The Corporation of Bytown

28 July 1847

Municipal elections don’t get the respect they deserve in Canada. Invariably, far fewer people vote in them than they do in their provincial or federal counterparts. And Ottawa’s municipal elections are no exception. In the 2018 election, the percentage of registered voters who actually voted was less than 43 per cent. In comparison, two-thirds of registered Canadian voters exercised their franchise in the 2015 federal election. Reasons for municipal voters’ apathy include a lack of awareness about what local candidates stand for, and a feeling that municipal governments don’t matter very much. Two hundred years ago, the sentiment was very different. The quest for independent, municipal governments responsible to local ratepayers was a potent political issue that divided communities.

When British sympathizers fled northward following the American Revolution, they brought with them the democratic processes that they had grown up with in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. These included elected municipal officials and town hall meetings where local issues were publicly thrashed out. For British military leaders in what was to become Canada, such democratic ideas were anathema. After all, hadn’t democracy led to the loss of the southern American colonies? In their view, free elections, even at the local level, threatened peace and order. What was needed was the firm guiding hand of Crown-appointed magistrates and officials.

In 1791, Quebec was divided into two parts under the Constitutional Act—Lower Canada where the French civil code and customs prevailed and Upper Canada where British common law and practices were introduced to accommodate the many English-speaking, United Empire Loyalists. However, General Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor, was loth to permit democratic notions from taking root in Canada. He was appalled when one of the first acts of the Assembly of Upper Canada was to approve town meetings for the purpose of appointing local officials. He stalled and prevaricated, favouring instead a system of municipal government guided by justices of the peace appointed by the Crown. It took decades for real democracy to be introduced. In the interim, power at both the provincial and municipal level was tightly controlled by a small group of powerful merchants, lawyers and Church of England clergymen who became known as the Family Compact.

Cracks in this authoritarian structure began to show in 1832 when Brockville won the right to have an elected Board of Police. Other towns quickly followed suit. In 1834, the town of York became the city of Toronto under its radical first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, and held direct elections for its mayor and its aldermen. In 1835, a new Act of the Provincial Assembly transferred municipal powers from the justices of the peace to elected Boards of Commissioners. However, this democratic reform was repealed amidst the Rebellions of 1838 by resurgent conservative forces who managed to frame the debate as between order and loyalty to the Crown on one side and disorder and republican disloyalty on the other.

This set the stage for Lord Durham’s famous investigation into the causes of the Rebellions and possible solutions. In his Report made public in 1839, Durham recommended the introduction of responsible government in Canada with ministers responsible to an elected assembly rather than appointed by the Crown. He also said that “the establishment of a good system of municipal institutions throughout the Province [Upper Canada] is a matter of vital importance. In 1841, the District Council Act was passed by Parliament. It was a compromise between conservative (Tory) forces that wanted to maintain central control over local affairs in order to ward off republicanism and radical (Reform) forces that wanted total local self-government. Districts would be governed by a warden appointed by the Crown and a body of elected councillors. While some municipal officials were appointed by the councillors, certain positions, including that of treasurer, would continue to be appointed by the Crown. It wasn’t until the “Baldwin Act” of 1849 (named for Robert Baldwin) that municipalities in Upper Canada were granted wide powers of self-administration.

The broad forces that were in play in Upper Canada were also in play in little Bytown which was established in 1826 by Lieutenant-Colonel By, the architect of the Rideau Canal. Initially, it was a military town where the British Ordnance Department was the dominant player in the local administration and a major landowner. In the 1830s, Bytown became part of Nepean Township and subsequently the “capital” of the Dalhousie District with an appointed warden. In addition to Bytown, other communities represented in Dalhousie District included Nepean, Gloucester, North Gower, Osgoode, Huntley, Goulbourn, Marlborough, March, Torbolton, and Fitzroy. It was a cumbersome arrangement owing to the size of the district and poor roads.

On 28 July 1847, Bytown gained new status when the Governor General gave his assent to “An Act to define the limits of the Town of Bytown, to establish a Town Council therein, and for other purposes.” Bytown was divided into three wards, with elections held in mid-September for seven town councillors—two from each of North and South Wards and three from West Ward. North and South Wards encompassed Lower Bytown, the home of mainly working class, Roman Catholic, Irish and French settlers. West Ward contained Upper Bytown, the smaller of the two Bytowns, and the home of the upper-class, Protestant, English elite. Given these demographics, Lower Town was broadly Reform territory, while Upper Town was a Tory bastion.

Bytown logo 1850

Emblem of the Mayor and Town Council of Bytown, 1848, The Packet and Weekly Commercial Gazette.

With eligible voters limited to male ratepayers, there weren’t many voters—only 878 men voted in that first Bytown election. Voting was also public. A secret ballot wasn’t introduced until the Baldwin Act was passed two years later. At the time, a secret ballot was widely perceived as being cowardly and a voting method that promoted political hypocrisy. Elected were Messrs. Bedard and Friel from North Ward, Messrs. Scott and Corcoran in South Ward and Messrs. Lewis, Sparks and Blasdell in West Ward. With the four elected from the North and South Wards all reformers, they held a narrow one-vote majority on Council over the three Tory victors elected in West Ward. At the first session of Council, John Scott was elected Bytown’s first mayor by the seven elected councillors who split down political lines: four Reformers versus three Tories.

Scott portrait finished

Portrait of John Scott, First Mayor of Bytown, 1848 by William Sawyer, City of Ottawa

In January 1848, John Scott was also elected to the Provincial Parliament as the member for Bytown—this was an era when politicians could hold multiple elected posts simultaneously. In the second municipal election held the following April, Scott chose not to run leading to the election of Tory John Bower Lewis as the second Mayor of Bytown. In 1849, fellow Tory, Robert Hervey, was chosen as Mayor.

Hervey’s term in office was marred by two major political events—the Stony Monday riots in September 1849 in which Tories and Reformers came to blows, inflamed by Hervey’s own partisan actions and rhetoric[i], and the disallowance of the very Act of Parliament that had incorporated Bytown two years earlier.

The disallowance of the Act has its roots in a dispute between the Town Council and the Ordnance Department. Under its Act of Incorporation, Bytown had the right to expropriate land. Using this power, the Town Council expropriated a strip of Ordnance property along Wellington Street for the purpose of continuing the street “over the hill between the two towns to meet Rideau Street, in a direct line” at Sappers’ Bridge. At that time, Wellington Street made a bulge around the base of Barrick Hill (later known as Parliament Hill). But with the construction of Sparks Street immediately south of Wellington Street to Sappers’ Bridge following the settlement of another dispute over the ownership of the Government Reserve between Ordnance and Nicholas Sparks in Sparks’ favour, Town Council wanted to straighten Wellington Street. According to the Packet newspaper, the piece of land was “of no value” to the Ordnance Department but was “essential to preserve the uniformity of Wellington Street.”

The Town went ahead and straightened the street over the strenuous objections of the Ordnance Department. Ostensibly, Ordnance claimed that the property was necessary for possible future defensive works. The Packet thought the dispute was caused by the “avarice of one or two self-interested individuals” in Ordnance. In late September 1849, rumours started to circulate that the Home Government in London was about to overturn Bytown’s Act of Incorporation passed by the Canadian Parliament and assented to by the Governor General two years earlier. Fearing this possibility, Councillor Turgeon (a future Mayor of Bytown) proposed repealing the offending By-law that had expropriated the land.

It was to no avail. In late October, the hammer came down. Bytown’s Act of Incorporation was officially disallowed by the British Government in the name of Queen Victoria at the request of the Ordnance Department. Bytown’s politicians were thunderstruck. The news “occasioned no little hub-bub,” said the Packet. “The shock was a dreadful one.” Nobody knew what it meant practically. While “magisterial business” would devolve to the Dalhousie District magistrates, what about other business? Could Bytown pay its bills? What about staffing?  The town was described as being in “a bad state” with everything “topsy-turvy.” The Packet fumed at the intrusion of the Home Government in London into a “parish,” i.e. local, matter, and darkly threatened it would be a new argument for the Annexationists (those who wanted the United States to annex Canada).

Map of Ottawa c. 1840, Taylor, 1986

Map of Ottawa, c. 1840 showing Ordnance land and Wellington Street. Nicholas Sparks, another major landowner, successfully fought the Ordnance Department for the return to him of the Government Reserve Land. This allowed for the development of Sparks street to Sappers’ Bridge by 1849. Taylor, John 1986. “Ottawa, An Illustrated History,” James Lorimer & Company, Toronto.

To make matters worse, the Ordnance Department erected a fence across Wellington Street close to Barrick Hill blocking passage of residents to Sappers’ Bridge. Fortunately, there was an alternate route down Sparks Street. The Packet raised its rhetoric called the street closure “a petty act of tyranny inflicted on the habitants of our Town.” It added, “If anything was every calculated to create in the breasts of the inhabitants of this Town an indignant opposition to the British Crown, it is the blocking of one our principal streets.”

Fortunately, municipal business was quickly regularized with the passage of the Baldwin Act, which allowed towns and cities to incorporate, and the holding of new Bytown Town Council elections in January 1850. With John Scott re-entering municipal politics and his election along with a majority of Reform councillors, Scott was re-elected Mayor of Bytown. Consequently, Scott has the honour of twice being the first Mayor of Bytown. The new Council presented “a humble Petition to the Master General and Board of Ordnance, praying that the Hon. Board may be pleased to grant the use of a space of land opposite Wellington Street to be used for street purposes.” Despite the begging, Ordnance refused to budge.

Residents began to wonder if there was something shady going on. One writer to the Packet in 1851 thought that the Corporation was conspiring in favour of Sparks Street merchants to keep traffic routed down this street rather than negotiating for the re-opening of Wellington Street. Finally, in June 1853, almost four years after the road was closed, Ordnance relented. But its terms were steep: the removal of the fence would be at Bytown’s expense; ownership of the strip of land would remain vested in Her Majesty; the road would be closed on May 1st every year to assert the Queen’s right; Bytown would pay a nominal rent of 5/- per year; no buildings could be erected on this strip of land; and Ordnance reserved the right to resume possession should it feel necessary to do so.

In time, the whole issue became moot when the Ordnance Department dropped its plans to fortify Barrick Hill.  On January 1st, 1855, the City of Ottawa, formerly Bytown, was incorporated. One year later, under the Ordnance Lands Transfer Act, ownership of ordnance land in Bytown, and elsewhere, was transfer to the Province of Canada.

 

Sources:

Canada, Department of the Secretary of State, 1873. Report for the Year Ending 30 June 1873, Appendix A., Department of the Interior, Ordnance Lands Branch, Ottawa.

Durham, Lord, 1839. Report on British North America, Institute of Responsible Government, https://iorg.ca/ressource/lord-durhams-report-on-british-north-america/#.

Elections Canada, 2018. Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2015 General Election, http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/42ge&document=p1&lang=e#e1.

Mika, Nick & Helma, 1982. Bytown: The Early Days of Ottawa, Belleville: Mika Publishing Company.

Owens, Tyler, 2016. “A Mayor’s Life: John Scott, First Mayor of Bytown (1824-1857),” Bytown Pamphlet Series, No. 99, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Packet (The) & Weekly Commercial Gazette, 1847. “Prorogation of Parliament,” 31 July.

—————————————————–, 1847. “The Corporation Election.” 18 September.

—————————————————–, 1849. “Bytown Corporation,” 20 September.

—————————————————–, 1849. “The Town of Bytown,” 20 October.

—————————————————–, 1849. “The Ordnance Department And The People Of Bytown,” 13 November.

—————————————————–, 1849. “No Title,” 22 December.

—————————————————–, 1850. “The Elections,” 2 February.

—————————————————–, 1850. “Vote By Ballot, Etc.” 23 February.

—————————————————–, 1850. “Town Council Proceedings,” 23 February.

—————————————————–, 1851. “Queries Addressed To No One In Particular,” 21 June.

—————————————————–, 1853. “No Title,” 11 June.

Shortt, Adam & Doughty, A.G. Sir, 1914. Canada and its Provinces : a history of the Canadian people and their institutions, Volume 18, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company.

Taylor, John H. 1986. Ottawa: An Illustrated History, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

Whan, Christopher, 2018, “Voter turnout for Ottawa’s municipal elections up from 2014,” Global News, 23 October.

 

 

 

[i] See Story for 17 September.

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Lord Elgin Visits Bytown

27 July 1853

What a difference a few years can make! In 1849, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kincardine, and Governor General of the Province of Canada, had been vilified in the Tory press in Bytown. News of a planned visit by him was greeted with jeers and worse. Shots were fired and rocks thrown in what later became known as the Stony Monday riots between Tories (Conservatives) and Reformers. One man died and many were injured. Serious fighting was only averted by the quick thinking of soldiers stationed on Barrick Hill who interposed themselves on Sappers’ Bridge between the furious armed factions. Needless to say, Elgin’s trip to Bytown was cancelled.

Lord Elgin James Bruce, Earl of Elgin LAC C-000291, 1848

James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kincardine and Governor General of the Province of Canada, 1848, Library and Archives Canada, PA-000291.

The affray was caused by Tory disgruntlement over compensation granted by the Provincial government to citizens of Lower Canada who had incurred losses in the 1837-38 Rebellion. While convicted traitors were denied compensation, the law applied even to those who opposed the government and Royal authority. To Conservatives, this smacked of rewarding disloyalty. Despite Tory pressure and his own personal qualms, Lord Elgin gave Royal Asset to the compensation bill. This action underscored the arrival of responsible government to Canada. On hearing that the bill had passed into law, an enraged Tory mob burnt down the Parliament buildings in Montreal in 1848, thereby launching the quest for a new, safer site for Canada’s capital.

By 1853, tempers had cooled and the vice-regal tour of the Ottawa Valley could finally proceed. This was now an opportunity for the Governor General to take the measure of the small community of Bytown as a possible site for Canada’s new capital city. This time, Bytown citizens and neighbouring communities were going to put their best foot forward in a charm offensive to elicit vice-regal support for the Ottawa Valley. It was a pivotal moment in Bytown’s history.

We are fortunate that Lord Elgin’s visit to Bytown and nearby towns along the Ottawa River was extensively covered in the Ottawa Citizen. As well, we have a remarkable first-hand account written by Mary Anne Friel, the widow of the last Mayor of Bytown and three times mayor of Ottawa. Penned in 1901, when she was quite elderly, Mary Anne Friel’s recollection of the visit corroborates the Citizen’s account of events while adding a delightful personal touches, including a vignette of her dancing with the Governor General at a ball held at the Aylmer home of John Egan, MPP, a prominent area lumberman and politician.

Travelling from Quebec City, the then seat of government, to remote Bytown in 1853 was not easy. Lord Elgin and his entourage left Quebec on Tuesday the 26th of November on the steam John Munn, arriving in Montreal shortly before 6am the following morning. Despite the early hour, the steamer was met at the wharf by hundreds of well-wishers and a full honour guard. From Montreal, the party took the train to Lachine on the St. Lawrence River where it met the steamer Lady Simpson for the journey to Carillon, arriving shortly after noon. At Carillon, Lord Elgin was met by a carriage and four horses sent the previous day from Bytown to convey him over the rough and uncomfortable road to Grenville. From there, Lord Elgin and his company embarked at 3.30pm on the Ottawa Mail Steamer Phoenix for the last stage of his journey to Bytown. The Phoenix, which was met partway by the steamboat Otter filled with well-wishers, finally arrived at Bytown at about 8.30 pm on 27 November 1853—the journey from Quebec having taken more than 24 hours.

At each stop along the way, Lord Elgin was feted, with local dignitaries welcoming him and expressing their support and loyalty. All stressed the importance of the Ottawa River and its tributaries as “repositories of great wealth” that only needed the “fostering hand of Government to make them a source of great individual and provincial prosperity.”

At Bytown, huge crowds started to gather as early as 6pm along the high banks of the Ottawa River and at the wharves to await the arrival of the Governor General and his staff. When the Phoenix came into view, a cannon mounted high above the river, most likely on Barrick Hill or Nepean Point, fired a 21-gun salute. On board the steamship, a band played God Save the Queen which was followed by the skirl of bagpipes. Disembarking from the Phoenix, a tired Lord Elgin was taken by carriage to Rideau Hall, the residence of Thomas McKay, where he was to stay during his short visit to Bytown. (A few years later, the home was rented and then purchased by the Canadian government as the official residence of the Governor General.)

At 10am the next morning, a large procession formed on Sussex Street and greeted Lord Elgin at the Rideau Bridge on the road that led to Rideau Hall. Proceeded by two constables with “wands” (most likely, decorated truncheons indicating their office), the Union Jack and a further two constables with wands, came Lord Elgin’s carriage. Thomas McKay was seated beside him. Following behind the Governor General’s carriage were carriages carrying Mayor Joseph-Balsora Turgeon and members of the Corporation of Bytown, the Warden and County Council, Members of Parliament, the County Judge, the County Sheriff, various members of organizing committees, the clergy and members of professions in their robes of office, including lawyers, doctors, and magistrates. Pulling up the rear were local residents on horseback and members of the public on foot.

The procession wended its way through the streets of Lower Town, crossed Sappers’ Bridge before heading to Barrick Hill where a bower, or arch, was erected at a spot described as commanding “one of the finest views on this continent.” (This was the very spot where the future Houses of Parliament would later be built.) There, Mayor Turgeon addressed Lord Elgin in both English and French. He assured the Governor General of Bytown’s “inalienable attachment to Her Majesty’s person and Government.” In light of what had transpired four years earlier, these words were not just a diplomatic nicety.  Without explicitly lobbying for Bytown to become the new capital of Canada,  the Mayor stressed the geographical position of the community “in the very Centre of Canada, situate on the banks of the majestic Ottawa, one of the largest rivers in British America, at the junction of the Rideau Canal with that river, —having extensive fertile salubrious country above and around us, inexhaustible in timber and minerals, and unequalled in water powers, —therefore we hope we may be excused in anticipating for our intended City a high rank in the future destiny of this great and fast growing country.”

In response, Lord Elgin thanked the Mayor for the hearty welcome accorded to him and said that the purpose of his visit was to become personally acquainted with “the capabilities and requirements of the Valley of the Ottawa.” He concluded by saying that “Bytown and the region of the Ottawa may henceforward reckon me among their most evident admirers.” These words were greeted by “loud and continued cheering,” said the Citizen.

Following more speeches by the Sons and Cadets of Temperance, who lobbied for total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, the Governor General, his entourage and other notables continued their progress, through the principle streets of Upper Town, before arriving at the Mechanics’ Institute and Athenaeum where an Exhibition had been hastily organized in only ten days by a committee headed by Dr. Van Courtlandt. There were four categories of exhibits—fine arts, manufactured goods, mechanical objects, specimens of natural history, and geological finds. The Exhibition Hall had been tastefully decorated with flowering plants and flags, with a birch bark canoe suspended from the ceiling. High up near the roof was a banner with the words “Only the presage of a coming time.”

The purpose of the displays was to show Lord Elgin that in spite of the rough-hewn outward nature of Bytown, the community was both cultured and prosperous with a sterling future. The highlight of the fine arts collection on display was the Flight into Egypt by Murillo lent by the Bishop of Bytown from the Roman Catholic Cathedral. In the manufactured goods section, fine tweeds produced by the textile factory owned by Thomas McKay were on display as well as other fabrics made in Bytown and New Edinburgh mills. There were also displays of hats, furs and leather products. In the mechanical section were carriages and sleds made by Humphreys and McDougall, agricultural implements, and a biscuit-making machine from Mr. A. Scott, and a lathe and portable bellows supplied by J.R. Booth. Thirty-three specimens of wood were on show as well as window blinds furnished by Messrs. Cherrier, Dickenson & Co. of New Edinburgh. Specimens of natural history included fossils, provided by Mr Billings, and other curiosities were displayed on a wide table that ran up the middle of the hall. To underscore the mineral wealth of the Ottawa Valley, six different kinds of iron ore were on show, along with samples of Nepean cement stone.

Naturally, there were speeches, lots of them. Elgin commented about how pleased he was to hear the addresses read “in the Scottish tongue.” He also indicated that he was fully aware of the importance of the lumber industry to the region saying “the Lumberman is followed by the Farmer who finds in the wants of the lumberman a ready market for the produce of his industry, and the Farmer, in his turn is immediately succeeded by the Mechanic and the Artisan.”

After his stop at the Mechanics’ Institute, Lord Elgin held a levee at Doran’s Hotel that ended at 1.45pm. This was followed by visits to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals before returning to Rideau Hall for a sumptuous collation for fifty guests held in a tent erected on the lawn of the residence.

After luncheon, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages to Alymer in Canada East (Quebec) to dine at the residence of John Egan, M.P.P. He party passed again through Bytown, then over the Ottawa River via the Union Suspension Bridge. The streets of the town were decorated with flags and evergreen branches. Several arches ornamented with flags and banners spanned the roads. In front of Messrs. G. Herou & Co., eight trees had been planted, with a large evergreen wreath hung from the front of the building with a twenty-foot banner. In the centre was a large crown.

At the Union Bridge, Lord Elgin witnessed an exciting descent of three cribs of timber decorated with flags through the timber slide around the Chaudière Falls. The signal to launch was given by a musket discharge. In the middle of the Bridge, the Governor General was met by a mounted deputation from Aymer, escorted by a “cavalcade of the Yeomanry of the Country” to accompany him to Egan’s residence. He then witnessed another timber crib slide on the Canada East side of the bridge before passing under an archway of pines into the village of Hull and onto the road to Aylmer.

The small town of Alymer was decorated for the great man’s arrival, with a reception held outside as the Town Hall was too small to accommodate the crowds. After the customary speeches, the vice-regal party repaired to the Egan residence where dinner was served, followed by a ball that started at 10pm and Mary Anne Friel’s dance with the Governor General. This was followed by fireworks.

The next day, Lord Elgin’s party voyaged up the Ottawa River on the steamship Emerald, passing Horaceville, the seat of the Honourable Hamnett Pinhey, where the Governor General was greeted by a 21-gun salute, before docking at Quillon (Quyon) for more speeches. From Quyon, the Emerald steamed to Union Village where the vice-regal party took the Chats Falls Horse Railway to portage around the Falls. At the other end of the portage railway, the group boarded the steamer Oregon at Chats Lake to run first to Arnprior, then to the home of Alexander McDonnell at Sand Point, Bonnechere Point, and finally Portage Du Fort, with speeches given at each stop. At Portage Du Fort, Lord Elgin was greeted by 250 Orangemen in full regalia with four white and green banners. The Oregon then retraced its journey, stopping at Fitzroy Harbour where the vice-regal party disembarked for a walk through the village to the mills amidst cheering crowds and gunfire. The citizens of Fitzroy Harbour weren’t shy about recommending Bytown as the new capital of Canada. In an address presented at that stop, the community said that they were glad that Lord Elgin had visited Bytown, “which from its central position in the Province [of Canada], its salubrious climate and its position in the valley of the Ottawa possesses the first claim to be the permanent seat of government.”

Lord Elgin replied that it gave him great pleasure to see “a large number of people of all creeds and races – English, Irish, Scotch and Canadians [French] – living together in the upmost harmony and exerting themselves for the advancement of Canada, the common country of the all.” Alluding to the disturbances of 1848-49, he added that “His day in Canada, as they were aware, had not been entirely cloudless, —but what care we now for the storm that has passed away… We had our dark and cloudy morning here in Canada—we now enjoy our noon-day sunshine.”

Afterwards, Lord Elgin and his party took the portage railway again and re-embarked on the Emerald for the return journey to Alymer. On the way, some of the ladies and gentlemen, “tripped the light fantastic on the upper deck.”  It was dark by the time the group arrived in Alymer which was brilliantly illuminated. After a short halt, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages back to Bytown, the route lit up by large bonfires set at strategic points.

After spending the night at Rideau Hall, Lord Elgin left Bytown for good at 5.30 the next morning bound for Montreal on the Phoenix—his trip through the Ottawa Valley an unqualified success.

Four years later, Queen Victoria chose Bytown, now renamed Ottawa, as the capital of the Province of Canada.

 

Sources:

Friel, Mary A. By. 1901. A Reminiscence, 4 November, Historical Society of Ottawa, A 2009-0147, Box #12, City of Ottawa Archives.

Leggett, R.F. 1968. The Chats Falls Horse Railway,” Science Museum, London, 7 February, https://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Research%20Notes/Chats%20Falls.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1853. “Lord Elgin’s Visit to Ottawa,” 30 July.

————————, 1853. “Exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute,” 30 July.

 

 

Sappers’ Bridge

23 July 1912

It ended with a crash that sounded like a great gun going off, the noise reverberating off the buildings of downtown Ottawa. After faithfully serving the Capital for more than eighty years, Sappers’ Bridge finally succumbed to the wreckers in the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, 23 July 1912. However, the old girl didn’t go gently into that good night. It took seven hours for the structure to finally collapse in pieces into the Rideau Canal below. After trying dynamite with little success, the demolition crew rigged a derrick and for hours repeatedly dropped a 2 ½ ton block onto the platform of the bridge before the arch spanning the Canal gave way. Mr. O’Toole the man in charge of the demolition, said that the bridge was “one of the best pieces of masonry that he [had] ever taken apart.”

Sappers' Bridge Burrowes

View of the Rideau Canal and Sappers’ Bridge – Painting by Thomas Burrowes, c. 1845, Archives of Ontario, Wikipedia.

The bridge, the first and for many decades the only bridge across the Rideau Canal, dated back to the dawn of Bytown. In the summer of 1827, Thomas Burrowes, a member of Lieutenant Colonel John By’s staff, gave his boss a sketch of a proposed wooden bridge to span the Rideau Canal, which was then under construction, from the end of Rideau Street in Lower Bytown on the Canal’s eastern side to the opposing high ground on the western side. Colonel By accepted the proposal but opted in favour of building the bridge out of stone rather than wood. Work got underway almost immediately, with the foundation of the eastern pier begun by Mr. Charles Barrett, a civilian stone mason, though the vast majority of the workers were Royal Sappers and Miners. On 23 August 1827, Colonel By laid the bridge’s cornerstone with the name Sappers’ Bridge cut into it. The arch over the Canal was completed in only two months. On the keystone on the northern face of the bridge, Private Thomas Smith carved the Arms of the Board of Ordnance who owned the Canal and surrounding land. The original bridge was only eighteen feet wide and had no sidewalks.

Reportedly, one of the first civilians to cross Sappers’ Bridge was little Eliza Litle (later Milligan), the six-year old daughter of John Litle, a blacksmith who had set up a tent and workshop where the Château Laurier Hotel stands today. Apparently, Eliza was playing close to the Canal bank on the western side when she was frightened by some passing First Nations’ women. She ran screaming towards Sappers’ Bridge which was then under construction. A big sapper picked Eliza up and carried her over a temporary wooden walkway and dropped her off at her father’s smithy.

Back in those early days, there were two Bytowns. Most people lived in Lower Bytown. It had a population of about 1,500 souls, mostly French and Irish Catholics. The much smaller Upper Bytown, which was centred around Wellington Street roughly where the Supreme Court is situated today, had a population of no more than 500. This was where the community’s elite lived, mainly English and Scottish Protestants. The two distinct worlds, one rowdy and working class, the other stuffy and upper class, were linked by Sappers’ Bridge. While the bridge joined up Rideau Street on its eastern side, there was only a small footpath on its western side. The path wound its way around the base of Barrack Hill (later called Parliament Hill), which was then heavily wooded, past a cemetery on its south side that extended from roughly today’s Elgin Street to Metcalfe Street, until it reached the Wellington and Bank Streets intersection where Upper Bytown started. It wasn’t until 1849 that Sparks Street, which had previously run only from Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) to Bank Street, was linked directly to Sappers’ Bridge. During the 1840s, that stretch of path to Sappers’ Bridge was a lonely and desolate area. It was also dangerous, especially at night. It was the favourite haunt of the lawless who often attacked unwary travellers. Many a score was settled by somebody being turfed over the side of the bridge into the Canal. People travelled across Sappers’ Bridge in groups: there was safety in numbers.

Bytown, which became Ottawa in 1855, quickly outgrew the original narrow Sappers’ Bridge. In 1860, immediately prior the visit of the Prince of Wales who laid the cornerstone of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, six-foot wide wooden pedestrian sidewalks supported by scaffolding were added to each side of the existing stone bridge. This permitted the entire 18-foot width of the bridge to be used for vehicular traffic.

But only ten years later, the bridge was again having difficulty in coping with traffic across the Rideau Canal. There was discussion on demolishing Sappers’ Bridge and replacing it with something much wider. The Ottawa Citizen opined that such talk verged on the sacrilegious as Sappers’ Bridge was “an old landmark in the history of Bytown.” The newspaper also thought that it was far too expensive to demolish especially as the bridge had “at least another century of wear in it.” It supported an alternative proposal to build a second bridge over the Canal.

In late 1871, work began on the construction of that second bridge across the Canal linking Wellington Street to Rideau Street, immediately to the north of Sappers’ Bridge. It was completed at a cost of $55,000 in 1874. It was called the Dufferin Bridge after Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General at that time. Another $22,000 was spent on widening the old Sappers’ Bridge on which were laid the tracks of the horse-drawn Ottawa Street Passenger Railway.

Despite the upgrade, Ottawa residents were still not happy with the old bridge. Sappers’ Bridge was a quagmire after a rainstorm. On wag stated that “It is estimated that the present condition of the bridge has produced more new adjectives that all the bad whiskey in Lower Town.” One Mr. Whicher of the Marine and Fisheries Department was moved to write a 24-verse parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Bridge about Sappers’ Bridge. In it, he referred to “many thousands of mud-encumbered men, each bearing his splatter of nuisance.” He hoped that a gallant colonel “with a mine of powder, a pick and a sure fusee (sic)” would blow it up. His poem was well received when he recited it at Gowan’s Hall in Ottawa.

Sappers' Bridge 1878 Wiliam Topley -Library and Archives Canada

Sappers’ Bridge (left) and Dufferin Bridge (right), c. 1878, Topley Studio and Library and Archives Canada. The old Post Office is in the centre of the photograph. Notice the horse-drawn passenger railway in operation on Sappers’ Bridge.

But it took another thirty-five years before the government contemplated doing just that.  As part of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s plan to beautify the city and make Ottawa “the Washington of the North,” the Grand Trunk Railway began in 1909 the construction of Château Laurier Hotel on the edge of Major’s Hill Park, and a new train station across the street. Getting wind of government plans to build a piazza in the triangular area above the canal between the Dufferin Bridge and Sappers’ Bridge in front of the new hotel, Mayor Hopewell suggested that Sappers’ Bridge might be widened as part of these plans in order to permit the planting of a boulevard of flowers and rockeries to hid the railway yards from pedestrians walking over the bridge. He also added that public lavatories might be installed beneath the piazza.

Sappers' Bridge Demolition Ottawahh

Demolition of Sappers’ Bridge, 1912. The arch of Sapper’s bridge is gone leaving only the broken abutments and rubble in the Canal. The newly built Château Laurier hotel in in the background on the right. Dufferin Bridge is in the centre of the photograph. Bytown Museum, P799, Ottawahh.

In the event, the federal government decided to demolish Sappers’ Bridge. Both the Dufferin and Sappers’ Bridges were replaced by one large bridge—Plaza bridge. This new bridge was completed in December 1912. The piazza over the Canal was also built. It was bordered by the Château Laurier Hotel, Union Station, the Russell House Hotel and the General Post Office. A straw poll conducted by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of its readership, favoured naming the new piazza “The Plaza.” However, the government, the owner of the site, had other ideas. It decided on calling it Connaught Place, after Lord Connaught, the third son (and seventh child) of Queen Victoria who had taken up his vice-regal duties as Canada’s Governor General in 1911.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the beautification of downtown Ottawa continued. The Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Russell Block of buildings and the Old Post Office to provide space for a national monument to honour Canada’s war dead. The war memorial was officially opened in 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In the process, Connaught Place was transformed into Confederation Square.

Little now remains of the old Sappers’ Bridge. Hidden underneath the Plaza Bridge is a small pile of stones preserved from the old bridge with a plaque installed by the NCC in 2004 in honour of Canadian military engineers. The bridge’s keystone with the chiselled emblem of the Ordnance Board was also saved from destruction. For a time it was housed in the government archives building but its current location is unknown.

 

Sources:

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

The Ottawa Citizen, 1871. “editorial,” 3 May.

————————, 1972. “A Dirty Bridge,” 10 April.

————————, 1874. “Sappers’ Bridge,” 9 October.

————————, 1913. “‘Connaught Place’, Cabinet’s Choice of Name for Area Formed By Union of Sappers’ and Dufferin Bridges,” 24 March.

————————, 1925. “Muddy Sappers’ Bridge In the Seventies,” 18 July.

———————–, 1928. “Girl of Six Was the First Female To Cross Sappers’ Bridge Over Canal,” 23 June.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1910. “Widening of the Bridges,” 3 June.

———————————–, 1912. “Early Days In Bytown Some Reminiscences,” 27 April.

———————————–, 1912. “When Ottawa Was Chosen The Capital of Canada,” 4 May.

———————————–, 1912. “Bridge Is Blown Down,” 23 July.

———————————–, 1914. “Notable Stones In the History Of The Capital,” 16 March.

 

The Colonial Conference

9 July 1894

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the British Empire was reaching its peak. Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, marking fifty years on the throne. That year, the Imperial Federation League, whose aim was to promote closer ties within the Empire, organized the first Colonial Conference in London. It was hosted by Queen Victoria and Britain’s Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.  The United Kingdom, Canada, Newfoundland, the six Australian colonies, New Zealand and the Natal and Cape Colonies in southern Africa sent representatives. Sir Alexander Campbell, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, and Sandford Fleming (later Sir) represented the Dominion of Canada. Fleming was the Scottish-Canadian engineer who helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway and conceived worldwide standard time. He was also an ardent imperialist who lobbied hard for a trans-Pacific telegraph cable linking the British colonies in Australia with Canada. As a trans-Atlantic cable between Newfoundland and Ireland had been laid many years earlier, a trans-Pacific line would fill in a missing piece in a globe-girding communications network that would help unite the Empire. Although the Conference agreed on a number of resolutions, including the approval of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable, agreements reached were non-binding.

Colonial Conference LAC PA-066744 Samuel J. Jarvis

The Participants in the Colonial Conference held in Ottawa, June-July 1894, Library and Archives Canada, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-066744.

Seven years later, in 1894, a second colonial conference was organized, this time by the Canadian government of Conservative Sir John Thompson. According to a contemporary report, Mackenzie Bowell (later Sir), who as Minister of Trade and Commerce had the previous year travelled to Australia to promote Australian-Canadian trade relations, found it difficult to negotiate with six different Australian colonies during his short stay in the Antipodes. (The Australian Federation wasn’t formed until 1901.) Consequently, Canada proposed a conference in Ottawa. Five of the six Australian colonies (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, the only exception being Western Australia) sent representatives.[1] New Zealand and the Cape Colony of South Africa also sent delegates. Britain was represented by the Earl of Jersey, a former governor of New South Wales.  Lord Jersey was given strict instructions that he was only to listen, provide information, and report back to the British government. He did not have the authority to bind the British government to any agreement or even express any views on behalf of the British government. The Canadian delegation consisted of Mackenzie Bowell, Minister of Trade and Commerce, Sir Adolphe Caron, Postmaster-General, George E. Foster, Minister of Finance, and Sandford Fleming.

The Colonial Conference ran over a twelve-day period ending 9 July 1894. Most of the conference was held in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill. The debates were not open to the general public or the press. Commenting on its lack of access, The Globe newspaper tartly remarked that “The conference has taken an excellent course to ensure that it will make the least possible impression on the public mind.” While it was generally known that Imperial trading relations was a major focus of the conference, little news filtered out of the deliberations. Consequently, reporters focused on the many peripheral social events. The night before the opening session, the government held a banquet for 300 guests at the Russell Hotel in honour of the delegates. The Ottawa Evening Journal remarked that the banquet was “the talk of the corridors of Parliament” the next day and that “unrestrained enthusiasm and loud cheers” had greeted the “incidental mention of Cecil Rhodes,” the great South African imperialist. More substantively, the newspaper also reported that the Liberal opposition leader Wilfrid Laurier (later Sir) had advised delegates to follow the trading policy of the mother country [Britain], i.e. free trade. At that time, the Liberal Party was a free-trading party, and supported unrestricted trade with the United States. It would attempt to negotiate a reciprocity treaty with the Americans during the early 1900s.

Colonial Conference G.R. Lancefield LAC PA-028845

The Colonial Conference inside the Senate Chamber, Parliament Hill, 28 June 1894, G.R. Lancefield, Library and Archives Canada, PA-028845.

A few days later, the Government held a garden party on Parliament Hill. Over 1,000 incandescent electric lights illuminated the trees and hedges close to the Cartier statue to the west of the central block. Lights and Chinese lanterns lit up “Lovers’ Walk – a secluded, treed pathway around the bluff of Parliament Hill that was long a popular spot for strolling. (Only traces of the trail now remain.) A large arch was erected with an “immense carpet underfoot.” The Journal waxed eloquently about the event. “Guests felt that some invisible genii had transported them for from the heights of Ottawa to some garden in the Orient.” The newspaper focused considerable attention on the ladies’ dresses. Lady Thompson, the Prime Minister’s wife, wore a black silk lace gown with jet trimmings. A band of black velvet with a diamond star in the centre encircled her throat.

After the conference, which concluded with a ball in the Drill Hall, delegates remained tight-lipped, saying little beyond anodyne comments. Lord Jersey remarked he wasn’t able to go into details, but he was “safe in saying that the results will surely prove beneficial, not only to the mother country, but to the various colonies.” William Foster from South Australia thought it “would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the conference in bringing nearer together the people of the distant parts of the empire.” In the absence of hard news, the Journal asked delegates about their opinions of Canada. Simon Fraser, a delegate from Victoria Colony in Australia who was actually a Canadian born in Picton, Nova Scotia, noted great differences between the Canada of his youth some forty years earlier and the Canada of 1894. Then, “it was still the good old days of stage coaches.” Canada was “a kingdom now; it has a place among the nations of the earth,” with a great future. Jan Hafmeyr from the Cape Colony in South Africa honestly replied that he had been ill for much of his brief stay. Consequently, he did “not feel qualified to express an opinion of the Dominion, its peoples and institutions as requested.”

Details of the conference finally came out in August 1894 with the publishing of the conference proceedings. With Mackenzie Bowell, the Canadian Minister of Trade in Commerce in the chair for most of the time, delegates focused their energy on two main issues — the enhancement of intra-Empire trade, and the laying of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable from Australia to Canada. Procedurally, it was one colony, one vote, with resolutions decided on a majority basis.

The first issue became known as the “imperial preference.” It was a policy keenly supported by Canada’s protectionist-minded and imperialist Conservative Party. In 1879, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative government had introduced its “National Policy,” directed at sheltering Canadian manufacturers from foreign, especially American, competition. The Conservatives had won the 1891 General Election under the imperialist banner “The Old Flag [Union Jack], the Old Policy [Protectionism], the Old Leader [Macdonald].” With the opening of western Canada, the Canadian government was eager to increase its share of the large British market for agricultural products and other commodities. With imperial sentiment on the ascendant in Canada, the Conservative Party now under Sir John Thompson supported differential tariffs that favoured British (and British colonial goods) over foreign goods. British goods would still face a tariff, just a smaller one than that imposed on foreign goods. This was seen as a way of broadening and deepening intra-Empire trade while at the same time keeping American producers at a significant disadvantage in Canadian markets. Greater access to Empire markets also became more imperative after the 1890 introduction of the McKinley Tariff in the United States that substantially raised existing barriers to Canadian goods.

However, Britain had pursued a free-trading policy with the world since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Cheap foreign food fed the growing British urban proletariat. The factories and mills in which they worked depended on the importation of cheap commodities for conversion into textiles and other manufactured goods. Consequently, it sought the lowest world price for imported inputs, and didn’t distinguish between foreign and colonial sources. British trade with non-Empire countries dwarfed its Imperial trade. While some of the Australian colonies supported the Canadian position, they were hampered by constitutional barriers that, while allowing them to favour other Australian colonies, forbade them from discriminating in favour of any country, whether foreign or British. The South African colonies laboured under similar restrictions.  On a 5-3 vote, the delegates passed a resolution, moved by Canada, stating the Conference’s “belief in the advisability of a Customs’ arrangement between Great Britain and her Colonies by which trade within the Empire may be placed on a more favourable footing than that which is carried on with foreign countries.” Recognizing that Great Britain might not be inclined to do this at this point in time, a subsidiary resolution noted the desirability of the Colonies to be given the power to discriminate in favour of each other’s products. Canada, Tasmania, Cape of Good Hope, South Australia and Victoria voted in favour of the resolution. New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand voted against it. Britain did not vote.

The second important issue – the construction of a trans-Pacific telegraph cable from Australia to Canada – was less contentious. A resolution moved by New South Wales passed unanimously. (Again, Britain did not vote.) The South African delegation urged that eventually the cable should be extended to South Africa. Sandford Fleming presented a lengthy paper examining the delays in laying the cable since the first colonial conference in 1887. Delegates thought it appropriate that Canada, Britain and the Australian colonies each assume a one-third share in a government-owned venture, estimated to cost about £1.8 million. Australians denounced the “grasping monopoly” of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company that owned the only existing telegraph line to Australia through Asia, and indicated their willingness to assume the entire cost of building the trans-Pacific line if the underwater cable could be protected for at least a week “after a declaration of war by or against England.” Sandford Fleming though that once the line was built, it would cost 2 shillings per word to send a telegram from Australia to Canada, and would lower the per word cost of sending a telegram from Australia to Britain from 4 shillings and 9 pence to 3 shillings and 3 pence. At today’s prices that would be a reduction from about £28 (C$48) per word to a mere £19 (C$26). (With email, Skype, and other forms of electronic communications virtually costless today, one forgets how expensive telecommunications used to be.)

Despite the strong imperial sentiments expressed by all at the Conference and the self-congratulations that followed the resolutions, reality quickly set in. The Globe newspaper wrote a scathing report on the Conference’s trade resolution once news about its deliberations became known. It wrote that “Next, perhaps, to levying taxes on the colonies for old world wars…, there could surely be no swifter way of wrecking the Empire than to compel the forty millions in the United Kingdom to stint their bellies and immensely reduce their opportunities… [G]reater [Imperial] unity cannot be brought about by differential tariffs whose effect would be the speedy impoverishment of the mother country… No sane man can believe that we can find such a policy as a customs union with far distant continents whose population is even smaller than our own and a war of tariffs with our American kinsmen, with whom Providence has decreed that we must live as next-door neighbour to the end of time.”

Although Canada unilaterally introduced imperial preferences during the late 1890s, Britain retained its traditional free trade policies. It wasn’t until another Ottawa conference, this one held in 1932 in the depth of the Great Depression, did Britain break with its long-standing beliefs and introduced an imperial preference system as recommended by Canada.

The trans-Pacific, “all-Red,” British cable was finally laid in 1902, with the first message sent in December of that year. Operated by the British Cable Board, it was owned by Britain (5/18), Canada (5/18), New South Wales (1/9), Victoria (1/9), Queensland (1/9) and New Zealand (1/9). The cable ran from Vancouver to Brisbane, with intermediate connections at various tiny Pacific islands that Britain controlled, with a branch to New Zealand from Norfolk Island. The line was later extended across the Indian Ocean to South Africa.

 

Sources:

Devlin, Charles, 1892. Liberal Member for Ottawa County, Quebec, Speech, House of Commons Debates, 7th Parliament, 2nd Session, Vol.1, page 501.

Globe (Toronto), 1894. “Cabled From London, The Intercolonial Conference,” 15 June.

——————-, 1894. “At The Capital, Mr Bowell Elected President of the Conference,” 30 June.

——————-, 1894. “Notes and Comments,” 5 July.

——————-, 1894. “Trade Projects,” 4 August.

——————-, 1894. “Schemes of Empire,” 4 August.

Hopkins, J. Castell, 1894. “Imperialism at the Intercolonial Conference, Toronto, https://archive.org/stream/cihm_08049#page/1/mode/2up.

Huurdeman, Anton. 2003. The Worldwide History of Telecommunications, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1894. “Sons of the Empire,” 28 June.

—————————–, 1894. “An Imperial Feast,” 29 June.

——————————, 1894. “The Second Day’s Conference,” 30 June.

——————————, 1894. “The Government and the Delegates,” 4 July.

——————————, 1894. “The ‘At Home’ On The Hill,” 6 July.

——————————, 1894. “Ball,” July 9.

——————————, 1894. “Mr. Bowell and the Conference,” 9 July.

——————————, 1894. “Utterances By Colonial Delegates,” 11 July.

——————————, 1894. “The Intercontinental Visitors,” 11 July.

——————————, 1894. “Fruits of the Conference,” 31 July.

Times (London), 1894. “What Colonial Unification May Mean,” 8 July.

 Footnotes

[1] New South Wales – F.B. Suttor, Minister of Public Institutions; Queensland – A.J. Thynne, Member of the Executive Council, William Forrest; South Australia – Thomas Playford, Agent General in London, Victoria – Sir Henry Wrixon, Nicholas Fitzgerald, Member of Legislative Council (also represented Tasmania) and Simon Fraser, Member of Legislative Council; New Zealand – Alfred Lee-Smith, Cape of Good Hope – Sir Henry De Villiers, Chief Justice; Sir Charles Mills, Agent General in London, and Jan Hendrick Hafmeyer, Member of Legislative Council.

Asphalt Paving Comes to Ottawa

30 July 1895

North American roads in the nineteenth century were bad…very bad. Inter-urban “highways” typically consisted of little more than dirt paths carved through the wilderness. In boggy areas, so-called corduroy roads made of logs placed across the direction of travel were sometimes constructed. (They were called corduroy because their texture was reminiscent of corduroy fabric.) If you were very lucky, your highway might be planked, consisting of four-inch thick wooden planks attached to longitudinal stringers.  While relatively comfortable on which to drive, planked highways quickly deteriorated. Regardless of road surface, a journey by stagecoach must have been a slow, jolting and painful experience. Coach passengers were also expected to get out and push if their carriage got mired in mud. Needless to say, few travelled by road unless they had to. The true highways of the age were rivers, canals, and later the railway.

Things weren’t a whole lot better in towns. Urban streets, often made of dirt or gravel, were thick with mud when wet, rutted and dusty when dry, and virtually impassable except by sled in winter. In some well-to-do areas, roads were expensively laid with granite blocks known as sett paving. (This type of paving is sometimes called cobblestone paving, though true cobblestone roads were laid with naturally rounded stones set in mortar.) Another more common road surface in North American cities was cedar block paving, consisting of six-inch logs or squared wood set end down on a gravel base. This type of road was cheap but was subject to wear and rot, and lasted for only a few years before needing to be replaced. Cedar block roads were also extremely slippery when wet.

Roads, c. 1877 Sparks st between Elginand Metcalf, City of Ottawa Archives-CA-001504 unknown

Sparks Street between Metcalfe and Elgin Streets, c. 1877, photographer unknown.  Notice the wooden sidewalk set lower than the roadway. City of Ottawa Archives, CA-001504.

Relief came in the early nineteenth century with the introduction of roadways made by crushed stone developed by two Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John McAdam. Telford roads had a base of large rocks with an upper layer of smaller stones. They were also slightly convex to facilitate drainage. McAdam roads eschewed the expensive rock base recommended by Telford, relying instead on a native soil foundation. The roadway was then built up of stones of graduated sizes, the smallest size on top. Typically, no binding agent other than water was applied. Instead the weight of traffic packed down the stone into a durable roadway. McAdam roads became very popular in Europe and North America through the nineteenth century. (When tar was later added as a binding agent, tarmacadam was invented—“tarmac” for short.)

York Street, from Sussex Street to Dalhousie Street, was the first Ottawa roadway to be “macadamized” in June 1851. Forty years later, the Evening Journal described the capital’s streets as consisting of mostly mud or macadam, with a small amount of stone block paving on Bridge Street in LeBreton Flats and cedar block paving on Wellington Street.

Although macadam roadways were effective, they were also costly to maintain. By one estimate, the annual maintenance cost of a macadam road ran to as much as twenty percent of its original cost. This included daily repairs and patches, frequent sprinkling of water as often as three or four times a day to keep down dust, and the regular use of a heavy roller to pack the road down if traffic was insufficient to do so. Not surprisingly, this was not always done, leading to the deterioration of roadways, and complaints from citizens, especially pedestrians, for better roads.

In the late 1800s, the invention of the modern “safety” bicycle (a safe alternative to the preceding high wheeling, penny-farthing bicycle), led to a biking craze. In cities throughout North America and Europe, men and women adopted this new, invigorating and liberating mode of transportation. Not surprisingly, municipal authorities found themselves under heightened pressure to provide smooth road surfaces.

What cities turned to was asphalt. First used in road construction by the ancient Babylonians in around 600 BC, modern asphalt roads date to about the early 1850s in France. Asphalt roads made their way to the United States roughly twenty years later, and to Canada in the mid-1880s. In 1886, a stretch of St James Street (rue Saint Jacques) in Montreal was laid with asphalt paving using asphalt imported from Trinidad. It was a great success. So much so that traffic on parallel streets diverted to use it. The Journal reported that people preferred the “smoothness of asphalt to the vicious wrenchings of the granite or cedar block pavements.”  While far more expensive than other forms of paving, asphalt held the promise of durability with an expected life expectancy of fifteen to twenty years, with much less annual maintenance. Asphalt was also viewed as more hygienic, modern, and aesthetically pleasing. As well, horses and carriages were much quieter on asphalt surfaces, reducing the din of urban life.

In 1889, Mr George Perley and Mr William F. Powell submitted a petition to Ottawa’s city council to have Metcalfe Street from Gloucester Street to Gilmour Street paved in asphalt. Apparently, nine of ten landowners on that stretch of road supported the initiative. However, it never came about as city council baulked at their request that an American contractor be brought in to do the paving without putting the job out to tender.

Asphalt ad 9-2-95 TEJ

Call for Tender of Bids for the Asphalting of Sparks and Bank Streets by the City’s Engineer’s Office, Ottawa, 7 January 1895, The Evening Journal, 9 February 1895.

The accolade of being the first asphalted road in Ottawa goes to Sparks Street. This time, a petition of landowners was successful though a vocal minority complained about the cost. In support of conversion, R.J. Devlin, a large retailer on Sparks Street, published a satirical article in the Journal entitled Aye Or No For The Pavement. It read:

No most decidedly! What do we want with a clean, solid and enduring pavement on Sparks street. Haven’t we got on without it in the past? Haven’t we a pretty good street as it is? With the exception of two months in the spring—And six weeks in the fall—And a week now and then every time it rains, Sparks Street is all that could be desired. That is if you wear long boots, Or are handy on stilts. No, gentlemen, we do not want Sparks street paved. What was good enough for our fathers is good enough for us…No, gentlemen, good, plain, everyday mud is good enough for us. It has stuck to us in the past and we will stick to it in the future.

In the end, just over 80% of the landowners by assessed value were in favour, including the Russell House Company, the largest property owner on the block, and W.J. Topley, the noted photographer. The asphalting petition received the City’s Board of Works support and was subsequently approved by City Council in October 1894.

In early 1895, eight bids were received on the contract to pave Sparks and Bank Streets with asphalt. Henry & Smith of Ottawa won with the lowest bid. However, the contract was later cancelled when the company objected to certain terms that the City required. In May 1895, the contract was re-tendered. This time, the Canada Granite Company of Ottawa won with its bid to pave the two streets with rock asphalt from France at a cost of $30,395 and $24,668, respectively. Although another company had provided a slightly lower bid using Trinidad asphalt, the city’s Chief Engineer Robert Surtees rejected it on the grounds that rock asphalt was superior to Trinidad asphalt. (While the original contract called for either grade of asphalt, the second contract specified rock asphalt.) Canada Granite was required to provide a 15-year guarantee, backed up with a blocked deposit worth 30% of the value of the contract. Until the guarantee expired, the company would receive 5 per cent interest from the city on its deposit.

asphalt 37-7-95 in OJ 31-3-51

This grainy photograph by Samuel Jarvis, reproduced from The Evening Journal, 31 March 1951, is the only known image of the laying of the first asphalt on Sparks Street by Mayor Borthwick on 30 July 1895.

Work on pulling up the old macadam surface of Sparks Street from the corner of Canal Street (now gone but was located roughly where the National Arts Centre is today) to Bank Street began the first week of July 1895 by a team of 60 men and a half a dozen carts. The old stones were re-used to repair the macadam on Somerset Street. The Ottawa Electric Train Company took this opportunity to upgrade its rails on Sparks Street, re-routing its trams onto a temporary track on Wellington Street. Following the laying of a foot-deep foundation, the roadway was ready for paving. On 30 July 1895, Mayor William Borthwick threw onto the road the first shovelful of asphalt at the Sparks and Canal Street corner using a shovel made of polished oak and nickel plate. On one side of the shovel was an engraving of the Parliament Buildings and Ottawa’s City Hall, with a picture of the Granite Company works on the other. There was also a silver inscription that read: “On laying the first asphalt pavement on the streets of Ottawa, junction of Sparks and Canal streets by his Worship William Borthwick, Mayor, July 30, 1895.”

The ceremony was followed by the customary congratulatory speeches with the Mayor saying that Ottawa citizens “would enjoy first class city streets.” Mr C. Strubbe, the Montreal agent for La Compagnie Generale des Asphaltes de France, the supplier of the imported asphalt used in the paving, congratulated City Council and said that the paving shows “the progressive spirit of the people of the capital,” and that it marked an “improvement towards the cleanliness and health of the city.” Afterwards, civic and industry officials repaired to the Russell House Hotel for a light luncheon supplied by the contractor.

It took more than three weeks to complete the Sparks Street paving job, far longer than anticipated leading to grumbles from area merchants who were losing money while the street was under construction. In part, the delays were due to an inexperienced work force. While a number of experienced labourers were brought in from Montreal, many of the workers were inexperienced local men. There was also some labour strife.  Local workers were paid only $1.40 per day compared to $2.00 per day being paid to the Montrealers.  Ottawa workers briefly went on strike for pay equity, but returned to work when they were promised the Montreal wage rate once they were experienced. To help speed up the work, men laboured at night. However, this proved to be counterproductive as the night work was poorly done. One portion of the street had to be redone three times.

It didn’t help that the work was performed under a microscope, with city councillors and regular citizens alike kibitzing all aspects of the paving job, including whether the asphalt being applied was hot enough, whether the scoria stones used to line the tram rails were being installed correctly, and whether there were sufficient drains. The Journal commented that “every free and independent elector and a large number of embryo members of that class of humanity who passed along Sparks street…appointed himself a special committee of one to inspect and test the small patch of asphalt laid,” by poking it with umbrellas, and walking on it to see how it felt and whether they left heel prints in the dark surface.

Sparks street was finally opened for traffic during the third week of August, though the new paving had already been “initiated” by Moses Inkerman who had driven his rag cart over the unfinished roadway just three days after the Mayor had thrown the first shovelful of asphalt. To celebrate the arrival of asphalt paving, the City sponsored bicycle races on Spark Street from Bank Street to the Russell House Hotel during the evening of Monday, 27 August. Thousands of people watched. The festivities didn’t impress everyone, however. The Journal sniffed that “closing such an important public thoroughfare that four young men might disport themselves on bicycles was in some cases much questioned.”

P1060248 (2)

Detail of February 1903 Plan of the Permanent Roadways of Ottawa, City Engineer’s Office, City of Ottawa Archives. Yellow indicates asphalt, blue indicates tar macadam, and grey indicates scoria block, City of Ottawa Archives. Most roads, even Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings, had not yet received a permanent road surface by this date.

Criticism of the newly asphalted roadway continued. There was a rash of accidents with horses slipping on the new road surface, which was slippery when wet. One horse died after falling in front of the Russell House Hotel. The Journal opined that drivers were being careless and needed to slow down, but also suggested that horses be taught “the asphalt step.” There were also complaints about cleanliness. Unlike porous macadam surfaces, asphalt roads are impermeable. Consequently, horse waste, of which there was a lot, had no place to go. The Journal thought this factor alone would do much to hasten the arrival of motor vehicles. It stated “To have the streets occupied only by silent, rubber-tired carriages and carts, with little mud and no manure will be an extremely pleasant improvement in city life.” The first automobiles arrived on Ottawa streets four years later.

Despite the many complaints, once Sparks Street was completed, work immediately began on asphalting Bank Street. This was quickly followed by Rideau Street. The asphalt era had arrived. Cyclists, and subsequently cars, had the smooth road surfaces that we now take for granted.

Sources:

Bradford, Robert, 2015. Keeping Ontario Moving: The History of Roads and Road building in Ontario, Dundurn: Toronto.

Evening Journal (The), 1887, “Our Future Streets,” 19 March.

—————————, 1887. “Street Paving,” 1 August.

—————————, 1889. “Board of Works,” 29 July.

—————————, 1891. “The Paving Of The Streets,” 21 October.

—————————, 1894. “Asphalt In Sight,” 27 September.

—————————, 1894. “The Battle of the Asphalt,” 2 October.

—————————, 1894. “A Foreman For Each Ward,” 29 November.

—————————, 1895. “Is The Asphalting OK?” 26 July.

—————————, 1895. “They All Tested It.” 31 July.

—————————, 1895. “The Mayor Pleased,” 31 July.

—————————, 1895. “Jottings About Town,” 5 August.

—————————, 1895. “Must go Faster.” 5 August.

—————————, 1895. “Points Of Complaint,” 6 August.

—————————, 1895. “Asphalt Pounders Strike,” 6 August.

—————————, 1898. “The Sparks St. Paving,” 9 August.

—————————, 1895. “Passing Of The Horse,” 22 August.

—————————, 1895. “Bike Races On The Asphalt,” 24 August.

—————————, 1895. “The Town Was Out,” 27 August.

—————————, 1895. “The Asphalt Dust,” 27 August.

—————————, 1895. “On Sparks Street,” 31 August.

—————————, 1895. “Died From A Fall,” 7 November.

—————————, 1951. “First Asphalt On Ottawa Streets,” 31 March.

Haig, Robert, 1975, Ottawa: City of the Big Ears, Haig& Haig Publishing Company: Ottawa.

Longfellow, Rickie, 2015. “Back in Time, Building Roads,” Federal Highway Administration.

Mackintosh, Philip G., 2005. “Asphalt Modernism on the Streets of Toronto, 1890-1900,” Material Cultural Review, Volume 62, Fall, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/MCR/article/view/18058/21931.

National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), 2017. “The History of Asphalt,” http://www.asphaltpavement.org/.

Ottawa, City of, 1894. By-laws 1557, “To Provide for a Local Improvement, Asphalt Roadway on Sparks Street”

Rebel Metropolis.org, 2005. “Cedar Blocks and Devil Strips: Cycling the Streets of 1898,” http://rebelmetropolis.org/cedar-blocks-and-devil-strips-cycling-streets-of-1898/.

The Greatest Show on Earth

24 July 1895

The late nineteenth century marked the golden age of the American circus. Travelling the railroads that had just been laid down during the great railway boom, as many as fifty circuses crisscrossed the continent, bringing excitement, diversion, and sometimes education, to towns and cities throughout North America. With popular entertainment in short supply in those days before television, radio, and motion pictures, the arrival of the circus each summer was a much anticipated event. Of all the circuses of that era, the greatest of them was probably the Barnum & Bailey circus, billed as the Greatest Show on Earth. For once, the hyperbole so loved by circus promoters was accurate. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Barnum’s came six times to Ottawa, with each show arguably more fantastic than the previous one.

The Barnum & Bailey circus was brought to the world by two of the greatest showmen and circus impresarios of all times—Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum and James Anthony Bailey. Barnum, who was born in 1810, got his start his start in New York where he acquired Scudder’s American Museum in 1841. Modestly renaming it after himself, the museum, which was a mixture of menagerie, aquarium, museum, lecture hall and freak show, became famous for its display of the FeeJee (Fiji) mermaid. The mermaid, which was much hyped by Barnum as the mummified remains of a mermaid supposedly discovered in the Pacific, captured people’s imagination and drew tens of thousands to Barnum’s American Museum. In actuality, it had been created by stitching together the head and upper body of an ape with the lower body and tail of a fish. Human “curiosities” were also showcased, including “General” Tom Thumb, a 25-inch tall dwarf (who appeared in Ottawa at Her Majesty’s Theatre in October 1861), a “man-monkey”, who was in reality a microcephalic black man, and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Originally from Siam (Thailand), they were the source of the term “Siamese twins.” After his New York museum burnt down, Barnum went into the circus business, establishing P.T. Barnum’s Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome in 1871. He is credited for being the first to use the railway for transporting his circus from city to city. He also began to call his circus “the Greatest Show on Earth.”

James A. Bailey was born James A. McGinniss in 1847. Orphaned as a child, he adopted the last name Bailey to honour the man who got him started in the circus business. In the early 1870s, he was a partner in a travelling circus known as the Cooper & Bailey Circus, and was in competition with Barnum.  Bailey linked up with Barnum in 1881. The merged company retained the advertising slogan of “the Greatest Show on Earth,” though it wasn’t to use the joint Barnum & Bailey name until 1888, sticking until then with the better-known Barnum name.

The newly merged company quickly gained international notoriety for buying Jumbo, an African elephant, from the London zoo for £2,000, then equivalent to almost $10,000.  Jumbo was a sensation wherever it went. The huge elephant, billed as the largest outside of Africa, came to Ottawa in 1883 and 1885 as the prime exhibit of the grandly named “P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth and Howes Great London Circus and Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie.” The 1885 Ottawa performance occurred just days before Jumbo died in an accident in a rail yard in St Thomas, Ontario.  While accounts vary, it appears that Jumbo and another small elephant called Tom Thumb were struck by a freight train. Jumbo was killed instantly, while Tom Thumb sustained a fractured leg. While viewed as an “irreplaceable loss” by the circus, Barnum, the perennial showman, had Jumbo’s skeleton and skin preserved and put on display in the circus. Jumbo’s remains came back to Ottawa when Barnum’s returned to the capital in 1887. The circus’s advertised that JUMBO was “as Large as Life and Quite as Natural,” and was the “Only Elephant Skeleton on Exhibition Anywhere.” He was accompanied by Alice his “Affectionate and Distressed Companion.”

circus-23-11-1895

Barnum and Bailey Circus Advertisement, The Evening Journal, 23 July 1895

Of the six Barnum circuses that came to Ottawa during the late nineteenth century, the greatest was probably the 1895 edition that arrived in town in the early morning of Wednesday, 24 July. With Barnum’s death in 1891, the circus was now run solely by James Bailey who had bought out his partner’s share from Barnum’s widow. The show remained, however, Barnum & Bailey’s Great Show on Earth, giving the famous dead showman top billing. It advertised that its capital was $3.5 million, with daily expenses of $7,000.

So huge was the Barnum & Bailey circus that it took four specially-equipped trains of 68 cars to transport performers and other personnel, animals, including a “monster” herd of twenty-four elephants, sideshows, and tents and other equipment from Montreal to Ottawa on the Canada Atlantic Railway (CAR), pulling in at the Elgin Street station (Catherine Street at Metcalfe Street). But so organized were the roadies responsible for setting up the circus that the tents were raised and made ready for the day’s performances in under ninety minutes at the old race track opposite the Exhibition Grounds at Lansdowne Park on Bank Street. The Ottawa Evening Journal commented that the “easy way” that the workers put up the big tents “demonstrated that they have the thing down to a science.” In preparation for the thousands of spectators that would be heading to the temporary circus grounds, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company “watered” Bank Street (still a dirt road at that time) from the CAR tracks to the circus venue at its own expense to ensure that the street was in good condition. It also put on extra trams on the Bank Street route from downtown.

At 9.30am, the circus paraded through Ottawa as was customary at that time, in front of thousands of excited onlookers, including many drawn into the city from surrounding villages by advertising posters that said “It is worth coming miles to see and once seen never forgotten.” One newspaper story only half-jokingly commented that there was a high demand for children that morning by usually “sedate” citizens who wouldn’t otherwise appear alone at a circus.

The parade’s Order of March gives a sense of the awesome scale of the circus.

Military Band

Gentlemen Fox Hunters and Cavaliers

Lady Performers and Side-Saddle Experts

Band Chariot drawn by ten horses

Menagerie

Open Den of five tigers and trainer

Open Den of four lions and trainer

Open Den of six leopards and trainer

Open Den of six panthers and trainer

Open Den of six hyenas and trainer

Open Den of four bears and trainer

Open Den of six wolves and trainer

Band Chariot drawn by ten horses carrying Euterpe (muse of music)

Mounted Ladies of the Hippodrome

Mounted Gentlemen of the Hippodrome

Three teams of Standing Roman racers

Three four-horse Roman chariots

Twelve performing elephants

Twelve dromedaries with Asiatic riders

Dragon chariot with harnessed camels

Chariot of India drawn by ten horses

Floats

Cinderella’s Fairy Coach

Bluebeard

Old Woman who lived in a Shoe

Santa Claus

Little Red Riding Hood

Sinbad the Sailor

Mother Goose

A Steam Calliope [a very loud musical instrument that uses steam to power large whistles]

The Crowned Heads of the World accompanied by correctly uniformed military retinues

Emperor of China

King Thibaw of Siam

Khedive of Egypt

Mikado of Japan

Sultan of Turkey

Infant Queen of Holland

King Leopold of Belgium

King Oscar of Sweden

Infant Queen of Spain

King Humbert of Italy

Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany

Queen Victoria

American Allegorical Chariot with representatives of the Army, Navy, Washington, Lincoln, Uncle Sam and the Goddess of Liberty.

The parade route took the band wagon, floats, animals and performers from its grounds down Bank Street to Albert Street, turning onto Lyon Street, and then along Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings before crossing Sappers’ Bridge into Lower Town, passing down Cumberland, Clarence, Sussex and Rideau Streets, before retracing their steps along Wellington and Bank Streets back to the circus grounds. The procession through the streets received a rapturous applause from onlookers, though the Journal noted some casting problems, wryly commenting that it’s impossible to make an Irishman into a Chinese dragoon.

forepaughsellsc-1905deptofminestechnicalsurveyslacpa034081

Parade along Wellington Street of the Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus, c. 1905 with the East Block of Parliament Hill in the background. This circus company, originally a competitor of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, was purchased by James Bailey in the late 19th century and was later acquired by Ringling Brothers following Bailey’s death. Forepaugh & Sells made three visits to Ottawa during the early 20th century. It folded in 1911. Dept. of Mins & Technical Surveys/Library and Archives Canada, PA-034081.

Later that day, the circus put on two performances. Tickets were 50 cents, 25 cents for children under nine years of age. Reserved seats could be purchased at Rosenthal & Company’s Jewellery Store at 89 Sparks Street. There were 110 acts performed in three rings and two stages used simultaneously. Barnum’s advertised that their circus was the only one to have a lady ringmaster and a lady clown. The Journal reported that the performance was a “kaleidoscopic display of leapers, tumblers, gymnasts, equestrian, hurdle riders, aerialist, trapezists and clowns.”

If there was any complaint it was that there was too much to see. Among the aerialist performers were The Three Dunbars and The 3 Flying Dillons. The Meer sisters, Marie and Ouika, billed as Europe’s greatest lady equestrians, also performed. They were reputedly hired at an enormous salary of $100 per day. Swimming exhibits were held in a large tank in the middle of the main tent. Louis Golden dove into a five foot deep tank of water from the top of the tent, fifty-one feet in the air. The wild beasts performed in a special steel-barred arena. Other acts included Johanna, the only giantess gorilla in captivity, chariot races, and champion log rolling.

The featured sideshow was a great Ethnological Congress displaying representatives of “strange and savage tribes arranged in their barbaric clothes.” The people gave exhibitions of war dances, and religious ceremonies using “their own peculiar musical instruments.” Among the peoples exhibited were “Hindoos, Pagans, Cannibals, Idolaters, Vishnus, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Fire and Sun Worshippers.” The Journal highly commended the show as “educational and instructive.” Typically degrading and racist, such “human zoos” were very popular in North America and Europe during the late nineteenth century.

While the circus was only in Ottawa for one day. The food bill for the performers and animals was gargantuan. It was reported that Barnum’s ordered twelve tons of hay, four loads of straw for bedding, fifty bushels, large quantities of vegetables, and 1,400 pounds of meat for the lions and other carnivores. Meanwhile, Ottawa butchers Slattery and Terrance supplied 800 pounds of beef, pork, lamb and other meats for circus members. Twelve cooks made the troupe’s dinner, with sixty waiters serving more than 300 people.

The Barnum & Bailey circus, which went on a five-year tour of Europe, did not return to Ottawa until 1906. Following Bailey’s death in 1906, the Ringling Brothers, who operated the Ringling Brothers Circus, bought Barnum’s. The two circuses were merged in 1919. In mid-January 2017, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that owing to declining attendance and rising costs it would close in May, bringing an end to the Greatest Show on Earth after 146 years.

Sources:

Jando, Dominique, 2016. “Short History of the Circus,” Circopedia, http://www.circopedia.org/SHORT_HISTORY_OF_THE_CIRCUS.

Circus Historical Society, 2002. http://www.circushistory.org/.

Conover, Richard E., 1957. The Affairs of James A. Bailey,” http://www.circushistory.org/Pdf/ConoverJAB.pdf.

Global News, 2017. “Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years,” 15 January, http://globalnews.ca/news/3182186/ringling-bros-circus-to-close-after-146-years/.

Springhall, John, 2008. The Genius of Mass Culture, Show Business Live in America, 1840-1940, Palgrave MacMillan: New York

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1887. “Barnum Coming,” 16 July.

———————————–, 1895. “A Costly Pageant,” 23 July.

———————————–, 1895. “The Circus In Town,” 24 July.

———————————–, 1895. “Barnum and Baily Show Arrives,” 24 July.

———————————–, 1895. “Things Strange and New,” 25 July.

 

 

The Funeral of J. Thad Johnson

3 July 1927

The fiftieth anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 1917 came and went with only a token official acknowledgement. The horror of World War I was at its height and Canadians had more important things on their mind. But by the time of the Diamond Jubilee ten years later, Canada was feeling its oats. The country was at peace, the economy was booming, and, with the 1926 Balfour Declaration just a few months earlier, Canada had been recognized as being the equal of and in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom. It was time for a party. Three consecutive days of celebrations, festivities and parades were organized across the country, starting on Dominion Day, Friday, 1 July.

With Ottawa festooned with flags and bunting, Day I featured the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon (later the Marquess of Willingdon), laying the cornerstone of the Confederation Building on Wellington Street, followed by the inauguration of the 53-bell carillon in the newly completed Peace Tower, and official speeches on Parliament Hill. Later that day, a huge parade of floats wended its way through downtown Ottawa. The floats featured exhibits depicting Canadian history, industry, and economic progress. A guest of honour at the festivities was Hortence Cartier, the only surviving daughter of Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, one of Canada’s leading “fathers” of Confederation.

The highlight of Day II of the Jubilee celebrations was a visit by the hero of the hour American Colonel Charles Lindbergh, the “Eagle of the Atlantic.” Just weeks early, Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic travelling from New York City to Paris in his single-engine, monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis, specially built by Ryan Airlines and custom designed by the aeronautical engineer Donald Hall. Although this was not the first transatlantic flight, it was almost double the length of that initial 1919 flight from Newfoundland to Ireland by British aviation pioneers John Alcott and Arthur Brown. By successfully making the first New York to Paris flight, Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize. It took the 25-year old Lindbergh 33 ½ hours to make the solo flight. To lighten the airplane to allow it to carry more fuel, Lindbergh had stripped it of “unessential” equipment such as a sextant, radio, and a parachute. Lindbergh arrived in Paris to a hero’s welcome. Returning home by a U.S. naval ship, Lindbergh received a rapturous reception from American fans, and was feted to a tickertape parade through New York City. He followed this by a three-month, celebratory tour of 92 American cities.

Lindbergh landing 1927

Charles Lindbergh arriving in Ottawa flying The Spirit of St. Louis, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027647.

Lindbergh was also invited to Canada to help celebrate the Dominion’s Diamond Jubilee. Accompanying the intrepid aviator on his journey north were twelve airmen of the 1st Pursuit Group of the United States Army Air Service. Based at Selfridge airfield, north of Detroit, Michigan, the Group flew Curtis P-1 Hawk biplanes. Leaving early in the morning of 2 July, the airmen flew directly from their aerodrome, travelling across Lake St. Clair and southern Ontario before heading to Ottawa. They arrived over a temporary airfield located about a quarter mile from the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club on the Bowesville Road, roughly the location of the Ottawa Airport today, at 1pm, one hour late from their scheduled arrival time. Nobody had informed the flyers that Ottawa was on daylight savings time. (Prior to World War II, the decision to adopt daylight savings time was left up to cities not the province.) A huge crowd, kept back from the landing strip by police and 500 militia members, had assembled to greet the flyers.

After making a tour over Ottawa, Lindbergh safely landed his famous silver-grey airplane, and taxied to the side to make way for the accompanying squadron that was wowing the crowd by swooping low over the fields in its famous “V” formation. The twelve airplanes were divided into four sets of three. Only 25 to 50 feet separated one airplane from

Curtis P1 Hawk

The U. S. Air Force Curtis P-1 Hawk, Wikipedia.

another. To land, the biplanes went into a “Laffberg circle,” the formation typically used for landing on a small airfield, with each machine touching ground in turn. The first seven airplanes landed without incident. With five still in the air, the leader of the final fourth set, Lieutenant John Thad Johnson, aged 34, unexpectedly side-skipped to the left, the typical indication that for some reason he wished to land out of sequence. As customary in such situations, the next pilot in line, Lieutenant H. A. Woodring, moved ahead into the position vacated by Johnson. Suddenly, Woodring’s aircraft was struck as Johnson’s airplane reared up, its tail hitting Woodring’s propeller. With its “elevator” sheared off, Johnson’s airplane spun out of control from a height of only three hundred feet. Johnson initially tried to ride his aircraft down, but at an altitude of only 100 feet, he jumped. Although his parachute functioned properly, there was insufficient time for it to fully deploy. Johnson struck the ground with horrific force, leaving an eighteen-inch depression in the ground. Although doctors and an ambulance had been stationed at the field in the event of an accident, there was nothing that could be done. Death was instantaneous. Johnson’s crippled biplane crashed nose-down 100 yards away. The aviator’s broken wristwatch indicated precisely the time of death: 12.21, or 1.21 Ottawa time.

Johnson Thad

Lieut. J. Thad Johnson, 1893-1927, Born: Johnson City, Texas, Died: Ottawa, Canada. Collection of Troy Benear, Grandnephew of J. Thad Johnson.

The tragedy occurred in front of thousands of stunned onlookers, as well as Col. Lindbergh and the other members of the pursuit squadron. Immediately, soldiers surrounded Lieutenant Johnson’s crushed body and his downed airplane, holding back the crowds and stopping souvenir hunters. Lindbergh, ashen-faced, was driven to the site of Lieut. Johnson’s body where he paid his respects before being driven away in an open limousine for the official greeting ceremonies on Parliament Hill.

On the Hill, the packed crowds had been waiting for hours in the hot July sun for a glimpse of the famous aviator. Finally, delayed more than two hours, the shaken Lindbergh arrived on Parliament Hill in the limousine. Few in the cheering multitude were aware of the tragedy that had just occurred. Despite the strain he was under, Lindbergh, dressed in a double-breasted, blue, serge suit was greeted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and William Phillips, the American Minister to Canada (equivalent to ambassador). Phillips called Lindbergh the United States’ “unofficial ambassador,” and noted that the aviator, who was born in Detroit, had Canadian blood in his veins; Lindbergh’s grandfather on his mother’s side had been born in Canada.

Lindbergh speaking 1927

Charles Lindbergh speaking on Parliament Hill, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, C-006257.

The Prime Minister greeted Lindbergh in the name of the government and the people of Canada. He called the aviator “the embodiment of the spirit of the Happy Warrior,” a gentleman unafraid.” The visibly stricken Lindbergh spoke for less than ten minutes, pausing between words. After saying, how much he had appreciated the welcome he had received from Canadians, he added that in flying from Detroit he was struck by the need for air transportation in Canada and the United States.  Airlines would eliminate distance and would bring Americans and Canadians even closer that they already were. Nobody mentioned the death of Thad Johnson.

After his short speech, Lindbergh was whisked away to perform his other official duties: meeting the Governor General, going to Lansdowne Park for a series of sporting events, and then back to Mackenzie King’s home, Laurier House, before attending the government dinner on Parliament Hill in honour of William Phillips, the American representative in Canada. While these events were going on, a coroner’s inquest was hastily held into the death of Thad Johnson. Evidence given by the U.S. airmen suggested that the most likely reason for Johnson’s airplane to go out of control was “propeller wash,” a frequent hazard when planes are flying close to each other. No blame was ascribed to Lieutenant Woodring whose airplane was in collision with Johnson’s. The Crown Attorney conclude that the “most lamentable accident was due to mischance.”

Johnson funeral

Funeral of Lieut. J. Thad Johnson in from of the old Ottawa Post Office, Wellington Street, Ottawa, 3 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-0279950.

The Canadian government quickly organized a state funeral for Lieutenant Johnson to be held the following day, 3 July, Day III of the Jubilee celebration. His body was placed in a bronze casket, and conveyed to the East Block of the Parliament Buildings. There, he laid in state through the morning and early afternoon. Members of the RCAF stood with bowed heads at each corner of the casket which was draped with the American Stars and Stripes. Thousands passed by the flower-bedecked bier. After a curtailed Jubilee Thanksgiving Service held at the Auditorium presided over by the Governor General, Canadian officials and other dignitaries hurried over to Parliament Hill to pay their respects to the fallen airman and to attend his funeral. Reverend (Major) H. I. Horsey of the 38th Royal Ottawa Highlanders read the service. More than 25,000 people watched the proceedings and the imposing military funeral cortege. Camille Lefebvre, assistant carillonneur of the cathedral at Malines, Belgium, played Chopin’s Death March followed by Handel’s Death March from Saul, on the newly-inaugurated carillon in the Peace Tower. The Union Jack above Parliament was lowered out of respect for the fallen aviator.

After the funeral, the flag-draped casket was carefully placed on a horse-drawn gun carriage, and, to muffled drums, was drawn slowly to the train station, escorted by RCMP officers in their scarlet dress uniforms. On either side were three RCAF flying officers acting as honorary pallbearers. Leading the cortege was the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, followed by a firing party and buglers. Official mourners included the Prime Minister, the U.S. Minister to Canada, and Vincent Massey, the Canadian Envoy to the United States who had hurried up to Ottawa from Washington, as well as the Chairman of the Jubilee Committee, Cabinet members, senior militia officers, civil servants, and the Boy Scouts. More than 100 officers and 1,000 other ranks, from almost every military unit in the region, were represented. When the funeral cortege halted in front of the Chateau Laurier Hotel, seven members of the U.S. Pursuit team swooped down low before climbing high again to salute Lieutenant Johnson.

At Union Station, its cheery Jubilee bunting removed in favour of funereal black and purple, the casket was transferred into the care of a U.S. army official, and conveyed to a special funeral train organized by Canadian National Railway for Lieutenant Johnson’s last trip back to Selfridge Field, Michigan. After the train left the station, Colonel Lindbergh, flying The Spirit of St. Louis, threw peonies over the carriage as a final tribute to the fallen airman. Railwaymen collected the blossoms so that they could be delivered to Johnson’s young widow; the couple had been married only a year.

Lieutenant Johnson’s remains were buried the following day in Fenton, Michigan.  Today, a small road called Thad Johnson Private, located near the Ottawa airport not far from where the pilot fell to his death, honours the memory of the American Pursuit pilot.

 

Sources:

Ottawa Journal (The), 1927. “Ottawa Jubilee Celebrations Will Surpass In Its Scope Anything Hitherto Planned,” 1 July.

—————————, 1927. “Col. Lindbergh With ‘Spirt of St. Louis’ Leads Squadron of U.S. Planes.” 2 July.

—————————, 1927. “Plane Flowers on the Casket of Dead Pilot,” 4 July.

————————–, 1927. “Capital Bows Head In Sorrow As Body OF U.S. Flyer Is Borne Slowly To Funeral Train,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greets ‘Lindy’ As Gentleman Without Fear,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Lieut. J.T. Johnson Is Killed As He Leaps From Airplane Disabled In Air Collision,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Flier’s Parachute Opens But Distance Too Short To Break Rapid Fall Towards The Field,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Impressive National Thanksgiving Service Held in the Auditorium,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Assured Safety Visiting Airmen and Spectators,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greatly Enjoyed His Stay While In The Capital City Says Lindbergh On Landing, 5 July.

Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project, 2014. Charles Lindbergh, An American Aviator, The Story of the Land Family, http://www.charleslindbergh.com/.

The Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. 2000. John Thad Johnson, http://earlyaviators.com/ejthadjo.htm.