The Bytown Consumers Gas Company

25 March 1854

For millennia, cities, stores and homes went dark after sunset. Artificial lighting was limited to the illumination provided by fireplaces and torches of various description. Outdoors, wealthy pedestrians might hire a link-boy who, for a small fee, might carry a flaming brand to light their way. The alternative was the feeble light cast by a lantern, or making do with moon and star light. At home, candles made of tallow from rendered beef, mutton or pig fat, which cast a sputtering and smelly glow, were widely used. Also popular and inexpensive were rush-lights made from the pith of the rush plant dipped in grease. The poorest had to be satisfied with a saucer of grease and a twist of cloth. The wealthy could afford sweet-smelling, beeswax candles. Regardless, evenings must have been dim and shadowy, the light uncertain.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, burning oil derived from the rendered blubber of whales became popular owing to the bright light such fuel provided. The right whale, so-called for being a slow swimmer, which made it easier to catch, and its propensity to float after being harpooned, was the preferred catch. Sperm whales were also prized. Top quality sperm oil, also called spermaceti, was used to make candles given its waxy nature and lack of smell. The spermaceti organ of a sperm whale could contain as much as 1,900 litres of this valuable commodity—the reason why these great beasts were hunted to near extinction along with their right whale cousins.  In 1850, whale-oil lamps were placed over public wells in Bytown’s Upper and Lower Town.

Gas ODC 15-7-1854

Notice that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, 25 March 1854

A new lighting alternative came to the fore during the first half of the nineteenth century, first in Europe then in North America. This was manufactured gas, sometimes called coal gas. Manufactured gas was made by distilling black, bituminous coal in a heated retort. (A retort is a closed vessel made of glass or metal.) The vapour was then cooled and purified. The resulting gas was then stored and conveyed to consumers via underground pipes. Manufactured gas was first used for lighting in Europe during the early nineteenth century. Reportedly, by the mid-1820s, most English towns of any significance were lit by gaslight. The technology crossed the Atlantic, with Boston and New York both furnished with gaslight by 1825. Gaslight came to Montreal and Toronto during the 1840s.

In 1854, Bytown’s leading citizens thought their community was sufficiently large to make a gas works in the town a paying proposition. Although Bytown boasted a population of only 7,000 souls, the town had great prospects. Area politicians hoped to convince the government that Bytown would make a fine capital for the new Province of Canada. Twenty prominent electors requested that Mayor Friel hold a public meeting “on the propriety of getting up a Gas Company for the town.”

In early March 1854, a Town Hall Meeting, chaired by the mayor, was held to discuss the issue. Six resolutions were passed. First, it was resolved that the inhabitants of Bytown were of the opinion that the bringing of gas to the town was “of considerable importance, both socially and economically.”

Second, a joint-stock company should be established to be called The Bytown Consumers Gas Company. The resolution also asked for the support of the Mayor and the Corporation of Bytown of an application to the Provincial Legislature for the necessary powers.

Third, it was resolved that the population of Bytown was sufficiently large and wealthy to make a gas works a profitable investment.

Fourth, it was agreed that a “book” be opened immediately to take subscriptions for stock in the new company, and that an application be made to the Provincial Legislature for an act of Incorporation.

Fifth, it was resolved that a Committee be formed to obtain subscriptions in the new company, and that a meeting of stakeholders would be called to organize a company once £2,000 ($10,000) had been collected. The Committee would include three area members of the Provincial Parliament—G. B. Lyon, E. Malloch, and John Egan—as well as the current mayor, Henry. J. Friel, as well as Alexander Workman, and Joseph-Balsora Turgeon, two prominent politicians who would later become mayor.

Sixth, the citizens agreed that the new gas company should have a capitalization of £10,000, divided into shares of £10 each.

Events moved quickly. Three weeks later, it was official. A notice dated 25 March 1854 appeared in the Ottawa Citizen announcing that an application would be made to the Parliament of Canada at its next session to incorporate The Bytown Consumers Gas Company. It also serviced notice that it would request the ability to dig up roads for the purpose of laying pipes and to be able to hold property and undertake whatever was required for the manufacture of gas.

The following month, a declaration of intent to establish a gas company in Ottawa was registered in the Registry Office of the County of Bytown and sent to the provincial secretary in Quebec. This declaration was required under legislation passed the previous year entitled An Act to provide for the formation of incorporated Join Stock Companies for supplying Cities, Towns and Villages with Gas and Water (Victoria 16, Chapter 173). The act set out the objects of such firms, their rights and obligations. Such rights including the laying down of pipes under public roads so long as they caused no unnecessary damage and permitted free and uninterrupted passage along the streets when the works were underway. The Act also required a gas company to locate their gas works so as not to endanger public health or safety. Consistent with the provincial act, Mayor Friel signed By-law 110c a few days later giving the Bytown Consumers Gas Company the authority to dig up Bytown’s streets and squares to lay down its gas pipes consistent with the provincial legislation. Later, the Ordnance Department gave its consent for the company to install gas pipes along Sappers’ Bridge over the Rideau Canal subject to a nominal rent and the company’s agreement to remove the pipes if requested.

At the beginning of May, sufficient funds had been raised to require the meeting of stakeholders as specified under the fifth resolution approved the previous March. Subscribers to the capital stock of the company met in the office of John Bower Lewis, the second mayor of Bytown (and future first mayor of Ottawa). There, the senior officers of the company were elected: Dr, Hamnet Hill as President; Alexander Workman as Vice-President; and C. H. Piney as Treasurer/Secretary. A corporate seal for the company was adopted, and a corporate by-law was passed authorizing the opening of a stock book.

The first task of the company’s trustees was to find an expert to provide advice on building a gas works. They hired W. R. Falconer of Montreal to make estimates, plans and specifications. Within three weeks, Falconer had submitted his report. He estimated that the cost of the proposed gas works would be £8,310, including the £300 needed for land on which to build the plant. He recommended that while all the tanks and buildings could be erected that summer, the pipes should be laid the following spring, with the works in operation by 1 August 1855.

Subsequently, a Mr. A. Perry of Montreal submitted a tender for the contract according to Falconer’s specifications. To the disappointment of the shareholders in the Bytown Consumers Gas Company, his price to do the work came in at £8,375, excluding the cost of purchasing the necessary land for the gas works. Perry, however, must have liked the company’s prospects. He submitted a supplementary tender offering to buy £1,000 of the company’s shares and to loan it a further £3,000 at 6 per cent per annum for ten years.

The trustees demurred, of the view that Perry’s financial offer was too expensive. They did, however, find a suitable piece of property for £500 that they believed was large enough to accommodate the gas works and allow for future expansion.

However, at a meeting of stockholders held in August 1854, President Dr. Hamnet Hill revealed that the take-up of shares in the Company had been discouraging. Only £3,925 had been raised locally, and no Montreal investors had been found. He was disappointed that people who had said they would subscribe for shares had subsequently backed out, or had bought a smaller amount. He recommended two options to shareholders. Either they wait until “other persons of enterprise” came forward, or dissolve the company and return the investments of people less the costs already incurred.

What exactly happened next is unclear. There is a brief reference in the Ottawa Citizen in September 1854 to the effect that Bytown had “decided against a gas works.” However, in December 1854, the company was still around with the press reporting on a major shake-up of the firm’s senior officers. Alexander Workman resigned as Vice-President and was replaced by Mr. J. M. Currier. Henry Friel was elected Chairman and Francis Clemow was appointed secretary. At the same meeting, it was announced that a site for a gas house had been purchased on King Street (now King Edward Avenue) between Rideau and York Streets for £500. Somehow the necessary capital for the company had been found.

Pipes were laid through 1855, with the main line running under Rideau, Sparks, Sussex, York and Nicholas Streets. By the beginning of 1856, work had progressed sufficiently, despite “some trifling difficulties,” to permit the lighting of gas. In mid-April 1856, the price of gas was set thirty shillings per thousand (presumably cubic) feet, payable at the end of each quarter. A 25 per cent discount was given for prompt payment. This was an astronomical price by today’s standard and was a source of complaint. The Bytown gas price was roughly 50 percent higher than the price in Montreal, which was $5 per thousand feet (20 shillings), less a 35 per cent discount (in 1859), twice the New York price and five times that of that in London. A lack of economies of scale owing to Bytown’s small size might have been a factor in the price differential. By the early 1890s, Ottawa’s gas price had dropped to $1.80 per thousand cubic feet.

Gas ODC 25-12-1860

Advertisement for gas-lit chandeliers, Ottawa Citizen, 25 December 1860.

Notwithstanding the exorbitant price, gas street lights quickly lit Ottawa’s main streets, starting with Rideau and Sussex Streets. Advertisements appeared in local newspapers urging wealthy homeowners to lit their houses with gas lamps. In 1860, William Stevenson, a steam and gas fitter who operated out of Ogdensburg, New York advertised French and English chandeliers for sale in the Ottawa Citizen. He claimed his prices were cheaper than what could be obtained from Montreal, notwithstanding duties. He invited Ottawa residents to check out his store in Ogdensburg where he always had a large stock on display. He also offered a money-back guarantee. This was cross-border shopping nineteenth century style!

The introduction of gas has its downside—pollution. The Bywash, which ran from the Rideau Canal down King Street to the Rideau River became fouled with tar and other refuse from the coal gas plant on the street. Fish deserted the creek and people could no longer drink or wash in it. There is a report of boys who went swimming in the Bywash being dyed a dark colour by the dirty water. Apparently, it took a month for the stain to wear off. The Bywash was finally covered over and converted into a sewer. Of, course, the pollution didn’t go away. It was just hidden from view, and was still funnelled untreated into the Rideau River and thence into the Ottawa River.

In 1865, the Bytown Consumers Gas Company updated its name to the Ottawa Gas Company. Twenty years later, it rapidly lost its lighting business to a new competitor—electricity introduced to Ottawa by Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. However, manufactured gas remained the fuel of choice for home stoves—electric stoves and ovens were uneconomic until the 1930s. As prices fell over time, gas was also increasingly used for heating. In 1906, Ottawa’s electric and gas industries were merged into a giant lighting and heating monopoly called The Consolidated Light, Heat and Power Company controlled by Soper and Ahearn. This state of affairs continued until 1949 when, following a city plebiscite, Ottawa purchased the electrical side of the firm to form Ottawa Hydro, leaving the Ottawa Gas Company in private hands. In 1957, Consumers Gas of Toronto purchased the company. The following year, natural gas was piped into the Ottawa area, and the production of manufactured gas ceased.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, Bylaws.

National Post, 1957. “Share Purchase Offer Expected For Gas Firm,” 18 May.

Newton, Michael, 1979. Lower Town, Ottawa, Vol. 1, 1826-1854, Manuscript Report # 104, National Capital Commission.

Ottawa Citizen, 1854. “Town Hall Meeting,” 6 March.

————————-, 1854. “Gas Company,” 25 March.

————————-, 1854. “No Title,” 6 May.

————————-, 1854. “To the Shareholders of the Bytown Consumers Gas Company,” 6 August.

————————-, 1854, “From Our London Correspondent,” 23 September.

————————-, 1856. “Meeting of Shareholders,” 9 April.

————————-, 1859. “The Cost of Gas,” 28 October 1859.

————————-, 1926. “Gas Refuse Hurt Old Bywash Creek,” 24 July.

————————-, 1926. “Dye Took Month To Wear Off Boys,” 31 July.

————————-, 1928. “Pioneer Industries Won Over Hardship,” 13 March.

————————-, 1949. “OLHP IS Formally Absorbed,” 31 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1960. “Older Than Ottawa,” 26 April.

 

 

The Funeral of Sir Wilfrid Laurier

22 February 1919

It was the opening of the second session of the thirteenth parliament of Canada. With traditional solemnity, the Governor General, the Duke of Devonshire, gave the speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber in front of the combined Houses of Parliament. He laid out the upcoming agenda of the government, which included giving women the right to vote and sit in the House of Commons. Afterwards, members of the Commons returned to the Commons chamber. There, Sir Thomas White, the acting prime minister—Sir Robert Borden was in Paris attending the peace talks—rose and stated:

Mr. Speaker, we meet today under the shadow of a great loss and a deep and widespread personal sorrow. The Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, senior member of this House, has passed away, and an entire nation mourns his death.”

Laurier portrait LAC 3441447

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3441447

He announced that with the consent of the family a State funeral would take place on Saturday, 22 February 1919, and that Laurier’s remains would lie is state in the Commons chamber from that evening (Thursday, 20 February) to the Saturday morning, and that Parliament would adjourn until the following Tuesday “out of respect to and in honour of his memory.”

There had been no foreshadowing of the great man’s demise. While Sir Wilfrid was 77 years of age, he was in apparent good health, and was looking forward to retirement. Less that a month earlier, at the Eastern Ontario Liberal Convention, he remarked that he was beginning to feel the “weight of years,” and that it was time to “pass the reins to a younger general and fight in the ranks.” To a journalist, he said that he was looking forward to “the serenity of his study,” working on his memoirs, and writing a constitutional history of Canada.

On Saturday, 16 February, he attended a luncheon at the Canadian Club where he listened with interest to a speech on competing territorial claims of Serbia and Italy. After lunch, he took a streetcar to his office in the Victoria Museum on Metcalfe Street, Parliament’s temporary home since the disastrous fire that gutted the centre block on Parliament Hill three years earlier. There, he dictated some letters dealing with the upcoming new session of Parliament. As Leader of the Opposition, he would be taking a leading role in the upcoming debates.

While accounts vary, it appears that in the afternoon, after he had dismissed his secretary, Laurier experienced a fainting spell while he was alone in his office. He fell and hit his head, leaving a bruise. However, he quickly recovered and was well enough to take a street car to his home (now called Laurier House at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Chapel Street). When his doctor, who had come calling that evening, noticed the mark, Sir Wilfrid made light of it, though he added that his left leg felt weaker than his right.

The following day, at about noon, Laurier was struck by a serious stroke that affected his entire left side. For a time, he rallied, and his doctors became cautiously optimistic that he might pull through. However, at midnight, he was struck by another cerebral hemorrhage and fell into a deep coma. Last rights were administered by Father Laflamme of the Church of the Sacred Heart. Through the following morning he got progressively weaker. His wife, Zoé Laurier, maintained a vigil at his bedside. Shortly before noon, the Governor General came to his residence, followed by Sir Thomas White, the acting prime minister. Meanwhile, messenger boys brought telegrams from across the country and from around the world expressing the hope for a speedy recovery.

It was not to be. Doctors informed family and friends that there was no hope. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who had been in public service for half a century and had been prime minister for fifteen years, died that Monday afternoon (17 February) without regaining consciousness.

After Sir Wilfrid’s body was embalmed, he was laid in his home’s drawing room for family and close friends to pay their last respects. Laurier was dressed in his official Windsor uniform and on his breast was the insignia of a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George. His casket was made of bronze with little ornamentation other than decorated corners and pallbearers’ rails. The interior was lined with white quilted satin with a white satin pillow for his head.

Laurier lying in state LAC 3365409

Sir Wilfrid Laurier lying in state in the temporary House of Commons Chamber. His desk is to the right. Victoria Museum, 1919, Library and Archives Canada 3365409.

On the Thursday after the speech from the Throne, Laurier’s remains were taken without ceremony to the Victoria Museum where he was laid in state in front of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons. A guard of honour comprised of members of the House of Commons stood watch. The chamber was decorated in mourning colours of purple and black. On Laurier’s desk, which was also draped with black and purple cloth, was a large wreath, a tribute from members of the House. A black carpet marked the path for the mourners to file past Laurier’s bier.

The Commons chamber was filled with floral wreaths, crosses and pillows from provinces, cities and private citizens. The Syrian community of Montreal sent a large urn with white and purple ribbons, the premier and government of Saskatchewan a basket of sweet peas. The Ottawa Press Club’s wreath bore the number “30” signifying in newspapermen’s jargon that Laurier’s “story” was over. The Montreal City Council sent a floral tribute seven feet high and five feet wide. So many flowers were sent that Ottawa florists were hard pressed to fill all the orders.

Laurier CBC

Grainy image taken from archival footage of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s remains dressed in his official Windsor uniform with the sash and insignia of a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George. CBC Archives.

It was estimated that between 45,000-50,000 people filed past Laurier’s bier during the 36 hours he laid in state in the Commons chamber. At times as many as 2,000 persons per hour said their adieux to the fallen leader. People of all ages and all stations paid their respects, including soldiers on crutches, and mothers who held their children high so that they might be able to say in the future that they saw Laurier. When the time came for the doors to the Commons chamber to close, thousands were still outside of the Museum.

Laurier’s funeral was held in Notre Dame Basilica. The original plan was for a requiem mass to be celebrated at the Church of the Sacred Heart, the church were Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier attended just a short walk from their home. But owing to the numbers wishing to attend, the service was moved to the much larger Basilica. Even so, two days before the funeral more than 5,000 people had applied for tickets to the 2,000 available seats.

Thousands of people poured into Ottawa to get a glimpse of the funeral procession and to be a part of history. Special trains and extra carriages were laid on from Toronto and Montreal by the CPR and the CNR. Scarcely a room could be found in Ottawa’s hotels that weekend. Public buildings, including the Post Office and the East Block on Parliament Hill, were decorated in the colours of mourning. The window of the Ottawa Electric Company near the corner of Sparks and Elgin Street displayed a portrait of Sir Wilfrid, “heroic in size,” which was illuminated at night.

The funeral procession left the Victoria Museum for the Basilica at 10am on Saturday, 22 February via Metcalfe Street, Wellington and Major Hill’s Park. Despite strong wind and snow, thousands of men, women and children lined the route to pay their last respects. The Ottawa Evening Journal opined that “no funeral in Canadian history, and few, we believe at any time in any country, has presented such a spectacle of national affection and grief.” A civic half day holiday was declared, and all government offices were closed. Shops, stores and industry stopped to allow people to honour the memory of Canada’s dead statesman. Two-thirds of Ottawa’s police force were on duty just to control the crowds and keep the street clear.

Laurier’s coffin was borne to the Basilica in a black and silver hearse drawn by four black horses. ( Click here to view archival footage of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s funeral.) The cortege consisted of officiating clergy, eight Dominion Police pallbearers, ten sleighs of floral tributes, honorary pallbearers, who included Sr Thomas White, the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors General, senators, members of Parliament, judges, civic officials, service organizations and the general public.

The funeral service began at 11am. The interior of the Basilica was draped in black, purple and gold. His Excellency, Monsignor Di Maria, the papal delegate, was the celebrant. Archbishop Mathieu of Regina, a friend of Sir Wilfrid, delivered an oration in French while Rev. Father John Burke of the Paulist Order spoke in English.

Laurier tomb, by SimonP, Wikipedia, Notre Dame Cemetery

Tomb of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa, taken by SimonP, Wikipedia.

After the service, the funeral cortege made its way to Notre Dame Cemetery for the interment. After a brief ceremony, Laurier’s bronze casket was placed in a steel box and lowered into the ground. His grave site was later marked by a stone sarcophagus with nine mourning women, representing the nine provinces of Canada at the time.

Today, Sir Wilfrid Laurier is widely recognized as one of Canada’s greatest statesmen. His image appears on Canada’s $5 bill. Wilfrid Laurier University is named in his honour. In a 2016 survey of scholars conducted by Maclean’s magazine, Laurier placed second after Mackenzie King and above Sir John A. Macdonald as Canada’s greatest prime minister. During his premiership, the first by a francophone Canadian, Canada experienced rapid economic and population growth, and saw the creation of two new provinces—Alberta and Saskatchewan. Sir Wilfrid is, however, best known for bringing together English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians—his main desire throughout his political life.

It was his speech in 1895 that the expression “sunny ways” first came into the Canadian political lexicon. In the context of the vexed political problem of the Manitoba Schools Question, Laurier proposed to deal with the issue through the “sunny way” of negotiation and compromise. Today, the expression “sunny ways” has become associated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who often invokes the spirit of Laurier in his public appearances.

Despite Laurier’s sunny ways, his admirable efforts to unite English and French Canadians, and his economic and political successes, Laurier’s career has its dark side. It was during his tenure as prime minister that the Chinese poll tax was increased from $50 to $100 in 1900 and to $500 in 1903—an amount far out of reach of most Chinese immigrants. Black immigration, notably from the United States, was essentially banned on the ostensible grounds that Canada’s weather was too severe for black immigrants. The rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples were also trampled in the rush of white settlers to “open” Canada’s west. While such racist behaviour was standard fare in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is much harder to overlook today. Laurier’s reputation, like that of his illustrious predecessor, Sir John A. Macdonald, has suffered as a consequence.

Sources:

Azzi, Stephen & Hillmer, Norman, 2016. “Ranking Canada’s best and worst prime ministers,” Maclean’s, 7 October.

Canadian Encyclopedia 2017. Wilfrid Laurier: “The Sunny Way” Speech, 1895, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wilfrid-laurier-the-sunny-way-speech-1895.

House of Commons Debates, 1919. 13th Parliament, 2nd Session, Death of Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, G.C.M.G. 20 February.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1919. “Condition of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Suddenly Stricken On Sunday Is Critical Rapidly Sinking This Afternoon,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Civic Half Holiday For Laurier State Funeral,” 18 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Sir Wilfrid Had First Attack On Saturday Night,” 19 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Lying-In State OF Sir Wilfrid Is Attended By Great Crowds Today,” 21 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Nation’s Final Honors To Sir Wilfrid Laurier; Great State Funeral Of Her Distinguished Son,” 22 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1919. “Rt. Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Death Is Expected At Any Hour,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Toronto Press Refers Feelingly To sir Wilfrid And Still Hopes For The Best,” 17 February.

—————————-, 1919. “State Will Crown Former Premier’s Career With Every Honor,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Main Desire of Sir Wilfrid Was Harmony Between The Two Races,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Sir Wilfrid Laurier,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Laurier’s Funeral Will Be Largest Ever Seen Here,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Papal Delegate To Be Celebrant,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Thousands OF Applications For Tickets From Persons Who Would Go to Service, 20 February.

—————————-, 1919. “The Official Programme For Funeral Of Former Premier,” 20 February.

—————————-, 1919. Visitors Pouring In By Every Train To State Funeral,” 21 February.

—————————, 1919. “People Throng Route Early To See Funeral,” 22 February.

————————–, 1919. “Protestants and Catholics Kneel Together In Church Before The Bier Of Laurier,” 24 February.

————————–, 1919. “Distinguished Men Follow Remains Of Laurier To Grave,” 24 February.

 

Meet Me At Murphy’s

29 January 1983

One of the greatest of the shopping emporiums that used to line Sparks Street, once the commercial heart of Ottawa, was Murphy-Gamble’s. It ranked amongst the finest Canadian department stores, and had a well-earned reputation for quality merchandise. The store attracted the custom of the city’s elite, including governors general and prime ministers. But its particular claim to fame was its restaurant, the Rideau Room, located on the fifth floor of the building at 118-124 Sparks Street. It was the only Ottawa’s department store that featured a dining room. Here, one could enjoy fine food accompanied by a live band, sometimes a trio, sometimes a seven-piece orchestra. It also served high tea each afternoon to weary customers who needed to catch their breath before renewing their assault on the store’s many departments. “Meet Me At Murphy’s” became an oft-heard refrain.

Murphy, John Company August 1892, Topley Studio LAC 138219

John Murphy Company, 66-68 Sparks Street, August 1892, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 138219

Murphy’s roots actually begin in Montreal where in 1867, John L. Murphy opened a dry-goods store on Catherine Street.  In 1890, Murphy expanded to Ottawa, buying Argyle House, a dry-goods store located at 66-68 Sparks Street from David Gardner who had himself acquire the entire stock of Argyle House for 61 cents on the dollar in a bankruptcy sale. He also leased the premises for a few months to clear the stock. Argyle House had been known for its high-end merchandise and for catering to Ottawa’s elite. The store had originally been opened in the early 1870s by James Russell.

The new John Murphy & Company store prospered under the management of Samuel Gamble, the company’s first vice-president who also happened to be John Murphy’s son-in-law. In 1904, John Murphy, now seventy years of age, sold his Montreal store to Robert Simpson Company of Toronto. The store continued to operate under the well-respected John Murphy & Company name. This left the Ottawa branch, now a stand-alone operation, to find a new name. In recognition of the success achieved under Samuel Gamble’s direction, the Murphy, Gamble Company was born. John Murphy continued to act as an advisor to the firm, his knowledge being invaluable. During his career as a merchant, he had made more than 100 ocean crossings to buy quality goods from European fashion houses. At this time, the three-storey building at 66 Sparks Street was expanded back towards Queen Street, thereby increasing the selling space by one-third.

Murphy-Gamble

Murphy-Gamble Co at 118-124 Sparks Street, circa. 1955. The Centre Cinema next door is showing a double feature of Black Pirates and Thunder Pass which were both released in 1954. Notice the old Ottawa Citizen building on the right. Rankly.com.

In 1910, the company expanded again. A five-storey store was constructed at 118-124 Sparks Street, the former site of the Brunswick Hotel. The new store opened in early January 1910. The last day of trading out of the old premises proved to be memorable. So many shoppers, mostly women, crowded into the store to snap up merchandise on sale that store staff were overwhelmed. Police had to be called in to control the enthusiastic shoppers. For an hour and a half, the doors were locked with “blue coats” on guard to repel would-be bargain hunters from storming inside. The next day, Murphy-Gamble’s new premises were also swamped by shoppers wanting to get a first glimpse at the new department store. That opening day, uniformed boys assisted ladies from their cars and carriages into and out of the emporium.

Reportedly, the new store cost $175,000 to build; no expense was spared in its construction and its fittings.  As far as possible, contracts and subcontracts were awarded to local Ottawa firms. Its architect was Ottawa’s Colborne Powell Meredith, it’s builder, Frederick W. Carling. The building, apparently one of the first of its kind in eastern Ontario, was constructed of reinforced concrete, a new method at that time. It also boasted what has been described as “Chicago-style glazed curtain wall façades” on both its Sparks and Queen Street sides. The pillars holding up the five storeys were also made of concrete, reinforced with steel rods, as were the stairways. There were hardwood floors throughout. The building was deemed fire proof, and was equipped with automatic fire doors and hoses on each floor. It was the first building in the city to carry electricity and lighting through underground conduits. The new edifice was called the Carling Block, presumably in honour of its builder.

On the basement level, which opened onto Queen Street, there was a high-class grocery store. There were windows displays along the entire façade. To one side was an entrance and a passageway for receiving goods. Lockers and toilets for male employees were located on this floor, The Sparks Street entrance, which was covered by a marquee, was to be found on the first, or ground floor. All interior fittings on this floor were made of mahogany. Window displays ran along Sparks Street. Two public telephones were located here for the use of customers. The women’s and men’s clothing departments were on this floor. The millinery and mantles department were found on the second floor. Fittings on this floor were made of oak. To the rear were offices; dressing rooms were located on the sides. A spacious stairway led from the main floor to an overhead gallery, or ladies’ waiting room, called “The Mezzanine.” On the third floor was the carpet, curtains and draperies department, along with customers’ washrooms. The fourth floor was devoted to manufacturing purposes, while the fifth floor was initially used for storage and bathroom facilities for female staff. Later, the fifth floor became the site of the “Tea Rooms” and later the much-loved “Rideau Room” dining room.

Murphy-Gamble window, William Topley, 1920 LAC 3382921

Murphy-Gamble Window Display of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners, Christmas 1920, Topley, LAC 3382921.

Samuel Gamble died in 1913 and the management of Murphy-Gamble’s passed first to Mr. J.T. Hammill and then to Mr. S.L.T. Morrell. In 1925, James L. Murray, and his two sons, Walter L. Murray and G. Scott Murray, purchased Murph-Gamble’s. The Murrays operated a similar business in Hamilton, Ontario called Murray Sons, Ltd. The two Murray sons moved to Ottawa to manage the Ottawa firm which continued to trade under the Murphy-Gamble marque. The firm thrived under the new management. Two more floors at the back of the store and an elevator were added in 1948. The firm also established buying offices in all the major cities of Europe, as well as in Mexico and the Far East.

On staff at Murphy-Gamble’s was a master tailor and dress designer, Ernest Gordon. A Gordon gown was a much sought-after attire for gala events. Reportedly, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands bought a Gordon gown.  Gordon died in 1948, having worked at Murphy’s for thirty-three years.

Murphy-Gamble tea 23 Sept 1927 OC

Advertisement for Tea and a Modelling Show, Ottawa Citizen, 26 September 1927.

Christmas was a special time of the year at Murphy-Gamble’s. A fifty-foot Christmas tree was installed by the stairwell each year until later renovations made this impossible. A store choir sang carols every day during the week leading up to Christmas. Instead of Santa Claus coming to the store’s toy department, a series of parties was held for children in the Rideau Room where Santa gave a gift to every child. Easter was also special, bringing a visit from the Easter Bunny who handed out candy to the kiddies along with a copy of the Easter Bunny story.

Murphy’s was also known for going the extra mile for its customers. Reportedly, a bride-to-be asked Murphy’s to bake her wedding cake, just as the firm had done for her mother and grandmother before her. There was one hitch. The bride lived in the North West Territories. Undeterred, Murphy’s delivered the cake via a military plane and dog sled!

Murphy-Gamble Company stayed in the Murray family for close in fifty years. In 1972, now under the presidency of Russell Boyce, the son-in-law of Scott Murray, the venerable Ottawa landmark was sold to Robert Simpson Company, the same company that purchased the original family store in Montreal in 1904. All 300 of Murphy-Gamble’s staff were re-hired. The Murphy-Gamble sign came down to be replaced by Simpson’s.

Simpsons logo

Robert Simpson Company logo.

Simpson’s operated out of the 118-124 Sparks Street location for eleven years. At the end of 1982, Simpson’s, now owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, announced that the Sparks Street store would close owning to low profit margins. The Ottawa Citizen said that shoppers were like “mourners at an Irish wake.” On 29 January 1983, Simpson’s closed its doors for a last time with the loss of 85 permanent and 150 part-time jobs. The company published a final “Thank You” to its loyal Ottawa customers. The closure of the store after almost seventy-five years of business under various owners marked the end of a retail tradition. It left only the budget conscious Zellers remaining as the last department store on Sparks Street until it too closed in 2013.

Scotiabank ottawa, 2017 Nelia

Bank of Nova Scotia, Sparks Street Branch, the former Murphy-Gamble building, 2017, Photo credit: Nelia.

The former Murphy-Gamble/Simpson’s building was acquired by the Bank of Nova Scotia in January 1983. After extensive renovations, the former department store was converted into a bank branch.

Sources:

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950, Meredith, Colborne Powell, http://www.dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1483.

Daily Citizen, 1890. “$68,000 Bankrupt Stock of Dry Goods,” 17 May.

Heritage Ottawa, 1983. Newsletter, February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1972. “Fond farewell to Murphy’s,” 24 June.

—————-, 1982. “Simpsons’ loyal friends already mourning loss,” 31 December.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1910. “Last Day Was Memorable One,” 10 January.

—————————–, 1925, “Murphy-Gamble, Ltd. Store Acquired By Hamilton Firm,” 1 September.

—————————–, 1952. “Walter M. Murray Is New Head of Murphy-Gamble,” 18 November.

Evening Journal, 1890. “Argyle House,” 18 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1904. “Retail Dry Goods Deal,” 21 December.

——————-, 1910. “Magnificent New Addition To Ottawa’s Commercial Buildings,” 26 February.

Urbsite, 2012. Murphy-Gamble, Sparks’ Department Stores III, 14 May.

 

The Plains of Abraham

15 January 1908

The Plains of Abraham are one of the most important historical sites in Canada. They mark the spot where two empires clashed, setting the stage for the founding of what would become modern-day Canada. Outside the walls of Quebec, British forces under the command of James Wolfe defeated French forces led by the Marquis de Montcalm in September 1759, and occupied the city. Both commanding generals died in the battle. The British victory was the beginning of the end for the French Regime in North America.

It was also on the Plains of Abraham that the forces of the Chévalier de Lévis defeated the British led by James Murray seven months later in a virtual rerun of the previous battle. But there was one major difference. This time, the victorious French army was unable to capture the city. Shortly afterwards, Lévis retreated to Montreal when British ships arrived to resupply Murray.

France ceded its Canadian territories to the British in 1763 in the Treaty of Paris. In exchange, France retained valuable fishing rights off of Newfoundland and the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as a base for French fishermen, while the British gave back the important sugar-producing islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Many thought that France got the better end of the deal. Voltaire famously dismissed New France as quelques arpents de neige [a few acres of snow].

In late 1775 and early 1776, the Plains of Abraham were again the site of military action. Revolutionary U.S. armies led in part by General Benedict Arnold (yes, the same Benedict Arnold who later switched allegiance back to the British and became forevermore a byword for treachery) unsuccessfully laid siege to British forces at Quebec. When the local French population refused to rise up, the arrival of British ships forced the Americans to retreat, thus ensuring Canada remained British.

Despite the importance of the battlefield sites on the Plains of Abraham to the development of Canada as a nation, little effort was made to conserve them for posterity until the early twentieth century.

Plains of Abraham 1907, Edmund Sargent LAC 3858782

The Plains of Abraham, Quebec, 1907. The provincial jail is centre right, the Quebec City Observatory is on the left. Edmund Sargent, Library and Archives Canada, 3858782.

Their conservation story begins in early 1907 when a small Quebec delegation came to Ottawa to meet with Sir Wilfrid Laurier with regard to the upcoming 300th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Canada which was to occur the following year. The delegation sought funding from the Dominion government towards the celebration, the creation of a park on the Plains of Abraham, and the erection of monuments where English and French forces fought. While Laurier was sympathetic to the idea, he asked the delegation to go back home and flesh out their plans. That spring, under the direction of Mayor Jean-Georges Garneau of Quebec, the Quebec Landmark Commission released is report. It called for the preservation and maintenance of historic buildings and sites, the removal of private businesses (notably, the Ross Rifle Factory) from the Plains of Abraham, and the creation of a park from La Citadelle in the east to Wolfe’s Cove (L’Anse-au-Fulon) on the west. The Report suggested naming the entire park in honour of King Edward VII. The Report also called for the building of a national museum on the site.

These plans dovetailed nicely with those of Earl Grey who was an enthusiastic supporter of developing a national battlefields park in Quebec City. In December 1907, he spoke on the issue at the inauguration of the Canadian Women’s Club in Montreal. He said a national park consisting of the Plains of Abraham and the battlefield of Ste Foy would be a way of celebrating what amounted to the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Canada, the union of French and English in the Dominion, and the founding of “Greater Britain” (i.e., the British Empire). He noted that the idea had been received with “warm approval” by Premier Gouin of Quebec and by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the prime minister.

Plains of Abraham, Lord Grey LAC 157911

4th Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911, Library and Archives Canada 157911.

To these plans he added another element—the building of a colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace” with outstretched arms to stand on Cap Diamant. This statue would greet new immigrants to Canada, offering welcome and hope, in a similar fashion as did the Statue of Liberty in New York. Grey noted with disgust that the first thing immigrants then saw as they entered Quebec, or passed on their way to Montreal, was a jail, “associated with all that is darkest in the life of Canada.” Finally, the Governor General announced the formation of a fund that would seek donations from across the British Empire to help fund the renovation of the Plains. He closed by saying that King Edward had subscribed 100 guineas ($525—equivalent to about $12,000 today) to the battlefields fund.

A month later, on 15 January 1908, plans to turn the Plains of Abraham into a national park received a major boost in Ottawa. First, during the afternoon at their national conference, Canadian Clubs unanimously agreed that they would co-operate in helping to bring forward Earl Grey’s proposal to celebrate the tercentenary of Quebec and the preservation of the battlefields of Quebec at the Plains of Abraham and Ste Foy. Second, a mass public meeting was held at the Russell Theatre that evening in aid of the proposal. It was a packed house. All of Ottawa’s great and good attended. Speakers at the event included Earl Grey, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, the speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons, and the mayor of Ottawa.

At the Russell Theatre, the lead-off speaker was, of course, Lord Grey who repeated the message he made the previous month in Montreal at the Canadian Women’s Club. He congratulated the Canadian Clubs for “their spirited action” in support of his appeal to celebrate Champlain’s tercentenary by “rescuing the famous battlefields of Quebec from their present condition of neglect.” He singled out the Canadian Club of Edmonton in particular—the club had just pledged $500 to the project. Grey said that there was “no better way of doing honour to what may be regarded as the 300th birthday of Canada, than by taking the necessary measures to secure the nationalization of the battlefields of Quebec.” He added that “it was on the battlefields of Quebec that French and English parentage gave birth to the Canadian nation. Today the inhabitants of the Dominion… stand before the world not as English or French but as Canadians.”

Next up on the agenda was Sir Wilfrid Laurier who gave another stirring speech. “We should consecrate the ground around the old Citadel of Quebec, and make it a national property because it has been hallowed by the most heroic blood. We may certainly claim, and we of French origin, and of British origin, that nowhere was French dash and British resolution ever shown with greater éclat than at these places,” he said. Alluding to the 1775-6 American invasion, he added “And may I be permitted in this occasion to remember, British citizen that I am, a British subject as I am, that in my veins flows the blood of the race which saved the British flag at the time it was disgraced by those of Britain’s own kith and kin.” He noted that while monuments to victors are commonplace, the Quebec monument to Wolfe and Montcalm is probably unique in honouring both the victor and the vanquished. He was proud to recall that the monument was erected by the British government.

Robert Borden, the Conservative leader of the Opposition, echoed Laurier’s words. He also referred to the War of 1812 when “French Canadians saved Canada for the British at Chateauguay” when De Salaberry and 300 men repelled an American force ten times their size. He called the battle to “the Thermopylae of Canada.” (This was a reference to the famous battle in 480 BC when a small Greek force led by Leonidas of Sparta held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass.)

In addition to similar speeches by Speaker Dandurand of the Senate, and Deputy Speaker Marell of the House of Commons, the 7th Lord Aylmer also spoke in favour of Lord Grey’s proposal. He was the nephew of the 5th Lord Aylmer who was the Governor General of British North America and Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada during the 1830s. Aylmer’s inclusion in the evening activities was rather odd from a historical perspective. His noble forebear had not been known for promoting harmony between French and English. Rather, his policies exacerbated tensions between the two communities and contributed to the 1834 Rebellion. He was recalled in disgrace the following year. Whether Lord Alymer’s presence raised eyebrows is not recorded.

The evening wrapped up with a speech by Ottawa’s Mayor Scott. He moved “That this public meeting of citizens of Ottawa expresses its cordial endorsement of the proposal which has been launched by His Excellency Earl Grey for the fitting celebration of the tercentenary of the founding of Quebec and for the preservation of the historic plains of Abraham and of St. Foy, in that city, and pledged its hearty support to and co-operation in this most praiseworthy undertaking. Seconded by P.H. Taylor, ex president of the Canadian Club, the motion was unanimously approved.

With such distinguished support, the federal government quickly passed the National Battlefields Act in March 1908. The Act created the National Battlefields Commission with a mandate to acquire and conserve the Quebec battlefields and turn them into a national park, to preserve this legacy for future Canadians, and to develop the land so that the public can fully benefit from them.

A fund was also officially established for this purpose. Contributions came from across Canada and throughout the Empire. The Dominion government provided $300,000 with the provinces of Quebec and Ontario each giving $100,000. Other provinces provided smaller amounts. More than $50,000 was raised from Great Britain. In addition to the King, other illustrious contributors included the Prince of Wales, former Governors General and Princess Louise, who had been Canada’s vice-regal consort during the 1880s. Others also gave. The boys of Eton public school contributed $500. Here in Canada, collections were made across the country, importantly by the Canadian Clubs. Lord Grey gave a personal contribution of $1,000. Quebec City provided $50,000, with both Montreal and Ottawa each raising between $12,000 and $15,000 by the time of the tercentenary celebrations held in late July 1908.

Plains of Abraham, 1908, la messe solonelle 3362009

Tercentenary of Champlain’s arrival, Plains of Abraham, Quebec, La messe solennelle, July 1908, Library and Archives Canada 3362009.

The tercentenary celebrations were a triumph. While the history was sometimes shaky in its quest to find common ground between English and French, it was a fine show. Thousands of people dressed up in period costumes for the event held on the plains of Abraham where a re-enactment was staged of Champlain being greeted by indigenous Canadians on his arrival. The Royal Navy, the U.S. Navy and the French Navy all sent ships, this time in peace, to help celebrate the historic event. The new national battlefields park was officially dedicated by the Prince of Wales, the later King George V.

One thing not constructed was Lord Grey’s colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace.” Funding was likely part of the reason. Consequently, Canada’s answer to the Statue of Liberty was never built. It also took many years before the Plains of Abraham were restored to the state they are in today. The infamous Ross Rifle Factory remained there until 1931, even though the federal government expropriated the company in 1917. Jobs and where to put the factory were major issues. The provincial prison was finally closed in 1970. Restored, the building is now the Charles Baillairgé Pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

Sources:

Canada, Government of, Justice Law Website, 1908. An Act Respecting the National Battlefields of Quebec, 17 March.

National Battlefields Commission, 2016. Plains of Abraham, Inf Source 2016, http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/access-information-and-privacy/completed-access-information-requests/info-source-2016/.

Montreal Gazette, 1907. “Quebec Battlefields,” 14 December.

———————, 1908. “Quebec Battlefields,” 4 March.

———————, 1908. “From The Capital,” 10 April.

———————, 1908. “First Report of the Quebec Landmark Commission,” 29 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1907, “Wants A Colossal Statue On Heights Of Quebec,” 13 December.

——————, 1907. “An Inspiring Project,” 13 December.

——————, 1908. “Earl Grey’s Great Conception Endorsed By Citizens Of Capital, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Canadian Clubs Approve And Decide Upon Central Committee, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Brilliant Conception,” 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Quebec Scheme,” 10 March.

——————, 1908. “An Appeal For Battlefields,” 13 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1907. “Save The Plains of Abraham,” 24 January.

——————-, 1908. Subscriptions Received,” 15 January.

Vancouver Daily World, 1907. “Ross Rifle Factory Causes Much Trouble,” 6 April.

Windsor Star, 1908. “Plains Dedicated,” 25 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1908. “Battlefield Fund,” 7 August 1908.

Canadian Citizenship

3 January 1947

Canada’s development as a nation was based on evolution rather than revolution. There is no bright line that marked its transition from a British colony to an independent country. Perhaps the most important step along the path to nationhood was the 1931 Statute of Westminster that recognized Canada and the other Dominions as being equal to and in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom in both domestic and foreign affairs. The final break occurred in 1982 when Canada’s Constitution was finally patriated from Britain over the objections of the Quebec Government. (For those who are wondering about the Queen, Canada’s monarch is considered to be Canadian.)  A similar progression occurred with respect to Canadian citizenship, though the dates don’t line up neatly with underlying constitutional changes.

Citizenship, 1947 LAC from Can Excyclopedia

New Canadians, Ottawa Citizenship Ceremony, Supreme Court of Canada, 3 January 1947.
(l to r) Naif Hanna Azar from Palestine, Jerzy Wladyslaw Meier from Poland, Louis Edmon Brodbeck from Switzerland, Joachim Heinrich Hellmen from Germany, Jacko Hrushkowsky from Russia, and Anton Justinik from Yugoslavia. (Back row: l.-r.:) Zigurd Larsen from Norway, Sgt. Maurice Labrosse from Canada, Joseph Litvinchuk, Roumania, Mrs. Labrosse from Scotland, Nestor Rakowitza from Roumania and Yousuf Karsh from Armenia with Mrs. Helen Sawicka from Poland. Credit: Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-129262.

During the early 19th century, the word “Canadian” was for many a synonym for settlers of French descent. Other settlers were Irish, English or Scots, who just happened to be living in those territories that was known as Upper or Lower Canada. There were no barriers to immigration. But legally, all were British subjects, owing their loyalty to the British Crown with the right to live anywhere in the British Empire.

When the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, nothing changed, though under the British North America Act, the new country was given authority over the naturalization of aliens, i.e. non-British subjects, in Canada. There was legally no thing called Canadian citizenship. All Canadians remained “British subjects.”  Lord Monck, the Dominion’s first governor general, spoke about Canadians being a new “nationality.” However, what he meant is unclear. It’s possible that he was referring to a new more expansive Canadian nationality that would now include Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers. In 1891, during a hard-fought election over the issue of free trade with the United States, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Dominion of Canada’s first prime minister, said “A British subject I was born–a British subject I will die.” And he did.

However, a sense of being a Canadian began to coalesce during the late 19th century though dual loyalties remained strong, particularly among English-speaking Canadians. Most Canadians saw no contradiction between loyalty towards Canada and loyalty towards the Empire, particularly as both came under the same Crown. But a distinction was emerging between being a British subject and being Canadian (or for that matter an Australian or a New Zealander, etc.). The first term indicated a person’s status within the British Empire, and the second defined the person’s nationality.

Reference to the term “Canadian citizen” first appeared in Canadian legislation in the Immigration Act of 1910. It was apparently not designed to define who a Canadian was but rather to recognize those people who were exempt from immigration controls, in other words, British subjects either born or naturalized and domiciled in Canada. In 1921, the Canadian Nationals Act defined a specific group of British subjects who also had rights and obligations as Canadians. However, according to a Canadian government citizenship website, the references to “Canadian citizen” in these statutes did not create the legal status of Canadian citizen.

Ten years later, when the Statute of Westminster came into force, Canada became a distinct nation within the British Empire, responsible for its own domestic and international affairs. By the time of the May 1939 Royal Visit, constitutionally the Crown had been divided; King George VI came to Canada not as King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or as King of the British Empire, but as King of Canada. (This separation of Crowns was underscored by the fact that King George as King of Canada signed Canada’s declaration of war with Germany a week after he signed Britain’s declaration of war.) Notwithstanding this, Canadians remained British subjects.

Growing nationalism, especially through World War II, prompted the government to take a fresh look at Canadian citizenship. Apparently, when travelling abroad, permanent residents of Canada were not designated as Canadian citizens, but simply as British subjects living in Canada—something that irritated Canadian servicemen.  In 1946, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King passed the Canadian Citizenship Act, which came into force at the beginning of 1947. This Act defined all Canada-born or naturalized Canadians, as well as British subjects domiciled in Canada and brides of Canadian servicemen as Canadian citizens. However, Canadian citizens remained British subjects, holding all the rights and obligations associated with that status. A Canadian passport at that time stated that the holder was a Canadian citizen as well as a British subject.

On Friday, 3 January 1947, a glittering citizenship ceremony was held in the Supreme Court in Ottawa to mark the coming into force of the new Citizenship Act. At 8.30 pm guests, officials, and certificate recipients were met in the Great Hall of the new Supreme Court building on Wellington street with music played by the red-coated RCMP band. They assembled in the wooden panelled court room, where Canada’s coat of arms was emblazoned above the judges’ bench. Fifteen King’s scouts guided people to their chairs. At 9 pm, Chief Justice Thibaudeau Rinfret and five Supreme Court justices filed into the chamber in order of seniority as television cameras whirred and camera bulbs flashed. The Justices were dressed in their ceremonial garb of bright scarlet and white mink robes with black, shovel hats. Chief Justice Rinfret took the middle seat, a heavy, oak chair surmounted by a crown. Behind them filed government dignitaries, including Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Paul Martin, Sr., Minister of Health and Welfare, and Colin Gibson, Secretary of State. After the court usher called the Court to order, O Canada was sung in both English and French by a massed choir under the direction of Cyril Rickwood.

Paul Martin, who had taken the lead in writing the citizenship legislation in his earlier capacity of Secretary of State (there had been a cabinet shuffle three weeks earlier), addressed the assembly. He noted that there were two main purposes underlying the Canadian Citizenship Act. First, it was to define who a Canadian is and how to become one. Second, it was to establish a “community of status for all people which will bring them together as Canadians.” The Act also affirmed “the historical development of Canada with the British Commonwealth of Nations” and “attests to the nationhood of Canada.”

The Chief Justice then addressed the applicants who were presented in turn by Colin Gibson. First in line was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who received Canadian certificate No. 1. There were some poignant moments as one-by-one people came up to receive their citizenship certificates. Winnipeg’s Mrs Stanley Mynarski came forward proudly wearing the Victory Cross that her son, Pilot Officer “Andy” Mynarski, had posthumously received for valour during the war for saving the life of a comrade. After she repeated the oath of allegiance to the King in her strongly accented voice, Prime Minister King bowed to her in acknowledgement of the loss of her son who gave his life for his adopted country. Other recipients of their citizenship papers included the Aberdeen-born bride of Sergeant Maurice Labrosse of the R.C.A.F., 87-year old Wasyl Elyniak of Chapman, Albert, the first of 400,000 Ukrainians who came to Canada, and Armenian-born Yousuf Karsh, the Ottawa-based, world-renowned photographer. A group of eleven Ottawa-area new Canadians followed. First in line was Naif Hanna Azar of 443 Bank Street. A railway labourer, Azar came to Canada from Palestine in 1928. When he walked over to receive his certificate, Prime Minister King stood and shook hands with him.

The Prime Minister then addressed the assembly. He said “Canada was founded on the faith that two of the proudest races in the world, despite barriers of tongue and creed, could work together n mutual tolerance and mutual respect to develop a common nationality. Into our equal partnership of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, we have admitted thousands who were born of other racial stocks, and who speak other tongues. They, one and all, have sought a homeland where nationhood means not domination and slavery, but equality and freedom.”

The evening’s ceremony was also the occasion for the public presentation for the first time of an anthem called This Canada of Ours, written by Percy Philip, the press gallery representative in Ottawa of the New York Times, and set to music by Robert Donnell, the Dominion Carillonneur. The piece, which some had hoped would become Canada’s national anthem, was sung by the massed choir.

The citizenship ceremony closed with a singing of God Save the King. The Justices, Ministers and participants then filed from the chamber to the strains of the classic hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

While a stirring ceremony, there were glaring omissions that evening. None of the participants who received citizenship certificates were indigenous Canadians or persons of colour. It wasn’t until 1956 that the Canadian Citizenship Act was amended to retroactively confer Canadian citizenship on “Indians defined in the Indian Act and the race of aborigines commonly referred to as Eskimos” who were born before 1st day of January 1947. Canada’s immigration policy at that time was also racist as it essentially precluded non-white immigrants “owing to their peculiar customs, habits, modes of life, or methods of holding property and because of their probable inability to become readily assimilated.” Just two days before the citizenship ceremony took place in Ottawa, a letter to the Editor of the Vancouver Sun appeared stating that Chinese should not become Canadian citizens. The letter states: “No matter how laudable their general conduct may be as law observers, their customs, their Oriental mental outlook and non-assimilativeness prevent a sociable unity between themselves and true Canadians.” The Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted in 1923, was repealed later in 1947, but a race-based immigration system remained in place until well into the 1960s.

In 1977, the Citizenship Act was radically changed. An amendment removed the special status previous enjoyed by British subjects when they applied for Canadian citizenship. From then on, immigrants to Canada were treated the same regardless of whether they were British subjects or nationals of countries outside of the Commonwealth. Canadians were also no longer defined as British subjects. As well, the sexism of the 1947 Act was addressed. Children born abroad of a Canadian parent were now eligible to be Canadian citizens by right. Previously, they had to have a Canadian father. More changes were made in 2009 and again in 2015 to address quirks of earlier legislation that denied Canadian citizenship to certain groups of people.

Meanwhile, the term British subject was also evolving. In 1948, the term was defined as any citizen of the United Kingdom, colonies, or Commonwealth country. These people had the right to settle in Britain. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, this right was increasingly restricted to only those who parents or grandparents were born in the United Kingdom. After 1983, very few people qualified as British subjects and for the most part the term had became obsolete. Even British citizens were no longer referred to as British subjects. Today, British subject status is largely confined to a handful of individuals born in Ireland and India prior to 1949 and to children of such people who would become stateless without British subject status. British subjects are not British citizens and do not automatically have the right to live in the United Kingdom (though most do). But they are eligible for a British passport and can ask for British consular assistance when travelling.

Canadians are still recognized as Commonwealth citizens in other Commonwealth countries and have certain residual rights depending on the country. For example, if resident in the United Kingdom, a Canadian citizen can join the British armed forces or the police, and can run for public office.

Until quite recently, British subjects, defined as citizens of the Commonwealth, continued to have special status in certain Canadian provinces. For example, British subjects could vote in New Brunswick elections until 1995 while in Nova Scotia, they were eligible to vote in provincial elections until 2006.

 

Sources:

Canada, Government of. 2019. History of citizenship legislation, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/canadian-citizenship/overview/history-legislation.html.

Canadian Council for Refugees, 2000. “A hundred years of immigration to Canada 1900-1999,” https://ccrweb.ca/en/hundred-years-immigration-canada-1900-1999.

Gazette (The), 1947. “Canadian Citizenship Begins,” 2 January.

—————-, 1947. “Canadians Have Status As Citizens From Now,” 2 January.

—————-, 1977. “We’re No Longer British Citizens,” 15 February.

Grey, Julius & Gill, John. 2019. “Canadian Citizenship,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/citizenship.

Maas, William, 2015. Access to Electoral Rights Canada, EUDO Citizenship Observatory, European University Institute, Florence, https://www.yorku.ca/maas/Maas2015b.pdf.

McCreedy, Christopher, 2005. The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, University of Toronto Press.

Ottawa Citizen, 1947. “Native-Born Citizens Officially Canadians,” 2 January.

——————, 1947. “Participants Briefed In Citizenship Ceremony, 4 Janaury.

——————, 1947. “Proud, Historic Ceremony As New Citizens Take Oath,” 4 January.

Paul, Daniel, 2019. Canadian Citizen Act Proclaimed: 1947, http://www.danielnpaul.com/CanadianCitizenshipAct-1947.html.

UK Government, 2019. Types of British Nationality, https://www.gov.uk/types-of-british-nationality/british-subject.

Vancouver Sun, 1947, “Votes For Chinese,” 2 January.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1947. “Mr. King Seeks Citizen Papers,” 2 January.

Women’s Memorial Building

21 December 1925

Intimations received mid September 1925 that the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King had informally agreed to provide a plot of land for the proposed Women’s Memorial Building must have been greeted with considerable satisfaction by Mrs. Asa Gordon. (Her first name was Amelia, but she was always known as Mrs. Asa Gordon.) Then in her late 70s, Mrs. Gordon had spent a lifetime in service, toiling for the great causes of the day, especially temperance and women’s suffrage. At one time, she was the Dominion President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union as well as the Dominion President of the King’s Own Daughters, an international Christian service group. She had also been a founding member of the Ottawa Women’s Club organized in 1914. Another cause dear to her heart was the erection of a memorial that would recognize the contribution of women to Canadian society, and their service through the Great War. She and the Ottawa Women’s Club had approached the government the previous January and had lobbied hard for funding. An Order-in-Council dated 21 December 1925 made official the government’s offer of land for the memorial.

Women's Memorian OJ30-1-26

Proposed architectural drawing for the Women’s Memorial Building,  The Ottawa Journal, 30 January 1926.

The site for the proposed Memorial Building was immediately to the south of the Dominion Archives building between Sussex Street and Lady Grey Drive, close to Nepean Point Park. It would have been difficult to find a more prestigious location. The government also drafted architectural plans for the proposed four-storey edifice that would conform with the nearby neo-gothic Parliament buildings and the baronial-style Château Laurier Hotel. There was a catch, however. Canadian women would have to raise $100,000 of the estimated $250,000 price tag for the Memorial Building before construction would commence. To this end, Mrs. Gordon, despite her advanced age, threw herself whole heartedly. The Ottawa Women’s Club immediately pledged to raise $5,000. Within two months almost half of that amount had been raised.

The reasons behind Mackenzie King’s support for the Women’s Memorial Building are unclear. It has been suggested that he wanted to curry favour with a large new electorate; women had only received the federal vote in 1918. However, it’s possible that the grant of land was a sincere gesture, particularly given King’s attachment to his mother. Regardless, politicians of all strips quickly got on board.

In addition to recognizing Canadian womanhood in all their activities, including as pioneers, war nurses and mothers, the building was to be the headquarters of national Canadian women’s organizations. The building would be non-sectarian and open to all women regardless of race. It would be a place for women’s groups to hold their national conventions and banquets. To accommodate everybody, Richard C. Wright, the chief architect of the Public Works Department, designed a four-story neo-Gothic building to be built of Nepean sandstone. As well as providing space for the national headquarters of the major Canadian women’s organizations, the edifice would contain a 2,000-seat auditorium, a banqueting hall, a museum/Hall of Fame, and archives. In addition to offices and a memorial for the historical contributions made by women to Canadian society, the building would also be used “for the cultivation of the finer arts and sciences,” and to provide an “inspiration for the future.”

An interim committee of Ottawa women, with Mrs. Asa Gordon as chair, was appointed to oversee fundraising activities until a national board was elected. To this end, representatives from more than two dozen national women’s organizations gathered first at the Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street and later at the Château Laurier Hotel to elect a permanent governing committee and to endorse the Memorial Building proposal. Among the women’s organizations that gave their support were: The King’s Daughters, The Catholic Women’s League, The Hadassah of Canada, The Women’s Art Association, La Fédération des Femmes Canadiennes Françaises, and La Fédération Nationale St. Jean Baptiste. The representatives at this inaugural meeting naturally chose Mrs. Gordon as their President. The organization was later incorporated as the Women’s Memorial Building Federation.

At the municipal level, Ottawa Mayor Balharrie threw his support behind the Women’s Memorial Building proposal. In March 1926, he appeared at a benefit concert of religious music held at the Keith’s Theatre organized by the Ottawa Women’s Club. At the benefit, Mayor Balharrie noted that monuments to deeds of men were commonplace, but that there were few to women. He reviewed the careers of famous women, including Florence Nightingale who organized nursing care for English soldiers during the Crimean War and in so doing turned nursing into a respectable profession, and Edith Cavell, an English nurse who was executed by the Germans during the Great War for helping Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium. He added that Canada owed much to women, “to none more that its mothers, who worked quietly and prayerfully at home during the dark days of the war.” He hoped that the provincial government would contribute much of the necessary $100,000 that the women needed to raise before the federal government would commence construction. Later, the City pledged $5,000 to the building fund. The concert only raised $100 for the building but it was optimistically viewed as the “nucleus” of the $100,000 fund.

Over the following years, women’s groups and churches, especially in the Ottawa area, held teas, benefits and socials to raise funds for the Memorial building. Any society or individual that donated $25 or more could enter the name of one person on the Memorial’s “golden scroll.” The name of every donor who gave a $1 or more would be entered in the “Book of Remembrance.” The name of any child, aged 16 or younger, who gave $1, with the consent of her parents, would be entered into the “Child’s Book of Remembrance.

Mrs. Asa Gordon campaigned tirelessly for the building. She argued that the memorial would be “a factor in the unifying of all classes, creeds and nationalities into the highest Canadian citizenship.” She requested grants from both Premier Taschereau of Quebec and Premier Ferguson of Ontario. When the provincial leaders came to Ottawa for meetings, Mayor Balharrie asked Premier Ferguson for a $25,000 provincial grant for the building. Ferguson said that the issue had come up at conference, but that some premiers were “not fully seized with the proposal.” He thought that a publicity campaign was needed to educate the people. Once citizens showed that they were “in sympathy” with the idea, he was sure that provincial legislatures would provide the necessary backing. Premier Taschereau said he would follow the lead of Ontario’s premier.

Funds trickled in. To give publicity to the Memorial, Mayor Baharrie gave the unveiling of a tablet that was to be installed on the wall of the Memorial Building a prominent place in Ottawa’s centenary celebrations held in mid August 1926. The brass tablet was engraved with Canada’s coat of arms in its centre with sprays of maple leaves and the word “Memorial” over it. On the left-hand side were the words “Dedicated to the Women of Canada,” with the same words in French on the right. The names of every person who donated $1,000 or more would be immortalized on the wall of the Memorial Building alongside the brass tablet.

Lady Byng, the wife of the Governor General, was asked to unveil the tablet at a ceremony to be held on the proposed site of the building on Lady Grey Drive. Among the invited speakers were Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Sir Henry Drayton, who would represent the opposition Conservative Party, and the Bishop of Ottawa. Souvenir booklets were prepared as a way of raising funds.

In the event, Lady Byng declined the invitation as her husband’s term of office ended before the Ottawa’s centenary festivities began and they had left the country. There was also a change in government, with the minority Liberal government replaced by Arthur Meighen’s Conservative Party in the famous “King-Byng Affair.” (Lord Byng had refused King’s request for new elections following the Liberals’ defeat in the House of Commons, but instead asked Meighen to try to form a new government. The Conservatives held 116 seats to the Liberals’ 101, with the remaining 28 seats shared among Progressives, Labour and Independent members. Meighan tried, but subsequently failed to win a vote of confidence in his government. New elections were finally called with King’s Liberals winning a majority in September 1926 just a month after Ottawa’s centenary celebrations.)

With political sands shifting, the organizing committee, headed by the indomitable Mrs. Asa Gordon, quickly tacked, and asked Mrs. Meighen to unveil the brass tablet. In the event, Sir Henry Drayton, the acting Prime Minister in the absence of Arthur Meighen, represented the federal government, and Lady Drayton did the actual unveiling. Mackenzie King, who was out of Ottawa, sent a congratulatory telegram, as did Lady Byng. At the ceremony, Sir Henry said that there were “some things on which we are all agreed upon, and this is one of them.” He also claimed that the Conservatives were at least partially responsible for the memorial building, saying that “this is one of the things which we let Mr. Mackenzie King do; in fact, we assisted him to do it.” However, in his speech, he entirely missed the point of the building. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of women as men’s equals, he applauded their supporting role. “The man who gets the best start in life is he who thinks he has the best mother in the world. Another essential to success is when a man believes he has the best wife.”

Over the next few years, fund-raising went on across the country, especially in the Ottawa region. It was hard going. A national membership campaign was launched in May 1928. However, the response was tepid. In Ottawa, where the objective was to raise $1 from every woman and girl, only 1,000 people contributed.

Some women were dead set against the proposed memorial. Lady Henriette Pope, a prominent Ottawa citizen, wrote a letter in 1926 to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen voicing her opposition to the use of public funds to what she called a “vainglorious scheme.” She thought that instead of allocating money to fund a monument to women, Ottawa City Council should use its $5,000 to help the poor buy fuel. When there was talk that the City might increase its contribution in 1930, she wrote a second letter saying that the inability of the committee of ladies to succeed after four years of ceaseless efforts was evidence that “the women of Canada will have none of it: their innate good senses and good taste repudiate such glorification”. City Council desisted.

Women's Memorial Foundation winding up 20-5-1936

Winding up notice of the Women’s Memorial Building Federation, Ottawa Citizen, 20 May 1936.

By early 1931, Mrs. Asa Gordon and her Women’s Memorial Building Foundation had raised only $46,407 in cash and pledges, far short of the $100,000 goal. The idea of erecting a building on Lady Grey Drive was slipping away. Promotion of the scheme shifted to emphasize the benefits to Ottawa, especially the attraction of a new large auditorium which could be used as a theatre that Ottawa lacked owing to the demolition of the Russell Theatre. Mrs. Gordon said that the Memorial building would be like London’s Albert Hall, and would be part of the beautification of Ottawa.

It was not enough. With the country gripped by the Great Depression, there was no money for a Women’s Memorial Building. In June 1932, the coup de grace came with the death of Mrs. Gordon, aged 85, in Columbus, Ohio, where she had been attending a meeting of the Sons and Daughters of the King. With the death of its most avid supporter, the building project also died. In December 1934, the City of Ottawa transferred the $5,000 it had promised to the Building Fund in 1926 out of an escrow account into the City’s general account as it seemed unlikely that the building would ever be constructed.

In 1936, at a special general meeting of the Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation at the King’s Daughters’ Guild on Laurier Street in Ottawa, acting President Jane R. Stewart signed the document winding up the Federation. The Federation returned the bulk of $26,293 it held in cash and investments to contributors, giving them back their subscriptions, plus 5% interest. 98 per cent of contributors of $2 or more were tracked down. The largest was the Ottawa Women’s Club which received $4,500. The estate of Mrs. Asa Gordon received $3,000. After paying liquidation and legal fees, the remaining $3,000 was turned over to the Crown in 1938.

Today, the site of the proposed Women’s Memorial Building is occupied by the National Gallery of Canada.

Sources:

Montreal Gazette, 1926. “Mrs. Meighen To Unveil Tablet,” 14 August.

———————, 1935. “Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation,” 26 November

Ottawa Citizen, 1925. “Grateful To Govt. For Building Site,” 25 September.

——————, 1926. “Drive Launched To Get $100,000 Memorial Fund,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “Two Deputations To Mr. Ferguson,” 10 June.

——————, 1926. “unveiling Brass Insert, August 19th,” 3 August.

——————-, 1926. “Plan Unveiling Founders’ Tablet,” 13 August.

——————-, 1926. “Memorial To Women Of Canada Will Be Erected In Capital,” 16 August.

——————-, 1926. “Commemorate Beginning Of Rideau Canal Construction And Women’s Memorial Building,” 19 August.

——————-, 1928. “Campaign In Aid Women’s Memorial Building Fund Is Starting Today,” 15 May.

——————-, 1930, “Letter to the Editor from A. E. Gordon,” 24 February.

——————-, 1930, “Lady Pope Protests,” 14 July.

——————-, 1934. “No title,” 12 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1925. “Govt. Accedes to Desire For Women’s Hall,” 12 September.

——————-, 1926. “Representatives of 440,500 Women Endorse Memorial Building Plan,” 30 January.

——————-, 1926. “Canadian Women’s Memorial To Be Erected On Lady Grey Drive, Near Nepean Point,” 30 January.

——————, 1926. “Mayor Balharrie Approved Plan To Erect A Woman’s Memorial,” 22 March.

——————, 1926. “Says Women’s Memorial Building Factor In Unifying All Classes,” 29 April.

——————, 1926. “City To Give $5,000 To Aid New Memorial,” 27 August.

——————, 1926. “Lady Pope’s Protest,” 10 September.

——————, 1937. “Returns $26,293 To Contributors,” 30 January.

——————, 1937 “Ottawa Women’s Club Will Receive $4,500 In Memorial Funds,” 1 February.

——————, 1938. “Return Contrbutions To Memorial Federation

Province (The), 1926. “Women’s Memorial At Ottawa Will Cost $250,000,” 4 April.

Urbsite, 2014. Ottawa’s 1926 Centenary Projects & The King-Byng Affair, 2 February, http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2014/02/ottawas-1926-centenary-projects-king.html?q=Women%27s+Memorial+Building.

 

The Re-Birth of the Ottawa Senators

20 December 1991

Major league sports franchises have not always thrived in Ottawa, a relatively small market sandwiched between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two sporting giants. The city’s football team failed twice in recent decades, the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996 and the Ottawa Renegades in 2002. The Red Blacks now take the field to uphold the Capital’s football honour in the Canadian Football League. Hockey too has had its challenges. After winning multiple Stanley Cups during the 1920s, the storied Ottawa Senators, collapsed in 1934. Barely profitable during good times, the team simply could not survive the ravages of the Great Depression. Decades later, a WHA franchise, the Ottawa Nationals, appeared and disappeared in a matter of months during the early 1970s.

Imagine the excitement, and the scepticism, when news broke in June 1989 that an Ottawa development company was not only attempting to restore NHL hockey to the nation’s capital after a break of close to 60 years, but it also planned to revive the old Ottawa Senators club, an honoured name that still resonated in Canadian hockey lore.

Ottawa senators original logo

Initial pre-launch Ottawa Senators logo used to fire up fan interest in 1989-90. This emblem was never official. Reportedly, the logo was rejected by the NHL for being too local. Team officials said that it was “the official logo of the campaign to bring back the Senators.” Fans who had bought Senators’ merchandise with this logo were not pleased when it was replaced by a Roman centurion. Sensnation.

That company was Terrace Investments Ltd, under the direction of its young president and chief executive officer, Bruce Firestone. Terrace Investments was no fly-by-night operation. The family-owned firm, established in 1956 by Bruce Firestone’s father, Jack Firestone, was well known, the developer of a number of commercial properties in the Ottawa region. However, bringing an NHL franchise to the city was a huge undertaking for the company, one that would require outside investors to bring it off as well as a lot of hard work and much good fortune. The price of admission was steep, a cool $US50 million. And that was before paying for players, building an arena, and covering all the ancillary costs associated with starting a hockey club from scratch, including putting together a convincing bid to the NHL’s board of governors.

A bid for an NHL franchise was not a wacky idea, however. The NHL was in the mood to expand after a decade of stability; it had previously added four new teams in 1979—Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets—former members of the World Hockey Association. Reportedly as many as thirty cities had expressed an interest in obtaining a hockey franchise. In addition to Terrace Investments’ bid for an Ottawa team, investors were interested in bringing major league teams to Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatoon and Kitchener-Waterloo. A number of US cities were also keen, including Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Seattle. As well, there was talk of European cities obtaining franchises in what would become a global hockey league. Cities like, Moscow, Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg), Stockholm and Helsinki were mentioned as likely contenders. But did little Ottawa stand a chance? Many doubted it. The senior Firestone was sceptical of the idea. Ottawa Mayor Jim Durrell, while wishing Bruce Firestone well, thought his bid for an NHL franchise had little chance of success. Alan Eagleson, the former director of the NHL’s Players’ Association, said that Ottawa was a “long shot.”

Ottawa senators second logo

The first official emblem of the re-born Ottawa Senators (1991-1997). People criticized it for being “generic, derivative and unoriginal.” Some likened it to the Amex logo or the logo of the University of Southern California Trojans football team. Logopedia.

Firestone’s bold game plan was to build a 20,000-seat arena on agricultural land that Terrace Investments had purchased in West Carleton and Kanata. Around the arena would be constructed a mini-city of 9,000 residents to be called Terrace West. An adjacent, upscale hotel was also planned for the site. The cost of the franchise would be covered, at least in part, by Terrace reselling land for development, assuming the site was rezoned for commercial and residential use. This was a big assumption.

Firestone officially kicked off his bid for an NHL franchise at a news conference in early September 1989 with Frank “Finny” Finnegan at his side. Finnegan had been a member of the Ottawa Senators’ team that had won the club’s last Stanley Cup in 1927. Firestone also announced that plans for the new arena, to be called the “Palladium,” would be forthcoming shortly. Simultaneously, he launched a campaign for reservations for season tickets.

The words had hardly left his mouth when Firestone’s bid for a franchise hit the first of the many stumbling blocks that were to come. The Ottawa Senators of the Central Junior A Hockey League (CJHL) had launched a law suit over use of the name “Ottawa Senators.”

For the next fifteen months, Firestone worked hard to put together a package that would convince John Zeigler, the president of the NHL, and the NHL’s Board of Governors that his Ottawa Senators bid was genuine, and that he had the financial backing to bring it off.  Things initially moved smoothly according to Firestone’s game plan. In January 1990, Terrance Investments came to an agreement with the CJHL Senators over the name as well as members of the Thomas P. Gorman family who also had a claim on the name. In March, Terrace put up an initial non-refundable US$5 payment, a down payment on the $50 million franchise fee. Three months later, Regional Council and the Kanata City Council agreed to rezone the agricultural land for the construction of the Palladium. In October, Milwaukee, a front-running city in the bidding for an NHL franchise, pulled out, improving Ottawa’ chances. Subsequently, Ottawa Mayor Durrell urged supporters of the Ottawa Senators to swamp Premier Bob Rae with letters demanding provincial support for Firestone’s bid. The Premier complied sending a letter of support to the NHL governors on behalf of Ottawa, but also for Hamilton whose bid was backed by Tim Horton’s Donuts. Kanata residents were urged to support Operation Blackout in which they were to turn off their electricity on one day in November in support of the team. An estimated 134,000 people took part.

In early December 1989, the NHL’s Board of Governors met in conclave at the tony Breakers resort in Palm Springs, Florida to consider competing bids for NHL franchises. Firestone provided them with an impressive black, leather bound bid book with gold trim. Outside in the street in front of the hotel, the Ottawa Fire Brigade band and enthusiastic, placard-waving Senators supporters did their best to sway governors’ opinions.

Two years of lobbying and US$3.5 million in bid preparation costs paid off. Just before noon on 6 December 1989, President Zeigler announced that Ottawa, along with Tampa Bay, had been awarded conditional franchises.

From that point, the really hard slogging began. It was not obvious that Firestone and Terrace Investments would be able to meet all of the NHL’s conditions. Most importantly, there was the matter of finding US$45 million of the franchise fee to be paid in two tranches, the first by June 1991 and the second by December 1991. Second, the NHL insisted that by December 1991, Terrace had to have a binding financial agreement for the construction of the Palladium.

Both conditions were problematic. Terrace did not have the cash to make the payments; it needed outside investors. But Canada was experiencing a deep recession in 1991, and money was not easy to find. As well, much of Terrace’s financial plan hinged on the rezoning of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of Kanata for the construction of the arena and surrounding hotel, retail and residential development. But a Carp farmer, later joined by others, had protested the rezoning to the Ontario Municipal Board, setting in motion a hearing into the rezoning decisions made by Kanata and the regional government.

One condition that was easily met was the number of season tickets sold. In a ten-day selling “blitz” late December 1990, 9,355 season tickets were reserved for the Senators’ first season in the Ottawa Civic Centre, their temporary home before the Palladium was built. This was essentially all the seats in the arena. Following a renovation in 1991, capacity was increased to 9,793 seats by reducing the width of seats to a standard 16 inches.

Through 1991, Firestone worked on both the financing and zoning issues. To help him, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Durrell, now a convert to the Senators’ cause, became President of the club in late 1990. Shortly afterwards, he resigned from the mayor’s chair after there were complaints of his “moonlighting.”

Terrace Investments began selling limited partnerships in the new franchise, which were divided into Class A, B, and C units. Buyers did come in, but it was slow going. And it looked touch and go whether the June US$22.6 million payment could be met. In the event, Terrace placed the funds in escrow on the due date (which had been extended a week for both Ottawa and Tampa Bay). Reportedly, Terrace borrowed the necessary funds. Funding prospects improved with news that Paul Anka, the crooner from the 1950s and 1960s who had roots in Ottawa, had stepped forward and bought a significant interest in the team and the Palladium project. A television deal with Baton Broadcasting for CTV affiliates CJOH in Ottawa and CHRO in Pembroke also brought in much needed cash.

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing, held over an eleven-week period through the summer of 1991, was a close call. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food as well as twelve individuals opposed the rezoning of prime agricultural land for other purposes. If there was no rezoning, the Firestone’s NHL’s franchise bid would fail. The opposition of the Minister of Agriculture incensed Firestone. Firestone thought that the NDP government’s hostility to the rezoning reflected its preference for Hamilton to receive an NHL franchise as Hamilton was an NDP stronghold.

The decision of the three-person Board hinged on six points. These comprised: the appropriateness of using agricultural land for commercial purposes, specifically a hockey area; whether Terrace Investments had made an adequate search for alternate sites; the size of the economic benefits to the project; the need for commercial development around the proposed arena, i.e. the proposed hotel and the homes and retail spaces; traffic congestion in the area; and the integrity of the municipal planning process.

While critical of Firestone’s approach to the rezoning issue, the Board agreed that 220 acres of land could be rezoned to permit the building of the Palladium arena. However, it required Terrace Investments to pay for all the required infrastructure, including the interchange linking road access to the arena to the Queensway. Moreover, the Board denied permission to rezone additional agricultural land for a hotel and the Terrace West “mini-city.”

It was enough. Construction on an NHL-size arena to house the re-born Ottawa Senators could begin. A key condition of the franchise had been met. Now that this major hurdle had been crossed, investor money was easier to raise. Terrace Investments paid the second US$22.5 million installment into the escrow account in mid-December 1991. On 20 December 1991, following the completion of the necessary paperwork, an excited Bruce Firestone held up a framed NHL franchise certificate. The Ottawa Senators had been reborn. Firestone said “The Senators will never leave town again.”

The re-born Sens were back in action at the start of the 1992-93 season. Bruce Firestone, however, didn’t stay around beyond that first year. In August 1993, he sold his and his family’s interest in Terrace Investments to his partner, Rod Bryden. The financial and emotional toll of bringing an NHL franchise to Ottawa had been too great.

Sources:

NHL, 2016. From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion, https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-expansion-history/c-281005106

Ottawa Citizen, “20,000 seat arena, hotel part of NHL franchise bid,” 23 June.

——————, 1989. “Inside Bruce Firestone,” 5 December.

——————, 1990. “The Rocky Road To An NHL Franchise,” 7 December.

——————, 1991. “SRO for Senators’ seats, 2 January.

——————, 1991. “The Opposition Mounts,” 4 January.

——————, 1991. “It’s pay day: NHL to receive $5m down payment,” 14 January.

——————, 1991. “Hockey controversy hurting city hall, says O’Neil,” 15 January.

——————, 1991. “The Last Act,” 7 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrace looking for investors,” 28 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrae’s brilliant selling job,” 2 March.

——————, 1991. “Firestone’s vision remains true despite the many questions,” 7 March.

——————, 1991. “Citizen’s (sic) group shows support for Senators,” 19 March.

——————, 1991. “Anka wants quick return on Senators,” 23 March.

——————, 1991. CJOH, CHRO win TV deal with Senators,” 27 April.

——————, 1991. “Anka to be Senators’ landlord,” 14 May.

——————, 1991. “The logo they love to hate,” 18 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena site crucial, hearing told,” 22 May.

——————, 1991. “Bring back the Peace Tower,” 23 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena would defy city plan,” 28 May.

——————, 1991. “Developer gains Kanata approval for town centre shopping mall,” 30 May.

—————–, 1991. “Senators in a ‘war’ to survive,” 15 June.

—————–, 1991. “All is rosy for Senators on pay day,” 16 June.

—————–, 1991. “NDP’s obstinate opposition,” 24 June.

—————–, 1991. “Crunch time for the Senators,” 20 July.

—————–, 1991. Race against time at Civic Centre,” 1 August.

—————–, 1991. “Finding himself: Anka’s deal is oh so sweet,” 23 August.

—————–, 1991. “Major victory for the team,” 27 August.

—————–, 1991. “Now for the cash…” 29 August.

—————–, 1991. “Senators have sold $37m in shares.

—————–, 1991. “NHL says Senators financing in place,” 17 December.

—————-, 1991. “Its Official,” 21 December.

Red Deer Advocate, 1989. “Pro hockey on way to Saskatoon: report,” 24 November.

Star-Phoenix, 1989. “NHL expansion plan outlined by Shenkarow,” 11 November.