9 October 1903
Rudyard Kipling, the early twentieth-century British author, once quipped that in Canada “there is a crafty network of businessmen called Canadian Clubs. They catch people who look interesting, assemble their members during the mid-day lunch hour, and, tying their victim to a steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows.” Since 1893, Canadian Clubs across the country have done just that. And in the process, they have helped to inform Canadians about the big issues of the day.
The Canadian Club movement began in Hamilton, Ontario in late 1892 when W. Sanford Evans and four other men met in the office of Charles R. McCullough. Evans, native of Spencerville, Ontario, ran Dr. Stephenson’s Children’s Home and Training School for Christian Workers in Hamilton. McCullough, who was born in Bowmanville, Ontario, was the principal of the Hamilton Business College. The other men present at the meeting were James Ferres, John T. Hall, George D. Fearman, and Henry Carpenter.
The six agreed to establish an organization whose purpose was to encourage the study of Canadian patriotic history, literature, arts, and resources. There would be no party politics, and their organization would be open to all men regardless of creed. They also agreed that speeches would be the focus of the new organization. In February 1893, a provisional organizational structure was formed with W. Sanford Evans as the Club’s first president, and Charles McCullough as Secretary. The following year, the Canadian Club was incorporated.
Canada was ripe for such an organization. Although the Imperial connection to Great Britain was strong, Canadian nationalism, especially among those born in Canada, was beginning to stir. Under Prime Minister (later Sir) Wilfrid Laurier, English-French differences were being ironed out (or at least papered over), settlers were pouring into the country, and the economy was strengthening. Canadians were beginning to feel their oats. While proud to be British subjects, and proud to be part of the British Empire, there was nonetheless a striving for a distinct Canadian identity, however difficult to define.
From Hamilton, the Canadian Club movement slowly spread across the country. Sandford Evans established the Toronto Canadian Club when he moved to that city in 1897. Galt was the third community to boast a Canadian Club, followed by Ottawa in 1903, St. Catharines, Winnipeg (organized by Sandford Evans when he moved to that city from Toronto) and Dawson City in 1904, Montreal and Orillia in 1905, and Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Portage La Prairie, London and Perth in 1906. Canadian Clubs were later to formed in other centres as well as in many major U.S. cities.
The Canadian Club of Ottawa was organized at a meeting held on the 9th October, 1903 in the reception room of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association. Despite inclement weather, a large enthusiastic crown of gathered in the room. Like existing Canadian Clubs, it was stressed that “Canadian” included “every Canadian regardless of creed or ancestry.” There would be no politics, and any subject that would “tend to divide the feelings of the members” would be excluded. The Club’s purpose was “unity, pure and simple.” Lieutenant-Colonel Sherwood was unanimously elected first president. Elected first vice president was William Lyon Mackenzie King. King’s name was put forward by John MacMillan, the principal of the Collegiate Institute. MacMillan said King was “a young man who would take a prominent part in the club.” At the time, King was the editor of the Labour Gazette and deputy minister of Labour. Mackenzie went on to great things, becoming Canada’s prime minister in 1921.
To cheer on the new club and to give pointers on how to run it was Mr. Bruce Macdonald, the principal of St. Andrew’s College in Toronto and the President of the Canadian Club of Toronto. The constitution of the new Ottawa Club was modelled on that of its Toronto sister organization. It was agreed that the club would meet every two weeks, and invite speakers “as a form of entertainment and instruction.”
At the organization meeting, the Reverend Dr. W.T. Herridge and the Reverend Father O’Boyle both gave addresses to underline the non-sectarian nature of the new club. Herridge said that the object of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was to encourage patriotism—”not the patriotism of flag wavers or stump speakers but common-place patriotism” shown by the way every man went about his work. Father O’Boyle added that “Canadians should have as their ideal the building up of a national brotherhood.”
The founding list of members of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was a veritable “who’s-who” list of the city’s elite. Notable among them were Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper, Ottawa’s technology barons, George Perley, the lumberman, George Burn, the general manager of the Bank of Ottawa. Thomas Birkett, Ottawa’s member of Parliament, Otto Klotz, a future Dominion Astronomer, and Achille Frechette, translator for the House of Commons.
Sanford Evans, then living in Winnipeg, telegrammed his congratulations and best wishes to Ottawa’s Canadian Club. He added, “Let us have a Canadianism broad, deep, intelligent, sane and aspiring, uniting all, no matter what politics or creeds we hold.” Ottawa’s Mayor Cook, also sent his congratulations having been being unable to attend the meeting.
Two weeks later, the Canadian Club of Ottawa hosted its first luncheon at the Grand Union Hotel. More than 250 men attended the inaugural event to hear Major-General the Earl of Dundonald speak on a new military program for Canada. Dundonald had served on the Nile Expedition that had attempted to relieve the forces of General “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 as well as in the Boer War. In 1902, he had been appointed General Officer, commanding the Militia of Canada. The general argued that a militia consisting of trained civilians, which could be temporarily embodied for short periods of time, was to be preferred over an expensive standing army of professionals, or an army composed of conscripts.
Ottawa’s Canadian Club was established against the backdrop of some controversy in the Canadian Club movement. The Alaska Boundary dispute had just been settled in London. To the disappointment of Allen Bristol Aylesworth (later Sir) and Sir Louis-Amable Jetté, the two Canadian members of the international tribunal, Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice of England, had sided with the three American commissioners on the determination of the boundary of the Alaskan panhandle. Believing that Canada’s legitimate rights had been set aside, Aylesworth and Jetté refused to sign the document. Regardless, the agreement became law.
Many Canadians felt unjustly treated by the British in the negotiations. To the consternation of some members of the Canadian Club of Toronto, the club’s president and certain officers reportedly discussed the possibility of Canada leaving the Empire. When Aylesworth spoke to the Canadian Club of Toronto on the negotiations after his return from London at the beginning of November 1903, the atmosphere at the luncheon was tense.
Later that month, the Empire Club of Canada was established in Toronto along similar lines as the Canadian Club but with more emphasis on the “Empire” part rather than the “Canada” part. The founders of the new club stressed, however, that they were not in opposition to the Canadian Club. As there was a long waiting list to join the Canadian Club of Toronto, another organization offering a luncheon speakers’ series was warmly received. The Globe newspaper said it was the “latest organization to advocate imperialism,” and will “advance the interests of Canada and the united Empire.”
One thing that was noted very early on was the exclusion of women from virtually all functions of the Canadian Clubs. In late1907, two Women’s Canadian Clubs were formed almost simultaneously in Montreal and Winnipeg. In December of that year, at the Montreal luncheon chaired by Lady Drummond, Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, set out his plans to celebrate the tercentenary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in what was to become Canada. In Winnipeg, a luncheon hosted by Mrs. W. Sanford Evans featured two speakers, the Hon. T. Mayne Daly of Winnipeg and John Kendrick Bangs of New York. Daly was a former federal cabinet minister and had been appointed police magistrate of Winnipeg in 1903. Bangs was an American author and humorist.
Here in Ottawa, a Women’s Canadian Club was organized in early 1910. Its first president was Mrs. R.G. McConnell. Madame Lamothe and Mrs. Clifford Sifton were elected vice presidents. Sir George William Ross, Premier of Ontario from 1899-1905, delivered the first address to the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club in December 1910, held in the assembly hall of the Collegiate Institute. Ross spoke on the subject “What every Canadian should know.”
Both the Canadian Club of Ottawa and the Women’s Canadian Club of Ottawa are still going strong after a century or more of service to the Ottawa community. One change from their early days, both organizations are open to all regardless of sex. The two clubs meet regularly through the year at the Château Laurier Hotel, bringing speakers of national and international note to the nation’s capital.
Canadian Club of Ottawa, 2020. https://canadianclubottawa.ca/.
Farr, D.M.L. & Block, Nico. 2016. “Alaska Boundary Dispute,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/alaska-boundary-dispute.
Globe, 1903. “Welcome Aylesworth,” 22 October.
——-, 1903. “A Lunch and Talk Club,” 20 November.
——-, 1903. “Empire Club of Canada,” 26 November.
——-, 1903. “Retain Imperial Bond,” 4 December 1903.
Henry, Wade A, 1994. “W. Sanford Evans and the Canadian Club of Winnipeg, 1904-1919,” Manitoba Historical Society, Number 27, Spring, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/27/evanscanadianclub.shtml.
Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “Canadian Club Formed,” 10 October.
——————, 1910. “Ladies Form A Canadian Club,” 5 December.
——————, 2017. “Over A Century Of Service,” 18 September.
Ottawa Evening Journal, 1903. “Organization Of The Canadian Club,” 10 October.
——————————, 1903. “The First Canadian Club Dinner a Great Success,” 26 October.
—————————–, 1908. “History Of Canadian Club Movement Since Its Inception In 1893,” 25 January.
——————————, 1910. “The Social World,” 9 March.
——————————, 1910. “Social Affairs,” 30 November.
——————————, 1910. “Women’s Canadian Club,” 1 December.
Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club, 2020. http://ottawawomenscanadianclub.com/.
Victoria Daily Times, 1903. “The Just Rights of Canada Ignored,” 20 October.