The “Talkies” Come to Ottawa

26 December 1928

Imagine the excitement, anticipation and even trepidation that came with the arrival of talking movies—the “talkies”—in the late 1920s. For a generation, silent movies had ruled the cinemas of the world.  Audiences delighted in the romance of Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik (1921), the swashbuckling adventures of Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926), and the antics of Clara Bow, the girl with “IT” (1927). Language was no obstacle; film was universal. Foreign movies, like the German-made Nosferatu (1922), the horror classic that introduced the vampire to the silver screen, and the Russian-made revolutionary thriller Battleship Potemkin (1925) gained large audiences in North America.

Talkies, Regent Theatre, NWcorner Bk&Spks,TopleyLACPA-028126

Interior of the Regent Theatre located at the north-west corner of Bank and Sparks Streets, Ottawa, 1918, Topley Studios/Library and Archives Canada, PA-028126. The Regent became the first Ottawa cinema to show a “talking” film, 26 December 1928.

But for the first time, movie goers, who hitherto had to use their imaginations, were going to be able to hear their idols speak. Yikes! In 1928, the Ottawa Journal described the terror this engendered among the acting fraternity. All of a sudden, actors were rushing off to take elocution lessons. The newspaper opined, “To hear a Spanish beauty speaking in the accent of the East Side or a New England fisherman declaiming in the broken English of a Polish-American might be entertaining but it would not be art.” Many of the great matinee idols of the silent era were not to make the transition.

The first public exhibition of a synchronized film sound track took place at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 using a system pioneered by Henri Loiret and Clément-Maurice Gratioulet called Photo-Cinéma-Théatre. The sound was recorded on a cylinder that was played in sync with the film. But the technology was unreliable. Things didn’t really improve until after World War I when Theodore Case, Earl Sponable, Charles Hoxie and Lee De Forest perfected the optical sound-on film method of synchronizing sound with action.  Three commercial variants of this technique emerged: Photofilm, PhotoPhone and Movietone. Another method of synchronizing a sound track to film involved sound on a disc that was played in synch with the film. Photokinema developed by Orlando Kellum and Vitaphone by Warner Brothers used this technique.

Talkies, Regent ad, TOC 28-12-28

“Where the Screen Speaks,” The Regent Theatre’s advertisement for the official premiere of the talkies that appeared in both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Journal, 28 December, 1928.

The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson is usually credited with being the first feature-length talking film. It used the Vitaphone system. However, the movie was really a hybrid creation; it was a silent movie with four singing and talking scenes. Jolson apparently says a mere 354 words during the film, including the prophetic “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” The previous year, Don Juan, starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor, had been released with a synchronized Vitaphone music track and special effects, but without dialogue. In 1928, Fox Movietone began producing weekly news reports and short one-reel “talkies” using the more reliable sound-on film method for distribution in movie theatres that quickly dominated the talking film market.

There was an immediate rush by cinemas across North America to buy the expensive equipment needed to play the new “talkies.” There were concerns, however. Would audiences accept this costly film innovation?  Many directors deplored the advent of sound, complaining that a focus on dialogue would detract from the aesthetic that they were trying to create.  Mary Pickford reportedly said “adding sound to film was like putting lip rouge on Venus de Milo.” Her career was to founder after talkies became established.

The word “talkie” didn’t go down well with some either. Pedants sought expert academic advice for a new name for the invention. Suggestions included the “Audien,” the “Cinelog,” and the “Phonocinema,” which, according to the Ottawa Citizen, would probably become the “Phocin.” The last alternative would have been particularly unfortunate if pronounced with a hard “c.” Thankfully, none of these possibilities took.

Ottawa was one of the first cities in Canada after Toronto to start playing “talkies.” The Regent Theatre located on the north-west corner of Bank and Sparks Street, where the Bank of Canada Museum is today, debuted Fox Movietone productions on Boxing Day, 26 December 1928. The first showing was a by-invitation-only, private event.

The program started at 11pm with Fox Movietone news, featuring the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty four months earlier in Paris. Signatories to the treaty, which was negotiated by Frank Kellogg, U.S. Secretary of State and Aristide Briand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, renounced war as a means of resolving international disputes. The Ottawa Citizen commented that one could hear the “buzz of subdued sound and then M. Briand arises to speak…” In a succeeding scene, the U.S. Ambassador to France introduces Mr Kellogg who also says a few words of greeting. The Citizen journalist enthused that “every word, every syllable, he utters is distinctly heard.” (Here is a link to that early newsreel footage: Signing of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty.) A second news story showed the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) opening a new dock in Bristol and giving a short speech, followed by an outdoor political rally in Britain with David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, speaking in the rain.

After the newsreel came a short film called “The Hut,” which was set in Siberia, starring the Russian soprano, Miss Nina Tarasova, backed by the Russian Cathedral Choir. Again the Citizen’s journalist was captivated with the quality of the sound which he thought was better than hearing music on “a phonograph, radio, or telephone,” and was “free of mechanical interference.” This was followed by an “all talkie,” ten-minute comedy called The Family Picnic. Directed and written by Harry Delf, this Fox film starred Raymond McKee as the husband and Kathleen Key as the wife. Again, the journalist was impressed with the sound fidelity, especially the reproduction of the actors’ voices, street sounds, and even the approaching sound of a train.

Talkies, Street Angel

Film poster for the “Street Angel,” 1928 by Fox Films, IMDb.

The pièce de résistance of the evening was the 1928 Fox movie Street Angel, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, directed by Frank Borzage. The film is the story of a Neapolitan street waif with a past (Gaynor), who flees to the circus where she falls in love with a starving artist (Farrell). Although there was no dialogue, the 110-piece Roxy Theatre Grand Orchestra of New York provided the musical accompaniment. The film won Photo Magazine’s bronze medal for the best picture of 1928. Janet Gaynor won the very first “Oscar” for best supporting actress in 1929 for her role. The Citizen said that the movie ranked with “the best of all time.” Watch the Street Angel.

For the excited Ottawa citizens invited to this late-night inauguration of talking films, it was worth the bleary eyes they had the next morning. “The Canadian Capital joined movie fandom the world over in applauding this audio-scenic innovation,” wrote the Ottawa Journal. Ray Tubman, the manager of the Regent Theatre, was roundly congratulated by his many friends.

After its special showing on Boxing Day, 1928, a “preview” opened the following night, again at 11pm, with the formal opening the day after that (Saturday). The huge crowds of eager spectators were urged to go to the matinee and early evening performances to help ensure that they could obtain seats. The Journal wrote: “Never in the history of the motion picture has any new development been introduced which has caused such a furore as this new marvel.”

Ottawa companies wanted to be associated with the launch of talkies to the nation’s capital. Stanley Lewis, the future mayor of Ottawa from 1936-48 and the owner of an electrical store, advertised that the Regent Theatre had entrusted the installation of the Movietone equipment to his firm—“Enough Said” read the ad. Merchants on Sparks Street, including Orme’s, Lindsay’s, the Metropolitan Stores and John Raper Piano Co. Ltd—the Home of the Othophonic Victrola—advertised for sale records of the music from The Street Angel. The hit theme song Angela Mia could be purchased for 50 cents on the Domino label with The Rose You Gave To Me on the reverse side. Even the shoe company Gale & Co. got in on the action by advertising Cordovan leather shoes “as New and Distinctive as the Movietone.”

The arrival of the talkies to Ottawa was a huge success, as it was everywhere in North America. Within a few scant years, the great silent film industry fell, well, silent.

Sources:

Naqi, Sheza, 2012, The End of an Era: From Silent Film to Talkies, ETEC540: Text, Technologies — Community Weblog, 28 October, https://blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept12/2012/10/28/the-end-of-an-era-from-silent-film-to-talkies/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1928. “Talking Movies Make Debut For Ottawa People,” 27 December.

——————, 1928. “Gaynor-Farrell In ‘Street Angel,’” 29 December.

——————, 1928. “Movietone Makes Its Ottawa Debut At The Regent,” 29 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1928. “The Changing Movies,” 31 August.

——————-, 1928. “Premier Showing Of Talking Film A Notable Event,” 27 December.

——————-, 1928. “The Talking Movies,” 29 December.

——————-, 1928. “First Movietone Show Here Starts Today at The Regent,” 29 December.

——————-, 1928. “Regent Theatre,” 31 December.

Rosenberg, Jennifer, 2017. “The Jazz Singer, The First Feature-Length Talkie,” ThoughtCo., https://www.thoughtco.com/the-jazz-singer-1779241.

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Archbishop Boris

10 December 1955

It was the height of the Cold War. In 1955, West Germany joined NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites established the Warsaw Pact as a military counterweight to the Western Alliance.  In November of that year, the Soviet Union tested an inter-continental ballistic missile that could deliver a hydrogen bomb, many times more potent that the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the U.S. mainland. Tension was also rising over the future of Berlin, with Russia seeking to end four-power control of the German city. Another blockade was feared. Amidst this tense international environment, Archbishop Boris (Vik) of the Russian Orthodox Church came to Canada.

Boris

Archbishop Boris (Vik) 1906-1965, http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Archbishop Boris was appointed Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America and Exarch of North and South America in late 1954. His Canadian visit was organized by the United Church of Canada. The trip was the result of an invitation extended by the United Church to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1952. Two other Russians accompanied Boris—Archpriest Constantine Ruzitsky, the rector of the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Anatole Gorbatchov, the lay inspector of seminaries. Bishop Paladeus of Volynack and Rovensk was also supposed to visit Canada, but he was a no-show. No reason was given. The Russians were supposed to arrive in late November. However, the visit was delayed a week owing to an unexplained “mix-up” with their passport and visa arrangements.

Boris had hoped to twin a visit to Canada with a trip to the United States. But after initially granting the Archbishop a visa, the U.S. State Department retracted it. Boris had become caught up in a tit-for-tat struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union over religious representation. After he had received his appointment in late 1954, Boris had come to the United States on a 60-day visa. However, the U.S. State Department turned down his request for the visa to be extended when it expired at the end of February 1955. U.S. authorities were afraid that the United States might become the headquarters of a Moscow-controlled faction of the Russian Orthodox Church. In response, the Russians expelled Georges Bissonnette, an American Roman Catholic priest who was administering to the religious needs of U.S. citizens living in the Soviet Union and the broader diplomatic community. According to the 1933 Roosevelt-Litvinov agreement under which the United States recognized the Soviet regime, the U.S.S.R. had agreed that Americans in Russia would have freedom of worship. While the agreement did not clearly state that officiating clergy must be American, the Russian authorities typically granted a permanent visa to an American priest as long as he did not minister to Russian citizens.

The Soviet government finally agreed to give a visa to Father Dion, a replacement for Father Bissonnette, in November 1955, and the U.S. State Department in return issued a visa for Archbishop Boris to come to the United States. However, it retracted the visa a few days later on the grounds that the exchange of clergymen was not reciprocal. Father Dion was not permitted preach to Russians whereas Archbishop Boris could preach to Americans. This impasse was not broken until the beginning of 1959 when Dion finally went to Moscow and Boris received a three-month visitors’ visa to the United States.

In the meantime, Archbishop Bois and his colleagues made do with a two-week visit at the end of 1955 to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton. The Russians arrived by airplane at the Dorval Airport in early December and was met by a welcoming committee of United Church dignitaries and G.F. Popov from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa. Dr Ernest Long, Secretary of the General Council of the United Church of Canada, said that the three-fold purpose of the visit was to promote understanding, give visibility to Christian unity, and to foster goodwill between Canadian and Russian Christians.

Conspicuously absent from the welcoming party was any representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Canada. The rector of the Orthodox St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in Montreal said that he would ignore the visit as the delegation did “not represent the true and continuing branch of the orthodox church” and that the Russian Orthodox Church had become “a mere political organ of the Soviet government.” The Russian visitors also had to sidestep a small group of about fifty demonstrators with banners who were handing out leaflets at the airport in protest of the visit. In answering questions from Canadian and American journalists, Archbishop Boris said through an interpreter that he was not a communist and did not have a personal acquaintance with either Party Secretary Khrushchev or Premier Bulgarin. He added that many Russians believed in God and practised those beliefs: there was no ban on practising religion in the Soviet Union. When asked about Canadian Orthodox churches, Boris said that there were fewer than ten Russian Orthodox churches in Canada and that they were “unfriendly” to the Russian hierarchy. As reconciliation attempts had proven unfeasible, the churches were considered to be “in schism.”

After a short stay in Montreal, Boris and his entourage took a train to Toronto. There, two Ukrainian Catholic priests presented him with a letter asking him to negotiate the release of Bishop Joseph Slipyj from a Siberian labour camp. Slipyj and eleven other Ukrainian Catholic bishops had been sent to Siberian gulags after the war. Slipyj received an eight-year sentence in 1946 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis and for his refusal to accept the forced take-over of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church by the Russian Orthodox Church. (Constatine Ruzitsky, one of Boris’ travelling companions, was reportedly one of the masterminds behind this takeover.) Despite the conclusion of his sentence, Slipyj remained in custody. Archbishop Boris promised to place the request before the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on his return to Moscow. If Boris did anything, it was not effective. Slipyj remained in a Soviet prison for another eight years, and was only released through the intervention of President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII in 1963. Expelled from Russia, the Pope made Slipyj a cardinal in 1965.

While in Toronto, Archbishop Boris visited the large department stores, took a side trip to Niagara Falls, and officiated at a service at the Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church dressed in full Orthodox regalia including a golden mitre studded with precious stones, a purple robe banded with scarlet and white, a lavender stole, two large golden crosses, one around his neck and another in his hand, and a glittering bracelet on his left wrist. When a newspaper reporter took pictures in a gallery, Anatole Gorbachov followed him and asked if he had permission to take pictures. When the journalist said no, Gorbachov told him to go. This put paid to the notion that none of the Russians spoke English.

Archbishop Boris, Archpriest Ruzitsky and Anatole Gorbatchov arrived by train at Union Station in Ottawa at 8.30 am on Saturday, 10 December 1955.  An Ottawa Citizen article described Boris as a “huge man” with a “long ginger-coloured beard flowing over the front of his long black cloak,” carrying a silver-topped staff. Rev. Frank Fidler of Toronto and Rev. Herman Neufeld of the United Church College in Winnipeg accompanied the Russians. As they were being welcomed by United Church dignitaries, Lydia Szarwarkowska of 325 Laurier Avenue pushed ahead of the greeters to plead for help from the Russian prelate. In tears, she asked in Russian for his intercession on her behalf with the Soviet government for an exit permit for her 70-year old mother who lived alone, the rest of her family having been killed in the War.

After checking into the Château Laurier Hotel, the Russians were taken on a tour of the capital, visited the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street (the embassy was to burn down three weeks later on New Year’s Day 1956), and was taken out to dine at a restaurant by the Ottawa Presbytery of the United Church. Apparently, the Archbishop spent the evening relaxing and watching Russian movies.

Boris The Ottawa Journal 10-12-1955

Advertising a church service with Archbishop Boris, The Ottawa Journal, 10 December 1955

The next day, the Russian delegation joined the congregations of the Greek Orthodox Church on Albert Street and St Elijah’s Syrian Orthodox Church on Lyon Street for Sunday services. The Russians were also given a tour of the Parliament buildings—the Archbishop was surprised there was a Liberal government in power. Boris, a big man weighing close to 300 pounds, reportedly “beamed” when he was told that Jack Garland, the Liberal member for Nippising, tipped the scales at 400 pounds. The group also went to the National Galley. While Boris was not impressed with a modern Henry Moore sculpture, he liked art made by Canada’s native peoples. That evening, the Russians attended a candlelit service at the Dominion United Church for the Canadian Girls in Training. Archbishop Boris, wearing a cross of thirty two diamonds, sat behind the pulpit with the Rt Rev. George Dorey, the Moderator of the United Church and the Rev. J. Lorne Graham, minister and Presbytery Chairman. Boris spoke at the service, urging Christian unity and told the girls the Russian legend of the Christmas tree. Moderator Dorey warned against western propaganda that religion was non-existent in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a dozen men, apparently immigrants from Communist-ruled Eastern Europe, handed out anti-Russian pamphlets.

The following day, a luncheon was held in Archbishop Boris’ honour attended by senior representatives of the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church, as well as a representative of Canada’s External Affairs. Afterwards, Archbishop Boris, accompanied by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator and Lorne Graham, the Presbytery Chairman, held a press conference. Boris, dressed in flowing black robes spoke of his experience so far in Canada, saying he found Canadians to be “hospitable and hard-working.” He was also impressed with the church services. Boris also took this opportunity to denounce the U.S. decision to rescind his visa. He said it amounted to “pressure on religion.” In contrast, he said that although communists were unbelievers, he knew that some came to his church. Moreover, he had seen with his own eyes the good work the communist government was doing. He posed the rhetorical question “Is the American Government Christian?” He also insisted that there was no interference in the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet Government. He added that Russians were entitled to their own opinion and could practice religion. After a final service at Southminster United Church, the Russian clerics headed west, stopping first in Toronto.

Archbishop Boris did not have a good flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Leaving on a small DC-3 airplane, he was given two seats to accommodate his size. However, he had trouble buckling his seatbelt. After an attempt to use two seatbelts failed, an attendant managed to fasten him in using a cargo belt. Unfortunately, Boris’ long whiskers got caught in the strap. Reportedly, he “let out an unchurchmanlike roar,” as he, his two Russian aides, and a stewardess struggled to free him.

After a brief stay in Edmonton, the Russians returned to Montreal, before heading back to Moscow via Amsterdam.

The two-week visit was a great propaganda coup for the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet Union. Well covered by Canadian and American press, Boris faithfully toed the Communist party line that religion, while not encouraged, was thriving in the Soviet Union, and that Russians were free to practice without hindrance. This view was openly supported by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator. Boris also had the opportunity to literally demonize the United States for barring his entry. “I believe in God, but there is also a devil [a.k.a. the U.S. Government],” he thundered. Of course, the reality was quite different. Although there had been some thawing of government-church relations which began during the War when the Soviets sought the help of the Orthodox Church in defeating the Nazis, that window of relative tolerance was fast closing. Despite religious freedom being enshrined in law, the Soviet Union was militantly atheist. Thousands had died or had been imprisoned for their faith. Nonetheless, Boris disingenuously claimed that “the Russian government had never persecuted the church as such but only church members who had been against the government.” Also, communist toleration of religion, if you can call it that, only went so far. Persecution of believers, especially non-Orthodox practitioners, continued. Roman Catholics, given their “allegiance” to the Pope, were under particular suspicion.

The pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Echo Drive called the United Church “tragically naïve” in arranging the visit. He added that Archbishop Boris is trusted by the Communist Party.  He likened the Russian trip to “a secret police mission.” Before inviting Archbishop to Canada, the United Church ought to have consulted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada. “We have no quarrel with the United Church. But we do after all know a little more than them about Russia. We know that the Soviets executed 38 bishops of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine alone.”

Following Archbishop Boris’s visit to Canada, Soviet oppression of religious organizations increased under Nikita Khrushchev during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many anti-religious measures taken was the closure of thousands of churches and monasteries. Clergymen who criticized atheism were forcibly retired or imprisoned, while parents were forbidden to teach religion to their children.

Sources:

Bishop, Donald Gordon, 1965. The Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements, An American View, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.

Decatur Sunday Herald and Review (The), 1955. “Delegation From The Russian Church Hits Opposition on Visit to Canada,” 25 December.

Globe and Mail (The), “U.S. Cancelled A Visa Granted To Boris 11 Days Earlier,” 15 November.

————————–, 1955. “Forbidden To Enter U.S., Moscow Prelate Due In Canada On Monday,” 22 November.

————————–, 1955. “Expect Four Russian Clerics To Arrive Sunday,” 30 November.

————————–, 1955. “Russians Pledge Action on Priests’ Requests,” 8 December.

————————–, 1955. “Satisfied With Reds,” 13 December.

Orthodox Canada, 2018. Archbishop Boris (Vik), http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1955. “Woman In Tears Pleads For Aid From Russ Cleric,” 10 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Archbishop Tells Christmas Legend,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Protest Visit of Russian Clerics Here,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “‘Our Only Aim to Live In Peace,’ Archbishop Affirms At Luncheon,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Red Priests Called Moscow Spies,” 13 December.

Ottawa Journal, The, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Escape Demonstrators at Montreal,” 5 December.

————————-, 1955. “Russian Archbishop Shows Interest,” 7 December.

————————-, 1955. “United Moderator Says Russian Church Autonomous,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “U.S. Bars Russian Bishop,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Display Keen Interest In Parliament,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “At CGIT Service, Russian Inspector Pockets Pamphlets,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Ottawa Clergyman Calls Visiting Russians Stooges,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Tangled in Strap, Couldn’t Be Freed,” 13 December.

Soviet History Museum, 2018. Hydrogen Bomb, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/hydrogen-bomb/.

Dow’s Lake and Its Causeway

27 December 1928

Dow’s Lake nestles in the heart of Ottawa much like a pearl in an oyster. It’s the centre of much of the city’s recreational activities, hosting skating in the depths of an Ottawa winter and canoeing and kayaking during the glorious days of summer. The boathouse at Dow’s Lake Pavilion provides welcome marina facilities for sailors travelling from Kingston to Ottawa through the Rideau Canal system. There too you will find canoes and pedalos for rent as well as restaurants to tempt the taste buds of Ottawa residents and tourists no matter the time of the year. Around the lake’s perimeter are parks, pathways and driveways frequented by joggers and cyclists. On one side is the Dominion Arboretum, part of the Central Experimental Farm, a favoured venue for picnics by families and lovers alike. On the other is Commissioners’ Park, the home of Ottawa’s annual tulip festival in May, and magnificent beds of annuals during the rest of the summer.

Of course, this was not always the case. At one time, Dow’s Lake marked the outer limits of Ottawa—beyond here be devils, or at least Nepean. But urban sprawl and amalgamation with surrounding communities have brought it well inside the Capital’s embrace. The lake is named for Abraham Dow, an American who came north in 1814 and acquired “Lot M in Concession C” in the Township of Gloucester. Samuel and Mabel Dow followed him two years later and settled nearby. Much of the Dow land was a mosquito-infested swamp that extended from the Rideau River to the Ottawa River. Roughly two-thirds of the swamp’s water flowed into the Rideau River, with the remainder debouching northward into the Ottawa River. Samuel and Mabel Dow must have despaired of their new home as they returned to the United States in 1826.

That same year, however, things began to change with the building of the Rideau Canal through Dow’s Great Swamp.  To make a navigable route, Irish and French-Canadian workers, labouring under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel John By’s Royal Sappers and Engineers, built two embankments. The first was constructed along what became the southern end of Dow’s Lake. Work on the embankment was started by a contractor named Henderson but was finished by Philemon Wright & Sons. The second, was constructed by Jean St. Louis, a French-Canadian pioneer in the region. Known as the St. Louis Dam, it blocked a creek flowing northward to the Ottawa River. The creek bed is now Preston Street. The work was difficult and dangerous. Many workers sickened with malaria. But they succeeded in raising the level of the water in the swamp to a depth of twenty feet, more than adequate for boats to traverse. Dow’s Great Swamp had been transformed into Dow’s Lake.

Dow's lake causeway circa 1888

Dow’s Lake, circa 1888. Notice the St. Louis Dam. Today’s Queen Elizabeth Driveway runs on top of the St. Louis Dam. The Central Experimental Farm is on the left side of the map. The “macadamized road” north of the Farm is now Carling Avenue. The railway line to the left of Dow’s Lake is the Ottawa and Prescott Railway. Source: City of Ottawa Archives.

The new lake remained a remote place for Ottawa citizens for most of the remainder of the nineteenth century. But as the city’s population increased, the city expanded southward towards the lake, a process that was accelerated by the creation of the Experimental Farm on Dow’s Lake’s northern fringe in 1886. The extension of the electric streetcar service to the Farm ten years later turned Dow’s Lake into a popular boating and swimming area. One indignant boater of this time wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Journal newspaper complaining that foul-mouthed, naked boys were diving into the Canal at its juncture with Dow’s Lake, swimming under pleasure boats, and shocking the ladies.

In 1899, the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC) was formed by the Dominion Government for the express purpose of beautifying the nation’s capital which was still largely a rough lumbering town. The Commission’s first big project was the creation of the Rideau Canal Driveway, renamed three decades later the Queen Elizabeth Driveway after the wife of King George VI. The Driveway ran from downtown Ottawa at Elgin Street, along the western side of the Canal, to the Experimental Farm.  This became the scenic southern gateway road into the Capital during the early part of the twentieth century. Conveniently, much of the land used for the Driveway was already owned by the Dominion government as an ordnance reserve.

As part of the Driveway, the Commission constructed a diagonal causeway across Dow’s Lake from the eastern shore of the lake to the Experimental Farm. The first intimations of such an idea emerged in 1900 when it was revealed that the OIC was considering the building of a “pier” across the lake to the Experimental Farm, similar to the one that had just been completed at Britannia Bay. The OIC hoped that the pier would be “of ample width and character to make it one of the prettiest portions of the drive.”

Dow's Lake Causeway ross Dunn Flickr

Dow’s Lake Causeway to the Experimental Farm, circa 1904.  Notice the macadamized road surface. Source: Don Ross, Flickr

In 1902, the five OIC commissioners decided to proceed. It was a close 3-2 vote. One of the dissenters was Ottawa’s Mayor Fred Cook who favoured extending the Driveway around the perimeter of the lake to the Experimental Farm instead of cutting through the lake. However, this would have meant displacing the J.R. Booth Company’s lumber piling ground located on the north-western part of Dow’s Lake close to the St.-Louis Dam. Booth had moved his lumber to this site in 1885, which was then beyond the city limits, due to concerns about the risk of fire—a not insignificant risk. But Booth was a major taxpayer and employer in the city. Weighing the economic and political risks, the Commission apparently felt it prudent to build a causeway rather than displace a company owned by one of the city’s most prominent citizens.

The causeway was constructed in 1904 linking Lakeside Avenue on the eastern side of the lake to the corner of Preston Street and the Experimental Farm, roughly where Dow’s Lake Pavilion stands today. Consequently, Dow’s Lake was bisected, with a triangular northern section cut off from the main body of water. Although the Commission got its way with respect to a causeway across the lake, it failed in constructing a huge aviary that it had hoped to build on the shores of Dow’s Lake similar to the one at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Cost was the likely factor. The Commission had planned to stock the aviary with representatives of every species of native Canadian bird.

The Dow’s Lake causeway lasted for roughly a quarter of a century. Narrow, high-crowned and unlit at night, the causeway was the location of many accidents. Apparently, the sight of automobiles being winched from the lake was not uncommon.

In 1926, the OIC, which became the Federal District Commission (the forerunner of the National Capital Commission) the following year under the direction of Thomas Ahearn, asked the Dominion Government to remove the causeway and extend the Driveway around the lake as originally championed by former Mayor Cook. In March 1927, the Railways and Canals Department of the Dominion Government agreed to demolish the causeway once 2,500 feet of new driveway had been laid through the old Booth piling grounds to the Experimental Farm.

Dow's Lake and Causeway 1928

Aerial map of Dow’s Lake, 1928, taken a year before the causeway was removed. The lake is oriented slightly differently from the 1888 map. The causeway runs from Lakeside Avenue on the right to the corner of Preston Street on the left. The St. Louis Dam is the thick white line that forms the shortest line of the triangular northern section of the lake above the causeway. Source: GeoOttawa.

On 27 December 1928, after the water level in the Rideau Canal had been lowered for the winter, a steam shovel began to deconstruct the causeway. Excavated material was repurposed to reinforce the retaining wall at the lake. Along the new stretch of Driveway, the FDC planted young trees to hide what was left of the Booth piling yards. The project was wrapped up by the end of March 1929. When the water was let back in the lake the following month, Dow’s Lake was restored to its full extent, much to the delight of boaters and canoeists. Residents along the lake were also pleased with the sparkling blue expanse in front of them.

All that was left of the old causeway were remnant rock piles that were covered with several feet of water. Alex Stuart, the Superintendent of the Federal District Commission, assured boaters that these rock piles would not pose a threat to navigation. He expected that there would be roughly five feet of water above the site of the old causeway, more than sufficient clearance for boats on the Canal which typically had a draught of no more than three feet. He also claimed that the action of flooding the lakebed would cause the remaining pieces of the causeway to subside.

Dow's Lake --2017

Aerial Map of Dow’s Lake, 2017.The white dot at the north-west end of the lake is Dow’s Lake Pavilion.  Source: GeoOttawa.

Still, additional work was carried out in 1936 to dredge sections of the old causeway. This action enabled fish to swim into the deeper parts of the lake during the winter. It seems that the remnant foundation of the causeway was sufficiently high to trap fish once the water level in the canal and lake was lowered in the fall. During a cold winter, the shallow water remaining in the northern part of the lake froze to the bottom killing trapped fish.

Today, the causeway is all but forgotten by Ottawa residents. However, when the water is let out in the fall, traces of the old causeway in the form of low, narrow, stone islands that cross the lake can still be seen. Its location can also can be determined with hydrographic charts. 

Sources:

Bytown or Bust, 2008. Dow’s Lake, Hartwell Lock and Hog’s Back, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, http://www.bytown.net/dowslake.htm.

Kingston-Wayne, 2011. Dow’s Lake Causeway, http://kingston-wayne.ca/node/121.

Ottawa Journal, (The), “Chase Those Boys,” 5 July.

—————————, 1900. “A Pier Across Dow’s Lake,” 11 October.

—————————, 1904. “Proposal For Giant Aviary,” 12 March.

—————————, 1904, “Plans For The Ottawa Improvement Commission,” 7 April.

—————————, 1904. “The Ottawa Improvement Commission’s Part In Making The Capital A City Beautiful,” 16 September.

—————————, 1921. “Dangerous Driving,” 21 June.

—————————, 1926. “Have Other Plans To Provide Work,” 4 November.

—————————, 1927. “Laurier Statute Will Be Placed Before July 1,” 27April.

—————————, 1928. “Dow’s Lake Road Will Be Built In Early Spring,” 24 March.

—————————, 1928. “Start Tomorrow Remove Causeway,” 26 December.

—————————, 1929. “Familiar Crossing Over Dow’s Lake Had Now Vanished,” 3 April.

—————————, 1929. “Sees No Danger To Craft,” 4 April.

—————————, 1929. “Dow’s Lake Takes On New Beauties,’ 30 April.

—————————, 1936. “Breaking Hole To Free Fish,” 9 November.

Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, 2018, A History of the Rideau Lock Stations, http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/locks/h01-08-ottawa.html.

Ross, A.H.D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, The Musson book Company Limited: Toronto.

Urbsite, 2010. Canal Crossings, http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2010/05/canal-crossings.html.

 

The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

Long before Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay worked their culinary magic on television, there was Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet. While Kerr (pronounced “Care”) was not by any means the first gourmet chef to appear on the small screen—that honour goes to James Beard in 1946—he, like Julia Child, did much to popularize fine cooking in North America. At a time when the acme of fine dining for many Americans and Canadians was a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, and Italian cuisine was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Kerr introduced millions to the likes of Lamb Apollo, Red Snapper in Pernod, Crab Captain Cook, and Gateau Saint Honoré. His zany antics, lightning fast wit and double entendres delivered while chopping and sautéing delighted television audiences around the world. At the peak of his popularity in 1970, his television show, The Galloping Gourmet, was seen in thirty-eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, with more than 200 million viewers. Dubbed into French, it was called the Le Gourmet Farfelu on the CBC’s French-language network. Amazingly, The Galloping Gourmet was made in Ottawa.

Graham Kerr 2

Graham Kerr—The Galloping Gourmet, The Cooking Channel

The British-born Kerr learnt how to cook as a teenager during the late 1940s in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel. After five years in the British Army’s catering corps, he moved to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Air Force as a catering adviser. It was in New Zealand in 1959 that he got his first televised cooking show—Eggs with Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Performing in uniform, the young Kerr received a munificent $25 for his weekly television programme. Spotted by a promoter with links to Australia, Kerr was launched on Australian television with a programme called Entertaining with Kerr in 1964 on the Ten Network.

In 1968, he and his wife Treena came to Ottawa to film The Galloping Gourmet for Freemantle International, a television production/distribution company. Although the show was aimed at an American audience, the Kerrs chose Canada as their base of operations because they wanted to bring a British/Australian flavour to the show that they thought might be lost in an American-made production. Also, Canada had first class television studios that could make colour programmes. Colour television had been introduced to the Canadian market in 1966, whereas Australian television was still operating in black and white. To make the daily 23-minute programme, the Kerrs went to the CJOH studios located at the corner of Merivale Road and Clyde Avenue in Ottawa.  Then owned by Bushnell Communications, CJOH was the third busiest television production centre in Canada. Under the direction of Bill McKee, an exceptional staff of 160 people, of whom 100 were directly in production, worked ten hour days seven days a week producing as many as dozen different television series as well as films for government departments. In a 1970 interview, Kerr stated that CJOH had the “finest” television crew with whom they had ever worked.

Production of The Galloping Gourmet began in the summer of 1968, making six shows a day, thirty shows per week. It was a gruelling schedule. The Kerrs worked as a team, Graham in front of the camera, and Treena as the show’s producer.  Initially, there was little to distinguish the new show. Indeed, the television studio’s audience relations staff found it difficult to find people willing to fill the seats in the studio equipped with a full kitchen with an autumn brown fridge and stove, dining room, bar and wine rack. However, this was to quickly change.

The programme first aired on CBC television (CBOT, channel 4 in Ottawa) at 4pm on Monday, 30 December, 1968, up against the likes of Match Game, Big Spender, House Party, and the cartoon show Hercules. The show was also syndicated throughout the United States. CBOT advertised it as “a cooking show…but what a cooking show! It is as entertaining as the best comedy shows and as informative as a documentary because of the talent of the host Graham Kerr, a world famous gourmet, formerly of England, now living in Australia.”  It added that Kerr was nicknamed the galloping gourmet, “because of the lightning speed at which he moves his six foot, three-inch frame while alternately singing, dancing, telling stories and giving homely advice…all while cooking sumptuous dishes with dazzling dexterity.”

It was an apt description though his nickname was more likely based on a book that he co-authored with wine expert Len Evans called The Galloping Gourmets published in 1967. The book chronicled the authors’ globetrotting efforts to find the world’s best restaurants in 35 days. His address was also wrong. By this time, Graham, Treena and the Kerr children had taken up residence in the tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in Ottawa.

The Galloping Gourmet was an instant and huge success though some stations censored the more naughty bits. The Globe and Mail, in a rant about the poor quality of daytime television filled with Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island re-runs, soap operas, and second-rate talk shows, likened The Galloping Gourmet to “a flower growing in a crammed wall.” It opined that “while Graham gallops, there is hope.” Tickets to attend the show’s tapings became as rare as hen’s teeth. Kerr’s most faithful admirers were female. One die-hard fan attended 49 times during the show’s first year. It helped that he was a culinary James Bond with a sense of humour—young, good looking, always impeccably dressed, and a superb British accent.

But the show appealed to all, women and men, young and old. The reason—it was fun. Each show began with Kerr jumping over a chair with a glass of wine in his hand. The manoeuvre, suggested by wife Treena, became his signature move. Most shows had some gag that were sure to provoke guffaws, such as stirring a pot with a five-foot spoon called “Big Mouth,” or pulling a brassiere out of a rolling pin. Shows also featured clips of exciting places around the world visited by the Kerrs for culinary inspiration. But the most endearing feature of the show was Kerr’s unbounded enthusiasm, excellent comic timing, and an ability to roll with whatever happened. To watch him try to unstick a reluctant cake out of a mould while a cherry sauce is cooking on the stove is hysterically funny. The show was nominated for two Daytime Emmys, but lost out to The Today Show. However, Kerr received the ultimate public recognition when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970.

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr larding a steak in episode “Beer and Rump Pot Roast,” 1970, The Cooking Channel.

But what about the food? Kerr’s culinary critics poo-pooed his skills, seeing him as a showman rather than an expert at fine cuisine. One called him the Liberace of the cooking world. There may be an element of truth to this. But he introduced people to a range of cuisines from Cajun jambalaya and British beer and rump pot roast to Mexican huevos rancheros and Russian shrimp povlik. One thing that was clear, however, his food was rich…very rich. There were few vegetables. In his recipes, Kerr used copious amounts of clarified butter, fat and sugar. Just watching him lard an already well-marbled, two-inch steak, then fry it in butter, bacon fat and brown sugar is sufficient to clog the arteries. But this was a more innocent time. Certainly, willing volunteers, usually women pulled from the audience at the end of each show to taste his culinary creations, appeared to love his food.

At the height of his popularity, disaster struck. In April 1971, Kerr was seriously hurt when a truck rear-ended his car in California, leaving him with a damaged spine and a weakened right arm.  The couple returned to Ottawa to try to tape another season, but things were not the same. With Kerr injured, shows were mostly cobbled together using bits of earlier programmes with celebrities brought in to give their opinions of past shows and dishes. In the summer of that year, the Kerrs bade Ottawa good bye after taping 560 shows in front of 46,000 people. He lauded Ottawans for their support, coming out for tapings in the midst of snowstorms, and stoically sitting through an overheated studio when summer air conditioning failed.

From leafy Rockcliffe, the family charted a new course aboard their $300,000, 71-foot yacht with an aim to visit the world’s beauty spots while they recuperated and worked on new projects, including a Galloping Gourmet line of kitchens, cook books, and cooking utensils. But things didn’t turn out as expected. Treena was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis proved to be wrong; it turned out to be tuberculosis. But she still lost part of a lung and became hooked on both prescription and non-prescription drugs. They also lost $800,000 to a man they had trusted. The couple subsequently became born-again Christians and abjured their earlier lives. Turning his back on the galloping gourmet, Kerr gave up alcohol, which had featured prominently in his earlier shows, and his risqué behaviour. The couple visited Ottawa in 1975 to appear at an evangelical rally at the Earl Armstrong Arena in Gloucester. The same year, Kerr returned to television hosting Take Kerr, a five-minute, syndicated cooking show featuring a mix of alcohol-free recipes with a dash of Christianity.

In 1987, Treena suffered a stroke and heart attack exacerbated husband Graham was convinced by his high fat, high sugar recipes of earlier years. In response, he re-doubled his efforts to create healthy “minmax” recipes—minimum fat and cholesterol with maximum flavour and aroma. More television shows, including The Graham Kerr Show, made in Seattle, Washington, and cook books that emphasized wholesome foods followed. In 1997, Kerr returned to Canada, this time to the Bay’s Arcadian Court in Toronto to tape yet another cooking programme called Graham Kerr’s Gathering Place.

Treena Keer died in September 2015 just short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Graham Keer, who turned 85 in January 2017 lives in Mount Vernon in Skaget County, near Seattle. Today, Keer has come to terms with his galloping gourmet past. His latest passion is “upstreaming,” that he describes as the “conversion of habits that can harm” into “resources that can heal” ourselves and the planet. Reruns of The Galloping Gourmet can be seen occasionally on late night television or on the Cooking Channel. Some have also been posted on YouTube. They are worth watching for the Sixties clothes and hairstyles, and, of course, for Graham Kerr’s incomparable cooking style and humour.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune (The), 1972. “A Glimpse of Graham, the Gourmet,” 9 November.

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking, http://www.startyourrestaurantbusiness.com/the-galloping-gourmet-graham-kerr-the-monty-python-of-cooking/.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow. http://www.grahamkerr.com/.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May, http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2010/05/21/loving-the-galloping-gourmet/.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1968. “CBOT Highlights,” 28 December.

————————–, 1969. “A Watched Nockerln,” 30 April.

————————–, 1970. “The Galloping Gourmet in Moscow,” 7 February.

————————–, 1970. “Graham Loves Us,” 8 August.

————————–, 1971. “The Galloping Gourmet goes, salutes ‘fabulous’ Ottawans,” 23 August.

————————–, 1972. “Battle of the Sexes Name of the Game,” 11 March.

————————–, 1972. “Galloping Gourmet hungers for the sea,” 19 July.

————————–, 1974. “Ottawa TV production centre is one of Canada’s busiest,” 21 December.

————————–, 1975. “Galloping Gourmet has come up with a recipe for a good life after his recent conversion,” 23 August.

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet, http://www.worldlibrary.org/

Santa Claus Comes To Town

24 December 1896

It’s hard sometimes not to get a little cynical about Christmas.  Even before the last Halloween candy or pumpkin pie is consumed, it seems that stores have already put up the lights and tinsel of Christmas. Television advertisements urge us to buy things that neither we nor our family need. Christmas catalogues and store flyers clog our mailboxes, both real and virtual. Every shopping centre has its mall Santa, complete with faux ice palace, throne, green-clad helpers, and a posted list of times of when that jolly old elf dressed in red polyester and a fake white beard will be there to hear children’s wish lists. Christmas craft fairs and Santa Claus parades abound. For 2016, a local tourism site listed no less than seventeen Santa parades in the Ottawa area, most taking place in November to help rev up the Christmas spirit and encourage us to shop.

santa-21-12-1895

Santa Claus in the 1890s, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 21 December 1895

This is not to say the “good old days” were necessarily any less commercial. In the lead-up to Christmas 1896, Bryson, Graham Company, a large department store on Sparks Street, billed itself as the “Headquarters of Santa” and advertised “Special Xmas Offerings to the Little Folks.” For boys, these included small iron trains for 25 cents, fire ladder wagons with horse for $1.45, and tops, “some musical, some goers,” for 50 cents, as well as “spring guns, harmless pistols, and cannons.” (One hopes that the spring guns and cannons were also harmless.) For little girls, there were doll perambulators for 25 cents, and “very pretty” doll parlour suites for 15 cents or 25 cents. Games of all kinds, including Bagatelle [a forerunner of pinball], Parlour Croquet, and Go Bang [similar to Go], were also “expressly priced for Christmas.” The store also told shoppers not to forget while they were at the store to buy three dozen oranges or five pounds of candies for 25 cents.

John Murphy & Company, another big Ottawa retailer, urged “everyone to take a stroll round our store and see the sights of Xmas displays. Everything is looking marvellous.”  It advertised “Christmas Dresses at Santa Claus’ prices.” For one day, full length dress robes were only $2.15. Best quality dresses were $3.00. Camel hair cloth was marked down to 50 cents a yard, from 75 cents, while brown and grey all wool homespun was reduced to 75 cents a yard from $1.25. On Christmas Eve, the store advertised a free bottle of perfume with every pair of kid gloves purchased. In the toy department, one thousand games were on sale at half price. While 40 extra staff had been hired for the day, it warned that “Christmas Buyers should do their shopping early” to avoid the rush and to get “better service and better suited.” Store hours were extended to 10pm for the convenience of shoppers, as well as, of course, to provide more opportunity for the store to pry hard-earned cash from the wallets and purses of Ottawa citizens.

Despite the commercialism of Christmas, then and now, once in a while something happens that restore one’s faith in the generosity of mankind, and the almighty dollar is pushed aside for a time. One such occasion occurred in 1896. Three days before Christmas, the Ottawa Evening Journal received a mysterious, little letter from Santa Claus. Dated the previous week from the North Pole, the letter read:

I have arranged to visit Ottawa on Thursday, the day before Christmas, and wish you would let all the little children know that I shall appear on the principal streets during Thursday afternoon on top of an electric [street]car.

Santa added that he would visit Sparks and other streets but would have to disappear by 4.30pm so that he could prepare for the visits he intended to make “that night to the homes of all Ottawa children who are good.” He closed by promising that he would telegraph ahead to tell people his progress on his trip south. The Daily Citizen remarked that Santa’s visit was not connected to any advertising scheme but was “simply the outcome of a desire upon the part of an Ottawa gentleman that the children of the city may see Santa in person.”

The following day, a second letter appeared. Writing from 31 Mile Lake, north east of Gracefield, Quebec, Santa announced his arrival in the region, saying that he would be in Ottawa the next afternoon.

I am bringing my best reindeer and will have him with me on top of a special electric car. I am also bringing with me a couple of thousand oranges and will distribute them from the car to the little boys and girls.

santa-24-12-1896

Santa Claus’s Streetcar, 24 December 1896, Courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives, RG045/CA001513.

He also announced his stops in the city, starting at 2.45pm at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, followed by the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie at 3pm, corner of Queen Street West and Bridge Street, Chaudière, at 3.15 pm, corner of Richmond Road and Albert Street at 3.20 pm, corner of Bank and Maria [now Laurier Avenue] Streets at 3.35 pm and, finally, at the corner of Bank and Ann [now Gloucester Avenue] Streets at 3.45 pm. He would then return to the Post Office and immediately disappear. He apologized to the children of New Edinburgh that he was unable to make it to the town since his reindeer’s horns were so high he couldn’t take his car through the bridges. However, he promised to make his usual visits that night to the homes of all good boys and girls who have gone to bed early and were fast asleep. He asked grown-ups to tell their youngsters to look out for him on Thursday afternoon as it would be his only appearance in Ottawa.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Thursday, 24 December 1896, the excitement in the city was palpable.  Thousands of people of all ages converged on the street corners where Santa Claus was scheduled to appear. They were not disappointed. The Ottawa Evening Journal noted that “the rules of etiquette, or whatever else is supposed to govern the movements of that most mysterious personage Santa Claus, and which from the oldest tradition led most individuals to believe that his visits are of a midnight nature, were rudely broken today.” Right on the scheduled time, Father Christmas arrived. “For convenience sake in transportation about the city streets,” his sleigh and reindeer were mounted on a streetcar of the Ottawa Electric Railway, which was decorated as a snow-covered cabin complete with chimney, and festooned with garlands. On its sides were signs reading “Merry Xmas To All.”

Santa himself was dressed in a fur cap and a long fur coat—very different from the red and white coated Saint Nick described in the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and popularized by Coca Cola in its commercials. He did, however, have white whiskers, though press reports don’t mention if he also had “a little round belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly.”

santa-sparks-24-12-1896

Santa Claus on Sparks Street, 24 December 1896, Courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives, RG045/CA001514.

Who was that Ottawa gentleman who brought Santa Claus to Ottawa for his first ever official visit to the nation’s capital (outside of his usual Christmas Eve tour of Ottawa rooftops, of course)? The answer was Warren Soper, the wealthy industrialist who, with his partner Thomas Ahearn, owned the city’s streetcar company, as well as other area businesses. Mobbed by adoring children, their parents and grandparents, Santa Claus handed out more than three thousand oranges to the city’s little boys and girls during his short stay. The Ottawa Evening Journal said that the visit was “quite the treat even for the grown people to see a real Santa Claus and such a good and generous one at that.”

The Daily Citizen opined that “No wretched doubter will ever again be able to hold his head in Ottawa and say that good, kindly Santy did not exist.”

Sadly, among the crowds of people that came out to meet the visitor from the North Pole, there was a grinch who stole $4 from the purse of poor Miss Scheik of 20 Keefer Street, New Edinburgh while she waited to see Santa at the corner of Dalhousie and Rideau Streets.

Sources:

Daily Citizen (The), 1896. “Santa Claus in Ottawa,” 22 December.

———————–, 1896. “Santa Clause [sic] Coming,” 24 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1896. “Santa Claus Coming,” 22 December.

————————————, 1896. “Special Xmas Offerings for the Little Folks,” 22 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Trip To Ottawa,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “John Murphy & Co, Seasons Greetings,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa Comes To Town,” 24 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Entre Nous,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Appearance,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Jottings About Town,” 28 December.

 

 

The Maharaja of the Keyboard

5 December 1945

In the firmament of great jazz musicians, few stars sparkle as brightly as that of Oscar Peterson. Born in 1925 to a hard-working, immigrant family from the poor St Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, Peterson burst like a fiery comet onto the jazz scene while still a teenager. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Peterson wowed audiences around the world with his prodigious piano technique, his amazing talent for improvisation, and a range that encompassed everything from the classics to stride, blues, boogie and bebop. He played with all the jazz greats of his age, including trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and such famed vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Demonstrating his range, he also accompanied such artistic luminaries as Fred Astaire, and the great violinist Itzhak Pearlman. It was Roy Eldridge who dubbed Peterson the “Maharaja of the Keyboard. Louis Armstrong called him “the man with four hands.” As well as playing the piano, Peterson was a talented composer, and had a singing voice comparable to that of Nat King Cole. His best known compositions are the Canadiana Suite, an album released in 1964, and Hymn to Freedom, composed in 1962. Oscar Peterson and his trio played Hymn to Freedom in 2003 at a gala in Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. In 2008, the Hymn was played at U.S. President Obama’s inauguration.

Oscar Peterson in 1977

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Portrait by Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A.

Jazz was in Peterson’s blood. Both his parents, Daniel and Olive Peterson, had a passion for music, and encouraged their five children to learn instruments. A tight family budget was stretched to include a piano. Daniel Peterson, a self-taught piano player, instructed his wife and their five children how to play. Young Oscar initially studied the trumpet as well as the piano. But after a lengthy bout with tuberculosis in the early 1930s, which claimed the life of his older brother Fred, Oscar concentrated on the piano. Father Daniel was a demanding teacher, insisting on daily practice and assigning musical homework for his children while he was absent working as a porter on the railway. But Oscar, with his perfect pitch and ability to play songs by ear, was up to the challenge. Later, his older sister Daisy became his piano instructor. His first exposure to jazz came from listening to radio. His father, however, looked down on jazz seeing it as music for the uneducated. He insisted that Oscar learn the classics. Peterson later studied under two classically-trained pianists, Lou Harper and Paul de Marky, the latter was Canada’s most acclaimed classical pianist of the time who taught music at McGill University in Montreal. He also instructed private students, charging $15 hour, a huge sum for Oscar’s parents (equivalent to more than $200 in today’s money). From a very early age, Oscar played in churches, community centres, and schools. It was in such venues, Oscar began to learn how to improvise.

Peterson’s first big break came in 1940 when he auditioned for an amateur music contest hosted by CBC radio. He went on to win not only the Montreal competition but also the national finals held in Toronto. He was only 15 years old, and the only black contestant. He received a cheque for $250 (close to $4,000 today). From there, there was no looking back. He quickly out-grew his Montreal High School band, the Victory Serenaders, and gigs in the school gym. In 1943, he dropped out to play full-time in a popular Montreal big band led by the trumpet player Johnny Holmes after a spot for a pianist opened up when the group’s regular pianist was drafted into the army.

Peterson received further national exposure in 1945 when RCA Victor, one of Canada’s largest recording studios agreed to record him, releasing two 78 rpm records. They were hugely successfully. In early June 1945, Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street advertised in The Ottawa Journal “A new VICTOR ‘discovery’ for your piano pin-up collection. Name: OSCAR PETERSON, just a youngster of eighteen, a Canadian lad of inspired rhythm that flows from his fingertips in a sparkling, ear tingling, original style all his own.” The store encouraged people to come listen to a sample recording of I Got Rhythm at Freiman’s Record Studios located on the third floor of the department store, daring them to try to keep their toes quiet!

Peterson’s first known public performance in Ottawa took place on Wednesday, 5 December 1945 at the Glebe Collegiate Auditorium at 8.30pm. The performance called Hot Jazz, featured Oscar Peterson and his jazz trio: Peterson on the piano, Russ Dufort on drums, and George Murphy on bass. The prices of admission was 90 cents, $1.20, and $1.50. The trio played to a capacity crowd, with people standing two and three deep at the back of the auditorium. Extra seats were placed on the stage. Students from Carleton College’s (later Carleton University) sat or stood behind the stage, so that they could at least hear the music even if they couldn’t see the artists. The Ottawa Journal reporter described the twenty-year old Peterson as “one of the foremost exponents of jazz.” The night’s programme featured both classical pieces such as Chopin’s Polonaise as well as jazz pieces, including Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues and Peterson’s own composition “The Boogie Blues.” The enthusiastic crowd gave the trio three encores. At one of the encores, Peterson played the Sheik of Araby that he had recently recorded. The journalist concluded by saying that Peterson’s boogie-woogie was “probably the best heard in Ottawa for some time.” The trio returned to the Glebe Collegiate the following May. More than 1,200 people crammed into the school auditorium to hear them again perform a selection of classical and jazz numbers, including Peterson’s own compositions.

Between these two Ottawa performances, Peterson made his debut at the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto in early March 1946. Most of the audience that night had only heard Peterson through his records. As in Ottawa and elsewhere, the crowd was dazzled by his technique and imagination; Oscar Peterson had made it to the big time. Appearances on the CBC radio series Canadian Cavalcade cemented his reputation for being the country’s most popular, up-and-coming, young artist. He made his American debut in 1949 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, where he played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Ella Fitzgerald. Peterson had been “discovered” by music promoter Norman Granz who had been in Montreal for a meeting. Hearing Peterson play on the radio, Grantz, who produced the “Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)” series of concerts, tours, and recordings, invited him to perform in New York. From then on, Oscar Peterson was an international star. In 1950, Grantz, who later became Peterson manager, signed him to a contract to perform with JATP. Over the following decade, Peterson participated in fifteen, cross-continent JATP tours.  Peterson’s business relationship and friendship with Granz lasted until the latter’s death in 2001.

Over the decades, Peterson performed in a number of small groups, usually trios. During the 1950s, the other two members of the group were Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar. In 1958, Ellis left the trio and was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen. During the 1970s and 1980s, Peterson played with Joe Pass on guitar and bassist Niels-Henning Pederson. In the late 1990s, Peterson formed a quartet, with Pederson on bass, Martin Drew on drums, and Ulf Wakenius on guitar.

Although successful from an early age, Oscar Peterson faced major challenges, not least of which was the racism that he confronted, especially when he toured the U.S. south during the 1950s and 1960s. Even in Canada, he had to endure discrimination, with hotels unwilling to hire black musicians. On one highly publicized occasion in 1951, he was denied a haircut in Hamilton, Ontario owing to his colour. The city’s mayor later apologized. In his quiet, understated way, Peterson fought back. He wrote his Hymn to Freedom in support of the civil rights movement. He was also instrumental in Canadian television advertising becoming more inclusive of minorities. Peterson’s home life also suffered from his constant touring. He was married four times. He also largely missed out on seeing his seven children grow up. Late in life, after suffering a stroke while performing in New York, his ability to use his left hand was impaired. Peterson fought through depression, and continued to perform to adoring audiences. He passed away from kidney failure on 23 December 2007 at 82 years of age.

Oscar Peterson

Statue of Oscar Peterson by Ruth Abernethy, unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 30 June 2010 in front of 10,000 cheering spectators, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, January 2016.

During his lifetime, Peterson received many honours. Sixteen universities, including Carleton University, awarded him honorary doctorates. From 1991-94, he was Chancellor of the University of York in Toronto. He also received eight Grammies from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including a lifetime achievement award in 1997 for his more than 200 records. In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was promoted to Officer of the Order in 1984. In May 2010, just over two years after his death, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a statue of Oscar Peterson seated at his piano outside of the National Art Centre, a place where he had played many times during his long and productive career.

 

Sources:

Batten, Jack. 2012. Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz, Tundra Books: Toronto

Globe and Mail, 1946. “Swing Pianist Stirs Massey Hall throng,” 8 March.

——————-, 2007. “Oscar Peterson, Musician, ‘Man with four hands was one of the greatest piano players of all time.” 26 December.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1945. “Freiman’s platter chatter,” 7 June.

—————————, 1945. “Hot Jazz.” 5 December.

————————–, 1945. “Peterson played to packed audience in Glebe, 6 December

————————–, 1946. “Oscar Peterson Plays to 1,200.” 10 May.

Marin, Riva, 2003. Oscar: The Life and Music of Oscar Peterson, Groundwood Books: Toronto.

Milner, Mike, 2012. “Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson and the maharaja of the keyboard,” CBC Music, http://music.cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2012/3/Frank-Sinatra-Oscar-Peterson-and-the-maharaja-of-the-keyboard, 6 March.

Peterson, Oscar, 1964. Hymn to Freedom, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCrrZ1NnCuM.

Images:

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Author Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Peterson#/media/File:Oscar_Peterson.jpg.

Oscar Peterson statue at the National Arts Centre, 2016  by James Powell.

 

Some Chicken! Some Neck!

29 December 1941

News that Japan had attacked and destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in early December 1941 simultaneously appalled and elated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While disheartened by the destruction and loss of life, he was overjoyed that the sleeping American giant was finally fully awake to the global threat posed by the Axis Powers. With the English-speaking peoples of the world now united against the common foe, Churchill was convinced that eventual victory was assured.

Churchill immediately made plans to go to the United States to confer with his new war ally, President Franklin Roosevelt. Initially, Roosevelt advised Churchill against the trip, citing the enormous risks of crossing the U-boat infested, North Atlantic, as well as domestic American political reasons; he was unsure of Churchill’s reception. But there was no dissuading the redoubtable British Prime Minister. Accompanied by staff and senior military leaders, he arrived on American soil on 22 December, just two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, having journeyed to North America on the newly-commissioned battleship HMS Duke of York. The perilous journey took ten days.  Churchill spent much of the next four weeks a guest of the Roosevelts’ at the White House.  In so doing, a close, personal bond was established between the two leaders. After spending Christmas Day with the Roosevelt family, Churchill addressed the joint Houses of Congress on Boxing Day. At the Senate rostrum, Churchill reminded his audience, and the American people who were listening to his speech by radio, that he was half American himself, and, but for a quirk of fate, he might have had a seat there instead of the House of Commons in London. He also warned his audience not to understate the severity of the ordeal they faced. He predicted dark days to come in 1942, but was confident in their ultimate success. Churchill’s frankness, and boundless enthusiasm, charmed U.S. lawmakers, who gave him a thunderous ovation.

While the prime reason for his trip to North America was to woo the United States, and to coordinate the next steps in the Allied military campaign, Churchill made a two-day side journey to Canada. With the American trip off to an excellent start, Churchill felt that he was able to accept an invitation from Canada’s Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King to visit Ottawa. The trip was a “thank-you” to the Dominion for the significant contribution the country had made to the war effort in the form of manpower, materials, food, and money.

For obvious security reasons, Churchill’s visit to Canada was kept top secret until only shortly before his arrival in Ottawa.  But when the news broke, a wave of excitement gripped the nation’s capital. Flags and bunting quickly appeared on the city’s buildings and telephone poles. At shortly after 10am on Monday, 29 December, Winston Churchill arrived at Ottawa’s Union Station on President Roosevelt’s luxurious, bullet-proof, personal train, complete with the President’s personal valet, chef, and body guards. Also on board was Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had travelled down to Washington on Christmas Day to confer with American and British officials, and to witness first hand Churchill’s historic address to the U.S. Congress.

Despite the cold and a light snow falling, twenty thousand people filled the streets around Ottawa’s Union Station to catch a glimpse of Churchill. The official welcoming committee consisted of representatives of the Governor General, Cabinet Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, heads of diplomatic corps resident in Ottawa, and Mayor Stanley Lewis. As the train backed into the station, the British Prime Minister stood at the end-car platform, wearing a dark overcoat and a dark blue muffler, with a heavy walking stick in hand, and his characteristic cigar clenched between his teeth. He greeted the crowd’s welcoming cheers with broad smiles, waves of his hat, and his famous “V” for Victory sign. On exiting the train, Churchill was swamped by enthusiastic citizens who had burst through the police cordon as he made his way to the official car. Apparently, he was forced to use his elbows to reach the car, though he took all the jostling in good humour.

Churchill was driven from Union Station to Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, with whom Churchill would be staying on his short visit to Ottawa. Along the processional route, which took his motorcade down Nicholas Street, the Laurier Avenue Bridge, Mackenzie Avenue, Lady Jane Drive, and Sussex Avenue, thousands of Ottawa citizens cheered themselves hoarse. People clambered on top of cars to get a good view of their wartime hero who had sustained an Empire through more than two desperate years of war. Office windows on the route were jammed with spectators. Security was provided by scores of RCMP and Ottawa police both in uniform and in plain clothes.

Newspaper accounts commented that Churchill had been accompanied to Ottawa by Sir Charles Wilson, the prime minister’s personal physician. The Ottawa Citizen pointed out that Wilson’s presence signified nothing; it was “not that Mr. Churchill is in the least need of medical attention.” On the contrary, the paper said that the 66-year old British Prime Minister was “fighting fit,” looked younger than expected, and there was “no evidence of fatigue, nothing to indicate that the weight of his responsibilities is proving too much for him.” In reality, that assessment was far from the truth. Years later, it was revealed the night after his triumphant Congressional speech, just two days before leaving for Ottawa, Churchill experienced a gripping pressure in his chest, with pain radiating down his left arm. Wilson recognized the symptoms of a heart attack, but said nothing, telling Churchill that he had simply overdone things. Fortunately, for Churchill and the entire world, the symptoms eased, and the British Prime Minister continued with his gruelling schedule without further incident.

The following afternoon, Churchill was taken in procession to Parliament Hill to address a joint session of the Senate and House of Commons. As Parliament was officially in recess, members were recalled for Churchill’s speech. Before entering the Centre Block, Churchill inspected a guard of honour consisting of personnel from the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers, RCAF, and cadets from the Canadian Officers’ Training Centre in Brockville. In charge of the guard was Major Alexandre Dugas of the Maisoneuve Regiment, recently returned from Britain. Again, the British leader was given a huge welcome by the many thousands of Ottawa citizens. To their cheers, Churchill got out of his car, and raised his hat in acknowledgement.

Inside, the House of Commons was packed. Almost 2,000 people, including MPs, Senators, privy councillors, provincial premiers, judges, clergy, high-ranking military leaders, and heads of Commonwealth and foreign delegations, sat on the parliamentary benches and on temporary seats set up on the Commons’ floor. The galleries too were packed with humanity, including a virtual army of photographers and movie cameramen there to record the historic proceedings.

Churchill in HofC

Churchill Speaking in the House of Commons,  Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada

At 3pm, Churchill took his seat to the right of the Commons Speaker, the Hon. James A. Glenn; the Senate Speaker, the Hon. Georges Parent, sat on Glenn’s left. Churchill’s arrival was the signal for minutes of near-frantic cheering from the assembled multitude. After the words of welcome, Churchill rose and strode over to the end of the table nearest the Speaker’s chair, where a bank of microphones had been set up. When silence was restored, Churchill addressed the throng, his words transmitted live over CBC radio, and to the crowds outside on Parliament Hill over a loudspeaker system. In his speech, one of his most memorable, Churchill thanked the Canadian people for all they have done in the “common cause.”  He also said the allies were dedicated to “the total and final extirpation of the Hitler tyranny, the Japanese frenzy, and the Mussolini flop.”  Alluding to defeatist comments made by French generals who in 1940 had said that in three weeks England would have her neck rung like a chicken, Churchill famously said “Some Chicken! Some Neck!”  Simple words, but ones that captured the resolve of a people to fight on to victory. The House erupted into cheers.

After his speech, Churchill retired to the Speaker’s chambers. There, Yousef Karsh, the photographer, persuaded the British leader to pose for an official portrait. Churchill gruffly agreed, giving him five minutes. When Karsh took Churchill’s iconic cigar out of his mouth, Churchill glowered. Karsh immediately snapped a picture, capturing the pugnacious pose that became symbolic of British resistance to Nazi aggression. (See Karsh photograph.) Karsh later said “By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me.” The photograph made Karsh internationally famous. Mackenzie King was so delighted with the photograph that he sent three copies to Churchill.

The next day, Churchill returned to the United States for more talks with President Roosevelt and U.S. political and military officials, as well as for a short, but much needed, holiday in Florida. On 16 January 1942, Churchill finally left America on a Boeing 314 Flying Boat called the Berwick, departing from Virginia to Bermuda. The intrepid leader took the controls of the plane and flew it for part of the journey. Arriving in Bermuda, he had been scheduled to rendez-vous with the battleship Duke of York for the remainder of the trip back to the United Kingdom. However, advised that the weather was favourable, and eager to get back home after being away for more than a month, he continued his journey to Britain by plane—an audacious undertaking; transatlantic air travel was still in its infancy. While the flight itself was largely uneventful, disaster was narrowly averted when the airplane accidently flew within five minutes of the coast of occupied France. When a course correction was finally made, the flying boat, now headed north to Plymouth Harbour, was identified by British coastal defences as a German bomber. Six Hurricane fighters were sent to intercept the airplane and shoot it down. Thankfully, they were unable to locate it. As Churchill laconically put it “They failed in their mission.”

Churchill returned to Canada in late 1943 to confer once again with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. By then, the tide of war had finally turned. Instead of focusing on how best to resist the Axis onslaught, the leaders, at La Citadelle in Quebec City, plotted the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

 

Sources:

British Pathé, 1941. “Churchill in Ottawa,” http://www.britishpathe.com/video/churchill-in-ottawa.

CBC Digital Archives, 2015. 1941: Winston Churchill’s ‘Chicken’ Speech, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1941-churchills-chicken-speech.

Cobb, Chris, 2011. Winston Churchill 70 Years Ago: “Some Chicken! Some Neck!” The Churchill Centre, http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support?catid=0&id=1360.

Dr. Tsai’s Blog, 2011. Did Churchill have a heart attack in December 1941?” http://doctorjytsai.blogspot.ca/2011/11/did-churchill-have-heart-attack-in.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1941. “Grim War Ahead, Churchill Warns U.S.,” 26 December.

————————–, 1941. “Prime Minister Churchill To Visit Ottawa And Address Parliament, 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “City Prepares Warm Welcome For Churchill,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Crowd To Hear Speech On Parliament Hill Tomorrow,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Mr. King Returns After Taking Part In War Conference,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Takes Ottawa By Storm As Crowds Shout Tumultuous Welcome,” 29 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Again Widely Cheered On Hill Arrival,” 30 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Promises To Carry The War Right To Homelands of Axis,” 31 December.

Karsh.org, 2015. “Winston Churchill, 1941,” http://karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits/winston_churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, 2015. http://www.ottawachurchillsociety.com/media/.

Wilson, James Mikel, 2015. “Churchill and Roosevelt: The Big Sleepover at the White House, Christmas 1941 – New Year 1942,” Columbus, Ohio: Gatekeeper Press.

Maier, Thomas, 2014. “A Wartime White House Christmas With Churchill,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 December.

World War II Today, 2012. “January 16, 1942: Churchill Returns to Britain By Air,” http://ww2today.com/16th-january-1942-churchill-returns-to-britain-by-air.

Image:

Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada, C-022140.