Sunday Shopping

7 June 1992

Millennials and post-Millennials may be astounded to learn that as little as a generation ago shopping on Sundays was not permitted except under very limited circumstances. Service stations could remain open as could corner stores, and shops in designated tourist zones, such as Ottawa’s Byward Market. However, shopping malls and grocery stores were required to be closed. And people didn’t even dream of buying alcohol on a Sunday. The reason was the Lord’s Day Act which forbade shopping on Sunday, a.k.a. the Sabbath.

Codex

The Codex Theodosianus, which was compiled by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, was a collection of ancient Roman laws, Wikipedia.

A prohibition on Sunday business has a very old pedigree, dating back to 321 A.D. to the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. All city residents and tradesmen were required to rest on Sunday. There were exceptions where a cessation of work was not practical such as in agriculture. The interesting thing is that this first Sunday shopping ban occurred during pagan times. In 386 A.D., shortly after Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, the first reference to the “Lord’s Day” appears. Contained in the Codex Theodosianus, the law stated that “on the day of the sun, properly called the Lord’s Day, by our ancestors, let there be a cessation of lawsuits, business and indictments.”

Similar laws were promulgated in England during Saxon times and after the Norman Conquest in 1066. There were, however, slippages in practices during the fourteenth and fifteen centuries when Sunday increasingly became a market day and taverns remained open, much to the displeasure of the Church. In 1448, the Sunday Fairs Act was passed banning all fairs and markets on a Sunday, except for necessary “victuals” and four harvest Sundays. In the seventeenth century, amidst growing Puritanism, three more Sunday Observance Acts were passed tightening restrictions, including a ban on recreation and travelling. Church service attendance was, of course, mandatory.

After the conquest of Quebec in 1763, the four English Sunday observance laws applied to what was to become Canada, as did the 1780 English Act for Preventing Certain Abuses and Profanations on the Lord’s Day, called Sunday. In 1845, under pressure from Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the legislature of the Province of Canada passed its own strict Sunday observance act for Upper Canada called “An Act to Prevent the Profanation of the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday. Prohibited were all “worldly labour, business or work” as well as tippling, public political meetings, skittles, ball, football, racket, or any other noisy game, gambling, foot races, horse races, swimming, fishing, hunting, or shooting. In other words, anything that was fun was forbidden. There were exceptions. If you were attacked by a wolf, you could shoot it. Also, conveying travellers and Her Majesty’s mail, selling drugs or medicine, works of charity and “other such works of necessity” were permitted.

The rationale for this law was to ensure that everybody spent Sunday in prayer or doing godly things rather than anything that might be considered worldly or pleasurable. Note for the religiously strict even laughing was frowned upon as there is no reference to Christ laughing in the Bible.

The Bytown City Council passed its own Sunday By-law in 1847 to prevent “nuisances.” Such nuisances including anybody who kept open a grocery or eating house on the Sabbath-day within the limits of the Town. The penalty was up to 25 shillings.

For the most part, the Sunday Observance Acts were effective in shutting down virtually all business. The one major exception—the transmission of the mail on Sundays—was very controversial. Church groups protested.  In 1850, Bytown inhabitants also complained, sending a memorial to the Governor General noting “with deep regret the extensive and legalized system of Sabbath desecration caused by the transmission of Her Majesty’s mail, the opening of Post Offices, and the delivery of letter and papers on the Lord’s Day.” The government resisted such entreaties, and the mail continued.

Lord's Day Act

Article that appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 12 June 1876

Of course, not everybody obeyed the law. Certain industries in remote areas, such as forestry and mining, were serial offenders. As well, those in domestic service didn’t seem to qualify for a day of rest.

Many complained about boys playing ball or cricket in Ottawa’s streets and on vacant lots on Sundays. Some took umbrage at kids fishing on the Sabbath in the Rideau River at Hogsback, especially when they openly carried fishing poles and fish past the residences of “respectable” people. “Unless they drop their evil practices they will be summarily brought to justice.”  On one occasion, five “delinquents” were fined $1 each plus court costs for fishing and bathing on the Sabbath.

In 1866-67, there was an extensive debate in the Daily Citizen on whether skating on a Sunday was legal.  Writing under the pseudonym “Christian Liberty,” one citizen maintained that “there was no statute, Imperial or Provincial, which made Sunday skating illegal. “Ruris” wrote that “whether or not there be such a law…, [he] was not prepared to skate” and that “there is an enactment of the statute of the Book of the King of kings which says remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” “Anti-Cant” called Sabbatarians (people who believe in a literal reading of the of the fourth Commandment such as Ruris), “a set of humbugs and hypocrites.” He added “You big boys and little, who, after close confinement for six days, want to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh, invigorating air of Heaven on the seventh, slide and skate away, and get roses in your cheeks, and don’t be afraid of the police.”

The definition of a “work of necessity” was also unclear. In July 1877, Chief Langrell of the Ottawa Police instructed his men to tell all milk dealers that they must observe the Sabbath or face the consequences—a fine of up to $50. This injunction set off a wave of protest. Ottawa police were called the “milk inquisition” and that the Chief was “elevating public morality through the medium of the milk pail.” After it was pointed out that milk, especially at the height of an Ottawa summer, was a perishable product and that children needed to drink fresh not sour milk, Chief Langrell relented. However, a few years later, five barbers were less successful. They received summons for shaving customers on the Sabbath. One irate citizen wrote that “it certainly seems ridiculous that bathing or shaving or any other toilet operation should be a crime on Sunday.”

Sunday laws

Sunday Laws in Ontario, early 20th century, Source: Seventh Day Adventist Church

In 1888, Sabbatarian churches formed the Ontario Lord’s Day Alliance to fight an emerging new unholy threat to Sabbath observance—the Sunday operation of streetcars in Ontario. After legal challenges, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the Lord’s Day Act did not apply to streetcars, railways, telegraph, canal, and steamship companies that operated under a Dominion charter. Appealed again, the case went to the Privy Council in London. In a shocking move to Sabbatarians, the Privy Council ruled in 1903 that the entire Ontario Lord’s Day Act was ultra vires, since criminal law was a Dominion responsibility under the British North America Act.

The Dominion Lord’s Day Alliance fought back with its members launching a campaign to pressure the Laurier Government to pass a federal Lord’s Day Act. In 1905 two members of the Alliance came to Ottawa to address church groups. At Erksine Presbyterian Church, they argued that “our national well-being required that the sacredness of the Sabbath be preserved.”

In 1906, the Federal Government complied, passing the Act over the opposition of other religious groups, including Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews, who worship on Saturdays. Sunday business, including sports, was sharply circumscribed. There was, however, a list of exclusions, including work of domestic servants and health care workers, bakers after 4pm, fishermen after 6pm and newspaper operators after 8pm. Telegraphs, telephones, the postal service, electrical works, animal husbandry, and certain industrial repairs were also permitted. Maple syrup production was also deemed a work of necessity.

During the Second World War, Sunday restrictions eased slightly. Cinemas in some cities opened on Sundays to provide entertainment for the troops. However, war didn’t stop the Lord’s Day Alliance from trying to stop market gardeners from tending their gardens on Sundays in 1943.

In 1950, Ontario passed the Lord’s Day (Ontario) Act, which complemented the federal law but permitted municipalities to decide for themselves whether to permit sporting events on Sunday afternoons. Here in Ottawa, it took three public votes on the issue before the Ottawa Rough Riders were finally allowed to play football on Sundays starting in 1965.

To reinforce the provincial Lord’s Day Act, the Ontario government passed the Retail Business Holidays Act in 1975 which prohibited most retail stores from operating on a Sunday. The cited reason was to give workers a common day of pause. Now there was two Ontario laws banning Sunday shopping, one religious and one ostensibly secular.

But by the 1980s, popular opinion was beginning to shift in favour of Sunday shopping. In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd that the Lord’s Day Act was unconstitutional under section 2b (freedom of thought, belief opinion and expression) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Expecting the Retail Business Holiday Act to also be found unconstitutional, stores in Ontario began to open illegally on Sundays. However, the Supreme Court surprised everybody by ruling in the government’s favour. Stores again closed their doors.

Pressure for change shifted to the political front. Libertarian groups, such as the Freedom Party of Ontario, and the Committee for Fair Shopping, a coalition of grocery store chains, lobbied for freedom of choice. Border communities also lobbied for change as U.S. shops were open on Sundays and attracted Canadian customers. In 1989, the Ontario government dumped the issue into the laps of municipalities by introducing the “local option,” where municipalities could decide whether stores in their jurisdictions could open on Sundays. This satisfied nobody.

Sunday shopping

Government Announcement regarding Sunday Shopping, Ottawa Citizen, 8 June 1992.

In June 1990, an Ontario High Court judge ruled the Retail Business Holiday Act unconstitutional. Stores in Ontario, including Ottawa, reopened on Sundays. However, eight months later, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision, much to the delight of organized labour and church groups. Subsequently, three Nepean stores, Fresh Fruit Co on Robertson Road, Top Banana on Merivale Road, and Leather Liquidation also on Merivale Road, were charged with illegally doing business on a Sunday.

But the public had a taste of the forbidden fruit and found it delicious. Public opinion polls began to strongly favour Sunday shopping. At the beginning of June 1992, the NDP government of Bob Rae, which had previously insisted on a “common pause day to strengthen the family and community life while protecting small businesses and the rights of workers,” caved under the pressure. Over the protests of labour unions and the complaints of a psychologist who argued that Sunday shopping would do serious psychological harm to families, the Rae government allowed unfettered Sunday shopping.   A few days later, on Sunday, 7 June 1992, malls and grocery stores opened for business across the province, including Ottawa. A new era in retailing had begun.

On that first day of Sunday shopping in Ottawa, “mom and pop” stores apparently took a beating as shoppers flocked to the malls. Small independent fruit stores as well as Byward Market shops also experienced a fall in revenues. The iconic Boushey’s Fruit Market on Elgin Street posted a 25 per cent decline in sales, and worried that it might have to lay off staff.

In the event, a new retail equilibrium emerged over time. Contrary to the fears of some, a 2005 study concluded that stores, on average, did not increase the hours of work of existing employees but instead hired a significant number of new employees to accommodate Sunday shopping. Also contrary to some church fears, Sunday shopping did not lead to social Armageddon, though church attendance continued its decline. As for Boushey’s, the store survived the introduction of Sunday shopping and lasted another 24 years. It closed its doors in 2016. Financial reasons were not a factor.

 

Sources:

CBC. 2016. “Boushey’s Fruit Market on Elgin Street closing after 70 years in business,” 31 May, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/bousheys-grocery-elgin-closing-1.3608630.

Canada, Province of, 1845. An Act to prevent the Profanation of the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, in Upper Canada, https://bnald.lib.unb.ca/sites/default/files/UnC.1845.ch%2045.pdf.

Canada, 1906, The Lord’s Day Act, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/History_of_Seventh-day_Adventist_freedom_of_religion_in_Canada.

Crocker, Rev. Chris W. 2013. A Worthy Cause: The Lord’s Day in the Baptist Press Amongst Nineteenth-Century, Upper Canadian Regular Baptists,  McMaster Divinity College, https://macsphere.mcmaster.ca/bitstream/11375/16873/1/Crocker%20Chris.pdf.

Freedom Party of Ontario, 2012. Sunday Shopping in Ontario: The 85 year Ban and its Defeat, http://www.freedomparty.on.ca/sundayshopping/.

Garner, Hugh 1956. “How Canada’s ‘blue-law’ busybodies boss you on Sunday,” Liberty, November, http://www.freedomparty.on.ca/sundayshopping/1955-11-xx.Liberty-Magazine.blue-law-busibodies.pdf.

Ontario Law Reform Committee, 1970. Report on Sunday Observance Legislation, Department of Justice, http://www.ontla.on.ca/library/repository/mon/27010/22192.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen, 1861. “Fall Assizes,” 25 October.

—————–, 1869. “Vigilant,” 13 July.

——————, 1865. “Sabbath Breakers,” 20 June.

——————, 1876. “Disgraceful,” 12 June.

——————, 1877. “Sabbath Desecration,” 9 July.

——————, 1877. “No title,” 24 July.

——————, 1877. “Not title,” 27 July.

——————, 1903. “Lord’s Day Act,” 15 July.

——————. 1992. “Its Been Brutal,” 8 June.

——————, 1883. “Sunday Shaving,” 3 July.

——————, 1990. “Attention, Sunday Shoppers,” 6 July.

——————, 1991. “NDP can’t keep its promises,” 12 February.

——————, 1991. “Sunday Shopping,” 21 March.

——————, 1991.  “Sunday Shopping,” 30 June.

——————, 1991. “Bill Allows 4 Weeks of Sunday Shopping,” 26 November.

——————. 1992. “Bedeviled!” 30 May.

——————. 1992. “Stores open Sunday,” 4 June.

——————, 1992. “It’s Been Brutal,” 8 June.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1905. “Preserving The Sabbath,” 8 May.

Packet, 1847. “By-Law to prevent Nuisances,” 4 December.

——–, 1850 “Sabbath Desecration,” 26 January.

——–, 1850. “Memorial of the Inhabitants of Bytown and its Vicinity,” 20 July.

Skuterud, Mikal, 2005. “The impact of Sunday shopping one employment and hours of work in the retail industry: evidence from Canada,” European Economic Review, Vol. 49, Issue 8, November, pp. 1953-1978.

Wikiwand, 2019. History of Seventh-Day Adventist freedom of religion in Canada, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/History_of_Seventh-day_Adventist_freedom_of_religion_in_Canada.

 

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The OC Transpo Massacre

6 April, 1999

Of all of the events that have occurred through Ottawa’s history, one of the most tragic is the OC Transpo Massacre. For many Ottawa residents, the terrible events of 6 April 1999 are seared into their memory. They will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. While time heals, the scars remain both for the families directly affected, as well for Ottawa more generally. In a way, the city lost its innocence that day. We discovered that the mass shootings that we associate with places far away can happen in peaceful, law-abiding Ottawa.

Pierre Lebrun

Pierre Lebrun, Murderopedia

It began on a normal, early spring, Tuesday afternoon. At about 2.30 pm, Pierre Lebrun, a shy, 40-year old man who had left OC Transpo’s employ the previous January, pulled into the bus company’s garage at 1500 St. Laurent Boulevard in the city’s east end. He parked his 1997 Pontiac Sunfire a few yards away from a supervisor’s office. After getting out of his car, he pulled out a high-powered, Remington, pump-action rifle capable of killing a moose from a mile away. Entering the building, Lebrun shouted out a line from the movie The Terminator—It’s Judgement Day!

Lebrun quickly fired his first shot that reportedly hit a steel drum before going through a metal locker and lodging in a computer monitor. Fragments struck two men, Richard Guertin and Joe Casagrande, injuring them, fortunately not seriously. Both fled down a hall, shouting for someone to call 911. A message quickly went out over the PA system that there was a man in the garage with a loaded gun. The more than 150 occupants of the building tried to get out of the building or hid in lockers or under tables.

Walking down a hallway, Lebrun claimed his first victim, shipper Brian Guay, 46, shooting him in the chest. Stepping over Guay’s prostrate body, Lebrun continued into the interior of the garage where a group of people were taking a coffee break at the back of a bus. The workers watched in horror as Lebrun fired a third time, killing mechanic Harry Schoenmakers, 44, before entering the bus where the terrified workers were standing. With his gun across his shoulder, he swore at them and snarled You think it’s funny now. Lebrun did not shoot but instead left the garage bay, set a small fire in a chemical room, and proceeded to a store room where four men were sitting. There, Lebrun claimed his third and fourth victims, Clare Davidson, 52, and David Lemay, 35.

Leaving the store room, Lebrun walked upstairs to a loft that overlooked the engine room. A few seconds later, another shot rang out. Lebrun had killed himself. His pockets were full of ammunition. From the time, he entered the garage to the time he took his only life was only a matter of minutes.

Outside the garage, the emergency 911 system receive a call at 2.39 pm that there was a shooter at the OC Transpo garage. The first police arrived at 2.44 pm, with the heavily armed tactical unit arriving on the scene at 2.55 pm. But they didn’t know what they were dealing with. They moved cautiously. Police entered the building at 3.47 pm and began to methodically comb the rooms and buses in the garage. Meanwhile, OC Transpo workers and onlookers waited outside, fearful of the fate of their colleagues and friends. By 6 pm, the police had found Pierre Lebrun’s body in a pool of blood and could begin to stand down.

Information about Pierre Lebrun quickly surfaced. He had been born in Northern Ontario in the small town of Moonbeam located south-east of Kapuskasing. A quiet child with a stammer, he had been teased by other children throughout his childhood. His mother said he had been a “good son.” He had started working for OC Transpo in the mid-1980s, but had quit his job as an audit clerk in January 1999. He had no criminal record.

Originally hired as a bus driver, he had been transferred to jobs that did not require as much interaction with people. A quiet man, who struggled with depression, he had been at the receiving end of jabs and taunts about his speech impediment from certain co-workers. Some said that the harassment got worse after a 1996 transit strike during which Lebrun had gone on sick leave on the advice of a doctor rather than joining the picket line with his striking colleagues. In 1997, Lebrun was fired after he hit a co-worker for allegedly making fun of his stammer. After the union intervened in his support, management rehired Lebrun on the proviso that he attend anger management counselling. But problems continued. Lebrun actually approached Al Loney, the chairman of the OC Transit Commission, to complain about two colleagues. However, Lebrun did not provide details and asked Loney not to intervene. Instead, Lebrun said would go to his supervisor.

After leaving the employ of OC Transpo early in 1999, Lebrun travelled by car across Canada, spending time in British Columbia before heading south to Las Vegas. After losing his money gambling, he drove directly back to Ottawa, arriving in the capital shortly before his assault on the OC Transpo garage. He left a suicide note for his parents. In it, he said that he knew that he was “going to commit an unforgiveable act,” but that he had “no choice.” He said he feared for his life and that people from the union had followed him out west and that they had “destroyed his life.” He added that OC Transpo and the union “can’t hid from what they do to me,” that he was “not crazy, but very intelligent, too intelligent.” He also listed the names of four co-workers who he didn’t like, and three who had tried to help him. None of Lebrun’s victims’ names appeared on his “hate list;” they were simply bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the days that followed the tragic event, grieving families, OC Transpo employees, and the broader community tried to come to terms with what had happened. An impromptu memorial of flowers and black ribbons appeared in front of the bus company’s head office on St. Laurent Boulevard. Among the tributes was a poem by Stacey Lemay, the daughter of David Lemay, entitled “My Dad, My Friend.” The poem was also read out over the intercom at Stacey’s high school. Three days after the shootings, buses across North America pulled over at 2.45 pm to observe a minute of silence as a tribute to their fallen comrades.

Later, an official five-member Coroner’s jury sat down to hear the evidence about what happened that fateful day and what might have provoked Pierre Lebrun’s actions. On their first day on the job, members of the jury along with the general public were shocked to learn that the events of 6 April 1999 had claimed another life. A co-worker of Lebrun had hanged himself out of remorse. In a suicide note, he wrote that Lebrun had talked to him about shooting his managers but the co-worker had said nothing. He thought it had been a dark fantasy, not something Lebrun would ever do.

For eight weeks, the jury listened to testimony of OC Transpo management and workers, police, doctors, family members and other witnesses. Portions of the 911 call were played out, and jury members were taken on a tour of the crime scene. Time was spent examining how long it took for the police to respond, and how Lebrun had obtained ammunition for his rifle despite his firearm licence having expired. A detailed step-by-step analysis was made of Lebrun’s movements and actions from the moment he arrived at the OC Transpo garage until he killed himself. Much attention was also placed on the work environment at the OC Transpo garage. It was very clear that management-worker relations had been poor for some time. One witness claimed that some managers didn’t treated their employees as human beings.  Worker morale was described as being low prior to the shooting.

Witnesses also testified that Lebrun had been a “loner” who had been repeatedly teased because of his stammer. A forensic psychiatrist argued that workplace harassment and what he called “a poisoned work environment” were factors in the tragedy. The 1997 incident when Lebrun had gone “berserk” and slapped a co-worker was also scrutinized. Testimony revealed that after the incident Lebrun had not reached “set goals” in his required anger management training. As well, co-worker concerns about Lebrun’s behaviour had been behind his transfer to the audit position.

After eight weeks of testimony, the coroner’s jury came out with 77 recommendations of which 51 applied directly to OC Transpo. Sixteen recommendations addressed workplace harassment issues, including the development and implementation of workplace violence and harassment prevention policies and procedures by OC Transpo, and the delivery of a respectful workplace training program to all employees. The jury demanded zero tolerance for harassment and violence in the workplace. A further twelve recommendations were directed at workplace safety and security concerns, including such things as the establishment of emergency escape plans, the installation of emergency “pick-up” phones similar to ones in place at transit stops, and the accessibility of maps and blueprints of all buildings to police and other emergency workers.  Other recommendations were given to the police and government.

Most of the recommendations were quickly adopted. However, it took many years for the provinces to update their legislation to require employers to take preventative measures against workplace harassment and violence.  Quebec was the first, amending in 2004 its Act Respecting Labour Standards to ensure employees have the right to a working environment that is free from psychological harassment. Employers were also required to introduce measures to prevent such harassment. Manitoba and Saskatchewan followed in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Ontario’s Bill 168, which was an amendment to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, came into force in 2010. Under the legislation, employers are, among other things, required to determine the risks of workplace harassment and violence, and develop policies for investigating employee complaints and incidents. In 2016, Bill 132, otherwise known as the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, came into force. The new legislation expanded the definition of workplace harassment to include sexual harassment. It also broadened employer responsibilities to conduct investigations into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was additionally amended to empower inspectors to require an employer to commission a report made by an unbiased person into a harassment incident or complaint. As well, the Limitations Act was amended to permit the prosecution of cases that occurred prior to the introduction of the Act.

With the laws and regulations in place, implementation is now key. We can only hope that instances of workplace violence and harassment are addressed early enough that similar future tragedies are averted.

Sources:

Bawden, Sean, 2015. “Bill 132… Picking up where Bill 168 left off?”  Labour Pains, 7 November.

Branswell, Brenda, 200. “Pierre Lebrun and his bloody rampage through an OC Transpo building,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 28 April.

CBC News, 2000. “OC Transpo Inquest rocked by revelation,” 10 January.

————–, 2000. “List of recommendation after OC Transpo inquiry,” 29 February.

City of Ottawa, 2001. “Report to Transportation and Transit Committee and Council,” 18 April.

Globe and Mail (The), 2000. “Shooting rampage had deadly echo,” 7 January.

Miniken Employment Lawyers, 2010. “Bill  168 – Ontario’s Law on Workplace Violence and Harassment,” https://www.minkenemploymentlawyers.com/employment-law-issues/bill-168-ontarios-law-on-workplace-violence-and-harassment/.

Murderpedia, 2000(?) “Pierre Lebrun,” http://murderpedia.org/male.L/l/lebrun-pierre.htm.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1999. “Scene ‘frantic’ after carnage,” 7 April.

————————-, 1999. “Massacre at OC Transpo,” 7 April.

————————-, 1999. “A reminder of what really matters,” 8 April

————————-, 1999. “Impromptu memorial,” 9 April.

————————-, 1999. “Transit services to pause in continent-wide tribute.” 9 April.

————————-, 1999. “Ridicule made ‘good son’ a mass killer.” 9 April.

————————-, 2000. “Jury’s still out on OC Transpo,” 1 March.

————————-, 2000. “OC Transpo Inquest Chronology,” 1 March.

Ottawa Sun (The|), 2013. “OC Transpo driver remembers deadly 1999 shooting,” 19 September.

RH Proactive Inc. 2016. “Bill 132: Prevent Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Workplace,” http://bill132.ca/.

 

 

The Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy

2 February 1907 and 29 February 1908

Each November, thousands of rabid Canadian football fans huddle in the freezing cold, or more typically settle back on their chesterfields, to watch the Grey Cup game that pits the Canadian Football League’s Western Division Champions against the Eastern Division Champions in the quest for bragging rights as Canada’s best football team. The trophy was first given by Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, in 1909 as the top prize in Canadian amateur rugby football. The first Grey Cup champions were the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

Lord Grey

Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911

During his term as Governor General from 1904 to 1911, Lord Grey handed out trophies for all sorts of events, including skating, horse racing, and even for the best dog in show at the Ottawa Kennel Club championships. Not to be outdone, Lady Grey had her own award for best Ottawa garden. Of all these prizes, the Grey Cup is probably the only one that has survived. However, for a few years, the Grey Trophy, properly known as the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy, was likely the best known of all of Lord Grey’s awards, and was highly coveted across the country.

Government House announced the trophy in late 1906 as means of promoting the performing arts in Canada and Newfoundland, then a separate dominion. Very early on, it was decided to offer two trophies, one for the country’s top amateur musical or choral group, and another for the best amateur theatrical company. Entrants were initially limited to provincial capitals, including St. John’s, and cities with a population of more than 50,000. Multiple city entries were permitted though it was expected that provincial government houses would limit the numbers to about fourteen, enough for two shows per evening during a week-long musical and dramatic extravaganza. Colonel J. Hanbury-Williams, the Governor General’s secretary, who was also a friend of Rudyard Kipling, took charge of the event, with the help of at least eight committees that dealt with such things as transportation, finance, entertainment, and the press. There was also a special committee for women. Provincial chairmen were also appointed.

The competition was open to amateurs, defined as persons who had not “lived by the profession” within the previous five years. However, the rule was not intended to exclude those that had been paid a nominal amount for performing in a choir or with a dramatic organization. The performances of each company would be limited to ninety minutes, and no company could have more than 50 members.

The first competition was held in Ottawa from 28 January to 2 February 1907 at the Russell Theatre. Sixteen companies—eight musical and eight dramatic—entered the competition from Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s. To ensure impartiality, the judges for the competition were American. George Chadwick, the director of the New England Conservatory in Boston judged the musical entries. Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Langdon Mitchell, a Broadway playwright, judged the dramatic productions.

Earl Grey Trophy ii

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy. The trophy was designed and executed by Louis Philippe Hébert from suggestions of Lord Grey. The woman holding the mask symbolizes drama while the man holding the lyre symbolizes music. The fence between the two figures indicates that music and drama have their own territories. Each figure has a foot on the lowest rail to indicate a willingness to cross onto the other side. See Souvenir Programme, the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition, Ottawa 1912.

Competitors had to pay their own way to Ottawa but the transportation committee organized discount fares on the railways. Group rates were also provided by area hotels, though the main venue hotel was the Victoria Hotel in Alymer which was completely booked for the event. In downtown Ottawa, a Reception Committee organized a city “rendezvous” spot at the Racket Club at 153 Metcalfe Street where a dancing hall was converted into a large, temporary drawing room complete with settees, comfortable arm chairs, and other amenities. There, performers, who were made honorary members for the competition, could relax, write letters, use the telephone, or read newspapers. It was staffed throughout the week with volunteers. Social events were organized for contestants, including a skating and toboggan party at Rideau Hall hosted by Lord and Lady Grey. There was also a tea at the Wright’s Greenhouse, a seven-acre, glass-covered conservatory, in Aylmer.

Two shows were held each evening through the week at the Russell Theatre—one musical and one dramatic—with ticket prices of up to $1. Ottawa led off the competition on the first evening with the D.F.P. Minstrels in the musical event. Shockingly racist, the minstrel show, in which its performers wore “black face,” was warmly received by the Ottawa audience. The finale of the show was “a medley of plantation songs and Southern war ballads.” Later that same evening, the Ottawa Dramatic Company put on Gringoire, a short comedy by Théodore de Banville about a poet forced to play in front of Louis XI of France. The play was performed in English despite it being written in French and all the actors, francophone.

The finale of the event was held on Saturday, 2 February in front of the largest and “most fashionable” audience. After the last two performances of the week, the judges announced the winners of the competition. The winner for best dramatic performance was Winnipeg’s The Release of Allan Danvers. The play had been expressly written for the Earl Grey competition by three amateur Winnipeg authors, Messrs. Beaufort, Devine and Blue, two of whom acted in the show while the third was the stage manager. According to the Ottawa Citizen, it was the first time a Canadian-written play had debuted in Canada. It was a three-act play with a very heavy plot line. Danvers, afflicted with locomotor ataxia, a muscle disorder, falls in love. Although his love is reciprocated, Danvers refrains from declaring his affections to his lady love since he is dying. Before running off to England to hide from her, his lady indicates her affection for him, but Danvers falls dead at her feet—hence, his “release.”

Based on criteria which included stage setting and the company acting as a unit, individual excellence in grace, diction, make-up and dress, and the power to impersonate and express a range of emotions, the Winnipeg Dramatic Club was selected as the competition winner with a total of 49 out of 50 marks. The Ottawa Dramatic Company managed 41 points for its Gringoire.

Overall, the two drama judges were impressed by the high quality of all the theatrical performances. They added that amateur theatre was typically “a crucifixion of the soul,” but that wasn’t the case over the week-long competition. They opined that Lord Grey’s competition should have a positive impact on both the amateur and professional stage. They hoped that it would help address the lack of a standard spoken English which was a deficiency of North America.

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1904 and led by its conductor, Joseph Vezina won the musical trophy. It had presented a classical programme but one of its best numbers, Valse de Concert, was written by Vezina himself. According to the Citizen, it was hard to believe that the orchestra consisted of amateurs, so good was the playing. Spontaneous applause broke out on several occasions during their performance. In scoring the competition, the judge gave the Quebec orchestra 27 out of a possible 40 points in four categories—attack, precision, and accuracy; intonation (singing/playing in tune); technical proficiency; and expression and interpretation. Ottawa’s minstrels received 16 points.

So successful was the week-long competition, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced on the last night of the performances that Lord Grey was making the competition an annual event.

The following year, thirteen teams competed in the second annual Lord Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition. The competition was again held at the Russell Theatre in Ottawa. Subscription tickets for the full six nights of the competition cost $5. Again, the judges were American to avoid the appearance of bias.  Although competition rules had been eased for 1908 to allow any musical or theatrical group from a town or city of any size to compete, all the competing groups came from major eastern cities. Six of the contestants came from Ottawa, with the remaining participants coming from Quebec City (2), Toronto (2) and Montreal (3).

Again, the week-long series of musical and theatrical performances were judged a great success. Ottawa fared particularly well. On 29 February, 1908, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced that Ottawa teams had won both the musical and dramatic events. The musical trophy went to the Canadian Conservatory of Music, conducted by Donald Heins. The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the 1907 winner, and Ottawa’s Orpheus Glee Club came in tied for second place. The Canadian Conservatory of Music’s entry was essentially a string orchestra consisting of thirty violins, violas, violincellos and basses plus a grand piano. Its classical programme included Grieg’s Elegiac Melody, Minuet by Motzart, and La Dernier Sommeil by de la Vierge.

On the theatrical side, Ottawa’s Thespian Club won the Earl Grey Trophy for its two short productions of Food and Folly, a two-act “gastronomic” farce and A Light From St. Agnes, a one-act Broadway tragedy. Although the eventual winner of the competition, the Citizen’s reviewer was not terribly impressed by the Thespians’ farce. He described the play as “impossible,” thin on humour, with dialogue that tended to drag. He had much kinder words for A Light From St. Agnes. He thought the climax of the play was “admirably acted” with both the leading man and leading woman putting on strong performances.

Earl Grey Trophy

Souvenir Programme for the last Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition held in Ottawa in 1912, City of Ottawa Archives.

The Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition continued to be held for the next four years, moving to Montreal in 1909, Toronto in 1910, Winnipeg in 1911, and back to Ottawa in 1912. The 1912, and ultimately the final winners of the Lord Grey Trophy, were the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (for the fourth time) and Winnipeg’s Dramatic Society.

In late 1912, Colonel Lowther, the military secretary to HRH the Duke of Connaught who had succeeded Lord Grey as Governor General the previous year, said that the 1913 Competition would be dropped for “various reasons.”  It is possible that the new Governor General had other priorities, and didn’t see the point of adding to the lustre of his predecessor’s reputation. Organizing the competition must also have been a considerable challenge. Given its scale and the huge number of volunteers needed to organize and run it, the necessary logistics may have been too onerous to sustain.

Did the competition succeed in its mission in encouraging amateur music and drama? It’s difficult to say, not knowing the counterfactual. However, in 1913, just months after the cancellation of the Earl Grey Competition, the Canadian Federation of University Women launched the Ottawa Drama League (ODL), later known as the Ottawa Little Theatre. Over time, “little theatres” were also established in other Canadian cities. The ODL presented its first production at the Russell Theatre in 1914. In 1933, the Earl of Bessborough launched the Dominion Drama Festival in co-operation with the ODL at its Little Theatre on King Edward Avenue.

As for the Earl Grey trophies themselves, they seem to have disappeared.[1] An Earl Grey Trophy continues to be awarded at the Winnipeg Music Festival for the best school chorus. But it only dates back to 1923, six years after Lord Grey’s death. It is likely named for the “Earl Grey School,” the first winner of the cup-like trophy.

 

Sources:

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition, 1912, Programme, City of Ottawa Archives.

Manitoba Free Press, 1907. “Through Milady’s Lorgnette,” 12 January.

Montreal Gazette, 1906. “Earl Grey’s Contest,” 21 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1908. “Ability Shown by Ottawans,” 29 February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1906. “The Musical Competition,” 27 October.

——————-, 1907. “Judges For The Competition,” 18 January.

——————-, 1907. “Today Opens Competition,” 28 January.

——————-, 1907. “Last Night’s Performances,” 30 January.

——————-, 1907. “Winnipeg Dramatic Club and Quebec Orchestra,” 4 February.

——————-, 1907. “Earl Grey Competitions,” 4 March.

——————-, 1907. “Arranging For A 2nd Competition,” 26 March.

——————-, 1908. “Earl Grey Trophy,” 14 February.

——————-, 1908. “Not In Ottawa,” 18 March.

——————-, 1908.  “Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competitions and Competitors,” 19 February.

——————-, 1912. “No Earl Grey Competition,” 16 November.

Ottawa Little Theatre, 2019. History, http://www.ottawalittletheatre.com/history/.

Winnipeg Music Festival, 2019. Trophies, https://www.winnipegmusicfestival.org/earl-grey-trophy/

 

[1] If you are aware of the location of a trophy please send me an email.

To Arms! The Fenians Are Coming

7 March 1866

Canadians are taught in school that Canada was the product of the Fathers of Confederation immortalized in the 1883 painting by Robert Harris. (The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 fire that gutted the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.) The fathers include such notables as John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, Étienne-Paschel Taché, Samuel Tilley, and Charles Tupper. One “father” that is seldom mentioned is the Fenians.

Fenians

The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York, published by John Bradburn, Villanova Digital Library.

Waves of Irish immigrants had come to North America during the first half of the nineteenth century following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the potato famine of the 1840s with the ensuing “clearances” or evictions of starving, penniless, farm labourers. 2,250,000 Irish men women and children took the perilous journey across the Atlantic, of whom roughly 500,000 came to Canada. Needless to say, many Irish immigrants harboured few warm feelings towards the British who controlled Ireland. Some continued their fight for an independent Ireland using violence. One such group was the Fenians.

They saw their chance in the mid-1860s. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 with a victory for the northern Union Army. Thousands of war-hardened soldiers of Irish descent were demobilized. Sympathy for the Irish cause and bitterness towards the British was running high in the United States at that time. During the Civil War, Britain and British North America were neutral but had favoured the Confederate cause. War had almost broken out between the Britain and the U.S. Union government in 1861 over the “Trent affair” when a U.S. naval ship stopped the Trent, a British merchantman, and forcibly took captive two Confederate diplomats on their way to London from Cuba. Britain protested this violation of its neutrality. In Canada, militias were hastily organized to help defend their country in the event of an American invasion.  In the end, the Union government backed down and returned the two Confederate emissaries, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts. While the threat of war receded, British-American relations remained cool owing to the success of the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, which had been built in secret in Britain in 1862, and blockade runners based in British possessions in the West Indies and Bermuda who traded arms to the South in exchange for cotton for the textile factories of Britain.

In 1865, Fenians based in the United States tried to free Ireland. They failed miserably.  A ship carrying arms and munitions to Ireland was seized by the British en route. Meanwhile, the Irish people ignored the call to revolt. Following this setback, a group of American Fenians came up with a new, quixotic plan. They would invade British North America. Once this was accomplished, they figured they would have a base of operations to continue the fight for an independent Ireland, or would use their conquest of Canada to somehow force the British to leave Ireland. Led by former senior U.S. army officers (for example, the Fenian Secretary of War was General T.W. Sweeny, the commander of the 16th United States Infantry), the slogan at the 1865 Fenian Convention in Cincinnati was “On to Canada!”

With U.S. public opinion anti-British, the hope was that the U.S. government would turn a blind eye to the assembly of Fenian soldiers and munitions on the frontier with Canada. The Fenian leaders believed that as many as 50,000 war-hardened volunteers would join their army and that the Irish in Canada would rise up and join the invading force. (In actuality, the Fenian cause had few supporters in Canada where Irish settlers were prospering and whose religious rights were protected.) They thought that a quick victory would result in the recognition of an Irish Republic by the United States government, and subsequently by European nations.

Fenian conventions, meetings and fund-raisers in the United States were extensively covered in the press. So, their plans and objectives were hardly secret. British spies also kept an eye on them. Initially, Canadian and British authorities didn’t take the Fenians too seriously believing that the U.S. government would intervene if they went too far. But by early March 1866, rumours were rife that a Fenian invasion was imminent, possibly on St. Patrick’s Day. Armed men and were assembling on several points on the Canadian border as well as out east in Maine on the border with the Colony of New Brunswick.

Fenians Civil service reg

The Civil Service Rifle Corps morphed into the Civil Service Rifle Regiment in October 1866. Every civil servant (all men at the time) between the ages of 18 and 45 were members.

On 7 March 1866, the government of the Province of Canada under John A. Macdonald called for 10,000 men of the volunteer forces to be mobilized in defence of the Province in 24 hours for three weeks duty, and go wherever required. The call-up included Ottawa’s Civil Service Rifle Corps which went on parade the following afternoon.

The Civil Service Rifles had been formed in Quebec City in 1861 following the Trent affair. When the seat of government moved to Ottawa in 1865, the Corps moved as well. Two days after Macdonald’s call to arms, the Rifles were guarding Gilmour’s Armoury on Hugh Street. According to a history of the Rifle Corps, on that first night of guard duty no rations had been provided for the sergeant, the two corporals and the twelve men on duty. So, somebody ordered in a lavish meal consisting of beef sirloin and plum pudding from the posh, members-only Rideau Club. The meal was described “as find a spread as any gourmand could possibly desire.” Unfortunately, the men had a hard time enjoying it. Twice, they were called out in the middle of their meal leaving Rideau Club waiters to keep things warm. Finally, the men sat down to eat fully dressed and armed.

Other area volunteer units were also mobilized. These included the Bell’s Corner Company, the Argenteuil Rangers, 1st Company, the Ottawa Rifles, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies, and the Buckingham Infantry Company. These companies, along with the Civil Service Rifles, were assembled into the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wily at the end of March. Later in 1866, the 43rd Carleton Battalion of Infantry was formed uniting units from Bell’s Corners, Huntley, Metcalfe, North Gower, Munster, Richmond, Manotick, Vernon and Duncanville.

On orders from the Department of the Militia, volunteers across the Province extended their guard duty to bank branches, railway stations, telegraph offices, and post offices. Here in Ottawa, there were little trouble beyond a couple of minor incidents. On one occasion, an old drunkard was taken into custody when he threatened to burn down the armoury. A second, more serious incident occurred at the railway station when Private Maingy was assaulted by Patrick Mahoney. Maingy subdued Mahoney who was conveyed to the guard house. When he subsequently appeared before a magistrate, Colonel Wily of the Ottawa Provisional Battalion intervened and asked that mercy be shown. The judge complied, fining Mahoney $10 plus costs for common assault. The judge told Mahoney him he had been lucky as Maingy could have shot him.

Fenians volunteers

Militia Volunteers from Metcafe, Ontario, 1866, Frank Iveson fonds, Library and Archives Canada, PA-103906.  Frank Iveson is seated centre front.

With the Fenian scare seemingly passed without incident, the Provisional Battalion stood down in early April but not before the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Civil Service Rifle Corps held a grand ball at the British Hotel on Sussex Street. With the hall decorated with flags and the crest of the Rifles with a triple row of swords radiating from it, unformed men and their ladies danced the night away. Both the Premier, John A. Macdonald, and the Minister of the Militia, George-Étienne Cartier, attended.

Scarcely had the Ottawa Provisional Battalion stood down, the Fenian scare took on more serious proportions. In mid-April, Fenians, who had been assembling in Maine for some weeks, tried to attack Campobello Island, part of the New Brunswick. The attack was a dismal failure. The Fenians were easily dispersed by the Royal Navy that had sent ships to the area from Halifax. While some buildings were destroyed, there was no loss of life.

By late May, the focus of attention shifted back to Canada with reports of Fenians assembling in great numbers along the Canadian border, including at Ogdensburg, New York. Reportedly, the citizens of Prescott could hear the bugles of Fenian soldiers on the other side of the St. Lawrence. In Buffalo, New York, an alarmed British consul sent a telegram asking the Great West Railway to stop all traffic between Hamilton and the frontier with rumours of a pending attack on the Welland Canal. The next day, the shocking news was received in Ottawa that the Fenians had crossed the border and had seized the town of Fort Erie.

Immediately, the volunteer militias were called out, including the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under Colonel Wily. At 2am on the morning of 6 June, the Civil Service Rifles along with the Bell’s Corners Infantry Company, the No. 2 Garrison Artillery, the Buckingham Company, and the Hawksbury Company boarded a train of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company ready to go to defend Prescott. Fortunately, the frontier remained quiet and the men were finally dismissed without leaving Ottawa. However, they were called on to patrol the streets of Ottawa and to guard the opening of the first session of the Provincial Parliament in Ottawa by Lord Monck. At this first session, two bills were given speedy passage and Royal Assent in response to the Fenian crisis: one to suspend the habeus corpus Act for one year, and another to provide for trial of state offenders by Courts Martial.

The invading Fenian army of roughly 1,000 experienced and well-armed ex-U.S.-Army soldiers under command of General John O’Neil gained a temporary measure of success at the Battle of Ridgeway near Niagara taking 36 prisoners when Canadian troops withdrew.  Nine Canadian soldiers died on the field along with six Fenians. The Fenians won another victory in a skirmish called the Battle of Fort Erie. However, the victory proved to be fleeting. The Fenian troops fled back to the United States on hearing of the approach of some 5,000 British regulars and Canadian volunteers, and surrendered to the U.S. Navy.

A few days later, a force of about 1,000 Fenians under the command of General Samuel Spear crossed the border into the Eastern Township of Canada East, and occupied the border communities of Pigeon Hill, St Armand, Frelighsburg, and Stanbridge. However, they quickly surrendered on the approach of Canadian and British troops when they ran low on ammunition. Timothy O’Hara, a private in the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism for putting out a fire on a railway train loaded with ammunition. O’Hara was Irish.

In total, the Canadian Militia counted 32 dead and 103 wounded in the 1866 Fenian campaigns in the Province of Canada. Another British soldier died of heat stroke.

This was not the end of the Fenians. In 1868, D’Arcy McGee, the great Irish-Canadian leader and patriot, who had ridiculed the Fenians, was assassinated on Sparks Street in Ottawa. A Fenian, Patrick Whelan, was arrested and later hanged for the crime. In 1870, two small Fenian “armies” crossed the border into the Eastern Townships of Quebec near Missisquoi. At Eccles Hill, one group, again led by General O’Neil, was defeated by local Canadian volunteers. The Fenians lost five men and 18 wounded. There were no casualties on the Canadian side. The second band of Fenians was defeated at Trout River, Quebec and sent packing back across the border. Again, there were no Canadian casualties. In 1871, a small Fenian band of 35-40 men, once again led by General O’Neil, took over a trading post at Pembina on the fuzzy border between Manitoba and North Dakota. Canadian troops in Winnipeg and St. Boniface were mustered but the Fenians were quickly subdued by the U.S. Army.

The Fenians failed in achieving their goal of capturing Canada and liberating Ireland. But they succeeded in swinging public opinion in the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in favour of Confederation. In unity, British North America would find strength.

 

Sources:

Chambers, Captain Ernest J. 1903. A Regimental History of the Forty-Third Regiment, Ottawa: E.J. Ruddy, https://electriccanadian.com/forces/cornwallsrifles00chamuoft.pdf.

Macdonald, John A. 1910. Troublous Times in Canada : A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Troublous_Times_in_Canada:_A_History_of_the_Fenian_Raids_of_1866_and_1870.

Memorials of the late Civil Service Rifle Corps, 1867, https://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055320543d.pdf.

Ottawa Daily Citizen,1866.  “untitled,” 8 March.

————————–, 1866. “Militia General Orders,” 24 September.

————————–, 1866. “Civil Service Rifles,” 5 October.

————————-, 1923. “The Civil Service Company and Civil Service Regiment,” 26 August.

Rees, Jim, 200? Surplus People, The Fitzwilliam Estate Clearances – Coolattin (Co. Wicklow) 1847-1856, http://www.countywicklowheritage.org/page_id__45.aspx.

Standing Orders of the Civil Service Rifle Regiment, October 1866, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=aeu.ark:/13960/t81k00k94;view=1up;seq=8.

Stanton, James B, 1972. “The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870,” Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 2, Manitoba Historical Society, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/17/fenianraids.shtml.

Villanova Digital Library, 2014, The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York: John Bradburn, Publisher, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:120884#?c=&m=&s=&cv=2&xywh=-2086%2C-1%2C6043%2C2868.

The Chaudière Bridges

28 September 1826

Bridges are amazing structures. Spanning rivers, gorges, bays and even open ocean, they are testaments to the ingenuity of the engineers who designed them and the courage and ability of the workers who constructed them. Who hasn’t crossed a bridge and wondered what’s holding it up and experienced a frisson of excitement or even terror? The longest bridge in the world over water connects Hong Kong to Macau and the city of Zhuhai on the Chinese mainland, a distance of 55 kilometres, of which a 6.7-kilometre stretch midway is an under-water tunnel between two artificial islands to allow ocean-going ships to travel up the Pearl River estuary. It opened in 2018. Canada’s Confederation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick, is 12.9 kilometres long. At the other extreme is Bermuda’s Somerset Bridge that connects Somerset Island with the “mainland.” Dating back to 1620, it is reputedly the smallest drawbridge in the world. Operated by hand, it is just wide enough to allow a mast of a sailboat travelling between the Great Sound and Ely’s Harbour to pass through the gap.

In Canada’s capital, six bridges span the mighty Ottawa River: the Alexandra (or Interprovincial) Bridge; the Champlain Bridge; the Chaudière Bridge; the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge; the Portage Bridge; and the Prince of Wales Bridge (now closed). While the current Chaudière Bridge dates from 1919, it is the site of the first and for a long time the only bridge across the Ottawa River.

The need for a bridge crossing the Ottawa River became apparent after work commenced on the Rideau Canal in the summer of 1826 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. With only wilderness on the Upper Canada side, workers and supplies had to be ferried across the river from Wright’s Town (later known as Hull) in Lower Canada, the only settlement of any consequence in the region, where labourers were billeted and shops and stores could be had. (American Philemon Wright had founded Wright’s Town in 1804.) As this was unsatisfactory to all, Colonel By and his engineering colleagues decided to build a bridge as quickly as possible, their haste probably encouraged by the approach of winter.

Plan and elevation of Union Bridge by Burrows in Joseph Buchette, 1831, p.82 (2)

Plan and Elevation of the Union Bridge in Joseph Bouchette, The British Dominions in North America, London, 1832

Their plan was to build a series of bridges to link Lower Canada on the northern shore of the Ottawa River to Upper Canada on the southern shore at the Chaudière Falls where the river temporarily narrows, using the islands mid-river as stepping stones. All were to be made of stone and masonry except for the widest section which was to be made of wood given the width of the gap, the depth of the water and the speed of the current. Col. By later modified this plan. Five of the seven bridges were made of wood—(from south to north over the river,) a 117-foot truss bridge, a small bridge over a deep chasm, a 160-foot bridge, a 212-foot truss bridge, a 180-foot bridge, and two limestone bridges.

After a quick survey—these were the days long before environmental assessments—construction began. On 28 September 1826, General George Ramsay, 9th Earl Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, placed several George IV silver coins under a foundation stone on the Lower Canadian shore. Colonel Durnford of the Royal Engineers, Colonel John By, and a number of prominent area landowners, including Nicholas Sparks, Thomas McKay and Philemon Wright, attended the ceremony.

Three weeks into the construction, the first masonry arch on the Lower Canada side collapsed when the temporary supporting falsework was removed. Colonel By ordered work to recommence immediately with new plans drawn up by Thomas Burrowes, the assistant overseer of works. The new, hammered stone arch was completed by early January 1827 despite atrocious working conditions. Spray from the nearby falls froze thickly onto the workers’ clothes despite rough wooden screens being installed to shelter them. The second arch was finished by the summer of 1827.

The biggest challenge was bridging the Chaudière itself, also known in English as the Giant Kettle. To link its two sides, Captain Asterbrooks of the Royal Artillery fired a brass cannon loaded with a ½-inch rope to workmen on Chaudière Island. Twice he failed, the rope breaking. But he succeeded with a 1-inch rope. Once workers had a hold of it, they were able to haul over larger cables. Two ten-foot wooden trestles were constructed on either side with ropes stretched over their top and fastened to the rocks. The workers fashioned a precarious footbridge with a rope handrail. It swayed in the wind and sagged to within seven feet of the raging torrent beneath it. It must have been terrifying to cross. In his 1832 book The British Dominions in North America, Joseph Bouchette wrote: “We cannot forebear associating with our recollections of this picturesque bridge the heroism of a distinguished peeress [Countess Dalhousie], who we believe, was the first woman to venture across it.”  The bridge’s ropes were then replaced with stronger chains.  But as workmen were planking the floor of the bridge, the last step in its construction, disaster struck. First one then the other chain broke, throwing men and their equipment into the raging torrent. While accounts vary, as many as three men drowned.

Truss Bridge LAC Acc. No. 1936-60-1 by John Burows 1828 C.

Truss Bridge over the Chaudière Falls, Ottawa River, watercolour by John Burrows, 1828, Library and Archives Canada, No. 1936-60-1.

Undeterred by the tragedy, Colonel By immediately got back to work. This time, workmen constructed stronger trestles and bridged the gap with two 8-inch link chain cables. Two large scows, a type of flat-bottomed boat, were built and moored securely in the location of the bridge. Jack screws placed on the scows supported the bridge during its construction. Unbelievably, just prior to the bridge’s completion, a strong gale flipped it over. Workmen were obliged to cut the bridge free which sent it sailing down the Ottawa river, coming to land close to the entrance of the Rideau Canal. Reportedly, the Chief workman, Mr. Drummond, shed tears in frustration.

Again, Colonel By persevered; his next bridge held. Supported by chains made of 1 3/4-inch thick iron and 10-inch links, the wooden bridge was 212 feet long, 30 feet wide and roughly 40 feet above the water, high enough to escape damage during the spring freshet.  It was completed in the summer of 1828, two years after construction had commenced. Upper and Lower Canada were finally united. Fittingly, Col. By called it the Union Bridge.

Lieutenant Pooley, who worked for Col. By, supervised the construction of a final bridge needed to connect Bytown with the new Union Bridge.  This bridge spanned a “gully” in what became LeBreton Flats. So impressed was Col. By with Pooley’s round-log bridge that he dubbed it “Pooley’s Bridge.” This name stuck. Lieutenant Pooley’s wooden bridge was replaced by a stone bridge in 1873. It was designated a heritage structure in 1982.

As the Union Bridge was funded by the Imperial Government, Colonel By instituted a toll to help pay for it. The cost was one penny per person, one penny for every horse, ox, cow, sheep and pig, and two pennies for every wagon and sleigh. This was a pretty steep tariff for the times.

Sadly, the Union Bridge did not last. In May 1836, it collapsed into the river and was swept away. Fortunately, there was nobody on it at the time. Again, the only way across the Ottawa River was by ferry.

This all changed in 1843 when the Union Suspension Bridge, constructed by Mr. Wilkinson, an American, opened for traffic. The bridge had a span of 242 feet. Its iron wire suspension cables, which were imported from Britain to Montreal and ferried to Bytown in barges, supported an oaken plank deck. It was the first of its kind in Canada, and was considered an engineering marvel of the age. The Packet opined that the bridge was “a beautiful piece of work” and that it “reflects great credit to the builder, Mr. Wilkinson.” A big celebration was held at Doran’s Hotel on Wellington Street to mark its opening. Engraved invitations were sent out to guests to attend the “Union Suspension Bridge Ball,” complete with a picture of the completed bridge.

Union Supsenson bridge, watercolour by F.P. Rubidge, LAC ARch. Ref. R182-2

Union Suspension Bridge, Watercolour by F. P. Rubidge, Library and Archives Canada, Arch. Ref. R182-2.

Like its predecessor, the Union Suspension Bridge charged tolls. It was a profitable business. In the June to September period of 1851, Duncan Graham, appointed the (tax) Collector for Bytown in the Finance Department by Earl Cathcart, collected £303. 6s. 7d. (equivalent to more than $1,650) in tolls. This was almost enough to cover his annual salary of $1,500 and the monthly stipend £6. 5s. of Mr Mossop, the bridge keeper, who lived in the toll house rent free. Later, the government put the toll business out to tender. At the 1869 tender, the government set a reserve price of $2,000. This compares with annual tolls collected in the 1865-1868 period ranging from $2,500 to $3,350. The winner of the auction was required to maintain the toll house, and keep the bridge clean of rubbish. In winter, they were also responsible for snow clearance, but were required to leave six inches to facilitate sleigh traffic.

Bridge maintenance was not up to everybody’s standards. People complained that the bridge was dangerous especially at night as its railings were low and weak. “Persons run a very great risk on a dark night of driving into the ‘Devil’s Punch-bowl’” said the Ottawa Citizen. As well, the approaches to the bridge on either side of the river were nearly impassable during rainy weather owing to “the enormous quantity of mud and water collected.” In an agreement with the City, the Dominion government abolished tolls on the Union Suspension Bridge in 1885.

Union Suspension Bridge, Topley Studio LAC, PA-012705 c.1867-70

The muddy and rutted entrance to the Union Suspension Bridge, looking towards Ottawa, Topley Studio, c. 1867-70, Library and Archives Canada, PA-012705.

In 1889, the Dominion government appropriated $35,000 for a new iron truss bridge to replace the deteriorating Union Suspension Bridge. Messrs. Rousseau & Mather were the contractors. Work commenced at the beginning of August and was completed by the beginning of December of that year. Many were concerned that the 30-foot width of the new roadway was too narrow given the growing amount of traffic between Ottawa and Hull. Appeals to the government to widen the bridge or at least put the two 5-foot sidewalks on the outside of the trestles in order to increase the width of the roadway by 10 feet fell on deaf ears.

Twelve years later in 1900, the Great Fire, which destroyed much of Hull and LeBreton Flats, severely damaged the bridge. A vital thoroughfare, the government moved quickly to repair it.

In 1919, the Government condemned the Chaudière bridge as being unsafe. According to the Citizen, just walking over the old bridge was enough to give one “thrills” owing to its “see-saw motion when cars pass over it.” Dominion policemen ensured that too many vehicles didn’t try to cross the bridge at the same time. The replacement bridge was built by the Dominion Bridge Company at a cost of $110,000. It was assembled on the Quebec side and was moved into place using scows. This time, government listened to its critics, and placed the sidewalks on the outside of the piers. Before the new Chaudière bridge was put into position, the old bridge was lifted by four 50-ton hydraulic jacks, placed on rollers, and moved 50 feet downriver to a temporary location so that traffic across the river would not be unduly impeded by the construction.

In 2008, the Chaudière bridge was temporarily closed when an inspection revealed that its stone arches, some of which date back to that first 1820’s bridge, were no longer safe. Following repairs, the government reopened the bridge the following year. It continues to serve thousands of commuters every day.   

Sources:

Bouchette, Joseph, 1832. The British Dominions in North America, Vol. 1, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman.

Bytown Gazette, 1846. “No title,” 14 September.

Canada, Province of, 1867. Report of the Minister of Agriculture for 1866, Ottawa: Hunter, Rose & Company.

Mika, Nick & Helma, 1982. Bytown, The early day of Ottawa, Belleville: Mika Publishing Company.

Ottawa Citizen, 1868. “Editorial,” 19 June.

——————, 1869. “Tolls on Union Suspension Bridge,” 26 July.

——————, 1908. “Civil Servants’ Income Tax,” 17 February.

——————, 1919. “Chaudiere Bridge Gives One Thrills,” 18 August.

——————, 1919. “Are Moving The Old Chaudiere Bridge,” 21 August.

——————, 1929. “Ottawa’s First Bridge And Other Narrations,” 12 October.

——————, 1933. “Chaudiere Toll Bridge 1851, Document Tells of Revenue,” 5 August.

——————, 1981. “By-Gone Days,” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1889,” Supplementary Estimates,” 24 April.

——————, 1889. “The Chaudiere Bridge,” 19 September.

Packet (The), 1847. “The Ottawa-Slides-Steamers-Railroads-Necessary Improvements, etc.” 12 June.

The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company

27 August 1910

For current residents of Ottawa, it’s hard to imagine that their green, smog-free city, populated by white-collar bureaucrats, high-tech. engineers and software designers was once a smoky, blue-collar, manufacturing centre. Back in 1910, 168 manufacturing firms operated in Ottawa/Hull, employing roughly 14,000 workers. This compared with 3,596 Federal public servants. In other words, manufacturing workers outnumbered Federal government workers by a ratio of almost three to one. In contrast, in 2012, Federal government employment in Ottawa accounted for 21 per cent of total jobs, with the manufacturing sector accounting for a mere 4 per cent.

Ottawa’s attraction as a manufacturing centre during the early twentieth century was principally due to the availability of cheap hydro-electricity generated by the power stations at the Chaudière Falls. There were, of course, other factors that helped, including a comparatively low cost of living, efficient rail and water transportation routes, and the city’s proximity to Eastern markets. One firm that was attracted to Ottawa by these factors was the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company.

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The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company of Ottawa’s 5-passenger Touring Car, billed as the “The Acme of Perfection,” The Ottawa Citizen, 15 February 1912.

In 1909, a group of five, well-connected businessmen came up with the idea of manufacturing automobiles in the nation’s capital. While the above list of city attractions must have factors in their decision, it probably helped that Ottawa was the home of metal workers, mechanics and other artificers. Indeed, the Ottawa Car Company owned by Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper already produced streetcars and railway carriages in the city. The five businessmen felt that there was no reason why motor cars could not be made at a reasonable cost in Ottawa and help satisfy the burgeoning demand for automobiles throughout North America. To give a sense of scale of this rapidly expanding industry, the Ford Motor Company alone increased its U.S. automobile production from10,202 units in 1908, to 69,762 units in 1911 and to more than 500,000 vehicles in 1915. Initially, the Diamond Arrow factory was more of an assembly plant, using parts, including engines, made by others. However, the company had ambitious plans of manufacturing its automobiles in-house.

The president of the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company of Ottawa was Thomas Cameron Bate, the son of Henry Newell Bate who had come to Ottawa in 1854 when the community was still called Bytown. Henry Newell Bate was the principal owner of the eponymous H.N. Bate & Company, an important wholesale grocery, which he had started with his older brother Charles in the mid-1850s. (The company was initially called C.T. Bate & Company after the brother.) Henry Bate was to become Sir Henry Bate in 1910, honouring his efforts as chairman of the Ottawa Improvement Commission.

While Thomas Bate was employed by the family firm, he began the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company with Edward McMahon in 1909. McMahon was the secretary of the new start-up firm. The other principal members of the company were its Managing Director, T. Fleming, the firm’s Mechanical Superintendent, L.L. Finney, and its sales agent, Nelson Ker.

The car company’s base of operations was a factory at the corner of Lyon and Wellington Streets, now the location of the offices of Veterans Affairs Canada, just a five-minute walk from Parliament Hill. The company’s sales office was at 26 Sparks Street. Through 1909 and 1910, from 10 to 20 mechanics were employed at the factory with the first car turned out of the shop for road testing on Saturday, 27 August 1910. The automobile was complete except for its woodwork, and was test-driven over a couple of miles of city roads. Five other vehicles were almost assembled. The company’s management hoped that they would have between 75 and 100 vehicles ready for delivery by the time of the 1911 season. The chassis of the Diamond Arrow car went on display the following month at the 1910 Central Canada Exhibition in the Process Building at Lansdowne Park.

The fledgling firm produced two models—a 5-passenger Touring Car and a two-seater Roadster. The Touring Car was a 4-cylinder, 38-horse power vehicle with a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. It had a Bosch dual system magneto and battery ignition. The body, which was on a 116-inch wheel base, was constructed by L. Duhamel Ltd of Ottawa, a local carriage maker. The upholstery was made from the finest, hand buffed, French leather. The car boasted 34-inch, white hickory, artillery-style wheels with Goodrich tires and a 14-gallon gas tank. It was also equipped with 8-inch Rushmore headlights, oil side and tail lamps, a horn, tools, and a tire repair kit.

The two-seat Roadster had a 4-cylinder engine, 45-horsepower vehicle with a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. Its 114-inches wheel base was marginally shorter than that of the Touring Car. Its body was also made by L. Duhamel, and ran on 34-inch, artillery-style wheels with Goodrich tires.

Both were clearly luxury vehicles, bearing a price tag of about $3,000, a huge sum of money in those days when a Ford sold for $775. Much was made of the fact that its engine was the same as the one used for several years by the Pierce-Arrow automobile made in Buffalo, New York. (Pierce-Arrow began using a six-cylinder engine in 1910.) Indeed, the name of the car, “Diamond Arrow,” may well have been an attempt to associate the Ottawa car with the very famous and successful Pierce-Arrow brand. The Diamond Arrow Roadster also looked very much like the 1909 Pierce-Arrow Roadster.

While a few Diamond Arrow automobiles may have been sold during the first half of 1911, the finished vehicle returned to the Central Canada Exhibition in September 1911, displayed in the Carriage and Automobile section under the grandstand at the Exhibition Grounds. The Ottawa Evening Journal enthused that it was “the ultimate achievement in motor car construction, a degree of perfection which leaves nothing to be added or desired in the way of improvement.” The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company won an award for its entry in the Exhibition.

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The Diamond Arrow Radiator Emblem, American Auto Emblems by Mike Shears

Despite the praise, something went wrong, though what is not clear. In February 1912, there was a huge automobile show held at Lansdowne Park in Howick Hall, also known as the Coliseum. Almost forty motor cars of all major marques were on display. But one vehicle was conspicuous by its absence; there was no sign of Ottawa’s own Diamond Arrow. The Ottawa Citizen called this a “great misfortune” since the car was “an excellent piece of machinery and a special interest to Ottawans.” People were instead advised to go to the company’s showroom on Sparks Street to view the car. The unconvincing explanation given for its absence from the Motor Show was a lack of space. But how could there be no room in an Ottawa Motor Show for an Ottawa automobile produced by such well-connected Ottawa entrepreneurs?

At the same time as the Motor Show, the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company paid for a huge advertisement in the Ottawa Citizen for its two models—described as the “acme of perfection”—complete with their specifications. After that, the company seemingly vanishes. There are no further references to the vehicle or the company in Ottawa newspapers. Apparently, the company was dissolved later that year. The reason is unknown. Perhaps the owners overestimated the local market for such an expensive car. Most small automobile start-ups succumbed during those early, heady years of the motor car industry, unable to compete owing to a lack of economies of scale, insufficient financing and other factors. How many cars the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company produced during its short life is also unclear. What is known is that its two principal owners, President Thomas Cameron Bate and Secretary Edward McMahon, went in a different direction in 1912 with the formation of a new company called Bate, McMahon & Company, General Contractors. The new company was very successful in the construction business, building for the Canadian military Camp Valcartier in Quebec in 1914 and Camp Borden in Ontario in 1916. In 1917, the company was contracted to help rebuild Halifax after the great explosion. In Ottawa, the firm also built the Hunter Building on Albert Street in 1918 and the 1,000-seat Capitol Theatre on Queen Street in 1920. Both buildings have since been demolished.

Sources:

City of Ottawa 2019. Employment by Top Sectors, 2012, https://ottawa.ca/en/business/business-resources/economic-development-initiatives/economic-development-update/special-editions.

Coristine Cynthia & Ian Browness, 2014. The Bate Brothers of Ottawa, Booklet 3. Sir Henry Newell Bate & Family, A Civic Legacy, Bytown Pamphlet No. 93, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen, 1911. “Bright Future For Publicity,” 24 January.

——————, 1912. “The Diamond Arrow Car,” 15 February.

——————, 1912. “Before Buying an Auto See The Diamond Arrow,” 15 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1910. “First Made In This City,” 29 September.

—————————–, 1911. “Diamond Arrow Motor Cars,” 14 September.

—————————–, 1910. “New Ottawa Industry,” 15 September.

Shears, Mike, 2016. American Auto Emblems, 24 December, http://www.americanautoemblems.com/2016/12/diamond-arrow.html.

Wikipedia, 2018. U.S. Auto Production Figures.

 

 

 

The Last Presentation of Debutantes

24 January 1958

Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, red letter days on the British social calendar marked royal levées and “drawing rooms” when aristocratic men and women met and socialized with the monarch. Levées, from the French word lever meaning to rise, had their roots in the old tradition of men attending the sovereign when he got up in the morning. To be present when the king used the chaise percée a.k.a. toilet was a great privilege for the up and coming courtier whose future could be made should the royal visage look favourably upon him. Intimacy meant power. Conversely, a courtier’s future could be dashed if he made some unpardonable faux pas, such as pointing and laughing. Like their masculine counterpart, “drawing rooms” were occasions for women to mingle with the sovereign, and became an opportunity for a young girl, or debutante, typically in her late teens, to be lancée, (literally thrown) into high society by being presented to the sovereign. Over time, the distinction between a levée and a drawing room faded.

These highly stylized rituals reached their zenith during the ancien régime in France prior to the Revolution in 1789, though Napoleon was no slouch in the etiquette department either. Courtiers attended every function of French royal life, bodily or otherwise. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth the First apparently mingled with commoners in the gallery at Greenwich Palace during the sixteenth century, with the practice become more regular and formalized by the reign of Queen Anne in the early eighteenth century. But it was during Queen Victoria’s reign that the tradition of presentation parties for young debutantes reached its peak. As anybody knows from watching Downton Abbey, coming out to Society, which had a very different meaning in those days, was a once in a lifetime event for a young aristocratic girl. It marked her emergence into adulthood—a sort of secular, Anglo bat mitzvah. It also marked the start of the social season, which included such events as the Royal Ascot, the Henley rowing competition and the yacht races at Cowes, as well as a constant swirl of parties and receptions. The aim of all these activities was the acquisition of a suitable husband, preferably one with a title.

In republican United States, the lack of a king or queen was only a minor hindrance. Debutante balls and cotillions were regularly held to launch young women into the upper ranks of American society. For those seeking a royal imprimatur, American heiresses with the right connections and heaps of money could be presented at the Court of St. James’s in London. Once presented, they could troll for a suitable British husband who had the right forebears but was short of cash to maintain the family pile.

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Notice of a Drawing Room, 23 February, 1888, The Ottawa Journal

Here in Canada, we were fortunate that there was a vice-regal “court” that followed the same traditions as in London. Governors General held levées and drawing rooms just as Queen Victoria did. Indeed, Lord Elgin held a levée in Bytown in 1853 when he visited the town to check it out as a possible capital for the new Province of Canada. By the time of Confederation, the presentation of debutantes to the Governor General was in full swing with “drawing rooms” held in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill.

At one such drawing room held in February 1870, guests were given specific instructions. Sleighs were to enter Parliament Square from the eastern Elgin Street gate, proceed past the East Block and set down guests in front of the Senate entrance which was lit by red lights. Sleighmen were then to exit via the central gates. Parliamentarians with wives and daughters were to enter via the House of Commons door which was lit by green lights. All guests were requested to provide two cards with the name of the person legibly printed, one for the aide de camp at the door and the other for the presentation aide. Presentations would end precisely at 10 pm. In little Ottawa, this was the social highlight of the winter season and received considerable newspaper coverage. More than one thousand people might attend these events. The names of participants were listed in the newspapers complete with descriptions of what the ladies wore and their jewellery.

A whole industry developed to dress ladies attending the drawing rooms, and to provide deportment lessons to the aspiring debutante who was, understandably, stressed about literally putting the wrong foot forward. Girls would practise in the privacy of their bedrooms curtseying before chairs. (For those who need to know, the proper style is to put the right foot in front, left behind, make a deep knee-bend, hold out the right hand, and go down very slowly while maintaining eye contact. Then rise and retire without turning your back on the important personage.)

While many wanted the social cachet of being presented to the Queen or Governor General, some saw the whole rigmarole as excessive or a waste of time. As early as 1863, the satirical magazine Punch called the Queen’s Drawing Room “The House of Detention for Ladies.” In 1896, an American debutante said in the press that “it was vulgar to come out. Boys never come out.  What is the reason of it all, I should like to know? Isn’t it really to announce to the world that we are a marriageable age and that we are on the market? It is perfectly intolerable. I think we are like victims decked out for sacrifice.” Instead of spending thousands on dresses and dinner parties, she asked her father to give her the money to start a business.

By the time of the more egalitarian 1950s, the idea of being presented at Court seemed out-of-date. In November 1957, Buckingham Palace announced that presentations of debutantes would cease the following year and would be replaced by garden parties. This would allow the Queen and the Prince of Edinburgh to meet a wider range of people in a less formal setting. The announcement was widely applauded. “The selection of the privileged few [had] become increasingly difficult and even invidious” said one newspaper. The news led to so many girls applying to be presented that additional presentations had to be laid on in 1958 to accommodate everybody. The last presentation of debutantes in London occurred in July 1958 with the Queen Mother officiating as Queen Elizabeth was ill. The last debutante presented was a Canadian, twenty-year old Sandra Seagram.

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Full page advertisement for Le Bal des Petits Souliers, 17 January 1958, The Ottawa Journal

The Buckingham Palace announcement led Vincent Massey, Canada’s Governor General, to also end the custom of debutante presentations in Ottawa which by this time had long left the formal environs of Parliament Hill, and replaced by a charity event held at a major hotel. The last official presentation of Ottawa debutantes occurred on 24 January 1958. Five young girls were presented to Governor General Massey in the context of gala charity dinner and ball hosted by La Ligue de la Jeunesse Feminine (the League of Feminine Youth). The event, held at the Château Laurier Hotel, was called Le Bal des Petits Souliers (the Ball of the Little Shoes) with funds raised going to buy shoes for underprivileged children living in Ottawa, Eastview, Hull, Pointe Gatineau and Aylmer. Called the Fiesta Espanola, the Château was Spanish territory for the evening. Tickets were $15 per couple.

Guests at the Fiesta entered through a wrought-iron portico where they were met by life-sized mannikins of toreadors and ladies wearing mantillas. The ballroom was decorated in red and yellow—the national colours of Spain with wide streamers radiating from the central chandelier which was lit by tiny red lights. The head table was decorated with black lace fans and red carnations. Other tables boasted centrepieces made of straw baskets filled with lemons and red carnations. In the corridor outside of the ballroom, guests could go shopping for Spanish handicrafts, refresh themselves at a Spanish-style café equipped with small tables and umbrellas, or try their luck in the games’ alley. Usherettes were dressed as Spanish dolls in colourful costumes.

The evening started with a reception where the Governor General was welcomed by the president of the League and members of the organizing committee. Later, seated at the head table with the Governor General Massey and senior members of the League, were the Spanish Ambassador and his wife, Mr and Mrs Eduardo Propper de Callijon, and Mr and Mrs Lionel Massey. Lionel Massey was the Governor General’s nephew and Secretary. Lionel Massey’s wife Lilas was acting chatêlene of Rideau Hall as the Governor General was a widower. The five lucky debutantes were: Miss Isabel Larrabure, the daughter of the Peruvian Ambassador, Miss Louise Brisson, Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Pierrette Vachon, and Miss Catharine Woollam. Each girl was given a fan of white Spanish lace with red carnations and streamers courtesy of the League.

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The Debutantes,(left to right) Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Catherine Woollam, Miss Pierrette Vachon, Miss Isabel Larrabure, and Miss Louise Brisson, The Ottawa Citizen 25 January 1958.

Spanish-themed entertainment was put on during the evening with Don Quixote, alias comedian Roger Aucouturier, making an appearance with his pantomime horse Rocinante to poke fun at Ottawa. Lively Spanish dances were also performed by a troupe of dance students while a group of “non-so-little boys in berets and short pants” staged a comedic chorus. Dance music was supplied by Fred Quirouet and his orchestra. A strolling guitarist played Spanish tunes throughout the evening. At the end of the night, Mr and Mrs J.A. Roy of 351 Nelson Street won two airline tickets to Madrid in a charity draw.

While the 1958 edition of Le Bal des Petits Souliers was the last presentation of debutantes to the Governor General made in Ottawa, the tradition staggered on in other cities for a few more years. In Montreal, Governor General Massey greeted 28 debutantes at the annual St Andrew’s Day Charity Ball held in early 1959. The Artillery Ball in Toronto, where the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario greeted debutantes, was continued for another year. The last official provincial presentation of debutantes in Canada occurred at Nova Scotia’s St Andrew’s Day Ball held in 1965.

Notwithstanding the withdrawal of regal support, the tradition of debutante balls continues to this day, especially in the United States, but also in Canada. The most prominent ball is New York’s biennial International Debutante Ball that began in 1954.  This is an invitation-only event for the daughters of wealthy, well-connected New York society families. The daughters of U.S. presidents have been invited as have carefully chosen debutantes from Canada and other countries. Candidate debutantes are selected by previous debutantes and must be accepted by a committee. They also have to be able to afford the presentation fee of US$22,000. While the Ball has traditionally been held in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, the event moved to The Pierre while the Waldorf-Astoria undergoes a major renovation.

Since 1994, Ottawa has had its own fairy-tale ball where teenage girls and boys can pretend to be princesses and princes for the evening. Sponsored in part by the Austrian Embassy, the Viennese Winter Ball is held annually in March. In addition to fostering a love of Austrian culture and ball-room dancing, the Viennese Winter Ball raises funds for charity. Single tickets will set you back $400. $5,000 will purchase an eight-guest corporate table. Discount student and young adult tickets are available for as low as $150. Teenagers aged 16 to 18 years of age eager to participate must apply and write two short essays, the first on why they want to participate in this year’s ball and the second on themselves—their community service, charity work, goals and interests. The Ball Selection Committee will then review and interview the applicants, and invite them to a dance practice. (Apparently, kids practise waltzes, fox-trots and polkas for weeks leading up to the big day.) Twelve debutantes and twelve “cavaliers” will be chosen. The dress code is a white, full-length formal gown for the girls, with white comfortable shoes. Complementary long-white satin gloves will be provided. Hair and make-up must be neat and polished. The boys must wear a black tuxedo with a white shirt, black bow-tie, cummerbund and formal, wrist-length, white gloves. Their hair must be trimmed. Unlike debutante balls one hundred years ago, the Viennese Winter Ball is open to all Ottawa youth. For those unable to afford it, financial assistance is available.

Sources:

Montreal Gazette. 1966. “Day of Debutante Ends In Halifax,” 7 March 1966.

Ottawa Citizen, 1863. “Drawing Room Days,” 17 July.

——————, 1870. “Levee & Drawing Room at Parliament House,” 25 February.

——————, 1896. “A Debutante Revolt,” 10 November.

——————, 1957. “Debutante Parties Out,” 19 November.

——————, 1957. “Reaction Is Favorable To Presentation Ban,” 19 November.

——————, 1958. “Debs Storm Palace For Last Party,” 6 January.

——————, 1958. “His Excellency Receives Debutantes At La Ligue’s Annual Charity Ball,” 25 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1887. “Queen’s Drawing Room,” 22 March.

——————-, 1958. “Debutante Ball,” 24 January.

——————, 1958. “Five Debutantes Make Bows to Society Presented to Governor General at Ball,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Two at Ball Win Trip to Spain,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Annual La Ligue Ball Aids Hundreds of Needy Children,” 25 February.

——————, 1958. “Debs set For Last Royal Fling,” 15 March.

——————, 1958. “Canadian Girl Last of Royal Debutantes,” 18 July.

Viennese Winter Ball, 2019. https://www.viennesewinterball.ca/.