To Arms! The Fenians Are Coming

7 March 1866

Canadians are taught in school that Canada was the product of the Fathers of Confederation immortalized in the 1883 painting by Robert Harris. (The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 fire that gutted the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.) The fathers include such notables as John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, Étienne-Paschel Taché, Samuel Tilley, and Charles Tupper. One “father” that is seldom mentioned is the Fenians.

Fenians

The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York, published by John Bradburn, Villanova Digital Library.

Waves of Irish immigrants had come to North America during the first half of the nineteenth century following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the potato famine of the 1840s with the ensuing “clearances” or evictions of starving, penniless, farm labourers. 2,250,000 Irish men women and children took the perilous journey across the Atlantic, of whom roughly 500,000 came to Canada. Needless to say, many Irish immigrants harboured few warm feelings towards the British who controlled Ireland. Some continued their fight for an independent Ireland using violence. One such group was the Fenians.

They saw their chance in the mid-1860s. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 with a victory for the northern Union Army. Thousands of war-hardened soldiers of Irish descent were demobilized. Sympathy for the Irish cause and bitterness towards the British was running high in the United States at that time. During the Civil War, Britain and British North America were neutral but had favoured the Confederate cause. War had almost broken out between the Britain and the U.S. Union government in 1861 over the “Trent affair” when a U.S. naval ship stopped the Trent, a British merchantman, and forcibly took captive two Confederate diplomats on their way to London from Cuba. Britain protested this violation of its neutrality. In Canada, militias were hastily organized to help defend their country in the event of an American invasion.  In the end, the Union government backed down and returned the two Confederate emissaries, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts. While the threat of war receded, British-American relations remained cool owing to the success of the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, which had been built in secret in Britain in 1862, and blockade runners based in British possessions in the West Indies and Bermuda who traded arms to the South in exchange for cotton for the textile factories of Britain.

In 1865, Fenians based in the United States tried to free Ireland. They failed miserably.  A ship carrying arms and munitions to Ireland was seized by the British en route. Meanwhile, the Irish people ignored the call to revolt. Following this setback, a group of American Fenians came up with a new, quixotic plan. They would invade British North America. Once this was accomplished, they figured they would have a base of operations to continue the fight for an independent Ireland, or would use their conquest of Canada to somehow force the British to leave Ireland. Led by former senior U.S. army officers (for example, the Fenian Secretary of War was General T.W. Sweeny, the commander of the 16th United States Infantry), the slogan at the 1865 Fenian Convention in Cincinnati was “On to Canada!”

With U.S. public opinion anti-British, the hope was that the U.S. government would turn a blind eye to the assembly of Fenian soldiers and munitions on the frontier with Canada. The Fenian leaders believed that as many as 50,000 war-hardened volunteers would join their army and that the Irish in Canada would rise up and join the invading force. (In actuality, the Fenian cause had few supporters in Canada where Irish settlers were prospering and whose religious rights were protected.) They thought that a quick victory would result in the recognition of an Irish Republic by the United States government, and subsequently by European nations.

Fenian conventions, meetings and fund-raisers in the United States were extensively covered in the press. So, their plans and objectives were hardly secret. British spies also kept an eye on them. Initially, Canadian and British authorities didn’t take the Fenians too seriously believing that the U.S. government would intervene if they went too far. But by early March 1866, rumours were rife that a Fenian invasion was imminent, possibly on St. Patrick’s Day. Armed men and were assembling on several points on the Canadian border as well as out east in Maine on the border with the Colony of New Brunswick.

Fenians Civil service reg

The Civil Service Rifle Corps morphed into the Civil Service Rifle Regiment in October 1866. Every civil servant (all men at the time) between the ages of 18 and 45 were members.

On 7 March 1866, the government of the Province of Canada under John A. Macdonald called for 10,000 men of the volunteer forces to be mobilized in defence of the Province in 24 hours for three weeks duty, and go wherever required. The call-up included Ottawa’s Civil Service Rifle Corps which went on parade the following afternoon.

The Civil Service Rifles had been formed in Quebec City in 1861 following the Trent affair. When the seat of government moved to Ottawa in 1865, the Corps moved as well. Two days after Macdonald’s call to arms, the Rifles were guarding Gilmour’s Armoury on Hugh Street. According to a history of the Rifle Corps, on that first night of guard duty no rations had been provided for the sergeant, the two corporals and the twelve men on duty. So, somebody ordered in a lavish meal consisting of beef sirloin and plum pudding from the posh, members-only Rideau Club. The meal was described “as find a spread as any gourmand could possibly desire.” Unfortunately, the men had a hard time enjoying it. Twice, they were called out in the middle of their meal leaving Rideau Club waiters to keep things warm. Finally, the men sat down to eat fully dressed and armed.

Other area volunteer units were also mobilized. These included the Bell’s Corner Company, the Argenteuil Rangers, 1st Company, the Ottawa Rifles, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies, and the Buckingham Infantry Company. These companies, along with the Civil Service Rifles, were assembled into the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wily at the end of March. Later in 1866, the 43rd Carleton Battalion of Infantry was formed uniting units from Bell’s Corners, Huntley, Metcalfe, North Gower, Munster, Richmond, Manotick, Vernon and Duncanville.

On orders from the Department of the Militia, volunteers across the Province extended their guard duty to bank branches, railway stations, telegraph offices, and post offices. Here in Ottawa, there were little trouble beyond a couple of minor incidents. On one occasion, an old drunkard was taken into custody when he threatened to burn down the armoury. A second, more serious incident occurred at the railway station when Private Maingy was assaulted by Patrick Mahoney. Maingy subdued Mahoney who was conveyed to the guard house. When he subsequently appeared before a magistrate, Colonel Wily of the Ottawa Provisional Battalion intervened and asked that mercy be shown. The judge complied, fining Mahoney $10 plus costs for common assault. The judge told Mahoney him he had been lucky as Maingy could have shot him.

Fenians volunteers

Militia Volunteers from Metcafe, Ontario, 1866, Frank Iveson fonds, Library and Archives Canada, PA-103906.  Frank Iveson is seated centre front.

With the Fenian scare seemingly passed without incident, the Provisional Battalion stood down in early April but not before the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Civil Service Rifle Corps held a grand ball at the British Hotel on Sussex Street. With the hall decorated with flags and the crest of the Rifles with a triple row of swords radiating from it, unformed men and their ladies danced the night away. Both the Premier, John A. Macdonald, and the Minister of the Militia, George-Étienne Cartier, attended.

Scarcely had the Ottawa Provisional Battalion stood down, the Fenian scare took on more serious proportions. In mid-April, Fenians, who had been assembling in Maine for some weeks, tried to attack Campobello Island, part of the New Brunswick. The attack was a dismal failure. The Fenians were easily dispersed by the Royal Navy that had sent ships to the area from Halifax. While some buildings were destroyed, there was no loss of life.

By late May, the focus of attention shifted back to Canada with reports of Fenians assembling in great numbers along the Canadian border, including at Ogdensburg, New York. Reportedly, the citizens of Prescott could hear the bugles of Fenian soldiers on the other side of the St. Lawrence. In Buffalo, New York, an alarmed British consul sent a telegram asking the Great West Railway to stop all traffic between Hamilton and the frontier with rumours of a pending attack on the Welland Canal. The next day, the shocking news was received in Ottawa that the Fenians had crossed the border and had seized the town of Fort Erie.

Immediately, the volunteer militias were called out, including the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under Colonel Wily. At 2am on the morning of 6 June, the Civil Service Rifles along with the Bell’s Corners Infantry Company, the No. 2 Garrison Artillery, the Buckingham Company, and the Hawksbury Company boarded a train of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company ready to go to defend Prescott. Fortunately, the frontier remained quiet and the men were finally dismissed without leaving Ottawa. However, they were called on to patrol the streets of Ottawa and to guard the opening of the first session of the Provincial Parliament in Ottawa by Lord Monck. At this first session, two bills were given speedy passage and Royal Assent in response to the Fenian crisis: one to suspend the habeus corpus Act for one year, and another to provide for trial of state offenders by Courts Martial.

The invading Fenian army of roughly 1,000 experienced and well-armed ex-U.S.-Army soldiers under command of General John O’Neil gained a temporary measure of success at the Battle of Ridgeway near Niagara taking 36 prisoners when Canadian troops withdrew.  Nine Canadian soldiers died on the field along with six Fenians. The Fenians won another victory in a skirmish called the Battle of Fort Erie. However, the victory proved to be fleeting. The Fenian troops fled back to the United States on hearing of the approach of some 5,000 British regulars and Canadian volunteers, and surrendered to the U.S. Navy.

A few days later, a force of about 1,000 Fenians under the command of General Samuel Spear crossed the border into the Eastern Township of Canada East, and occupied the border communities of Pigeon Hill, St Armand, Frelighsburg, and Stanbridge. However, they quickly surrendered on the approach of Canadian and British troops when they ran low on ammunition. Timothy O’Hara, a private in the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism for putting out a fire on a railway train loaded with ammunition. O’Hara was Irish.

In total, the Canadian Militia counted 32 dead and 103 wounded in the 1866 Fenian campaigns in the Province of Canada. Another British soldier died of heat stroke.

This was not the end of the Fenians. In 1868, D’Arcy McGee, the great Irish-Canadian leader and patriot, who had ridiculed the Fenians, was assassinated on Sparks Street in Ottawa. A Fenian, Patrick Whelan, was arrested and later hanged for the crime. In 1870, two small Fenian “armies” crossed the border into the Eastern Townships of Quebec near Missisquoi. At Eccles Hill, one group, again led by General O’Neil, was defeated by local Canadian volunteers. The Fenians lost five men and 18 wounded. There were no casualties on the Canadian side. The second band of Fenians was defeated at Trout River, Quebec and sent packing back across the border. Again, there were no Canadian casualties. In 1871, a small Fenian band of 35-40 men, once again led by General O’Neil, took over a trading post at Pembina on the fuzzy border between Manitoba and North Dakota. Canadian troops in Winnipeg and St. Boniface were mustered but the Fenians were quickly subdued by the U.S. Army.

The Fenians failed in achieving their goal of capturing Canada and liberating Ireland. But they succeeded in swinging public opinion in the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in favour of Confederation. In unity, British North America would find strength.

 

Sources:

Chambers, Captain Ernest J. 1903. A Regimental History of the Forty-Third Regiment, Ottawa: E.J. Ruddy, https://electriccanadian.com/forces/cornwallsrifles00chamuoft.pdf.

Macdonald, John A. 1910. Troublous Times in Canada : A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Troublous_Times_in_Canada:_A_History_of_the_Fenian_Raids_of_1866_and_1870.

Memorials of the late Civil Service Rifle Corps, 1867, https://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055320543d.pdf.

Ottawa Daily Citizen,1866.  “untitled,” 8 March.

————————–, 1866. “Militia General Orders,” 24 September.

————————–, 1866. “Civil Service Rifles,” 5 October.

————————-, 1923. “The Civil Service Company and Civil Service Regiment,” 26 August.

Rees, Jim, 200? Surplus People, The Fitzwilliam Estate Clearances – Coolattin (Co. Wicklow) 1847-1856, http://www.countywicklowheritage.org/page_id__45.aspx.

Standing Orders of the Civil Service Rifle Regiment, October 1866, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=aeu.ark:/13960/t81k00k94;view=1up;seq=8.

Stanton, James B, 1972. “The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870,” Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 2, Manitoba Historical Society, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/17/fenianraids.shtml.

Villanova Digital Library, 2014, The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York: John Bradburn, Publisher, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:120884#?c=&m=&s=&cv=2&xywh=-2086%2C-1%2C6043%2C2868.

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Eugène Ysaÿe, the Tsar of the Violin

6 March 1905

To draw up a list of the top violinists of all time acceptable to everybody would be a nigh impossible task. Selection criteria and their appropriate weights would be open to debate. Recency bias, where we put disproportionate weight on more recent events or observations, could lead us to favour living artists over the dead, especially those whose careers preceded sound recordings. Regardless of such difficulties, on any list purporting to represent the best would appear such virtuosos as Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler and Isaac Stern. Of early masters, Niccolo Paganini, who was active in the early 19th century and was the composer of the fiendishly complex 24 caprices for solo violin, would also be on everybody’s list.  Of those currently playing, Itzhak Pearlman, Viktoria Mullova and Pinchas Zucherman, the Musical Director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1999-2015, stand in the highest regard.

Another master, though one less known outside of music circles today, who would be a candidate for the world’s finest list is the Belgium-born violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (pronounced “Ee-zah-ee).” The late, great Russian violinist, Nathen Milstein, once dubbed him the tsar of the violin. Kreisler reportedly wouldn’t play Ysaÿe compositions in the man’s presence, and said that Ysaÿe was the greatest interpreter of the Elgar Violin Concerto. This Concerto had been expressly written for Kreisler by Edward Elgar and is widely viewed as among the most difficult of a violinist’s repertoire.

ysaye san fran chronicle 21-5-1905

Eugène Ysaÿe, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1905

Ysaÿe was born in 1858 in Liège. During his very early years, he and his older brother were taught the violin by their musician father who scrapped a living by playing in an orchestra in nearby Germany. He made his first public appearance as a violinist at age seven. He later studied music at the Liège Conservatory. His older brother was apparently the one who was supposed to have a musical career. But once he heard his little brother play a violin solo at age nineteen, he abandoned his career and is quoted as saying, “I shall never play again.”

As a young man, Ysaÿe’s talent was recognized by some the leading composers of the time. Ferdinand Hiller, the German-born composer and conductor, introduced Ysaÿe to Jacob Joachim, who at the time was considered one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century. On hearing Ysaÿe play, Joachim delphically said that he had never heard the violin played like that before. While it is unclear whether Joachim liked what he heard, his pronouncement illustrated the originality and freshness for which Ysaÿe was later to become famous.

At age 20, Ysaÿe came under the tutelage of the great Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps. (As a sidebar, Vieuxtemps owned and played a violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 that Ysaÿe used during his early career. In recent years, that same violin, now known as the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesù, was played by Pinchas Zucherman. It was sold in 2013 for more than US$13 million and is currently on lifetime loan to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.) Vieuxtemps enabled Ysaÿe to study music in Brussels for three years and gave him private lessons. In 1880, Ysaÿe became the leader of the Bilse’s orchestra in Berlin. In 1886, he became professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory. He made his first trans-Atlantic tour in 1894.

Ysaye Wikipedia US Library of Congress

Eugène Ysaÿe, later in life, Wikipedia, U.S. Library of Congress.

By the early 20th century, Ysaÿe was in top form and was an international star of the first magnitude. He was described as a polar bear of a man—“huge, massive and royal,” with a broad brow and dark, flowing locks.  “Thoroughly bohemian,” he appreciated the finer pleasures of life, especially good food. He also was keen on the sporting world. However, money seemed to have come second behind his art. In an 1895 interview given in San Francisco, Ysaÿe claimed that he rather earn $80 a month working as a professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory than take home $10,000 per year as a professor in Cincinnati. As fate would have it, he was to become conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1919, a post he held for three years.

He also valued highly his family life, and for many years lived in near seclusion with his first wife Louise Bourdau with whom he had five children—three sons and two daughters—in the small Belgian town of Godinne, south of Namur in Wallonia. (After his first wife died in 1924, Ysaÿe married his student, the American violinist Jeanette Dincin, in 1927.) To an American journalist to whom he gave an interview in his country home in 1904, Ysaÿe said that he found inspiration in the pre-dawn hours of the morning paddling in his small boat on a creek near Godinne.

Ysaÿe owned two famous violins—a Stradivarius and a Guarneri. The Stradivarius, dubbed the “Hercules,” was made in 1734 by Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy. Ysaÿe used this violin when he practised, preferring the Guarneri for concert work as it was less “fatiguing” for him to play. The Stradivarius was stolen from Ysaÿe’s dressing room in 1908 while he was performing on-stage at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was recovered from a Paris stop in 1925. In 1972, the violinist Henryk Szeryng donated the instrument to the City of Jerusalem where it is played by the concert master of the Israel Philharmoic Orchestra.

Ysaye violin Shinichi Yokoyama Nippon Muic Foundation

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri Violin, Nippon Music Foundation, photo by Shinichi Yokoyama.

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri violin was made Bartolomeo Giuseppe, also known as Joseph, Guarneri of Cremona in 1740. The violin bears the original label of its maker—“Joseph Guarnerius, fecit Cremonae, anno 1740, I.H.S.” In 1928, Ysaÿe reportedly added a second label “Ce Del Jesus fut le fidèle compagnone [sic] de ma vie,” which means “this Del Jesus [the name of the violin] was the faithful companion of my life.” Stories about how he acquired the violin vary. One newspaper account says that he had originally purchased the instrument in Paris for 30,000 francs on behalf of man who gave it to his daughter who was a pupil of Ysaÿe. The girl insisted that Ysaÿe play the violin in concerts. When Ysaÿe found it to be the ideal instrument for his temperament, he bought the violin from the pupil’s father for the same 30,000 francs. Another account has him borrowing the violin from the woman for his first North American tour. On his return to Belgium, he traded his own violin made by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and an additional 40,000 francs for the Guarneri. In recent years, the violin was played by Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman who seems to favour instruments used by Ysaÿe. The instrument is owned by the Nippon Music Foundation and is currently played by Sergey Khachatryan.

In February 1905, Ysaÿe came to New York aboard the first super trans-Atlantic liner, the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of the North German Lloyd line for a massive 75 concert tour of North America with Canadian stops in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. By this time, he was the highest priced violinist in the world. His income was said to be enormous. For this North American tour, which was organized by Robert E. Johnston who managed all the great violinists of the time, he was given a $50,000 advance (equivalent to roughly $1.3 million today) before he even left Belgium.

Ysaye 4-3-05 toej

Advertisement for Ysaÿe’s Ottawa performance, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 4 March 1905.

Ysaÿe arrived in Ottawa on Monday, 6 March 1905 for a single performance at the Russell Theatre. Ticket prices ranged from 75 cents to $2.00. On the day of the performance, 300 rush seats were released at 50 cents each. It was a sell-out crowd. 1,400 spectators came to see Ysaÿe perform. The Ottawa Evening Journal claimed it was the largest audience ever to greet an artist. Ysaÿe was accompanied by M. Jules De Befve on the piano. De Befve was the head of the piano department at the Liège Conservatory.

Without a doubt, the performance was the social climax of the winter season. All of Ottawa’s elite was there to listen to Ysaÿe, including the Earl and Countess of Grey. The programme started with Handel’s Sonata in G minor. The Citizen’s reporter wrote “every pianissimo crescendo, fortissimo, was brought out clear as a silver bell and the audience could have listened till morning.”  Other pieces played included the Ballade et polonaise by Vieuxtemps, the Chaconne by Bach, and Saint-Saëns’ violin concerto No. 3.

The evening was a huge success. The appreciative Ottawa audience gave Ysaÿe five encores.  A local musician of considerable personal reputation called Ysaÿe’s performance “the finest example of tone production and artistic impression he had ever heard.” One observer recounted that only the presence of the Governor General and Lady Grey restrained the exuberance of the crowd. Otherwise “the men would have stood up and thrown their hats into the air.” The Evening Journal enthused that Ysaÿe began where technique left off. “The soul of Bach will sing itself away to everlasting bliss so long as giants like Ysaÿe are raised upon earth” wrote the Journal’s reporter. When the master played Abendlied by Robert Schuman, the journalist wrote that his delicate muted tones seemed to wail and sing at his command and as his face became illuminated with the beauty of the thoughts suggested to him by Schuman so the music itself took on the form of beauty and together Ysaÿe and his audience were absorbed, spell-bound, lost, nor was the spell broken when the music ceased.

The journalist feared that this might be one of the last public performances by Ysaÿe outside of Belgium as there were rumours that the master was exchanging his violin for a conductor’s baton. Fortunately, this was not the case, though over time Ysaÿe devoted an increasing amount of time to composing, teaching and conducting. In part this reflected persistent health problems that plagued the virtuoso, especially in later life. According to Canadian violinist Maurice Solway who was a pupil of Ysaÿe in the late 1920s, ill-health went a long way to explaining why Ysaÿe sometimes trembled his bow hand while playing—that and apparently his unconventional bow grip using only three or even only two of his right-hand fingers.

In 1929, afflicted by diabetes and phlebitis, Ysaÿe lost part of a leg. But he continued to work. Two months before he died, his opus magnum, the opera Peter the Miner, was played in Liège. As he was too ill to attend the debut, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians organized a radio broadcast so Ysaÿe could listen to it from his bed.

Following his death in May 1931, Belgium gave Ysaÿe a state funeral. On a pillow in front of his coffin laid his beloved Guarneri violin.

 

Sources:

Corzio.com, 2018. Eugène Ysaÿe (b1858; d1931), Belgium, Violinist, https://web.archive.org/web/20110522002804/http://www.cozio.com/Musician.aspx?id=20.

Cumberland Evening Times, 1931. “Eugene Ysaye, Violinist, Dies In Brussels,” 12 May.

Globe (The), 1931. “Ysaye Is Mourned In Music World,” 13 May.

Globe and Mail (The), 1981. “Grateful Solway’s Memories Pay Homage to Eugene Ysaye,” 23 October.

Detroit Free Press (The), 1904. “A Day With Ysaye.” 6 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1905. “Coming Amusements,” 6 March.

————————————-. 1905. “Ysaye, a King Among Violinists,” 7 March.

Ottawa Citizen, (The), 1905. “Ysaye’s Recital,” 7 March.

Nippon Music Foundation, 2018. Instruments, https://www.nmf.or.jp/instruments/eng.html.

Salt Lake Herald (The), 1905, “This Week In The Theatres,” 2 May, 1905.

San Francisco Call (The), 1905. “With the Players and the Music Folk,” 21 May.

San Francisco Chronicle (The), 1895. “He Talks Of His Art,” 12 May.

Smithsonian, 2018. Violins: Guarneri Family of Violin Makers, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/violins/guarneri.

Tarisio Fine Instruments and Bows, 2018. Antonio Stradivarius, Cremona, 1734, the ‘Hercules,’

Ysaye, Szeryng, Kinor David, Semel, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=41564.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1740, the Ysaÿe, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40064.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1741, the Vieuxtemps, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40433.

Topeka State Journal, 1905. “Ysaye Is Next.” 18 February.

 

 

Eugène Larment: The Last Man Hanged in Ottawa

27 March 1946

Shortly after midnight on 27 March 1946, after playing checkers with his guards, a composed Eugène Larment, age 24, was led from the condemned cell in the Carleton County jail on Nicholas Street to the gallows. Hopes for a last minute reprieve had been dashed when his lawyer’s request for an appeal was refused by the Office of the Secretary of State. After Pastor Gordon Porter of the Salvation Army gave the young man spiritual consolation, Larment was hanged by the neck until he was dead. It was 12.32 am. This was the third and last judicial execution carried out in Ottawa’s historic jail. The first was the famous hanging in 1869 of Patrick Whelan, convicted for the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the father of Confederation struck down by an assassin’s bullet on Sparks Street the previous year. The second was that of William Seabrooke who was executed in early 1933 for slaying Paul-Émile Lavigne, a service-station attendant.

Hanging E Larment 25-10-45 TEJ

Mug Shots of Eugène Larment, The Ottawa Journal, 25 October 1945

To paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Larment’s death marked the end of a life that was poor, nasty, brutish and short. Born into an impoverished family, Larment’s first brushes with the law came when he was but a child. A frequent truant from public school, Larment was sent to an industrial school in Alfred, Ontario at the tender age of twelve. Most likely it was the St Joseph’s Training School for delinquent boys run by the Christian Brothers from 1933 to the mid-1970s. Like the residential schools for indigenous children, such training schools, including St Joseph’s, became notorious for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of their young charges. During the three years he was confined there, Larment apparently received no visitors and no mail from home. He escaped and made his way to Ottawa. Picked up by the authorities, someone reportedly told him that if he confessed to purse snatching, he wouldn’t be returned to the industrial school. Desperate to avoid going back, he did so, and was instead sent to a government reformatory. After he got out on parole, he attended the Kent Street Public School for a short time. With his family described as being “in a bad fix,” he sold junk to scrap dealers to earn a pittance. He also worked as a delivery boy. In 1938, at age 16, he was charged with vagrancy and breaking and entering, and was returned to the reformatory.

Shortly after being released in early 1940, the now eighteen-year old Larment and four friends stole a taxi on McLaren Street in downtown Ottawa and drove to Preston, Ontario where they tied up and robbed two men at gun point at a service station. They netted a meagre $27. Spotted later that night on their return to Ottawa, the young men led police on a wild chase down Bronson Street into LeBreton Flats. Gunshots were exchanged. Turning onto the Chaudière Bridge heading for Hull, the joyriders hit an oncoming car and crashed into a guard rail.  Dazed but uninjured, Larment and his companions were taken into custody. They received six-year terms in the Kingston Penitentiary for armed robbery. Larment was released from jail in late September 1945.

Less than two months after his release Larment, with Albert Henderson and Wilfrid D’Amour staged a daring robbery of the Canadian War Museum on Sussex Street (now Avenue). At about 9 pm on Monday, 22 October 1945, the trio smashed the plate glass of the front door of the museum within a few hundred feet of passersby on the sidewalk, and just a laneway away from the Government of Canada’s Laurentian Terrace girls’ hostel. The bandits made off in a stolen car with three Thompson submachine guns used in World War II, two automatic pistols and four World War I revolvers.

Hanging Bytown Inn postcard undated

Bytown Inn, Ottawa, postcard, undated

The following night, a janitor at an O’Connor Street apartment building called the police to report some men acting suspiciously. A “prowler” car manned by Detective Thomas Stoneman and Constable Russell Berndt was dispatched to investigate. The officers found three men loitering outside of the Bytown Inn. The trio split up, with two, later identified as D’Amour and Henderson, walking in opposite directions along O’Connor Street. Detective Stoneman approached the middle man who had remained between the two canopied entrances of the Inn. “I want to talk to you,” the officer said after he got out of the driver’s side of the car. “What do you want?” replied a man in a khaki trench coat. Without warning, the man pulled a gun from his pocket and fired at Stoneman from a distance of only six feet. Stoneman was struck in the chest and fell to the ground grievously wounded.

His partner, Constable Berndt, who had just returned to the police force after 3 ½ years in the navy, ducked when the gunman subsequently aimed at him. Trading shots, the bandit fled through a maze of laneways and alleys, pursued by Berndt who disconcerting found himself followed by D’Amour. Fortunately, another police cruiser arrived on the scene. Constables Thomas Walsh and John Hardon joined the chase for Stoneman’s assailant, while Flight Lieutenant Appleby, a decorated pilot who had accompanied the police officers, tackled D’Amour. Meanwhile, the shooter, Eugène Larment, who had run out of ammunition, was chased into the arms of beat policeman, Constable René Grenville, at the corner of Metcalfe and Slater Streets. The third man of the trio, Albert Henderson, managed to evade immediate capture but was picked up at his home on Albert Street a few hours later. Back at Larment’s family home on Wellington Street and in an abandoned building next door, police discovered the missing weapons stolen from the War Museum.

Hanging Thomas Stoneman Canadian Police and Peace Officers' Memorial

Detective Thomas Stoneman, Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial

Initially, the men were charged with attempted murder. But the charges were upgraded to murder when Detective Stoneman died a few days later. The fifteen-year veteran policeman with the Ottawa Police Force, aged 37, born in Mortlach Saskatchewan, left a wife Lois (Cleary) and one-year old twins, Richard Thomas and Jill Lois. Stoneman was accorded a civic funeral. Uniformed policemen from the Ottawa and Hull municipal police, the RCMP, the Ontario and Quebec Provincial Police Forces, the RCAF service police and the naval shore patrol marched in the funeral cortege. The slain policeman was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.

Even while in jail, the charges against Larment, D’Amour and Henderson continued to mount. In early January, the threesome tried to break out of the country jail. Before being recaptured, they brutally beat up Percy Hyndman, a prison guard. A blow to the head from a heavy broom opened a nasty gash in Hyndman’s scalp requiring five stiches to close.

The trial of the trio for the murder of Detective Stoneman began in mid-January 1946 in front of Justice F. H. Barlow of the Ontario High Court. Deputy Attorney General Cecil L. Snyder, who had an outstanding record of 37 convictions in 38 murder cases, was the special Crown prosecutor. For the defence was lawyer W. Edward Haughton, K.C. who represented the trio pro bono; there was no legal aid at this time. The trial lasted roughly a week. Throughout the proceedings the courtroom’s hard wooden benches were packed with people eager to witness the unfolding drama.

Snyder, the Crown prosecutor, quickly established that the gun that fired the fatal bullet was a revolver stolen in the War Museum heist. There was also no doubt that Larment was the shooter. Larment admitted to firing the weapon “from the hip” in two statements that he made to the police, the first, hours after being apprehended, and the second, a couple of days later. One of the jurors, Thomas Bradley, worried about police procedures in obtaining these statements, was permitted by Justice Barlow to question the police witness. Bradley enquired whether Larment had been asked if he wanted a lawyer before he made his statements. The detective answered no, though he added that Larment had been free to ask for one. Apparently, the detective had pursued standard Canadian police procedures of the time. Justice Barlow ruled that the statements were admissible in court, saying he was satisfied they had been obtained “in the proper manner.”

With the identity of the shooter determined, Snyder focused on whether Larment, D’Amour and Henderson had “a common intent to commit crime,” the test necessary to convict all three for murder. He argued that the three men had robbed the Museum together and had armed themselves with weapons the night that Stoneman died, even though Larment’s weapon was the only one loaded (with three bullets). He also noted evidence from D’Amour that the trio had tried to steal a car shortly before the shooting. Although the accused men had been drinking heavily before the shooting, a pathologist at the Ottawa Civic Hospital testified that a blood sample taken from Larment shortly after his arrest showed a “fair indication that the person was sober when it was taken.”

The trio’s lawyer stressed the deprived backgrounds of the accused. He argued that “society might very well be indicted for the death of Detective Stoneman in addition to Eugène Larment.” He also noted that the trio’s ability to reason had been impaired by alcohol. By one account, Larment had drunk as many as fifty beers (most likely the small draft glasses of beer popular in taverns at that time) at the Belmont Hotel in Ottawa and at the Avalon Club in Hull through the afternoon and evening prior to the shooting. The three had also reportedly consumed a bottle of liquor at Larment’s home. Haughton also contended that Larment was unaware that Stoneman was a policeman when Stoneman approached him. Fearing for his life, Larment had fired in self-defence. The killing was neither premeditated nor deliberate but rather was caused by a “misunderstanding” and a “genuine misconception of Stoneman’s intention.” He concluded that Larment should be acquitted of murder, or at worst found guilty of manslaughter. Finally, he asked for the acquittal of D’Amour and Henderson on the grounds that a “common intent” had not been proven. There was no evidence that they knew that Larment’s gun was loaded, they were drunk, and during the evening there had been no joint criminal venture.

In his instructions to the jury, Justice Barlow made it very clear that he thought all three defendants were guilty of murder. He rubbished the idea that Larment fired in self-defence and thought the degree of Larment’s drunkenness was “most exaggerated.” He said to the jury “gentlemen, in my opinion you ought to find Larment guilty without reasonable doubt, and in which you ought to find D’Amour and Henderson guilty beyond reasonable doubt as parties to a common design with Larment who resisted arrest by violence.”

After deliberating for 3 hours and 55 minutes, the jury returned with their verdict. Larment was found guilty of murder as charged. Notwithstanding the judge’s opinions, D’Amour and Henderson were found innocent. Some of the jury members broke down. William Bradley, the juror who asked questions during the trial, tearfully said that given the evidence he had no choice but to find Larment guilty even though he opposed the death penalty. He planned to donate his juror fees to the Ottawa Boys’ Club that worked with troubled youth. The Ottawa Journal had little sympathy for jurors’ tears, describing them as “maudlin.” If tears were to be shed “they should be shed for the widow and family of Detective Stoneman, ruthlessly murdered.”

Although Henderson and D’Amour were found innocent of murder, they were not free men. They were subsequently found guilty in Magistrates’ Court on a range of charges related to the assault of the prison guard in their abortive jail break, the theft of weapons from the War Museum, car theft and other crimes. Henderson received a 29-year sentence, while D’Amour received 27 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. These were the longest sentences ever handed down in Magistrates’ Court history.

Did the men receive a fair trial? They probably did by 1940’s standards. They were also fortunate to have been represented by an experienced trial lawyer who somehow managed to get two of them acquitted on the murder charge. But by today’s standards, the statements made by Larment and his companions would likely have been inadmissible in court. Under Section 10b of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to be informed of that right when they are arrested or detained. Also, the expressed opinion of the presiding judge that Larment (as well as D’Amour and Henderson) were guilty of murder would represent probable grounds for an appeal today.

After his execution, Eugène Larment’s body was turned over to his family for burial. It is reported that he was interred in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Beechwood Cemetery, the same cemetery where the remains of Thomas Stoneman were laid to rest.

The last judicial executions in Canada occurred in December 1962 when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were hanged for separate murders in the Don Jail in Toronto. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

Sources:

CBC, 2018. “MP calls for inquiry into abuse at Alfred training school, just east of Ottawa, in the 1970s,” 30 January.

Canada, Government of, 2018. “Constitution Act, 1982, Part I, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Justice Law Website, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.

Deachman, Bruce, 2018. “True crime story: How murder in the streets led to Ottawa’s least execution, The Ottawa Citizen, 15 January.

Evening Citizen (The), 1946. “Two-Hour Plea For Accused Holds Courtroom Spellbound,” 22 January.

————————–, 1946. “Eugene Larment Pays Penalty,” 27 March.

Globe and Mail (The), 1946. “Law Of Jungle Must Be Curbed Grand Jury Told,” 15 January.

————————–, 1946. “Murder Trial Juror To Donate Fee To Ottawa Boys’ Club,” 24 January.

————————–, 1946. “27 and 29-Year Sentences Given To Two Ottawa Men,” 7 February.

————————–, 1946. “Hang Slayer of Detective,” 27 March.

National Judicial Institute, 2018. https://www.nji-inm.ca/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1940. “Youths Arrested After Gun Duel, Charged With Armed Robbery,” 3 April.

————————-, 1940. “Six-Year Terms For Three Arrested Here,” 6 May.

————————-, 1945. “Bandits Steal ‘Tommy’ Guns From Ottawa War Museum,” 23 October.

————————-, 1945. “Hold 3 For Shooting Ottawa Detective,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Thos. Stoneman’s Condition Serious After Gun Battle,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Remanded On Attempted Murder Charge,” 25 October.

————————-, 1945. “Civic Funeral Being Arranged For Detective Thos. Stoneman,” 30 October.

————————, 1945. “Son Was Drunk Before Shooting, Mother Sobs,” 22 November.

————————-, 1945. “Commit Trio on Charge of Killing Ottawa Detective,” 23 November.

————————-, 1946. “Will Get Tough With Thugs –Dunbar,” 5 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Used Gun Stolen From War Museum Witness Tells Murder Trial Of Ottawa Trio,” 17 January.

————————-, 1946. “Trio Sought To Steal Car, D’Amour Says,” 18 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Remembers ‘Firing From Hip,’” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Juror Questions Police Methods Getting Statements,” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Henderson Tells Court Of Actions,” 21 October.

————————-, 1946. “Evidence Completed In Murder Trial,” 21 January.

————————-, 1946. “Crown Blames Trio For Stoneman Death,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Defence Pleads For Lives Of Ottawa Men,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Jury Ponders Verdict In Stoneman Case,” 23 January.

————————-, 1946. “Ottawa Men To Face Several Charges in Court Saturday,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Will Hang On March 27 For Stoneman Murder,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Is It The Jurors Who Should Weep?” 25 January.

————————-, 1946. “D’Amour and Henderson Plead Guilty To 10 Charges,” 1 February.

————————-, 1946. “Long Terms For Henderson and D’Amour,” 6 February.

————————-, 1946. “Eugene Larment Hanged In Ottawa,” 27 March.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1946. “Murder Suspects Stage Riot in Ottawa Jail,” 5 January.

The Ottawa City Hall Fire

31 March 1931

Ottawa’s first city hall was a wooden structure built close to Elgin Street in 1848 by Nicholas Sparks. It had originally been a market. But when the market failed the following year, eclipsed by the more popular Byward Market in Lower Town, Sparks donated the building to Bytown (later known as Ottawa) as the town’s city hall. For close to thirty years it served in this capacity, for a time also doubling as the community’s fire hall. Pressed for space, the city’s municipal offices moved into a bespoke building constructed in 1876 on an adjacent lot located on Elgin Street between Queen and Albert Streets—roughly where the National Arts Centre is today. The four-storey, stone building was designed by the architects Henry H. Horsey of Ottawa and Matthew Sheard of Toronto in the French Empire style, a mode of architecture which was much admired during the late nineteenth century. The City Hall, built for $85,000, was apparently considered by many at the time as “the finest example of municipal architecture.”

City hall old LAC C002185

The first Ottawa City Hall constructed in 1848. The main floor was used as a fire hall.  Library and Archives Canada, C-002185.

But by the 1920s, the City had once again outgrown its now aging city hall. In 1927, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King came to an agreement with the City over the eventual expropriation of the building, along with the Police and Central (No. 8) Fire Station buildings located behind it, the Russell Hotel, the Russell Theatre, and the Post Office, in a grand plan to beautify Ottawa through the creation of Confederation Park, the construction of a War Memorial to honour Canadian service personnel who died during the Great War, and the widening of Elgin Street. Although the Russell Block was expropriated in 1927 by the federal government, and the City itself took over several buildings including Knox Presbyterian Church for the widening of Elgin Street, plans for the park stalled with the coming of the Great Depression in 1929 and the election of a parsimonious Conservative government under R. B. Bennett in 1930.

City Hall Topley StudiosLACMikkan3325359

Ottawa City Hall, 1877-1931, Elgin Street, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 3325359.

The municipal offices were still located in their Elgin Street premises when a fire gutted the building.  During the evening of 31 March 1931, two men passing by the nearby Post Office spotted smoke and flames coming from the top corner of the north-east side of the City Hall. The passers-by rushed to the No. 8 Fire Station. The fireman on duty initially thought the men were pulling an April Fool’s prank on him. But after stepping outside, he quickly call out the fire fighters. The first alarm sounded at 9.25 pm with a second alarm sounding a few minutes later, calling in fire fighters from across the city.

Firemen initially entered the east tower of the Hall that led to the office of Vincent Courtemanche, the City’s paymaster. Courtemanche was working late that night preparing workers’ pay sheets. Hearing the hubbub outside his office, he initially thought a prisoner had escaped from the police lock-up. On finding that the City Hall was ablaze, he rushed upstairs to warn Finance Commissioner Gordon who was also working late. The two men fled the building after retrieving $8,000 in cash and $20,000 in cheques. Gordon also managed to save a cheque-writing machine newly purchased for $1,000.  Reportedly, a one-ton safe was dragged be two policemen and two volunteers from the Treasury Department to the offices of Hugh Carson Ltd, the maker of leather goods at 72 Albert Street, for safe-keeping.

The fire started in the office of T. B. Rankin, the accountant of the City’s engineering department located on the northeastern corner of the top floor. Firemen were able to bring two hoses to Rankin’s office, but the blaze had already spread through the false ceiling and could not be contained. It quickly swept through the neighbouring offices of the Waterworks department and the draughting room of the Works department. The office of the building inspector was also consumed by the flames.

Downstairs, a meeting of the Central Council of Social Agencies was underway in the Board of Control boardroom. Controller J.W. York, who was attending the meeting, immediately called Mayor Allen and other councilmen. After saving the records of the Board of Control, Controllers Gelbert and York, along with a Journal newsman, went upstairs to salvage records from the Waterworks and Works departments. The three men had a narrow escape when a wall collapsed under the pressure of the water from the firemen’s hoses on the other side of the wall of the room they were in. They were forced to drop everything and flee to safety. Following his arrival on scene, Mayor Allen took charge of saving documents. Men frantically slid steel filing cabinets filled with important municipal records down the building’s marble staircase to get them outdoors.

The fire was intense. Seven firemen were injured when the top floor on which they were working collapsed without warning, dropping them more than fifty feet into the basement. Some were pinned for more than an hour under smoldering debris while their colleagues desperately dug to free them. Rev. Father J. L. Bergeron of Ottawa University smashed the glass of a basement window and crawled in to administer last rites to the pinned men. Fortunately, the sacrament was not needed. All the trapped firemen were rescued by their colleagues who “worked like Trojans” to get them out. None of their injuries proved to be life-threatening. But it was a narrow escape. Later in the Water Street hospital, one of the injured admitted that they had received “a real break,” though he phlegmatically added that it was “all part of the game.” Ironically, just two weeks before the fire, the City’s Board of Control had received a report indicating that the Works department vault was supported by only one girder that placed it at risk in the event of a fire. The Board of Control had discussed the building of a more secure vault at the rear of the City Hall at a cost of $70,000 dollars but no decision had been taken.

One hundred and twenty-five firemen from across the city were called out to fight the blaze. To help increase the water pressure, an old steam engine from No. 7 Fire Station was brought into action. A detachment of the RCMP was also called in to help Ottawa police keep more than 20,000 on-lookers from hindering the work of the fire brigade, and to keep them a safe distance from falling debris and flying embers. Just after midnight, tons of masonry from the stone tower at the south-west corner collapsed sending the vault in the Assessment department through the floor through the Health department, the Board of Control room, and the Central Canada Exhibition offices.

Fortunately, the fire didn’t reach the ground floor office of N. H. Lett, the City Clerk. His precious records of elections, plebiscites, and vital statistics survived the fire. Paintings and other valuables were also rescued, including portraits of former mayors and pictures of the King and Queen. Small busts of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier were later found in the Mayor’s Office intact albeit somewhat water damaged. The stock of a little cigar stall that stood at the front entrance was also saved. Estimated losses associated with the fire were placed at more than $200,000. Total insurance coverage amounted to only $91,200 for the building and $10,000 for contents. The cause of the blaze was never ascertained.

Even before the flames were extinguished, work began on finding temporary accommodations for civic workers. The City obtained permission from the federal Department of Public Works to use two floors of the Regal building on O’Connor Street that had just been vacated by the Department of Labour for the Confederation Building on Wellington Street. But efforts to move furniture into the building and set up a switch board were quickly halted when the owner of the building objected. As the City began seeking other alternatives, Mayor Allen and other City Controllers worked out of Controller York’s law office. Some city services set up temporary offices at the Coliseum on Bank Street, others on Bank Street and in LeBreton Flats. Three days after the fire, the City found satisfactory accommodations in the Transportation Building on Rideau Street. (The Transportation Building, built in 1916, stands at the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive and is now incorporated into the Rideau Centre.) Previously the home of the Auditor General, the City rented the top three floors at a cost of $22,500 per year, equivalent to $1.50 per square foot. Most civic departments eventually moved here.

Despite the confusion in the days immediately following the fire, most municipal services were unaffected. City staff were paid on time that week by City Paymaster Courtemanche using temporary facilities at the Police Station. Only Ottawa’s sweethearts were disappointed. City Clerk Lett halted the issuance of marriage licences for twenty-four hours owing to his stock of blank certificates being waterlogged.

The Mayor and Council quickly initiated talks with the Bennett government over the future of the gutted City Hall building. The Mayor proposed that the federal government purchase the land for $2 million consistent with the 1927 plan to establish Confederation Park on the site. But Bennett’s government demurred. The price tag was simply too great. Discussions then focused on whether to restore the damaged building, rebuilt on the same site, or seek an alternate site for a new City Hall. The Ottawa Journal was of the view that restoring the damaged building was a waste of money. It opined that the fire had shown the “folly and danger” of its “ugly, wooden towers which architects of a generation or two ago seemingly insisted upon.” It added “The truth is that a lot of mid-Victorian architecture was as slovenly as the dress of a lot of mid-Victorian women – and about as useless.” What had been viewed as the epitome of fine municipal architecture fifty years earlier was now thoroughly out of fashion and a fire hazard to boot.

It took some months for Council to make its decision to demolish the gutted building, contracting with D. E. Mackenzie to pull it down for $1,800 in October 1931. The City retained ownership over the cornerstone, and all plaques and memorials. The decision to demolish the old building was not unanimous. Mayor Allen and Controller Gelbert favoured erecting a temporary roof and using the basement as the civic employment office. A number of potential locations were discussed for a new home for the City Hall, including sites on Wellington Street next to St. Andrew’s Church between Kent and Lyon Streets, the west side of Elgin Street between Queen and Albert Streets, as well as rebuilding on the existing site. But with a price tag of $600,000, and in light of the considerable expenditures the City had recently incurred on sewer upgrades following the sewer explosions earlier that year, and the cost of building a water purification system, city fathers believed it prudent to wait until better economic conditions prevailed before re-building. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that Ottawa moved into new accommodations constructed on Green Island. The new City Hall building was officially opened by Princess Margaret in early August 1958. The structure, now known as the John G. Diefenbaker building, is currently occupied by Global Affairs Canada.

With the creation of a single-tier city structure, and the merger of surrounding communities into the City of Ottawa in 2001, city government moved to the offices of the defunct Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Elgin Street, facing Confederation Park. Interestingly, this is roughly the site proposed for Ottawa’s City Hall by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in 1931. 

Sources:

Citizen (The), 1931.”5 Firemen In Narrow Escape, Property Loss $15,000,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. “Ask Government If It Wants City Hall Razed,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. “City Hall Built in 1875-76, Renovated During 1910-11,” 1 April.

—————-, 1931. ‘For A New City Hall,” 2 April.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1931. “Mayor and Board See Premier About City Hall,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “How Ottawa City Hall Looks Today After Night Blaze of Six Hours,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Three firemen Say They Had A Lucky Break,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Cause of Blaze – A Mystery To Chief Lemieux,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Thrilling Scenes And Brave Rescues Mark City Hall Fire,” 1 April.

————————————, 1931. “Fourth Floor Collapses Trapping Seven Men Under Debris In Cellar,” 1 April.

———————————–, 1931. “Board in Special Meeting Decides on New Offices,” 1 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Ask Government $2,000,000 For City Hall Site,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “City Business Carried on Despite Difficulties Faced Securing Temporary Offices,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Why Waste $150,000 On An Inadequate Building,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Wretched Wooden Towers,” 2 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Will Consider Construction New City Hall on Present or Some Other Location,” 3 April.

———————————-, 1931. “New Quarters For City Staff Are Arranged,” 4 April.

———————————-, 1931. “Will Demolish The Fire Ruins Of City Hall,” 12 August.”

———————————-, 1931. “Another Site For New City Hall Offered,” 18 September.

———————————-, 1931. “Decide To Tear Down City Hall Ruins At Once,” 3 October.

———————————-, 1931. “Still Unable Start Tearing Down Building,” 6 October.

The Fastest Chicken in the World

16 March 1978

The Americans, the Russians, and now apparently the North Koreans, have their ICBMs, the British their Trident submarines, and the French their force de dissuasion. What does Canada have? We have, or rather had, the chicken cannon. Although fodder for many jokes on the Royal Canadian Air Farce, this piece of Canadian weaponry did more practical good than all the nuclear arsenals of the world. More accurately called the “flight impact simulator,” the chicken cannon, or bird gun, was used at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier Airport from 1968 to 2009 to certify airplane windshields, engines and other aircraft parts against bird strikes.

Chicken Cannon Air Farce

Royal Canadian Air Farce, 2000, “Chicken Cannon,” Air Farce Archives, CBC.

Collisions with birds represent a serious threat to airplanes, particularly during take-offs and landings when planes traverse avian airspace. (Canada geese have, however, been encountered at 30,000 feet.) A bird striking an airplane in flight has what is known as kinetic energy (E) that is directly proportional to its mass (M) and to the square of its velocity (V). (The formula is E=1/2MV².) Consequently, even a small bird, can do significant damage, including shattering an airplane’s windshield and killing the pilot. Flocks of birds can cause multiple strikes, and if they are sucked into an airplane’s turbines, can lead to catastrophic engine failure.

Birds have collided with airplanes since the dawn of aviation. Particularly problematic are gulls, accounting for roughly half of recorded bird incidents. Orville Wright apparently experienced a bird strike in 1905. Aviation pioneer Cal Rodgers was the first person’s whose death was caused by a bird strike when a gull downed his airplane over the Pacific Ocean near the coast of California in 1912. But research into bird strikes on airplanes didn’t really get going until the early 1950s. In part, this reflected the fact that bird strikes were a fairly rare phenomenon during the early years of flying. Airplanes were small and relatively slow. As well, piston-driven airplane engines are less susceptible to damage from bird strikes that turbine engines with axial-flow compressors such as those used by modern jets and turbo-prop airplanes.

Today, global statistics on bird strikes are hard to come by as many countries don’t collect statistics on plane-bird interactions. Also, many strikes are unreported since they either caused no damage or go unnoticed. However, by one estimate, a bird strike occurs once in every 2,000 flights. Consequently, the odds that any particular flight will experience a bird strike are small. But as there are more than 100,000 aircraft flights every day in the world, this means on average there are at least 50 bird strikes per day. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were 13,688 airplane strikes with wildlife in 2014 in the United States, of which almost 97 per cent were represented by birds, with the remainder accounted for by terrestrial animals, bats, and reptiles. (The terrestrial animals and reptiles were hit while the airplanes were taxiing—no flying pigs or pterodactyls. In Australia, there have been kangaroo strikes.) Fortunately, most collisions with wildlife do not lead to human fatalities. FAA statistics show that in the twenty years to end 2013, only twenty-five people died from aircraft collisions with wildlife in the United States, with another 279 injured. In Canada, there have been only two known airplane crashes due to bird strikes that caused human deaths. In 1971, three people died when a Cessna 180 hit a bald eagle in British Columbia. In 1976, a military training jet, a CT-114 Tutor, was also downed by birds near Regina causing the death of its two crewmen.

Besides the loss of life, bird strikes are costly for airlines. Repairing and replacing damaged equipment is estimated to cost as much as US$1.25 billion per year. Added to these direct costs are the costs of prevention, deterrence, and liability paid for by airlines, airline manufacturers, and airports.

Chicken Cannon, Electra Accident 1960

The Eastern Airlines Lockheed Electra aircraft brought down by a flock of starlings, Boston, 4 October 1960, Aviation Safety Network.

Airplane manufacturers began using gas-operated bird cannons to test aircraft windshields during the 1950s. The earliest-known chicken gun was built by de Havilland in England. Canada got into the business during the 1960s following two serious incidents in the United States. In early October 1960, a Lockheed Electra owned by Eastern Airlines struck a flock of starlings shortly after take-off from Boston Logan Airport to Philadelphia. Birds were ingested in three of its four engines causing engine failure and the aircraft to crash. Sixty-two of the seventy-five people on board perished. Two years later, a Vickers Viscount owned by United Airlines en route from Newark, New Jersey to Washington D.C.’s National Airport met a flock of whistling swans flying at 6,000 feet. One or more birds hit the airplane’s left horizontal stabilizer sending the aircraft out of control. All seventeen people on board died.

In light of these accidents, Transport Canada asked the National Research Council (NRC) to establish a committee to look at the problem. A multi-prong approach was taken—prevention, research and testing, certification of aircraft, and bird-proofing. The committee, called the Associate Committee on Bird Hazards to Aircraft, involved Transport Canada, the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the major Canadian airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilots, and NRC aircraft experts.

As part of its research efforts to certify aircraft against bird strikes, the Committee examined a number of methods of “delivering” a bird to its research target before choosing a cannon powered by compressed gas. Alternatives included a steam catapult like those used to launch V1 (Buzz) bombs during World War II, a gunpowder-powered catapult, and a rocket-powered sled on rails. Another (crazy) suggestion was to mount a test cockpit on top of an operational airplane and crash the test cockpit into a live bird that was suspended upside down from a gantry.

Chicken Cannon diagram

Diagram of the Chicken Cannon, NRC.

The chosen design was based on a six-inch bore, British bird gun built in 1961 at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough, England. The NRC’s ten-inch bore gun with a forty-foot long barrel and an overall length of seventy feet was built by Fairly Aviation of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in 1967. (The longer the barrel the faster a projectile can be fired.) The device had a 60 cubic foot reservoir that was rated to a maximum pressure of 200 pounds per square inch (psi). With the air inside the barrel evacuated, a projectile could be hurled at speeds above Mach 1 (the speed of sound, or 717 miles per hour or 1,195 kilometres per hour).

The projectiles were chickens that had previously been euthanized and frozen. Defrosted before use, they were precisely weighed. Standardized weights of one, two, four and eight-pound birds were used in tests. The bird packages were then loaded into “sabots,” or metal containers with liners whose thickness depends on the weight of the bird being used. A total projectile weight, including sabot and liner, would range from four pounds (1.81Kg) for a one-pound bird to 10.43lb (4.73Kg) for an eight-pound bird. Upon firing, the sabot was captured by an “arrestor” to stop it from hitting the target after the chicken. Synthetic chickens, made of gelatine and fibrous material were used for calibrating the gun. Real chickens, and other fowl, were, however, used in actual tests as there is no substitute for the real, feathered thing. The tests were recorded using high-speed, colour film.

Chicken Cannon Test, NRC

Aftermath of a test of the Chicken Cannon on an Aircraft Windshield, NRC.

The bird gun was housed in building U-69 at the Ottawa airport. Initially, the idea was to park an airplane in for certification on a concrete apron in front of the gun. However, with tests typically done on aircraft components rather than on an entire aircraft, a test room was built that allowed year-round operations. The cannon could be moved up and down, while a target could be positioned from left to right. An earthen berm surrounded the test area in case of wayward projectiles. The berm itself was later fenced off to stop cross-country skiers from venturing into the operational zone. The Flight Impact Simulator Facility (FISF) received its certification in September 1968.

The airline industry welcomed the new test facility. Instead of each airline manufacturer building, maintaining, and staffing their own bird guns, which they would only use occasionally, it was more cost effective to go to a dedicated facility. Most major aircraft manufacturers had equipment certified at the NRC’s facility at the Ottawa Airport, including Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier. To receive certification, a tested part had to be sufficiently durable to a bird strike to permit the aircraft to land safely.

Needless to say, firing dead birds at various pieces of aircraft equipment is a messy business. Feather, guts, and flesh can be distributed widely. There is even a word for this gooey mess—“snarge.” One reason for holding the tests inside a test room is to contain the snarge. There is a story that sometime during the 1960s, the U.S. military conducted a chicken gun test outside in front of invited guests. While the test was successful, the guests, along with their cars in the adjacent parking lot, were splattered with chicken debris.

Most commercial aircraft certification tests are performed at under 40 psi, simulating aircraft speeds of up to 350 miles per hour—likely speeds at which aircraft might encounter birds on take-offs and landings. However, tests were also performed on military aircraft that fly at considerable higher speeds. As well, military jets often travel close to the ground where they are more likely than commercial craft to come into contact with birds. On 16 March 1978, the NRC’s 10-inch bore bird cannon fired a 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) chicken projectile at a speed of Mach 1.36, equivalent to 1,040 miles per hour or 1,674 kilometres per hour—as fast as a 7.62mm round of ammunition. This made it the fastest chicken in the world.

Along with the 10-inch bore gun, the FISF had a second, smaller 3.5-inch bore gun used for testing the impact of small birds, hail, 20mm cannon slugs, and other small flying objects. It was even used to test atomic pacemaker battery casings. A five-inch gun was later built in Ottawa to perform tests on the ingestion by engines of birds and ice shed off of the wings and fuselage of airplanes. It was subsequently dismantled. In addition to testing the durability of parts of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as the ingestion of birds by engines, the chicken cannons were also used in high impact tests of the durability of aircraft  “black boxes”—the now orange-coloured flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

Over the career of the Flight Impact Simulator Facility more than 3,500 shots were fired, using roughly 3.5 tons of chickens. After long, honourable careers, both the 10 inch and 3.5 inch chicken cannons were retired in 2009. In 2012, the guns were donated to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Despite precautionary efforts at airports to reduce the risk of birds colliding with aircraft during take-offs and landings, including making the airfields less desirable to birds, bird strikes continue to occur. In January 2009, US Airways, flight 1549, an Airbus A320, was famously struck by a flock of Canadian geese at an altitude of close to 3,000 feet on takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. With both engines stalling, the pilot ditched into the Hudson River. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” all passengers and crew were safely rescued. In April, 2016, a Dallas-bound, American Airlines Airbus 321 jet was struck by a bird thirty minutes after takeoff from Seattle, severely denting its nose cone. The pilot safely returned the airplane to Seattle with more than 150 persons on board.

Such occurrences underscore the importance of continued research into deterrence and protection of aircraft from flying objects, including the latest threat in the skies—drones. Canada remains a leader in the field through work conducted by the Bird Strike Association Canada and its Bird Strike Committee which is endorsed by Transport Canada, and is organized according to guidelines issued by the International Civil Aviation Association. Canada is also a member of the World Bird Strike Association that meets regularly to share research and ideas.

 

Sources:

Many thanks to Ron Gould who, along with Ron Elmer, told me the story of Canada’s bird gun and the Flight Impact Simulator Facility. Ron Gould was the Technical Officer at the National Research Council who operated the bird guns from 1976 to his retirement in 2010.

ABC News, 2016. American Airlines Aircraft Returns to Seattle Airport After Damaging Bird Strike, 27 April, http://abcnews.go.com/US/american-airlines-aircraft-returns-seattle-airport-damaging-bird/story?id=38721606.

Aviation Safety Network, 2017. “Lockheed -188A Electra, Eastern Airlines, 4 October 1960,” https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19601004-0.

Aviation Stack Exchange, 2017. “How many bird strikes are there per year? Any world-wide statistics? https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/23420/how-many-bird-strikes-are-there-per-year-any-world-wide-statistics.

——————————. 2017. “Vickers 745D Viscount, United Airlines, 23 November 1962,” https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19621123-1.

Bird Strike Association of Canada, 2017. http://www.canadianbirdstrike.ca/.

Gould, R. W., 2007. “Really Big Guns, The Origins of Compressed Air Cannons and their use at the NRC,” National Research Council of Canada.

Fortier, R. 2012. “Acquisition Proposal, Items linked to bird strike research by the NRC,” Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

McKinnon, Bruce and Searing G, 2016. “History of Bird Strike Committee Canada,” Bird Strike Association of Canada, http://www.canadianbirdstrike.ca/en/history-bird-strike-committee-canada.

National Research Council, 2007. “It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane … It’s a Bird Striking a Plane,” 7 January, https://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/achievements/highlights/2007/bird_plane.html.

The Penny Bank

1 March 1909

Canadians are known for being careful with their money. While this may have been true in the past, the reputation is more apparent than real today. The average Canadian household’s debt to income ratio is much higher than that of households in other countries, and seems to touch a new record level every year. Canadians also save a much smaller portion of their incomes today than they did their parents or grandparents. Still, Canadian financial institutions have been more conservatively run than their American and British counterparts, a factor that helped them get through the 2008 global financial crisis with only minor bruises. The Canadian reputation for thrift and prudence may have originated with our canny Scottish forebears, who founded many of Canada’s chartered banks during the nineteenth century, such as the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of Montreal.

The thriftiness of our grandparents’ generation was also undoubtedly influenced by the Great Depression when they had little choice but to scrimp and save. But another important factor was the Penny Bank of Toronto, later known as the Penny Bank of Ontario. While a tiddler in the Canadian financial seas, the Penny Bank helped to instill a sense of thrift in hundreds of thousands of youngsters throughout Ontario and beyond during the early decades of the twentieth century. And, yes, Scots played a big role in its establishment too.

Penny BAnk Mcmurchy

Angus McMurchy, K.C., Key backer and organizer of the Penny Bank of Toronto. Carmichael Family Online.

The Penny Bank had its roots in informal saving associations established by religious groups in the late nineteenth century for working class men and women. At that time, one needed to make a minimum deposit of $1, more than $25 in today’s money, to open an account at a bank, or at the government-owned Post Office Savings Bank. This was beyond the means of the very poor. Two such groups in Toronto were the Savings Association of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church and the Victor Five-Cent Savings Association organized by the Fred Victor Mission. The Mission, which continues to thrive today, was established by Hart Massey, a prominent Toronto industrialist and devout Methodist who founded Massey-Ferguson, the agricultural equipment company. The Mission was named after his son, Fred Victor, who died in 1890 at age thirteen. In 1900, the Mission organized an informal “penny bank” with the Toronto Board of Education through which students at the Lord Dufferin School could make small deposits and earn interest. It was very successful. So successful that its backers thought that a more formal structure for the savings association would be advisable, and approached the Dominion Government for legislation.

Instead of incorporating the Penny Bank of Toronto through a private Act of Parliament, the government favoured more generic legislation to allow for the incorporation of penny banks throughout Canada. The Penny Bank Act was passed by the Dominion Government in 1903 as a way of encouraging thrift among the “labouring classes,” especially their children. In the event, the Penny Bank of Toronto was apparently the only such bank to be incorporated under the Act though there is a brief reference in the legislative record of the 1920s to a very small Penny Bank of Chicoutimi in Quebec.

The Penny Bank of Toronto, which brought together the St Andrews and Victor thrift organizations, was not an ordinary bank, but rather a philanthropic institution supported by many of Toronto’s prominent citizens. Early backers included Angus McMurchy, K.C., the solicitor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir William Hearst, who became Premier of Ontario from 1914-1919, and Sir Byron Edmund Walker, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1907 to his death in 1924. Sir George Burn of the Bank of Ottawa later joined the Penny Bank’s Board of Directors. The manager of the Penny Bank was H. D. Lockhart Gordon, a principal in the Canadian accounting Clarkson, Gordon & Dilworth.  The Penny Bank, a not-for-profit institution, had no shareholders and no capital. Its backers provided a guarantee fund, initially $10,000, to support the organization. They also managed the institution. However, they were forbidden by the legislation from receiving any dividend or compensation for their work. The Bank payed depositors 3 per cent interest, the standard rate of interest of the day. All funds raised by the Bank were deposited with the Post Office Savings Bank owned by the Dominion Government. The maximum size of an account was $300. Despite the Bank’s backers managing the institution for free, there were clerical costs associated with keeping track of deposits and withdrawals. These costs were partially offset by interest earned on the guarantee fund. As well, the Post Office Savings Bank financially assisted the Penny Bank by giving it a preferential interest rate. Initially, this rate was set at ½ percentage point above the 3 per cent rate the Post Office paid on its deposits. The government increased this margin to 1 percentage point in 1911. Over time, the Penny Bank also received various grants from the Ontario and Dominion governments to help sustain its operations.

While the Penny Bank was open to all, its focus was on public school children. Supporters hoped that young, working class kids who might not otherwise be exposed to the banking system would learn through personal experience the value of thrift and the wonders of compound interest, thereby improving their quality of life in later years. Youngsters could bring in their pennies every Monday to their classroom teacher who would record their deposits in their personal passbooks. Deposits as low as one cent were accepted. School principals would receive the funds and in turn deposit them in the Penny Bank. Students or their parents went to a designated chartered bank to withdraw funds.

The Penny Bank of Toronto quickly spread throughout the Toronto School Board and beyond. Within five years, it was operating in schools in Oakville, Guelph, Galt, Port Hope and Orangeville. It reached Ottawa in 1909, though not without considerable discussion and opposition by Ottawa teachers who had to run the programme in their classrooms. It was estimated that it took thirty minutes a week for a teacher to handle Penny Bank deposits. The Ottawa’s Public School Board recommended a pilot project at five public schools—Glashan, Cambridge, Creighton, Osgoode and Elgin. But at a meeting of teachers on the issue, of the sixty-nine teachers that attended only seventeen supported the Penny Bank. School trustees were also divided, with some calling the Penny Bank “a fad” that had no bearing on education, and would cost as much as $1,200 per year to operate. One trustee believed that the Penny Bank would make “mammon worshippers of the children.” He maintained that the proper place “to teach little ones the value and importance of thrift [was] in the home.” (Sounds like what some people say about sex education today!)

Among the strong supporters of the Penny Bank was the Ottawa Journal newspaper. Several editorials in favour of the Bank appeared in the paper. It rejected the teachers’ opposition as being irrelevant saying that it was for the School Board to decide. The newspaper argued that the Penny Bank had direct and practical educational benefits that would prepare children, especially those from working-class backgrounds, “for the battle of life.” It noted that 95 per cent of public school children went directly from school to earning their living. Consequently, “it naturally follows that the education be as utilitarian in nature as possible.”

Toronto’s successful experience was also noted. The newspaper claimed that children there were saving with a definite objective in mind rather than simply hoarding their money. “What wasted 5-cent pieces could not buy, saved 5-cent pieces, which invariably bulked into five dollars, could buy.” It also opined that during a recent economic downturn, which it described as an “out-of-work spell,” children’s savings helped their parents over “a most critical and trying time,” that prevented them from appealing to “the charity department.”

Despite teacher opposition, the pilot programme went ahead as planned though with one small change. Owing to concern expressed by school principals that they would have to leave their schools during the school day to deposit their Penny Bank collections, it was arranged that a clerk from the Traders Bank of Canada, the institution in Ottawa that initially handled the funds on behalf of the Penny Bank, would pick up the cash. Start-up expenses for ledgers, stationery and passbooks in the five schools was estimated at $65.

Penny Bank passbook 1

Passbook (exterior) for the Penny Bank of Ontario, October 1939, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

On 1 March 1909, principals in the five test schools explained the Penny Bank system to students in assembly. Small passbooks were handed out. Pennies, nickels and dimes quickly flowed in. Of the five schools that participated in the pilot project, Glashan School topped the list that first day, raising $52.16 from 173 depositors out of a school body of 550 pupils. Deposits ranged in size from one cent to three dollars. The collection might have been higher as many students had forgotten to bring in their pennies that morning. Two months later, the youngsters in the five schools had squirreled away over $1,000 (equivalent to more than $22,000 in today’s money).

Penny Bank passbook 2

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for depositor and weekly deposits, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

With the pilot project a great success, it was expanded the following year to the Rosemont Avenue, Kent Street, Percy Street and Wellington Street Public Schools, and subsequently to all nineteen Ottawa public schools.  By end-March 1910, Ottawa students had more than $3,800 on deposit in their names in the Penny Bank of Toronto. By December, the amount had topped $8,500. That Christmas, the youngsters “had the means to be generous gift-givers” said the Ottawa Journal that also opined that without the Penny Bank, the money would “likely to have been long spent.”

Penny Bank passbook 3

Passbook (interior) of the Savings Bank of Ontario, 1939, instructions for teachers, Courtesy of the Bank of Canada Museum, 1991.0007.00005.

Over the next two decades, deposits in the Penny Bank grew steadily as schools across Ontario and in other provinces joined the programme. The Y.M.C.A. also participated. Newspapers regularly reported on deposit growth. Schools competed on how much they could save. In 1921, Penny Bank directors initiated a contest for a banner to the school that had “made the best use of the bank.” The banner read: “Prize Banner, Province of Ontario, Penny Bank Competition” with a maple leaf and a penny centred on it, with space for the names of five schools and the years in which they won it. That first year, St Patrick’s Public School in Guelph won the banner, with the Hester How school of Toronto in second place.

The 1920s brought changes to the Penny Bank. With more and more schools outside of Toronto joining the scheme, its name was changed to the Penny Bank of Ontario in 1923. More schools and rapidly growing deposits also meant rising administrative costs. Bank directors sought and received government approval to invest the institution’s growing guarantee fund in higher-yielding assets, including Victory bonds and subsequently mortgages to help offset costs. Penny bank deposits continued to be invested with the Post Office. Reflecting the growth of the scheme in Ottawa, the Penny Bank hired Mrs Evelyn Topley in 1924 to administer the scheme, a position she held until her retirement in early 1939.

By 1929, total Penny Bank deposits had topped the $1 million mark with more than 350 participating schools. Ottawa deposits reached almost $53,000. Although teachers complained about the detailed work required to keep track of thousands of small deposits, the Journal reckoned that the “moral effect on children [was] incalculable.”

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Penny Bank deposits continued to grow during the early 1930s, peaking at about $1.5 million in 1932 with 466 participating schools. Deposits of Ottawa’s nineteen public schools touched almost $59,000. However, the prevailing poor economic conditions began to take its toll. Ottawa school deposits began to slip, falling to just over $43,000 by the end of 1937. At the depth of the Depression, the Ontario Government provided a $150,000 guarantee to back-stop the Bank and protect the children from losses. There were allegations in the Provincial legislature that the provincial guarantee was required because the guarantee fund put up by the Penny Bank private backers had sustained losses.

Penny BAnk Winding up 6-7-48

Liquidation notice for the Penny Bank of Ontario, The Ottawa Journal, 6 July 1948.

But it was the onset of World War II that crippled the Penny Bank. Anxious to do their bit, children began withdrawing their savings to invest in war bonds and war savings stamps. Deposits dropped precipitously. By December 1942, Ottawa deposits in the Penny Bank had dropped by almost two thirds from their peak. At the end of February 1943, the directors of the institution suspended new deposits in the Penny Bank for the duration of the war. Existing account holders could keep their funds in the Bank and continue to earn interest but they could not make additional deposits.

The Bank never again re-opened for business. At the request of its managers, the Penny Bank was put into liquidation and ceased operations as of the beginning of August 1948. The winding up of the institution was supervised by the Inspector General of Banks. At that time, total deposits and accrued interest stood at roughly $164,000 in 128,000 accounts. Most of these accounts were dormant. Depositors had the choice of receiving a cheque for their balances or transferring their accounts to the Post Office Savings Bank. Just over $51,000 was so transferred. Deposit liabilities in dormant, unclaimed accounts of less than $1 were immediately extinguished. After paying all remaining liabilities, the Penny Bank gave the residual balance of $101,941.14 to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Sources:

Carmichael Family Online, 2017. McMurchy Obituaries, https://carmichaelfamilyonline.wordpress.com/mcmurchy-family/mcmurchy-documents-pictures/mcmurchy-obituraries/.

Debates of the House of Commons, various years.

Debates of the Senate of Canada, various years.

Filey, Mike, 1994. Toronto Sketches 3, The Way We Were, Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd.

Fred Victor, 2017. Fred Victor Beginnings, http://www.fredvictor.org/home.

Germain, Richard N, 1996. Dollars Through The Doors, A Pre-1930 History of Bank Marketing in America, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Globe (The), 1922. “Penny Bank Banner,” 28 February.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1904. “The Penny Bank in Toronto,” 21 June.

————————–, 1906. “A Philanthropic Institution,” 2 June.

————————–, 1907. “Toronto Penny Bank,” 17 October.

————————–, 1909, “Penny Banks,” 8 January.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Savings Banks,” 2 February.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks To Open Here Soon,” 10 February.

————————–, 1909. “Deposits Made Into Penny Banks,” 1 March.

————————–, 1909. “Penny Banks Are Opened,” 28 February.

————————–, 1910. “The Children At Christmas,” 2 December.

————————–, 1912. “Criticism of R.A. Sproule,” 12 February.

————————–, 1921, “Penny Bank’s Directors Will Give A Prize Banner,” 25 January.

————————–, 1921. “Save The Pennies Campaign Coming,” 15 February.

————————–, 1926. ‘Have Never Had Run On The Penny Banks,” 26 February.

————————–, 1927. “Sir William Hearst,” 30 June.

————————–, 1929. “Ontario Children Save A Million,” 9 January.

————————–, 1929. “Penny Bank Bill Passes Senate,” 21 May.

————————–, 1931. “Increase Is Shown Penny Bank Savings,” 17 June.

————————–, 1936. “Says Poor Investments Made By Penny Bank,” 31 March.

————————–, 1939. “Toronto Girl Succeeds Mrs E.E. Topley,” 19 April.

————————–, 1943. “Suspend Deposits in Penny Bank,” 26 February.

————————-, 1948. “End of the Penny Bank,” 22 March.

————————-, 1948. “Ontario Penny Bank Finally Closes Its Doors,” 3 August.

 

The Tragic Death of Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker, V.C.

12 March 1930

Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker is the most-highly decorated war hero in Canadian and British Commonwealth history. An ace pilot during World War I, he received the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the Commonwealth for gallantry in the face of the enemy. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order (twice), the Military Cross (three times), the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Silver Medal for Military Valour from Italy (twice). He was additionally mentioned in dispatches three times. Active on the Western Front in France and on the Italian Front, he is credited with shooting down at least 50 enemy aircraft. Despite being a household name one hundred years ago, ranking beside his friend Billy Bishop another Canadian war ace and Victory Cross recipient, he is largely forgotten today. In part, this is likely due to his untimely death at 35 years of age in a tragic accident that occurred on 12 March 1930 in Ottawa.

barkermajorswaine-lac-pa-122516

William George Barker, V.C. by Swaine, Library and Archives Canada, PA-122516.

Barker was born in a log cabin on a farm near the small town of Dauphin, Manitoba in 1894. As a teenager, he was known for his keen eyesight and marksmanship. In December 1914, he enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles with whom he served as a machine gunner at Ypres. In the spring of 1916, he volunteered to serve in the Royal Flying Corps first as a gunner and, following receipt of a commission as a second lieutenant, as an observer in the B.E.2 two-seater reconnaissance airplane.  He received his first MC doing aerial photography. In July of that year, he recorded his first victory, driving down a German scout airplane using his observer’s gun. At the beginning of 1917, he was sent to flying school for four weeks’ instruction to become a pilot. Promoted to flying officer in February 1917, Barker returned to the Western Front again in two-seater reconnaissance airplanes (the B.E.2 and the R.E.8), but this time seated in the front pilot’s seat. Three months later, he was promoted to captain and given command of a flight of airplanes (four to six aircraft).

After being wounded in August 1917, he was transferred back to England to become a flight instructor. Hating his new job, he quickly got himself reassigned to active duty in France, though not before getting into trouble doing acrobatics over London. Barker began flying the Sopwith Camel, a single seater fighter, armed with twin synchronized machine guns. It proved to be a lethal combination of man and machine. Flying the highly manoeuvrable though temperamental Camel, Barker could fully exploit his skills as a marksman. Shortly after his return to France in late October he officially became an ace, downing his fifth German airplane, a German Albatros D.III fighter. Other “kills” quickly followed. Barker’s Sopwith Camel, serial number B6313, was to become the most successful fighter airplane in British history.

When his squadron was transferred to the Italian Front in late 1917, Barker took aim at Austrian air force. By April 1918, he had twenty-two victories. He also earned a reputation for taking down observation balloons, a deadly enterprise since the balloons were heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns. In July, he was promoted to major and given command of the No. 139 Squadron. Although the squadron flew the two-seater Bristol F.2b fighter and reconnaissance aircraft (also known as the “Brisfit”), Barker continued to prefer flying his cherished Sopwith Camel. When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited the squadron in the summer of 1918, Barker took him aloft in a Brisfit, with the prince occupying the rear observer’s seat. Barker flew the prince deep into enemy territory before returning to the Allied lines. Fortunately, although they encountered anti-aircraft fire from the ground, no Austrian airplane went up to challenge them.

By September 1918, he was a highly-decorated ace with at least forty-six victories to his credit. Even more to his credit was the incredible achievement of not losing a single pilot or airplane under his escort during the previous year of active duty. Ordered back to England to take command the flight school at Hounslow, Barker’s greatest exploit, for which he was to earn the Victory Cross, was yet to come. Arguing that he needed to reacquaint himself with the Western Front to do his job properly, he obtained a ten-day roving commission in France. On 27 October 1918, on the last day of his commission and only two weeks prior to the end of the war, he encountered a German reconnaissance airplane over the Forêt de Mormal while flying the new Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe. Although Barker managed to down the two-seater craft, he made a rookie mistake and was caught unaware by a German fighter that had sneaked up behind him. He only found out that he was being pursued when his right leg was shattered by a bullet. Despite the pain, Barker managed to circle around the Fokker DVII, and bring it down too.

barkersopwithcamellac-pa172313

William Barker with his Sopwith Camel, France 1917, Library and Archives Canada, PA-172313

From there, things only got worse. Somehow during the dog fight with the Fokker, Barker had managed to stumble into an entire “circus” of German fighters. While accounts regarding the number of enemy aircraft vary from 15 to an incredible 60, Barker was vastly outnumbered. In front of thousands of Allied soldiers Barker managed to bring down two more German fighters but not before receiving crippling wounds to his left thigh and left elbow. His Snipe, hit repeatedly, with its fuel tank shot away, crashed behind British lines. Barker, amazingly still alive, was pulled from the wreckage by Scottish troops. On 20 November 1918, he was awarded the Victory Cross for this epic, single-handed battle, and the congratulations of his grateful Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Premier.

In early 1919, still recovering from his wounds, Barker flew again with the Prince of Wales, taking him on a tour of London by air. Barker needed canes to walk to the aircraft, and flew with his left arm strapped to his breast.  Speaking of his flight, the Prince commented: “I have enjoyed it immensely but what a sensation it is when you go over backwards.” The RAF promoted Barker to Lieutenant Colonel. On his return to Canada later that year, Barker entered civilian aviation in partnership with Billy Bishop. Together they operated an air-charter and aircraft maintenance firm located at Armour Heights Air Field in Toronto. In 1921, Barker married Jean Smith, the cousin of Billy Bishop. Their daughter Antoinette was born in 1923.

As was the case with many early civil aviation operations, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes failed in 1922. Barker then joined the Canadian Airforce (CAF) and was made commanding officer of Camp Borden. Subsequently, he was made acting director of the CAF, and for a time lived in Ottawa. In 1924, with the establishment of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was sent to England to act as the RCAF’s liaison officer with the British Air Ministry. He later studied at the RAF Staff College at Andover and saw service with the RAF in the Middle East.

In 1926, Barker resigned his commission from the RCAF, reportedly because he didn’t get along with his commanding officer. For a time, he operated a tobacco farm owned by his father-in-law, Horace B. Smith.  This did not go well. In 1927, Conn Smythe, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (himself a former RAF pilot), made Barker the team’s first president. But civilian life did not come easy to the war hero. Like many veterans, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. For a time, he turned to alcohol to quell his demons. His family life suffered.

In early 1930, things finally looked like they were turning around for him. He had just landed the job of vice president and general manager of the Fairchild Aviation Company of Canada in Montreal. The day of his death, he was in Ottawa to help sell the company’s new trainer airplane, the two-person, Fairchild KR-21B biplane, to the Department of National Defence.

Wednesday, 12 March 1930, was a typical, late winter day in Ottawa. Weather conditions were good, with the wind out of the west, and a high temperature of 7 degrees Celsius. The Fairchild trainer was flown from Montreal to the Rockcliffe aerodrome in the morning by Captain Donald Shaw, the Fairchild Company’s test pilot. The trip was uneventful, with the airplane performing as it should. Shortly before 1pm, William Barker, who had travelled to Ottawa by train, decided to take the airplane up for a spin. He had never flown that model aircraft before but liked to take every opportunity to fly to maintain his competency. Apparently, until he joined the Fairchild Aviation Company two months earlier, he had done little flying since leaving the RCAF in 1926.

Barker seated himself in the real cockpit of the small trainer with registration marking CF-AKR. He warmed up his engine, taxied into the wind, and made a perfect take-off. After circling the airfield, he flew to the north-east across the Ottawa River to the Quebec side. Turning back towards the Rockcliffe aerodrome, something went wrong. One observer, struck by the odd manner in which the airplane was performing, claimed that he had a premonition that something was about to happen. Flying at an altitude of only a couple of hundred feet, the aircraft swerved and then plummeted straight down into the slushy ice of the Ottawa River roughly one hundred yards from the Rockcliffe slip close to the aerodrome. Striking the ice nose first, Barker’s aircraft crashed onto its left side. The plane was a tangled wreck. One of the blades of the propeller was sheared off on impact, while the other was broken in two. The engine was jammed back into the fuselage by the force of the crash. Only the rear of the plane and its right wing were left relatively intact. Col. Barker was found still seated in the real cockpit, but he was beyond human help. His body had been crushed on impact, his head smashed against the dashboard of his control panel.

News of the accident flashed through a stunned Capital. Immediately the Department of National Defence established a board of inquiry to examine the cause of the fatal crash. The Board determined that the Fairchild trainer was airworthy before the crash, that weather conditions were good, and that Col. Barker was a “commercial pilot in good standing.” Other than these basic facts, Board members had to depend on unreliable eye-witness testimony to draw their conclusions. Their verdict was pilot error. Later, there was speculation that Barker, suffering from depression, may have killed himself. But there is no evidence to support this contention. In many respects, the reasons for the crash remain a mystery.

Col. Barker’s body was conveyed by train to the home of his father-in-law at 355 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto where distinguished guests and friends paid their last respects. On the Saturday afternoon after the accident, his body was brought to Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery and was laid to rest in the Smith family mausoleum. Two thousand servicemen, representing all of the Toronto-area regiments, paraded in his honour. Immediately behind the casket walked family and friends, Ontario Premier Ferguson, Major General McNaughton, and a group of Victory Cross recipients. A warrant officer bore Col. Barker’s medals on a cushion. More than 50,000 people lined the route of the funeral cortege down St. Clair Avenue to the cemetery. Overhead a flight of planes flew, each in turn swooping down to shower the procession with rose petals. At the mausoleum, Rev. Canon Broughall, rector of Grace-Church-on-the-Hill, officiated at a short service.

For decades, there was little way of a public memorial to Lieutenant- Colonel William Barker, V.C., buried as he was in the Smith family’s mausoleum. In 2011, his grandchildren righted this wrong. They erected a monument outside of the mausoleum, consisting of a bronze propeller blade rising from a granite base with a bronze picture of Barker and a plaque noting his distinction as “The most decorated war hero in the history of Canada and the British Empire.” There for the official unveiling of the memorial was Barker’s descendants and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley. Overhead, two vintage planes, one of them a Sopwith Snipe, and a CF-18 fighter flew a salute while a bugler sounded The Last Post.

Sources:

AcePilots.com, 1999-2016. Major G. “Billy” Barker, http://acepilots.com/wwi/can_barker.html.

CBC, 2011. World War I flying ace honoured 81 years after death, 22 September, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/wwi-flying-ace-honoured-81-years-after-death-1.1062894.

CBC, 2011. Honours for Flying Ace, 22 September, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyKOyoN9ArQ.

Globe (The), 1930. “Gol. Barker, V.C., Great Canadian Ace Dies Airman’s Death,” 13 March.

———————–, “Massed Crowd Mourn Great Airman,” 17 March.

Globe and Mail, (The), 1999. “The Greatest Ace You Never Heard Of,” 8 November.

—————————, 2011. Lieutenant- Col. William Barker,” 22 September.

National Defence and the Canadian Forces, 2009. Victoria Cross – First World War, 1914-1918, William George Barker, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/gal/vcg-gcv/bio/barker-wg-eng.asp.

Evening Citizen, (The), 1930. “Finds Error of Judgement Cause of Plan Crash,” 15 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1930. “Col. Barker, Great Canadian Air Ace, Killed Here,” 12 March.

————————————, 1930. “Fatal Crash Which Caused Death of Colonel Barker, V.C., at Rockcliffe Still Remains Shrouded in Mystery,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Epic Air Battle Won V.C. Award For Dead Flyer,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Toronto V.C.’s To All Attend Funeral In Body,” 13 March.

Ralph, Wayne, 2005-2016. “Barker, William George,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barker_william_george_15E.html.

Roadstories.ca, 2011, William George Barker: Canada’s most decorated hero, 7 November, http://roadstories.ca/william-barker/.