The Arrival of Traffic Lights

5 March 1928

It’s hard to imagine city driving without the ubiquitous traffic lights that govern the ebb and flow of cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians on our streets and avenues. For the most part, we take them for granted. But when a power failure temporarily puts out the lights, the resulting gridlock reminds us how much we rely on them to keep our roads safe and traffic flowing. In contrast, back in the days before the arrival of the automobile when life moved at a more leisurely pace, there was little in the way of traffic controls. Even whether one should keep to the left or to the right was uncertain. As well, everybody had the same right to use the streets and highways as long as one took care not to injure others. Intermingled among horse-drawn delivery wagons, hansom cabs and omnibuses were cyclists and pedestrians. Not only was jaywalking an unheard-of offence, people thought nothing of strolling down the centre of the street.

The pace of life began to quicken in the late nineteenth century with the introduction of electric streetcars. But the arrival of the automobile in large numbers early in the twentieth century was the real game changer. With the rules of the road ill-defined, city streets had become increasingly dangerous. Traffic control became a priority in all major cities. To gain an appreciation of the chaotic traffic conditions in a major North American city during the early 1900s, here is a link (San Francisco Street Scene) to a fascinating short film of a drive down Market Street in San Francisco just days before the famous earthquake devastated the city in 1906.

Traffic lights actually predate the automobile. In late 1868, gas-lit signals were installed at the intersection of Bridge, Great George and Parliament Streets close to the Houses of Parliament in London to help control heavy horse-drawn and pedestrian traffic. Adapted from railway signals by engineer John Peake Knight, the three semaphore signal arms stood on a pillar twenty-two feet high. The horizontal signal arms indicated “stop” and “proceed with caution.” At night, gas lights were used with coloured lenses. Similar to today, a red light indicated that traffic should stop and a green light “proceed with caution.” The lights and signals were manually controlled by a police constable who would also blow a whistle to indicate he was about to change them. Although the new invention was effective at controlling traffic, a month after its installation a gas leak led to an explosion that severely injured the attending constable. This effectively scuppered gas-powered traffic signals in London.

Fast forward to the early years of the twentieth century, manually-powered semaphore traffic signals were used in many American cities to help control traffic. Like their British counterpart, the arms indicated whether traffic should stop or go. Instead of gas, kerosene was sometimes used to light lamps at night, with the standard red or green lenses indicating “stop” and “go,” respectively. In 1923, the inventor Garrett Morgan of Cleveland successfully took out a U.S. patent (# 1,475,024) for a hand-cranked semaphore traffic signal that featured three positions: stop, go, and all stop so that traffic could give way to pedestrians. Morgan reportedly sold his invention for $40,000 to the General Electric Company, a considerable sum in those days.

Traffic lights as we know them date from 1912 when one Lester Wire of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was head of the city’s traffic squad, invented a two-colour, red-green system. Wire never patented his device though it was apparently employed in Salt Lake City. In 1913, James Hoge of Cleveland submitted a patent in the United States for an electric “Municipal Traffic Control System” that consisted of “traffic control boxes or signals at street intersections and other suitable points.” Hoge’s objective was to permit policemen to better control traffic in order to give priority to emergency vehicles. Lamps of different colours would be used with one colour (red) to indicate “stop” and another colour (white) to indicate “move.” He received his patent (# 1,251,666) on 1 January 1918.

The modern, three-colour (red, amber, and green), electric traffic light, first appeared on street corners in Detroit in 1920. Its inventor was William L. Potts, a police officer who, like others at that time, was concerned about worsening road safety owing to the increasing popularity of the automobile. Like Lester Wire before him, Potts did not patent his device, apparently because being a government employee he was not eligible to do so. Within a few years, Potts’s three-colour, electric traffic lights were being widely used in American cities.

Electric traffic lights came to Canadian streets in 1925, first in Hamilton, Ontario and shortly afterwards in Toronto as a means of reducing the number of police constables directing traffic at major intersections. Taking note of Toronto’s favourable experience with traffic lights, police magistrate Charles Hopewell wrote in late 1927 to Ottawa’s Mayor John Balharrie and City Council recommending traffic lights of the three-colour variety be installed as an experiment at three major intersections on Sparks Street—at Bank, Metcalfe, and O’Connor Streets. He recommended against installing lights at the intersection of Sparks and Elgin Streets owing to uncertainty over government plans for the area. The Dominion government had recently expropriated land in this area, including the site of the old Russell Hotel, with a view towards beautifying Ottawa, which included widening Sparks and Elgin Streets. At each of the three chosen intersections, four traffic lights would be installed on the existing “Whiteway” lamp poles. Hopewell recommended the “Co-ordinated Progressive System” of traffic lights made by the Canadian General Electric Company over equipment manufactured by the Northern Electric Company, a forerunner of Northern Telecom. He estimated the purchase and installation costs at approximately $2,600 (about $37,000 in today’s money). After consulting the Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission, the annual electricity cost for running the twelve sets of traffic lights, each equipped with three 60 watt bulbs, was estimated at $640.

Although Council supported Hopewell recommendation to install traffic lights on Sparks Street, the Police Commission in December gave the contract to Northern Electric rather than Canadian General Electric. The cost of buying its automatic traffic control system with twelve sets of lights was under $1,800, much lower than Hopewell’s initial estimate. The funds to buy the equipment came out of unused resources in the police department’s 1927 budget. Of the twelve sets of traffic lights, eleven were mounted horizontally on existing light poles. The twelfth was mounted vertically to see which configuration of lights would be more visible.

Although newspapers optimistically reported that the traffic lights would be ready for Christmas, it took longer than expected for the hydro company to connect them. Finally, shortly before 8am on Monday, 5 March 1928, the new, automatic traffic lights on Sparks Street were switched on. The street lights were synchronized to facilitate travel down the street. They were on a 45-second cycle, with a twenty-second green light, followed by a five-second amber caution light, and a twenty-second red light. Twenty seconds were deemed sufficient time to allow streetcars to unload and load their passengers. Initially, the lights were in operation Monday through Saturday. Extra police were on hand that first day to assist the public in observing the rules. Magistrate Hopewell was also there to witness the lights in use for the first time. He returned at noon to check how things were running.

Overall, the introduction of traffic lights went smoothly, though the volume of traffic was unusually light that first day, possibly owing to cold weather. The street cars were running normally, however, allowing police officials to check the timing of the lights. Groups of people stood around the street corners to watch the lights change colour. A number of car drivers and streetcar operators drove through red lights, but police overlooked the infractions owing to people’s unfamiliarity with the new system. Police also stressed that pedestrians should obey the lights as well.

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The pedestal street lights installed on Wellington Street in 1928, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 28 November 1928.

Naturally, there were complaints. Some motorists didn’t like the location of the lights. Magistrate Hopewell said it would take at least a week for the traffic lights to prove their efficiency. In the meantime, the system would be studied and improved, if necessary.

The new lights were judged to be a complete success, and were quickly rolled out to other important road junctures, including the Sparks and Kent and the Bank and Laurier intersections a few months later. The operation of the street lights was also extended to Sundays.

Wellington Street received its traffic lights in late 1928 at intersections with Elgin, Metcalfe, O’Connor, and Bank Streets. Instead of installing the lights on existing poles, new pedestal-type traffic lights were erected—a first in Canada. The lights, with top red, middle amber, and bottom light green, were mounted on pedestals with a two-foot base, standing over nine-feet high. The city had hoped to have the new traffic lights in operation earlier in the year, but delayed their installation pending approval from Prime Minister Mackenzie King who took a personal interest in plans to improve the Capital. The traffic lights were synchronized so that automobiles travelling at twenty miles per hour from the Château Laurier Hotel to Bank Street would not have to stop. The Ottawa Evening Journal proudly noted that Ottawa was the only city in North America, other than Buffalo, New York, to have an entire thoroughfare equipped with these new type of lights.

From then on, there was no looking back. Traffic lights, proven effective at controlling the flow of traffic and improving road safety, were here to stay.

Sources:

About Money, 2016. “Garrett Morgan 1877-1963,” http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/03/the-origin-of-the-green-yellow-and-red-color-scheme-for-traffic-lights/.

Bio, 2016. “Garrett Morgan Biography,” http://www.biography.com/people/garrett-morgan-9414691#cleveland-tunnel-explosion.

Brown, J. E., General Manager, Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission to Mr. C.E. Pearce, Board of Control, 1927. “Letter,” 24 October.

City of Ottawa, 1927. “Minutes,” Traffic Control System, 6 December.

Globe and Mail, 2015. “First electric traffic signal installed 101 years ago,” 5 August.

History, 2016. “First electric traffic signal installed,” This Day in History, August 5. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-electric-traffic-signal-installed.

Hopewell, Charles, Police Magistrate, to Mayor and Board of Control, 1927. “Letter.” 3 October.

——————————————————-, 1927. “Letter.” 5 December.

Idea Finder, 2007, “Traffic Lights,” http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/trafficlight.htm.

Mark Traffic, 2016. “Traffic Lights Invented by William L. Potts,” http://www.marktraffic.com/traffic-lights-invented-by-william-l-potts.php.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1927. “Traffic Lights Installed For Holiday Rush,” 12 December.

————————————, 1928. “New Automatic Signal System In Operation.” 5 March.

————————————, 1928. “Wellington St. Traffic Lights Now Are Likely,” 27 April.

————————————, 1928. “Traffic Lights To Operate Sundays,” 7 May.

————————————, 1928. “Ottawa To Get Latest Types Signal Lights,” 28 November.

Today I Found Out, 2016. “The Origin of the Green, Yellow and Red Color Scheme For Traffic Lights,” http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/03/the-origin-of-the-green-yellow-and-red-color-scheme-for-traffic-lights/.

U.S. Patent Office, 1918. “Municipal Traffic Control Signal of J. B. Hoge, Patent Number 1251666,” 1 January, https://www.google.com/patents/US1251666.

The Ottawa International Dog Derby

5 February 1930

If you ask most Canadians today to name the principal winter sports, hockey would undoubtedly top any list. Other contenders would include skiing (alpine or cross-country), ice-skating, snow-boarding, bobsledding, and snowmobiling. Curling too would likely make the cut. If people thought about the question a bit longer, dog sled racing might also be mentioned. Today, the most famous dog sled race is the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod from Anchorage in the south to Nome on the western Bering Sea. The race, held annually, covers some of the toughest winter terrain. The race was started in 1973 in part as a means of saving the dog-sled culture and the Alaskan husky, threatened by the growing popularity of the snowmobile. Another prominent sled race is the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile journey, held annually since 1984, from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, tracing the route prospectors took during the great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Despite the high profile of these two races, dog-sledding is pursued by relatively few outdoor winter enthusiasts. But ninety years ago, it was mainstream stuff, with both national and locally-sponsored races known as “dog derbies.” Major sled races of the day included the American Dog Derby of Ashton, Idaho, the Hudson Bay Dog Derby of Le Pas, Manitoba, and the Eastern International Dog Derby held at Quebec City. Just as today’s fans idolize star hockey players, the top sled drivers, such as Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and Finnish-American Leonhard Seppala of Nome, Alaska were household names. Seppala became world famous in 1925 when he and his team of dogs led by Togo, along with other “mushers,” brought much needed anti-diphtheria serum to Nome from Nenana, Alaska, a distance of 600 miles, by sled. Seppala, who drove the most dangerous section across the treacherous ice of Norton Sound in order to save a day’s travel time, handed the serum off to Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his team of dogs led by Balto for the final leg of the journey into Nome. Being the first dog to enter Nome, Balto received the public’s adulation; a fact that didn’t sit well with Seppala who thought his dog Togo was more deserving of honour. A bronze statue of Balto stands in New York’s Central Park, while his stuffed body is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1995, an animated Hollywood movie titled Balto, which was loosely based on the 1925 serum run, was produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures.

In 1930, as part of the Ottawa’s Winter Carnival activities, the Ottawa Business Men’s Association organized the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. Under the leadership of Major F. D. Burpee, the Association raised $3,895 from area businesses and citizens to help fund the event. The Sparks Street department stores Murphy-Gamble and Bryson-Graham donated $100 and $50, respectively. The Ottawa Electric Railway and the Ottawa Electric Company each gave $50, while Thomas Ahearn, the great Ottawa inventor and entrepreneur personally donated $25. Additional funding to cover transportation, as well as room and board for the drivers and their dogs, was provided by the Canadian National Railways and the Château Laurier Hotel. The Château also purchased the gold Challenge Trophy for the Derby winner valued at $1,000.

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The Challenge Trophy donated by the Château Laurier Hotel, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 7 February 1930

The 100-mile Derby was held over three days, with the third and last segment of the race taking place on 5 February 1930. The course for the Derby started at Connaught Place in front of the Château Laurier. It crossed the site of the old Russell Hotel, before heading down the Driveway, under the Bank Street Bridge, along Carling Avenue out to Britannia and Bell’s Corners, over to Fallowfield, down a side road to the Prescott Highway (Prince of Wales Drive), then homeward for the “final dash” along the Driveway to the finish line at Connaught Place. Weather conditions for the Derby were perfect—cold and snowy.

The event was open to any individual from Canada and the United States, with teams of no more than seven dogs. The dogs’ feet could be enclosed in protective boots or moccasins. Doping was prohibited. Teams were divided into three groups, with starting positions within each group determined by lot. The starting position of each group rotated so that the sled teams in the first group on Day One would start last on Day Two, and second on Day Three. There were five race judges, among whom were some eminent mushers, including Major Burwash who had gone out to the Yukon in the 1898 Gold Rush and had mushed 175,000 miles through the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

There was lots of pre-race hype. In late January, one of the Derby contestants, Jack “Yukon” Melville, an Algonquin Park camp owner, made a $500 bet with Mayor Plant and Joseph Van Wyck, the manager of the Château Laurier, that he could mush 400 miles from Rochester to Ottawa, and arrive in time for the start of the race. Melville attached long banners to the sides of his sled inviting everybody to Ottawa to advertise the Dog Derby and the Ottawa Winter Carnival. To facilitate Melville’s journey, Mayor Plant wired town mayors along his route. The Ottawa Automobile Club also wired ahead to ascertain snow conditions on the highways. While Melville completed the sled trip, he arrived back in Ottawa one day late, losing the bet and missing the start of the Ottawa Derby, owing to a lack of snow in upstate New York. The unfortunate Melville also broke two ribs setting out from Rochester. However, so delighted was the city, hotel and the Ottawa Business Men’s Association with the massive press coverage of Melville’s journey and the Ottawa Winter Carnival, his losses were covered. “Jack Melville is not going to lose out on his trip, wager or no wager,” the Château’s manager said according to The Ottawa Evening Journal.

With Melville out of the running, eight sled teams showed up on Day One of the Derby on Monday 3 February. However, judges scratched the entry of Mrs E. P. Ricker Jr of Poland Springs, Maine, the only female musher, owing to four of her dogs being injured in a fight. This left seven teams to contest the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. At noon, in front of a huge, frenzied crowd, estimated at up to 20,000 people, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King who attended with his dog Pat, the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon, officially opened the Derby. First away was Harry Wheeler of Grey Rocks, Quebec and his team of five huskies. Next was the crowd favourite, Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and his team of seven greyhound/husky mixed breeds led by Toby. Third out was Leonhard Seppala and his seven huskies, followed by Georges Chevrette of Quebec City. Chevrette’s team of greyhound/husky mixed breeds dashed into the crowds on the word “Go,” forcing people to scatter. Undeterred, Chrevette continued the race after disentangling his team, aided by a helpful bystander. Next came Earl Brydges of Le Pas and his seven huskies, followed by Boston’s Walter Channing and his seven Russian wolfhound/husky mixed breeds. Last, was Frank Dupuis of Berthier, Quebec and his six-dog team, owned by the “Come-On Travellers’ Club” of Quebec. Dupuis, held up by Ottawa traffic, almost missed his start. A bellboy from the Château Laurier rushed out to the starting line with a telephone message to the officials saying that Dupuis was on his way. Arriving a few minutes later, Dupuis, unperturbed by a time penalty, gave a jaunty wave to the crowd, and set out puffing on a big cigar. St. Godard easily won the first leg of the Derby in a time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, many minutes ahead of his nearest opponent.

Day Two was also easily won by St. Godard who set the pace in front of another huge crowd that lined the route. But the second day of the competition was not without its excitement. Frank Dupuis’ dogs got spooked by a heaving throng of people who had pushed their way onto the Driveway track despite police barricades. With no place to go, he and his sled were forced over a snow bank into the railing of the Rideau Canal. As it wasn’t his fault, Derby judges allowed him to restart the race without penalty.

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Emile St. Godard led by Toby, The Ottawa International Dog Derby, 1930, Department of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-043702.

The third and final day of the competition also had its share of thrills. Prior to the start of the last lap, judges disqualified Frank Dupuis “for cause,” reducing the field to just six teams. The rumour was that he had mistreated his dogs. Then St. Godard, who had run flawless legs the previous two days, got into early difficulties when his dogs ran into the crowd and tangled their leashes. Although he lost more than a minute of time re-organizing his sled team, St. Godard continued to have commanding cumulative time advantage over his nearest rivals, leaving Seppala and Brydges to fight it out for second place.

As the clock on the old Post Office read 3.04 pm, a loud roar went up from the huge crowd of spectators, many of whom were school children whose principals had given them time off to watch the race. “Here comes St. Godard under the bridge” was the cry as the “The Saint” mushed his way down the Driveway under the Laurier Street Bridge. Onlookers crowded the windows and even the roof tops of the Post Office, the Château Laurier and Union Station. When the leaders swept down the Driveway past the court house, the presiding magistrate allowed people to rush to the eastern windows for a view of the passing sledders. Emile St. Godard won the first Ottawa International Derby in a total time of 8 hours, 13 minute and 23 seconds. Second place went to fellow Manitoban Earl Brydges with a time of 8 hours 33 minutes and 45 seconds. In third place, close behind, was Leonhard Seppala with a time of 8 hours 34 minutes and 13 seconds.

The following evening at the Carnival Ball, hosted by the Ottawa Business Men’s Association, St. Godard strode into the Château Laurier’s ballroom wearing breeches and moccasins with Toby by his side to be presented the gold Challenge Trophy by the Governor General. To honour Toby, the Trophy was filled with milk. Lord Willingdon also gave St. Godard a cheque for $1,000, the purse for first place. (An anonymous sportsman gave St. Godard an additional $300.)  Earl Brydges, the runner-up, received $400, while third-place Leonhard Seppala received $100.

With the Derby judged a huge success, organizers of the Ottawa Carnival hoped that it would become an annual event. While the second Ottawa International Dog Derby, which was also won by St. Godard, was held in 1931, it was to be the last, a victim of the Depression. In its place a “Junior Dog Derby” for youngsters was organized at Lansdowne Park until it too succumbed. While local dog derbies continued to be held in Ottawa under the auspices of the Ottawa Valley Dog Sled Association, as well in communities in west Quebec through the late 1930s, World War II saw the end of organized dog sled racing in the Ottawa region.

Over a sledding career that spanned ten years from 1925 to 1934, Emile St. Godard and his dog team won more than twenty major races, including the 1932 Winter Olympics held at Lake Placid, New York. A demonstration sport at that year’s Olympics, St. Godard took the gold medal beating his arch-rival Leonhard Seppala who had to settle for silver. Fellow Canadian Shorty Russick took bronze.

Toby, St. Godard’s lead dog, died from peritonitis in 1934 at the age of nine. Indicative of his fame, many newspapers, including The Ottawa Evening Journal, ran obituaries for the half husky, half greyhound sled dog. Devastated by the death of his devoted friend, to whom he credited his victories, St. Godard retired. He died in 1948 at the age of 43. He was inducted posthumously into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1956, the only sled dog racer so honoured. In 2007, he was also inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Dog sledding has seen a modest revival in recent years, helped by the success of the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races. In eastern Ontario and west Quebec, there are a number of dog sled operators, including Escapade Eskimo, Timberland Tours, and Mush Larose, who offer the chance to feel the thrill of racing across snow-covered fields behind a team of powerful, sled dogs.

Sources:

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Emile St. Godard, http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=196&catID=all.

Escapade Ottawa, 2016. Activités Extérieure en Outaouais, http://www.escapade-eskimo.com/.

Iditarod, 2016. The Last Great Race, http://iditarod.com/.

Ottawa, Evening Journal (The), 1930. “State Dog Derby Will be Greatest of Any In Canada,” 18 January.

————————————, 1930. “Course Is Decided For Big Dog Derby,” 21 January.

————————————, 1930. “Dogs To Mush 400 Miles Before February 2 To Win $500 Wager,” 27 January.

————————————, 1930. “Woman’s Entry Leave Field To Seven Men,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Rules For Dog Sled Derby,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Melville Suffers Two Smashed Ribs On Rochester Trip,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “Another Huge Crowd To See Dog Teams Go,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “These Dog Derby Judges Men With A Keen Sense For Adventurous Life,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard’s Team Runs Into Crowd At Starting Post,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard Wins Dog Derby; Brydges Comes Second,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “Godard Sets Up World Record 100-Mile Course.” 6 February.

————————————, 1930. “Toby Attends Ball As St. Godard Gets Beautiful Trophy,” 7 February.

————————————, 1930. “Total Dog Derby Donations $3,895, 25 February.

————————————, 1931. “Goes To Dogs With Great Vigor,” 6 February.

————————————, 1931. “Junior Dog Derby To Be Big Feature Of Carnival Week,” 29 December.

————————————, 1934. “Toby, Famous Lead Dog, Dead,” 31 July.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, 2106. Emile St. Godard, http://honouredmembers.sportmanitoba.ca/inductee.php?id=360&criteria_sort=name.

Mush Larose, 2016. Ottawa Region Harness Dog Sports Club, http://mushlarose.ca/.

Sam Waller Museum, Le Pas, Manitoba, Sled Dog Racing, Community Memories, Virtual Museum, http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_memories/pm_v2.php?id=story_line_index&fl=0&lg=English&ex=00000382&pos=1.

Rankin, Joan, E. 1990. Meet me at the Château, A Legacy of Memory, Natural Heritage Books: Toronto.

Timberland Tours, Avec chiens de traineaux toute l’année, http://timberlandtours.ca/index.html.

Yukon Quest, 2016. The 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race – Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, http://yukonquest.com/about.

A Free, Public Library

30 April 1906

While libraries have existed since the emergence of writing in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt more than four thousand years ago, free, public libraries are a recent phenomenon, dating back only to the nineteenth century. Previously, libraries were the preserve of the Church, kings and wealthy private citizens—the small minority who were literate and had the resources to afford books. Mass education was viewed by elites with suspicion. It might lead people to question their station in life. In a largely agrarian society, knowing how to plough fields, grow crops, and raise livestock were deemed far more important skills for the common person than reading and writing.

Ideas became to shift during the industrial revolution. Social reformers started to advocate in favour of educating workers in order to advance science and reduce superstition. Increasingly, an educated workforce was seen as an economic blessing rather than a social curse. With thousands of men and women pouring into the cities seeking employment in those “dark satanic mills,” the Church and temperance supporters hoped that edifying lectures and libraries would reduce crime, and keep people out of bars and brothels during their (limited) time off. Starting from the early nineteenth century, mechanics’ institutes and literary and philosophical societies, often sponsored by wealthy industrialists, began popping up in the major cities of Britain. These institutions provided lectures on scientific subjects to their members, typically industrial workers and clerks, who could join for a small fee. They also operated libraries and reading rooms for the benefit of their members. In Britain, the Museums Act of 1845 allowed boroughs to raise funds to support museums and libraries for the edification of the general public.

Similar developments took place in Bytown, later Ottawa, albeit with a lag. Calls for a library to be established in Bytown started as early as 1837. Four years later, a small, circulating library opened for subscribers out of the offices of Alexander Gray, a jeweller and bookseller. Unfortunately, it apparently failed after only one year. In 1847, the Bytown Mechanics’ Institute was founded by the town’s leading citizens. In addition to uplifting educational lectures, the Institute provided a library for its members. Drawing principally upon the English-speaking community, the Institute was unable to attract sufficient members, and quickly became inactive. It was, however, revived in 1853 as the Bytown Mechanics’ Institute and Athenaeum (BMIA). Area Francophones established their own cultural institution, l’Institut canadien français d’Ottawa in 1852 that still exists today.

The new BMIA, which received an annual grant from the provincial government, did better than its antecedent. It too provided lectures, classes, a reading room and a small circulating library for its members initially out of the basement of the Congregational Church located near Sappers’ Bridge. By 1856, BMIA had a library of roughly 1,000 volumes, mostly academic works though there were a few novels as well. It also subscribed to British, French and American newspapers, journals and periodicals. In 1869, the BMIA merged with the Ottawa Natural History Society to form the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society (OLSS). While the new organization continued to offer classes, held lectures, and maintained a growing library, its membership was drawn largely from the ranks of civil servants and industrialists rather than mill workers and labourers. Although a fine Parliamentary Library also existed in Ottawa, its use was also largely confined to the town’s elite rather than the working poor.

In 1882, the Ontario Government passed the Free Libraries Act, allowing municipalities to establish public libraries funded out of local taxes with the assent of the ratepayers. A number of cities across the province, including Toronto, took advantage of this new legislation and established public libraries for their citizens. In these cases, the libraries of local mechanics’ institutions were transferred to the new municipally-run libraries. In Ottawa, however, the new legislation had little impact.

During the early 1890s, the Ottawa Council of Women began to lobby for the establishment of a free library in the Capital. In February 1895, the Council, chaired by Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General, issued the following statement:

“Whereas the Local Council of Women of Ottawa feel that the establishment of a Free Library would be a benefit to the city, resolved: That this Council recommend that the subject be brought prominently before the public through the medium of the press and that a petition to the city council in accordance with the terms of the Free Libraries Act, be prepared for circulation by the Women’s Council.”

perley-building-topley-studio-fondslibrary-and-archives-canadapa-027381

The Perley mansion at 415 Wellington St was offered to the City as a home for a public library in 1896. Topley Studio Fonds/Library & Archives Canada, PA-027381.

In March 1885, the Council of Women submitted its petition to the city with 280 signatures (almost triple the number required by law). The city then prepared a draft by-law establishing a free library to be voted on by Ottawa ratepayers at the upcoming municipal elections. Ratepayers consisted of men over 21 years of age who owned property in excess of $400. Single women and widows who met the property requirement could also vote.  The Council of Women then launched an advertising campaign in support of a free library. With the support of Philip Ross, the editor of The Evening Journal, the Council of Woman published the “Woman’s Edition” of the newspaper in April 1895, with all profits of the edition going to a fund for the free library. In this edition, all the articles, stories and letters were written and edited by women. Front and centre were articles in support of a free library. The movement got a further boost when the heirs of William Perley, a lumber baron, offered the Perely mansion on Wellington Street as home for the new library.

However, the efforts of the women came up short. In the vote held in January 1896, the city’s eight wards all decisively turned down the idea of a public library, with the popular vote 1,958 for and 3,429 against. It seemed that cost of running a library, estimated at about $10,000 per year, was too steep for ratepayers. Instead of becoming a library, the Perley mansion became “The Perley Home for Incurables” until the land was expropriated by the Dominion government in 1912. (In the long run, the location did become a library; the site is now the home of Library and Archives Canada.)

The Council of Women did not give up, and continued to press the issue at city council. But councilmen, while supporting the idea of a free library, collectively continued to reject the idea as being too costly. In 1899, a draft by-law was defeated on second reading on a vote of 13-11. By the early 1900s, with over 400 public libraries in Ontario, Ottawa was looking decidedly backward.

carnegie-theodore-c-marceaulibraryofcongress

Andrew Carnegie, 1835-1919, Theodore C. Moreau, Library of Congress

Salvation came from the United States. In 1901, Otto Klotz, past president of the OLSS and husband of Marie Klotz who was a leading light in the Ottawa Council of Women’s fight for a public library, wrote Andrew Carnegie, the prominent, Scottish-born, American philanthropist for funds to build a free, public library in Ottawa. The day after Klotz sent his letter, Ottawa mayor W. D. Morris also petitioned Carnegie for funds. By this point, Carnegie had funded hundreds of libraries throughout the United States, Canada, and Britain. Within weeks of receiving the letters, Carnegie pledged $100,000 to pay for an Ottawa Public Library, if Ottawa found a site and if it would agree to spend not less than $7,500 per year in upkeep.

It took several years, however, to bring this about. First, the city hoped that the Dominion government would supply land for the library. When that didn’t happen, city council purchased a site at the corner of Laurier Avenue (then called Maria Street) and Metcalfe Street. Second, it took time to select the design by architect E. L. Horwood out of eleven plans submitted. Third, the project was almost derailed following publication of Carnegie’s views that the United States should annex Canada. But work proceeded. In 1905, council approved $15,000 for the purchase of books, of which $3,500 was spent on French books. Lawrence Burpee, former clerk at the Department of Justice, was selected as Librarian. In turn, Burpee hired an assistant librarian, a cataloguer, three assistants for the circulation desk, and a caretaker. To help expedite the huge task of cataloguing books, Burpee purchased ready-made index cards at a penny a card from the U.S. Library of Congress.

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The Carnegie Library. Notice the stained glass window above the entrance, and the words “Ottawa Public Library” in raised letters on the lintel. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys/Library and Archives Canada, PA-023297.

Opening day was Monday, 30 April 1906. Carnegie himself was there for the big event. It was the great industrialist and philanthropist’s first visit to Canada. He came the day before via Toronto, where he had given a speech at the Canadian Club. He was met at the train station by Sir Sandford Fleming and the U.S. Consul General who conveyed him to Government House where he stayed on his short trip to Ottawa. The evening before the official opening, Carnegie was the guest of honour at a formal dinner at the Russell House Hotel. With the prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, at his side, Carnegie spoke extemporaneously about the union of English-speaking countries, especially the United States and Canada—his favourite hobby horse. Calling himself as a “race imperialist,” he dubbed Canada “the Scotland of America,” and disingenuously envisaged Canada annexing her southern neighbour, just as Scotland had “annexed” England, and “afterwards boss it for its own good, as Scotland did also.” [James VI of Scotland became James I of England at the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.] He also praised Laurier for maintaining Canada’s fiscal independence [from Britain] and for not being swept into the vortex of militarism [a dig at the British who were engaged in an arms’ race with Germany]. Despite Carnegie’s annexationist and racial views, Laurier replied graciously saying that he too was a “race imperialist,” and opined that the separation of England from her American colonies had been a “crime,” and hoped for re-union. He added that had he “not been born of French parentage, there was nothing he would have rather been than a Scot.”

For the official opening the next afternoon, the classical, four-storey library building was clad in Union Jacks, the Stars and Stripes and colourful bunting. Constructed at a cost of slightly less than $100,000, the building was made of Indiana sandstone. The central main entrance was bracketed by four Corinthian columns, two on either side. Above the entrance was a large stained glass window that featured famous authors—William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Lord Tennyson, and the Canadian Confederation poet Archibald Lampman. Overhead, on the lintel of the building, was inscribed the words “Ottawa Public Library” in raised letters. For the official opening, these words were hidden by bunting to avoid embarrassment as the official name of the building was “The Carnegie Library,” a name used by the Ottawa Public Library into the 1950s.

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Interior of The Carnegie Library looking towards the main entrance, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009086.

The building’s interior walls were clad in Italian marble with beautiful red oak wooden flooring and wainscoting. In front of the entrance hung a portrait of Carnegie painted by Miss V. Fréchette, the daughter of Achille Fréchette the translator of the House of Commons, and Annie Howells Fréchette who edited the “Woman’s Edition” of The Evening Journal in 1895. The basement held classrooms, a newspaper room, a furnace room and the caretaker’s quarters. The ground floor was devoted to reading rooms to the right and left of the large lobby, the librarian’s offices, the stack room as well as the circulation desks. A marble and bronze staircase led upstairs to boardrooms, a reference department, a lecture room for 125 persons, staff offices, and a cloakroom.

After the customary welcoming speeches, Carnegie thanked the city and praised it for constructing such a fine building. He then reprised his speech on “race imperialism.” On a tour of the facilities, Carnegie was “waylaid” by a delegation of the St Andrew’s Society who gave the philanthropist an honorary membership to the Sons of Scotland of Canada. After the ceremonies, Carnegie left by train for Montreal, where he was granted an honorary degree at McGill University, and gave yet another speech on race imperialism before returning to New York.

The Carnegie Library was a great success. By the end of 1907, almost 20,000 library cards had been handed out, with an annual circulation of 129,000 books. So successful was it that the old Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society closed for good, its members flocking to the free services provided by the city. Before long, strong demand for the Library led to the establishment of branch operations. In 1916, Carnegie donated an additional $15,000 to build a western branch on Rosemount Avenue. It opened in 1919. This donation was the last Carnegie gave to Canada. He died in 1919 at the age of 83.

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Columns salvaged from The Carnegie Library, Rockcliffe Rockeries, 2016, by Nicolle Melanson-Powell

By the 1960s, the downtown Carnegie library was showing signs of age. Serious cracks had opened up in its walls and ceilings under the weight of the books it contained. In a time when little thought was given to heritage considerations, the beautiful, classic structure was demolished in 1971, a year after the gracious Capitol Theatre also succumbed to the wrecking ball. It was replaced by the current, Brutalist style, concrete building that was completed in 1974. The only thing retained from the old building was the stained glass window. The Library’s Corinthian columns were also saved and were reused as a “folly” in the Rockcliffe Rockeries.

Today, things have gone full circle. Plans are afoot to replace the current central library at 140 Metcalfe Street. Also, the aging Rosemount Branch, built a century ago using a Carnegie donation, is too small for current needs. Its future is now in doubt.

Sources:

Bytown Gazette & Ottawa Advertiser (The), 1841, “Circulating Library,” 9 December.

Carnegie Library (The), 1908. 3rd Report, Ottawa: The Ottawa Printing Co. (Limited).

Evening Journal (The), 1895, “Women In Council,” 4 February.

—————————, 1895. “Woman’s Edition,” 13 April.

—————————, 1895, “Free Library Law,”19 December.

—————————, 1896. “Just the Place,” 4 January.

—————————, 1896. “All Jumped On,” 7 January.

—————————, 1899. Free Library By-Law Killed, 5 December.

—————————, 1901. “Free Public Library for City of Ottawa, Carnegie to donate $100,000,” 11 March.

—————————, 1906. “The Program In Ottawa,” 28 April.

—————————, 1906. “The Carnegie Library,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Carnegie Library Formally Opened,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Reception of Library King,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Ceremonies at the Opening,” 1 May.

—————————, 1967. “Old Library to Come Down,” 21 November.

—————————, 1969. “Funds, Weather, Moon Shot Blames for Library Woes,” 12

September.

————————–, 1970. “Library Cracks Up,” 8 August.

—————————, 1971. “Old Building Wrecked by Cohen’s, 24 September.

—————————, 1974. “Salute to the New Central Ottawa Public Library,” 8 May.

Gaizauskas, Barbara, 1990. Feed The Flame: A Natural History of The Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, Carleton University, M.A. Thesis, https://curve.carleton.ca/b81c434b-04c8-4886-9c97-cfc1a560ff51.

Jenkins, Phil, 2002. The Library Book: An Overdue History of the Ottawa Public Library, 1906-2001, Ottawa: Ottawa Public Library.

Rush, Anita, 1981. The Establishment of Ottawa’s Public Library, Carleton University.

Urbsite, 2012. Unforgotten Ottawa, The Carnegie Library, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2012/09/unforgotten-ottawa-carnegie-library.html?q=Carnegie+library.

 

 

 

Britannia-on-the-Bay

24 May 1900

During the late nineteenth century, electricity was the big new invention that was transforming peoples’ lives. Within a short span of years, electric lights replaced gas lamps in homes, in businesses and on city streets in the major cities of North America. Horse-drawn public transportation was also retired in favour of electric streetcars, also known as trolleys. But while the fast and comfortable trolleys were very popular on weekdays and on Saturday mornings transporting commuters from the suburbs to downtown offices, streetcar companies found their vehicles underused on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. What to do? The answer was to increase weekend ridership by giving people someplace to go and something to do on their time off.  Spurred by the success of Coney Island in New York City, transit companies in many major North American cities built amusement parks, colloquially known as “electric parks.” Constructed at the end of a streetcar line, these parks attracted thousands of working class men, women and children seeking weekend fun and excitement. Of course, people had to buy a streetcar ticket to get there; the days of the automobile were still in the future.

Ottawa-Hull was no exception to these trends. Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper introduced the electric streetcar to the nation’s capital in 1891. Four years later, their Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OERC) opened the West End Park on Holland Avenue in Hintonberg, which was then on the outskirts of the city. Later known as Victoria Park, following the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, the park was the home to many rides and musical entertainments. The West End Park was the location of the showing of the first motion pictures in Ottawa in 1896. Across the Ottawa River two miles west of Alymer, the Hull-Alymer Electric Railway Company opened “Queen’s Park,” in May 1897, again named in honour of Queen Victoria, at the western terminus of its line. Among the attractions at this park, located on Lac Deschênes (a widening in the Ottawa River rather than an actual lake), were a merry-go-round, a water chute and a “mystic maze.”

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People boarding the OERC trolley, Britannia-on-the-Bay, 1900, Henry Joseph Woodside, Library & Archives Canada, PA-016974.

To compete with the Queen’s Park development in Quebec, the OERC acquired eighteen acres of land in the little summer cottage community of Britannia Village to the west of Ottawa. There, it established in 1900 an amusement park, with swimming and boating facilities on the Ontario side of Lac Deschênes, with a purpose-built tramline linking the new park to downtown Ottawa. Appropriately, it was called the Britannia line. Thomas Ahearn gave journalists a sneak preview of the new line in mid-January 1900. Although the rails had been laid all the way to Britannia Village, at that date the electric lines only went as far as Richmond Road. But the tramline was completed in time for its official opening at 6am on the Queen’s Birthday holiday on 24 May 1900. From the post office at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets to Britannia-on-the-Bay tram stop took just twenty-eight minutes, much of which was through the city. The trip from Holland Avenue, the previous end of the line, to Britannia-on-the Bay, with stops at Westboro, Barry’s Wharf and Baker’s Bush, took only eight minutes. The cost for the trip from downtown was initially set at 10 cents—the usual 5 cent fare plus another five cents to travel on the newly completed Britannia line. The five-cent supplement was later dropped.

In and of itself, the trip to Britannia-on-the-Bay was an exciting adventure for Ottawa citizens at the dawn of the twentieth century. Carried in specially-made carriages, trolley goers were taken along rails that ran close to the south side of Richmond Road except for the last mile or so where they crossed Richmond Road to head into Britannia. After leaving the city, which essentially ended at Preston Street, people journeyed through fields of grain and cow pastures, past fine homes and shoreline cottages before reaching their destination. A journalist on the initial January test run said there was a number of long grades with several sharp turns that give the route “a rolling appearance” which will “add zest,” since “pleasure-seeking humanity likes a spice of danger with its bit of fun.” He added that between Hintonburg and Britannia, there were a number of lovely spots.

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The footbridge over the CPR tracks at Britannia Park, 1900, Henry Joseph Woodside, Library & Archives Canada, PA-016975.

On reaching Britannia-on-the-Bay, riders crossed to the park, its beach and a long pier via a high footbridge, built at a cost of $1,500 by the OERC, which went over the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) tracks that ran north of the tramline. The footbridge allowed visitors to the park to avoid any danger of being hit by passing trains. On the other side were picnic gardens, concession stands as well as bathing and boating facilities on a thirty-foot wide pier that extended 1,050 feet into Lac Deschênes. The pier was built of wood with a stone base, using material excavated by the Metropolitan Power Company in an earlier failed attempt to build a canal and hydroelectric generating station at Britannia. Lit by electric lights at night, the pier was furnished with seating that ran along its length, perfect for visitors to sit and enjoy the sights, listen to band concerts, and to watch the promenading crowds. At the end of the pier was a perpendicular, two hundred foot long breakwater that protected moorings for boats. At the land end, two octagonal pavilions were erected at a cost of $2,500, housing a restaurant, changing rooms and bathrooms, a ladies’ parlour and sitting rooms.

The weather on opening day was bright and fine, attracting thousands of Ottawa picnickers to try out the OERC’s new park and pier at Britannia. Although the pavilions were not quite completed, they “were temporarily fitted up for use” for the estimated crowd of 12,000-15,000 visitors. The band of the 43rd Battalion gave a concert in the afternoon and evening to the multitudes. When darkness fell, the park was brilliantly illuminated by electric lights. Ten large arc lights lit up the pier.

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Britannia Pier, 1900, Henry Joseph Woodside, Library & Archives Canada, PA-016976.

The new Britannia Park was a big success, and over the next several years was considerably improved and expanded. With the new waterside park eclipsing the old Victoria Park on Holland Avenue, the OERC cannibalized the latter’s attractions, moving its merry-go-round and auditorium to Britannia. In 1904, the OERC increased the size of the park by buying the 35-acre Mosgrove property close to Carling Avenue. It also extended the pier by four hundred feet, at the end of which a three-story boat house was erected that became the Britannia Boating Club’s clubhouse. In addition to rooms for members and a lower storage area for boats and canoes, which were available for rent by visitors, the clubhouse had a large ballroom and grandstand for spectators. At night, a searchlight on top of the building played over the darkened waters of Lac Deschênes. Other attractions at Britannia Park included excursions on the double-decker, side-wheeler, steamer G.B. Greene, the “Queen” of the Ottawa River which took tourists upstream to Chats Falls two or three times a week. Through the summer, holidaymakers were entertained by the festivities and music of “Venetian Nights.”

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Britannia Boating Clubhouse, c. 1907, William James Topley, Library & Archives Canada, PA-009028.

Britannia Park enjoyed its peak of popularity before World War I. Then things started to sour. In 1916, the G.B. Greene burnt. Though it was rebuilt, with Canada at war sightseeing wasn’t as popular as in the past. The steamer ended up towing logs and was dismantled in 1946. In August 1918, the Clubhouse at the end of the pier was consumed by flames. Some two hundred canoes and boats, along with the personal effects of members as well as trophies, furnishings and other valuables were lost. Although the cause of the $50,000 fire was never accurately determined, it was believed that a lighted cigarette carelessly thrown into the window of a bathroom was to blame.

Through the 1920s, amusement parks everywhere began to lose their allure. With more and more families owning their own automobile, people had the luxury of exploring other entertainment options. No longer were they limited to where the trolley could take them. Queen’s Park outside of Aylmer closed. Britannia limped on. The Park’s Lakeside Gardens Pavilion still managed to pull in the crowds for dances through the 1930s. Sunday band concerts also remained popular. In the early 1930s, the OERC began promoting the Park as a great place for parents to send their children. For youngsters under 51 inches tall, (i.e. roughly 8 years old or less) the trolley company advertised that they could travel to Britannia for only 6 4/7 cents, total fare, if they purchased a book of seven tickets for 25 cents plus an additional 3 cent fare for the Britannia line. Under its policy of “Safety First,” the trolley company said that special attention and care would be given to children by its car men. “It is therefore possible to send children to Britannia-on-the-Bay with the assurance that they will be safe while going, while at the beach and while returning.” Clearly this was a different time with a different level of care expected of parents. Few today would consider sending young children to swim at a public beach on city transit without formal supervision.

By the late 1940s, Britannia Park and Britannia beach were becoming shabby from years of use and limited maintenance. Transit consultants advised the financially weak OERC to close the park. In 1948, the Ottawa Transport Commission, which was owned by the City of Ottawa, took over the transit company, including its Britannia property. Concerned that the park was continuing to deteriorate, the City decided in 1951 to operate it directly. Some improvements were made, including the building of a children’s miniature railway at the park. However, more grandiose plans that include a zoo, stock-car racing and two artificial pools never left the drawing board. Park infrastructure continued to rot. Meanwhile, the beach was becoming fouled by weeds and pollution. By 1954, what had been one of Canada’s top tourist attractions was now considered “Canada’s worst.” That year, the footbridge over the CPR tracks was demolished. (The trains themselves continued to go through the Park until they were re-located out of downtown Ottawa in 1966.) In 1955, the aging Lakeside Gardens burnt to the ground.

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Defunct Trolley Station, Britannia Park, 2015.

New investments were finally made into the park in 1958. The rotting wooden pier, now deemed unsafe, was demolished. The stone base of the original 1,050 foot pier built in 1900 was widened and the beach expanded. Lakeside Gardens was also rebuilt for dances. With these changes, the Park experienced a brief renaissance. However, it was not to last, doomed by changing tastes, and for Lakeside Gardens, the lack of a liquor licence. The beach was also increasingly shunned owing to a persistent weed problem. City efforts to control the weeds using bulldozers, chemicals and tons of rock salt proved fruitless. (This was a time before much consideration was given to the environment.) In any event, pollution closed the beach for extended periods. During the 1960s and 1970s, Britannia Park was threatened by a planned extension of the Ottawa River Parkway (today’s Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway) through the Park using the old CPR right-of-way, now turned into a bike path, as well as the construction of the Deschênes Bridge that would have link Alymer to Ottawa. Both ideas were finally scuppered by opposition from area residents and changing government priorities.

Today, Britannia Village, annexed by Ottawa in 1950, is no longer a remote summer cottage community. Businesses and housing have long filled the open space between the old City of Ottawa and Britannia and beyond. The streetcars that once linked it to downtown are gone; the last trolley to Britannia-on-the-Bay rode into history in 1959. But the magnificent park and beach endure. Owing to the marked improvement to the water quality of the Ottawa River due to the closure of the pulp and paper mills that had polluted it with their effluent, and the treatment of sewage by riverine communities, boaters and swimmers have returned. While Britannia Park and its beach may no longer attract the hordes of day trippers they did every weekend one hundred years ago, they remain a popular summer destination for people trying to escape the heat of the City. The Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre, formerly the Lakeside Gardens, also continues to host big band dances as well as education courses ranging from the arts and crafts and dog obedience, to yoga and fitness.

Sources:

Evening Journal, (The), 1897. “Handled The Motor,” 27 May.

—————————-, 1900. “The New Electric Line To Britannia,” 15 January.

—————————-, 1900. “Searchlight on Lake Deschenes,” 2 April.

—————————, 1900. “Ottawans Loyally Observed the 24th,” 25 May.

—————————, 1906. “A Good Show At Britannia,” 22 May.

—————————, 1918. “Britannia Club House Is Destroyed By Fire Loss Nearly $50,000,” 30 August.

—————————, 1931. “The Children’s Beach At Britannia-on-the-Bay.” 13 July.

—————————, 1948, “Battle Of Seaweed Goes On At Britannia,” 1 May.

—————————, 1951. “Britannia Park Is Saved,” 21 June.

—————————, 1954. “Recommend Closing Britannia Park Amusement Centre,” 27 May.

—————————, 1954. “State of Britannia Park,” 28 May.

—————————, 1954, “At Last New Deal Coming For Battered Britannia Park,” 23 July.

Ottawa, (City of), 2016. Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre, http://ottawa.ca/en/facility/ron-kolbus-lakeside-centre.

Taylor, Eva & Kennedy, James, 1983. Ottawa’s Britannia, Britannia Historical Association, Ottawa.

 

The Jersey Lily

8 November 1883

During the early 1880s, the population of Ottawa, while growing rapidly, totalled less than 30,000 souls, far smaller than Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City. But being the capital of the new Dominion of Canada, and therefore home to the Governor General and Parliament, what the community lacked in numbers it made up in political and social clout. The town also boasted a small but wealthy group of industrialists who had mostly made their fortunes in the forestry industry. Because of these political and economic elites, Ottawa enjoyed the amenities of a far larger city, including the luxurious Russell Hotel, Ottawa’s premier hostelry, and the Grand Opera House, a top-quality hall for theatrical and other performances. With such facilities, Ottawa was equipped to welcome the international celebrities of the age, including the witty Oscar Wilde, the divine Sarah Bernhardt, and the incomparable Mrs Lillie Langtry.  Mrs Langtry, a.k.a. “The Jersey Lilly,” captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for more than forty years. She made three visits to Ottawa during her career, the first occurring on 8 November 1883.

Mrs Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1853, the daughter of a prominent clergyman. While brought up in a liberal, loving family, island life was confining for the beautiful young girl, known to everyone as “Lillie.” To get off the island and experience a taste of adventure, she married Edward Langtry in 1874, a widower ten years her senior. The couple settled in London. Sadly, the marriage quickly soured. Husband Edward drank heavily, and lived beyond his means. Although he had two racing yachts, his family’s wealth had been largely dissipated by the time it reached him. High living quickly went through the remaining fortune.

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“The Jersey Lily,” portrait of Lillie Langtry painted by John Everett Millais, 1878.

Lillie Langtry’s society career was launched when she was introduced to the artist John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a non-conformist group of Victorian artists who aimed to revive a medieval, artistic aesthetic. Attracted by her great beauty and charm, she became the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, posing for Millais, George Francis Miles, and others, including Sir Edward Poynter. Oscar Wilde also became a close friend and mentor, introducing her to his friends in the Aesthetics Movement, including the American artist, James Whistler.

Mrs Langtry arrival in society coincided with photography going mainstream, and the beginning of a mass celebrity culture. Joining the ranks of the “Professional Beauties,” her photograph graced the store fronts and middle-class sitting rooms of Britain. As part of this elite group, Langtry gained an entreé into the dining rooms and ball rooms of the aristocracy ever eager to seek out the latest sensation.  Male admirers, known as “Langtry’s lancers,” followed her as she rode daily in Hyde Park, a popular society past time that provided an opportunity to see people and be seen. In 1877, she caught the philandering eye of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, the oldest son of Queen Victoria. The married prince and Mrs Langtry began a well-publicized affair that raised her to the pinnacle of British society. Although the relationship cooled after a time, and the prince looked elsewhere for extra-marital affection, they remained close friends. On his coronation as Edward VII in 1902, Mrs Langtry, along with other former mistresses, attended the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in a special box, known sotto voce as the “King’s Loose Box.” After the prince, Mrs Langtry went on to have many other affairs that brought her considerable notoriety, including one with Prince Louis of Battenberg, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Prince Louis is reputed to have been the father of Mrs Langtry’s only child, a daughter, Jeanne Marie, though she was also in a relationship with another man at the time.

In 1881, with the Langtrys close to bankruptcy, Lillie embarked on a stage career on the advice of Oscar Wilde, after taking acting lessons from the English actress Henrietta Hodson, the mistress and later wife of the politician Henry Labouchère. (As an aside, Labouchère’s uncle, also Henry, was the person who conveyed Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada to Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General, in 1857.) The theatre was a daring career decision. In the late nineteenth century, acting was not viewed a proper vocation for gentlewomen. Actresses were often looked upon as little more than prostitutes. Mrs Langtry’s stage career, which was supported by the Prince of Wales, helped to change attitudes. She also broke convention by handling all her bookings herself, as well as hiring a theatre troupe.

Mrs Langtry went on to have an illustrious stage career on both sides of the Atlantic that lasted several decades. While her acting was uneven, especially during the early years of her career, her beauty and notoriety brought people out in droves to her performances. Her fame also led her to become an advertising pioneer. As one of the first, if not the first celebrity endorser, she allowed the producers of Pears’ soap to use images of her, in various stages of undress, in its advertising. She also provided a testimonial that her flawless complexion was due to Pears’ soap. Langtry promoted other products during her long career, including cigarettes, hair tonic, dresses and accessories.

Needless to say, her marriage with Edward Langtry, never strong owing to his excessive drinking, suffered further due to her affairs and notoriety. They mostly lived apart while she pursued her acting career and a series of liaisons in the United States and in Britain. After twenty-three years of marriage, Lillie got a divorce in 1897. Edward died shortly afterwards. In 1899, she married 28 year-old Sir Hugo de Bathe, eighteen years her junior, against the wishes of the groom’s parents. This marriage also foundered. Lillie Langtry died in Monaco in 1929, and was buried is St Saviour Church in Jersey.

Lillie Langtry’s first visit to Ottawa in November 1883 occurred at the start of her long stage career. She and her company performed the appropriately named play The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan in front of an audience described as “large and fashionable.” It was unclear, however, whether people had shown up to watch the classic comedy or just to catch a glimpse of the famous Mrs Langtry. Tickets for reserved seats, which had gone on sale at Nordheimer’s Music Store for $1.50 each a week ahead of the production, were quickly snapped up. The performance was held with the patronage of the Governor General and the Marchioness of Lansdowne, though, oddly, the vice-regal couple arrived someway into the first act, perhaps an indication of a certain reserve towards the notorious actress. Also in the audience were Lord Melgund, an aide of the Governor General, as well as several Cabinet ministers. The performance was the first of a series of evening and matinee shows that ran over three days. In addition to The School for Scandal, Langtry and her troupe put on She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. This was a reprise of the first play in which Langtry performed in 1881 at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, gave Mrs Langtry rave reviews for her performance as Mrs Teazle in The School for Scandal, saying that she “played with an artistic delicacy we have seldom seen equal.” In her role as Miss Hardcastle in She Stoops To Conquer, the Journal said that she displayed “versatility as an actress” and a “genuine appreciation of the requirements of the character.” The review looked forward to seeing Mrs Langtry in a dramatic role and opined that “from the little we have seen we believe she possesses many of the qualities which go to make a leading actress.”

Mrs Langtry returned to Ottawa and the Grand Opera House for a one-evening event on Good Friday, 12 April 1895. Billed as the “Society Event of the Season,” she appeared in Gossip, a play by Leo Ditrichstein and Clyde Fitch, supported by the American actor Eben Plympton. Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents to $1.50. Advertisements  for the show noted that electric cars would be at the Opera House to take theatre goers home after the production; the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company had opened for business five years earlier.

As soon as the performance date was announced, there was controversy.  Churches objected saying that a Good Friday show “was an insult.” At a prayer meeting, The Rev. W. Witten of the Reform Episcopal Church stated that “he would rather [people] went to the theatre Sunday than Good Friday. Those of his people who did go could not expect to come to church on Sunday and take part in communion.” Of course, the controversy only heightened the excitement, and provided Mrs Langtry with free advertising.

Fittingly given the name of the play, there was also much talk about what Mrs Langtry was going to wear for the production. Her new gowns were designed by Mme Laferrière of Paris and were “modelled after the style to prevail the coming summer.” Ottawa was even more agog over her jewels. According to the Journal, the coronet she wore in Gossip, which was made up of 2,000 diamonds “of the first purity and brilliance,” and twenty-five large Oriental pearls, was valued at $180,000. Her necklace of rubies and diamonds were said to be worth $25,000 while a jewelled broach consisting of a 44 carat ruby surrounded by diamonds was appraised at $300,000, an immense sum today let alone 120 years ago.

In a curt review the day after the performance, the Evening Journal reported that while there was a large and appreciative audience, Mrs Langtry was disappointing in the first act though she “showed a marked improvement” as the play progressed. The most attractive feature of the play was the dresses.

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Engraving of Lillie Langtry, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 12 May 1900.

Lillie Langtry’s last appearance in Ottawa occurred in May 1900. This time she appeared at the Russell Theatre in a production of The Degenerates by the English dramatist Sydney Grundy. With the patronage of the Governor General, Lord Minto, and Lady Minto, the play was held as a benefit, with all profits going to the fire relief fund.

She played to a full house and received numerous curtain calls. At the end of the performance, she made a short patriotic speech and recited a poem by Rudyard Kipling titled “The Absent-Minded Beggar,” in support of British soldiers then fighting in the Boer War. The first lines of the poem read:

When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia:” When you’ve sung “God Save The Queen,” When you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth: Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine For a gentleman in khaki ordered South?

Quite a few coins were thrown on stage in response. At that time, some 1,000 Canadian volunteers organized into the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, were fighting in South Africa.

The Journal claimed that Mrs Langtry, now 47 years old, had the looks and figure of a woman of 25—“years seem to have left no impression on her.” However, the comment may have been more gentlemanly than factual. Two months earlier, it was reported that in New York, Mrs Langtry had insisted that all the gas jets in the theatre in which she was about to perform be covered with tinted mosquito netting because the glaring lights brought into “unpleasant evidence ‘crow’s’ feet.” After the netting caught fire, the gas lights were replaced with electric lights with the bulbs softened with pink fabric.

Although Lillie Langtry made several more North American tours, she never again appeared in Ottawa. She retired from acting in 1917. The life of Lillie Langtry has been the subject of numerous books. In 1978, London Weekend Television produced an excellent mini-series on her life titled Lillie, starring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.

 

Sources:

Beatty Laura, 1999. Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals, London: Chatto & Windus.

Brough James, 1975. The Prince and the Lily, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan Inc.

Evening Journal (The),

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry Coming,” 28 March.

—————————, 1895. Mrs. Langtry’s Gems and Gowns,” 11 April.

—————————, 1895. “Lillie Langtry at Grand Opera House One Night Only, 12 April.

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry At The Grand,” 13 April.

—————————, 1900. “Personal and Pertinent,” 20 March.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 10 May.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 17 May.

Globe (The), 1883. “Mrs Langry At Ottawa,” 9 November.

—————, 1895. “A Good Advertisement for the Jersey Lily,” 12 April.

Holland, Evangeline, 2008. “The Professional Beauty,” Edwardian Promenade, http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/women/the-professional-beauty/.

Holmes, Su & Negra, Diane, Eds. 2011. In the Limelight and Under the Microscope, Forms and Functions of Female Celebrity, New York and London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 9 November.

————————, 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 10 November.

 

The Evening Journal — Woman’s Edition

13 April 1895

Prior to the twentieth century, women in Canada, and indeed throughout most of the world, had few political, economic or social rights. Typically, women went directly from the jurisdiction of their fathers to that of their husbands. They had little control over property, income, children, or their own bodies. Women were denied the franchise, banned from most professions, and were often forbidden university-level education. A woman’s place in society was limited to caring for her husband, raising a family and managing the household. Few married women were in the paid labour force. If a single woman was forced by poverty to seek out paid employment, she was confined to occupations that were extensions of home life—carrying for children, sick, or elderly, or being a seamstress, or a house maid. Teaching was also acceptable. Once married, however, a woman was expected to resign her position so that she could devote her time to wifely duties. In 1901, only 14 per cent of Canadian women were in the paid labour force, many earning only a pittance, much less than their male counterparts doing the same work, a rationale being that a man had a family to support whereas a woman had only herself.

However, during the later decades of the nineteenth century, Canadian women began to organize and agitated for change. They challenged the widely-held belief that it was ordained by God that a woman’s place was in the home. They also rejected the paternalistic notion that they were the weaker sex, who must be sheltered from the hurly burly of politics, or worse did not have the intellectual capacity to work in the professions. But change came slowly in Canada, and when it did it came in small steps. In 1872, the Married Women’s Property Act gave married women the right to their own wages. Three years later, Dr Jennie Trout became the first woman to be licensed to practise medicine in Ontario. In 1876, Toronto women formed the Women’s Literary Society with a covert aim of obtaining equal rights; it later was transformed into the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Association.  The Young Women’s Christian Association and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were also formed during the 1870s, with a mission, among other things, to improve the lot of women. In 1884, Ontario granted married women the right to own and dispose of their own property without the consent of their husbands. In 1889, the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association grouped local suffrage groups into a national body, giving them more political clout. In 1893, Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General at that time and an early feminist, formed the National Council of Women in Canada to improve the status of women. The Council’s initial efforts focussed on women immigrants, factory workers and prisoners. In 1895, the Law Society of Upper Canada agreed to admit women as barristers.

Female suffrage was still a dream, however. In June 1895, the House of Commons debated votes for women…and thoroughly rejected such an outlandish idea. One Member of Parliament, Flavien Dupont, expressed the prevailing sentiment of the time. He argued against throwing “upon woman’s shoulders one of the heaviest burdens that bears on those of men, the burden of politics, the burden of electoral contests, the burdens of representation.” He contended “To invite the fair sex to take part in our political contests seems to me to be as humiliating and as shocking a proposition as to invite her to form part of our militia battalions.” Women over 21 years of age had to wait until 1917 to be enfranchised in Ontario, and until 1918 to be able to vote in federal elections.

Against this backdrop, the Ottawa Evening Journal ran a unique edition on Saturday, 13 April 1885—an all-women production of the newspaper. For that one day, Ottawa women assumed all the responsibilities, including managing, editing and reporting, necessary for producing a newspaper. While a number of women had bee personally asked to contribute articles, the management of the newspaper invited the ladies of Ottawa to submit stories of up to 600 words-“an opportunity for feminine Ottawa to ventilate her ‘fads and fancies.'” The Editor for the day was Annie Howells Fréchette of 87 McKay Street, New Edinburgh. Fréchette was a poet and the author of many magazine articles, some of which were published in Harper’s Magazine. She was also the wife of the translator for the House of Commons. The Managing Editor was Mary McKay Scott, while the News Editor was Ellie Cronin. The Journal’s office boy was “the only person of the male persuasion” who assisted in the newspaper’s production. Female reporters selected and edited international stories that came in over the newswires, as well as covered local newsworthy events, including sports. Instead of a “Woman’s” column, a common feature in newspapers of the age, a “Gentleman’s” column appeared. Women also solicited advertisements from area businesses, and all letters to the Editor were written by women.

womans-edition

The Evening Journal — Woman’s Edition, 13 April 1895

This special edition of The Evening Journal was in support of the creation of a “Free” or Public Library in Ottawa. At that time, library resources in the Capital was essentially limited to the Parliamentary Library, the University of Ottawa library and the library of the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society (OLSS).  The OLSS, which had a small, circulating collection of roughly 3,100 volumes in 1895, was funded by Society members and an annual grant from the Ontario government. The Ottawa Council of Women, founded by Lady Aberdeen, together with women’s church groups and other charities, were the principal advocate of a free Ottawa Library that would be open to all. The special newspaper edition was a way of rallying support for the initiative. More tangibly, the profits from the issue would form the nucleus of a library fund. Library supporters hoped that others would contribute and, in time, lead to a grant from the City that would fund a Public Library.

Given the purpose of the special, twenty-page, newspaper edition, there was an extensive front-page article making the case for a free, public library in Ottawa. Three principal motivations were outlined: a way of uplifting men and women to a higher plane; a means of securing greater remuneration for work; and a way to form better citizens, thereby adding to the advancement and stability of the state. A public library was viewed as an extension of the school system—a “peoples’ university where “rich and poor, old and young, may drink at its inexhaustible fountain.”

Besides articles in support of an Ottawa library, there was an array of fascinating news stories, both national and international, that emphasized women. One article titled La Penetenciaria featured a hard-hitting report on an Ottawa lady’s visit to a Mexican state prison in Guadalajara. Other story focussed on Canadian women in poetry. Front and centre was Emily Pauline Johnson, the daughter of a Mohawk hereditary chief and an English mother. Johnson’s poem “In Sunset” was published. Johnson is recognized today as one of Canada’s leading poets of the nineteenth century. Others profiled included Ethelwyn Wetherald, author and journalist at The Globe newspaper in Toronto, who wrote under the nom de plume Bel Thistlewaite, and Agnes Maule Machar. As well as being an early feminist, Machar wrote about Christianity and Darwinism, arguing that Christians should accept evolution as part of God’s divine plan.

Others stories had a more domestic focus. One provided tips on how to deal with servants: “If the mistress wishes her household machinery to run smoothly, give her orders for the day immediately after breakfast.” In turn, servants were advised never to “put white handled knives into hot water, and to “cleanse the sink with concentrated lye at least once a day.” In the light-hearted “Gentlemen’s Column,” “matters pertaining to the sterner sex” were dealt with, including “men’s rights, and, “the age when a man ceases to be attractive.” Regarding the former, the columnist thought that men looked after their own rights and the needs of their own sex far better than did women, “because they probably know more about them.” As for the latter issue, she thought that there was no definite conclusion.

lady-aberdeen-pa-c-22760

Lady Aberdeen, Wife of Canada’s  Governor General, 1893-1898, prominent early feminist and contributor to the “Woman’s Edition of The Evening Journal, Library & Archives Canada, PA-22760.

Notable women in the Ottawa community also contributed articles to the special newspaper edition. Lady Aberdeen wrote a lengthy column about what “society girls” might do. She opined that “service is the solution of the problem of life.” In Experimental Farm Notes, Mrs William Saunders, the wife of the director of Ottawa’s Experimental Farm, described life on the Farm, and wrote about what the visitor could see in April, which included a “good display of early spring flowering bulbs.” Mrs Alexander, the Assistant Librarian at the Geological Museum, located at the Geological Survey at the corner of Sussex Avenue and George Street, wrote about the many treasures to be found there. In addition to an extensive collection of rocks and minerals, there were botanical, entomological exhibits as well as a collection of birds and mammals. A range of “Indian relics” were also on display from western Ontario, Yukon and the Queen Charlotte Islands, including a sacrificial stone of the Blackfoot Indians, also known as the Niitsitapi, presented to the Geological Survey by the Marquis of Lorne, a previous Governor General. The Geological Museum later became known as the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The most fascinating stories deal with women’s rights, providing a glimpse of the state of play at that time, and the aspirations of Canadian women in the late nineteenth century. There were at least two references to the decision just made by the Law Society of Upper Canada to admit women as barristers. One reporter with considerable foresight wrote:

Until two weeks ago, women in the province of Ontario had only the privilege of obeying or breaking the law. Now, however, they may assist men in interpreting it. And who can say that he is altogether wrong who looks forward to the time when they shall share in making it, either through the ballot box or the legislative assembles, or becoming its interpreters upon the bench?

In an article called “The Home,” Mrs Stone-Wiggins drew readers’ attention to the proverb “Women’s sphere is the home and of it she should be queen.” Notwithstanding the proverb’s wide acceptance by society, she asked “how many wives in Canada have a legal title to their home over which they preside so that it may be safe from the bailiff in case of financial loss on the part of the husband?” As only one in one hundred women owned their own home, she argued that the proverb “has no significance in our age.” She contended that “If the stronger sex have the almost exclusive right to possess themselves of all the offices, and the professions in the state, surely women make a modest request when they ask that the home should be the legal property of the wife.”

Another article looked toward the position of women in the upcoming twentieth century. Its author wrote:

It is my cherished belief that in the twentieth century there will be no artificial restrictions placed upon women by laws which bar them out of certain employments, professions and careers, or by that public sentiment, stronger than law, which now practically closes to them many paths of usefulness for which they seem to me to be specially adapted. All the most progressive pioneers have ever dreamed of asking is that, in the case of women as in that of men, they should not be hedged about by barriers made by the privileged classes, who, in politics, ecclesiastical, professional and business life, have secured the power to say who shall come in and who shall stay out….I confidently expect that they [women] will win their greatest laurels in the realm of government. Many of the great statesmen of the future will be women; many of the most successful diplomatists will be women; many of the greatest preachers will be women.

The special one-day “Woman’s Edition” of The Evening Journal was a great success. The newspaper sold 3,000 additional copies beyond its normal daily circulation. Many local businesses also supported the issue through their advertisements. It demonstrated that women could do men’s jobs, and excel at them. However, the women’s campaign to establish a Free, or Public Library in Ottawa foundered, at least for a time. The Capital had to wait another decade before Andrew Carnegie, the American millionaire, came to the rescue, and provided the money necessary to build a Public Library.

How have women fared in Canada since that 1895 special newspaper edition in government, in the church, in the courts, and in business? Have the “artificial restrictions” and societal pressures been eliminated? The answer is mixed. Despite the approaching hundredth anniversary of female enfranchisement in Ontario and at the federal level, women still account for a minority of federal Members of Parliament and Senators. Kim Campbell has been the only woman to become Prime Minister of Canada, holding power for only 133 days in 1993. At the provincial level, women have fared better. Kathleen Wynne is the current Premier of Ontario, while women currently head governments in Alberta and British Columbia. For a short period in 2013, six of ten provinces had a woman premier. The ordination of women as ministers or priests has been permitted since 1936 in the United Church of Canada, and since 1975 in the Anglican Church of Canada. The first woman Moderator of the United Church was elected in 1980. The ordination of the first Canadian woman Anglican bishop occurred in 1994. There are, of course, no woman Roman Catholic priests. At the Supreme Court of Canada, women are well represented, four of nine Justices are women, including the Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin. In business, however, women continue to fare poorly, According to the 2013 Catalyst Census, only 15.9 per cent of board seats of Canadian companies are filled by women.

 

Sources:

Anglican Church of Canada, 2016. Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada (Deacons, Priests and Bishops), http://www.anglican.ca/help/faq/ordination-of-women/.

Catalyst, 2013. Catalyst Accord: Women On Corporate Boards In Canada, http://www.catalyst.org/catalyst-accord-women-corporate-boards-canada.

Connelly, M.P. 2015. “Women in the Labour Force,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/women-in-the-labour-force/.

Evening Journal (The), 1895. “Air Your Fancies,” 4 April.

————————–, 1895. “Saturday is the Day,” 11 April.

————————–, 1895. “Woman’s Edition,” 13 April.

————————–, 1895. “The Woman’s Number,” 15 April.

Gaizauskas, Barbara. 1990. Feed The Flame: A Natural History Of The Ottawa Literary And Scientific Society, Carleton University, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, https://curve.carleton.ca/b81c434b-04c8-4886-9c97-cfc1a560ff51.

House of Commons, 1895. Debates, 7th Parliament, 5th Session, Vol. 1, page 2141, http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0705_01/1081?r=0&s=1.

Ottawa Council of Women, 2016, About, http://www.ottawacw.ca/index.html.

National Council of Women of Canada, 2016. History, http://www.ncwcanada.com/about-us/our-history/.

The Funeral of J. Thad Johnson

3 July 1927

The fiftieth anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 1917 came and went with only a token official acknowledgement. The horror of World War I was at its height and Canadians had more important things on their mind. But by the time of the Diamond Jubilee ten years later, Canada was feeling its oats. The country was at peace, the economy was booming, and, with the 1926 Balfour Declaration just a few months earlier, Canada had been recognized as being the equal of and in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom. It was time for a party. Three consecutive days of celebrations, festivities and parades were organized across the country, starting on Dominion Day, Friday, 1 July.

With Ottawa festooned with flags and bunting, Day I featured the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon (later the Marquess of Willingdon), laying the cornerstone of the Confederation Building on Wellington Street, followed by the inauguration of the 53-bell carillon in the newly completed Peace Tower, and official speeches on Parliament Hill. Later that day, a huge parade of floats wended its way through downtown Ottawa. The floats featured exhibits depicting Canadian history, industry, and economic progress. A guest of honour at the festivities was Hortence Cartier, the only surviving daughter of Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, one of Canada’s leading “fathers” of Confederation.

The highlight of Day II of the Jubilee celebrations was a visit by the hero of the hour American Colonel Charles Lindbergh, the “Eagle of the Atlantic.” Just weeks early, Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic travelling from New York City to Paris in his single-engine, monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis, specially built by Ryan Airlines and custom designed by the aeronautical engineer Donald Hall. Although this was not the first transatlantic flight, it was almost double the length of that initial 1919 flight from Newfoundland to Ireland by British aviation pioneers John Alcott and Arthur Brown. By successfully making the first New York to Paris flight, Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize. It took the 25-year old Lindbergh 33 ½ hours to make the solo flight. To lighten the airplane to allow it to carry more fuel, Lindbergh had stripped it of “unessential” equipment such as a sextant, radio, and a parachute. Lindbergh arrived in Paris to a hero’s welcome. Returning home by a U.S. naval ship, Lindbergh received a rapturous reception from American fans, and was feted to a tickertape parade through New York City. He followed this by a three-month, celebratory tour of 92 American cities.

Lindbergh landing 1927

Charles Lindbergh arriving in Ottawa flying The Spirit of St. Louis, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027647.

Lindbergh was also invited to Canada to help celebrate the Dominion’s Diamond Jubilee. Accompanying the intrepid aviator on his journey north were twelve airmen of the 1st Pursuit Group of the United States Army Air Service. Based at Selfridge airfield, north of Detroit, Michigan, the Group flew Curtis P-1 Hawk biplanes. Leaving early in the morning of 2 July, the airmen flew directly from their aerodrome, travelling across Lake St. Clair and southern Ontario before heading to Ottawa. They arrived over a temporary airfield located about a quarter mile from the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club on the Bowesville Road, roughly the location of the Ottawa Airport today, at 1pm, one hour late from their scheduled arrival time. Nobody had informed the flyers that Ottawa was on daylight savings time. (Prior to World War II, the decision to adopt daylight savings time was left up to cities not the province.) A huge crowd, kept back from the landing strip by police and 500 militia members, had assembled to greet the flyers.

After making a tour over Ottawa, Lindbergh safely landed his famous silver-grey airplane, and taxied to the side to make way for the accompanying squadron that was wowing the crowd by swooping low over the fields in its famous “V” formation. The twelve airplanes were divided into four sets of three. Only 25 to 50 feet separated one airplane from

Curtis P1 Hawk

The U. S. Air Force Curtis P-1 Hawk, Wikipedia.

another. To land, the biplanes went into a “Laffberg circle,” the formation typically used for landing on a small airfield, with each machine touching ground in turn. The first seven airplanes landed without incident. With five still in the air, the leader of the final fourth set, Lieutenant John Thad Johnson, aged 34, unexpectedly side-skipped to the left, the typical indication that for some reason he wished to land out of sequence. As customary in such situations, the next pilot in line, Lieutenant H. A. Woodring, moved ahead into the position vacated by Johnson. Suddenly, Woodring’s aircraft was struck as Johnson’s airplane reared up, its tail hitting Woodring’s propeller. With its “elevator” sheared off, Johnson’s airplane spun out of control from a height of only three hundred feet. Johnson initially tried to ride his aircraft down, but at an altitude of only 100 feet, he jumped. Although his parachute functioned properly, there was insufficient time for it to fully deploy. Johnson struck the ground with horrific force, leaving an eighteen-inch depression in the ground. Although doctors and an ambulance had been stationed at the field in the event of an accident, there was nothing that could be done. Death was instantaneous. Johnson’s crippled biplane crashed nose-down 100 yards away. The aviator’s broken wristwatch indicated precisely the time of death: 12.21, or 1.21 Ottawa time.

Johnson Thad

Lieut. J. Thad Johnson, 1893-1927, Born: Johnson City, Texas, Died: Ottawa, Canada. Collection of Troy Benear, Grandnephew of J. Thad Johnson.

The tragedy occurred in front of thousands of stunned onlookers, as well as Col. Lindbergh and the other members of the pursuit squadron. Immediately, soldiers surrounded Lieutenant Johnson’s crushed body and his downed airplane, holding back the crowds and stopping souvenir hunters. Lindbergh, ashen-faced, was driven to the site of Lieut. Johnson’s body where he paid his respects before being driven away in an open limousine for the official greeting ceremonies on Parliament Hill.

On the Hill, the packed crowds had been waiting for hours in the hot July sun for a glimpse of the famous aviator. Finally, delayed more than two hours, the shaken Lindbergh arrived on Parliament Hill in the limousine. Few in the cheering multitude were aware of the tragedy that had just occurred. Despite the strain he was under, Lindbergh, dressed in a double-breasted, blue, serge suit was greeted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and William Phillips, the American Minister to Canada (equivalent to ambassador). Phillips called Lindbergh the United States’ “unofficial ambassador,” and noted that the aviator, who was born in Detroit, had Canadian blood in his veins; Lindbergh’s grandfather on his mother’s side had been born in Canada.

Lindbergh speaking 1927

Charles Lindbergh speaking on Parliament Hill, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, C-006257.

The Prime Minister greeted Lindbergh in the name of the government and the people of Canada. He called the aviator “the embodiment of the spirit of the Happy Warrior,” a gentleman unafraid.” The visibly stricken Lindbergh spoke for less than ten minutes, pausing between words. After saying, how much he had appreciated the welcome he had received from Canadians, he added that in flying from Detroit he was struck by the need for air transportation in Canada and the United States.  Airlines would eliminate distance and would bring Americans and Canadians even closer that they already were. Nobody mentioned the death of Thad Johnson.

After his short speech, Lindbergh was whisked away to perform his other official duties: meeting the Governor General, going to Lansdowne Park for a series of sporting events, and then back to Mackenzie King’s home, Laurier House, before attending the government dinner on Parliament Hill in honour of William Phillips, the American representative in Canada. While these events were going on, a coroner’s inquest was hastily held into the death of Thad Johnson. Evidence given by the U.S. airmen suggested that the most likely reason for Johnson’s airplane to go out of control was “propeller wash,” a frequent hazard when planes are flying close to each other. No blame was ascribed to Lieutenant Woodring whose airplane was in collision with Johnson’s. The Crown Attorney conclude that the “most lamentable accident was due to mischance.”

Johnson funeral

Funeral of Lieut. J. Thad Johnson in from of the old Ottawa Post Office, Wellington Street, Ottawa, 3 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-0279950.

The Canadian government quickly organized a state funeral for Lieutenant Johnson to be held the following day, 3 July, Day III of the Jubilee celebration. His body was placed in a bronze casket, and conveyed to the East Block of the Parliament Buildings. There, he laid in state through the morning and early afternoon. Members of the RCAF stood with bowed heads at each corner of the casket which was draped with the American Stars and Stripes. Thousands passed by the flower-bedecked bier. After a curtailed Jubilee Thanksgiving Service held at the Auditorium presided over by the Governor General, Canadian officials and other dignitaries hurried over to Parliament Hill to pay their respects to the fallen airman and to attend his funeral. Reverend (Major) H. I. Horsey of the 38th Royal Ottawa Highlanders read the service. More than 25,000 people watched the proceedings and the imposing military funeral cortege. Camille Lefebvre, assistant carillonneur of the cathedral at Malines, Belgium, played Chopin’s Death March followed by Handel’s Death March from Saul, on the newly-inaugurated carillon in the Peace Tower. The Union Jack above Parliament was lowered out of respect for the fallen aviator.

After the funeral, the flag-draped casket was carefully placed on a horse-drawn gun carriage, and, to muffled drums, was drawn slowly to the train station, escorted by RCMP officers in their scarlet dress uniforms. On either side were three RCAF flying officers acting as honorary pallbearers. Leading the cortege was the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, followed by a firing party and buglers. Official mourners included the Prime Minister, the U.S. Minister to Canada, and Vincent Massey, the Canadian Envoy to the United States who had hurried up to Ottawa from Washington, as well as the Chairman of the Jubilee Committee, Cabinet members, senior militia officers, civil servants, and the Boy Scouts. More than 100 officers and 1,000 other ranks, from almost every military unit in the region, were represented. When the funeral cortege halted in front of the Chateau Laurier Hotel, seven members of the U.S. Pursuit team swooped down low before climbing high again to salute Lieutenant Johnson.

At Union Station, its cheery Jubilee bunting removed in favour of funereal black and purple, the casket was transferred into the care of a U.S. army official, and conveyed to a special funeral train organized by Canadian National Railway for Lieutenant Johnson’s last trip back to Selfridge Field, Michigan. After the train left the station, Colonel Lindbergh, flying The Spirit of St. Louis, threw peonies over the carriage as a final tribute to the fallen airman. Railwaymen collected the blossoms so that they could be delivered to Johnson’s young widow; the couple had been married only a year.

Lieutenant Johnson’s remains were buried the following day in Fenton, Michigan.  Today, a small road called Thad Johnson Private, located near the Ottawa airport not far from where the pilot fell to his death, honours the memory of the American Pursuit pilot.

 

Sources:

Ottawa Journal (The), 1927. “Ottawa Jubilee Celebrations Will Surpass In Its Scope Anything Hitherto Planned,” 1 July.

—————————, 1927. “Col. Lindbergh With ‘Spirt of St. Louis’ Leads Squadron of U.S. Planes.” 2 July.

—————————, 1927. “Plane Flowers on the Casket of Dead Pilot,” 4 July.

————————–, 1927. “Capital Bows Head In Sorrow As Body OF U.S. Flyer Is Borne Slowly To Funeral Train,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greets ‘Lindy’ As Gentleman Without Fear,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Lieut. J.T. Johnson Is Killed As He Leaps From Airplane Disabled In Air Collision,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Flier’s Parachute Opens But Distance Too Short To Break Rapid Fall Towards The Field,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Impressive National Thanksgiving Service Held in the Auditorium,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Assured Safety Visiting Airmen and Spectators,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greatly Enjoyed His Stay While In The Capital City Says Lindbergh On Landing, 5 July.

Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project, 2014. Charles Lindbergh, An American Aviator, The Story of the Land Family, http://www.charleslindbergh.com/.

The Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. 2000. John Thad Johnson, http://earlyaviators.com/ejthadjo.htm.