The Ottawa Journal Closes

27 August 1980

Headline, Ottawa Journal, 27 August 1980

Rumours had been circulating that the Ottawa Journal was living on borrowed time. Staff were worried. But Jim Rennie, the executive editor, met with the newspaper’s editorial staff to provide some reassurance. They were doing good work, and circulation was on the rise. After falling to a low of only 52,000 copies per day the previous year, readership had risen to 77,000. The goal of 80,000 by mid-September 1980 was in sight.  But on the very evening of that staff pep talk, Rennie received an unexpected and unwanted telephone call; the newspaper was folding.

The next morning, under the headline “Ottawa Journal closed,” Arthur E. Wood, the publisher, wrote: “It is with deepest regret that I am obliged to announce the cessation of publication and closure of The Ottawa Journal effective with this morning’s edition, Wednesday, August 27, 1980.”

Less than a year earlier, Wood, then the publisher of the Montreal Star, delivered the same bad news to that newspaper’s staff.  A few months after a ruinous and lengthy pressmen’s strike that saw the newspaper lose circulation and advertisers to its rival, the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Star collapsed.

Wood explained to Journal staff that over the past five years, the paper’s financial losses had grown from $112,000 in 1975 to $3,400,000 in the first eight months of 1980. Such losses were simply not sustainable. Although circulation has risen significantly in recent months, more newspaper sales ironically increased the red ink as advertising revenue didn’t rise commensurately, and the cost of producing the additional newspapers outweighed the higher circulation revenue. Advertisers stuck with the Ottawa Citizen despite its higher advertising rate per column inch. Even The Bay, then owned by the Thomson group, the proprietors of the Journal, cut back its advertising in the Journal. Among the reasons cited for the inability of the Journal to attract advertisers was that both newspapers were going after the same demographic group. One observer also suggested that the newspaper’s failure to switch to offset printing from hot lead typesetting when the Ottawa Citizen did in 1973 was an important factor as advertisers had to prepare two different types of advertisements, one for the Citizen and one for the Journal. The additional expense was not worth the effort.

With the closure of the newspaper, 375 people lost their jobs. Only Wood was assured of a new position within the Thomson newspaper empire, the owner of the Ottawa Journal since the beginning of 1980.

The Journal had a long history in Ottawa. It had been founded almost 95 years earlier in 1885 by Alexander Smith Woodburn. In its first edition, which came out on 10 December of that year, Woodburn stated that the reason for a new daily newspaper in Ottawa was obvious. But to ensure there was no doubt, he added that Ottawa needed a newspaper that was “able and independent,” ready to express the opinions of, and advocate for, the interests of the city’s citizens. He opined that there was a “pressing need” for a daily newspaper of “high moral form, free from political partisanship and party prejudices,” and “loyal to the Empire and zealous in the promotion of the best interest of its noblest member—the Dominion of Canada.” As the Ottawa Citizen was the leading English-language newspaper in Ottawa, Woodburn’s words were a not so veiled attack on that newspaper.

Woodburn added that the new Ottawa Evening Journal would not be the mouthpiece of any clique, political party or religious denomination, and would cover the news without favour to friend or foe. While the newspaper would provide news of the world, it would, of necessity do so in a condensed fashion. Its principal focus would be on matters pertaining to Ottawa, especially civic affairs.

The Journal’s office was located at 36 Elgin St. The cost of the daily newspaper was two cents. The newspaper’s first editor was John Wesley Defoe. He held the position for only six months before he headed out to Winnipeg to work for the Manitoba Free Press. He was later to become that newspaper’s editor, a position he held from 1901 to 1944. Defoe was succeeded at the Journal by Mr. A. H. U. Colquhoun. 

P. D. Ross, Ottawa Citizen, 18 January 1910.

In 1886, Philip Dansken Ross bought a 50 per cent interest in the financially shaky Journal from Woodburn. Four years later, he bought out his partner, and became president of the company. He was to remain at the head of the newspaper until his death in 1949. In 1917, Ross organized the merger of the Journal with the Ottawa Free Press. An eminent pressman, he was also a founder of the Canadian Press newspaper association. Four months before his death, he sold his shares in the Ottawa Journal to his colleagues working for the newspaper.

Ross was a man of many parts. In his early years, he was an outstanding athlete both at McGill University and later as a player for the Ottawa Senators. In 1892, he was named as one of the original trustees of the Stanley Cup. He later became chairman of Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission. Politically, he was a conservative, and was active in Ottawa politics at all levels of government. Reflecting his political affinity, the Ottawa Journal was broadly seen as a Conservative newspaper.

In July 1959, ten years after Ross’s death, the newspaper, never financially strong, was acquired by the newly-formed FP Publications Ltd. The company, based in Winnipeg, was owned by Colonel Victor Sifton of Winnipeg and G. Max Bell of Calgary. Other newspapers owned by the group at that time included the Winnipeg Free Press, the Victoria Daily Times and the Daily Colonist as well as several Albertan newspapers. In January 1980, the Ottawa Journal was purchased by the Thomson Corporation, established by the Canadian Roy Thomson, 1st Baron of Fleet. The Thomson group owned roughly 200 Canadian and British newspapers, including London’s prestigious Times and Sunday Times.

The closure of the Journal, just months after it was acquired by the Thompson group, came as a shock to Ottawa citizens as well as its employees. When woken at 3:00 am by a journalist with the news, Mayor Marion Dewer thought she was having a bad dream. Jean Pigot, president of the Morrison-Lemothe Bakery and the Progressive-Conservative MP for Ottawa-Carleton from 1976 to 1980, and later Chair of the National Capital Commission, is reported to have exclaimed: “Good Lord, I don’t believe it.”

Shock changed to anger when it was revealed that on the same day the Thomson group closed the Ottawa Journal, it’s arch rival the Southam group of newspapers closed the Winnipeg Tribune. The dual closures left the Southam-owned Ottawa Citizen the sole English-language newspaper in Ottawa, and the Thomson-owned Winnipeg Tribune the sole English-language newspaper in Winnipeg. Southam’s also sold the fixed assets of the Tribune to the Thomson group for $2.5 million.

The chairman of Southam’s, St. Clair Balfour, claimed that there had been no deal between the two newspaper groups, though there had been discussions about the losses each had been suffering. Balfour said the both groups believed that confusion and uncertainty among employees and shareholders would have been heightened had the decisions to close the two newspapers been separated by weeks or months. The situations at the Tribune and the Journal were mirror images of each other.

Outrage over the closure of the two newspapers that left the Southam and Thomson newspaper chains with monopolies in Ottawa and Winnipeg, respectively, led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Newspapers, commonly referred to as the “Kent Commission” in 1980. Among other things the Commission recommended that the government block further cross-media concentration, and that newspapers put on public record reports on their editorial purpose and policy, and establish advisory committees composed of journalists and outsiders. The Commission also advised the establishment of a Press Rights Council within the government’s Human Rights Commission to review the annual reports of newspapers’ advisory committees.

Following widespread outrage within the newspaper industry, and fears of “Big Brother,” the recommendations of the Kent Commission were set aside. At a time when the government of Pierre Trudeau faced more pressing issues, such as a deep economic recession, and Quebec separation, it was unwilling to take on the wrath of the newspaper industry. However, the upshot of this was further concentration in the industry. By the year 2000, three chains (Hollinger/Southam, Quebecor/Sun Media and Torstar) reportedly controlled 72% of daily newspaper circulation in Canada.

Today, concerns about concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry are overshadowed by broader issues. The rise of digital media has led to a major shift away from print media. Newspapers are closing around the globe, leading to the loss of thousands of journalist positions, as readers and advertisers gravitate towards on-line content. In the process, the likes of Google and Facebook have scooped up the lion’s share of advertising revenue. According to Canadian Media Concentration Report, there has been a breakdown of the three-way beneficial relationship between advertisers, journalists and the public.

Not all are concerned about this, with some arguing that media fragmentation rather than media concentration is more relevant. However, the democratization of news provision—everybody can be a “journalist” and upload material to the web—and the algorithms used by search engines to disseminate content has led to “echo chambers” where readers only see material that support their world view. This phenomenon, combined with “fake news,” pushed by those with a particular agenda, have contributed to widening social divisions.


Creely, Tim. 1984. “Out of Commission,” Ryerson Review of Journalism,, Spring.

Keshen, Richard & MacAskill, Kent, 2000. I Told You So: The Kent Commission,”

New York Times, 1949. “P.R. Ross, Headed Ottawa Journal; President of newspaper since 1886 Is Dead at 91 – Acquired Publication for $8,000, 6 July 1949.

Ottawa Citizen, 1980. “Ottawa Journal folds,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Citizen to fill the void,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Without advertising increases, circulation hike actually hurt,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Shutdown confirms rumors,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Massive changes revealed,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1885. “Prospectus,” 10 December.

——————-, 1949. “P.D. Ross, Journal President, Dies At 91,” 5 July.

——————-, 1980. “Ottawa Journal Closed,” 27 August.

Royal Commission on Newspapers, The Kent Commission, 1980.

Victoria Daily Times, 1959, “Victoria Newspapers Join National Group,” 16 July.

Winseck, Swayne, 2017. Canadian Media Concentration Research Report,

Miss Civil Service

12 August 1946

For many years, one of the most anticipated fixtures on Ottawa’s public service social calendar was the annual Miss Civil Service contest. It was first held in 1946, the same year that the Miss Canada pageant was founded. Like the Miss Canada pageant, the Miss Civil Service contest was explicitly sexist and objectifying. There was zero focus on contestants’ job performances—surprise! The attribute on which contestants were judged was beauty. Later other “factors” were added. These comprised grooming, posture, clothes and personality. While supremely cringeworthy today, it’s remarkable how accepted the event was during its day. There was extensive press coverage of the various departmental contests to choose departmental “queens” and “princesses” in the lead up to the big event when Miss Civil Service was selected from among the departmental beauties. This coverage was replete with juvenile double entendres, offensive sexual comments and stereotypes that would be totally unacceptable today.

Ada Redsell, Miss Civil Service Commission, is congratulated by Paul Martin, Senior, 12 August 1946, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1946.

The first Miss Civil Service Commission competition was held on 12 August 1946. It was the highlight of the annual Civil Service Commission picnic held at Britannia Park. The day also featured tugs of war, softball, races, a sing-a-long, a dance in one of Britannia’s pavilions and a picnic supper. More than three hundred persons attended the day’s events. There were forty-four entrants into the Miss Civil Service pageant, but only seventeen contestants showed up. The winner was Ada Redsell, a Grade 2 Clerk working at the Central Registry. While her measurements were thankfully not divulged (this often happened in later competitions), the newspapers reported that she had brown eyes and dimples, weighed 120 pounds and stood 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. She wore a pale blue jersey dress with a string of pearls and white pumps. Redsell, who lived at 199 Boteler Street in Ottawa, said that her boss had made here enter the contest. She won an all-expense paid airplane trip to Montreal. Second prize went to Eileen Gagne who won a free airplane ride over the capital, while third prize, a pair of nylons, went to Muriel Keogh.

The prizes were presented by Paul Martin (senior), who was Secretary of State in the federal government at that time. He gave each of the winners an “unofficial gift” of a kiss on the cheek. Judges complained that they hadn’t got kisses (from the girls, not Martin). C.H. Bland, the Civil Service Commissioner, remarked that he would have liked to have chosen them all.

Four years went by until the next Miss Civil Service contest was held. This time it was an event of the Civil Service Recreation Association’s Ice Carnival held on 23 February 1950. From then on, the Miss Civil Service pageant was an annual fixture organized by the RA. It ran into the early 1970s.

In the lead-up to the RA’s first annual event in 1950, federal departments held contests to chose their respective representatives in the pageant. These contests were covered in the press. Under a photo of the Post Office’s contestants, the Ottawa Journal had a caption “How would you like to play post office with these three?” (For those unaware, “post office” was a kissing game popular at the time where a group was divided into boys and girls, with one group going into another room which became the “post office.” Then, one by one, each person in the other room entered the “post office” and was kissed by everybody in that room.) The caption under a photo of the three winners from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics read “Statistical Figures” that proved that statistics aren’t “all cold and hard.”  

The Miss Civil Service contest, which presumed to select the ideal government girl, was the highlight of a four-hour carnival program held at the RA rink located at the foot of Bronson Avenue. Other events included broomball, speed skating and figure skating and a parade of floats featuring departmental “queens” and “princesses.” The Ottawa Journal reported that there were “38 luscious beauties.” “If you are looking for the tops in sophisticated swish, the gal with person-al-i-t-y, the blonde bombshell, brunette heartbreaker, or redhot redhead, you can find the peak of perfection among the 15,000 females who adorn the halls of the public service.” Yikes!

The winner, selected by five judges appointed by the Recreation Association, was 23-year-old Teresa Nugent, a five-year veteran at the Tax Branch of the Department of National Revenue. She was described as “the all-Canadian girl” –”a blond, dimple-cheeked, blue-eyed, five-foot, seven-inch bundle of outdoor charm.” Nugent won a wrist watch, two return fares to Montreal, a dinner out with her and her escort at the Copacabana, a permanent wave, and a complete cosmetics kit. Janie Walters, from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs placed second, while third place went to 20-year-old “brownette,” Margaret Skuce from the Department of Mining and Technical Surveys. The caption under a photo of Teresa Nugent read “fellow workers (males of the opposite sex, of course) had mentally reserved her for their own when they saw her crowned queen.”

The “crowning ceremony” was performed by George McIlraith, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West and Jean Richard, the Liberal MP for Ottawa East. Also in attendance were several city aldermen.

During subsequent pageants, the prizes became increasingly lavish, with large numbers of people in attendance. In 1953, some 5,000 whistling and “whoo-whooing” spectators witnessed the crowing of Miss Kathleen Willisher as Miss Civil Service. The 20-year-old “auburn-haired” employee of Defence Construction, won $250, or an all-expense paid trip to Bermuda, or a trip for two to New York City, in addition to a sash, crown and a silver trophy. In 1956, Miss Marie MacDonald, from the National Research Council, weighing 110 pounds and standing five feet three inches with a 34-23-34 figure, had a choice between a 10-day trip to Bermuda, a 7-day trip for two to New York, or $225. She also received a complete spring wardrobe valued at $125, a sheared muskrat stole, a silver rose bowl, an all-expense paid weekend at Adanac Lodge at Lake Le Peche, and dinner for two at a local restaurant. In 1958, first prize included an impressive trip to Europe.

The 1954 Miss Civil Service contest didn’t go as expected. After being crowned, 22-year-old Betty Burton from Defence Productions revealed she was married. This must have come as quite a shock as there were very few married women in the federal public service at this time. Restrictions on married women holding federal jobs weren’t lifted until 1955. Single female employees were forced to resign when they got married. The Ottawa Citizen commented “stand back, fellahs, she’s married.” In 1960, the contest was officially opened to married women. The title was also changed to RA Queen, though the former Miss Civil Service title continued to be widely used.

Another first occurred in 1962, when Barbados-born Betty Gitters, won the coveted title. The mother of two was working at Transport Canada to support her family as her husband attended medical school at the University of Ottawa. The former 1959 Miss Barbados was the first and only woman of colour to win the Miss Civil Service/RA Queen title. The Ottawa Citizen called her the “brown-eyed dusky queen” and erroneously said that this was the first time a married woman had won the title. Gitters won $200, a wrist watch, an all-expense paid weekend in an un-named New York State tourist resort, a free hair styling and a bouquet of tulips. That year, she opened the National Tulip Festival.

By the beginning of the 1970s, the RA Queen contest was fading rapidly in popularity. While it still attracted contestants, it was increasingly out of step with the times. The prizes were also becoming less interesting. Trips to foreign locales were long gone, and a $200 first prize just didn’t go as far as it once did. In 1970, anti-pageant protesters picketed the RA Centre, the venue of the contest.

“Miss Civil Service” also came under attack from another quarter. In an article titled Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity? the Ottawa Journal wrote in 1970: “Now take those long-lacquered fingernails. They can slow down Miss Civil Service to a leisurely 30 words-a-minute as she tippie-pinkies, oh, so very, very carefully to preserve all ten gleaming mirrors of her stylist nails. And those, long, fetching artificial eyelashes—they go with the long-tinted fingernails, the miniskirts, and maxihair – can slow her down too, when they tend to shed off every time she flutters them at her boss or that toothsome bachelor assistant-deputy at the next table in the government cafeteria.”

The last RA Queen pageant was held in May 1973. Out of twenty-two contestants, 20-year-old Lorraine Leduc took home the title. Judges were Mayor Pierre Benoit, former 67s hockey player, Brian McSheffrey (who later briefly played in the NHL), and Miss Ottawa Rough Rider, Lynn Lawson. Only 200 people were in attendance at the RA Centre.

Mercifully, Miss Civil Service then disappeared into the dustbin of history.


Gentile, Patrizia, 1996. Searching for “Miss Civil Service” and “Mr. Civil Service”: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, MA Thesis, Carleton University.

Ottawa Citizen, 1946. “Queen Ada Gets A Crown,” 13 August.

——————, 1954. “Betty Burton Named ‘Miss Civil Service,’” 20 March.

——————, 1956. “Beauty From Saskatchewan Crowned Miss Civil Service,” 16 March.

——————, 1960. “RA Queen of Year Replaces Miss Civil Service,” 23 January.

——————, 1962. “Beauty Reigns,” 17 May.

——————, 1962. RA Queen Captured by Mother of Two,” 17 May.

——————, 1973. NRC Has a Queen,” 26 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1946. “Beauty Contest Win at Picnic by Ada Redsell, Grade 2 Clerk,” 13 August.

——————-, 1946. “Free ‘Plane Trip For Miss Civil Service Commission Of 1946,” 13 August.

——————-, 1950. “CS Beauty Queens Try On Crowns for Size,” 14 February.

——————-, 1950. “Queen Of Queens In Civil Service ‘a Dimpled Blue-Eyes Blonde,’” 24 February.

——————-, 1953. “5,000 Cheering Spectators See ‘Miss Civil Service’ Crowned,” 28 March.

——————-, 1958. “Need No Imports For This Contest,” 14 July.

——————-, 1962. “Miss Civil Service,” 17 May.

——————-, 1970. “Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity?”, 24 August.

British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

17 December 1939 and 5 August 1940

“You must get on with the war, and in order to enable you to do so I now declare No.2 Service Flying Training School [SFTS] open,” said the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, under bright blue skies at Uplands Airport just outside of Ottawa. With these words, the first intermediate flying school of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was open for business. (No. 1 SFTS, located at Camp Borden opened three months later.) Eight Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), located across the country, had already opened earlier that summer to provide basic flying skills to novice flyers.

Wings Ceremony, 16 July 1941, at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands Airport, Ottawa, PL5021, [Hatch, 1983].

The opening of No.2 SFTS came none too soon. Across the Atlantic that afternoon of 5 August 1940, the Battle of Britain was raging. With the RAF sorely stretched, trained pilots were desperately needed, both for the battle underway and for the successful future prosecution of the air war against the German Luftwaffe.

The genesis of the BCATP dated back to the mid-1930s when Britain, conscious of the growing Nazi threat, began to rebuild its armed forces, including its air service.  In 1936, a Scottish-Canadian in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Group Captain Robert Leckie, wrote a memorandum to Arthur Tedder, then Director of Training at the British Air Ministry, suggesting Canada as an ideal location to train air crews. Canada was safe from enemy attack, and was close to the U.S. industrial heartland which could supply necessary aircraft engines and parts.

Additionally, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had a close relationship with its British counterpart. As well, the RAF routinely recruited Canadians for both short-term and permanent positions. Moreover, during the latter years of World War I, flight training schools had been established in Canada by the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner of the RAF.

When Prime Minister Mackenzie King got wind of the idea, he was conflicted. On the one hand, he was very protective of Canada’s new sovereignty. Following the ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada was no longer subordinate to Great Britain either domestically or internationally. Consequently, he could not support RAF bases in Canada. The Prime Minister was also conscious of how the presence of British bases in Canada might appear to Quebec voters. On the other hand, he thought that if Canada’s contribution to the coming war effort could be largely focused on training air crews in Canada, it might be possible to avoid both large-scale casualties and a repeat of the conscription crisis that had divided the country during the previous war.

Agreement was reached to increase the number of Canadian-trained pilots for the RAF, and steps were taken to develop a common RAF/RCAF flying syllabus among other things. However, Leckie’s concept of using Canada for RAF training bases was put on the backburner until the outbreak of war in September 1939 when Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner in London, met with his Australian counterpart, Stanley Bruce. Out of this meeting was born the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Who came up with idea is unclear as both men took credit for it. Regardless, they made a joint submission to the British authorities. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister, was enthusiastic, and made a personal appeal to Mackenzie King asking him to give the proposal his very urgent attention. Chamberlain expressed the view that the establishment of training bases in Canada safe from German attack would have a psychological impact on Germany equivalent to that produced by the entry of the United States into the previous war.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King signing the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 17 December, 1939, LAC 3362872.

While Prime Minister King was initially upset that Massey had exceeded his authority, he quickly warmed to the idea…with conditions. Most importantly, Canadian sovereignty had to be respected. The flying schools would come under the authority of the Canadian government and would be administered by the RCAF. Consequently, trainees would be attached to the RCAF, would be subject to its jurisdiction, and would receive Canadian rates of pay. King also demanded that Britain agree to purchase Canadian wheat and that the BCATP would take priority over other Canadian war commitments. He also wanted Canadian pilots to be sent after graduation to RCAF squadrons in Britain as opposed to being subsumed into the RAF.

The Australians and Zealanders also had conditions of their own, importantly that costs be shared on the basis of population and that elementary flying instruction for their pilots would be conducted at home.

With these terms acceptable to the British, King sent his agreement in principle to Chamberlain at the end of September 1939 though his government continued to worry about the scale and cost of the venture.

Over the next three months, Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand negotiators thrashed out the fine print of the accord and how the costs would be divided. It was hard going at times. But in the wee hours of 17 December 1939, Mackenzie King’s birthday, the Canadian prime minister signed the accord, followed by Lord Riverdale on behalf of the British government. As the Australian and New Zealander delegates had already left Ottawa, their governments’ signatures were appended later.

The agreement was officially titled “An Agreement to the Training of Pilots and Aircraft Crews in Canada and their Subsequent Service.” Later that day, in a radio address to the nation, King described the agreement as “a co-operative undertaking of great magnitude.” Charles Power, the Minister of National Defence, called it “the most grandiose single enterprise which Canada has ever embarked.”  In a similar broadcast, Chamberlain, as requested by King, said that the BCATP would be more effective than any other kind of Canadian military co-operation. However, he added that the British Government would welcome “no less heartily” Canadian land forces in the theatre of conflict as soon as possible.

The cost of the agreement, which was to run until end-March 1943 unless otherwise extended, was placed at $607 million of which Canada’s share would be $353 million. The British contribution was set at $185 million, mainly in the form of airplanes and parts. The Australians and New Zealanders would contribute $40.2 million and $28.8 million, respectively.

Work immediately began to make the agreement a reality, with C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supply, taking charge. Within days, offices were organized in temporary buildings in Ottawa, and contracts signed. By early spring 1940, air fields were being prepared, and the construction of hangers and other facilities underway.

Here in Ottawa, No. 2 SFTS, making use of an existing civilian airfield, practically sprang out of the ground overnight. In the space of just a few months, roughly forty buildings were constructed at the edge of Uplands field on what the Citizen described as a “desert waste of hillocks, tufted here and there with rank, saffron-coloured grass.”

The flying school boasted five double hangars to store aircraft, each 224 feet by 160 feet with 20-foot sliding doors. There were also buildings to house ambulances, a fire truck, refueling tankers, tractors, and other vehicles. There were quarters for 1,100 military and civilian personnel with canteens, messes, a recreation building, and a sports pavilion. As well, there were a supply depot, a guard house, a watch office, a drill hall, a ground instruction school, two bombing instruction schools, and a 34-bed hospital. Special storage tanks held 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel. There was also a depot for aerial bombs and machine gun ammunition. Located close to the main runway was an air-traffic control room. The landing facilities consisted of three tarmacked landing strips and three grass strips. Planes could land in every direction. There were also two subsidiary air fields located at Edwards and Pendleton, Ontario.

As the Ottawa training school was for intermediate training, pilots assigned to No.2 SFTS had already received flight instruction on Fleet or Tiger Moth aircraft, accumulating 40-50 hours of solo training. The maximum speed of these airplanes was 90-100 miles per hour. In Ottawa, the men graduated to Harvard training craft, capable of a top speed of more than 200 mph.

The Harvards, which were painted bright yellow, were dual-controlled, and were powered by 400hp Pratt & Whitney engines. The twelve planes stationed initially at Ottawa were built by the North American Aviation Company of California. More were in transit. Later, Harvards were constructed under licence by the Noorduyn Aircraft Company in Montreal.

On the other side of the Bowesville Road across from the flying school, the Ottawa Car and Aircraft Company was in the process of erecting a new plant for the construction of parts for the Avro Anson twin-engine aircraft to be used for training bomber pilots.

On opening day, 5 August 1940, the Governor General was accompanied by a distinguished entourage, including Prime Minister King, Defence Minister Ralston, Air Minister Power, Air Vice Marshall Breadner, and Honorary Air Marshall W.A. (Billy) Bishop, VC. The twelve, yellow Harvard trainers were lined up in front of the hangars. In front of the aircraft was an honour guard standing at attention to take the salute of Earl Athlone. A RCAF band from Trenton played Land of Hope and Glory. After No.2 SFTS was declared open, the Harvard trainers were flown in various formations to the delight of the crowds there to witness the historic event.

In July 1941, a Warner Brothers crew from Hollywood filmed part of the feature movie Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney, at Uplands airfield. Billy Bishop played a cameo role in a “wings ceremony,” where actual pilots received their wings in a stirring graduation ceremony. (Click here for a preview of the movie: Captains of the Clouds.)

The BCATP was a huge success, training roughly 50 per cent of all Commonwealth airmen during the war. In addition to Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand personnel, men from many other Allied countries received their flight training in BCATP schools, including Norwegians, Poles, Belgians, Free French, Czechs and Americans. In a 1943 congratulatory letter to prime minister King. US President Roosevelt called Canada “the aerodrome of democracy.”  (As an interesting sidebar to history, Lester B. Pearson, then the number two person at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, was the person who coined the phrase—an allusion to Roosevelt naming the US the “arsenal of democracy” in a late 1940 speech. Breaking diplomatic protocol, the White House staff had contacted the Canadian embassy and had asked Pearson to help draft the latter.)

With an Allied victory on the horizon, the program started to be wound down in late 1944 and was terminated at the end of March 1945. During the BCATP’s time in operation, more than 131,553 aircrew graduated from 105 flight schools of various description at a cost of $2.23 billion (roughly $35 billion in today’s money). Of this amount, Canada paid $1.6 billion ($25 billion).  While the cost was considerable, victory in the air was made possible by the BCATP.

In 1949, representatives from all countries that had participated in the BCATP paraded at RCAF Station Trenton to witness the unveiling of a set of wrought-iron gates given to Canada by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, as a permanent memorial and a symbol of Commonwealth friendship and unity.


Dunmore, Spencer, 1994. Wings for Victory, McClelland & Stewart, Inc. Toronto.

Evening Citizen, 1939. “Four Govts. Are ‘Well Pleased’ With Air Pact,” 19 December.

——————-, 1939. “Gives Further Details Of Air Training Plans,” 19 December.

——————-, 1940. “Governor-General Opens Empire Training School At Uplands Field,” 6 August.

——————, 1940. “Crowds Are Thrilled By Formation Flying,” 6 August.

Hatch, F. J., 1983. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945, Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Monograph Series No. 1.

The Boston Red Stockings Come To Town

27 August 1872

In 1994, the federal government passed a bill naming hockey as Canada’s national sport of winter and lacrosse as the country’s national sport of summer. The latter might surprise some since I suspect relatively few Canadians have ever watched a lacrosse game. Football, soccer and even baseball have greater followings. Samuel Hill, author of an article titled Baseball in Canada that appeared in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, makes the audacious claim that if it wasn’t for baseball being the national summer game of the United States, it would be the national sport of Canada.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, there were three popular summer sports for Canadian men—lacrosse, cricket and baseball—that could claim to be the nation’s favourite. Lacrosse was a game first popularized by Indigenous Canadians and later adopted and adapted by European settlers. First Nations’ games could involve as many as 1,000 participants in a community event with religious overtones that could last for days. Apparently, it was combat by other means. The European version of the sport, codified by Montrealer William Beers in 1860, reduced the number on a team to twelve and drastically shortened the game. This version of the sport proved to be very popular, with lacrosse clubs and teams forming throughout Canada, and indeed in the United States and even in Britain and elsewhere.

Cricket was also popular, especially in what is now Atlantic Canada and in Ontario. While it may have had an elitist connotation, there were many cricket clubs across the country, including in Ottawa. Cricket was also enthusiastically played in the United States until baseball supplanted it. Perhaps Canada’s most prestigious cricket pitch in the nineteenth century, and even today, is found on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s governor general.

In 1869, the Ottawa Daily Citizen commented that cricket was growing in popularity among young men and that the sport deserved that popularity. It was “both a graceful and manly game and a healthy exercise.” The newspaper added that at one time it believed that lacrosse would supersede cricket in Canada and become the national game but that this was now unclear. “We are inclined to think that cricket will maintain a place in the regard of our young men for many a day to come.”

Baseball, or base ball (two words back in the nineteenth century) was also very popular throughout southern Ontario, with the first game reputedly played as early as 1838 in Beachville, Ontario. Apparently, the Canadian game was very different from that played today, or even in the United States at the time, as the sport’s rules had yet to be standardized. Among other things, there were five bases in the Canadian version instead of four, and the ball could be thrown directly at a runner for an “out”. According to Samuel Hill, “New York Rules,” which became the standard rules of baseball, were introduced to Canada during the 1850s. Canadian and US teams competed frequently, with north-south matches facilitated by easy rail access. The first international baseball match was a contest between Hamilton and Buffalo, New York. By 1877, London and Guelph baseball clubs joined the International Association which also included US teams, such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis. That year, the London Tecumsehs won the league championship over the Pittsburgh Alleghenies—Canada’s first major league baseball championship, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays by more than a century.

According to a splendid 2005 Citizen article on early Ottawa baseball written by David McDonald, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, the sport was brought to the nation’s capital in 1870 by Ottawa-native Tom Cluff. Cluff, who had been an avid lacrosse player, became enamoured with the new sport after a visit to the United States. He and others formed the Ottawa Base Ball Club, an amateur team.

By 1872, the Citizen was lamenting the disappearance of lacrosse in the city. The newspaper opined “What has become of our old Lacrosse Clubs? Are they disposed to let the national game die out in the capital of the Dominion? We hope they will take a lesson from the more enterprising devotees of the United States game and revive the excellent sport.”

That year, the Ottawa Base Ball Club leased a ten-acre field “in a line with Elgin Street and running close to the Rideau Canal, a ten-minute walk south from the old Post Office. It was accessible by foot and boat. The Club erected a 7 to 8-foot fence around the site, and built a grandstand with refreshment booths. Unlike games today, there was no alcohol served. According to the Citizen, this was “something which will, we are sure, meet with universal approval” as it will show that the “sport can be enjoyed without the use of the drinks that invariably ‘inebriate’ but seldom cheer.”

Cal McVey, Boston Red Stockings’ catcher who scored nine runs in the 64-0 rout over the Ottawa Base Ball Club, 27 August, 1872, Picture taken in 1874, New York Public Library, Public Domain.

The inaugural game played in the new ball field was a match between the Ottawa Base Ball Club and the Boston Red Stockings held on Tuesday, 27 August 1872, a civic holiday. The Boston team had been formed just the previous year and had been a great success, playing in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. It also toured throughout the United States and Canada playing exhibition games. The team should not be confused with the similar-sounding team, the Boston Red Sox. That team was founded in 1908. The Boston Red Stockings became the Boston Braves in 1912, and are now known as the Atlanta Braves.

The Boston Red Stockings were a professional team. The Citizen was awed that members were paid salaries ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 per annum “to do nothing else but play base ball.” The Boston Club had a capital base of $15,000 and was established under a Massachusetts charter.

That 1872 civic holiday in Ottawa was a sporting extravaganza. The day started with a cricket match at the Rideau Hall pitch between 22 selected Canadian players and the Eleven of England. On the English side were cricket luminaries Cuthbert Ottaway, deemed the most versatile athlete of the age, and William Gilbert Grace, generally considered one of the finest cricketers of all time. Grace, who was feeling ill during the match still managed to score 73 runs. The English team overwhelmed Ottawa, downing the home team 201 runs to 42. The Red Stockings, who were in the crowd of about three thousand, thought the batting was “very fine” but remarked that the game was “darned slow.”

After the match, the Red Stockings were driven to the baseball grounds by the Russell House’s horse-drawn bus. Team members were immediately surrounded by admiring fans. The Citizen journalist appreciatively called the Red Stockings the “most athletic looking lot of players that have ever visited the city.” He added that the “Red Stockings [were] all heavy men, very strong and active, in fact picked men.” The Boston players wore a loose-fitting uniform of light brown flannel with red belts and red stockings—“admirably adapted for their active play of sinew and muscles.”

The team took to the field and immediately began to practise pitching and catching. The crowd of several thousand, some of whom had walked to the baseball field across the newly opened Maria Street bridge over the Rideau Canal, quickly could see that the home team would have little chance against the tourists. “There were very few even of the most sanguine of the Ottawa men who would bet one to ten that our club would obtain a single run,” opined the Citizen’s journalist. Just the day before, the Red Stockings had beaten the Toronto “Dauntless” team 68 to nothing. Indeed, it was reported that nineteen of twenty amateur clubs they had played that season had lost without even being allowed to first base, let alone score a run. Up until their game with Ottawa, the Boston team had only been defeated three times that season, twice by the Athletics of Philadelphia and once by the Haymakers of Troy, both professional clubs. Against these three losses, the Red Stockings had more than forty victories.

The game’s box score, Ottawa Citizen, 28 August 1872.

The Ottawa Club won the toss and elected to field for the first inning. Initially, the Boston Club found the pitching of R. Lang to be “puzzling,” according to the Citizen. But they visitors soon figured him out. The Red Stockings had considerable praise for the fielding abilities of the home team, especially that of W. McMahon in left field. Reportedly, he made a number of very difficult catches. They also complemented the skills of Tom Cluff at first base.

It was Ottawa’s batting that fell very short. Boston said the home team suffered from the same fault as other amateur teams that they had faced—a lack of confidence that prevented balls leaving the in-field.

The Ottawa-Boston match-up lasted 2 hours and 13 minutes with the score an extraordinarily lopsided 64 to nothing. Mind you, that was better than how Toronto’s “Dauntless” team had fared. The Citizen very charitably noted that the final score was 18 earned runs to zero. The newspaper added that the Boston team was “undoubtedly the finest club in existence.”

This wasn’t the only appearance of the Red Stockings in Ottawa. The following year, the Boston team returned to the nation’s capital for a rematch with the Ottawa Base Ball Club. This time, the Ottawa Club managed to score not just once but four times in a losing cause, being downed 41 to 4 by the visitors.


Hill, Samuel R., 2000. “Baseball in Canada,” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies: Vol. 8. Issue 1, Article 4.

Lemoine, Bob, 2015.  “April 6th 1871: Boston Red Stockings take to the field for the first time,” Society for American Baseball Research.

McDonald, David, 2005, “Aug. 27th: The day the tide turned in Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, 27 August.

Ottawa Citizen, 1868, “The Lacrosse Match At Prescott,” 2 October.

——————, 1869. “No title,” 6 September.

——————, 1872. “Many Sports,” 12 August.

——————, 1872. “Toronto,” 26 August.

——————, 1872. “The Civic Holiday,” 28 August.

——————, 1873. “The Base Ball Match,” 27 August.

President Roosevelt Comes To Ottawa

25 August 1943

Canada, the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire had been at war with Nazi Germany for almost four years. While the hostilities, which had already claimed the lives of millions, was far from over, there was a glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel. After the entry of the United States on the side of the Allies following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the tide of war had slowly begun to shift. By the summer of 1943, Russian forces had finally broken the German line at Kharkov and were racing across the plains of Ukraine towards the Dniester River. Sicily fell to American, British and Canadian troops in mid-August. And out in the north Pacific, Kiska was retaken by American and Canadian forces who made an unopposed amphibious landing on the Aleutian island after Japanese forces secretly retreated. The Régiment de Hull was part of the Allied contingent at Kiska. The francophone soldiers were popular with the U.S. troops who adopted Allouette as their campaign song.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill, Quebec City, August 1943, Library and Archives Canada, 3194622.

Also that August, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met at La Citadelle in Quebec City at a meeting hosted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. There, leaders planned their next steps in the war against the Axis powers, including opening up a new front in Europe. There was also a focus on the Pacific theatre with a meeting with a representative of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government. Other secret negotiations include cooperative work on the development of an atomic bomb. As well, leaders began to look toward post-war security and prosperity.

Following the successful conclusion of the Quebec Conference, Roosevelt came to Ottawa. It was the first visit to the nation’s capital by a sitting president of the United States. Roosevelt was no stranger to Canada, however. His family owned a summer home on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, a place where he vacationed regularly prior to becoming President. Afterwards, owing to the rigours of the office, his visits became few and far between—only three trips in 1933, 1936, and 1939, respectively. He also visited Quebec for an official visit in 1936, and had met with Prime Minister King for the dedication of the 1,000 Island Bridge in 1938. On that occasion, he went to Kingston where he was awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s University. He also briefly stopped in Halifax in 1939 on his way back to the United States from Newfoundland.

His visit to Ottawa on 25 August 1943 was announced to the press the day before, though the exact timing of his arrival was kept a secret for obvious security reasons. However, a press report said that Ottawa citizens would have their first official glimpse of the President at 11:50am when the presidential car was scheduled to drive through the East Gate onto Parliament Hill. The historic event was also to be carried live over CBO radio staring at 11:30am.

Governor General Lord Athlone, President Roosevelt, Presidential Aide Rear Admiral Brown, and Prime Minister King. The president is holding the arm of Admiral Brown, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, August 1943, Library and Archives Canada 3194412.

Roosevelt arrived in his personal train, pulling up to a specially-built platform on Nicholas Street located at the Rideau Canal’s Deep Cut. He was greeted by thousands of Ottawa residents who had waited for hours to see the President in the flesh. The official greeting party included Lord Athlone, the Governor General, the U.S. Minister to Canada (Ambassador) Ray Atherton, and Ottawa’s mayor Stanley Lewis, wearing his gold chain of office. Accompanied by Lord Athlone, Roosevelt got into an open-air, black limousine for the short drive to Parliament Hill, preceded by a large motorcycle escort. Secret Service personnel stood on the car’s running boards and ran beside the vehicle. More than 1,800 Canadian service men and women lined the route. As the presidential car made its way to Parliament Hill, Roosevelt waved his white Panama hat in acknowledgement of the crowd’s cheers and applause. As the presidential motorcade swept through the East Gate to Parliament Hill, a mighty cheer went up. The RCMP band began to play The Star-Spangled Banner.

On the Hill, RCMP and Secret Service people formed a security cordon around the speaker’s podium set up in front of the Peace Tower. Facing the dais were seats for distinguished guests, including senators, members of Parliament and members of Ottawa’s diplomatic corps. Close to two hundred journalists also covered the proceedings. On the greensward in front of the Central Block, some 30,000 Ottawa residents, taking advantage of a half-day holiday, stood in the bright sunshine to hear the President speak. The crowds had actually began to assemble as early as 9am. People also lined up five deep behind barricades along the roads. Others leaned out of windows and stood on rooftops. Only two earlier visits rivalled the greeting given to the American President—that of the King and Queen in 1939 and Winston Churchill’s visit in December 1941. While this was a first time for most people to see the President, for many his voice was familiar owing to Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” that he gave regularly to the American people. Like today, U.S. radio waves were easily picked up by Canadians who lived close to the border.

Prime Minister King introduced President Roosevelt to the cheering throng “as an undaunted champion of the rights of free men and a mighty leader of the forces of freedom in a world at war.” But, as described by the Ottawa Citizen, most Ottawans saw the visit as that of a “good neighbour.”

After the prime minister’s introduction, Roosevelt carefully approached the podium and its battery of microphones supported in part by the strong arm of his naval aide, Rear Admiral Wilson Brown. While it was no secret that his legs were paralysed owing to polio contracted during the 1920s, Roosevelt avoided being seen in public in a way that made him appear physically weak. The president stood to address the massive crowd in front of him. The Ottawa Journal commented that “no one who watched him being led slowly to the speaking stand could other than admire the sheer courage of the man in his victory over physical disability.”

Roosevelt reiterated his faith in what he called the “Four Freedoms” that he had originally articulated in 1941. These freedoms were freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Looking to the future, his aim was a healthy, peaceful life for everyone in a world where no nation would be in a position to commit an act of aggression against a neighbour. He also stressed the United States’ “determination to achieve victory in the shortest possible time” through “the essential co-operation with our great and brave allies.” The crowds roared their approval when the president announced that Canadian, British and American fighting men had just won great victories in Sicily and at Kiska in the Aleutians.

In his folksy manner, he spoke of the recently concluded Quebec Conference. He said that he had sat down with Churchill and Mackenzie King “in the manner of friends, in the manner of partners, I may even say in the manner of members of the same family.” He likened the Axis powers to “a band of gangsters,” and that the Allies had been forced to call out “the sheriff’s posse to break up the gang in order that gangsterism may be eliminated in the community of nations.” At Quebec, he said, there was no secret that the leaders had discussed the post-war world, adding that concerted action can accomplish great things. He didn’t want to return to “the good old days,” which he thought weren’t particularly good. Instead, he wanted to aim higher to a world with a greater freedom from want ever yet enjoyed, and attain freedom from violence by driving out “the outlaws and keeping them under heel forever.” While this goal couldn’t be achieved immediately, he opined that “some day, in the distant future perhaps—but some day with certainty, all of them [the destroyers] will remember with the Master – “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Roosevelt ended his speech with a few sentences in French in which he extolled the union of French and English in Canada seeing it as “an example to all mankind.”

The president’s words were greeted with great acclaim from the assembled crowds on Parliament Hill. People laughed and cheered when Roosevelt mocked the Axis leaders. But they saved their warmest response for when Roosevelt spoke of feeling at home in Canada, and that Canadians feel at home in the United States.

After speeches of thanks from the speakers of both the Senate and House of Commons, the president and his entourage were driven the short distance to the War Memorial. There a presidential aide laid a wreath of flowers while President Roosevelt stood at attention by the car. The RCMP band played the old hymn Abide With Me. This was followed by an official luncheon, hosted by the Governor General, at Rideau Hall.

After the luncheon, the president and his party were taken on a whirl-wind tour of Hull and the Gatineau Hills with a stop at Kingsmere, the prime minister’s country home, where King pointed out various sights of interest. There was one unscheduled stop along the way. On the Chelsea Road, the president changed from his open car to a closed one. The explanation given was that the president’s car was behaving oddly and the automobile change was precautionary. As in Ottawa, Western Quebec folk turned out in their thousands to watch the presidential motorcade.

The last engagement on the president’s Ottawa visit was a final conversation with the Prime Minister and the Governor General over tea at Laurier House, King’s residence.

At the end of a successful day, the President returned to his official car. With motorcycles leading the way, his motorcade swept up Nicholas Street to where the president’s train waited for his return to Washington.

Two months later, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill again met, this time with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Tehran, Iran, to co-ordinate their military plans against Nazi Germany and Japan, and to discuss the fate of Eastern Europe in the post-war era.


Evening Citizen, 1943. “Roosevelt Ceremony Will Be Broadcast,” 24 August.

——————-, 1943. “Troops Joining In Welcome For The President,” 24 August.

——————-, 1943. “Welcome, Good Neighbor!,”25 August.

——————-, 1943. “F.D.R. Impressed with Great Sight Parliament,”

——————-, 1943. “30,000 People Gathered On Parliament Hill, Had Many Chances To Cheer,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Guard of Honor Was Provided By Armed Services,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Thousands Out To Welcome F.D.R. On Secret Arrival,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Uptown Region Is Packed With Holiday Throng,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Mr. King Terms F.D.R. Champion Of Freedom,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Four Departments United To Handle Traffic For Visit,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Text Of Statement By Churchill, Roosevelt,” 25 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1943. “Roosevelt Cheered By Ottawa, Advises Axis Surrender Now,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “President Wins Crowd’s Affection,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “General Peakes Commends Hull Regiment,” 25 August.

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Canada, 2020. Presidential Visits to Canada,

The First Ottawa Airmail

15 August 1918

You may be surprised to learn that communication by air has a very long history, dating back thousands of years. Until the arrival of the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century, the fastest way of sending messages was by air—via pigeon. Historians believe that the ancient Greeks took advantage of pigeons’ innate ability to find their way home from distant locales to report news of the Olympic Games. In modern times, more specialized birds, commonly called messenger or homing pigeons, were used. To communicate via homing pigeon, the birds must first be sent to the distant location. When needed, a small message written on lightweight paper was strapped to the leg of a pigeon who, when released, would instinctively fly to its home roost, wherever it might be. Once back at its dovecote, the message could be retrieved by its keeper.

Cher Ami, the pigeon credited with saving a U.S. battalion in 1918, Wikipedia.

Homing pigeons flew combat missions in both world wars. In 1918, the pigeon “Cher Ami” was awarded the Croix de Guerre with oak leaves for delivering messages in Verdun. Later working for the U.S. Signal Corps, the bird managed to fly through German lines in October 1918, despite having been severely wounded, including losing a leg and eye, to deliver a message from a cut-off U.S. battalion. She (notwithstanding her masculine name) was credited with saving many lives. After her death in 1919, her body was preserved and put on display at the Smithsonian Institute. In the United Kingdom, thirty-two messenger pigeons have been awarded the Dickin Medal, which was established in 1943 to honour animal heroism in wartime.

Here in Canada, Major-General Donald Cameron convinced the Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1890 to experiment with homing pigeons to carry messages between Halifax and Sable Island. However, high pigeon mortality led to the cancellation of the experiment after five years.

Balloons have also been used to carry mail. Reportedly, the first official U.S. air mail delivery occurred in August 1859 when more than 130 letters were delivered from Lafayette to Crawfordville, Indiana, a distance of 30 miles. Balloons were also used to carry mail and military dispatches out of besieged Paris in 1870-71 during the Franco-Prussian War.

Cover of one of the letters carried by Henri Pequet between Allahabad and Naini, 1911, India, Wikipedia.

The first airmail as we commonly know it, i.e., via airplane, occurred just seven years after Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the skies at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, thereby ushering in the era of heavier-than-air flight. It occurred in February 1911 in Allahabad, India in the context of the United Provinces Exposition and the Maha Kumbh festival. Henri Pequet, a French aviator, carried more than 6,000 letters and cards five miles from Allahabad to Naini in a two-seater Humber biplane. The trip was an experiment conceived by Captain Walter Windham in co-operation with the Indian postal authorities to see what an airplane might be able to accomplish should a city come under siege. In addition to the regular postal fee was a six annas charge to help fund the construction of a youth hostel, the Oxford and Cambridge Hotel, in Allahabad.

Canada’s air mail service was inaugurated by Captain Bryan Peck on 24 June 1918 when he flew official correspondence from Montreal to Toronto with the consent of the Deputy Postmaster General in Ottawa. It was the first of several experimental flights to test the feasibility of an air mail service.

Peck, a Montrealer stationed at the Leaside aerodrome in Toronto, had arrived in Montreal a few days earlier from Toronto via Deseronto, Ontario in a Curtis JN-4 biplane, landing at the Bois Franc Polo Fields. Corporal W.C. Mathers accompanied him. While his flight to Montreal was mostly uneventful, the last part of it was completed in a full gale. His return flight to Toronto with Canada’s first official air mail was even more challenging. He initially tried to leave on 23 June 1918 but was forced back to Montreal owing to heavy rain. Airplanes of this time had cockpits that were open to the elements. He finally left Montreal the next day. Reportedly, he flew at an altitude of only twelve metres owing to his airplane being over-loaded with whisky. At that time, Prohibition was still in force in Ontario. Letters carried on this inaugural flight were hand-franked with a special triangular post mark reading “Inaugural service by aerial, Montreal, 23-6-18.”

Two weeks letter, Katherine Stinson, an American pilot, made the second Canadian airmail flight, flying from Calgary to Edmonton. She carried 250 letters in a Royal Mail postal bag.

Ottawa’s turn came on 15 August 1918 when Lieutenant Tremper Longman of the Royal Air Force stationed at the Leaside aerodrome in Toronto carried official letters from Toronto to the capital. Again, it was an experimental flight aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of transporting letters by air. The idea of the flight had been proposed by Col. W. Hamilton Merritt, the President of the Aerial Club of Toronto. Like Captain Peck on his earlier flight to Montreal, Longman flew a JN-4 Curtis biplane. He left Camp Leaside at 9:45 am, stopping at Camp Mohawk in Deseronto, Ontario to refuel and to have lunch. He arrived at the military encampment at the Rockcliffe Ranges outside of Ottawa at 3:09 pm. (This was before the construction of the Rockcliffe aerodrome.) His flying time was 3 hours and 40 minutes.  He figured he could do it quicker once he had become familiar with the route. He had relied on maps and a compass to find his way to Ottawa. He said the capital was easy to locate, his route taking him over Smith’s Falls.

The Curtis biplane used to carry the first airmail between Ottawa and Toronto. The caption on the photograph is either incorrectly dated, or this is actually a photograph of the second flight between the two cities. The same aircraft was used for both flights. Department of National Defence, Library and Archives Canada, 4748717.

Longman, who was met by Ottawa postal officials, carried dispatches for the Governor General, Sir George Foster, who was the acting Premier at the time in the absence of Sir Robert Borden, the Postmaster, the Assistant Postmaster, and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Ottawa Motor Club.

Two days later, Lieutenant Longman left Ottawa to deliver the first airmail from Ottawa to Toronto. After checking his engine, he hopped into the cockpit. With a cheery wave, he was off, leaving ten minutes early at 6:50 am. Weather conditions were perfect—a clear sky and a slight wind. Before heading southwest towards his Deseronto stop, he circled the military encampment at Rockcliffe.

There were no witnesses to his departure other than the Assistant Postmaster and a Post Office inspector who had dropped off the mail bag containing one hundred letters, most of which were replies to letters he had brought to Ottawa two days earlier. The letters carried the usual 3 cent stamp with a postal mark reading “By Aerial Mail.” The Ottawa Journal claimed to have sent the first letter to be carried from Ottawa by airplane. The newspaper’s letter was addressed to Mr. J.R. Atkinson, the President of the Toronto Star.

In honour of Lieutenant Longman’s airmail flights, the Journal published a short poem entitled “The Airplane:”

My engines throb, and propellers spin, for I yearn to caress the blue; if the mail’s in the sack, toss it up on my back—it’s my duty to see it through. Soon the earth drops away, and the towns in array, marks the rout I must wing, o’er the land, with His Majesty’s mail, through the heavens I sail, in response to young Longman’s command.

As this was a test flight, there was no promise of a repeat performance. However, less that two weeks later on 26 August, Lieutenant Arthur Dunstan, also of Leaside Camp, brought the second bag of airmail to Ottawa from Toronto in the same Curtis biplane that Longman flew. In his mail sack were roughly 130 letters, including registered mail, special delivery, and 100 ordinary letters, each of which bore a stamp of the Aero Club of Ottawa sold for the benefit of the RAF Fund for Prisoners of War.

On 27 August 1974, the National Postal Museum in Ottawa issued a colourized version of the above photograph as a postcard and 8 cent stamp in honour of the first Toronto to Ottawa Airmail Service. It incorrectly stated that the first flight occurred August 26/27, 1918.

Dunstan’s flight was described as “exciting” as he had to dodge several storms on his way to Ottawa. Just before landing, he ran into a rain squall. He also experienced a strong tail wind which fortuitously shortened his flight. Instead of travelling over Smith’s Falls, the route chosen by Longman, Dunstan’s flight path took him via the 1,000 Islands at an altitude of 2,000 feet. He flew directly to the Rockcliffe Ranges where huge canvas strips had been laid out to form the letter “T.” Dunstan brought his plane to a standstill almost directly on the canvas.

Touching down at 4:10 pm Dunstan was surprised to find out that he was almost an hour late. Owing to a mix-up in Toronto, Dunstan thought that his expected arrival time was 4:30 pm rather than 3:00 pm. He left on the return flight to Toronto the following day.

In early September, Lieutenant Edward Burton of the RAF made the first same-day return trip between Toronto and Ottawa with the mail. Setting out from Leaside camp at 7:45 am, he arrived at the Rockcliffe Ranges at about 12:45 pm. Unlike for Dunstan’s flight, no landing strips were prepared for Burton as the neighbouring army camp was in quarantine owing to a case of smallpox. He was met by the Postmaster, A.G. Acres and his assistant. After taking a quick but hearty lunch with the Postmaster, Burton left roughly an hour later with 136 letters. As with previous flights, he stopped over at Deseronto to refuel before proceeding with the rest of his journey. Low clouds forced him to fly at an altitude of only 1,000 feet.

Although these initial flights demonstrated the feasibility and speed of an air mail service, the Canadian postal authorities were slow to adopt the airplane. It wasn’t until 1928 that the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor received regular air mail service. A cross-Canada, Vancouver-to-Halifax service wasn’t inaugurated until 1939.


Canadian Museum of History, 2021. A Chronology of Canadian Postal History.

Durr, Eric, 2021. How pigeon helped save lost battalion,

Ottawa Citizen, 1918. “First Mail By Aeroplane From Toronto Arrives,” 16 August.

——————, 1918. “Thinks Air Will Be Recognize Routes,” 17 August.

——————, 1918. “Rockcliffe Camp Under Quarantine,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1918. “Aviator Tremper Longman Leaves Ottawa at 6:50 am With First Airplane Mail,” 17 August.

——————, 1918. “Flyer Is Off With First Aerial Mail Sent From Ottawa,” 17 August.

——————, 1918. “Brings 130 Letters By Airplane Post,” 27 August.

——————, 1918. “Arrives With Mail, Starts Right Back,” 4 September.

Times of India, 2013. “World’s First Air Mail started during Maha Kumbh in 1911,” 19 February.

La Baker

26 August 1955

If you wanted great entertainment, especially jazz, in Ottawa during in the 1950s, you went to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Among the many nightclubs located there, the most prominent were probably the Standish Hall Hotel in Hull and the Gatineau Country Club in Alymer. At these locales, one saw such legendary figures as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughn.  On 26 August 1955, the curtain went up at the Gatineau Country Club on the incomparable Josephine Baker, known in her adopted France as simply “La Baker.” She was in Ottawa for a week’s engagement, her first and only visit to the nation’s capital.

Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a washerwoman and a vaudeville drummer who quickly abandoned his young family. A poor black girl growing up in the United States at its segregationist worst faced bleak prospects. As a young child she was cleaning houses for rich white people. By age thirteen she was waiting tables, and by age fifteen was already twice married and twice divorced. The only thing she got out of the second marriage, which lasted but a month, was her surname “Baker” which she kept throughout her life despite two more marriages…and two more divorces.

Despite this unprepossessing start in life, young Josephine Baker found her calling as an entertainer. In 1919, she joined a black vaudeville company. Two years later she came to New York, then in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, to play in The Dixie Steppers. While initially judged too black to be in the chorus, she got her chance when a chorus girl got sick. She played the comic role of the inept dancer at the end of the chorus line who initially bungles the routine only to blossom into the troupe’s finest dancer.

Seizing an opportunity to dance in Paris, she voyaged to France in 1925 to join La Revue Nègre. Paris was a revelation. Here, a black woman could stay at the finest hotels and dine in the best restaurants without discrimination. Instead of being considered a second-class citizen or worse, she was admired and welcomed.

After touring Europe with La Revue Nègre, she joined the famous Folies Bergère. She was a huge success, her famed cemented by a dance in which she wore only a skirt made of sixteen, strategically placed bananas. Jaded French audiences had never seen such a performance. Its raw sensuality stunned them. By 1927, at the age of only twenty-one, she was the highest paid female entertainer in the world.

Josephine Baker, 1927, Folies Bergère, Un Vent de Folie, Waléry, Paris.

She became a film star, appearing in Zouzou (1934) and Princess Tam-Tam (1935), as well as several other films. Princess Tam-Tam was banned in the United States. It was not clear what shocked white America more, showing a black woman in a relationship with a white man, or a black woman cast in the lead role. She became an inspiration to oppressed African Americans.

By the mid-1930s, her performance style began to change. Out went the primitive, catlike eroticism of her youth in favour of the mature, French chanteuse in the style of Edith Piaf. Parisian audiences adored her.

In 1935, Baker returned briefly to the United States to perform in New York in the famous Ziegfeld Follies. It was not a happy experience. Now a star, she was allowed to stay in one of New York’s big hotels, but only if she used the service entrance. Her performance, which included dancing with white men, was still beyond the pale of even a liberal New York audience. After newspapers insulted her and made racial comments, she returned disheartened to Paris.

In 1937, she married a wealthy Frenchman, Jean Lion. While the marriage didn’t last, she became a naturalized French citizen, renouncing her American citizenship. She famously said that the Eiffel Tower “looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what does that matter? What was the good of having a statue without the liberty?”

When war came, Baker took on a new role as spy and resistance fighter. Using her fame as a shield, she smuggled secret messages amongst her sheet music to the Free French. Later, after fleeing to North Africa, she performed for Allied soldiers. She insisted that she would only perform in front of integrated audiences. After the war, the French government awarded Baker the Resistance Medal with Rosette and the Croix de Guerre.

She also took on a new persona, that of a grande dame.  Once famed for dancing in skimpy costumes, she now showcased the finest in French fashion, wearing designer gowns from Christian Dior and other leading fashion houses. In 1947, she married Jo Bouillon, a French orchestra leader.

She tried another return to the United States in 1951. She again insisted that she would only perform in front of non-segregated audiences. Her U.S. tour, which began in Miami, was a great success until she was denied service at New York’s prestigious Stork Club. After making an official complaint to the Club, she got into a battle of words with the famed American journalist Walter Winchell who accused her of being a communist. This was at the height of Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade that led to hundreds of American entertainers being blacklisted. Baker was banned from the United States for nine years.

Josephine Baker, March on Washington, 1963, Château des Milandes.

Through the 1950s, Baker and Jo Boullion raised a group of dozen adopted children of all races which they called The Rainbow Tribe at Baker’s chateau, Les Milandes, and 700-acre estate in the Dordogne region of France. It was Baker’s effort to demonstrate that people of all nationalities could live together in peace and harmony.

Maintaining a fifteenth-century chateau while raising such a large family became even more onerous when Baker’s fourth marriage failed. Never a good business person, and very generous, Baker ran up large debts. Eventually, she lost her chateau to creditors, and had to return to the stage to repay her debts. Helped by Princess Grace of Monaco, she and her Rainbow Tribe took up residence in a home in Monaco.

In 1963, Baker was invited to join the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Wearing her French military uniform with all of her medals, she appeared on the podium where she gave a short speech of support. She said that it was “the happiest day of her life.”

That summer of 1955, when Josephine Baker came to Ottawa, the great entertainer stayed at the Château Laurier Hotel while she performed at the Gatineau Country Club. Travelling with her were her French maid, Miss Jeanette Renaudin, her musical director, Mikos Bartek, nine trucks of clothes, and a photograph of her husband, Jo Bouillon. Press reports said that her wardrobe was insured for $250,000 ($2.5 million in today’s money).

She started her visit with a press conference and special performance at the Press Club in Ottawa a few days before the official start of her gig. Dressed in a slinky black dress, she wowed the journalists in the room who wondered whether she would have a wardrobe malfunction. “If accidents happen, well, c’est la mode,” she said. Bob Blackburn, the Citizen reporter, said there was no describing her, “even the most extravagant adjectives can’t do her justice.”

Talking about her decision to go to Paris back in 1925, Baker told that journalists that she had been looking for more freedom to express herself. In the United States, the only thing a black woman could do in show business was to wear a bandana on her head. She hoped that her example would open doors in other fields for other African Americans.

She also claimed to have been one of the first entertainers to appear before a television camera. The event occurred in 1935 in the BBC Studios in England. She said that she was put in a little cubicle with her face painted white since that was the only way she could be seen on the equipment of that time. “Image me with a white face!” she exclaimed.

Advertisement, Ottawa Citizen, 24 August 1955.

At the Press Club, she sang in both French and English, performing her old favourites such as J’attendrai. There was a lot of focus on her wardrobe for her performance which ranged from a simple white tailored blouse to extravagant evening gowns. One gown, “a sheath-like creation” was decorated in an oyster shell pattern. As she walked, the shells opened to reveal smaller shells and little pearls.

Other engagements in Ottawa included a visit to the French Embassy and radio interviews in both languages.

On opening night in the Carnival Room at the Gatineau Country Club, Josephine Baker received a standing ovation. She wowed the audience with her showmanship, her informal bantering with the audience, and her ability to sing straight from the heart. Among the many songs she sung were Unchained Melody and Begin the Beguine. She modelled gowns by Christian Dior, Jean Dessès, and others. The Ottawa Citizen reported “Here is an entertainer who deserves all the superlatives one can name. She will live in your memory for many years to come. This is Josephine Baker, the incomparable.”

Josephine Baker, entertainer sans pareil, World War II hero and civil rights leader, died in April 1975 at the age of 68, struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage, one day after opening a new show at the Bobino Theatre in Paris celebrating fifty years in show business. A week later, 20,000 people attended her funeral at La Madaleine in Paris. The French government gave her a twenty-one-gun salute. She was buried with full military honours in le Cimetière de Monaco in Monaco.

An inspiration to many, including Beyoncé, today’s megastar, Josephine Baker once said “Surely the day will come when colour means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of the throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.” 

We have a long way to go.


BBC Wales, 2006. Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar, YouTube.

Caranvates, Peggy, 2015. The Many Face of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy, Chicago Review Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Château et jardins des Milandes, Demure de Josephine Baker, 2020. Josephine Baker, Tribute to a Great Lady,

Official Site of Josephine Baker, 2020.

Ottawa Citizen, 1955. “They Call Her Fabulous But That Is Inadequate,” 24 August.

——————, 1955. “Josephine Baker Has Gala Wardrobe,” 25 August.

——————, 1955. “Standing Ovation For Baker At Gatineau,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1955. “Toast Of Paris, Josephine Baker Entertains Press,” 24 August.

——————-, 1975. “Singer, 68, dies in Paris,” 12 April.

——————-, 1955. “Final Tribute for Josephine,” 16 April.

Mowat and MacGillivray, Stock Market Swindlers

30 August 1930

It was Saturday, 30 August 1930. Two men, soberly dressed in dark suits, waited quietly in an Ottawa courtroom to hear their fate. They had just pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the public and to manipulating the prices of mining companies’ shares. Judge Daly broke the news—three years for each of them in the Collins Bay Penitentiary. It could have been worse. The law allowed for a sentence of up to seven years for their crimes. But they had hoped to get away with just two. However, Justice Daly said that he couldn’t see how a sentence of less than three years would meet the circumstances. He had to look toward to future cases and this would set a precedent. After the pair received their sentences, former colleagues came up to shake their hands and offer condolences. Then, the two men were taken back to the Nicholas Street jail before being processed and sent to Kingston to begin their prison sentences. What had gone so very wrong?

M and M Mowat, OC 6-3-1930

Robert H. Mowat, Ottawa Citizen, 6 March 1930

The story began six years earlier. On 29 February 1924, two young men, Robert H. Mowat and Duncan A. MacGillivray, announced the opening of a brokerage partnership in Ottawa, operating out of the Union Bank building on Metcalfe Street.  The new firm specialized in mining shares, and had a seat on the Standard Stock and Mining Exchange in Toronto. It also provided a statistical service, reporting on developments, production and earnings of mining companies, and produced a publication called The Gold Mines of Ontario which they gave away free to customers.

Mowat, who was a native of Campbellton, New Brunswick, had prior financial market experience. Before establishing the brokerage firm, he had been employed in a prominent Toronto bond house. He was a graduate of the University of Toronto, and had served as an officer in the 26th New Brunswick Battalion. His partner, MacGillivray, was born in North Evans, New York. He also had attended the University of Toronto, and had taken an engineering course at the Kelvin Institute in Glasgow, Scotland. Like his partner, he was a war veteran, having served with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in France.

M and M MacGillivray OC 12-3-30 OC

Duncan A. MacGillivray, Ottawa Citizen, 30 March 1930

Their firm, Mowat & MacGillivray, flourished. It was the Roaring Twenties. The North American economy was growing rapidly, and corporate share prices were effervescent. Once the domain of the wealthy, stock markets were now attracting the savings of the middle class. Stock brokerage firms opened everywhere.

With share prices shooting up, easy money could be had by all…for a time. This was particularly true for investments in junior Canadian mining companies. In 1927, the Ottawa Citizen ran a mining supplement that extolled the virtues of investing in Canadian mining companies. “‘Optimism’ Watchword in Canada’s Mining Areas” the headline read. One article argued that if you were willing to take a chance, the “promising prospects of our great North Country are certainly a wonderful purchase because the prospect when it does develop into a mine brings the investor a reward that he cannot look for in any other industry.” Past “promising prospects” had led to profits of 5,000 to 20,000 per cent. It was hard for people to resist such a sales pitch. And it was hard to distinguish between the truly promising and the truly fraudulent. For a time, it didn’t seem to matter. The price of everything rose in a speculative frenzy.

Mowat and MacGillivray were in the thick of it. In that same Citizen supplement, MacGillivray wrote a lengthy positive article about mines in northern Quebec above a two-thirds page advertisement for the Mowat and MacGillivray brokerage firm. Large pictures of the two principals featured on another page. The firm had sponsored and sold shares in dozens of junior mining and oil companies, including Aconda, Arno, Melnor, and Cold Lake Mines.

Mowat and M 29-2-1924 OC

Announcement of Mowat and MacGillivray opening for business, Ottawa Citizen, 29 February 1924.

The partnership grew quickly. By 1927, they had moved out of their Metcalfe Street offices into larger and more prestigious quarters at 128 Sparks Street. Ironically given what was to come, this building had formerly housed a branch of the Home Bank of Canada. The Home Bank had failed in spectacular fashion in 1923, leading to the loss of millions of dollars, a government bailout of depositors, tarnished reputations, criminal charges, ruined investors, and even suicide.

In addition to their seat on the Standard Mining Exchange in Toronto, Mowat and MacGillivray bought seats on other Canadian stock exchanges that specialized in mining companies, including the Vancouver Stock Exchange, the Calgary Stock Exchange, and the Montreal Curb Exchange. The latter exchange was designed for stocks of companies deemed too speculative (i.e. high-risk) to be listed on the Montreal Stock Exchange. Mowat and MacGillivray also bought a seat on the New York Mining Exchange.

Their physical presence also grew well beyond Ottawa. By 1929, the firm had expanded throughout the Ottawa Valley with offices in Cornwall, Pembroke, Perth and Hawkesbury. The partnership established a limited liability company of the same name in Hull. The establishment of a Quebec company was necessary for them to avoid paying high taxes if they were to transact business in Quebec. Their Hull subsidiary had branches in Trois Rivières and Quebec City. Other Ontario offices were located in Belleville and Brockville. The firm also expanded into the Maritimes, with offices in Halifax, Sydney, Yarmouth, New Glasgow, Glace Bay and Windsor in Nova Scotia as well as in St. John and Moncton in New Brunswick.

The two young brokers became pillars of the Ottawa business community, always ready to support local charities and Ottawa events. They also sponsored an in-house hockey team that played in an Ottawa bank hockey league. The firm even donated the Mowat Trophy for the league’s annual competition.

The edifice came tumbling down with the start of the Great Depression in October 1929. Global share prices, led by prices on the New York Stock Exchange, tumbled. Investor losses were huge, exacerbated by the widespread practice of buying shares on margin. Investors put up as little as 10 per cent of a share’s value, borrowing the rest. In a rising market, margin is a way of leveraging gains. However, in a falling market, the reverse happens. Brokers and banks demand more money to cover margin losses, or sell their clients’ shares which only send the market down further. On Black Tuesday (29 October) alone, one local broker said that “hundreds of small Ottawa investors had been wiped out.”

For many stock brokers, after the heady years of the 1920s, the collapse of markets was a death knell. Few people were willing to buy shares of even the most conservatively run company let alone acquire shares in new enterprises, even ones that held promise. Customer orders dried up.

The hard times also exposed shady practices that weren’t apparent during the boom times. Some stock brokers were exposed for running “boiler rooms” or “bucket shops.” A boiler room operation is where stock dealers using high-pressure tactics to sell speculative penny stocks via telephone to the unwary or the gullible. The dealers might also sell the shares at inflated prices. A bucket shop is a stock dealer who sells clients what amounts to a derivative of a stock at some notional price. There is no purchase of shares on behalf of a client on a recognized exchange. Transactions simply goes “into the bucket.” It is a form of gambling with the client betting against the broker who plays the role of “house.”

On 6 March 1930, Ottawa woke to banner headlines in the city’s newspapers: Mowat and MacGillivray’s firm had failed the day before, their offices closed, and their accounts taken over by a receiver. An application against the firm had been filed in Toronto when their cheque in the amount of $933 issued to one W.W. Beaton, a resident of Haileybury, was returned owing to insufficient funds. The purpose of the receiver was to conserve the assets of the company on behalf of its many creditors.

There had been no warning of the failure. It came as a huge shock to the firm’s clients and the Ottawa business community. The previous Christmas, employees had been given substantial bonuses. Just a few weeks earlier, the firm had taken over the Ottawa brokerage firm of George R. Guy & Company. It had also financially supported Ottawa’s first international dog derby that ran at the beginning of February 1930. The company’s hockey team had just won the “Big Four” hockey series, and were in Ottawa’s industrial league playoffs. After beating the Post Office, the brokers’ team, now unemployed, were defeated by the Telephone Company in the finals at the end of March 1930. It was the last time the brokers’ team played.

Initially, Duncan MacGillivray suggested that the firm’s problem was illiquidity rather than insolvency. He claimed that the firm had sufficient assets to cover all its liabilities. But the problem was that the certain assets could not be realized immediately owing to poor market conditions. Later, he attributed their failure to overexpansion and excessive overhead. There was also considerable speculation that the firm would be consolidated with two other troubled brokers—Solloway, Mills & Company and Stobie, Forlong & Company—and reopened.

G.R.F. Troop, an accountant working for the receivers, took immediate control of the firm’s books, and commenced a comprehensive audit of its accounts. Thirty-five of fifty head office staff were laid off and paid their last week’s salary. The remaining fifteen remained to help the auditors go through the books. It didn’t take Troop long to spot financial irregularities. One week after the company failed, the provincial attorney general issued warrants for the arrest of Robert Mowat and Duncan MacGillivray on a charge of conspiracy to defraud their customers.

The pair were taken into custody but were treated with kid gloves. Instead of being held in the cells, Mowat and MacGillivray waited in the arresting officer’s office while bail was being arranged. They, and Inspector McLaughlin, chief of the morality squad, even partook of a substantial luncheon brought in by outside caterers. The two were released on $50,000 bail each. It took months for the receivers to go through the company’s books, delaying their jury trial. In the meantime, the pair remained free, even travelling to the United States in an attempt to find ways of bailing out their company.

In early August 1930, the Crown laid four additional charges of fraud and theft. With that, the two were taken into custody and held at the Nicholas Street jail. Meanwhile, Hull police stood ready to arrest them on Quebec warrants for conspiracy to defraud in connection with their Hull operations.

The day before their jury trial was to begin, Mowat and MacGillivray surprised everybody by pleading guilty to defrauding the public and stock price manipulation. Since they had pleaded guilty, the details of what they did were not revealed. However, there were reports that during a one-week period, auditors found that 65 per cent of client transactions had not gone through a stock exchange. The receivers also found that the company was missing three million shares of various companies that were owed to their customers. Press reports concluded that Mowat and MacGillivray had been running a bucket shop. The extent of client losses was not reported.

Before Justice Daly pronounced sentence, their defence attorney argued that in mitigation of their crime, Mowat and MacGillivray had been good citizens, and only did what “was common practice to that business.” He argued that overhead had swallowed up the firm, and that the pair were now virtually penniless. After sentencing them to three years in the penitentiary, Daly said that he hoped that they would reduce the length of the sentence by good conduct and making some effort to reimburse those who had suffered financially from their crimes.

Two years later, Mowat and MacGillivray, now dress in prison denims rather than banker grey, were taken to a Hull courtroom. Found guilty of conspiracy to defraud their clients related to the actions of their Hull subsidiary, the pair were sentenced to two more years in jail.


Globe, The, 1930. “Brokers’ Fines Total $250,000,” 24 June.

————-, 1930. “Penitentiary Terms Imposed on Brokers,” 1 September.

Ottawa Citizen, 1927. “Optimism Watchword In Canadian Mining Areas,” 31 October.

——————, 1927. “Taking A Chance,” 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Further Donations To Dog Derby Fund,” 24 January.

MacGillivray, D.A. 1927. “Interesting Stage North Quebec Mines,” Ottawa Citizen, 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Mowat And MacGillivray Assigns And Interim Receiver Is Appointed,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Text Of Statement By D. MacGillivray,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Expect Report on Defunct Firm About Weekend,” 10 March.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat And M’Gillivray Face Conspiracy Charge,” 12 March.

—————–, 1930. “Bail Bond Hitch Causes Delay In Brokers’ Arrest,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “R.H. Mowat Granted Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “D.A. M’Gillivray Secures Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “Telephone Hockey Team Scores Second Victory Over Brokers,” 31 March.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Hope To Pay 100 Cents On The Dollar,” 10 April.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Committed For Trial,” 11 August.

—————–, 1930. “Brokers Ready To Plead Guilty To Conspiracy,” 29 August.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Given Sentence OF Three Years,” 2 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Have Failed And All Their Offices Are Closed Accounts Taken Over By Receiver,” 6 March.

——————, 1930. “Audit Of Brokerage Firm’s Books Now Underway,” 7 March.

——————, 1930. “Warrant Sworn Out For H. Mowat And D.A. MacGillivray,” 12 March.

——————, 1932. “Mowat and MacGillivray In Hull Court,” 30 March.

——————, 1932. Brokers Given Two Years By Judge In Hull,” 18 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1930. “MacGillivray and Mowat Go To Prison,” 30 August.


Ottawa Entertains The Empire

22 August 1903

Passersby on Wellington Street must have wondered what was happening up on “the Hill” in the early afternoon of Saturday, 22 August 1903 as a large group of smartly-dressed men and women assembled on the steps in front the Centre Block of Parliament for what was clearly a commemorative group photograph.  Who were they and what were they doing in Ottawa?

The visitors were delegates, some accompanied by their wives, to the Fifth Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire. The Congress, hosted at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal by the Montreal Board of Trade and the Canadian government, had wrapped up its deliberations the previous day. The Congress had brought together 548 delegates—all men, given the times—from 124 commercial associations from the far-flung reaches of the British Empire. Some delegates had travelled thousands of miles from Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and South Africa to attend the Montreal event. Travelling such distances in those days was long, arduous and expensive; it was not something done lightly.


Group commemorative photograph of delegates and wives of the 5th Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Congress provided a forum for the great industrialists and merchants of the empire to meet, network, and discuss the big political and economic issues of the age. Some called it the “empire’s non-official commercial parliament.” The group, which enjoyed royal patronage, was extraordinarily influential, able to shape policy both in Britain and in the colonies. The 1903 Congress in Montreal was the first time it had met outside of London, the imperial capital. Canadians were feeling proud of their contributions to the imperial cause in the Boer War, and wanted to demonstrate that Canada was not just some distant, frigid appendage of the empire.  The Congress also provided an ideal opportunity for the Dominion government to advertise Canada’s abundant natural resources as well as the country’s growing industrial capacity.

The Congress discussed a host of issues, some political, some economic. For example, there was unanimous support for a common empire-wide naturalization policy, under which a foreigner, naturalized as a “British subject,” in one part of the empire would have the same rights as a native-born person anywhere in the empire. In other words, say, an American, who became a Canadian, would have full rights as an Australian in Australia. There was also unanimous support for Newfoundland to join Canada.


Delegates and wives inside the Senate Chamber, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa. Given the era, it’s quite striking to see women sitting in the Senate. The first woman senator, Cairine Wilson, did not take her seat until 1930.

A motion by Joseph-Xavier Perrault of the Montreal Board of Trade in favour of the empire adopting the metric system received wide support, as did a motion for all parts of the empire to discard pounds, shillings and pence, and adopt a decimal currency like Canada’s. A more contentious issue, particularly among French-Canadian delegates, was that self-governing colonies, such as Canada, should participate in the cost of defending the empire. (Recall that this Congress was being held just a year after the end of the Boer War.) The motion found unanimous support when Montreal-based participants amended it to ensure that it was up to the colonies to determine the nature of that support.

But, by far the biggest issue under discussion was trade, something that would resonate today. The empire was divided into two camps—free traders and protectionists. For more than half a century, Britain had followed a free trade commercial policy as a way of keeping import costs, especially of essential imports of food and raw materials, as low as possible. But by the beginning the twentieth century, protectionists in the United Kingdom, led by Joseph Chamberlain, were increasing in number. They favoured an “imperial preference,” under which tariffs would be imposed on non-empire imports, giving a price advantage to products made in the colonies. This imperial policy had strong political undertones as Chamberlain and his supporters wanted to bind British colonies closer to the motherland in order to strengthen the empire against other rising powers such as the United States and Germany.

Canada, which had tariffs on all imports, including those from the mother country and other members of the empire, favoured protectionism. However, while Canada desired preferential access to the British market as per Chamberlain’s plan, it was loath to lower its tariffs on imports from Britain and other parts of the empire.

After a long debate on the trade issue, a compromise resolution was negotiated that called for the adoption of a commercial policy throughout the empire based upon the principal of mutual benefit under which each member of the empire would receive a substantial trade advantage as a result of its imperial relationship, with due consideration given to the fiscal and industrial needs of each member. A commission was also proposed to study the issue. In other words, the issue was punted forward.

After four days of deliberations, the Congress wound up its events in Montreal. But for many delegates, their Canadian adventures were just beginning. A series of journeys had been planned that would take them across the country, courtesy of the Canadian government and the railways in a huge public relations campaign to impress and woo British investors.


Sparks St looking west, Saturday, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Their first stop was naturally Ottawa. One hundred and eighty delegates and forty wives arrived in the capital at 11:00 am on Saturday, 22 August, on a special train put on by the Canada Atlantic Railway. Reportedly, their train was the heaviest passenger train ever hauled over a Canadian railroad. It consisted of ten coaches, each weighing 50 tons. They were met at the Central Station by a distinguished group of Ottawa citizens, including Richard Scott (later Sir), who was the Secretary of State and the Liberal leader of the Senate, Mayor Cook, Sir Sandford Fleming, the father of Standard Time, who had attended the Montreal Congress, all members of City Council, and members of Ottawa’s Board of Trade.

After a brief stop at the Russell House Hotel, the guests were conducted on a guided tour of the Parliament Buildings, stopping first at the Senate chamber where Richard Scott welcomed the delegates and their wives to Canada. After referring among other things to the debate over imperial preference, he expressed the hope that Canada and Britain would avoid “selfish propensities.” Scott added that the loyalty of Canadians was greater than any other part of the empire.” He concluded by saying that he expected Canada would be recognized as “one of the strongest props of the empire” in fifty years.

After their tour of the Senate, the delegates and their spouses toured the Library of Parliament, before heading to the Commons chamber to be greeted by Charles Martel, the Liberal MP for Bonaventure in Quebec. Martel noted Canada’s contribution to empire-building by its construction of a second transcontinental railway.

At 12.30 pm, delegates and their wives assembled on the steps of the Centre Block for a commemorative group photograph taken by A.G. Pittaway, a prominent Ottawa photographer. The picture was developed and ready for purchase by delegates in less than three hours.

Amateur photographers also took pictures. The Ottawa Citizen commented that “numerous Kodaks carried by the visitors were kept clicking away.” One of the shutterbugs was Ethelbert Slater, the congressional delegate for Yeadon, a small community outside of Leeds in Yorkshire. Slater was an amateur photographer of some considerable repute in his native Yorkshire. The Citizen commented that Slater had occasionally spoken in public and “on several visits to the continent and Egypt secured some good pictures of scenery, etc. which he has exhibited and explained to public audiences afterwards.”


Delegates assembling outside of the Russell House Hotel, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Slater had brought his Kodak No. 2 camera, one of the first low cost cameras available to the general public, with him on his journey to Canada and documented his trip from his departure from Liverpool for Quebec City on the SS Canada to his return home via New York, providing a wonderful treasury of Canadian views, including of Ottawa, during his trip across the country with other delegates from the Montreal Congress.

After their tour of Parliament Hill, the tourists walked the short distance back to the Russell House Hotel for a 2:00 pm luncheon. It was called a luncheon instead of a banquet to permit the delegates’ wives to attend. Mayor Cook’s address focused on Canada as a worthy destination for investment, something he said would become apparent as delegates crossed the country. The mayor also put in a pitch for Canada to take over the West Indies. At the time, concerns had been expressed about the United States, having brought Cuba into its sphere of influence and annexing Puerto Rico following the Spanish-American War of 1898, had designs on other parts of the West Indies. Some years later, the United States bought the Danish West Indies, now called the US Virgin Islands.


Pile of logs ready for the sawmills of the Chaudière, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

After lunch, the delegates got a taste of Ottawa’s industrial might with tours of the Chaudière, the heart of the city’s lumber industry, with stops at the E.B. Eddy and Booth sawmills. At the Booth mill, they were greeted by Jackson Booth, the son of the great Ottawa lumber baron, John Rudolphus Booth.

What the delegates did for supper was not reported. Most likely, they fended for themselves before embarking on an evening trip on Ottawa’s Electric Railway to Rockcliffe Park where delegates and wives enjoyed the natural scenery of the park which was illuminated for the event by thousands of multi-coloured electric lights. The Governor General’s Foot Guards’ Band entertained the guests during their visit to the park.

The tourists returned to their coaches in the wee hours of the following morning for the return trip to Montreal.


Log slide around the Chaudière Falls, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

This was not, however, the end of the delegates’ travels in Canada. After a free day in Montreal, many, including Ethelbert Slater, embarked on an all-expenses paid cross-country tour, with a side trip to the United States to view the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara from the American side and to visit Detroit, already a major industrial hub before it became the centre of the North American automobile industry.

The delegates visited most major Canadian cities throughout southern Ontario, including Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, steamed through the Muskoka Lakes, before heading out west, visiting Fort William, Winnipeg, Brandon, Banff, Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo, with stops at the Crofton copper mines and the Chemainus sawmills. More stops were made on the return east, including a visit to the great “Soo” Ship Canal at Sault Ste. Marie. After another short visit in Ottawa, the tourists sailed from the capital on a steamer to Grenville, Quebec where they boarded a train to Montreal for the last leg of their 10,000-mile journey. From Montreal, many delegates, including Ethelbert Slater, took a train to New York for the return voyage to the United Kingdom.

Throughout this once-in-a-lifetime trip, Ethelbert Slater took photographs along the way, recording for posterity views of Canadian life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many were typical tourist shots of important buildings. But others captured life as it was being lived, providing viewers today with fascinating glimpses of a long-lost world.

The negatives returned with Slater to Yeadon. Years later, his descendants gave them, as well as other negatives, photographs and other memorabilia, to the Aireborough Historical Society whose mission is to preserve the history of Yeadon, and other neighbouring communities in Yorkshire. In 2017, Carlo Harrison, the archivist at the AHS, kindly donated the fragile Ottawa negatives to the Historical Society of Ottawa, which in turn gave them to the City of Ottawa Archives for safekeeping. Ethelbert Slater’s  Ottawa pictures had returned home.

For a more extensive coverage of the photographs and their story, please read Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, titled When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, published by The Historical Society of Ottawa.


Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “British Guests,” 11 August.

——————, 1903. “Persian Garden Night,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Backbone of Empire,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Welcome To Our Guests,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Ottawa Entertained British Capitalists,” 24 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1903. “The Congress of Commerce Completes Its Labors,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Trade Lords Visit Ottawa,” 22 August.

Powell, James & Cook, Bryan, 2018. When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire Through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, Historical Society of Ottawa.



The Weatherhill Charivari

11 August 1881

An odd folk custom that was still practised in Canada during the nineteenth century was the charivari (sometimes spelled shivaree). Brought to North America from Europe, a charivari was an impromptu parade or demonstration in which participants banged on pots and pans, and made all sorts raucous noise in response to some local event. While sometimes of a jocular nature, a charivari could also be malign, voicing community disapproval of something that violated perceived norms of behaviour. For example, a “May-December” wedding might prompt a charivari where a crowd, usually consisting of drunken young men, would extort money from the couple. The payment of a few dollars was usually enough to pacify the mob and get them to move on, usually to the nearest drinking establishment.

Such was the case in early August 1881 when about forty young men held a charivari on the Richmond road on the occasion of the marriage of a Mrs. Grundy. Mrs. Grundy, who had already been married at least twice, aimed to marry again. According to press accounts, she had had two suitors for her hand, and there had been much speculation regarding whom she might choose. Her marriage to the elder suitor, who was also a widower, prompted a crowd of noisy revellers to demand late-night “entertainment” from the couple. The groom handled the situation by giving a $4 bill to the crowd which promptly repaired to the nearest public house, leaving the couple in peace.

Charivari ODC12-8-81

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 12 August 1881.

A few days later, another charivari took place in Mount Sherwood. This time, the outcome was far less benign. Mount Sherwood was a small community of about 1,000 inhabitants on the then outskirts of Ottawa. It was bordered by Concession Street (today’s Bronson Avenue) on the east, Emily Street (Gladstone Avenue) on the north, Division Street (Preston Street) on the west, and Dow’s Lake on the south.

At about 7 am on 11 August 1881, a distraught, middle-aged woman arrived at the Ottawa Police Station claiming that her husband had been killed after what we would today term as a home invasion. Unfortunately, as these events occurred in Mount Sherwood just beyond the Ottawa boundary, the police did not have jurisdiction. They didn’t even take her down her name.

Hearing the news, and receiving corroboration from another source, a Citizen reporter hurried to the scene to find fifty or so people standing around the body of an old man lying facedown in the roadway at the corner of Emily and Lisgar Streets (today’s Gladstone Avenue and Bell Street). The remains had been covered with cedar boughs to protect them from the sun but had otherwise been left untouched. The body was identified as that of James Weatherill, aged about 65, a retired dealer in country produce and cattle. Although something of a recluse, he was known as hard-working and honest, without any known enemies.

Weatherill, a two-time widower, who resided in neighbouring Rochesterville, had remarried the night before, taking Mrs. Dougherty, a widow, aged 45, as his bride in the nearby home of Mrs. Thomas Cooper on Emily Street, where Mrs Dougherty resided. The couple had been married shortly after 7pm in Mrs. Cooper’s sitting room by Rev. Mr. White of Mount Sherwood.

At about 8pm, a crowd of boys and young men came to the home, banging on pots and pans, and demanding money from the newly-wed couple who were in the home along with Mrs. Cooper and her four young children. Mr. Weatherill complied, giving the boys a dollar. Apparently satisfied, the crowd dispersed.

A couple of hours later, a second, far larger, alcohol-infused group of boys and men demonstrated in front of the home and demanded two dollars. At some point, stones were thrown at the house, breaking windows, causing minor interior damage and considerable distress among its residents.  But Weatherill refused to give in to the crowd’s demands, believing that to accede to this extortion would only encourage the rowdies. Instead, the Weatherills hid in the loft above a summer kitchen at the rear of the home, while Mrs. Cooper told the demonstrators that the couple had fled via a back door.

But the revellers insisted on searching the residence. Two entered the house, one being a neighbour named Hugh McMillan, finding the couple. McMillan advised Mrs. Weatherill to pay the $2. While she was willing to do so, her new husband called her an old fool and slapped McMillan in the face. McMillan left, and the charivari continued. At some point, although accounts are confused, a neighbour, Peter Potvin, threatened to beat or kill Weatherill, saying that the old man had insulted him.

In the wee hours of the morning, when the crowd had dwindled, both Mr. and Mrs. Weatherill went outside. Weatherall, in good spirits, began to chase four youths down Emily Street towards Concession Street. This was the last time his wife saw him alive. She had stopped to watch Mr. Potvin, who she later described to police as walking up and down the street like a mad man.

Subsequently, Mrs. Weatherill returned to her lodgings at Mrs. Cooper’s home. The fact that her husband did not follow, was not a cause of concern. She simply figured that he had gone to his own home on Rochester Street in Rochesterville, just a short distance away. It wasn’t until the next morning when Mrs. Weatherill decided to walk to her new husband’s residence to look for him that she discovered a crowd of people surrounding the lifeless body of her husband.

Newspapers far and wide were rightly appalled by the event. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thundered that “it was high time that the charivari business was put down by a strong hand.” It was a “disgrace to our modern civilization.” It added “It is terrible to contemplate that because a man refuses to meet the demands of his persecutors he may be cruelly beaten and left by the road side to die.” The London Free Press opined that “It is only necessary for a marriage to take place under some circumstances which some rude youths may deem to be irregular, for them to assemble together, and amidst hooting, horn-blowing, pan-beating and other discordant noises, insult the newly-married couple.” It added that in this particular case, the charivari had led to repeated demands for money, assault and death. The paper demanded special legislation against charivaris. The Hamilton Spectator, sniffed that the “advance of more refined feelings” had led to the charivari dying out in western Ontario. However, it was still the custom in eastern Ontario and “ought to be punished with the greatest severity.” The Quebec Chronicle recommended the lash.

A coroner’s inquest into Weatherill’s death was immediately called. As Mount Sherwood lacked a constable, the murder investigation was headed by Superintendent E. J. O’Neill of the Dominion Police. He and several of his men arrived later that morning to view the body.  The dead man was clad in a new suit of clothes, undoubtedly his wedding attire. In his pockets were $19 in bank notes and $1.70 in change. Robbery was clearly not a motive for his murder. While there were contusions on his head, the cause of death was not evident. The body was removed to Rogers’ undertaking establishment on Nicholas Street where three doctors conducted a post mortem. They concluded that James Weatherill had died owing to an “extravasation of blood between the membranes of the brain.”

After the post mortem was conducted, Weatherill’s remains were turned over to his widow. A wake was held in his Rochesterville residence on the Saturday, two days after his death. Rev. Mr White, the minister who married the couple, conducted the funeral. Weatherill was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.

Suspicion immediately fell on the neighbour Peter Potvin who was quickly arrested by the Dominion Police and put in jail. But the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. Hugh McMillian, as well as the other man who had invaded Mrs Cooper’s home, later identified as Ruggles Brunel Jr., were also arrested but were released on $500 bail each—a very large sum of money at the time.

But the focus of the investigation quickly shifted to four charivari participants—James Kelly (age 20), Christopher “Pum” Berry (age 16), Robert McLaren Jr. (age 20) and James O’Brien (aged about 20). They were picked up that weekend. Berry and McLaren were arrested at their homes.  O’Brian and Kelly were found in Stewart’s Bush, a nearby heavily-wooded area.

Despite being cautioned by the police about incriminating themselves, the foursome quickly began blaming each other. The four admitted that they had been throwing stones at Mrs. Cooper’s house, and that Weatherill had chased them down Emily Street in the wee hours of 11 August. Reportedly, Berry told Superintendent O’Neill that Kelly and O’Brien had been throwing stones at Weatherill, and that Kelly had said “By God, we have killed him.” He also claimed that O’Brien had remarked that “the old man was as dead as a nail.” Kelly, however, said “I didn’t strike the old man.” He claimed that Weatherill struck McLaren with a stick, and that it was McLaren and Berry who had been throwing stones at the old man. Kelly added that he had wanted to throw stones but couldn’t find any. When O’Brien was arrested, he reportedly laughed at the police and told them to do their best. He said to Superintendent O’Neill, “You can lecture me if you like, but it is not a neck-snapping affair at any rate.” All four were charged with feloniously murdering and slaying one James Weatherill on 11 August 1881.

Shortly afterwards, Superintendent O’Neill accompanied by a company of Dominion policemen swept through Mount Sherwood arresting alleged charivari participants. More than a dozen boys and young men were taken to police headquarters in the East Block departmental building on Parliament Hill and charged with riotous conduct. All were released on bail. Among the arrested was one William McGrath, a stone cutter by trade, aged about 20, who spoke “openly and fearlessly of his conduct, free from any criminal intent, according to the Ottawa Citizen. William McGrath later became a City of Ottawa alderman.

Unlike today, justice moved swiftly in nineteenth century Ottawa. Three weeks after the fateful charivari, those charged with riotous conduct were found guilty and fined anywhere from $3 to $15, or one to two weeks in jail with hard labour.

The four charged with Weatherill’s murder were brought in front of the Carleton Assizes in October 1881. All pleaded not guilty. Representing the foursome were Mr. Gibb for James O’Brien, Mr. Ward for Christopher Berry, and Mr. William Mosgrove for James Kelly and Robert McLaren. The Crown was represented by Mr. Robert Lee, Q.C. and the prominent Ottawa lawyer and former mayor Richard W. Scott.

The defence lawyers were adroit. Dominion Police Superintendent O’Neill testified that he had known the four young men charged from infancy, and attested to their good character. Mr. Mosgrove argued that the evidence could not fix the cause of death on any of the prisoners. Moreover, he claimed that when Weatherill left the home of Mrs. Cooper and began to pursue the boys, he became the aggressor.

Most telling, however, was testimony from one of the three doctors who conducted the post mortem, who admitted under cross-examination that Weatherill’s death might have resulted from a number of causes. Besides being hit on the head with a stone or a blunt instrument, an “extravasation of blood” into the brain could have incurred through a fall or excitement. The fact that Weatherill’s body had been found lying close to a high, wooden sidewalk that crossed a small gully, gave credence to the possibility that his death might have been caused by a fall. There was also little doubt that Weatherill had been seriously vexed by the charivari.

The Crown contended that there was no doubt that Weatherill had been murdered. He had been in good health immediately prior to the charivari, and that it was plain that he met his death in a most violent and sudden fashion. Scott argued that it was ridiculous to say Weatherill brought his death upon himself by his attempt to drive off the rowdies. His actions to protect the lives of helpless women and children were natural and right. While the charge against O’Brien, Berry, Kelly and McLaren was murder, he did concede that the jury could bring in a verdict of manslaughter.

In his charge to the jury, the presiding judge said that a charivari was no excuse for rowdy conduct and condemned the practice. He also said Weatherill had not overstepped his rights when he left the house and gave chase to his tormentors.

After only two hours of deliberation, the twelve-man jury acquitted the four youths. Few in the courtroom were surprised.

Forty-five years later, now retired alderman William McGrath, who had been fined for his participation in the charivari, recounted the events surrounding Weatherill’s death in a lengthy interview to the Ottawa Citizen. While there were a number of discrepancies between his version of events and contemporaneous accounts, he credited the acquittals to the ability of defence lawyer, later judge, William Mosgrove.



Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1881. “Charivari,” 5 August.

————————–, 1881. “A Brutal Murder,” 11 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Latest Outrage,” 11 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Charivari Murder,” 13 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Fatal Charivari,” 15 August.

————————-, 1881. “Charivari Captives,” 16 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Mount Sherwood Affair,” 17 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 19 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 20 August.

————————-, 1881. “The Weatherill Murder,” 23 August.

————————-, 1881. “Weatherill Tragedy,” 24 August.

————————-, 1881. “Carleton Assizes,” 11 October.

————————-, 1881. “Carleton Assizes,” 15 October.

————————-, 1881. “Chaivari Charges,” 1 September.

————————-, 1926. “Tragic Weatherall (sic) Charivari, 6 March.

————————-, 1928. “Mt. Sherwood Had Origins In Subdivision 60 Years Ago,” 29 December.