874. The Garrison Artillery supplied the Governor General’s honour guard and a band. The Bishop of Ontario also attended the service.

The first, Canada-wide, harvest Thanksgiving Day occurred on Thursday, 6 November 1879 with that day set aside by the Governor in Council as a day of general thanksgiving. The proclamation urged every province in the Confederation to unite “in special prayer and praise for the many mercies vouchsafed during the past year” as an expression of the nation’s gratitude.

Thanksgiving sales, another tradition, Ottawa Citizen, 10 October 1890.

In Ottawa, principal places of business were closed and the streets “wore a holiday appearance, according to the Ottawa Daily Citizen. There were special Thanksgiving services in all Protestant churches with appropriate sermons. Attendance was considered “unusually large.”

At St. Andrew’s, Rev. Gordon’s sermon drew upon Psalm 136 “O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” He said that the congregation was united with “our fellow countrymen from the Atlantic to Pacific.”

At Christ’s Church, the venerable Archdeacon Lauder urged his congregation “to beware the great sin of ingratitude.” The Archdeacon said that the poor were poor because God caused them to be poor for some reason of His own. (This harsh viewpoint was very common at this time.) He argued that there were two types of poor—the “strolling begging poor” and the “silent suffering poor who endure almost to death before they ask [for help].” Lauder had little sympathy for the first kind. The collection for the day was given to the Ladies Benevolent Society for the relief of the poor of the parish. Lauder assured his listeners that monies would not be spent on people until they had been visited and enquiries made into why they were poor.

Rev. Dr. Wood of the Congressional Church expressed gratitude for Canada’s bountiful harvest. He also said that the country had the blessing of peace, good governance, free schools, free press, reviving commerce, and general progress. The collection was raised for the Protestant Hospital.

Rev. Mr. Cameron of the Baptist Tabernacle contended that prosperity of a Christian nation is only guaranteed by being faithful to God. The recent five years of “hard times” experienced by Christian nations was due to people forgetting that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” Fortunately, God’s lesson—the hard times—was nearly over and prosperity would soon return. He added that Canadians had many reasons to be thankful, including a bountiful harvest, the opening of the Northwest [to the detriment of Indigenous peoples living there, one should note], prospects for returning prosperity, Canada being in a quiet corner of the British Empire, and for being alive to celebrate Thanksgiving. Like the Congressional Church, the Tabernacle’s collection was donated to the Protestant Hospital.

One notable absence among the denominations celebrating Thanksgiving was the Roman Catholic Church. The new government-announced celebration was not part of the Church’s liturgical calendar. The Feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas, on 29 September, or the Feast of St. Andrew, or Andermass, on 30 November, were already celebrated in many Catholic churches as harvest thanksgivings, depending on where you lived.

For roughly the next twenty years, Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on a Thursday in November. In 1899, it was switched to a Thursday in October. Starting in 1908, it was moved to a Monday in October. There was still not fixed day, with each Thanksgiving Day being annually proclaimed by the government.

The switch of month from November to October was generally viewed to be appropriate given the early start of winter in some parts of Canada. The Ottawa Journal opined that the “Dominion Government might remember the tendencies and diversities of its native climes when the date of Thanksgiving is being chosen.” It added that October was almost a winter month in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario. As for choosing a Monday over a Thursday, the Journal didn’t think it would lessen the religious significance of Thanksgiving in Canada. It also argued that choosing a Monday was convenient for people. A three-day weekend made family reunions possible.

After World War I, Thanksgiving was celebrated concurrently with Armistice Day, which was fixed by statute to be the Monday of the week in which 11 November fell. The holiday became known as Remembrance Day. However, in 1931, the two observances were separated, with Thanksgiving Day reverting to the second Monday in October (except in 1935 when Thanksgiving was shifted a week later owing to a general election). The date of the holiday was officially proclaimed annually by the federal government. It wasn’t until 1957 that the holiday was fixed by legislation to be the second Monday in October, thereby obviating the need for the government to make annual proclamations.


Canada Gazette, 1849. “A Proclamation,” 15 December.

Canadian Heritage, 2008. Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.

[The] Globe, 1849. “The Cholera – National Humiliation,” 26 July.

—————, 1849. “National Thanksgiving,” 18 December.

—————, 1850. “The Thanksgiving Day,” 5 January.

Miller, Jennifer, 2018, “The Catholic Tradition of Harvest Feasts at Thanksgiving,” Catholic Culture, 24 November.

Nagy, Alison, 2018. “The History of Thanksgiving in Canada,” Canada’s History, 4 October.

Ottawa Citizen, 1957. “Permanent Dates Given Two Holidays,” 1 February.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “The National Thanksgiving in Britain,” 27 February.

————————-, 1872. “The Thanksgiving in England,” 2 March.

————————–, 1872. “Thanksgiving,” 16 April.

————————–, 1879. “Thanksgiving Day,” 8 November.

Ottawa Journal, 1907. “Thanksgiving Day,” 17 September.

——————-, 1909. “Thanksgiving,” 23 October.

The Beechwood Cemetery

25 October 1873

The Beechwood Cemetery, located on Beechwood Avenue and Hemlock Road in Vanier, is the largest cemetery in Ottawa encompassing roughly 160 acres of wooded land. It is the resting place for more than 85,000 persons from every walk of life. Leaders such as Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister from 1911 to 1920, and Ramon Hnatyshyn, Canada’s Governor General from 1990 to 1995 are buried there. Lumber barons, military heroes, sportsmen and poets also rest at the Beechwood Cemetery as do felons and at least one executed murderer. It shady walks provide a fascinating journey into Ottawa’s past as well as a peaceful sanctuary for reflection and contemplation.

Its story begins just a few years after Confederation. Ottawa’s Protestant and Roman Catholic cemeteries in Sandy Hill were fast filling up, and congregations began to look further afield for new burial grounds for their departed flocks. The Roman Catholic Church found a site to the east of Ottawa on the “King’s Road,” now known as Montreal Road. The fifty-acre site was purchased by the Church from a Mr. Bradley. Named Notre Dame Cemetery, the new Roman Catholic burial ground was consecrated at 5:00 pm on 2 June 1872 by Bishop Guigues. An immense crowd, apparently in the thousands, attended the ceremony. Father Malloy preached in English, with “another reverend gentleman” speaking in French, according the Ottawa Daily Citizen.

It was more difficult to organize the Protestant congregations. Many meetings of church representatives were held in the Lecture Room of the Mechanics’ Institute to discuss the issue and vote on alternatives. A sub-committee was formed to visit suitable sites, of which there were many, including even a site across the Ottawa River in Hull. That site was quickly rejected as being vastly too expensive. On the Ottawa side, the sub-committee considered several farms, including the Baine, Blaisdell, and Bradley properties to the west of the city. All were rejected as unsuitable.

Attention coalesced on two particular properties, the Thompson farm in the west and the farm owned by Hector McPhail in the east though church representatives kept an eye out for other potential sites. On the way to examine the Thompson farm, the investigating sub-committee stopped at the Cowley farm on the Richmond Road. Captain Cowley was a well-known steamboat captain and farmer who owned 200 acres of land along the Richmond Road which at the time was in Nepean Township. Although the Cowley site was sufficiently large, the price tag of $175 per acre was deemed to be too high.

Initially, the balance of opinion favoured purchasing the Thompson farm, which was located to the west of the Cowley property close to the Ottawa River. The seventy-two-acre parcel of land could be acquired at a price of $10,000, less than $140 per acre. As well, the Canada Central Railway promised that if the Thompson property was chosen it would run funeral trains to and from downtown Ottawa at a day’s notice. At $10 per trip, a funeral train would be more economical than hiring carriages to bring the remains and mourners to and from the cemetery. 

However, many churches complained that the Thompson farm was too distant, being roughly six miles from the centre of the city, and hence too expensive for the poor to attend funerals and visit their dearly departed. Some clergymen complained that it would be “nigh impossible” for ministers to continue their custom of following the remains of the deceased from the funeral service at the church to graveside if the Thompson site was chosen.

Some congregations were also concerned that removing the dead from the old Sandy Hill cemetery to a new cemetery at the Thompson farm would meaning carrying the bodies through the city. Others were concerned that the prevailing westerly wind could potentially bring smells to the city and that rain water run-off from a cemetery located relatively close to the Ottawa River would eventually pollute the river upstream from where the city drew its water supply.

Supporters of the McPhail farm, located to the east of Ottawa just north of the new Notre Dame Cemetery, contended that this roughly 130-acre site had many advantages, not least of which was its price at $80 per acre ($12,000). While the northern part of the property consisted of swamp land and a gully, there was 35 acres of cleared land and perhaps another 40 acres under cultivation, all of which could be used for burying purposes. There was also another 30 acres of fine timber land. Importantly, the property had the additional advantage of being relatively close to the city, being only one mile from the St. Patrick Street Bridge across the Rideau River and about 2 ½ miles from Sappers’ Bridge downtown. As well, the nearby McKay estate had already constructed a carriage road to within a half mile of the proposed cemetery site. (Rideau Hall, located on the McKay estate, had been purchased in 1868 by the Dominion government as the home of the Governor General.) The Ottawa City Passenger Railway said that if the property was selected, the horse-drawn street car service would be extended to the site. This would make the McPhail farm site easily accessible by the general public.

A team went out to examine the suitability of the soil at the McPhail farm. Seven test pits were dug to a depth of six or seven feet, four in the field and three in the bush. In all cases, the sites were dry with the soil consisting of sand. The men judged the ground to be well suited for burial purposes, better in fact than the Thompson farm site. As well, the bush was not thick; a horse could be ridden through it, they claimed. They concluded that with relatively little expense, walks could be laid out, making the site a beautiful place for a burial ground.

Support for purchasing the McPhail farm as the new Protestant cemetery was almost unanimous. Only the Christ’s Church congregation voted against it. In favour were Bishop’s Chapel, St Alban’s, St Andrew’s, the Bank Street Church, Wesleyan Church, Congregationalist Church, the Baptist Church, and St Bartholomew’s Church in New Edinburgh.  Three Methodist churches, who did not attend the mid-November 1872 meeting at the Mechanics’ Institute, indicated that they would vote with the majority. A committee consisting of Joseph Merrill Currier MP (the builder and original owner of 24 Sussex Drive), John Rochester, and William Whyte, was then appointed to complete the McPhail purchase on behalf of the Protestant churches.

The following week on 19 November 1872, the committee announced that it had purchased the farm at a price of $80 per acre, with a down payment of $3,200, with the balance to be paid in four annual installments at an interest rate of 7 per cent. Possession of the land was immediate with the exception of the buildings which Mr. McPhail and his son could occupy until the beginning of May 1873. The McPhail family was also permitted to collect as much wood as they might need through the winter but were required to take fallen timber first. If they had a need for additional wood, the McPhails would only be permitted to fell trees selected by the new cemetery’s management.

After rejecting the name Rockcliffe Cemetery proposed by Dr. Sweetland, church representatives agreed that the lands purchased would henceforth be known as the Beechwood Cemetery. The cemetery would be used for burial purposes by all congregations that took part in the purchase, as well as by all those who joined thereafter. A committee was struck to draft an act for the incorporation of the Beechwood Cemetery Company. The committee also devised a plan for the management of the new cemetery and to develop the site for burial purposes.

The capital stock of the new company was $20,000 divided into 200 shares of $100 each. The funds raised were used to purchase the McPhail property. The company’s management then laid out and improved part of property in order to make it available for burial purposes, and placed it on the market by May 1873. An adult’s grave was priced at not more than $5, while a child’s grave cost $2.50. The first charge against net revenue from the sale of lots was the payment of interest to stockholders at a rate of 12½ per cent per annum, payable half yearly. One half of net revenue after the payment of interest to shareholders was applied to buying back the capital stock of the company with the other half used to improve the property. When the capital stock of the company was fully repaid, the lot holders became the shareholders of the cemetery. When this occurred, all net income was devoted to the improvement or embellishment of the cemetery. The cemetery was non-sectarian in nature. Moreover, those without religious profession had an equal right to purchase burial plots.

Memorial to Captain James Forsyth, first memorial erected in Beechwood Cemetery, site of the consecration ceremony performed by the Bishop of Ontario, 25 October, 1873, Veterans Affairs Canada, by F. Taylor Vergette.

Through the spring and summer of 1873, improvements were made to the property under the direction of engineer Robert Surtees. The grounds were fenced, and the cemetery subdivided into parcels and lots through which beautiful avenues were constructed, giving the area a picturesque appearance said the Ottawa Citizen. Also constructed were a chapel, a conservatory, a mortuary and stable buildings.

On Saturday, 25 October 1873 at 3:00pm, the Anglican Bishop of Ontario consecrated the Beechwood Cemetery. The spot chosen for the ceremony was the flat area at the foot of the memorial to Captain James Forsyth who died in September 1872. The newly-built memorial, the first in the cemetery, had been erected by members of the 2nd Ottawa Field Battery. The proceedings were unfortunately delayed several times by inclement weather. Although only a small group of people were in attendance at the ceremony, the Ottawa Citizen reported that among the spectators present were J.M. Currier, N. Bate, J.D. Slater and several women.

The bishop commented that most people he knew regarded consecration of land as an act of superstition. However, he believed that the act did a great deal towards producing a proper respect of the dead. Then, the people assembled sang hymn 142: Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His Throne by Matthew Bridges.

From these early days, the Beechwood Cemetery became know as a place to go, not just to visit departed loved ones, but to stroll its shaded pathways and enjoy the serenity of nature. Open to all, the cemetery developed areas for particular communities. One early such group was Ottawa’s Chinese community. At the end of World War I, a military cemetery was set aside, forming the basis of what would become in 2007 the National Military Cemetery. Most recently, the remains of early Bytown residents who were buried in the old Barrick’s Hill cemetery and were uncovered by the excavations for Ottawa’s light rail system were re-interred at the Beechwood Cemetery.

Over the years, the cemetery was expanded and improved. With a growing acceptance of cremation, a crematorium and columbarium were built in 1962. At the end of the 20th century, the corporate structure of the Beechwood Cemetery changed from a private company to a non-profit organization. In 2000, the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation was established to safeguard the cemetery’s future and to increase public awareness of the cemetery’s place in Canadian history. In 2009, Beechwood was recognized by the federal government as the national cemetery of Canada.


Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “A New Cemetery,” 3 June.

————————–, 1872. “The Protestant Cemetery,” 23 October.

————————–, 1872. “The Cemetery,” 24 October.

————————–, 1872. “The Cemetery Question,” 1 November.

————————–, 1872. “The Cemetery Question,” 9 November.

————————–, 1872. “The Cemetery Question,” 13 November.

————————–, 1872. “Cemetery Meeting,” 20 November.

————————–, 1872. “Beechwood Cemetery,” 30 November.

————————–, 1873. “The Beechwood Cemetery,” 27 October.

Notre Dame Cemetery, 2022. Notre Dame Cemetery History.

Jackson, Christine, 2016. From Steamboats to the NHL: The Ottawa Valley’s Cowley Family, Historical Society of Ottawa, Bytown Pamphlet #98, March.

Ritchie, Thomas, 2022. The History of the Beechwood Cemetery, Beechwood Cemetery.

Moving Day

25 September 1865

The day had finally arrived. After decades of dithering, political wrangling and construction snafus, the seat of Canada’s capital was finally moving. On 25 September 1865, the first boxes of government effects were loaded onto trains and barges for their one-way journey from Quebec, dubbed “the ancient capital,” to Ottawa. For almost a quarter century since the merger of Upper and Lower Canada to form the Province of Canada in 1841, the colony’s peripatetic capital had moved from Kingston to Montreal, before alternating between Toronto and Quebec. Imagine the cost of picking up sticks every few years as well as the physical and emotional toll on public servants and their families.

In 1857, Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the permanent seat of Canada’s capital after partisan provincial legislators were unable to select a city. Even then, it took two more years for Canadian politicians to ratify her choice and for construction on the new legislature and department buildings to commence. Cost overruns due in part to contracts being awarded on the basis of patronage rather than price, led to further delays. When the money ran out, construction came to a temporary halt before building was resumed under new leadership. But by the beginning of 1865, work had progressed to the point that the government, then resident in Quebec, was encouraged enough to issue an Order-in-Council to set in motion the removal of the government to Ottawa for the following May.

West Block Government Building nearing completion, c. 1865, Library and Archives Canada, ID 3246837.

This date was also missed. However, with 500 workmen on site, the departmental buildings were nearing completion, though the legislature building was not quite as advanced, and the Parliamentary Library to the rear of the legislature building scarcely begun. Press reports suggested that the government was determined to move government employees to Ottawa by the fall. The Bytown Consumer Gas Company, which had won the contract for suppling the government buildings with illuminating gas, was told that it had to lay it pipes and make all arrangements necessary to supply lighting by mid October.

In late July 1865, Thomas D’Arcy McGee visited Ottawa to assess the progress and report back to Cabinet on the possibility of the civil service staff moving to their new quarters by the fall. The Ottawa Citizen reported that he spent virtually all of his time in the city examining and exploring the governmental buildings. He was favourably impressed.

A month later, Jean-Charles Chapais, the Commissioner of Public Works, told the Clerk of the House to have everybody ready for removal to Ottawa immediately after the close of the session expected in a month’s time. Based on Chapais’ announcement, many government employees instructed their agents in Ottawa to immediately secure housing. There were reports, however, that some public servants, fearful of not finding adequate accommodations, had in fact rented houses for a year or more in anticipation of the move.

At the end of August, three senior civil servants, Mr. T. Trudeau, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. Himsworth from the Executive Council Office, and Mr. William White, Secretary of the Post Office Department, came down from Quebec to make their own assessment of the state of the buildings.

Ottawa was abuzz with excitement. The big day when the city was to finally become the seat of government was at hand.

On 7 September, Robert Bell, the owner of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, and MP for Russell County in the Provincial legislature, sent a private dispatch to the newspaper informing it that Public Works Department had began to advertise for tenders for moving government effects from Quebec to Ottawa with the move to be completed no later than mid November. Ottawa MP J. M. Currier also reported to Ottawa’s Mayor Dickenson that there was “not the slightest doubt…that the Government will be removed to Ottawa this fall.”

The small announcement that the government’s move to Ottawa was finally underway, Ottawa Citizen, 25 September 1865.

Fourteen bids were received by the government for the removals contract, ranging from $12,000 to $39,000. The winner was the firm of Craig & Vallière, Quebec cabinetmakers.

The first departments to be packed were Crown Lands and the Post Office, with the first load of government effects leaving Quebec bound for Ottawa on 25 September, 1865.  Papers were loaded securely in bound wooden boxes, closely watched by Mr. Trudeau of Public Works who kept a wary eye out for careless packing.

Written papers and departmental books were transported by the Grand Trunk Railway. Office furniture and the Parliamentary Library, part of which had been in storage in Laval University, went by barges towed by steamers to Ottawa. Most of the books were to be held in storage until the new Parliamentary Library was completed a decade later. The government allowed the barges to pass through the Lachine Canal free of tolls on their way down the St. Lawrence River before being pulled down the Ottawa River to the new capital. On 15 October 1865, the Post Office and the Crown Lands Department opened for business in Ottawa. The Globe newspaper reported that “Quebec may be said to be decapitalized.” The last government effects left Quebec for Ottawa on 24 October.

As departments were given orders to pack their belongings in Quebec, the government buildings in Ottawa were being buffed and polished. Disused workshops were dismantled while rubbish was carted away from around the government building in preparation for their new occupants.

Journalists were given a three-hour tour of the buildings, escorted by Mr. Page, the public servant in charge of the Parliament buildings, and Mr. Thomas Fuller, one of the architects of the central legislative building. The reporters were very impressed. They enthused about the large, airy departmental offices, each supplied with water and gas. The reporters’ room, located on the northwest corner of the centre building had a fine view of the Chaudière Falls. The governor general’s office was described as an elegant apartment with windows of stained glass. The universal opinion of the Press Association was that despite some bungling and some chiselling, the buildings were spectacular and that generations of Canadians as yet unborn will be proud of them.

Journalists also remarked that downtown face of Ottawa had been transformed beyond the Parliament buildings. On the principal streets, first class stone buildings had recently been erected. Most of these buildings had been built of blue limestone and were deemed to be both substantial and elegant, with high French windows and projecting sills that gave them an air of “grace and strength.” Ottawa was clearly destined for a great future.

What about the poor civil servants who had to move from the delights of old Quebec to rough hewn, little Ottawa? The Ottawa Citizen opined that “removal to Ottawa [was] not quite synonymous with banishment to a penal colony.”

The government softened the blow by providing allowances to its civil servants. Each employee was given two months salary plus $40 for each adult in the family, with children of twelve years of age considered adults, and $20 for each child and servant. This scale of payment was the same as that given to civil servants when they moved to Toronto in 1855 and to Quebec in 1859. However, the allowances were reduced by 10 per cent to account for the shorter travel distance.

The biggest fear of government employees was finding adequate housing in Ottawa. Not only was it much smaller than Quebec, having a population of only 16,000 compared with more than 60,000 for the ancient capital, but it seems that relatively little new housing had been constructed in anticipation of a flood of new arrivals. Reportedly, this was due to the uncertain timing of when the government would actually move the seat of government to Ottawa.

According to John A. Macdonald, who stopped in Ottawa to see how things were going in late September 1865 while his way to Quebec, upwards of 2,000 people would be moving to Ottawa. He told Ottawa officials that in addition to heads of departments, there were “numerous labourers, workers and employees with small income, who have to look at a shilling twice before they spend it.”

It is not clear, however, who Macdonald was counting in this total. Twenty years later, total federal head office staff (inside service) accounted for fewer than 750 positions. It’s possible Macdonald was counting family members as well. Alternatively, he was counting non-government ancillary jobs that were also moving to Ottawa. For example, George Desbarats, the Queen’s printer, moved his printing business from Quebec to Ottawa. Regardless, for tiny Ottawa, this was a large number of people.

Macdonald expressed his conviction that the people of Ottawa would do all in their power to smooth the path for the new arrivals. He also claimed that according to his inquiries, Ottawa landlords were not taking advantage of the tight housing conditions, and rents remained reasonable. He attributed this to Ottawa landlords taking the long view.

Others were not so sure, especially Quebec-based papers, though perhaps they were biased, keen to point out the worst in the move to Ottawa. The Quebec Chronicle reported (and reproduced in the Ottawa Citizen) that not only were houses few and far between in Ottawa but private boarding was “scarcely to be had” and what rooms that were available costed from eight to ten dollars per week. “What are the single men with small salaries to do at these rates? Or, for that matter, the married ones?” the newspaper worried.

Another report said that a departmental officer paid £45 ($220), inclusive of tax, per year in Quebec but was forced to pay £90 ($440), exclusive of tax, in Ottawa. Ottawa’s taxes were also higher than Quebec’s. Another report in October 1865 claimed that most of the employees who had gone to Ottawa could not obtain “anything approaching a moderately comfortable dwelling without paying exorbitant rates. The shabbiest hovels costed £25 to £85 (roughly $120-$400). (The salary of a male, third-class clerk, which was a middle-rank position, ranged from $600-$1,000 per annum in 1886. Guards made only $500 per annum.)

The Ottawa Citizen rubbished these reports, claiming that rents of eight to ten dollars per week were ridiculous. The newspaper said that a single man could find “good quarters” for $6 per week. Moreover, it contended that private boarding houses were not scarce and that accommodations could be easily found. However, it added the qualifier, as long as people were “not overly fastidious.”

In early 1866, a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen from somebody with the nom de plume “Government Clerk,” said that there had been too much whining by civil servants. He asserted that the inconvenience of moving was less than what it had been after the moves to Toronto in 1855 and to Quebec in 1859. While one could hardly expect that comfortable accommodations at reasonable rates could be immediately found given the large number of persons arriving at once in Ottawa, its landowners demanded less than Toronto and Quebec landowners had in similar circumstances. Ottawa was not a “den of thieves.”

Public servants also had to hope that their personal effects made the journey from Quebec to Ottawa intact. The Globe reported that there had been a series of mysterious robberies leading to a very large quantity of belongings of government employees apparently stolen.

While government employees moved in late in 1885, members of Parliament and the Legislative Council moved later. Like the civil servants, they too had difficulties finding accommodation. Some, like George Brown, the fiery Liberal leader, stayed at the Russell House Hotel when the Legislature was in session. Others found lodgings in rooming houses. Thomas D’Arcy McGee took rooms in the Toronto Hotel, otherwise known as Mrs. Trotter’s Boarding House. He was to die on its front steps, felled by an assassin’s bullet, less than a year after Confederation.

The first session of the Provincial Legislature opened in its new home in Ottawa on Friday, 8 June 1866, when Governor General, the Viscount Monck delivered the speech from the Throne in the Legislative Council. The first two bills introduced by John A. Macdonald and Georges-Étienne Cartier dealt with the apprehension and punishment of Fenian raiders.


Department of the Secretary of State, 1886. Civil Service List of Canada, Ottawa, March.

Evening Telegraph & Commercial Advertiser, 1865. “Removal To Ottawa,” 27 January.

Globe, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 26 September.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 29 September.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 16 October.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 21 October.

Ottawa Citizen, 1865. “No title,” 23 May.

——————-, 1865. “Editorial,” 22 July.

——————, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 18 August.

——————, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 29 August.

——————, 1865. “Editorial,” 30 August

——————, 1865. “From Toronto,” 6 September

——————, 1865. “From Quebec,” 8 September.

——————, 1865, “The Late Press Excursion,” 18 September.

——————, 1865. “The Late Press Excursion,” 20 September.

——————, 1865. “Editorial,” 21 September.

——————, 1865. “The Removal to Ottawa,” 23 September.

——————, 1865. “The Removal,” 25 September.

——————, 1865. “No title,” 26 September.

——————, 1865. “No title,” 28 September.

——————, 1865. “The Hon. J.A. Macdonald In Ottawa,” 29 September.

——————, 1865. “Removal,” 18 October.

——————, 1866. “Correspondence,” 22 January.

——————, 1866. “Editorial,” 5 October.

Death of Queen Victoria

22 January 1901

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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