The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

Long before Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay worked their culinary magic on television, there was Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet. While Kerr (pronounced “Care”) was not by any means the first gourmet chef to appear on the small screen—that honour goes to James Beard in 1946—he, like Julia Child, did much to popularize fine cooking in North America. At a time when the acme of fine dining for many Americans and Canadians was a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, and Italian cuisine was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Kerr introduced millions to the likes of Lamb Apollo, Red Snapper in Pernod, Crab Captain Cook, and Gateau Saint Honoré. His zany antics, lightning fast wit and double entendres delivered while chopping and sautéing delighted television audiences around the world. At the peak of his popularity in 1970, his television show, The Galloping Gourmet, was seen in thirty-eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, with more than 200 million viewers. Dubbed into French, it was called the Le Gourmet Farfelu on the CBC’s French-language network. Amazingly, The Galloping Gourmet was made in Ottawa.

Graham Kerr 2

Graham Kerr—The Galloping Gourmet, The Cooking Channel

The British-born Kerr learnt how to cook as a teenager during the late 1940s in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel. After five years in the British Army’s catering corps, he moved to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Air Force as a catering adviser. It was in New Zealand in 1959 that he got his first televised cooking show—Eggs with Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Performing in uniform, the young Kerr received a munificent $25 for his weekly television programme. Spotted by a promoter with links to Australia, Kerr was launched on Australian television with a programme called Entertaining with Kerr in 1964 on the Ten Network.

In 1968, he and his wife Treena came to Ottawa to film The Galloping Gourmet for Freemantle International, a television production/distribution company. Although the show was aimed at an American audience, the Kerrs chose Canada as their base of operations because they wanted to bring a British/Australian flavour to the show that they thought might be lost in an American-made production. Also, Canada had first class television studios that could make colour programmes. Colour television had been introduced to the Canadian market in 1966, whereas Australian television was still operating in black and white. To make the daily 23-minute programme, the Kerrs went to the CJOH studios located at the corner of Merivale Road and Clyde Avenue in Ottawa.  Then owned by Bushnell Communications, CJOH was the third busiest television production centre in Canada. Under the direction of Bill McKee, an exceptional staff of 160 people, of whom 100 were directly in production, worked ten hour days seven days a week producing as many as dozen different television series as well as films for government departments. In a 1970 interview, Kerr stated that CJOH had the “finest” television crew with whom they had ever worked.

Production of The Galloping Gourmet began in the summer of 1968, making six shows a day, thirty shows per week. It was a gruelling schedule. The Kerrs worked as a team, Graham in front of the camera, and Treena as the show’s producer.  Initially, there was little to distinguish the new show. Indeed, the television studio’s audience relations staff found it difficult to find people willing to fill the seats in the studio equipped with a full kitchen with an autumn brown fridge and stove, dining room, bar and wine rack. However, this was to quickly change.

The programme first aired on CBC television (CBOT, channel 4 in Ottawa) at 4pm on Monday, 30 December, 1968, up against the likes of Match Game, Big Spender, House Party, and the cartoon show Hercules. The show was also syndicated throughout the United States. CBOT advertised it as “a cooking show…but what a cooking show! It is as entertaining as the best comedy shows and as informative as a documentary because of the talent of the host Graham Kerr, a world famous gourmet, formerly of England, now living in Australia.”  It added that Kerr was nicknamed the galloping gourmet, “because of the lightning speed at which he moves his six foot, three-inch frame while alternately singing, dancing, telling stories and giving homely advice…all while cooking sumptuous dishes with dazzling dexterity.”

It was an apt description though his nickname was more likely based on a book that he co-authored with wine expert Len Evans called The Galloping Gourmets published in 1967. The book chronicled the authors’ globetrotting efforts to find the world’s best restaurants in 35 days. His address was also wrong. By this time, Graham, Treena and the Kerr children had taken up residence in the tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in Ottawa.

The Galloping Gourmet was an instant and huge success though some stations censored the more naughty bits. The Globe and Mail, in a rant about the poor quality of daytime television filled with Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island re-runs, soap operas, and second-rate talk shows, likened The Galloping Gourmet to “a flower growing in a crammed wall.” It opined that “while Graham gallops, there is hope.” Tickets to attend the show’s tapings became as rare hen’s teeth. Kerr’s most faithful admirers were female. One die-hard fan attended 49 times during the show’s first year. It helped that he was a culinary James Bond with a sense of humour—young, good looking, always impeccably dressed, and a superb British accent.

But the show appealed to all, women and men, young and old. The reason—it was fun. Each show began with Kerr jumping over a chair with a glass of wine in his hand. The manoeuvre, suggested by wife Treena, became his signature move. Most shows had some gag that were sure to provoke guffaws, such as stirring a pot with a five-foot spoon called “Big Mouth,” or pulling a brassiere out of a rolling pin. Shows also featured clips of exciting places around the world visited by the Kerrs for culinary inspiration. But the most endearing feature of the show was Kerr’s unbounded enthusiasm, excellent comic timing, and an ability to roll with whatever happened. To watch him try to unstick a reluctant cake out of a mould while a cherry sauce is cooking on the stove is hysterically funny. The show was nominated for two Daytime Emmys, but lost out to The Today Show. However, Kerr received the ultimate public recognition when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970.

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr larding a steak in episode “Beer and Rump Pot Roast,” 1970, The Cooking Channel.

But what about the food? Kerr’s culinary critics poo-pooed his skills, seeing him as a showman rather than an expert at fine cuisine. One called him the Liberace of the cooking world. There may be an element of truth to this. But he introduced people to a range of cuisines from Cajun jambalaya and British beer and rump pot roast to Mexican huevos rancheros and Russian shrimp povlik. One thing that was clear, however, his food was rich…very rich. There were few vegetables. In his recipes, Kerr used copious amounts of clarified butter, fat and sugar. Just watching him lard an already well-marbled, two-inch steak, then fry it in butter, bacon fat and brown sugar is sufficient to clog the arteries. But this was a more innocent time. Certainly, willing volunteers, usually women pulled from the audience at the end of each show to taste his culinary creations, appeared to love his food.

At the height of his popularity, disaster struck. In April 1971, Kerr was seriously hurt when a truck rear-ended his car in California, leaving him with a damaged spine and a weakened right arm.  The couple returned to Ottawa to try to tape another season, but things were not the same. With Kerr injured, shows were mostly cobbled together using bits of earlier programmes with celebrities brought in to give their opinions of past shows and dishes. In the summer of that year, the Kerrs bade Ottawa good bye after taping 560 shows in front of 46,000 people. He lauded Ottawans for their support, coming out for tapings in the midst of snowstorms, and stoically sitting through an overheated studio when summer air conditioning failed.

From leafy Rockcliffe, the family charted a new course aboard their $300,000, 71-foot yacht with an aim to visit the world’s beauty spots while they recuperated and worked on new projects, including a Galloping Gourmet line of kitchens, cook books, and cooking utensils. But things didn’t turn out as expected. Treena was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis proved to be wrong; it turned out to be tuberculosis. But she still lost part of a lung and became hooked on both prescription and non-prescription drugs. They also lost $800,000 to a man they had trusted. The couple subsequently became born-again Christians and abjured their earlier lives. Turning his back on the galloping gourmet, Kerr gave up alcohol, which had featured prominently in his earlier shows, and his risqué behaviour. The couple visited Ottawa in 1975 to appear at an evangelical rally at the Earl Armstrong Arena in Gloucester. The same year, Kerr returned to television hosting Take Kerr, a five-minute, syndicated cooking show featuring a mix of alcohol-free recipes with a dash of Christianity.

In 1987, Treena suffered a stroke and heart attack exacerbated husband Graham was convinced by his high fat, high sugar recipes of earlier years. In response, he re-doubled his efforts to create healthy “minmax” recipes—minimum fat and cholesterol with maximum flavour and aroma. More television shows, including The Graham Kerr Show, made in Seattle, Washington, and cook books that emphasized wholesome foods followed. In 1997, Kerr returned to Canada, this time to the Bay’s Arcadian Court in Toronto to tape yet another cooking programme called Graham Kerr’s Gathering Place.

Treena Keer died in September 2015 just short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Graham Keer, who turned 85 in January 2017 lives in Mount Vernon in Skaget County, near Seattle. Today, Keer has come to terms with his galloping gourmet past. His latest passion is “upstreaming,” that he describes as the “conversion of habits that can harm” into “resources that can heal” ourselves and the planet. Reruns of The Galloping Gourmet can be seen occasionally on late night television or on the Cooking Channel. Some have also been posted on YouTube. They are worth watching for the Sixties clothes and hairstyles, and, of course, for Graham Kerr’s incomparable cooking style and humour.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune (The), 1972. “A Glimpse of Graham, the Gourmet,” 9 November.

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking, http://www.startyourrestaurantbusiness.com/the-galloping-gourmet-graham-kerr-the-monty-python-of-cooking/.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow. http://www.grahamkerr.com/.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May, http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2010/05/21/loving-the-galloping-gourmet/.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1968. “CBOT Highlights,” 28 December.

————————–, 1969. “A Watched Nockerln,” 30 April.

————————–, 1970. “The Galloping Gourmet in Moscow,” 7 February.

————————–, 1970. “Graham Loves Us,” 8 August.

————————–, 1971. “The Galloping Gourmet goes, salutes ‘fabulous’ Ottawans,” 23 August.

————————–, 1972. “Battle of the Sexes Name of the Game,” 11 March.

————————–, 1972. “Galloping Gourmet hungers for the sea,” 19 July.

————————–, 1974. “Ottawa TV production centre is one of Canada’s busiest,” 21 December.

————————–, 1975. “Galloping Gourmet has come up with a recipe for a good life after his recent conversion,” 23 August.

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet, http://www.worldlibrary.org/

Ottawa’s Royal Swans

28 June 1967

In Britain, there has been an association between the monarchy and mute swans (Cygnus Olor) that dates back to the twelfth century. Traditionally, the Crown claims ownership of all mute swans in open water in England and Wales. The monarch can, however, give the privilege of owning swans to others. In 1483, King Edward IV ruled that only the gentry owing land worth more than five marks (£3. 7s. 6d.) could own “swannes.” Today, other than the Crown, only three groups hold the privilege of owning the waterfowl—the Company of Vintners and the Company of Dyers, who received the right in the 1460s, and the Ilchester family of Abbotsbury, Dorset. The Ilchester family gained the privilege when it acquired property previously owned by Benedictine monks following the dissolution of the monasteries during the sixteenth century by King Henry VIII. Today, the Queen’s swan rights are only enforced over part of the Thames River. Each year, at the ceremonial “Swan Upping,” held during the third week in July, young swans, called cygnets, are rounded up on the river between the towns of Sunbury and Abingdon and distributed among the Crown and the two Companies. In the old days, the beaks of the swans going to the Companies were marked, one nick for Dyers’ birds and two nicks for Vintners’ birds. Birds owned by the Crown were left unmarked. Today, instead of nicking the beaks, the birds are banded.

Swans

Royal swans, 1987. City of Ottawa Archives/CA024408.

You might wonder why all the bother. The purpose of the modern “Upping” is not so much about ownership but rather about monitoring the health of the mute swan population on the Thames. It’s also about having fun, dressing up in fancy uniforms and getting out on the water in traditional wooden skiffs on a warm, summer’s day. Back in medieval times, however, it was very serious business. Swans were a valuable commodity, and were eaten as poultry, much like chickens, ducks and geese are today. Swan was the fowl of choice of the aristocracy at feasts. But for some reason, swan flesh went out of fashion. The taste might have been a factor. While Master Chef Mario Batali claims swan meat is “delicious—deep red, lean, lightly gamey, moist, and succulent”—others have called it “gristly” and “mud flavoured.”  If you happen to come across swan at your neighbourhood butcher (most unlikely), and wish to give it a try, here is a link to a fourteenth-century recipe for roasted swan with chaudon (a.k.a. giblet) sauce. Roasted swan.

Royal mute swans came to Ottawa in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, as a gift to the nation’s capital from Queen Elizabeth who also doubles as Seigneur of Swans. It was not the first time that Canada has received Royal swans. In 1912, George V gave a pair of Royal mute swans from his flock at Hampton Court to St Thomas, Ontario. The birds were settled on Pinafore Lake. They didn’t flourish. More mute swans were imported in the early 1950s from the United States, Scotland and from Stratford, Ontario which itself received mute swans in 1918 from Mr J. C. Garden. Today, St Thomas’s imported mute swans have been replaced by native trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) in a programme to re-introduce the breed into southern Ontario. King Edward VIII also presented two Royal swans to North Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1936.

The gift of swans has not always been unidirectional. In 1951, the Federal and British Columbian governments gave six Canadian trumpeter swans to the then Princess Elizabeth. The swans were put into the care of the Severn Wild Fowl Trust.

Ottawa’s Royal mute swans arrived in the city in late May 1967, the culmination of careful planning on the part of Buckingham Place, Rideau Hall, the City of Ottawa, the Federal government and two airlines. Arriving by airplane at Uplands Airport, the birds, which had been specially selected by the Keeper of the Queen’s Swans from the Thames River, were placed into precautionary quarantine. At 4pm on 28 June 1967, following speeches by the Governor General and Ottawa’s Mayor Donald Reid in front of hundreds of guests, eight Royal swans were released into the Rideau River just above the Rideau Falls on the grounds of the old city hall (now the Federal government’s John G. Diefenbaker building) on Green Island. Two other pairs of swans remained at the “swan house” at the City’s Leitrum tree nursery for breeding purposes. Noting that swans mated for life, Governor General Roland Mitchener joked that in light of the prospective liberalization of Canada’s divorce laws, the birds might have to face “some previously unknown temptations.” The birds’ ability to fly was disabled to stop them from straying, physically if not maritially.

The swans were in place on July 1, 1967, Canada’s centennial day, ready for the Queen’s inspection when she and Prince Philip arrived at City Hall on their Royal Tour of Canada. The Ottawa Journal wrote that the swans, paddling from shore to shore on the Rideau River “enhanced a scene of calm and beauty.” Their “regal beauty complemented every natural and man-made fixture in sight.”

The graceful, long-necked, white birds were an instant sensation as they cruised the Rideau River, stopping along the way to eat aquatic vegetation, as well as the odd tadpole, snail or insect. Couples quickly established territories along the river bank. When the cold weather came in late October, the birds were moved to their winter quarters at Ottawa’s tree nursery in Leitrim. There, they were housed in less than regal surroundings in a greenhouse made of heavy-duty plastic and chicken wire with an earthen floor and an artificial pond. In 1971, a wooden swan house was built with pens for each couple and an outside exercise yard. The birds were cared by Ottawa’s first swanmaster, Mr Gerry Strik, who was also the manager of the Leitrim tree nursery. Mr Strik had previous experience caring for swans in his native Holland. That same year, the Royal swans made their theatrical debut, appearing in the National Arts Centre production of the Marriage of Figaro. Swanmaster Strik, dressed appropriately, was in the wings in case the birds misbehaved. Appearing on stage for the entire final act, the swans performed admirably.

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Swanmaster-Gerry Strik with Royal swans at their indoor winter quarters, March 9, 1978, City of Ottawa Archives/CA025513/Peter Earle.

There were, however, some reservations about the new Rideau River inhabitants. One City Councillor worried that the honking of swans might be a violation of the city’s anti-noise by-law. His concern was allied by Margaret Farr, the deputy commissioner of Ottawa’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said the birds were relatively quiet, though they sometimes “grunted like pigs.” Another councillor worried about the swans’ reproductive capacity. As mute swans lay clutches of up to five eggs, he figured that within five years Ottawa could be the proud owner of 72 pairs of birds. Mute swans are also long-lived, with a lifespan of thirty years or more.

This later concern turned out to be prophetic. Quickly, the swan population rose despite losses due to disease and misfortune. Sadly, there were also a number of cases of cruelty towards the birds and their nestlings. Eggs were also destroyed. One adult bird was shot while another was clubbed to death with a baseball bat. Yet another was found dead with a fish hook in its mouth. Two disappeared without a trace, presumably taken by somebody with a taste for swan flesh. Despite such losses, by the early 1970s, there were forty birds, and the City was looking around for solutions to limit their numbers; forty birds was deemed to be the maximum the Rideau River could accommodate. This gave rise to an interesting problem. Would it be a case of lèse majesté to dispose of some swans? After consulting the British High Commissioner and the Governor General, both of whom didn’t have an answer, the question was resolved by the Lord Chamberlain of England. His answer was there was no problem if the City gave swans away to good homes. However, such birds could not be designated as royal gifts. The Queen herself suggested that only two eggs be left in each nest.

Despite concerns about swan numbers, Ottawa acquired a pair of black Australian swans (Cygnus atratus) in July 1974. The source of the birds and the rationale for acquiring them are a bit murky. According to the City of Ottawa’s website, the birds came from the Montreal Zoo in an exchange. However, contemporary newspaper reports say they came to Ottawa in a trade with Wallaceburg, Ontario. These birds do not carry the “Royal” designation as they were not a gift from the Crown.

By the early 1990s, City Council, looking for cutbacks in an age of austerity, considered eliminating the city’s swans, and in the process saving some $37,500 or more per year in winter maintenance, a cost that had increased ten-fold since 1967 due partly to inflation and partly to the increase in the swan population. One city official jokingly suggested that Ottawa host a big barbecue. After receiving hundreds of letters in support of the birds, City Council instead agreed to reduce their numbers to save money. A few years later, City Council again tried to eliminate the swans. Jim Watson, a city alderman at the time, called the swans “a frill.” Fortunately for swan lovers, the high-tech. company Cognos stepped up in early 1996, providing $26,300 to cover that year the maintenance costs of twenty-two white Royal swans and 5 black Australian swans. The company continued to pay for the swans’ maintenance until 2007. The following year, IBM, which had taken over Cognos, stepped in and contributed $300,000 in a lump sum for the maintenance of the birds.

About the same time, concerns were raised about deteriorating conditions at the swan house at the Leitrim Tree Sanctuary. Although called “Swantanamo Bay” by some wags after the notorious U.S. military and prison camp in Cuba, the Ottawa Humane Society said the unsightly facility did not pose a “significant health or safety risk” to the birds. With IBM funds devoted to the annual maintenance of the birds, the city looked into building replacement quarters for the birds. With the estimated cost approaching $500,000 (!), the idea of building a new swan house was quickly shelved. When the Leitrim facility finally closed in 2015, the birds were sent to winter quarters at Parc Safari in Hemingford, Quebec under a two-year arrangement costing roughly $30,000 per year.

Typically, the swans are released back into the Rideau River in late May. However, in 2017, the swans, now a much reduced group of eight, six Royal mute swans and two black Australian swans, were released in late June owing to high water conditions prevailing earlier in the spring. Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Diane Deans officiated at the event held at Brantwood Park at the end of Clegg Street.

How many more years this annual event will take place remains an open question. While the Royal mute swans are attractive and have many admirers, they are considered an invasive species in North America that competes with native trumpeter swans. Although Ottawa’s swans on the Rideau are pinioned, a requirement of the Federal Wildlife Act in order to stop them flying away and going feral, pinioning is a controversial procedure. Liken to the cropping of the tail and ears of certain breeds of dogs or removing the claws of cats, pinioning involves the surgical removal of the pinion joint of the wing. This procedure permanently stops a bird’s flight feathers from growing thereby disabling its ability to fly. It’s typically done without anesthesia, and is banned in some countries under animal protection laws. While the swans are safe in 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial year (and the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s gift), we shall have to see what happens once the celebrations are over. Unless another sponsor steps forward, the future of the Royal Swans of Ottawa remains uncertain.

Sources:

Answer Fella, 2011. “Why Not Eat a (Black) Swan on Oscar Night?” Esquire, 23 February, http://www.esquire.com/food-drink/food/a9453/black-swan-recipe-0311/.

Barger, Brittani, 2016, “Does the Queen really own all the swans?” Royal Central, http://royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/does-the-queen-really-own-all-the-swans-57621.

CBC, News, 2008. “IBM bails out Ottawa’s royal swans,” 20 November.

Cornell, Lab of Ornithology (The), 2017. “Mute Swan,” https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mute_Swan/lifehistory.

Duhaime.org. 2007. Crazy Laws—English Style (1482-1541), http://www.duhaime.org/LawFun/LawArticle-359/Crazy-Laws–English-Style-1482-1541.aspx.

Field, Mrs Marshall (Dolly), 1951. History of the St. Thomas Filed Naturalist Club, 1950-67), http://inmagic.elgin-county.on.ca/ElginImages/archives/ImagesArchive/pdfs/ECVF_B99_F30.pdf.

Globe and Mail, The, 1951. “To Send Royal Pair Gift Of 6 Swans,” 10 November.

————————–, 1955. “The Swans of St. Thomas,” 10 December.

————————–, 1992. “Squaking Squelches Notion Of Swan Song,” 23 April.

————————-, 1996. “With Her Swans Looked After,” 10 January.

————————-, 1996. “Cognos Picking Up Tab For Swans, $26,300 per year.” 10 October.

Gode Cookery Presents, 2017. “For to dihyte a swan,” Medieval recipes, http://www.godecookery.com/mtrans/mtrans52.html.

Ottawa, City of, 2016. “Royal swans to be released along the Rideau River,” 20 May.

——————, 2016. “Royal swans make annual return to the Rideau River,” 24 May.

——————, 2017. “Royal Swan FAQs,” http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/animals-and-pets/other-animals#royal-swan-faqs.

Ottawa Humane Society, 2013. Royal Swan FAQs, https://web.archive.org/web/20091203010345/http://www.ottawahumane.ca/protection/swan.cfm

Ottawa, Journal (The), 1967.”Swans Fly Atlantic – By Plane,” 31 May.

—————————, 1967. “Royal Swan Song Worries Council,” 20 June.

—————————, 1967. “Mitchener To Present,” 21 June.

—————————, 1967. “Letter to Citizens of Ottawa from Mayor Don Reid,” 27 June.

—————————, 1967. “City’s Royal Swans ‘Launched,’” 29 June.

—————————, 1967. “Those Royal Swans,” 8 July.

—————————, 1967. “The Royal Swans,” 15 July.

—————————, 1967. “Swans To Winter In Leitrim,” 21 October.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swan Upkeep Set At $3,500 in 1971.” 20 May.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swans Have Part In NAC Opera,” 6 July.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swan Clubbed to Death,” 21 October.

—————————, 1972. “Yes—Swans Can Be Given Away,” 20 March.

—————————, 1973. “Royal Swans….” 24 March.

—————————, 1973. “Queen Finds Answer To City’s Swan Dilemma,” 2 August.

—————————, 1978. “It’s Your Royal Flock,” 19 May.

—————————, 1979. “Swan Song,” 13 September.

—————————, 1979. “Attempt To Cut Numbers by 8 To 20 Defeated.” 13 October.

Ottawa Sun, 2016. “City Still Trying To Find A Permanent Winter Facility,” 24 November.

Queen’s Swan Marker, 2012. Royal Swan Upping, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Edition, http://www.royalswan.co.uk/sources/indexPop.htm.

Shaw, Hank, 2015. On Eating Swans, http://honest-food.net/on-eating-swans/.

Stratford, City of, 2007. “The Swans of Stratford,” http://www.visitstratford.ca/uploads/brochure2007c.pdf.

St. Thomas Times Journal, 2013. “Nature takes toll on St. Thomas swan cygnets,” 21 August.

Toronto, City of, 2011, “Birds of Toronto,” https://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/City%20Planning/Environment/Files/pdf/B/Biodiversity_Birds_of_TO_dec9.pdf.

 

Banish the Bar: The Arrival of Prohibition

16 September 1916

It was foreshadowed by a flickering of the overhead lights. And then, at precisely 7pm on Saturday, 16 September 1916, bars across Ottawa, indeed throughout Ontario, went dark. Prohibition had arrived. That last day, Ottawa’s hotels were chock-a-block full. Retail liquor stores also did a roaring trade. Their deliverymen worked flat out stocking cellars in private homes—the only place where liquor could henceforth be stored in Ontario. Although they faced a bleak future, purveyors of alcohol could take some small solace from the fact that the day’s takings were the best ever as patrons drained their remaining stocks of liquor and beer.

The coming of Prohibition was largely taken in good humour in Ottawa. While the crowds in some places were described as a bit boisterous, nothing got out of hand. Men sang choruses of The Stein Song and How Dry Am I? The latter, which was adapted by Irving Berlin in 1919 and called The Near Future, was later to become a Prohibition favourite in America. As the clock struck the hour, men filed quietly out of the bars. Ottawa’s licence inspector was satisfied that all hotel bars had closed promptly. Some, including the Windsor Hotel, had in fact closed a bit early to ensure that they stayed on the right side of the law. Starting the following Monday, licensed hotels were limited to selling non-intoxicating “temperance beer,” a watery facsimile of real beer containing no more than 1.43% alcohol by volume, or “2 ½ per cent. of proof spirits [British measure]” as described in The Ontario Temperance Act of 1916.

Prohibition King George Hotel 74 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa c1912-1913, Topley Studio LA C PA-04276

King George Hotel, 74 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa, decorated for Christmas, c. 1912, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-04276.

For Ottawa drinkers, a “dry” Ontario was more of an inconvenience than a serious problem. With Quebec still “wet,” the bars and taverns of Hull were amply stocked with their favourite tipple. However, for Ontario residents who lived farther from the border, prohibition was more onerous.  The Ottawa Evening Journal joked that the “joyful refrain of the bibulistic tourist on reaching Ottawa” was “Just one more river to cross.”

The coming into force of the Act was welcomed by local churches, especially evangelical Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists who had been central to the fight to make Ontario “dry.” The Journal reported Rev. P.W. Anderson of Mackay Presbyterian Church saying that prohibition “gave wives and children, as well as drinking husbands,… a fair chance to start things anew.” Rev. Robert Eadie of the Bethany Presbyterian Church thundered that “every Ottawa liquor store dealer who had gone outside [i.e. Hull] to continue his trade should be blacklisted.” It was notable that in the Journal’s coverage of the clerical reaction to the arrival of Prohibition, no Anglican or Roman Catholic priest was quoted. Both traditional denominations had a more nuanced view on alcohol, generally favouring moderation over prohibition.

Ottawa’s hotel owners were the big losers with the coming of Prohibition. While the majority of them applied for licences to become “standard hotels,” which empowered them to sell “temperance beer,” soft drinks and cigars, their bar revenues dropped sharply. Lost sales were estimated at more than $1,500 per day. The City of Ottawa was a loser too. In 1915, the City’s take of the already reduced number of hotel and liquor store licences amounted to $36,525. It also stood to lose a similar amount through reduced business taxes and other imposts.

The closure of Ontario’s bars and liquor stores was the culmination of the efforts of thousands of earnest and pious individuals who sought to eradicate what they believed was a great evil in society. The temperance movement was rooted in a worldwide Protestant Christian revival that started during the early nineteenth century. The movement was particularly strong in North America, but was also important in the Nordic countries, New Zealand, and to a less extent Australia. Britain too had its temperance movement centred in the non-conformist churches though it was never strong enough to push through a legal prohibition against alcohol.

In the United States and Canada, the temperance movement’s most fervent supporter was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Founded in 1874 in Ohio, it quickly went international. Canada got its first branch (or “union”) that same year. In 1883, the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU) was established. Members, mostly drawn from the middle class, pledged to abstain from all distilled liquors, wines and beer, and to discourage the use and traffic of alcohol. This early feminist organization based its values on the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon who advocated moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful. In keeping with this motto, the organization did not limit its opposition to just alcohol, but also lobbied against the use of tobacco, white slavery (a.k.a. prostitution), child abuse, as well as other evils that particularly affected women and children. The WCTU’s world-wide membership peaked during the 1920s and 1930s at roughly 750,000, with roughly half that number in the United States. In 1914, Canadian membership stood at about 17,000. (The WCTU’s worldwide membership stands at about 5,000 today.)

In Canada, a broad anti-alcohol coalition called the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic was formed in 1877. Active across the country, its membership included the WCTU and other organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The strong evangelical protestant nature of such organizations sometimes turned anti-Catholic, reducing its effectiveness in Quebec though there were parallel Catholic temperance groups.

The anti-alcohol fervour of these organizations was not without merit. The excess consumption of liquor and beer was a major social problem during the nineteenth century in Canada, though Canadians on average consumed far less booze than their British or American cousins. In 1851, little Bytown with a population of only 7,000 boasted seventy licensed taverns in addition to an unknown number of illicit “grog” houses. Drunken brawling was commonplace. With husbands running up large tabs at bars, wives and children suffered. This is not to say women didn’t also imbibe or own taverns. Mother McGuinty’s tavern on Rideau Street was famous. Taverns were also key centres of political activity and sometimes hosted magistrates’ courts.

The prominent role played by alcohol in society during the nineteenth century may in part have reflected a dearth of alternate recreational activities. Other than Church on Sundays, there really wasn’t much for people to do on their very limited free time. Recognizing this fact, wealthy philanthropists, Church organizations, and women’s groups headed the public library movement in the second half of the nineteenth century in an effort to provide the working man an edifying alternative to the bar or brothel.  It also mattered that industrialists wanted a sober work force.

Christopher Dunkin 1870 Topley Studio - Library and Archives Canada - PA-026325

Christopher Dunkin, 1870, the man who sponsored the first temperance legislation in Canada in 1864. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-026325.

The first legislative victory for the prohibitionists was the 1864 Canada Temperance Act, also known as the Dunkin Act after its sponsor Christopher Dunkin. Under this legislation any municipality or county in the Province of Canada could prohibit alcohol following a majority vote in a referendum. This act was extended to all of the Dominion of Canada in the 1878 Canada Temperance Act (the Scott Act). This latter Act was sponsored by Ottawa’s own, tea-totalling Sir Richard William Scott, who had been mayor of Bytown, member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly for Ottawa from 1867 to 1873, and a Senator, and sometime federal Cabinet Minister, from 1874-1913. The first province to go “dry” was Prince Edward Island in 1901.

In Ontario, plebiscites on province-wide prohibition were held in 1894 and in 1902. Although the anti-alcohol forces won both, prohibition in Ontario had to wait as the government chose to ignore the results of the first, non-binding referendum, while the second failed to attract a required fifty per cent of the votes cast in the 1898 election owing to a low voter turnout. In the meantime, however, the federal Scott Act (known as the “local option”) remained in force. Many communities, especially in rural areas, banned alcohol.

Prohibition, Sir Richard Scott 1873, LAC Mikan 3220974, unkown

Sir Richard William Scott, 1873, the man who sponsored the 1878 Canada Temperance Act, photographer unknown, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 3220974.

Like most major cities, Ottawa remained “wet.” But the noose was tightening around the throats of local drinkers. Stand-alone taverns lost their licences as provincial restrictions limited drinking to establishments that provided accommodations. Successive Ottawa plebiscites sharply reduced the number of hotel and liquor store licences from 80 and 33, respectively, in 1898 to 20 and 10, respectively, by early 1916. Bar operating hours were also curtailed, with closing time moving from 11pm to 8pm during World War I.

The bigger, more up-market hotels in Ottawa supported the reduction in the number of liquor stores as it reduced competition. The manager of the Grand Union Hotel called liquor stores “the curse of the trade.” Even the reduction in hotel licences didn’t faze the big hotels. They expected to keep their licences, and increase their business. Those losing out would be the smaller hotels that catered to “a cheaper class of consumer,” as one big hotel manager sniffed. One thing did fuss them, however. They worried about the impartiality of the licence commissioners who were viewed as “the five little gods,” with “too much power” and without “a liberal-minded man in the whole bunch.”

The start of the Great War was the tipping point in the fight against alcohol. Grain supplies were now needed for the war effort. To give up drinking became patriotic. Even King George V had reportedly renounced alcohol for the duration. By the time Ontario went dry in September 1916 all provinces, except Quebec, had banned or announced bans on the retail sale of liquor.

Ontario had, however, a strange kind of prohibition. Booze continued to be made for the export market. The courts had also ruled that the shipment of liquor and beer across provincial boundaries was a federal matter. Consequently, provinces could not restrict the importation of alcoholic products. Ontario residents could order alcohol from Quebec-based middle men and have it delivered to their homes, or have it readied for pick-up at the brewery or distillery. What was key was to have an out-of-province invoice. Ontario-made wines using Ontario grapes were also exempt from the Ontario Temperance Act though wine drinkers had to buy directly from the wineries in wholesale amounts of five gallons or more—the idea being to make it too expensive for somebody to purchase a single bottle at a time. In addition to exemptions for sacramental purposes, doctors could prescribe alcohol to patients in six-ounce amounts. Hundreds of thousands of prescriptions were written by doctors at $2 per prescription, and filled at neighbourhood drug stores. Ontario residents could also buy so-called “nerve tonics” that had a high-alcohol content from pharmacies.

Prohibition beer ad ii 16-9-1916

Beer advertisement that appeared in The Ottawa Evening Journal on 16 September 1916, the day that Prohibition came into force in Ontario. Drinkers could continue to buy full-strength, Ontario-made beer as long as they ordered it through a middle-man located in another province.

Nation-wide, the prohibition hammer came down on Christmas Eve 1917 when the federal government by Order-In-Council under the War Measure Act banned the importation of intoxicating beverages as well as the transportation of such beverages into “dry” areas. The government argued that it was “essential and indeed vital for the efficient conduct of the war that wasteful or unnecessary expenditure be prohibited and that all articles capable of being utilised as food should be conserved.” This order was to be in effect until one year after the end of the war.

For Ottawa hotels, the new regulations were greeted with a yawn. The manager of the Château Laurier Hotel remarked that they had been out of the liquor business for a year and that they weren’t even using alcohol in the kitchen. The big losers were Hull liquor stores who had been filling cross-border liquor orders.

The Prohibition tide began to ebb with the end of the war and the lifting of federal restrictions against the importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages. With the war over, the appeals of prohibitionists to patriotism were no longer effective. In contrast, the appeals of anti-prohibition activists to “liberty” were finding traction. Returning soldiers swelled the “wet” constituency. It was also becoming increasingly apparent that Prohibition was not working. People drank more rather than less in illegal speakeasies called “bling pigs.” Bootlegging and criminality was on the rise, and there was a growing disregard for the law. Imbibers were also dying or being severely injured through drinking bad whisky or rubbing alcohol. As well, labour unions that had once been major temperance supporters turned against prohibition, upset by laws that denied the working man his glass of beer but allowed the wealthy industrialist to stock his cellar with whisky.

Despite another referendum on alcohol in 1924 that was narrowly won by the “dry” forces, the first crack in Ontario’s prohibition laws occurred in 1925 when the Conservative Government of Howard Ferguson permitted 4.4 proof (British measure) beer, i.e. beer with an alcohol content of 2.51% by volume. This beer became known as “Fergie Foam.” In 1927, Ferguson’s government replaced the Ontario Temperance Act with the Liquor Control Act that permitted people to buy alcohol in government-owned stores for consumption in homes. Prohibition in Ontario was officially over. However, it wasn’t until 1934 that drinking in public bars was allowed.

Sources:

Blocker, J., Fahey, D. & Tyrrell, I., eds. 2003. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History, An International Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford.

Coutts, Ian, 2010. Brew North, How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada, Greystone Books, D & M Publishers, Inc.: Vancouver, Toronto, Berkeley.

Heron, Craig, 2003. Booze, A Distilled History, Between The Lines: Toronto.

Lee, David, 2006. Lumber Kings and Shantymen, Logging, Lumber and Timber in the Ottawa Valley, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

Mallack, Dan, 2012. Try To Control Yourself, The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-44, UBC Press: Vancouver.

McRuer, J. C., 1922. 1923 Ontario Liquor Traffic Acts being The Ontario Temperance Act with amendments-1922, https://ia902700.us.archive.org/5/items/ontarioliquorlaw00mcruuoft/ontarioliquorlaw00mcruuoft.pdf.

National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 2017, https://www.wctu.org/.

Ottawa, City of, 1916. “By-Laws 4120 and 4121,” Limiting the Number of Tavern and Shop Licenses”

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1916, “Local Hotelmen Not Dissatisfied By People’s Vote Lopping Licenses,” 4 January.

————————————-, 1916. “A Great Majority In Vote To Reduce Liquor Licenses; Opposition Fail,” 4 January.

————————————-, 1916. “Notable Scenes In Last Closing Hour, Crowds Merry But Well Behaved,” 18 September.

————————————-, 1916. “New Act Welcomed In Local Churches, Pastors Promised A Better Ontario, 18 September.

————————————-, 1916. “Local Bars Trade In A Third Less,” 19 September.

————————————-, 1916. “Canada Under Prohibition,” 20 September.

————————————-, 1916, “Ottawa’s Fine Strategic Position,” 22 September.

————————————, 1917. “Another Big Step To Prohibition In Canada Is Taken,” 24 December.

————————————-, 1919. “Senate Takes Steps To Nullify Government Bill In Respect To Intoxicating Liquor,” 19 June.

————————————, 1927. “Control Bill To Be Effective First Week In May,” 10 March.

Wamsley, Kevin and Kossuth, Robert, 2000, Fighting It Out in Nineteenth-Century Upper Canada/Canada West: Masculinities and Physical Challenges in the Tavern, University of Western Ontario, http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH2000/JSH2703/JSH2703d.pdf.

 

The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November  1927

Readers may be surprised to learn that the Rideau Canal of the twenty-first century is considerably different from the Rideau Canal of the nineteenth century. In the old days, the Canal was very much a gritty, working canal. While it had its share of pleasure boats that plied its length, commerce was its main function. At its Ottawa end, barges, pulled by horses and men along canal-side tow paths, were drawn to warehouses that stretched from the Plaza at Wellington Street to the Maria Street Bridge (the predecessor of the Laurier Avenue Bridge). Lumber, coal and other materials were piled high along its banks awaiting delivery. Consequently, the Rideau Canal was anything but a scenic port of entry into the nation’s capital. Later, railroads and train sheds replaced the warehouses on the eastern side when the Central Depot, the forerunner of Union Station (currently the Ottawa Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of the Senate), opened in 1896. While practical, this was not an aesthetic improvement.

The quality of the Canal’s water during the late nineteenth century was also considerably different than that of today. While we sometimes complain about the turbid nature of the water and the summertime weeds that choke stretches of the waterway and parts of Dow’s Lake, this is nothing compared to the complaints of residents of the 1880s. Then the Canal literally stank. The sewer that drained the southern portion of Wellington Ward, the neighbourhood located between Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) and Bank Street flowed into the Canal at Lewis Street. The smell was particularly bad in spring when the effluent that had entered the Canal through the winter thawed. Reportedly, the stench of festering sewage was overpowering. So bad were the conditions, the federal government forced the municipal authorities to fix things. After considerable delay, a proper sewer was constructed.

The other not so delightful feature of the waterway was its flotsam and jetsam. Stray logs—a hazard to navigation—was the least of the problem. Prior to the first annual Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1888, one concerned citizen pointed out the many nuisances to be found by boaters on the Canal. These included several carcasses of dead dogs floating in the Deep Cut (that portion of the Canal between Waverely Street and today’s city hall) and a bloated body of a horse bobbing in the water opposite the Exhibition grounds. The citizen also groused about the “vulgar habit” of people swimming in the Canal without “bathing tights.” He didn’t comment on the advisability of canal swimming given the horrific water quality.

The physical geography of the Rideau Canal was also different back then. Patterson’s Creek was much longer in the nineteenth century than it is today; its western end became Central Park in the early twentieth century. There was also Neville’s Creek that flowed through today’s Golden Triangle neighbourhood and entered the Canal close to Lewis Street. The Creek, which was described as a cesspool in the 1880s, was filled in during the early twentieth century.

But the biggest difference was the existence of a large canal basin located roughly where the Shaw Centre and National Defence are today on the eastern side of the Canal and the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park are on the western side.  This basin, which was lined with wooden docks, was used for mooring boats, turning barges, and picking up and delivering cargo and passengers.

Canal Basin 1842 (2)

Map of Bytown, 1842, Bytown or Bust. Note the Lay-By (Canal Basin) in the lower centre of the map on the Rideau Canal. The By-Wash can be seen running north east from the Lay-By to the Rideau River. Barracks Hill will become Parliament Hill in the 1860s.

Before the Canal was constructed, the canal basin was originally a beaver meadow from which a swamp extended as far west as today’s Bank Street. Following the Canal’s completion in 1832, which included digging out the basin, a small outlet or creek called the By-Wash extended from the north east side of the basin. It was used to drain excess water from the Canal. Controlled by a sluice gate, the By-Wash flowed down Mosgrove Street (now the location of the Rideau Centre), went through a culvert under Rideau Street, re-emerged above ground on the northern portion of Mosgrove Street, before heading down George Street, crossing Dalhousie Street on an angle to York Street, and then running along what is now King Edward Street to the Rideau River. In addition to controlling the Canal’s water level, the By-Wash was used by Lower Town residents for washing and fishing. In 1872, the City successfully petitioned the federal authorities who controlled the Rideau Canal to cover the By-Wash. It was converted into a sewer with only a small rump remaining close to the canal basin that was used as a dry dock.

Canal Basin 1888

Detail of 1888 Map of Ottawa, City of Ottawa Archives. Note the Canal Basin. By now, only a rump of the By-Wash remained.

Big changes to the canal basin started during the last decade of the nineteenth century. John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s lumber baron and owner of three railways, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (the O.A. & P.S.), the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, and the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company (subsequently merged to form the Canadian Atlantic Railway–CAR), received permission from the Dominion government to bring trains into the heart of Ottawa. Hitherto, his railways provided service to the Bridge Street Station in LeBreton Flats and to the Elgin Street Station, both a fair distance from the city’s centre. In early March 1896, Booth, through his O.A. & P.S. Railway, acquired from the government a twenty-one year lease for the

Canal Basin Evening Journal 30-10-1897

Diagram of the Rideau Canal and the covered eastern Canal Basin, 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 30 October 1897.

east bank of the Rideau Canal from Sapper’s Bridge (roughly the location of today’s Plaza Bridge) to the beginning of the Deep Cut for $1,100 per year “for the purpose of a canal station and approaches thereto.” Lease-holders of properties between Theodore Street (today’s Laurier Avenue East) and the canal basin were told to vacate. After building a temporary Central Depot at the Maria Street Bridge on the Theodore Street side, Booth subsequently extended the line across the canal basin to a new temporary Central Depot at the Military Stores building at Sappers’ Bridge.

Canal Basin c. 1900

Detail of Map of Ottawa, circa 1900, City of Ottawa Archives. Note that the eastern Canal Basin has disappeared.

Initially, the railway crossed the basin on trestles, leaving the basin underneath intact while Booth dredged the western side of the canal basin and built replacement docks—the quid pro quo with the government for removing the eastern basin’s docks. It seems that the government was reluctant to allow Booth to fill in the eastern portion of the basin until the western portion had been deepened, fearing that any unexpected rush of water might be larger than the locks could handle leading to flooding. By mid-March 1896, 75 men and 25-35 horses were hard at work excavating the site. The Central Depot at Sappers’ Bridge was completed in 1896, and was promptly the subject of dispute between Booth and his railway competitors who also wished to use a downtown station. There was rumours that if the Canadian Pacific Railway could not come to terms with Booth, it would build a railroad on the western side of the Canal with a terminus on the other side of Sappers’ Bridge across from the Central Depot. Fortunately, with government prodding an accommodation was made. Initially covered over with planks, the western portion of the Canal Basin was subsequently filled in. The Central Depot was replaced by Union Station in 1912.

Canal Basin Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys LACanadaPA-023229

Rideau Canal, circa 1911. The western Canal Basin is on the left. Union Station and the Château Laurier are under construction. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, Library and Archives Canada, PA-023229.

If the eastern Canal Basin was sacrificed to the railway, the western Canal Basin was the victim of the automobile. This time, the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, was responsible. Consistent with its plan to beautify the nation’s capital, the FDC in cooperation with the municipal authorities decided to extend the Driveway from the Drill Hall to Connaught Plaza (now Confederation Plaza) at a cost of $150,000. These funds also covered the construction of two connections with Slater Street, a subway at Laurier Avenue, new light standards, landscaping, and a new retaining wall for the Rideau Canal. Again, firms with warehouses at the Canal Basin, including the wholesale grocers L.N. Bate & Sons and the wholesale hardware merchant Thomas Birkett & Son, were forced to relocate. By the end of April 1927, workmen using steam shovels and teams of horses were hard at work filling in the western Canal Basin. Huge piles of earth were piled up near the Laurier Street Bridge ready to be shifted into the basin. On 14 November 1927, the last renovations to the Rideau Canal commenced with the construction of the new retaining wall from Connaught Plaza to the Laurier Street Bridge. With that, the old Canal Basin, which had served Ottawa for almost 100 years, vanished into history.

Sources:

Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. The Railways of Ottawa, http://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Central_Depot_stations.htm#CARCentralDepot.

Daily Citizen (The), 1895. “Central Station Site,” 1 August.

Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “The New Line.” 11 June.

Evening Journal (The), 1888.” The City Sewerage,” 19 April.

—————————, 1888, “The By-Law,” 27 April.

—————————, 1888. “Canal Nuisances,” 28 May.

—————————, 1895. “Notice to Quit,” 3 October.

—————————, 1895. “Now For The New Basin,” 9 November.

—————————, 1896. “Now For The Depot,” 4 February.

—————————, 1896. “Basin Widening Begun,” 4 March.

—————————, 1896. “Pushing It Ahead,” 11 November.

—————————, 1896. “For The New Station,” 23 May.

—————————, 1897, “Picked From Reporter’s Notes,” 20 October.

————————–, 1897, “Special C.P.R. Depot All Talk,’ 30 October.

————————–, 1898, “The Central Station,” 7 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1925. “History of Early Ottawa,” 10 October.

————————–, 1927, “Start Filling Basin Of Rideau Canal,” 26 April.

————————–, 1927. “Artist’s Conception of Park Scheme Proposed by The Prime Minister,” 11 June.

————————–, 1927, “The Railways And he Central Station,” 1 November.

————————–, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City,” 6 January.

————————–, 1935. “Ottawa’s Beauty Developed On Broad Lines,” 10 December.

————————-, 1949. “Ottawa’s Vanished Water Traffic,” 15 September.

Ottawa, Past & Present, 2014. “Aerial View of the Rideau Canal 1927 and 2014,” http://www.pastottawa.com/comparison/aerial-view-of-the-rideau-canal/474/.

 

The Bank of Ottawa

20 January 1919

Toronto has its Toronto-Dominion Bank. Montreal has its Bank of Montreal. One hundred years ago, Ottawa had its own Bank of Ottawa too. Of the nineteen Canadian chartered banks at the end of 1918, the Bank of Ottawa ranked in the middle of the pack. Its assets stood at $72.7 million, with paid-in capital and reserves of $8.75 million. In comparison, the Bank of Montreal, Canada’s financial goliath at the time, had assets of $558 million and paid-in capital and reserves of $32 million. Still, the Bank of Ottawa was a well-respected regional bank whose main area of operations were located in the City of Ottawa and in the Ottawa Valley on both sides of the river. One of its directors, Sir George Burn, who had previously been its general manager for most of the bank’s existence, was also president of the prestigious Canadian Bankers’ Association.

Bank of Ottawa, Victoria Chambers, 1902, William James Topley-LACPA-008946

Victoria Chambers, 1902. First home of the Bank of Ottawa’s head office, corner of Wellington and O’Connor Streets, across from Parliament Hill, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008946.

The Bank of Ottawa commenced operations at the beginning of December in 1874 with its head office in the Victoria Chambers at the corner of Wellington and O’Connor Streets across from Parliament Hill. (The location is now the site of the Victoria Building, constructed in 1928.) The new bank had one branch located in Arnprior. Oddly, the Arnprior branch began operations roughly two weeks before the main branch as the bank’s headquarters were not ready on opening day.

The Bank of Ottawa was started by a number of the area’s lumber barons with the express purpose of having a sympathetic financial institution in the region to fund the lumber industry. Widely known as the “lumberman’s bank,” its first president was James Maclaren, a lumberman from Buckingham, Quebec. Other directors included George Bryson, a lumberman who operated out of Fort Coulonge, Quebec, Robert Blackburn, owner of the Hawkesbury Lumber Company, and Allan Gilmour, a pioneering Bytown lumberman who owned one of the largest timber companies in Canada. Other directors, all prominent Ottawa businessmen and suppliers to the timber trade, included Charles Magee, an important wholesale dry goods merchant, C. T. Bate, a wholesale grocer, and George Hay who owned a hardware business. The Bank of Ottawa’s initial paid-in capital was $343,000, and had thirteen employees. After its first year in business, the bank paid a dividend of 7 per cent.

Bank of Ottawa, 1901 William James Topley-LAC-PA-0118221,

Bank of Ottawa, Head Office, Wellington Street, 1901. Decorated for the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the future King George V and Queen Mary, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-0118221.

Given the costs of starting a new enterprise, and the weak state of the Canadian economy during the mid-1870s, the profits of the new enterprise might not have justified such a dividend. Indeed, the bank temporarily cut its dividend in half. However, the new financial institution gradually expanded, building itself a profitable niche in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. By 1885, ten years after it started, the bank had a paid-in capital of $1 million, with a steadily expanding branch network in the Ottawa Valley. It opened its second and third branches in Carleton Place and Pembroke. Over time, it increased its annual dividend to 12 per cent (of paid-in capital).

Its first branch outside of the region was in Winnipeg in 1881. As this was before the opening of the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway, the bank had difficulties in transporting a large safe to the branch. After being told by the Grand Trunk Railway that it would take up to six weeks to deliver it to Winnipeg, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway agreed to do it in fifteen days via trains to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then to Emerson, Manitoba, with the last leg to Winnipeg via boat on the Red River. The Bank of Ottawa subsequently opened offices in Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two financial centres at the time, as well as Vancouver. In 1884, it moved into its new head office building on Wellington Street a short distance from its original offices. (The site is approximately the vacant lot between the former U.S. Embassy building and the former Union Bank building at 128 Wellington Street.)

The salad years for the institution occurred between 1908 and 1913, when the bank experienced rapid growth, with its paid-in capital rising to $4 million. By the end of World War I, the bank had 96 branches, with more than 60 in Ontario and another thirteen in the province of Quebec, mostly in the Outaouais.

Given its years of service and key position in Ottawa economic and financial life, imagine the shock in Ottawa and the Valley when the bank’s directors, many of whom were the sons of the Bank’s founders, announced on 20 January 1919 that they had agreed to merge with the Bank of Nova Scotia. The Bank of Nova Scotia, with its head office in Toronto, was roughly twice the size of the Bank of Ottawa with assets of $149 million in 1918 with capital, reserves of about $18.5 million. It had 194 branches coast to coast. It was a friendly take-over. Apparently, the Bank of Nova Scotia approached the Bank of Ottawa. Under the terms of the deal, shareholders of the Bank of Ottawa received four Bank of Nova Scotia shares for every five shares of the Bank of Ottawa. This was the ratio of their share prices prior to the deal; Bank of Nova Scotia shares were trading at $257 per share on the Montreal Stock Exchange while Bank of Ottawa shares traded at $206.

Bank of Ottawa, Kempville, Dept. of Public Works-LAC- PA-046461

Bank of Ottawa, Kemptville Branch, Department of Public Works/Library and Archives Canada, PA-046461.

The deal had advantages for both banks. For the Bank of Nova Scotia, the merger brought it a thriving business with a solid reputation in areas where it had few branches, both in the Ottawa region as well as in western Canada where the institution was eager to expand. The two banks had competing offices in only eleven locations, most of which were in major cities where there was more than enough business to go around. The merger would also raise the Bank of Nova Scotia to fourth place in the Canadian bank rankings, behind only the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the Bank of Commerce.

For the directors of the Bank of Ottawa, who had brushed off earlier overtures by other banks, an alliance with the Bank of Nova Scotia offered “exceptional advantages.” The merger was a way of entering new more profitable areas at less expense. Alone, the bank had a choice of trying to expand organically in the Ottawa region, or through the expensive route of establishing new branches in unfamiliar areas. But by joining the Bank of Nova Scotia, it could take advantage of the growth potential of a bank that had branches across Canada, Newfoundland, the West Indies as well as operations in the United States. The Bank of Nova Scotia was also better diversified, reducing the consequences of an economic slowdown in the Ottawa region. This was an astute move as Canada experienced a sharp recession in the immediate post-war years.

Despite the many attractions of an alliance, there was one thorny issue to resolve—the name of the new institution. The directors of the Bank of Ottawa were loath to see the venerable name of their institution disappear. The Ottawa Evening Journal reported that for forty-four years, the Bank of Ottawa’s name was “identified with practically all of the best businesses and biggest industrial enterprises in central Canada.”  At the same time, the directors of the Bank of Nova Scotia were equally unwilling to see the end of their bank’s storied name that extended back to 1832. For a time, consideration was given to calling the merged bank “The First National Bank of Canada.” However, in light of the Bank of Nova Scotia’s considerable foreign connections, the Bank of Ottawa’s directors reluctantly concluded that it would be a mistake to change names; a view shared by Sir William White, the Minister of Finance, who gave his blessing to the merger.

Without any forewarning of the pending financial nuptials, the announcement of the merger created a sensation in Canadian financial circles. In Ottawa, there was consternation, especially when it became known that the Bank of Ottawa name was to disappear. One businessman, Mr. N. Poulin, said it was a “murder” not a merger. Another called it a “submerger.” Some worried about their access to credit; the Bank of Ottawa had an uncommonly good reputation for being considerate and liberal in its business decisions. One businessman was concerned that after years of dealing with the Bank of Ottawa he would have to start afresh with the Bank of Nova Scotia. Many regarded the bank as an important city asset. Its loss would be a major blow to the prestige to the nation’s capital.

Bank of Ottawa note

Bank of Ottawa, $5, 2 November 1880, hand-signed by James Maclaren, President, and George Burn, Cashier. Note the lumberjacks in the central vignette. Bank of Canada Museum.

The disappearance of the Bank of Ottawa name would also mean the withdrawal of almost $7 million in Bank of Ottawa banknotes from circulation and their replacement by Bank of Nova Scotia notes. Prior to the formation of the Bank of Canada in 1935, every chartered bank had the right to issue their own distinctive banknotes in the amount of its paid-in capital and reserves. While the circulation of bank notes did not represent a large portion of a bank’s business, it was quite profitable. (A bank earned the difference between the cost of printing and circulating its banknotes, and the interest earned on the assets backing the notes.) It also provided useful advertising for the bank, and in the case of the Bank of Ottawa, for the city as well.  Mr Poulin commented that “with a roll of Bank of Ottawa ten dollar bills in his pocket a man could go to any part of the world and fell comfortable and safe.”

At a hastily-called meeting of Ottawa retail merchants, a resolution was passed citing the merchants’ belief that the departure of the head offices of Ottawa’s only financial institution would have “a decidedly bad effect” on the city. More broadly, they were concerned that the concentration of more financial power and decision-making in Toronto and Montreal would be bad for the country. (There had been a rash of financial takeovers, including the acquisition of the Traders Bank of Canada, the Quebec Bank and the Northern Crown Bank by the Royal Bank of Canada, as well as the acquisition of the Bank of British North America by the Bank of Montreal.) Some thought that a committee should be struck to approach the directors of the Bank of Ottawa to get a better understanding of their decision. Some even pledged money to buy shares in the bank in an effort to stop the merger. Still others wanted to approach the Finance Minister to get him to reverse his decision to permit the merger. They noted that an attempt by the Royal Bank of Canada to acquire the Bank of Hamilton a few years earlier had been stopped by the Minister on the grounds that the merger was against the national interest. Mr A. E. Corrigan, the managing director of the Capital Life Assurance Company likened a bank to a “public utility” that had been given a franchise to serve the people. Consequently, the people had a right to protest if a merger was not in their interest. One person alleged that the reason why the Finance Minister approved the merger was because the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was a shareholder in the Bank of Nova Scotia.

The general manager of the Bank of Ottawa, Mr. D. M. Finnie, tried to allay people’s concerns. He noted that while he would be retiring following the merger, all Bank of Ottawa staff would be retained with the same seniority and opportunities. Critically for Bank of Ottawa customers, its directors would retain their positions within the amalgamated bank and would pay special attention to former Bank of Ottawa clients. Bank of Ottawa customers would also have complete access to the Bank of Nova Scotia’s branches across the country.

At special shareholder meetings held in early March, the shareholders of the Bank of Ottawa and the Bank of Nova Scotia overwhelmingly approved the merger. Following the declaration of a last dividend (no. 111) of 2 per cent for the two-month period ending 30 April 1919, the Bank of Ottawa disappeared into history with all of its assets and liabilities transferred to the Bank of Nova Scotia as of that day. The next morning, all branches of the Bank of Ottawa re-opened as branches of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Sources:

Globe (The), 1919. “Bank of Ottawa Absorbed by Bank of Nova Scotia,” 20 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1918. “Bank of Ottawa’s Gratifying Year,” 19 December.

————————————-, 1919, “Bank of Ottawa To Be Merger With Bank Of Nova Scotia, Making Fourth Largest Bank,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Says The Merger Will Result In Advantage To All Canada,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Evolution Of A Great Bank,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “The Merging Of The Bank Of Ottawa,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Bank of Ottawa Swallowed Up, Strong Protest,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Bank of Nova Scotia Stronger Than Ever,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Strong Opposition To Banks’ Merger From Businessmen,” 21 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Mr. Finnie Tells About The Merger,” 21 January.

————————————, 1919. “Great War Veterans Debate Merger Of Banks Of Ottawa And Nova Scotia At Forum, 25 January.

————————————, 1919. “Bank Of Ottawa Now Disappears,” 30 April.

————————————, 1951. “Bank of Ottawa Developed Lumber Trade,” 31 October.

Outaouais’s Forest History, 2017, “The Bank of Ottawa and the financing of the forest industry,” http://www.histoireforestiereoutaouais.ca/en/c10/#10.

 

Exercise Tocsin B-1961

13 November 1961

Tensions had been mounting between the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact partners and the United States and its NATO allies. In April 1961, some twelve hundred Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA and supplied with American arms and landing craft, had made a failed attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and topple Fidel Castro. The Cuban Communist leader had come to power two years earlier after having deposed Fulgencio Batista, the corrupt and repressive, American-supported dictator.

The following month, Canada tested its civil defence plans in the event of a nuclear war. In cities across the country, the wailing of more than two hundred sirens warned Canadians to take cover. The Canadian Emergency Measures Organization issued a booklet to households indicating what they could do in the event of a nuclear attack. Called The Eleven Steps To Survival, Canadians were told:

Step 1: Know the effects of nuclear explosions

Step 2: Know the facts about radioactive fallout

Step 3: Know the warning signal and have a battery-powered radio

Step 4: Know how to take shelter

Step 5: Have fourteen days emergency supplies

Step 6: Know how to prevent and fight fires

Step 7: Know first aid and home nursing

Step 8: Know emergency cleanliness

Step 9: Know how to get rid of radioactive dust

Step 10: Know your municipal plans

Step 11: Have a plan for your family and yourself

In the introduction to the booklet, Prime Minister Diefenbaker stated: Your personal survival can depend on you following the advice that is given and the survival of many others may depend on how well you have heeded the advice contained therein. The government also provided plans on how to build a backyard bomb shelter.

Mid-August, East Germany began the construction of the Berlin Wall cutting off West Berlin by land, and denying an escape route to the West by East Germans seeking freedom. In early September, the U.S. military detected four, above-ground Soviet nuclear explosions. Subsequently, radioactive fallout, 320 times higher than background radiation levels, was detected in Ottawa. Federal Health Minister Jay Monteith warned that should such high levels of radiation be maintained, they “could well be a hazard to health.” At a state banquet in Moscow, Indian Prime Minister Nehru told Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that it would be stupid to start a war. Khrushchev replied that the Soviet people did not want war but “could not look on calmly while Western powers make military preparations on a hitherto unparalleled scale.” With war rhetoric rising, Prime Minister Diefenbaker warned Canadians in early November that “war is not as improbable as we hope,” and that if comes, Canada will be a battleground. Earlier he had told the House of Commons that should there be an attack on Canada, he and his wife would not leave Ottawa for safety but would rather take cover in the bomb shelter at 24 Sussex Drive.

bomb, Nagasaki, 9 sept 45, Charles Levy from one of the B-29 Superfortresses used in the attack

Atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki, Japan, 9 August 1945, taken by Charles Levy

During the morning of Monday, 13 November 1961, unidentified but presumed hostile submarines were detected in large numbers in the North Atlantic and in the Hudson Bay. Soviet tanker aircraft were also detected near the Aleutians. The Canadian armed forces increased it level of military alertness at 8.30am EST. This was stepped up to the next level at 10.30am and yet again at 12.30pm, sending staff to emergency centres across the country. Troops left possible target areas. At 2.30pm, key government officials and senior defence officers, including Defence Minister Douglas Harkness, Health Minister Monteith, Defence Production Minister Raymond O’Hurley, and Justice Minister Davie Fulton, were dispatched to Camp Petawawa, 150 kilometres north-west of Ottawa that was to become the government back-up centre in the event of war. (The underground, bomb-proof base in Carp now known as the Diefenbunker, which was designed to shelter the Governor General, the Prime Minister, and other senior government and military leaders in the event of nuclear war, was still under construction.)

At 6pm, the Canadian military was placed on maximum alert. Shortly afterwards, NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) radar spotted 36 hostile airplanes heading towards Canada between Greenland and Ellesmere Island. Another 20 were detected off the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific. At 6.50pm, Prime Minister Diefenbaker and six Cabinet colleagues went underground at 24 Sussex Drive where they issued an Order-In-Council invoking the War Measures Act. Defence Minister Harkness was appointed Acting Prime Minister and given almost dictatorial powers to respond if necessary. Diefenbaker also approved the signal to alert unsuspecting Canadians to the deteriorating military situation and to take shelter. He also prepared to address the nation across all radio and television stations in a special broadcast of the Emergency Measures Organization.

At precisely 7pm, more than 500 sirens from coast to coast, 45 in Ottawa alone, began a steady three-minute wail, their strident call telling citizens that a nuclear attack was expected. By that point, more than 110 “penetrations” of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in Canada’s far north had been detected as Soviet bombers streaked across Canadian territory at 600 knots per hour. At 7.10pm, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) gave Diefenbaker a fifteen-minute warning that a missile attack was underway. Air raid sirens across the country gave the “take shelter” warning, a three-minute rising and falling sound that announced a nuclear strike was imminent.

It total, two waves of Soviet bombers, the first of 150 aircraft, the second of 110 as well as two waves of missiles, mostly heading for U.S. targets, were detected. Fourteen Canadian cities were destroyed by five-megaton nuclear bombs, including Vancouver and Courtney in British Columbia, Edmonton and Cold Lake in Alberta, Fort Churchill, Manitoba, Frobisher, NWT, North Bay, Sault Ste Marie, and Welland in Ontario, Chatham, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Goose Bay in Labrador, and Stephenville on the Island of Newfoundland. Ottawa was destroyed at 10.10pm, with the epicentre of the blast situated just north of Uplands Airport. Toronto and Montreal were hit at 10.45pm and 10.51pm, respectively. The Soviet attack on North America lasted until 4am the next morning. Some 30 U.S. cities were destroyed, including Detroit, hit by a ten-megaton bomb that also killed tens of thousands in neighbouring Windsor.

 

Bomb, Canada emergency Measures Organization, Govt of Canada, Mikan 4717891

Bomb, Canada emergency Measures Organization, Govt of Canada, Mikan 4717352

The corner of Sparks Street and Elgin Street, Central Post Office, c. 1961, before and after a nuclear attack on Ottawa, Canada Emergency Measures Organization, Government of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4717891 and 4717352.

The death toll was staggering. The Army Operations Centre at Camp Petawawa estimated Canadian dead at roughly 2.6 million, including Prime Minister Diefenbaker, with an additional 1.6 million injured, many critically. Fire, radiation sickness, and exposure was expected to claims hundreds of thousands of additional lives in coming days and weeks. In the Ottawa region, the death toll was placed at 142,000 dead, 61,000 injured and 30,000 experiencing radiation sickness. On the upside, 90,000 people had been rescued though many thousands remained trapped in burning buildings and debris. Emergency teams of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of volunteers fanned out across the country to help the survivors. Jack Wallace, the Deputy Director of the Emergency Measures Organization noted that while the Saint Laurence Seaway system had been knocked out at Montreal, Welland, and Sault Ste Marie, the railway service could be quickly restored. While casualties were high, over 14 million Canadians had survived the multiple attacks. He also estimated that one half to two-thirds of industry could be quickly made operational and one-half of hydro power was still in commission. There was also sufficient food to feed all Canadians. Canada had come through the nuclear attack severely damaged but intact, with a nucleus of a national government still functioning at Camp Petawawa where fallout was considered light.

Thankfully, this horrific scenario was just that…a scenario called Exercise Tocsin B-1961 that played out on 13 November 1961 as part of Canada’s test of its emergency civil defences. However, all the events described leading up to the test are factual. While the test may seem fanciful to today’s Gen. “Xers” and Millennials, for those who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, it was very real. The Cold War was a time of great worry and stress. Exercise Tocsin B-1961 was held exactly one year before the Cuban missile crisis when the world held its breath as the United States and the Soviet Union played a high-stakes game of “chicken,” where one false movement by either side could have led to a global nuclear holocaust.

Sources:

Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association, “Steps to Survival,” http://civildefencemuseum.ca/.

Emergency Measures Organization, 1961. Eleven Steps to Survival, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1961. “Tocsin B Alarm Goes Off Accidentally In Ottawa,” 13 November.

————————-, 1961. “Nuclear War Test: PM Among ‘Casualties’ As Toll Tops 3-Million,” 14 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1961. “Stupid To Start War Nehru Tells Khrushchev,” 7 September.

————————–, 1961. “Don’t Want War,” 7 September.

————————–, 1961. “War Not Impossible, PM Warns,” 10 November.

————————–, 1961. “Attack Warning Study Alarms Inside Buildings,” 13 November.

————————–, 1961. “Exercise Tocsin, Ottawa ‘Destroyed,’ 175,000 Toll.

————————–, 1961. “Cabinet Met Underground,” 15 November.

————————–, 1961. “Government Counts Tocsin Toll,”

 

The Ottawa Sewer Explosions

29 May 1929 and 28 January 1931

Almost ninety years ago, the City of Ottawa was rocked by two series of sewer explosions that occurred twenty months apart. The first happened on 29 May 1929, and the second on 28 January 1931. Both hit the same areas of town—Sandy Hill, Vanier (then called Eastview) and New Edinburgh—and caused extensive damage. There was also one fatality in the first set of blasts; many were injured. Despite three inquiries, the exact cause of the explosions was never conclusively determined though leaking illuminating gas used for lighting was believed to have been the culprit. However, a lengthy law suit launched by the City against the Ottawa Gas Company to cover the costs of the second explosions failed.

Sewer 1929 29 May OEJournal

Headline, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 29 May 1929

 

The 1929 explosions began shortly before noon on 29 May in the block bounded by Cartier, Frank, Waverely and Elgin Streets in the Golden Triangle neighbourhood of Centre Town, blowing out manhole covers in the area.  The resulting fire ignited gas inside the main sewer line running eastward under the Rideau Canal, causing shaking, rumbling and venting through manholes on Templeton Avenue, Henderson Avenue and Nelson Streets in Sandy Hill, before travelling down St Patrick Street and into New Edinburgh on the other side of the Rideau River along Crichton, MacKay and John Streets to the sewage outlet into the Ottawa River. There were also a number of smaller blasts in the Eastview and Clarkstown areas (Vanier) between Montreal Road and Beechwood Avenue.

At least twenty-eight manhole covers were blown in the air, some thirty to forty feet, before crashing to the ground. Clouds of smoke and vivid tongues of flame were reported emanating from the manholes. Mrs Hannah Henderson, age 73, of 37 Templeton Avenue was killed when flames shot out of her kitchen sinkhole and ignited her clothes. Although she managed to flee her home, she later succumbed to her injuries in hospital. Around the corner at 192 Henderson Avenue, Miss Lilian Pettapiece, age 20, escaped a similar house fire with serious burns. She had been in her cellar choosing potatoes for lunch when she was enveloped by flames that shot out of a sewer connection. Despite choking fumes, she managed to stumble up the stairs to the outside where she was rescued. Many others were injured by flying glass blown from windows. The home of Captain Sam Blackler of the Ottawa Fire Department at 211 Henderson Avenue was rocked from its foundations by the force of a blast and was gutted by fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Mrs Blackler suffered a narrow escape, however. She had just walked out of the kitchen a minute before it was wrecked. An apartment building at the corner of Somerset Street East and Chapel Street, which housed a grocery on the ground floor, also suffered serious structural damage. In New Edinburgh, St Martin’s Anglican Chapel on John Street was destroyed. In total, the sewer explosion caused roughly $40,000 in property damage.

Sewer explosion 30-5-1929 TOJ

The home of Captain Sam Blackler of the  Ottawa Fire Department at 211 Henderson Street after the sewer explosion, 29 May 1929, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 30 May 1929.

Ottawa’s mayor Arthur Ellis was convinced that the explosions were not due either “to defects in the city sewer,” or to sewer gas (a mixture of hydrogen sulphide and other gases). Municipal leaders commissioned John Campbell from the Edison Illuminating Company of Boston to conduct an inquiry into the disaster. Campbell concluded that the exact nature of the gases that exploded might never be known as no tests were performed on gas in the sewers prior to the explosion. However, he pointed to two possibilities: i) gasoline vapours due to the improper disposal of gasoline by homeowners, leakages from the growing number of service stations in the area, and waste from dry-cleaners, or ii) a leak from a gas main. He noted that the Ottawa Gas Company had been digging for leaks prior to and during the day of the explosion. He added that the sewer explosion need not have been the result of a single big leak but could have been due to a number of small ones. While not specifically pointing the finger at illuminating gas, he added that the lack of soot deposits and the nature of the fire suggested a gas lighter than air was responsible; gasoline vapours are three times heavier than air whereas illuminating gas is half as heavy as air. Campbell was of the view that the exact point of ignition was in the Frank-Cartier Streets area. However, what caused the ignition would never be known. He postulated it could have been a lighted match, the backfire of an automobile, or a spark from a trolley wheel.

Rather than lay blame, which he argued was outside of the remit of his report, Campbell made a number of recommendations. These included the prompt investigation of complaints about gas smells (complaints prior to the explosion were apparently not investigate with any degree of diligence), the regulation of the sale of gasoline to homeowners, a prohibition on disposing of volatile fluids in the sewers, and the inspection of gasoline service stations. He also recommended the construction of ventilation stacks with fans to help dissipate volatile vapours in the sewers, and the hiring of additional staff by the City to keep up to date in the matter of inspecting, testing and the keeping of records.

The second series of sewer explosions began at roughly 4.30 pm on 29 January 1931 just two days after the City had made its last payment for damages from the previous explosion to St Martin’s Chapel. As was the case in 1929, it started in the Golden Triangle area of Centre Town, this time at the corner of Lewis and Robert Streets. The explosion was accidently ignited by a plumber’s assistant who was investigating the source of a foul odour in the basement of a home.  Apparently, a spark from a trowel he was using ignited gas emanating from the sewer.

Sewer, 29 May 1931 Journal

Headline, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 29 January 1931

Replicating in many ways the 1929 disaster, the blast rumbled down the main sewer line blowing up manhole covers in Sandy Hill along Templeton Street, Nelson Street and Somerset Street East, through Strathcona Park, before travelling along the east bank of the Rideau River to John Street in New Edinburgh. As in 1929, twenty-eight manholes covers were sent flying, sixteen of which featured in the earlier disaster. The damage sustained to the sewer system was severe. There were at least four breaks. The 78-inch main sewer on the Eastview (Vanier) side of the Cummings Bridge, which carried much of the sewage from the eastern portions of the city to the outfall at John Street into the Ottawa River, was fractured. Another 54-inch sewer running from Ottawa South along the west bank of the Rideau River was also ruptured near the Strathcona Hospital. With these breaks, sewage backed up into Sandy Hill. To prevent the flooding of homes, the City excavated at two points, one on Somerset Street and the other near the Isolation Hospital, and pumped the sewer water into the Rideau River. In total, more than a mile of sewer was wrecked with damage placed at almost $400,000, roughly ten times that of the earlier 1929 sewer explosion.

Fortuitously, this time no lives were lost. There were, however, a number of close calls. Twelve-year old Munroe Dingwall of 138 Goulburn Avenue was skiing on Somerset Street East with friends when a manhole cover blew up beside him. The lad was lifted into the air, skis and all, and deposited stunned but unhurt into a snowbank. Poor Miss Pettapiece, who suffered grievous injuries in the 1929 explosions, was on a bus near home when a manhole exploded. She collapsed and had to be treated for shock. A number of children were skating on the Sandy Hill rink on Nelson Street between Somerset East and Templeton Street when gaping holes appeared in the streets around the rink. The children were unharmed and taken to safety.

The City launched two inquiries. The first by consulting engineers Gore, Naismith and Storrie of Toronto concluded that gasoline and illuminating gas were “reasonably probable” causes. Of the two possibilities, the engineers favoured illuminating gas on the grounds that there was little evidence of flames or black smoke emanating from the explosions that would have been characteristic of a gasoline fire. Also, they viewed it as improbable for a perfect mix of gasoline vapour and air to have occurred. But, in the absence of all data and an analysis of sewer air before the explosions, they refrained from given an opinion regarding the source of the responsible gas.

They did, however, make a number of recommendations. First, they recommended that there be a judicial inquiry under oath so that all relevant records and other information pertinent to an inquiry could be obtained. Second, they argued that Ottawa’s method of ventilating sewers was dangerous and obsolete. They recommended the construction of more ventilating shafts, the opening of manhole covers, and the checking of home drains attached to the sewers. Apparently, many were not properly trapped. Other recommendations included the regulation and supervision of establishments using flammable gases or liquids, a regular inspection of sewers every six months, and the construction of sewage treatment plants.

A second committee chaired by Dr Alfred E. MacIntyre, a retired former chief of the Explosives Branch of the Dominion Government, focused on the causes of the blasts. MacIntyre had also consulted on the Campbell Report into the earlier 1929 explosion. He was of the opinion that illuminating gas had been the cause of both explosions. His report concluded that “gas had adventitiously entered the soil, drainpipes, sewer, etc. from defects within the gas distributing system of the Ottawa Gas Company.” Needless to say, the Gas Company came up with the opposite conclusion averring “that gas is the last thing that could be considered in connection with the recent sewer explosions.”

MacIntyre was pretty damming of the City as well. His report said the City had made no attempt to investigate the 1929 explosion, and that the investigations of complaints about fouls smells from residents were “neither informative nor satisfactory.” He contended that members of the inspectorial staff “had neither developed their powers of observation nor acquired sufficient qualifications and knowledge to discriminate or determine the actual condition of hazards, nor a conception of fitting methods of relief, conditions largely attributable to lack of instruction and direction.” MacIntyre also criticized the City for improper ventilation of the sewers, a charge to which the City responded by saying that it was not responsible for keeping sewers free of volatile gases that enter the sewers through the negligence of another company.

On release of MacIntyre’s report, the Board of Control suspended Mr W. F. M. Bryce, the engineer responsible for Ottawa’s sewers for negligence in not taking adequate measures to ensure that the sewers were kept free from dangerous gases. Bryce subsequently resigned. Earlier in the year, Mr A.F. Macallum, the Commissioner of Works, had also resigned, having been held responsible for not taking sufficient precautionary measures to avoid a repetition of the 1929 blasts.

At City Hall, the two investigations into the 1931 explosions set the proverbial cat among the municipal pigeons. Amidst a rancorous debate, City Council defeated on a split 11-11 decision a motion supported by Mayor Allen for a judicial inquiry into the explosion as recommended by the consulting engineers from Toronto. A motion for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Mr Bryce, the sewer engineer, was also defeated on a close 11-10 decision. Subsequently, however, the City launched a law suit against the Ottawa Gas Company in the amount of $376,000 for damages resulting from the 1931 blasts. Despite the testimony of roughly 100 witnesses, the evidence provided by the two inquiries into the sewer explosions, and an admission of the Ottawa Gas Company that its pipes and gas mains had not been inspected since they were installed, the Court ruled in favour of the gas company owing to lack of evidence. After losing an appeal, the City paid the court cost of both parties.

Following the inquiries, the City took steps to improve ventilation in the sewers, including the establishment of another ventilation shaft in Strathcona Park. Measures were also taken to improve the investigation of complaints of sewer smells by residents through the establishment of a complaints bureau. In the end, only Mr Macallum, the former Commissioner of Works, took the fall for the sewer disaster. Roughly eighteen months after the explosion, the Board of Control unanimously re-appointed Mr W. F. M. Bryce to his old job as sewer engineer on the curious and vague grounds that the Board had earlier requested his resignation not because members felt that he “was not fully competent, but because of the nature of the report dealing with the investigation.”

Sources:

Ottawa Evening Citizen (The), 1931, “May Call Further Expert Advice On Sewer Blasts,” 29 January.

————————————-, 1931. “Experts Differ Upon Cause Of Sewer Blasts,” 10 June.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1929. “City Denies Blame For Explosions, Continues Inquiry,” 30 May 1929.

————————————–, 1929. “Advises Ventilation Of Sewers, Restrictions Of Gasoline Sales And More Vigorous Inspections,” 4 October.

————————————–, 1931. “Discover Sewer Explosion Damage Much Greater,” 29 January.

————————————–, 1931, “Fourth Stack Will Be Built To Air Sewers,” 17 April.

————————————–, 1931. “Judicial Probe Under Oath Is Only Way To Learn cause Of Explosions, Says Report,” 20 April.

————————————–, 1931. “MacIntyre Report Sets It Theory Of Big Explosion,” 4 June.

————————————–, 1931. “Says Lighting Gas The Cause Of Explosions,” 10 June.

————————————–, 1931. “After Long Stormy Debate City Council Rejects More For Probe Of Sewer Blasts,” 18 August.

————————————–, 1931, “Board of Control Endorses Damage Suit For Big Sum Against Ottawa Gas Co.” 30 September.

—————————————, 1931. “Declares Pipes Only Inspected During Repairs,” 1 December.

—————————————, 1932. “Mayor States All Favorable To W.F. M. Bryce,” 17 September.

————————————–, 1932. “Open Type Tops Would Have Cleared Gases,” 25 November.