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/.

 

 

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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.

 

 

National Council of Women of Canada

11 April 1894

The National Council of Women of Canada, an Ottawa-based, women’s advocacy group, celebrated its 125 anniversary in October 2018. It was founded in 1893 in Toronto by Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the then Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Aberdeen. Lady Aberdeen, born Ishbel Marie Marjoribanks (pronounced Marshbanks), was a person of outstanding ability with a strong interest in social reform, an interest shared by her husband. In Scotland, she established, among other things, the Aberdeen Ladies’ Union that helped young girls in cities, and the Onward and Upward Association that provided education to servant girls. She was also head of the Women’s Liberal Federation that advocated for women’s suffrage.

Shortly after her husband took up his post as Governor General, Lady Aberdeen attended the congresses of the National Council of Women of the United States and the Women’s Alliance held at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in May 1893. There, she spoke on women as a force in politics. This was, of course, long before women’s suffrage. Canada’s Dr. Emily Howard Stowe also spoke at the same meeting. Stowe was the president of the Women’s Enfranchisement League of Canada. Subsequently, women convened at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago where it was decided to organize a National Council of Women in every country which in turn would be affiliated with the International Council of Women. Lady Aberdeen was elected as the International Council’s first president. She was to hold this position for three extended terms—1893 to 1899, 1904 to 1920, and 1922 to 1936. May Wright Sewell, an American pioneer for women’s rights, was elected Vice President. Sewell was famous for advocating sensible clothing for women at a time when women’s clothing, which included corsets, bustles, petticoats and floor-length skirts, was anything but sensible.

The small group of Canadian women who attended the meetings in Chicago returned home ready to organize a National Council of Women of Canada. Five months later in late October 1893, hundreds of women assembled in Toronto to launch the new organization under the leadership of Lady Aberdeen. Speaking to the assembly, she remarked on how wonderful it was to look at the advances made in the recognition given to “women’s work, women’s education, women’s influence, and women responsibilities in all directions.” She also commented that women of her day owed much to the heroism of such people as prison reformers Elizabeth Fry and Sarah Martin. As well, Lady Aberdeen outlined the plan for the National Council. She envisaged every town having a local council or union of women’s organizations which in turn would send delegates to a National Council so that the “work and thought of women in the Dominion” would be represented from “Halifax to Victoria.” The locals and National Council would be free of religious denomination and open to all. The only requirement would be that the institution or organization have as its objective the good of mankind. Besides sharing information about what each group was doing and identifying gaps, the idea behind a National Council was to draw strength from unity in order to advance nation-wide social objectives. At the meeting, Lady Aberdeen was elected President of the National Council of Women of Canada. She accepted the position on the condition that the women of Canada allowed her to be considered an adopted Canadian.

National Council of Women at Rideau Hall, Oct1898 LAC-PA-028033

Lady and Lord Aberdeen with the National Council of Women at Rideau Hall, shortly before their return to the United kingdom, October 1898, Topley Studios/Library and Archives Canada, PA-029033

After this inaugural conference, major cities in Canada began forming local councils of women’s organizations and associations. Organizations that had both male and female members could also join if the women of those organizations put forward a woman representative to participate in council meetings. Toronto was the first city to establish a local council in early November 1893 with 24 federated societies or associations. This was followed by Hamilton and Montreal later that same month with 25 and 32 member organizations, respectively. Ottawa followed in mid-January 1894 with 27 member organizations. These included: the Children’s Hospital, the Protestant Home for the Aged, the Home for Friendless Women, the Protestant Orphan’s Home, St. Patrick’s Asylum, the Ottawa Humane Society, the Women’s Enfranchisement Association, the Women Christian Temperance Union, and the Ladies’ Auxiliaries of many Protestant churches. There were few Catholic organizations as the Roman Catholic Church had not yet given its blessing to the new Women’s Council. The cost to affiliate with the Ottawa local council was $2.

Lady Ritchie, born Grace Vernon Nicholson, was elected the first President of the Ottawa chapter. She was the wife of Sir William Johnstone Ritchie, who at the time was Canada’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Lady Ritchie had for many years been the president of the Humane Society. She was also the Vice-President of the National Council of Women of Canada.  Other vice-presidents, all women with high-powered connections, included Mrs R.W. Scott (Mary Ann Heron), wife of Mr. Richard W. Scott (later Sir), Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Madame Taschereau (Marie-Antoinette Harwood), the wife of Supreme Court Justice Henri-Elzéar Taschereau (later Sir), Mrs Erskine Bronson (Ella Webster), the wife of Erskine Henry Bronson, the businessman and philanthropist, and Mrs Gwynne, the wife of another Supreme Court Justice, John Wellington Gwynne.

Normal School Ottawa, Topley-LAC-PA-008857

Ottawa Normal School, James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008857.

The first Convention of the National Council of Women of Canada took place in Ottawa over a two-day period beginning 11 April 1894 under the direction of Lady Aberdeen. The afternoon prior to the meeting, the Executive Committee of the Council met at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General, to finalize last-minute arrangements for the Convention. Around a large table set in the middle of the room sat the presidents of the various local councils and representatives of nationally-organized associations affiliated to the National Council. Lady Aberdeen chaired the meeting.  It was described as a very business-like affair with full regard given to Parliamentary rules. It was also described as “very womanly” as “the meeting did not adjourn without the inevitable cup of tea.” After the meeting, blotters and pens were removed and the table was reset for an Executive Council dinner hosted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen.

The Convention officially began the next morning at 10 a.m. in the convocation hall of the Normal School at Elgin and Lisgar Streets. (Today, this Gothic-revival building erected in 1874 forms part of the Ottawa City Hall.) The hall was decorated with flags and bunting with flower arrangements in the windows and on the platform. For the first session, roughly 120 women were present from all the principal cities of Canada. Lady Aberdeen presided over the proceedings. She began the meeting with a silent prayer after noting that the women present represented “different creeds, different churches, different races (i.e. English and French), have different views but are all children of the same Father.”

In her opening address, Lady Aberdeen provided a traditional assessment of woman’s place in society. She described the movement as “mothering.” While not everybody had children, all women were called upon to “mother” in some way, she said. As well, it was the responsibility of women to be the “true homemaker”—“her husband’s companion, her children’s guide” who “should always understand the changes that take place in the everyday world.” She hoped that the Council would be able “to forge a grand band of union between the members as homemakers and home builders.” Later in the conference, she noted that some thought that the Woman’s Council was only a cover for a campaign for women’s rights. She assured people that the women’s movement was “not seeking to agitate for rights or to glorify their own sex at the expense of the other.” Women’s duties rather than women’s rights were their watchwords. Such duties were to the poor, to the fallen and to the ill. Moreover, as well as finding cures, it was important to get to the root causes of the evils.

National Council ExCommitee Oct1898, Topley-LAC PA-028035

Executive Committee of the National Council of Women of Canada, October 1898, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-028035.

Lady Aberdeen’s description of women in their traditional roles as nurturers and caregivers may have in part been directed at disarming potential critics rather than being indicative of her own beliefs. Her position as the Governor General’s wife also limited her to what she could say or do. When approached by women’s suffrage supporters for her support, she refused to comment noting that the subject was politically too controversial.

Over the two-day convention, papers were presented and discussed covering three broad topics—co-operation in the workplace, women’s clubs and their advantages, and the relation of parents and children and their responsibilities—with three to four papers presented in each section. When the presenter on “co-operation of working women for protective purposes” was unable to speak, Lady Aberdeen stepped in and took her place. Lady Aberdeen spoke of women employed in Toronto factories and workshops earning as little as $2-3 per week, with the women’s pay docked for the slightest excuse. She also spoke about the impact of women who worked for pocket money on the wages of those who worked for a living. When buying cheap items in a bargain store, she thought that the purchaser needed to reflect upon the lives of those women who made those goods. Lady Aberdeen opined that a union was necessary—a radical position for somebody in her position at this time.

Also discussed was the issue of domestic service. While not a subject that resonates today, it was a major topic back in the late nineteenth century. Papers were provided from the mistress’s point of view, the servant’s point of view, and on possible solutions. While the report on the discussion was very limited, it would appear at issue was the difference between a mistress’s expectations and a servant’s rights. One suggestion to improve the lot of servants was for families to be content with cold dinners on Sundays.

The Ottawa author and poet Annie Howell Fréchette spoke on raising difficult children. In a very well received lecture, she told the audience that “no child should be asked to submit to a rule that will not permit the search-light of wisdom and right.” She added that “the rod of correction cannot be the diving road that searches the pure waters in the child’s soul.” In other words, corporal punishment doesn’t work—a very modern concept, and one that did not jibe with the biblically-derived proverb of “spare the rod, spoil the child” that many took literally at the time.

At the conclusion of the first day’s business, the Aberdeens hosted a huge reception for delegates and guests at Rideau Hall, opening up the entire ground floor of their home. More than one thousand people showed up despite a conflicting ball being held on the same night at the Russell House Hotel for the wives of members of parliament and senators. Many people attended both functions. Lady Aberdeen wore black with diamonds as she was in mourning for the death of her father the previous month. In the ballroom, amateur musicians and vocalists played and sang. Refreshments were served in the winter tennis court under a red and white marquee that was lowered from the roof.

The highlight of the second day’s afternoon session, which was open to the public, both men and women, was the appearance of Lord Aberdeen, the Governor General, and Sir John Thompson, the Prime Minister. Lord Aberdeen heartedly endorsed the formation of the National Council of Women of Canada, saying that it would promote “greater unity of heart, sympathy, and purpose among the women workers of all sections and classes of the people.” He also thought that it was no longer “a strange or fantastic thing that a body of ladies should be gathered together with the serious and definite purpose of promoting the public welfare.” Lord Aberdeen became the Council’s first patron, donating $100.

Sir John Thompson seconded the motion and congratulated himself that the National Council had been established during his premiership. He promised that “the sympathy of Parliament would be extended to the movement in any practical form.” This, of course, did not extend so far as supporting women’s suffrage.

At its first Convention, the National Council of Women of Canada approved a number of resolutions. It urged provincial governments to appoint women inspectors for factories and workshops that employed women. Another resolution advised provincial departments of education to supply schools with an improved history of Canada, with decent maps, that skillfully blended the “whole record of ‘Indian Romance,’ ‘French Chivalry,’ and British Endeavour.’” Governments were also called upon to use international arbitration to settle international disputes peacefully. As well, the National Council asked local councils to co-operate with the Children’s Aid Society to try to secure separate prisons and trials for young offenders, especially first-time offenders.

National Council of Women Lady Aberdeen Lady Taylor Mrs. John H. AchesonLACPA-057319

Lady Aberdeen (right) with Mrs John H. Acheson, 2nd President of the National Council of Women, October 1898, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-O57319.

Following the conclusion of the Convention, a number of affiliated associations held their own meetings at the Normal School. These included the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association, the Dominion Girls’ Friendly Society, the Montreal Hebrew Sewing Society, the Montreal Ladies Morning Musical, the King’s Daughters, and the Temperance Workers of Hamilton.

From this auspicious beginning, the National Council of Women of Canada grew and prospered. During the late 1890s, it was active in bringing free public libraries to Canadian cities, including Ottawa in 1906. It was also active in the development of the Victorian Order of Nurses formed in 1897 with Lady Aberdeen as its first president. In the early twentieth century, it came more involved in the women’s suffrage movement. The National Council also supported the “famous five” Alberta women, all of who were Council members, in their fight in 1930 for women to become eligible persons to sit in the Senate of Canada. Other work over the years included efforts related to public health, equal pay for equal value, rights of children, and consumer protection. These and other initiatives have improved the lives of countless Canadians.

The Council’s work continues today educating the public and working with governments on a host of issues including human rights, reproductive technologies, violence against women, development assistance and disarmament.

 

Sources:

Evening Journal (The), 1893. “The Divided Skirt At The World’s Fair,” 17 May.

—————————, 1893. “Lady Aberdeen Elected,” 20 May.

—————————, 1893. “The National Council of Women of Canada,” 2 December.

————————–, 1894. “Women For Women,” 17 January.

—————————, 1894. “Twenty-Five In Affiliation,” 8 February.

—————————, 1894. “Women’s Field,” 11 April.

—————————, 1894. “National Enthusiasm,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “Bargains and Sweating,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “Notes,” 12 April.

—————————, 1894. “It Has The Sympathy Of The House,” 13 April.

Globe (The), 1893. “Where Women Held Sway: National Council For Canada,” 28 October.

————–, 1893. “Women Of Canada,” 10 April.

————-, 1893. “The Women’s Council,” 13 April.

————-, 1893. “From A Woman’s Standpoint,” 21 April.

Harris, Carolyn, 2016, “Lady Aberdeen,” in Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ishbel-gordon-lady-aberdeen/.

National Council of Women of Canada, 2018. http://www.ncwcanada.com/.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 2017. “The Capital Builders: Lady Aberdeen, a feminist for Canada,” 25 June.

The Return of Halley’s Comet

18 May 1910

Years before the return of Halley’s Comet, astronomers around the world including at the Dominion Observatory at the Experimental Farm began to prepare for its arrival. The comet was scheduled to return in the spring of 1910, seventy-five years after its previous brush with Earth in 1835. Unlike that earlier year, astronomers now had the instruments to track, conduct spectroscopic research, and photograph this celestial visitor. Beyond knowing that its trajectory would take the comet between the Earth and the Sun, a scant 14 million miles from our planet, they were largely ignorant about it. Experts estimated that the head of the comet was as big as 42 Earths with a tail 62 million miles long and 600,000 miles wide. So close was it to come, astronomers expected that the Earth would pass through the comet’s tail. This was enough to send a frisson of alarm through the general public. Doom-laden views of certain observers, combined with long-standing superstitions that comets were portents of disaster, meant that there was a genuine fear that the end of the world was nigh.

Halley's Comet Yerkes, 29-5-1910 Prof Edward Barnard NYT 3-7-10

Halley’s Comet 29 May 1910, taken by Professor Edward Barnard, Yerkes Observatory, appearing in New York Times, 3 July 1910.

Newspaper coverage was also unhelpful. Although the vast majority of astronomers viewed the return of Halley’s Comet with delight, seeing it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view close-up a celestial event of remarkable beauty, considerable column inches were given over to the apocalyptical views of the few. This was an early example of seemingly balanced coverage providing a decidedly unbalanced view of what was likely to transpire. Of course, articles portending disaster sold papers, a phenomenon noted by the Ottawa Evening Citizen. In a swipe of its competitors, most likely the Ottawa Evening Journal, the Citizen remarked after the Comet’s safe passage “There was no collision, as the superstitious and the ignorant feared, and, if truth must be told, some newspapers unfortunately traded in those fears by more or less veiled stories and hints.”

Halley’s Comet was named after Edmond Halley, an English astronomer and friend of Sir Isaac Newton, who was the first to describe the periodic nature of the comet in 1705, and predicted its return in 1758. Sadly, Halley, who died in 1742, was not alive to witness the event. However, the return of his comet, visible to the naked eye on Christmas Day 1758, immortalized him. Looking at historical records from China, historians have dated the first known recorded appearance of Halley’s Comet to 240BC.

We now know Halley’s Comet has a peanut-shaped nucleus roughly 15 kilometres long with a diameter of 8 kilometres, considerably smaller than the late 19th century estimates. Nonetheless, a collision with Earth would have been disastrous. The Chicxulub asteroid that likely led to the extinction of the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago is believed to have been smaller. Halley’s Comet, a remnant from the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago, consists of dust, rock and ice. Its tail is made up of dust and sublimated gases that spew off as it approaches the Sun. The comet spends much of its time in the Kuiper Belt that circles the Solar System.

By 1909, the world’s telescopes were trained to the western sky shortly after sunset to watch for the comet’s return. When it was first spotted by telescope is a bit murky. The Ottawa Evening Journal reported that the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa received a telegram that a German astronomer had seen Halley’s Comet as early as mid-September 1909. The first Canadian spotting apparently occurred mid-January 1910 in British Columbia. At this point, the comet was hurtling towards the Sun reaching its perihelion (closest approach) on 20 April before commencing its return to the outer Solar System, but not before brushing close to the Earth. It was not yet visible to the naked eye.

With the return of Halley Comet, many newspapers, including the Ottawa Evening Journal, ran articles linking previous appearances of the comet to wars, plagues and other disasters of the past. One story managed to ascribe the biblical Deluge, dated to 2349 BC, to the comet as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in 1900 BC. Other world-changing events linked to the comet included the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the sack of Rome by Attila the Hun in 451 AD, the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the War of the Roses in 1456, and Wolfe’s Conquest of New France in 1759. For 1910, the article noted the return of the comet coincided with threatened war in the Balkans and labour unrest and socialist demonstrations in America and Europe. Coincidentally, King Edward VII died on May 6th, another apparent “victim” of the comet.

Halley' Comet Fight 13-4-10 OEJ

Cartoon, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 13 April, 1910.

Halley’s Comet’s appearance in the night sky allowed astronomers to use state-of-the art equipment to photograph it and to conduct spectroscopic analyses. In February 1910, the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin announced the discovery of cyanogen gas, a chemical compound related to cyanide, in the comet’s tail. This stoked comet fears to new heights, especially when a French astronomer, Camille Flammarion, opined that all of the earth’s inhabitants would suffocate owing to the gas when the earth passed through the comet’s tail. He reportedly added that if there was also a “diminution of nitrogen and an excess of oxygen,” “the human race would perish in a paroxysm of joy and delirium, probably delighted at their fate.”  Professor Pickering of Harvard University suggested that Flammarion could be right. “The consequences of a collision of the earth with the comet’s tail may mean destruction to us,” he said. Another French astronomer, M. Deslandres of the Paris Observatory thought that the comet’s tail crossing the Earth’s atmosphere would led to an incalculable number of X-rays that would cause the water vapour in the atmosphere to condense leading to rains not “seen since the days of Noah’s great deluge.”

These were minority views within the astronomical profession. The famed American astronomer, Percy Lowell, said “Nothing can occur to the earth in consequence of its passing through the tail of the comet. The consistency of the tail is probably less than any vacuum procurable on earth.” (Mind you, Lowell also spotted “canals” on Mars that supposedly were a desperate attempt by Martians to tap water at the dying planet’s poles.) A similar sanguine view was expressed by Sir Robert Ball of Cambridge University. A Columbia University professor argued “the Maker of the universe” would not allow any harm to come to “the home of the highest form of life that He has fashioned.” Astronomers at the Dominion Observatory patiently addressed the questions of concerned Ottawa citizens. They also lectured at the Y.M.C.A. and other locales about the harmlessness of the comet’s return. At St Mathias Church, Dominion astronomer John Plaskett in a lecture titled “Wonders of Creation” rejected Flammarion’s thesis, echoing Lowell and Ball that there was no danger from the cyanogen gas as it was too rarefied to have any impact.

Halley's Comet Mary Proctor, San Fran Sunday Call

Mary Proctor, astronomer and author, member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1862-1957, San Francisco Sunday Call. University of California, Riverside.

One of the most reasoned, scientific assessments of the return of Halley’s Comet that appeared in the popular North American press was by a respected amateur astronomer, Mary Proctor. In an October 1909 Ottawa Journal article, Proctor said that “the fulfillment of the [Halley’s] prediction may be awaited serenely.” She added “Woe betide it, however, should it come too near to Jupiter, which has the reputation of being the greatest comet capturer of the skies.” (In 1994, this prophetic comment was captured on film when astronomers observed the tidal forces of Jupiter pulling apart the Shoemaker-Levy comet, causing it to plunge into the planet.) Later, after Flammarion’s dire prediction of the end of all life, she reiterated her views even more forcefully, adding “Astronomers are being suspected as conspiring together to keep the uninitiated in ignorance of the true fate awaiting our planet.” Instead of believing in conspiracy theories, she urged people to enjoy the comet’s approach, and “experience a spectacular display of cometary glory.”

After been lost in the light of the Sun for a couple of weeks, Halley’s Comet reappeared in the morning sky shortly before dawn in mid-April, 1910. Its reappearance was noted by Mr Robert Motherwell at the Dominion Observatory on 13 April using the observatory’s 15-inch aperture telescope. Owing to intense sunlight, it was not visible to the naked eye, and wouldn’t be for some days. Motherwell discredited reports from around Canada that the comet had been spoted. He ascribed such sightings to confusion with Venus.

Halley's Comet OEJ 16-4-1910

Illustration for serial on a comet striking the Earth, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 16 April 1910.

The Journal took this opportunity to run a fanciful serialized story that had initially appeared in the Aldine Magazine of New York in the 1870s about a fictitious collision of Plantamour Comet with the Earth. In the story, the collision split the Earth into three pieces, with Asia completely vapourized, leaving America the only habitable part of the globe. When the clouds finally lifted, there were two new moons in the sky—Europa and Africa—that had split away from the Earth complete with their own seas and atmosphere. Now separated forever, the remaining people of America could only communicate with the survivors of Europa and Africa by using ten-foot high letters made of tin.

Halley’s Comet became visible to the naked eye in Ottawa early in the morning of 29 April 1910, when it was spotted by Mr Motherwell at the Dominion Observatory. It was visible in the eastern sky at a declination of eight degrees north of the equator. While the two Ottawa newspapers agreed on the sighting, they agreed on little else. The Journal reported that Motherwell got only a partial view of the comet at shortly after 3am in a break in the clouds that lasted just sixty seconds. The Citizen reported that the comet was located by Motherwell at about 4.20am and that the astronomer had a good view for about 30 minutes before the Sun became too bright. By early May, the comet was visible to all who got up early enough. It was to be seen low on the horizon with its tail pointing nearly upwards.

With the comet visibly bearing down on the Earth, the focus of attention shifted to what might happen when the Earth moved through the Comet’s tail, scheduled to occur sometime around May 20th. In preparation for the event, it was reported that restaurants in New York and Paris were hosting comet parties. Recalling Flammarion’s dire prediction, one enterprising restauranteur advertised that pure oxygen would be blown into the dining room to counteract the effects of cyanogen gas. More seriously, Dr Koltz at the Dominion Observatory said that it would take several hours for the Earth to pass through the tail. He rejected any concerns that this transit would have on the Earth, though there may be some magnetic effects. He warned of the possibility that telephone and telegraph service might be adversely affected. Dr King, the chief of the Dominion Observatory, thought there might be a “sort of aurora borealis, but nothing outside of that.” Parliament Hill was deemed a good vantage point to see the comet at its best.

Halley's Coment OEJ 19-5-10

Cartoon, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 19 May 1910

In the event, both the Ottawa Evening Journal and the Ottawa Evening Citizen reported that Ottawa was in the comet’s tail for several hours during the night of May 18th. As expected, the Earth’s passage through the tail was uneventful. There was no cyanogen gas, and there was no deluge of biblical proportions, though cloudy skies and rain made comet watching in Ottawa difficult. Telecommunications were unaffected. Dr Kloz said that instruments at the Dominion Observatory detected some slight magnetic effects, but that was all. Newspaper accounts again differed on whether the comet sparked a viewing of the Northern Lights. According to the Journal, shortly after midnight the clouds broke and there was “a magnificent display of the Aurora” that spread across the “entire dome of heaven” before disappearing again as the clouds returned. The newspaper added that the aurora was most brilliant in Toronto and contained “all the colours of the rainbow.” Contrarily, the Citizen reported that “there was none of the auroral effects some had predicted.” There was also no mention of an aurora borealis in Toronto’s Globe newspaper.

Halley’s Comet got progressively fainter during the following days as it continued its journey back out the Kuiper Belt. It returned to the inner Solar System in 1986. This time, however, the comet’s reappearance was unremarkable as it and the Earth were on opposite sides of the Sun when it occurred. For those who missed Halley’s Comet, you’re next opportunity will be July 2061. The showing is expected to be better this time.

Sources:

Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1986. What have we learnt about Halley’s Comet?, https://astrosociety.org/edu/publications/tnl/06/06.html.

Curran, Kevin, 2012. Halley’s Comet, http://www.fallofathousandsuns.com/halleys-comet.html#past-appearances-of-halleys-comet.

Globe (The) 1910. “Through A Comet’s Tail,” 19 May.

Ottawa Evening Citizen (The), 1910. “Halley’s Comet Has Been Discovered,” 17 January.

————————————, 1910.  “Halley’s Comet Is Located By Dominion Observatory,” 13 April.

————————————, 1910. “The Earth Takes Its Bath In the Comets Tail Tonight,” 18 May.

———————————–, 1910. “Ottawa Thro’ Comet’s Tail From 8.30 Last Night to 12.30,” 19 May.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1906. “The Star of Bethlehem,” 29 December.

————————————-, 1909. “More About Halley’s Comet,” 19 March.

————————————-, 1909. “Astronomers Preparing For The Return of Halley’s Comet,” 30 April.

————————————, 1910. “Halley’s Comet Said To Be Full Of Cyanogen Gas,” 8 February.

————————————, 1910. “Gas From Halley’s Comet Could Not Affect Earth,” 10 February.

————————————, 1910. “Lectures on Halley’s Comet,” 18 February.

————————————, 1910. “Ottawa and District Will Soon See Halley’s Comet, 14 March.

————————————, 1910. “Harmlessness of Halley’s Comet,” 21 March.

————————————, 1910. “It’s Mighty Little Wisest Men Know About Comets,” 2 April.

————————————, 1910. “Must be Pretty Scrappy Stuff in Halley’ Comet,” 13 April.

————————————-, 1910. “Halley’s Comet Was Seen At the Observatory This Morning, 13 April.

————————————-, 1910. “When the Comet Struck,” by W. T. Alden, 14 April.

————————————-, 1910. “Comet Seen One Minute,” 29 April.

————————————-, 1910. “Comet History, And Why Halley’s Is Harmless,” by Mary Proctor, 14 May.

————————————-, 1910. “Comet Night Preparations,” 17 May.

————————————-, 1910. “Comet Passes Very Quietly,” 19 May.

Simon, Kevin, 2015. Fantastically Wrong: That Time People Thought A Comet Would Gas Us All To Death, https://www.wired.com/2015/01/fantastically-wrong-halleys-comet/.

Parking Meters Arrive in Ottawa

25 April 1958

By the time of the Great Depression the automobile had replaced the horse-drawn carriage. In 1929, five million cars were produced in the United States, with another quarter million made in Canada. City streets were becoming clogged with vehicles, and parking was becoming a serious problem everywhere. Through the working week, people drove their vehicles to downtown offices, and parked them on neighbouring streets for eight hours or longer. This left little room for shoppers. Although the Depression drastically slowed the production and sale of cars, it didn’t solve the parking problem. Carl C. Magee, a noted American publisher, came up with a solution–the coin-operated parking meter. (Magee had become prominent during the 1920s for publicizing the Teapot Dome Scandal, the biggest U.S. political scandal prior to Watergate, that led to the Secretary of the Interior being jailed for corruption.) Magee, in co-operation with University of Oklahoma engineers Holger Thuesen and Gerald Hale, developed a working prototype. In May 1935, Magee filed a patent in the United States for a coin-controlled device, receiving U.S. patent 2,118,318 three years later for his invention. American cities took to the new invention like proverbial ducks to water as a way of encouraging motorists to vacate parking spaces. The fact that parking meters were a real money spinner certainly helped too. Meters paid for themselves in four or five months.

Parking meter

Image from Carl C. Magee’s patent application for the coin operated parking meter filed 15 May 1935. Patent received 24 May 1938, U.S. Patent Office.

Oklahoma City installed Magee’s “park-o-meter” on its streets in July 1935, just weeks after Magee filed his patent application. Reporting on the event, The Ottawa Journal called the new device the “automat of the curbstone,” describing it as “a metal hitching post with meter attached” that promised “to solve the pest of the streets – ‘the parking hog.’” It opined that people will be watching the experiment with great interest.

Ottawa wasted little time in exploring the possibility of introducing parking meters to the streets of the nation’s capital. In 1936, City Council received an offer from one O. G. O’Regan to install parking meters in downtown Ottawa. In a letter, O’Regan explained that the cost of the meters would be paid by parking fees, and that after the costs were met, the revenue would accrue to the city. Ottawa’s Board of Control said that O’Regan should speak to the Automobile Club, the Board of Trade and other groups to educate the public about such a drastic change in parking regulations. In an editorial the Journal said that the parking meter was “so new that probably many people are unfamiliar with it.” Assessing the pros and cons of a trial, the newspaper argued that if free street parking is not a “right,” then Ottawa might as well make some revenue from it “if the privilege is to be extended.” Also, if meters reduced casual parking, merchants might benefit. However, the newspaper was uncertain whether Ottawa citizens would take kindly to the idea, and wasn’t sure if meters could be used with parallel parking.

Parking wellington st 1920s Dept. of Interior LAC PA-034203

Parking on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 1920s – already a problem, Department of the Interior/Library and Archives Canada, PA-034203. Notice the row of stately elm trees that lined the sidewalk. Sadly, they all succumbed to Dutch elm disease mid-century.

Ottawa did not take kindly to the idea. It took three attempts and twenty years before City Hall got the votes to install meters. On the first attempt in 1938, the Traffic Committee and the Board of Control recommended the installation of 903 meters in downtown Ottawa for a six-month trial period. Supporters of the measure hoped that meters would be more effective than existing parking regulations in curbing lengthy parking stays. In 1937, 14,000 parking tickets were handed out to motorists who had overstayed the 30-minute parking limit, but only 900 fines were issued.  Opponents argued that instead of unsightly meters, parking problems could be addressed through the enforcement of existing rules. Mayor Stanley Lewis opposed meters as did merchants who feared losing business if free parking was eliminated. A concession on the part of meter supporters to reduce the charge for the first twelve minutes to only one cent was not sufficient to change minds. With Toronto and Montreal having turned down metered parking, Council rejected meters on an 18-8 vote. The measure was put onto the backburner for a decade.

In 1947, the issue resurfaced. By this time, meters had apparently been installed in 1,200 U.S. cities and 49 Canadian communities, including Kingston, Oshawa and Windsor. Once again, the Traffic Committee and the Board of Control favoured their introduction. But Stanley Lewis, who still occupied the mayor’s chair, remained a steadfast opponent. At Council, the debate was fierce. Supporters argued that metered parking would allow for a more equitable distribution of limited parking spaces, would speed up business, reduce congestion, and increase municipal revenues. The anti-meter faction argued that meters would ruin the look of Ottawa, would clutter sidewalks, and that shoppers would avoid areas that had metered parking. Some also contended that metered street parking was a “nuisance” tax on motorists, and that their advantages were unproven. One alderman suggested that to reduce congestion, he would ban all parking on Bank and Sparks Streets, and convert part of Major Hill’s Park into a parking lot. “The park is only frequented by tramps, and the public do not go there.”

In December 1947, Council narrowly voted (12-10) in favour of installing parking meters for a one-year trial, and issued a request for tenders. One would think that this would have been the end of the matter—far from it. Two firms, the Mi-Co Meter Company of Montreal and the Mark Time Meter Company of Ottawa, submitted bids for the contract. Early the following year, the Board of Control selected Mi-Co on the basis that it offered the lowest price. However, City Council subsequently rejected the Mi-Co bid in favour of Mark Time meters. While Council did not have to select the lowest bid, the rationale for overturning the Mi-Co bid was murky. The Mi-Co Meter Company, whose meters were actually made in Ottawa by a company called Instruments, Ltd, indicated that it would seek an injunction to stop the city from signing a contract with Mark Time on the grounds that it had won the tender since its meters were cheaper and conformed to City specifications whereas Mark Time meters did not. Among other things, the City had specified that the dial indicating the amount of time available was to be visible on both sides of the meter. This requirement that was not met by Mark Time meters. After another stormy Council session, Council voted 17-7 to rescind the awarding of the contract to Mark Time. It was a pyrrhic victory for Mi-Co. Ten days later City Council overturned the parking meter trial on an 18-2 vote. According to the Ottawa Journal, this decision “positively, definitively, officially and finally” meant that parking meters would not be installed on Ottawa streets.

With the parking debate in abeyance in Ottawa, Eastview (Vanier), which was a separate municipality, got a jump on its municipal big sister by introducing parking meters in May 1951 along Montreal Road. The charge was one cent for the first twelve minutes and five cents for an hour of parking time from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. The experiment was a great success with congestion along Montreal Road substantially reduced. The fine for a parking violation was $1 if paid within 48 hours at the police station, or $3 if the infraction went to court.

Shortly afterwards, despite the “definitive” decision not to install parking meters in neighbouring Ottawa, the City Council’s Traffic Committee again recommended the installation of meters on certain Lowertown streets and well as on Lyon, Sparks and Queen Streets. But with Charlotte Whitton assuming the mayor’s chair in 1951, the recommendation went nowhere. The pugnacious and irascible Whitton was dead set against parking meters. “[If] we want space on our streets for moving traffic, we surely don’t want to rent out public streets and give people the right to store their cars there,” she said. She favoured more off-street parking instead.

It wasn’t until after Whitton had been dethroned in 1956 that the parking meter issue resurfaced in any significant manner at Ottawa City Council. By this time, meters had become a familiar part of the urban landscape in most North American towns and cities. Toronto had succumbed in 1952 and Montreal two years later. The Journal newspaper had also for several years run a series of favourable articles on the success of meters in other towns in curbing traffic congestion and, incidentally, raising huge sums for municipal coffers. These articles were helpful in preparing the ground for parking meters. In mid-December 1957, Ottawa’s Civic Traffic Committee unanimously recommended the installation of parking meters, the last outspoken critic of the machines on the Committee having thrown in the towel. A few days later, City Council passed the measure virtually without debate, agreeing to install meters in central Ottawa in the area bounded by Laurier, Kent, Wellington and Elgin as well as in Lowertown along Rideau from Mosgrove (located where Rideau Centre is today) to King Edward and along bordering side streets for one block.

Parking meter, Duncan 50 model

The Duncan-Miller Model 50 parking meter

To help avoid the contract problems that the City had ten years earlier, precise specifications were issued in the call for tenders. Four companies—Sperry Gyroscope Ottawa Ltd with its Mark Time meter, the Duncan Parking Meter Company of Montreal with its Duncan “50” and Duncan “60” models, The Red Ball Parking Meter Company of Toronto, and the Park-o-Meter Company also of Toronto—submitted bids to install 925 meters. Nettleton Jewellers examined the clockwork mechanism of all test machines submitted with the tenders. The winner was the Duncan Parking Meter Company of Montreal for its economy Duncan “50” model at $55 each.

Within weeks of the tender being accepted in February 1958, meter poles began to sprout on Ottawa streets. After testing, the first meters went “live” on Rideau Street on Friday, 25 April 1958. Traffic Inspector Callahan said that the meters were effective immediately and “must be fed” wherever they had been installed. Motorists were also given instruction on how to park—with front wheels opposite the machines. If a car occupied more than one space, both meters would have to be fed, five cents for 30 minutes, 10 cents for an hour. It was also illegal for motorists to stay longer than one hour; topping up the meter was not permitted. A parking infraction led to a $2 ticket. The meters were a great success, especially financially. The meters began pulling in $3,500 per week, considerably more than had been expected, with annual maintenance and collection expenses placed at only $20,000.

Parking meter, at Carnegie Library

Test parking meter in front of the Ottawa Library, April 1958, City of Ottawa Archives/An 56739.

Over the next half century, the ubiquitous parking meter ruled downtown curbsides, standing every car length or two depending on whether single-headed or double-headed machines were being used. But in the 2000s, single-space curbside meters began to give way in Ottawa to multi-space machines (Pay and Display) that gave motorists a slip of paper that indicated the expiry time to be placed on the dashboard. This innovation permitted more cars to be parked on a given street, and eliminated “free” parking when a motorist parked in a spot with unused time on a standard meter. It also helped to reduce the clutter of unsightly meters on city sidewalks.

Other technological advances are also reducing the number of parking meters. Some communities have adopted in-vehicle parking meters—an electronic device that motorists can charged up and display on a car window. Others have embraced pay-by-phone parking with licence plate enforcement. In 2012, pay by telephone parking arrived in Ottawa through a system called “PaybyPhone” that is available in major cities around the world. After registering, a motorist enters a location number and selects the desired length of parking time up the permitted maximum. The parking charge is automatically debited to a credit card. Parking enforcement officers have a hand-held device that has real-time access to licence plate numbers and paid vehicles.

Looking forward, one can envisage further technological changes that could accelerate the demise of the parking meter, including in-car sensors and shared, autonomous vehicles that people call when needed. The parking meter, even the modern, multi-space machines now found on Ottawa streets, may soon become as rare as a telephone call box.

 

Sources:

 Everett, Diana, 2009. “Parking Meter,” Oklahoma Historical Society, http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=PA015.

Google Patents, 2017. Coin Controlled Parking Meter, US2118318 A, Inventor: Carl c Magee, May 24, 1938.

Grush, Ben, 2014, “Smart Attrition: As the parking meter follows the pay phone,” Canadian Parking Association, http://canadianparking.ca/smart-attrition-as-the-parking-meter-follows-the-pay-phone/.

Ottawa, (City of), 2017. How to pay for parking, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/parking/how-pay-parking.

Ottawa Sun, 2012. “Pay by phone parking arrives,” 5 April.

Ottawa Citizen, 1958. “Something Has Been Added,” 19 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1935. “The Automat of the Curbstone,” 29 July.

——————-, 1936. “Parkometer Proposal Is Referred To Board,” 22 September.

——————-, 1936. “Parking By Meter,” 23 September.

——————-, 1936. “Consider Parkometer Plan,” 23 September.

——————-, 1938. “No Harm In Trying The Parking Meters,” 16 April.

——————-, 1938. “Council Rejects Parking Meter Plan,” 21 June.

——————-, 1948. “Ottawa Firm Seeks Injunction to Restrain Meter Negotiations,” 10 June.

——————-, 1948. ‘“In Again, Out Again Meters’ Voted Out at Council Caucus,” 12 June.

——————-, 1948. “Right Decision on Parking Meters.” 19 June.

——————-, 1948. “And Now Let’s Forget Them!” 23 June.

——————-, 1950. “Parking Meters Approved For Eastview,” 26 October.

——————-, 1951. “134 Parking Meters Go In At Eastview,” 7 May.

——————-, 1951. “Eastview Find Parking meters Clear Montreal Road,” 16 June.

——————-, 1953. “Down With Meters Says Mayor,” 23 December.

——————-, 1957. “Board of Control,” 13 December.

——————-, 1957. “Parking Meters,” 17 December.

——————-, 1958. “Six companies Tender On Meters,” 29 January.

——————-, Parking Meter Proposal Submitted,” 31 January.

——————-, 1958. “Ottawa Buys 1,000 Parking Meters,” 18 February.

——————-, 1958. “Rideau Street Parking Meters In Operation,” 25 April.

——————-, 1958. “Meters Earn $3,500 A Week,” 14 August.

PaybyPhone, 2017. Welcome to PaybyPhone, Ottawa, https://www.paybyphone.com/locations/ottawa.

 

 

The Dominion Observatory

29 April 1905

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

cliff st

The Cliff Street Observatory,  Canada Science and Technology Museum

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

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

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

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

 

telescope

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

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

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

observatory

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

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

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

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

Observatory today

The Dominion Observatory, 2016, Google Maps

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

 

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

 

The End of the Crippler

18 April 1955

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

Polio, 2-2-1950 OJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polio ad, 4-2-50 OJ

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

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

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

Polio, Jonas Salk, 1955 Owl student yearbook, 1957

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

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

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

Polio elgin public school

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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