Smallpox and the Porter Island Isolation Hospital

2 November 1893

Be thankful that you live today and not a hundred years ago. Then, communicable diseases were rampant. Diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, and scarlet fever routinely killed babies and infants. In 1909, the infant death rate in Ottawa was a horrific 283 out of 1,000 life births. (In 2017, the rate of infant mortality in Canada was 4.5 out of 1,000.) Even if you managed to survive the so-called “childhood diseases”, you ran the gauntlet of contracting other lethal illnesses such as cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid. Epidemics periodically swept through the fetid cities of North America killing thousands. But of all the diseases, the one that people feared the most was smallpox.

Smallpox Fox, George Henry (1886) Photographic illustrations of skin diseases (2nd ed.)

Smallpox sufferer, 1886, Fox, George Henry, Photographic Illustrations of Skin Diseases (2nd Edition), Wikipedia.

Smallpox has a long history. There is some evidence that the disease was present in ancient Egypt more than three thousand years ago. More reliably, descriptions of the disease can be found in Chinese medical texts of the 4th century AD. It was prevalent in south-west Asia by the 10th century. By the thirteenth century, people in the Middle East were practising variolation to ward off the disease by inoculating people with the live virus—liquid from a smallpox pustule was rubbed into a scratch in the skin. This was a dangerous procedure, but it conferred life-long immunity.

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus, and came in two forms: the virulent variola major strain, which had a death rate of about 30 percent, and the less severe but less common variola minor type that had a death rate of about 1 percent. The characteristic symptom of the disease was raised pustules that spread across the body, especially the extremities. Survivors of smallpox often experienced terrible disfigurement and blindness.

By the 15th century, the disease was well-established in Europe. Subsequently, European explorers and traders introduced smallpox to the Americas. Lacking resistance to the disease, indigenous populations were virtually wiped out. The fall of the Aztec and Inca civilizations in South and Central America was due far more to smallpox than the weaponry of the Spanish conquistadors. In what was to become Canada, European settlers brought the disease to eastern First Nations. Later, the Plains tribes were infected through their interaction with voyageurs and traders. The result was calamitous. Whole communities died. In just one epidemic on the Prairies in the 1830s, two-thirds of the Blackfoot First Nation perished.

A major step towards conquering the disease occurred in 1796. Noticing that dairymaids who had contracted cowpox, a mild disease, appeared to be immune from smallpox, the British scientist Edward Jenner undertook an ethically-challenged experiment. First, he inoculated a young boy with cowpox serum. As expected, the child only experienced a slight fever, a few aches, and a temporary loss of appetite. Two months later, Jennings infected him with smallpox. Fortunately, the boy had no reaction; he was immune as Jennings had hypothesised.

Although several countries enthusiastically embraced vaccination (from the Latin word vacca meaning cow)—Bavaria reportedly introduced mandatory vaccination as early as 1807—it was a hard sell elsewhere. Like today, anti-vaxxers peddled “alternative facts” and received wide press coverage. To give the anti-vaxxers their due, unclean vaccination equipment and unsanitary conditions could cause serious infection in an era long before antibiotics. Vaccinations also didn’t confer lifelong immunity and had to be repeated. However, the risks of contracting smallpox far outweighed the possible side effects of vaccination. But out of ignorance and fear, people still hesitated to get vaccinated, and epidemics continued to claim thousands of lives and maim many more.

Smallpox arrived in Ottawa as early as 1828 with the Rideau Canal workmen. Colonel By apparently averted an epidemic by organizing a speedy vaccination campaign. Fortunately, the disease did not appear to be a major health risk until later in the century. In 1860, the Ottawa Daily Citizen reported that “smallpox and throat disorders [most likely diphtheria] were very general.”  Fortunately, fatalities were comparatively rare. In 1871, an outbreak of smallpox was reported in Sandy Hill in the Stewart Street area. In a letter to the editor, “Pro Bono Publico” complained that “cow yards, hog pens, and dirty yards in such abundance as to originate, let alone the nurturing of, disease and pestilence.” Another article reported the unwillingness of civil service men to reclaim their laundry when their washerwoman came down with smallpox, necessitating them to buy new clothes.

Initially, smallpox victims were treated in isolation wards in the Protestant General Hospital located on Rideau Street. Later, such patients were segregated in an annex. In the mid-1870s, despite considerable neighbourhood opposition, the Sisters of Charity opened a second, Catholic, smallpox hospital at the rear of the Catholic cemetery in Sandy Hill. Both hospitals were extensively used in a major smallpox outbreak in 1879-1880. Mortuary statistics show that 219 died of smallpox in Ottawa during 1879.  A further 97 died before the epidemic ended by the middle of the following year out of 230 additional cases of smallpox—a mortality rate of 42 percent. (Ottawa’s population at the time was only 27,000.)

Smallpox 9-12-79 ODC

Announcement in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 9 December 1879. All classes of people of all ages were affected by smallpox. The impact of the disease on families was devastating.

When the Protestant Hospital was deemed “dangerous and unsuitable” as an isolation facility, the City began searching for another location for a new smallpox hospital. In 1893, City Council finally chose Porter’s Island, an eight-acre, low-lying property in the Rideau River.

The major factors in favour of Porter’s Island was its relative isolation and price. Under provincial law, a smallpox hospital needed to be at least 450 yards away from inhabited areas. While a number of locations were considered, they were all deemed too expensive or not sufficiently accessible. A committee of city doctors also supported Porter’s Island on the grounds that the flowing water around the island lent itself to cleanliness. Others, however, worried that the damp, low-lying island was unhealthy, and that the island was prone to flooding. The Ottawa Clinical Society noted that there was a highwater mark nine feet above the mid-summer water level, indicating that up to a half of the island could be submerged during the spring freshet. 

Despite these misgivings, the City awarded a contract for the construction of a cottage hospital on the island to Mr. John Bruce, the low bidder, for $16,400 on 2 November 1893. Construction commenced as soon as the City formally acquired the land, the price of which was settled through arbitration. (It was set later at $6,713, costs included.) Bruce promised to build three brick hospital buildings, which could accommodate some 100 patients, and a separate administration building. Another contract was awarded to Dominion Bridge Company to construct an iron bridge linking the island to St. Patrick Street for an additional $5,000.

Work on the isolation hospital was suspended three months later after the City had spent $34,000, and with the contractor demanding another $10,000 to complete the job. A local firm of architects, which inspected the site, found shoddy workmanship—the hospital’s foundation was built above the frost line, the brickwork was a third thinner than specified and was already cracking, and the floors were sagging. The next month, with the spring run-off underway, the basement of the administration building flooded just as critics had warned.

Then, the blame game began, with some City alderman saying “I told you so.” Others went into denial. One Island apologist said the situation was “not at all bad” other than a “few blemishes.”  In April 1894, an official of the Ontario Board of Health visited Porter’s Island to assess the situation. His report dropped like a bombshell on City Council. He said the island was unfit for a hospital. He recommended against further expenditures on the island for hospital purposes, suggesting instead that the semi-constructed buildings be converted into an incinerator for garbage.

Over the next decade, City Council bickered over what to do with Porter’s Island, how they could re-coup the thousands of dollars spent, and whether the island could ever be used as the location for an isolation hospital. Nothing was resolved. Besides lawsuits, the only action taken was to fire G. F. Stalker, the project’s architect.  He died of apoplexy shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, the semi-built hospital deteriorated owing to weather and theft despite the presence of a resident caretaker.

It wasn’t until 1902 that the administration of the Mayor Cook took the bull by the horns and built a new contagious disease hospital located on Regan’s Hill at the old Rifle Range in Sandy Hill (now the location of the Sandringham Apartments). Opening in 1903, the new Strathcona Hospital was designed to treat such diseases as diphtheria and scarlet fever—not smallpox which fortunately was in abeyance. Meanwhile, Porter’s Island was used as a refuse dump. Its derelict hospital buildings were demolished in 1904.

Porter's Island c.1912 William James Topley LAC PA-009184

Smallpox Tents on Porter’s Island, undated, most likely circa 1912, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-008184

The need for a smallpox hospital returned with a vengeance when a serious smallpox epidemic swept the city in 1910-12. In response, the Ottawa Board of Health converted the caretaker’s frame house on Porter’s Island into a makeshift isolation hospital. When the numbers of smallpox victims rose beyond the capacity of the house, the City erected large tents on the island, notwithstanding it being the middle of an Ottawa winter. The tents were heated using “Quebec heaters” whose warmth extended only a short distance. There was no running water, no modern flush lavatories, and rats abounded, a situation made worse by the continued use of the island as a refuse dump. “Nothing is to be seen apart from the smallpox camp but tin cans, ashes, dead rats, decaying vegetables and fish,” said the Ottawa Evening Journal. Many exposed to smallpox hid in fear of being forced to Porter’s Island. Guards were stationed at the bridge to stop people escaping.

In May 1911, a naval architect and his five children were stricken with smallpox and ordered to Porter’s Island. The architect, an employee of the Public Works Department, reported to the Journal that vermin had eaten through eight military blankets on his bed located in one of the tents, which itself was sited just a few feet from a filthy outhouse. He managed to catch five rats using an improvised trap. Meanwhile his dying eight-year old daughter, who was conveyed to the Island in an ambulance that lacked basic amenities such as sheets and pillows, complained of abuse from one of the nurses. After the story broke, hospital staff said the man had exaggerated, saying he had only caught one rat. As for the charge of abuse, a nurse denied it. However, she admitted to occasionally slapping a child, after all “we had over thirty children at this Island and how could we make them behave and mind them all if we did not do this occasionally.” Remember that these children were in a frightening environment, many of whom were desperately sick, and had been separated from their parents.

Hopewell Hospital, 1912, Alfred G. Pittaway, Bytown Museum P893b

Hopewell Hospital, 1912, Alfred G. Pittaway, Bytown Museum, P893b.

In November 1911, on a close 11-10 vote, with Mayor Hopewell casting the deciding ballot, City Council agreed to build a proper smallpox hospital on Porter’s Island. Architect Francis C. Sullivan was commissioned for the job. George A. Crain won the contract to build it at a cost of $30,323 which later rose to more than $45,000. To avoid being flooded in the spring, the 107’ x 37’ brick building was constructed on a raised fill platform. There was no basement. When the new Hopewell Hospital opened in late January 1913, the City burnt the old smallpox shack and tents.

The last big epidemic to hit Ottawa occurred in 1920-1921 with more than 1,000 cases. Fortunately, the infecting strain was relatively mild. There were only two deaths. For a time, the Hopewell Hospital was completely full. At one point during the outbreak, more than eighty houses in Ottawa were also under quarantine. To interdict the disease at the border, the province of Quebec quarantined Ontario. Nobody could enter Quebec, including Quebec residents, from Ontario without an up-to-date smallpox vaccination certificate. Free vaccinations were given in the CPR station in Hull. By mid-year, the epidemic had been halted by a massive vaccination campaign with 40,000 vaccinations given out in Ottawa alone.

By the early 1930s, smallpox had become very rare, and was eradicated in Canada by 1946. With the underused Hopewell Hospital now obsolete, it was converted to apartments in the mid-1940s and demolished in 1967. Its site is currently occupied by the Chartwell Rockcliffe Retirement Residence. The old bridge constructed in 1894 is still standing although it is now closed to the public.

After a concerted global vaccination campaign carried out by the World Health Organization, smallpox was eradicated with the last naturally occurring case recorded in Somalia in 1977. The following year, a medical photographer caught the disease in a laboratory accident in Britain. She died. Currently, the only known smallpox virus stocks are held in the United States and Russia.

 

Selected Sources:

Fenner, F., Henderson, D. A., Arita, I., Jezek, Z., Ladnyi, I. D., 1988. “Smallpox and Its Eradication,” World Health Organization.

McIntyre John and Houston, C. Stuart, 1999. “Smallpox and its control in Canada,” CMAJ, 14 December.

Ottawa Daily Citizen (The, 1861. “Ottawa in 1860,” 4 January.

——————————-, 1871. “Sanitary Precautions,” 13 May.

——————————-, 1871. “The Effect of Small-Pox on the C.S.” 4 December.

——————————-, 1880. “Mortuary Returns,” 9 January.

——————————-, 1881. “The Health Of The City,” 12 January

——————————-, 1933. “Were Objections When Nuns Put Up Small-pox Hospital,”

Ottawa Evening Journal (The). 1893. “Board of Health Discuss,” 29 August.

————————————. 1893. “And Now For Porter’s Island,” 3 November.

————————————. 1893. “On To Porter’s Island.” 24 November.

————————————. 1893. “The Arbitrators Award,” 29 November.

————————————. 1894. “A Bolt Falls!” 24 Apri.

————————————, 1911. “Rats, Neglect And Filth Features Of A Sojourn On Porter’s Island,” 21 June.

————————————, 1911. “Heated Denials Made By Nurses Upon Island,” 22 June.

————————————, 1913. “Handsome Structure Erected By Famous C. Sullivan, A Young Ottawa Architect,” 8 February.

———————————–, 1920. “Quebec Quarantines Ontario On Account OF Smallpox,” 6 January.

———————————–, 1921. “The Smallpox Risk,” 27 January.

———————————–, 1921. “Smallpox Now Under Control,” 16 February.

Passfield, Robert W. 2013. Military Paternalism, Labour, and the Rideau Canal Project, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.

Riedel, Stefan, 2005. “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination,” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 18 January.

Urbsite, 2014., http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-smallpox-hospital-porters-island.html.

Walker, Kate, 2015. “Medical Ottawa: Ottawa’s Smallpox Outbreak of 1911 And The Origins Of The Hopewell Isolation Hospital,” A Canadian Treasury of Medical History, http://canuckhm.ca/ottawas-smallpox-outbreak-of-1911-the-origins-of-the-hopewell-isolation-hospital/?doing_wp_cron=1552596495.2340080738067626953125.

 

Buffalo Bill Comes To Town

1 November 1880

Among the iconic figures of the U.S. Wild West, the most famous must be William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), alias “Buffalo Bill.” Cody was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory, the son of Canadian Isaac Cody. As a young boy, he lived in Canada for several years just outside of Toronto before the family returned to the United States, this time settling in Kansas Territory. (In the 1880s, a story circulated that Buffalo Bill actually hailed from Hope River, Prince Edward Island, where he supposedly still had relatives.)

Buffalo Bill c. 1880 by Sarony Wikipedia,

William Cody, a.k.a. “Buffalo Bill” in 1880 by Sarony, Wikipedia.

Cody was only 11 when his father died and he had to go out and make a living, first riding as a messenger on a wagon train and subsequently as sort of informal scout for the U.S. army in Utah. In his autobiography, Cody claimed to have joined the Pony Express at the tender age of fourteen. However, this may have been self-promotional hype. Some researchers suggest that he was a mounted messenger boy for the company rather than a long-haul rider delivering mail across the far west. Too young to join the Union Army during the American Civil War, Cody was again a scout sometimes with Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer and was involved in the Indian Wars in the western United States where he burnished his reputation as an “Indian fighter.” After the Civil War, he shot bison (buffalo) to feed railway construction workers. He won the moniker “Buffalo Bill” for shooting 68 bison in an eight-hour competition. During his hunting career, he reportedly shot almost 5,000, doing his part to virtually exterminate the species and end the way of life of the Plains First Nations.

Buffalo Bill came into the collective consciousness when he was only in his early 20s, owing to author and publisher Ned Buntline who wrote often semi-fictious stories about Cody’s colourful life. Buntline had met Cody on a train ride in California and the two became friends. In 1872, Buntline wrote a play called Scouts of the Prairie and asked Cody to star in it, thus launching Buffalo Bill on a show business career that was to last forty years. In 1874, Cody formed the Buffalo Bill Combination where he combined stage performances with scouting in the off season. In 1883, he established Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which toured throughout North America. The show also went on four European tours during the 1880s, and performed in Britain for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The Queen was particularly impressed when both Cody and his horse bowed to her at a command performance. Cody and his troupe, which included cowboys and native-American warriors, were a sensation everywhere they went, re-creating (in a fashion) an exotic and by now fast vanishing way of frontier life.

Buffalo Bill, who always admired native-Americans notwithstanding his reputation as an “Indian fighter,” gave a temporary home to a number of important First Nations’ chiefs, including the great Sioux leader Sitting Bull who had defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1877.  Gabriel Dumont, the Métis leader who featured prominently in the North-West Rebellion with Louis Riel, similarly joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West after he had fled south into the United States after the 1885 Battle of Batoche. At an 1886 show in Staten Island NY, he was introduced as Riel’s lieutenant and “a man of ability and courage, who enlisted in what he and many others believe was a righteous cause.” Oddly given the circumstances, when interviewed by Canadian journalists, Dumont called Sir John A. Macdonald, “the greatest man of modern times.”

Buffalo Bill, Gabriel Dumont c. 1886 Orlando Scott Goff LAC archival reference number R13796-2, e010699485

Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, c. 1886, by Orlando Scott, Library and Archives Canada

On Dumont’s return to Canada after being granted amnesty, the Quebec newspaper Le Canadien called him a farceur (buffoon) for his involvement with Buffalo Bill. Dumont replied in the newspaper La Justice that he had lost everything when he escaped to the United States and that he never took direct part in the show. He invited the editor of Le Canadien to come to his hotel and call him a farceur to his face.

In 1893, Cody’s show expanded into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. As the name suggests, performances showcased both the American West and riders from around the world. The troupe performed throughout North America, including in Chicago on the periphery of that city’s 1893 World’s Fair. The company also went on four European tours in the early 1900s with performances before crowned heads and the Pope.

Owing to changing tastes in entertainment and rising costs, the company slowly faded, and went bankrupt in 1913. “Buffalo Bill” died four years later.

Buffalo Bill and his company made two trips to Ottawa during his show business career. The first brought him and his Wild West Combination to the Grand Opera House on Albert Street for three days, starting on Monday, 1 November 1880. Reserved seats were available for 75 cents. The price was only 25 cents for the matinee on the holiday Wednesday (Thanksgiving Day). While in Ottawa, the troupe were guests of the Russell House Hotel. On the morning of their first performance, Cody led a mounted parade of Cheyenne warriors, cowboys and his Serenade Band through the streets of the capital to promote the show.  According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, “The red men were rigged out in their war paint and feathers, and created quite a stir.”  That evening, Buffalo Bill and his troupe put on a play called The Prairie Waif, described as a drama about frontier life. Besides Cody, the play starred Jule Kean as a very funny Dutchman who sang, danced and said witty things, and Miss Lizzine Fletcher as the heroine. The band of Cheyenne warriors performed a war dance while Cody did some trick rifle shooting. How he did this indoors is unclear.

Bufalo Bill TOC1-11-1880

Advertisement for Buffalo Bill’s First Appearance in Ottawa, 1 November 1880, The Ottawa Daily Citizen

It was standing room only at the Grand Opera House for the first performance. So packed was the theatre that many people who had bought tickets for the balcony went away to use the tickets at the following night’s performance. In attendance for the second night’s showing was the Governor General, the Marquis of Lorne, and members of the Harvard College Football team who occupied complementary boxes. The Harvard team had just played the Ottawa Football Club that afternoon on the Rideau Hall cricket grounds. Harvard won by one goal.

Buffalo Bill returned to Ottawa seventeen years later in late June 1897 for the city’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. This time it was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World consisting of 600 men and more than 500 horses. Along with three bands, it created a mile-long procession through Ottawa streets. In the parade were 100 warriors from the Ogallala, Brule, Uncapappa, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe First Nations, 50 cowboys, 30 Mexican Vaqueros and Rurales, 50 Western marksmen, 25 Bedouin Arabs, 30 Russian Cossacks, 30 South American Gauchos, and furloughed English Lancers, German Cuirassiers, and U.S. cavalry and artillery men. As well, Miss Annie Oakley, “The Peerless Lady Wing Shot,” was given prominent billing, as was Johnny Baker, “The Skilled Shooting Expert.” Also in Ottawa for the show was “the only herd of buffalo on exhibition.” How Cody obtained his buffalo was not reported. By this time, the America bison was nearly extinct. Ten years earlier, it was estimated that in the United States there were only 200 bison left in Yellowstone Park, another 150 in Texas and a few others in private herds. In Canada, there were only 68 pure-bred bison and 18 hybrids owned oddly by the warden of the Manitoba Penitentiary. Cody had tried to purchase part of this herd but had been refused.

Buffalo Bill 23-6-97 OEJ

Advertisement for Buffalo Bill’s Second Appearance in Ottawa, 28 June 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal

Needless to say, the exhibition was held outdoors. The massive company and its equipage arrived in Ottawa from Quebec on two heavily laden trains, and set up on the Metropolitan Grounds on the western side of Elgin Street across from the Canadian Atlantic Railway Station. Stands capable of holding 20,000 spectators protected from the sun and rain by a massive, white canvas shelter were quickly erected. There were additional tents for dressing rooms, and a huge meal tent. Apparently, the hundreds of participants consumed 1,500 pounds of meat each day, as well as mountains of potatoes, vegetables and bread. The Native Americans, described as “grim-faced,” were housed in “a little encampment of teepees” on the field. For the evening performance, the grounds were lit by 2,500 electric arc lights powered by a portable power plant. Ticket prices were 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children under 9 years of age.

Thousands of Ottawa residents came to gawk as the tents were raised at what the Ottawa Evening Journal described as “an exhibition of human nature which is only seen once in a lifetime.” The newspaper’s reporter was awed by the exhibition that had clearly lived up to its advance billing. He called it more attractive than a circus, novel, and unique. He also saw the show as educational opining that “In the hurly-burly of American life, people are too apt to forget the history of their own country. They are apt to forget the toils and sacrifices of those who laboured to redeem the great West from barbarism.”

This quote gives a big hint of the show’s character. The performance began with a covered prairie wagon drawn by mules bearing a mother and babies with older children riding outside. Suddenly, the unsuspecting pioneers are attacked by Indians. Just when things look their darkest, along come the cowboys led by Buffalo Bill who quickly disperse the marauders and save the day. (Doing this everyday, no wonder the native Americans, whose homelands had been despoiled by white immigrants, were described as “grim-faced.”)

Buffalo Bill LAC C-000249 From BB's Show

“Cowboys and Indians,” Buffalo Bill’s show, date and place unknown, Library and Archives Canada, C-000249.

After this cliché of the Wild West, which would jar modern sensibilities, the programme shifted to the Exotic East, with Arab riders doing feats of horsemanship. Next on the ticket was Johnnie Baker shooting glass balls as they were thrown in the air, while he on his head, running, and looking backwards. Following Baker came the Cossacks standing on their saddles or hanging from one foot, and cowboys lassoing horses and breaking wild broncos. (The Toronto Star later alleged that the broncos weren’t actually wild but bucked because sharp spurs were driven into their bodies.) Finally, came the armies of Europe and the United States performing cavalry drills.

Buffalo Bill may have overestimated the likely crowds in little Ottawa, which had a population of less than 100,000 in 1897. The first day’s two performances brought in a respectable 15,000-20,000 spectators, though this meant that the bleachers were only about half full at best. On the second day, attendance slipped sharply to only 3,000-4,000 guests owing to inclement weather despite spectators being protected from the weather. After its two-day appearance in Ottawa, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World rode off into the sunset, headed for Belleville.

 

Sources:

Cody Studies, 2019, https://www.codystudies.org/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1880. “At The Russell,” 30 October.

————————–, 1880. “Musical and Dramatic,” 1 November.

————————-, 1880. “Musical and Drama,” 2 November.

————————-, 1880. “Parade,” 2 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1886. “Gabriel Dumont,” 3 July.

——————————, 1887. “Last of the Buffalo,” 8 June.

——————————, 1887. “People and Personalities,” 22 July.

——————————, 1888. “Gabriel Dumont,” 25 April.

——————————, 1897. “True Heroism,” 18 May.

——————————, 1897. “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West And Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” 23 June.

——————————, 1897. “Extensive Exhibitions,” 24 June.

——————————, 1897. “Buffalo Bill Is Here,” 28 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Buffalo Bill,” 29 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Attendance Small,” 30 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Buffalo Bill’s Broncos, 9 July.

Stillman, Deanne, 2018. “The Unlikely Alliance Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill,” History, https://www.history.com/news/the-unlikely-alliance-between-buffalo-bill-and-sitting-bull.

Freiman’s becomes The Bay

24 November 1971

The A. J. Freiman Department Store was an Ottawa retailing institution that dated back to the end of the nineteenth century. Its founder was Archibald (Archie) Jacob Freiman who had immigrated to Canada as a child with his family in the late 19th century from Lithuania. Coming to Ottawa from Hamilton in 1899, the nineteen-year old Freiman and his partner Moses Cramer started the Canadian Home Furnishing Company at 223 Rideau Street close to Cumberland Street. The company sold carpets, oilcloth and other types of household furnishings. The following year, the firm expanded, moving into next door 221 Rideau as well. In 1902, the firm moved into still larger quarters at 73 Rideau Street.

Freiman logo 1911-10-23 TOJ

Freiman’s logo after Archie Freiman bought out his father’s interest in the company, 23 October 1911, The Ottawa Journal

Despite the company’s success, the Freiman-Cramer partnership foundered when Freiman announced his intention of opening a credit department which would permit customers to purchase goods on installment. This was just too risky for the conservative-minded Cramer. Fortunately, Frieman’s father, Hersh, stepped in, becoming young Archie’s partner. In 1911, Archie was ready to go it alone, and he bought out his father’s share of the business. Over time, the name of the store morphed from The Canadian Home Furnishing Company, A.J. Freiman, Proprietor, to A. J. Freiman Ltd. Ottawa residents knew it simply as Frieman’s. In part, the change in name reflected the shift in the nature of the firm’s business. In a 1925 interview, Freiman said that he had always been interested in the possibilities of a general store.

Freiman 1920-11-12 TOJ

Freiman’s logo, 12 November 1920, The Ottawa Journal

Consequently, he added a men’s and women’s clothing to his line of products, thus setting the stage for the development of a department store. He also indicated that beyond hard work, the secret of his success was advertising.

In 1944, Archie died suddenly after he had unveiled a plaque in the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue on King Edward Street in honour of his friend, the synagogue’s cantor. Archie’s son, Lawrence, took over the family business.

Freimans 1939royalvisitMikkan4169781

Freiman’s Department Store, Rideau Street, decorated for the 1939 Royal Visit, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4169781.

Under Lawrence Freiman’s direction, the retail company continued to thrive and expand, always keeping up with the times. Freiman’s was one of the first Ottawa stores to have an escalator, and as markets moved and changed, the company moved and changed with them. When people began settling in the suburbs after World War II, Freiman’s followed, opening a branch store in Ottawa’s first mall, the Westgate Shopping Centre on Carling Avenue in 1955. Freiman’s was also quick to introduce basement discount outlets for the budget conscious and in-house boutiques for the fashion minded. As well, it offered a phone-in service called Freiman’s Buy-Line. With its Charge-a-Plate, customers could also put things “on their account.”

Freimans1946fashionshowOffice National du Film du CanadaLACMikkan4310145

Freiman’s first fashion shop after the War, April 1946, National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4310145.

However, by the late 1960s, it was increasingly difficult for the firm to compete successfully. Lawrence Freiman’s health began to fail. He starting spending several months each year in Palm Springs, California or Palm Beach, Florida; his doctors felt the warm weather would do him good. He also had other interests. He was a two-term President of the Zionist Organization of Canada and was the Chairman of the Board of the new National Arts Centre. Of necessity, the direction of the company passed to the next generation—A. J. Freiman II and son-in-law Gordon Roston. While the two were capable young men, the company lacked depth. Lawrence feared that Freiman’s didn’t have the calibre of senior management necessary for both the present and the future.

Freimans 1946-10-05 TOJ

Freiman’s art deco logo from the 1940s, 5 Ocotber 1946, The Ottawa Journal

Family-owned, quality department stores also found it difficult to attract the talent needed to compete with the larger, nation-wide chain stores that offered better career possibilities. Expansion also required vast sums of money that family-owned business, like Freiman’s, simply didn’t have.

As well, the Ottawa market was becoming increasingly competitive with no less than eight new department stores under construction or under consideration during the summer of 1971 says Lawrence Freiman in his autobiography. Simpson-Sears had gone into Carlingwood Mall when it opened in the late 1950s, and had moved into the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in 1967 and was about to take over the former Murphy-Gamble store on Sparks Street. Eaton’s was also entering the Ottawa market with an anchor store in the new Bayshore Shopping Centre scheduled to open in 1973. The Hudson’s Bay Company of Winnipeg was also eager to have an Ottawa presence. In August 1971, the firm approached Lawrence Freiman about a friendly take-over.

Freimans logo 1965-04-02 TOJ

Freiman’s logo, early 1960s, 2 April 1965, The Ottawa Journal

It was an opportunity that the ailing Lawrence couldn’t refuse. Although he had hoped to leave Freiman’s to the next generation, neither his son nor his son-in-law were interested in running the company as they would not have a controlling interest. With the family’s shareholding becoming increasingly dispersed over time, they would be at the mercy of people with no direct involvement in the firm’s operations. As Lawrence said in his autobiography, his son and son-in-law wanted to be “their own people.” The clincher of the deal was the Bay’s promise to honour Freiman’s pension commitments to staff. Lawrence himself was to receive an annual pension of $35,000.

Freimans logo 1967-03-22

Freiman’s logo, late 1960s, 22 March 1967, The Ottawa Journal

On 24 November 1971, the news broke in both Ottawa and Winnipeg: The Hudson Bay Company was to buy Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street, its two branch stores located in the Westgate Shopping Centre and on St. Laurent Boulevard and its two discount “Freimart” outlets. It was virtually a “done deal.” The Freiman family had already agreed to sell their 70 per cent share of the publicly–traded company for $6 per share, a mark-up of $1.25 over the last trading price on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The deal valued the company at $4.59 million.

That day, staff crowded into Lawrence Freiman’s office on Rideau Street to hear the news. Also present was Don McGiverin, the Managing Director of the Bay’s 200 retail outlets across Canada. Freiman and McGiverin reassured employees that their futures in the company was secure and that their pension rights had been preserved. McGiverin added that Freiman staff could “aspire” to any position in the Canada-wide company.

The investment dealer community was surprised by the comparatively low price put on Freiman’s shares. Even though the company’s profitability had slipped somewhat during the first half of 1971 to $86,626 from $101,274 over the same period the previous year on sales of almost $14 million, the company was in sound financial shape. According to one broker, Freiman’s book value was greater than $9 per share—but still down from the $9.75 per share price the company had been valued at when it had gone public roughly ten years earlier. The company’s shares had traded as high as $13 some months earlier, but their value had fallen in tandem with a broad sell-off in the Canadian stock market. Another dealer thought the $6 price was deceptive. As the Freiman’s pension plan was unfunded, the Bay’s all-included cost of purchasing the company was roughly $8 per share if one included the cost of the Bay assuming the firm’s pension liabilities.

News of the take-over was greeted with sorrow and concern in some quarters. The company had a reputation of being a good employer. A letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen appeared shortly after the announcement. Written by Mansab Ali Khan, the letter read: “The magnanimity and generosity [of Freiman’s] toward colored people is very well known. Any qualified person from Asia or Africa who applied for a job in that company was never refused employment because of color or nationality.” Mr. Ali Khan hoped that the new owners would “follow in the footsteps of A.J. Freiman.” The Citizen opined that it was “not a surprise to see Freiman’s go,” but Ottawa “won’t be quite the same.”

Freimans Bayman26-6-73 TOC

The Arrival of “Bayman,” 26 June 1973, The Ottawa Citizen

The Bay officially took control of Freiman’s shortly before Christmas 1971 and began operating under the name Freiman-Hudson Bay Company. Freiman’s shareholders received one last dividend of 5 cents per share, payable in mid-January 1972. Gordon Roston, Lawrence Freiman’s son-in-law was appointed Vice-President and General Manager. A senior HBC executive was appointed Assistant General Manager. A.J. Freiman II remained on the company’s Board of Directors.

In June 1973, Freiman’s was subsumed completely within the Bay, and the Freiman name disappeared from Ottawa retailing. To mark the event, there was a one-day celebration at the Rideau Street, Westgate and St. Laurent stores. Models showed fashions worn by people over the Bay’s 300-year history. The store also launched “Bayman,” a superhero who fought inflation with Bay Day flyers “full of top quality merchandise at great savings,”

Lawrence Freiman died in 1986. The eponymous Lawrence Freiman Lane that runs behind the National Arts Centre recognizes Lawrence’s contribution to the arts in Ottawa. An arcade enclosed within the Hudson Bay Company between Rideau Street and George Street is officially known as the Freiman Mall. This passage had previously been known as Freiman Street, and before that as Mosgrove Street. When the Rideau Centre was constructed at the beginning of the 1980s, the City of Ottawa closed the street and leased it to the Bay on the proviso that the company enclosed the space and allowed through access to the Byward Market. A plaque in the Mall unveiled by Mayor Marion Dewer in 1983 honours Freiman’s Department Store and the Freiman family. The pedestrian bridge that links the Rideau Centre to the Hudson Bay Company above Rideau Street is also officially known as the Freiman Bridge.

Sources:

Figler, Bernard, 1959. Lillian and Archie Freiman, Biographies, Northern Printing and Lithography Co.: Montreal.

Freiman, Lawrence, 1978. Don’t Fall Off The Rocking Horse: An Autobiography of Lawrence Freiman, McClellan and Stewart: Toronto.

Ottawa Citizen (The), “Bay buying Freiman’s Company offering $6/shr.” 24 November.

————————-, 1971. “A.J. Freiman Sales Higher,” 8 October.

——————, 1971, “Freiman sale surprises financial community,” 25 November.

——————, 1971. “Freiman terms out,” 9 December.

——————, 1971. “Brocker backs Freiman deal, 10 December.

——————, 1971. “New Freiman top brass includes present hands,” 15 December.

——————, 1971. “Open to all,” 17 December.

——————, 1973. “Big store chains learning capital a strong market,” 21 July.

——————, 2015. “Council approves Freiman bridge deal,” 13 May.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1971. “Hudson’s Bay buying Freiman’s,” 24 November

————————–, 1971. “Enter The Giants,” 25 November.

————————–, 1971. “The Bay takes over Freiman’s Dec. 20,” 15 December.

————————–, 1973. “Freiman’s Becomes The Bay,” 25 June.

The Return of “D” Company

3 November 1900

It is said that Canada became a nation at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 during World War I when the Canadian Expeditionary Force took the German-held high ground amidst fierce fighting—an achievement that had eluded British and French forces in three years of fighting. Although there is no disputing the heroism and the accomplishment of the Canadian soldiers, some historians maintain that the significance given to Vimy Ridge in the development of Canadian nationalism is a modern invention. It also overlooks the impact of an earlier war on Canadian national confidence. That war was the South African War, also known as the Boer War.

The Boer War was a nasty colonial conflict that pitted Britain against two Boer (Afrikaans for farmer) republics called the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. There were actually two wars. The first, in which the British got a drubbing, lasted from 1880 to 1881, while the second more famous one lasted from 1899 to 1902. The wars resulted from British imperial designs over southern Africa butting up against the desire by Boer settlers for their own independent, white republics. Thrown into the mix was the discovery of gold in Boer territories, an influx of foreign, mostly British prospectors and miners (called uitlanders) who were denied political rights by Boer governments who feared being swamped by the incomers, rival British and Boer economic interests, British fears of German interference in southern Africa, and the ambitions of Cecil Rhodes, the premier of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

Boer War going-near post office 1899 ottawa LAC C-003950

Ottawa soldiers departing for the South African War, 1899, Library and Archives Canada, C-003950.

The South African war began in October 1899 after talks between the British government and the Boer governments failed. Boer soldiers invaded the British Natal and Cape Colonies and subsequently laid siege to ill-prepared British troops at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The attacks galvanized pro-British sympathies throughout the Empire, whipped up by nationalistic newspapers. Australia and New Zealand sent troops to assist the Mother Country in its hour of need.

In Canada, public opinion in English Canada was likewise strongly in favour of Britain and the uitlanders. The Ottawa Evening Journal said “Britain, a democratic monarchy, is at war with a despotic republic, and seeks to give equality to the people of the Transvaal.” Pressured by English Canada, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier agreed to send 1,000 volunteers to support the British cause over the opposition of many French Canadians including fellow Liberal party member Henri Bourassa, who resigned his federal seat in protest. Bourassa later founded the newspaper Le Devoir. This was the first time Canada had committed troops to an overseas war. In 1884, Canadian volunteers, many from the Ottawa area, had agreed to serve as non-combatants in the relief of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum, Sudan.

In Ottawa, imperial sentiment was strong, even reportedly among its francophone population. One such resident opined that “French Canadians had no reason to be other than loyal to England…England had dealt fairly with us and we should be unhesitatingly be loyal.” Another said “Every British subject, whether of French or any other extraction, should be willing to bear the responsibilities of Empire.” Of the first 1,000 volunteers to serve in South Africa in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry under the command of Colonel Otter, sixty-seven came from the Ottawa area.

The Ottawa contingent, “D Company,” left the Capital for Quebec City by train in late October 1899 under the command of Captain Rogers, formerly Major Rogers of the 43rd Regiment based in Ottawa. Rogers had served with distinction in the North-West Rebellion. A crowd of 30,000 saw the volunteers off “to defend the honour of Britain.”

Many Ottawa residents took a special train to Quebec City to see their boys off on the Sardinian for South Africa on 30 October 1899. The Journal was moved by the occasion to write: “Descendants of the men who fought with Montcalm and Wolfe marched side by side to play their part in the great South African drama.” Before boarding the ship, the Canadian contingent was fêted at the Quebec City Drill Hall. The Ottawa volunteers cheered “Hobble, gobble, Razzle, dazzle, Sis boom bah, Ottawa, Ottawa, Rah. Rah. Rah.” as if they were going to a football game.

Over the next year, the soldiers of the Canadian contingent proved in battle that they were second to none. The Canadians distinguished themselves at the Battle of Paardeberg where after nine days of bloody fighting in late February 1900, British forces defeated a Boer army. It was their first major victory of the war. The Boer general, Piet Cronjé, surrendered when his soldiers woke to find themselves facing Canadian rifles from nearly point blank range. In the dead of night, the Canadian troops had silently dug trenches on the high ground overlooking the Boer line. In the fighting, the British forces sustained more than 1,400 casualties, of which 348 men died. Thirty-one Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the battle, including two Ottawa men. Many more were wounded. Boer losses amounted 350 killed or wounded and 4,019 captured. Canadian forces subsequently distinguished themselves in the capture of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria.

After completing their one year tour of duty, the first Canadian contingent to fight in the South Africa War returned home aboard the transport ship Idaho. The men were paid off in Halifax with the government also providing them new winter clothes. A special train then carried the veterans westward, dropping off soldiers along the way. Many had brought mementoes home. One man carried a little monkey on his shoulder while another had a parrot in a wooden box. Captain Rogers of Ottawa’s “D” Company brought home a Spitz dog from Cape Town. With the Idaho having stopped in St Helena on the way to Canada, another officer brought home sprigs of the willow trees that grew at Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave.

Boer War return 1900 C-007978

Crowds welcoming home Ottawa’s “D” Company at the Canada Atlantic Railway Company’s Elgin Street Train Station, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-007978.

Thirty-one Ottawa veterans arrived home at 2.45pm on Saturday, 3 November 1900. The famed “Confederation poet,” W. Wilfred Campbell, who lived in Ottawa, penned a poem to welcome them. Titled Return of the Troops, the first verse went:

Canadian heroes hailing home, War-worn and tempest smitten, Who circled leagues of rolling foam, To hold the earth for Britain.

The return of “D” Company was signalled by the ringing of the City Hall bell, a refrain that was taken up by church bells across the city. More than 40,000 flag-waving citizens were in the streets to watch their heroes arrive at the Elgin Street station and march to Parliament Hill to the tunes of Rule Britannia and Soldiers of the Queen. They were joined by other South African veterans who had been invalided home earlier. In the parade were elements of all regiments based in Ottawa, including the 43rd Regiment, the Dragoon Guards, the Field Battery, the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Army Medical Corps. The parade was led by members of the police force, on foot, horse, and bicycle to clear the streets of well-wishers, followed by members of the reception committee. Also present were veterans of the 1866 and 1870 Fenian raids.

Boer War first Cdn contingent return 3-11-00 LAC-C-002067

Return of “D” Company, Parade along Wellington Street, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, C-002067.

Along the parade route, homes and stores were bedecked with flags, bunting and streamers. Store fronts and window displays were also decorated in patriotic themes. In the window of George Blyth & Son was a figure of Queen Victoria in a triumphal arch with two khaki-clad soldiers standing in salute. In the background was a canvas tent. The words “Soldiers of the Queen” were written in roses in the foreground. Ross & Company displayed a crowned figure with a sceptre in her hand being saluted by two sailors. R.J. Devlin’s and R. Masson’s stores were lit with electrical lights with Queen Victoria’s cypher, “V.R.” displayed over their doors in large letters. The Ottawa Electric Company building on the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets was draped in bunting, flags and strands of electric lights. Above the main entrance there was a large maple leaf and beaver in coloured lights. Not to be left out, the usually staid citizens of Ottawa were also patriotically dressed. Women wore little flags in the hats while young men had flags for vests.

Boer War return 1900 MIKAN no. 3407088

“D” Company parading in front of the central block on Parliament Hill, 3 November 1900, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan No. 3407088.

Parliament Hill was decorated to greet the return of “D” Company. The central block was ornamented by two large pictures picked out in electric lights on either side of the main entrance. On the left was a soldier charging with a rifle in hand with the word “Paardeberg” underneath. On the right was a trooper on horseback with the word “Pretoria,” underneath. Other emblems mounted on the towers included “VRI,” which stood for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, over the main entrance, as well as a crown, maple leaf and beaver. All were illuminated with electric lights. Strings of lights also stretched from the Victoria Tower in the centre of the main block to the east and west corners of the building.

The returning soldiers marched in the khaki uniforms that they had worn in South Africa. As they passed by the cheering multitudes, men from the crowd jumped into the ranks to shake the hand of a friend or family member. At times the police had difficulty in controlling the seething crowd. The Journal reported that on a couple of occasions, “the police, without warning, caught the eager relative of the long-absent warrior by the throat and hurled him back into the crowd.”

On Parliament Hill, the veterans were welcomed home by Lord Minto, the Governor General, who told the troops that he was proud “to be able to receive the Ottawa contingent into the Capital of the Dominion, the Ottawa representatives of the regiment that won glory for Canada at Paardeberg.” He then read out a message of thanks from Queen Victoria. This was followed by speeches from the Hon. W. R. Scott, secretary of state, and Ottawa’s Mayor Payment.

Ottawa sparkled that night. In addition to the lights on Parliament Hill that scintillated like diamonds, Sparks Street was ablaze with strings of Chinese lanterns strung across the road from Bank Street to Sappers’ Bridge. Electric lights illuminated Wellington Street. The words “Our Boys,” and “Welcome Home” were written in lights on the Victoria Chambers and the Bank of Montreal buildings.

The following Monday evening, another reception was held in honour of returning heroes at Lansdowne Park in the Aberdeen Pavilion. Close to ten thousand people cheered the Ottawa veterans. The biggest cheer was reserved for Private R. R. Thompson who had received the “Queen’s scarf” for bravery. The scarf was one of eight personally crocheted by Queen Victoria to be awarded to private soldiers for outstanding bravery in the South African conflict. Thompson had received his award for aiding wounded comrades at Paardeberg.

The Pavilion was decorated in bunting, flags and evergreen branches. Over the platform were the words “The heroes of our land. Their glory never dies. Ottawa welcomes her sons. Welcome to our heroes of Paardeberg.” The bands of the Governor General Foot Guards and the 43rd Regiment and the 200 member Ottawa Choral Society choir played and sang patriotic songs. After the speeches, Countess Minto presented each veteran with a golden locket.

Canadians everywhere basked in the reflected glory of their returning heroes from the South Africa War with celebrations across the country. Canada had done its part in preserving the honour of Queen and Empire. Moreover, Canadian soldiers were seen as equals of the finest in the British Army. The Journal wrote: “One year ago they left a country that was little known to the world, save as a prosperous colony; only one year, and they returned to find a nation; a nation glorying in its newly acquired honor, and a nation that does them homage as the purchasers of that honor.” In an editorial titled Patriotism and Loyalty, the newspaper added that “Canadians have always been both patriotic and loyal to the Mother Country.” But now “the fruits of confederation have suddenly ripened, and we have begun to feel our nation-hood.”

Boer War statue Topley Studio LAC PA-008912

The statue honouring Ottawa soldiers who died in the South African War once stood on Elgin Street in front of the City Hall which burnt down in 1931. It currently stands in Confederation Park, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA-008912.

Canadian soldiers subsequently gained distinction in later battles in South Africa, including at Leliefontein and Boschbult. Four Canadians received the Victoria Cross for valour during the war. In total, more than 7,000 Canadian soldiers and twelve nurses volunteered to serve in South Africa, of whom 267 died and whose names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance of the Canadian service personnel who have given their lives since Confederation while serving their country. In Ottawa, 30,000 children donated their allowances to build a statue to honour the sixteen Ottawa volunteers who died in the conflict.

After the Imperial forces defeated Boer armies on the field in 1900, the Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare for the next two years before surrendering. The British responded with a scorched earth policy and placed Boer women and children in concentration camps. Owing to neglect and disease due to overcrowding, tens of thousands of civilians died.  Non-combatant deaths exceeded 43,000 including Afrikaaner women and children and black Africans. More than 22,000 British and allied soldiers died in the three-year conflict, while suffering a similar number of wounded. Boer military deaths numbered more than 6,000. 

Sources:

BBC. 2010. “Second Boer War records database goes online,” 24 June, http://www.bbc.com/news/10390469.

Canadian War Museum, 2017. Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902, http://www.museedelaguerre.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/boerwarhistory_e.shtml.

Evening Citizen (The), 1900. “The Canadians Are At Halifax,” 1 November.

————————–, 1900. “The Boys Will Be Here On Time,” 3 November.

————————–, 1900. “It Was A Right Royal Welcome They Received,” 5 November.

————————–, 1900. “Form Paardeberg to Pretoria,” 5 November.

Evening Journal (The), 1899. “A Canadian Contingent,” 13 October.

————————————-, 1899. “Have Gone to Defend the Honor of Britain,” 25 October.

————————————-, 1900. “With the Ottawa Boys Down at the Citadel,” 30 October.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of “D” Company, 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Return of the Troops,” 3 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Patriotism and Loyalty,” 5 November.

————————————-, 1900, “Forty Thousand Glad Acclaims to Ottawa’s Brave Soldiers. 5 November.

————————————-, 1900. “Gold lockets Given to Ottawa’s Gallant Soldiers,” 6 November.

McKay, Ian & Swift, Jamie, 2016. The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Toronto: Between the Lines.

Miller, Carmen & Foot, Richard, 2016. “Canada and the South African War,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/south-african-war/.

New Zealand History, 2017. South African War, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/south-african-boer-war.

Pretorius, Fransjohan, 2014. “The Boer Wars,” BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml.

South African History Online, 2017. Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/second-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902.

 

 

The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November  1927

Readers may be surprised to learn that the Rideau Canal of the twenty-first century is considerably different from the Rideau Canal of the nineteenth century. In the old days, the Canal was very much a gritty, working canal. While it had its share of pleasure boats that plied its length, commerce was its main function. At its Ottawa end, barges, pulled by horses and men along canal-side tow paths, were drawn to warehouses that stretched from the Plaza at Wellington Street to the Maria Street Bridge (the predecessor of the Laurier Avenue Bridge). Lumber, coal and other materials were piled high along its banks awaiting delivery. Consequently, the Rideau Canal was anything but a scenic port of entry into the nation’s capital. Later, railroads and train sheds replaced the warehouses on the eastern side when the Central Depot, the forerunner of Union Station (currently the Ottawa Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of the Senate), opened in 1896. While practical, this was not an aesthetic improvement.

The quality of the Canal’s water during the late nineteenth century was also considerably different than that of today. While we sometimes complain about the turbid nature of the water and the summertime weeds that choke stretches of the waterway and parts of Dow’s Lake, this is nothing compared to the complaints of residents of the 1880s. Then the Canal literally stank. The sewer that drained the southern portion of Wellington Ward, the neighbourhood located between Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) and Bank Street flowed into the Canal at Lewis Street. The smell was particularly bad in spring when the effluent that had entered the Canal through the winter thawed. Reportedly, the stench of festering sewage was overpowering. So bad were the conditions, the federal government forced the municipal authorities to fix things. After considerable delay, a proper sewer was constructed.

The other not so delightful feature of the waterway was its flotsam and jetsam. Stray logs—a hazard to navigation—was the least of the problem. Prior to the first annual Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1888, one concerned citizen pointed out the many nuisances to be found by boaters on the Canal. These included several carcasses of dead dogs floating in the Deep Cut (that portion of the Canal between Waverely Street and today’s city hall) and a bloated body of a horse bobbing in the water opposite the Exhibition grounds. The citizen also groused about the “vulgar habit” of people swimming in the Canal without “bathing tights.” He didn’t comment on the advisability of canal swimming given the horrific water quality.

The physical geography of the Rideau Canal was also different back then. Patterson’s Creek was much longer in the nineteenth century than it is today; its western end became Central Park in the early twentieth century. There was also Neville’s Creek that flowed through today’s Golden Triangle neighbourhood and entered the Canal close to Lewis Street. The Creek, which was described as a cesspool in the 1880s, was filled in during the early twentieth century.

But the biggest difference was the existence of a large canal basin located roughly where the Shaw Centre and National Defence are today on the eastern side of the Canal and the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park are on the western side.  This basin, which was lined with wooden docks, was used for mooring boats, turning barges, and picking up and delivering cargo and passengers.

Canal Basin 1842 (2)

Map of Bytown, 1842, Bytown or Bust. Note the Lay-By (Canal Basin) in the lower centre of the map on the Rideau Canal. The By-Wash can be seen running north east from the Lay-By to the Rideau River. Barracks Hill will become Parliament Hill in the 1860s.

Before the Canal was constructed, the canal basin was originally a beaver meadow from which a swamp extended as far west as today’s Bank Street. Following the Canal’s completion in 1832, which included digging out the basin, a small outlet or creek called the By-Wash extended from the north east side of the basin. It was used to drain excess water from the Canal. Controlled by a sluice gate, the By-Wash flowed down Mosgrove Street (now the location of the Rideau Centre), went through a culvert under Rideau Street, re-emerged above ground on the northern portion of Mosgrove Street, before heading down George Street, crossing Dalhousie Street on an angle to York Street, and then running along what is now King Edward Street to the Rideau River. In addition to controlling the Canal’s water level, the By-Wash was used by Lower Town residents for washing and fishing. In 1872, the City successfully petitioned the federal authorities who controlled the Rideau Canal to cover the By-Wash. It was converted into a sewer with only a small rump remaining close to the canal basin that was used as a dry dock.

Canal Basin 1888

Detail of 1888 Map of Ottawa, City of Ottawa Archives. Note the Canal Basin. By now, only a rump of the By-Wash remained.

Big changes to the canal basin started during the last decade of the nineteenth century. John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s lumber baron and owner of three railways, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (the O.A. & P.S.), the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, and the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company (subsequently merged to form the Canadian Atlantic Railway–CAR), received permission from the Dominion government to bring trains into the heart of Ottawa. Hitherto, his railways provided service to the Bridge Street Station in LeBreton Flats and to the Elgin Street Station, both a fair distance from the city’s centre. In early March 1896, Booth, through his O.A. & P.S. Railway, acquired from the government a twenty-one year lease for the

Canal Basin Evening Journal 30-10-1897

Diagram of the Rideau Canal and the covered eastern Canal Basin, 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 30 October 1897.

east bank of the Rideau Canal from Sapper’s Bridge (roughly the location of today’s Plaza Bridge) to the beginning of the Deep Cut for $1,100 per year “for the purpose of a canal station and approaches thereto.” Lease-holders of properties between Theodore Street (today’s Laurier Avenue East) and the canal basin were told to vacate. After building a temporary Central Depot at the Maria Street Bridge on the Theodore Street side, Booth subsequently extended the line across the canal basin to a new temporary Central Station at the Military Stores building at Sappers’ Bridge.

Canal Basin c. 1900

Detail of Map of Ottawa, circa 1900, City of Ottawa Archives. Note that the eastern Canal Basin has disappeared.

Initially, the railway crossed the basin on trestles, leaving the basin underneath intact while Booth dredged the western side of the canal basin and built replacement docks—the quid pro quo with the government for removing the eastern basin’s docks. It seems that the government was reluctant to allow Booth to fill in the eastern portion of the basin until the western portion had been deepened, fearing that any unexpected rush of water might be larger than the locks could handle leading to flooding. By mid-March 1896, 75 men and 25-35 horses were hard at work excavating the site. The Central Depot at Sappers’ Bridge was completed in 1896, and was promptly the subject of dispute between Booth and his railway competitors who also wished to use a downtown station. There was rumours that if the Canadian Pacific Railway could not come to terms with Booth, it would build a railroad on the western side of the Canal with a terminus on the other side of Sappers’ Bridge across from the Central Station. Fortunately, with government prodding an accommodation was made. Initially covered over with planks, the western portion of the Canal Basin was subsequently filled in. A new Central Station, later renamed Union Station, opened in 1912.

Canal Basin Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys LACanadaPA-023229

Rideau Canal, circa 1911. The western Canal Basin is on the left. Union Station and the Château Laurier are under construction. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, Library and Archives Canada, PA-023229.

If the eastern Canal Basin was sacrificed to the railway, the western Canal Basin was the victim of the automobile. This time, the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, was responsible. Consistent with its plan to beautify the nation’s capital, the FDC in cooperation with the municipal authorities decided to extend the Driveway from the Drill Hall to Connaught Plaza (now Confederation Plaza) at a cost of $150,000. These funds also covered the construction of two connections with Slater Street, a subway at Laurier Avenue, new light standards, landscaping, and a new retaining wall for the Rideau Canal. Again, firms with warehouses at the Canal Basin, including the wholesale grocers L.N. Bate & Sons and the wholesale hardware merchant Thomas Birkett & Son, were forced to relocate. By the end of April 1927, workmen using steam shovels and teams of horses were hard at work filling in the western Canal Basin. Huge piles of earth were piled up near the Laurier Street Bridge ready to be shifted into the basin. On 14 November 1927, the last renovations to the Rideau Canal commenced with the construction of the new retaining wall from Connaught Plaza to the Laurier Street Bridge. With that, the old Canal Basin, which had served Ottawa for almost 100 years, vanished into history.

Sources:

Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. The Railways of Ottawa, http://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Central_Depot_stations.htm#CARCentralDepot.

Daily Citizen (The), 1895. “Central Station Site,” 1 August.

Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “The New Line.” 11 June.

Evening Journal (The), 1888.” The City Sewerage,” 19 April.

—————————, 1888, “The By-Law,” 27 April.

—————————, 1888. “Canal Nuisances,” 28 May.

—————————, 1895. “Notice to Quit,” 3 October.

—————————, 1895. “Now For The New Basin,” 9 November.

—————————, 1896. “Now For The Depot,” 4 February.

—————————, 1896. “Basin Widening Begun,” 4 March.

—————————, 1896. “Pushing It Ahead,” 11 November.

—————————, 1896. “For The New Station,” 23 May.

—————————, 1897, “Picked From Reporter’s Notes,” 20 October.

————————–, 1897, “Special C.P.R. Depot All Talk,’ 30 October.

————————–, 1898, “The Central Station,” 7 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1925. “History of Early Ottawa,” 10 October.

————————–, 1927, “Start Filling Basin Of Rideau Canal,” 26 April.

————————–, 1927. “Artist’s Conception of Park Scheme Proposed by The Prime Minister,” 11 June.

————————–, 1927, “The Railways And he Central Station,” 1 November.

————————–, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City,” 6 January.

————————–, 1935. “Ottawa’s Beauty Developed On Broad Lines,” 10 December.

————————-, 1949. “Ottawa’s Vanished Water Traffic,” 15 September.

Ottawa, Past & Present, 2014. “Aerial View of the Rideau Canal 1927 and 2014,” http://www.pastottawa.com/comparison/aerial-view-of-the-rideau-canal/474/.

 

Exercise Tocsin B-1961

13 November 1961

Tensions had been mounting between the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact partners and the United States and its NATO allies. In April 1961, some twelve hundred Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA and supplied with American arms and landing craft, had made a failed attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and topple Fidel Castro. The Cuban Communist leader had come to power two years earlier after having deposed Fulgencio Batista, the corrupt and repressive, American-supported dictator.

The following month, Canada tested its civil defence plans in the event of a nuclear war. In cities across the country, the wailing of more than two hundred sirens warned Canadians to take cover. The Canadian Emergency Measures Organization issued a booklet to households indicating what they could do in the event of a nuclear attack. Called The Eleven Steps To Survival, Canadians were told:

Step 1: Know the effects of nuclear explosions

Step 2: Know the facts about radioactive fallout

Step 3: Know the warning signal and have a battery-powered radio

Step 4: Know how to take shelter

Step 5: Have fourteen days emergency supplies

Step 6: Know how to prevent and fight fires

Step 7: Know first aid and home nursing

Step 8: Know emergency cleanliness

Step 9: Know how to get rid of radioactive dust

Step 10: Know your municipal plans

Step 11: Have a plan for your family and yourself

In the introduction to the booklet, Prime Minister Diefenbaker stated: Your personal survival can depend on you following the advice that is given and the survival of many others may depend on how well you have heeded the advice contained therein. The government also provided plans on how to build a backyard bomb shelter.

Mid-August, East Germany began the construction of the Berlin Wall cutting off West Berlin by land, and denying an escape route to the West by East Germans seeking freedom. In early September, the U.S. military detected four, above-ground Soviet nuclear explosions. Subsequently, radioactive fallout, 320 times higher than background radiation levels, was detected in Ottawa. Federal Health Minister Jay Monteith warned that should such high levels of radiation be maintained, they “could well be a hazard to health.” At a state banquet in Moscow, Indian Prime Minister Nehru told Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that it would be stupid to start a war. Khrushchev replied that the Soviet people did not want war but “could not look on calmly while Western powers make military preparations on a hitherto unparalleled scale.” With war rhetoric rising, Prime Minister Diefenbaker warned Canadians in early November that “war is not as improbable as we hope,” and that if comes, Canada will be a battleground. Earlier he had told the House of Commons that should there be an attack on Canada, he and his wife would not leave Ottawa for safety but would rather take cover in the bomb shelter at 24 Sussex Drive.

bomb, Nagasaki, 9 sept 45, Charles Levy from one of the B-29 Superfortresses used in the attack

Atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki, Japan, 9 August 1945, taken by Charles Levy

During the morning of Monday, 13 November 1961, unidentified but presumed hostile submarines were detected in large numbers in the North Atlantic and in the Hudson Bay. Soviet tanker aircraft were also detected near the Aleutians. The Canadian armed forces increased it level of military alertness at 8.30am EST. This was stepped up to the next level at 10.30am and yet again at 12.30pm, sending staff to emergency centres across the country. Troops left possible target areas. At 2.30pm, key government officials and senior defence officers, including Defence Minister Douglas Harkness, Health Minister Monteith, Defence Production Minister Raymond O’Hurley, and Justice Minister Davie Fulton, were dispatched to Camp Petawawa, 150 kilometres north-west of Ottawa that was to become the government back-up centre in the event of war. (The underground, bomb-proof base in Carp now known as the Diefenbunker, which was designed to shelter the Governor General, the Prime Minister, and other senior government and military leaders in the event of nuclear war, was still under construction.)

At 6pm, the Canadian military was placed on maximum alert. Shortly afterwards, NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) radar spotted 36 hostile airplanes heading towards Canada between Greenland and Ellesmere Island. Another 20 were detected off the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific. At 6.50pm, Prime Minister Diefenbaker and six Cabinet colleagues went underground at 24 Sussex Drive where they issued an Order-In-Council invoking the War Measures Act. Defence Minister Harkness was appointed Acting Prime Minister and given almost dictatorial powers to respond if necessary. Diefenbaker also approved the signal to alert unsuspecting Canadians to the deteriorating military situation and to take shelter. He also prepared to address the nation across all radio and television stations in a special broadcast of the Emergency Measures Organization.

At precisely 7pm, more than 500 sirens from coast to coast, 45 in Ottawa alone, began a steady three-minute wail, their strident call telling citizens that a nuclear attack was expected. By that point, more than 110 “penetrations” of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in Canada’s far north had been detected as Soviet bombers streaked across Canadian territory at 600 knots per hour. At 7.10pm, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) gave Diefenbaker a fifteen-minute warning that a missile attack was underway. Air raid sirens across the country gave the “take shelter” warning, a three-minute rising and falling sound that announced a nuclear strike was imminent.

It total, two waves of Soviet bombers, the first of 150 aircraft, the second of 110 as well as two waves of missiles, mostly heading for U.S. targets, were detected. Fourteen Canadian cities were destroyed by five-megaton nuclear bombs, including Vancouver and Courtney in British Columbia, Edmonton and Cold Lake in Alberta, Fort Churchill, Manitoba, Frobisher, NWT, North Bay, Sault Ste Marie, and Welland in Ontario, Chatham, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Goose Bay in Labrador, and Stephenville on the Island of Newfoundland. Ottawa was destroyed at 10.10pm, with the epicentre of the blast situated just north of Uplands Airport. Toronto and Montreal were hit at 10.45pm and 10.51pm, respectively. The Soviet attack on North America lasted until 4am the next morning. Some 30 U.S. cities were destroyed, including Detroit, hit by a ten-megaton bomb that also killed tens of thousands in neighbouring Windsor.

 

Bomb, Canada emergency Measures Organization, Govt of Canada, Mikan 4717891

Bomb, Canada emergency Measures Organization, Govt of Canada, Mikan 4717352

The corner of Sparks Street and Elgin Street, Central Post Office, c. 1961, before and after a nuclear attack on Ottawa, Canada Emergency Measures Organization, Government of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4717891 and 4717352.

The death toll was staggering. The Army Operations Centre at Camp Petawawa estimated Canadian dead at roughly 2.6 million, including Prime Minister Diefenbaker, with an additional 1.6 million injured, many critically. Fire, radiation sickness, and exposure was expected to claims hundreds of thousands of additional lives in coming days and weeks. In the Ottawa region, the death toll was placed at 142,000 dead, 61,000 injured and 30,000 experiencing radiation sickness. On the upside, 90,000 people had been rescued though many thousands remained trapped in burning buildings and debris. Emergency teams of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of volunteers fanned out across the country to help the survivors. Jack Wallace, the Deputy Director of the Emergency Measures Organization noted that while the Saint Laurence Seaway system had been knocked out at Montreal, Welland, and Sault Ste Marie, the railway service could be quickly restored. While casualties were high, over 14 million Canadians had survived the multiple attacks. He also estimated that one half to two-thirds of industry could be quickly made operational and one-half of hydro power was still in commission. There was also sufficient food to feed all Canadians. Canada had come through the nuclear attack severely damaged but intact, with a nucleus of a national government still functioning at Camp Petawawa where fallout was considered light.

Thankfully, this horrific scenario was just that…a scenario called Exercise Tocsin B-1961 that played out on 13 November 1961 as part of Canada’s test of its emergency civil defences. However, all the events described leading up to the test are factual. While the test may seem fanciful to today’s Gen. “Xers” and Millennials, for those who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, it was very real. The Cold War was a time of great worry and stress. Exercise Tocsin B-1961 was held exactly one year before the Cuban missile crisis when the world held its breath as the United States and the Soviet Union played a high-stakes game of “chicken,” where one false movement by either side could have led to a global nuclear holocaust.

Sources:

Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association, “Steps to Survival,” http://civildefencemuseum.ca/.

Emergency Measures Organization, 1961. Eleven Steps to Survival, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1961. “Tocsin B Alarm Goes Off Accidentally In Ottawa,” 13 November.

————————-, 1961. “Nuclear War Test: PM Among ‘Casualties’ As Toll Tops 3-Million,” 14 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1961. “Stupid To Start War Nehru Tells Khrushchev,” 7 September.

————————–, 1961. “Don’t Want War,” 7 September.

————————–, 1961. “War Not Impossible, PM Warns,” 10 November.

————————–, 1961. “Attack Warning Study Alarms Inside Buildings,” 13 November.

————————–, 1961. “Exercise Tocsin, Ottawa ‘Destroyed,’ 175,000 Toll.

————————–, 1961. “Cabinet Met Underground,” 15 November.

————————–, 1961. “Government Counts Tocsin Toll,”

 

The Jersey Lily

8 November 1883

During the early 1880s, the population of Ottawa, while growing rapidly, totalled less than 30,000 souls, far smaller than Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City. But being the capital of the new Dominion of Canada, and therefore home to the Governor General and Parliament, what the community lacked in numbers it made up in political and social clout. The town also boasted a small but wealthy group of industrialists who had mostly made their fortunes in the forestry industry. Because of these political and economic elites, Ottawa enjoyed the amenities of a far larger city, including the luxurious Russell Hotel, Ottawa’s premier hostelry, and the Grand Opera House, a top-quality hall for theatrical and other performances. With such facilities, Ottawa was equipped to welcome the international celebrities of the age, including the witty Oscar Wilde, the divine Sarah Bernhardt, and the incomparable Mrs Lillie Langtry.  Mrs Langtry, a.k.a. “The Jersey Lilly,” captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for more than forty years. She made three visits to Ottawa during her career, the first occurring on 8 November 1883.

Mrs Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1853, the daughter of a prominent clergyman. While brought up in a liberal, loving family, island life was confining for the beautiful young girl, known to everyone as “Lillie.” To get off the island and experience a taste of adventure, she married Edward Langtry in 1874, a widower ten years her senior. The couple settled in London. Sadly, the marriage quickly soured. Husband Edward drank heavily, and lived beyond his means. Although he had two racing yachts, his family’s wealth had been largely dissipated by the time it reached him. High living quickly went through the remaining fortune.

landgtry-by-millais-1878

“The Jersey Lily,” portrait of Lillie Langtry painted by John Everett Millais, 1878.

Lillie Langtry’s society career was launched when she was introduced to the artist John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a non-conformist group of Victorian artists who aimed to revive a medieval, artistic aesthetic. Attracted by her great beauty and charm, she became the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, posing for Millais, George Francis Miles, and others, including Sir Edward Poynter. Oscar Wilde also became a close friend and mentor, introducing her to his friends in the Aesthetics Movement, including the American artist, James Whistler.

Mrs Langtry arrival in society coincided with photography going mainstream, and the beginning of a mass celebrity culture. Joining the ranks of the “Professional Beauties,” her photograph graced the store fronts and middle-class sitting rooms of Britain. As part of this elite group, Langtry gained an entreé into the dining rooms and ball rooms of the aristocracy ever eager to seek out the latest sensation.  Male admirers, known as “Langtry’s lancers,” followed her as she rode daily in Hyde Park, a popular society past time that provided an opportunity to see people and be seen. In 1877, she caught the philandering eye of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, the oldest son of Queen Victoria. The married prince and Mrs Langtry began a well-publicized affair that raised her to the pinnacle of British society. Although the relationship cooled after a time, and the prince looked elsewhere for extra-marital affection, they remained close friends. On his coronation as Edward VII in 1902, Mrs Langtry, along with other former mistresses, attended the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in a special box, known sotto voce as the “King’s Loose Box.” After the prince, Mrs Langtry went on to have many other affairs that brought her considerable notoriety, including one with Prince Louis of Battenberg, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Prince Louis is reputed to have been the father of Mrs Langtry’s only child, a daughter, Jeanne Marie, though she was also in a relationship with another man at the time.

In 1881, with the Langtrys close to bankruptcy, Lillie embarked on a stage career on the advice of Oscar Wilde, after taking acting lessons from the English actress Henrietta Hodson, the mistress and later wife of the politician Henry Labouchère. (As an aside, Labouchère’s uncle, also Henry, was the person who conveyed Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada to Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General, in 1857.) The theatre was a daring career decision. In the late nineteenth century, acting was not viewed a proper vocation for gentlewomen. Actresses were often looked upon as little more than prostitutes. Mrs Langtry’s stage career, which was supported by the Prince of Wales, helped to change attitudes. She also broke convention by handling all her bookings herself, as well as hiring a theatre troupe.

Mrs Langtry went on to have an illustrious stage career on both sides of the Atlantic that lasted several decades. While her acting was uneven, especially during the early years of her career, her beauty and notoriety brought people out in droves to her performances. Her fame also led her to become an advertising pioneer. As one of the first, if not the first celebrity endorser, she allowed the producers of Pears’ soap to use images of her, in various stages of undress, in its advertising. She also provided a testimonial that her flawless complexion was due to Pears’ soap. Langtry promoted other products during her long career, including cigarettes, hair tonic, dresses and accessories.

Needless to say, her marriage with Edward Langtry, never strong owing to his excessive drinking, suffered further due to her affairs and notoriety. They mostly lived apart while she pursued her acting career and a series of liaisons in the United States and in Britain. After twenty-three years of marriage, Lillie got a divorce in 1897. Edward died shortly afterwards. In 1899, she married 28 year-old Sir Hugo de Bathe, eighteen years her junior, against the wishes of the groom’s parents. This marriage also foundered. Lillie Langtry died in Monaco in 1929, and was buried is St Saviour Church in Jersey.

Lillie Langtry’s first visit to Ottawa in November 1883 occurred at the start of her long stage career. She and her company performed the appropriately named play The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan in front of an audience described as “large and fashionable.” It was unclear, however, whether people had shown up to watch the classic comedy or just to catch a glimpse of the famous Mrs Langtry. Tickets for reserved seats, which had gone on sale at Nordheimer’s Music Store for $1.50 each a week ahead of the production, were quickly snapped up. The performance was held with the patronage of the Governor General and the Marchioness of Lansdowne, though, oddly, the vice-regal couple arrived someway into the first act, perhaps an indication of a certain reserve towards the notorious actress. Also in the audience were Lord Melgund, an aide of the Governor General, as well as several Cabinet ministers. The performance was the first of a series of evening and matinee shows that ran over three days. In addition to The School for Scandal, Langtry and her troupe put on She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. This was a reprise of the first play in which Langtry performed in 1881 at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, gave Mrs Langtry rave reviews for her performance as Mrs Teazle in The School for Scandal, saying that she “played with an artistic delicacy we have seldom seen equal.” In her role as Miss Hardcastle in She Stoops To Conquer, the Journal said that she displayed “versatility as an actress” and a “genuine appreciation of the requirements of the character.” The review looked forward to seeing Mrs Langtry in a dramatic role and opined that “from the little we have seen we believe she possesses many of the qualities which go to make a leading actress.”

Mrs Langtry returned to Ottawa and the Grand Opera House for a one-evening event on Good Friday, 12 April 1895. Billed as the “Society Event of the Season,” she appeared in Gossip, a play by Leo Ditrichstein and Clyde Fitch, supported by the American actor Eben Plympton. Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents to $1.50. Advertisements  for the show noted that electric cars would be at the Opera House to take theatre goers home after the production; the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company had opened for business five years earlier.

As soon as the performance date was announced, there was controversy.  Churches objected saying that a Good Friday show “was an insult.” At a prayer meeting, The Rev. W. Witten of the Reform Episcopal Church stated that “he would rather [people] went to the theatre Sunday than Good Friday. Those of his people who did go could not expect to come to church on Sunday and take part in communion.” Of course, the controversy only heightened the excitement, and provided Mrs Langtry with free advertising.

Fittingly given the name of the play, there was also much talk about what Mrs Langtry was going to wear for the production. Her new gowns were designed by Mme Laferrière of Paris and were “modelled after the style to prevail the coming summer.” Ottawa was even more agog over her jewels. According to the Journal, the coronet she wore in Gossip, which was made up of 2,000 diamonds “of the first purity and brilliance,” and twenty-five large Oriental pearls, was valued at $180,000. Her necklace of rubies and diamonds were said to be worth $25,000 while a jewelled broach consisting of a 44 carat ruby surrounded by diamonds was appraised at $300,000, an immense sum today let alone 120 years ago.

In a curt review the day after the performance, the Evening Journal reported that while there was a large and appreciative audience, Mrs Langtry was disappointing in the first act though she “showed a marked improvement” as the play progressed. The most attractive feature of the play was the dresses.

langtryoj1900

Engraving of Lillie Langtry, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 12 May 1900.

Lillie Langtry’s last appearance in Ottawa occurred in May 1900. This time she appeared at the Russell Theatre in a production of The Degenerates by the English dramatist Sydney Grundy. With the patronage of the Governor General, Lord Minto, and Lady Minto, the play was held as a benefit, with all profits going to the fire relief fund.

She played to a full house and received numerous curtain calls. At the end of the performance, she made a short patriotic speech and recited a poem by Rudyard Kipling titled “The Absent-Minded Beggar,” in support of British soldiers then fighting in the Boer War. The first lines of the poem read:

When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia:” When you’ve sung “God Save The Queen,” When you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth: Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine For a gentleman in khaki ordered South?

Quite a few coins were thrown on stage in response. At that time, some 1,000 Canadian volunteers organized into the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, were fighting in South Africa.

The Journal claimed that Mrs Langtry, now 47 years old, had the looks and figure of a woman of 25—“years seem to have left no impression on her.” However, the comment may have been more gentlemanly than factual. Two months earlier, it was reported that in New York, Mrs Langtry had insisted that all the gas jets in the theatre in which she was about to perform be covered with tinted mosquito netting because the glaring lights brought into “unpleasant evidence ‘crow’s’ feet.” After the netting caught fire, the gas lights were replaced with electric lights with the bulbs softened with pink fabric.

Although Lillie Langtry made several more North American tours, she never again appeared in Ottawa. She retired from acting in 1917. The life of Lillie Langtry has been the subject of numerous books. In 1978, London Weekend Television produced an excellent mini-series on her life titled Lillie, starring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.

 

Sources:

Beatty Laura, 1999. Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals, London: Chatto & Windus.

Brough James, 1975. The Prince and the Lily, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan Inc.

Evening Journal (The),

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry Coming,” 28 March.

—————————, 1895. Mrs. Langtry’s Gems and Gowns,” 11 April.

—————————, 1895. “Lillie Langtry at Grand Opera House One Night Only, 12 April.

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry At The Grand,” 13 April.

—————————, 1900. “Personal and Pertinent,” 20 March.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 10 May.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 17 May.

Globe (The), 1883. “Mrs Langry At Ottawa,” 9 November.

—————, 1895. “A Good Advertisement for the Jersey Lily,” 12 April.

Holland, Evangeline, 2008. “The Professional Beauty,” Edwardian Promenade, http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/women/the-professional-beauty/.

Holmes, Su & Negra, Diane, Eds. 2011. In the Limelight and Under the Microscope, Forms and Functions of Female Celebrity, New York and London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 9 November.

————————, 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 10 November.