The Dominion Observatory

29 April 1905

When next you have an opportunity to stroll through the Experimental Farm, take a look at the impressive red stone building with the verdigris copper, domed roof located off of Maple Drive close to Carling Avenue. It was once the Dominion Observatory, for a time the proud owner of the largest telescope in Canada. Its construction was due to the efforts of two men, Dr Frederick King, the first Dominion Astronomer, and Otto Klotz. The two initially worked together at the Cliff Street Observatory located on a small road overlooking the Ottawa River, roughly where the Supreme Court building stands today. This observatory was established by the government in the late 1880s to determine standard time, make “exact determinations of geographical locations” for explorers of the North West Territories, which at the time included Saskatchewan and Alberta, and to rate, test and adjust chronometers and other surveying instruments.

cliff st

The Cliff Street Observatory,  Canada Science and Technology Museum

The facilities on Cliff Street observatory were rudimentary. Its 6-inch aperture equatorial telescope was too small for serious scientific work. Moreover, the building was on such a narrow lot that there was insufficient space to build a heated room for people working there. Even more problematic was that the observatory only had a clear view of the sky to the north over the Ottawa River and to the south, though its southern view was often obscured by smoke from the many coal burning fireplaces in Ottawa. Its east and west view were obstructed by other structures, including a stable.

Plans for building a new, larger observatory date from late 1898 when King with Klotz’s help sent a memorandum to Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior, recommending the construction of a new government-owned observatory to replace the inadequate Cliff Street facility. In the memo, King argued that astronomical investigation in Canada had been long neglected. A new observatory would help to address this shortcoming. It would also be of considerable scientific value for many branches of science, and would stimulate the study of science throughout the Dominion. He also advocated for the advancement of “pure” science as opposed to just “practical” science on the grounds that unforeseen benefits can emerge from such research, and that the Government should not leave this “wholly in the hands of foreign investigators.” King also recommended that the observatory be built on a knoll of land on Parliament Hill between the Centre and West Blocks. Later, when the knoll became the location of the Victoria Monument, he recommended building the observatory where the Summer Pavilion stands behind the Parliament buildings. King estimated that a 10-inch telescope and the construction of a suitable building with a 22-foot diameter dome roof with rollers would cost $16,075.00.

According to J. H. Hodgson, the author of the definitive account of the history of the Dominion Observatory, Klotz, ostensibly King’s subordinate, disagreed vehemently with the proposed site of the new observatory. It seems that relations between King and Klotz, who once had been close friends, had deteriorated owing to professional jealousy and perceived slights. Klotz thought the proposed site was too small for a national observatory and considered Parliament Hill to be “hallowed and sacred ground,” that would be profaned by such a use. He also had a different vision than King’s for the work of the new observatory, envisaging it expanding into other related areas of scientific research. While he agreed with King that there was a pressing need for better facilities, Klotz disagreed with King’s recommendation of a 10-inch equatorial telescope, which had quickly grown into a proposed 12-inch instrument, on the grounds that neither he nor King had any experience on such a machine. Klotz believed that the funds could be better used on a geodetic survey of Canada. He thought King just wanted to be able to brag that he was the Dominion Astronomer in change of a prestigious, world-class telescope.

In the end, Klotz won the argument on the site for the new observatory. Before settling on its Experimental Farm location, other sites considered included the bluff at the end of Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) overlooking the Ottawa River, a lot south of Strathcona Park, a location close to Rockcliffe, and a city lot at the corner of Maria Street (Laurier Avenue) and Concession Street. Neapean Point was also a contender but was rejected owning to concerns that the vibrations of trains running nearby might disrupt the delicate astronomical equipment. While the Experimental Farm was distant from the city centre and civil servant offices, it had the benefit of lots of space, and unobstructed views far from Ottawa’s smog and lights. An extension of the Ottawa Electric Railway to the Farm would also solve the problem of ready access.

 

telescope

The 15-inch aperture telescope, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1 May 1905

While Klotz won the argument over the observatory’s siting, King ruled over its instrumentality. He apparently had little trouble persuading the government to purchase a still larger 15-inch aperture, equatorially-mounted, refracting telescope and other astronomical equipment from Professor John Brashear of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The local Pittsburgh newspaper headline read “No Limit As To Price.” The mountings for the 19 foot 6 inch long telescope, with a magnifying capacity of 1,500 times, were made by Warner and Swasey of Cleveland, Ohio. The instrument was completed by January 1903 at a cost of $14,625.59, well ahead of the completion of the observatory itself. The telescope was the same size as the one used at Harvard University, and second only in size to the huge 36-inch aperture Link telescope built in 1888 at Mount Hamilton, California.

The initial plans for the new two-storey high observatory with a revolving dome were drawn by government architects in 1901. David Ewart, the chief Dominion Architect, is credited for the observatory’s Baronial style architecture. Construction tenders closed in November 1901 with Theophile Viau winning the contract with a bid of $74,999. The contract was awarded in August 1902, and construction got underway shortly afterwards at the Experimental Farm. The final cost of the building was $93,800, far more than initially appropriated by the government for this project. It was ready for occupancy in April 1905. There were initially fourteen permanent staff members—all male. There were no female employees as no washroom facilities were provided for female personnel.

observatory

The Dominion Observatory, circa 1905, Canada Department of Mines & Resources, Library and Archives Canada,  PA-034064.

The state-of-the-art Dominion Observatory was unveiled to the men of the press gallery of the House of Commons on Saturday, 29 April 1905. That evening, journalists gathered in front of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill to be conveyed to the Experimental Farm. On arrival at the Observatory, they were met by the institution’s three leading astronomers, Dr King, Mr Klotz and Mr J.S. Plaskett, who explained to the men the workings of the astronomical instruments. With a clear sky, each journalist had an opportunity to view the constellations. Afterwards, Plaskett exhibited magic lantern views of Canadian scenery. (The magic lantern was an early slide projector.) Over coffee, Dr King spoke about the great value of the government’s contribution to the pursuit of astronomical knowledge. He hoped that the Dominion Observatory would be to Canada what the Greenwich Observatory was to England. Dr King indicated that one of the immediate practical benefits of the Observatory was the determination of the positions of various points throughout Canada used by surveys conducted by Dominion surveyors. The Observatory would also be used to calculate standard time for the country. Later, the Observatory conducted pure research into spectroscopic binary stars. (Spectroscopic binary stars are binary stars that are so close together that they cannot be viewed separately with a telescope. They are revealed by the Doppler effect on the light each star is emitting, shifting from red to blue as they move.) It also assumed responsibility for seismic, magnetic and gravimetric analyses. In 1914, a new building was built on an adjacent lot to house the Geodetic and Boundary Survey divisions. A full weather station was also maintained at the Observatory.

Within just a few years after the opening of the Dominion Observatory, its 15-inch aperture telescope was deemed to be too small. In 1913, the Ottawa Evening Journal opined that while the Dominion astronomers were doing sterling work on binary stars despite the small size of their telescope, a larger instrument was now necessary. The 15-inch aperture telescope was smaller than that of most national observatories, and was “altogether out of keeping with the standing of Canada.” It encouraged the construction at the Observatory of an instrument with an aperture of 60 inches, or better yet, one of 72 inches. The newspaper placed the cost at $70,000, with a special tower to house it costing an additional $40,000.

The newspaper’s argument found traction in government circles. Mr J.S. Plaskett of the Dominion Observatory designed a 72-inch aperture telescope. However, instead of Ottawa, the decision was made to locate it in Saanich, British Columbia, a site considered far superior to the Experimental Farm station. The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Observatory Hill was completed in 1918. It quickly became world renowned for its research into the Milky Way.

Observatory today

The Dominion Observatory, 2016, Google Maps

When Dr King died in 1916, Otto Klotz assumed his responsibilities as Dominion Astronomer despite his German roots and widespread anti-German sentiments at the height of the First World War. Klotz died in 1923. The Dominion Observatory in Ottawa continued operations until April 1970 when its astronomical and time-keeping work was assumed by the National Research Council of Canada. The Observatory’s 15-inch aperture telescope was given to Canada’s Science and Technology Museum. The old Observatory currently houses the Office of Energy Efficiency, part of Natural Resources Canada.

 

Sources:
Brooks, Randall & Klatts Calvin, 2005. The Dominion Observatory 100th Anniversary, http://www.casca.ca/ecass/issues/2005-me/features/brooks/e-Cassi_DomObsV4.htm.
Evening Journal, (The), 1901. “Sites For The New Buildings,” 31 May.
—————————-, 1903. “Ottawa’s New Observatory,” 28 February.
—————————-, 1905. “Private View of New Dominion Observatory,” 1 May.
—————————-, 1913. “The Dominion Observatory,” 27 February.
Hodgson, J.H., 1989. The Heavens Above and the Earth Beneath: A History of the Dominion Observatory, Energy Mines & Resources.
Pittsburgh Daily Post, 1900. “Big Telescope Goes To Canada,” 5 March.

 

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The End of the Crippler

18 April 1955

Thanks to vaccines we no longer live in fear of many infectious diseases that used to stalk the world killing millions each year, and maiming or crippling tens of millions more. By the early 1950s, Canadian children were routinely immunized against smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. But several diseases remained to be conquered. One of the most feared was poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis for its propensity to affect the young, or “the Crippler.”

Polio, 2-2-1950 OJ

Anti-Polio Advertisement, The Ottawa Journal, 2 February, 1950.

The disease is caused by the poliovirus, a type of enterovirus of the family Picornaviridae. It was first isolated in 1908 by the Austrian researchers and physicians Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper. The virus has three serotype versions (PV1-Brunhide, PV2-Lansing and PV3-Leon). All are virulent, though PV1-Brunhide is the most common strain, and the one most associated with paralysis. Most people who come into contact with the polio virus experience no symptoms beyond a sore throat, a gastrointestinal upset, a slight fever, and a general malaise. Called “abortive polio,” this is considered a minor illness that leaves no permanent effects. A small percentage of victims experience “aseptic” polio that also involves severe neck, back and muscle pain, as well as a bad fever. In a still smaller percentage of sufferers, the polio virus attacks the central nervous system leading to muscle flaccidity, especially of the limbs, and paralysis. Depending on what part of the nervous system is affected, “paralytic” polio is classified as spinal, bulbar, and bulbospinal. In some cases, the diaphragm and chest muscles are affected. Sufferers of this form of the disease need help to breath. In 1927, two Harvard researchers invented the “iron lung,” into which paralysed patients were placed to aid their breathing mechanically. Although most were able to leave the machine after several weeks, some were confined for years, or had to use a portable breathing apparatus. Polio suffers whose limbs had become paralyzed sometimes recovered their use after a few weeks. However, some many were left permanently disabled. Two to ten per cent of people stricken with paralytic polio died. There is no cure for the disease, only prevention.

Polio, Department of National Defence -LACPatient in Iron Lung with Nursing Lt. H.F. Ott and Surg. Lt. K.R. Flegg 16-7-57 MIKAN no. 4951401

Patient in Iron Lung with Nursing Lt. H.F. Ott and Surgeon Lt. K.R. Flegg, 16 May 1957, Department of National Defence/Library & Archives Canada, Mikan # 4951401.

Although polio has been around for thousands of years, it didn’t use to have the fearful reputation that it had during the first half of the twentieth century. For the most part, people had acquired a natural immunity to the disease.  But as living standards and hygiene improved, the incidence of the disease paradoxically increased. The natural immunity that protected people had been weakened or lost. According to Christopher Rutty, a medical historian, fears about polio, heightened by publicity, were disproportionate to the risk of catching the paralytic form of the disease. But frightened parents told their children to “regard [polio] as a fierce monster” that was “more sinister than death itself.” The fact that people at the time didn’t understand the transmission mechanism of the disease (typically faecal-oral) made it all the scarier. You didn’t know what to do to protect yourself and your family. When outbreaks occurred, often during the summer months, health officials in epidemic areas closed cinemas, playgrounds, and delayed school openings. In Ottawa, when the federal government announced in 1950 that the water from the Rideau River would be temporarily diverted to allow for repairs near its outfall into the Ottawa River, residents of Sandy Hill, fearful of polio-infected flies that might breed in exposed marshes and refuse, lobbied for the repairs to be delayed until after the summer polio season.

People stricken with polio were sent to special isolation hospitals for a minimum of seven days required by provincial law. Their families were quarantined. Ottawa’s Strathcona Isolation Hospital was one of six designated centres for the treatment of polio in Ontario. The other centres were located in Toronto, Kingston, London, Hamilton and Windsor. The Strathcona Hospital’s “territory” ran from Pembroke to Morrisburg. In 1953, the old hospital was closed when a new East Lawn Pavilion with isolation facilities was opened at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Seventeen patients were transferred from the Strathcona facility, including one in an iron lung. Although this was a time before provincial health insurance (OHIP), the care for polio victims was paid for by the provincial government. Later, following complaints by doctors that they couldn’t submit bills to well-to-to polio patients, the government modified the rules to allow doctors to charge wealthy patients. Poor patients continued to receive free care at teaching hospitals connected to universities.

Following the election of Franklin Roosevelt at President of the United States in 1933, who was himself a polio survivor, the medical profession in the United States and Canada took aim at the disease. Funding for research into the development of a vaccine was provided in the United States by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis that had its roots in a private anti-polio organization started by the Roosevelt family. The Foundation sponsored an annual March of Dimes campaign supported by Hollywood stars to raise money to find a cure for the disease and to care for polio victims. In Canada, a parallel organization called the Canadian Foundation for Poliomyelitis was founded in Ottawa in 1949. The Canadian Foundation held the first Canadian March of Dimes campaign the following year. Newspapers across the country carried the photograph of “Linda,” a child polio victim wearing iron leg braces. In Ottawa, twenty-five hundred blue and red checkered collection boxes were distributed in stores, banks and restaurants.

Polio ad, 4-2-50 OJ

Advertisement for the Canadian March of Dimes, 1950 Campaign, The Ottawa Journal, 4 February 1950.

In 1953, North America experienced it worst outbreak of polio in decades. In Canada, there were 8,878 reported cases, mostly in Manitoba and Ontario, with a death rate of 3.3 persons per 100,000 population, far higher than during earlier outbreaks.  Ottawa had 100 recorded cases by the end of that year’s polio season with four deaths. To help control the spread of the disease, Dr J. J. Dey, the city’s medical officer of health, advised Ottawa citizens not to drink unpasteurized milk, not to jump into water when the body was tired, and to avoid fatigue. He also told people to stay away from crowds, to keep the house free from flies, and to wash all fruits and vegetables. More usefully, he advised people to wash their hands frequently, and to boil drinking water if one had any doubts.

Fortunately, by this time, a vaccine was close at hand. In 1949, Harvard scientist Dr John Enders discovered that the polio virus could be propagated in the organs of monkeys. The following year, the Polish-born virologist Hilary Koprowski developed an experimental oral vaccine using a live but weakened virus of the PV2-Lansing variety of the disease, and successfully immunized some twenty children in New York State.

Polio, Jonas Salk, 1955 Owl student yearbook, 1957

Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh, 1955, The Owl – University of Pittsburgh Digital Archives, Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, at the University of Pittsburgh, Jonas Salk was working on determining the number of different strains of polioviruses and developing a vaccine using dead viruses that would be effective against all strains of the disease. Connaught Laboratories at the University of Toronto, supported by a federal grant as well as money provided by the Canadian March of Dimes, was also developing the procedure for producing industrial-size quantities of the polio virus, a necessary and vital step for the mass production of the Salk vaccine. Related work was conducted at the Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene in Montreal. Connaught later supplied much of the virus that went into making the Salk vaccine in North America as well as making the vaccine itself for the Canadian inoculation campaign.

By 1954, Salk who had safely tested his vaccine first on his family and then on 700 volunteers was ready for a large-scale test. He organized a trial involving two million children. Half received a three-shot dose of the experimental vaccine over a period of several weeks with the other half receiving placebos. Most of the children were American. But U.S. authorities offered 50,000 doses to Canada. Health departments in Alberta and Nova Scotia took up the offer and inoculated thousands of young children. In mid-April 1955, the results of the trial were announced to a packed conference room at the University of Michigan: polio had been defeated! The vaccine had been 80% effective in protecting children from the disease. The relief was palpable. Immediately, steps were taken to inoculate all children in North America starting with those in Grades 1 and 2.

Polio elgin public school

Polio shots at Elgin Street Public School, 1955, Newton Photographic Associates Ltd, City of Ottawa Archives, MG393-NP-36093-006, CA 025699.

In Canada, the inoculations were paid for on a 50:50 basis by the federal and provincial governments. Youngsters in Toronto and Pembroke received the first dose of the vaccine in early April even before the official announcement of Salk’s successful mass trial. The inoculation programme began in Ottawa on Monday, 18 April 1955. That morning, Grade 1 and 2 students at four public schools (Elgin, Lady Evelyn, Borden and Cambridge) and five separate schools (Ste Famille, St Patrick, St Jean Baptiste, St Anthony and Christ the King) received their first round of shots. That afternoon, five more schools were visited by teams of nurses. Children in remaining schools received their shots through the week. Parents had to sign a consent form for their children to receive the inoculation with the warning that if the children missed the first shot, they couldn’t receive the subsequent shots. Across the Ottawa River in Hull, the inoculation programme started in May with children aged two to three years since that age group had been most affected in Quebec during the 1953 epidemic.

In the midst of the roll-out of the continent-wide vaccination campaign, disaster struck.  Some children in the United States came down with polio after having received their shots. Several died. The problem was traced to poor quality control at the Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California, one of six American vaccine manufacturers. Their vaccine contained live instead of dead viruses. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, the vaccine had been rushed. The U.S. vaccination programme was temporarily suspended despite the coming onset of the 1955 polio season. In Canada, Health Minister Paul Martin Sr faced one of the toughest decisions of his life: should the Canadian programme also be suspended as Prime Minister St Laurent wished? With all of the Canadian vaccine produced at Toronto’s Connaught Laboratories, and having full confidence in Canadian scientists and doctors, he ordered the Canadian programme to go ahead as planned. No Canadian child came down with polio as result of the vaccine.

By August 1955, the number of polio cases in Canada and the United States had dropped dramatically even though only a portion of children had been immunized. In November, Paul Martin publicly stated “I don’t think there can be any doubt that it [the vaccine] has had some effect.” By 1962, the number of reported polio cases in Canada had fallen to only 89.

In the early 1960s, the Salk vaccine was generally replaced by an oral vaccine using live but weakened viruses developed by Albert Sabin who drew on the earlier work of Hilary Koprowski. The Sabin vaccine was cheap to produce and administer and was very powerful—95 per cent effective after three doses (one for each polio strain). Polio infection rates around the world plummeted. In 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a campaign to eradicated polio from the world supported by national governments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2000, the Americas were certified as polio free. In 2014, South-East Asia was certified as polio free. By 2016, the number of reported polio cases worldwide had dropped to only 37 located in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The WHO estimates that because of the global vaccination campaign, 16 million people walk today who otherwise would have been paralyzed. Many, many lives have also been saved. However, war and civil strife threaten this achievement. Endemic transmission of the disease continues in the three remaining polio hotspots. With vaccination efforts disrupted in these areas, the Crippler could well return.

 

Sources:

CBC Archives, 1993. A History of Polio in Canada, posted 7 April 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/arts/archives/a-history-of-polio-in-canada-1.3332940.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, Poliomyelitis, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt12-polio.html.

Council Bluffs Nonpareil (Iowa), 1954. “Report Results of Polio Research,” 11 April.

MedicineNet.com. 2017. Medical Definition of Abortive Polio, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=8611.

Museum of Health Care at Kingston, 2017, Polio, https://www.museumofhealthcare.ca/explore/exhibits/vaccinations/polio.html.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1949. “First Fatal Polio Case,” 20 July.

————————–, 1949. “Ottawa Cases of Polio Total 29 This Year,” 15 August.

————————–, 1949. “Foundation Plans Drive For Funds to Fight Polio,” 4 November.

————————–, 1950. “Rideau Draining To Proceed,” 10 August.

————————–, 1950. “St. Germain’s Protest Against Rideau Draining,” 15 August.

————————–, 1950. “March of Dimes For Polio Victims Starts Sunday,” 30 December.

————————–, 1953. “Ontario Announces new Policy For Treating Polio,”6 January.

————————–, 1953. “MOH Issues Statement on Polio,” 17 July.

————————–, 1953. “Lab Producing Polio Virus In Quantities,” 25 September.

————————–, 1953. “Polio Season Is Over,” 14 October.

————————–, 1953. “Hope-Filled Polio Vaccine For Million U.S. Children,” 17 November.

————————–, 1953. “New East Lawn Pavilion Opened At Civic,” 16 December

————————–, 1954. “Provinces Offered U.S. Polio Vaccine,”26 May.

————————–, 1955. “Polio Shots April 18 For Ottawa Children,” 4 March.

————————–, 1955. “Ottawa Will Start Trials of Polio Vaccine April 18,” 9 April.

————————–, 1955. “SALK CONQUERS POLIO,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Salk Was So Confident of Success His Own Children Got Vaccine First,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Ontario to Provide Injections for All School Children,” 12 April.

————————–, 1955. “Man’s Victory Over Polio,” 13 April.

————————–, 1955. “Duplessis Decides Quebec To Take Part In Anti-Polio Plan,” 15 April.

————————-, 1955. “First Week of Vaccine Shots Against Polio Start Monday,” 16 April.

————————–, 1955. “Salk Answers Critical Questions,” 7 June.

————————–, 1955. “Vaccine Producer Sued After boy Contracts Polio,” 24 June.

————————–, 1955. “U.S.A. ‘Polio Vaccine Mixup,’” 27 July.

————————–, 1955. “Big Drop In Deaths By Polio,” 12 August.

————————–, 1955. “U.S. Polio Fatalities Reduced Sharply,” 12 August.

————————–, 1955. “Martin Credits Salk Vaccine,” 1 November.

Rutty, Christopher, 1995. “Do Something!…Anything! Poliomyelitis in Canada, 1927-1962,” http://healthheritageresearch.com/PolioPHD.html.

———————-, 1999. The Middle-Class Plague: Epidemic Polio and the Canadian State, 1936-37, http://www.healthheritageresearch.com/MCPlague.html.

Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, 2017. The Iron Lung and Other Equipment, http://amhistory.si.edu/polio/howpolio/ironlung.htm.

World Health Organization, 2017. Poliomyelitis, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/.

 

 

 

The Empire’s Poet Comes To Ottawa

19 October 1907

Most people only know Rudyard Kipling as the author of The Jungle Book, the beloved tale of Mowgli, the “man-cub,” who was raised by wolves in nineteenth-century India and battled Shere Khan, the evil tiger, with help from Baloo, the bear, and the elephants. The story has been made into many movies and television shows, most notably by Walt Disney Pictures whose 2016 production went on to gross almost US$1 billion. The film was itself a remake of a 1967 animated film by the same company.

But Kipling is the author of far more—hundreds of poems, sonnets, short stories, and books. He was called the Poet of the British Empire, and won the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature. Kipling was vastly popular in his day, as much, or more so, than Shakespeare. One contemporary American author remarked that “the literateurs of the world are divided into two classes—‘Rudyard Kipling’ and the other fellows.” Kipling’s novel Kim, the story of an Irish solider on northern Indian frontier set amidst the political intrigues of the “Great Game” between Britain and Russia, is ranked among the top English-language novels of the twentieth century. His classic children’s stories, including such tales as The Elephant Child, How the Leopard got his Spots, and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the adventures of a mongoose, continue to be enjoyed around the world. As a youngster, I was entranced by these stories as were my children a generation later. I also remember having to memorize in school his poem A Smuggler’s Song. Fifty years later, I can still recall it—“If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet, Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street, Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie. Watch the wall my darling as the gentlemen go by.”

Rudyard Kipling by John Palmer 1895

Rudyard Kipling by John Palmer, 1895

However, Kipling’s reputation and legacy are ambiguous and controversial. While many of his stories have stood the test of time, and expressions he coined have entered the English language, he held views that are today either outdated, or unacceptable, or both. An imperialist, he was an ardent supporter of the British Empire. He was most likely a racist, a failing rampant at the time. He was the author of the expression “the white man’s burden,” the title of a poem in which Kipling urged the United States in 1899 to take over the Philippines in order to bring civilization to “Your newly caught sullen peoples, Half devil, half child.” On the other hand, he could admire other peoples. In his Ballad of East and West he wrote: “…there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!” Just six years after his death, George Orwell called Kipling “a jingo imperialist” who was “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.” Today, a veritable cottage industry has developed parsing the racism explicit and implicit in The Jungle Book. There is also an ongoing debate over the degree to which Kipling was sexist. He was author of the expression “the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

Kipling was born in Bombay in British India in 1865. His father, Lockwood Kipling was professor of architectural sculpture at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeboy School of Art. His mother was Alice McDonald. Home was a house on the school grounds. “Kipling House” still stands on the campus grounds of Sir J.J. School of Art, now affiliated with the University of Mumbai. As a young child, Kipling was sent to England to live with a foster family. He was terribly unhappy there. Taken out of the home, he later attended the United Services College at Westwood Ho!, a quirkily named village in Devon. As a teenager, he returned to India, where he worked as a journalist in Lahore. It was here that he began to write stories about soldiers’ lives in British India, and attracted attention as an author. He returned to England in 1889, via the Pacific and North America, with several stops in Canada, including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Toronto. Three years later, he returned to Canada with his new wife Carrie (née Balestier) after a honeymoon trip to Japan. Kipling purchased property in Vancouver, attracted by its harbour, its laid-back lifestyle and its economic prospects. Kipling also found the city to be comfortably familiar.  The British flag flew over its buildings, and, in his estimation, the locals spoke proper English. However, they never lived there. Instead, the Kiplings settled down for several years in Vermont in the community where his American-born wife was raised. It was in Vermont that Kipling wrote The Jungle Book stories.

Rudyard Kipling and family returned to England for good in 1896 owing to discord with his brother-in-law who was also Kipling’s neighbour, and political tensions between the United States and Britain over British Guiana. After living for a time on the southwestern coast of England in Dorset, they bought an old manor house in Sussex in 1902.

Kipling was an inveterate traveller, with multiple voyages throughout Asia, Australia, South Africa, Europe, and North America. He had a great affection for Canada which he viewed as the eldest sister of Mother England’s Dominions that could one day provide leadership to the Empire. He described Canada as a country that has “a hard, tough, bracing climate that puts iron and grit into men’s bones, and that if things don’t move so fast as in the States they are safer.” However, he apparently also thought that Canada was “constipating,” and that when he spoke to Canadians, he needed to speak in short sentences since Canadians couldn’t “carry anything more than three and a half lines in their busy heads.” In turn, many Canadians resented his characterization of Canada as “Our Lady of Snows” as it might put off potential immigrants.

In the autumn of 1907, Kipling, now at the height of his popularity, made a cross-country tour of Canada, in part to see how the west had changed, especially Calgary and Medicine Hat, since his visit eighteen years earlier. He made the trip in luxury, on a private train carriage provided to him by Sir William Horne, the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  In cities along his route, he stopped to visit the sights. He was invariably invited to speak. He later commented that in Canada “there is a crafty network of business men called Canadian Clubs. They catch people who look interesting, assemble their members during the mid-day lunch hour, and, tying their victim to a steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows.”

He briefly passed through Ottawa at the end of September on his way west before returning to the capital for a weekend stay on Saturday, 19 October as the guest of Lord and Lady Grey at Rideau Hall. The Governor General’s Secretary, Colonel (later Major-General Sir) John Hanbury-Williams, was an old friend of Kipling. He was greeted at the train station early in the morning by the Governor General’s staff. That afternoon, Kipling met the press at Rideau Hall. The interview was a love-in. One journalist reported that Kipling was “in every way interesting and interested,” and was a “fresh and vigorous personality.” Kipling focused his remarks on immigration and trade, the hot topics of the time—not so different from today! These were subjects to which he returned in his Monday’s address to the Ottawa Canadian Club after taking the Sunday off to relax with Lord and Lady Grey and their friends. Also on that Saturday afternoon, Kipling met with representatives of the South African Veterans’ Association.

Rudyard Kiping 9 may 1908 toj

Advertisement for Kipling’s Book, Letters to the Family, on his reflections about Canada, The Ottawa Journal, 9 May 1908.

Kipling’s Monday luncheon speech to the Canadian Club was held in the railway committee room of the House of Commons owing to the large number of people eager to hear the Poet of the Empire speak. More than three hundred men were in attendance, including Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. At the lunch, Laurier commented that not all Canadians took offence at Kipling’s characterization of Canada as “our Lady of Snows.” Laurier opined, that “the Canadian winter is one of the best of the blessings with which nature has dowered the Dominion.”

In his speech, Kipling despaired of Britain: “Sometimes one can only look out the window and pray, and say nothing.” His fears reflected the Mother Country’s blasé attitude towards its overseas dominions, including its unwillingness to support imperial trade preference as a means of helping to cement the Empire together. Britain had pursued a free trading policy since the mid nineteenth century. Consequently, it treated all trading partners alike regardless of whether they were part of the Empire or not. In contrast, Kipling praised Canada, which maintained tariffs to protect its industries, for instituting an imperial preference for British and subsequently Empire-made goods that had led to steamships trading regularly between New Zealand and South Africa and Canada. In parenthesis, a few years later Kipling waded into the 1911 Canadian political debate on the merits of reciprocity [a.k.a. free trade] with the United States, sending a letter that was widely printed in Canadian newspapers that Canada risked “its soul” should reciprocity be introduced. “Once that soul is pawned for any consideration Canada must inevitably conform to the commercial, legal, financial, social, and ethical standards which will be imposed upon her by the sheer admitted weight of the United States.” The reciprocity supporting Liberal Party lost the general election. Decades later, the very same sentiments were expressed during the 1980s when the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was being negotiated by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.

Immigration was the other hot topic that Kipling addressed. In British Columbia, there had been an influx of migrants from China, Japan and India that had led to an anti-immigrant riot. The Oriental Exclusion League based in British Columbia circulated a petition urging the Canadian government to prohibit all “Oriental immigration.” The petition said that British Columbia “has been in the past, and will continue to be, the dumping ground of Oriental laborers, notably Hindoos, Japanese and Chinese; that at present there are 30,000 Orientals of the foregoing races in British Columbia; that the Orientals enter into competition with white men, whom they have largely displaced in fishing and lumbering industries and have usurped the places amongst unskilled laborers that would otherwise be filled by white men; that the Orientals are not capable of assimilation with the white races of Canada…” The Oriental Exclusion League threatened “measures to prevent the debarkation of Orientals in Vancouver” if its demands were not met. The League was not some crank organization expressing racist views. Robert Borden (later Sir), leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said in Vancouver that British Columbia “must remain a British and Canadian province, inhabited and dominated by men in whose veins runs the blood of those great pioneering races which built up and developed not only Western, but Eastern Canada.”

Rudyard Kipling by Elliott & Fry

Rudyard Kipling by Elliot & Fry, circa 1935

Kipling responded to these events by saying British Columbia’s underlying problem was a shortage of labour rather than too much Asian immigration. And, “…if you won’t have yellow labor, you must have white.” He argued that Canada should fill up with white immigrants from Britain, with government assistance if necessary, so that “you will not notice the Orientals.” He added that “If you wait for your country to be settled with your own stock or carefully chosen immigrants it would be all right, but it is only a question of time until the ring breaks in the old lands and the flood seeps to Canada. There are many hungry people wandering around the world, and Canada must prepare to receive them.”

Kipling left Ottawa following his Canadian Club speech for Montreal where he was given an honorary degree by McGill University. The next year he published Letters to the Family about his trip across Canada. In it he expressed a number of fascinating opinions about Canada and Ottawa. On Canada’s bilingual nature, he thought that “There are strong objections to any non-fusible, bi-lingual community within a nation.” However, French Canada’s “unconcerned cathedrals, schools and convents,” and “the spirit that breathes from them, make for good.” English and French together make “a good blend in a new land.” He was also impressed with Canadian cities’ “austere Northern dignity.” He thought that “Montreal, of the black-frocked priests and the French notices had it” as did “Ottawa, of the grey stone palaces and the St. Petersburg-like shining water frontages” and Toronto that was “consummately commercial.”

Rudyard Kipling died in January 1936 at the age of 71.

 

Sources:

Experimental Wifery, 2017. “The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than The Male,” https://experimentalwifery.com/tag/rudyard-kipling/.

History of Metropolitan Vancouver (The), 2017. Rudyard Kipling in Vancouver, http://www.vancouverhistory.ca/archives_kipling.htm.

Kipling, Rudyard, 1908. Letters to the Family, Macmillan Company of Canada: Toronto.

———————, 1930s. “Sound recording of Kipling speaking on Canadian writers and poets,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDcdKA4_KBM.

Kipling Society (The), 2017, http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/index.htm.

Lycett, Andrew, 1999. Rudyard Kipling, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London.

Orwell, George, 1942. Rudyard Kipling, http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/kipling/english/e_rkip.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1907. “Mr. Borden And Asiatic Immigration,” 1 October.

————————-, 1907. “Kipling Arrives,” 19 October.

————————-, 1907. “Famous Author Is In Ottawa,” 19 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1899. “Personal And Pertinent,” 25 April.

————————–, 1907. “Petitioning The Premier,” 30 September.

————————–, 1907. “Kipling Off To The West,” 1 October.

————————-, 1907. “Kipling Will Be Here Saturday,” 17 October.

————————-, 1907. “Unrestricted Immigration,” 17 October.

————————-, 1907. “Rudyard Kipling; the Man and his Work,” 17 October.

————————-, 1907. “Kipling Will Speak Monday,” 18 October.

————————-, 1907. “Fill Canada With Whites, Asiatics Will Disappear,” 21 October.

————————-, 1907. “Great Reception To Mr. Kipling,” 21 October.

————————-, 1907. “Mr. Kipling and Veteran Officers,” 21 October.

————————-, 1907. “Kipling’s Message,” 21 October.

————————-, 1936. “Nation’s Bard, Kipling, Loses Gallant Fight Against Death,” 18 January.

Price, John, 2007. “Orienting the Empire: Mackenzie King and the Aftermath of the 1907 Race Riots,” BC Studies, no. 156, Winter 2007/08.

Ricketts, Harry, 1999. Rudyard Kipling, A Life,” Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.: New York.

Sikov, Ed, 2016. “Are ‘The Jungle Books’ Racist or Not? And Why You Should Read Them Either Way,” Lit Reactor, https://litreactor.com/columns/are-the-jungle-books-racist-or-not-andwhy-you-should-read-them-either-way.

Trendacosta, Katharine, 2016. “Reminder: Rudyard Kipling Was a Racist Fuck and the Jungle Book is Imperialist Garbage,” io9.Gizmondo, http://io9.gizmodo.com/reminder-rudyard-kipling-was-a-racist-fuck-and-the-jun-1771044121.

 

Bryson, Graham Ltd: “Ottawa’s Greatest Store”

6 September 1870

Sparks Street used to be the beating heart of Ottawa commerce, home to several major local department stores that had their roots in the late nineteenth century. These included L. N. Poulin’s Dry Goods store, R.J. Devlin & Company, Murphy-Gamble, and Bryson, Graham Ltd. One by one they disappeared into history. Most were bought out by larger chain stores before they too succumbed as shoppers flocked to exciting new suburban shopping centres with ample parking facilities that were closer to where people lived. But back during the early twentieth century when Sparks Street was at its zenith, the place to shop was Bryson, Graham Ltd, then known as “Ottawa’s Greatest Store.”

Bryson 1875 William James TopleyLAC-002237

Charles Bryson’s Dry Goods Store, 53 Sparks Street, 1875, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-002237.

It opened for business on 6 September 1870 as Patterson & Bryson at 53 Sparks Street on the north side of the street, west of Elgin. The firm was named after its two principals, Joseph H. Patterson and Charles B. Bryson. Initially, there wasn’t much going for the modest dry-goods business. With the main commercial streets in Ottawa at that time being Rideau, Sussex and Wellington, the store had an unpromising location. Business was tough during those early years. Indeed, in 1873, the partnership ended, with Patterson decamping to New York City to establish a dry goods business there. Bryson, a country boy from Richmond who had come to Ottawa in 1864 and learnt the dry-good business working at the firm T. Hunt & Sons, soldiered on alone. The split-up appeared to have been relatively amicable, or at least any hard feelings healed over time. On the firm’s silver anniversary in 1895, Patterson sent Bryson from New York a souvenir of their first day in business. Concealed inside twenty-five nested envelopes was the first 5-cent piece the store took in. On one side was engraved “P & B” with “6th Sept., 1870” inscribed on the other.

Things began to pick up in the 1880s after Bryson welcomed Frederick Graham into the business which by this point had moved along the road first to 110 Sparks Street and then to 152 Sparks Street. Like his colleague, Graham was a country boy. He had come to Ottawa to sell agricultural equipment for William Arnold on Wellington Street. Dissatisfied with his career choice, he joined Bryson in 1880 and very quickly proved his worth. After only a year, he was offered a piece of the business and became a junior partner. Bryson, Graham & Company was born. It was a partnership that was to last close to fifty years. Bryson took charge of the management of the company while Graham took responsibility for buying. In 1882, Graham became part of the family as well, marrying Miss Margaret Bryson, Charles Bryson’s sister.

Bryson Graham Topley StudioLAC-PA-033935-April 1982

Bryson, Graham & Company, Corner of Sparks Street and O’Connor Street, April 1882, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA-03935.

During the early 1880s, the duo introduced a radical innovation to Ottawa—“One Price for All.” Hitherto, Ottawa residents haggled with merchants for all their purchases, a process that wasted valuable time and typically left somebody dissatisfied. At the same time, Bryson and Graham advertised “Maximum Value for the Money.” Initially, this novel approach to selling cost the partners business, but the general public quickly caught on.

In one possibly apocryphal story set sometime in the 1880s, ten lumbermen entered Bryson Graham to purchase their gear for the coming logging season. They picked out goods worth $650, a very large sum back in those days. The foreman offered to pay $600. The salesman refused. The foreman then asked if he would throw in a vest for each of the workers. Again, the salesman refused. A pair of braces? Again, the answer was no. The group left the store in a huff, repairing to “The Brunswick” for a drink. They later came back, their leader indicating that they would pay the $650 if the salesman threw in a collar button for each of the men. Again, the salesman refused. When called over, Bryson backed up his salesman and explained the store’s pricing policy to the lumbermen. Giving up and paying the full amount, the foreman admitted that he had bet $10 that he could beat down the store. He added that “it was worth more than $10 to find there is one honest price store in Ottawa.”

The reputation of Bryson and Graham for integrity and straight dealing was the backbone of their company. Over the next fifty years, the company prospered mightily. In 1883, the company expanded eastward, leasing the adjoining store. In 1887, the firm added home furnishings when it acquired the stock and premises of Shouldbred & Company, followed by the acquisition of the stock of dress-goods and silks from Mr John Garland. In 1890, John Bryson, the brother of Charles opened a grocery store in the Bryson-Graham premises. This business was later formally consolidated into the family enterprise. This was a gutsy step. The grocery business in Ottawa had previously been an albatross for other department stores. In 1892, the firm bought the china and crockery business of Mr Sam Ashfield in the neighbouring store. Two years later, the company expanded yet again and acquired the entire block when it took over the corset business of yet another neighbour, Mrs Scott. On their silver anniversary in 1895, the firm built a factory extension to Queen Street.

To mark twenty-five years of progress and expansion, the store’s staff gave Charles Bryson a gold-mounted ebony cane. They also presented a testimonial to their boss reading “…under your control, we are happy to labour, and hope that our constant efforts and devotion to business will meet with your appreciation. With great pleasure do we take this opportunity to congratulate you on your past success, and to say that we are proud to see your business house classed amongst the most important and successful houses of the Dominion.”

Innovations and expansion continued during the store’s second twenty-five years. In 1898, Bryson, Graham & Company was the first in Ottawa to use the “comptometer,” the first successful, key-driven, calculating machine. It was used for adding and calculating work, sales checks, statements and invoicing. In 1909, the partnership was transformed into a limited liability company. Two years later, the company erected a large warehouse on Queen Street to store its extensive inventory.

Bryson Graham 28-2-1920 TOC

Cover to the Special Supplement in Celebration of Bryson-Graham’s Golden Anniversary, The Ottawa Citizen, 28 February 1920.

In 1917, the long and successful partnership of Charles Bryson and Frederick Graham came to an end with the former’s death. Graham became the company’s president, with Mr James B. Bryson, the son of Charles, as vice-president. In 1920, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper celebrated the golden anniversary of the company with a supplement dedicated exclusively to the department store, its history, and its successes. The newspaper opined that the secret of the retailer’s success was the character of Charles Bryson—“his untiring efforts, his forceful personality and his integrity.” The paper also re-published his obituary that stated that Bryson “was a gentleman in business as in his private life; a kind employer, a devoted friend, a real Christian.” The newspaper stated that the many friends of “Ottawa’s Greatest Store” hoped that “the next fifty years will witness an expansion proportionate to that of those gone by.”

This wish was not granted. Three years later, in 1923, Frederick Graham died, and the venerable company on Sparks Street passed fully into the hands of the next generation of Brysons and Grahams. James Bryson took over as president and W.M. Graham stepped into the vice-president’s position. For a time, Bryson-Graham continued to do well, but its years of expansion were over. It had apparently transitioned into a comfortable middle age. While it continued to provide a wide range of quality goods to Ottawa customers at reasonable prices, the drive and determination of its founders were gone.

Bryson graham sale oj 17ap1953

Bryson-Graham’s Last Advertisement, The Ottawa Journal, 17 April 1953

Business suffered through the lean years of the Depression and World War II. By the late 1940s, the company was dowdy and old fashioned. In May 1950, Ormie A. Awrey, who had been vice-president and general manager of the firm for the previous eleven years acquired control of the business from the children of the late Charles Bryson and Frederick Graham, buying 85 per cent of the company for $1 million. He later bought the remaining shares. Awrey promised to carry on the traditions of the old firm, but the retailer continued to decline. Parts of the old building were rented out to other retailers, including Bata Shoes, Swears and Wells, and Dolcis.  In February 1953, he sold the Bryson-Graham block in February 1953 to J. B. and Archie Dover of Dover’s Ltd for only $310,000. After holding a clearance sale of its stock and fittings, Bryson-Graham, now billed as “Ottawa’s Oldest Department Store,” closed for good on 18 April 1953, ending an 83-year presence on Sparks Street.

 

Bryson Graham 2017

The Bryson-Graham building today, corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets, July 2017, Nicolle Powell

Today, the Bryson-Graham building at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets still stands. The ground floor is occupied by Nate’s Delicatessen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Elder, Ken, 2009. Bryson, Graham & Co., Ottawa Canada, http://www.eeldersite.com/Bryson-_Graham_-_Co.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1920. “Bryson-Graham Ltd Celebrates Its Golden Jubilee, 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Silver Anniversary of Store,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Character of Founder Largely Responsible For Store’s Success,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Battery of Comptometers Used in Bryson-Graham’s Stores,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “Hard Work One Secret Of The Success Won By Messrs. Bryson-Graham,” 28 February.

————————-, 1920. “One-Price Policy Was Introduced In Ottawa By Bryson-Graham Co.” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1895. “A Five Cents With A History,” 10 September.

————————–, 1935. “The Shops of the Capital, What they Were and Are,” 10 December.

————————–, 1950. “O.A. Awrey Acquires Control of Bryson Graham Ltd,” 5 May.

————————–, 1953. “Dovers Buy Bryson Blok,” 12 February.

————————–, 1953. “$10,000, Bryson-Graham Sale Heads May Property Deals,” 4 July.

Urbsite, 2012, Sparks Street Deartment Stores: Bryson Graham and Company, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2012/10/sparks-department-stores-bryson-graham.html.

The Return of “D” Company

3 November 1900

It is said that Canada became a nation at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 during World War I when the Canadian Expeditionary Force took the German-held high ground amidst fierce fighting—an achievement that had eluded British and French forces in three years of fighting. Although there is no disputing the heroism and the accomplishment of the Canadian soldiers, some historians maintain that the significance given to Vimy Ridge in the development of Canadian nationalism is a modern invention. It also overlooks the impact of an earlier war on Canadian national confidence. That war was the South African War, also known as the Boer War.

The Boer War was a nasty colonial conflict that pitted Britain against two Boer (Afrikaans for farmer) republics called the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. There were actually two wars. The first, in which the British got a drubbing, lasted from 1880 to 1881, while the second more famous one lasted from 1899 to 1902. The wars resulted from British imperial designs over southern Africa butting up against the desire by Boer settlers for their own independent, white republics. Thrown into the mix was the discovery of gold in Boer territories, an influx of foreign, mostly British prospectors and miners (called uitlanders) who were denied political rights by Boer governments who feared being swamped by the incomers, rival British and Boer economic interests, British fears of German interference in southern Africa, and the ambitions of Cecil Rhodes, the premier of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

Boer War going-near post office 1899 ottawa LAC C-003950

Ottawa soldiers departing for the South African War, 1899, Library and Archives Canada, C-003950.

The South African war began in October 1899 after talks between the British government and the Boer governments failed. Boer soldiers invaded the British Natal and Cape Colonies and subsequently laid siege to ill-prepared British troops at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The attacks galvanized pro-British sympathies throughout the Empire, whipped up by nationalistic newspapers. Australia and New Zealand sent troops to assist the Mother Country in its hour of need.

In Canada, public opinion in English Canada was likewise strongly in favour of Britain and the uitlanders. The Ottawa Evening Journal said “Britain, a democratic monarchy, is at war with a despotic republic, and seeks to give equality to the people of the Transvaal.” Pressured by English Canada, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier agreed to send 1,000 volunteers to support the British cause over the opposition of many French Canadians including fellow Liberal party member Henri Bourassa, who resigned his federal seat in protest. Bourassa later founded the newspaper Le Devoir. This was the first time Canada had committed troops to an overseas war. In 1884, Canadian volunteers, many from the Ottawa area, had agreed to serve as non-combatants in the relief of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum, Sudan.

In Ottawa, imperial sentiment was strong, even reportedly among its francophone population. One such resident opined that “French Canadians had no reason to be other than loyal to England…England had dealt fairly with us and we should be unhesitatingly be loyal.” Another said “Every British subject, whether of French or any other extraction, should be willing to bear the responsibilities of Empire.” Of the first 1,000 volunteers to serve in South Africa in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry under the command of Colonel Otter, sixty-seven came from the Ottawa area.

The Ottawa contingent, “D Company,” left the Capital for Quebec City by train in late October 1899 under the command of Captain Rogers, formerly Major Rogers of the 43rd Regiment based in Ottawa. Rogers had served with distinction in the North-West Rebellion. A crowd of 30,000 saw the volunteers off “to defend the honour of Britain.”

Many Ottawa residents took a special train to Quebec City to see their boys off on the Sardinian for South Africa on 30 October 1899. The Journal was moved by the occasion to write: “Descendants of the men who fought with Montcalm and Wolfe marched side by side to play their part in the great South African drama.” Before boarding the ship, the Canadian contingent was fêted at the Quebec City Drill Hall. The Ottawa volunteers cheered “Hobble, gobble, Razzle, dazzle, Sis boom bah, Ottawa, Ottawa, Rah. Rah. Rah.” as if they were going to a football game.

Over the next year, the soldiers of the Canadian contingent proved in battle that they were second to none. The Canadians distinguished themselves at the Battle of Paardeberg where after nine days of bloody fighting in late February 1900, British forces defeated a Boer army. It was their first major victory of the war. The Boer general, Piet Cronjé, surrendered when his soldiers woke to find themselves facing Canadian rifles from nearly point blank range. In the dead of night, the Canadian troops had silently dug trenches on the high ground overlooking the Boer line. In the fighting, the British forces sustained more than 1,400 casualties, of which 348 men died. Thirty-one Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the battle, including two Ottawa men. Many more were wounded. Boer losses amounted 350 killed or wounded and 4,019 captured. Canadian forces subsequently distinguished themselves in the capture of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria.

After completing their one year tour of duty, the first Canadian contingent to fight in the South Africa War returned home aboard the transport ship Idaho. The men were paid off in Halifax with the government also providing them new winter clothes. A special train then carried the veterans westward, dropping off soldiers along the way. Many had brought mementoes home. One man carried a little monkey on his shoulder while another had a parrot in a wooden box. Captain Rogers of Ottawa’s “D” Company brought home a Spitz dog from Cape Town. With the Idaho having stopped in St Helena on the way to Canada, another officer brought home sprigs of the willow trees that grew at Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave.

Boer War return 1900 C-007978

Crowds welcoming home Ottawa’s “D” Company at the Canada Atlantic Railway Company’s Elgin Street Train Station, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-007978.

Thirty-one Ottawa veterans arrived home at 2.45pm on Saturday, 3 November 1900. The famed “Confederation poet,” W. Wilfred Campbell, who lived in Ottawa, penned a poem to welcome them. Titled Return of the Troops, the first verse went:

Canadian heroes hailing home, War-worn and tempest smitten, Who circled leagues of rolling foam, To hold the earth for Britain.

The return of “D” Company was signalled by the ringing of the City Hall bell, a refrain that was taken up by church bells across the city. More than 40,000 flag-waving citizens were in the streets to watch their heroes arrive at the Elgin Street station and march to Parliament Hill to the tunes of Rule Britannia and Soldiers of the Queen. They were joined by other South African veterans who had been invalided home earlier. In the parade were elements of all regiments based in Ottawa, including the 43rd Regiment, the Dragoon Guards, the Field Battery, the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Army Medical Corps. The parade was led by members of the police force, on foot, horse, and bicycle to clear the streets of well-wishers, followed by members of the reception committee. Also present were veterans of the 1866 and 1870 Fenian raids.

Boer War first Cdn contingent return 3-11-00 LAC-C-002067

Return of “D” Company, Parade along Wellington Street, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-002067.

Along the parade route, homes and stores were bedecked with flags, bunting and streamers. Store fronts and window displays were also decorated in patriotic themes. In the window of George Blyth & Son was a figure of Queen Victoria in a triumphal arch with two khaki-clad soldiers standing in salute. In the background was a canvas tent. The words “Soldiers of the Queen” were written in roses in the foreground. Ross & Company displayed a crowned figure with a sceptre in her hand being saluted by two sailors. R.J. Devlin’s and R. Masson’s stores were lit with electrical lights with Queen Victoria’s cypher, “V.R.” displayed over their doors in large letters. The Ottawa Electric Company building on the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets was draped in bunting, flags and strands of electric lights. Above the main entrance there was a large maple leaf and beaver in coloured lights. Not to be left out, the usually staid citizens of Ottawa were also patriotically dressed. Women wore little flags in the hats while young men had flags for vests.

Boer War return 1900 MIKAN no. 3407088

“D” Company parading in front of the central block on Parliament Hill, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan No. 3407088.

Parliament Hill was decorated to greet the return of “D” Company. The central block was ornamented by two large pictures picked out in electric lights on either side of the main entrance. On the left was a soldier charging with a rifle in hand with the word “Paardeberg” underneath. On the right was a trooper on horseback with the word “Pretoria,” underneath. Other emblems mounted on the towers included “VRI,” which stood for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, over the main entrance, as well as a crown, maple leaf and beaver. All were illuminated with electric lights. Strings of lights also stretched from the Victoria Tower in the centre of the main block to the east and west corners of the building.

The returning soldiers marched in the khaki uniforms that they had worn in South Africa. As they passed by the cheering multitudes, men from the crowd jumped into the ranks to shake the hand of a friend or family member. At times the police had difficulty in controlling the seething crowd. The Journal reported that on a couple of occasions, “the police, without warning, caught the eager relative of the long-absent warrior by the throat and hurled him back into the crowd.”

On Parliament Hill, the veterans were welcomed home by Lord Minto, the Governor General, who told the troops that he was proud “to be able to receive the Ottawa contingent into the Capital of the Dominion, the Ottawa representatives of the regiment that won glory for Canada at Paardeberg.” He then read out a message of thanks from Queen Victoria. This was followed by speeches from the Hon. W. R. Scott, secretary of state, and Ottawa’s Mayor Payment.

Ottawa sparkled that night. In addition to the lights on Parliament Hill that scintillated like diamonds, Sparks Street was ablaze with strings of Chinese lanterns strung across the road from Bank Street to Sappers’ Bridge. Electric lights illuminated Wellington Street. The words “Our Boys,” and “Welcome Home” were written in lights on the Victoria Chambers and the Bank of Montreal buildings.

The following Monday evening, another reception was held in honour of returning heroes at Lansdowne Park in the Aberdeen Pavilion. Close to ten thousand people cheered the Ottawa veterans. The biggest cheer was reserved for Private R. R. Thompson who had received the “Queen’s scarf” for bravery. The scarf was one of eight personally crocheted by Queen Victoria to be awarded to private soldiers for outstanding bravery in the South African conflict. Thompson had received his award for aiding wounded comrades at Paardeberg.

The Pavilion was decorated in bunting, flags and evergreen branches. Over the platform were the words “The heroes of our land. Their glory never dies. Ottawa welcomes her sons. Welcome to our heroes of Paardeberg.” The bands of the Governor General Foot Guards and the 43rd Regiment and the 200 member Ottawa Choral Society choir played and sang patriotic songs. After the speeches, Countess Minto presented each veteran with a golden locket.

Canadians everywhere basked in the reflected glory of their returning heroes from the South Africa War with celebrations across the country. Canada had done its part in preserving the honour of Queen and Empire. Moreover, Canadian soldiers were seen as equals of the finest in the British Army. The Journal wrote: “One year ago they left a country that was little known to the world, save as a prosperous colony; only one year, and they returned to find a nation; a nation glorying in its newly acquired honor, and a nation that does them homage as the purchasers of that honor.” In an editorial titled Patriotism and Loyalty, the newspaper added that “Canadians have always been both patriotic and loyal to the Mother Country.” But now “the fruits of confederation have suddenly ripened, and we have begun to feel our nation-hood.”

Boer War statue Topley Studio LAC PA-008912

The statue honouring Ottawa soldiers who died in the South African War once stood on Elgin Street in front of the City Hall which burnt down in 1931. It currently stands in Confederation Park, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA-008912.

Canadian soldiers subsequently gained distinction in later battles in South Africa, including at Leliefontein and Boschbult. Four Canadians received the Victoria Cross for valour during the war. In total, more than 7,000 Canadian soldiers and twelve nurses volunteered to serve in South Africa, of whom 267 died and whose names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance of the Canadian service personnel who have given their lives since Confederation while serving their country. In Ottawa, 30,000 children donated their allowances to build a statue to honour the sixteen Ottawa volunteers who died in the conflict.

After the Imperial forces defeated Boer armies on the field in 1900, the Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare for the next two years before surrendering. The British responded with a scorched earth policy and placed Boer women and children in concentration camps. Owing to neglect and disease due to overcrowding, tens of thousands of civilians died.  Non-combatant deaths exceeded 43,000 including Afrikaaner women and children and black Africans. More than 22,000 British and allied soldiers died in the three-year conflict, while suffering a similar number of wounded. Boer military deaths numbered more than 6,000. 

Sources:

BBC. 2010. “Second Boer War records database goes online,” 24 June, http://www.bbc.com/news/10390469.

Canadian War Museum, 2017. Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902, http://www.museedelaguerre.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/boerwarhistory_e.shtml.

Evening Citizen (The), 1900. “The Canadians Are At Halifax,” 1 November.

————————–, 1900. “The Boys Will Be Here On Time,” 3 November.

————————–, 1900. “It Was A Right Royal Welcome They Received,” 5 November.

————————–, 1900. “Form Paardeberg to Pretoria,” 5 November.

Evening Journal (The), 1899. “A Canadian Contingent,” 13 October.

————————————-, 1899. “Have Gone to Defend the Honor of Britain,” 25 October.

————————————-, 1900. “With the Ottawa Boys Down at the Citadel,” 30 October.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of “D” Company, 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of the Troops,” 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Patriotism and Loyalty,” 5 November.

————————————-, 1900, “Forty Thousand Glad Acclaims to Ottawa’s Brave Soldiers. 5 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Gold lockets Given to Ottawa’s Gallant Soldiers,” 6 November.

McKay, Ian & Swift, Jamie, 2016. The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Toronto: Between the Lines.

Miller, Carmen & Foot, Richard, 2016. “Canada and the South African War,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/south-african-war/.

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/south-african-boer-war.

Pretorius, Fransjohan, 2014. “The Boer Wars,” BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml.

South African History Online, 2017. Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/second-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902.

 

 

The Villa St-Louis Tragedy

15 May 1956

Tuesday, the 15th of May 1956 was an unremarkable spring day. The Grey Nuns of the Cross who were staying at Villa St-Louis on the bank of the Ottawa River in Orléans a few miles east of Ottawa went about the timeless routine of convent life.  After celebrating Compline, the final church service of the day, the thirty-five mostly elderly residents retired to their spartan cells for the night. There should have been more people staying at the 70-room rest and convalescent home built just two years earlier for $1 million. A group of sixteen student nurses who were about to start a two-week vacation at Villa St-Louis had delayed their arrival to see a play in downtown Ottawa.

Villa St-Louis, CF-100, Mk V, RCAF

The CF-100 “Canuck” Mark V, all-weather fighter/interceptor made by Avro Canada, RCAF photo.

As the nuns slumbered, two CF-100 “Canuck” Mark V interceptor jet fighters from the 445 Air Squadron based at RCAF Station Uplands were in the dark skies above Ottawa. The fighters had been scrambled to seek out and identify an intruder that had entered their operational airspace. The CF-100s were the most sophisticated flying machines in the RCAF arsenal. They were built by A.V. Roe Canada Ltd, also known as the Avro Canada Company, at the time one of the largest corporations in Canada. The company later became famous for the ill-fated Avro Arrow (CF-105), possibly the most advanced fighter aircraft of the age, cancelled by the Diefenbaker government in 1959.

The fighters were scarcely in the air when the intruder was identified as an RCAF North Star cargo airplane, a four-engine propeller aircraft, travelling from Resolute Bay high in the Arctic to St Hubert, near Montreal. Although the airplane had filed a flight plan, the information had not been received at Uplands. So when an unidentified “ping” appeared on the radar screen, the interceptors were sent up, consistent with military protocol at the height of the Cold War.

With the mystery quickly resolved, one CF-100 returned to base. While accounts vary, the other aircraft, number 18367, piloted by Flying Officer (FO) William Schmidt (age 25) with navigator FO Kenneth Thomas (age 20), apparently asked Uplands for permission to join up with two other Canuck fighters that were heading south at 35,000 feet. The request was denied. So, Schmidt continued west to burn off excess fuel before landing. It was the last flight control heard from the aircraft that vanished from the radar screen over Orléans, falling from 33,000 feet in less than a minute. There had been no hint of trouble.

Villa St-Louis Chapel PowellCA004409

Interior of the Villa St-Louis Chapel, Orléans, circa 1956, City of Ottawa Archives, MG393-NP-31447-001.

At 10:17pm, the CF-100 fighter, fully armed with rockets and machine guns, and with its two crew members aboard, plunged into the chapel of the Villa St-Louis rest home at a speed approaching 700 mph. In an instant, the three-storey, brick building was shattered by a thunderous explosion that sent debris and flames hundreds of feet into the air. Eyewitnesses said the jet had plummeted to ground in an almost vertical dive, the airplane spinning in tight circles, its wing lights flashing in the dark.

The blast could be heard fifteen miles away. A red glow in the sky was seen in distant Richmond and Manotick. A Trans-Canada Airway (TCA) pilot flying from Montreal to Toronto witnessed an orange ball of fire that lit up the whole sky for seconds. The Villa’s neighbours in the nearby residential area known as Hiawatha Park were thrown from their beds by the force of the blast that also shattered twenty-four windows in St Joseph’s School a mile and a half away. The explosion and ensuing fire, stoked by gallons of aviation fuel and tons of coal stored in the convent’s basement, totally destroyed Villa St-Louis. Within five minutes, the roof of the building collapsed. Two hours later, there was virtually nothing left save a forty-foot chimney and steel girders twisted in the white heat of the blaze.

Villa St-Louis

The glowing remains of Villa St-Louis, 15 May 1956, Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds/ City of Ottawa Archives/ MG393-AN-043317-005.

The speed and intensity of the fire left little time for survivors from the crash to escape. Sister Marie des Martyrs recounted that she had gone to bed at about 9.30pm but had trouble falling asleep. Shortly afterwards, she heard the sound of a low flying airplane—not an unusual sound given that Rockcliffe air force base was but a short distance away. Suddenly, the building was shaken by a terrific explosion that sounded like a thunderclap, followed by splintering wood and breaking glass. There was fire everywhere. Putting on her slippers and robe, she joined other nuns making their way to the fire escape. There was no panic. She descended to the bottom of the fire escape but flames had already reached the lower floor, partially blocking her exit. However, she managed to jump clear and landed uninjured. She believed that she was the last to get out alive.

On being awakened by the explosion, neighbours of Villa St-Louis in Hiawatha Park courageously ran across farmers’ fields to the stricken rest home to help. Many were regular attendees at Mass in the convent’s chapel and knew the resident nuns by name. Rhéal (Ray) Rainville, whose home was less than a mile from the Villa, helped a number of sisters escape from the burning convent. He broke the fall of one elderly resident who leapt from the third floor. He also witnessed the death of Father Richard Ward, the chaplain of the Grey Nuns, who had been blown 150 feet from the Villa by the force of the blast. The priest died in the arms of Joseph Potvin, another neighbour. Lorne Barber, who managed to enter the building, tried to force his way into bedrooms but flames turned him back. He could hear the screams of nuns pounding on the walls for help. Meanwhile, others tried to enter the burning building through its ground floor doors.

Rescued nuns, many burnt or with broken bones, huddled together in the nightclothes on the lawn outside of the burning building. The distraught sisters were taken in neighbours’ cars or by ambulance to the hospital or to their motherhouse in downtown Ottawa. The first survivors arrived at about midnight. Many of the injured were sent to the Ottawa General Hospital where they were cared for by the student nurses who were to have begun their holiday that evening at the destroyed home.

Three fire departments, Orléans, Gloucester and the Rockcliffe Air Station, responded to the blaze. But there was little that they could do. RCAF personnel set up road blocks in a vain attempt to stop thousands of spectators from approaching the area. People simply climbed over fences and walked through ploughed fields to get a good look. Cars were parked alongside roads for miles before police began turning vehicles away. People stayed until the early hours of the morning before returning home when the blaze was finally extinguished, aided by a light rain. Many were back at first light.

The next day, the grim task of recovering and identifying the bodies began. Of the thirty-five residents of Villa St-Louis, there were thirteen deaths, eleven Grey Nuns, a lay-woman cook, and Father Ward. Also dying in the crash and explosion were the two young flying officers. Many others were injured by the fire or suffered broken bones. As well as looking for human remains, RCAF specialists combed through the debris to recover the unexploded rockets that the CF-100 carried. Within hours, all but one had been safely found. Souvenir hunters were warned that the missing rocket was dangerous in the wrong hands.

The improbability of the disaster shook Ottawa and neighbouring communities. How could an airplane on a routine interception mission fall out of the sky and strike an isolated convent?  Even a slight deviation in the airplane’s flight path would have spared the Villa. Why was such pain and suffering inflicted on a religious order devoted to the care of the sick and injured? What was God thinking? There were no answers to these questions.

Despite subsequent inquiries, the cause of the fatal crash was never ascertained. The two flying officers never sent a distress signal, nor did they use their ejector seats that were standard equipment on CF-100 airplanes. The most likely explanation for the crash was a malfunction in their oxygen system that caused the two men to lose consciousness. This would explain the radio silence in the seconds prior to the crash. The accident report also raised two other possibilities. It was conceivable that the pilot had tried to descend through a gap in the cloud cover and experienced a “tuck under” at supersonic speeds. A “tuck under” can occur when the nose of an airplane continues to rotate downward (i.e. tuck under) at an increasing speed during a high-speed dive. This phenomenon has been known to be fatal if the pilot cannot control the descent owing to high stick forces. Alternatively, Schmidt might have lost control of his aircraft in heavy turbulence caused by the wash of the two other CF-100 fighters that were in the area.

The funeral for Father Ward, who in addition to being the chaplain to the Grey Nuns was also assistant Roman Catholic chaplain to the Fleet, was held the Friday after the disaster at St Patrick’s Church. Archbishop Roy of Quebec, the Bishop Ordinary of the Canadian Armed Forces, officiated. Along with the Grey Nuns, representatives of every congregation of nuns in Ottawa attended. He was buried in Toronto. The following day, a joint funeral service was held for the eleven nuns at Notre Dame Basilica. Thousands of Ottawa citizens lined Sussex Street to witness the funeral cortege—eleven coffins covered by simple grey cloths followed by seven hundred mourning Grey Nuns. Archbishop J.M. Lemieux officiated at the funeral Mass. The deceased were buried in Notre Dame Cemetery.

Villa St-Louis cross

Memorial Cross at the site of the Villa St-Louis disaster, August 2017 by Nicolle Powell

The following week a memorial service was held for FO William Schmidt and FO Kenneth Thomas, the two flying officers who died in the crash, as well as for a third airman, Flight Lieutenant Al Marshall, who had been killed in the crash of another CF-100 Mark V at a U.S. Armed Forces airshow at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on the weekend after the Villa St-Louis tragedy.

Today, not far from Residence St-Louis, a francophone seniors’ home that replaced the ill-fated Villa St-Louis, a twenty-foot cross embellished with a jet fighter pointing downwards, marks the spot of the tragedy. At its base are fifteen stones, one for each victim, taken from the convent’s rubble. Plaques list the names of the nuns, the priest, the lay cook, and the two flying officers who lost their lives.

In 2016, sixty years after the disaster, sixty veterans and RCAF members, along with friends and family of those who perished, gathered at the site to remember the lives that were lost that dreadful night in 1956. A bagpiper played the Piper’s Lament.

Sources:

Baillie-David, Alexandra, 2016. “RCAF marks 60th anniversary of Canuck 18367 crash,” Royal Canadian Air Force, 15 May, http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/news-template-standard.page?doc=rcaf-marks-60th-anniversary-of-canuck-18367-crash/iophk1cm.

CBC News, 2016. Archives of the 1956 plane crash at the Villa St-Louis, http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/ottawa/archives-of-the-1956-plane-crash-at-the-villa-st-louis-1.3581477.

Disasters of the Century, 20? CF 100 Convent Crash, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O89MgA0HDY.

Egan, Kelly, 2015.  “Ceremony to mark deadly 1956 jet crash that killed 11 nuns in Orléans,” The Ottawa Citizen, 15 May.

King, Andrew, 2016. “When hell fell from the sky: Fighter jet slammed into convent 60 years ago,” Ottawa Rewind, https://ottawarewind.com/2016/05/14/when-hell-fell-from-the-sky/.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1956. “Crashing Jet Kills 15,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Will Conduct Mass Funeral For Eleven Nuns on Saturday,” 17 May.

————————-, 1956. “Thousands In Streets To Witness Funeral Of 11 Nuns Burned In Fire,” 22 May.

Ottawa, City of, 2017, Disasters, Jet Crash at Villa St. Louis, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-heritage-and-culture/city-ottawa-archives/exhibitions/witness-change-visions-5.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1956. “Jet Explodes Convent. Struck at 10.15 pm,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Thousands Clog Roads Near Fire,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Villa Suddenly Enveloped By Great Cloud of Flames,” 16 May.

————————–, 1956. “Orleans Scene Of Jet Inferno,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Helped Nuns To Safety And Saw Priest Die On Grass,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “I Was the Last Out of the Building,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Two Jet Chasing Unknown Aircraft,” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “TCA Pilot 10 Miles Away Saw ‘Orange Ball of Fire,’” 16 May.

————————-, 1956. “Hunt Unexploded Rocket Warhead,” 18 May.

————————-, 1956. “Memorial Service Held For Air Victims,” 23 May.

Schmidt, Louis V. 1998. Introduction to Aircraft Flight Dynamics, AIAA Education Series, Reston, Virginia.

Sherwin, Fred, 2006. “Ceremony marks 50th anniversary of Villa St-Louis disaster, Orléans Online, http://www.orleansonline.ca/pages/N2006051501.htm.

Skaarup, Harold A. 2009. “1 Canadian Air Group, Canadian Forces Europe,” Military History Books, http://silverhawkauthor.com/1-canadian-air-group-canadian-forces-europe_367.html.

 

 

 

The Penny Bank

1 March 1909

Canadians are known for being careful with their money. While this may have been true in the past, the reputation is more apparent than real today. The average Canadian household’s debt to income ratio is much higher than that of households in other countries, and seems to touch a new record level every year. Canadians also save a much smaller portion of their incomes today than they did their parents or grandparents. Still, Canadian financial institutions have been more conservatively run than their American and British counterparts, a factor that helped them get through the 2008 global financial crisis with only minor bruises. The Canadian reputation for thrift and prudence may have originated with our canny Scottish forebears, who founded many of Canada’s chartered banks during the nineteenth century, such as the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of Montreal.

The thriftiness of our grandparents’ generation was also undoubtedly influenced by the Great Depression when they had little choice but to scrimp and save. But another important factor was the Penny Bank of Toronto, later known as the Penny Bank of Ontario. While a tiddler in the Canadian financial seas, the Penny Bank helped to instill a sense of thrift in hundreds of thousands of youngsters throughout Ontario and beyond during the early decades of the twentieth century. And, yes, Scots played a big role in its establishment too.

Penny BAnk Mcmurchy

Angus McMurchy, K.C., Key backer and organizer of the Penny Bank of Toronto. Carmichael Family Online.

The Penny Bank had its roots in informal saving associations established by religious groups in the late nineteenth century for working class men and women. At that time, one needed to make a minimum deposit of $1, more than $25 in today’s money, to open an account at a bank, or at the government-owned Post Office Savings Bank. This was beyond the means of the very poor. Two such groups in Toronto were the Savings Association of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church and the Victor Five-Cent Savings Association organized by the Fred Victor Mission. The Mission, which continues to thrive today, was established by Hart Massey, a prominent Toronto industrialist and devout Methodist who founded Massey-Ferguson, the agricultural equipment company. The Mission was named after his son, Fred Victor, who died in 1890 at age thirteen. In 1900, the Mission organized an informal “penny bank” with the Toronto Board of Education through which students at the Lord Dufferin School could make small deposits and earn interest. It was very successful. So successful that its backers thought that a more formal structure for the savings association would be advisable, and approached the Dominion Government for legislation.

Instead of incorporating the Penny Bank of Toronto through a private Act of Parliament, the government favoured more generic legislation to allow for the incorporation of penny banks throughout Canada. The Penny Bank Act was passed by the Dominion Government in 1903 as a way of encouraging thrift among the “labouring classes,” especially their children. In the event, the Penny Bank of Toronto was apparently the only such bank to be incorporated under the Act though there is a brief reference in the legislative record of the 1920s to a very small Penny Bank of Chicoutimi in Quebec.

The Penny Bank of Toronto, which brought together the St Andrews and Victor thrift organizations, was not an ordinary bank, but rather a philanthropic institution supported by many of Toronto’s prominent citizens. Early backers included Angus McMurchy, K.C., the solicitor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir William Hearst, who became Premier of Ontario from 1914-1919, and Sir Byron Edmund Walker, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1907 to his death in 1924. Sir George Burn of the Bank of Ottawa later joined the Penny Bank’s Board of Directors. The manager of the Penny Bank was H. D. Lockhart Gordon, a principal in the Canadian accounting Clarkson, Gordon & Dilworth.  The Penny Bank, a not-for-profit institution, had no shareholders and no capital. Its backers provided a guarantee fund, initially $10,000, to support the organization. They also managed the institution. However, they were forbidden by the legislation from receiving any dividend or compensation for their work. The Bank payed depositors 3 per cent interest, the standard rate of interest of the day. All funds raised by the Bank were deposited with the Post Office Savings Bank owned by the Dominion Government. The maximum size of an account was $300. Despite the Bank’s backers managing the institution for free, there were clerical costs associated with keeping track of deposits and withdrawals. These costs were partially offset by interest earned on the guarantee fund. As well, the Post Office Savings Bank financially assisted the Penny Bank by giving it a preferential interest rate. Initially, this rate was set at ½ percentage point above the 3 per cent rate the Post Office paid on its deposits. The government increased this margin to 1 percentage point in 1911. Over time, the Penny Bank also received various grants from the Ontario and Dominion governments to help sustain its operations.

While the Penny Bank was open to all, its focus was on public school children. Supporters hoped that young, working class kids who might not otherwise be exposed to the banking system would learn through personal experience the value of thrift and the wonders of compound interest, thereby improving their quality of life in later years. Youngsters could bring in their pennies every Monday to their classroom teacher who would record their deposits in their personal passbooks. Deposits as low as one cent were accepted. School principals would receive the funds and in turn deposit them in the Penny Bank. Students or their parents went to a designated chartered bank to withdraw funds.

The Penny Bank of Toronto quickly spread throughout the Toronto School Board and beyond. Within five years, it was operating in schools in Oakville, Guelph, Galt, Port Hope and Orangeville. It reached Ottawa in 1909, though not without considerable discussion and opposition by Ottawa teachers who had to run the programme in their classrooms. It was estimated that it took thirty minutes a week for a teacher to handle Penny Bank deposits. The Ottawa’s Public School Board recommended a pilot project at five public schools—Glashan, Cambridge, Creighton, Osgoode and Elgin. But at a meeting of teachers on the issue, of the sixty-nine teachers that attended only seventeen supported the Penny Bank. School trustees were also divided, with some calling the Penny Bank “a fad” that had no bearing on education, and would cost as much as $1,200 per year to operate. One trustee believed that the Penny Bank would make “mammon worshippers of the children.” He maintained that the proper place “to teach little ones the value and importance of thrift [was] in the home.” (Sounds like what some people say about sex education today!)

Among the strong supporters of the Penny Bank was the Ottawa Journal newspaper. Several editorials in favour of the Bank appeared in the paper. It rejected the teachers’ opposition as being irrelevant saying that it was for the School Board to decide. The newspaper argued that the Penny Bank had direct and practical educational benefits that would prepare children, especially those from working-class backgrounds, “for the battle of life.” It noted that 95 per cent of public school children went directly from school to earning their living. Consequently, “it naturally follows that the education be as utilitarian in nature as possible.”

Toronto’s successful experience was also noted. The newspaper claimed that children there were saving with a definite objective in mind rather than simply hoarding their money. “What wasted 5-cent pieces could not buy, saved 5-cent pieces, which invariably bulked into five dollars, could buy.” It also opined that during a recent economic downturn, which it described as an “out-of-work spell,” children’s savings helped their parents over “a most critical and trying time,” that prevented them from appealing to “the charity department.”

Despite teacher opposition, the pilot programme went ahead as planned though with one small change. Owing to concern expressed by school principals that they would have to leave their schools during the school day to deposit their Penny Bank collections, it was arranged that a clerk from the Traders Bank of Canada, the institution in Ottawa that initially handled the funds on behalf of the Penny Bank, would pick up the cash. Start-up expenses for ledgers, stationery and passbooks in the five schools was estimated at $65.

Penny Bank passbook 1

Passbook (exterior) for the Penny Bank of Ontario, October 1939, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

On 1 March 1909, principals in the five test schools explained the Penny Bank system to students in assembly. Small passbooks were handed out. Pennies, nickels and dimes quickly flowed in. Of the five schools that participated in the pilot project, Glashan School topped the list that first day, raising $52.16 from 173 depositors out of a school body of 550 pupils. Deposits ranged in size from one cent to three dollars. The collection might have been higher as many students had forgotten to bring in their pennies that morning. Two months later, the youngsters in the five schools had squirreled away over $1,000 (equivalent to more than $22,000 in today’s money).

Penny Bank passbook 2

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for depositor and weekly deposits, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

With the pilot project a great success, it was expanded the following year to the Rosemont Avenue, Kent Street, Percy Street and Wellington Street Public Schools, and subsequently to all nineteen Ottawa public schools.  By end-March 1910, Ottawa students had more than $3,800 on deposit in their names in the Penny Bank of Toronto. By December, the amount had topped $8,500. That Christmas, the youngsters “had the means to be generous gift-givers” said the Ottawa Journal that also opined that without the Penny Bank, the money would “likely to have been long spent.”

Penny Bank passbook 3

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for teachers, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

Over the next two decades, deposits in the Penny Bank grew steadily as schools across Ontario and in other provinces joined the programme. The Y.M.C.A. also participated. Newspapers regularly reported on deposit growth. Schools competed on how much they could save. In 1921, Penny Bank directors initiated a contest for a banner to the school that had “made the best use of the bank.” The banner read: “Prize Banner, Province of Ontario, Penny Bank Competition” with a maple leaf and a penny centred on it, with space for the names of five schools and the years in which they won it. That first year, St Patrick’s Public School in Guelph won the banner, with the Hester How school of Toronto in second place.

The 1920s brought changes to the Penny Bank. With more and more schools outside of Toronto joining the scheme, its name was changed to the Penny Bank of Ontario in 1923. More schools and rapidly growing deposits also meant rising administrative costs. Bank directors sought and received government approval to invest the institution’s growing guarantee fund in higher-yielding assets, including Victory bonds and subsequently mortgages to help offset costs. Penny bank deposits continued to be invested with the Post Office. Reflecting the growth of the scheme in Ottawa, the Penny Bank hired Mrs Evelyn Topley in 1924 to administer the scheme, a position she held until her retirement in early 1939.

By 1929, total Penny Bank deposits had topped the $1 million mark with more than 350 participating schools. Ottawa deposits reached almost $53,000. Although teachers complained about the detailed work required to keep track of thousands of small deposits, the Journal reckoned that the “moral effect on children [was] incalculable.”

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Penny Bank deposits continued to grow during the early 1930s, peaking at about $1.5 million in 1932 with 466 participating schools. Deposits of Ottawa’s nineteen public schools touched almost $59,000. However, the prevailing poor economic conditions began to take its toll. Ottawa school deposits began to slip, falling to just over $43,000 by the end of 1937. At the depth of the Depression, the Ontario Government provided a $150,000 guarantee to back-stop the Bank and protect the children from losses. There were allegations in the Provincial legislature that the provincial guarantee was required because the guarantee fund put up by the Penny Bank private backers had sustained losses.

Penny BAnk Winding up 6-7-48

Liquidation notice for the Penny Bank of Ontario, The Ottawa Journal, 6 July 1948.

But it was the onset of World War II that crippled the Penny Bank. Anxious to do their bit, children began withdrawing their savings to invest in war bonds and war savings stamps. Deposits dropped precipitously. By December 1942, Ottawa deposits in the Penny Bank had dropped by almost two thirds from their peak. At the end of February 1943, the directors of the institution suspended new deposits in the Penny Bank for the duration of the war. Existing account holders could keep their funds in the Bank and continue to earn interest but they could not make additional deposits.

The Bank never again re-opened for business. At the request of its managers, the Penny Bank was put into liquidation and ceased operations as of the beginning of August 1948. The winding up of the institution was supervised by the Inspector General of Banks. At that time, total deposits and accrued interest stood at roughly $164,000 in 128,000 accounts. Most of these accounts were dormant. Depositors had the choice of receiving a cheque for their balances or transferring their accounts to the Post Office Savings Bank. Just over $51,000 was so transferred. Deposit liabilities in dormant, unclaimed accounts of less than $1 were immediately extinguished. After paying all remaining liabilities, the Penny Bank gave the residual balance of $101,941.14 to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Sources:

Carmichael Family Online, 2017. McMurchy Obituaries, https://carmichaelfamilyonline.wordpress.com/mcmurchy-family/mcmurchy-documents-pictures/mcmurchy-obituraries/.

Debates of the House of Commons, various years.

Debates of the Senate of Canada, various years.

Filey, Mike, 1994. Toronto Sketches 3, The Way We Were, Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd.

Fred Victor, 2017. Fred Victor Beginnings, http://www.fredvictor.org/home.

Germain, Richard N, 1996. Dollars Through The Doors, A Pre-1930 History of Bank Marketing in America, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Globe (The), 1922. “Penny Bank Banner,” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1904. “The Penny Bank in Toronto,” 21 June.

————————–, 1906. “A Philanthropic Institution,” 2 June.

————————–, 1907. “Toronto Penny Bank,” 17 October.

————————–, 1909, “Penny Banks,” 8 January.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Savings Banks,” 2 February.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks To Open Here Soon,” 10 February.

————————–, 1909. “Deposits Made Into Penny Banks,” 1 March.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks Are Opened,” 28 February.

————————–, 1910. “The Children At Christmas,” 2 December.

————————–, 1912. “Criticism of R.A. Sproule,” 12 February.

————————–, 1921, “Penny Bank’s Directors Will Give A Prize Banner,” 25 January.

————————–, 1921. “Save The Pennies Campaign Coming,” 15 February.

————————–, 1926. ‘Have Never Had Run On The Penny Banks,” 26 February.

————————–, 1927. “Sir William Hearst,” 30 June.

————————–, 1929. “Ontario Children Save A Million,” 9 January.

————————–, 1929. “Penny Bank Bill Passes Senate,” 21 May.

————————–, 1931. “Increase Is Shown Penny Bank Savings,” 17 June.

————————–, 1936. “Says Poor Investments Made By Penny Bank,” 31 March.

————————–, 1939. “Toronto Girl Succeeds Mrs E.E. Topley,” 19 April.

————————–, 1943. “Suspend Deposits in Penny Bank,” 26 February.

————————-, 1948. “End of the Penny Bank,” 22 March.

————————-, 1948. “Ontario Penny Bank Finally Closes Its Doors,” 3 August.