Ottawa’s Centenary

16 August 1926

In 2026, Ottawa will celebrate its bicentenary, marking two hundred years from when General George Ramsey, 9th Earl of Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel John By advising By of his purchase of land for the Crown that contained the site of the head locks for the proposed Rideau Canal on the Ottawa river, and the suitability of the locality for the establishment of a village or town to house canal workers. Lord Dalhousie asked Colonel By to survey the land, divide it into 2-4 acre lots and rent them to settlers, with preference to be given to half-pay officers and respectable people. The rough-hewn community, which was subsequently hacked out of a hemlock and cedar forest, was quickly dubbed Bytown. Its name was changed to Ottawa in 1855, and two years later the town was selected as the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria.

To celebrate the centenary of its founding by Col. By, the City of Ottawa had a week-long, blow-out extravaganza in the summer of 1926. Although the official opening of the celebrations was on Monday, 16 August 1926, the fun actually began two days earlier on the Saturday with a range of sporting events wide enough to please the most die-hard sports fanatic.  The Capital Swimming Club staged a centennial regatta in the Rideau Canal opposite the Exhibition Grounds—a daring event given the poor quality of Canal water. Swimmers from across Canada participated with five Dominion championships at stake. At Cartier Square on Elgin Street, four soccer teams competed for the McGiverin Cup with the Ottawa Scottish emerging the victor, beating the Sons of England with a 5-2 score in the finals. Also featured that day were track and field events, cycling, golf, baseball, tennis and a cricket match at the Rideau Hall cricket pitch.

Centenary Pipers Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025132

Bagpipers, Ottawa Centenary Parade, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025132.

The following day, there was a huge Garrison Church parade involving 3,000 soldiers including local regiments as well as the Queen’s Own Rifles from Toronto and the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec City who had been quartered in tents on the grounds of the Normal School on Elgin Street (now the Heritage Building of the Ottawa City Hall). The troops marched from downtown to Lansdowne Park where 15,000 people crowded into the stands for divine services. More than 50,000 people watched the soldiers march through the streets of Ottawa.  That evening the band of the “Van Doos” gave a concert that was broadcast from the Château Laurier hotel.

Centenary Devlin Furs Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025130

Devlin Furs’ Float, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025130.

The official opening ceremonies took place on the Monday morning on Parliament Hill in front of cheering thousands and “in the shadow of the nearly completed “‘Victory Tower.’” (The name for the Centre Block didn’t officially become the “Peace Tower” until the following year—the 60th anniversary of Confederation.) After much military pomp and pageantry, Sir Henry Drayton, delivered the opening speech in the absence of the Prime Minister, Arthur Meighan. He welcomed visitors to the Capital in the name of the Dominion of Canada. Mayor John Balharrie also greeted visitors and former Ottawa residents who had come home for the celebrations. To symbolized the granting to them of the “freedom” of the city, he released a coloured balloon that carried aloft a four-foot golden key. Messages of congratulations flooded into Ottawa from near and far. Three Governors General—Aberdeen, Connaught and Byng—sent telegrams, as did the Lord Mayor of London, and Jimmy Walker, the controversial and flamboyant Mayor of New York. Civic, provincial and federal politicians from across Canada did likewise.

After the official opening, sporting events occupied the rest of the day. That night, there was a military display and tattoo involving troops from all services in from of 12,000 spectators at Lansdowne Park. The chief feature of the night was the staging of a mock battle scene. As searchlights played over the field, the soldiers re-enacted the crossing of the “Hindenburg” line by Canadian troops in 1918. The mock machine gun action and field bombardment was apparently very realistic. So much so that many veterans experienced flash-backs of their time in the trenches. Also featured that night was a performance of the 1,000 voice Centenary Choir, platoon drills by the Royal 22nd Regiment, and gymnastics displays by cadets.

A highlight of Tuesday, the second day of the Centenary celebrations, was the unveiling of a stone memorial dedicated to Colonel By in a small a park located on the western side of the Rideau Canal just south of Connaught Square opposite Union Station. To the strains of Handel’s Largo, played by the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, the memorial, which was covered by a Union Jack, was unveiled at noon. Mayor Balharrie presided. More than 2,000 people witnessed the solemn event. The bronze plaque on the side of the stone, which was intended to be the cornerstone of a much larger memorial, bore the inscription 1826-1926 In Honour of John By, Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Engineers. In 1826 he founded Bytown, Destined to Become the City of Ottawa, Capital of the Dominion of Canada. This memorial was unveiled in Centenary Year. (A larger memorial was never built. A statue of Colonel By sculpted by Joseph-Émile Brunet was eventually commissioned by the Historical Society of Ottawa and was erected in Mayor’s Hill Park in 1971.)

At Lansdowne Park, a multi-day western rodeo and stampede commenced with over 200 horses, 100 cattle, and dozens of cowboys from western Canada and the United States. Log rolling competitions took place on the Canal. That evening, an historical pageant was held involving 2,000 actors from service groups, theatre groups, and drama schools. The pageant began with a prologue depicting Confederation with Miss Canada seated on a throne exchanging greetings with Misses Provinces. After pledges of mutual support and loyalty, the provinces curtsied to Canada. This was followed by tableaux representing scenes from Ottawa’s history, including “The Spirit of the Chaudière,” depicting the region before the arrival of Europeans, “The Coming of the White Man,” “Pioneer Settlers,” “The Lumber Industry,” “Bytown and its Early Inhabitants,” “The First Election,” “Naming of the Capital,” “The Fathers of Confederation,” and, a finale where all joined together with the Centenary Choir to sing a closing anthem. The massed 1,000-member Choir accompanied by the G.G.F.G. band also performed a number of popular songs including, O Canada, Land of Hope and Glory, Alouette, Indian Love Song, and, of course, God Save the King.

The pageant got a mixed review. The Ottawa Citizen opined that it provided a “felicitous treatment of the historical episodes chosen for presentation,” but there was “room for improvement.” However, on balance, the pageant was “stimulating and educative.” The dancing was described as “effective.”

After the performance, street dancing was held from 11pm to 2am on O’Connor Street between Albert Street and Laurier to the tunes of two jazz orchestras. With the crush of people, there was little actual dancing though things got a bit better on subsequent nights. With massive crowds downtown, there was some minor trouble. The police arrested a number of young men for setting off firecrackers in the streets. Some had placed “torpedoes” on the street-car tracks that caused “terrific successive explosions” as the trams went over them.  Police also acted to curb dangerous driving on the crowded city thoroughfares. Reportedly, louts also molested young women. Generally speaking, however, the street partying was carried out in good humour. A dozen youths organized an impromptu game of leap frog on Sparks Street between Bank and Elgin Streets.

Wednesday, 18 August, was declared a civic holiday by Mayor Balharrie, and more commemorative plaques were unveiled. In addition to non-stop sporting events, rodeo competitions and other fun activities at the Exhibition Grounds, one thousand guests attended a garden party at Rideau Hall. Although Lord Byng had left Ottawa to return to Britain, his term of office as governor general having just ended, he had given permission for the residence to be used as the venue for the civic birthday party celebration. Mayor Balharrie provided a massive four-tier cake decorated with silver foliage and tiny silver cupids. Guests received little boxes of cake bearing the inscription “A souvenir of Ottawa’s Centenary with the compliments of Mayor J. P. Balharrie.”

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025127

Float of the Ottawa Electric Company, Col. By’s Home, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025127.

That evening, Ottawa’s merchants and businesses held the second of the week’s three parades. Starting in the Byward Market and ending at Lansdowne Park, the parade highlighted milestones of Ottawa’s commercial progress over the previous one hundred years. Among the many entries, the Producers’ Dairy’s float featured a huge milk bottle and milk maids. Camping equipment in 1826 and 1926 was the theme of the Grant Holden and Graham entry. Also in the parade was the largest shoe ever manufactured in Canada with six little girls seated inside it, courtesy of Ottawa’s boot and shoe stores. Representing the Ottawa Department Stores Association, four white horses with attendants dressed in white and yellow uniforms pulled a float bearing eight young women in long gowns. Not to be outdone, the A. J. Freiman entry, which was decorated in silver and flowers, was drawn by six white horses with six attendants dressed in white and blue livery. On board were five young ladies wearing period costumes. The Ottawa Electric Company float consisted of an (inaccurate) replica of Colonel By’s house. Instead of a pioneer’s log home as depicted, the Colonel’s actual home was made of stone.

With amusements and events continuing at the Exhibition Grounds, Thursday’s highlight was an “old timers’ parade. In front of immense crowds, historical floats, three bugle bands, three brass bands and one band of bagpipers wended their way slowly from the Byward Market, along Rideau and Sparks Streets before heading down Bank Street to Lansdowne Park. Old-time vehicles on display included an 1897 Oldsmobile and penny-farthing bicycles. Firefighters dressed in the red outfits of yore pulled hand reels or drove antique horse-pulled engines including the “Conqueror,” Ottawa first fire engine. There were also historical tableaux depicting the early days of the Ottawa Valley and Bytown, including Champlain and his men, the arrival of the Jesuits, the establishment of the first white settlement in the region by Philemon Wright, and the beginning of the lumber industry.  Guests of honour in the parade included veterans from the Fenian Raids, the South African War and the Great War.

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025131

Ottawa Firefighters with hand reels, “Old-Time Pageant,” Ottawa Centenary, August 1926, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025131.

Centenary celebration wound down on the weekend but not before the finals of the stampede, more street dancing, this time in Hintonburg, more sporting activities, and a “Venetian Nights” boating event held on the Rideau Canal.

For those who hadn’t had their fill of fun and games, the Central Canada Exhibition opened immediately after the official ending of the centenary fun, prolonging the excitement for another week.

Both of Ottawa’s major newspapers covered in detail highlights of Ottawa’s first hundred years and centenary events, with each publishing extended supplements. The Evening Citizen boasted that its edition of 16 August weighed in at more than two pounds. It’s rival, The Ottawa Evening Journal ran a close second. In one regard, however, the Journal went one step further by publishing a fascinating prospective view of what Ottawa might look like on its bicentenary in 2026. Some of its guesses look pretty accurate. It predicted that Ottawa would have a population of 975,000 (actual number 934,240 in 2016) and that it would annex neighbouring communities. It also correctly forecast the elimination of the above-ground, cross-city train tracks and the replacement of the tram lines with buses. It even predicted a tunnel between LeBreton Flats and downtown used by electric trains!

Not surprisingly, however, the crystal-ball gazers got a lot of things wrong. The newspaper predicted that Canada would have a population of 100 million by 2026, and that the airplane would effectively eliminate the automobile as a mode of transportation. The paper also postulated that after decades of delay the great Georgian Bay Ship Canal would finally be completed in 1982, almost eighty years after the idea was first proposed, thereby making Ottawa a deep-water port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. As well, given the region’s cheap hydro-electric power, the Journal envisaged a massive expansion of manufacturing in the Ottawa area, forecasting that the Capital would become the home of the largest Canadian plant for the manufacture of pleasure, commercial and air taxicabs. It also predicted the emergence of a large furniture manufacturing industry in Chelsea in West Quebec, and the construction of immense iron ore smelters in Ironside, just north of the old city of Hull, to process iron ore mined in the Laurentians.

For the Journal, the demise of manufacturing and the conversion of Ottawa into the primarily white-collar city that it is today were unimaginable.

 

Sources:

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

 

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Frank Amyot and the Berlin Olympics

8 August 1936

When the International Olympic Committee selected Berlin over Barcelona in 1931 as the host city for the Summer games of the 11th modern Olympiad to be held in 1936, nobody expected that Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a.k.a. the Nazis, would then be in power. The Olympiad was to have been a public demonstration of the return of Germany into the fold of civilization nations—the Great War and its atrocities for which Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary were held responsible now relegated to history. Instead, the Games became an opportunity for the Nazis, who had just remilitarized the Rhineland a few months earlier, to show off Germany’s new political and military vigour. More ominously, it was also an opportunity for the Nazis to demonstrate their warped racial belief in the supremacy of the so-called “Aryan” race, with the blond, blue-eyed Nordic subtype at the pinnacle, the so-called master race (the Herrenvolk).

1930s olympics

Arrival of the Olympic Torch, Berlin, August 1936, Illinois Holocaust Museum

By this time, the Nazis had already put into effect their “Blood laws” which among other things made it illegal for an “Aryan” German to marry a Jew or even to have a romantic affair with a Jew. German Jews were also stripped of their legal rights and were banned from many occupations and activities, including their participation in German sporting clubs. Also, under harsh eugenic laws, those deemed “life, unworthy of life,” which included the mentally handicapped, sufferers of hereditary disorders and severe physical handicaps, and homosexuals, were sterilized, or worse, killed. The purpose was to improve the German gene pool. The corollary of this was the encouragement of those of pure Aryan stock to breed. Girls deemed racially pure were essentially turned into brood mares in SS-run stud farms—the Lebensborn e.V.

Needless to say, given the Nazis’ growing oppression, especially of Jews, Germany’s hosting of the Olympic Games was controversial. Owing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and the United States, Hitler allowed Jews to participate in the Games. The German sporting federation included a token Jew on the German Olympic summer team—26-year old Helene Meyer who later gave the Nazi salute when she won the silver medal for women’s fencing. Meyer had left Nazi Germany in 1935 to settle in the United States but returned temporarily to Germany for the Summer Games.

This tokenism was enough for the IOC to close its eyes to what was going on in Germany. In April 1936, the President of the IOC, Count Henri de Baillet-Letour, said the Winter Olympics, which were also held in Germany, had been a great success and that there been many Jewish athletes including on Germany’s team. He said: “The Nazi question has no connection with sports at the Olympic Games.” Some countries and athletes were not convinced, and a “Peoples’ Olympiad” was organized for late July in Barcelona, just days prior to the start of the official Olympic Summer Games in Berlin. However, as athletes from 22 countries, including the Soviet Union, which did not participate in the official Olympic Games at that time, assembled in Barcelona, the Spanish Civil War began. The Peoples’ Olympiad was cancelled.

Despite concerns about Hitler’s Germany, almost 4,000 athletes from 49 countries and territories participated in the Summer Games held during the first two weeks of August 1939 in Berlin. Germany pulled out all the stops, shelling out millions for a huge new stadium and an athletes’ village. The games were the first to be broadcast live over television though few people had sets to watch them. Anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed for the occasion. The Nazis’ aim was to impress and reassure the tens of thousands of foreign visitors. They were going to present to the world the allusion that Germany was an open, tolerant society. The games were a propaganda coup, and were recorded for posterity by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker.

The opening parade of nations was a cause of angst for many of the athletes. Should they give the Nazi salute to honour Hitler, or not? Some apparently opted for the Olympic salute which was similar. The Olympic salute is made by holding the right arm straight with the hand outstretched with the fingers together. The arm is held high and at an angle to the right from the shoulder. To make the Nazi salute, one raises the arm straight forward. Both are variants of the ancient Roman salute. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion.

News reports immediately after the opening ceremonies claimed that the Canadian team gave the Nazi salute, which won them an enthusiastic response from the predominantly German audience. Later reports suggested that the Canadians had actually given a “half-Nazi salute” or the Olympic salute, with an “eyes right.” However, this may have been just after-the-fact revisionism to avoid embarrassment. The Chairman of the Canadian Olympic team claimed “It wasn’t actually the Nazi salute…The outstretched right hands of the Canadians pointed skyward rather than forward. It was merely a salute toward Herr Hitler.” Other teams left no confusion. The British and Australian teams made only an “eyes right,” while the American team held their hats over their hearts while giving an “eyes right.” Given its close similarity to the Nazi salute, the Olympic salute was abandoned in 1948.

Canada sent 97 competitors to Berlin—79 men and 18 women, competing in 69 events in 12 sports. The team’s performance was disappointing. It garnered only nine medals—one gold, three silver and five bronze, and ranked 17th among participating nations. (This was better, however, than the lone silver medal for ice hockey that Canada won in the 1936 Winter Games.) Canada’s only gold medalist at the Summer Games was Ottawa’s Frank Amyot who won the men’s C-1 1,000 metre, single-man sprint canoe race held at the regatta course at Grünau on the Langer See situated on the south-east outskirts of Berlin.

Frank Amyot, 1936 PA-050285

Frank Amyot, Olympic Gold Medalist, 1,000 Metre Sprint Canoe, Berlin 1936, Library and Archives Canada, PA-050285.

Amyot had been the favourite to win the event. The 32-year old was a veteran canoer, and six times the Canadian Canoe Association’s Senior Singles Champion. He won his first title in 1923 while rowing for the Rideau Canoe Club. He later competed for the Britannia Boating Club. As the most senior and experienced member of the eight-man paddling team selected to represent Canada in the Olympics, Amyot was chosen as the team’s captain and coach. The other members of the team included Gordon Potter, F. Dier, Stan Potter, and Frank Wills from the Gananoque Canoe Club and Bill Williamson, Harvey Charters and Warren Saker from the Balmy Beach Club, Toronto. Charters and Saker also went on to win medals at the regatta course at Grünau, capturing the silver medal in the men’s C-2 10,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe competition and the bronze medal in the men’s C-2 1,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe race.

Despite Amyot’s standing in the sport, the Canadian Olympic Committee did not contribute a penny towards his travel expenses to Germany. Indeed, the Canadian Olympic Committee initially refused to fund any of Canada’s paddlers, though it later coughed up a token $65 to each of the three Toronto-based canoeists following protests. The other paddlers were ignored. The reason is unclear. True, money was tight that year. The Depression was still underway. The federal government had provided only $10,000 to the Canadian Olympic Committee to help fund Canada’s participation in both the Winter and Summer Games. But one would have thought that some dollars would have been allocated to cover Amyot’s expenses as he was widely regarded as Canada’s best chance to win a gold medal. The Canadian Olympic Committee also had the gall to charge Amyot $8 for his white-trimmed, crimson Canadian team blazer; Amyot refused to pay.

To help cover travel expenses, estimated at about $500 for each of the eight-man paddling team, the Canadian Canoe Association contributed $800. The remaining funds had to be arranged privately. The Britannia Boat Club organized a fundraiser for Frank Amyot, including selling reproduction prints of the painting “The Bluenose” at $1 per copy, with the proceeds to be given to the canoer. A professional tennis tournament held at Ottawa’s Auditorium in April 1936 also turned over part of the gate to the Britannia Boat Club to help cover Amyot’s costs. The Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, for which Amyot worked, also provide considerable financing for his journey.

With the support of friends, family, and community, Canada’s Olympic team, including the eight paddlers, set sail in mid-July from Montreal to Le Havre in France on the SS Duchess of Bedford. The team spent a day in Paris sightseeing before taking a train for Berlin.

Frank Amyot’s big race took place on 8 August 1936 at the Grünau regatta course. As there were only six contestants, there were no heats. According the Evening Citizen, Amyot’s performance was “acclaimed as one of the finest ever witnessed in Europe.” Using a borrowed boat, he won gold in a time of 5 minutes 32.1 seconds over the 1,000-metre course, almost five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Bohuslav Karlik of Czechoslovakia, who Amyot had passed 100 metres from the finish line. Erich Koschik of Germany took the bronze medal.

When Amyot arrived back at the dock, the other members of the paddling team boosted their victorious captain on their shoulders and carried him back to the boathouse to the cheers of fans. Later, he received congratulatory telegrams from Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis. In a letter to Captain Gilman, his boss at the Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, Amyot wrote: “I must confess it was a very proud moment for me when I stood on the pedestal and watched the Canadian flag hoisted above all the flags of the world and watched over a hundred thousand people of all nationalities stand at attention while they played ‘O Canada.’”

Amyot returned home a month later, sailing from Liverpool in England on the liner Montcalm to Montreal.  Arriving at Union Station in Ottawa after his journey, he was greeted by cheering fans, civil officials, including Mayor Lewis, Commodore F. Skuce of the Britannia Boating Club and fellow paddlers. Also at the train platform were members of his family, including Bungo, his black and tan Gordon setter who almost knocked his master over in an enthusiastic welcome. The band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Ottawa Boys’ Band played “The Conquering Hero Comes.” Amyot was escorted to his home at 52 Maclaren by a parade and motorcycle outriders.

A few days later, he was feted at a gala celebration at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel by more than 250 sportsmen and government dignitaries. Amyot entered the ballroom dressed in his Canadian Olympic uniform of crimson and white to the strains of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”

Amyot gratefully thanked all those who made his trip to Germany possible, and presented an oak tree that had been given to him in Germany to Mayor Lewis. The Mayor accepted the gift voicing his hope that the tree “would grow as straight, strong and clean as its donor.” In return, Mayor Lewis presented Amyot with a Royal Bank passbook containing more than $1,000 (worth more than $18,000 in today’s money), the proceeds of a community-wide collection. Amyot expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the gift. Already a life-time member of the Britannia Boating Club, the sportsman was also made a lifetime member of eleven different boat and canoe clubs.

Frank Amyot, a member of Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, died of cancer in 1962. A photograph of Amyot and his trophies graces the stairwell of the Britannia Yacht Club in Ottawa.

 

Sources:

Calgary Herald, 1936. “Canada Wins Canoe Event At Olympics, 8 August.

——————-, 1936. “Sport-O-Scope,” 15 August.

Leader-Post, 1936. “Canadians In Nazi Salute At Stadium, 1 August.

————–, 1936. “Only Half-Nazi Salute by Canadians at Berlin,” 4 August.

Macleans Magazine, 1936. “What Happened at Berlin,” 1 October.

O’Malley, JP, 2018, “How the Nazis’ token Jew turned the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a Propaganda win, The Times of Israel, 10 March, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-nazis-token-jew-turned-the-1936-berlin-olympics-into-a-propaganda-win/.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1936. “Fred Brown Flag Officer,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1936. “Crossed Signals,” 4 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Captures Olympic Title,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Short Shots On Sports,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Premier Congratulates Amyot On Victory,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Acclaimed At Banquet,” 10 September.

—————————–, 1947. “May Discontinue Olympic Salute,” 16 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1936. “Worthy Representative,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Assures Germany Olympic Games,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Is Chosen Olympic Team Manager,” 11 May.

——————-, 1936. “Campaign For Frank Amyot,” 1 June.

——————-, 1936. “Will Inquire Why Sculler Pays Own Way,” 6 July.

——————-, 1936, “Further Appeal For Frank Amyot,” 8 July.

——————-, 1936. “Paddling Official Voices Complaint,” 17 July.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Describes Scene When He Won Paddling Title,” 6 August.

——————-, 1936. “Crowd Gives Frank Amyot Big Ovation,” 7 September.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot, Olympic Star, Is Given Ovation At Banquet,”10 September.

Province, 1936. “Canadian Athletes At Le Havre on Saturday,” 24 July.

United States Holocaust Museum, 2019. The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936, https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/olympics/?content=august_1936&lang=en.

Victoria Daily Times, 1936. “Elect New Gyro Board,” 15 September.

Windsor Star, 1936. “Eyes Right,” 25 July.

—————-, 1936. “Nasty Row In Nazi Salute,” 5 August.

—————-, 1936. “Canuck Win Is Ironical,” 10 August.

The Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company

27 August 1910

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

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

diamondarrowoc15-2-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

diamondarrowradiatoremblem2cmikeshears

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Gay Liberation

28 August 1971

In a CROP poll of Canadians taken in 2017, 74 per cent of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage, up from 41 per cent twenty years earlier. In its analysis of the results, CROP said “we are witnessing a social phenomenon… of substance – a unique, historical process of social change.” What’s more, the polling company postulated that since younger demographic groups had the highest level of acceptance of same-sex marriage, the “legitimacy of same-sex marriage and consequently, homosexuality will grow” as the weight of these demographic groups increases over time.  Four years earlier, the Washington-based Pew Research Center, found that 80 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement “Homosexuality should be accepted by society.”  (This compared with roughly 75 per cent or higher in Western Europe countries and Australia, 60 per cent in the United States, but less than 10 per cent in much of Africa and the Middle East.)

Fifty years ago, Canadians were far less tolerant. Up until the late 1960s, sexual relations between men were illegal, punishable by severe penalties. In 1967, Everett Kippert of the North-West Territories was given an indefinite prison sentence as a “dangerous offender” for simply being a homosexual who was unwilling to remain celibate.  His sentence was sustained following a Supreme Court challenge. (He was released in July 1971.) In 1968, only 42 per cent of Canadians agreed in a Gallup poll that homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults aged 21 or older should not be a criminal act. This was just one percentage point more than the 41 per cent of respondents who considered such behaviour as being criminal.

Things slowly changed. In December 1967, then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said that the “state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” Two years later, the Canadian government, now led by Trudeau, passed Bill C-150, a massive omnibus bill that radically changed the Criminal Code of Canada. The bill touched upon many things, including abortion, contraception, gun control, lotteries, and homosexuality. Sexual relations between two consenting men 21 years of age and older were henceforth legal. Given prevailing public opinion, the change in law was highly controversial. Opposition to legalizing male homosexuality was fierce, especially from socially conservative groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Oddly, there had never been a law prohibiting sexual relations between women. There are apocryphal explanations for this omission. One story goes that when introducing legislation against homosexuality in Britain during the nineteenth century, government leaders were unwilling to explain what a lesbian was to Queen Victoria. Consequently, when British laws were introduced into Canada, the same lacuna appeared in Canadian legislation.

While the change in legislation made homosexuality legal, there was a huge panoply of laws, regulations and, of course, public opinion that remained unaffected. Most people, even those sympathetic to homosexuals, viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. (It wasn’t until 1987 that homosexuality was dropped from the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose mental conditions.) Homosexuals were not protected by Canada’s Bill of Human Rights that had been passed by the Conservative government of John G. Diefenbaker in 1960, or subsequently by the federal Human Rights Act of 1977, or by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that came into effect in 1982. Nor were there any changes to provincial laws.  Homosexuals continued to be the subjected to discrimination and abuse, or worse.

Gay Lib Canadian museum of Human rights

The Gay Day Parade on Parliament Hill, 28 August 1971, Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Activists, mostly young university students, began to lobby and protest for change. On 28 August 1971, a wet Saturday afternoon, a small group of men and women numbering anywhere from 80 to 200, accounts vary, marched on Parliament Hill in the first “gay liberation” protest in Canada. The represented a dozen or so mostly university homophile organizations from Guelph University, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Toronto, York University and Waterloo University. Also represented were the Community Homophile Association of Toronto, le Front du Liberation Homosexual of Montreal, the Gay Alliance Towards Equality of Vancouver, the Vancouver Gay Activists Association, the Vancouver Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Sisters, also of Vancouver, and the Toronto Gay Action. Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver.

On Parliament Hill, the activists “presented” a petition to the federal government signed by Brian Waite and Cheri Denovo on behalf of the August 28th Gay Day Committee. (See CBC archival footage of The Gay Day Parade, 28 August 1971.) In truth, there was few witnesses to the event beyond the press and a lone policeman standing in the pouring rain. The petition, which was read out loud, was researched and written in large part by Herb Spiers, an American living in Toronto. Spiers was a founding member of Toronto Gay Action and a member of the Body Politic Collective. Reportedly, he had wanted to be in Ottawa to read out part of the petition but a car accident prevented him from making it to the Capital. The petition titled “We Demand” listed ten demands for ending state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals.

In the petition’s introduction, it was noted that although the law had changed regarding homosexuality, it did not put homosexuals on an equal footing as heterosexuals. The law did nothing “to alleviate oppression of homosexuals” and that homosexual men and women were still subject to discrimination, police harassment, exploitation and pressure to conform sexually. Moreover, the petition argued that society’s prejudices against homosexuals were due “in no small way” to the practices of the federal government. The petition set out a way for the government to redress the grievances of the homosexual community.

The first three demands were aimed at putting homosexual and heterosexual acts on an equal footing in Canada’s Criminal Code. This included the removal of nebulous terms, such “gross indecency” and “indecent act,” from the Criminal Code and their replacement with a list of clearly defined offences. It also called for penalties for illegal sexual conduct to be equalized for both homosexual and heterosexual acts. In addition, the petition demanded the removal of “gross indecency” and “buggery” as grounds for calling an individual a “dangerous sexual offender,” the section of the Criminal Code under which Everett Kippert had been indefinitely incarcerated. It also sought a uniform age of consent, though something lower than the 21 years of age set for homosexual acts which was deemed as being unrealistically high. The age of consent for heterosexual sex was then 14 years of age. (It was raised to 16 for both heterosexual and homosexual sex in 2008 with a close-in-age exception.)

The fourth demand sought amendments to Canada’s Immigration Act to eliminate references to homosexuality or “homosexualism.” At that time, homosexuals were prohibited from becoming landed immigrants. Homosexuality was even grounds to deny a person entry into Canada as a tourist.

The fifth demand focused on the practices of the federal government which denied equality of opportunity and promotion to homosexuals, especially into the upper ranks of the civil service. The government claimed that homosexuals were at risk to blackmail, and hence were security risks. Homosexuals were in a classic “Catch-22” position. Even though they might be more willing to reveal their sexuality given changing social mores, they couldn’t since their careers would be jeopardized. And since they couldn’t reveal their sexuality because their careers would be compromised, they were deemed a security risk.

The sixth demand focused on amendments to Canada’s Divorce Act which equated homosexual acts to illegal acts. The writers of the petition favoured no fault divorce as had been recently legislated in England. They also wanted homosexuality not to be a bar to child custody in divorce cases.

The seventh demand was for the right of homosexuals to serve in Canada’s armed forces.  As homosexuality between consenting adults was no longer an illegal act under the Criminal Code, a ban on homosexuals serving in the army, navy or air force under the Queen’s Regulations was anomalous and outdated.

The eighth demand was an end to the policy of the RCMP of trying to identify homosexuals anywhere in the government. It also demanded the destruction of all records pertaining to past investigations.

The ninth demand focused on the extension of legal rights to homosexual. At that time, homosexuals could not adopt children, were not eligible for public housing, and could be discriminated in employment, in renting apartments, and in other areas. They were also regularly harassed by police.

Finally, the tenth demand asked for public officials including the police the use their positions to help change society’s negative attitudes towards homosexuals.

These demands were initially ignored. Few paid attention to what most saw as a bunch of social misfits, or worse. Here in Ottawa, homosexual civil servants continued to work in fear of losing their jobs. It is estimated that between four hundred and eight hundred federal civil servants were fired owing to their sexuality. Still, the capital had long hosted a thriving gay community. A key meeting spot for decades was the Lord Elgin Hotel, sometimes known as the “Lord Organ” to its denizens. There, gays had their choice of two taverns to hang out and meet people—Pick’s Place in the basement, and the more sophisticated Library on the first floor. However, during the late 1970s, hotel management, tired of the Lord Elgin being known as a gay hangout, began to discourage gay men from coming. In 1981, Pick’s Place closed at 3pm, and only opened in the evening for special events. Consequently, its gay patrons decamped to other locales, in particular 166B, Ottawa’s first official gay bar, situated around the corner from the Lord Elgin. But Ottawa gays continued to be harassed. In 1989, Alain Brosseau, a waiter at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel was mugged in Major’s Hill Park while walking home at night by thugs who incorrectly assumed he was a homosexual; the Park was a known gay pick-up area. Robbed and beaten, Brosseau was thrown to his death from the Alexandra Bridge. His assailant was given a life sentence.

On the legal front, nothing materially changed for Canada’s gay citizens until 1978 when homosexuals were finally removed from the group of inadmissible persons under the Immigration Act. In 1980, nine years after that first “gay liberation” demonstration on Parliament Hill, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation came to a vote in the House of Commons. It failed. In 1985, the offence of “gross indecency” was finally repealed. Seven years later, Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled that the failure of the Human Rights Act to protect homosexuals was discriminatory. This prompted the federal government to promise to amend the law though it took several years owing to elections and a change in the party in power. In 1992, the federal government lifted the prohibition of gays serving in the armed forces. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were protected, and an Ontario court ruled in favour of same-sex couples adopting children. The following year, the federal government finally added sexual orientation to the federal Human Rights Act.

In 1999, the Supreme Court went further, ruling that same-sex partners had the same rights and responsibilities as common law heterosexual couples, including access to social programs. Parliament updated the legislation the following year. Sixty-eight federal laws covering a wide range of subject from pension rights, and income tax to the Criminal Code of Canada were amended. In 2002, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that laws the prohibited same-sex marriages were discriminatory, leading Ontario to become the first province to permit “gay” marriage in 2003. British Columbia followed a few months later. In 2004, Quebec’s Court of Appeal also ruled in favour of same-sex marriages. In 2005, the federal Bill C-38 was passed, according same-sex couples the right to marry across Canada. This made Canada the third country in the world to sanction gay marriage, after the Netherlands in 2000, and Belgium in 2003.

While much has changed over the past fifty years, gay Canadians still face hardships. Although mostly accepted by friends and family, a recent survey of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, 75 per cent reported that they had been bullied sometime in the lives. The federal government is currently trying to bring legislation into compliance with court rulings that have rendered a number of laws (so-called ‘zombie’ laws) unconstitutional. Among other things, Bill C-39 would repeal the prohibition against anal sex (Section 159) which bears a penalty of up to ten years in prison. Although the Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of this section of the Criminal Code, courts in five provinces and the Federal Court of Canada have found that it violates Canadians’ Charter rights.

Sources:

Bank Street Business Improvement Association, 2018. 166-B-The B-La Réception,  The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/14.

————————, 2018. Ottawa LGBT History: ‘We Demand, The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/8?tour=1&index=43.

————————-, 2018, Video: ‘Lord Organ’ and the Persecution of Queers, The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/51.

Body Politic (The), 1971. “We Demand,” Volume 1, November-December, https://ia800708.us.archive.org/30/items/bodypolitic01toro/bodypolitic01toro.pdf.

CBA, 2017. CBA groups urge repeal of Criminal Code section 159 at ‘earliest opportunity,’” 6 April, http://nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/April-2017/CBA-groups-urge-repeal-of-Criminal-Code-section-15.aspx.

CBC, 2012. TIMELINE-Same-sex rights in Canada, 25 May, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/timeline-same-sex-rights-in-canada-1.1147516.

————, 2017, For Canada’s LGBT community, acceptance is still a work in progress-survey says,” 9 August, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/canada-lgbt-community-survey-1.4240134.

CBC Digital Archives. 2018. The First Gay March,” http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-first-gay-march.

Canada, Government of, 1985. “Criminal Code (R.M.C., 1985, c-46), Anal Intercourse, Section 159,) Justice Law Website, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/section-159.html.

Canada, Government of, Department of Justice, 2017. “Charter Statement –Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 6 June, http://nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/April-2017/CBA-groups-urge-repeal-of-Criminal-Code-section-15.aspx.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 2015. “The ‘We Demand’ protest held in Ottawa in 1971,” https://humanrights.ca/we-item/we-demand-protest-held-ottawa-1971.

Georgia Straight (The), 2011. ““We Demand”: sex and activist history in Canada gets spotlighted,” 25 August, https://www.straight.com/article-441761/vancouver/we-demand-history-sex-and-activism-canada-gets-examined.

Globe and Mail, (The), 1971. “Equality urged for homosexuals,” 30 August.

HuffPost, 2013. “Canada Accepts Homosexuality, But Global Divide Exists,” 6 October, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/10/canada-homosexuality_n_3412593.html.

Marchand, Blaine, 2013. “View from the Honey Dew,” Xtra, 31 December, https://www.dailyxtra.com/view-from-the-honey-dew-56366.

Newsmax, 2015. First Countries That Legalized Same-Sex Marriage,” https://www.newsmax.com/fastfeatures/same-sex-marriage-legalized-countries/2015/06/15/id/650672/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1971. “Gay protest marks a first for the hill,” 30 August.

Tatalovich, Raymond, 2003, Morality, Policy and Political Unaccountability: Capital Punishment, Abortion, and Gay Rights in Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, Loyola University, Chicago, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Halifax, May 30-June1, 2003, https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/paper-2003/tatalovich.pdf.

The Inquiry, 2018. “The Ever-Changing Criminal Code of Canada,” https://theinquiry.ca/the-inquiry/order-in-council-the-mandate/the-ever-evolving-criminal-code-of-canada/.

We Demand, 2011. Author of 1971 We Demand Statement Passes Away, http://ocs.sfu.ca/history/index.php/wedemand/2011/announcement/view/3.

The Heron Road Bridge Disaster

10 August 1966

Heron Road forms part of one of the busiest, east-west arteries in Ottawa. The four to six lane, divided thoroughfare runs from Walkley Road in the east, crosses the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, where it becomes known as Baseline Road, and ends at Richmond Road in the west. Of the thousands of commuters that use the road each day, few are probably aware that the bridge over the river and canal was the location of the worst industrial accident in Ottawa’s history. On 10 August 1966, a span of the Heron Road Bridge, which was then under construction, collapsed while 60 workmen were pouring concrete on a segment of the southern, eastbound roadway. Seven men were killed on the scene, crushed under tons of falling concrete. Another man died later than day, while a ninth victim succumbed to his injuries a month after the horrendous accident. A further fifty-seven men were injured, many severely. Victims were trapped in a horrifying mess of solidifying concrete, tangled ironwork and splintered wood that made extracting them difficult.

Picnickers who had been listening to a rock n’ roll band in nearby Vincent Massey Park that hot, sultry afternoon, described the collapse of the bridge as sounding like a low-flying, jet airplane. So great was the impact that the seismograph at the Dominion Observatory three kilometres away on Carling Avenue registered the event at 3.27pm. Some eyewitnesses likened it to an exploding bomb. The loud roar of the collapse was accompanied by a large cloud of dust thrown up into the air.

Heron Bridge

Heron Road Bridge After The Collapse, 1966

Immediately, passersby, police, workmen from nearby work sites, and firemen descended on the disaster scene to help rescue the casualties, many digging in the wet concrete using only their bare hands. There was blood everywhere. Aiding the injured was perilous; a slab of semi-hard concrete overhung the disaster site. The Civic Hospital set up a triage station, with the injured ferried to hospital by ambulance, trucks, and police cars. Disaster relief continued after dark; in the early hours of the following morning, a heavy rain made rescue conditions even more treacherous. On the scene throughout the recovery operations was Ottawa’s Mayor Don Reid. Rev. Georges Larose, the Ottawa Fire Department’s chaplain, comforted survivors, and administered the last rights to victims as they were recovered. The Salvation Army distributed sandwiches, coffee, and cold drinks.

One survivor, Jorge Veiga, was stuck in wet concrete up to his neck. Rescuers carefully washed the hardening mess that threatened to suffocate him from his nose and mouth with water, while welders cut through the iron reinforcing rods that trapped his body. A bucket brigade was organized to keep the metalwork cool enough that the heated metal from the blow torches didn’t burn him. Thankfully he was successfully extracted without his rescuers having to resort to amputation as earlier feared. Another worker, Thomas Daly, was impaled, and was transported to hospital with an iron rod protruding from his arm. Fate was capricious. A nineteen-year old man amazingly survived the sixty foot fall from the bridge with only a slightly injured arm; his glasses landed beside him intact.

Work on the Heron Road Bridge had commenced early the privious year. In February 1965, the City of Ottawa signed a contract with Beaver Construction (Ontario) for the construction of footings for the reinforced concrete piers on which the Heron Street Bridge would rest. This work was successfully completed without mishap by June 1965. The contract for building the two three-lane bridges, (the northern bridge for west-bound traffic and the southern bridge for east-bound traffic), each 877.5 feet long made of pre-stressed concrete, was awarded to O.J. Gaffney Ltd in August 1965. The City of Ottawa also hired the firm M.M. Dillon & Company Ltd as consulting engineers to help design and supervise the Heron Bridge Project.

Work began in the fall of 1965 starting at the western end of the twin bridges. Each bridge was divided into four spans—PT1N (meaning post-tensioned, 1st span, north bridge), PT2N, PT3N, PT4N, and PT1S, PT2S, PT3S, PT4S for the south bridge. The concrete used to construct each span of the bridge decks was poured in two layers.  By August 1966, the western half of the twin bridges (PT1N, PT2N and PT1S and PT2S) was essentially complete. The contractor had also constructed the wooden falsework (the temporary supporting structure or scaffolding) to support the eastern spans (PT3N, PT4N, PT3S, and PT4S) as they were built. A month prior to the accident, the first layer of concrete, 217 feet long by 50 feet wide, had been poured over spans PT3N and PT3S. Disaster struck while the second layer of concrete was being poured on span PT3S. According to the Ottawa manager of M.M. Dillion, the consulting engineers, as workers poured the concrete starting from the centre of the span moving east, the single-layer section of the span that overhung the western end of the span flipped into the air, pancaking onto the rest of the bridge, bringing it down.

Immediately, the Ontario Government launched an inquiry into the disaster. Ontario’s supervising coroner Dr H.B. Cotnam hired the engineering firm H.G. Acres Ltd to assist him in his investigation of the causes of the collapse. The focus of the inquest was the factors that led to the death of Clarence Beattie, a foreman who died in the collapse, though the inquiry’s findings were applicable to all nine fatalities. A five-member Coroner’s jury met in late November 1966 to hear the conclusions of the investigating engineers, and to listen to the testimony of witnesses. Jury members quickly focused on the strength and stability of the wooden falsework used to support the bridge while the concrete spans were being poured. Of particular interest was whether the falsework, which lacked diagonal, longitudinal bracing, was able to support the bridge while under construction. The overwhelming consensus of professional opinion was to the contrary. To help demonstrate the weakness of such a design, Prof. Carson Morrison, head of the department of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, demonstrated the relative strength of braced and unbranced falsework using two wooden models.

After seven days of testimony from H.G. Acres Ltd and other witnesses, the jury reached its verdict. It concluded that Clarence Beattie died from being crushed, his injuries due to the failure of the falsework, and his subsequent entanglement in steel bars and cement. The jury also concluded that the failure of the falsework was due to the absence of diagonal, longitudinal bracing. Indeed, the jury contended that the falsework had been technically inadequate to even support the first layer of concrete that had been poured a month prior to the disaster. The jury also pointed to secondary factors, including the use of poor quality lumber in the construction of the falsework, as well as the differential settling of footings, and a temporary overloading of certain posts. However, the jury concluded that these secondary factors would not likely have caused the falsework structure to fail. The jury blamed both O.J. Gaffney, the construction firm, and M.M. Dillion, the firm of consulting engineers, for the bridge’s collapse.

As with all disasters, the Heron Road Bridge failure reflected a number of things that had gone wrong, any one of which if caught earlier might have averted the bridge’s collapse. Most importantly, there was confusion over the design of the falsework. There had been three different sets of plans owing to changes demanded by the consulting engineers. Although the second draft plans of the falsework had contained diagonal longitudinal bracing, the third set did not. Testimony at the inquiry indicated that the consulting engineers viewed the third design plan as supplementary to the second design plan, whereas the construction team viewed the third design plan as complete.

There was also conflicting testimony about the falsework itself. Robert McTavish, the chief engineer of the construction firm, testified that the bracing had been dropped from the third design plan following discussions with Victor J. Bromley, the project engineer from M.M. Dillion, since a different “system” had been included as a substitute. This system was not, however, included in the final plans which McTavish approved, nor was it built.  Bromley, on the other hand, denied that he ever agreed to the removal of the diagonal, longitudinal bracing.

Regardless of who was right, neither McTavish nor Bromley had an adequate explanation for why they both failed to notice that the falsework was inadequately braced. McTavish said “he was interested in something else.” Bromley held himself “guilty” for not noticing the absence of the bracing despite regular visits to the work site. He testified “I didn’t notice it. I can’t explain it. My mind must have been confused at the time.”

Heron Bridge today

Heron Road Bridge, Looking West, cirica 2012

While city and provincial safety inspectors had noted the absence of diagonal longitudinal bracing in the falsework structure when they had been taken on a tour of the worksite by an engineering student who had been recently hired by the construction company, they had been satisfied with the student’s response that the falsework design had been approved by qualified engineers. “If it’s good enough for them (the consulting engineers), it’s good enough for us,” the inspectors were reported to have said. They did not to raise their reservations with their superiors, or with qualified engineers from either the construction firm or the consulting engineering firm. Later, it came out that neither inspector was a trained engineer. Moreover, they had been instructed not to question decisions made by professional engineers.

Despite the jury’s findings of human error, it may not have discovered the root cause of the disaster. Behind most cases of human error lies a design error says Don Norman, Professor of Applied Psychology at the University of California, San Diego. Several issues may not have been sufficiently probed. Why, for example, did the many professional engineers employed by the construction firm and the consulting engineering firm fail to spot the design flaw in the plans for the falsework? Why did they subsequently fail to spot the absence of adequate falsework bracing despite on-site supervision and frequent inspections? With so many engineers involved, was it a problem of “if everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible?” Was it difficult for one professional engineer to question the work of another? Why did the city and provincial safety inspectors fail to report their concerns about the absence of diagonal, longitudinal bracing to their superiors? Did they see themselves as being inferior to professional engineers, and hence unqualified to raise concerns? Were the safety systems put in place to avert disaster themselves flawed?

The jury made a number of recommendations to reduce the possibility of future disasters. It recommended that there be a clear definition of the responsibilities of the building contractor and those of the consulting engineers. In addition, it advised that approved design and construction drawings for falsework be stamped by a qualified civil engineer, and that safety inspectors be better trained, and be required to make written reports regarding any area of the falsework which in their personal opinion was inadequate. The jury also urged that graded lumber be used in building falsework, and that a mandatory building code be developed by the province of Ontario for the construction of bridges and falsework.

The collapse of the Heron Street Bridge led to major improvements to Ontario’s building code. Robert McTavish, the chief engineer of O.J. Gaffney, the building contractor, and Victor J. Bromley, the project manager from M.M. Dillion, the consulting engineering firm, were both suspended from practicing as engineers in Ontario by the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario for a period of one year. Bernard Houston, the chief estimator for Gaffney, who took responsibility for the majority of the design calculations for the bridge, was reprimanded. O.J. Gaffney was found guilty on two charges levelled under the Construction Safety Act, and was fined $5,000, the maximum penalty under the law at that time. The widows of the nine men who died in the Heron Bridge collapse received lump-sum compensation of $300 each (a little over $2,000 in today’s money), and a widow’s allowance of $75 per month, and an additional $40 per month for each child.

In 1987, the Canadian Labour Congress dedicated a memorial to those who lost their lives in the collapse of the Heron Street Bridge. The memorial, which lists the names of the nine workers who died in the disaster, can be found in Vincent Massey Park, close to where the fatal accident occurred.

 

Sources:

Kardos, G. 1969. Heron Road Bridge, Engineering Case Library, Leland Stanford Junior University, California, https://archive.org/details/ECL-133.

Globe and Mail (The), 1966. $250,000 estimated as compensation cost,” 20 August.

————————–, 1967. “Bridge builder charged in Heron road collapse”14 Janaury.

————————–, 1968. “Two suspended in fatal collapse of new bridge.” 27 January.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1966. “Engineer Takes Blame,” 24 November.

————————–, 1966. “Bridge mock-up is sent crashing at inquest,” 25 November.

————————–, 1966. “Inquest jury pins blame on two firms,” 30 November.

————————–, 2006. “The day the bridge came tumbling down.” 5 August.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1966. “Nine Dead in Ottawa Disaster, 11 August.

Norman Don, 2013. The Design of Everyday Things,” New York: Basic Books.

Winnipeg Free Press, 1966. “Span that collapsed at western end of the eastbound lane between two 60’ abutments that remained intact,” 11 August.

Images:

Heron Road Bridge after the collapse, 1966, Workers’s Heritage Centre, http://whc-cpo.ca/albums/heron.html.

Heron Road Bridge, Looking West, circa 2012, Pomerleau,  http://www.pomerleau.ca/construction-contractor/Projects/555/49/Heron-Road-Bridge-Reconstruction.aspx.

 

An Electric Banquet

29 August 1892

During the late nineteenth century, electricity was the cutting-edge, new technology, and Ottawa was Canada’s high-tech capital, thanks to two factors—the inventive skills of Thomas Ahearn, the Ottawa-born technological genius and entrepreneur, and the power-generating ability of the Chaudière Falls. Ahearn and his partner, Warren Soper, were responsible for lighting Ottawa’s streets with electric lights years ahead of other Canadian cities, and for providing Canada’s Parliament with indoor, electric lighting long before the U.S. Congress could boast such amenities. Ahearn and Soper also built and operated Ottawa’s electrified urban transit system, the Ottawa Electric Street Railway, whose carriages were electrically heated using one of Ahearn’s patented devices. Confounding the “experts,” Ottawa’s electric trams operated through the winter owing to yet another Ahearn invention, an electric snow plough. Ottawa was a great testing ground for electrical devices due to its proximity to the Chaudière Falls, the source of relatively inexpensive hydro power which was exploited by another Ahearn and Soper company, the Chaudière Electric Light and Power Company.

Oven

A pictorial description of Thomas Ahearn’s electric oven. Canadian Patent Office, 1892.

In August 1892, the Canadian Patent Office issued three patents to Thomas Ahearn. Sandwiched between his electric water bottle and his electric flat iron, was patent no. 39,916 for the electric oven. It was described as “An oven having in its hearth inclosed (sic) pits in which electric heaters are placed.” Just like modern ovens, the interior of Ahearn’s oven was lit by incandescent lamps that allowed a person to monitor whatever was being cooked through a glass window.

While some accounts suggest that the Carpenter Electric Heating Company of Philadelphia had invented the electric oven a year before Ahearn was granted his patent in Canada, there is no doubt that the first dinner entirely cooked using electricity took place in Ottawa on 29 August 1892 at the Windsor House hotel. According to a bemused Ottawa Journal journalist, “a complete repast, comprising a number of courses” was cooked “by the agency of chained lightning.” The hotel proudly proclaimed on its menu that “Every item … has been cooked by the electric heating appliance invented and patented by Mr T. Ahearn of Ahearn & Soper of this city and is the first instance in the history of the world of an entire meal being cooked by electricity.” Even the soup, sauces, and after-dinner coffee and tea were prepared using Ahearn’s electric heaters.

The dinner, or more accurately the feast of some thirty different items, consisted of:

Soup

Consommé Royal

Fish

Saginaw Trout with Potatoes, Croquettes, Sauce Tartar

Boiled

Sugar-Cured Ham, Champagne Sauce,

Spring Chickens with Parsley Sauce

Beef Tongue, Sauce Piquant

Roasts

Sirloin of Beef and Horse Radish

Turkey with Cranberry Sauce

Stuffed Loin of Veal, Lemon Sauce

Entrées

Larded Sweetbreads with Mushrooms

Lamb Cutlets with Green Peas, and Strawberry Puffs

Vegetables

Potatoes, Plain and Mashed

Green Corn, Escalloped Tomatoes

Vegetable Marrow

Pudding and Pastry

Apple Soufflés, Wine Sauce

Apple Pie, Black Current Tarts, Chocolate Cake

Coconut Drops, Vanilla Ice Cream, Maraschino Jelly

Fruits

Apples, Raisins, English Walnuts,

Almonds, Watermelon, Grapes

Black Tea, Green Tea, Coffee

Cheese, Biscuits

One hundred guests were invited by the hotel’s proprietor, Mr Daniels, to enjoy the banquet. The guest list included Ottawa’s Mayor Olivier Durocher, Warren Soper, as well as the presidents of the Ottawa Electric Railway and the Chaudière Electric Light and Power Companies. Also in attendance were numerous newspaper reporters that ensured widespread publicity. The meal was prepared at the electric tram sheds owned by Ahearn and Soper, and rushed by a special carriage to the hotel located several blocks away. The meal included a twenty-one pound roast of beef, a thirteen pound roast of veal, and three big turkeys that were cooked simultaneously in the cavernous Ahearn oven; apparently, the oven could accommodate twice that amount.

After the meal, which was acclaimed as a huge success, with everything “cooked to perfection,” the guests boarded another special tram and taken to view the oven at the tram sheds. There, Thomas Ahearn, who had stayed back to supervise his oven’s operation, provided an explanatory lecture. The arched brick oven was six feet wide with two Ahearn electric heaters installed in the bottom, powered by electricity generated by the Chaudière Electric Light and Power Company. The “current consumed by the two [heaters] was 43 amperes at 50 volts.”  The inside of the oven measured four feet by four feet. Peepholes, covered with heavy plate glass, permitted the chefs to observe the progress of the cooking without having to open the door. A major selling feature was the even cooking of the oven—“no scorching in one part and half-done-ness in another part” said the Evening Journal. As a vote of confidence in the new electric oven, Mr Daniels, the owner of the Windsor House hotel, ordered one of Ahearn’s newly patented ovens to be installed in the hotel’s kitchen.

Oven Ahearn

Thomas Ahearn’s Oven In Operation At the Central Canada Exhibition, Ottawa, October 1892.

A few weeks later, there was another, even larger scale, demonstration of Ahearn’s Electric Cooking Oven at the Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa. As part of a display of Ahearn electrical products, including electric home heaters, coffee boilers, and special restaurant heaters, a local baker, Mr R.E. Jamieson, used the oven to bake buns, twelve pans at a time, that he sold to the crowds at twenty-five cents each. This was an extraordinary price. A multi-course meal at the Café Parisien on Metcalfe Street could be had for only forty cents. The Electrical Engineer, a New York-based electrical trade journal, quipped that  the expression “‘Went off like hot cakes’ now reads in Ottawa ‘went off like electric cakes.’”

The Ahearn oven that the baker used was slightly different from the one used for the Windsor House banquet, having three heating elements instead of two. The extra element was needed to provide additional heat to offset heat loss through the frequent opening of the door in the cooking of multiple rounds of buns. The oven was also equipped with a pyrometer, turn-off switches, interior lights, and a clock. The oven was the hit of the Fair. Thomas Ahearn was awarded a special gold medal for his display of electrical devices.

While Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper were successful entrepreneurs, making fortunes from their electrically-based, business empire, the Ahearn electric oven proved to be a dud. It was too bulky to be easily used as a household appliance. As well, few homes or businesses were wired for electricity. Even where electricity was available, electric ovens, being energy gluttons, were expensive to operate, and were not initially competitive with the more familiar wood, coal, or gas ovens. It wasn’t until the 1930s that electric ovens became widely accepted.

 

Sources:

Canadian Patent Office Record and Registrar of Copyrights and Trade Marks, 1893. No, 39,916, Electric Oven, Four Électrique. Vol. 20, Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau.

Daily (The) Citizen, 1892. “Café Parisien,” 8 October.

Electricity, 1893. An Electric Banquet, 14 September, 1892, Volume 3, July 20, 1892 to January 11, 1893.

Electrical (The) Engineer, 1892. Electric Cooking At Ottawa, Can., Volume 14, July-December.

Electrical Review, 1893. A Course Dinner Cooked By Electricity, Volume 21-23, August 27, 1892 to February 18, 1893.

Evening (The) Journal, 1892. “An Electric Banquet,” 30 August.

Innovateus, 2013. Electric Stove, http://www.innovateus.net/content/electric-stove.

Library and Archives Canada, 2006. Made in Canada, Patents of Invention and the Story of Canadian Innovation, Thomas Ahearn, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/innovations/023020-3010-e.html.

Mayer, Roy. 1997. Inventing Canada: One Hundred Years of Innovation, Vancouver: Raincoast Books.

National Academy of Engineering, 2015. Great Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century, http://www.greatachievements.org/.

Images:

Patent No. 39,916, Ahearn Electric Oven, The Canadian Patent Office Record And Registrar of Copyrights and Trade Marks, Vol. 20, Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1893.

Thomas Ahearn’s Oven in Operation, Canada Central Fair, Ottawa, October 1892, The Electrical Engineer, “Electric Cooking at Ottawa, Can.,” Volume 14, July-December, author unknown.

Major’s Hill — Ottawa’s First Park

21 August 1874

One hundred and seventy years ago, Ottawa, was a rude, crude, muddy shanty-town, newly hacked out of the wilderness to be the northern terminus of the Rideau Canal linking Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River. There were few amenities for its roughly ten thousand citizens, many of whom had settled in the area first to build the canal in the late 1820s, and later to exploit the surrounding forests for their valuable lumber for sale to markets in Britain and the United States. But things began to change once Ottawa was selected as the new capital of the Province of Canada in 1857. Lacking the facilities worthy of a capital, work began in 1859 on constructing Canada’s magnificent Gothic-revival parliamentary and governmental buildings on what was then called Barrack Hill, a bluff overlooking the Ottawa River, and is now known as Parliament Hill. Thoughts also turned to beautifying the town, as well as to providing its burgeoning population with satisfactory, outdoor recreational facilities. As early as 1860, a petition was circulated requesting the Provincial Government to convert Major’s Hill, located to the east of Barrack Hill, into a park for Ottawa’s residents. The petition failed. Despite this setback, the hill was unofficially used as a recreational area, hosting weekend concerts by regimental bands. It was also the site for a huge party and bonfire to welcome the birth of the Dominion of Canada on 1 July 1867.

Initially the hill was called Colonel’s Hill, after Col. John By, the supervising engineer responsible for building the Rideau Canal whose residence once stood on the property. (The foundation of the home, which was destroyed by fire in January 1849, is still visible today.) However, after his deputy, Major Daniel Bolton, moved into the home after Col. By was recalled to England in 1832 to answer for cost over-runs in building the canal, the land became known as Major’s Hill. This name stuck. Back in those early years, the hill was thickly forested, and was known for its great flocks of pigeons, most likely the now extinct passenger pigeons.  The species migrated in their millions in eastern North America during the nineteenth century, but was sadly exterminated by the early twentieth century through over-hunting and habitat destruction. According to a letter that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in 1882, sportsmen hunted the pigeons with “every description of flintlock from the Queen Anne to the blunderbuss.”

In 1864, Ottawa’s Mayor Dickenson sounded out the Provincial Government about the city acquiring the land for a public park “for the future Capital of Canada.” (Government—politicians and civil servants alike—was still based in Quebec City awaiting the completion of their new quarters on Parliament Hill.) This petition, like the preceding one, fell on deaf ears. The Provincial Government was not willing to part with Major’s Hill, seeing it as the possible location for the Governor General’s residence. Plans for such a building on that site had been approved in 1859 but ultimately were never used owing to cost over-runs in constructing Canada’s Parliament buildings. Instead, the government chose to rent, and later to buy, Rideau Hall.

Major's Hill Park

South end of Major’s Hill, looking from the construction site on Parliament Hill,  circa 1860. By this time, Major’s Hill had been largely denuded of trees.

In 1873, the Ottawa City Council again approached the now Dominion Government of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie about the possibility of acquiring Major’s Hill as the site for a new city hall, or as a public park. The former idea met popular resistance. But this time the idea of a park found traction. On 21 August 1874, the Dominion government accepted a memorial from the City Council under which the city of Ottawa would lease Major’s Hill for the purpose of a public park, agreeing to “protect the trees and shrubberies thereon,” and to “make roads, place seats, plant trees, erect fences” for the duration of the lease. Council also agreed to hire a full-time caretaker for the grounds, and to build and maintain a road, later known as Mackenzie Avenue, between Major’s Hill and the rear line of lots on the western side of Sussex Street (later Drive). The Dominion Government retained its right to tip excavated material from the Parliament grounds into any holes or waste areas on Major’s Hill. As well, the Dominion Government could take back the park at any time should it have need of the land without compensation being paid to the city.

The following year, Ottawa’s City Council set aside $10,000 (a huge sum in those days) for the development of the park under the direction of Robert Surtees, the city engineer, with work beginning in earnest in the summer of 1875 after the city’s plans had received the Dominion Government’s approval. Initial efforts on levelling the Hill actually commenced prior to receiving the official go-ahead. With the economy in recession, City Council authorized Surtees to commence the levelling of Major’s Hill “in order to give employment to our labouring classes, to enable them to prepare for the hard winter, which, to all appearances, is before them.”  Subsequently, perimeter fences and gates were erected, and a formal, semi-circular carriage way along with a number of pathways were created inside the park. Low spots were filled in using clay excavated from Parliament Hill, and an artificial pond was created at the northern end of the park. Fountains were installed, and mounted cannon were placed for decoration. On the horticultural side, a variety of trees were planted, including European sycamore, ash, elm, basswood, maple, and tamarack. Flower beds were also laid out.

Major's Hill Park

Major’s Hill Park, May 2015, looking south toward the Château Laurier Hotel

Major’s Hill Park, sometimes referred to as Dominion Park, became a major attraction. However, it seems vagrancy and vandalism were persistent problems. In 1878, City Council passed a by-law excluding from the Park “all drunken or filthy persons, vagrants and notoriously bad characters.” Other rules including a prohibition against driving or riding any horse at an immoderate rate, playing football, throwing stones, or shooting with bow and arrow or firearm. People were also prohibited from letting animals, including horses, cattle, swine, or goats, to run free or feed in the park. There was also an explicit prohibition against “carrying any dead carcase, ordure, filth, dust, stone, or any offensive matter or substance.” On the positive side, the playing of games and the selling of refreshments were permitted with permission, though the regulations stressed that the latter would not be permitted “on the Sabbath Day on any pretence whatsoever.”

After spending some $35,000 over the ten years, the cost of maintaining the park was deemed too large, leading the City to hand back the land to the Dominion Government in 1885. Fortunately, the Dominion Government conserved the Hill as a park. Since then, it has been maintained by various federal departments or Crown agencies, including the Department of Public Works, the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the Federal District Commission and, today, the National Capital Commission.

Being a valuable piece of real estate located in the heart of the city, stretching originally from Rideau Street in the south to Nepean Point in the north, Major’s Hill Park was coveted by many as a desirable building site. After the aborted attempt by the City of Ottawa to construct a new city hall on Major’s Hill during the 1870s, consideration was given in 1901 to building a national museum there in a style that would “harmonize” with the Parliament buildings a short distance away. Fortunately, this idea was not approved. However, a few years later in 1909, the Dominion Government under Sir Wilfrid Laurier controversially sold the southern portion of the park to the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) for the then huge sum of $1 million to build a magnificent hotel—the Château Laurier. The hotel and Union Station railway terminal also built by the GTR on the opposite side of Rideau Street were key elements in Prime Minister Laurier’s plan to make Ottawa the “Washington of the North.” The proceeds of the land sale went to the Ottawa Improvement Commission to develop Nepean Point.

In 1888, the park received its first statue, that of a uniformed guardsman wearing a bearskin hat with his head bowed in mourning and his rifle reversed. It was erected to commemorate the deaths of Ottawa-born Privates W.B. Osgood and J. Rogers, members of the Sharpshooter’s Company who were killed at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill three years earlier in the Riel Rebellion in western Canada. This memorial, which was unveiled in the presence of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, his Cabinet, as well as Ottawa’s Mayor and other members of city council, was located close to the southern entrance to the park. When that part of the park was sold to the GTR, the statue was relocated to Elgin Street in front of the old city hall that burnt to the ground in 1931. When the National Arts Centre was constructed on that site in the late 1960s, the statue was moved again, this time to outside the Cartier Street Drill Hall where it stands today.

Col. By statue

Statue of Colonel By erected in 1971

In 1971, a statue of Col. By, sponsored by the Historical Society of Ottawa, was erected in the park as a fitting tribute to the man most responsible for the building of the Rideau Canal, and the founding of the city of Ottawa. The statue by the sculptor Joseph-Émile Brunet, which stands on a granite plinth, portrays the man in his Royal Engineer uniform looking over the Rideau Canal towards the Parliament buildings.

Today, Major Hill’s Park remains as integral part of Ottawa life, offering downtown workers and tourists alike a welcome, verdant space in the heart of the city to rest and play. As was the case almost 150 years ago, Major’s Hill continues to be the focus of city events and celebrations, in particular the annual Canada Day festivities.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, 1864. “Council Minutes,” Petition by Mayor M.K. Dickenson address to the Commission of Crown Lands, re: possible acquisition of Major’s Hill for a public park,” 18 June.

——————, 1974. “Memorial presented to His Excellency to take possession of Major’s Hill and covert the Hill into a park for the use of the public,” 21 August.

——————, 1875. “Council Minutes,”16 August.

——————, 1878. “By-Law #439, “To provide for the maintenance and care of Major’s Hill Park,” 8 July. 2015. “Major’s Hill Park,”

National Capital Commission, 2015. “Major’s Hill Park,” http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/parks-paths/majors-hill-park.

Newton, Michael, 1981. Lower Town Ottawa, Vol. 3, 1854-1900, Manuscript Report #106, Heritage Section, National Capital Commission.

Ryan, Christopher, “Sharpshooters’ Ambulatory Memorial,” The Margins of History, http://www.historynerd.ca/?p=260.

Sibley, Robert, 2015. “A haunting monument to Col. By,” Ottawa Citizen, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/pdf/storiesinstone/storiesinstone11.pdf.

The Globe, 1901, “Site For The New Museum? Advantages of Major’s Hill Park,” 26 October.

————-, 1909. “For a Park and Driveway,” 17 June.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1874. “Major’s Hill Park,” 16 February.

Images: South End of Major’s Hill, circa 1860, looking from the Parliament Hill construction site. Major’s Hill, located, on the far side of the Rideau Canal, has been largely denuded of trees, photo by Samuel McLaughlin, Library and Archives Canada, c-000601.

Major’s Hill Park, May 2015 by Nicolle Powell

Col. By statue, Historical Society of Ottawa, http://hsottawa.ncf.ca/about.html.