The Byward Market in Flames

28 April 1874 and 2 January 1957

Ottawa’s Byward Market is one of the capital’s top attractions for both residents and tourists. Home to the oldest and largest farmers’ market in the city, the streets surrounding the main market building host a myriad of restaurants and chic bars intermingled with trendy shops and specialty stores. Long a Francophone, working-class, residential area as well as commercial district, the market area has in recent years begun to attract the well-heeled looking for residences in close proximity to work as well as to the vibrant nightlife that is here on offer. The district is also a draw for the city’s less fortunate with shelters for the homeless close by. This combination of wealth and poverty and old buildings cheek by jowl with glitzy, new condominiums gives the neighbourhood an eclectic, edgy vibe.

While some of its buildings date back to the mid-nineteenth century, most structures in the Byward Market neighbourhood are newer, owing to recurring fires that have beset the area over the decades. Indeed, the current market building only dates to 1926, when the previous market building was destroyed by fire.

Newspaper clipping, 2 May 1874, Ottawa Citizen.

There had been at least two major conflagrations that destroyed entire blocks of homes and stores. The first broke out early in the morning of Tuesday, 28 April 1874. It was to be one of the most destructive fires every to occur in Ottawa up to that point, causing in excess of $100,000 in damages, a huge sum of money in those days. Insurance covered only a portion of the losses.

The fire encompassed more than an entire city block, extending from the market square at York Street to Clarence Street to Sussex Street. Destroyed on the west side of the market square were a row of wooden stalls and shops owned by the City of Ottawa and leased to a number of businesses. One of those businesses was a fish shop owned by Moise Lapointe. The family-owned business fortunately survived the blaze, and continues to operate in the Market to this very day.

Other buildings burnt to the ground included the City Hotel, the Smith’s block, the Henry Block, the McCann Block, and the Gibson building. Mr. T. Forfar’s agricultural implement warehouse was lost, as was a furniture store, a grocer located in the Gibson building, a fruit store in the McCann Block and Mr. A.B. Macdonald’s Auction and Commission Rooms which were full of furniture at the time ready to be auctioned off. Godbout’s Tailor and Lamontagne’s Jewellery, both located in the nearby Lyon Building, were damaged. Fortunately, no one was killed in the fire though there several individuals were hurt by falling debris or received burns. Many were left homeless.

The fire was fanned by a strong northerly wind that whipped sparks and cinders over adjacent blocks. According to the Ottawa Citizen, for a time, people feared that the entire Lower Town business district would go up in flames. Residents in the affected area began throwing personal belongings and furniture out into street. Neighbour merchants did likewise in attempts to save their stock. York and Clarence Streets were soon clogged with these effects. Reportedly, costly pianos stood side by side with old household stoves, some supposedly still lit with fires inside them. Their owners ranged in age “from helpless infancy to worn out old age.”

There was considerable criticism of the response of the Ottawa Fire Brigade under Chief Young. It took a long time before the firemen were able to bring their horse-drawn, steam engine, the “Conqueror,” to the scene of the fire despite the short distance from the fire station. There were also delays in getting the hoses into action with the result that the firemen didn’t really begin to fight the blaze until an hour after the alarm was sounded. The Citizen opined that the buildings on the south side of York Street might have been saved had there been better fire management.

When the hoses were finally brought into play, water pressure was lost owing to leaks in the hoses. One leak was so powerful that a spray of water was sent fifteen feet high into the air, with gallons of water wasted down the drains. None of the hoses were able to send streams of water over the roofs of the burning buildings.

There were other problems. The water level in the By-Wash, which led from the Rideau Canal through the market area towards the Rideau River and was the source of water to fight the fire, was low. A quick-thinking engineer built a dam made using an old door to raise the water level. Even so, gravel clogged up the suction pipe. There was also insufficient coal on hand to power the “Conqueror.”

Fortunately, the volunteer Chaudière Fire Company and its “Union” steam engine came to help the Ottawa Fire Brigade. The Citizen causticallynoted that they had no leaking hoses.

An inquest was held a few days later in Starr’s Hotel on Clarence Street. (This was the same hotel/tavern where Patrick James Whelan, the man executed for assassinating Thomas D’Arcy McGee, had been arrested in 1868.) The fire began in a pile of straw in a shed behind the Cardinal Hotel—another tavern—owned by Felix Cardinal to the rear of the McCann Block. The Cardinal family lived above. The alarm was sounded by Felix Cardinal Junior.  The junior Cardinal, who was a heavy drinker, had fallen asleep in the downstairs bar the previous night, after having downed four or five glasses of whiskey. Sometime before 5:00am, he awoke and spotted a fire in the back stable area. He called out to his father, and the two of them attempted to extinguish the blaze and save their horse. In the process, the senior Cardinal’s hands were badly burnt. Neither of the two Cardinals knew the cause of the blaze.

Mr and Mrs John Hurley, the neighbours to the rear of the Cardinal Hotel, testified seeing Felix Cardinal trying to extinguish a fire by raking the straw out into the yard, but that only made the fire worse. John Hurley, while not knowing the cause of the fire, alluded to regular fights and quarrels in the Cardinal household and said that he typically slept in his clothes in order to be ready in case there was a fire. However, while there had been a fight the night before the blaze, all had been quiet with no lights showing when he saw the fire.

The inquest never resolved the cause of the fire, beyond concluding that it started in Felix Cardinal’s shed. The Ottawa Fire Brigade was highly criticized, with the inquest saying that it had insufficient men to attend to the hoses and that it was not organized efficiently. In addition, the Brigade had not taken steps to ensure the adequacy of water in the By-Wash and that no measures had been taken to keep sand and gravel away from the suction pipe. The inquest’s jury found that Chief Young was either too relaxed in taking his responsibilities, or did not have the necessary authority to fulfill his duties as Fire Chief. The jury also censured the City’s Light and Fire Committee for not organizing a sufficient force to operate the steam engine efficiently. The jury furthermore recommended the prohibition of erecting wooden sheds behind buildings on the principal streets of Ottawa.

The aftermath of the disastrous 2 January 1957 blaze in the Byward Market neighbourhood, City of Ottawa Archives

Another huge fire struck the Byward Market area on 2 January 1957, consuming the block between Clarence Street in the south to Murray Street to the north, between Sussex and Parent Streets, overlapping the site of the 1874 conflagration. The1957 fire started in the elevator shaft of the Book Unit and Typewriter Unit of the Department of Printing and Stationery, located at 47 Clarence Street. It was discovered shortly before 6:30 am by Gordon Low, a member of the cleaning staff in the building. Yvon Saumier of Navan, who was having an early morning coffee in the restaurant at the Chez Lucien Hotel at the corner of Clarence Street and Parent Avenue heard a blast and saw flames shooting through the roof of the government building. With a stiff north-westerly breeze blowing, the fire quickly spread through neighbouring buildings, eating its way along Clarence and Murray Streets toward Parent Avenue, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Flames shot up some 150 feet in the air. Scantily clad residents from area homes and apartments fled into the streets, shivering from the cold, clutching whatever they could rescue with them.

In addition to the government building, lost in the blaze were the Victoria Hotel, the 60-room Chez Lucien Hotel, which had been renovated two years earlier for $200,000, two apartment buildings, several rooming houses, Pioneer Distributing on Murray Street, Camille Methot’s barber shop, the Soublière Supply Company, Beaudry’s Confectionary, and Aline’s Dress Shop. Total losses were in excess of $1 million and roughly 200 people were left homeless. The Chez Lucien Hotel was later rebuilt.

More than three hundred firefighters fought the blaze, including off-duty men and firemen from Hull. Tackling the fire was made more difficult by the bone-chilling cold. It was -23 degrees Celsius that night, with the wind chill considerably lower. Ice was everywhere, making the footing dangerous. Hoses quickly froze as the firemen moved from hydrant to hydrant down the street as they chased the fire. Downed hydro wires lying in the streets were another hazard.

The Sisters of Joan of Arc, whose convent stood at the corner of Clarence and Sussex Streets, opened an emergency kitchen serving hot soup, coffee, doughnuts and toast with jam to weary firefighters and the homeless. The Salvation Army also set up a booth providing hot drinks. Additionally, a coffee kitchen was set up across from the Victoria Hotel on Murray Street at the John C. Preston Office Equipment Company. When firemen came in with frozen mitts, one of the workers in the company who was distributing refreshments, called A.J. Freiman’s, the big department store on Rideau Street. Within minutes, two large bags full of heavy, cowhide mitts were delivered for the firemen.

Given the size of the blaze and its intensity, it was surprising that there were no fatalities. Three firemen were hurt when a wall fell onto them. Two women were also temporarily hospitalized due to shock; one had a mild heart attack.

The city stepped in to provide assistance for the homeless. A week later, a fire victims’ benefit was held at the Français Theatre, sponsored by the East Ottawa Municipal Association. This included variety acts, and a full-length colour feature movie donated by Robert Maynard, the owner of the cinema. The film was a US civil war epic titled Great Day in the Morning, starring Virginia Mayo and Robert Stack. A “silver” collection was held, collecting $300 from the crowd of 500 cinema goers.

Despite the fire, the Byward Market, while physically altered, endured.

Sources:

Ottawa Citizen, 1874. “Destructive Conflagration,” 28 April.

——————, 1874. “Fire Investigation,” 2 May.

——————, 1874. “Fire Investigation,” 4 May.

—————-, 1957. “$1,000,000 Blaze,” 2 January.

—————-, 1957. “City Set To Provide Aid To Fire Homeless—Nelms,” 3 January.

—————-, 1957. “Fire Victims Benefit Show,” 11 January.

—————-, 1957. “200 Homeless In Ottawa Fire,” 2 January.

Thanksgiving

3 January 1850, 15 April 1872 and 6 November 1879

Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada on the second Monday of October. Traditionally, it is the time to give thanks to the Almighty for the year’s harvest. And, indeed, it is still so celebrated in homes and churches across the country. However, in today’s secular times, the religious aspect of the holiday has diminished. Instead, the long Thanksgiving weekend provides a wonderful opportunity for family get-togethers between the Labour Day weekend in early September and the Christmas and Boxing Day holidays in December. For many Canadians, the Thanksgiving weekend is also traditionally the time for closing up cottages and camps for the winter, turning off their water, draining the pipes and clearing out any food in pantries that might attract both little and big critters.  

Turkey farm near Ottawa, circa 1920, Library and Archives Canada, 3360573.

The Canadian Thanksgiving shares the same rituals and traditions as its American counterpart. Both holidays focus on family, food, and sports. The customary Thanksgiving feast in both countries features turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce with pumpkin pie for dessert. However, the Canadian holiday is roughly six weeks before the American Thanksgiving, consistent with its earlier harvest season.

While most people, at least in North America, are somewhat familiar with the story of the first American Thanksgiving (which it wasn’t) when pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts and members of the Wampanoag First Nation sat down to celebrate a bountiful harvest in the autumn of 1621, the first thanksgiving in the territory that would later become known as Canada is less well known. It had nothing to do with the harvest but rather refers to the thanks given to the Almighty by the British explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew for their safe arrival in 1578 in what is now Frobisher Bay in Nunavut. This occurred forty-three years before the Pilgrims broke bread with their Indigenous neighbours.

Turkey and cranberry sauce, already a tradition in 1907, Ottawa Journal, 30 October 1907.

In more modern times, three dates stand out in the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, and none of them are in October. These are 3 January 1850, 15 April 1872 and 6 November 1879. Only the last is related to giving thanks for the harvest.

The first refers to a Royal Proclamation by Lord Elgin, the Governor General of the Province of Canada, issued in mid-December 1849, announcing that Thursday, 3 January 1850 would be a day of “General Thanksgiving to Almighty God” to thank Him for his mercies, especially in delivering Canadians from “the grievous disease [cholera] which many places in the Province had been lately visited.”   

The announcement came after press reports of a comparable holiday recommended that year by US President Taylor. The Globe newspaper noted approvingly that the president had “recommended” rather than “ordered” the public to celebrate the event as a recommendation was consistent with religious freedom whereas a command was not. However, it added that this formula was “marvellous proof of republican selfishness to guard the privileged class with scrupulosity against the least encroachment of arbitrary power and yet suffer the bondage of the most foul mental and physical slavery to rest upon millions.” It added “in a country where there is extensive domestic slavery it is strangely inconsistent.”

Businesses throughout the Province of Canada were closed on that cold January Thanksgiving Day, with special services held in churches. According to the Globe, services were well attended “as on a Sabbath,” and sermons were given that were appropriate to the occasion. Unfortunately, a report on how Ottawa celebrated that first Thanksgiving is not available.

While days of Thanksgiving were subsequently sporadically organized by colonial governments in British North America, the first official Dominion-wide Thanksgiving Day was held on Monday, 15 April 1872. The occasion was to give thanks for the recovery of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, from a serious bout of typhus that he had contracted while staying as a guest at country estate in North Yorkshire. Another guest at the estate had died from the disease, and for a time, there were serious concerns about whether the prince would recover. Typhus was the disease that had killed his father, Prince Albert, ten years earlier.

In Britain, a national day of Thanksgiving had been called for 27 February 1872. But in Canada, only New Brunswick had followed suit, much to the embarrassment of many. The Ottawa Daily Citizen opined that “this great national event, in which all British subjects must be deeply concerned, has been allowed to pass unhonored and forgotten.” This oversight was quickly rectified.

On 15 April 1872, commerce was suspended across Canada, including in Ottawa, with Divine services held to thank God for the Prince’s deliverance. The Citizen wrote: The loyalty of the Canadian people, which only requires an event of this kind to call forth an enthusiastic response, found fitting expression in every pulpit in the city, and in joining prayer of thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince of Wales the people of the Dominion felt that they were welding another link of love to bind them to the altar and the throne of their forefathers.”

All denominations held services. The Methodists met together at the Metcalfe Street Church. The Presbyterians prayed in the Bank Street Church, while the Roman Catholics met at Notre Dame Cathedral. Governor General Lord Lisgar and his wife celebrated at the Bishop’s Chapel, which held a joint service with the congregation of Christ’s Church. The Bishop’s Chapel, located at the corner of Somerset and Elgin Streets, became known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist in 1874. The Garrison Artillery supplied the Governor General’s honour guard and a band. The Bishop of Ontario also attended the service.

The first, Canada-wide, harvest Thanksgiving Day occurred on Thursday, 6 November 1879 with that day set aside by the Governor in Council as a day of general thanksgiving. The proclamation urged every province in the Confederation to unite “in special prayer and praise for the many mercies vouchsafed during the past year” as an expression of the nation’s gratitude.

Thanksgiving sales, another tradition, Ottawa Citizen, 10 October 1890.

In Ottawa, principal places of business were closed and the streets “wore a holiday appearance, according to the Ottawa Daily Citizen. There were special Thanksgiving services in all Protestant churches with appropriate sermons. Attendance was considered “unusually large.”

At St. Andrew’s, Rev. Gordon’s sermon drew upon Psalm 136 “O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” He said that the congregation was united with “our fellow countrymen from the Atlantic to Pacific.”

At Christ’s Church, the venerable Archdeacon Lauder urged his congregation “to beware the great sin of ingratitude.” The Archdeacon said that the poor were poor because God caused them to be poor for some reason of His own. (This harsh viewpoint was very common at this time.) He argued that there were two types of poor—the “strolling begging poor” and the “silent suffering poor who endure almost to death before they ask [for help].” Lauder had little sympathy for the first kind. The collection for the day was given to the Ladies Benevolent Society for the relief of the poor of the parish. Lauder assured his listeners that monies would not be spent on people until they had been visited and enquiries made into why they were poor.

Rev. Dr. Wood of the Congressional Church expressed gratitude for Canada’s bountiful harvest. He also said that the country had the blessing of peace, good governance, free schools, free press, reviving commerce, and general progress. The collection was raised for the Protestant Hospital.

Rev. Mr. Cameron of the Baptist Tabernacle contended that prosperity of a Christian nation is only guaranteed by being faithful to God. The recent five years of “hard times” experienced by Christian nations was due to people forgetting that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” Fortunately, God’s lesson—the hard times—was nearly over and prosperity would soon return. He added that Canadians had many reasons to be thankful, including a bountiful harvest, the opening of the Northwest [to the detriment of Indigenous peoples living there, one should note], prospects for returning prosperity, Canada being in a quiet corner of the British Empire, and for being alive to celebrate Thanksgiving. Like the Congressional Church, the Tabernacle’s collection was donated to the Protestant Hospital.

One notable absence among the denominations celebrating Thanksgiving was the Roman Catholic Church. The new government-announced celebration was not part of the Church’s liturgical calendar. The Feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas, on 29 September, or the Feast of St. Andrew, or Andermass, on 30 November, were already celebrated in many Catholic churches as harvest thanksgivings, depending on where you lived.

For roughly the next twenty years, Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on a Thursday in November. In 1899, it was switched to a Thursday in October. Starting in 1908, it was moved to a Monday in October. There was still not fixed day, with each Thanksgiving Day being annually proclaimed by the government.

The switch of month from November to October was generally viewed to be appropriate given the early start of winter in some parts of Canada. The Ottawa Journal opined that the “Dominion Government might remember the tendencies and diversities of its native climes when the date of Thanksgiving is being chosen.” It added that October was almost a winter month in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario. As for choosing a Monday over a Thursday, the Journal didn’t think it would lessen the religious significance of Thanksgiving in Canada. It also argued that choosing a Monday was convenient for people. A three-day weekend made family reunions possible.

After World War I, Thanksgiving was celebrated concurrently with Armistice Day, which was fixed by statute to be the Monday of the week in which 11 November fell. The holiday became known as Remembrance Day. However, in 1931, the two observances were separated, with Thanksgiving Day reverting to the second Monday in October (except in 1935 when Thanksgiving was shifted a week later owing to a general election). The date of the holiday was officially proclaimed annually by the federal government. It wasn’t until 1957 that the holiday was fixed by legislation to be the second Monday in October, thereby obviating the need for the government to make annual proclamations.

Sources:

Canada Gazette, 1849. “A Proclamation,” 15 December.

Canadian Heritage, 2008. Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.

[The] Globe, 1849. “The Cholera – National Humiliation,” 26 July.

—————, 1849. “National Thanksgiving,” 18 December.

—————, 1850. “The Thanksgiving Day,” 5 January.

Miller, Jennifer, 2018, “The Catholic Tradition of Harvest Feasts at Thanksgiving,” Catholic Culture, 24 November.

Nagy, Alison, 2018. “The History of Thanksgiving in Canada,” Canada’s History, 4 October.

Ottawa Citizen, 1957. “Permanent Dates Given Two Holidays,” 1 February.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “The National Thanksgiving in Britain,” 27 February.

————————-, 1872. “The Thanksgiving in England,” 2 March.

————————–, 1872. “Thanksgiving,” 16 April.

————————–, 1879. “Thanksgiving Day,” 8 November.

Ottawa Journal, 1907. “Thanksgiving Day,” 17 September.

——————-, 1909. “Thanksgiving,” 23 October.

The Rolling Stones

24 April 1965

One of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time is undoubtedly The Rolling Stones. Formed in 1962 by Brian Jones (guitar, keyboard, and harmonica), Mick Jagger (lead vocals and harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar and vocals), Charlie Watts (drums,) Bill Wyman (bass guitar) and Ian Stewart (piano), the group is still going strong at time of writing in 2021. Over the years, some of the band’s members have changed, starting with Ian Stewart who dropped out of the group’s official line-up in 1963 to become its road manager though he did subsequently play from time to time until his death in 1985. Brian Jones died in 1969 shortly after being cut from the band, and was replaced by Mick Taylor until he left the group at the end of 1974. (He did, however, rejoin the band for it’s 50th anniversary shows.) In 1975, Ronnie Wood joined the Stones and has remained with the group ever since. Bill Wyman left in 1993. Despite comings and goings and untimely deaths, the core of the group, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, have been constants since the start.

The Rolling Stones in 1965, left to right, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Keith Richards, Source: Pop Expresso, Original author and source unknown.

Back in the early 1960s, when they were young and fresh faced, the band, along with other British singers and groups such as The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark, The Kinks, and The Animals, took North America by storm in what would later be called the “British Invasion.” British groups topped the charts in Canada and the United States, and followed up with concert tours that drew thousands of excited teenagers eager to see their idols in the flesh.

The Rolling Stones crossed the Atlantic in early June 1964, with their first American gig in San Bernardino, California, ending their tour two weeks later in New York City. Their second American expedition took place just a few months later that autumn. The group returned to North America in the spring of 1965, starting their tour with stops in Canada—Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto—before heading to the United States.

After playing a one-night gig at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal, a show sponsored by CKGM Club 980 and the English promotor and personality “Lord” Tim Hudson, the Stones rolled into Ottawa for a single engagement on 24 April 1965 at the old YM/YWCA Auditorium on Argyle Street. The Stones were brought to the nation’s capital by Treble Clef Productions, a music production company owned by Ottawa-born Harvey Glatt, the noted music promoter, broadcaster, music retailer and record producer. Over the years, Glatt brought to Ottawa an amazing array of international and Canadian music talent, including such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, and Bob Dylan.

Tickets for the Stones’ show were sold through Treble Clef, Glatt’s music retail outlets located at 104 Bank Street and at 68 Rideau Street. The cost was $2.50 and $3.00 each (approximately $20 and $24, respectively, in 2021 dollars). In the lead up to the performance, the Ottawa Journal held a contest asking the question “Would you like to meet the Rolling Stones?” To qualify, contestants wrote to the newspaper and joined The Journal Swing Club. At the end of the contest, the names of two lucky winners  were drawn at random – Veronica Fosbery and Cathy Waiten.

The concert started at 8:30 pm. The Auditorium, which could seat 10,000 people, was only partially full with roughly 3,400 fans in attendance. The mostly teenaged audience made up for its size with its enthusiasm. The show started with two local folk singers, Nev Wells and Sandy Crawley, performing blues and country and western songs. The couple was followed by J.B. and the Playboys, a very popular group from Montreal, who played a mix of their own tunes and covers of the Beatles’ and other rock group songs. Reportedly, their set ended abruptly when the lead singer, Allan Nicholls, ripped his pants in the middle of one of their songs. (J.B. and The Playboys reunited in 2019 as J.B. and The Playboys 2.0.)

After the intermission, the Ottawa rock group The Esquires, not to be confused by the American rhythm and blues group by the same name, took the stage. Girls danced and swayed to their tunes. The Esquires, which had a national following, had just won the RPM Award, the precursor of the Junos, for best vocal and instrumental group of 1964. During the 1960s, The Esquires opened for other international stars, including the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, and the Dave Clark Five.

Advertisement for The Rolling Stones, Ottawa Citizen, 15 April 1965.

The excitement rose several notches higher when the Stones—Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman—finally appeared. Screaming teenagers rushed toward the stage, pushing back a cordon of eighteen policemen hired for crowd control onto the stage itself. One of the policemen was reportedly bitten on the ankle by one of the fans.

The Ottawa Journal’s headline said it all: “Pandemonium Greets the Rolling Stones.” John Pozner, the master of ceremonies, pleaded with the crowd to return to their seats so that the show could gone on. The Journal complained that the teenagers who had spent their allowance to buy the premium seats had been cheated by those who had rushed forward. Rushing the stage was also dangerous and ridiculous said the Journal reporter. Eventually, sufficient order was restored for the Stones to perform.

Despite being there to cover the concert, neither of Ottawa’s newspapers commented much on the music, beyond complaining that it was raucous and brassy. Both newspapers used quotation marks around the words concert and performance when describing the show, suggesting that in their opinion it was neither a concert nor a performance. They didn’t even comment on what songs were played. Oblique reference is made to only one song—The Last Time—which had been released as a single in Britain two months earlier and was to appear on the Stones’ Out Of Our Heads album.  One could also presume the group played selections from its Now! album which was then the number one pop album in Canada.

Instead of the music, the newspapers focused on the crowd. Wilf Bell, the Citizen reporter, distastefully described the audience as being “as uncontrolled as a jungle rabble,” with teenage girls shaking and trembling at the contortions of the performers, and teenage boys, “many barely recognizable as such with their long hair,” shaking and stamping with the beat. He rhetorically asked This was fun? This was entertainment? before claiming it was mob hysteria and mass mesmerisation. The Journal’s coverage was scarcely better. It too focused its commentary on teenagers who “jumped wildly, waving arms, and imploring the Stones to look at them,” and “in some cases passing out if they got the slightest glance from Britain’s number two group to the Beatles.” It also reported on fights breaking out in the stands before the performance, “in some cases egged on by girls.” The newspaper was, however, impressed by the band’s sang froid, reporting that the Stones played on “not in the least perturbed by the frenzy they sparked.”

The concert ended without serious mishap, though three young men were arrested at the Auditorium after the performance for fighting. Subsequently, a magistrate gave the offending teenagers the choice of a $10 fine or three days in jail. As for the Stones, the Journal reported that four of the five performers successfully exited the stage. However, it claimed that “the fifth, long hair flying, was grabbed by a couple of policemen who mistook him for one of the frantic females.”  

After the concert, Keith Richard, Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger apparently returned to their hotel, while Brian Jones and Bill Wyman went out clubbing.

The staid Château Laurier Hotel was clearly not prepared for the crowds of teenagers that swarmed the hotel in an effort to spot their idols. A hotel doorman needed four stiches to close a cut above his eye early Sunday morning when he was struck by a teenager trying to get into the hotel. A CNR policeman, Constable George Mosiuk, was also hit in the face and knocked to the ground by a young man who had been ejected from the hotel. The assailant was later charged with assaulting a policeman. The hotel’s manager said that he would never have allowed the group to book into the hotel had he known who there were. Apparently, the band had reserved rooms under their own names rather than under the group’s name. The manager also commented that these types of music groups “encourage an unpleasant element among teenagers.”

That Sunday, the morning after their gig at the Auditorium, the Rolling Stones left for Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto for their next and last stop on the Canadian leg of their North American tour. On 2 May, the Stones performed on the Ed Sullivan show for the second time of what would be six appearances. (See The Rolling Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show, 2 May 1965.)

Forty years were to go by before The Rolling Stones returned to the nation’s capital. In late August 2005, the band played in front of 43,000 fans, many middle-aged, at Frank Clair Stadium as part of their “A Bigger Bang” tour. While the rock stars were showing their age, they could still fire up a crowd. The Citizen called their performance “a triumph”—a far different assessment to their first appearance in Ottawa. There was one big difference between the two performances. With Mick Jagger now sporting a knighthood, which he received in 2002, the Stones were no longer the rebel iconoclasts of their earlier days. They had become (horrors) respectable.

Like they did forty years earlier, band members went clubbing while in Ottawa. This time to Zaphod Beeblebrox, the famous nightclub. Keith Richards tried to bum a cigarette from Rachel, the daughter of Ben Weiss, a fellow member of the Historical Society of Ottawa, but he didn’t like her brand. The Stones shot part of the video for their song Streets of Love at Zaphod’s.

In 2019, The Rolling Stones brought their latest “No Filter” tour to North America. Delayed owing to Mick Jagger having to undergo heart surgery, the tour resumed in June of that year following Jagger’s return to health. After playing seventeen extraordinarily successful gigs across the United States, the tour was extended into 2020. However, these later performances were postponed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. No Canadian stops were planned.

Sources:

CBC. 2017. Zaphod Beebelbrox, landmark Ottawa music venue, closing May 14, 3 May.

Classic Rock 101.1, 2018. Flashback: The Rolling Stones Debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ 25 October, https://classicrock1011.radio.com/blogs/stoneman/flashback-rolling-stones-debut-ed-sullivan-show.

Gazette (Montreal), 2016. “J.B. and The Playboys: Montreal’s Fab Five,”

J.B. and The Playboys, 2.0, 2019, https://www.jbandtheplayboys.com.

Ottawa Citizen, 1965. “Four Stiches, one punch and a bite follow Stones,” 26 April.

——————, 1965. “Fine 3 youths for fighting,” 26 April.

——————, 1965. “‘Stones’ rock Ottawa,” 26 April.

——————, 1965. “U.K.’s Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan Show,” 1 May.

——————, 2005. “Stones Rock Ottawa,” 29 August.

——————, 2005. “Streets: Stones’ music reaches across city,” 29 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1965. “Meet the Stones,” 20 March.

——————, 1965. “‘Stones’ In Canada,” 23 April.

——————, 1965. “Pandemonium Greets the Rolling Stones,” 26 April.

——————, 1965. “City Girls Meet Stones,” 26 April.

——————, 1965. “Battle of The Sexes,” 27 April.

Perusse, Bernard, 1965. “Rolling Stones – Here Soon,” Gazette (Montreal), 3 April, https://montrealgazette.com/entertainment/music/j-b-and-the-playboys-montreals-fab-five.

Robb, Peter, 2017. “Remembering Treble Clef: Harvey and Louise Glatt changed Ottawa’s music scene forever 60 years ago,” Artsfile, 9 November, https://artsfile.ca/remembering-treble-clef-harvey-and-louise-glatt-changed-ottawas-music-scene-forever-60-years-ago/.

The Marbles and Jacks Competitions

21 April 1924

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The marbles and jacks competitions were not repeated.

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa’s World-Famous Dairy

8 April 1927

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Labarge, Ottawa Citizen, 19 March 1928.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 York Street today, Google Streetview.

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Sussex

28 April 1951

One of the best-known addresses in Canada is 24 Sussex Drive, the official home of the Prime Minister. It is situated across the street from Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, in the tony New Edinburgh neighbourhood of Ottawa. The home, located on a four-acre estate, is perched on a cliff beside the French Embassy with splendid views of the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills. Unfortunately, the house has been unoccupied since 2015, its last residents being Stephen Harper and his family. With it becoming increasingly dilapidated, Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, chose to live with their three children at Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall, rather than punish themselves by living at 24 Sussex Drive.

Actually, the house is worse than dilapidated. That adjective was used more than a decade ago to describe it; unlike fine wine the building has not improved with age. 24 Sussex is stuffed with asbestos, its wiring is a fire hazard, its roof leaks as does the plumbing, there’s mould in the basement, and it is home to little forest critters. As well, the rooms are freezing in the winter and broiling in the summer. There is no central air-conditioning. And then there’s its inadequate security. Just ask Aline Chrétien, who held off an intruder in 1995.

24 Sussex 2010 Wikipedia

24 Sussex Drive, 2010, by Alasdair McLellan, Wikipedia

Simply put, 24 Sussex Drive is scarcely fit to live in let alone be the official residence of the head of government of a G-7 country. Besides the odd coat of paint and roll of wall paper, there has been little significant investment in the fabric of the home since the1970s, the victim of political optics. What prime minister wants to take responsibility for spending millions of tax payers dollars on their home? It’s political dynamite. The last person to have any money spent on the building was Pierre Trudeau back in the mid-1970s when anonymous donors coughed up $150,000 for an indoor swimming pool and sauna connected by an underground tunnel to the main dwelling. Much of the building dates from the early 1950s.

So, how did we arrive at this sorry situation?

Part of the problem may lie in a confusion in the public mind between what is spent for official purposes and what is spent for personal purposes. The two overlap. All prime ministers want 24 Sussex to reflect their personal taste, after all its their home, possibly for a decade or more if they are electorally successful. But frequent leadership changes can lead to wasteful decorating changes. As well, cosmetic alterations can become co-mingled with necessary structural and maintenance expenditures.

Until 1951, Canada’s prime ministers had no official residence. Prime Minister Mackenzie King lived at his home called Laurier House in Sandy Hill from 1923 until his death in 1950.  King had inherited the house from Zoé Laurier, the wife of another former prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier for whom the house was named. R.B. Bennett, King’s predecessor, lived in palatial splendour in a multi-room suite at the Château Laurier Hotel during his term in office. King’s successor, Louis St. Laurent, lived with his wife in a modest, rented flat in The Roxborough Apartments while in Ottawa.

24 Sussex Before Renos

Front of 24 Sussex Drive before the 1950 renovations, Macleans.

In 1943, the federal government expropriated 24 Sussex Street from the then-owner, Gordon Cameron Edwards. (It was Sussex Street not Sussex Drive. The change in name was to come in 1953.) The government was concerned about the possible “commercialisation” of a property so close to Rideau Hall. There was also a concern that other governments might buy the highly desirable property with such commanding views and choice location. The British government had purchased the nearby Earnscliffe, the former home of Sir John A. Macdonald, in 1930 while the French Government had purchased and built its Embassy on the neighbouring property a few years later. With the Mexican government reportedly taking an interest in the old house, the Canadian government decided to expropriate the property. It took three years to negotiate the price after Edwards balked at what the government offered in compensation. The court settled on $140,000 plus costs of $7,319 which was more than the $125,000 the government initially offered but far less than the $251,000 demanded by Edwards.

24 Sussex after renos

Front of 24 Sussex Drive after renovations, author unknown

Almost from the very beginning, Prime Minister Mackenzie King thought that the mansion would make an excellent “permanent and non-political residence for Canada’s prime ministers,” though the idea wasn’t made official until 1949. While the location was superb, many had doubts about the building, then almost eighty years old. At an expropriation hearing, a real estate agent said that the house, which had been previously remodelled in in 1907-10, didn’t fit the needs of 1943. Six years later, the Ottawa Citizen wondered whether remodelling the Edwards home was the right course of action as the building was “already old and out of date” and had no particular distinction. The newspaper also claimed it was draughty, ill-heated, and inconvenient.

The house was originally built over a two-year period from 1866-1868 by Joseph Merrill Currier. Currier was one of Ottawa’s lumber barons, and from 1863 to 1882 the Conservative member of Parliament for Ottawa, barring a few months in 1877 when he had to resign and seek re-election over conflicts of interest. He left politics in 1882 and was appointed Ottawa’s postmaster.

Currier built the home for his third wife, Hannah Wright, a descendent of Philemon Wright, the founder of Hull, Quebec. He called it by the Welsh name Gorffwysfa meaning “Place of Rest”. Reportedly, Currier’s brother James, who was an architect, helped in the neo-gothic design which was undoubtedly inspired by those other neo-gothic buildings under construction at the time—the Parliament buildings. In 1870, the Curriers hosted Prince Arthur, son of Queen Victoria, at a ball held in his honour at 24 Sussex. Prince Arthur, also known as the Duke of Connaught, was later to become Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916. For the royal event, Currier built a ballroom at the rear of the home which was later turned into a picture gallery.

After Currier’s passed away in 1884, his widow lived in the home until her death in 1901, whereupon the house went to their son, James E. W. Currier, who sold it in 1902 to William Cameron Edwards for $30,000. Edwards was at the time the Liberal member of Parliament for the district of Russell. In 1903, he was appointed to the Senate. Edwards made significant modifications to the building, including adding a turret, a curved window on the second floor, and a covered entrance. On his death in 1921, 24 Sussex was bequeathed to his nephew Gordon Cameron Edwards who was the last private owner of the property. After the Canadian government expropriated it, the home was leased on a short-term basis to the Australian government.

In 1948, the government hired the modernist Toronto architectural firm Allward & Gouinlock to renovate the building. The firm’s treatment of the building was not sympathetic to the original design. It totally changed both its exterior and interior. In addition to adding a new wing, the architects stripped the house of its neo-gothic features. Gone were its turret and gingerbread. The ballroom cum picture gallery where Prince Arthur had danced was demolished to make way for an outdoor terrace. The garage and chauffeur’s quarters were also demolished. Inside, the principal rooms were reversed so that they overlooked the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills rather than facing the street.

The renovations cost more than $300,000. With an additional $105,000 spent on furnishings, the total cost of the new official residence for Canada’s prime minister came in at roughly $550,000 (equivalent to $6.3 million in today’s dollars). The Conservative Opposition was not impressed. Rodney Adamson, the Progressive Conservative member for York West, commented that it would have been cheaper to build a completely new residence rather than change 24 Sussex St. around so that the Prime Minister could have a view of the Ottawa River.

Subsequently, a Vancouver newspaper whined that the “final piece of extravagance” was an iron fence that was to be built around the property. It opined that maybe next to come were “a platinum portcullis and a squad of gold-embossed halberdiers.” This was clearly a more innocent time when security was not deemed a high priority by some. However, the comment underscored why future governments became squeamish about spending money on the prime minister’s residence. Any money spent would be considered either a waste or self-serving.

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his wife, moved into their new home on 28 April 1951, though their official move date was 1 May when their lease was up on their apartment at the Roxborough. The prime minister was not keen about having an official residence. “Uncle Louis” was a modest man. Before he would move in, he insisted on paying $5,000 per year for room and board, roughly what he had been spending before. This amounted to one-third of his prime ministerial salary. Politicians and bureaucrats reluctantly acquiesced to this demand, and it was written into the legislation passed for the maintenance of the home. Some years later, the law was changed so that the prime minister lived rent free. C.D. Howe, the Minister for Trade and Commerce, called the new prime ministerial residence “not a palace” but “dignified” and “well-equipped,” an official residence of which Canadians could be proud.

There are fourteen principal rooms in the house, with a formal drawing room and dining room for 24 persons overlooking the Ottawa River. There is a pine-panelled library to the left of the main entrance with an open fireplace. The ground floor was designed so that 150-200 guests could easily circulate between drawing room, dining room and library. A kitchen and pantry are also on the ground floor. On the second floor are the family living room and the main bedrooms with bathrooms. On the top floor are guest and staff bedrooms. A small elevator was installed that ran from the basement to the top floor.

There was some speculation in the press about the home’s name. Its original Welsh name was not in the running; few could spell it or pronounce it. The Ottawa Journal argued that to follow the British example and call the home 24 Sussex Street would be too prosaic. However, Canada House, Beaver House and Maple Leaf Gardens were already taken, and it couldn’t come up with a better idea. Regardless, newspapers thought that given time the address would become as well-known as London’s 10 Downing Street or Washington’s White House.

That prediction has come true. However, today the home is more infamous than famous. Instead of being dignified prime ministerial residence, it has become a money pit. More than ten years ago, a real estate agency thought that the property, then appraised at $7.5 million, was worth more without the house.

Many want the building pulled down, including Maureen McTeer, the wife of former prime minister Joe Clark. McTeer thinks it’s a dump without any redeeming architectural merit. Others, including some historians, disagree. Now that roughly a dozen prime ministers have lived in it, perhaps the residence has acquired some prime ministerial patina that’s worth preserving. As well, the residence has hosted distinguished visitors, such as the Queen, Sir Winston Churchill and John and Jackie Kennedy, who have provided their own gloss.

Renovating the old house will not come cheap. In 2018, the National Capital Commission, announced that to fix up the six official residences owned by the Government in the Ottawa region would cost $83 million over ten years. Only Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s home, and Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition, are in good condition. Ominously, Harrington Lake in the Gatineau hills, the country home of the prime minister, is considered to be in poor condition. If governments shy away from spending money on the official residence of the prime minister, the odds of a summer retreat getting sufficient funding look even more grim. Meanwhile, entropy prevails. The official residences continue to deteriorate and the cost to restore them continues to climb.

Sources:

CBC, 1980. A Tour of 24 Sussex with Maureen McTeer. https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hsimp=yhs-rogers_001&hspart=rogers&p=Maureen+McTeer#id=2&vid=c131ed57812f112dec7e53683dbe3e4e&action=click.

Calgary Herald, “Face-Lifting Starts on P.M.’s New Home,” 13 December.

NCC, 2019. 24 Sussex Drive, http://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/24-sussex-drive.

Ottawa Citizen, 1949. “What Kind Of House At 24 Sussex?” 4 October.

——————, 1950. “Approve Act Charging PM $5,000 For Home,” 21 June.

——————, 1951. “St. Laurents Move Into New Home,” 1 May.

——————, 2004. “Martin family finds it chilly in drafty old mansion,” 17 November.

——————, 2008. “It’s a tear-down,” 3 December 2008.

——————, 2013. “Inside 24 Sussex,” 30 November.

——————, 2013. “A Timeline of Troubles At 24 Sussex Dive,” 30 November.

——————, 2017. “This Old House,” 13 February.

——————, 2018. “NCC Seeks $83m to Address ‘Critical’ Maintenance Issues,” 17 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1949. “A Name for the Prime Minister’s Residence,” 4 October.

——————-, 1949. “24 Sussex St.”, 8 October.

——————-, 1950. “Cost of Renovating Residence at 24 Sussex for Prime Minister Startles Opposition,” 23 March.

——————–, 1951. “Apartment Living Over The St. Laurents Now Living in 24 Sussex,” 1 May.

Vancouver Province, 1951. “24 Sussex Street Nearly Ready,” 13 April.

—————————–, 1951. “Iron Fences And High Taxes,” 9 July.

Windsor Star, 1950. “24 Sussex Tradition In The Making,” 19 June.

Ottawa’s Checkered Past

9 April 1877

The game of checkers, also known as draughts, inhabits most family games’ closets. Often, its familiar two colour, eight squares by eight squares board has a backgammon board printed on its flip side. For many, checkers is perceived as a simple game, designed principally for young children before they are ready to move up to the rigours of chess. In a way, this is correct. The rules of checkers are simple. Unlike chess, all of a player’s pieces move in the same fashion. However, this simplicity is deceptive. It’s a game that requires considerable strategy to play well.

Draughts Table, William Payne, 1756
Illustration from William Payne’s 1756 book on the game of Draughts (Checkers)

Checkers is also a game that has a very long and distinguished pedigree. It’s far older than chess, which is a mere pup in comparison.  A version of checkers was played as long ago as 3,000 B.C. in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. The ancient Egyptians also played a type of checkers. However, the “modern” game dates from the Middle Ages in France.

William Payne, an English mathematician, wrote in 1756, An Introduction to the Game of Draughts that contained fifty select games for instructional purposes. In the preface, he writes: Whatever may be determined concerning its Uſe, its Difficulty is inconteſible; for among the Multitudes that practiſe it, very few underſtand it. There are indeed not many who by any frequency of Playing can attain a Moderate Degree of Skill without  Examples and Inſtructions.

The game of draughts, popular in the taverns and coffee houses of England, was brought to North America where it was more usually called checkers owing to the chequered board on which it was played. On both sides of the Atlantic, checker clubs were formed during the nineteenth century—a reflection of its rising popularity among all classes of people. The first checkers/draughts World Champion was Scotsman Andrew Anderson who took the title in 1840. (Scots had a virtual lock on the championship for almost the next one hundred years.)

One of the earliest references to the game in Ottawa was an 1861 advertisement for the opening of Sheffield House, a new up-scale store located in the Porter Block of Sparks Street owned by its proprietors Messrs. Sinauer and Levey. Among other things, the advertisement announced that the shop had “chess and draught men for sale in bone, ivory and wood.  Boards for ditto.” In 1873, the game featured in a criminal trial when Andrew Kendrick was invited to the home of a Mr. Glasford on Clarence Street to watch “an excellent game of checkers.” At Glasford’s home, Kendrick took the opportunity to try to steal his host’s purse. Glasford objected “to any such intimacy with his trouser pockets.” In an ensuing scuffle, Glasford was stabbed in the hand and slightly injured. What happened subsequently to Kendrick was not reported.

During the late 1870s, the game experienced a surge in popularity in Ottawa. Amateur checker clubs began popping up in the City’s wards. In mid-March 1877, a checkers club was organized in the St. George’s Ward, with Mr. F. Graham as President. St. George’s Ward encompassed part of Lower Town including the Sandy Hill neighbourhood. The following month, a club was established in Upper Town’s Wellington Ward. Later, Victoria Ward “determined not to be outdone,” organized its own checkers club centred in LeBreton Flats. It had two presidents, Messrs. Carruthers and McClay of the Perley and Pattee lumber company.

The first known Ottawa checker tournament occurred on 9 April 1877 between Wellington Ward and St. George’s Ward, with each team fielding thirteen members. The contest was held in front of a large audience in a hall over John Roos’s tobacco shop at 50 Sparks Street. After two hours of play, the Wellington Ward team beat their Lower Town rivals by eleven games—66-55 with 11 draws. Among the big individual winners was W. Hutchison with 13 wins for the Wellington Ward team. The prize of the tournament was a bag of meal which was presented to the Protestant Orphans’ Home. A return match was held the following week at Francis Germain’s cigar shop at 512 Wellington Street. This time there were 18 men aside. The Daily Citizen’s account of the match was a bit muddled, though the Wellington Ward again emerged victorious.

In November of that same year, a championship match was held between an Upper Town side and a Lower Town team in the hall above John Roos’s tobacco shop. With 18 men per team, Lower Town took the crown 82 games to 76 with 38 draws. On the Lower Town side, N. Germain was the big winner of the two-hour event, taking 14 wins, with no losses and two draws. On the Upper Town side, John Roos, the tobacconist, won a team-leading eight games. Further Upper Town/Lower Town matches were later held.

Also that November, Mr. Edmund Lemieux, who was employed in the Department of Public Works, completed a combined “chequer, chess, backgammon and polonaise board” that was later exhibited at the Éxposition Universelle in Paris. It was an artistic marvel. Taking nine months to craft, the Board was 32 inches long and 21 inches wide and consisted of 21,360 pieces using 32 different kinds of wood. Inlaid and veneered and ornamented with mosaic work, the board had a drawer on each side for the game’s pieces. Each of the carefully turned checkers were made from nine pieces of wood. The Citizen enthused that Lemieux’s creation would show “to the people of La Belle France that the skill of their compatriots in this land has not been deteriorated by the Canadian atmosphere.”  The newspaper added that the board will “bring great credit upon the artisan skills of this Dominion.”

In September 1883, Ottawa was visited by the greatest checker player possibly of all time—James Wyllie, also known as “Herd Laddie.” Wyllie was another Scotsman who had wrestled the title of world champion from Andrew Anderson in 1844, and would hold it for most of the next fifty years with a couple of short breaks. He received his odd nickname early in life when he worked for a livestock drover. The drover, an avid checkers’ player, recognized Wyllie’s ability in the game, and soon the young man was playing for money, and winning big time. When Wyllie came to Ottawa, he was well into his second North American tour which was to last four years. Apparently, at that point of his tour he had reportedly played 12,386 games of which he had won 10,921, drew 1,283 and lost only 82. Herd Laddie had a “standing challenge to the world” in the American sporting magazine Turf, Field and Farm, of $500 to $1000. Few, if any, took him up on the bet.

James Wyllie Herd Laddie
James Wyllie, “Herd Laddie”, author unknown

Needless to say, Herd Laddie’s visit to the nation’s Capital was a cause for considerable excitement amount the checkers’ fraternity. (Fraternity seems to be the correct word as there is no reference in the press about women playing the game although they undoubtedly did.) Staying at the Albion Hotel, the Citizen described the checkers champion as a “hale old gentleman” of about 61 years of age, stoutly built, standing only about 5½ feet tall, and wearing spectacles with a keen eye and slightly deaf. The journalist, who apparently was a devotee of phrenology, also commented that Wyllie had “an unusually large brain, well developed in the frontal region.”  While in Ottawa, the champion competed in a number of friendly games with local checkers players, playing as many as ten opponents simultaneously. There is no record that he lost any of his games.  Mr. W. Stewart, the Wellington Ward’s ace player, fared the best against the world champion, earning two draws.

The game of checkers remained popular through the remainder of the nineteenth century with weekly tournaments. Checker puzzles appeared regularly in local papers alongside their chess counterparts. The Ottawa Chess and Checker Club (OCCC) was established in December 1891, meeting in the Union Chambers. They subsequently secured quarters for their clubhouse on the first floor of the Perley building at 51 Sparks Street. However, it appears that the game was increasingly eclipsed by chess. The old OCCC also seems to have disbanded by 1904 when there was a failed attempt to re-establish a checker club in the Capital.

Checkers remains a globally popular pastime. The 2018 world men’s (Go-As-You-Please or GAYP) title organized by the World’s Checkers/Draughts Federation was won by South African Lubabalo Kondlo while the women’s (GAYP) championship was won by Nadiya Chyzhevska of Ukraine.

Sources:

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1861. “The Sheffield House,” 24 April.

————————-, 1873. “Another Stabbing Affray,” 20 September.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Match,” 18 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 21 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Club,” 25 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 September.

————————-, 1877. “Splendid Workmanship,” 10 November.

————————-, 1877. “Champion Checker Match,” 14 November.

————————-, 1883. “The Herd Laddie,” 23 July.

————————-, 1883. “Sporting Record,” 25 July.

————————-, 1883. “World of Sports,” 19 September.

————————-, 1891. “Chess and Checkers Club,” 15 December.

————————-, 1894. “Upper Town versus Lower Town,” 30 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1899. “Have Secured Rooms,” 5 October.

Payne, William, 1756. An Introduction to the Game of Draughts: Containing Fifty Select Games, Golden Ball, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London.

Reekie, Chris 2007. The Herd Laddie, http://www.wylliedraughts.com/HerdLad.htm.

Wikipedia, 2019. World Checkers/Draughts Championship, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Checkers/Draughts_Championship.

Work or Bread!

5 April 1877

When we think of an economic depression, we usually think of the Great Depression that started in late October 1929 with the New York stock market crash and lasted through the “Dirty Thirties.” But there was another global economic downturn, sometimes called the Long Depression, that started with the Panic of 1873 and lasted until 1896 according to some historians. Like the Great Depression, it resulted from a combination of real, financial and monetary factors. It began in central Europe with a stock market crash in Vienna, then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bursting of a speculative bubble revealed overextended financial institutions and stock market manipulation, leading to bank failures and corporate insolvencies. The financial impact rippled across international borders and even the Atlantic. (Sound familiar?) In North America, there had been a huge overinvestment in railways—the “dotcom-like” speculative investment of the nineteenth century. Many of the railway companies had raised large sums of money based on unrealistic expectations of future profitability. In September 1873, Jay Cooke & Company, a large U.S. bank and a major investor in railway bonds, failed. This sparked a financial panic in New York. Share prices collapsed. The stock exchange closed for ten days. In the months that followed, dozens of railway companies failed, bringing down financial institutions in their wake.

Panic of 1873
Closing the doors of the New York Stock Exchange, 20 September 1873, Picryl

These developments happened against the backdrop of a global economy undergoing major structural changes. The industrial revolution was in full swing. Germany and the United States were challenging Britain’s economic supremacy. New industries and new production processes were rapidly overturning the old economic order. Productivity was rising and prices for industrial and agricultural goods were falling. While many took advantage of the opportunities being created and prospered, those who were unable to adapt to the rapid changes suffered.

Added to these shocks in North America was the impact of the epizootic of 1872-3—an equine flu that started outside of Toronto and spread across Canada and the United States. While the mortality rate was typically low, few horses outside of certain isolated regions were spared. It took weeks for stricken equines to recover, with crippling consequences for an essentially horse-drawn economy. Even the railways were affected as coal was shipped to rail terminals using horse-drawn wagons.

Governments did little to ease the pain of the downturn in economic activity. The idea of government assistance for the poor was still in the future. With all major countries, including Canada, wed to the gold standard, there was also little scope for monetary action to support economic activity, even if central banks (if countries had them) wanted to do something. Meanwhile, the United States joined gold standard countries in 1873, after having had an unbacked fiat currency since the start of their civil war. It ended the unlimited coinage of silver (the Crime of ’73 according to silver supporters) which might otherwise have led to lower interest rates. Protectionist sentiments rose everywhere. The major countries, with the exception of Britain, adopted high tariffs in an effort to protect domestic industries and jobs. International trade suffered.

Canada was in the thick of all these trends. As is the case today, it was a small economy closely linked to its southern, much larger, neighbour. When the United States entered the Long Depression, so did Canada. To make matters worse, the United States had abrogated its trade reciprocity deal with Canada a few years earlier. Although the reciprocity agreement only covered natural resources, this mattered importantly for Canada.

Panic Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds LAC PA-025546
Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds Library and Archives Canada, PA-025546

In February 1876, Richard Cartwright, the Liberal Minister of Finance, attributed the ongoing depression in Canada to: poor U.S. economic conditions, which were “visibly affecting Canadian interests;” overlarge imports; excessive inventories which were depreciating in value; greedy banks who extended loans “to men of straw, possessing neither brains nor money;” and a depression in the lumber trade owing to “inexperienced operators unable to compete when U.S. prices fall.”

To help ameliorate matters, he said that the government was taking advantage of cheap labour and materials to bring forward public works projects. Cartwright, a proponent of free trade, resisted calls for tariffs on manufactured goods beyond those necessary for revenue purposes on the grounds that manufacturing employment accounted for only 40,000 jobs. The government needed to look after the interests of the other 95 per cent of the working population.

In Ottawa, matters came to a head in early 1877. Unemployment, which was always high in winter owing to the seasonality of many jobs, was worse than usual. Each morning, hundreds of unemployed, able-bodied men congregated in the Byward Market looking for an hour or two of work. Times were tough even for those who had jobs. Pay had been reduced from $1.25 per day to a meagre 90 cents per day.

On 5 April 1877, 200-300 unemployed men assembled as usual early in the morning in the Byward Market looking for work. When little was forthcoming, they decided they would do something about their situation. Perhaps the Mayor of Ottawa, William Waller, would be able to able to provide work or bread. The men marched on City Hall on Elgin Street. Unfortunately, the mayor was absent. A messenger was dispatched to find him. Meanwhile a Citizen reporter interviewed some of the men while they waited. Their stories were dire. Many had large families to feed but had been out of work for months. Starvation stared many in the face. Peter Boulez had a family of twelve, but had had no employment since the previous November. With his limited savings exhausted, he needed to find work to put bread on the table. Hans Shourdis had been living off of soup for the past four months, “his stomach a stranger to meat.” Christmas had been his last satisfying meal. A kindly lady had given him charity but that all went to his five children.

When Mayor Waller appeared, he said that he deeply sympathized with the workmen. However, he reminded them that the depression was being felt across the country, and opined that the Dominion government was not responsible for the hard times. He announced that City Council would be meeting on the following Monday to discuss a drainage scheme worth $300,000, one third of which could be expended annually. This project would hire a lot of citizens in need. He expected work to proceed as soon as the frost was out of the ground. The Mayor also said that he had instructed the City Collector not to go after the unemployed for unpaid taxes until they had work.

The men next marched on the Parliament Buildings to seek an immediate interview with Premier Alexander Mackenzie, whose Liberal Party had come to power in November 1873, virtually at the onset of the depression—a timing that had not gone unnoticed by the unemployed workers. At the main entrance of the Centre Block, the men sent a messenger to the Premier who was in the Railway Committee Room attending a meeting of the House Banking and Commerce Committee. When Mackenzie refused to see them, the unemployed workers entered the building and approached the Committee Room’s entrance. They sent another messenger to Mackenzie. When nothing happened, two of the workers’ leaders opened the door, insisting to see the Premier. When a committee member shouted “Shut the door,” the door was closed in their faces. Indignant, some of the workers suggested starving them out “like they did at Sebastopol” during the Crimea War. Others forced the door to great cheers, including cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, Mackenzie’s arch rival.

Needless to say, committee members were shaken by this invasion. Some apparently thought the men were there “to wipe them out.” However, others regained their composure and said that the men were harmless. They simply wanted to speak to Mr. Mackenzie. One of the unemployed men stood on a table and addressed the crowd. He was angry that the Premier had eluded them, calling it “a hardship and an insult.” Peter Mitchell, the MP for Northumberland County, New Brunswick, and a Father of Confederation, calmed them by saying that the Premier would no doubt give an interview at some other time and place. After giving three more cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, the unemployed men left though not before issuing a statement:

“That we the unemployed workingmen of Ottawa, strongly censure the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie for refusing to meet a delegation sent from among us to ask his opinion as to the chances of work during the coming season. And we condemn him for allowing a door to be slammed in our faces, and call upon the workingmen of the Dominion to join us in rebuking the treatment received by us.”

The men made an orderly departure from Parliament, committing themselves to meet again in the Market later that day to plot strategy. That evening, the men, along with political representatives from all levels of government, met outside in the Market Square despite a light rain. Plans to meet in the Market Hall had been foiled by locked doors and a missing key. There was a number of rousing speeches. Mr. Bullman, the self-appointed chairman of the men, spoke on “how the wealth of the world was unequally distributed” and how the poor were oppressed. He said that he had been splitting hardwood for 25 cents a cord and had to feed a family of small children. (His credibility was later damaged when it was revealed that he was not unemployed, and had left a job at the gas works to attend the meeting.) A Mr. Hans added that “it was natural for money to flow into the rich man’s pocket as it was for the water of the St Lawrence to flow into the ocean.” At the end, it was agreed to send a deputation to approach Mackenzie on behalf of the workers.

At 9 am the next morning, a crowd of more than 600 gathered in front of the City Hall and marched to the West Block on Parliament Hill, the location of Premier Mackenzie’s office. The deputation, which comprised the City of Ottawa’s two MPs, one Liberal the other Liberal-Conservative, the Liberal MPP for the City, Mayor Waller, and Mr. Bullman, met with the Premier. This time, Mackenzie agreed to address the men.

The Premier offered the unemployed little in the way of government relief. He claimed that government was “powerless” beyond commissioning public works, pointing to the Welland and Lachine Canals. He also argued that aid should come from the provincial legislature and local charities. Just because Parliament resided in Ottawa was not a reason for the Dominion government to support Ottawa employment. If a man needed a job, he should go to the North-West Territories (Alberta and Saskatchewan) where he could get 100 acres of good farmland for nothing. However, Mackenzie promised that members of Parliament would personally donate as much as they could afford to relief efforts. He was also sure that the Ottawa men’s suffering was only temporary.

The Premier’s response did not go over well. There were more meetings, marches and speeches during the days that followed. The unemployed men sent a “memorial” (an archaic term for a public letter) to the Senate demanding government action in Ottawa and the surrounding area for public works to provide jobs and alleviate distress. Mayor Waller distributed “bread tickets” to the most urgent cases, while City Council expedited expenditures on the drainage project. A large number of men were put to work clearing out the Rideau Canal’s Basin. A relief fund was organized into which the Ottawa area’s more wealthy citizens contributed, including Alonzo Wright and Erskin Bronson. The Ladies Benevolent Society of St John’s Church held a fund raiser in the Temperance Hall selling “fancy work,” refreshments, and flowers and fruits. The take of the last show of the Grand Shaughraun Company at the Opera House also went to poor relief. These relief funds were managed by a committee of aldermen and clergymen which assessed each request for aid “to ascertain who is deserving and who is not.” These funds helped. But it was the arrival of warmer weather that had the most impact, with hundreds of men returning to jobs in the Chaudière lumber mills.

The following year, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative Party thumped Premier Mackenzie’s Liberal Party in the 1878 federal election. This election ushered in the Conservative “National Policy” which sharply raised tariffs on American manufactured goods in order to boost the Canadian manufacturing sector, create jobs, and, just coincidently of course, to protect the interests of businessmen that supported the Conservative Party. Despite some tinkering around the edges, this high-tariff policy remained in effect until the Auto Pact of 1965.

Sources:

History Central, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.historycentral.com/rec/EconomicPanic.html.

Poloz, Stephen, 2017. Canada at 150: It Takes a World to Raise a Nation, speech given at the 50th Anniversary of Durham College, Oshawa, Bank of Canada, 28 March, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2017/03/canada-150-takes-world-raise-nation/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen (The), 1876. “The Commons,” 26 February.

—————————-, 1877 “Work or Bread,” 5 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Editorial,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “The Unemployed,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Memorial To The Senate,” 9 April.

United States History, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h213.html.

The OC Transpo Massacre

6 April, 1999

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

Pierre Lebrun

Pierre Lebrun, Murderopedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ottawa’s Chinese Laundry Tax

20 April 1897

Like most countries, Canada has a long, history of racial discrimination and prejudice against minority groups that sadly persists in varying degrees to today. Visible minorities, including Canada’s indigenous peoples, and immigrants of African and Asian descent, have been particularly targeted as have been religious minorities, such as Jews, Muslims and certain Christian sects, and homosexuals. Chinese immigrants were the subject of draconian laws aimed at curtailing their numbers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They only received the right to vote in 1947. Canada’s race-based immigration system remained in force until 1962. Chinese immigrants and Canadians of Chinese descent were also barred from many professions, were forbidden from buying property in certain jurisdictions, and were subject to degrading segregation laws.

The first major wave of Chinese settlers to Canada came from California during the 1850s, attracted by the gold rush in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Immediately, they faced discrimination. British Columbia denied Chinese immigrants the right to vote. Later, the federal government did likewise. Another wave of Chinese entered Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway during the 1880s. The Chinese labourers worked for meagre pay in appalling conditions. Many perished. Bowing to pressure from British Columbia, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, instituting a $50 poll tax on Chinese immigrant labourers, roughly equivalent to the £10 poll tax imposed on Chinese immigrants in Australia and New Zealand. It was less draconian, however, than the Chinese Exclusion Act than effectively barred Chinese immigration to the United States. The poll tax was a sizeable financial impediment to Chinese immigrants who only earned about $300 per year, and often supported dependents back in China. Most Chinese men who worked on the railways and elsewhere could not afford to bring their wives and families to Canada. This led to broken families and a serious male-female imbalance within the Chinese community. The Imperial government in London, which was at the time in the process of negotiating with the Chinese government over Burma, was not amused. It was, however, reluctant to impose a veto over the Canadian legislation. The Evening Journal thundered in 1886 that “Canada was not interested in Burmah [sic] but she was in the Chinese problem in British Columbia and if the majority of her people desires to shut the Mongolians out, or tax them, it is their own business and nobody else’s.”

Organized labour in Canada was opposed to Chinese immigrants. In Vancouver, the Knights of Labour passed strong resolutions in 1886 against them and organized boycotts of Chinese businesses. A few years later, the Trade and Labour Congress sent a deputation to Sir John A. Macdonald demanding the prohibition of Chinese labour in Canada, saying they were an “undesirable class of immigrants.” The Prime Minister told the delegation that while it was the policy of the government to discourage Chinese immigration, there was no desire to actually prohibit the Chinese from entering the country. Macdonald also rejected a second demand that mines be banned from hiring Chinese workers.

In addition to boycotts, there were nasty anti-Chinese riots in several Western Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Calgary. But, not everybody was opposed to Chinese immigration. Charles Kaulbach, a Conservative member of parliament from Nova Scotia remarked in 1887 that the Chinese “were an essential element in building up the Province of British Columbia.” Despite its earlier remarks, Ottawa’s Evening Journal appears to have had a change of heart in 1887, coming out in support of Chinese merchants who were protesting the $50 poll tax. The newspaper said that the tax was “a political sop to sectional interests,” a “short-sighted folly,” and an “inexcusable injustice.” Subsequently, in response to an anti-Chinese tirade in the Victoria Times, which the Journal claimed was plagiarized from a “slavery paper published before the American [civil] war,” it wrote:

The tendency of English-speaking races to compete with other races by means of clubs has always been interesting. When we want to own negro slaves, or to kill off red men or to boycott Chinese, we cannot only prove ourselves morally right, but woe be to any one who argues with us about it! The rant of the Victoria Times sounds familiar, in fact exceedingly chestnutty.

Chinese laundry ad 21-4-97 TOEJ
Chinese laundry advertisement, The Evening Journal, 21 April 1897.

The first Chinese to come to Ottawa arrived in 1887. In October of that year, the Evening Journal noted that there was a new type of business sign on Spark’s Street—a Chinese laundry called “Wing On.” The following month, the newspaper reported that the city’s Chinese population was growing with the arrival of Chung Kee who was residing on Elgin Street. (In the 1891 census, there were only five Chinese residents of Ottawa, all men, out of a mere 97 in all of Ontario.) The newspaper reported that Chung had established a laundry, the third to have been established by Chinese over the previous six months. Coincidently, the signs of the laundries were all similar. Each used white lettering on a red background. Wing On also made the news the following year when he launched a legal claim against a local company that had supplied the laundry with washing machines. When one broke down after only a week in operation, the supplier refused to honour his warranty. Who won the case is not known. The Wing On laundry went on to become very successful, and by the late 1890s had two subsidiary stores, one on Sussex Street and another on Bank Street, and was a regular advertiser in local newspapers.

In 1888, official Chinese visitors to Ottawa, ran afoul of the $50 poll tax. Three “Celestial” commissioners, Y. l. Foo, H.K. Foo and H.B. Sanamissa, who were appointed by the Imperial Chinese Government to investigate Western agricultural techniques, were stopped at the Canada-U.S. border while on their way to the nation’s capital, presumably to visit the Central Experimental Farm.  The three commissioners refused to pay the $50 poll tax. Being government officials, they were supposed to have been exempt from the tax. However, the Canadian immigration officers at the border balked at letting them proceed, and only allowed them to continue their journey under a police escort. Their baggage was impounded as security, and a policeman slept outside their door at the Russell Hotel where they were staying. The Customs Department subsequently backed down, apologized, and returned their luggage.

In 1895, anti-Chinese sentiment in Ottawa began to take on more serious character. The Ottawa Trades and Labour Council passed a motion that all union men should refrain from using Chinese laundries and instead patronize “our own laundries run by white people.” Delegate St. Pierre, who introduced the motion, which was seconded by Delegate Chapman, reportedly said that “The Chinese were driving white people out of British Columbia and they would do the same in Ottawa.” He added that the Chinese were a curse to the city and that the sooner they were driven out the better.”

Two years later, on the 20 April 1897, Ottawa’s City Council voted to impose a $10 per year tax on Chinese laundries. Given the amount of water that laundries were using, the Council’s Waterworks Committee had earlier recommended that Council impose a $10 per year tax on “all Chinese laundries, or small laundries” using city water. However, when the recommendation came to the Board, the measure was limited to just Chinese laundries on an amendment moved by Alderman McGuire, seconded by Alderman Powell. Alderman McGuire, who was the unofficial labour union representative on City Council, said that the measure was a “matter of protection to the interests of our people [italics added] who are striving hard to make a living,” and that Ottawa realized nothing from the Chinese.

Others spoke up in defence of the Chinese. Alderman Campbell said that the Chinese were law-abiding, and always paid their water fees on time. Alderman S. Maynard Rogers thought that if the motion passed, Ottawa would become a laughing stock and didn’t want to act towards Chinese the way they do in the United States.  Other councilmen calling the tax “unBritish, “unChristian,” and “unjust.”  Nevertheless, the amendment passed on an eleven to six Council vote. The next day, the headline in the Evening Journal read No Pay Taxee; No Washee: Council drops on the Chinese.

Local Chinese residents were rightly appalled. Many gathered at Hong You’s laundry on Bank Street to discuss the tax and decide on what to do. It was agreed that they would find a lawyer and take the City to court on the grounds that Council could not impose a tax on any particular class or nationality. Although this was many years before the rights and freedoms of Canadians were constitutionally protected, the Chinese community had a good case.

At Council, Alderman Campbell tried to overturn the vote. But on two occasions when he raised the issue, supporters of the measure left the Council Chamber and broke the quorum. The issue had to be postponed. Campbell’s amendment, which would have applied the tax to all laundries not just Chinese ones, finally came to vote at the end of May 1897. It was defeated on a twelve to eight vote, thus leaving the discriminatory tax in place. The Evening Journal said that the tax was probably illegal, and seemed “in ill accord with British fair play.”

Behind the scenes, people must have been getting worried about potential law suits and bad publicity. An advisory committee was established to examine the issue that included the Mayor Samuel Bingham and the City’s solicitor M. O’Gara. In late June, the committee issued its report to Council saying that the committee was “of the opinion that the charges for the water rates on laundries should be dealt with irrespective of persons” and directed the waterworks committee to determine “what special rates, if any, should be charged upon premises where laundries are carried on.” The discriminatory tax was never implemented.

Despite this small victory over the forces of discrimination and prejudice, governments continued to pander to sectional interests and the inexcusable injustice inflicted on Chinese immigrants to Canada was to get worse before redress began after World War II. Due to anti-Chinese pressure from British Columbia, the poll tax was increased to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1903 despite there being only 17,312 Chinese settlers in all of Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Things were to go from bad to worse. In 1923, Chinese immigration to Canada was banned under the Chinese Immigration Act also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law remained in force until 1947.

In 2006, Prime Minister Harper issued an apology for the head tax that was enforced from 1885 to 1923 and the exclusionary laws in place from 1923 to 1947. A symbolic payment of $20,000 was also awarded to survivors of the head tax. In 2014, Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia apologized for the more than 160 historical racist and discriminatory policies imposed by the B.C. government on the Chinese. At the end of March 2018, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robinson announced that the Vancouver City government would apologize for its past discriminatory by-laws and practices.

Sources:

CBC News, 2006. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ottawa-issues-head-tax-redress-payments-to-chinese-canadians-1.600871.

CBC News, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/chinese-community-gets-apology-from-b-c-for-historical-wrongs-1.2643938.

CTV News, 2018. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/vancouver-mayor-to-apologize-to-residents-of-chinese-descent-for-past-wrongs-1.3862950.

Chan, Arlene. 2017. “Chinese Immigration Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chinese-immigration-act/.

Chan, Anthony, 2015. “Chinse Canadians,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chinese-canadians/.

Chong, Denise. 2013. Lives of the Family, Random House Canada: Toronto.

Ottawa City Council. 1897. Minutes, 20 April, 17 May, 30 May, 28 June.

Ottawa Chinese Community Centre and Denise Chong 2012. Lives of the Family, https://livesofthefamilies.wordpress.com/home/.

Evening Journal (Ottawa), 1886. “Editorial,” 3 March.

——————————–, 1886. “The Trades Congress,” 20 September.

——————————–, 1886. “Sparks,” 17 November.

——————————–, 1887. “The Chinese Question,” 19 May.

——————————–, 1887. “Editorial,” 8 September 1887.

——————————–, 1887. “City and Vicinity,” 19 October.

——————————–, 1887. “City and Vicinity,” 23 November.

——————————–, 1888. “On Wing On!,” 3 February.

——————————–, 1888. “Chinamen in Bond,” 22 September.

——————————–, 1889, “The Chinese Tax,” 14 October.

——————————–, 1890. “The Chinese In Canada,” 9 September.

——————————–, 1892. “The Chinese Question,” 28 March.

——————————–, 1892. “Riot in Calgary,” 4 August.

——————————–, 1895. “No Use For The Chinese,” 26 September 1895.

——————————–, 1897. “No Pay Taxee; No Washee,” 21 April.

——————————–, 1897. “Chinamen Indignant,” 3 May.

——————————–, 1897. “Must Be Responsible,” 18 May.

——————————–, 1897. “Editorial,” 2 June.