The Grand Chaudière Dam

16 October 1868

We have in our very midst unrivalled water powers, and it would argue the utmost lack of energy, the blindest fatuity, were they to remain undeveloped. “Impressions of Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, 6 November 1860.

The mighty Ottawa River, also known as the Kichissippi in Algonquin and the Outaouais in French, stretches more than 1,100 kilometres. Its source is Lac Capitmichigama in central Quebec from which it runs west to Lake Timiskaming before heading south to form the boundary between Ontario and Quebec, passing through the National Capital Region on its way to meet the St. Lawrence at the Lac des Deux Montagnes in Montreal. Its watershed covers an area of more than 146,000 square kilometres.

For countless generations, the Ottawa was a key transportation and trading route for the indigenous peoples of this land. Later, it became the route for European explorers and settlers into Canada’s interior. Led by native guides, Samuel de Champlain explored the Ottawa River in 1613. It subsequently became an important thoroughfare for French voyageurs and coureurs des bois trading manufactured goods with the First Nations for beaver and other pelts which were in high demand in Europe. Later still, loggers and lumbermen of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who were exploiting the ancient forests of the Ottawa Valley, relied on the river to transport logs and square timber (logs that had been stripped of their bark and roughly squared) to markets.

With a vertical descent of 365 metres, the Ottawa River is turbulent and fast-flowing even today despite more than 50 dams and hydro facilities constructed along its main branch and tributaries.  According to the Ottawa Riverkeeper, the Ottawa is one of the most regulated rivers in Canada. Nonetheless, it remains a magnet for white-water canoers and rafters.

For nineteenth century lumbermen trying to bring rafts of logs down the Ottawa, its rapids and falls were a nightmare, posing dangers to life and limb. However, the entrepreneurs of Ottawa and Hull saw the potential for profit from those same rapids and falls if they could be harnessed to produce the motive power necessary to drive the big saws that processed the raw lumber. By damming the Ottawa, mill owners could channel the flow of water through their mills. A tamed river also meant a safer river for the log drivers.

One of the major obstacles on the Ottawa River was the Chaudière Falls, known as the Giant Kettle in English. In 1829, Ruggles Wright, the son of Philomon Wright who founded Hull, built a timber slide on the Quebec side of the river to permit logs and rafts of timber to bypass the falls. Three years later, another slide was constructed by George Buchanan on the Ontario side of the river. To build the slide, a dam was constructed that ran roughly parallel to the shore to divert water into a channel. (The dam can be seen in an 1832 plan of the first Union Bridge across the Ottawa River by Joseph Bouchette.)

Plan and elevation of Union Bridge by Burrows in Joseph Buchette, 1831, p.82 (2)

The initial 1832 dam built by George Buchanan can be seen in the middle left hand side of the map of the Chaudière Falls and Bridge from Joseph Bouchette, The British Dominions in North America, 1832.

In 1854, at the behest of the mill-owners and lumbermen of Bytown, the Department of Public Works of the Provincial Government, constructed a 640-foot dam with log booms on the south side of the Chaudière Falls. It extended from the pier built by George Buchanan at the head of his timber slide to Russell Island above the Falls. The purpose of the dam was threefold. First, it would provide a more constant supply of water during the low water summer months. Second, it would furnish a 140-acre pool of calm water for the storage of logs waiting to be processed in the adjacent mills. Previously, only a day’s worth of logs could be stored. Third, it would reduce the loss of timber inadvertently going over the Falls. It was reported that £3,000 pounds worth of logs was lost annually owing to the timber cribs getting into the wrong channel. There was no mention of the fate of the men driving the logs.

A second dam with booms was also constructed on the north side of the river to ensure a constant supply of water for the Hull mills. According to the Citizen, “There is no limit to the extent of the commerce that may be created by the mills and factories that can be put into motion by the water of the Chaudière.”

Despite the hyperbole, the newspaper was on to something. Between 1856 and 1860, the timber industry expanded rapidly with Messrs. Perley, Booth and Eddy joining timber pioneers such as Messrs. Baldwin, Bronson, Harris and Young. The millowners sought more River “improvements” to expand their capacity. Reportedly, the lumber barons, to whom the government had leased water rights, were “exceedingly irritated and annoyed” to go with out water for their mills during the low water summer months while at the same time “a mighty volume of water [was] plunging over the Falls.” With many mills forced to close for part of the year, there was a loss of profit, especially as mill owners tried to keep skilled workers on payrolls as long as possible fearing that they might leave the region if they were laid off. Even so, many found themselves temporarily unemployed during the low water months—a serious condition as there was no unemployment insurance. The Citizen opined that “fathers of families, others younger—the hope and strength of the country—[were] standing idle, in want of work…while the mighty volume of the Ottawa rushed by the silent mills uncurbed and useless to man.”

Mr. Baldwin proposed that the government build a submerged dam across the main channel a few hundred yards above (west of) the Chaudière Falls, to divert the river towards the lumber mills. However, excess water would continue to flow over the dam during periods of high water and avert spring flooding. The government was not convinced. To allay governmental concerns about potential flooding, Baldwin suggested lowering Russell Island, located at the south end of the proposed dam, by six feet to provide an additional area of discharge during periods of high water. During low water, it would stand above the waterline and would act as an auxiliary dam. He figured that the water running over the lowered island during the spring freshet would offset the obstruction caused by the proposed dam. Still unconvinced, the Department of Public Works refused to fund the project and demanded the backers of the project, should they go ahead themselves, provide bonds of indemnity to compensate landowners who might be flooded by the dam.

With the capital for the venture provided by “a large party of the leading residents of the city and others,” the project went ahead under the supervision of Mr. John O’Connor during the fall of 1868. The submerged dam was 350 feet long and 75 feet wide at the base, tapering to 24 to 48 feet wide at the top. It was built of strong crib-work filled in with stone and braced with longitudinal timbers faced with 5-inch thick planks upon which guard timbers were attached using iron bolts. Guard piers protected each end of the dam. Reportedly, workers excavated 8,000 tons of rock, presumably from Russell Island.  The project costed roughly $10,000, and was completed in five weeks using a workforce of 200 men.

The Grand Chaudière Dam was inaugurated on 16 October 1868, a day which the Citizen said would be “long remembered in the annals of the lumber interest of the valley.” The paper also praised the “enterprise of our American citizens—by whom the majority of the milling establishments at the Chaudière are owned.”

A few days later, sixty of the leading citizens of Ottawa assembled on Russell Island for a celebration to mark the completion of the dam, “and pledge a bumper to the health of the builder, and prosperity to the trade.” Chairing the gathering was Richard Scott, the Liberal member of the legislative assembly who represented Ottawa in the Ontario legislature. Other attendees included, Joseph M. Currier, the Conservative member of parliament for the City of Ottawa, Mayor Henry Friel, and a number of Dominion Government cabinet ministers despite the government’s earlier opposition to the project. Samuel Tilley, the Minister of Inland Revenue, apologized for the absence of Sir George Cartier and others who could not attend owing to important engagements elsewhere. James Skead, a prominent area businessman and senator, argued that similar works like the Chaudière dam were needed elsewhere on the Ottawa River.

Chaudiere Falls pre 1900

Map of the Chaudière area before the construction of the Chaudière Ring dam in 1908. The 1854 dam between Chaudière Island and Russell Island can be seen in the middle left of the map. The Grand Chaudière Dam is not visible.

The impact on timber production owing to the construction of the Grand Chaudière Dam was considerable. Reportedly, the small mill owned by Mr. Young increased its monthly production by 1 million feet of lumber, the product of 5,000 standard logs, during the first dry season after the completion of the dam. Extrapolating these figures to include the much larger operations of Messrs. Baldwin, Bronson, Booth and Perley, the Citizen calculated that a total of 13 million additional feet of lumber were produced every month during the dry season. With a dry season averaging three months, the value of increased production amounted to an estimated $507,000 dollars—a huge sum. As well, there was no flooding during the spring freshet as feared by the government. The expectations of the dam’s backers were more than fully met.

With the mills working at full capacity from the beginning to the end of the milling season, the Citizen wrote: The completion and successful working of the dam may be said to be the crowning point of numerous victories over great natural obstructions and difficulties. The vast water power which has for ages been conserved in the Chaudière Falls, has now been utilized to an extent which few of the last generation ever dreamt of, and which but few of the present generation, who thoroughly understood the difficulties, could, a few years ago, have supposed could be realized.

Today, the Grand Chaudière Dam, which permitted a huge expansion of the Ottawa timber business during the second half of the nineteenth century, is long gone. It was replaced by the Chaudière Ring Dam in 1908 which massively expanded the hydro-electric generating capacity of the Chaudière Falls, and provided the bulk of Ottawa’s electricity during the early twentieth century.

 

Sources:

Haxton Tim & Chubbuck, Don, 2002, Review of the historical and existing natural environment and resource uses on the Ottawa River, Ontario Power Generation, https://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/tim_haxton_report.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen, 1854. “No Title,” 29 July.

——————, 1854. “Ottawa Improvements,” 7 October.

——————, 1854. “Public Works On The Ottawa,” 28 October.

——————, 1868. “Inauguration Of The Great Chaudiere Dam,” 23 October.

——————, 1869. “The Pubic Works on the Ottawa And Its Tributaries,” 12 August.

——————, 1869. “The Lumbering Interests Of Ottawa, 16 August.

Ottawa Riverkeeper, 2019. Dams, https://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/home/explore-the-river/dams/.

 

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Ottawa at War

3 September 1939

It was the Labour Day weekend, the last long weekend of the summer. But, instead of sleeping late or basking in the sun, Canadians were huddled around their radios, anxiously listening to news coming out of London. Shortly after 6am in Ottawa (11am London time) on Sunday, 3 September, 1939, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, announced over the wireless that Great Britain was at war with Germany. The ultimatum that the British ambassador had delivered to the Reich’s Foreign Ministry in response to the German invasion of Poland had gone unanswered.

The news was not unexpected. For weeks the martial drumbeat had grown louder. With Germany and the Soviet Union signing a non-aggression pact in mid-August, there was nothing stopping the Nazis from attacking Poland. With a swift victory almost assured over the antiquated Polish army, Germany no longer risked a two-front war should Britain and France honour their pledge to support Poland. At the beginning of September, German forces entered Poland.

Unlike twenty-five years earlier, there were no shouts of joy and applause at the British declaration of war. Ottawa took the news somberly. Later that Sabbath morning, families went to church to pray for divine guidance for their leaders and protection for their families and friends in the perilous times ahead. In the early afternoon, families again gathered around the radios, this time to hear the King say: “I now call my people at home and my peoples across the seas who will make our cause their own. I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial.”  The Citizen reported that people wept hearing him speak. “It was the message of a beloved sovereign to a people with whom he and his Queen had mingled freely but a few short months ago [the 1939 Royal Visit] …It was as if His Majesty in truth had crossed the threshold of every Canadian home to bid them his good cheer in the extremity of the hour.”

Prime Minister Mackenzie King was awoken early with the news of Britain’s declaration of war. He hurried from Kingsmere, his country estate in the Gatineau Hills, to Ottawa for a 10 o’clock emergency Cabinet meeting in the Privy Council Chamber in the East Block on Parliament Hill. Meanwhile, instead of the usual Sunday quiet, Sparks Street buzzed with excitement as hundreds of anxious people milled about in front of the Citizen’s office waiting for the latest news bulletins to be posted. Extra police were laid on to control the crowd. Over that long weekend, Ottawa troops were mobilized with gunners moving into Lansdowne Park. Guards appeared on all public utilities and local dairy plants to prevent possible sabotage. Placards went up across the city saying men of military age were needed. The Cameron Highlanders announced that men should report to the Cartier Drill Hall at 9am on the Monday morning. The drum and bugle band of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps marched through Ottawa streets, with placards saying “Recruits wanted for the RCASC, mechanics, tinsmiths, coppersmiths, clerks, turners.”

When Mackenzie King left the Cabinet meeting around 2pm Sunday afternoon, the large crowd waiting for him outside the East Block cheered.  The Prime Minister doffed his hat in acknowledgement and then paused for an official photograph to be taken by the Government Motion Picture Bureau for posterity. At 5.30pm, Mackenzie King spoke to the nation from the CBC broadcasting studio in the Château Laurier Hotel. Justice Minister Lapointe subsequently spoke in French. Mackenzie King promised that Canada would co-operate fully with the Motherland and urged Canadians to “unite in a national effort.” He added that “There is no home in Canada, no family and no individual whose fortunes and freedom are not bound up in the present struggle.” Parliament would debate the situation in Europe the following Thursday (7 September).

While both major Ottawa newspapers considered Canada to be at war, the country was actually in a strange limbo, neither officially at war nor really at peace. Since the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada was an autonomous Dominion within the British Empire. Consequently, unlike in 1914, a declaration of war by Britain did not automatically mean Canada was at war. Although both Australia and New Zealand had followed with their own declarations of war immediately after that of Britain, Mackenzie King held back awaiting the Parliamentary debate. The government was making a constitutional statement, underscoring Canadian autonomy. It also mattered practically. While the United States had immediately stopped all deliveries of arms to Britain (and Germany) due to its “Neutrality Act,” which forbade military sales to warring countries, it considered Canada to be neutral, thus allowing arms sales and deliveries to continue.

WWIIEllard Cummings

Pilot Officer Ellard Cummings of Ottawa, First Canadian to die in World War II, 3 September 1939. His brother, W.O.2 Kenneth Cummings, was to die piloting a bomber over enemy territory in 1944. Ottawa Citizen, 6 September 1939.

At the German Consulate located in the Victoria Building on Wellington Street, it was “business as usual” though most likely the German diplomats were busy destroying confidential documents in preparation for an imminent departure. Dr. Erich Windels, the German Consul General who had been in Ottawa since 1937, had received no instructions from the Department of External Affairs to leave the country. Guards were, however, posted at the Victoria Building and at 407 Wilbrod Street in Sandy Hill, the home of Dr. and Mrs Windels, a short walk away from Laurier House, the downtown home of their friend, the Prime Minister.

Even before Mackenzie King had spoken that evening to Canadians, Canada, and Ottawa specifically, had already sustained their first wartime casualties. Four hours after Britain’s declaration of war, RAF Pilot Officer Ellard Cummings, the son of Mr and Mrs James Cummings of 46 Spadina Avenue in Ottawa, died, along with his Scottish gunner, in an airplane accident. Based at the RAF base in Evanton, Scotland, Cummings’ Westland Wallace biplane crashed into a hillside in thick fog. Cummings was the first Canadian to die in the War. His family received the grim news the following day. Cummings, age 24, had enlisted in the RAF in 1938. He had attended Glebe Collegiate and had been a member of Parkdale United Church. His father was the superintendent of the transformer and meter department of the Ottawa Electric Company.

Just a few hours later, a German U-boat deliberately sank the SS Athenia, a 526-foot, 13,500-ton passenger liner—the first British ship lost in the war. The liner, owned by the Donaldson Atlantic Line, had left Glasgow for Montreal, with a stop in Liverpool, on 1 September, two days before the outbreak of war. On board were 1,103 passengers and 315 crew members, of whom 469 were Canadians and another 311 Americans who were trying to get back home before hostilities began. Approximately twenty-one of the Canadians either came from Ottawa or had close relatives in Ottawa. Also on board were 500 Jewish refugees as well as 72 UK residents, plus a medley of citizens from other countries. Twenty-eight German and six Austrian citizens were on the liner.

Athenia, Montreal 1933 Clifford M. Johnston LAC PA-056818

The SS Athenia in Montreal in 1933. Clifford M. Johnston, Library and Archives Canada, PA-056818.

At roughly 7.30pm in the evening of 3 September, local time (2.30pm Ottawa time), the ship, located off the western coast of Scotland, two hundred miles north of Ireland, was torpedoed by U-30 under the command of Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp. As the ship began to settle into the water, the submarine came to the surface and fired two shells at the stricken ocean liner. While there was ample time for the ship’s lifeboats to get away, there were many casualties, in part due to accidents during the rescue by two British destroyers, a Swedish yacht, the Southern Cross, a Norwegian tanker, the Knute Nelson, and an American freighter, the City of Flint. In total, 98 passengers and nineteen crew members died, including 54 Canadians and 28 Americans. Most survivors were brought into Glasgow in Scotland and Galway in Ireland. The City of Flint disembarked the people it had rescued in Halifax.

Lemp, Fritz-Julius

Fritz-Julius Lemp, commander of U-30 which sank the SS Athenia. Lemp drowned in May 1941 when his later ship U-100 was capture intact off of Iceland, its scuttling charges having failed to detonate. On board was an Enigma machine and code book which were used at Bletchley Park to decode top secret Nazi signals. U-boat.net.

The sinking of the unarmed Athenia was considered a war crime as the U-boat commander had not given the passengers and crew an opportunity to leave the ship. As well, when he realized that he had fired upon a passenger liner in error, he didn’t stay to help the survivors, but instead swore his crew to secrecy. Later, fearful that the loss of American lives might bring the United States into the war, the Nazi high command ordered Lemp to falsify his log. The Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobacher blamed the sinking on Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. While nobody believed that tale, the real story of the sinking of the Athenia wasn’t revealed until the Nuremburg trials after the war.

Over the next several days, anxious Ottawa residents repeatedly called the Citizen for any news of loved ones who had been on the Athenia. For the most part the news was positive as one by one, the rescued Ottawa people were reported safe, mostly from Glasgow and Greenock in Scotland or Galway in Ireland. These included D. George Woollcombe, the former head master of Ashbury College, Miss Jean Craik, a young business college student who resided at 471 MacLeod Street, and Miss Mary Carol of 34 Noel Street, an employee at Ogilvie’s Department Store.  Mr. James Ward of the Public Works Department also received word that his wife and 12-year old son, James Jr. were safe in Galway, Ireland. Thomas Graham of 224 Primrose Street who had joined the crew of the Athenia two weeks earlier as a cook was also safe on dry land.

Jean Craik was among the first Ottawa survivors to return home. Arriving shortly before midnight on the CNR train from Halifax with two other survivors eleven days after the Athenia was torpedoed, Craik recounted a harrowing tale. She had been on deck when the ship had been torpedoed and sailors started shouting for everybody to abandon ship. On her lifeboat were 56 mostly women and children and two sailors. She sat in the stern of the lifeboat where she was given the job of holding flares. A sailor named Kammin gave her his lifebelt, an act of heroism that saved her life and lost his. In heavy seas, her lifeboat capsized. Kammin perished. Many drowned in front of her, including a mother and a baby. Craik floated in the water for six hours before the Southern Cross rescued her. Of the 56 people who made it onto the lifeboat, roughly half lost their lives through drowning. The Southern Cross transferred Craik and other survivors to the City of Flint, who took them to Halifax. There, the Red Cross gave Craik a tooth brush, tooth paste, cold cream and a pair of silk stockings. One of the first things she did in Halifax was have a hot bath. Although she had lost all her possessions, Craik somehow managed to keep her purse which she had tied to herself.  In it was one traveller’s cheque which she used to buy new clothes.

All the news was not good, however. Mr. F.H. Blair of Montreal, the uncle of Miss A.E. Brown of 415 Elgin Street, lost his life. He had given his life jacket to a woman, and subsequently drowned.

Canada joined Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other members of the Empire in the war against Nazi Germany on 10 September. After the Parliamentary debate, Canadian High Commissioner to London, Vincent Massey, received a cable from Ottawa recommending to King George that as King of Canada he approve Canada’s declaration of war on Germany. Massey transcribed the cable’s contents onto two ordinary sheets of foolscap paper which he took to Buckingham Palace. The King appended his signature “Approved George R.I.” Canada was officially at war.

Sources:

Boswell, Randy, 2012. “Memorial unveiled to first Canadian pilot to die in WWII,” Edmonton Journal, 6 September.

Bregha, François, 2019. “Australia House,” History of Sandy Hill, https://www.ash-acs.ca/history/australia-house/.

British Home Child Group International, 2019. “The Athenia,” http://britishhomechild.com/the-athenia/.2012.

Kemble Mike, 2013. “SS Athenia,” Merchant Navy in World War II, http://www.39-45war.com/athenia.html.

Ottawa Citizen, 1939. “Most Ottawa Folk Philosophical, But Ready To Do Duty,” 1 September.

——————, 1939. “Crowds Throng Citizen Bulletins,” 1 September.

——————, 1939. “Gunners Will Move To Lansdowne Pk For Training Duty,” 2 September.

——————, 1939. “Liner Athenia, Bound For Canada, Torpedoed, Britain And France Now At War With Germany,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Proclamation Declaring Great Britain At War Isued By Chamberlain,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “His Majesty’s Address To People Of British Empire,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “German Consulate Staff Here Ready For Word To Leave,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Crowd Cheers And Applauds Mr. King.” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Every Home In Canada Affected By Struggle Declares Prime Minister,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Effective Co-operation,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Fateful News Accepted With Determined Resignation,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “The Call To United Action,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Young Men Besiege Ottawa Recruiting Offices To Enlist,” 4 September.

—————–, 1939. “Ellard Cummings, Ottawa Airman, Is Killed In Scotland, 5 September.

—————– 1939. “Report 3 More Ottawa People Rescued At Sea,” 6 September.

—————–, 1939. “Announce 125 Still Missing From Athenia,” 6 September.

—————–, 1939. “Report Many Ottawans Among Athenia Rescued,” 6 September.

—————–, 1939. “Says Indivisibility Of Crown Theory Disproved By War,” 11 September.

—————–, 1944. “Kenneth Cummings Of Air Force Is Reported Missing,” 22 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1939. “Ottawa Girl Vividly Describes Sinking of Athenia,” 15 September.

Uboat.net 2019. “The Men – U-boat Commanders,” https://uboat.net/men/lemp.htm.

 

Ottawa’s Centenary

16 August 1926

In 2026, Ottawa will celebrate its bicentenary, marking two hundred years from when General George Ramsey, 9th Earl of Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel John By advising By of his purchase of land for the Crown that contained the site of the head locks for the proposed Rideau Canal on the Ottawa river, and the suitability of the locality for the establishment of a village or town to house canal workers. Lord Dalhousie asked Colonel By to survey the land, divide it into 2-4 acre lots and rent them to settlers, with preference to be given to half-pay officers and respectable people. The rough-hewn community, which was subsequently hacked out of a hemlock and cedar forest, was quickly dubbed Bytown. Its name was changed to Ottawa in 1855, and two years later the town was selected as the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria.

To celebrate the centenary of its founding by Col. By, the City of Ottawa had a week-long, blow-out extravaganza in the summer of 1926. Although the official opening of the celebrations was on Monday, 16 August 1926, the fun actually began two days earlier on the Saturday with a range of sporting events wide enough to please the most die-hard sports fanatic.  The Capital Swimming Club staged a centennial regatta in the Rideau Canal opposite the Exhibition Grounds—a daring event given the poor quality of Canal water. Swimmers from across Canada participated with five Dominion championships at stake. At Cartier Square on Elgin Street, four soccer teams competed for the McGiverin Cup with the Ottawa Scottish emerging the victor, beating the Sons of England with a 5-2 score in the finals. Also featured that day were track and field events, cycling, golf, baseball, tennis and a cricket match at the Rideau Hall cricket pitch.

Centenary Pipers Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025132

Bagpipers, Ottawa Centenary Parade, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025132.

The following day, there was a huge Garrison Church parade involving 3,000 soldiers including local regiments as well as the Queen’s Own Rifles from Toronto and the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec City who had been quartered in tents on the grounds of the Normal School on Elgin Street (now the Heritage Building of the Ottawa City Hall). The troops marched from downtown to Lansdowne Park where 15,000 people crowded into the stands for divine services. More than 50,000 people watched the soldiers march through the streets of Ottawa.  That evening the band of the “Van Doos” gave a concert that was broadcast from the Château Laurier hotel.

Centenary Devlin Furs Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025130

Devlin Furs’ Float, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025130.

The official opening ceremonies took place on the Monday morning on Parliament Hill in front of cheering thousands and “in the shadow of the nearly completed “‘Victory Tower.’” (The name for the Centre Block didn’t officially become the “Peace Tower” until the following year—the 60th anniversary of Confederation.) After much military pomp and pageantry, Sir Henry Drayton, delivered the opening speech in the absence of the Prime Minister, Arthur Meighan. He welcomed visitors to the Capital in the name of the Dominion of Canada. Mayor John Balharrie also greeted visitors and former Ottawa residents who had come home for the celebrations. To symbolized the granting to them of the “freedom” of the city, he released a coloured balloon that carried aloft a four-foot golden key. Messages of congratulations flooded into Ottawa from near and far. Three Governors General—Aberdeen, Connaught and Byng—sent telegrams, as did the Lord Mayor of London, and Jimmy Walker, the controversial and flamboyant Mayor of New York. Civic, provincial and federal politicians from across Canada did likewise.

After the official opening, sporting events occupied the rest of the day. That night, there was a military display and tattoo involving troops from all services in from of 12,000 spectators at Lansdowne Park. The chief feature of the night was the staging of a mock battle scene. As searchlights played over the field, the soldiers re-enacted the crossing of the “Hindenburg” line by Canadian troops in 1918. The mock machine gun action and field bombardment was apparently very realistic. So much so that many veterans experienced flash-backs of their time in the trenches. Also featured that night was a performance of the 1,000 voice Centenary Choir, platoon drills by the Royal 22nd Regiment, and gymnastics displays by cadets.

A highlight of Tuesday, the second day of the Centenary celebrations, was the unveiling of a stone memorial dedicated to Colonel By in a small a park located on the western side of the Rideau Canal just south of Connaught Square opposite Union Station. To the strains of Handel’s Largo, played by the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, the memorial, which was covered by a Union Jack, was unveiled at noon. Mayor Balharrie presided. More than 2,000 people witnessed the solemn event. The bronze plaque on the side of the stone, which was intended to be the cornerstone of a much larger memorial, bore the inscription 1826-1926 In Honour of John By, Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Engineers. In 1826 he founded Bytown, Destined to Become the City of Ottawa, Capital of the Dominion of Canada. This memorial was unveiled in Centenary Year. (A larger memorial was never built. A statue of Colonel By sculpted by Joseph-Émile Brunet was eventually commissioned by the Historical Society of Ottawa and was erected in Mayor’s Hill Park in 1971.)

At Lansdowne Park, a multi-day western rodeo and stampede commenced with over 200 horses, 100 cattle, and dozens of cowboys from western Canada and the United States. Log rolling competitions took place on the Canal. That evening, an historical pageant was held involving 2,000 actors from service groups, theatre groups, and drama schools. The pageant began with a prologue depicting Confederation with Miss Canada seated on a throne exchanging greetings with Misses Provinces. After pledges of mutual support and loyalty, the provinces curtsied to Canada. This was followed by tableaux representing scenes from Ottawa’s history, including “The Spirit of the Chaudière,” depicting the region before the arrival of Europeans, “The Coming of the White Man,” “Pioneer Settlers,” “The Lumber Industry,” “Bytown and its Early Inhabitants,” “The First Election,” “Naming of the Capital,” “The Fathers of Confederation,” and, a finale where all joined together with the Centenary Choir to sing a closing anthem. The massed 1,000-member Choir accompanied by the G.G.F.G. band also performed a number of popular songs including, O Canada, Land of Hope and Glory, Alouette, Indian Love Song, and, of course, God Save the King.

The pageant got a mixed review. The Ottawa Citizen opined that it provided a “felicitous treatment of the historical episodes chosen for presentation,” but there was “room for improvement.” However, on balance, the pageant was “stimulating and educative.” The dancing was described as “effective.”

After the performance, street dancing was held from 11pm to 2am on O’Connor Street between Albert Street and Laurier to the tunes of two jazz orchestras. With the crush of people, there was little actual dancing though things got a bit better on subsequent nights. With massive crowds downtown, there was some minor trouble. The police arrested a number of young men for setting off firecrackers in the streets. Some had placed “torpedoes” on the street-car tracks that caused “terrific successive explosions” as the trams went over them.  Police also acted to curb dangerous driving on the crowded city thoroughfares. Reportedly, louts also molested young women. Generally speaking, however, the street partying was carried out in good humour. A dozen youths organized an impromptu game of leap frog on Sparks Street between Bank and Elgin Streets.

Wednesday, 18 August, was declared a civic holiday by Mayor Balharrie, and more commemorative plaques were unveiled. In addition to non-stop sporting events, rodeo competitions and other fun activities at the Exhibition Grounds, one thousand guests attended a garden party at Rideau Hall. Although Lord Byng had left Ottawa to return to Britain, his term of office as governor general having just ended, he had given permission for the residence to be used as the venue for the civic birthday party celebration. Mayor Balharrie provided a massive four-tier cake decorated with silver foliage and tiny silver cupids. Guests received little boxes of cake bearing the inscription “A souvenir of Ottawa’s Centenary with the compliments of Mayor J. P. Balharrie.”

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025127

Float of the Ottawa Electric Company, Col. By’s Home, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025127.

That evening, Ottawa’s merchants and businesses held the second of the week’s three parades. Starting in the Byward Market and ending at Lansdowne Park, the parade highlighted milestones of Ottawa’s commercial progress over the previous one hundred years. Among the many entries, the Producers’ Dairy’s float featured a huge milk bottle and milk maids. Camping equipment in 1826 and 1926 was the theme of the Grant Holden and Graham entry. Also in the parade was the largest shoe ever manufactured in Canada with six little girls seated inside it, courtesy of Ottawa’s boot and shoe stores. Representing the Ottawa Department Stores Association, four white horses with attendants dressed in white and yellow uniforms pulled a float bearing eight young women in long gowns. Not to be outdone, the A. J. Freiman entry, which was decorated in silver and flowers, was drawn by six white horses with six attendants dressed in white and blue livery. On board were five young ladies wearing period costumes. The Ottawa Electric Company float consisted of an (inaccurate) replica of Colonel By’s house. Instead of a pioneer’s log home as depicted, the Colonel’s actual home was made of stone.

With amusements and events continuing at the Exhibition Grounds, Thursday’s highlight was an “old timers’ parade. In front of immense crowds, historical floats, three bugle bands, three brass bands and one band of bagpipers wended their way slowly from the Byward Market, along Rideau and Sparks Streets before heading down Bank Street to Lansdowne Park. Old-time vehicles on display included an 1897 Oldsmobile and penny-farthing bicycles. Firefighters dressed in the red outfits of yore pulled hand reels or drove antique horse-pulled engines including the “Conqueror,” Ottawa first fire engine. There were also historical tableaux depicting the early days of the Ottawa Valley and Bytown, including Champlain and his men, the arrival of the Jesuits, the establishment of the first white settlement in the region by Philemon Wright, and the beginning of the lumber industry.  Guests of honour in the parade included veterans from the Fenian Raids, the South African War and the Great War.

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025131

Ottawa Firefighters with hand reels, “Old-Time Pageant,” Ottawa Centenary, August 1926, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025131.

Centenary celebration wound down on the weekend but not before the finals of the stampede, more street dancing, this time in Hintonburg, more sporting activities, and a “Venetian Nights” boating event held on the Rideau Canal.

For those who hadn’t had their fill of fun and games, the Central Canada Exhibition opened immediately after the official ending of the centenary fun, prolonging the excitement for another week.

Both of Ottawa’s major newspapers covered in detail highlights of Ottawa’s first hundred years and centenary events, with each publishing extended supplements. The Evening Citizen boasted that its edition of 16 August weighed in at more than two pounds. It’s rival, The Ottawa Evening Journal ran a close second. In one regard, however, the Journal went one step further by publishing a fascinating prospective view of what Ottawa might look like on its bicentenary in 2026. Some of its guesses look pretty accurate. It predicted that Ottawa would have a population of 975,000 (actual number 934,240 in 2016) and that it would annex neighbouring communities. It also correctly forecast the elimination of the above-ground, cross-city train tracks and the replacement of the tram lines with buses. It even predicted a tunnel between LeBreton Flats and downtown used by electric trains!

Not surprisingly, however, the crystal-ball gazers got a lot of things wrong. The newspaper predicted that Canada would have a population of 100 million by 2026, and that the airplane would effectively eliminate the automobile as a mode of transportation. The paper also postulated that after decades of delay the great Georgian Bay Ship Canal would finally be completed in 1982, almost eighty years after the idea was first proposed, thereby making Ottawa a deep-water port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. As well, given the region’s cheap hydro-electric power, the Journal envisaged a massive expansion of manufacturing in the Ottawa area, forecasting that the Capital would become the home of the largest Canadian plant for the manufacture of pleasure, commercial and air taxicabs. It also predicted the emergence of a large furniture manufacturing industry in Chelsea in West Quebec, and the construction of immense iron ore smelters in Ironside, just north of the old city of Hull, to process iron ore mined in the Laurentians.

For the Journal, the demise of manufacturing and the conversion of Ottawa into the primarily white-collar city that it is today were unimaginable.

 

Sources:

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

 

Frank Amyot and the Berlin Olympics

8 August 1936

When the International Olympic Committee selected Berlin over Barcelona in 1931 as the host city for the Summer games of the 11th modern Olympiad to be held in 1936, nobody expected that Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a.k.a. the Nazis, would then be in power. The Olympiad was to have been a public demonstration of the return of Germany into the fold of civilization nations—the Great War and its atrocities for which Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary were held responsible now relegated to history. Instead, the Games became an opportunity for the Nazis, who had just remilitarized the Rhineland a few months earlier, to show off Germany’s new political and military vigour. More ominously, it was also an opportunity for the Nazis to demonstrate their warped racial belief in the supremacy of the so-called “Aryan” race, with the blond, blue-eyed Nordic subtype at the pinnacle, the so-called master race (the Herrenvolk).

1930s olympics

Arrival of the Olympic Torch, Berlin, August 1936, Illinois Holocaust Museum

By this time, the Nazis had already put into effect their “Blood laws” which among other things made it illegal for an “Aryan” German to marry a Jew or even to have a romantic affair with a Jew. German Jews were also stripped of their legal rights and were banned from many occupations and activities, including their participation in German sporting clubs. Also, under harsh eugenic laws, those deemed “life, unworthy of life,” which included the mentally handicapped, sufferers of hereditary disorders and severe physical handicaps, and homosexuals, were sterilized, or worse, killed. The purpose was to improve the German gene pool. The corollary of this was the encouragement of those of pure Aryan stock to breed. Girls deemed racially pure were essentially turned into brood mares in SS-run stud farms—the Lebensborn e.V.

Needless to say, given the Nazis’ growing oppression, especially of Jews, Germany’s hosting of the Olympic Games was controversial. Owing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and the United States, Hitler allowed Jews to participate in the Games. The German sporting federation included a token Jew on the German Olympic summer team—26-year old Helene Meyer who later gave the Nazi salute when she won the silver medal for women’s fencing. Meyer had left Nazi Germany in 1935 to settle in the United States but returned temporarily to Germany for the Summer Games.

This tokenism was enough for the IOC to close its eyes to what was going on in Germany. In April 1936, the President of the IOC, Count Henri de Baillet-Letour, said the Winter Olympics, which were also held in Germany, had been a great success and that there been many Jewish athletes including on Germany’s team. He said: “The Nazi question has no connection with sports at the Olympic Games.” Some countries and athletes were not convinced, and a “Peoples’ Olympiad” was organized for late July in Barcelona, just days prior to the start of the official Olympic Summer Games in Berlin. However, as athletes from 22 countries, including the Soviet Union, which did not participate in the official Olympic Games at that time, assembled in Barcelona, the Spanish Civil War began. The Peoples’ Olympiad was cancelled.

Despite concerns about Hitler’s Germany, almost 4,000 athletes from 49 countries and territories participated in the Summer Games held during the first two weeks of August 1939 in Berlin. Germany pulled out all the stops, shelling out millions for a huge new stadium and an athletes’ village. The games were the first to be broadcast live over television though few people had sets to watch them. Anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed for the occasion. The Nazis’ aim was to impress and reassure the tens of thousands of foreign visitors. They were going to present to the world the allusion that Germany was an open, tolerant society. The games were a propaganda coup, and were recorded for posterity by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker.

The opening parade of nations was a cause of angst for many of the athletes. Should they give the Nazi salute to honour Hitler, or not? Some apparently opted for the Olympic salute which was similar. The Olympic salute is made by holding the right arm straight with the hand outstretched with the fingers together. The arm is held high and at an angle to the right from the shoulder. To make the Nazi salute, one raises the arm straight forward. Both are variants of the ancient Roman salute. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion.

News reports immediately after the opening ceremonies claimed that the Canadian team gave the Nazi salute, which won them an enthusiastic response from the predominantly German audience. Later reports suggested that the Canadians had actually given a “half-Nazi salute” or the Olympic salute, with an “eyes right.” However, this may have been just after-the-fact revisionism to avoid embarrassment. The Chairman of the Canadian Olympic team claimed “It wasn’t actually the Nazi salute…The outstretched right hands of the Canadians pointed skyward rather than forward. It was merely a salute toward Herr Hitler.” Other teams left no confusion. The British and Australian teams made only an “eyes right,” while the American team held their hats over their hearts while giving an “eyes right.” Given its close similarity to the Nazi salute, the Olympic salute was abandoned in 1948.

Canada sent 97 competitors to Berlin—79 men and 18 women, competing in 69 events in 12 sports. The team’s performance was disappointing. It garnered only nine medals—one gold, three silver and five bronze, and ranked 17th among participating nations. (This was better, however, than the lone silver medal for ice hockey that Canada won in the 1936 Winter Games.) Canada’s only gold medalist at the Summer Games was Ottawa’s Frank Amyot who won the men’s C-1 1,000 metre, single-man sprint canoe race held at the regatta course at Grünau on the Langer See situated on the south-east outskirts of Berlin.

Frank Amyot, 1936 PA-050285

Frank Amyot, Olympic Gold Medalist, 1,000 Metre Sprint Canoe, Berlin 1936, Library and Archives Canada, PA-050285.

Amyot had been the favourite to win the event. The 32-year old was a veteran canoer, and six times the Canadian Canoe Association’s Senior Singles Champion. He won his first title in 1923 while rowing for the Rideau Canoe Club. He later competed for the Britannia Boating Club. As the most senior and experienced member of the eight-man paddling team selected to represent Canada in the Olympics, Amyot was chosen as the team’s captain and coach. The other members of the team included Gordon Potter, F. Dier, Stan Potter, and Frank Wills from the Gananoque Canoe Club and Bill Williamson, Harvey Charters and Warren Saker from the Balmy Beach Club, Toronto. Charters and Saker also went on to win medals at the regatta course at Grünau, capturing the silver medal in the men’s C-2 10,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe competition and the bronze medal in the men’s C-2 1,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe race.

Despite Amyot’s standing in the sport, the Canadian Olympic Committee did not contribute a penny towards his travel expenses to Germany. Indeed, the Canadian Olympic Committee initially refused to fund any of Canada’s paddlers, though it later coughed up a token $65 to each of the three Toronto-based canoeists following protests. The other paddlers were ignored. The reason is unclear. True, money was tight that year. The Depression was still underway. The federal government had provided only $10,000 to the Canadian Olympic Committee to help fund Canada’s participation in both the Winter and Summer Games. But one would have thought that some dollars would have been allocated to cover Amyot’s expenses as he was widely regarded as Canada’s best chance to win a gold medal. The Canadian Olympic Committee also had the gall to charge Amyot $8 for his white-trimmed, crimson Canadian team blazer; Amyot refused to pay.

To help cover travel expenses, estimated at about $500 for each of the eight-man paddling team, the Canadian Canoe Association contributed $800. The remaining funds had to be arranged privately. The Britannia Boat Club organized a fundraiser for Frank Amyot, including selling reproduction prints of the painting “The Bluenose” at $1 per copy, with the proceeds to be given to the canoer. A professional tennis tournament held at Ottawa’s Auditorium in April 1936 also turned over part of the gate to the Britannia Boat Club to help cover Amyot’s costs. The Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, for which Amyot worked, also provide considerable financing for his journey.

With the support of friends, family, and community, Canada’s Olympic team, including the eight paddlers, set sail in mid-July from Montreal to Le Havre in France on the SS Duchess of Bedford. The team spent a day in Paris sightseeing before taking a train for Berlin.

Frank Amyot’s big race took place on 8 August 1936 at the Grünau regatta course. As there were only six contestants, there were no heats. According the Evening Citizen, Amyot’s performance was “acclaimed as one of the finest ever witnessed in Europe.” Using a borrowed boat, he won gold in a time of 5 minutes 32.1 seconds over the 1,000-metre course, almost five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Bohuslav Karlik of Czechoslovakia, who Amyot had passed 100 metres from the finish line. Erich Koschik of Germany took the bronze medal.

When Amyot arrived back at the dock, the other members of the paddling team boosted their victorious captain on their shoulders and carried him back to the boathouse to the cheers of fans. Later, he received congratulatory telegrams from Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis. In a letter to Captain Gilman, his boss at the Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, Amyot wrote: “I must confess it was a very proud moment for me when I stood on the pedestal and watched the Canadian flag hoisted above all the flags of the world and watched over a hundred thousand people of all nationalities stand at attention while they played ‘O Canada.’”

Amyot returned home a month later, sailing from Liverpool in England on the liner Montcalm to Montreal.  Arriving at Union Station in Ottawa after his journey, he was greeted by cheering fans, civil officials, including Mayor Lewis, Commodore F. Skuce of the Britannia Boating Club and fellow paddlers. Also at the train platform were members of his family, including Bungo, his black and tan Gordon setter who almost knocked his master over in an enthusiastic welcome. The band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Ottawa Boys’ Band played “The Conquering Hero Comes.” Amyot was escorted to his home at 52 Maclaren by a parade and motorcycle outriders.

A few days later, he was feted at a gala celebration at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel by more than 250 sportsmen and government dignitaries. Amyot entered the ballroom dressed in his Canadian Olympic uniform of crimson and white to the strains of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”

Amyot gratefully thanked all those who made his trip to Germany possible, and presented an oak tree that had been given to him in Germany to Mayor Lewis. The Mayor accepted the gift voicing his hope that the tree “would grow as straight, strong and clean as its donor.” In return, Mayor Lewis presented Amyot with a Royal Bank passbook containing more than $1,000 (worth more than $18,000 in today’s money), the proceeds of a community-wide collection. Amyot expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the gift. Already a life-time member of the Britannia Boating Club, the sportsman was also made a lifetime member of eleven different boat and canoe clubs.

Frank Amyot, a member of Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, died of cancer in 1962. A photograph of Amyot and his trophies graces the stairwell of the Britannia Yacht Club in Ottawa.

 

Sources:

Calgary Herald, 1936. “Canada Wins Canoe Event At Olympics, 8 August.

——————-, 1936. “Sport-O-Scope,” 15 August.

Leader-Post, 1936. “Canadians In Nazi Salute At Stadium, 1 August.

————–, 1936. “Only Half-Nazi Salute by Canadians at Berlin,” 4 August.

Macleans Magazine, 1936. “What Happened at Berlin,” 1 October.

O’Malley, JP, 2018, “How the Nazis’ token Jew turned the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a Propaganda win, The Times of Israel, 10 March, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-nazis-token-jew-turned-the-1936-berlin-olympics-into-a-propaganda-win/.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1936. “Fred Brown Flag Officer,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1936. “Crossed Signals,” 4 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Captures Olympic Title,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Short Shots On Sports,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Premier Congratulates Amyot On Victory,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Acclaimed At Banquet,” 10 September.

—————————–, 1947. “May Discontinue Olympic Salute,” 16 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1936. “Worthy Representative,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Assures Germany Olympic Games,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Is Chosen Olympic Team Manager,” 11 May.

——————-, 1936. “Campaign For Frank Amyot,” 1 June.

——————-, 1936. “Will Inquire Why Sculler Pays Own Way,” 6 July.

——————-, 1936, “Further Appeal For Frank Amyot,” 8 July.

——————-, 1936. “Paddling Official Voices Complaint,” 17 July.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Describes Scene When He Won Paddling Title,” 6 August.

——————-, 1936. “Crowd Gives Frank Amyot Big Ovation,” 7 September.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot, Olympic Star, Is Given Ovation At Banquet,”10 September.

Province, 1936. “Canadian Athletes At Le Havre on Saturday,” 24 July.

United States Holocaust Museum, 2019. The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936, https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/olympics/?content=august_1936&lang=en.

Victoria Daily Times, 1936. “Elect New Gyro Board,” 15 September.

Windsor Star, 1936. “Eyes Right,” 25 July.

—————-, 1936. “Nasty Row In Nazi Salute,” 5 August.

—————-, 1936. “Canuck Win Is Ironical,” 10 August.

The Corporation of Bytown

28 July 1847

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bytown logo 1850

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

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

Scott portrait finished

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Ottawa c. 1840, Taylor, 1986

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

[i] See Story for 17 September.

The McKellar Train Disaster

25 June 1913

It was a bright, warm, early summer day without a cloud in the sky. At about 1.30pm on Wednesday, 25 June 1913, a westbound C.P.R. train pulled out of Ottawa’s downtown Central Station headed for Winnipeg. The train consisted of the locomotive, two mail and baggage cars, three colonist (third class) cars, two tourist (second class) cars, one first class passenger coach, a diner car and a Pullman sleeping car. Most of the train’s passengers were immigrants, newly arrived in Canada from Scotland and Ireland. Many had left Glasgow ten days earlier on the SS Pretorian of the Allan Line. Before steaming across the North Atlantic for Canada, the ship made a brief stop at Moville on the northern tip of Ireland in County Donegal, thirty kilometres north of Londonderry, to pick up more immigrants.

Train CPR colonist 1920s, LAC, Wikipedia

Interior of a “colonist” class C.P.R. train car, 1920s, Library and Archives Canada, Wikipedia.

The ship docked in Montreal, where its weary passengers spent the night before embarking on the next leg of their odyssey, the long train journey to Winnipeg and points further west. Most of the newcomers to Canada were riding in spartan “colonist” cars. Furnished with hard benches with little padding, the colonist cars were designed to cheaply transport the hundreds of thousands of poor immigrants who were pouring into Canada from the British Isles to settle in the Prairies. The immigrants came in search of a new, more prosperous life, lured by government advertisements of cheap land, clean, healthy living, and idyllic, western farming communities. The arrival of the SS Pretorian occurred during the peak of the Canadian immigration boom. A record number of more than 400,000 new arrivals came in 1913 alone, mostly from the British Isles and the United States. Canada’s population was less than 8 million at the time. By way of contrast, Canada welcomed 286,000 new permanent residents in 2017 when its population stood at 36.7 million.

For the slightly better-heeled immigrant, a step up from the very basic “colonist” class of car was “tourist” class. Tourist cars offered more comfortable seats and carpeting. Riders were still required to prepare their own meals in a kitchenette. First class customers, who road in luxury in their own carriage, and slept in a Pullman sleeper, patronized a dining car where they were served by uniformed waiters.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025116

The colonist class car lying on its side in the Ottawa River, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025116, 25 June 1913.

Leaving downtown Montreal at 9.45 am, the train pulled into Ottawa’s newly built Central Station at about noon. The station was located across the street from the opulent Château Laurier Hotel which had opened the previous year.  After picking up more passengers, it resumed its journey, first heading across the Alexandra Bridge to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, then travelling through Hull before returning to the Ontario side via the Prince of Wales bridge. A few kilometres outside of Ottawa, the train passed through cottage country along the shore of the Ottawa River. At one point, it travelled parallel to a streetcar making its way to the little resort community of Britannia, the site of the popular amusement park. Children and women leaned out the windows to wave handkerchiefs to people on the shore. As it entered McKellar Townsite, a new, residential development, the train began to rock. With a loud grinding sound, the train buckled and twisted. Two colonist cars located in the centre of the train jumped the tracks and slide down an embankment into the Ottawa River, landing in shallow water on their side. Two tourist cars also left the rails on the south side of the tracks away from the water, and jackknifed in the air. The first class carriage, dining car and Pullman sleeper at the rear of the train remained up right, as did the locomotive and the first three cars.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025111

Another view of the wrecked colonist cars, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025111, 25 June 1913.

On board, people screamed in terror and pain as they and their belongings were flung about the carriages. In the dining car, luncheon was in the process of being served. Diners and waiters were knocked off their feet; dishes and cutlery crashed to the floor. Oddly, in the rear Pullman sleeping car, passengers experienced only a minor jolting.

People travelling in the two colonist cars, which had tumbled down the embankment to lie partly submerged in the Ottawa River, suffered the worst. Many were severely injured. Several died either from impact injuries or from drowning despite the water being no more than three feet deep, having been knocked unconscious or trapped under debris. In total, eight people died, and another 65 were injured. All the fatalities were Irish or Scottish immigrants, ranging in age from 10 months to 55 years of age.[1]

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025115

The jackknifed tourist cars with some of the Ottawa onlookers, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025115, 25 June 1913.

Newspaper accounts say that there was little panic after the accident, with passengers helping each other out of broken windows. Assistance also came from nearby homes, passersby and passengers on the streetcars. News of the accident was telephoned into the police in Ottawa, with ambulances quickly arriving on the scene. The Citizen remarked that the automobile had proved it worth, and that lives were undoubtedly saved by the speedy response made possible by the internal combustion engine. It was reported that half of Ottawa’s doctors were at the scene of the accident at some point in the afternoon to render medical help. The Victorian Order of Nurses also responded to the call for emergency medical assistance. Spiritual solace came from the Bishop Charlebois, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Keewatin, who had been travelling in the first class carriage along with two other clergymen; all three had escaped the wreck unscathed.

The injured were conveyed to two Ottawa hospitals, St. Luke’s, located at the corner of Elgin Street and Gladstone Avenue, and the General on Water Street. The uninjured were put up in Ottawa hotels by the C.P.R. The bodies of the victims were sent to two local funeral homes, Rogers & Burney’s on Laurier Ave and Brady & Harris on Lisgar Avenue.

There was a lot of confusion about the identity of one of the deceased women. At the funeral home, the only piece of identification found on her body was a piece of paper with a hand-written address on it discovered in a coat pocket. The address was for a Mrs Bunting of Winnipeg. However, after a telephone call to Winnipeg, it turned out that Mrs Bunting and her four children, all of whom had been on the train, were safe at a home on Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa. Mrs Bunting had written her address on a piece of paper and had given it to the victim prior to the accident so that she might be able to contact Mrs Bunting after she had settled out west. Instead, it was the body of Mrs John McClure. Mrs McClure had been travelling from County Antrim with her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren John, aged 5, and Matilda, age 10 months, to join her son in Edmonton. Only the daughter-in-law, the junior Mrs McClure, survived the wreck, saved by a quirk of fate. She had just gone to the kitchen to prepare lunch for her children when the train went off the rails. Bruised and understandably distraught after the accident, the young mother was taken to the home of Mrs Sarsfield who had found her at the site of the accident to recuperate. A telegram was sent to her husband, Henry McClure, who hastened to Ottawa, arriving on the Sunday after the accident.

There were other tragic tales. Mrs Jane McNealy, who was travelling from Glasgow with her three children to meet her husband in Edmonton was also killed, while her oldest son James, aged 18, was severely injured. He was taken to the General Hospital for treatment. Initially not expected to live, he made a surprising recovery and was released a few days later. His younger siblings, Robert, “a bright, red-headed little chap,” and his little sister, Maggie, while uninjured, were taken to St. Luke’s for observation overnight. They had been separated from their mother and brother, and did not immediately know what had become of them. After receiving news of the death of his wife, their father, Robert McNealy, went the C.P.R. office in Edmonton. In a highly emotional state, he had to be escorted from the premises by the police who held him at the station for several hours. He was later released without charge, and took the train to Ottawa to be with his children and attend his wife’s funeral.

Train wreck 1913 Samuel J. Jarvis LAC PA-025114

Another view of the wrecked C.P.R. train with the hoards of Ottawa onlookers who came to take in the scene of the disaster, Samuel J. Jarvis, Library and Archives Canada, PA-025114, 25 June 1913.

Wrecking crews from Ottawa and Smith’s Falls were quickly on the scene to help clear the tracks. Another serious accident was only narrowly averted by the quick thinking of Robert Scott, a brakeman from Smith’s Falls, when a large crane car broke free from the wrecking train while it was being manoeuvred into position to upright the wrecked cars. Gathering speed as it went down a hill, Scott stood at the end of the car shouting to rescuers and workmen on the track to get out of the way. Just before the crane itself left the rails at the site of the accident, Scott jumped into a ditch. The crane sank into the soft ground, hitting the wrecked cars but fortunately without any force. Although knocked unconscious for a time, Scott quickly recovered. His first words were to ask if anybody had been hurt. He then asked for nobody to tell his wife.

Immediately after the accident and through the afternoon and night, thousands of Ottawa residents descended on the accident site to watch the wrecking crews recover the mangled cars and clear the tracks. Many walked on top of the toppled cars to get a better view. So huge were the crowds, the Ottawa Electric Railway laid on extra streetcars on the Britannia route. At midnight, there were still several hundred gawkers on site. The track was reopened early the next morning.

An inquiry was immediately launched into the cause of the train accident. The coroner focused on three possibilities: a defect in the train; a defect in the roadbed; or a “sun kink.” A sun kink occurs when the heat of the sun warms the track sufficiently that the iron rails bow out. However, the inquiry was hampered by the refusal of the Railway Commission to allow its expert to testify on the extraordinary grounds that they don’t work for the public. While its experts investigated every train accident on behalf of the Board, their findings were reported in confidence and then shared with the railway company which made changes if required to help prevent further accidents. While a sun kink, a rare phenomenon, was believed initially to have been the cause of the accident, during the inquest the conductor noted that there had been no sign of a kink as the train approached the accident site. As well, one observer thought that a sun kink was unlikely in that location owing to the cooling air off of the Ottawa River. An examination of the rails also showed that they were in perfect alignment both to the east and west of the accident site. Work had been underway to straighten and trim the railway ties in the area. Consequently, it was possible that on descending the grade, the train hit a loose roadbed. Alternatively, there was evidence that something fell from the train which might have caused it to derail.

Some passengers on the train also thought it was going very fast at the time of the accident (about 25 m.p.h.) though speed was not mentioned as a possible contributing factor. Railway officials also disputed a story by Mrs Bunting that there had been a problem with the train prior to arriving in Ottawa. She had said that the train had come to a grinding stop about three quarters of an hour prior to reaching Ottawa, and that the conductor had rushed through the train saying something had broken. As the train resumed its journey, she had not thought much of the incident until after the train wreck. She admitted, however, that her memory was a bit fuzzy.

In the end, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict that the cause of the wreck was “unknown.”

Seven of the eight victims of the McKellar train accident were buried in the Beechwood Cemetery. Patrick Mulvenna, the last to be laid to rest, was buried in the Notre Dame Cemetery. Many Ottawa residents came out to bid them farewell.

Sources:

CBC. 2013. Deadly Ottawa Train Crash 100 Years Later, 25 June.

Canada, 2019. 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/annual-report-parliament-immigration-2018/report.html.

Chandler, Graham, 2016. “Selling the Prairie Good Life,” Canada’s History, 7 September, https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/settlement-immigration/selling-the-prairie-good-life.

Edmonton Journal, 1913. :Pathetic Story Is Pictured OF Wreck Victims,” 27 June.

Leader-Post (Regina), 1913. “Case of Nerves,” 1 July.

Ottawa Citizen, 1913. “Heavy Loss Of Life In Wreck Near City,” 25 June.

——————, 1913.  “All Victims Of Railway Wreck Have Now Been Identified. Eight Are Dead And Little Hope For One Of The Injured,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Casualties 8 Killed, About 65 Injured,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Graphic And Pathetic Stories Told In Philosophical Manner By Passengers,” 26 June.

——————, 1913. “Bereaved Husband,” 27 June.

——————, 1913. “Railway Commission Experts Don’t’ Work For The Benefit Of The Public Who Pay,” 10 July.

——————, 1913. “Unable To Determine Cause of Accident,” 16 July.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1913. “Enquiry Into The Cause Of Fatal Wreck Ordered, Injured Recovering,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Death List in M’Kellar Townsite Wreck Totals 8; Sixty-five Injured; Pathetic Scenes Among Debris; Many Visited Scene,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Cause of The Wreck Puzzle For Railwaymen,” 26 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Triple Funeral,” 30 June.

—————————–, 1913. “Obituary,” 2 July.

[1]  The victims were Patrick Mulvenna, County Antrim age 25, John Moodie, Orkney, age 17, John Hogg, Derry, age 30, Mrs Jane McNealy, Glasgow, age 40, John Peace, Glasgw, age 21, Mrs John McClure, County Antrim, age 55, John McClure, County Antrim, age 5, and Matilda McClure, County Antrim, age 10 months.

The Queen’s Plate

31 May 1872

The most famous and prestigious thoroughbred horse race in Canada is the Queen’s Plate, open to Canadian-bred, three-year-old horses. It’s also the oldest continuously-run horse race in North America, dating back to 1860, seven years before first running of the Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the “Triple Crown” races in the United States. Over its illustrious history, many members of the Royal family have attended this storied event from Princess Louise in 1881, to the Queen Mother in 1965, and to Queen Elizabeth in 1959, 1973, 1997 and, most recently, 2010. Horse racing is indeed the “sport of kings!”

Queen's Plate 6-5-1872

Advertisement for the 1872 running of the Queen’s Plate, Ottawa Daily Citizen

The story of the Queen’s Plate begins in 1859 when Sir Casimir Gzowski, the president of the Toronto Turf Club, petitioned the Governor General for an annual horse racing prize to be awarded by Queen Victoria to horses bred and reared in Upper Canada (Ontario). He correctly believed that the cachet of winning a royal prize would encourage the development of horse breeding in Canada. Queen Victoria graciously agreed to the request providing an annual prize of 50 guineas for a race to be called the Queen’s Plate. (A guinea is defunct British gold coin no longer minted by the mid nineteenth century but widely used as a unit of account in horse racing, the art world, and certain professions well into the twentieth century. It had a value of 21 shillings sterling.)

The Royal Privy Purse continues to provide this annual prize though instead of 50 guineas, it reportedly sends a bank draft for the sterling equivalent except when a member of the Royal Family is present for the race. Then, the winner receives 50 gold sovereigns in a purple bag. The winner also receives 60 per cent of the race purse of $1 million. Confusingly, the “Plate” is a foot-high golden cup on a black base rather than a plate. (The traditional royal prize for a horse race had been a silver plate, hence the name. However, over time the nature of the prize changed but the name stuck.)

The first running of the Queen’s Plate took place at the end of June in 1860 at the Carleton Race Course in Toronto. It was open to all horses reared in Upper Canada which had never won public money. During the early years of the Queen’s Plate, horses competed in three heats rather than a single race as is the case today. The first winner was a five-year old horse by the name of Don Juan, owned by a Mr. White and ridden by Charles Littlefield. Don Juan came in second in the first heat, but won the second and third heats of the competition over a one-mile track with his best time of 1 minute 58 seconds.

Although the next several Queen’s Plates were held at the Carleton Race Course, it subsequently moved around the province depending on the lobbying powers of various racing clubs and politicians before it settled down for good at the Woodbine Race Course in Toronto in 1883. Until 1956, the race was held at the old Woodbine site at the end of Woodbine Street in Toronto close to Lake Ontario. It then moved to the current Woodbine location on Rexdale Boulevard, north of the Pearson Airport in Etobicoke.  During the Queen’s Plate’s journey around Ontario, the race came to Ottawa on two occasions, the first in 1872 and the second in 1880.

The organization that brought the Queen’s Plate to Ottawa in 1872 was the Ottawa Turf Club, founded in 1869 with the patronage of Sir John Young, later known as Lord Lisgar, the Governor General, who was an avid horseman. The President of the Club was Joseph Aumond, Vice-President was Nicholas Sparks, and  Edward Barber was the Secretary.  While the lobbying of Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier, may have helped the new Ottawa Turf Club win the event, Lord Lisgar was likely the one most responsible for bringing the race to Ottawa. With His Excellency as its patron, the Ottawa Turf Club definitely had the inside track for hosting the event. News that the Queen’s Plate had been conferred on Ottawa was officially relayed to the Ottawa Turf Club in February 1872, with the race planned for late spring. The conditions of the race were: “For horses, geldings or mares, bred, raised, trained and owned, in the Province of Ontario, who have not previously won public money at any race meeting. The whole stake to go to the winner.”

The Club organized a two-day racing extravaganza for Friday and Saturday, the 31th of May and the 1st of June, 1872. The event was held at the new Mutchmor Driving Park which had opened the previous year. The race track and the adjoining Turf Hotel were owned by Ralph Muchmor and Edward Barber, the Turf Club’s Secretary. Total prize money for the two-day event amounted to $2,850—a fair sum in those days.

Long before race time, pedestrians and carriages packed Bank Street, all heading for the race track located now where the Mutchmor Public School is today. Race conditions were perfect with the track having just been rolled after a recent rain. The main attraction of the day was, of course, the Queen’s Plate, the third race of the afternoon. By the time Lord and Lady Lisgar arrived at 3 pm, every vantage point was taken up, the stands filled to capacity with ladies and gentlemen, while less fortunate punters made do with fence tops, and the seats of cabs and wagons. According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, it was difficult to estimate the size of the crowd, but the stands scarcely accommodated a quarter of the numbers. Many of the visitors came from other parts of Canada and even from the United States to witness the Queen’s Plate which was already the highlight of the Canadian racing calendar.

The first race of the day was the $300 Hurdles Race, a two-mile run with eight hurdles 3’ 6” high, which was won by Duffy by three lengths. The second race was the $100 Steward’s Race won by Mohawk who took both heats. Up next was the Queen’s Plate. The prize was 50 guineas ($256), the gift of “Her Most Gracious Majesty.” The winning horse may have received an additional purse but the report relating to this was obscurely written. It read: “T.C.W. Entrance, $10 p.p. to go with the plate.”[1] The Ottawa Turf Club provided $100 to the second-place horse.

Six horses were entered in the 1½ mile race (no heats): Blacksmith, a 4-year old, black horse, with its jockey wearing a black jacket and blue cap; Fearnaught, a bay horse with its jockey in scarlet with a dove colour cap; Alzora, a chestnut mare, whose jockey wore brown and white; Jack Vandall, a bay gelding, its jockey in blue and white; Bay Boston, a 5-year old, bay horse, (colours not identified), and Halton, a 5-year old bay horse whose jockey wore scarlet. Halton was the favourite. Three of the horses in the running, Fearnaught, Alzora and Jack Vandall, had the same sire, Jack the Barber, a celebrated thoroughbred horse originally from Kentucky.

Queen's Plate Canadian Museum of History

The Trophy awarded for winning the Queen’s Plate, Canadian Museum of History.

At post time, there were four false starts. But after they were finally off, it was deemed a “splendid race.” After the first half mile, it became apparent that the race belonged to Fearnaught, with the favourite, Halton, fading. In a time of 2 minutes 54 ½ seconds, Fearnaugh, ridden by Richard Leary and owned by Alexander Simpson, won the 13th running of the Queen’s Plate. Jack Vandall came in second and Halton third. Richard Leary, the winning jockey who was also a resident of Ottawa and the horse’s trainer, was presented with a gold-mounted riding whip by Mr. William Young of the firm Young & Radford, a watchmaker and jewellery manufacturer located at 30 Sparks Street.

Two more races followed the Queen’s Plate to round out the racing for the afternoon. These were the $300 Tally Ho! Stakes and the $150 Memorial Plate.

Betting had been fierce in the lead-up to all the races. But all the favourites came up short that day causing “a monetary twinge among the sporting fraternity,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Pelting rain almost caused the postponement of the second day of racing from the Saturday to the following Monday. Racing on a Sunday, the Sabbath, was forbidden. However, as many of the horses were slatted to race in Montreal the following week, the decision was made to go ahead on the principle “run, rain or shine.” Fortunately, at race time the clouds cleared, though attendance suffered. Four more races were held: the $600 Carleton Plate; the $400 Lumbermen’s Purse; the $300 Merchants’ Plate; and, finally, the $150 Consolation Stakes. There was a bit of excitement surrounding the running of the Lumbermen’s Purse. Owing to “a misunderstanding or improper interference,” the race had to be run twice. People almost came to blows before the Club Secretary announced that all pools and bets were off for the race.

The Ottawa Turf Club, the host of the 1872 Queen’s Plate, disappeared from the Ottawa racing news in the decade following its big race weekend but not before becoming mired in controversy. At the end of a racing fixture held in October 1874, the Club held a “deer hunt” as a grande finale to the day’s events. A half-starved deer was released onto the field. It was barely able to run having been cooped up in a small cage, its joints stiffened from lack of use. Instead of taking off into the nearby bush to be hunted by a pack of dogs followed by riders, it stumbled into the crowd. It only took ten seconds for it to be taken down and torn to pieces by the hunting dogs amidst the spectators’ carriages. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thought that this was a case for the S.P.C.A. and “hoped that the people of Ottawa will never be asked to patronize such a “sport” again.”

The Ottawa Racing Association hosted the 21st running of the Queen’s Plate at the end of June 1880. It was the second race of the first day of racing entertainment again held at the Mutchmor track. Five horses were at the post come race time; a sixth, the mare Footstep, had been pulled on a challenge on the grounds of ineligibility since it had not been trained in Ontario. The winner was Bonnie Bird, owned by John Forbes and ridden by Richard Leary, the same jockey who rode to victory in the 1872 Queen’s Plate. Bonnie Bird also ran he following day in the first Dominion Day Derby carrying five pounds extra owing to having been the Queen’s Plate winner. Owing to a very bad send off, Bonnie Bird was virtually out of the race at the start but Richard Leary, the jockey, somehow manage to close the gap with the leaders on the turn but was unable to catch Lord Dufferin who won by a length.

Today, Ottawa horse-racing fans can enjoy standardbred harness racing at the Rideau Carleton Raceway on the Albion Road. But if you want to dress up, wear a fascinator, and otherwise enjoy the excitement of the annual running of the Queen’s Plate, you will need to head to the Woodbine Race Track in Toronto.

Sources:

Anderson-Labarge, 2015. “Canada History Week: Spotlight on Sports (Part 2),” Canadian Museum of History, https://www.historymuseum.ca/blog/canada-history-week-spotlight-on-sports-part-2/.

Buffalo Commercial, 1861, “Great Race at Detroit,” 10 July.

Daily Citizen, 1872. “The Queen’s Plate,” 16 February.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club Races,” 31 May.

—————–, 1872.  “Ottawa Turf Club,” 1 June.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club,” 3 June.

—————–, 1880. “Mutchmor Park,” 2 July 1880.

Dulay, Cindy Pierson, 2018. “2010 Queen’s Plate Royal Visit,” Horse-Races.Net, http://www.horse-races.net/library/qp10-royal.htm.

Rideau Carleton Raceway, 2019. https://rcr.net/.

Smith, Beverley, 2018. “Horse Racing: Queen’s Plate,” Globe and Mail, 17 April.

Wencer, David. 2019. “Toronto’s Horse Racing History,” Heritage Toronto, http://heritagetoronto.org/torontos-horse-racing-history/.

Woodbine, 2019. Queen’s Plate 2019, https://woodbine.com/queensplate/.

Wikipedia, 2019. Queen’s Plate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Plate.

[1] If any reader can decipher this cryptic phrase, please let me know.