The Grand Vice-Regal Fancy Dress Ball

23 February 1876

It was hard times. In late 1875, Canada, indeed all of North America, was mired in what today is known as the “Long Depression” which began with the Panic of 1873 and lasted, according to some economic historians, for more than twenty years. To encourage business, Canada’s Governor General, Lord Dufferin, came up with an ingenious idea: Let’s host a gala fancy dress ball! This was a nineteenth-century version of the “trickle down theory” of aiding the poor. Invitations were sent out at the end of November for the event to be held at Rideau Hall on 23 February 1876.

There was precedent for such an event. Twenty-five years earlier in 1851, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held a grand costume ball at Buckingham Palace “as an impetus to the trade of the British metropolis” according to the Ottawa Daily Citizen. At that event, the Queen wore le grand habit de court of Louis XIV. Her entire costume was made of material of British manufacture. In the depressed financial climate of late 1875, Lord and Lady Dufferin aimed to emulate Her Majesty and give a boost to the local economy.

Illustration of Lord and Lady Dufferin’s Fancy Dress Ball, Canadian Illustrated News, 16 March 1876

Others weren’t so sure about the idea. The Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, René-Édouard Caron, decided against holding his annual ball that year, instead donating $1,000 to a fund for the relief of the poor. Pierre Garneau, the recently-retired mayor of Quebec City, donated $500 to the same fund. The Ottawa Evening Citizen opined that it would be well for the Governor General and private citizens to follow their example. The newspaper added that it believed that a majority of people who received invitations to the ball could not “with justice to themselves and their creditors accept the invitation.” It advised a postponement of the event, or that the ball be abandoned altogether. Given the prevailing financial distress, “the strictest economy is necessary in pleasure as well as in business” the newspaper argued.

Despite such reservations, the Dufferins’ fancy dress ball proceeded as planned. In the three months leading up to the big night, dressmakers, tailors, and costumers worked flat out to dress the 1,500 guests. The Canadian Illustrated News said that “one long golden harvest was reaped by tradesmen” and that “in the present ‘tightness’ of things monetary, the Ball [had] been a perfect godsend.” Maybe Lord Dufferin was right.

Lord Dufferin as King James, 1876, Topley, LAC 3819846.

There were costume mishaps. A Mr. Baird, who purported to be the agent for Miss Jennie Kimball, a well-known Boston-based costumier, announced that he could be found in room 52 at the Russell House Hotel and was taking orders for any costume desired, either for sale or lease. However, a short time later, Miss Kimball wrote to the Citizen denouncing Baird, calling him a “speculator and a very dangerous one.” He was not her agent. However, should somebody wish to procure a gown or costume for the Ball, they should contact Mr. St. Jacques, the manager of the Russell House, who would forward the request to her. She had costumes available for rent, including “Sir Rupert” in silver armour ($20), a Spanish matador ($20), the “Duke of Buckingham ($12) and “King Charles,” a snip at only $10.

The vice-regal Fancy Dress Ball began at 9:00pm. Getting to it must have presented challenges given that Rideau Hall was located on the outskirts of Ottawa and it was mid-winter. Indeed, it was bitterly cold on 23 February with a high of only -19 degrees Celsius that day. It was unlikely that many carriages could be “parked” at Rideau Hall, which, given the temperature, would have been brutal for the horses unless they could be accommodated in the Hall’s stables. Some people may have come by private sleigh, with servants dropping them off and picking them up at an appointed time. For those without private conveyance, there was hired sleighs, and Ottawa’s “mass transit” system of the day, ran by the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company. The Company offered rides on its sleighs to and from Rideau Hall by arrangement.

Lady Dufferin, 1876, Topley, LAC 2315138.

The Ottawa Citizen called the Ball, “the crowing triumph of social life in Canada.” The attendees read like a “who’s who” list of Canadian political, legal and commercial heavyweights. Top of the list was Alexander Mackenzie, the prime minister, and his wife. The frugal Mackenzie, perhaps in sympathy with the hard economic times, wore his official court uniform which featured a lot of gold braid, rather than a more fanciful outfit.

Lord Dufferin and his family and staff were dressed in the style of the Court of King James of Scotland. Dufferin wore a doublet, with trunk hose, pearl-grey bas-de-chausses (stockings that covered the lower part of his legs), a short coat of black velvet trimmed with gold thread, topped off with a black velvet cap with a white feather fastened with a diamond aigrette. Apparently, his costume was considered quite sombre compared to those of his guests, and was the high of good taste.

Lady Dufferin was clad in a crimson petticoat with a satin train with two rows of gold embroidery. Her gown had closed sleeves of white satin puffed with crimson. Over this was a crimson velvet robe lined with white satin, with ermine trim. On her head was a crimson velvet hat decorated with white feathers. She also wore a girdle of jewels and necklace of diamond stars. The three eldest Dufferin children, Helen, Archibald and Terrence, also attended the ball in costume.

The Dufferin children, Terrence, Archie, and Helen, Topley, LAC 5107175.

On arrival, guests were shown into the ballroom which was lit by hundreds of wax candles as well as gas chandeliers. Floor-to-ceiling festoons of roses covered the pilasters than lined the room. At the far end was a dais raised up on three crimson steps on which were two state chairs. A passage through the middle of the room to the dais was cordoned off. Two bands provided the music—the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Gruenwald band from Montreal. The guests were dressed in all sort of costumes—gods and goddesses, cavaliers, roundheads, Britannia, Father Christmas, Quebec guardsmen from 1759, Lady Liberty, and Jacques Cartier were all represented, as were more humbler Campagna peasant women, fishwives and shepherdesses. William Topley, the famed Ottawa photographer, took scores of pictures for posterity that now form part of the collection at Library and Archives Canada.

At 9:30pm, Their Excellencies, accompanied by their attendants, which included two pages, their son Terrence and his friend, Master A. Littleton, who was the son of the Governor General’s secretary, entered the ballroom at the head of a procession of the cream of Ottawa’s society. After the opening bars of “God Save the Queen” were played, the ball began.

The opening dance was a state quadrille, the first of two such dances, the second one being held mid-evening. Eight couples performed the intricate dance, including Lord and Lady Dufferin. The stately dance was almost eclipsed by young Terrence and Master Littleton. Dressed in fancy costumes and equipped with toy swords, the two did what any self-respecting youngster their age would do. While lounging in the two state chairs, the two boys began duelling. The Canadian Illustrated News reported that the clash of steel was covered by the music. No fingers were lost in the affray.

A novel feature of the Ball was its “singing quadrilles” where the dancers provided the vocals to the accompaniment of a piano. The songs were in the form of nursery rhymes “very ingeniously and sweetly harmonized” by Mr. F.W. Mills, who had composed the previous year a one act operetta called “The Mayor of St.-Brieux” for Lady Dufferin’s theatricals.

His Excellency had a busy night. Partnering his wife in at least two dances, Lord Dufferin also danced with fifteen other women.

The dance floor was packed, especially at the beginning. But things opened up as guests drifted through other parts of Rideau Hall, including its drawing rooms and corridors, which were decorated with banks of flowers, card-rooms, and the conservatories lit by Chinese lanterns. Quiet lounges were set aside for those who wished to take a breather from the dances and engage in a quiet tête-à-tête, or whatever.

The indoor tennis court at Rideau Hall decorated as a supper room for the Fancy Dress Ball, February 1876, Topley Studio, LAC 3325566.

At midnight, the Governor General escorting Mrs. Mackenzie, the prime minister’s wife, led the way to the new indoor tennis court which was richly decorated and converted into a supper room. The upper part of the court was festooned with rose and white bunting. Along its sides were placed twelve large shields on banners, including those of the United Kingdom, the Royal Arms, the Dominion Arms, the Arms of Canada, and the Arms of each Province. Each were surmounted by a Royal Crown. The Arms of Blackwood, Hamilton and Temple, which were the quarterings of the Governor General, were each surmounted by an earl’s coronet. At the other end of the room was a display of gold plate, heavy golden spurs and roses.

Three long tables ran the length of the room set with gold and silver services. There was a large candelabrum and a massive golden centrepiece which apparently had at one time graced imperial banquets in France in the court of Napoleon III.

At a “late” hour the next morning, the opening bars of “God Save the Queen,” brought the festivities to a close. According to the Canadian Illustrated News, the patriotic strains “sent a tired but delighted crowd from the charms of the unreal world back into the daily monotony of this very real and grimy, practical nineteenth century.”

A few days later, another ball was held in Rideau Hall. This one was for the servants who laboured so hard at the Fancy Dress Ball. A supper was also laid out for them in the still decorated tennis court.

If you were wondering about all those expensive costumes, many were reused less than a week after the event at Rideau Hall at the Quebec Members’ Ball, held in the newly finished Parliamentary Library. Such were the financially straitened times.

While the Fancy Dress Ball may have given a temporary financial boost to tradesmen as suggested by the Canadian Illustrated News, hard times continued in Ottawa and throughout Canada. The following year, unemployed labourers in search of work stormed Parliament Hill looking for the prime minister. Mackenzie said there was little he could do beyond public works that were already underway. He advised the men to seek their fortune out west.

His advice did not go over well. In 1878, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives sweep Mackenzie and his Liberals from power.


Canadian Illustrated News, 1876. “The Governor General’s Fancy Dress Ball,” 18 March.

Hamilton-Hobbs, Emma, 2019. “Dressing Up at Ottawa’s Fancy Dress Balls and Skating Carnivals (1876-1896),” Library and Archives Canada Blog, 9 May.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1875. “No title,” 30 November.

————————–, 1876. “The Fancy Dress Ball,” 22 January.

————————–, 1876. “A Letter from Jeannie Kimball, 4 February.

————————–, 1876. “Grand Vice-Regal Fete,” 24 February.

————————–, 1876. “The Servants Ball,” 26 February.

————————–, 1876. “Quebec Members’ Ball, 29 February.

The Statute of Westminster

11 December 1931

One of the most important dates in Canada’s constitutional development from colony to independent country and for Ottawa as its capital is 11 December 1931. Yet, few Canadians know anything about what happened on that momentous day. This is perhaps not surprising. Even on that day more than ninety years ago, the event was scarcely noticed—no banner newspaper headlines, no fireworks, no celebrations. The Ottawa Journal didn’t even bother to cover the story. The Ottawa Citizen did, but the small article was sandwiched between an item about a University of Vermont student being located in Montreal after disappearing from Burlington, and a story about Christmas turkeys waiting for their owners at the police station. (If you were wondering, four Christmas turkeys had been found in the snow behind a billboard on Wellington Street. The police were keeping them chilled outside of a window until their owners collected them or they were donated to charity.)  This momentous but seemingly barely newsworthy event was the passage into law of the Statute of Westminster.

First page, Statute of Westminster,

The Statute of Westminster was a short twelve clause Act of the British Parliament that gave effect to resolutions passed at the 1926 and 1930 Imperial Conferences on constitutional changes affecting the overseas dominions of the British Empire—the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, and Newfoundland—with respect to their relationship with each other and with the Imperial government in London. The Statute repealed the Colonial Validity Act of 1865, under which the British government could void any act of a dominion government that if felt was “repugnant to the law of England.” As well, dominion governments were empowered to make treaties with foreign governments without the consent of the British Parliament.

After the Statute of Westminster came into force, no law passed by the government of the United Kingdom extended to any of the dominions except at the request and the consent of that dominion. In effect, while the dominions remained united by a common allegiance to the Crown, they became independent states.

Other parts of the Statute covered issues particular to various dominions. Section 7, the Canada clause, ensured that the Statute of Westminster did not repeal, amend or alter the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1930, or applied to any rules, orders, or regulations made thereunder. This clause was inserted at the request of the Canadian government after consultation with the provinces as no domestic agreement had been reached on how to change the British North America Act, which was itself another act of the British Parliament and served as Canada’s constitution. Owing to a lack of agreement on an amending formula, this issue remained unresolved until Pierre Trudeau controversially patriated the Act in 1982 over the wishes of the Quebec government.

In the decades leading up to the 1926 Imperial conference, the future of the British Empire had been under wide discussion. The Imperial Federation League, founded in 1884, envisaged a closer union of the governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions which ultimately could take the form of an imperial federation, akin to the Canadian Confederation. Sir Charles Tupper, who was briefly Canada’s prime minister in 1896, was a supporter of the Imperial Federation League. The British Empire League, a successor organization to the Imperial Federation League, also sought greater imperial unity. Lord Strathcona, president of the Bank of Montreal and co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was one of the league’s founding members. The British Empire League lobbied hard for a preferential trading arrangement within the British Empire as a means of strengthening imperial ties.

However, many viewed a closer union of the disparate parts of the British Empire as a pipe dream owing to the geographic distances involved and divergent political and economic interests of the various territories. The idea of an Empire-wide preferential trading arrangement foundered on Britain’s long-standing policy of free trade as it implied Britain imposing tariffs on non-Empire imports which would lead to higher import costs, and risk retaliation from its non-Empire trading partners. Here in Canada, a tightening of imperial ties was also a non-starter among Francophones. As well, growing Canadian nationalism, nurtured by Canadian successes first in the South African War and later on the battlefields of France, was increasingly at odds with tighter ties to the United Kingdom.

William Lyon Mackenzie King and Stanley Baldwin in London, 1926 Imperial Conference, 1926, LAC 013263.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference held in London, British prime minister Stanley Baldwin, and dominion leaders, which included William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister, unambiguously recognized that the dominions were equal in status to the Mother Country. “The position and mutual relation of the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions may be readily defined. They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” This was the first time the term “British Commonwealth of Nations” was used.  In foreign relations, it was underscored that the dominions would not be required to accept any obligation of the British government without the consent of their own governments.

The role of the governor general was also addressed. Hitherto, governors general in the dominions had a dual role. They represented the Crown and were also the conduit for relations between the dominions and the British government. But at the 1926 Imperial Conference, it was agreed that governors general would solely represent the Crown, while communications between dominion governments and the British government would be conducted on a government-to-government basis.

An unnamed Canadian delegate to the Conference, undoubtedly Mackenzie King himself, described the Conference’s resolutions to the press as “the Magna Carta of the Dominions.”

The public response to this outcome was broadly positive, though many were uncertain about what it meant or whether there was any practical change. The Ottawa Journal opined that the resolutions, “so far as we have been able to compare, involve practically no change.” The paper went on to say: “We are no freer today than we were this time last week or this time last year, for the simple reason that this time last year, we were completely unfettered and free.” As well, it felt that the resolutions did not weaken the British connection. As for Canada taking control of its external relations, the paper argued that “the plain truth is that since the war [Canada’s control of its] domestic and external affairs have been absolute, unfettered, complete.”

The Ottawa Citizen thought that the statute was a “document of historic importance” and a “big step forward in the evolution of Imperial relations.” However, it added, “Extremists here and there might talk of secession and absolute independence, but the real feeling of Empire as a whole is for maintaining the ties that bind but do not chafe,” for both practical and sentimental reasons. While there was a general desire for Imperial unity, there was also a “need of a greater detachment” for each of the dominions.

Opinions in the United States on the outcome of the Imperial Conference ranged from a view that it marked the end of the British Empire to the “beginning of a new epoch of power and influence” for the Empire, bolstered by the elimination of “frictions” and “embarrassments” that had handicapped the Empire in the past. The average view was that the British Empire would be little affected by the proposed constitutional changes, serenely moving ahead as it had in the past.

The 1930 Imperial Conference essentially reiterated the resolutions made four years earlier, underscoring the point that the appointment of the governor general of a dominion was a matter between the King and his dominion government, not the British government. As well, the ministers who provide advice to the Crown are the ministers in the dominion concerned.

Australia was quick off the mark. On the advice of James Scullin, the Australian prime minister, King George V appointed Sir Isaac Isaacs as the first Australian-born Governor General in December 1930. Canada continued to nominate titled Britons to the post of governor general until Canadian Vincent Massey’s appointment in 1952.

In the months that followed the conclusion of the 1930 Imperial Conference, the six dominions each undertook the necessary domestic steps to adhere to the Statute of Westminster. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Bennett met with his provincial counterparts to debate the issues and write the “Canada clause” in the draft Statute of Westminster. All six dominions formally agreed to the Statute by the 1 August 1931, the date set by the British government.

Once the dominions had signed off on the draft statute, debate began in London. The Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas, secretary of state for dominion affairs, described the bill “as being one of the most important and far-reaching issues presented to the House for many generations, representing the culmination of many years’ constitutional development by the dominions.” Approval was far from universal. Winston Churchill, the great imperialist, was concerned that approval of the statute would allow the Irish Free State to break its link with the Crown. He was also concerned that should India be granted dominion status, something that was under discussion, it too could leave the Empire. Notwithstanding this opposition, the bill quickly passed the House of Commons and the Lords, receiving Royal Assent on 11 December 1931.

Like in Canada, the passage of the Statute of Westminster was hardly noticed in the London press. One of the few papers who mentioned it that day, gave the statute equal billing to the passage of a Horticultural Products Bill. So much for the view that it was one of the most important pieces of legislation in generations!

Here in Ottawa, and indeed the rest of Canada, the lack of interest in the passage of the Statute may have been due to its anti-climatic nature. Having been the subject of two Imperial Conferences, as well as a Dominion-Provincial Conference, which had received newspaper headlines, it was hard to evince much enthusiasm for an act of the British Parliament that seem only to codify something that was already done in practice. However, in constitutional terms, the difference couldn’t have been more different than night and day. Canada, and the other dominions were now master in their own houses, or as the Ottawa Citizen put it “Now, in theory, Jack is as good as his master.”

The real-world implications of the Statute of Westminster became apparent eight years later at the start of World War II. Unlike in 1914, Britain’s declaration of war against Germany did not automatically mean Canada and the other dominions were also at war. Canada only declared war on Germany after a week of debate in Parliament. For that week, Canada was a neutral country despite Britain already being at war.

In 1959, Quebec MP Maurice Allard submitted a private member’s bill to recognize 11 December as Canada’s Independence Day. As is the case with most private member’s bills, Allard’s bill went nowhere. With Dominion Day, now called Canada Day, already a mid-summer holiday, a new holiday in cold December must have had little appeal.

If you were of the view that the Statute of Westminster is now ancient history, think again. In 2011, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sydney, Australia, the government of the United Kingdom and fifteen other countries (the Queen’s other realms) agreed to eliminate old, discriminatory laws under which the Royal Succession went to the eldest male son of the monarch unless the monarch had no son (male primogeniture) and which prohibited the monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic. A law to this effect was enacted in the UK in 2013. The question then was how to put this into effect in Canada—via the Canadian Parliament’s consent to the alteration of the succession rule implemented by the British Parliament, or via a constitutional amendment requiring provincial consent. Note that the preamble of the Statute of Westminster says any law touching on the Succession to the Throne of the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the consent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions [now known as realms] as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The government contended that through the issue of “symmetry,” Canada had the same monarch as the United Kingdom. So long as the British government consulted the Queen’s other realms, and received their consent, a constitutional amendment was not necessary. A bill to that effect was debated and passed in the House of Commons and the Senate, and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2013.

Legal challenges followed. In 2019, the Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court ruling that the Succession to the Throne Act 2013 was consistent with Canada’s constitutional framework. In 2020, Canada’s Supreme Court dismissed an application for an appeal to this ruling.


Canada, Government of, Department of Justice, 2015. Statute of Westminster, 1931 – Enactment No. 17.

Daily Herald, 1931. “Churchill Amendment re: India,” 3 December.

—————-, 1931. “Peers Stop Law Lords’ Work,” 12 December 1931.

Daily Telegraph, 1931. “India And Statute of Westminster, Specific Inclusion Necessary,” 3 December.

Jackson, D. Michael, 2022. The Succession to the Throne in Canada, Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, 31 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1926. “Dominions Are Of Equal Status In The Empire,” 20 November.

——————, 1926. “British Public Opinion Welcomes Decisions of Imperial Conference,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Imperial Conference Report,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Says British Empire Will Go Ahead in the Old Way,” 22 November.

——————, “Opinions at Washington,” 22 November.

——————, 1930. “Canada Proposes Empire Tariff Preference to Conference,” 8 October.

——————, 1930. “Gratified That Australian Was Named Governor,” 24 December.

——————-, 1931. “All Other Dominions In Favor Of Enlarging Constitutional Status,” 19 January.

——————, 1931. “Hon. H. Guthrie States Purpose Of Conference,” 3 April.

——————, 1931. “Constitution Of Canada Will be Fully Protected.” 9 April.

——————, 1931. “Approved By All Of The Dominions,” 1 August.

——————, 1931. “Around Parliament Hill,” 14 November.

——————, 1931. “Second Reading Given Statute Of Westminster,” 20 November.

——————, 1931. “Each Dominion Must Bear Own Share Of Load,” 24 November.

——————, 1931. “Westminster Statute Given Royal Assent,” 11 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1926. “Dominions To Sign All Future Treaties,” 20 November.

——————-, 1926. “That New ‘Magna Carta,’” 22 November.

——————-, 1931. “Will Maintain Present Order Over B.N.A. Act.” 8 April.

——————-, 1931. “Quebec Accepts Drat of Statute Passed in Ottawa,” 17 April.

——————-, 1931. “Equality Ideal Within Empire Nears Reality,” 25 November.

Death of Queen Victoria

22 January 1901

Despite her deteriorating health, Queen Victoria continued to work from her favourite palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On Monday, 14 January 1901, she asked Field Marshal Lord Roberts pointed questions about the Boer War. Roberts had just returned from South Africa, having turned over command of British forces there to Lord Kitchener. It must have been a difficult interview as the Queen opposed the conflict. On Tuesday, the Queen went for a ride in the palace grounds. However, it became clear that something was wrong; she was visibly affected by some malady. On Wednesday, she suffered a paralytic stroke and experienced an intense physical weakness that caused the left side of her face to sag. Queen Victoria never recovered.

For the next few days, as she moved in and out of consciousness, family members, including Edward, the Prince of Wales, and her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, gathered at Osborne House. At the Queen’s request, Turi, her pet Pomeranian dog, was brough to her. Throughout her last days, she was cared for by two nurses and four dressers, overseen by a matron. The Ottawa Journal reported that she was nourished through these last days with “warm milk, champagne and brandy.”

HM Queen Victoria, c. 1895, W. & D. Downey, Library and Archives Canada, 3623494.

Shortly after 9:00 am on Tuesday, 22 January 1901, her doctors summoned members of the Royal Family and the Rector of the Royal Chapel. The end was near. For a short period, the Queen was strong enough to greet her children and grandchildren one last time, reportedly receiving them singly and in groups of two or three, before she relapsed into unconsciousness. She died peacefully that evening at 6:30 pm.

The news of her passing quickly spread throughout Britain and across the Empire. Despite her advanced age, people had difficulty comprehending that the Queen had died. She was the longest reigning monarch at that time, and had become the embodiment of an age. She seemed indestructible. Even the Court was flummoxed with few arrangements for her funeral prepared ahead of time. Nobody knew what the protocol was. All the courtiers who had organized the funeral of Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, were long dead.

Official news of the Queen’s passing was conveyed to Lord Minto, Canada’s Governor General, by cable from Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Minto replied that “No greater sovereign has ever ruled over the British people, or been more beloved and honoured by her subjects than Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and by none has this love and respect been more deeply felt than by the people of His Majesty’s Dominion of Canada.”

Ottawa’s newspapers immediately posted bulletins announcing the Queen’s death at their offices. The Ottawa Journal also telephoned the news to schools and other places in the city. Within the hour, the bell at Ottawa City Hall began to toll, followed by the city’s church bells. Flags were lowered to half mast. Large crowds appeared in front of the offices of the Ottawa Journal and the Ottawa Citizen to await news updates. Everywhere, the death of Queen Victoria was the sole subject of conversation.

At City Hall, the Council met to pass a resolution of regret. The Ottawa Journal reported that “never before in the history of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa has such solemnity reigned over a council meeting.”  The council chamber was immediately draped in black. A large engraving of Queen Victoria surrounded by heavy black drapes appeared above the front entrance of City Hall on Elgin Street.

A sombre Mayor William Morris said: “The Queen had been so long inseparably connected in our minds with the Empire which has grown to such vastness during her reign that we can scarcely realise the possibility of the awful loss which will be felt in every portion of the globe, and will be mourned by every nation. Windsor Castle and Rideau Hall in Ottawa have been linked by the ties of Royalty almost since Confederation. Ottawans have had better opportunities of judging Her Majesty’s representatives than have had other Canadian communities. She has been reverently esteemed by the Radical and the Loyalist alike in an irreverent age. I think the judgement of history will concede her the foremost place among the monarchs and colossal figures of the nineteenth century.”

The Ottawa City Council’s resolution was moved by Aldermen R.J. Davidson and Napoleon Champagne. It began: “The Council of the City of Ottawa assembled on the occasion of the death of our late beloved Sovereign, Queen Victoria, hereby, on its own behalf and on behalf of the citizens, records the deep and heartfelt sorrow experienced by our people by the decease of one who for upwards of sixty years has ruled over the destinies of our Empire and by the innate nobility of her character and her many great and estimable qualities of head and heart, has been enshrined in the affections of her subjects.” In addition to extending Ottawa’s “loving sympathy” to members of the Royal Family, the resolution authorized the mayor to proclaim the suspension of business of the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, and to lower flags to half mast between then and the day of the funeral.

City Council then adjourned and made its way to Rideau Hall to present the resolution to Lord Minto, who personally welcomed them to Government House. After the City Clerk read the address, the Governor General thanked the mayor and council and said he would forward the resolution to the proper place. He added that Queen Victoria was “a model Queen and a model woman.”

Queen Victoria’s funeral was held on 2 February 1901. Following instructions she had left behind, the Queen’s body was dressed in a white gown with her wedding veil over her face. In her coffin, attendants placed mementos of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who had died forty years earlier, including his dressing gown and a plaster cast of his hand. King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, and her youngest son the Duke of Connaught took responsibility for placing her body in her coffin. (The duke was to become Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916.) Later, again according to her instructions, her personal physician folded her hand over a photograph of John Brown, the Scottish gillie who had worked for Prince Albert and had later become the Queen’s personal attendant and friend. The doctor covered the photograph with flowers so that it could not be seen.

Queen Victoria’s body was conveyed from Osborne House and placed on the ship Alberta, for the short trip across the Solent to Portsmouth. From there, it was transported via train to London where her coffin was placed on a gun carriage drawn by eight white horses. (See the British Pathé film of Queen Victoria’s funeral.) After the funeral cortege, her remains went by train to Windsor where her coffin rested in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for two days before she was buried beside her beloved husband at Frogmore Mausoleum.

Centre Block in Mourning for HM Queen Victoria, January 1901, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada

All of Canada went into mourning. Federal buildings across the country were draped in black or purple through the mourning period. The front of the centre block on Parliament Hill was swathed in bunting in a similar fashion as during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee held in 1897 except in the colours of mourning instead of celebration. Above the front entrance to the Victoria Tower was a crown wreathed in black. Most principal buildings and shop windows in the city were also draped in mourning colours. The window of Wright’s Flower Shop at 63 Sparks Street was the exception. In it was a picture of the late Queen surrounded by a wreath of white roses, calla lilies, white carnations and white hyacinths, topped by two white doves looking downward with a third with its wings outspread at the bottom of the display. On the right of the Queen’s picture was a large cross of roses, carnations and white hyacinths. On the left was a crown of yellow daffodils, violets, white carnations and lilies of the valley.

On the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, all business came to a standstill. At 11:00 am, the City Hall bell began tolling and guns boomed from Nepean Point. Schools and churches across Ottawa held memorial services. At Notre Dame Basilica, Archbishop Duhamel and Monseigneur Routhier held a High Mass in honour of the late Queen.

Thousands of people watched a military parade, consisting of men from the 43rd Regiment and the Garrison Battery, make its way from Parliament Hill to Christ Church Cathedral where Lord and Lady Minto was to attend. Regimental colours were draped in black. The interior of the cathedral was draped in royal blue, sable and purple. With the military in their bright dress uniforms the Ottawa Journal described the scene as one of “serene beauty.” Archbishop Machray, Primate of Canada, gave the sermon. In addition to speaking of the late Queen’s attributes as a monarch and mother, he stressed the scientific progress made during her long reign. “The discoveries and inventions of men of science have almost made a greater change during it in the conditions of life than in all the 2,000 years before. Comforts and conveniences in countless ways are brought to the man of very ordinary means that previously the greatest monarch was a stranger to… The world is not only a richer and brighter but a happier, kinder and probably better world than she found it.”

Fast forward 121 years, the world witnessed another epoch-marking event with the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The parallels between the passing of the two monarchs are striking. Both held the record for the longest reign, with generations of people knowing only one monarch on the throne. Both died leaving the Crown in the uncertain hands of Kings who in other circumstances would be long retired. Queen Victoria witnessed the apogee of an Empire on which the sun never set, while Queen Elizabeth saw the dissolution of Empire, though also perhaps the creation of something better, the development of a Commonwealth of equals where countries freely join out of bonds of friendship and shared history rather than imperial conquest. Just as Archbishop Machray spoke of the amazing technological achievements of the Victorian age that had improved the lives of millions, one can also marvel at humankind’s achievements over the seventy years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. However, the archbishop’s view that the world of 1901 was a “happier, kinder and probably better world” than the one Queen Victoria saw on her coronation in 1838 is clouded by our knowledge of what was to come.  Just thirteen years later, the world would be at war. The German Kaiser who had lovingly rushed to the side of his dying grandmother, would become Britain’s greatest foe. As people around the world today mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, another European war is underway.


Ottawa Citizen, “Loyal Millions Bid A Farewell,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “The Schools,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “Empire’s Grief –World’s Sorrow,” 4 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1901. “The End of An Era,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “When The News Came,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “All Britain is Silent With Grief,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “Her Majesty’s Funeral Takes Place Feb. 2,” 24 January.

——————, 1901. “Silent Thousands Saw The Dead Queen Pass,” 2 February.

——————, 1901. “Memorial Services in Ottawa Today,” 2 February.

Rosenberg, Jennifer, 2019. Queen Victoria’s Death and Final Arrangements, ThoughtCo., 21 June.

World History Edu, 2020. Queen Victoria’s Death: How, When & Where Queen Victoria Died, 30 June.

Ottawa Foot Ball Club a.k.a. Rough Riders

19 September 1876

A small advertisement appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in mid-September 1876 inviting those interested in forming a “Foot Ball” club to meet on Monday afternoon, 18 September next, at 4:30pm sharp at the pavilion of the Ottawa Cricket Club located at Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor General.

Announcing a meeting to form the Ottawa Football Club, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 16 September 1876.

The meeting went on a long time as it was adjourned until the following evening when “a goodly number of gentlemen” assembled in a private room at the Russell House hotel. There, on 19 September 1876, a club to be called the Ottawa Football Club was formed with thirty-four members. The president of the new sports club was Mr. Allan Gilmour, a pioneering Ottawa lumberman for whom Gilmour Street is named.  

There seems to have been little doubt that a team would be established as the uniforms for the Ottawa Club’s footballers had already been ordered from England and were expected to arrive in Ottawa in ten days or less. The jerseys and stockings were in cerise and French grey—the colours of the new team. Their trousers were navy blue knickerbockers.

The new football club wasted no time in getting on the field. The following Saturday, the Ottawa Football Club took on the Aylmer Football Club. The game lasted one and a half hours with Ottawa emerging victorious. The score of the closely contested game was not reported. But Ottawa secured its first victory when Mr. Sherwood kicked the ball through the Aylmer goal.

During much of their early years, the team played in either the Quebec or Ontario Rugby Unions under the name the Ottawa Football Club, or more colloquially known as the “Ottawas” or even the “Senators.” It didn’t get the moniker, the “Rough Riders,” until 1898, the year the team won its first Canadian championship title.

1898 was the year of the Spanish-American War in which the United States intervened on the side of Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule. In this conflict, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, later President Roosevelt, came to popular attention as the commander of the “Rough Riders” who distinguished themselves at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Up until then, a rough rider was synonymous with a horse breaker. Roosevelt’s regiment apparently received its nickname owing to many of its members being “bronco busters” from the western plains.

Ottawa Football Club, November 1890, Topley, Library and Archives Canada 3386008.

In mid-October 1898, the sobriquet “Rough Riders” was given to the Ottawa Football Club by disgruntled Hamilton sports journalists following a hard-fought game in Ottawa where the home town team defeated the visiting Hamilton Tigers 9 to 1. According to Hamilton players, the game was one of the roughest they had ever played in. The Hamilton captain said that “Ottawa has three of the dirtiest football players that ever played on a Canadian gridiron.” A news report from Hamilton declared that the “Westerners” (a.k.a. Hamilton) were “foully used in the capital.”

Ottawa had something of a reputation. The previous year, the Ottawa Football Club had been expelled from the Quebec Rugby Football Union in which it had played due to rough play. Ottawa journalists, however, attributed the team’s expulsion to personal spite and a desire to eliminate a contender for the Quebec Union championship. One article in the Journal called the team’s expulsion “the most disgraceful exhibition of unfairness recorded in Canada sports.”

The Toronto Star demanded an investigation into Hamilton’s allegations of Ottawa dirty playing saying that “either Ottawa does play a foul game, or that its disappointed rivals are not above the trick of exciting popular opinion against the team to such an extent that it may be expelled from the Ontario Union.” According to the Ottawa Journal, one aspect of the game in which the Ottawa Club was very weak was its lack of squealers. It also called the Hamilton claims “a very bad libel on truth.”

The rematch was held in Hamilton at the end of October. Again, Ottawa vanquished the Tigers. This time, there were few complaints. The Toronto Star reported that while fairly rough, “it was not a dirty game.” Even the Hamilton Herald thought that the Rough Riders’ [italics added] victory was well-deserved and that the team was forgiven for their treatment of the Tigers in the earlier game in Ottawa. This is possibly the first time that the Ottawa team was referred to as the Rough Riders.

As an interesting aside, the Montreal Herald said that the Ottawa team was “composed of heavy men.” But the average weight of an Ottawa footballer was only 169 pounds—very light by today’s standards. Frank McGee, the nephew of D’Arcy McGee, the famed “father of Confederation,” who played for both the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Ottawa Senators hockey team, weighed in at only 143 pounds. Today, the average weight of a CFL football player is roughly 230 pounds, while the average NFLer weighs close to 250 pounds.

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, soprano, whose Troubadours entertained Ottawa and Hamilton footballers at the Russell Theatre, October, 1898, Wikipedia.

Despite the supposed roughness of the game, there was no apparent animosity between the two teams. They went out partying together after the game and had a “good time” at the Russell Theatre where the footballers occupied two boxes to watch the Troubadours, courtesy of the manager of the Troubadours and Mr. Drowne, the theatre’s manager. Between acts, the footballers sang songs.

The Troubadours were an African-American musical and acrobatic group led by Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones. A New England Conservatory-trained soprano, she was the highest paid African-American singer of her age, performing for US presidents and the Royal Family.

The moniker Rough Riders given to the team by Hamilton journalists as a poke at Ottawa’s alleged rough play, was adopted by the Ottawa Club. Just days later, Ottawa footballer Fred Chittick showed off his Rough Rider cufflinks that were 1 1/8 inches in diameter, bearing the figure of a rough rider with a football enclosed in a border of red, white and black.

Along with the new name came new colours. While the original team colours had been cerise and French grey, at some point Ottawa footballers began to play in black and white. This posed a problem for the 1898 season when Ottawa shifted to the Ontario Rugby Football Union after its expulsion from the Quebec Union, as the Osgoode team from Toronto also played in black and white uniforms. Ottawa opted to dress in new colours, wearing heavy white jerseys with scarlet sleeves and scarlet stockings. The new outfits went on display in Young Brothers’ windows—a local store. There is no mention of black in the initial newspaper descriptions, but presumably the pants were in that colour.

Ottawa won the 1898 Ontario Rugby Football Union title as well as the Inter-Collegiate Championship when it vanquished the Toronto University’s Varsity squad 7 to 3—according to the Journal the team’s “greatest and most glorious victory.” The game was vicious. The Varsity men “liberally used knee or anything else to stop Ottawa runners.”  But notwithstanding the provocation, the Journal reported that the Rough Riders played a “clean, square game without a sign of temper.”  This win, in front of 2,000 fans, set the stage for the Dominion Championships between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Ottawa College, the champion of the Quebec Rugby Football Union for two years in succession. Ottawa College’s garnet and grey colours are today the colours of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Rough Riders’ Harvey Pulford who suffered a broken collar bone in the Dominion Championship with Ottawa College, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 25 November 1898.

The inter-city, Dominion championship was held at the Metropolitan Grounds. The grandstand and bleachers were packed with more than 3,000 rabid football fans. In a bruising contest in which the tackling was described as “vicious and in some cases brutal,” the perhaps aptly named Rough Riders won with a score of 11 to 1. But the College team gave as good as they got.  Rough Riders Harvey Pulford and Weldy Young received a broken collar bone and a concussion, respectively. (Weldy Young later left Ottawa to try his luck in the Klondike gold rush. Young, who like Frank McGee and Harvey Pulford also played for the Ottawa Senators hockey club, was to captain the Dawson City Nuggets, the team that challenged the Ottawa club for the Stanley Cup in 1905.)

Over the seven-game, 1898 football season, the Rough Riders went undefeated, scoring 188 points to only 24 points against.

In early December, a celebratory banquet for the team was held at the Russell House Hotel, hosted by its eccentric manager, François Xavier St. Jacques. More than 200 persons were invited to the feast, including Major Bigham. The dining room was decorated with streamers in the team’s red, white and black colours. In show of friendship, the Hamilton Tigers’ colours of yellow and black were also on display. Each table was decorated with bouquets of carnations, roses, mums and ferns. The menu featured such dishes as oysters à la scrimmage, boiled Saguenay salmon (Hold on the line) with referee sauce and Spec-“taters.” Also served were Stuffed young Vermont turkey (Tackled on the Run) with offside green beans and “scragged” potatoes. The meal ended with the “Sweets of Victory” consisting of a choice between umpire pudding with grandstand sauce and an apple turnover with a sauce “ruled off.”

In the following speeches, Fred Colson, President of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association noted that “Ottawa had defied the Tigers in their jungle, by Hamilton’s mole hill which was called a mountain.” President Seybold of the Ottawa Club said that the team was “called the Rough Riders like Roosevelt’s men.”

The 1898 Dominion Championship was the first of three Dominion championships and nine Grey Cup titles that the Ottawa Rough Riders were to win during their long, storied career. The club folded for good in 1996. Today, The Ottawa RedBlacks wear the historic red, black and white colours.


McAuley, Jim, 2016. Inside The Huddle: Rough Riders To Redblacks, John Ruddy, publisher.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1876. “Ottawa Football Club,” 20 September.

————————–, 1876. “Football,” 25 September.

————————-, 1898. “No title,” 28 September.

————————–, 1898. “Tigers Trounced By The Ottawas,” 17 October.

————————–, 1898. “The Rough Riders In Championship,” 25 November.

————————–, 1898. “Rough Riders At the Festive Board,” 10 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1897. “The Football Trouble,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas’ New Uniforms,” 28 September.

——————-, 1898. “The Ottawa Suits,” 6 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Tigers Were Downed,” 17 October.

——————-, 1898. “Should Be Investigated,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “Where Ottawas Are Very Weak,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Toronto Star Man Can Always See Two Sides Of A Game,” 18 October.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Need To Be Careful,” 20 October.

——————-, 1898. “It Was Great Football,” 31 October.

——————-, 1898. “Seen Through Other Eyes,” 1 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Rider Buttons,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Down ‘Varsity,” 21 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Riders Win A Great Struggle,” 21 November.

Miss Civil Service

12 August 1946

For many years, one of the most anticipated fixtures on Ottawa’s public service social calendar was the annual Miss Civil Service contest. It was first held in 1946, the same year that the Miss Canada pageant was founded. Like the Miss Canada pageant, the Miss Civil Service contest was explicitly sexist and objectifying. There was zero focus on contestants’ job performances—surprise! The attribute on which contestants were judged was beauty. Later other “factors” were added. These comprised grooming, posture, clothes and personality. While supremely cringeworthy today, it’s remarkable how accepted the event was during its day. There was extensive press coverage of the various departmental contests to choose departmental “queens” and “princesses” in the lead up to the big event when Miss Civil Service was selected from among the departmental beauties. This coverage was replete with juvenile double entendres, offensive sexual comments and stereotypes that would be totally unacceptable today.

Ada Redsell, Miss Civil Service Commission, is congratulated by Paul Martin, Senior, 12 August 1946, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1946.

The first Miss Civil Service Commission competition was held on 12 August 1946. It was the highlight of the annual Civil Service Commission picnic held at Britannia Park. The day also featured tugs of war, softball, races, a sing-a-long, a dance in one of Britannia’s pavilions and a picnic supper. More than three hundred persons attended the day’s events. There were forty-four entrants into the Miss Civil Service pageant, but only seventeen contestants showed up. The winner was Ada Redsell, a Grade 2 Clerk working at the Central Registry. While her measurements were thankfully not divulged (this often happened in later competitions), the newspapers reported that she had brown eyes and dimples, weighed 120 pounds and stood 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. She wore a pale blue jersey dress with a string of pearls and white pumps. Redsell, who lived at 199 Boteler Street in Ottawa, said that her boss had made here enter the contest. She won an all-expense paid airplane trip to Montreal. Second prize went to Eileen Gagne who won a free airplane ride over the capital, while third prize, a pair of nylons, went to Muriel Keogh.

The prizes were presented by Paul Martin (senior), who was Secretary of State in the federal government at that time. He gave each of the winners an “unofficial gift” of a kiss on the cheek. Judges complained that they hadn’t got kisses (from the girls, not Martin). C.H. Bland, the Civil Service Commissioner, remarked that he would have liked to have chosen them all.

Four years went by until the next Miss Civil Service contest was held. This time it was an event of the Civil Service Recreation Association’s Ice Carnival held on 23 February 1950. From then on, the Miss Civil Service pageant was an annual fixture organized by the RA. It ran into the early 1970s.

In the lead-up to the RA’s first annual event in 1950, federal departments held contests to chose their respective representatives in the pageant. These contests were covered in the press. Under a photo of the Post Office’s contestants, the Ottawa Journal had a caption “How would you like to play post office with these three?” (For those unaware, “post office” was a kissing game popular at the time where a group was divided into boys and girls, with one group going into another room which became the “post office.” Then, one by one, each person in the other room entered the “post office” and was kissed by everybody in that room.) The caption under a photo of the three winners from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics read “Statistical Figures” that proved that statistics aren’t “all cold and hard.”  

The Miss Civil Service contest, which presumed to select the ideal government girl, was the highlight of a four-hour carnival program held at the RA rink located at the foot of Bronson Avenue. Other events included broomball, speed skating and figure skating and a parade of floats featuring departmental “queens” and “princesses.” The Ottawa Journal reported that there were “38 luscious beauties.” “If you are looking for the tops in sophisticated swish, the gal with person-al-i-t-y, the blonde bombshell, brunette heartbreaker, or redhot redhead, you can find the peak of perfection among the 15,000 females who adorn the halls of the public service.” Yikes!

The winner, selected by five judges appointed by the Recreation Association, was 23-year-old Teresa Nugent, a five-year veteran at the Tax Branch of the Department of National Revenue. She was described as “the all-Canadian girl” –”a blond, dimple-cheeked, blue-eyed, five-foot, seven-inch bundle of outdoor charm.” Nugent won a wrist watch, two return fares to Montreal, a dinner out with her and her escort at the Copacabana, a permanent wave, and a complete cosmetics kit. Janie Walters, from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs placed second, while third place went to 20-year-old “brownette,” Margaret Skuce from the Department of Mining and Technical Surveys. The caption under a photo of Teresa Nugent read “fellow workers (males of the opposite sex, of course) had mentally reserved her for their own when they saw her crowned queen.”

The “crowning ceremony” was performed by George McIlraith, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West and Jean Richard, the Liberal MP for Ottawa East. Also in attendance were several city aldermen.

During subsequent pageants, the prizes became increasingly lavish, with large numbers of people in attendance. In 1953, some 5,000 whistling and “whoo-whooing” spectators witnessed the crowing of Miss Kathleen Willisher as Miss Civil Service. The 20-year-old “auburn-haired” employee of Defence Construction, won $250, or an all-expense paid trip to Bermuda, or a trip for two to New York City, in addition to a sash, crown and a silver trophy. In 1956, Miss Marie MacDonald, from the National Research Council, weighing 110 pounds and standing five feet three inches with a 34-23-34 figure, had a choice between a 10-day trip to Bermuda, a 7-day trip for two to New York, or $225. She also received a complete spring wardrobe valued at $125, a sheared muskrat stole, a silver rose bowl, an all-expense paid weekend at Adanac Lodge at Lake Le Peche, and dinner for two at a local restaurant. In 1958, first prize included an impressive trip to Europe.

The 1954 Miss Civil Service contest didn’t go as expected. After being crowned, 22-year-old Betty Burton from Defence Productions revealed she was married. This must have come as quite a shock as there were very few married women in the federal public service at this time. Restrictions on married women holding federal jobs weren’t lifted until 1955. Single female employees were forced to resign when they got married. The Ottawa Citizen commented “stand back, fellahs, she’s married.” In 1960, the contest was officially opened to married women. The title was also changed to RA Queen, though the former Miss Civil Service title continued to be widely used.

Another first occurred in 1962, when Barbados-born Betty Gitters, won the coveted title. The mother of two was working at Transport Canada to support her family as her husband attended medical school at the University of Ottawa. The former 1959 Miss Barbados was the first and only woman of colour to win the Miss Civil Service/RA Queen title. The Ottawa Citizen called her the “brown-eyed dusky queen” and erroneously said that this was the first time a married woman had won the title. Gitters won $200, a wrist watch, an all-expense paid weekend in an un-named New York State tourist resort, a free hair styling and a bouquet of tulips. That year, she opened the National Tulip Festival.

By the beginning of the 1970s, the RA Queen contest was fading rapidly in popularity. While it still attracted contestants, it was increasingly out of step with the times. The prizes were also becoming less interesting. Trips to foreign locales were long gone, and a $200 first prize just didn’t go as far as it once did. In 1970, anti-pageant protesters picketed the RA Centre, the venue of the contest.

“Miss Civil Service” also came under attack from another quarter. In an article titled Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity? the Ottawa Journal wrote in 1970: “Now take those long-lacquered fingernails. They can slow down Miss Civil Service to a leisurely 30 words-a-minute as she tippie-pinkies, oh, so very, very carefully to preserve all ten gleaming mirrors of her stylist nails. And those, long, fetching artificial eyelashes—they go with the long-tinted fingernails, the miniskirts, and maxihair – can slow her down too, when they tend to shed off every time she flutters them at her boss or that toothsome bachelor assistant-deputy at the next table in the government cafeteria.”

The last RA Queen pageant was held in May 1973. Out of twenty-two contestants, 20-year-old Lorraine Leduc took home the title. Judges were Mayor Pierre Benoit, former 67s hockey player, Brian McSheffrey (who later briefly played in the NHL), and Miss Ottawa Rough Rider, Lynn Lawson. Only 200 people were in attendance at the RA Centre.

Mercifully, Miss Civil Service then disappeared into the dustbin of history.


Gentile, Patrizia, 1996. Searching for “Miss Civil Service” and “Mr. Civil Service”: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, MA Thesis, Carleton University.

Ottawa Citizen, 1946. “Queen Ada Gets A Crown,” 13 August.

——————, 1954. “Betty Burton Named ‘Miss Civil Service,’” 20 March.

——————, 1956. “Beauty From Saskatchewan Crowned Miss Civil Service,” 16 March.

——————, 1960. “RA Queen of Year Replaces Miss Civil Service,” 23 January.

——————, 1962. “Beauty Reigns,” 17 May.

——————, 1962. RA Queen Captured by Mother of Two,” 17 May.

——————, 1973. NRC Has a Queen,” 26 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1946. “Beauty Contest Win at Picnic by Ada Redsell, Grade 2 Clerk,” 13 August.

——————-, 1946. “Free ‘Plane Trip For Miss Civil Service Commission Of 1946,” 13 August.

——————-, 1950. “CS Beauty Queens Try On Crowns for Size,” 14 February.

——————-, 1950. “Queen Of Queens In Civil Service ‘a Dimpled Blue-Eyes Blonde,’” 24 February.

——————-, 1953. “5,000 Cheering Spectators See ‘Miss Civil Service’ Crowned,” 28 March.

——————-, 1958. “Need No Imports For This Contest,” 14 July.

——————-, 1962. “Miss Civil Service,” 17 May.

——————-, 1970. “Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity?”, 24 August.

Tennis Comes to Ottawa

13 June 1876

Tennis has a long pedigree, dating back to the Middle Ages, with its roots in a ball game called jeu de paume, played indoors using the bare or gloved hand. By the 1500s, racquets had been introduced, and the game became popular in the courts of England, France and Scotland. King Henry VIII was a fan of the sport, playing at his favourite palace of Hampton Court. It was also at about this time that the sport became known as “tennis.” However, the game was far different from the modern sport. Among other things, players could bounce the ball off walls. This version of tennis is today known as “real tennis” or “royal tennis,” and continues to be played by a small number of devotees.

The Indoor Tennis Court at Rideau Hall acting as a supper room, 1876. The decorated room was used for both the February 1876 Fancy Dress Ball as well as for the March 1876 theatrical performances. Topley Studio, LAC 3325566.

Modern tennis, sometimes referred to as lawn tennis, became popular during the early 1870s in Britain. It quickly crossed the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. The Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, which is still going strong, was established in 1876. Here in Ottawa, the earliest mention of tennis being played in the capital also dates back to 1876 when Governor General Lord Dufferin had an indoor court built at Rideau Hall.

The court was also used for special events. In late February, 1876, the newly-built court was decorated for diners attending a Fancy Dress Ball. For the event, which was the social highlight of that winter, the upper part of the court was festooned with rose and white bunting. Along its sides were placed twelve large shields on banners, including those of the United Kingdom, the Royal Arms, the Dominion Arms, the Arms of Canada, and the Arms of each Province. Each was surmounted by a Royal Crown. The Arms of Blackwood, Hamilton and Temple, which were the quarterings of the Governor General, were surmounted by an earl’s coronet. A week later, the court, still so decorated, was again used as a supper room for guests who attended an evening of theatrical performances that starred none other than Lady Dufferin herself, as well as her brother Lord Hamilton.

Besides the Governor General’s family, it’s not clear who initially used the tennis court. Most likely, friends played there too as Lord Dufferin appeared willing to allow others to use the facilities. On 13 June 1876, his secretary, E.G.P. Littleton, sent a letter on behalf of Lord Dufferin to E.A. Meredith, the Chairman of the Civil Service Board, making the court available to the gentlemen of the Civil Service while the Governor General was in residence at La Citadelle in Quebec City. He wrote that Lord Dufferin was “desirous of giving every facility to the members of the Civil Service to make use of the Tennis Court at Government House during his absence.”

While the Governor General’s primary wish was “to provide a healthy recreation during the summer” to members of the Civil Service, he did not want to preclude men who were not members of the Civic Service from becoming members. He also instructed that a committee be formed to make the necessary arrangements regarding such things as the hours of play and the supply of balls. The latter must have been a major issue before such companies as Slazenger, Dunlop or Wilson began mass producing tennis balls. They were probably handmade as are balls used today in “real tennis.”

Out of this “generous act,” as described by the Ottawa Daily Citizen, the Vice-Regal Tennis Club was born. A few weeks later, the Club was opened to gentlemen who were not members of the Civil Service.

It’s not clear how long the Vice-Regal Tennis Club was active; references to it quickly disappear from the columns of the Ottawa Daily Citizen. It’s possible it only operated that one summer, or only when the Dufferins were in residence in Quebec City.

Prior to their departure from Ottawa in 1878 at the end of Lord Dufferin’s posting to Canada as Governor General, a children’s bazaar was held in the tennis court for the benefit of the children of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New Edinburgh where the Dufferin family worshipped. Among the items sold was a watercolour painted by Lord Dufferin and a “handsome cushion” worked by Lady Dufferin.

If the departure of the Dufferins meant the end of tennis in the capital, the drought did not last long. In November 1879, the Ottawa Racquet Club was established to provide “a much desired and long wanted means of winter recreation.” Lord Dufferin’s successor, the Marquess of Lorne, became the patron of the new club. The Marquess of Lorne, later known as the Duke of Argyle, was married to Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Francis Clemow was the president of the new club. There were 45 founding members. In addition to tennis, members could play handball and racquets in the indoor court located at the corner of Gloucester and Metcalfe Streets. A ladies’ morning was set aside for women tennis players.

In early 1881, a ladies’ tennis tournament was held over a period of several days at the Racquet Club. Thirteen women from as far away as Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City and Halifax participated. Lord Lorne donated the prizes. There were two viewing galleries for the event. Club members and ladies were admitted free to watch the games, while non-member men paid 25 cents.

Court conditions must have been challenging as there was no heating and it was mid-winter. Not only was the lighting undependable, it was reported that the cold was so intense one day that the balls were “too dead to encourage long rallies.” How participants dressed was not reported.

First prize in the competition, “a pretty silver looking-glass,” went to Lily Fleming. In second place was Ethel Schreiber, winner of a “tasteful ink stand.” The third-place winner was one of two Almon sisters of Halifax. Miss Almon, her first name was not reported, won a silver bracelet adorned with a silver racquet.

The popularity of the matches led the Ottawa Daily Citizen to hope that this “really excellent game will gain popularity and become both on the lawns and various courts of Canada a national amusement.” The newspaper went on to say that the sport promoted healthful exercise and should be encouraged. It added that the fact that women could readily play gave the sport an advantage over other pastimes.

The Club House and members of the Ottawa Lawn Tennis Club at Cartier Square, circa 1890, Courtesy of the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club

The Citizen was spot on. Later that same year, on 24 October 1881, the establishment of the Ottawa Lawn Tennis Club (OLTC) under the patronage of Lord Lorne and Princess Louise took tennis in the capital to a new level. There were thirty-five founding members. Women were allowed to hold associate memberships, but were restricted in terms of when they were allowed to play. The Club’s first grass court was located at the corner of Elgin and Cooper Streets.

A ladies’ tournament was held in March 1883 under the auspices of the OLTC at the Drill Hall on Elgin Street. There were four indoor courts. Although the tournament was governed by the 1883 rules of the All England Lawn Tennis Association, play off of the walls was permitted similar to “real tennis.” As with the earlier tournament at the Racquet Club, Lord Lorne provided the prizes. Lily Fleming again took first prize—a “handsome broach” consisting of golden crossed racquets with a tennis ball hanging from a chain in the centre.

In 1888, the OLTC moved to a new clubhouse and grounds close to the Drill Hall at Cartier Square, a location it occupied until 1902. After two more moves, first to Patterson Avenue from 1903 to 1906, and then to 3rd Avenue in the Glebe, the Club, now called the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club, found a permanent home in 1922 on Cameron Avenue on the banks of the Rideau River where it remains today.

Tennis Group, May 1884, Marquess of Lorne and Princess Louise are seated to the centre right of the picture, Library and Archives, Canada.

By the 1920s, tennis was thriving in Ottawa with as many as 29 clubs in the Ottawa District Lawn Tennis League. However, there was a cloud over Ottawa’s tennis community. Club membership was via invitation, and members of Ottawa’s Jewish community were not welcome. These were the days of rampant anti-Semitism in Canada which, while often unspoken, was very present with bars on access to universities and clubs, including Ottawa’s prestigious Rideau Club.

The Tent Room, formerly the indoor tennis court, at Rideau Hall, Government of Canada

In a fascinating article that appeared in the Globe and Mail, Barry Padolsky recounts the history of the Tel Aviv Tennis Club (TATC), established in 1936 to give a venue to Jewish tennis players. That year, the TATC, supported by a group of prominent members of Ottawa’s Jewish community, purchased the financially troubled Riverdale Tennis Club on Russell Road (now North River Road). After the war, with the elimination of discrimination in Ottawa clubs, the fortunes of the TATC declined. In 1958, the Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Club’s land to make way for a park, consistent with the recommendations of the Greber Report to beautify Ottawa. There is no monument to the existence of the historic Tel Aviv Tennis Club except in the memories of Ottawa’s Jewish community.

Today, thousands of Ottawa residents, young and old, play tennis in clubs as well as on neighbourhood courts run by community members. The former indoor tennis court at Rideau Hall, now called the Tent Room, continues to be used for special events.


Governor General of Canada, 2022. “The Tent Room.”

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1876. “Rideau Hall,” 30 March 1876.

————————–, 1876. “A Gracious Act,” 15 June.

————————–, 1879. “The Ottawa Racquet Club,” 27 November.

————————–, 1881. “Ottawa Racquet Club,” 31 January.

————————–, 1881. “Ottawa Racket Court,” 11 February.

————————–, 1881. “The Tennis Tournament,” 12 February.

————————–, 1881. “The Tennis Tournament,” 14 February.

————————–, 1883. “Lawn Tennis,” 9 March.

————————–, 1887. “The Lawn Tennis Club, 11 May.

Ottawa Tennis & Lawn Bowling Club, 2022. “Your Cottage in the City.”

Padolsky, Barry, 2020. “The short, wonderous life of Ottawa’s Tel Aviv Tennis Club,” Globe and Mail, 7 August 2020.

Pretty, Greg and Jackson, John L. 2015. “Tennis,” Canadian Encyclopedia.

Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, 2022. Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.

The Rockcliffe Ski Jump

23 March 1937

Ottawa residents of today might be surprised to learn that one hundred years ago, the centre of skiing in the Ottawa area was Rockcliffe Park, not the Gatineau hills. Sure, the hills of Gatineau were popular among hard core skiers, but they were too far away for those without transport. Rockcliffe Park, on the other hand, was close by, just a streetcar ride away from downtown Ottawa. The Park’s crown jewel was a ski jump operated by the Ottawa Ski Club. The jump was the location of many provincial and Dominion ski-jumping championships during the first part of the twentieth century, drawing thousands of spectators.

Sigurd Lockeberg ski jumping at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1912, Ski Jumping Hill Archive.

Ski jumping in the capital started around 1904. In February of that year, a small notice appeared in the Ottawa Citizen advertising a meeting at the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club on Elgin Street for the purpose of organizing a jumping competition at Rockcliffe Park. The outcome of the meeting was unfortunately not reported. However, another contemporary news article noted that a man by the name of Jack Lawless, a noted canoeist, along with other Ottawa residents were busy practicing ski jumps in Rockcliffe area close to the Ottawa Canoe Club. It seems they attracted some high-class attention. Lord and Lady Minto, who were both described as enthusiastic skiers, were frequent spectators. Ski jumping was described as a “most spectacular sport” which had already taken hold in Montreal, where Norwegians were making long aerial leaps in Fletcher’s Field, now called Jeanne-Manse Park, opposite Mont Royal.

The sport really began to take off following the establishment of the Ottawa Ski Club in 1910. A later newspaper article attributed the construction of the first ski jump tower in Rockcliffe Park to Sigurd Lockeberg and two friends, Frank Bedard and Joe Morin. It was said that the trio illegally cut down trees in broad daylight to make the jump, with the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the lease holder to Rockcliffe Park, casting a blind eye to their doings.

Rockcliffe Park, with its many excellent natural ski jumps, was also a favourite spot of Ottawa Senators to both ski and try their luck at ski jumping. Bruce Ridpath, a forward with the team, reportedly “flew” 29 feet in one of his leaps in early 1911 when he was out one afternoon with teammates Fred Lake, Hamby Shore and Albert “Dubbie” Kerr. Ridpath’s career with the Stanley Cup champions was to be cut short later that year when he was hit by a car in Toronto and suffered a fractured skull.

In March 1912, the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park was the site for the first ski-jumping championship hosted by the Ottawa Ski Club (OSC). The Ottawa Journal described the event as “the nearest diversion Ottawa has to aeroplaning.” In addition to members of the OSC, jumpers from Montreal and Berlin Mills, New Hampshire were invited to compete in front of several thousand avid spectators. Members of the OSC captured six of the twelve prizes provided by the Club. Adolph Olsen of Berlin Mills wowed the thousands of spectators by turning a somersault in the air while jumping—”a feat that would appear impossible unless seen with your own eyes.” The overall champion of the event based on both distance and style was Ottawa’s own Sigurd Lockeburg. Reportedly, Lockeburg received a cup donated by Count Malynski of Russia who happened to be in Ottawa at that time. As an encore, Sigurd Lockeburg and his brother Hans made a tandem jump of 65 feet—a first for Ottawa.

Note the prevalence of Scandinavian names among the jumpers. Ski jumping was a sport with a long pedigree in Sweden and Norway, dating back to the early nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, the sport came across the Atlantic with immigrants from that region to Canada and northern United States.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, “Suicide Hill,” Newton Collection, City of Ottawa Archives

The initial Rockcliffe jump was a ramshackle affair, apparently made of cordwood. It blew down in 1914 to be replaced the following year by a tall artificial tower some 128 feet high. The new ski jump was constructed on the highest point in the park and towered more than 50 feet over the trees. The total descent from the top of the chute to the river level was 255 feet. It was hoped that the slide would allow for jumps in excess of 140 feet.

It did not disappoint. At a championship meet held in February 1915, Ragnar Omtvedt of Chicago jumped a record 145 feet from the highest take-off which was constructed by the OSC especially for his visit. Meanwhile, Adolph Olsen, the Canadian champion, increased his record leap from 92 feet to 122 feet. 

Sadly, this impressive ski jump did not last long. It blew down later in 1915, thus ending ski jumping in Rockcliffe Park until after the Great War. An ice toboggan slide was built on the site instead. Ski jumping moved to a site at Dome Hill near Ironside, Quebec, now a suburb of Gatineau. But it was too far out to attract many people.

In late 1919, the Ottawa Ski Club announced that the Ottawa Improvement Commission had given its blessing to the Club’s construction of a new ski jump at the Rockcliffe Park site.  In February 1920, the new jump was inaugurated. At that first tournament, the Duke of Devonshire, the Governor General, donated the Devonshire Cup for the best amateur ski jumper, resident in the Ottawa area, defined as living within a thirty-mile radius of the capital. There were also prizes for intermediate and junior competitions. The winner of the first Devonshire Cup was Arthur Pinault of the OSC, winning both for style and a distance of 77 feet.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, circa 1930, National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, 3224095.

Ski jumping became a fixture at Rockcliffe Park for the next three years. Indicative of the growing interest in the sport, the new Cliffside Ski Club of Gatineau built at considerable club expense a first-class ski jumping facility at Fairy Lake (Lac des Fées) in 1921. It was a good thing they did. In early 1923, the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the fore-runner of Federal District Commission and the National Capital Commission, closed the Rockcliffe ski jump on the advice of the Department of Justice over liability fears should a jumper or a spectator get hurt at the site.

It took several years of lobbying and negotiation on the part of the Ottawa Ski Club, the Cliffside Ski Club and the City of Ottawa with the OIC to work out a deal that would enable ski-jumping to resume at Rockcliffe Park. Legislation was passed in 1925 that permitted the OIC to return the site of the ski jump back to the City of Ottawa and avoid any potential liability.

After a lot of further dickering, it was finally agreed that the Ottawa Ski Club and the Cliffside Ski Club would share equally in the cost of rebuilding the wooden Rockcliffe ski jump at a cost of about $3,000. Plans for a steel structure were dropped when the quote from the Dominion Bridge Company came in at a whopping $12,000. The two clubs would also share the maintenance of the facility.

In 1926, the new Rockcliffe jump was ready for competitions with the Ontario championships held at the site under the auspices of the Ottawa Ski Club and the Dominion championships under the auspices of the Cliffside Ski Club.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump from Rockcliffe Drive, 8 July 1930, Library and Archives Canada, 5066194.

For the next ten years, ski jumping continued at the Rockcliffe facility as well as at the Fairy Lake jump which was taken over in the mid 1930s by the Norland Ski Club.

However, without warning, on 23 March 1937, C.E. Mortureux, President of the Ottawa Ski Club, announced to the press that the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park had been sold to M. Zagerman & Co. for $125 and would be removed immediately. Mortureux said that it was a Board decision to demolish the ski jump, though it was not unanimous. He said that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintaining the ski jump and that these dollars could be better spent on upgrading the natural ski jump at the OSC’s site at Camp Fortune. Mortureux also attributed the decision to a decline in ski-jumping in recent years, and that the closure of the Rockcliffe jump was in keeping with similar decisions made by ski clubs elsewhere to move ski jumps to hills outside of urban centres.

Ottawa’s skiing community was shocked by the announcement. Two pro-ski jump members of the OSC’s Board of Directors, Sigurd Lockeberg and Gérard Dupuis, were out of town on the day of the Board made its decision and did not vote. It was not reported whether their votes would have made a difference.

The decision to close the jump set off a firestorm of letters in the Ottawa Citizen. The president of the Cliffside Ski Club, Stewart Bruce, wrote Mortureux asking for an explanation of why the tower had been sold without consultation, pointing out that in 1926 Cliffside had paid $1,536.51 towards the costs of construction, while the Ottawa Ski Club had paid $1,429.97. He estimated that with a 5% depreciation rate, the ski jump was still worth $1,900. 

The Norland Ski Club also issued a statement say that Norland had approached the OSC in late 1936 with a proposition to keep the Rockcliffe ski jump open and in safe and sound condition for the use of all Ottawa ski clubs. In response to this overture, the OSC had a solicitor draw up a draft agreement which demanded that the OSC receive 30 per cent of gross proceeds from any competition held by Norland. Norland refused. As well, the Norland statement indicated the Club’s surprise that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintenance as Norland members supplied 90 per cent of the labour (gratis) to maintain the jump and often contributed themselves the materials necessary for its maintenance. The statement also took issue with Mortureux’s statement that ski-jumping was on the decline, suggesting instead that it never had an opportunity to flourish under the direction of C.E. Mortureux, the “oft-called Father of Skiing.”

The Ottawa Citizen came to Mortureux’s defence, pointing out the recent closure of two Quebec ski jumps. The article also argued that ski jumping was on the decline owing to the growing popularity of downhill skiing which took more training and a “higher degree of brains and skill.” It added that only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch ski jumping.

This brought Sigurd Lockeberg, hitherto silent, into the fray. In a letter to the Citizen, he indicated that he had been “heartbroken” when he had heard the news of the ski jump’s demise. He rejected the Citizen’s negative comments, saying that ski jumping required fully as much skill and brains as did other forms of skiing. Moreover, if only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch the sport, then this would mean the Governor General down to little boys and girls are “a lot of cripples and nitwits.”

He also disputed the notion that the sport was in decline in the Ottawa area or elsewhere. While two jumps had been closed in Quebec, there were special factors that accounted for them. He believed that Rockcliffe was the ideal sport for ski jumping, and that it was a pity that some members of the OSC’s executive decided to tear down the tower. He added that Mortureux himself had indicated that the Board’s decision to demolish the jump had been “irregular” and that he regretted it. Lockeberg closed his statement with some mollifying words, saying that Mortureax had done a lot for skiers in Ottawa, adding that he hoped that the pause in ski jumping at Rockcliffe would only be temporary.

It was not to be. Although the Ottawa Ski Club asked the city of Ottawa to reserve the right to erect a temporary jump in the event of a Dominion championship, the Federal District Commission was not interested. It said that a jump didn’t fit in with its plans for Rockcliffe Park and that reforestation of the ski jump site would commence immediately.

However, Lockeberg was correct when he said that ski jumping was still popular in the Ottawa area. Jumping continued at the Ottawa Ski Club’s site at Camp Fortune for almost another 60 years. In 1960, O’Keefe’s, the beer company, began sponsoring an international ski-jumping event at Camp Fortune, a relationship that lasted for close to two decades. In 1967, the Centennial International Jumping Competition was held at Camp Fortune on the new 60-metre Lockeberg ski jump, named for Sigurd Lockeberg who had done so much for the sport over the decades.

After a downturn in the sport in the late 1970s, ski jumping experienced a revival during the early 1980s led in part by the success of Ottawa-born Horst Bulau, who took the Canadian senior ski jumping championship in 1979 and who subsequently won thirteen World Cup ski-jumping victories during the 1981-1983 period However, the sport subsequently began to fade again. In 1993, the NCC, which had taken over Camp Fortune from the bankrupt Ottawa Ski Club, dismantled the ski jump owing to structural defects which rendered it unsafe.

Various attempts have subsequently been made to revive the sport at Camp Fortune but have so far met with only modest success.


Gatineau Historical Society, 2021. Echoes from the Past.

Ottawa Citizen, 1904. “Sporting Notes,” 25 February.

——————, 1912. “Ski Jumpers Made Records,” 4 March.

——————, 1915. “Omtvedt Gave Great Exhibition But Failed to Create New Record in Ski Jumps at Rockcliffe Park,” 22 February.

——————, 1920. “Duke of Devonshire’s Trophy And City Ski Championship Was Won by Arthur Pinault,” 1 March.

——————, 1922. “On The Ski Trails,” 30 December.

—————–, 1923. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 5 February.

——————, 1925. “Approve Plans To Seek Saction of Rockcliffe Jump,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “New Ski Jump At Rockcliffe,” 2 February.

——————, 1937. “Ski Jump At Rockcliffe Is Landmark Now Vanishing,” 23 March.

——————, 1937. “Removal of Ski Tower Is Giving Rise To Controversy,” 24 March.

——————, 1937. “On the Ski Trails,” 25 March.

——————, 1937. “The Slump in Ski Towers,” 26 March.

——————, 1937. “Letter to the Editor by S. Lockeberg,” 29 March.

——————, 1937. “reforestation On Site Of Rockcliffe Ski Jump Planned,” 23 April.

——————, 1976. “Ski jumping resembles hand-me-down,” 10 March.

——————, 1982. “Bulau zooms to lead in World Ski jumping,” 25 January.

——————, 1993. “Camp Fortune’s ski jump hil casualty of structural defects,” 28 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1904. “Skiing Contests In Montreal,” 22 February.

——————-, 1904. “Great Spot For Skiers,” 23 February.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing,” [sic], 1 March 1904.

——————-, 1911. “Hockey Stars Take To Ski Jumping, Like Real Natives,” 14 January.

——————-, 1912. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 11 March.

——————-, 1915. “Ottawa Ski Club Building A Big Chute On Rockcliffe Park Site,” 7 January.

——————-, 1919. “Not All Who Jumped Dome Hill Landed Right Side Up With Care,” 18 February.

——————-, 1919. “Ottawa Club Plans To Revive Jumping,” 16 December.

——————-, 1925. “Plans For Big Ski Tower Completed,” 1 August.

Ski Jumping Archive, 2021. Ottawa,

Fisher’s “Folly”

13 February 1919 and 27 November 1924

The Civic Hospital, Department of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, 3319465.

By 1918, it had become apparent that the three principal hospitals serving Ottawa—the Water Street Hospital, established by Élisabeth Bruyère in 1845 as the Hotel-Dieu Hospital, the Carleton County Protestant General Hospital located on Rideau Street that opened in 1851, and St. Luke’s Hospital on Frank Street established in 1890—had become overstretched. The city’s population had grown considerably and continued rapid growth was expected. As well, its health facilities were increasingly being used by suburban communities. In May 1918, the Boards of the Protestant and St. Luke’s hospitals agreed at a joint meeting that they should send a “memorial” to Ottawa City Council noting the inadequacy of the city’ current hospital facilities and recommending the construction a new, large and modern 500-bed hospital.

The inadequacy of Ottawa’s health care system was dramatically revealed just a few months later with the arrival of the Spanish influenza epidemic in September 1918. Area hospitals were overwhelmed. Health officials were forced to open emergency hospitals, often in schools, in an attempt to deal with the overflow of cases. Before the epidemic petered out, there were roughly 10,000 flu cases and close to 600 deaths in Ottawa out of a population of less than 110,000.

The influenza pandemic had hardly ebbed when on 13 February 1919 more than 100 leading Ottawa citizens, supported by prominent community organizations, presented the two hospitals’ petition. Among a new hospital’s advocates were Mr. J.R. Booth, the lumberman, Sir George Burn, the head of the Bank of Ottawa, Mr. A.J. Freiman, the owner of Freiman’s department store on Rideau St, Warren Soper, one of Ottawa’s electrical barons, and Senator Belcourt, a noted francophone Liberal senator. Organizational support came from the Ottawa Board of Trade, the Rotary Club, the Retail Merchants’ Association, the Trade and Labour Council, the Ottawa Chapter of the Council of Women, the May Court Club, and the Women’s Canadian Club. The proposal called for the construction of a new 500-bed hospital at a cost of $1.5 million. The directors of the Protestant General and St. Luke’s indicated their willingness to merge and turn over all of their assets and properties to the city if the new municipal hospital was built.

Given such high-powered supporters, City Council, led by Mayor Harold Fisher who was a strong advocate for a new hospital, moved swiftly.  Less than two weeks later, Council asked the province for authority to raise $1.5 million in debentures to pay for the new hospital. Over time, the authorized amount increased to $2.75 million as the initial estimates proved to be too low. Another $750,000 was needed for equipment. Prominent residents also provided additional funding. R.M. Cox, a lumberman, left almost $500,000 in his will to the new hospital. Hiram Robinson bequested $100,000 to fund a 70-bed children’s wing, while ex-alderman W.G. Black left $100,000 for the maintenance of the hospital grounds.

As one would expect, the site for the new hospital was contentious. Three successive reports through 1919 looked at potential locations which included Regan’s Hill in Sandy Hill, the Slattery-Bower property in Ottawa East, and Dow’s Lake at the corner of Bronson Street and Carling Avenue. In the end, the final report narrowed the choices down to two—the Protestant Hospital site on Rideau Street and Reid Farm out on the fringes of the city across from the Experimental Farm. The Boards of both the Protestant General and St. Luke’s Hospital unanimously supported the Reid Farm location. While somewhat distant from downtown, though only twelve minutes by car from the Post Office on Sparks Street (now the site of the War Memorial), it offered fresh, country air—a major consideration in these years before air conditioning. As well, the population of the western part of the city was growing rapidly, something that was expected to continue over the coming decades.

After considerable debate, City Council voted 16-4 in early November 1919 to purchase a 23.5-acre portion of Reid Farm for the new Civic Hospital. The price tag was $77,850. The minority on Council who voted against the site were primarily concerned about the distance of the hospital from the bulk of the city’s population, as both the Protestant General and St. Luke’s would close when the new Civic Hospital opened its doors. Alderman Pinard, the leader of the minority, said that while he accepted the point that Reid Farm might be the right site in fifty to one hundred years, one had to also consider the present.

Interestingly, there is no contemporaneous reference in either the Ottawa Citizen or the Ottawa Journal newspaper to “Fisher’s Folly,” the moniker later widely given to the Civic Hospital. While Mayor Fisher was indeed in favour of locating the hospital in Reid Farm, so was most of City Council as well as the hospitals. While there was some community opposition, there was no widespread skepticism as the name suggests. The first reference in the press to “Fisher’s Folly” didn’t seemingly occur until 1959. Subsequent retellings of the Civic Hospital story picked up on this catchy though likely misleading name.

Reid Farm, located in Hintonburg, was bounded by the train tracks to the north (now the Queensway), Fairmont Avenue in the east, Parkdale Avenue in the west and Carling in the south. Reportedly some 200 acres of land was purchased from the Crown in 1829 by one John Anderson who offered to sell 100 acres to John Reid. They tossed a coin to decide who would take the southern or the northern portion. Anderson won the toss and opted for the northern half leaving Reid with the southern portion. Reid and his wife came to settle on the land in 1832, having bought farm implements and oxen. The couple initially lived in a log house before constructing a stone building. At that time, the farm was located in a virtual wilderness, with only a rough trail leading through the woods to Richmond Road. Robert Reid lived on the farm until his death in 1889 when it passed to his son, Robert Jr. and his daughter Agnes, who in turn sold the land to the city and developers. Robert Junior died in 1923 and his sister Agnes, the last of the Reid family, in 1925.

Excavation work on the new Civic Hospital began in July 1920. The architects for the project were Stevens & Lee of Toronto, a firm that had built a number of hospitals across Canada, including Halifax’s Children’s Hospital, the General Hospital in Kingston, and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. General contractors were Ross-Meagher Co. and Alex I. Garvock.

While the hospital was initially expected to open its doors by the end of 1921, there were a number of delays, caused in part by labour issues and supply problems, which pushed the deadline out until the end of 1924. The enterprise was also massive, employing more than 300 workers. Two million bricks were used along with 250,000 terra cotta blocks. It was calculated that there were seven miles of walls.

The new Civic Hospital opened on 27 November 1924 with the Hon. Lincoln Goldie, the Provincial Secretary and Registrar of Ontario, officiating. Also present for the big day was Ottawa Mayor Champagne and former mayor Harold Fisher who was now the Liberal MLA for Ottawa West. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees for the new hospital. Fisher said that it was the greatest day of his life. More than 1,000 guests attended the opening ceremonies. Over the following three days, the general public came to view the new, state-of-the-art hospital facilities.

The Civic Hospital campus comprised of five buildings. The main building was designed in the shape of an “H” with open courts facing both north and south. On the ground floor was the admitting department, the entrance for ambulances, the X-ray department, the isolation unit, as well as the psychiatric and hydro-therapy departments. There was a special admitting department for maternity cases as well as a dedicated elevator to take expectant mothers to the 80-bed maternity ward. There was also a children’s department with playrooms.

The 550-bed hospital had public, semi-private and private wards, with the largest ward having 16 beds. Each bed was equipped with a washstand with hot and cold running water and a mirror. Screens provided privacy. Private patients had private lavatories, with a bath shared between every two rooms. Private patients could also have a telephone for an additional fee. There were two sunshine rooms and three large airing balconies for patients. The top (sixth) floor was the location of the operating and surgical departments with four major operating rooms, an eye-operating room, a plaster room and rooms for other ancillary activities, including sterilization, workrooms and service. Natural lighting was provided for the operating rooms by means of high, vertical, sash windows. The floors in the building were covered in jasmine-coloured “Battleship” linoleum. Western and southern facing walls were painted in tints of French grey while northern and eastern walls were painted a buff colour. 

Four other buildings were linked by underground tunnels to the main building. To the north was a service building which housed the principal kitchen, hospital stores, and staff dining rooms. Its upper floors were used as accommodation for resident staff. North of the service building was the power house that provided electricity and refrigeration. There were also boilers for central heating and laundries. A nurses’ home faced Parkdale Avenue, providing single rooms for all nurses along with parlours, entertainment and living rooms. Finally, there were a building for servants, quarters for carpenters and painters, as well as an incinerator.

 Shortly after the Civic Hospital opened for business, the old Protestant General and St. Luke’s hospitals were closed as was the old Ottawa Maternity Hospital located at the end of Rideau St. near the Cummings Bridge and the adjacent Lady Stanley Institute nursing school. Beginning at 9:30am on 17 December 1924, forty-four patients from the Protestant General were ferried over to the Civic. Those bedridden arrived by ambulance, while ambulatory public ward patients were transported by bus. Private and semi-private patients came by taxi. The first patient to be admitted to the Civic was Donald MacIvor from Niagara Falls, a veteran patient of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment. Patients from St. Luke’s were transferred several days later.

Fast forward a hundred years, work is underway to replace the now aging Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital with a new hospital that will meet the needs of Ottawa residents into the 22nd century. As was the case in 1919, there has been considerable controversy about the location of the new hospital. A proposal to site it on the other side of Carling Avenue across from the existing hospital met with widespread opposition since it meant carving out land from the Central Experimental Farm—a National Historic Site and a treasured part of the greenbelt. A new site close to Dow’s Lake, which had been the previous location of Agriculture Canada’s Sir John Carling building imploded in 2014, was subsequently chosen with The Ottawa Hospital signing a 99-year lease with the federal government. The principal access to the new hospital complex will be via Carling Avenue.

Fittingly, construction of the $2.8 billion dollar, 641-bed hospital is expected to begin in 2024, one hundred years after the first Civic Hospital opened its doors. The new hospital is expected to be operational in 2028.


New Civic Development for the Ottawa Hospital, 2021,

Ottawa Citizen, 1919. “Three Reports Made. Final Choice Narrowed Down To Farm And Protestant Hospital.

——————, 1919. “Hospital Board Favor Reid Farm,” 3 November.

——————, 1919. “Council Decides On Reid Farm As Site Of Hospital,” 4 November.

——————, 1923. “Death Of Robt. Reid, An Ottawa Pioneer,” 9 October.

——————, 1924, “Gives An Idea Of Its Immense Size,” 28 November.

——————, 1924. “Group Of Five Buildings Is Comprised In Civic Hospital,” 28 November.

——————, 1924. “Capital City’s Facilities For Care Of The Sick Unsurpassed As Result Of Its Construction,” 28 November.

——————, 1924. “Patients In Comfort To Civic Hospital,” 17 December.

——————, 1925. “Was Last Survivor Of Pioneer Family,” 11 March.

——————, 1985. “Ottawa Civic Hospital,” 25 April.

——————, 1989. “Civic turns 65 today,” 17 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1919. “Leading Citizens Ask For Modern Municipal Hospital,” 14 February.

—————–, 1924. “Civic Hospital Movement Initiated Six Years Ago Has Interesting History,” 28 November.

—————–, 1924. “Easy To Operate Civic Hospital Up To Capacity,” 28 November.

The West Block Fire

11 February 1897

When people think of a fire on Parliament Hill, their thoughts likely go to the huge conflagration that destroyed the Centre Block in February 1916. To this day, the cause of that blaze remains unknown; a Royal Commission that investigated it did not come to a conclusion. Some people were convinced, and many still are, that it was an act of war-time German sabotage. Others believed that it was caused by careless smoking in the reading room.

Incredibly, however, the Centre Block fire wasn’t the first major blaze on Parliament Hill. Nineteen years earlier, the West Block, then being used as offices for the federal civil service, was almost consumed by fire.

West Block Fire, 11 February 1897, Library and Archives Canada, c-017502

At approximately 4:15 pm on Thursday, 11 February 1897, when most civil servants had already left for the day, a fire was detected in a small tower room used for storage close to an elevator in the attic storey. An elevator operator tried to extinguish it using a hand-held Babcock fire extinguisher. At the same time, three other men pulled out a fire hose that was installed in the corridor, but when they turned it on the stream of water barely extended three feet owing to low water pressure. Another Babcock extinguisher was brought into play, again without much impact. By this time, the fire was well established in the floor and wall.

At 4:35pm, an alarm was sent in the Central Station of the Ottawa Fire Department located off of Elgin Street. Within minutes, the horse-drawn hose reels arrived and were hooked up to hydrants. Meanwhile, the fire burst through the West Block’s wooden roof about 40 feet south of the Mackenzie Tower. An extension ladder was run up against the western wall of the building where a fireman tried to send a stream of water through an attic window. Unfortunately, only a meager stream came out of the big hose. The city’s low water pressure, made worse by several hoses running from the same Wellington Street water main, was responsible. Flames began to shoot out of a skylight located above the elevator shaft as the fire worked its way southward down the corridor.

In desperation, Fire Chief Young called out the steam-driven fire engines which used coal to heat a boiler to provide water pressure. The Union was stationed at the corner of O’Connor and Wellington Streets, while the Conqueror hooked up to the hydrant located on Parliament Hill at the nearest corner of the West Block. Both engines experienced what a journalist called “exasperating delays” to get water onto the fire. It took the Union almost thirty minutes to get its hose, which extended through the main entrance and up the stairs to the attic, into action owing to valve problems and other malfunctions. Meanwhile, the Conqueror, after failing to get sufficient water from hydrants on the Hill, possibly due to ice, had to be moved to a hydrant at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets. A third fire engine from the E.B. Eddy Company was also brought in to help but to no effect as firemen discovered that its hoses were of a different calibre from that used by the city and couldn’t be coupled to city mains.

Through the evening, fire roared through the upper attic story of the building, fuelled by tinder-dry timbers, a warren of wooden panelled offices and piles of paper—government documents, briefing notes, and memoranda. Flames tore through the roof to the south-west of the Mackenzie Tower and then moved eastward reaching the middle of the Wellington Street side of the building, feeding on flammable materials found in a photographic studio and later in the draughting room of the Marine and Fisheries Department.

By 9:00pm, the whole top storey of the western wing of the building was gone. Shortly afterwards, the top storey of the eastern wing was ablaze. Two hours later, the northern and eastern wings were roofless.

Thousands of spectators, including the Governor General, Lord Aberdeen, and his wife, the Countess of Aberdeen, watched in horror despite the bitter cold; the temperature that evening had dropped to -18 degrees Celsius. It was quite a spectacle. The West Block’s turrets and chimneys were highlighted by the flames with the Mackenzie Tower rearing above the chaos.

While firemen battled the blaze, an army of civil servants and Dominion police worked frantically to empty offices of their documents and other valuables. Even if not immediately threatened with fire, offices on the lower floors were inundated by the water being hosed onto the attic level above. Sleighs of all sorts were pressed into service to evacuate things to the safety of the Langevin Block on the other side of Wellington Street. In the Department of Public Works alone, the Minister and his officials managed to save several tons of books and papers. In the Customs Department, rubber sheets requisitioned from Militia stores were used to protect precious books and papers from water damage.

At 11:00pm, at the height of the fire, Ottawa’s mayor called Montreal for emergency back-up. A detachment of fifteen men from the Montreal Fire Department, equipped with a fire engine and two hose reels answered the call. They immediately set off for Ottawa by train, arriving at 3:00am the next morning. But by this time, the worst was over. The fire had been largely subdued, leaving only glowing embers and smoke.

The next day, Ottawa residents could see for themselves the extent of the damage. Virtually the entire building had lost its top attic floor. The only part of the West Block that was spared was the new wing north of the Mackenzie Tower. This wing, being of more modern construction than the rest of the building, had a metal roof.

The fire continued to smolder despite the deluge of water that had been sprayed onto the building. One fire engine, the Conqueror, was kept pumping water onto the West Block through Friday. However, by 3:00pm, it had to cease operations, having exhausted its stock of hard Welsh coal used to fire its boiler. A switch to ordinary bituminous coal proved unsuccessful in maintaining sufficient pressure to drive the water the long distance from the hydrant at Sparks and O’Connor Streets to the top of the West Block on Wellington Street. The fire revived. An alarm was sounded bringing Chief Young, who had just returned to the station for supper, back on the scene along with another hose reel and two ladder trucks. It wasn’t until 8:00pm that the West Block fire was finally subdued by Ottawa firemen after almost 30 hours of continuous gruelling work in sub-zero temperatures.

The clean-up afterwards was also demanding. Owing to the cold temperatures, hoses were buried under as much as a foot of ice. Even if uncovered, the hoses were frozen stiff, requiring them to be thawed out before being moved. The concrete floor immediately under the attic level was also buried deep in debris.

Even before the fire was out, Cabinet met to discuss rebuilding and to find temporary quarters for affected departments. Only the offices of two departments, Inland Revenue and Railways and Canals remained usable. Space was found in the Nagle building opposite the main entrance to Parliament on Wellington Street for Public Works, Trade and Commerce, Customs and the Public Works departments. The Marine and Fisheries Department moved to offices in the Slater Building on Sparks Street. With more than a foot of water sloshing about in the basement of the West Block where the Dominion Archives were kept, it was imperative to move irreplaceable documents to safety in the Langevin Block. A unit of the Governor General’s Foot Guards stood guard while the papers were transferred.

Amazingly, there were few injuries in the disaster. A fireman suffered a seriously cut finger when a glass skylight fell on him. Another man was hit on the head by a piece of slate thrown from the top of the building during the clean-up; his injury, while painful, was not serious. There were some close calls, however. Four firemen who were fighting the fire in the attic felt the wooden floor beneath them begin to give way. They rushed to a ladder at the window. The first three men made it to safety but the fourth, Harry Walters from the Central Fire Station, had just reached the window when the floor disappeared from under him. He was saved from by William Thompson who managed to grab him.

The official report of the disaster didn’t reach a conclusion about the cause of the fire, though newspaper reports speculated on the possibility of a carelessly discarded cigar or cigarette. Later, a consensus opinion blamed the fire on a “heating apparatus.”

The report did conclude that a doorway cut into a fire wall to permit movement from one office to another helped to spread the blaze. As well, valuable time in fighting the fire was lost owing to firemen being unfamiliar with the layout of office rooms and being unwilling to accept direction from departmental officials. Overall, the report found that officials and workmen had exerted themselves “to the utmost” to prevent the fire from spreading and to save valuable papers and documents. “Nothing which could be done was left undone.”

The cost of the blaze was approximately $200,000. This amount did not, however, include the loss of valuable papers and documents. As the West Block was not insured, the government had to bear the entire cost of reconstruction. The Premier, Wilfrid Laurier, immediately requested a “Governor General’s warrant” to raise $25,000 to cover the initial costs associated with the fire, including the rental of new office accommodations for displaced government offices. The warrant was approved General Alexander Montgomery Moore, Commander of Canada’s Militia, who was acting as the Administrator of Canada on behalf of Lord Aberdeen.

Work on re-building commenced quickly. As a stop gap, a temporary roof, 29,000 square feet in size, was erected at a cost of $4,500. This was later replaced by a fire-proof roof covered with copper. Work also began on the clean-up, the re-building of new offices and the re-furbishing of those offices that managed to survive the blaze but were water damaged. Labourers were paid $1.00 to $1.25 per day. Carpenters and painters received $2.00 per day.

Call for tenders for repairs to West Block, Ottawa Journal, 9 August, 1897.

Rebuilding became highly political. The Conservative opposition accused the government of featherbedding and hiring only Hull workers in order to curry favour with Hull voters ahead a forthcoming federal by-election in Wright Country which encompassed Hull.  The Liberal candidate, Mr. Louis Napoléon Champagne, was unapologetic saying Hull wasn’t the only city that had obtained patronage as other places got their share of federal business. He added that the Liberals were prepared to do it again “to those who are really friends of Mr. Laurier.” Champagne won the contest. The day after the by-election, 50 of the 313 workers on the West Block were dismissed, with further dismissals expected in order to reduce the size of the work force to what was appropriate.

Repairs were sufficiently advanced within a year to permit public servants to re-occupy their offices. But work on the West Block was not completed until 1899, more than two years after the fire.

The West Block fire led to considerable reflection on the size of the Ottawa Fire Department and its equipment, and the extent of the fire hazard posed by public buildings, particularly those on Parliament Hill. The Citizen opined that Ottawa was “comparatively helpless in the presence of a major conflagration.” The “noble government structures,” which cost $5-6 million to build, were the “crowing beauty of the Capital of the Dominion.” Yet, the buildings, constructed using wooden beams and partitions and filled with irreplaceable records, papers and documents, were fire traps. The newspaper contended that should fire break out in either the Central Block or the East Block, “the result would be equally bad” as what had just occurred.

It added that the House of Commons was particularly at risk since the Centre Block was built on a higher elevation that the West or East Blocks which meant that water pressure would be even more of a problem. The Library of Parliament was “the most serious case of anxiety,” as it held more than $1 million in books, and contained no dividing walls. Given these risks, the newspaper was appalled that smoking was permitted and argued that smoking should be banned in all public buildings.

These were prophetic words. Virtually nineteen years to the day later, on 3 February 1916, the Centre Block was destroyed by fire. The precious Library of Parliament was the only part of the building saved, owing to the quick thinking of a librarian who had the presence of mind to close an iron fire door that separated the structure from the main part of the building.

Over the decades that followed, the West Block was much altered. In 1911, a new wing was built linking the east and west wings to form an enclosed quadrangle. During the mid-1950s, the West Block suffered from extensive renovations which were unsympathetic to the original design. However, this was better than the alternative. In 1956, the St. Laurent government almost manage to achieve which the 1897 fire had failed to do—the complete destruction of the beautiful and historic Gothic-revival building. The Federal District Commission, the fore-runner of the National Capital Commission, wanted to replace it with a modern office tower. But after a nation-wide protest, wiser heads prevailed and the building was saved. However, the neighbouring Supreme Court building was not so lucky. It was destroyed to make way for a parking lot.

Today, the enclosed quadrangle in the middle of the West Block, now covered by a glass ceiling, is the temporary home of the House of Commons while the Centre Block undergoes much needed restoration and renovation.


Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1897. “The Western Block in a Blaze,” 12 February.

————————-, 1897. “The Second Alarm,” 13 February.

————————-, 1897. “A Present Danger,” 13 February.

————————-, 1897. “After The Fire,” 15 February.

————————-, 1897. “Their Usefulness Done,” 25 March.

————————-, 1897. “West Block Blaze,” 24 June.

————————-, 1898. “West Block Fire,” 24 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1897. “The Talk of Today,” 13 February.

——————————, 1897. “The Official Report,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1897. “The Wright Campaign,” 17 March.

—————————–, 1897.  “An Insult To Hull,” 18 March.

—————————–, 1897. “One Million Dollars,” 27 March.

—————————–, 1899. “West Block Repairs,” 9 August.

Privy Council Office, 1897, “Special Warrant $56,000 [sic] [$25,000], Fire, Western Departmental Buildings – Minister of Public Works,” 17 February, Library and Archives Canada.

The Sad Story of “Punch” Lavigne and “Billy” Seabrooke

10 January 1933

This sorry tale began on 12 December 1931. Paul Émile “Punch” Lavigne, age 24 years, was working the evening shift at the Domestic Service Station on Sussex Street, close to Redpath Street. (This is roughly the location of Foreign Affairs’ Lester B. Pearson Building today.) This wasn’t Lavigne’s usual work shift. He had swapped shifts with his friend and co-worker, Joe Meloche, who wanted to go to the Ottawa Auditorium for the wrestling. Gus Sonnenberg, the ex-world champion, was up against George Vassel, the “Grappling Greek,” in the feature bout.

Lavigne arrived for work at 7.20pm. Meloche handed Lavigne $47, the receipts for the day, and left the station at 7:30pm. Lavigne stuffed the cash in his pocket. A short time later, Hector Charbonneau, a truck driver, one of several who used the service station as an operating base travelling between Ottawa and Montreal, came into the station’s office and talked briefly to Lavigne before leaving. All was quiet. All was well.

At roughly 8:45pm, a young man wearing a brown overcoat and a brown hat walked into the station. Lavigne thought the man was going to use the telephone, a not uncommon occurrence, and went downstairs into the basement of the garage where supplies were kept. When Lavigne returned up the stairs a few minutes later, the stranger pointed a pistol at him and demanded money. Lavigne refused and grabbed the man’s wrist. In the ensuing struggle, the gun discharged, a bullet struck Lavigne in the upper abdomen. He fell to the floor critically wounded. The assailant rifled his pockets, took the cash, and then calmly walked out of the station. He then hopped in a taxi idling about 100 feet away, and was driven away from the scene of the crime.

The taxi driver, Oscar Paquette, who had been sent to the corner of Sussex and Redpath by his dispatcher, was hard of hearing and hadn’t heard the shot fired. The man who got into his car told him that he had ordered a taxi from a different company, but said that Paquette might as well take him. The young man spoke English without an accent. He got into the front seat of the taxi beside the driver. They didn’t go far, just to the corner of Cumberland and Boteler Streets—a 50-cent journey. When Paquette was unable to change a $2 bill, his passenger went into a nearby grocery store for change. When he left the store, the man brushed past a girl who was just entering. She didn’t pay him much attention. After paying Paquette, the man walked down Boteler Street towards King Edward Avenue where he was seen by two young girls. Paquette, believing that he might have another fare waiting, returned to the corner of Sussex and Redpath Streets.

At the same time, Richard Bingham, who was walking on Sussex, saw Paquette’s taxi idling. Owing to recent robberies in the neighbourhood, he took note of the licence number. Shortly afterwards, Bingham heard a gun shot and saw a man leaving the gas station and get into the taxi.

Paul Émile Lavigne, Ottawa Citizen, 14 December, 1931.

Lavigne staggered through the door of the gas station after his assailant and collapsed on the ground. Bingham rushed over to him. He tried to flag down a car to get help. The first passing car didn’t stop. The driver of the second refused to take the injured man to hospital but promised to drive uptown and get the police. Not wanting to wait, Bingham ran across the street to 160 Sussex Street, the home of J.A. Larocque, to call the police and an ambulance.

Lavigne was conveyed by ambulance to the Water Street General Hospital with Dr. Laframboise in attendance. On the way to the hospital, Lavigne told the doctor what had happened.

After a blood transfusion, Lavigne received an emergency operation in a desperate bid to save his life. The .32 calibre pistol bullet had entered the lower side of his chest below the diaphragm, perforated his intestines, and had nicked an artery before exiting Lavigne’s back. The slug was found caught in his clothes. The shell casing was later found at the scene of the crime.

For a short time, Lavigne rallied. Despite being in great pain, he was able to give a statement to Detective Jean Tissot. (A few years later, Tissot was fired from the Ottawa police force for circulating fascist literature and criminally libeling Archibald Freiman, the owner of Freiman’s Department Store.) Lavigne recalled that when he fell to the floor after being shot, he saw that his assailant was wearing buckled shoes. Shown a photograph of a man, he identified the person as his assailant though the man had no connection to the crime.

Paul Émile Lavigne, known as “Punch” by his many friends and co-workers, died a short time later in the early morning of December 14th, his family by his side. He was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery after a funeral at the Basilica. There were hundreds of mourners, including his grieving mother, his brothers Lucien and Albert, and sisters, Alice and Edith.

Ottawa Police were initially baffled by the crime. While the presumed assailant had been seen by many, the description provided—mid to late 20s in age, roughly 5 feet 8 inches in height, average build, wearing a brown overcoat and a brown fedora hat—could apply to many young Ottawa men. A $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Lavigne’s assailant ($500 provided by the City and $500 by Lavigne’s employer) was posted in an effort to shake people’s memories.

William Seabrooke, Ottawa Journal, 16 May 1932.

Police quickly got two breaks in the case. First, Montreal police received a report that an Ottawa man, William “Billy” G. Seabrooke, had stolen a rifle and automatic pistol from Roy McGregor, formerly of Ottawa. Seabrooke, who had been visiting McGregor in Montreal, had apparently left without saying goodbye a few days before Lavigne’s shooting, taking the weapons with him. McGregor had not called the police immediately hoping that Seabrooke might return. But when he heard of the gas station shooting in Ottawa, he worried that his missing pistol might have been used.

The second break in the case came after Christmas when two teenagers, Denis Mirabelle, 14, and Richard Falconer, 15, found a pistol in a leather shoulder holster lodged between rocks on the second pier of the CPR bridge over the Rideau River near the north end of King Edward Avenue. This was only a short distance from the scene of the crime. The boys brought the pistol home and showed it to Mrs Falconer, Richard’s mother. She told them to take it to the police station which the boys did, the gun hidden under Richard’s coat. Fortunately, they did so without incident; the pistol was loaded without the safety on. The weapon, with serial number 674493, was a .32 calibre automatic pistol made by the Herstahl Military Armoury of Belgium. It was an illegal weapon in Canada. Roy McGregor later identified the pistol and holster as the ones stolen by Seabrooke.

In an interview with the Citizen, Roy McGregor said that he and Seabrooke had been friends since their early teens, and that after his move to Montreal, Seabrooke had come several times to visit, always staying with him. McGregor said that Billy Seabrooke was a nice fellow. It was only recently that he had done things that had caused trouble.

Police brought William Seabrooke in for questioning. A search of his bedroom revealed a pair of black, buckled shoes.

Seabrooke, who was only 22 years of age, came from a good family who lived at 125 Spruce Street in Ottawa.  Known as “Bill” or “Billy” to his friends, he was popular and had been a paper tester in the Eddy factory in Hull. He had had one prior brush with the law. Just before Christmas he was in police court for obtaining money under false pretenses when he bounced a $15 cheque. The charge was, however, withdrawn when the “matter was adjusted.” Presumably, he found the funds to cover the cheque.

The police told Seabrooke that he was wanted for the theft of the guns in Montreal. However, they didn’t inform him that he was also a suspect in the murder of Paul Émile Lavigne until after he had been questioned. Without counsel present, Lavigne admitted stealing the weapons. He said he pawned the rifle for $8 in Montreal, an act later confirmed by the pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the seller. As for the pistol, Seabrooke said he threw it away in an alley near Bonaventure Station in Montreal. But when police showed him the pistol found by the two boys, he said: “That looks mighty bad for me.”

Richard Bingham, who had witnessed the assailant leave the gas station, Oscar Paquette, the taxi driver who drove the suspect away from the scene of the crime, Phileas Bisson who changed the suspect’s $2 bill at his grocery store, as well as the girls who saw the suspect walk down Boteler Street, were all brought in to identify Seabrooke. However, none were able to pick Seabrooke out of line-ups.

When asked what he had been doing on the night of murder, Seabrooke said he had gone to the Français Theatre where he watched Clare Bow in a film, and a western called “Cheyenne.” However, he had nobody to vouch for him. Leaving the cinema at about 10:00pm, he said that he boarded a streetcar, where he heard a car employee talking about a shooting. He then taxied to the Montcalm Club in Hull before taking a room for the night under the assumed name “Kingsbury.” The next day he returned to Ottawa and visited the gas station where Lavigne was killed before going home.

Dr. Rosario Fontaine, the medical expert for Quebec and an authority on ballistics, carried out tests on the slug that had killed Lavigne and the shell that had been found at the gas station. Dr. Fontaine positively identified the gun found by the two boys as the weapon that killed Paul Émile Lavigne.

William Seabrooke was sent to trial in front of Justice Logie in May 1932. His defence counsel was Walther F. Schroeder, a young Ottawa lawyer. Colonel J. Keiller was the Crown prosecutor.

The Crown focused importantly on Seabrooke’s admission that he had stolen a pistol from Roy McGregor who in turn positively identified the weapon found by the two boys as his own, and the ballistics evidence that concluded that it was the murder weapon. The Crown also made much of the fact that a previously broke Seabrooke had come into money, and was able to hire taxis, go drinking in Hull and afford to stay in a hotel.

The defence stressed that none of the witnesses of the events of December 12th could identify Seabrooke despite have been very close to the suspect. Seabrooke, at only 5 foot 4 inches tall, was shorter than the description of the assailant. Moreover, the buckled shoes described by Lavigne on his deathbed could have been owned by anyone. As for the pistol, there was nothing linking the weapon to Seabrooke after Montreal.

While Seabrooke’s young lawyer put up a stout defence, it was not enough. Even though the evidence was only circumstantial, William Seabrooke was found guilty by the jury after two hours of deliberation. Justice Logie then pronounced the death sentence to a crying Seabrooke. When the judge said “May God have mercy on his soul,” Seabrooke interjected: “He will.”

Seabrooke’s lawyer immediately launched an appeal on several grounds, including bias on the part of the trial judge who gave an unbalanced summary to jury members before their deliberations. The Court of Appeal, very critical of the actions of the trial judge as well as those of the Ottawa Police who did not inform Seabrooke that he was a suspect in Lavigne’s murder before he was questioned, ordered a new trial.

The second trial took place in October 1932. Again, Walther Schroeder appeared for Seabrooke with Colonel Keller acting as Crown prosecutor. Although the judge ruled that Seabrooke’s answers to police questions were inadmissible as they were improperly obtained, the jury once again concluded that Seabrooke was guilty of murder. When asked if he had anything to say, Seabrooke reiterated: “I did not do this.”

The $1,000 reward for the conviction of the murderer of Paul Émile Lavigne was divided four ways, with $250 going each to the Montreal pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the person who pawned the rifle he stole from Roy McGregor, the two young boys who discovered the pistol, and Roy McGregor who informed police of the pistol’s theft and subsequently identified the pistol found by the boys as his own.

When a plea to the federal Justice Minister for a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment failed, this sad story came to an end. William “Billy” Seabrooke was executed at 12:50am on 10 January 1933 on the same gallows used to execute Patrick Whelan for assassinating D’Arcy McGee in 1869. Unused for more than 60 years, it took workmen two days to put the gallows in working order. A small crowd gathered outside of the Carleton County Jail to watch the black flag hoisted indicating that the sentence had been carried out.

Seabrooke died with dignity, maintaining his innocence to the end. Before his execution, he said to Sheriff Samuel Crooks and Governor Alonzo Dawson: “Don’t worry. I will be all right.”

Seabrooke’s body was buried by his family in a private ceremony in Beechwood Cemetery.


Edmonton Journal, 1933. “Murderer Pays Supreme Penalty, » 10 January.

Gazette (Montreal), 1933. “Seabrooke Is Hanged,” 10 January.

Leader-Post (Regina), 1933. “W.G. Seabrooke Hanged Today In East Jail,” 10 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1931. “No Clue To Slayer Of Service Station Worker,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Paul E. Lavigne Dies Of Gunshot Wound At Hands of Hold-Up Man,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Final Tribute Paid To Murder Victim,” 16 December.

——————, 1931. “Still Searching For Wanted Man,” 28 December.

——————, 1931. “Fatal Revolver Found By Boys On Bridge Pier,” 31 December.

——————, 1931. “Held W.G. Seabrooke, Ottawa, In Lavigne Murder,” 31 December.

——————, 1932. “Story Now Told By Seabrooke’s Former Friend,” 4 January.

——————, 1932. “Taxi Driver Unable To Give Description,” 18 January.

——————, 1932. “Unusual Marks On Shell Held As Sure Proof,” 29 January.

——————, 1932. “Begin Trial Of Ottawa Man On Capital Charge,” 12 May.

——————, 1932. “Expert Asserts He Is Positive In Conclusions,” 13 May.

——————, 1932. “William G. Seabrooke Held Guilty By Jury, Is Sentenced To Death,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Defence Counsel to Ask for Retrial of William Seabrooke,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Innocence Still Asserted While Sentence Given,” 22 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1931. “Curulars Go Out In Lavigne Case,” 28 December.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Case To Reach Jury This Afternoon,” 14 May.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Guilty of Murder; Protests His Innocence When Sentences To Hang on July 20,” 5 June.

——————, 1932. “Hear Seabrooke Appeal at Toronto,” 25 July.

——————, 1932. “Mistakes Made Causes Upset Court Verdict,” 9 August.

——————, 1932. “Case Against Seabrooke Likely To Reach Jury Some Time on Thursday,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Rules Out Seabrooke’s Answers To Police,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Jury Pay Visit To Scene of Crime Where Paul E. Lavigne Was Shot,” 20 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Sentences Seabrooke To Hang January 10,” 21 October.

——————, 1932. “Murder Reward Split Four Ways,” 28 November.