The Ottawa Nationals

11 October 1972

Back before the Ottawa Senators were reborn in the early 1990s, Ottawa was briefly home to another major league professional hockey team—the Ottawa Nationals.  And when I say briefly, I mean briefly. The team was in existence in the nation’s capital for less than one season before the franchise moved. But for a few short moments, Ottawa was at the centre of a hockey revolution that witnessed the birth of the World Hockey Association (WHA), the upstart professional hockey league that for a time challenged the National Hockey League’s (NHL) domination of major-league professional hockey in North America.

In the 1972-73 season, the WHA launched a new 12-team league located mostly in smaller cities in the United States and Canada. While the NHL had doubled in size from six teams to twelve in 1967, and had added two more teams in 1970, WHA backers thought there was still unmet demand for high-calibre professional hockey. Not surprisingly, the new league faced many obstacles before the first puck was dropped. The absence of appropriate rink facilities was a major handicap that doomed the chances of many cities to acquire a franchise.  The wonderfully named Miami Screaming Eagles plunged to earth when plans for a new arena fell through. The franchise folded, later becoming the Philadelphia Blazers. The Calgary Broncos also vanished before playing a game, only to be resurrected as the Cleveland Crusaders.

Ottawa wasn’t a first-choice city for a WHA franchise. Doug Michel, who had purchased the “Ontario franchise” for a WHA team, had wanted to locate in Hamilton. However, the story goes that Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps couldn’t come to terms with Michel over the construction of a new arena. Reportedly, Copps wanted the team to sign a 10-year contract for $500,000 per year before he would build a $5 million arena. Michel countered with $200,000 per year, but it was not enough.

Instead of Hamilton, Michel brought his franchise to Ottawa, and in mid-February 1972 the Ontario franchise became known as the Ottawa Nationals. The following month, the team came to terms with the Central Canada Exhibition Association (CCEA) to play at the Civic Centre, the home of the Ottawa 67s, the city’s Major Junior A team. It was agreed that the Nationals would guarantee the Central Canada Exhibition Association $100,000 or 15 per cent of the gate, whichever was greater, for each year of a 3-year contract. The amount of the performance bond would decline through the season as money was paid to the CCEA. The CCEA would also receive 15 per cent of television money for games broadcast from the Civic Centre. The Nats wanted a 3-year contract even though potentially the CCEA couldn’t honour it as its lease for the city-owned Civic Centre expired in April 1973.

Despite being playerless and coachless, the Nationals launched a season ticket campaign with prices ranging from $3.50 per seat, or $136.50 for the 39-home game season, for C level seats to $6.50 per seat, or $253.50, for ice-level, AA seats. The team hoped to sell roughly a third of the season tickets to corporations. By the end of March 1972, they had sold 275 seats. They didn’t sell many more.

Logo of the Ottawa Nationals, 1972-73.

The logo of the Ottawa Nationals was described as a combination of both traditional and contemporary features, a product of eight artists who came up with 400 different designs. The winning logo was a red “O” and “N” with a superimposed white maple leaf, with a blue border in the shape of a hockey arena, slightly slanted in an “on the go” fashion.

Having got a city, an arena, and a logo, the next step was to find players and a coach by the start of the 1972-73 season. The Nats, indeed the entire WHA, hoped to sign roughly one-third of its players from the NHL, a third from graduating Juniors, and a third from universities and Europe.

To gain credibility, WHA teams began signing star NHL players whose contracts had expired, offering huge multi-year salaries. Bernie Parent, the star goal tender from the Toronto Maple Leafs, signed a contract with the Miami Screaming Eagles (later the Philadelphia Blazers) for reportedly $750,000. The entire league chipped in to acquire the legendary Bobby Hull for a $2.5 million contract over ten years, of which $1 million was paid up front. Derrick Sanderson, the flamboyant centreman from Boston, signed with Philadelphia for an eye-popping US$2.6 million. The Nationals too had their eye on a number of star players, including New York Ranger Brad Park. Team owner Doug Michel thought Park was worth at least $250,000.  Michel also began talking to Toronto star Dave Keon.

Needless to say, NHL owners were furious with what they saw as talent poaching. It definitely hurt them in the pocket book. The average NHL salary in 1972 was only $32,500, equivalent to roughly $200,000 in today’s money. (The minimum NHL salary in 2019 was US$650,000.) The advent of the WHA meant that the balance of negotiating power had shifted dramatically in favour of players. To stop the hemorrhaging of talent, the NHL tried to tie players in legal knots, arguing that under the reserve clause of their contracts they could not sign with a WHA team even if their NHL contracts had expired. This attempt ultimately failed in court.

Despite the Nationals’ best efforts at finding talent, it wasn’t until June that the club signed its first two players—Bob Leduc (28 years old), a centreman who had played with the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League, and Ron Climie (22 years old), a right-winger from the Kansas City Blues of the Central Pro Hockey League. Neither were household names. A few days later, the team signed Garry Hull, the less-known middle brother of Bobby and Dennis Hull, to a conditional contract—conditional that he could make the team. Gerry Hull had played in Dallas in the Central Pro League in 1970 before leaving hockey to manage a farm near Milbrook, Ontario. Ottawa sportscasters were not impressed. Jack Kaufman of the Ottawa Citizen said the team was “scraping the bottom of the barrel in an effort to fill rosters.”

Advertisement for the Ottawa Nationals, just weeks before training camp was to start. It was hard to sell season tickets without knowing who was playing. Ottawa Citizen, 2 August 1972.

Stretched for money, Nats’ owner, Doug Michel, sold 80 per cent of the club to Nick Trbovitch of Buffalo, NY in July.  With an apparent cash infusion into the team, the Nats began signing players, negotiating contracts first with two former Oshawa Generals Juniors, Mike Amodeo and Tom Simpson, and then with Bob Charelbois a four-year veteran with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the Western Hockey League. They were followed by NHLers, Wayne Carleton, who had played with Toronto, Boston and California, Mike Boland of the L.A. Kings, and Guy Trottier from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among the last to sign were veteran goal tender, Les Binkley, formerly with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and coach Billy Harris, a friend of the team’s general manager, Buck Houle. Harris was the former coach of the Swedish national hockey team.

The Nats also thought they had corralled Dave Keon for a cool $1 million, multi-year contract. However, after accepting $50,000 from the team, which Keon said was a negotiating fee and the Nats said was a down payment on his salary, Keon re-signed with the Leafs. This set in motion law suits that were to last for years to come.

Training camp started mid-September in the Hull arena. Forty-seven rookies were in camp trying out for the team. The former NHLers didn’t arrive until October 1, the day following the expiry of their NHL contracts. That night, without any practice as a team, the Ottawa Nationals took to the ice at the Civic Centre for their first exhibition game against the Philadelphia Blazers. In front of a crowd of just over 7,000, said to have been generously reported, the Nats were downed 3-1. Ottawa went on to lose all five of their pre-season games.

The WHA launched its first official league game at the Civic Centre on 11 October 1972 with a game between the Ottawa Nationals and the Alberta Oilers amidst all the whoopla one would expect. The game was carried live over CBC television. Congratulatory telegrams were received, including one from Prime Minister Trudeau, bagpipes swirled, and special souvenir programs handed out. In a pre-game show, peewee hockey players circled the rink, throwing WHA orange pucks into the stands.  The WHA had originally tried using orange pucks to distinguish the league from the NHL. This was a bad idea since the orange dye reportedly affected the pucks’ solidity. When the frozen pucks were hit during play, they became distorted, sometimes turning potato shaped. Goalies also had a hard time seeing them. The colour was changed to a dark blue. But the orange pucks made for nifty souvenirs.

Lobbing pucks into the stands turned out to be another bad idea. The crowd of only 5,006 fans, half of whom were minor hockey players who had received free tickets, began throwing the orange pucks back onto the ice. Naturally, the peewee players returned fire. Matters deteriorated when balloons, which were fastened to poles, didn’t release properly; the knots suspending them were too tight. Two poles fell over when attendants tugged, bringing down their bagged balloons onto the ice which led to a free-for-all as the peewee players began popping them. Finally, an announcer had to tell the kids to get off the ice.

The opening face-off was timed with the drop of the puck in Cleveland where the Crusaders were taking on the Quebec Nordiques. After a countdown from fifteen to the launch of the first WHA season, Ottawa lost the draw. The night didn’t improve for the Nationals. Four minutes into the first period Ottawa’s defenceman Chris Meloff got a two-minute penalty for using an over-sized stick. Les Binkey, the Nationals’ net minder, had lost his in the corner. Meloff gave him his stick and skated over to retrieve Binkley’s. After he picked it up, he tried to take a pass and was called using an illegal stick. It was that kind of night. The Alberta Oilers took the game 7-4.

For much of the season, the Nationals struggled. Attendance, which was never strong, dwindled. At best, the team drew three to four thousand fans, well short of the 8,000 needed for the team to break even. By the end of February, 1973, after losing twenty of twenty-four games, the team was solidly in the basement. Surprisingly, however, the Nats rallied through March, and somehow snagged themselves a playoff berth. 

Off ice, however, matters went from bad to worse. Mid-March, the team failed to provide another $100,000 bond to the CCEA for the upcoming 1973-74 season, while still owing $50,000 on the 1972-73 season’s guarantee. The club said that it didn’t have to post a bond for the new season since its contract was with the CCEA had been voided when the City took back control of the Civic Centre. The City of Ottawa saw this as a technicality and demanded the bond before being willing to negotiate new terms for the club’s use of the Civic Centre. There was talk of locking the Nationals out of the arena.

Before the playoffs started, the Nationals packed their hockey sticks and headed for Toronto, a move facilitated by the club’s purchase by John Bassett Jr., part owner of Maple Leaf Gardens, for a reputed $1.3 million. The Nationals played the first two games of their best of seven Eastern Division semi-finals in Boston against the New England Whalers. After losing both games, the series resumed at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Nationals’ new “home” ice. Only 4,879 fans watched the Nationals win game three. The Whalers took the series four games to one. And that was the end of the Ottawa Nationals.

The following season, the Nationals were rebaptized the Toronto Toros, and played the year out of Varsity Arena. Owing to poor attendance, the Toros decamped to Birmingham, Alabama in 1976, playing as the Birmingham Bulls. The team folded for good in 1979.

After several years of on-and-off again talks of a merger between the NHL and the WHA, the two leagues finally came to an agreement in time for the 1979-80 seasons. The WHA ceased operations with four WHA teams—the Edmonton Oilers (renamed in 1973), the New England Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets—joining the NHL.


Internet Hockey Data Base, 2019. Ottawa Nationals [WHA] all-time player list,

Klein, Cutler, 2016. “From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion,” NHL,

Statista, 2019. Average annual player salary in the National Hockey League in 2018/2019, by team (in millions U.S. dollars),

Ottawa Citizen, 1972. “Hockey Rumors aboud,” 12 February.

——————, 1972. “Ottawa WHA entry ‘land’ Keon and Park,” 14 February.

——————, 1972. “Pro hockey makes Ottawa comeback,” 18 February.

——————, 1972. “Hangup for Nationals just ‘legal falderah,” 16 March.

——————, 1972. “Bright future?” 15 May.

——————, 1972. “Eight-year minor leaguer one of first two Nats,” 2 June.

—————–, 1972. “Nats sign Hull, not Bobby,” 14 June.

—————–, 1972. “Marcelin more important,” 22 July.

—————–, 1972. “Mike Amodeo, Tom Simpson and Bob Charlebois joining Nats,” 26 July.

—————–, 1972. “Carleton and Nats agree,” 3 August.

—————–, 1972. “Nats sign Guy Trottier for cosy WHA ‘house league,” 28 August.

—————–, 1972. “Binkley joins Nats,” 7 September.

—————–, 1972. “Nats offer ‘million’ but Keon not coming,” 8 September.

—————–, 1972.  “Nats seeking legal advice on $50,000 paid to Keon,” 15 September.

—————–, 1972. “’Hungry’ Nats begin training,” 19 September.

—————–, 1972. “A court case,” 20 September.

—————–, 1972. “CBC WHA negotiate TV deal,” 20 September.

—————–, 1972. “Blazers spoil Nats’ start,” 2 October.

—————–, 1972. “Nationals beaten – fans missing,” 12 October.

—————–, 1972. “An odd first,” 12 October.

—————–, 1973. “Kirk’s three put Nats in playoffs,” 30 March.

—————–, 1973. “Face-off near for city, Nats,” 30 March.

—————–, 1973. “Nationals shifting to Toronto,” 3 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1972. “Expect word soon on WHA,” 1 February.

——————-, 1972. “CCEA and WHA team agree on three-year contract,” 18 February.

——————-, 1972. “Maybe not fair, but still some skeptics,” 19 February.

——————-, 1972. “Ottawa, Nationals, CCEA close deal,” 21 March.

——————-, 1972. “Ottawa Nationals make plans official,” 25 March.

——————-, 1972. “Oilers, Nationals unveil WHA tonight,” 11 October.

——————-, 1972. “Opening night no success story for Nats,” 12 October.

Princess Elizabeth

10 October 1951

In early July 1951, Clarence House, the London home of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, issued a statement that the Princess, the heir presumptive to the throne, and her husband would be making a country-wide tour of Canada in the autumn. The announcement was totally unexpected. The invitation for the Royal Couple to come to Canada had been made by Lester Pearson, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, who had been touring Europe on behalf of the Canadian government.

The news that the glamorous young princess and her dashing naval prince, then captain of HMS Magpie, would be coming to Canada sent the country into a frenzy. It was to be the first Royal Visit since the wildly successful 1939 Royal Tour made by the Princess’s mother and father just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Like that earlier visit, the Princess and Prince would be making a month-long, coast-to-coast tour of the country, mostly by train. As well, a short side trip to the United States would be arranged. This would be Princess Elizabeth’s first major Royal Tour and her first visit to North America.

The tour was almost cancelled at the last moment owing to her father becoming gravely ill. As watchers of the television mini-series “The Crown” may recall, King George, who was an inveterate chain smoker, had lung cancer, though at the time the nature of his illness was not revealed. In mid-September 1951, a medical bulletin reported “structural changes” in one of his lungs. A few days later, surgeons removed the lung at Buckingham Palace in a make-shift operation room. In the days immediately after the surgery, Princess Elizabeth quite naturally wished to stay by her father’s side. Canadian Prime Minister St. Laurent said that her Canadian tour, which was scheduled to begin on 2 October, should not go ahead if it were to upset the King’s peace of mind.

However, with the King steadily improving, the tour proceeded, albeit a week late. Also, instead of coming by ship, the couple travelled by airplane across the Atlantic. The blue and white BOAC Stratocruiser had been outfitted with new engines and equipped with a special cabin for the Princess and Prince. The four-engine propeller aircraft had a cruising speed of 300 mph and a cruising altitude of 18,000-24,000 feet. There was an eleven-member crew aboard, of whom two were Canadian—the co-pilot and the navigator. Owing to rough weather, the plane couldn’t make it all the way from London to Dorval, but instead stopped briefly at Gander, Newfoundland. The aircraft arrived at Dorval at 11.40 am on 8 October, but waited on the runway until noon, the official start time. The Royal couple was greeted by Viscount Alexander, the Governor General, Prime Minister St. Laurent, Transport Minister Chevrier, and Veterans Minister Lapointe. After taking a walking tour of the airport perimeter to stretch their legs in front of 25,000 spectators, the Princess and the Prince boarded their train for Quebec City, which was the official start city of their Canadian tour.

The Royal couple was met with a thunderous welcome in the “old capital,” where they were greeted by tens of thousands of spectators, the crowds held back by the Royal 22nd Regiment. At a state dinner the following evening, Premier Duplessis gave homage to Princess Elizabeth, saying “The great majority of the people of the province of Quebec are Canadians of French origin. They have for centuries been faithful to the Crown recognizing it as a symbol of authority and freedom.” Princess Elizabeth replied “When I first set foot on Canadian soil…I knew myself to be not only amongst friends but amongst fellow countrymen.”

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their tour of Canada, October 1951, Library and Archives Canada, 4301669.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived in Ottawa from Quebec City at 10am on 10 October 1951 by a CNR train, stopping at a special station at Island Park Drive, just as her parents had done twelve years earlier. The 30th Field Battery fired a 21-gun salute on their arrival. According to the Ottawa Evening Citizen, “It was love at first sight.” The newspaper went on to gush “A radiant and beautiful woman, she was the story book princess come to life,” and “as for the Prince, tall, blond, handsome, he was a man’s man.” Meeting them at the station, were the Governor General, members of the federal Cabinet and their wives, members of the diplomatic corps, the speakers of the Senate and House of Commons, and 25,000 cheering Ottawa residents. Also present was Charlotte Whitton, who had just been confirmed in her seat as Mayor of Ottawa a few days earlier after the untimely death of her predecessor Grenville Goodwin. Mayor Whitton, an ardent royalist, gave a proper curtsey when she was presented to the Princess. The Evening Citizen described Whitton as “Ottawa’s bachelor-girl mayor—the only civic woman of a big Canadian city.”

 Unlike twelve years earlier when Princess Elizabeth’s parents had arrived in Ottawa, it was a brilliant, sunny day. Adding to the blaze of autumn colours were the red, blue and white bunting and flags that decorated buildings and homes, the one noticeable exception being the Soviet Embassy on Charlotte Street. The biggest Union Jack in the world, more that five stories in length, covered the face of the Holden Manufacturing Company on Albert Street. This was the third time the flag had been displayed, the first to celebrate the 1939 Royal Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the second to mark the end of World War II.

Princess Elizabeth giving a speech, Royal Tour, October 1951, Library and Archives Canada, 4301668.

The Princess and Princess were whisked along to Confederation Square through packed streets thronging with cheering Ottawa citizens and visitors in a motorcade that went along the Driveway to Elgin Street.  They stopped on the way at Lansdowne Park where 14,000 children were assembled to greet them. There Mayor Whitton, accompanied by city councillors, presented the Princess with the keys to the City. Little three-year old Sheila Hamilton, daughter of Alderman Wilbert Hamilton, presented Princess Elizabeth with a nosegay of pink carnations and roses.

Exiting from the eastern gate, the motorcade made its way to the War Memorial. 50,000 people waited in Confederation Square for the Royal couple. Some had been there since the previous morning on the pavement to get the best viewing. At the Memorial and in front of veterans from three wars and members from all armed services, the Princess laid a poppy wreath in honour of Canada’s war dead.  Also present at the ceremony were a number of disabled veterans and Silver Star mothers who lost a son in either the First or Second World War.

After a private lunch with Prime Minister St Laurent and his wife at 24 Sussex Street, the new, official residence of Canadian prime ministers, the Princess and Prince took a tour of Hull crossing to Quebec on the Alexandra Bridge named in honour of Prince Elizabeth’s great grandmother. At Hull’s Council Chamber, in the presence of Acting Mayor David Joanisse, and lay and ecclesiastical officials, the couple signed the city’s “golden book.” The motorcade then returned to Ontario via the Chaudière Bridge for a tour of Parliament Hill. With the Royal Couple ahead of schedule by ten minutes, poor Prime Minister St. Laurent missed giving them a tour of the House of Commons, the honour falling instead on the Speaker. St. Laurent caught up with the Princess and Prince for the tour of the Senate chamber.

While in the Centre Block, the Royal Couple proceeded to the Railway Committee room where Princess Elizabeth presented to the National Gallery of Canada, represented by Vincent Massey, an embroidered floral carpet made by her grandmother, Queen Mary. The carpet, actually a tapestry according to the Princess, had been purchased by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE). In 1949, Queen Mary had donated the carpet to the British Government to help raise much need foreign currency. It was a way of doing “her bit” to help the British economy. The carpet went on display, first in London, then in 23 cities through the United States and Canada before being purchased by the IODE.

Princess Elizabeth and Queen Mary’s Carpet, Railway Committee Room, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, October 1951, Canadian Georgraphic

Princess Elizabeth noted that her grandmother was most happy that the carpet had found a permanent home in Canada, the place where she had many happy memories of her visit in 1901. (The carpet remains in the possession of the National Gallery of Canada. Sadly, due to its fragile condition, it is not on public display.) Before leaving Parliament Hill, the Royals played tourist and ascended the Peace Tower to get a view of the Gatineau Hills in their full autumn glory. The Princess was overheard to say to her husband that the view was better than that from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

While on Parliament Hill, Prince Philip broke away to talk to Filip Konowal who was standing in the House of Commons corridor. The prince had spotted the Victoria Cross ribbon on Konowal’s coat. Konowal, who was a janitor on Parliament Hill, had won the Empire’s highest award for gallantry in 1917 at the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens, France.

The hectic day of touring and shaking hands ended with a visit to the National Archives, where there was some brief excitement when a photographer’s light bulb exploded close to the Princess. Fortunately, the bulb was behind safety glass which protected the Princess from being showered with glass splinters. She took the incident in her stride, and reassured the apologetic journalist.

A state dinner at Rideau Hall that evening ended the day. The Princess spoke over CBC radio. She said that it had been “her cherished dream” to come to Canada where she felt “very much at home … still in the family circle.” Speaking in French, she said that French-Canadians were faithful to their language and culture, faithful to their religion, and faithful to the Crown of Canada.” She also spoke of the sacrifice Canadians had made to support “the threatened liberty of Britain and to restore the violated liberty of France” in the war. She called Canadians “the knights-errants of our tragic modern world who were always ready to ride abroad redressing human wrongs.” She added, “I know that wherever the weak are oppressed or justice set at naught by lawless power, Canada will be always at the forefront of the defence.”

The highlight of the Royal couple’s second day in the nation’s capital was a civic luncheon held in her honour at the Chateâu Laurier Hotel. Hosted by Mayor Whitton, the meal featured dishes sourced from across the country—oysters from Nova Scotia and PEI, Salmon En Bellevue from Newfoundland, elk from Alberta, wild rice from Manitoba, and a seasonal salad from the Pacific coast, topped off by a maple bombe from Quebec, BC candied fruit and Ontario cheese fleurons. One thing absent was wine; it was a non-alcoholic affair. Smoking was also not permitted.

After a short address, Mayor Whitton presented the couple with an illuminated scroll bearing the signatures of all of Ottawa’s aldermen and councillors. To the Princess, she also presented a $1,000 cheque in a hand-tooled leather wallet for the Princess’s charities. To the Duke of Edinburgh, she gave into his safe-keeping and rationing a heavy oak box of maple sugar for little Prince Charles, age three, and Princess Anne, age one. 11-year old Eric Goodwin, the son of late Mayor Goodwin, presented the Royal Couple with a blue windbreaker for Prince Charles, while Nicole Tardif, the daughter of city councillor, Paul Tardif, presented two bunny blankets for Princess Anne.

Following lunch, the Princess and Prince were taken to the old Commissariat building located at the foot of the Rideau Canal where they dropped into the new Bytown Museum recently opened by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa, the forerunner of The Historical Society of Ottawa. They were the first signatories in the museum’s guest book.

Princess Elizabeth square dancing with Prince Philip, Rideau Hall, October 1951, Library and Archives Canada, 3401052.

Afterwards, they given a boat cruise on the Ottawa River on the Wausau, dubbed the “Royal Barge” for the event. Two RCAF boats preceded the Royal Barge while two RCN boats followed it. A flotilla of twenty-five pleasure boats supplied by the Ottawa Power Boat Association accompanied them down the river. Many other unofficial craft watched the procession. As the Wasuau passed under the Alexandra Bridge, their Highnesses took a salute from the Ottawa Sea Scouts. To provide an example of the forestry industry at work to the Royal visitors, two rafts of pulpwood were towed passed the Royal Barge in the opposite direction, the logs destined for the International Paper Company in Gatineau and the E.B. Eddy Mill in Hull. The firm that had organized the rafts, the Gatineau Boom Company, had earlier that day swept the Ottawa River of floating logs and other debris that might have impeded the Royal boat tour.

That evening, after an informal buffet supper at Rideau Hall, the Princess and Prince joined in an old-fashion square dance with eighty guests, organized by Viscount Alexander who was enamoured with the dance form. Square dances were apparently a common event at Government House. For the dance, the Princess wore a dirndl skirt while the Prince donned a plaid shirt and blue jeans. To get them into the swing of things, the couple had a half-hour square dancing lesson beforehand.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip left Ottawa shortly after midnight, heading for Cornwall, Brockville, Kingston, Trenton and Toronto on their next leg of their trans-Canada tour which was to take them to Victoria in the west and then back to St. John’s, Newfoundland for their return to England by ship. In a final broadcast to Canadians from St. John’s, she said that parting was difficult. While she was happy to rejoin her family and children, she was “also leaving a country which has become a second home in every sense.”

Less than three months following the conclusion of her tour of Canada, Princess Elizabeth became Queen, her father, King George VI, dying on 6 February 1952. Queen Elizabeth has made 22 official visits to Canada, the last one in 2010.


CBC, 2011. Princess Elizabeth’s 1951 royal visit of Canada, 30 June.

Canadian Geographic, 1951. Message of Welcome To Their Royal Highnesses,

Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. Royal Trains and Royal Occasions,

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1951. “Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip To Tour Canada From Coast To Coast,” 5 July.

—————————–, 1951. “King Steadily Improving,” 8 October.

—————————–, 1951. “Rough Air Detours Royal Plane”, 8 October.

—————————–, 1951. “Canadians Rejoice In Safe Arrival,” 9 October.

—————————–, 1951. “Old Quebec City ‘Surrenders’ To Elizabeth And Her Consort,” 9 October.

—————————–, 1951. “Sun Crowns Welcome!,” 10 October.

—————————–, 1951. “King Gaining Strength Daily, Princess Tells Her Hosts,” 10 October.

—————————-, 1951. “Princess Laden With City Gifts,” 11 October.

—————————-, 1951. “They Go Cruising Down The River,” 11 October.

—————————-, 1951. “Princess Presents Famed Royal Carpet To Gallery,” 11 October.

—————————-, 1951. “200,000 Glimpse Royal Pair In Ottawa And Hull,” 11 October.

—————————-, 1951. “Flash Bulb Explodes Near Princess,” 11 October.

—————————-, 1951. “Royal Visit Highlights Of Ottawa And Hull,” 11 October.

 —————————, 1951. “Square Dance Tonight At Government House,” 11 October.

—————————, 1951. “Princess Says ‘Cherished Dream’ Had Come True,” 11 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1951. “Princess City’s Guest Today,” 11 October.

——————-, 1951. “On Cruise And At Luncheon,” 11 October.

Royal Voluntary Service, 2017. The WVS and Queen Mary’s Carpet, Thought Co., 2018, Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Visits To Canada, 8 August,

The Canadian Club of Ottawa

9 October 1903

Rudyard Kipling, the early twentieth-century British author, once quipped that in Canada “there is a crafty network of businessmen called Canadian Clubs. They catch people who look interesting, assemble their members during the mid-day lunch hour, and, tying their victim to a steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows.” Since 1893, Canadian Clubs across the country have done just that. And in the process, they have helped to inform Canadians about the big issues of the day.

W. Sandford Evans, Archives of Manitoba

The Canadian Club movement began in Hamilton, Ontario in late 1892 when W. Sanford Evans and four other men met in the office of Charles R. McCullough. Evans, native of Spencerville, Ontario, ran Dr. Stephenson’s Children’s Home and Training School for Christian Workers in Hamilton. McCullough, who was born in Bowmanville, Ontario, was the principal of the Hamilton Business College. The other men present at the meeting were James Ferres, John T. Hall, George D. Fearman, and Henry Carpenter.

The six agreed to establish an organization whose purpose was to encourage the study of Canadian patriotic history, literature, arts, and resources. There would be no party politics, and their organization would be open to all men regardless of creed. They also agreed that speeches would be the focus of the new organization. In February 1893, a provisional organizational structure was formed with W. Sanford Evans as the Club’s first president, and Charles McCullough as Secretary. The following year, the Canadian Club was incorporated.

Canada was ripe for such an organization. Although the Imperial connection to Great Britain was strong, Canadian nationalism, especially among those born in Canada, was beginning to stir. Under Prime Minister (later Sir) Wilfrid Laurier, English-French differences were being ironed out (or at least papered over), settlers were pouring into the country, and the economy was strengthening. Canadians were beginning to feel their oats. While proud to be British subjects, and proud to be part of the British Empire, there was nonetheless a striving for a distinct Canadian identity, however difficult to define.

From Hamilton, the Canadian Club movement slowly spread across the country. Sandford Evans established the Toronto Canadian Club when he moved to that city in 1897. Galt was the third community to boast a Canadian Club, followed by Ottawa in 1903, St. Catharines, Winnipeg (organized by Sandford Evans when he moved to that city from Toronto) and Dawson City in 1904, Montreal and Orillia in 1905, and Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Portage La Prairie, London and Perth in 1906. Canadian Clubs were later to formed in other centres as well as in many major U.S. cities.

Charles R. McCullough, Ottawa Journal, 25 January 1908

The Canadian Club of Ottawa was organized at a meeting held on the 9th October, 1903 in the reception room of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association. Despite inclement weather, a large enthusiastic crown of gathered in the room. Like existing Canadian Clubs, it was stressed that “Canadian” included “every Canadian regardless of creed or ancestry.” There would be no politics, and any subject that would “tend to divide the feelings of the members” would be excluded. The Club’s purpose was “unity, pure and simple.” Lieutenant-Colonel Sherwood was unanimously elected first president. Elected first vice president was William Lyon Mackenzie King. King’s name was put forward by John MacMillan, the principal of the Collegiate Institute. MacMillan said King was “a young man who would take a prominent part in the club.” At the time, King was the editor of the Labour Gazette and deputy minister of Labour. Mackenzie went on to great things, becoming Canada’s prime minister in 1921.

Lieutenant-Colonel A. P. Sherwood, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, 3426639.

To cheer on the new club and to give pointers on how to run it was Mr. Bruce Macdonald, the principal of St. Andrew’s College in Toronto and the President of the Canadian Club of Toronto. The constitution of the new Ottawa Club was modelled on that of its Toronto sister organization. It was agreed that the club would meet every two weeks, and invite speakers “as a form of entertainment and instruction.”

At the organization meeting, the Reverend Dr. W.T. Herridge and the Reverend Father O’Boyle both gave addresses to underline the non-sectarian nature of the new club. Herridge said that the object of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was to encourage patriotism—”not the patriotism of flag wavers or stump speakers but common-place patriotism” shown by the way every man went about his work. Father O’Boyle added that “Canadians should have as their ideal the building up of a national brotherhood.”

The founding list of members of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was a veritable “who’s-who” list of the city’s elite. Notable among them were Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper, Ottawa’s technology barons, George Perley, the lumberman, George Burn, the general manager of the Bank of Ottawa. Thomas Birkett, Ottawa’s member of Parliament, Otto Klotz, a future Dominion Astronomer, and Achille Frechette, translator for the House of Commons.

Sanford Evans, then living in Winnipeg, telegrammed his congratulations and best wishes to Ottawa’s Canadian Club. He added, “Let us have a Canadianism broad, deep, intelligent, sane and aspiring, uniting all, no matter what politics or creeds we hold.”  Ottawa’s Mayor Cook, also sent his congratulations having been being unable to attend the meeting.

Two weeks later, the Canadian Club of Ottawa hosted its first luncheon at the Grand Union Hotel. More than 250 men attended the inaugural event to hear Major-General the Earl of Dundonald speak on a new military program for Canada. Dundonald had served on the Nile Expedition that had attempted to relieve the forces of  General “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 as well as in the Boer War. In 1902, he had been appointed General Officer, commanding the Militia of Canada. The general argued that a militia consisting of trained civilians, which could be temporarily embodied for short periods of time, was to be preferred over an expensive standing army of professionals, or an army composed of conscripts.

Ottawa’s Canadian Club was established against the backdrop of some controversy in the Canadian Club movement. The Alaska Boundary dispute had just been settled in London. To the disappointment of Allen Bristol Aylesworth (later Sir) and Sir Louis-Amable Jetté, the two Canadian members of the international tribunal, Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice of England, had sided with the three American commissioners on the determination of the boundary of the Alaskan panhandle. Believing that Canada’s legitimate rights had been set aside, Aylesworth and Jetté refused to sign the document. Regardless, the agreement became law.

Many Canadians felt unjustly treated by the British in the negotiations. To the consternation of some members of the Canadian Club of Toronto, the club’s president and certain officers reportedly discussed the possibility of Canada leaving the Empire. When Aylesworth spoke to the Canadian Club of Toronto on the negotiations after his return from London at the beginning of November 1903, the atmosphere at the luncheon was tense.

Lady Drummond, 1907, Women’s Canadian Club of Montreal, Library and Archives Canada, 3607494.

Later that month, the Empire Club of Canada was established in Toronto along similar lines as the Canadian Club but with more emphasis on the “Empire” part rather than the “Canada” part. The founders of the new club stressed, however, that they were not in opposition to the Canadian Club. As there was a long waiting list to join the Canadian Club of Toronto, another organization offering a luncheon speakers’ series was warmly received. The Globe newspaper said it was the “latest organization to advocate imperialism,” and will “advance the interests of Canada and the united Empire.”

One thing that was noted very early on was the exclusion of women from virtually all functions of the Canadian Clubs. In late1907, two Women’s Canadian Clubs were formed almost simultaneously in Montreal and Winnipeg. In December of that year, at the Montreal luncheon chaired by Lady Drummond, Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, set out his plans to celebrate the tercentenary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in what was to become Canada. In Winnipeg, a luncheon hosted by Mrs. W. Sanford Evans featured two speakers, the Hon. T. Mayne Daly of Winnipeg and John Kendrick Bangs of New York. Daly was a former federal cabinet minister and had been appointed police magistrate of Winnipeg in 1903. Bangs was an American author and humorist.

Here in Ottawa, a Women’s Canadian Club was organized in early 1910. Its first president was Mrs. R.G. McConnell. Madame Lamothe and Mrs. Clifford Sifton were elected vice presidents. Sir George William Ross, Premier of Ontario from 1899-1905, delivered the first address to the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club in December 1910, held in the assembly hall of the Collegiate Institute. Ross spoke on the subject “What every Canadian should know.”

Both the Canadian Club of Ottawa and the Women’s Canadian Club of Ottawa are still going strong after a century or more of service to the Ottawa community. One change from their early days, both organizations are open to all regardless of sex. The two clubs meet regularly through the year at the Château Laurier Hotel, bringing speakers of national and international note to the nation’s capital.


Canadian Club of Ottawa, 2020.

Farr, D.M.L. & Block, Nico. 2016. “Alaska Boundary Dispute,” The Canadian Encyclopedia,

Globe, 1903. “Welcome Aylesworth,” 22 October.

——-, 1903. “A Lunch and Talk Club,” 20 November.

——-, 1903. “Empire Club of Canada,” 26 November.

——-, 1903. “Retain Imperial Bond,” 4 December 1903.

Henry, Wade A, 1994. “W. Sanford Evans and the Canadian Club of Winnipeg, 1904-1919,” Manitoba Historical Society, Number 27, Spring,

Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “Canadian Club Formed,” 10 October.

——————, 1910. “Ladies Form A Canadian Club,” 5 December.

——————, 2017. “Over A Century Of Service,” 18 September.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1903. “Organization Of The Canadian Club,” 10 October.

——————————, 1903. “The First Canadian Club Dinner a Great Success,” 26 October.

—————————–, 1908. “History Of Canadian Club Movement Since Its Inception In 1893,” 25 January.

——————————, 1910. “The Social World,” 9 March.

——————————, 1910. “Social Affairs,” 30 November.

——————————, 1910. “Women’s Canadian Club,” 1 December.

Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club, 2020.

Victoria Daily Times, 1903. “The Just Rights of Canada Ignored,” 20 October.

General Tom Thumb and Countess Magri

4 October 1861

The first, global, celebrity entertainer was the dwarf General Tom Thumb, a.k.a. Charles Stratton. Born in 1838 in Bridgeport Connecticut, Stratton was discovered at age four by Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum, the future circus impresario and then owner of Barnum’s American Museum. At only twenty-five inches tall, the child, who reportedly had weighed a hefty 9 ½ pounds at birth, had not grown since he was six months old. Barnum, always on the look-out for the odd and the unusual for display in his museum, which was a mixture of a menagerie, theatre, lecture hall, and sideshow, had stumbled upon a winner. The child was quickly signed to a contract and taught to dance and sing. Little Charles put on his first performance at the American Museum at the age of five though billed as an eleven-year old.  His stage name was General Tom Thumb after the fairy tale character of the same name. Precocious and talented, Stratton was an instant hit. Barnum made a fortune as New Yorkers flooded into his museum to see General Tom Thumb.

“General Tom Thumb” dressed as a Scottish clan chieftain, c. 1861, author unknown, Wikipedia.

After wowing New York audiences, Barnum took him and his parents to London, the centre of the world in the nineteenth century. His London debut occurred in February 1844 at the Princess Theatre in London. Following a performance of the comic opera Don Pasquale, Stratton came on the stage singing Yankee Doodle Dandy. He later entertained the audience dressed as Napoleon and performed in a number of “tableaux” as Hercules, Ajax and Sampson. But the act loved best by the crowd was his performance as Cupid, complete with little wings.

His reception was not quite up to the adulation received earlier in New York. But that was soon rectified following multiple audiences with Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family, including the three-year old Prince of Wales. It seems Stratton became a hit after he pretended to fend off one of the Queen’s barking spaniels with his miniature sword. Performances throughout Britain were followed by a tour of continental Europe.

General Tom Thump first ventured northward to Canada in 1861. It was a good time to perform outside of the United States; the U.S. Civil War had begun in April of that year. At the beginning of October, the troupe came to Ottawa, staying at Campbell’s Hotel, which would be purchased by M. Gouin two years later and renamed the Russell House Hotel.

General Tom Thumb was in town for a two-day gig at Her Majesty’s Theatre located on Wellington Street just west of Bank Street. There were two performances on each of the 4th and 5th of October 1861. Ticket prices ranged from 10 cents for children under ten to 25 cents. Reserved seats were 25 cents each. School groups were admitted “on liberal terms.” Along side General Tom Thumb were the English comic actor and baritone, Mr. W. Tomlin, the American tenor, Mr. W. DeVere, and the pianist Mr. P.S. Caswell. On display at the theatre were the gifts Stratton had received from royalty during his European tours. Interestingly, the advertisement in the Ottawa Daily Citizen warned people to beware of a General Tom Thumb impersonator who worked for Robinson & Company’s circus.

Advertisement that appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1 October 1861.

The spectacle began before the actual theatre performance, with General Tom Thumb driven from Campbell’s Hotel to HM Theatre in a miniature carriage drawn by “Lilliputian” horses. He was also “attended by Elfin coachmen and footmen.” The reporter who covered the event for the Ottawa Daily Citizen described Thumb as multo in parvo—a great deal in a small space. He opined that Stratton had “fully carried out the universal reputation he has acquired.” He praised the performers acting, singing and dancing abilities, and specifically singled out Stratton’s self-possession as an actor and a readiness of wit. He also had “perfect manners and form.”

There still appeared, however, to be some doubt in the reporter’s mind of whether he had watched a performance of the genuine General Tom Thumb. He added that “there was every reason to believe that this one is the ‘original’ Tom Thumb, but whether or not, both he and his ‘aides’ perform a perfect array of rational and attractive entertainment.”

General Tom Thumb returned to Ottawa three more times, in 1864, 1876 and lastly in 1883. On all three occasions he was accompanied by his wife Lavinia who he had married in 1863. The 1864 performance included members of their wedding party—Commodore Nutt, also referred to as the $30,000 Nutt in reference to the value of his three-year contract with P.T. Barnum, and Lavinia’s sister, Minnie Warren. The notice for their show advertised that the “four smallest human beings of mature age” weighed a collective 100 pounds. For part of their 1864 performance, General and Mrs. Thumb wore their wedding costumes. The couple danced and sang. General Thumb also dressed up as Napoleon and a Scottish clan chieftain.  Commodore Nutt appeared as a drummer and a sailor with a hornpipe. As with Thumb’s 1861 shows, on exhibit at the HM Theatre were the jewels and other gifts that he had received on his European tours.

The Fairy Wedding, Souvenir Photograph, 1863, Commodore Nutt, General Tom Thumb, Mrs. Tom Thumb, and Minnie Warren (left to right). By this point, the General has already grown a bit. Author Mathew Brady, Wikipedia

In 1876, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb performed over two days at Gowan’s Opera House. Their act was much the same as that of their previous trip to Ottawa, but this time they were supported by Major Edward Newell, another dwarf under contract with Barnum. Newell was the husband of Minnie Warren, Mrs. Tom Thumb’s sister. Minnie was sadly to die in childbirth two years later.

General and Mrs. Tom Thumb’s 1883 Ottawa performances took place in May of that year, with shows at the Grand Opera House. By this point, the General had actually grown to a still tiny 2 feet 11 inches. He had also grown stouter. The Ottawa Daily Citizen commented that both he and Lavinia were “getting on in years.” Still, the General’s act was described as very amusing. Mrs. Stratton was described as “as charming as ever.” Along with the General and his wife, other members of their troupe included dancers, a ventriloquist and a lady whose odd act consisted of “highly educated, trained canaries.” What these canaries did was unfortunately not reported.

This was to be the general’s last trip to Canada’s capital, and indeed virtually anywhere. He died two months later of apoplexy (most likely, a stroke) at his country home in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He died a prosperous man, leaving his wife a substantial home and a motor yacht. His estate after expenses was valued at $16,000.

His widow, Lavinia, continued in show business. In 1885, she married “Count” Primo Magri, another dwarf who was actually shorter than General Tom Thumb. The newly-weds went on tour together, along with Magri’s supposed brother, “Baron” Magri. Like all things in show business, especially anything connected to P.T. Barnum, truth and fiction were blurred. The titles of nobility were likely fake.

Count Magri, Countess Magri, and Baron Magri, c. 1885, Swords Brothers, Wikipedia

The Count and Countess Magri made two trips to Ottawa, the first in 1887 and the second in 1896. Both were successes. In the first production, the Count and Countess arrived at the theatre in a tiny carriage pulled by two ponies. The pair sang duets, while the Count and his brother Baron Magri duelled and entertained the audiences with comic sketches. They were accompanied by a magician who put on conjuring and ventriloquist act. Much the same act was repeated in 1896. This time, however, Lavinia, Countess Magri, also gave a lecture on her forty years of travelling. The Citizen journalist reported that the lecture was very interesting and pleasing, and that the Countess had “a wonderful talent as a speaker.”

Countess Magri, a.k.a Mrs. Tom Thumb, a.k.a. Lavinia Stratton, died in 1919.

The life of Charles Stratton clearly has an ugly side. Put on public display at a very tender age, he was exploited by P.T. Barnum. His career was also based on his dwarfism. There was also an element that was almost perverse. In 1879, it was estimated that one million women had kissed him.

However, his life also had many positives. At a time when “freak shows” were popular, General Tom Thumb was always portrayed sympathetically, as was subsequently his wife. He might have been small, but he was a genuine showman and entertainer. Stratton also became a wealthy man, and had a standard of living that relatively few could aspire to during the nineteenth century. When Barnum experienced financial difficulty, Stratton came to his rescue, and became his partner. In the end, it’s not clear who was exploiting whom.

General Tom Thumb was buried in Mount Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His wife, Lavinia, chose to be buried at his side. P.T. Barnum, who died in 1891, is buried just a few yards away.

For a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of General Tom Thumb, see the two-episode BBC documentary “The Real Tom Thumb, History’s Smallest Superstar” to be found on Curiosity Stream.


BBC, 2014. “The Real Tom Thumb, History’s Smallest Superstar.”

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1861. “General Tom Thumb,” 1 October.

————————-, 1861. “General Tom Thumb,” 8 October.

————————-, 1864. “Her Majesty’s Theatre,” 17 May.

————————-, 1879. “Kissing,” 13 May.

————————-, 1883. “Opera House,” 9 May.

————————-, 1883. “Grand Opera House, 15 May.

————————-, 1883. “Death of General Tom Thumb,” 16 July.

————————-, 1884. “U.S. Doings,” 11 November.

————————-, 1885. “American Dashes,” 7 April.

————————-, 1887. “Roller Rink Opera House,” 30 September.

————————-, 1887. “Amusements,” 4 October.

————————-, 1896. “Mrs. General Tom Thumb,” 20 October.

————————-, 1896. “Music Hall,” 24 October.

Ottawa: Canada’s Oil and Gas Capital?

17 September 1889

The report spread like wild fire through Ottawa. Oil! Black gold was gushing in a powerful stream at a well dug just a couple miles south of Parliament Hill.

Dollar signs must have danced in the heads of Ottawa residents at the rumour. Even in those days before the automobile, the demand for petroleum products, such as kerosene, was strong. Fortunes had been made at Black Creek, subsequently known as Oil Springs, in Lambton county in southwestern Ontario when oil had been discovered in commercial quantities in 1858, and in nearby Petrolia a few years later.  Vast amounts of money were also being made in Pennsylvania where oil had been first struck in 1859, followed by copious amounts of natural gas in the 1880s. There was so much gas that it was being piped unmetered to factories and homes in Pittsburgh. In the process, clean-burning gas displaced dirty coal transforming the once grimy and sooty city—at least until the gas wells started to lose pressure. There was no mechanical means of pumping the gas through pipelines; everything relied on natural pressure.

Ottawa’s “oil strike” occurred on 17 September 1889 at a bog on Tom Hickey’s property on the border of Stewarton and the Glebe (roughly today just south of the Queensway, east of Bank Street). Here, a company had been digging an exploratory well for natural gas. A Citizen journalist rushed out to cover the event. He found that “there was more gush about the report than about the well.” Instead of seeing black gold spewing from the 72-foot high drilling derrick which had been installed at the site, he was shown a small bottle of oily liquid by Alderman Askwith, one of the shareholders in the drilling company, who had also excitedly rushed out to the site on hearing the news. It wasn’t much. One skeptical observer remarked that “ten cents worth of kerosene would produce the present appearance.” Excitement quickly turned to disappointment.

Natural gas oc 3-5-1888

Advertisement for investors that appeared several times in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in early 1888.

The story behind Ottawa’s supposed oil and natural gas boom began to the east of the city some months earlier at La Mer Bleue, a bog situated roughly thirty kilometres east of the Capital, today owned by the National Capital Commission. Reportedly, somebody had discovered natural gas emanating from the Mer Bleue bog. When a match was applied, the gas burnt. Most likely, the person had found methane leaching from rotting plant material.

Investors convinced themselves that the gas was available for tapping in profitable amounts. They purchased 300 acres of land in Gloucester Township out on the Montreal Road, including the Mer Bleue property, for $22,000. If sufficient gas at a satisfactory pressure was found, they envisaged two pipelines being laid to Ottawa to carry gas for heating and lighting at an estimated cost of about $300,000. An expert from the Pittsburgh Natural Gas Company was called in to investigate the prospects of the venture.

In late 1887, the investors formed the Capital Gas Company, and was granted a by-law, No. 805, from Ottawa City Council to allow them to dig up the roads to lay pipes to bring natural gas into the city. They expected the project would be finished within two years.

The principals of the company included Mr. G.B. Pattee of Perley & Patee, the lumber company, Mr. Maclean of Maclean, Roger & Company, Mr. Thomas Wallace and two American entrepreneurs, Charles Cammann, a New York banker, and H.W. Mali, a New York merchant. After travelling through the gas-producing regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio, Mr. Wallace was so confident of the natural gas prospects at the Mer Bleue property that he bought the necessary equipment for drilling and made arrangements for skilled drillers to come to Ottawa. He and his fellow investors hoped that the availability of natural gas would make Ottawa the commercial capital of Canada as well as its political capital. It would also make them very rich men if it panned out.

With natural gas still to be discovered in appreciable quantities, another group of investors, led by Henry Bate, George McCullough and William Scott, entered the fray, seeking and receiving similar privileges (By-law No. 809) from City Council for their company, the Ottawa Heating & Lighting Company, to lay down pipes on Ottawa’s streets. It was later called the People’s Gas Company or the Citizens’ Gas Company. This set off a battaille royale. Wallace, the spokesperson for the Capital Gas Company, was outraged, saying that Council had broken faith with his company. He thought that he had received a two-year monopoly with his by-law, and that on this basis he had already invested considerable money into the venture. He contended that Ottawa was too small to support two natural gas companies. He also thought that the second company was just trying to block his Capital Gas Company. This charge was not far-fetched as the Bate family was connected to the Ottawa Gas Company, the city’s manufacturer of coal gas which stood to be the big loser should cheap natural gas be piped in from nearby wells.

The By-Law Committee of City Council threw up its collective hands over the issue, and rescinded both companies’ by-laws on the grounds that neither company had been incorporated. Instead, it offered to grant permission to lay underground pipes to transport natural gas through city streets to the first company to be properly incorporated.

The Capital Gas Company received a Dominion charter mid-March 1888. It thought it had won the incorporation race and deserved its exclusive two-year by-law to bring natural gas into Ottawa. Not so fast said the Bate company, now called the People’s Gas Company. Using legal sleight of hand, Bate and his associates had purchased and resuscitated an existing company established in 1881 called the Rideau Gas Company which they argued already had a city By-law, No. 506, which gave it permission to dig up Ottawa’s streets to lay gas pipes. This forgotten company had actually been established to erect tower lights in Ottawa. But under the Ontario law of the time, it had the right to engage in both the electric and gas businesses, though it had no intention in 1881 of engaging in the latter activity. When the tower lighting concept failed, the company went dormant.

City Council laughed at this corporate manoeuvre. The Ottawa Journal called the proceeding a “gas farce.”

All this corporate and legal scheming occurred against the backdrop of one big hurdle—little gas had actually been discovered in the Ottawa area. But the dream, or the delusion, was enough, encouraged by vague statements by experts who cautiously thought that natural gas might be found in Ottawa. For example, in early February 1888, Dr. Bell of the Geological Survey opined that Ottawa conditions were favourable for the discovery of gas, at least to justify some expenditures to prove it. News of a gas strike in Collingwood also wetted investors’ appetite. Maybe it was Ottawa’s turn next.

By June 1888, the Capital Gas Company appeared to have beaten its rival. But as the Journal commented, “all the energy of the Capital Gas company seems to have been used up by its campaign to get its by-law.” There was no actual boring.

The corporate saga didn’t end there. The principal shareholders of Capital Gas had a falling out. When in late December 1888, the People’s Company again sought permission to bring natural gas into Ottawa, Ottawa City Council looked favourably on the request as it has received news from President Alexander McLean and Secretary Benjamin Batson of Capital Gas that their company would not object. Wrong. Wallace and the two New York shareholders of Capital Gas objected vigorously, and sent a letter under the company’s seal to that effect to Ottawa City council. President McLean retorted that Wallace had left for the United States and had improperly taken the company’s seal and records.

Boring for natural gas did finally begin by December 1888. But who did the drilling was not clearly reported though it was most likely the Capital Gas Company.  However, instead of drilling at La Mer Bleue, test drilling commenced in Stewarton at the Hickey farm just a short distance from Parliament Hill. Later reports said that drillers were drawn to the spot by an oily scum found on the surface of a bog on the Hickey property. Given its proximity to downtown Ottawa relative to the Mer Bleue site, a successful well would have been very attractive commercially as there would be no need for laying expensive pipes across miles of countryside.

The first boring attempt at Stewarton failed when the drill, which was operated by a steam engine run by four men, hit quicksand. The derrick was moved to another site. But by April 1889, drilling at the new location had reached the 70-feet mark. Investors hoped to strike gas at a depth of about 800 feet. Drilling continued. After boring through shale at a rate of 40 feet per day, the drillers hit salt-water impregnated coal and stalled for a time. The team struck “oil” at about 1,200 feet mid-September. But the bore hole filled with water as the bottom portion of the well had not been encased, allowing ground water to leak into the well.

Alderman Askwith thought that there was definitely oil mixed with the water in the sample taken from the bore hole. “But to say that we have ‘struck oil’ in any quantity would be a venturesome statement.” He thought the company would continue to drill down to about 2,000 feet, the limit of the equipment, in its search for natural gas. If nothing was forthcoming, they would investigate further the oil find.

The last report on the Stewarton drilling was in mid-November 1889 when a Citizen article reported that drilling would resume “in a few days” after $6,000 had been spent on the exploratory well. Nothing apparently happened. Ottawa’s oil and gas boom was over before it had really begun.

Roughly forty years later, an account of the drilling activity by an elderly man who had worked on the well was published in the Ottawa Citizen. That article stated that the drilling had ceased after nine months at about the 1,800-foot mark when the well hit sulphur water. The well wasn’t a total failure, however. So strong was the water pressure that the sulphur water apparently came to the surface and continued to flow. A pipe was installed, with people coming far and wide to drink the water. Not only was sulphur water prized for its supposed medicinal value, it must have been of far better quality that the water the city piped in to residents from the grossly polluted Ottawa River.


NCC, 2019. Mer Bleue,

American Public Gas Association, 2019. A Brief History of Natural Gas,

Browness, Ian and Cynthia Coristine, 2014. “The Bate Brothers of Ottawa, Booklet 2: Charles “C.T.” Bate Merchant, Mayor & More, Bytown Pamphlet, No. 92, The Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Daily Citizen, 1888. “Mr. Wallace’s Return,” 17 January.

———————, 1888. “The Natural Gas Company,” 2 February.

———————, 1888. “Natural Gas Found in Ottawa,” 6 February.

———————, 1888. “Rival Companies,” 4 February.

———————, 1888. “Boring For The Gas,” 21 December.

———————, 1888. “Cheap Fuel And Light,” 22 December.

———————, 1888. “A Hitch In The Gas Business,” 29 December.

———————, 1889. “The Finishing Touches,” 15 January.

———————, 1889. “The Gas Borers,” 8 April.

———————, 1889. “The Hole Won’t Go Down,” 17 April.

———————, 1889. “The City And Suburbs,” 17 August.

———————, 1889. “An Oily Find,” 18 September.

———————, 1889. “Jottings About Town,” 16 November.

———————, 1889. “The City And Suburbs,” 16 November.

———————, 1926. “Glebe Pioneer Has Fine Recollection Glebe-Hickey Lands,” 9 October.

——————— 1926. “More About The Hickey Well By Man Who Worked It 9 Months,” 30 October.

The Evening Journal, 1887. “Gas Coming To Town,” 6 December.

————————-, 1888. “A Question of Gas,” 3 February.

————————-, 1888. “What Dr. Bell Says?,” 4 February.

————————-, 1888. “The Gas Question,” 16 February.

————————-, 1888. “Hopes To Be Like Findlay, Ohio,” 28 February.

————————-, 1888. “The Gas Question,” 29 February.

————————-, 1888. “Odds And Ends,” 6 March.

————————-, 1888. “Another Deal,” 10 April.

————————-, 1888. “Natural Gas Found in Collingwood,” 21 June.

————————-, 1888. “Civic Notes,” 25 June.

————————-, 1889. “No title,” 21 August 1889.

————————-, 1889. “Natural Gas,” 19 October.

Wylie, Robin, 2019. “A Brief History of Natural Gas,” Eniday,

Mowat and MacGillivray, Stock Market Swindlers

30 August 1930

It was Saturday, 30 August 1930. Two men, soberly dressed in dark suits, waited quietly in an Ottawa courtroom to hear their fate. They had just pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the public and to manipulating the prices of mining companies’ shares. Judge Daly broke the news—three years for each of them in the Collins Bay Penitentiary. It could have been worse. The law allowed for a sentence of up to seven years for their crimes. But they had hoped to get away with just two. However, Justice Daly said that he couldn’t see how a sentence of less than three years would meet the circumstances. He had to look toward to future cases and this would set a precedent. After the pair received their sentences, former colleagues came up to shake their hands and offer condolences. Then, the two men were taken back to the Nicholas Street jail before being processed and sent to Kingston to begin their prison sentences. What had gone so very wrong?

M and M Mowat, OC 6-3-1930

Robert H. Mowat, Ottawa Citizen, 6 March 1930

The story began six years earlier. On 29 February 1924, two young men, Robert H. Mowat and Duncan A. MacGillivray, announced the opening of a brokerage partnership in Ottawa, operating out of the Union Bank building on Metcalfe Street.  The new firm specialized in mining shares, and had a seat on the Standard Stock and Mining Exchange in Toronto. It also provided a statistical service, reporting on developments, production and earnings of mining companies, and produced a publication called The Gold Mines of Ontario which they gave away free to customers.

Mowat, who was a native of Campbellton, New Brunswick, had prior financial market experience. Before establishing the brokerage firm, he had been employed in a prominent Toronto bond house. He was a graduate of the University of Toronto, and had served as an officer in the 26th New Brunswick Battalion. His partner, MacGillivray, was born in North Evans, New York. He also had attended the University of Toronto, and had taken an engineering course at the Kelvin Institute in Glasgow, Scotland. Like his partner, he was a war veteran, having served with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in France.

M and M MacGillivray OC 12-3-30 OC

Duncan A. MacGillivray, Ottawa Citizen, 30 March 1930

Their firm, Mowat & MacGillivray, flourished. It was the Roaring Twenties. The North American economy was growing rapidly, and corporate share prices were effervescent. Once the domain of the wealthy, stock markets were now attracting the savings of the middle class. Stock brokerage firms opened everywhere.

With share prices shooting up, easy money could be had by all…for a time. This was particularly true for investments in junior Canadian mining companies. In 1927, the Ottawa Citizen ran a mining supplement that extolled the virtues of investing in Canadian mining companies. “‘Optimism’ Watchword in Canada’s Mining Areas” the headline read. One article argued that if you were willing to take a chance, the “promising prospects of our great North Country are certainly a wonderful purchase because the prospect when it does develop into a mine brings the investor a reward that he cannot look for in any other industry.” Past “promising prospects” had led to profits of 5,000 to 20,000 per cent. It was hard for people to resist such a sales pitch. And it was hard to distinguish between the truly promising and the truly fraudulent. For a time, it didn’t seem to matter. The price of everything rose in a speculative frenzy.

Mowat and MacGillivray were in the thick of it. In that same Citizen supplement, MacGillivray wrote a lengthy positive article about mines in northern Quebec above a two-thirds page advertisement for the Mowat and MacGillivray brokerage firm. Large pictures of the two principals featured on another page. The firm had sponsored and sold shares in dozens of junior mining and oil companies, including Aconda, Arno, Melnor, and Cold Lake Mines.

Mowat and M 29-2-1924 OC

Announcement of Mowat and MacGillivray opening for business, Ottawa Citizen, 29 February 1924.

The partnership grew quickly. By 1927, they had moved out of their Metcalfe Street offices into larger and more prestigious quarters at 128 Sparks Street. Ironically given what was to come, this building had formerly housed a branch of the Home Bank of Canada. The Home Bank had failed in spectacular fashion in 1923, leading to the loss of millions of dollars, a government bailout of depositors, tarnished reputations, criminal charges, ruined investors, and even suicide.

In addition to their seat on the Standard Mining Exchange in Toronto, Mowat and MacGillivray bought seats on other Canadian stock exchanges that specialized in mining companies, including the Vancouver Stock Exchange, the Calgary Stock Exchange, and the Montreal Curb Exchange. The latter exchange was designed for stocks of companies deemed too speculative (i.e. high-risk) to be listed on the Montreal Stock Exchange. Mowat and MacGillivray also bought a seat on the New York Mining Exchange.

Their physical presence also grew well beyond Ottawa. By 1929, the firm had expanded throughout the Ottawa Valley with offices in Cornwall, Pembroke, Perth and Hawkesbury. The partnership established a limited liability company of the same name in Hull. The establishment of a Quebec company was necessary for them to avoid paying high taxes if they were to transact business in Quebec. Their Hull subsidiary had branches in Trois Rivières and Quebec City. Other Ontario offices were located in Belleville and Brockville. The firm also expanded into the Maritimes, with offices in Halifax, Sydney, Yarmouth, New Glasgow, Glace Bay and Windsor in Nova Scotia as well as in St. John and Moncton in New Brunswick.

The two young brokers became pillars of the Ottawa business community, always ready to support local charities and Ottawa events. They also sponsored an in-house hockey team that played in an Ottawa bank hockey league. The firm even donated the Mowat Trophy for the league’s annual competition.

The edifice came tumbling down with the start of the Great Depression in October 1929. Global share prices, led by prices on the New York Stock Exchange, tumbled. Investor losses were huge, exacerbated by the widespread practice of buying shares on margin. Investors put up as little as 10 per cent of a share’s value, borrowing the rest. In a rising market, margin is a way of leveraging gains. However, in a falling market, the reverse happens. Brokers and banks demand more money to cover margin losses, or sell their clients’ shares which only send the market down further. On Black Tuesday (29 October) alone, one local broker said that “hundreds of small Ottawa investors had been wiped out.”

For many stock brokers, after the heady years of the 1920s, the collapse of markets was a death knell. Few people were willing to buy shares of even the most conservatively run company let alone acquire shares in new enterprises, even ones that held promise. Customer orders dried up.

The hard times also exposed shady practices that weren’t apparent during the boom times. Some stock brokers were exposed for running “boiler rooms” or “bucket shops.” A boiler room operation is where stock dealers using high-pressure tactics to sell speculative penny stocks via telephone to the unwary or the gullible. The dealers might also sell the shares at inflated prices. A bucket shop is a stock dealer who sells clients what amounts to a derivative of a stock at some notional price. There is no purchase of shares on behalf of a client on a recognized exchange. Transactions simply goes “into the bucket.” It is a form of gambling with the client betting against the broker who plays the role of “house.”

On 6 March 1930, Ottawa woke to banner headlines in the city’s newspapers: Mowat and MacGillivray’s firm had failed the day before, their offices closed, and their accounts taken over by a receiver. An application against the firm had been filed in Toronto when their cheque in the amount of $933 issued to one W.W. Beaton, a resident of Haileybury, was returned owing to insufficient funds. The purpose of the receiver was to conserve the assets of the company on behalf of its many creditors.

There had been no warning of the failure. It came as a huge shock to the firm’s clients and the Ottawa business community. The previous Christmas, employees had been given substantial bonuses. Just a few weeks earlier, the firm had taken over the Ottawa brokerage firm of George R. Guy & Company. It had also financially supported Ottawa’s first international dog derby that ran at the beginning of February 1930. The company’s hockey team had just won the “Big Four” hockey series, and were in Ottawa’s industrial league playoffs. After beating the Post Office, the brokers’ team, now unemployed, were defeated by the Telephone Company in the finals at the end of March 1930. It was the last time the brokers’ team played.

Initially, Duncan MacGillivray suggested that the firm’s problem was illiquidity rather than insolvency. He claimed that the firm had sufficient assets to cover all its liabilities. But the problem was that the certain assets could not be realized immediately owing to poor market conditions. Later, he attributed their failure to overexpansion and excessive overhead. There was also considerable speculation that the firm would be consolidated with two other troubled brokers—Solloway, Mills & Company and Stobie, Forlong & Company—and reopened.

G.R.F. Troop, an accountant working for the receivers, took immediate control of the firm’s books, and commenced a comprehensive audit of its accounts. Thirty-five of fifty head office staff were laid off and paid their last week’s salary. The remaining fifteen remained to help the auditors go through the books. It didn’t take Troop long to spot financial irregularities. One week after the company failed, the provincial attorney general issued warrants for the arrest of Robert Mowat and Duncan MacGillivray on a charge of conspiracy to defraud their customers.

The pair were taken into custody but were treated with kid gloves. Instead of being held in the cells, Mowat and MacGillivray waited in the arresting officer’s office while bail was being arranged. They, and Inspector McLaughlin, chief of the morality squad, even partook of a substantial luncheon brought in by outside caterers. The two were released on $50,000 bail each. It took months for the receivers to go through the company’s books, delaying their jury trial. In the meantime, the pair remained free, even travelling to the United States in an attempt to find ways of bailing out their company.

In early August 1930, the Crown laid four additional charges of fraud and theft. With that, the two were taken into custody and held at the Nicholas Street jail. Meanwhile, Hull police stood ready to arrest them on Quebec warrants for conspiracy to defraud in connection with their Hull operations.

The day before their jury trial was to begin, Mowat and MacGillivray surprised everybody by pleading guilty to defrauding the public and stock price manipulation. Since they had pleaded guilty, the details of what they did were not revealed. However, there were reports that during a one-week period, auditors found that 65 per cent of client transactions had not gone through a stock exchange. The receivers also found that the company was missing three million shares of various companies that were owed to their customers. Press reports concluded that Mowat and MacGillivray had been running a bucket shop. The extent of client losses was not reported.

Before Justice Daly pronounced sentence, their defence attorney argued that in mitigation of their crime, Mowat and MacGillivray had been good citizens, and only did what “was common practice to that business.” He argued that overhead had swallowed up the firm, and that the pair were now virtually penniless. After sentencing them to three years in the penitentiary, Daly said that he hoped that they would reduce the length of the sentence by good conduct and making some effort to reimburse those who had suffered financially from their crimes.

Two years later, Mowat and MacGillivray, now dress in prison denims rather than banker grey, were taken to a Hull courtroom. Found guilty of conspiracy to defraud their clients related to the actions of their Hull subsidiary, the pair were sentenced to two more years in jail.


Globe, The, 1930. “Brokers’ Fines Total $250,000,” 24 June.

————-, 1930. “Penitentiary Terms Imposed on Brokers,” 1 September.

Ottawa Citizen, 1927. “Optimism Watchword In Canadian Mining Areas,” 31 October.

——————, 1927. “Taking A Chance,” 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Further Donations To Dog Derby Fund,” 24 January.

MacGillivray, D.A. 1927. “Interesting Stage North Quebec Mines,” Ottawa Citizen, 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Mowat And MacGillivray Assigns And Interim Receiver Is Appointed,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Text Of Statement By D. MacGillivray,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Expect Report on Defunct Firm About Weekend,” 10 March.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat And M’Gillivray Face Conspiracy Charge,” 12 March.

—————–, 1930. “Bail Bond Hitch Causes Delay In Brokers’ Arrest,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “R.H. Mowat Granted Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “D.A. M’Gillivray Secures Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “Telephone Hockey Team Scores Second Victory Over Brokers,” 31 March.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Hope To Pay 100 Cents On The Dollar,” 10 April.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Committed For Trial,” 11 August.

—————–, 1930. “Brokers Ready To Plead Guilty To Conspiracy,” 29 August.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Given Sentence OF Three Years,” 2 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Have Failed And All Their Offices Are Closed Accounts Taken Over By Receiver,” 6 March.

——————, 1930. “Audit Of Brokerage Firm’s Books Now Underway,” 7 March.

——————, 1930. “Warrant Sworn Out For H. Mowat And D.A. MacGillivray,” 12 March.

——————, 1932. “Mowat and MacGillivray In Hull Court,” 30 March.

——————, 1932. Brokers Given Two Years By Judge In Hull,” 18 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1930. “MacGillivray and Mowat Go To Prison,” 30 August.


Ottawa Entertains The Empire

22 August 1903

Passersby on Wellington Street must have wondered what was happening up on “the Hill” in the early afternoon of Saturday, 22 August 1903 as a large group of smartly-dressed men and women assembled on the steps in front the Centre Block of Parliament for what was clearly a commemorative group photograph.  Who were they and what were they doing in Ottawa?

The visitors were delegates, some accompanied by their wives, to the Fifth Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire. The Congress, hosted at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal by the Montreal Board of Trade and the Canadian government, had wrapped up its deliberations the previous day. The Congress had brought together 548 delegates—all men, given the times—from 124 commercial associations from the far-flung reaches of the British Empire. Some delegates had travelled thousands of miles from Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and South Africa to attend the Montreal event. Travelling such distances in those days was long, arduous and expensive; it was not something done lightly.


Group commemorative photograph of delegates and wives of the 5th Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Congress provided a forum for the great industrialists and merchants of the empire to meet, network, and discuss the big political and economic issues of the age. Some called it the “empire’s non-official commercial parliament.” The group, which enjoyed royal patronage, was extraordinarily influential, able to shape policy both in Britain and in the colonies. The 1903 Congress in Montreal was the first time it had met outside of London, the imperial capital. Canadians were feeling proud of their contributions to the imperial cause in the Boer War, and wanted to demonstrate that Canada was not just some distant, frigid appendage of the empire.  The Congress also provided an ideal opportunity for the Dominion government to advertise Canada’s abundant natural resources as well as the country’s growing industrial capacity.

The Congress discussed a host of issues, some political, some economic. For example, there was unanimous support for a common empire-wide naturalization policy, under which a foreigner, naturalized as a “British subject,” in one part of the empire would have the same rights as a native-born person anywhere in the empire. In other words, say, an American, who became a Canadian, would have full rights as an Australian in Australia. There was also unanimous support for Newfoundland to join Canada.


Delegates and wives inside the Senate Chamber, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa. Given the era, it’s quite striking to see women sitting in the Senate. The first woman senator, Cairine Wilson, did not take her seat until 1930.

A motion by Joseph-Xavier Perrault of the Montreal Board of Trade in favour of the empire adopting the metric system received wide support, as did a motion for all parts of the empire to discard pounds, shillings and pence, and adopt a decimal currency like Canada’s. A more contentious issue, particularly among French-Canadian delegates, was that self-governing colonies, such as Canada, should participate in the cost of defending the empire. (Recall that this Congress was being held just a year after the end of the Boer War.) The motion found unanimous support when Montreal-based participants amended it to ensure that it was up to the colonies to determine the nature of that support.

But, by far the biggest issue under discussion was trade, something that would resonate today. The empire was divided into two camps—free traders and protectionists. For more than half a century, Britain had followed a free trade commercial policy as a way of keeping import costs, especially of essential imports of food and raw materials, as low as possible. But by the beginning the twentieth century, protectionists in the United Kingdom, led by Joseph Chamberlain, were increasing in number. They favoured an “imperial preference,” under which tariffs would be imposed on non-empire imports, giving a price advantage to products made in the colonies. This imperial policy had strong political undertones as Chamberlain and his supporters wanted to bind British colonies closer to the motherland in order to strengthen the empire against other rising powers such as the United States and Germany.

Canada, which had tariffs on all imports, including those from the mother country and other members of the empire, favoured protectionism. However, while Canada desired preferential access to the British market as per Chamberlain’s plan, it was loath to lower its tariffs on imports from Britain and other parts of the empire.

After a long debate on the trade issue, a compromise resolution was negotiated that called for the adoption of a commercial policy throughout the empire based upon the principal of mutual benefit under which each member of the empire would receive a substantial trade advantage as a result of its imperial relationship, with due consideration given to the fiscal and industrial needs of each member. A commission was also proposed to study the issue. In other words, the issue was punted forward.

After four days of deliberations, the Congress wound up its events in Montreal. But for many delegates, their Canadian adventures were just beginning. A series of journeys had been planned that would take them across the country, courtesy of the Canadian government and the railways in a huge public relations campaign to impress and woo British investors.


Sparks St looking west, Saturday, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Their first stop was naturally Ottawa. One hundred and eighty delegates and forty wives arrived in the capital at 11:00 am on Saturday, 22 August, on a special train put on by the Canada Atlantic Railway. Reportedly, their train was the heaviest passenger train ever hauled over a Canadian railroad. It consisted of ten coaches, each weighing 50 tons. They were met at the Central Station by a distinguished group of Ottawa citizens, including Richard Scott (later Sir), who was the Secretary of State and the Liberal leader of the Senate, Mayor Cook, Sir Sandford Fleming, the father of Standard Time, who had attended the Montreal Congress, all members of City Council, and members of Ottawa’s Board of Trade.

After a brief stop at the Russell House Hotel, the guests were conducted on a guided tour of the Parliament Buildings, stopping first at the Senate chamber where Richard Scott welcomed the delegates and their wives to Canada. After referring among other things to the debate over imperial preference, he expressed the hope that Canada and Britain would avoid “selfish propensities.” Scott added that the loyalty of Canadians was greater than any other part of the empire.” He concluded by saying that he expected Canada would be recognized as “one of the strongest props of the empire” in fifty years.

After their tour of the Senate, the delegates and their spouses toured the Library of Parliament, before heading to the Commons chamber to be greeted by Charles Martel, the Liberal MP for Bonaventure in Quebec. Martel noted Canada’s contribution to empire-building by its construction of a second transcontinental railway.

At 12.30 pm, delegates and their wives assembled on the steps of the Centre Block for a commemorative group photograph taken by A.G. Pittaway, a prominent Ottawa photographer. The picture was developed and ready for purchase by delegates in less than three hours.

Amateur photographers also took pictures. The Ottawa Citizen commented that “numerous Kodaks carried by the visitors were kept clicking away.” One of the shutterbugs was Ethelbert Slater, the congressional delegate for Yeadon, a small community outside of Leeds in Yorkshire. Slater was an amateur photographer of some considerable repute in his native Yorkshire. The Citizen commented that Slater had occasionally spoken in public and “on several visits to the continent and Egypt secured some good pictures of scenery, etc. which he has exhibited and explained to public audiences afterwards.”


Delegates assembling outside of the Russell House Hotel, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Slater had brought his Kodak No. 2 camera, one of the first low cost cameras available to the general public, with him on his journey to Canada and documented his trip from his departure from Liverpool for Quebec City on the SS Canada to his return home via New York, providing a wonderful treasury of Canadian views, including of Ottawa, during his trip across the country with other delegates from the Montreal Congress.

After their tour of Parliament Hill, the tourists walked the short distance back to the Russell House Hotel for a 2:00 pm luncheon. It was called a luncheon instead of a banquet to permit the delegates’ wives to attend. Mayor Cook’s address focused on Canada as a worthy destination for investment, something he said would become apparent as delegates crossed the country. The mayor also put in a pitch for Canada to take over the West Indies. At the time, concerns had been expressed about the United States, having brought Cuba into its sphere of influence and annexing Puerto Rico following the Spanish-American War of 1898, had designs on other parts of the West Indies. Some years later, the United States bought the Danish West Indies, now called the US Virgin Islands.


Pile of logs ready for the sawmills of the Chaudière, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

After lunch, the delegates got a taste of Ottawa’s industrial might with tours of the Chaudière, the heart of the city’s lumber industry, with stops at the E.B. Eddy and Booth sawmills. At the Booth mill, they were greeted by Jackson Booth, the son of the great Ottawa lumber baron, John Rudolphus Booth.

What the delegates did for supper was not reported. Most likely, they fended for themselves before embarking on an evening trip on Ottawa’s Electric Railway to Rockcliffe Park where delegates and wives enjoyed the natural scenery of the park which was illuminated for the event by thousands of multi-coloured electric lights. The Governor General’s Foot Guards’ Band entertained the guests during their visit to the park.

The tourists returned to their coaches in the wee hours of the following morning for the return trip to Montreal.


Log slide around the Chaudière Falls, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

This was not, however, the end of the delegates’ travels in Canada. After a free day in Montreal, many, including Ethelbert Slater, embarked on an all-expenses paid cross-country tour, with a side trip to the United States to view the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara from the American side and to visit Detroit, already a major industrial hub before it became the centre of the North American automobile industry.

The delegates visited most major Canadian cities throughout southern Ontario, including Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, steamed through the Muskoka Lakes, before heading out west, visiting Fort William, Winnipeg, Brandon, Banff, Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo, with stops at the Crofton copper mines and the Chemainus sawmills. More stops were made on the return east, including a visit to the great “Soo” Ship Canal at Sault Ste. Marie. After another short visit in Ottawa, the tourists sailed from the capital on a steamer to Grenville, Quebec where they boarded a train to Montreal for the last leg of their 10,000-mile journey. From Montreal, many delegates, including Ethelbert Slater, took a train to New York for the return voyage to the United Kingdom.

Throughout this once-in-a-lifetime trip, Ethelbert Slater took photographs along the way, recording for posterity views of Canadian life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many were typical tourist shots of important buildings. But others captured life as it was being lived, providing viewers today with fascinating glimpses of a long-lost world.

The negatives returned with Slater to Yeadon. Years later, his descendants gave them, as well as other negatives, photographs and other memorabilia, to the Aireborough Historical Society whose mission is to preserve the history of Yeadon, and other neighbouring communities in Yorkshire. In 2017, Carlo Harrison, the archivist at the AHS, kindly donated the fragile Ottawa negatives to the Historical Society of Ottawa, which in turn gave them to the City of Ottawa Archives for safekeeping. Ethelbert Slater’s  Ottawa pictures had returned home.

For a more extensive coverage of the photographs and their story, please read Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, titled When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, published by The Historical Society of Ottawa.


Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “British Guests,” 11 August.

——————, 1903. “Persian Garden Night,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Backbone of Empire,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Welcome To Our Guests,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Ottawa Entertained British Capitalists,” 24 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1903. “The Congress of Commerce Completes Its Labors,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Trade Lords Visit Ottawa,” 22 August.

Powell, James & Cook, Bryan, 2018. When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire Through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, Historical Society of Ottawa.



The Weatherhill Charivari

11 August 1881

An odd folk custom that was still practised in Canada during the nineteenth century was the charivari (sometimes spelled shivaree). Brought to North America from Europe, a charivari was an impromptu parade or demonstration in which participants banged on pots and pans, and made all sorts raucous noise in response to some local event. While sometimes of a jocular nature, a charivari could also be malign, voicing community disapproval of something that violated perceived norms of behaviour. For example, a “May-December” wedding might prompt a charivari where a crowd, usually consisting of drunken young men, would extort money from the couple. The payment of a few dollars was usually enough to pacify the mob and get them to move on, usually to the nearest drinking establishment.

Such was the case in early August 1881 when about forty young men held a charivari on the Richmond road on the occasion of the marriage of a Mrs. Grundy. Mrs. Grundy, who had already been married at least twice, aimed to marry again. According to press accounts, she had had two suitors for her hand, and there had been much speculation regarding whom she might choose. Her marriage to the elder suitor, who was also a widower, prompted a crowd of noisy revellers to demand late-night “entertainment” from the couple. The groom handled the situation by giving a $4 bill to the crowd which promptly repaired to the nearest public house, leaving the couple in peace.

Charivari ODC12-8-81

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 12 August 1881.

A few days later, another charivari took place in Mount Sherwood. This time, the outcome was far less benign. Mount Sherwood was a small community of about 1,000 inhabitants on the then outskirts of Ottawa. It was bordered by Concession Street (today’s Bronson Avenue) on the east, Emily Street (Gladstone Avenue) on the north, Division Street (Preston Street) on the west, and Dow’s Lake on the south.

At about 7 am on 11 August 1881, a distraught, middle-aged woman arrived at the Ottawa Police Station claiming that her husband had been killed after what we would today term as a home invasion. Unfortunately, as these events occurred in Mount Sherwood just beyond the Ottawa boundary, the police did not have jurisdiction. They didn’t even take her down her name.

Hearing the news, and receiving corroboration from another source, a Citizen reporter hurried to the scene to find fifty or so people standing around the body of an old man lying facedown in the roadway at the corner of Emily and Lisgar Streets (today’s Gladstone Avenue and Bell Street). The remains had been covered with cedar boughs to protect them from the sun but had otherwise been left untouched. The body was identified as that of James Weatherill, aged about 65, a retired dealer in country produce and cattle. Although something of a recluse, he was known as hard-working and honest, without any known enemies.

Weatherill, a two-time widower, who resided in neighbouring Rochesterville, had remarried the night before, taking Mrs. Dougherty, a widow, aged 45, as his bride in the nearby home of Mrs. Thomas Cooper on Emily Street, where Mrs Dougherty resided. The couple had been married shortly after 7pm in Mrs. Cooper’s sitting room by Rev. Mr. White of Mount Sherwood.

At about 8pm, a crowd of boys and young men came to the home, banging on pots and pans, and demanding money from the newly-wed couple who were in the home along with Mrs. Cooper and her four young children. Mr. Weatherill complied, giving the boys a dollar. Apparently satisfied, the crowd dispersed.

A couple of hours later, a second, far larger, alcohol-infused group of boys and men demonstrated in front of the home and demanded two dollars. At some point, stones were thrown at the house, breaking windows, causing minor interior damage and considerable distress among its residents.  But Weatherill refused to give in to the crowd’s demands, believing that to accede to this extortion would only encourage the rowdies. Instead, the Weatherills hid in the loft above a summer kitchen at the rear of the home, while Mrs. Cooper told the demonstrators that the couple had fled via a back door.

But the revellers insisted on searching the residence. Two entered the house, one being a neighbour named Hugh McMillan, finding the couple. McMillan advised Mrs. Weatherill to pay the $2. While she was willing to do so, her new husband called her an old fool and slapped McMillan in the face. McMillan left, and the charivari continued. At some point, although accounts are confused, a neighbour, Peter Potvin, threatened to beat or kill Weatherill, saying that the old man had insulted him.

In the wee hours of the morning, when the crowd had dwindled, both Mr. and Mrs. Weatherill went outside. Weatherall, in good spirits, began to chase four youths down Emily Street towards Concession Street. This was the last time his wife saw him alive. She had stopped to watch Mr. Potvin, who she later described to police as walking up and down the street like a mad man.

Subsequently, Mrs. Weatherill returned to her lodgings at Mrs. Cooper’s home. The fact that her husband did not follow, was not a cause of concern. She simply figured that he had gone to his own home on Rochester Street in Rochesterville, just a short distance away. It wasn’t until the next morning when Mrs. Weatherill decided to walk to her new husband’s residence to look for him that she discovered a crowd of people surrounding the lifeless body of her husband.

Newspapers far and wide were rightly appalled by the event. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thundered that “it was high time that the charivari business was put down by a strong hand.” It was a “disgrace to our modern civilization.” It added “It is terrible to contemplate that because a man refuses to meet the demands of his persecutors he may be cruelly beaten and left by the road side to die.” The London Free Press opined that “It is only necessary for a marriage to take place under some circumstances which some rude youths may deem to be irregular, for them to assemble together, and amidst hooting, horn-blowing, pan-beating and other discordant noises, insult the newly-married couple.” It added that in this particular case, the charivari had led to repeated demands for money, assault and death. The paper demanded special legislation against charivaris. The Hamilton Spectator, sniffed that the “advance of more refined feelings” had led to the charivari dying out in western Ontario. However, it was still the custom in eastern Ontario and “ought to be punished with the greatest severity.” The Quebec Chronicle recommended the lash.

A coroner’s inquest into Weatherill’s death was immediately called. As Mount Sherwood lacked a constable, the murder investigation was headed by Superintendent E. J. O’Neill of the Dominion Police. He and several of his men arrived later that morning to view the body.  The dead man was clad in a new suit of clothes, undoubtedly his wedding attire. In his pockets were $19 in bank notes and $1.70 in change. Robbery was clearly not a motive for his murder. While there were contusions on his head, the cause of death was not evident. The body was removed to Rogers’ undertaking establishment on Nicholas Street where three doctors conducted a post mortem. They concluded that James Weatherill had died owing to an “extravasation of blood between the membranes of the brain.”

After the post mortem was conducted, Weatherill’s remains were turned over to his widow. A wake was held in his Rochesterville residence on the Saturday, two days after his death. Rev. Mr White, the minister who married the couple, conducted the funeral. Weatherill was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.

Suspicion immediately fell on the neighbour Peter Potvin who was quickly arrested by the Dominion Police and put in jail. But the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. Hugh McMillian, as well as the other man who had invaded Mrs Cooper’s home, later identified as Ruggles Brunel Jr., were also arrested but were released on $500 bail each—a very large sum of money at the time.

But the focus of the investigation quickly shifted to four charivari participants—James Kelly (age 20), Christopher “Pum” Berry (age 16), Robert McLaren Jr. (age 20) and James O’Brien (aged about 20). They were picked up that weekend. Berry and McLaren were arrested at their homes.  O’Brian and Kelly were found in Stewart’s Bush, a nearby heavily-wooded area.

Despite being cautioned by the police about incriminating themselves, the foursome quickly began blaming each other. The four admitted that they had been throwing stones at Mrs. Cooper’s house, and that Weatherill had chased them down Emily Street in the wee hours of 11 August. Reportedly, Berry told Superintendent O’Neill that Kelly and O’Brien had been throwing stones at Weatherill, and that Kelly had said “By God, we have killed him.” He also claimed that O’Brien had remarked that “the old man was as dead as a nail.” Kelly, however, said “I didn’t strike the old man.” He claimed that Weatherill struck McLaren with a stick, and that it was McLaren and Berry who had been throwing stones at the old man. Kelly added that he had wanted to throw stones but couldn’t find any. When O’Brien was arrested, he reportedly laughed at the police and told them to do their best. He said to Superintendent O’Neill, “You can lecture me if you like, but it is not a neck-snapping affair at any rate.” All four were charged with feloniously murdering and slaying one James Weatherill on 11 August 1881.

Shortly afterwards, Superintendent O’Neill accompanied by a company of Dominion policemen swept through Mount Sherwood arresting alleged charivari participants. More than a dozen boys and young men were taken to police headquarters in the East Block departmental building on Parliament Hill and charged with riotous conduct. All were released on bail. Among the arrested was one William McGrath, a stone cutter by trade, aged about 20, who spoke “openly and fearlessly of his conduct, free from any criminal intent, according to the Ottawa Citizen. William McGrath later became a City of Ottawa alderman.

Unlike today, justice moved swiftly in nineteenth century Ottawa. Three weeks after the fateful charivari, those charged with riotous conduct were found guilty and fined anywhere from $3 to $15, or one to two weeks in jail with hard labour.

The four charged with Weatherill’s murder were brought in front of the Carleton Assizes in October 1881. All pleaded not guilty. Representing the foursome were Mr. Gibb for James O’Brien, Mr. Ward for Christopher Berry, and Mr. William Mosgrove for James Kelly and Robert McLaren. The Crown was represented by Mr. Robert Lee, Q.C. and the prominent Ottawa lawyer and former mayor Richard W. Scott.

The defence lawyers were adroit. Dominion Police Superintendent O’Neill testified that he had known the four young men charged from infancy, and attested to their good character. Mr. Mosgrove argued that the evidence could not fix the cause of death on any of the prisoners. Moreover, he claimed that when Weatherill left the home of Mrs. Cooper and began to pursue the boys, he became the aggressor.

Most telling, however, was testimony from one of the three doctors who conducted the post mortem, who admitted under cross-examination that Weatherill’s death might have resulted from a number of causes. Besides being hit on the head with a stone or a blunt instrument, an “extravasation of blood” into the brain could have incurred through a fall or excitement. The fact that Weatherill’s body had been found lying close to a high, wooden sidewalk that crossed a small gully, gave credence to the possibility that his death might have been caused by a fall. There was also little doubt that Weatherill had been seriously vexed by the charivari.

The Crown contended that there was no doubt that Weatherill had been murdered. He had been in good health immediately prior to the charivari, and that it was plain that he met his death in a most violent and sudden fashion. Scott argued that it was ridiculous to say Weatherill brought his death upon himself by his attempt to drive off the rowdies. His actions to protect the lives of helpless women and children were natural and right. While the charge against O’Brien, Berry, Kelly and McLaren was murder, he did concede that the jury could bring in a verdict of manslaughter.

In his charge to the jury, the presiding judge said that a charivari was no excuse for rowdy conduct and condemned the practice. He also said Weatherill had not overstepped his rights when he left the house and gave chase to his tormentors.

After only two hours of deliberation, the twelve-man jury acquitted the four youths. Few in the courtroom were surprised.

Forty-five years later, now retired alderman William McGrath, who had been fined for his participation in the charivari, recounted the events surrounding Weatherill’s death in a lengthy interview to the Ottawa Citizen. While there were a number of discrepancies between his version of events and contemporaneous accounts, he credited the acquittals to the ability of defence lawyer, later judge, William Mosgrove.



Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1881. “Charivari,” 5 August.

————————–, 1881. “A Brutal Murder,” 11 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Latest Outrage,” 11 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Charivari Murder,” 13 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Fatal Charivari,” 15 August.

————————-, 1881. “Charivari Captives,” 16 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Mount Sherwood Affair,” 17 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 19 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 20 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 23 August.

————————-, 1881. “Weatherill Tragedy,” 24 August.

————————-, 1881. “Carleton Assizes,” 11 October.

————————-, 1881. “Carleton Assizes,” 15 October.

————————-, 1881. “Chaivari Charges,” 1 September.

————————-, 1926. “Tragic Weatherall (sic) Charivari, 6 March.

————————-, 1928. “Mt. Sherwood Had Origins In Subdivision 60 Years Ago,” 29 December.



The Last Timber Raft

8 July 1908

These days, Ottawa has become a synonym for “the government” much to the chagrin of the city’s residents. Newspapers constantly complain about things that “Ottawa” has done. This is understandable since government is the principal industry of the city. One in five jobs in the Ottawa-Gatineau area is with the federal government, a fraction that rises to one in four if you include other levels of administration. This wasn’t always the case. At the beginning of the twentieth century, trees, not politics, were central to the economic prosperity of Ottawa, and of Hull, its sister community on the other side of the Ottawa River. Saw mills and pulp and paper factories which crowded the shores of the Ottawa River, especially in the Chaudière district, employed thousands. Communities the length of the Ottawa Valley also depended on the forestry business, felling and shipping logs to Ottawa and Hull for processing.

The lumber business in the Ottawa Valley began with Philemon Wright, the man from Woburn, Massachusetts who led the first Europeans to the region, settling on the north shore of the Ottawa River in 1800 in what would later be called Hull, Quebec. The settlers, initially intent on farming, discovered a pristine forest that stretched for as far as the eye could see. By one estimate, the untouched Ottawa Valley, in which the land’s indigenous people had liven in harmony for countless generations, comprised 28 million acres of dense woodland. The settlers quickly turned to exploiting this vast and seemingly inexhaustible resource, containing more than 500 billion board feet of valuable timber (A board foot is a measure of lumber volume, being one foot by one foot by one inch.)


Hauling Logs in the Ottawa Valley, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada

This ancient woodland was very different from what little remains of the Valley’s forest today. It was estimated that roughly one half of the original forest was made up of white and red pine. A further 45 per cent consisted of other soft woods, such as spruce, balsam and hemlock. The remaining 5 per cent of the woodland was maple, oak, basswood and other species of hard woods. The old-growth trees were also enormous by today’s standards, with stands of white pine rising more than 100 feet.

In June 1806, Philemon Wright navigated the first log raft, christened the Columbo, from the confluence of the Gatineau and Ottawa Rivers down the Ottawa to the St. Lawrence and on to market in Quebec City for sale to the Royal Navy. At that time, Britain was fighting Napoleon’s France. With Britain’s usual Baltic supply of Norwegian pine cut off due to a French blockade, it looked to Canada’s white (sometimes referred to as yellow) pine as a replacement. The tall, straight, first growth trees made ideal masts and spars for its naval vessels.


The assembling of a timber raft on the Ottawa River below Parliament Hill, Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-00843.

To get the timber to Quebec City, Irish and French lumbermen squared the pine logs. The “sticks,” as they were called, were pulled by teams of horses over greased slides to be launched into the water. There, they were bound together to form cribs using withes, strong, flexible branches of birch and alder. Four cribs made a band. The bands were joined together to assemble a raft. On the raft were cabins to house a crew of thirty or more men. The captain had his own quarters, sufficiently commodious to accommodate the occasional passenger. There was also a cook-house to prepare food and to brew tea.

Travelling down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers on a log raft was difficult and perilous, especially during the early days before timber slides were built so that rafts could circumvent fast water. The first such slide was built in 1829 by Ruggles Wright, the son of Philemon Wright, on the north side of the Ottawa River to pass logs around the Chaudière Falls, known in English as the Giant Cauldron. Other rapids that had to be bypassed on the way to Quebec City were found at Long Sault near Cornwall, and Lachine, both on the St. Lawrence.

Even with the construction of timber slides to ease their passage, the big rafts had to be broken down into component cribs before entering a slide, and reassembled afterwards. The journey from Ottawa to Quebec City could take a month or more. However, it wasn’t all hard work, at least for the owners. It is reported that lumber barons hosted large parties of MPs and senators to lunches of pork and beans before departing Ottawa. Also, along the way, raft captains entertained lavishly at various stops during the voyage.

Once in Quebec City, the big timber rafts were disassembled in nearby coves, and sold to waiting British merchants for shipment to Liverpool and other British ports.

In 1836, the Ottawa Valley Lumber Association was formed in Bytown, with meetings held in Doran’s Hotel, the town’s chief waterhole of the age. Early lumbermen included James Skead, David Maclaren, J.S. Currier, and the Buchanan brothers, Andrew and Charles. While the square timber trade was generally very profitable, it was also precarious. John Egan, for whom Eganville, Ontario is named, was a power in the timber trade during the mid-nineteenth century, but went bankrupt in 1854 when prices unexpectedly fell.

The era of the square timber raft peaked during the 1840s, and steadily waned thereafter. Mid-century, Britain adopted a free-trade economic policy thereby eliminating a trade preference enjoyed by Canadian timber producers since the Napoleonic Wars. The Royal Navy’s demand for Canadian pine also declined as the age of sail gave way to that of steam.


Cook house on a timber raft, Andrew Auborn Merrilees Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, ID No. 3277723.

But Ottawa’s lumber industry adapted. Demand for Canadian sawn timber rose in the rapidly growing eastern cities of New York and Boston. U.S. entrepreneurs, such as Captain Levi Young, Franklin Bronson, Ezra Eddy, and J.R. Booth, established sawmills on the shores of the Ottawa River, harnessing its fast-flowing water to power their large timber saws. In 1874, 424 million board feet of timber were cut in Ottawa-area sawmills, along with a further 25 million board feet of square timber. The biggest lumber producer at that time was the E.B. Eddy Company whose output amounted to 55 million board feet. Close behind was Gilmour and Company which produced another 50 million board feet. J.R. Booth’s company cut a further 22 million board feet of timber.

By 1902, 613 million board feet of timber were being produced by nineteen sawmills in the Ottawa Valley. J.R. Booth had vaulted into the number one spot, producing an amazing 125 million board feet of timber. His sawmill was reportedly the largest in the world, able to produce more than 1 million board feet of sawn timber in one eleven-hour day.

As the supply of white and red pine in the Ottawa Valley rapidly diminished, Ottawa’s lumber business turned increasingly to pulp and paper production, making use of the spruce and balsam firs which hitherto had been considered of little value. In 1878, E.B. Eddy constructed the first mechanical pulp mill for the manufacture of fibre products. By 1908, E.B. Eddy was producing 160 tons of pulp every day. In 1926, Eddy built a massive sulphite chemical pulp mill in Hull immediately across the Ottawa River from the Parliament buildings.

Timber slide, Royal Party, 1901, Charles Barkley Powell fonds, LAC ID3194381

The Duke of Cornwall and York and the Royal Party taking a ride on a crib through the Chaudière log slide, 1901, Charles Berkley fonds, Library and Archives Canada, ID No. 3294381.

Owing to waning demand for square timber, and a declining supply of big pine trees, fewer and fewer timber rafts made their way from Ottawa to Quebec City by the end of the nineteenth century. The few that did attracted much attention as the big timber rafts were broken up to make the trip through the government timber slide at the Chaudière Falls before being reassembled below the Parliament buildings for the next leg in their journey to the old capital. Timber rafting became a tourist and spectator sport. An exhilarating trip through the timber slide on a crib became a de rigueur experience for visiting dignitaries. In 1901, the Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V, took the plunge, just as his father had in 1860.

The last square timber raft to leave for Quebec City from Ottawa began its journey in mid-June 1908 from the upper reaches of the Ottawa River. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the largest raft in years, totalling 135 cribs, owned by J.R. Booth, had descended the Black River in Quebec. The newspaper advised people who wished to see the sight of it shooting the Grand Calumet slide upstream on the Ottawa River to take the CPR train to Campbell’s Bay and the stage to Bryson, Quebec.

On or about 8 July 1908, this last timber raft was ready for its transit through the government slide at the Chaudière Falls. We know this date from newspaper accounts of an inquiry into a hit and run accident that occurred in Ottawa. The suspect, a hackman, F.J.X. Lascelles, had been hired on 8 July to work on Booth’s timber raft going to Quebec City. Another newspaper account two days later advised people to go watch the running of the cribs through the Chaudière timber slide then underway as it was “probably the last [timber raft] that will ever pass down the Ottawa to Quebec City.” Hundreds of spectators took the newspaper’s advice to watch the event. After passing through the slide, the cribs were reassembled below the Parliament buildings into the log raft for its voyage to Quebec City under the direction of pilot Ephrem Lalonde, a raftsman of more than forty years’ experience.

The Ottawa Citizen remarked that this was the end of the adventurous method of transporting timber which had been the most picturesque feature of the timber industry. Subsequent loads of timber were transported by rail.

After peaking during the beginning the twentieth century, the Ottawa Valley timber industry entered a long decline as its supply of wood dwindled. By the mid-1920s, it was estimated that less than four percent of the Ottawa Valley’s original, old-growth forest remained, consisting of not more than 10 billion feet of pine of saw-sized timber, with a further 5 billion feet of other soft woods and 4 billion feet of hard woods. Secondary growth of soft and hard woods was deemed suitable only for pulp and firewood.

Lumbermen looked back in dismay at the wasteful practices of the past. Squaring logs led to the wastage of more than one-third of the wood. Giant hemlocks were cut down solely for their bark used for tanning leather, the wood left to rot where the trees were felled. Land clearances for farms destroyed countless acres of valuable timber. The dead branches and brush from cut trees also provided the fuel for massive forest fires that destroyed valuable stands of timber.


J.R. Booth’s timber raft, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, 138219. With the completed Alexandra bridge in the background, this picture dates from no earlier than 1901. Quite possibly, it is a photograph of the last timber raft to go from Ottawa to Quebec City in 1908.

Today, the lumber and paper mills of Ottawa-Hull are mostly gone. The J.R. Booth Company was bought out by E.B. Eddy in 1943, the first of many mergers and closures. Domtar acquired the E.B. Eddy mills in Ottawa and Gatineau in 1998, and permanently closed them in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The site of the big Eddy pulp mill on the north shore of the Ottawa River across from Parliament Hill is now the location of the Canadian Museum of History. All that is left is the former Eddy paper mill on Laurier Street in the Hull sector of Gatineau. The mill has been owned by Kruger, a Quebec-based forest product company, since 1997.

Although the lumber industry was the backbone of the Ottawa economy for close to two hundred years, providing jobs for thousands, the prosperity that it generated came at a high environmental cost. The industry irrevocably altered the landscape of the Ottawa Valley with the destruction of virtually all of its original woodland. It also had serious negative consequences for the Ottawa River. Dams built to control water levels to facilitate the transport of logs and to power the sawmills disturbed fish habitats. Sunken logs, and saw dust, routinely dumped into the river, along with chemicals from the pulp and paper mills, and untreated city effluents, polluted the water, killed fish, and brought disease.

Fortunately, with the closure of most of the mills and more effective treatment of city sewage and runoff, water quality in the Ottawa River is improving. However, the extent of the improvement is not known. According to the Ottawa Riverkeeper, water quality monitoring is piecemeal throughout the Ottawa River watershed, and there is no program in place to monitor the quality of water in the Ottawa River over time.

A lasting legacy of Ottawa’s lumbering past is the ring dam at the Chaudière Falls. Once used to make electricity to drive the sawmills, it now produces clean energy to help power downtown Ottawa. While the once dirty industrial area has been greened and opened to the public, the dam’s continued presence remains controversial.

Forestry continues in the Ottawa Valley, though on a much-reduced scale from its glory days. Its focus today is on sustainable forestry practices that respect not only the economic value of the forest but also its cultural and ecological significance.


Canadian Museum of History, 2020. The Timber Trade,

Hirsch, R. Forbes, 1985. The Upper Canada Timber Trade: a sketch, Bytown Pamphlet No. 14, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen, 1908. “Big Raft Coming,” 15 June.

——————, 1908. “Comment,” 10 July.

——————, 1908. “Police Doing Clever Work,” 17 July.

——————, 1926. “For Over One Hundred Years District Has Been Greatest Lumber Producer In Canada,” 16 August.

——————, 1936. “Had Exciting Adventure On A Journey To Quebec On A Raft,” 15 February.

——————, 2006. “Kruger to change Scott names as Kimberly-Clark deal ends,” 11 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1976. “Great timber trade began on Hull side,” 27 September.

Ottawa Riverkeeper, 2020. Water Quality and Quantity,, 2005. A Background Study for Nomination of the Ottawa River Under the Canadian Heritage Rivers System – 2005,

Outaouais’ Forest History, 2020.

Whitton, Charlotte, 1967. “The Ottawa: My land of the white pine tree,” Ottawa Citizen, 27 June.


31 July 1984

On Tuesday, 31 July 1984, Caplan’s department store, a Rideau Street landmark for almost seventy years, closed its doors for the last time. Many were confused regarding its date of closure. The Ottawa Citizen had erroneously reported that the store had shut the previous Saturday. It subsequently issued a correction apologizing for its error.

The department store had been the life work of Caspar and Dora Caplan. Caspar had arrived in Ottawa from Lithuania in 1892 with only 63 cents in his pocket. On his first day in business as a door-to-door salesman, he reportedly sold some pens to a lady. It was a propitious sale. The lady in question remained a customer for the rest of her long life.

Caplan travelled around the city and outlying communities selling “small wares” from the back of his horse and buggy. With money scarce, he did a lot of his business through barter, exchanging his goods for dairy and farm produce.

From that small acorn did the mighty oak that was to become Caplan’s Department Store grow.

In 1897, Caspar Caplan married Dora Roston of Montreal. As a newly-married man, the life of an itinerant salesman no longer suited. In 1899, the couple opened a bricks-and-mortar shop in LeBreton Flats on Queen Street West. Sadly, their building burnt down in the Great Fire of 1900, forcing Caplan back onto the road.

In 1904, he and his wife opened another store, grandly called the Ottawa and Hull House Furnishing Company, at 491 Sussex Street in the building which later became the Jeanne d’Arc Institute. (The institute, which was operated by an order of nuns established by Mère Marie Thomas d’Aquin, became a boarding house for young, working women from 1917 to 1980. Today, the edifice is a registered Canadian heritage building.) The Caplans’ small store, with floor space amounting to only 750 square feet, sold men’s and ladies’ fashions on the main floor, and linoleum in the basement. The couple had an apartment above their shop. Rent, amounting to $35 per month, included a stable for their horse.

Business boomed for the young, enterprising couple. Sussex Street was a thriving commercial area during the early 1900s, close to the Bytown market, hotels and boarding houses. On payday, people converged on the Caplans’ store to spend their hard-earned money. They were always warmly greeted, often by name. The store also appealed to those short of ready cash as the firm was an early adopter of the “weekly payment” business, a form of installment credit. This was a risky venture as there were no credit agencies back in those days. Credit was extended on the basis of personal knowledge of their customers and trust.

Caplan's old store on Rideau OJ 24-4-65

The original Caplan’s store at 135 Rideau Street before it expanded, circa 1916, Ottawa Journal, 24 April 1965.

The prospering company moved to larger quarters down the road at 557 Sussex Street in 1908. The new premises had 2,250 square feet of floor space. An arc electric light lit the street outside of the store. At that time, the expanding firm added a furniture department to its list of retail offerings.

Eight years later, the Caplans moved again. This time to their 135 Rideau Street location which was to be their address for the next sixty-eight years. The store was incorporated at the beginning of 1916 with a capitalization of $50,000.

The department store was dealt a serious setback in 1917 when a fire of unknown origin, swept through its furniture department. While the blaze was quickly extinguished, more than $15,000 damage was caused which was only partially covered by insurance. Undeterred, the Caplans persevered.

Caplan’s department store flourished through the Roaring Twenties, and even through the Great Depression. In 1928, two new departments were added—shoes and children’s clothing. An elevator was also installed. Two years later, more land was purchased, with a big modernization program launched, both internally and externally. In 1937, a mezzanine floor was added for office space. The store also began to sell furs and electrical appliances. A toy department was added in 1938.

Plans to incorporate the adjoining building into the department store were put on hold owing to the beginning of World War II, and the illness of Caspar Caplan who retired from the business, leaving the operation of the department store in the hands of his wife Dora and their two sons, Samuel and Gordon. When Caspar died in 1943, Dora Caplan took over as president of the company.

After the war and through the 1950s, Caplan’s continued to expand. In 1948, the company acquired the next-door premises. The first phase of a massive expansion plan was completed in 1951. New departments were added—cosmetics, costume jewellery, draperies, kitchenware, woollens, linen and chinaware in 1953, unpainted furniture, outdoor garden supplies, televisions and “wheeled” goods in 1954. The external look of the building was also modernized with the addition of a marble veneer. By the time of its 50th anniversary in 1955, the store had about 45,000 square feet of floor space.


The first Caplan store was located in the white building with awnings on the right. The department store later purchased the central brick building with the arched windows. When this photo was taken in 1911, the building housed a dentist and a branch of the Bank of Ottawa, Library and Archives Canada, PA-005899.


Undated photograph of the modernized Caplan’s façade decorated for Christmas, Ottawa Jewish Archives.


Caplan’s department store ready for demolition, 2003, Ottawa Citizen, photo by Brigitte Bouvier


Replica Rideau Street façade of the old Caplan’s Department Store at 135 Rideau Street, Google Streetview.

The store built its reputation of three things: reliable merchandise; a money-back guarantee for unsatisfactory goods; and excellent customer service. Caplan’s was one of the first Ottawa stores to provide parking facilities for its customers—a major plus in an era of growing automobile ownership.

Caplan’s was also known for its good management-employee relations. The firm was reportedly one of the first in Ottawa to move to a five-day work week. Staff had their own recreation association as well as a bowling league. The company also sponsored social events. In the years before provincial health care, Caplan’s provided employees with a low-cost hospital plan as well as life insurance.

The Caplans were also active in the community. Caspar Caplan was a founder of both the Jewish Community Council and of the Adath Jeshuran Synagogue, of which he was president from 1930 to 1935. Samuel Caplan followed in his father’s footsteps, and was the synagogue’s president during the 1950s. Gordon Caplan was active in the Kiwanis Club, the Ottawa Better Business Bureau, and was a founding member of the Rideau Street Merchants’ Association.

Despite ongoing efforts to keep pace with changing times, Caplan’s, like all of Ottawa’s big downtown department stores, began to lose ground during the 1960s and 1970s due to growing competition from suburban shopping centres. But the biggest blow to Caplan’s fortunes was the building of the Rideau Centre. Not only did foot traffic to the store plummet during the course of construction which closed Rideau Street for a time, but Caplan’s had a glossy, new competitor right across the street when the shopping complex opened for business in March 1983.

After trying to boost business by converting Caplan’s into a discount store, offering reductions of as much as 60 per cent on name-brand goods, George Caplan, the last head of the family-run business, called it quits in January 1984. He announced that most of the department store’s forty departments would be closed, and its staff of one hundred reduced. Only the fashion and accessories departments would be retained. Instead, the first two floors of the Caplan building would be converted into a “mini-mall” of independent retailers, while the upper two floors would be leased as commercial office space. George Caplan also asked the company’s creditors to wait until the end of April 1984 to be paid in order to allow the firm time to re-organize itself. The business owed roughly $1.6 million to secured creditors and $1.4 million to 470 unsecured creditors. Staff were also owed $30,000 in vacation pay.  He stressed, however, that the firm was neither bankrupt nor in receivership.

Caplan’s creditors gave the firm more time. Indeed, the end-April deadline was extended by another 60 days. But sales continued to decline and losses rose. In mid-June, George Caplan confirmed what everybody knew was coming, that the family-owned firm would sell of its remaining stock and close for good. The family would retire from the retail business and would henceforth concentrate on its real estate interests which included ownership of the Caplan building.

The Caplan family’s real estate firm, which was called the Ottawa House Furnishing Company, renovated the old department store building in 1984, and rented parts out to a variety of enterprises, including a Biway discount outlet and a Moores menswear clothing store. A Canada Employment Centre also opened in the building. CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) had offices there as well. Gordon Caplan, the son of founders Caspar and Dora Caplan, kept an office in the building until his death in 1990 at the age of 89.

In 1997, the building was purchased by the Canril Corporation, whose aim was to redevelop the site. Various proposals for the property came and went, including the construction of a casino, a cinema, and a sports museum. With the old building becoming increasingly dilapidated, Canril sought permission to demolish it. This set in motion a battle between heritage supporters, City Council and the developers. To make the situation more complex, any changes to the George Street side of the building was subject to city approval owing to its location in the Byward Market Heritage Conservation District. The same was not true, however, for the Rideau Street side, despite parts of it dating back to the 1870s and the façade being more architecturally and historically significant.

After several minor fires, and a “repair or demolish” order from the Ottawa Fire Marshal, agreement was finally reached with the City to demolish the old building in 2003 as long as any future development of the site included the construction of a replica façade of the old Caplan building.

In 2005, Canril reached an agreement with the City of Ottawa to build a nineteen-storey condominium building on the site of the Caplan building which would extend from 90 George Street to Rideau Street. As per the previous agreement with the city, the developer duly constructed a replica of the Rideau Street façade based on a precise imaging of the building that was made in 2000.

The new condominium tower opened for residents in 2009.


City of Ottawa, 2005. Application for new construction in the Byward Market Heritage Conservation District at 90 George/135 Rideau Street—Amendment to previous proposal, 27 January.

Heritage Ottawa, 2017. Caplan’s Department Store,

Ottawa Citizen, 1917. “$15,000 Damage To Furniture Stock,” 25 June.

——————, 1984. “Faced with bid debts, Caplan’s becomes mall,” 17 January.

——————, 1984. “Caplan’s $3 million in the red,” 17 January.

——————, 1984. “Caplan creditors give it more time,” 2 May.

——————, 1984. “Caplan’s closing its doors,” 14 June.

——————, 1984. “Ottawa bids adieu to Caplan’s after 80 years,” 28 July.

——————, 1984. “Corrections,” 30 July.

——————, 1990. “‘Earthy, friendly’ department store owner Gordon Caplan dies at 89,” 26 November.

——————, 1997. “Vibrancy slowly returns to Rideau Street,” 21 October.

——————, 2002. “Preserving Caplan’s history,” 6 July.

——————, 2003. “Another Ottawa Landmark Is Lost,” 5 July.

Ottawa Jewish Archives, 2020.

Ottawa Journal, 1955. “Caplan’s Celebrating 50th Anniversary, 20 April.

——————-, 1965. “Ottawa Firm Observes Its 60th Anniversary,” 24 April.