The Marbles and Jacks Competitions

21 April 1924

In February 1924, the Ottawa Evening Citizen announced that it would be hosting a marbles and jacks competition for children aged thirteen and under in Ottawa and surrounding towns. Little information was initially provided, except to say that there would be similar competitions held in other Canadian cities, and that city champs would meet in a grant final contest in Toronto to determine the Canadian champions of both games. Prizes would be awarded, and there was no entry fee. Reflective of the sexist times, the marbles competition was strictly for boys and the jacks competition strictly for girls. Similar announcements were made by newspapers in Toronto, Halifax, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg and Edmonton. All were members of the Southam chain of newspapers.

The official rules of both games were published the following month.

The iconic Norman Rockwell illustration that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, 2 September 1939.

The version of marbles to be played was called “Marble in the Hole.” The game was very different from the typical game of marbles where contestants try to knock competitors’ marbles out of a circle drawn on the ground. In Marble in the Hole, a line, called the “rolling line,” is drawn on a flat playing surface ten feet from a hole which is four inches in diameter and three inches deep, shaped like an inverted cone. After determining the order of play, each player gives one of his three marbles to the player going first. The player who goes first, rolls his competitors’ marbles and one of his own simultaneously at the hole from the rolling line. He scores one point for every marble that goes in the hole. Then, stepping over the rolling line, the first player flicks with one finger each marble resting on the ground towards the hole, scoring one additional point for every marble successfully sunk. Should he miss, his turn is over.

The remaining marbles on the ground are picked up and given to the second player who rolls them towards the hole from the rolling line. Like the first player, he scores a point for every marble he gets in the hole. He then steps over the line and attempts to flick the remaining marbles left on the ground into the hole, scoring one point for every marble successfully sunk. Like player number one, the second player’s turn ends when he misses sinking a marble. It is then the third player’s turn. Play continues until all marbles are sunk. This is the end of the first round. Three rounds make a game. Whoever has accumulated the most points at the end of the game is the winner. All marbles are returned to their original owner.

The form of jacks that was played in the competition also differed from the game commonly played. Importantly, there was no ball. Like the marbles game, there were three rounds to a game. The rules were the following: After determining who goes first, the first player takes ten, six-pronged jacks in one hand while sitting or standing. She then drops, rolls, or throws the jacks onto the playing surface. This is called scrambling the jacks. She then picks up one of the ten jacks and tosses it into the air. While the jack is in the air, she picks up one of the jacks on the ground and catches the thrown jack with the same hand before it hits the ground. She repeats this until all the jacks are picked up. This is called “ones.” Each time, the jacks she picks up are put to one side. The competitor then picks up the ten jacks again with one hand and “scrambles” nine of them. Like before, she then tosses the remaining jack in the air, but this time picks up two jacks before the tossed jack hits the ground. She does this until all the jacks are picked up. This is called “twos.” As only nine jacks were scrambled, the remaining single jack is picked up by itself. This process is repeated for “threes,” “fours, “fives” all the way up to “eights.”

Advertisement promoting the marbles and jacks competition, Ottawa Evening Citizen, 16 February, 1924.

Each time, “residual” jacks are picked in the last toss. Then the player takes ten jacks in her hand and tosses one in the air. While the jack is airborne, she places the remaining nine jacks on the ground. Then the tenth jack is tossed again, with the player picking up the nine jacks on the surface with the same hand and catching the tossed jack before it touches the ground.

At any time should a player fail to pick up the right number of jacks, her turn is over. She must re-start the missed level.

The game now gets even more challenging. After completing the above levels, the player then takes the ten jacks in her hand, tosses them up into the air, and catches at least two on the back of her hand. The two or more jacks so caught are then tossed again and the remaining jacks are picked up from the playing surface. If a player is able to catch all ten jacks on the back of her hand, she has scored a ringer. As a reward, the player skips a round.

The winner of the contest is the first player who completes the three rounds of the games with the fewest number of turns.

The Citizen heavily promoted the city’s marbles’ championship over the next two months, exhorting boys to establish marbles’ clubs at their schools, churches and other organizations. The Y.M.C.A. boys’ division began hold training sessions. The newspaper boasted that “the game may soon be as popular as baseball.” It also advertised that it was ready to assist in the formation of marbles clubs across the city and neighbouring communities. Representatives from the newspaper visited schools throughout Ottawa and the valley during recess and lunch hours to interest boys in the game. School clubs were formed with inventive names, like “The Never Misses” and “The Sure Winners” of the Slater Street School, “The Sharpshooters” and “Shamrocks” of St. Patrick’s, and the “York Street Stripes” of the York Street School.

In early March, an exhibition game was held at the Glashan School yard between a Glashan School team and the Cambridge Street School team. The Cambridge boys won 16-14 before a large gallery of young marbles enthusiasts. The match was filmed as a learning aid for others. A month later, two St. Patrick’s teams, the “Tigers” and the “Sharpshooters” took on two Slater Street School teams, the” Never Misses” and the “Pickups.” In the finals, the “Never Misses” beat the “Tigers” twenty-one points to nine.

While the Citizen reported daily on progress made in organizing marbles clubs and the exhibition games, it was virtually silent on the jacks tournaments. The only comment it made was that interest among girls for the jacks competition was less than it was among boys for the marbles competition.  

Preliminary rounds of the Ottawa district marbles and jacks began mid-April. To help ensure fairness, Ottawa was divided up into sections by ward to help equalize the chances of winning. More than 1,000 boys and girls participated in the contests. Children who came from outside of Ottawa for the competition were put in in city hotels as guests of the Citizen.

Apparently, the ward contests were keenly followed by hundreds of people—schoolmates of contestants, parents and friends. After winning his ward marbles championship, Albert Groulx of 289 York Street, who attended St. Brigid’s School, was hoisted on the shoulders of his friends. There was so much hullabaloo that the “harassed” reporter had difficulty in obtaining Groulx’s correct address. Each ward winner received a silver medal.

The Ottawa district championships were held on Easter Monday, 21 April 1924. The marbles championship was played at Cartier Square which the Civic Playgrounds Commission had placed at the disposal of the Citizen. To control the crowds, police were stationed at the Square with the newly-rolled playing area, fifty feet by forty feet, roped off from the milling throngs there to witness the play. Alderman McGregor Easson, principal of the Elgin Street School, was the referee. The elimination games were played in four groups; eighteen boys competed. The final battle was among the four boys who won their individual groups. In the audience were prominent Ottawa citizens, including the president of the Rotary Club, several clergymen, schoolmates, and many girls and ladies.

The games were reportedly played with a high level of sportsmanship, with the audience of close to 300 cheering for all players. Many older spectators commented on the type of marbles being played. They concluded that it was far more sporting than the version they were used to—the version where you try to knock out competitors’ marbles out of a circle and you keep the marbles won. Mr. Harold Fisher, the provincial member of parliament for Ottawa and Mr. G.A. Disher of the Citizen played the ceremonial first game; Fisher was the easy winner.

Four boys made it to the finals: Harry Adelstein of the Elgin Street Public School, Anatole Charron of the Kiwanis Boys’ Club, Clifford Milford of Almonte, and John Carnegie of East Ward School, Pembroke. Adelstein had made it to the finals after having beaten Albert Groulx in the preliminaries. Groulx had taken a commanding early lead in the match but had come up short when he missed an easy shot in the final round. This left the door open for Adelstein who sank the remaining marbles—one was six feet from the hole!

In the finals, Harry Adelstein was declared the Ottawa district champion after Clifford Milford of Almonte, who had seemingly won the championship in a closely-fought battle, was disqualified. Milford had misread the entry requirements which stated that players had to be under fourteen as of May 1st. He had had fourteenth birthday in March.

The girls’ jacks competition were held the same day, 21 April, in the Y.M.C.A. Special Exercise Room. Competitors were divided into three groups. The winner of each group met in the finals. The Citizen’s coverage of the event was thin. The newspaper opined that girls had shown a “keen interest” in the game but were reluctant to “face the limelight of public contests.” After indicting the names of the officiants, the Citizen reported that Marion Scharf of Eastview Public School had won the Ottawa championship. Helen Nicholson of Borden School was the runner-up.

After the events, all the contestants were taken on a tour of the Parliament Buildings, the Citizen building on Sparks Street and the Experimental Farm.

Three days later, the Canadian championships were held in Toronto at the Pantages Theatre. In truth, it really wasn’t an all-Canada championship. Only three provinces were represented: Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, from communities where the Southam group of newspapers were located. The Vancouver Sun, which was not part of the Southam chain, cheekily held marbles and jacks competition for British Columbia. While its winners did not go to Toronto to compete in the Dominion championships, the winning boy and girl each received a gold medal.

Ottawa’s marbles champ, Henry Adelstein, was accompanied to Toronto by his mother, Mrs. L. Adelstein of 294 Laurier Avenue. They stayed at the Walker House Hotel free of charge, including meals, courtesy of the hotel. The jacks champion, Mildred Scharf, was accompanied to Toronto by her father, Mr. D. Scharf of Eastview. They stayed at the Carls-Rite Hotel where their lodgings and meals were also paid for by the hotel.

Oddly, while the Citizen reported that Adelstein and Scharf made it safely to Toronto, the newspaper did not report on the championship. In a printing error, on the day after the championship was held in Toronto, the newspaper re-ran on its front page an article that it had published a month earlier. An entry form for the now completed Ottawa district competition ran on page two. This oversight was not corrected the following day. Instead, the newspaper ignored the story. This must have been quite a blow to Ottawa’s two champions and their families.

A week later, a small article appeared on page six of the Citizen saying that Mildred Scharf, who had come in second in Toronto, had received a lady’s wristwatch and a silver medal, while her school, the Eastview Public School, had been awarded a silver cup. There was no mention of Henry Adelstein, though presumably he too received a watch and silver medal, with the Elgin Street Public School also receiving a silver trophy.

Other newspapers in the Southam chain did, however, report on the Toronto finals, though their coverage was hardly effusive. It seems that Kathleen Perry and Eddie Henderson, both of Toronto won the championships. After a nervous start to the jacks competition, Perry was an easy victor over the other players. In the marbles competition, Henderson, wearing his lucky red woollen toque, took the championship. Henry Adelstein of Ottawa came in third place.

The marbles and jacks competitions were not repeated.

Sources:

Edmonton Journal, 1924. “Marble, Jacks Cups Both Go To Toronto,” 25 April.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1924. “Championships in Marbles and Jacks For The Ottawa District To Be Decided In Capital,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1924. “Organization Work For Marbles And Jacks Contests Is Underway,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1924. “Every School Is Scene Marbles In The Hole Game,” 1 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Cambridge Team Winners Of Marbles In The Hole Exhibition,” 3 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Invites Marbles And Jacks Champions As Their Guest,” 6 March.

—————————–, 1924. “Rules for “Marbles,” Canadian Championship, 1924,” 24 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Rules for “Jacks,” Canadian Championship, 1924, 24 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Marbles And Jacks Contest Open About April 5th,” 25 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Valuable Trophies Will Be Awarded To School Winners,” 29 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Slater Street School Team Winners In The Preliminary,” 7 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Big Marbles And Jacks Tournament Commences Tomorrow; Play Opens In The Schools of Central Ward,” 14 April.

—————————-, 1924. “By Ward Marbles Contest Brought Out Keen Battle,” 19 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Preparations Complete For District Finals In The Jacks And Marbles Championships,” 19 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Elgin Street School Pupil And Eastview Girl Winners,”22 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Marbles And Jacks Contest Open About April 5th,” 25 April.

—————————-, 1924. “District Winner Of Jacks Contest Gets Wrist-Watch,” 3 May.

Vancouver Sun, 1924. “In Marbles And Jacks Finals,” 25 April.

Le Droit

27 March 1913

English-speaking Ottawa residents got their first English-language newspaper when Ottawa was still called Bytown, not long after the Rideau Canal was completed. The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, owned and edited by James Johnson, opened for business in February 1836. It was renamed the Bytown Gazette a short time later by Alexander Christie who purchased the newspaper from Johnson. The newspaper folded in 1845 leaving The Packet, launched in 1844 by William Harris, as the dominant English newspaper. The Packet was renamed the Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and has remained the main English newspaper in the capital to this day.

French-speaking Ottawa citizens had to wait until 1856 for their first French-language newspaper, Le Progrès. It was a weekly paper which covered politics, literature and business news. It bitterly opposed the idea of U.S. annexation of Upper Canada that found support among many English Canadians at that time. In 1861, it published an editorial arguing that union with the Northern States, which had just entered a civil war with the Confederacy, would ruin the country and would destroy in whole or in part our language [French], our religion [Catholicism] and our nationality [Canadian].  Sadly, the newspaper did not endure. Another newspaper by the same name reappeared in 1877 with offices at 200 Sparks Street. Delivered free of charge, it had a circulation of 2,000. However, it failed within a year. A number of other French-language, Ottawa-based, papers came and quickly went, such as Le Soleil and Le Féderal. A monthly 64-page magazine initially called Le Foyer Domestique appeared in 1876. Written by Catholic writers, its office was on Sparks Street. For a short while, it became a 12-page weekly before returning to a monthly format as L’Album des Familles in 1880. Its focus was primarily religion, philosophy, literature and poetry rather than news.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, initially a bilingual newspaper, commenced publication in 1870. A few months later, English was phased out and the paper changed its name to Le Courrier d’Outaouais after a debate in the paper about the appropriateness of using “Ottawa” in its name since the word was not French. The newspaper, which was for a time printed at 12 Wellington Street, closed in 1876. Its largest circulation was apparently only 600 copies.

Le Canada, owned and published by Ludger-Denis Duvernay, appeared in late 1865 with Elzéar Gérin as its first editor.  This paper was published on York Street three times a week. Conservative in its politics, Le Canada stopped publishing four years later though it later re-emerged in 1879 out of another short-lived newspaper called La Gazette d’Ottawa. The latter’s printers were Messieurs Louis Bélanger & Cie who operated from quarters at 445 Sussex Street at the corner of Sussex and Murray Streets. The paper later moved to 524 Sussex Street. The editor of the second version of Le Canada was Joseph Tassé, a Conservative member of Parliament and later senator who had been a journalist for the first Le Canada. The newspaper became a daily and remained in business until 1896.

Le Temps, whose offices were located at 552 Sussex, commenced publication in November 1893 under the editorship of Mr Oscar McDonnell. Its politics varied, sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal. It stopped publication in 1916.

With the demise of Le Temps, Ottawa’s residents were left with one French-language newspaper. This paper, Le Droit, which was started by a group of eminent Ottawa clergy and prominent local businessmen and politicians in 1913, flourished despite initial pessimistic expectations.

The mock-up of the newspaper, dated 15 January 1913.

The first public indications of the publication of a new Ottawa French-language newspaper occurred in mid January 1913 with the release of a mock-up of the Le Droit. The name can be translated into English as the Law, the Right, the Straight, or even the Upright. That initial, four-page edition didn’t contain much news other than report on the newspaper itself. There was a lot of blank space with headings and descriptions to indicate what the future content of these columns would be. The edition was more akin to a prospectus, announcing to the general public its intentions, its political affiliation or lack thereof, the cost of a subscription, and other important corporate details. Its office was identified as being on Dalhousie Street in Lower Town. But by the time the first official issue was published two months later, it was 88 York Street. The paper’s telephone number was Rideau 1448.

The backers of the newspaper had received a federal charter of incorporation, with an initial capitalization of $100,000, divided into $100 shares, payable in $25 installments, callable by the newspaper’s directors. A “good portion” of this amount had already been subscribed and the newspaper hoped that the balance of funds would come in over the next few days.

The paper was owned by a syndicate of 169 prominent French-Canadian businessmen and Roman Catholic priests called Le Syndicat D’Oeuvres Sociales, Limitée. Prominent members included Alfred Goulet, a political and businessman from Clarence, Ontario, A. T. Charron and F.A. Labelle, a Hull-based notary. The newspaper’s president was Onésime Guibord of Clarence Creek, Ontario. Guibord had been a member of the provincial legislature for Russell Township. Rev. Père Élie Jeannotte, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from Ottawa, was vice-president. Le Droit’s editor-in-chief was J.A. Caron, formerly of Rhode Island. Prior to the release of the mock-up of the newspaper, the shareholders met and elected a board of fifteen directors. Napoléon Antoine Belcourt, a Liberal Senator and head of l’Association canadienne-française d’éducation d’Ontario, was their legal adviser.

Shareholders in the new paper were not very hopeful of Le Droit’s future success. An article in the mock-up suggested that circumstances at that time were not favourable for staring a new newspaper, and that it needed the help of all of its friends if it were to succeed.

The purpose of the newspaper was to fight for the rights of French-Canadians in Ontario. In 1913, French-Canadians in Ontario found their language rights under threat by the passage of Regulation 17 the previous year by the Conservative Ontario Government of Sir James Whitney. The regulation restricted the use of French as the language of instruction in Ontario’s schools to only the first two grades. Thereafter, English was the language of instruction even to francophone children. The fight for language rights was led by Senator Belcourt, French-Canadian clergy, and the Ottawa Separate School Board. This conflict was to culminate three years later in “The Battle of the Hatpins” in which francophone mothers in Ottawa fought and ultimately succeeded in ensuring French remained the language of instruction for their children. Le Droit was to play a vocal supportive role in that coming fight.

In the January 1913 mock-up of the newspaper, there was a French translation of Regulation 17 as well as a reprint of an editorial on the subject that had appeared in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir in September 1912 following the release of the Regulation. Le Droit argued that the best weapon in the fight for linguistic rights was the publication of a daily newspaper which was before all and above all in the service of the Catholic faith, French language, and equal rights for all. It also sought “British Fair Play,” saying that French-Canadians simply wanted fair play on the burning questions of the day, such as the schools’ issue.

The newspaper’s “prospectus” announced that it would independent of all political parties and factions, unlike Ottawa’s English newspapers.  The newspaper also indicated that it would not focus on scandals or on sensational news but would give relevant, useful information. The newspaper saw a pedagogical role for itself. This was true even when it came to the coverage of sports, where it promised to take a “scientific point of view” in order to improve the health of French-Canadian youth. The paper also indicated that while it would take advertisements in order to raise revenue, it would not accept advertisements for alcohol, the theatre or other things that it could not recommend to people. It furthermore promised to limit ads on the front page to only one column.

Le Droit said it would cover current news in Ottawa and Hull, and would follow with interest the work of French-Canadians in all municipal organizations in Ontario and North-West Quebec. It stressed that it would look for useful news, not the sensational, and would report on the lessons to be drawn from the events it covered. The paper would also follow closely political news coming out of Queen’s Park in Toronto. Its particular focus would be on schools and the right of parents to give their children the education they judged to be the best. The paper said that it would have correspondents through Ontario and North-West Quebec. Its weekly Saturday edition would focus on more distant centres like Témiscamingue and Western Ontario.

The cost of the daily newspaper delivered each evening to the home was one cent. A yearly subscription cost $3.00 in Canada and the United States, $6.00 for other countries. The weekly edition, which was delivered on Saturdays, cost $1.00 per year in Canada, $1.50 in the United States, and $2.00 elsewhere.

The first real issue of Le Droit appeared on 27 March 1913, roughly two months after the mock-up addition was circulated. The afternoon before the official launch, Monsignor J.O. Routhier, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Ottawa, blessed the newspaper in a special ceremony in front of the paper’s staff and shareholders.

True to its word that it would focus on French-language education, front and centre of the first edition was an article on Ontario school boards. Beside the article was another called “Our Newspaper” which said that they were pleased to present to the general public a new newspaper that will devote itself to the interest of the French language and French schools in this part of the country. The paper didn’t see itself as “the Saviour of the People.” Instead, the paper said it would be humble, and that it didn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and even less on good actions.

It must have been very hectic in getting the first edition to bed. Le Droit’s management apologized that their service was imperfect that first day. They hoped that readers would understand and wouldn’t be too upset with the gaps that are inevitable in the launch of such an enterprise.

Advertisers in Le Droit that first day included both large and small French-owned companies and professionals with business in Ottawa. Le Sauvegarde Insurance Company, the only French-Canadian insurance company operating in Ontario, had a sizeable advertisement. It must have helped that Senator Belcourt was on the insurance company’s board of directors. J.A. Larocque, the big Ottawa department store located on Dalhousie Street, advertised its Japanese silks, robes, and corsets for all sizes. La Cie Chatillion, a furniture company on Rideau Street, announced its grand sale of stoves, beds, furniture, carpets, mattresses, bedsprings, and other household items. Showing the universal language of business and a keenness to attract francophone customers, many English-Canadian companies took out big, French-language ads that first day, including The Metropolitan Store, the Tally-Ho Pure Water Company, the Ottawa Printing Company and the Federal Typewriting Company.

Le Droit received the support of its friends and prospered. After more than 100 years of service to Ottawa’s francophone community, the newspaper remains an advocate for French rights in Ontario, and is Ottawa’s only French-language daily. It is currently owned by Martin Cauchon through his holding company Groupe Capitales Médias.

Sources:

Audet, FA. 1896. Historique des Journeaux d’Ottawa, A. Bureau & Frères.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, 1861. “L’Annexation de 1850 Vit – Elle Encore? ” 24 April. http://crccf.uottawa.ca/passeport/II/D/1/IID1a04-1-2.html.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2020. Joseph Tassé, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tasse_joseph_12E.html.

Le Droit, various issues.

The French-Canadian Genealogist, 2020. Clarence Creek, https://www.tfcg.ca/history-of-clarence-creek.

Ottawa Citizen, 1913. “New French Daily,” 27 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1913. “New French Paper,” 27 March.

Répertoire du patrimoine cultural du Québec, 2013. Duvernay, Ludger-Denis, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=24067&type=pge#.X6r-FWhKg2x.

Ross, A.H.D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, The Musson Book Company Limited, Toronto.

Ottawa’s World-Famous Dairy

8 April 1927

You can whip our cream but you can’t beat our milk

Most patrons of the upscale restaurant e18teen, located in an elegant French-chateau style building just a few minutes walk from Parliament Hill, would be surprised to learn that they were dining in a former dairy. The building at 18 York Street was originally constructed in 1876 by the Institut canadien-français d’Ottawa as their headquarters. After a fire gutted it, the building was repurposed, and was for a time used by a pork packer. But for much of its history it was a dairy, producing each year thousands of gallons of homogenized milk, millions of pounds of butter, and crate loads of a processed cheese product that became a global favourite.

18 York Street, Home of Laurentian Cheese, Ottawa Citizen, 24 April 1928.

The story begins in 1922 with the establishment of the Moyneur Co-Operative Creamery by Charles H. Labarge. The creamery quickly became of one of the largest in the country, making 2-3 million pounds of butter annually. It also dealt in eggs, poultry and cheese. The business operated out of 12-14 York Street close to the Byward Market. In 1925, Labarge established a sister enterprise called the Chateau Cheese Company to produce and market a cheese product that he had developed after many experiments in a corner of his creamery. Chateau Cheese was a pasteurized, soft, cheddar cheese product similar to Velveeta. (Velveeta was invented by Emil Frey in 1918 and produced by the Munroe Cheese Company in Munroe, New York. The company was sold to Kraft Foods in 1923.) Chateau Cheese could be sliced, spread on crackers and toast, or melted to form a creamy, cheesy topping, ideal for making Welsh rarebit. In addition to the regular cheddar version, a pimento cheese product was also developed.

In August 1925, Chateau Cheese was demonstrated at the Pure Food Show, which was part of the Central Canada Exhibition. At the Moyneur Creamery booth, tempting samples of the cheese spread were offered for tasting. The company advertised that Chateau Cheese would not deteriorate with age. Instead, owing to its superior qualities and scientific manufacture, it would keep indefinitely if a small piece of wax paper was placed over a cut end.

Charles Labarge, Ottawa Citizen, 19 March 1928.

The product was also sold in a variety of convenient sizes, including half-pound packages, which appealed to budget-conscious consumers. This was a marketing innovation as cheese was typically sold at the time in much larger quantities, often as large as five pounds. The company imported specially-made machines from Switzerland that were capable of making the smaller packages. The manufacturing process was totally mechanical from the production of the cheese to when the boxes slid down the chute to the delivery wagons.

Chateau Cheese found a receptive market. A half-pound box of the cheesy food was on sale in Ottawa for 23 cents, with additional savings per pound to be had for larger packages. Within short order, it was available across Canada, and could be found in the finest hotels and restaurants.

A two-pound box of Chateau Cheese. The company used an image of the Château Laurier Hotel in its advertising.

Even while conquering the Canadian market, the company also started looking abroad. The director for sales of Chateau Cheese, Mr. H.D. Marshall, had extensive experience in overseas markets. Under his guidance, Chateau Cheese found its first foreign market, Germany, when the company was less than a year old. Within two years, the cheese was also on sale in Great Britain, the Balkan countries, and even in France, the cheese capital of Europe.  

The market reach of Chateau Cheese in 1930, Financial Post, 16 October, 1930.

The next market to be tackled was the United States where sales took off despite a 25 per cent tariff. So popular was Chateau Cheese south of the border that the company began to make the product in Plymouth, Wisconsin.

Before long, the cheese was available around the world, with advertisements for Chateau Cheese appearing on billboards in Havana, and on the sides of buses in Hong Kong and Shanghai. It also could be purchased in markets in India, throughout Central America, Bermuda, and parts of western Africa. Chateau Cheese boasted that it was “the cheese that is making Ottawa famous.” Sales rocketed. In March 1926, cheese sales totalled only $17,000. By October 1928, monthly sales had reached $230,000.

In 1927, Charles Labarge launched the Laurentian Dairy, and purchased 18 York Street next door to Moyneur Co-Operative Dairy as well as the Baskerville property in the rear to accommodate his growing dairy empire. The three related companies—the Moyneur Co-Operative Dairy, the Chateau Cheese Company and the Laurentian Dairy—together had 233 feet of frontage on York Street with a depth of 165 feet.

A bus in Shanghai advertising Chateau Cheese, Financial Post, 16 October 1930.

The Laurentian Dairy, which was supplied by 125 milk producers in the Ottawa Valley, was the first dairy in North America to sell homogenized milk on a retail basis. According to an article that appeared in the Journal of Dairy Science in 1963, Laurentian Dairy sold its first bottle of homogenized milk on 8 April 1927; home delivery began ten days later. The Laurentian Dairy advertised that due to its special homogenizing process, cream was prevented from coming to the top but instead was scattered throughout the milk. Its advertising slogan was “The last drop of milk is just as creamy as the first.”

Advertisement, Canadian National Railway Magazine, July 1929, Lost Ottawa.

The company later developed and sold an innovative protein milk designed specifically for infants with delicate digestions. The protein milk was sold under a doctor’s prescription. The Laurentian Dairy considered it to be a treatment rather than a food, that should only be taken with the advice of a physician. The dairy claimed that the most dangerous ingredients in cow’s milk—the sugar, whey and whey salt—were removed in the making of the special milk. Protein milk was available for daily delivery on the company’s regular routes through Ottawa and Hull, and sold at a premium price of 30 cents a quart.

In 1928, Laurentian Dairy began selling shares in the enterprise to Ottawa residents. The shares were offered at $50 each with a dividend of 7 per cent. The investments were backed by the combined assets of Moyneur Co-Operative Dairy, the Laurentian Dairy, Chateau Cheese Company and Meadow Milk Products Ltd, another part of the Labarge dairy empire that made condensed milk and milk powder.  The total value of the businesses was placed at over $500,000.

In December 1928, Charles Labarge and his partners received an offer they could not refuse from Borden Farm of New York, a major U.S. dairy started in 1857 by Gail Borden. The American company, which was seeking to expand its Canadian operations, bought the entire enterprise for $3 million—a huge premium over the book value of the firm. Borden’s retained all employees, including Charles Labarge who continued to manage the Ottawa operations. Chateau Cheese, Laurentian Dairy and their related companies were a perfect fit for Borden’s. Owners of common stock in the Ottawa companies received shares in the Borden Company which were then quoted in New York at $164 dollars a share.

Earlier that same year, Borden Farm Company had also splashed out $1 million to acquire Ottawa Dairy, a locally-owned firm that had started operations in 1900. The Ottawa Dairy was a large concern with 300 employees, 200 horses, and 100 delivery horse-drawn wagons. It was also the parent company of Cornwall Dairy, a smaller business on the St. Lawrence that employed a further 30 people. Ottawa Dairy owned a model, 800-acre dairy farm in the City View area, roughly one mile south of Baseline Road. This farm stretched from the Prescott Highway (now Prince of Wales) to the Merivale Road. It was stocked with a heard of 300 prime Ayrshire cattle, which provided the company with “nursery milk,” sold at a premium price for babies and invalids.

Ottawa Dairy sleigh on Albert Street, 31 December 1910, Toronto Public Archives

The old Ottawa Dairy Farm, which became known as Borden Farm after the takeover, remained in operation until 1960.  When Borden’s found it increasingly difficult to operate from the site owing to the encroachment of housing and other developments on all sides, it decided to sell. The straw that seemed to break the camel’s back was a windstorm in 1959 that badly damaged the farm’s barns.

The bulk of the acreage was purchased by the Ontario Department of Planning and Development in co-operation with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for a housing project. A strip of land 500 hundred feet wide and 1¼ miles long was also bought by the National Capital Commission for a proposed western parkway.

Downtown, the Ottawa Dairy also operated a production facility at 393 Somerset Street, just west of Bank Street. This outlet, which produced and sold butter, ice cream and other dairy products under the Borden name, remained in business until 1971 when it too closed owning to cramped conditions. Borden’s moved out to new, modern quarters on St. Laurent Boulevard. The old plant was sold.

18 York Street today, Google Streetview.

18 York Street was expropriated by the NCC in 1962 as part of its “Mile of History” plan, a federal centennial project to preserve historic buildings in downtown Ottawa. Borden’s remained as a tenant in the building until the end of July 1968 when the company got out of the cheese-making business in Canada and stopped producing Chateau Cheese. Fifty employees at the dairy were affected, the majority of whom took early retirement or sought jobs elsewhere. A few found new employment within the firm. For a while, the building was used as temporary storage space. In late November 1970, it was gutted by fire. The NCC subsequently restored the structure and over the years rented the space to a number of ventures. During the 1980s, it was the home of Guadalaharry’s Tex-Mex restaurant.

18 York Street has been the address of e18teen restaurant since 2001. The NCC has installed a bilingual plaque on the historic building describing its history.

Borden’s sold its Ottawa dairy facilities to Silverwood Industries in 1980, leaving the Canadian dairy market.  As a consequence, Borden’s products vanished from Canadian grocery shelves. Borden Farm, its old dairy farm south of Baseline Road, is now the name of a neighbourhood to the east of Merivale close to Meadowlands Drive.

Sources:

Financial Post, 1930. “Chateau Cheese Achieves Success from Very Start in Many Far Countries,” 16 October.

——————, 1930. “Laurentian Co. Makes Progress with New Milk,” 16 October.

——————, 1930. “Moyneur Co-Operative Creamery Earliest of Labarge Enterprises,” 16 October.

——————, 1930. “Ottawa Dairy Covers Whole Capital Area,” 16 October.

Gazette (Montreal), 1928. “Borden Dairy Co. Makes Purchases,” 20 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1925. “Chateau Cheese,” 28 August.

——————, 1926. “Chateau Cheese,” 26 August.

——————, 1927. “The Romance of an Ottawa Industry,” 28 June.

——————, 1928. “Laurentian Dairy,” 25 February.

——————, 1928. “$50 Buys You a Partnership in Laurentian Dairy,” 17 March.

——————, 1928. “New Protein Milk Latest Product of Laurentian Dairy,” 31 May.

——————, 1928. “Three million Dollars Price Paid by New York Interests for Big Business in Ottawa,” 17 December.

——————, 1959. “Borden Dairy Farm Going Out of Business,” 25 July.

——————, 1968. “Chateau Cheese to close; Borden ending production,” 17 July.

——————, 1970. “New Dairy to be Boon to Farmers, 2 October.

——————, 1980. “Borden’s dairy bought, name will disappear,” 29 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1927. “Announcement, Laurentian Dairy Ltd,” 14 April.

——————-, 1928. “Majority of Stock IS Acquired In Deal Involving A Million,” 3 January.

——————-, 1928. “$3,000,000 is Involved in the Sale Chateau Cheese Co. Holdings,” 17 December.

Trout, G. M., 1963. “Our Industry Today, Official Acceptance of Homogenized Milk in the United States,” Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 46, Issue 4, p. 342-245, April.

Radio Station CKCH Opens

27 February 1924

At the beginning of the 1920s, radio was the new technology that was sweeping the world. And Ottawa was on the forefront. In May 1920, a live two-way broadcast was transmitted between the experimental naval radio station at 279 Wellington Street and the experimental station XWA in the Marconi Building in Montreal. A secondary receiver with an amplifier and loudspeaker was set up in the ball room of the Château Laurier Hotel where members of the Royal Society of Ottawa listened intently to music and a speech from the President of the Society over the exciting new medium. At the beginning of 1921, the Ottawa Amateur Radio Association was formed. A few months later, the Association listened to a short musical concert put on by the naval radio station. Members also tuned into a time signal from Washington D.C.

This was cutting edge stuff. In an interview, the chairman of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) said that in November 1921 there were only a few radio receivers in the United States, most of which were experimental and in the hands of the military. Six months later, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that there were 700,000 receiving sets in the United States, 40,000 in New York City along, with a daily listening audience of more than one million. Sixty-seven broadcasting studios were in operation, covering musical concerts, news, sports, religious services, business highlights and politics.

Canada followed a similar trajectory. In 1921, Ottawa’s experimental naval station with the call letters OA and the Marconi Station in Montreal, which became known as CFCF, were the only radio transmitters in Canada. But by early 1924, there were roughly forty radio stations across the country.

Station OA gave its first public concert in late April 1921, though few people in Ottawa had radio receivers. The few that were around were unpowered crystal sets. Listeners had to use sensitive earphones to pick up the weak signal. OA later transmitted a live concert performed by the Ottawa South Community Centre under the direction of Professor George Berry.

Advertisement for radios, Ottawa Citizen, 26 February 1924. A $9 crystal set would cost roughly $136 in 2021 money. A four-tube radio set cost the equivalent of $3,650 in today’s money!

In 1922, OA began making regular musical broadcasts every Tuesday and Friday night at 8:00 pm for the benefit of local amateur radio operators. A broadcast in late October 1922 included a live performance of Ave Maria, along with a number of popular songs. Additional features included a comic recital, a news bulletin from the Intelligence Branch of the Department of the Interior, and a riveting address titled Safety First provided by the Ottawa Electric Railway Company. The broadcasts were initially transmitted on a wavelength of 2,100 metres, equivalent to a frequency of 143 kilohertz. This later changed to a wavelength of 500 metres, or 599.5 kilohertz. Listeners were asked to write to the department on how the concerts were heard and the quality of the signal. Station OA stopped broadcasting in early 1924.

In 1922, J.R. Booth Jr. began a private radio broadcasting station that operated under the call letters CHXC, and transmitted at a wavelength of 400 metres, or a frequency of 749.5 kilohertz. The station operated out of various locales, including 247 Flora Street, the home of the president of the Ottawa Amateur Radio Association, the Roxborough Apartments in downtown Ottawa, and the offices of the Great War Veterans’ Association, the forerunner of the Royal Canadian Legion, on Cartier Street.

For a time, the station provided a varied musical performance using local talent three evenings per week. Again, listeners were asked to mail in information regarding the range and quality of the station’s broadcast. When asked by francophone listeners if announcements could be made in French as well as English, the station complied, thereby becoming the first radio station to offer a bilingual service. The station later became know for its broadcasts of the card game bridge which was all the rage at that time.  

The broadcasting room for CNRO (CKCH) radio, roof of the Jackson Building, Ottawa, 1926, Canadian National Railway Collection, CN000300.

Ottawa entered radio’s major leagues with the opening of CKCH on 27 February 1924. The station was owned by Canadian National Railway. The state-owned railway network had been established a few years earlier when the federal government took over a number of near-bankrupt railway companies, including the Grand Truck Railway that operated in Ottawa and owned the Château Laurier Hotel. The station broadcasted out of the Jackson building on Bank Street. At the time it was the tallest commercial building in Ottawa. The station’s two 75-foot transmission aerial towers, placed on the corners of the 190-foot building, had an overall height of 265 feet. The CKCH studio was on the first floor in room 168, with its operating room located on the roof. The station, which transmitted at a wavelength of 435 metres, or a frequency of 689 kilohertz, was at the time the most powerful station in Canada. It was the flagship of a network of CNR radio stations across the country, built so that the train’s customers could listen to radio programmes during long, tedious, transcontinental trips across Canada in a special radio car where each listener was equipped with his or her own earphones.

On that first day, the station was opened during the afternoon for viewing by the general public. Thousands of visitors flocked to see the state-of-the art radio facilities, built at a cost of $18,000. The studio was described as being exceedingly artistic, with nothing omitted for the comfort of performing artists. Its walls and ceiling were covered in heavy, pleated blue fabric to dampen any potential echo or reverberation. Similarly, the floor was covered with a heavy carpet. In the studio were a microphone on an adjustable stand, a telephone, and a microphone control panel linked to the roof-level operating room. The panel had three lights. A red light indicated that the transmitting set on the roof was in operation. A blue light indicated that broadcasting was in progress, while a white light summoned the announcer. The station had four employees: an operator, an assistant operator, an announcer, and a musical director.

Performers at CNRO, 1926, Jackson Building, Ottawa, Canadian National Railway Collection, CN000301.

That evening, CKCH went on the air for its first official broadcast. It opened with a rendition of O Canada, followed by a number of tunes played by the Château Laurier orchestra, including the William Tell Overture. There were also a number of vocal and other solos. The highlight of the inaugural programme was an address by Sir Henry Thornton, the CNR president, to company employees. Thousands listened in, as did thousands of Canadian and U.S. radio listeners. In his speech, he called the opening of the station the most important event in the development of radio in Canada. He also spoke directly to American listeners, extending “a hearty hand to them.” He stressed the merits of Canada as a tourist destination and expressed his hope that they would come and visit, and, of course, ride the railway. To the company’s employees, he noted with pride that CNR’s net earnings for 1923 had been $20 million, and the company was aiming for $30 million in 1924. He added that the year had got off to a great start, with profits of $500,000 in January 1924 compared with a deficit in January the previous year.

The station promised to broadcast musical concerts each Wednesday and Sunday evening with the occasional church service on Sundays. The Wednesday programmes would be of a serious nature, consisting of “music of the highest type,” addresses, and possibly speeches from Parliament. Saturday evening performances would be “of a lighter vein.” News would also be regularly transmitted. CKCH would be placed at the disposal of the Canadian government at any time desired.

Travellers listening to radio in the Maple Leaf Lounge on a CN train, circa 1929, Canadian National Railway Collection, CN000299.

The response to that inaugural broadcast was enthusiastic. Congratulatory telegrams poured into the station. The Ottawa Journal said the radio would “bring Canadians to the capital of Canada with all the comforts of home.” The newspaper fantasized of the farmer sitting with his pipe in hand listening to a debate in the House of Commons. It added that the station could “make Canada real to thousands of benighted Americans who do not travel this way and who have delusions that the Dominion consists of an ice-bound north.”

The station began broadcasting many of the types of programming familiar to us today. It offered a time signal at 9:00pm supplied directly from the Dominion Observatory at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa. The signal was intended for the use of everybody, but was aimed particularly at scientists, mariners and courts of law. The station also offered a report given by the secretary of the Automobile Club of Ottawa on road conditions leading into the capital. Given the horrible conditions of most highways at this time, this was an important service. And for sports fans, the station was the first to broadcast live the Stanley Cup playoffs, providing play-by-play coverage of a playoff game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. Ottawa, the defending Stanley Cup champions in 1924, lost 4-2 in the second game of a two-game, total score match. Montreal went on to play the Western champions. CKCH subsequently broadcast the Canadiens-Vancouver match live from the Mount Royal Arena. Between periods, music was provided by the Château Laurier orchestra.

Paradoxically, the opening of such a powerful station—its signal was picked up as far away as California and Panama—elicited some mixed emotions among Ottawa’s amateur radio enthusiasts. Some were concerned that if the station’s broadcasts were too frequent, they would have less opportunity to receive radio signals from elsewhere. They thought the stations’ twice-weekly broadcast gave the right balance.

With the growing success of radio, local musicians who had been providing their services for free, began in April 1924 to charge commercial stations, such as CKCH, for their services. The fee was $2 per hour per artist and $3.50 per hour for the orchestra leader. In 2020 terms, this is equivalent to roughly $30 and $53 per hour, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian National Railway coveted the “CNR” radio call letters for its new station. However, under international agreement the “CN” appellation was assigned to Morocco. After a year of negotiation involving the British Secretary of State for the Colonies and the foreign telegraph section of the British Post Office on behalf of the Canadian National Railway, the government of Morocco and the French colonial office agreed to cede the CN letters to the railway. The Department of Marine and Fisheries also agreed that the railway could use the letter “R”. Thus, CNRO was born with the “O” indicating Ottawa. The railway’s other radio stations adopted similar identification letters, with the last indicating the city, for example, CNRM became the railway’s Montreal station, and CNRE its Edmonton station. The CNR’s Moncton station became CNRA since the “M” was already used for Montreal.

CNRO continued to broadcast from the Jackson Building until mid-1929 when it moved to new quarters on the eighth floor of the newly completed east wing of the Château Laurier Hotel.

In 1933, the station was taken over by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, the forerunner of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). With the change in ownership, the station’s call letters were changed from CNRO to CRCO. In 1937, when the CBC assumed control of the station it became known as CBO.

CBO radio continued to broadcast from the Château Laurier Hotel until 2004 when it moved to the new CBC Ottawa broadcast centre on Sparks Street.

Sources:

Gazette, 1924. “To Broadcast Results,” 18 March.

Nanaimo Daily News, 1924. “Radio Stations Are To Have Busy Week,” 26 April.

Ottawa Citizen, 1924. “Successful Test of Radio Station CKCH,” 26 February.

——————, 1924. “Station CKCH Opens,” 27 February.

——————, 1924. “Sir Henry Thornton Officiates At Opening of C.N. Radio Station,” 27 February.

——————, 1924. “Watching the Game Through Eyes of Station CKCH,” 12 March.

——————, 1924. “Game Broadcast by Station CKCH,” 19 March.

——————, 1924. “Radio Time Signals,” 27 March.

——————, 1924. “Pro Musicians Will Charge For Radioing,” 1 April.

——————, 1924. “Reports on Roads About the Capital,” 24 April.

——————, 1924. “Record Reception of Station CKCH,” 26 April.

——————, 1924. “Canadian National Radio System Has New Call Letters,” 16 July.

——————, 1924. “Many Pages in Radio History Have Been Written by Ottawa,” 8 October.

——————, 1929. “Broadcasting Public Address System Provides Unique Kind of Accommodation for Guests,” 5 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1921. “Will Broadcast Local Concert,” 10 August.

——————-, 1922. “Quotations For Babson’s Statistical Organization,” 1 May.

——————-, 1922. “Ottawa Radio Concerts,” 4 October.

——————-. 1922. “Radio Concert Was Rare Treat,” 30 October.

——————-. 1922. “Delightful Concert By Radio Telephony,” 16 November.

——————-, 1924. “Ottawa’s Radio Station,” 27 February.

——————-, 1924. “Thousands View New Radio Station Where Sound Can Be Magnified Just Million Times Greater To The Ear,” 28 February.

——————-, 1924. “Cost About $18,000 To Erect CKCH,” 14 April.

——————-, 1924. “Road Information Over The Wireless,” 25 April.

Radio Age, 1924. Corrected List of Broadcasting Stations, April.

Urbsite, 2015. The Jackson Building’s Many Lives, 8 September, http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-jackson-buildings-many-lives.html.

Windsor Star, 1924. “C.N. Employees Are Inspired By Thornton,” 28 February.

Valentine’s Day in Old Ottawa

14 February 1848

In this increasingly secular world, few keep track of the liturgical calendar of the Church that determines when feast days, including the celebration of saints, are to be observed. If asked, other than Christmas and maybe Easter, people will likely remember just two dates—St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th and St. Valentine’s Day on February 14th, though the latter is typically shortened to just Valentine’s Day. But if you look up February 14th in the Catholic Church calendar, you won’t find a celebration in honour of St. Valentine but rather a celebration of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius who converted the Danube Slavs to Christianity in the 9th century, becoming known as the “Apostles of the Slavs.” (The Cyrillic alphabet is named after Saint Cyril.) St. Valentine used to be celebrated on that date, but, while he is still considered to be a saint by the Catholic Church, he was relegated to the minor leagues in 1969 owing to the lack of information about him.  

Icon of St. Valentine, author unknown.

While it’s possible that Valentine’s execution occurred on February 14th, some Valentine experts believe the Church co-opted an existing Roman pagan festival, the Lupercalia, a three-day event that ended on the ides of February (February 15th). The festival featured animal sacrifices and men and women cavorting in their birthday suits. As you might imagine, the Church wanted to snuff out this much-loved annual rite. St. Valentine’s Day was its response.

Celebration of St. Valentine’s Day is also linked to Geoffrey Chaucer, the famous 14th century author of the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer wrote a poem called Parlement of Foules [Fowls]. The seven-hundred-line poem, which refers to Dame Nature overseeing birds that have gathered to choose their mates, contains the first known reference to St. Valentine’s Day as a special day for lovers. For this was on Seynt Valentynes day, When every foul cometh ther to chese [choose] his make [mate]…” [lines 309-310].

The first known Valentine’s Day greeting was apparently sent in 1415 by the Duc d’Orléans to his wife. The Duke, captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt, was being held for ransom in the Tower of London.

Shakespeare gets into the act at the beginning of the 17th century with Ophelia in Hamlet saying To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All is in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine [Act 4, Scene 5].

Advertisment, The Packet, 2 January 1848.

The first reference to Valentine’s Day that I could find in Ottawa papers, dates back to the end of January 1848 when Ottawa was still known as Bytown. Henry Bishoprick, who sold writing desks, plateware and china, advertised in The Packet, the forerunner of the Ottawa Citizen, that he had an assortment of “Valentines for sale by the dozen or single.” Two years later, The Packet published on its front page a lengthy Valentine poem about Cupid written by Mrs. J. Y. Foster. The first verse ran:

Young maiden! Fair maiden! I bid you beware!

There is a sly spirit aloft in the air!

Though veiled by a mist from the bodily eye,

He glides in a fairy-formed chariot bye;

Two ring-doves yoked lovingly bear him along—

He is laden with poetry, blossoms and song;

Flames kindling and darting, his chariot illume,

But rose-hued and harmless, they fail to consume,

Though helpless he looks, yet all bow to his sway,

And he wounds who he pleased on Valentine’s Day.

By the mid-1860s, the exchange of Valentine cards was in full swing. At the time, one could send letters and cards through the mail without affixing postage. This required the recipient to pay the one cent fee for local delivery. In 1870, an article in the Ottawa Citizen advised senders of Valentine cards to pay the postage upfront. If the postage was not paid “even the most tender of Valentines, instead of fulfilling its high mission of kindling a mutual flame in the adored one’s breast, will only eventually promote combustion in the stoves of the Dead Letter Office.”

Cards and other Valentine gifts began to appear in stationery shop windows along Sparks and Rideau Streets in late January. They ranged from the sentimental to the comic, costing as low as one cent up to more than seven dollars. Consequently, there was something for every budget. 

Example of a 19th century Valentine, Source: Say It With A Camera On WordPress.com.

Reportedly, the cheapest cards typically depicted a white or a pale-tinted tablet bearing some appropriate sentimental or romantic inscription. The tablet was surrounded by bouquets of violets or roses. Cards made in England often featured verses by the Irish poet, William Allingham, the author of The Fairies, a poem still popular today with children. Another favoured author was Jean Ingelow. She burst on the literary scene in the 1860s with a book of poems. One of her most famous called Divided tells the tale of two lovers walking hand-in-hand on opposite sides of a little brook which gradually broadens to become a major river—very appropriate material for Valentine cards! English cards might also feature paper lace and silver foil. For a time, they were also decorated with feathers. In 1872, London newspapers protested this frivolity which had led to the demise of thousands of songbirds, including chaffinches, wrens, sparrows, linnets, and robins.

American Valentine cards, which were produced in the millions in a factory in Brooklyn, NY, apparently used verses of anonymous writers. A typical sentiment might be: Tho’ this heart but plasterboard be, There is a warmer one for thee. The American cards were often brilliantly coloured and featured hearts, blossoms and leaves with bevelled edges. Some depicted girls reading letters or plucking daisy petals.

Vinegar Valentine, 19th century.

However, not all Valentine cards were sweet and loving. Comic cards, sometimes called vinegar valentines, could be hurtful to the receiver. Their principal feature were ugly caricatures of men and women with unkind messages. Comic cards actually outsold the traditional, sentimental cards during the 1870s. At one point, three-quarters of the cards made by the Brooklyn factory were comic cards.

In 1872, the Ottawa Citizen ranted that Valentine’s Day was not being honoured with as much “love lettering as in the days of yore,” due to the baleful influence of “those cheap abominations called comic valentines by which mean and cruel people vent their envy and spleen.” That same year, a carter on Sussex Street sent a rival carter on the same street a vinegar Valentine card. This led to considerable hard feelings. The card’s recipient took the matter to court. Unfortunately, the outcome of the case was not reported.

Like today, picking and choosing the right Valentine to send to one’s love, could be a difficult and even traumatic event. Back in the 19th century, there was an additional hurdle for the shy or bashful to overcome. Purchasers couldn’t simply go into a store and look through a rack of cards. Instead, the buyer would tell a salesclerk what he or she wanted. The clerk would then bring out the requested type of Valentine cards for examination. A story appeared in the Citizen in 1877 describing the plight of a young man who, after peering at the display of cards in the shop’s window, anxiously looked up and down the street before entering, fearful of being recognized. Then, once inside, the poor youth blushed when he stammered out the requested article. Leaving the store, he hid his newly purchased Valentine’s card in his ulster (a long winter coat), his heart “beating fast at the thought of the dear bright eyes that will scan the glowing words.” This was clearly a more innocent age.

Another story described the predicament of a “young gentleman” under ten years of age. He preferred the cheaper kind of Valentine card owing to the number he had to send. He said: “A fellow has to send a Valentine to his girl, another to his chum’s girl, and one to the prettiest girl in his class because he likes her, and one to the ugliest girl because she’ll feel bad if she has none, and one to his teacher, and one to each of his cousins.”

The one person who did not appreciate Valentine’s Day was the postman. Having just recovered from picking up and delivering thousands of Christmas cards, he had to do the same with thousands of Valentine’s Day cards.

Valentine’s Day poem and suggestion from E.B. Eddy Company, Ottawa Journal, 14 February, 1893.

While the exchange of Valentine’s Day cards was the standard way of celebrating the festival during the 19th century, there were other possibilities. In 1894, the Ottawa Journal described how to host a St. Valentine party. The paper advised writing invitations on note paper decorated with hearts and ribbons. The event would consist of playing the card game Hearts for two hours with prizes. First prize would be a heart-shaped photograph frame and a heart-shaped pin cushion for the winning man and woman, respectively. The booby prize for a man would be a whisk broom decorated with a heart-shaped card illustrated with cupids and hearts and inscribed with the motto You need a broom, tis very plain, To sweep the cobwebs from your brain. For the losing lady would be heart-shaped candles, with the inscription By all wise things the wisest men do say, She wins most hearts who has the least luck to play.  The card game would then be followed by a supper featuring dainty, heart-shaped sandwiches, heart-shaped cakes, and ices and biscuits in, of course, the shape of hearts.

Finally, for the man who didn’t want to say it with a Valentine card or with flowers, the Ottawa man could take the E.B. Eddy Company’s advice and give the love of his life, fibre ware goods (pails, wash tubs and butter tubs) manufactured by the company. There is no report on whether any man dared to act upon Eddy’s recommendation or what happen to any who did.

Sources:

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 1381-82. The Parlement of Foules, http://www.librarius.com/parliamentfs.htm.

Gavin, Ian. 2021. “History of Valentine’s Day,” History, 29 January, https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2.

Ponti, Crystal. 2020. “Victorian-Era ‘Vinegar’ Valentines Could Be Mean and Hostile,” History, 10 February, https://www.history.com/news/victorian-valentines-day-cards-vinegar.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1866. “The True Story of St. Valentine,” 17 February.

————————–, 1870. “The Voice Of Love And The Dead Letter Box,” 8 February.

————————-, 1872. “St Valentine’s Day,” 14 February.

————————-, 1872. “From Different Places,” 13 March.

————————-, 1972. “A Valentine,” 19 February.

————————-, 1875. “St. Valentine’s Day,” 15 February.

————————–, 1876. “Valentine’s,” 10 February.

————————-, 1877. “How Valentines Are Bought,” 14 February.

————————-, 1879. “Valentines,” 14 February.

————————-, 1881. “St. Valentine’s Day,” 14 February.

————————-, 1881. “Local News,” 24 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1887. “How Valentines Are Made,” 29 January.

——————-, 1894. “St. Valentine Party,” 21 February.

Packet, 1848. “Valentines! Valentines!” 29 January.

——–, 1850. “Valentine Time,” 23 February.

The Winter Trots

9 February 1921

A sport that flourished in central Canada and in the northern United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was winter harness racing. In 1907, the Ottawa Citizen reported that there were few places of any importance with cold weather and access to a river or lake big enough to accommodate a quarter or half-mile track that did not indulge in the sport. In addition to major centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, ice racing was enjoyed in small Ontario communities, such as Napanee, Belleville and Port Perry.

Ice racing on the Ottawa River, 1902, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, 3387722.

Initially, horse owners were skeptical of the new sport, owing to the heightened risk of injury to their valuable horses from running on ice. Part of the risk came from the type of shoes the horses wore. According to a report in an 1893 edition of the Canadian Sportsman,[1] horses ran on five-calk (caulkin), all-steel horseshoes. These calks gave the horses grip on the ice. They were also sharp, and could cause serious injury. To help fortify the horses against the cold, horses were reportedly given very strong black coffee between heats. Apparently, for one aristocratic mare called Lady Mary Tudor the coffee was replaced with a bottle of champagne!

Racing on ice also had its particular challenges for drivers. In the early days of the sport, cutters (a single-person sleigh) were used. These cutters had a propensity of swinging wide in the turns leading to trouble on crowded tracks. Consequently, they were equipped with a “knife” on the cutter’s runner which could be deployed by the driver depressing a foot-controlled lever. The knife would be thrust into the surface of the ice track, thereby giving the cutter great stability on turns and lessening the swing. In later years of the sport, cutters were replaced by the same bike sulky used in dirt track races.

Despite the risks, the sport took off. With substantial money to be had, the reservations of horse owners quickly disappeared. Times on ice tracks were slower than on the usual dirt tracks—roughly ten seconds for a mile circuit.

When ice racing started in the Ottawa area is a bit murky. A newspaper report from the 1920s claimed that sometime about 1860 horse racing was held on the Rideau Canal. As the Canal was not drained at this time, the surface was wide enough to make a wide racing surface. The track apparently went from a point east of the Bank Street Bridge to a spot near the “Deep Cut,” close to where the University of Ottawa is today.

Certainly, by the mid-1870s, the sport was well established across the Ottawa River in Hull at an ice track at Leamy Lake. According to the Democrat of Rochester, New York, the Leamy Lake course was “the most perfect ice track in America.” Racing was held under the auspices of the Winter Trotting Club at Crystal Park. It was a popular, annual, mid-winter event. The first day of racing in February, 1877, drew more than 3,500 spectators. The Citizen marvelled that given the amount of “cordial” consumed, it was remarkable that the day passed without a single fight. Prize money for the races was often provided by local hotels. In 1887, gold and silver championship medals were offered by the Winter Trotting Club. The medals were designed and manufactured by Mr. C. Addison of Sparks Street with the inscription “Crystal Park – 1887 Champion.”

In 1900, ice racing commenced on the Ottawa River under the auspices of the Central Canada Ice Racing Association. The half-mile course was located on cleared ice near Queen’s Wharf, located roughly a quarter mile to the east of the Queen Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge then under construction. The meet, which was held in the middle of February, was the talk of the sporting world. It was widely advertised throughout Canada and the United States, and attracted hundreds of racing fans to Ottawa, some from as far away as New York City. Naturally, betting was a key attraction. F.H. Hoskins of Hamilton, Ontario did the bookkeeping while Fitch & Company, also of Hamilton, was in charge of the pools.

This is an interesting view of the ice track from the Hull side. In the background are the Parliament Buildings and the Queen Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge. Source: Lost Ottawa.

To ensure the success of the meet, no expense was spared. The half-mile oval track was prepared two weeks in advance on ice that was as much as three feet thick. Local horsemen were encouraged to try out the new track in the days leading up to the big event. Stands and stalls were erected for the anticipated thousands of racing fans, punters and horses. A perimeter fence was also erected around the track. To raise the tone of the meet, ladies were admitted free. The opening ceremonies were performed by Ottawa’s Mayor Payment, with the guests of honour being Lord and Lady Grey, the Governor General and his wife. The first day’s races featured the 2.50 class and the 2.10 class; the fields for both were very large.

The three-day meet was a huge success and was repeated annually for more than a decade, with racing extended to a full week. The facilities for spectators and horses also improved over time. By 1909, the large, wooden club house, provided for the comfort for spectators, was heated and lit by electricity.  Heated sheds were also constructed for the horses and their riders. As well, there was a separate club house for ladies.

The races attracted all segments of society, including the city’s upper crust.  The Buffalo Sunday Courier said that on the ice of the Ottawa River one could see “belles and beaux galore, clad in seal, otter, black fox and Persian lamb.”  Draped over the backs of Russian sleighs and English hacks were wraps of fox, musk-ox and wolf, representing “quite a bank account.”

Not all the racing was above board. In 1908, a grey horse oddly named The Eel, owned by a Mrs O’Keefe of Buffalo, New York, had escaped the attention of bookmakers and horse enthusiasts. With few horses of any merit apparently coming out of Buffalo, people ignored it and instead focused on the top-heavy favourite, Anita. Punters began to take note when The Eel came out onto the ice driven by noted reinsman Danny McEwen who had driven a similar grey horse called Silver Joe through the 1907 Grand Circuit with considerable success. The Eel, a.k.a. Silver Joe, beat Anita, and in the process earned a fortune in bets for Silver Joe’s true owner, Frank Entricken. Mrs O’Keefe of Buffalo was none other than Frank Entricken’s sister.

The Central Canada Ice Racing Association hosted the annual event until 1911. It had expected to continue to do so. But something went wrong late in 1911 that disrupted plans for the coming 1912 winter racing season. What exactly occurred is unclear, though a newspaper account suggested organizational problems within the association. There was also competition from both the Ottawa and Hull Driving Clubs which were both hosting ice harness racing meets during the upcoming 1912 winter season.

In mid-January, 1912, just a few days after the Ottawa Driving Club had sponsored harness racing on a flooded ice track at Lansdowne Park, the Hull Driving Club opened its inaugural meet on the ice of the Ottawa River. The stands the club erected could accommodate three thousand spectators. As in past years under the previous organizers, special stands were built for ladies who were admitted to the races for free. There were also cooling stands for the horses and refreshment booths for spectators.

Each year, the annual meet became bigger and better. The 1917 meet, which was held over the first week of February, turned out to be the most lavish ever with purses totalling $23,000 (over $380,000 in today’s money). But there was a cloud hanging over the event, indeed every horse racing event in Canada. While the slogan for the races that year on the Ottawa River was “business as usual,” the curtain was about to come down on the racing season in Canada. Starting the beginning of May 1917, gambling, deemed “incommensurate with the war effort,” was suspended. Winter harness racing on the Ottawa River was over until at least the end of the war.

Advertisement for the last day of harness racing on the Ottawa River, Ottawa Citizen, 9 February 1921.

Ice harness racing resumed in 1920 when the law was amended to once again allow betting. That year, the races were held at Lansdowne Park. The following year, ice racing on the Ottawa River re-commenced under the auspices of the River View Park Racing Association of Hull. The Association, whose membership consisted of Ottawa and Hull sportsmen, was established for the sole purpose of reviving winter ice racing on the Ottawa River. The president of the Association was Hull’s mayor, Louis Cousineau.

Fourteen races were organized with a total purse of $7,000 (later increased to about $9,000 with the addition of new races)—substantially smaller than the $23,000 purse of the previous 1917 meet on the Ottawa River before racing was halted owing to the wartime ban on gambling. Betting was via auction-pools, bookmaking, and pari-mutuels. Fitch & Company of Hamilton, Ontario was awarded the auction-pool and bookmaking privileges for the meet.

The seven-day meet, which ran from 3 February to 9 February 1921, was held on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Press reports don’t give the precise location, but access to the circuit was likely from what is now Jacques Cartier Park. Like in earlier years prior to the war-time interruption of ice racing, there were stands on the ice for 3,000 spectators along with a heated wooden pavilion 380 feet long by 140 feet wide. A separate stand for ladies was also built. The judges’ and timers’ stands were enclosed by glass. The track, 60 feet wide in the stretches, was described as the best ever. In addition to local horses, many horses came in from the United States—some had just competed in the Mt. Clemens, Michigan ice races held a few days before the Hull event.

Each day of racing featured two or three races (with heats), each with a purse of $300-$500, with half going to the first-place horse, 25 percent to the second, 15 percent to third place, and 10 per cent to the fourth-place finisher. In addition, $6 and $4 were given to the fifth and six-place finishers, respectively. The 1921 races were held under the rules of the Canadian National Trotting and Pacing Harness Horse Association.

The week-long event was a huge success. The crowds were large and the races were well received. Mayor Cousineau was the guest of honour on opening day, and said the word “Go” for the start of the first heat of the opening race, the 2.35 class for horses born within 100 miles of Hull.

The last day of racing, 9 February 1921, featured two classified one mile-races—the classified trot and the classified pace—each with a purse of $300. Franklin B., a chestnut gelding, won the trot in a time of 2 minutes 25 ¾ seconds. King Zip, a black gelding, took the pace in a time of 2 minutes, 21 ¼ seconds.

Despite the resounding success of the meet, which the Citizen described as “the cleanest and best race meeting seen on ice in many years,” the last day of the River View meet was also the last time ice racing was held on the Ottawa River. In 1922, the ice races were held at Lansdowne Park in the context of the Canadian National Winter Carnival. Despite the popularity of the sport, ice harness racing then disappeared from Ottawa’s winter scene.

Winter harness racing was resuscitated in 1979 for the first Ottawa Winterlude and was held annually on the Rideau Canal until 1985.

Sources:

CBC, 2018. Horse Racing on the Rideau Canal kickstarted first Winterlude, 4 February, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-winterlude-horse-racing-rideau-canal-1.4518108.

Buffalo Sunday Courier, 1902. “Winter Racing,” in Ottawa Journal, 28 January.

Democrat (Rochester, NY), 1878. “Sporting,” in Ottawa Citizen, 26 January.

Elder, Ken, 2014. “Ice Race Meetings on the Ottawa River, — a forgotten tradition?”, Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, January, Volume 41, No. 1.

Ottawa Citizen, 1877. “The First Day’s Racing at Leamy’s Lake,” 16 February.

——————, 1886. “Championship Medals,” 8 December.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,”5 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 6 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 16 February.

——————, 1900. “World of Sport,” 19 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 20 February.

——————, 1900. “The Ice Record Was Recorded,” 21 February.

——————, 1907. “Winter Sports in Canada,” 12 January.

——————, 1911. “Another Meet,” 7 December.

——————, 1911. “Success Is Already Assured Ottawa Driving Club’s Meet,” 27 December.

——————, 1912. “Many Horsemen In Town For Ice Races, All Roads Lead Today To Ottawa River,” 18 January.

——————, 1916. “Ice Racing as Usual,” 22 December.

——————, 1917. “Slow Music Please For Canadian Racing,” 1 August.

——————, 1921. “River View Park Racing Ass’n (Limited),” 25 January.

——————, 1921. “Ice Racing Meet Opened Thursday on Ottawa River,” 4 February.

——————, 1921. “Ice Racing Meet Closed Yesterday,” 10 February.

——————, 1925. “First Ice Racing Was On The Canal,” 10 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1920. “River View Park Racing Ass’n Complete Plans For Ice Races,” 18 December.

——————-, 1925. “Racing on Ice,” 12 January.

——————-, 1925. “Always Gave Horse Bottle Of Wine Between Races,” 26 March.

Wilenius, Ian, 2018. “A Safe Bet: Regulating Online Gambling and Lotteries Through the Criminal Code,” 27 Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies 1. 


[1] The Canadian Sportsman was established in 1870, and was the oldest harness racing magazine in North America. It ceased publication in December 2013.

La Baker

26 August 1955

If you wanted great entertainment, especially jazz, in Ottawa during in the 1950s, you went to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Among the many nightclubs located there, the most prominent were probably the Standish Hall Hotel in Hull and the Gatineau Country Club in Alymer. At these locales, one saw such legendary figures as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughn.  On 26 August 1955, the curtain went up at the Gatineau Country Club on the incomparable Josephine Baker, known in her adopted France as simply “La Baker.” She was in Ottawa for a week’s engagement, her first and only visit to the nation’s capital.

Josephine Baker, author unknown, Flickr.

Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a washerwoman and a vaudeville drummer who quickly abandoned his young family. A poor black girl growing up in the United States at its segregationist worst faced bleak prospects. As a young child she was cleaning houses for rich white people. By age thirteen she was waiting tables, and by age fifteen was already twice married and twice divorced. The only thing she got out of the second marriage, which lasted but a month, was her surname “Baker” which she kept throughout her life despite two more marriages…and two more divorces.

Despite this unprepossessing start in life, young Josephine Baker found her calling as an entertainer. In 1919, she joined a black vaudeville company. Two years later she came to New York, then in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, to play in The Dixie Steppers. While initially judged too black to be in the chorus, she got her chance when a chorus girl got sick. She played the comic role of the inept dancer at the end of the chorus line who initially bungles the routine only to blossom into the troupe’s finest dancer.

Seizing an opportunity to dance in Paris, she voyaged to France in 1925 to join La Revue Nègre. Paris was a revelation. Here, a black woman could stay at the finest hotels and dine in the best restaurants without discrimination. Instead of being considered a second-class citizen or worse, she was admired and welcomed.

After touring Europe with La Revue Nègre, she joined the famous Folies Bergère. She was a huge success, her famed cemented by a dance in which she wore only a skirt made of sixteen, strategically placed bananas. Jaded French audiences had never seen such a performance. Its raw sensuality stunned them. By 1927, at the age of only twenty-one, she was the highest paid female entertainer in the world.

Josephine Baker, 1927, Folies Bergère, Un Vent de Folie, Waléry, Paris.

She became a film star, appearing in Zouzou (1934) and Princess Tam-Tam (1935), as well as several other films. Princess Tam-Tam was banned in the United States. It was not clear what shocked white America more, showing a black woman in a relationship with a white man, or a black woman cast in the lead role. She became an inspiration to oppressed African Americans.

By the mid-1930s, her performance style began to change. Out went the primitive, catlike eroticism of her youth in favour of the mature, French chanteuse in the style of Edith Piaf. Parisian audiences adored her.

In 1935, Baker returned briefly to the United States to perform in New York in the famous Ziegfeld Follies. It was not a happy experience. Now a star, she was allowed to stay in one of New York’s big hotels, but only if she used the service entrance. Her performance, which included dancing with white men, was still beyond the pale of even a liberal New York audience. After newspapers insulted her and made racial comments, she returned disheartened to Paris.

In 1937, she married a wealthy Frenchman, Jean Lion. While the marriage didn’t last, she became a naturalized French citizen, renouncing her American citizenship. She famously said that the Eiffel Tower “looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what does that matter? What was the good of having a statue without the liberty?”

When war came, Baker took on a new role as spy and resistance fighter. Using her fame as a shield, she smuggled secret messages amongst her sheet music to the Free French. Later, after fleeing to North Africa, she performed for Allied soldiers. She insisted that she would only perform in front of integrated audiences. After the war, the French government awarded Baker the Resistance Medal with Rosette and the Croix de Guerre.

She also took on a new persona, that of a grande dame.  Once famed for dancing in skimpy costumes, she now showcased the finest in French fashion, wearing designer gowns from Christian Dior and other leading fashion houses. In 1947, she married Jo Bouillon, a French orchestra leader.

She tried another return to the United States in 1951. She again insisted that she would only perform in front of non-segregated audiences. Her U.S. tour, which began in Miami, was a great success until she was denied service at New York’s prestigious Stork Club. After making an official complaint to the Club, she got into a battle of words with the famed American journalist Walter Winchell who accused her of being a communist. This was at the height of Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade that led to hundreds of American entertainers being blacklisted. Baker was banned from the United States for nine years.

Josephine Baker, March on Washington, 1963, Château des Milandes.

Through the 1950s, Baker and Jo Boullion raised a group of dozen adopted children of all races which they called The Rainbow Tribe at Baker’s chateau, Les Milandes, and 700-acre estate in the Dordogne region of France. It was Baker’s effort to demonstrate that people of all nationalities could live together in peace and harmony.

Maintaining a fifteenth-century chateau while raising such a large family became even more onerous when Baker’s fourth marriage failed. Never a good business person, and very generous, Baker ran up large debts. Eventually, she lost her chateau to creditors, and had to return to the stage to repay her debts. Helped by Princess Grace of Monaco, she and her Rainbow Tribe took up residence in a home in Monaco.

In 1963, Baker was invited to join the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Wearing her French military uniform with all of her medals, she appeared on the podium where she gave a short speech of support. She said that it was “the happiest day of her life.”

That summer of 1955, when Josephine Baker came to Ottawa, the great entertainer stayed at the Château Laurier Hotel while she performed at the Gatineau Country Club. Travelling with her were her French maid, Miss Jeanette Renaudin, her musical director, Mikos Bartek, nine trucks of clothes, and a photograph of her husband, Jo Bouillon. Press reports said that her wardrobe was insured for $250,000 ($2.5 million in today’s money).

She started her visit with a press conference and special performance at the Press Club in Ottawa a few days before the official start of her gig. Dressed in a slinky black dress, she wowed the journalists in the room who wondered whether she would have a wardrobe malfunction. “If accidents happen, well, c’est la mode,” she said. Bob Blackburn, the Citizen reporter, said there was no describing her, “even the most extravagant adjectives can’t do her justice.”

Talking about her decision to go to Paris back in 1925, Baker told that journalists that she had been looking for more freedom to express herself. In the United States, the only thing a black woman could do in show business was to wear a bandana on her head. She hoped that her example would open doors in other fields for other African Americans.

She also claimed to have been one of the first entertainers to appear before a television camera. The event occurred in 1935 in the BBC Studios in England. She said that she was put in a little cubicle with her face painted white since that was the only way she could be seen on the equipment of that time. “Image me with a white face!” she exclaimed.

Advertisement, Ottawa Citizen, 24 August 1955.

At the Press Club, she sang in both French and English, performing her old favourites such as J’attendrai. There was a lot of focus on her wardrobe for her performance which ranged from a simple white tailored blouse to extravagant evening gowns. One gown, “a sheath-like creation” was decorated in an oyster shell pattern. As she walked, the shells opened to reveal smaller shells and little pearls.

Other engagements in Ottawa included a visit to the French Embassy and radio interviews in both languages.

On opening night in the Carnival Room at the Gatineau Country Club, Josephine Baker received a standing ovation. She wowed the audience with her showmanship, her informal bantering with the audience, and her ability to sing straight from the heart. Among the many songs she sung were Unchained Melody and Begin the Beguine. She modelled gowns by Christian Dior, Jean Dessès, and others. The Ottawa Citizen reported “Here is an entertainer who deserves all the superlatives one can name. She will live in your memory for many years to come. This is Josephine Baker, the incomparable.”

Josephine Baker, entertainer sans pareil, World War II hero and civil rights leader, died in April 1975 at the age of 68, struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage, one day after opening a new show at the Bobino Theatre in Paris celebrating fifty years in show business. A week later, 20,000 people attended her funeral at La Madaleine in Paris. The French government gave her a twenty-one-gun salute. She was buried with full military honours in le Cimetière de Monaco in Monaco.

An inspiration to many, including Beyoncé, today’s megastar, Josephine Baker once said “Surely the day will come when colour means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of the throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.” 

We have a long way to go.

Sources:

BBC Wales, 2006. Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ggb_wGTvZoU. YouTube.

Caranvates, Peggy, 2015. The Many Face of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Château et jardins des Milandes, Demure de Josephine Baker, 2020. Josephine Baker, Tribute to a Great Lady, https://www.milandes.com/en/josephine-baker/.

Official Site of Josephine Baker, 2020. https://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1955. “They Call Her Fabulous But That Is Inadequate,” 24 August.

——————, 1955. “Josephine Baker Has Gala Wardrobe,” 25 August.

——————, 1955. “Standing Ovation For Baker At Gatineau,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1955. “Toast Of Paris, Josephine Baker Entertains Press,” 24 August.

——————-, 1975. “Singer, 68, dies in Paris,” 12 April.

——————-, 1955. “Final Tribute for Josephine,” 16 April.

Poulin’s: Ottawa’s Store of Satisfaction

2 February 1929

L. N. Poulin, Ltd, known to all as simply Poulin’s, ranked among the finest retail stores in Ottawa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was known for excellent service, fair dealing, innovative advertising methods, and low prices. During its early years it billed itself as “Ottawa’s most progressive store.” Later, it styled itself as “Ottawa’s store of satisfaction.”

For forty years, the store stood at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets in the heart of the capital’s business district. Then, out of the blue, L. N. Poulin, its founder, announced in late 1928 that he was retiring and that the store would close. Within two months, the grand retailer was gone, shutting its doors for the last time on 2 February 1929 after a month-long “Retiring from Business Sale.” Other than his retirement—L. N. Poulin was 70 years of age at the time—no other reason was cited for the closure. Poulin rented his building on a long-term lease to Schulte-United Corporation of 485 Fifth Avenue New York, a thrusting, new firm that was opening “five and dime” stores across North America.

L. N. Poulin Department Store, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3318392.

Poulin’s was started in 1889 by Louis Napoleon Poulin and his wife Mary Poulin (née McEvoy). Mme Poulin is given little credit for starting the firm in contemporaneous accounts (not surprisingly given the times) but her obituary noted that she was a considerable businessperson in her own right. L. N. Poulin was born in 1858 in a log home in Addison, Ontario, near Brockville. At age thirteen, he got a taste of retail selling by doing chores and odd jobs at Messrs. Nichols and Parker in the nearby town of Toledo. At sixteen, he took a train to Ottawa to make his fortune. Apparently, he had a return ticket to Brockville in his pocket should things go wrong. He didn’t need it.

In Ottawa, he found employment with Russell, Gardiner & Legatt, one of the largest merchant firms in the capital. He worked there, and at another firm, Stitt & Company, for eleven years before he and his wife struck out on their own in 1889; the couple had married in 1884. Most accounts of Poulin’s early years place his store in a small frame building at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets, a location that he occupied in bigger and bigger establishments for the next 40 years.  However, there are newspaper references to a L.N. Poulin dry goods store at 99 Bank Street through the 1889-90 period. The company ran an advertisement for a “removals sale” in the Ottawa Evening Journal in early April 1890. This suggests that it was about then that the Poulins made the move to their permanent home at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets.

Mr. L. N. Poulin, Ottawa Citizen, 18 June 1923.

Poulin, aided by two assistants, rented 600 square feet on the ground floor of the building from John A. Brouse for $50 per month. The budding dry goods firm only had $4,000 worth of stock. One of his first customers was reportedly Lady Macdonald, the wife of Sir John A. Macdonald.

The firm was a success. In 1892, Poulin bought the Brouse property which also housed the Dymond shirt factory and the YMCA. Two years later, he took over two buildings to the west on Spark Street (the Bush-Bonbright store and National Manufacturing Company) and purchased a milk factory at the rear on O’Connor Street.  In 1902, Poulin bought more property on Spark Street giving him 132 feet of frontage. In 1906, he expanded further, buying the Mills Hotel from the Misses Piggott to the rear of his property which gave him a uniform depth of almost 100 feet. Two years later he acquired the J.M. Garland property on O’Connor Street with a view to future expansion. In 1915, this became the store’s house furnishings annex.

By 1923, the store had more than 73,000 square feet of floor space, with stock valued at close to $500,000. It employed 245 people. That year, the enterprise expanded for the last time, demolishing the old annex and erecting a four-storey extension which added an additional 18,000 square feet of floor space. This new structure was integrated with the original main building. Looking to the future, it was constructed in a fashion that allowed for six more storeys to be added at a later date.

The store was noted for its innovative approach to advertising. One spectacular example of this occurred during the summer of 1904. Poulin’s announced its “Lucky Money Back Sale.” A date during a six-week period was selected at random by Mayor Ellis and place in a sealed envelope in the vault of the Bank of Ottawa. Neither the Mayor, the bank manager, or Mr. Poulin knew the selected date. All sales on that date would be refunded in full. Poulin advised customers to shop at his store every day of the sale to ensure being a winner. At the end of the sale, the sealed enveloped was open and the lucky date revealed—23 August, 1904. All customers on that date were given three days to return to the store with their sales receipts to “receive “the full amount of your checks in NEW, CRISP MONEY.”

Poulin’s Sale, Ottawa Citizen, 9 July 1924.

It was innovations like this, along with every-day good value and courteous service, that made the store an Ottawa landmark. So, imagine the feelings when Poulin announced that he was retiring and the store would close. The Ottawa Citizen described it as the passing of an institution. “It did not seem right nor did it seem natural.” It was not as if the store was unprofitable, or there were no heirs to carry on the family name. Indeed, the Poulins’ four sons, Edmond, Gidias, Fabien and Clement, all worked in the family firm. The closure also meant that almost three hundred employees lost their jobs. At a farewell dinner dance held for his workers a few days after the store’s shut its doors for good, Poulin said that his employees would be able to find new careers if they did their best.

If the rationale for the closure appears somewhat mystifying, Poulin’s timing was impeccable. Less than nine months after the store went out of business, the Great Depression began. The Schulte-United Corporation, which had moved into the former premises of Poulin’s department store, failed two years later, a casualty of the economic catastrophe.

Closing out sale, Ottawa Citizen, 30 January 1929.

Another person who had impeccable timing was Walter P. Zellers of Kitchener, Ontario. In 1928, he had sold his small chain of Zellers department stores located mostly in southern Ontario to the Schulte-United Corporation which wanted to expand into Canada. When Schulte-United failed three years later, Walter Zellers bought the Canadian wing of the operations. These comprised his original Zellers stores and ten other outlets that Schulte-United had established in the interim, including the former Poulin’s department store location on Sparks Street.

Zellers became a fixture on Spark Street for more than seventy years. The very profitable chain of bargain stores was bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1978. Growing to roughly 350 stores by the year 2000, the Zellers chain began to lose ground to competitors. Profitability declined. In 2011, the U.S. department store chain Target bought the leases of most Zellers stores for $1.825 billion in its ill-fated effort to break into the Canadian retail market. It promised to run them under the Zellers brand for a “period of time.” The larger Zellers branches were eventually remodelled and converted into Target outlets. Smaller ones, like the elderly store on Spark Street, did not fit the Target style. It closed its doors in 2013. Two years later, Target closed all of its 133 Canadian stores after a disastrous foray into Canada.

The distinctive building once owned by L. N. Poulin was almost demolished in the early 1980s as part of a high-rise development plan. Notwithstanding a demolition permit granted by Ottawa’s City Council, the building was saved at the last minute, in part by a campaign orchestrated by Heritage Ottawa. It was sympathetically renovated by its then owners, the Hudson Bay Company.  Consistent with its long heritage as a discount retail store, the edifice that was once Poulin’s Department Store, and later Zeller’s, now houses a Winners outlet.

As for the Poulins, after their retirement, the couple moved to a home at cottage community of Britannia. Louis Napoleon Poulin stayed active in Ottawa’s commercial life as a director of the electric and gas companies. He died at the age of 85 in 1941. His wife, Mary Poulin, died in 1949.

Sources:

Heritage Ottawa, 2017. Poulin’s Dry Good Store| Zellers Department Store, https://heritageottawa.org/50years/poulins-dry-goods-zellers-department-store.

Ottawa Citizen, 1904. “Thousands of Dollars in Cash Refunded to Our Customers,” 11 July.

——————, 1904. “Your Money Back,” 2 September.

——————-, 1923. “Rebuilding of L.N. Poulin, Limited, Store To Add Another Chapter To Fascinating Story of Expansion Of An Ottawa Firm,” 19 June.

——————, 1928. “L.N. Poulin Is Retiring After Splendid Career,” 29 December.

——————, 1929. “Schulte-United Will Have a Fine Store in Capital,” 2 March.

——————, 1931. “Walter P. Zeller Heads Zellers Ltd, Formerly Schulte-United,” 7 November.

—————–, 1941. “Late L. N. Poulin, Noted Figure In Commercial Life,” 9 July.

Ottawa Journal, 1890. “No Bankrupt Stock,” 3 April.

——————-, 1924. “Mr. L.N. Poulin Host to His Employes (sic),” 10 January.

——————-, 1928. “Retiring after Forty Years of Business Here,” 29 December.

——————-, 1939. “7,000 Members of Poulin Families Join in Unique Celebration,” 19 August.

——————-, 1949. ‘Mrs. L.N. Poulin Dies,” 4 June.

Reuters, 2011. Target to enter Canada with Zellers deal, own plans, 13 January, https://www.reuters.com/article/target-canada/update-2-target-to-enter-canada-with-zellers-deal-own-plans-idUSN1326316220110113.

Norwegian Snowshoes, Skees and Skilobning

22 January 1887

It would be hard to imagine a Canadian winter without skiing, either cross-country, also known as Nordic skiing, or the downhill variety, a.k.a. Alpine skiing. Across the country, there are many towns that rely on the sport for their livelihoods. Think of the resort communities of Mont Tremblant in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, or Whistler, nestled in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, to name but a couple.

 Ottawa has the weather and the terrain for top-quality, cross-country skiing. In addition to the many trails through Ottawa’s greenbelt and along the Ottawa River, the trails of Gatineau Park in Quebec are but a short drive from the capital. The Park boasts more than two hundred kilometres of groomed paths fit for all levels of experience. Since 1967, the Ottawa Ski Marathon has attracted thousands of skiers, from the novice to the hardy coureur de bois who camp out in the frigid cold in addition to completing the 100-mile course through the Gatineau Hills.

Let’s also not forget downhill skiing in the region. Mont Cascades, Vorlage, Camp Fortune, and Edelweiss ski resorts on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River offer excellent downhill skiing.  All are located within a half-hour drive of the Parliament Buildings.

Caricature of Lord Frederick Hamilton, 1895, by “Spy,” Vanity Fair.

You might ask how the sport came to Canada, a country traditionally known for snowshoeing, the mode of winter transportation favoured by its indigenous peoples and later adopted by European settlers. Oddly, it had much to do with an English aristocrat living in Ottawa. In January 1887, Lord Frederick Hamilton, the aide-de-camp to Lord Lansdowne, the Governor General at that time, and brother to Lord’s Lansdowne’s wife, brought out some skis and took a turn on the hills of Rockcliffe Park near Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s home. Hamilton, who was a diplomat, had been stationed at the British Embassy in St. Petersburg during the early 1880s prior to being posted to Canada. It was in Russia that Hamilton took up the sport. Coincidentally, the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg at the time of Hamilton’s posting, was none other than Lord Dufferin who had been Canada’s Governor General during the late 1870s.

In his memoir titled The Days Before Yesterday, Lord Hamilton recounts: “I brought out my Russian skis to Ottawa, the very first pair that had ever been seen in the New World. I coasted down hills on them amidst universal jeers; everyone declared that they were quite unsuited to Canadian conditions.” (As an aside, Hamilton’s three-volume set of memoirs provides a fascinating window into the almost forgotten world of the late nineteenth century. Despite the passage of time, his reminiscences are fresh and highly entertaining. Links to the books are provided at the end of this article.)

Skiing at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1898, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3386372.

When exactly in January 1887 this memorable skiing event occurred is open to conjecture as it wasn’t reported in the local newspapers at that time, nor did Hamilton record the precise date in his memoirs. However, the most probable date is Saturday, 22 January 1887, though Saturday, 15 January is another possibility. It’s unlikely that Hamilton ventured out onto the slopes on a weekday. A Sunday would also have been improbable given the Lord’s Day Act which barred people from doing anything but go to Church on Sundays. On the first Saturday of that year, New Year’s Day, everybody would have spent the day home recovering from the previous night’s excesses. It was only on the 22nd that the weather was perfect for skiing, other Saturdays being either perishingly cold or too wet to make skiing attractive.[1]

Despite Hamilton’s claim of bringing skiing to North America, there are other claimants. An 1895 article in the Ottawa Daily Citizen says that Mr. Anders Nostrom, “a Swedish gentleman” who lived in Ottawa, was the originator of the sport in the capital. When he was supposed to have done this is not mentioned. During the winter of 1895, Nostrom and a number of other Swedes demonstrated the sport by skiing over hills and along the Ottawa River. In that year’s winter carnival, the men paraded through Ottawa’s streets wearing sashes in the yellow and blue colours of the Swedish flag and carrying Swedish and Norwegian flags.

Dr. L. Brault, a noted Ottawa historian, credited another Swede, Fru Wetterman, for introducing the sport to Ottawa in 1893. Wetterman was apparently a governess in the employ of Lord and Lady Aberdeen. In a 1946 Citizen article, Brault wrote that Wetterman brought a number of pairs of skis with her from Sweden and taught her young charges how to ski on the slopes of Rockcliffe Park. Fru Wetterman may have taught skiing to the Aberdeen children, but Hamilton’s claim is six year’s older.

An Ottawa Citizen article, which appeared in a regular weekly feature called “Old Time Stuff,” written during the 1920s and 1930s, made mention of Lord Hamilton’s claim of bringing the first skis to North America. However, the journalist interviewed a Mr. W.J. Annand of Lindenlea, but formerly of Lancaster, Ontario, who said he first put on a pair of skis in 1872, some fifteen years before Lord Hamilton swooshed down that Rockcliffe Park hill. Annand came to Ottawa in 1874, and was certain that skis were already in Ottawa prior to Hamilton’s arrival in the city, but he was “not prepared to stake his oath on that.”

Yet another story, which appeared in the Ottawa Journal in 1899, concerned a pair of “Greenland skis” covered with sealskin, hairy side down on the underside of each ski with the grain of the fur pointing towards the heel of the skis to stop backsliding. The skis were displayed in the window of Messrs. Orme & Son on Sparks Street. Apparently, the skis, then owned by Mr. C.W. Lett, had been brought to Canada some forty years earlier. The skis’ backstory sounded like an opera’s script. The story went that a young Greenland maiden had used them to escape her father. Skiing across snowy, moonlit fields she met up with her lover at the shore. Although she managed to board his waiting ship, her father caught up with her and demanded that she leave her lover and return home. She refused. The father verbally goaded the lover to disembark. In the ensuing fight, the father killed the lover. The distraught daughter remained on board the ship which soon sailed for Quebec, where the maiden got off, thereby bringing her skis to Canada.

Advertisement, Ottawa Journal, 24 January 1898.

Regardless of which tale you believe, there is little doubt that Lord Hamilton’s skiing adventure cast a spotlight on the new sport. Celebrity endorsements were just as effective in the nineteenth century as they are today. And Hamilton was a bona fide celebrity—a dashing, debonair aristocrat, the sixth son of the 1st Duke of Abercorn.

Skiing quickly took off in popularity among Ottawa’s elite. One enthusiastic skier is reported as saying that the sport far outstrips tobogganing: “standing erect and shooting down steep slopes at the speed of the fastest locomotives has to be experienced to be realized.” He cautioned, however, that working uphill was not an easy task for the novice.

During its early days, the name of the sport and its spelling had not yet been standardized. Skis were sometimes known as Norwegian snowshoes to distinguish them from Canadian snowshoes. In Montreal, they were briefly called jimpatony shoes after the person who introduced the sport to that city. The word ski itself, appears to have Norwegian roots, the word skilöber meaning a person who snowshoes. Consequently, for a time, skiing was called skilobning in North America. The term did not catch on. Ski was also sometimes spelled “skee” or “skei.”

Nineteenth century equipment was similar to what is used today for cross-country skiing. Reportedly, early skis, which were made of maple or birch, were six to seven feet long, 3 ¾ inches wide in front, tapering to 3 ¼ inches in the middle and widening out slightly to 3 ½ inches at the tail. The toes of the skis were pointed and upturned. On the underside of each ski was a central groove to help the skier keep their legs together and parallel. The underside of the skis was smooth; wax and grease were regularly applied. Like today, ski boots were attached at the toe to the skis so that the heel could be easily raised. One type of attachment was called “the Ottawa cane fitting.” This was a leather-covered cane strap that went around the heel of the boot with the two ends brought together tightly at the front of the toe and attached to a brass adjustment screw. The boot itself was made of oiled leather and worn several sizes larger than usual to accommodate several pairs of wool socks.

One distinguishing feature of a nineteenth-century skier’s equipage was a single pole or staff, six to seven feet long, made of hickory wood. At the pole’s snow end was a spike with a ring of cane and ribbing a few inches up so the pole wouldn’t sink too far into the snow. The pole was used for balance and breaking.

In addition to the “Ottawa cane fitting,” there was the “Ottawa skie” made naturally in Ottawa. During the late nineteenth century, the city was the centre for the manufacture of skis, “due to the energy and enterprise of Ottawa sportsmen and businessmen” said the Ottawa Journal. Their promotion of the sport helped the sport’s early rapid growth.

One interesting feature of the new sport was the active participation of women. In 1894, the Ottawa Journal reported that it won’t be long in all probability before the American girl will go skilobning.” Two years later, a Harvard professor commented that the lives of the women of Norway have been “revolutionized by the ski and snowshoe.”

Ski Party near Ottawa, circa 1898, William Louis Scott fonds, Library and Archives Canada, 3386437.

Here in Ottawa, upper-class women embraced the sport. The standard feminine skiing apparel consisted of a slightly shortened skirt with bands of red and black on the hem, red mittens, a sash, and a toque that contained a dash of bright colour such as scarlet. Big ski parties were organized. In January 1898, the Journal reported that among others, Miss Lemoine, Miss Powell and Miss Blair were out skiing on the hills. (Miss Blair was likely Miss Bessie Blair who was to die tragically in December 1901 when she fell through the ice while skating on the Ottawa River. Mr. Henry Harper, who attempted her rescue, was also to die. The statue of Sir Galahad on Wellington St. in front of the Parliament buildings was erected to honour his heroic sacrifice.)

By the late 1890s, the Gatineau Hills were already luring Ottawa skiers to test their skills on its slopes. Lord Aberdeen hosted a ski party near the small community of Ironside, Quebec in early January 1898. Ironside, which is today a suburb of Gatineau, was located on the west side of the Gatineau River, north of Lac Leamy. Fairy lake, or Lac des Fées, also became a popular skier venue for Ottawa civil servants who established a club house there.

By the time the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, skiing was well established, and was a big part of Ottawa’s winter life. Lord Frederick Hamilton, who launched the Canadian ski industry, died in 1928 at the age of seventy-one.

Sources:

Gazette (Montreal), 1887. “Ski vs. Toboggan,” 11 April.

Hamilton, Lord Frederick, 1920. The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/60901/60901-h/60901-h.htm#chap02.

——————————-, 1921. The Days Before Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York,  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3827/3827-h/3827-h.htm#chap09.

————————————, 1921. Here, There and Everywhere, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6368/pg6368-images.html.

Ottawa Citizen, 1895. “Sparkstockings And Skis,” 28 January.

——————, 1896. “The Women of Norway,” 15 October.

——————, 1935. “Romance And Adventure Of Skiing In Ottawa Back In The Nineties,” 2 March.

——————, 1946. “The First Skis in Ottawa,” 16 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1898. “Doings In The Capital,” 17 January.

——————-, 1899. “The Social Round,” 24 January.

——————-, 1899. “Ski’s With A History,” 3 March.

——————-, 1899. “Tale Of Love And Death,” 6 March.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing (sic), The Popular Outdoor Winter Sport,” 30 January.


[1] If any reader can help me pin the date down more conclusively, please let me know!

The Eddy Lock-Out

11 January 1904

The great fire of 1900, which gutted most of Hull and LeBreton Flats in Ottawa, destroyed much of E.B. Eddy’s paper works located near the Chaudière Falls. However, within six months of the disaster, the eponymous E.B. Eddy Company was back in operation thanks in no small measure to the iron determination of its owner.

Ezra Butler Eddy was a man of many parts—a self-made entrepreneur, philanthropist, politician and church-going Presbyterian. By the early 1900s, his firm employed more than 2,000 people in his pulp, paper, and match empire. His paper and fibre products were sold across the Dominion. He owned exclusive cutting privileges to more than 1,000 square miles of timber land in the region. At various times, he was mayor of the City of Hull, and member of the Quebec legislature for the county of Ottawa. In other words, he was a powerful man.

He was also as hard as nails. He had to be to get to where he was in the rough and tumble lumber business. He ran his company accordingly. By his lights, he was a fair man, giving employment to the people of the region and paying competitive wages. His company was an “open shop,” hiring union and non-union men to run the paper-making machines. Eddy said he had nothing against unions. He was probably telling the truth, being a proud, honorary member of the Ottawa Bricklayers’ Union, an accolade he received after the great fire.

Ezra Butler Eddy, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3468801.

In addition to E.B. Eddy’s iron will, the quick recovery of his factories after the 1900 fire was also due to the hard work of his employees. They laboured long hours, longer than they had prior to the fire. The mills were in operation from Monday morning at 7:00 am to Sunday morning at 5.30 am. There were only two shifts. The day shift ran 78 hours per week, the night shift 65 hours. The men alternated shifts, sharing the difference in hours. On average, the men worked approximately twelve hours per working day, six days out of seven. There was no break for meals. By June 1901, the men had had enough. They wanted shorter hours with the same pay. Eddy refused, claiming losses sustained in the fire as the reason. The issue of shorter hours was put on the backburner.

About this time, the International Brotherhood of Papermakers set about organizing the Eddy workers. In 1902, the local branch of the union asked for shorter hours for Eddy’s papermakers. Again, the company said no since it would mean the loss of 50-60 tons of paper per week. Mr. Eddy also claimed that his company was already paying its employees the “highest wages going.” However, after lengthy negotiations, the company agreed to give shorter hours a “fair trial,” staring in January 1903. On average, the workers would work eleven hours per day for the same pay. The mills would close at 5.30 pm on Saturday. There was a catch however. According to Mr. Eddy, workers would have to become more productive, offsetting the lost production owing to the shorter hours. The workers said they would try their utmost to do so.

Initially, all seemed to go well. During the summer of 1903, Eddy appeared satisfied with his employees’ effort. But then things began to sour. A demand by workers for a pay increase was rejected. Instead, Eddy informed them that unless production increased during the remainder of the year, the short-hour system would be discontinued.

James Scully, President of the Hull Lodge of the International Brotherhood of Papermakers, Ottawa Journal, 13 January 1904.

At the beginning of January 1904, paper mill superintendents gathered their men and read them the bad news which was contained in a circular to all employees. The circular claimed that average daily output through the previous year had been neither what the workers had promised, nor what the company had expected. Consequently, the hours of employment would henceforth run from Monday, starting at 6.30 am, until midnight Saturday.

There had been no consultation or discussion with the union, or mill workers at large. With only two shifts, this change increased the average work week by roughly thirty minutes to 11 ½ hours. Eddy also urged papermakers to “try in every way to bring it [output] up to what it should be for the wages paid, the class of machinery installed and the facilities we have.” Wages for men in the plant ranged from $1.25 per day to $3.25 per day. Most were at the lower end of the scale. In contrast, top corporate officials were well compensated, with at least one earning $10,000 per year.

Members of the union, Hull Lodge No. 35 of the International Brotherhood of Papermakers, met to discuss Eddy’s statement. The union members said that despite the shift to shorter hours a year earlier, they were still working eleven hours per day while other trades were working ten hours or even eight to nine hours. Consequently, they could not comply with Eddy’s order to work still longer hours. They recommended that the company move to a three-shift system which would permit the paper-making machines to be used more intensively, but at the same time would allow for a shorter work week. The union also noted that seven other Canadian paper mills had introduced the shorter-hour system without reducing wages.

Eddy refused. He replied that the only way his company would return to the shorter hours would be if the men took a proportional reduction in wages. He added that the company had considered the matter fully, and that it was in the best interest of the employees to increase the number of hours worked rather than cut wages. That Saturday afternoon, the company issued an ultimatum. If the paper workers didn’t obey the order, they should consider themselves “discharged.”

The papermakers downed tools as usual at 5.30 pm, ignoring the order to work to midnight.

The next day, at High Mass at Notre Dame de Grâce in Hull, Rev. Father Duhau urged the men to return to work. He argued that prolonged idleness would entail suffering for families in the middle of winter. The Church would not support the men’s demand for shorter working hours.

On Monday, 11 January 1904, men reporting for work found they were out of a job. They were greeted by notices posted in both English and French saying that the company would accept applications from its “late employees” for re-engagement until the following Saturday. After that, it would proceed to fill all vacancies with other workers. The men had effectively been locked-out.

None of the union paper workers applied to be re-hired. Instead, they began to meet daily to discuss events, play cards, and smoke in a local hall. The men were enjoying the first real leisure that had had for years. A dance was organized for the workers at the Hull City Hall.

More than four hundred papermakers were affected by the lockout. A further one hundred other workers—teamsters, shippers, and finishers—were laid off. Women joined the labour fight. Miss Tottie Mullin, and Miss Dora Simon, both veteran employees of the finishing room of the paper mill who had been laid off, joined the union.

While attention focused on the men who were locked out, women too featured in the fight for shorter hours of work at the E.B. Eddy Company’s paper mill, 14 January, 1904.

The company’s deadline for re-hiring the paper workers passed without any of the union workers applying for their old jobs despite the Church again urging them to return to work under Eddy’s terms. Rev. Father Fréchette of Notre Dame de Grâce said that if farmers could work thirteen hours a day, he couldn’t see why the papermakers couldn’t do the same. The union said the conditions in the mills were not analogous to those in the fields.

A delegation of workers went to discuss matters with Mr. Eddy in person. The conversation was polite but terse. Eddy had a stenographer record the meeting verbatim. Eddy said that the men had the perfect right to chose not to work and leave his employ. At the same time, he had the right to run his business the way he wanted. Nobody, not even the Governor General, would dare to interfere, he said. He subsequently denied that he was fighting the union, saying that he was instead fighting for freedom.

You would think that there would be a lot of hard feelings towards Eddy within the community. Surprisingly, several wives of locked out workers told an Ottawa Citizen journalist that the E.B. Eddy Company was the finest in Canada. While they “kick against the extra hours of work and no pay with it, we haven’t a word but kindness to say of him.”

There were, however, complaints about working conditions in the mills. One woman commented that papermakers don’t live long at the mills. “I’ve never seen an old man there.” Workers were also liable to be hurt or maimed for life “if they are caught in the clippers.” Recall, this was long before workman’s compensation. Another complained that the men had to eat while working the machines. “They just spread the food out where they can reach it.” The mills were also so hot that men had to strip down to “no more than the law calls for.” While Eddy thought the men were well compensated, wives complained that men with big families couldn’t afford to send their children to school. The monthly fee of 20 cents per month per child for books was simply more than they could afford. Consequently, kids as young as thirteen had to go to work for less than a dollar a day.

The labour dispute went on for months. After the third week, the union began paying benefits to the locked-out workers–$3 per week to unmarried men, and $5 per week to married men. The union kept order so that the men didn’t hang around street corners or caused any disruption. There was no picketing.

A circular was sent out by James Scully, the president of the Hull branch of the papermakers’ union, and Harry Smith, the union’s secretary, seeking the support of organized labour. This public letter, which was published in the Ottawa Journal, was endorsed by P.M. Draper and C.S.O. Boudreault, the president and secretary, respectively, of the Allied Trades and Labour Council of Ottawa. Its authors wrote that Eddy had “without any regard for the severity of a bitter Canadian winter turned out his employees to suffer, or to die.”  They also claimed that the attitude of Eddy had “opened the eyes of all, that certain capitalists take no concern in the material interests of their employees, but seek one and only one thing, their own wealth and the satisfaction of a greed for money.”

Eddy did not take this lying down. He quickly filed a $50,000 law suit for libel against the four signatories of the letter. He also demanded an immediate apology from the Ottawa Journal.  The next day, the newspaper complied. While voicing its continued support for the papermakers, the newspaper said that the circular contained a number of false statements which discredited the union. The newspaper offered an abject apology to the company and in particular to Mr. Eddy. The Ottawa Citizen exulted that its competitor had to eat “a generous sized dish of crow.”

Using six non-union workers, Eddy got one of his great paper-making machines working within just a couple of days of the start of the lock-out. Within a few weeks, all seven of its machines were up and running. By mid February 1904, sufficient paper was being produced that Eddy could meet all his contracts.

Many of the company’s former employees drifted away, some to the shanties in the woods cutting timber. In late April 1904, the Hull Lodge, No. 35 of the International Brotherhood of Papermakers threw in the towel. A resolution of its members, signed by James Scully and Harry Smith, said that the fight for shorter work hours had been discontinued. Moreover, they asked that “any hard feeling that may have arisen through this trouble be allowed to drop and the same cordial relations shall exist between your company and your former employees, that existed previous to this trouble.”

It would appear that Eddy subsequently dropped his $50,000 libel suit against Scully, Smith and the leaders of the Allied Trades and Labour Council. Eddy died in early 1906 at the age of seventy-eight.

In June 1913, nine years after the lock-out, the E.B. Eddy Company announced that the two-shift system of eleven and thirteen hours used in its book paper division would be discontinued in favour of three eight-hour shifts. The three-shift system had been adopted a few months earlier for newsprint makers. The company said that it wanted to improve the working conditions of its employees. The three-shift system was exactly what the papermakers had recommended in 1904.

Sources:

Manitoba Free Press, 1904. “Work at Eddy Mill,” 15 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1904. “Eddy Mills Lock Out,” 11 January.

——————, 1904. “Dramatic Interview With the Employes (sic),” 20 January.

——————, 1904. “Eddy Paper Makers’ Strike,” 25 January.

——————, 1904. “Severe on Mr. Eddy,” 25 January.

——————, 1904. “Writ For Damages,” 8 February.

——————, 1904. “The Hull Strike,” 16 February.

——————, 1904. “On The Timber Limits,” 22 February.

——————, 1913. “Gets Three-Eight-Hour Shifts,” 29 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1904. “Lockout At The Big Eddy Paper Mills,” 11 January.

——————-, 1904. “Ultimatum To Paper-Makers,” 13 January.

——————-, 1904. “The Eddy Company Start One Machine,” 14 January.

——————-, 1904. “Men Did Not Heed The Company’s Ultimatum,” 18 January.

——————-, 1904. “Still For Open Shop,” 19 January.

——————-, 1904. “Eddy Strike Not Settled,” 21 January.

——————-, 1904. “An Appeal For Assistance,” 1 February.

——————-, 1904. “The Eddy Strike,” 3 February.

Vancouver Daily World, 1904. “Eddy Will Sue Labor Leaders,” 6 February.