We Want The Animals!

1 March 1967

In the mid-1960s, one of the most promising, up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll groups was The Animals. The British group, formed in 1963 with the gravel-voiced, bluesy Eric Burdon as lead vocalist, followed The Beatles across the Atlantic and helped to spearhead the “British Invasion” of North America. By Canada’s centennial year, the band already had a number of hit singles in the United States and Canada. It’s rendition of The House of the Rising Sun (Click here), which had topped the British singles’ charts in the summer of 1964, became number one in the United States that October. Another song, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Click here) recorded in 1965, took the number two spot in Canada. The song became the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Other big hits of the time included See See Rider and Don’t Bring Me Down, both released in 1966. The group appeared a phenomenal six times on the Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most avidly watched television shows of the era, once in 1964, three times in 1965 and twice in 1966.

The Animals

Early Publicity Photo of the original Animals, c. 1964, author: Richard William Laws, Wikipedia.

Imagine the excitement for Ottawa rock fans when it was announced that Eric Burdon and the Animals were to play on 1 March 1967 in the Coliseum at Lansdowne Park. This wasn’t the same group that recorded the band’s initial hits. That early group consisted of Erik Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (keyboard), John Steel (drums), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Byron “Chas” Chandler (bass). But by late 1966, the group had disintegrated owing to a combination of drugs, alcohol, egos, and bad management. Frayed tempers due to long days of performing and touring didn’t help either.  In late 1966, Eric Burdon put together a new group called Eric Burdon and the Animals, consisting of Erik Burdon (vocals), Vic Braggs (guitar), Barry Jenkins (drums), Danny McCulloch (bass), and John Weider (guitar). The addition of John Weider, who also played classical violin, gave a different dimension to the band. It was this version of the Animals, playing many of the old Animals tunes, that toured North America in early1967, starting at Hunter College in New York in February 1967. (Click here for their rendition of See See Rider.) They came to Canada in late February with stops in Hamilton and then Ottawa before returning to New York to continue their U.S. tour.

The Ottawa concert was organized by Peter Charrier through an agency, assisted by James McConnell, a dance promoter, who helped with advertising and the distribution of tickets. Tickets were $2.50 or $3.00, equivalent to roughly $18-$22 today. The venue for the event was the Coliseum on Bank Street at Lansdowne Park. The Coliseum, constructed in 1926, was the venue for innumerable Ottawa political, social and athletic events. Before it was demolished in 2010 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, it was the home of the Ottawa 67s Junior A hockey team’s ticket office.

Eric Burdon and the Animals

Eric Burdon and the Animals, Publicity Photograph, 1967, Copyright ABKCO Records, Inc., Wikipedia.

The warm-up band for the event was Ottawa’s own five-piece The Eyes of Dawn. Formed in 1966, the group came to local prominence after winning a music contest in Hull. It subsequently became the house band for La Petite Souris coffee shop. In January 1967, it released its debut single Time To Be Going, (Click here) a cover of a song by The Fortunes, under the Sir John A. label. Being asked to be the warm-up band to Eric Burdon and the Animals represented the peak of the group’s short career.

The concert, which attracted more than 2,500 excited teenagers to the Coliseum, began without incident. But when The Eyes of Dawn had finished warming up the crowd and had left the stage, Eric Burdon and the Animals failed to show. For an hour and a half, an increasingly irritated and annoyed audience was left waiting without any announcements. Chants of “We want the Animals” changed to shouts of “Refund” and “We want our money.” Behind the scenes, the concert promoter was engaged in frantic negotiations with the band. While accounts vary, it seems there was a contract dispute. Apparently, the group was contracted to play two 40-minute sessions for $3,500. However, the Animals wanted to give one 50-minute performance. Charrier was agreeable as long as there was a pay cut. He claimed that he had already paid $1,750 up front, and was willing to give another $500, but the group wanted $1,000. Another report suggested that Charrier had offered the group only $300 in advance of the concert. Eric Burdon is quoted as saying “I am a product. I deliver my product and it’s over. Therefore the agency requires I be paid before I deliver.” Regardless, Charrier walked out of the negotiations expecting that the band would be forced to play. Burdon called his bluff and the Animals left the Coliseum without playing a single song. Later, Dan McCullough, the group’s bass guitarist, said that this was the first time that they had run into money troubles. While he said they were sorry, they had no choice but to refuse to play.

Inside, tempers were rising. When somebody turned the Coliseum’s lights out, the fans went wild. A sit-in to get ticket refunds turned violent as hundreds of annoyed teenagers vented their anger on their surroundings. The stage was destroyed, chairs thrown, and equipment damaged. Even floorboards were ripped up. A small fire was also reportedly set in a washroom. Damage and clean-up costs were later placed at $7,917. It took more than fifty police and security guards ninety minutes to restore order. At one point, the police threatened to turn fire hoses onto the demonstrators. From time to time, the crowd shouted “police brutality.” Twenty-five teenagers were arrested, though most were subsequently released without charge. A measure of peace was restored when police officers organized a return of ticket stubs to the audience so that spectators could receive a refund. Concert goers had handed in their entire ticket when they entered the Coliseum, rather than retain a ticket stub. Charrier claimed that is was a requirement of the Canada Central Exhibition Association, the Coliseum’s management, to facilitate the operation of automatic ticket-counting machines.

Two days after the riot, five teenagers arrested in the affray pled guilty in magistrates’ court for causing a disturbance, and received a suspended sentence and six-month probation. The magistrate, L.A. Sherwood, stressed that he was being lenient since many more teenagers had been involved in the riot but had not been caught. He also noted that while he had considerable sympathy for the offenders, there was no excuse for what they did. A charge against another teenager for destroying property owned by the Canada Central Exhibition Association was subsequently dropped on a technicality; the CCEA didn’t own the destroyed property. Another charge of underage drinking against the same individual was also dropped as police couldn’t prove that the young man had been imbibing from the half-empty flask of vodka found in his back pocket.

The Ottawa Journal ran an editorial entitled “Youth Running Wild.” It opined that the crowd had “every right to be angry,” but was shocked by “the wanton destruction and contempt for authority.” The newspaper placed the blame on the glorification of civil disobedience. “Teenagers have precedent aplenty for defying the police and taking matters into their own hands.” It thought that “crooked thinking” needed “some straightening out,” and that “discipline in home and school should be tightened up, police must be rapid and thorough…and courts should be clear that the price of lawlessness is intimidating.”

The following day, a remorseful crowd of 50 to 75 young men and women marched from the Ottawa police station to City Hall to apologize for their actions. Their initial intention was to confront the police and seek an explanation for police actions during the riot. However, the youths decided instead to march to City Hall. Acting Mayor Ken Fogarty met the teenagers on the front steps. Group spokesman, Tom Boyle, age 17, said “We have come to make a public apology.” He mentioned that when the Animals didn’t appear, a sit-down had been planned, but things got out of hand. Fogarty replied that the riot had blackened the name of Ottawa and that the city’s youth had been branded as irresponsible. He added, however, that the promoter had been at fault for not explaining the situation. He reminded the group that when somebody owes you something, you have a financial claim; “you don’t knock their block off.” The Acting Mayor thought their apology would go a long way towards correcting the image of the city’s teenagers.

The Animals TOJ, 20-3-67

Refund Advertisement for the Concert, The Ottawa Journal, 20 March 1967.

It took some time for the police to track down Peter Charrier, the principal organizer of the concert, as Charrier had initially disappeared, unwilling to be interviewed until he sought legal counsel. He later said that rumours that he had bunked off to Jamaica were untrue. He promised that all money would be refunded to all concert spectators even those who did not receive a ticket stub from the police. Subsequently, advertisements appeared in local newspapers indicating that concert goers were entitled to “refunds or part thereof” if they applied to certain Treble Clef stores and sign an affidavit indicating that they had purchased a ticket. The operative words were “part thereof.” The organizer later indicated that ticket holders would only get half refunds as they had enjoyed half a concert. In the event, the record is unclear how many concert goers actually received a refund. By the end of May, the Ottawa Journal had been unable to find anybody who had received a refund.

As for the musicians, Eric Burdon and the Animals left the Coliseum immediately for New York. Over coming years, the Animals continued to morph and change as band members came and went. Two days after the riot, The Eyes of Dawn went on to play a gig at The Oak Door, a teen nightclub at 485 Bank Street. The group put out a second single in late 1967 called Kaleidoscope, (Click here) and folded the next year.

After much discussion, the City of Ottawa on a 16-7 Council vote agreed to cover the cost of damages to the Coliseum. With a $5,000 deductible, insurance covered the remaining $2,917. The Coliseum never again held a rock ‘n’ roll concert.

Eric Burdon returned to Ottawa in 2013 for Bluesfest. At age 76 (as of 2017), he continues to perform, bringing the old Animals tunes as well as new ones to appreciative audiences.

 

Sources:

Bunch, Adam, 2017. “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Riot in Ottawa,” Canadian Music Hall of Fame (The), http://canadianmusichalloffame.ca/tag/the-eyes-of-dawn/.

Canadian Music Blog, 2017. Top Hits of 1967, https://musiccanada.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/top-100-singles-of-1967-in-canada/.

Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, 2015. The Eyes of Dawn, http://jam.canoe.com/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/E/Eyes_Of_Dawn.html.

Canuckistan Music, 2017. The Eyes Of Dawn, http://www.canuckistanmusic.com/index.php?maid=194.

Classic Pop Icons, 2010. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, http://www.classicpopicons.com/song-of-the-week-26-we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place/.

Hannan, Ross & Arnold, Cory, 2010. Eric Burdon and The Animals, http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Eric%20Burdon.htm.

Globe and Mail (The), 1967. “5 Youths On Probation For Ottawa Riot Roles,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Animals’ Fans Win A Refund,” 4 March.

Official Ed Sullivan Site (The), 2010. The Animals, http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-animals.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1967. “Animals: Wouldn’t Appear, 2,500 Teens Riot, Coliseum Wrecked. 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “five Admit Charges,” 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “Yourth Running Wild,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Promoter Hopes to Refund Money,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Apology – Protest For A Riot,” 4 March.

————————–, 1967. “Youth Charges Dismissed,” 25 March.

————————–, 1967. “Below the Hill,” 27 May.

————————–, 1967. “City Balks At Paying Riot Costs,” 1 June.

————————–, 1967. “City to Pay Coliseum Riot Damages,” 17 October.

Ottawa Tonite, 2013. “Eric Burdon at Bluesfest, 2013,” http://www.ottawatonite.com/2013/07/eric-burdon-at-ottawa-bluesfest-2013/.

Rolling Stones, 1991(?), “Eric Burdon – The Animals and Beyond,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPUcvLMs36E.

 

 

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The Royal Canadian Mint

2 January 1908

The right to mint coins has long been a jealously-held prerogative of the sovereign. During ancient and medieval times, those that tried to usurp this privilege risked dire punishments if caught, including death by decapitation, or by hanging, drawing and quartering. The severity of the punishment reflected the perceived severity of the crime—treason. A nation’s coinage was an extension of the sovereign whose image those coins carried. The making of money was also a very profitable business that the Crown wanted to protect for itself. The face value of the gold, silver or copper coins was higher than the intrinsic or bullion value of the metal. The difference was profit called “seigniorage,” meaning “belonging to the seigneur (lord).”  The counterfeiting of coins carried the death penalty in Canada well into the nineteenth century.

$newcoins

First series of distinctive Canadian coins, minted in England in 1858. Note the 20 cent piece. Bank of Canada Museum

In 1850, a shortage of coins led the government of the Province of Canada to pass legislation to establish a mint in Canada. Hitherto, all coins in circulation in Canada were minted in other countries, mostly Britain, the United States, Mexico and France. Although the legislation was signed into law by the Governor General, Lord Elgin, the act was “disallowed” by the Imperial government in London on the grounds that it involved “an uncalled for and most objectionable interference with the Prerogative of the ‘Crown.’” It didn’t help that the issue was part of a much broader tussle between the Canadian and British governments on whether Canada’s currency should be consistent with that of the United States, i.e. dollars and cents, or should conform to that used throughout the British Empire, i.e. pounds, shillings and pence.

In the event, the forces in favour of using dollars and cents won the day. In 1858, the first distinctive Canadian coins, denominated in cents, were produced. However, the coins were made in England by the Royal Mint, the principal supplier of Canadian coinage for the next fifty years. Canadian coins were also minted by Ralph Heaton & Sons, a private Birmingham mint, when the Royal Mint was too busy to fill a Canadian coinage order. Such coins are identical to those made at the Royal Mint except for a small letter “H.”

In 1862, a mint was briefly established in New Westminster, British Columbia to convert gold that was being panned or mined along the banks of the Fraser River into useable coins. Hitherto, the gold bullion had to be transported at considerable cost to San Francisco for conversion with the profit going to the San Francisco mint. As James Douglas, the Governor of the colony, was initially supportive of the initiative, minting equipment was purchased from the United States. However, Douglas subsequently changed his mind. Nevertheless, he permitted a very small number of trial gold and silver pieces called patterns to be struck for the London Industrial Exhibition of 1862. Although most of the patterns were melted down after the exhibition, a few, which had been given to senior government officials, survived. These trial coins are among the rarest of Canadian coins. Examples were recently acquired by the Bank of Canada Museum.

Following the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, Canadian coins continued to be made in England. In the 1890s, Senator Thomas McInnes of British Columbia was the most prominent champion for the establishment of a mint in Canada. He argued that under the British North America Act the Dominion had the authority to establish a mint, and that a Canadian mint could profitably convert Canadian-mined gold, which mostly came from British Columbia, into coins. He added that mints had been established in Australia at both Melbourne and Sydney some thirty years earlier.

The federal government was not enthusiastic. It its judgement, there was not a lot of profit to be had in making gold coins. As well, the government feared that Canadian gold coins would displace Dominion notes that were already in circulation. (U.S. gold eagles and British gold sovereigns, while both legal tender in Canada, were seldom used.) Some also feared that a domestic mint would lead to pressures to make excessive amounts of subsidiary silver coins leading to inflation. Opponents also noted that the Australian examples cited by McInnes were not relevant as Australia used the same currency as Britain. Hence, the sovereigns, which were produced by the Australian mints to the same specifications as British-made sovereigns, could circulate freely in Britain. There were also concerns about the cost of establishing a Canadian mint. Some claimed that the annual demand for Canadian coins could be minted in just one month, leaving a domestic mint idle eleven months out of twelve.

Despite these objections, Senator McInnes introduced resolutions in the Senate in favour of a mint on at least two occasions. Each time, he was asked to withdraw it, something that he reluctantly did. Sitting as an independent, he did not have the backing of any political party. He was also known for championing the quixotic idea of making Gaelic an official language in Canada. Senator McInnes was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia in 1897. Out of his depth in his new capacity, he was later fired by Governor General, Lord Minto, at the request of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The Canadian banking community was divided over the issue of a Canadian mint. Some saw merit in having one from a nationalistic standpoint. National mints were established in all important countries, including many smaller than Canada. However, others worried that Canadian-minted gold coins would find little acceptance outside of Canada. In transactions with the United States, they feared that U.S. banks would demand U.S. gold coins or bullion. Hence, Canadian gold coins would have to be melted down before the gold could be transferred to U.S. banks. Consequently, Canadian banks would likely continue to hold their reserves in readily usable U.S. gold coins.

But McInnes’ idea for a Canadian mint found supporters. Several Boards of Trade, including that of Ottawa, came out in favour of his plan on both economic and nationalistic grounds. In 1894, John Mara, a Conservative MP also from British Columbia, advocated the establishment of a Canadian mint to make silver coins using metal mined from his province. However, Sir George Eulas Foster, the Conservative Minister of Finance at the time, quashed the idea.

Government attitudes towards the establishment of a mint in Canada began to shift in 1899. In May of that year, the now Liberal Finance Minister William Fielding indicated that steps might be taken to establish a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada. In October 1900, he announced in Montreal that the government had entered negotiations with the British government and that enabling legislation to permit the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada would be introduced in the next session of Parliament. He stated that since the new branch would be making British coins when not needed to mint Canadian coins, concerns that a Canadian mint would be underutilized had been addressed.

The Ottawa Mint Act was well received by both sides of the House of Commons, and was given Royal Assent in May 1901. The legislation appropriated up to $75,000 per year to cover salaries, contingencies, other allowances and expenses incurred in operating the branch of the Royal Mint. In return, all fees, duties or charges received or collected by the branch would be paid to the Canadian government. Mr Fielding, the Finance Minister, told the House that the Mint would be under the direction of experts from the Royal Mint in London, and that plans for a building had been submitted to Public Works with the cost of construction estimated at about $259,000. The minting machinery would cost an additional $64,000. While most of the minting equipment were to come from England, the electrical equipment for the facility was to be provided by Ottawa’s own Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. Annual maintenance expenses were placed at $65,000 annually. This would be more than covered by the seigniorage profits on the production of silver and copper coins; little profit was expected on the making of gold coins. Profit after expenses were estimated at no less than $20,000 per year. When not producing Canadian coinage, the branch would be making British sovereigns using Canadian gold.

The Minister also assured the House that there would not be a “reckless” coinage of silver coins. The silver issue would only be as large as the Canadian economy could absorb. He stated that no one wanted a “silver question” in this country. This was an allusion to the currency “battles” underway in the United States at that time between those who wanted easy money achieved through the free minting of silver coins, and those who favoured a strict adherence to the gold standard.

Royal Mint, c.1908 Topley Studio Fonds Library and Archives Canada PA-012645

Royal Mint, Sussex Street, Ottawa, circa 1908. The building remains largely unchanged today. Topley Studio Fonds/Library and Archives Canada, PA-012645.

Despite widespread support for the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Canada, it took several years to find an appropriate location for the new mint. One suggestion was to locate it at Nepean Point. This idea was rejected by the militia authorities who owned the land. The government took so long to find a building site that Mr Thomas Birkett, the MP for Ottawa, asked “if it was their [the government’s] intention to erect a mint or just dangle it in front of the electors of Ottawa.”

A site on Sussex Street was finally acquired in 1905 after lengthy negotiations with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the owner of the property. The CPR had initially asked $40,000 but settled for $21,500 after the government moved to expropriate the land that had an assessed value of $19,000. The government also acquired a neighbouring lot for $5,000. The actual building, which was constructed by Sullivan and Langdon of Kingston, Ontario, took two years to erect at an all-in cost (land, building and machinery) of $509,000, far higher than the original estimate. However, the government owned a state-of-the-art facility that was unmatched in the world. While senior officials and experts were brought over from the Royal Mint in London to manage and operate the new branch, most of the 60 plus Mint workers were Canadian, largely from the Ottawa area.

Royal Mint, 1909, Steaming Operation, William James Topley Library and Archives Canada PA-009646

Steaming Operations, Royal Mint, Ottawa, 1909, Topley Studios/Library & Archives, PA-009646.

At 3pm on 2 January 1908, the Governor General, Lord Grey, formally declared the Canadian branch of the Royal Mint open in front of roughly 300 guests, including Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, MPs, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, managers of all local banks, and other dignitaries, including Sir Sanford Fleming, the man who first proposed worldwide standard time zones. The guests were received by Dr J. Bonar, the head of the Ottawa Mint and his wife Mrs Bonar. Dr Bonar’s official title was Deputy Master since the British Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Master of the Royal Mint. Dr Bonar sent a cablegram to his counterpart at the Royal Mint in London announcing the formal start of Canadian operations. After the typical congratulatory speeches, guests were taken on a tour of the facility by Dr Bonar and Mr A. W. Cleeve, the Superintendent of the Mint.

Royal mint 50 cents

1908 Canadian silver 50 cent piece, the same as the first coin ceremonially struck by Lord Grey.

The highlight of the afternoon was the striking of the first silver coin—a 50 cent piece—by the Governor General. This coin was placed in a small box with a blue satin interior and presented to Lady Grey. After this ceremony, the party moved to a copper stamping machine. There, Lady Grey raised the lever and struck the first copper coin to be minted in Canada. Each guest was presented with a newly-struck copper penny to commemorate the event.

Mint sovereign

Canadian-minted British sovereign, 1908. The small “C” (indicated by red arrrow) above the date indicates its Canadian provenance.

At the start, the new Royal Mint branch focused on making subsidiary, i.e. silver and copper, Canadian coins. Its production of British sovereigns was limited to only 636 during 1908, the Mint’s first year of operation, though production did ramp up to almost 257,000 in 1911. (Given the limited production of the 1908 sovereign, the numismatic value of this coin today is considerable.) The gold sovereigns minted in Ottawa are identified with the letter “C” for Canada just above the date, but are otherwise identical to sovereigns minted in Britain. The Mint didn’t get around to coining Canadian $5 and $10 coins until 1912. Production was discontinued in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. The minting of gold sovereigns was also halted for a time. Production resumed from 1916 to 1919.

Royal Mint $10, J&M

Canadian $10 gold piece, minted in Ottawa, 1914.

In August 1931, the Conservative Government of R.B. Bennett severed the link between the Royal Mint and its Canadian branch. Under new legislation, the Ottawa facility commenced operations as the Royal Canadian Mint reporting to the Minister of Finance. In 1969, the Mint became a Crown Corporation. Today, the Royal Canadian Mint’s Sussex Avenue facility produces Canadian collector and commemorative coins. Circulating Canadian coins are produced at the Mint’s Winnipeg’s facility that was opened in 1976. This facility also produces coins for many other countries. 

Sources:

Berry, Paul, 2017. “New Acquisitions: British Columbia Gold Pieces,” Bank of Canada Museum, 30 May.

Canada, Government of, 1931. An Act respecting the establishment of the Royal Canadian Mint.

Canada, Province of, 1851. Appendix to Journals of the Legislative Assembly, “Message, Dispatch from Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies communicating Her Majesty’s disallowance of an Act of last Session, entitled, “An Act to Amend the Currency Act of this Province,” also, of sundry communications in relation to that Act,” 28 July.

Canadian Coin News, 2015. Rare 1862 gilt coins offer glimpse into B.C.’s gold rush, 18 August, http://canadiancoinnews.com/rare-1862-gilt-coins-offer-glimpse-into-b-c-s-gold-rush/.

Chard, 2017. Gold Sovereigns, Branch Mints – Ottawa Canada, https://goldsovereigns.co.uk/ottawamintcanada.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1907. “Mint Will Open Thursday,” 31 December.

Evening Journal (The), 1890, “The Question Of A Mint For Canada,” 5 May.

————————–, 1894. “Canada’s Native Silver,” 19 July.

————————–, 1897. “Wanted A National Mint,” 18 May.

————————–, 1897. “National Mint Wanted,” 3 June.

————————–, 1899. “Resolution Favoring A Canadian Mint,” 16 May.

————————–, 1900. “A Dominion Gold Coinage,” 24 October.

————————–, 1907. “Money Making Experts Here,” 12 September.

————————–, 1908. “Formal Opening of Royal Mint,” 3 January.

————————–, 1909. “A Gold Coinage,” 20 October.

————————–, 1912. “The Annual Address of the Imperial Bank’s President,” 28 May.

J&M Coin & Jewellery Ltd. 2017. Canadian Gold Sovereigns, 1908-1919, https://www.jandm.com/script/getitem.asp?CID=3&PID=50.

Powell, J. 2005. A History of the Canadian Dollar, Bank of Canada.

Powell, J. & Moxley, J. 2013. Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, General Store Publishing House: Renfrew.

Royal Engineer (The), 2017. The Gosset Gold Coin Affair, http://www.royalengineers.ca/GossetGold.html

 

The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

Long before Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay worked their culinary magic on television, there was Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet. While Kerr (pronounced “Care”) was not by any means the first gourmet chef to appear on the small screen—that honour goes to James Beard in 1946—he, like Julia Child, did much to popularize fine cooking in North America. At a time when the acme of fine dining for many Americans and Canadians was a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, and Italian cuisine was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Kerr introduced millions to the likes of Lamb Apollo, Red Snapper in Pernod, Crab Captain Cook, and Gateau Saint Honoré. His zany antics, lightning fast wit and double entendres delivered while chopping and sautéing delighted television audiences around the world. At the peak of his popularity in 1970, his television show, The Galloping Gourmet, was seen in thirty-eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, with more than 200 million viewers. Dubbed into French, it was called the Le Gourmet Farfelu on the CBC’s French-language network. Amazingly, The Galloping Gourmet was made in Ottawa.

Graham Kerr 2

Graham Kerr—The Galloping Gourmet, The Cooking Channel

The British-born Kerr learnt how to cook as a teenager during the late 1940s in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel. After five years in the British Army’s catering corps, he moved to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Air Force as a catering adviser. It was in New Zealand in 1959 that he got his first televised cooking show—Eggs with Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Performing in uniform, the young Kerr received a munificent $25 for his weekly television programme. Spotted by a promoter with links to Australia, Kerr was launched on Australian television with a programme called Entertaining with Kerr in 1964 on the Ten Network.

In 1968, he and his wife Treena came to Ottawa to film The Galloping Gourmet for Freemantle International, a television production/distribution company. Although the show was aimed at an American audience, the Kerrs chose Canada as their base of operations because they wanted to bring a British/Australian flavour to the show that they thought might be lost in an American-made production. Also, Canada had first class television studios that could make colour programmes. Colour television had been introduced to the Canadian market in 1966, whereas Australian television was still operating in black and white. To make the daily 23-minute programme, the Kerrs went to the CJOH studios located at the corner of Merivale Road and Clyde Avenue in Ottawa.  Then owned by Bushnell Communications, CJOH was the third busiest television production centre in Canada. Under the direction of Bill McKee, an exceptional staff of 160 people, of whom 100 were directly in production, worked ten hour days seven days a week producing as many as dozen different television series as well as films for government departments. In a 1970 interview, Kerr stated that CJOH had the “finest” television crew with whom they had ever worked.

Production of The Galloping Gourmet began in the summer of 1968, making six shows a day, thirty shows per week. It was a gruelling schedule. The Kerrs worked as a team, Graham in front of the camera, and Treena as the show’s producer.  Initially, there was little to distinguish the new show. Indeed, the television studio’s audience relations staff found it difficult to find people willing to fill the seats in the studio equipped with a full kitchen with an autumn brown fridge and stove, dining room, bar and wine rack. However, this was to quickly change.

The programme first aired on CBC television (CBOT, channel 4 in Ottawa) at 4pm on Monday, 30 December, 1968, up against the likes of Match Game, Big Spender, House Party, and the cartoon show Hercules. The show was also syndicated throughout the United States. CBOT advertised it as “a cooking show…but what a cooking show! It is as entertaining as the best comedy shows and as informative as a documentary because of the talent of the host Graham Kerr, a world famous gourmet, formerly of England, now living in Australia.”  It added that Kerr was nicknamed the galloping gourmet, “because of the lightning speed at which he moves his six foot, three-inch frame while alternately singing, dancing, telling stories and giving homely advice…all while cooking sumptuous dishes with dazzling dexterity.”

It was an apt description though his nickname was more likely based on a book that he co-authored with wine expert Len Evans called The Galloping Gourmets published in 1967. The book chronicled the authors’ globetrotting efforts to find the world’s best restaurants in 35 days. His address was also wrong. By this time, Graham, Treena and the Kerr children had taken up residence in the tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in Ottawa.

The Galloping Gourmet was an instant and huge success though some stations censored the more naughty bits. The Globe and Mail, in a rant about the poor quality of daytime television filled with Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island re-runs, soap operas, and second-rate talk shows, likened The Galloping Gourmet to “a flower growing in a crammed wall.” It opined that “while Graham gallops, there is hope.” Tickets to attend the show’s tapings became as rare as hen’s teeth. Kerr’s most faithful admirers were female. One die-hard fan attended 49 times during the show’s first year. It helped that he was a culinary James Bond with a sense of humour—young, good looking, always impeccably dressed, and a superb British accent.

But the show appealed to all, women and men, young and old. The reason—it was fun. Each show began with Kerr jumping over a chair with a glass of wine in his hand. The manoeuvre, suggested by wife Treena, became his signature move. Most shows had some gag that were sure to provoke guffaws, such as stirring a pot with a five-foot spoon called “Big Mouth,” or pulling a brassiere out of a rolling pin. Shows also featured clips of exciting places around the world visited by the Kerrs for culinary inspiration. But the most endearing feature of the show was Kerr’s unbounded enthusiasm, excellent comic timing, and an ability to roll with whatever happened. To watch him try to unstick a reluctant cake out of a mould while a cherry sauce is cooking on the stove is hysterically funny. The show was nominated for two Daytime Emmys, but lost out to The Today Show. However, Kerr received the ultimate public recognition when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970.

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr larding a steak in episode “Beer and Rump Pot Roast,” 1970, The Cooking Channel.

But what about the food? Kerr’s culinary critics poo-pooed his skills, seeing him as a showman rather than an expert at fine cuisine. One called him the Liberace of the cooking world. There may be an element of truth to this. But he introduced people to a range of cuisines from Cajun jambalaya and British beer and rump pot roast to Mexican huevos rancheros and Russian shrimp povlik. One thing that was clear, however, his food was rich…very rich. There were few vegetables. In his recipes, Kerr used copious amounts of clarified butter, fat and sugar. Just watching him lard an already well-marbled, two-inch steak, then fry it in butter, bacon fat and brown sugar is sufficient to clog the arteries. But this was a more innocent time. Certainly, willing volunteers, usually women pulled from the audience at the end of each show to taste his culinary creations, appeared to love his food.

At the height of his popularity, disaster struck. In April 1971, Kerr was seriously hurt when a truck rear-ended his car in California, leaving him with a damaged spine and a weakened right arm.  The couple returned to Ottawa to try to tape another season, but things were not the same. With Kerr injured, shows were mostly cobbled together using bits of earlier programmes with celebrities brought in to give their opinions of past shows and dishes. In the summer of that year, the Kerrs bade Ottawa good bye after taping 560 shows in front of 46,000 people. He lauded Ottawans for their support, coming out for tapings in the midst of snowstorms, and stoically sitting through an overheated studio when summer air conditioning failed.

From leafy Rockcliffe, the family charted a new course aboard their $300,000, 71-foot yacht with an aim to visit the world’s beauty spots while they recuperated and worked on new projects, including a Galloping Gourmet line of kitchens, cook books, and cooking utensils. But things didn’t turn out as expected. Treena was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis proved to be wrong; it turned out to be tuberculosis. But she still lost part of a lung and became hooked on both prescription and non-prescription drugs. They also lost $800,000 to a man they had trusted. The couple subsequently became born-again Christians and abjured their earlier lives. Turning his back on the galloping gourmet, Kerr gave up alcohol, which had featured prominently in his earlier shows, and his risqué behaviour. The couple visited Ottawa in 1975 to appear at an evangelical rally at the Earl Armstrong Arena in Gloucester. The same year, Kerr returned to television hosting Take Kerr, a five-minute, syndicated cooking show featuring a mix of alcohol-free recipes with a dash of Christianity.

In 1987, Treena suffered a stroke and heart attack exacerbated husband Graham was convinced by his high fat, high sugar recipes of earlier years. In response, he re-doubled his efforts to create healthy “minmax” recipes—minimum fat and cholesterol with maximum flavour and aroma. More television shows, including The Graham Kerr Show, made in Seattle, Washington, and cook books that emphasized wholesome foods followed. In 1997, Kerr returned to Canada, this time to the Bay’s Arcadian Court in Toronto to tape yet another cooking programme called Graham Kerr’s Gathering Place.

Treena Keer died in September 2015 just short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Graham Keer, who turned 85 in January 2017 lives in Mount Vernon in Skaget County, near Seattle. Today, Keer has come to terms with his galloping gourmet past. His latest passion is “upstreaming,” that he describes as the “conversion of habits that can harm” into “resources that can heal” ourselves and the planet. Reruns of The Galloping Gourmet can be seen occasionally on late night television or on the Cooking Channel. Some have also been posted on YouTube. They are worth watching for the Sixties clothes and hairstyles, and, of course, for Graham Kerr’s incomparable cooking style and humour.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune (The), 1972. “A Glimpse of Graham, the Gourmet,” 9 November.

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking, http://www.startyourrestaurantbusiness.com/the-galloping-gourmet-graham-kerr-the-monty-python-of-cooking/.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow. http://www.grahamkerr.com/.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May, http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2010/05/21/loving-the-galloping-gourmet/.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1968. “CBOT Highlights,” 28 December.

————————–, 1969. “A Watched Nockerln,” 30 April.

————————–, 1970. “The Galloping Gourmet in Moscow,” 7 February.

————————–, 1970. “Graham Loves Us,” 8 August.

————————–, 1971. “The Galloping Gourmet goes, salutes ‘fabulous’ Ottawans,” 23 August.

————————–, 1972. “Battle of the Sexes Name of the Game,” 11 March.

————————–, 1972. “Galloping Gourmet hungers for the sea,” 19 July.

————————–, 1974. “Ottawa TV production centre is one of Canada’s busiest,” 21 December.

————————–, 1975. “Galloping Gourmet has come up with a recipe for a good life after his recent conversion,” 23 August.

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet, http://www.worldlibrary.org/

Ottawa’s Royal Swans

28 June 1967

In Britain, there has been an association between the monarchy and mute swans (Cygnus Olor) that dates back to the twelfth century. Traditionally, the Crown claims ownership of all mute swans in open water in England and Wales. The monarch can, however, give the privilege of owning swans to others. In 1483, King Edward IV ruled that only the gentry owing land worth more than five marks (£3. 7s. 6d.) could own “swannes.” Today, other than the Crown, only three groups hold the privilege of owning the waterfowl—the Company of Vintners and the Company of Dyers, who received the right in the 1460s, and the Ilchester family of Abbotsbury, Dorset. The Ilchester family gained the privilege when it acquired property previously owned by Benedictine monks following the dissolution of the monasteries during the sixteenth century by King Henry VIII. Today, the Queen’s swan rights are only enforced over part of the Thames River. Each year, at the ceremonial “Swan Upping,” held during the third week in July, young swans, called cygnets, are rounded up on the river between the towns of Sunbury and Abingdon and distributed among the Crown and the two Companies. In the old days, the beaks of the swans going to the Companies were marked, one nick for Dyers’ birds and two nicks for Vintners’ birds. Birds owned by the Crown were left unmarked. Today, instead of nicking the beaks, the birds are banded.

Swans

Royal swans, 1987. City of Ottawa Archives/CA024408.

You might wonder why all the bother. The purpose of the modern “Upping” is not so much about ownership but rather about monitoring the health of the mute swan population on the Thames. It’s also about having fun, dressing up in fancy uniforms and getting out on the water in traditional wooden skiffs on a warm, summer’s day. Back in medieval times, however, it was very serious business. Swans were a valuable commodity, and were eaten as poultry, much like chickens, ducks and geese are today. Swan was the fowl of choice of the aristocracy at feasts. But for some reason, swan flesh went out of fashion. The taste might have been a factor. While Master Chef Mario Batali claims swan meat is “delicious—deep red, lean, lightly gamey, moist, and succulent”—others have called it “gristly” and “mud flavoured.”  If you happen to come across swan at your neighbourhood butcher (most unlikely), and wish to give it a try, here is a link to a fourteenth-century recipe for roasted swan with chaudon (a.k.a. giblet) sauce. Roasted swan.

Royal mute swans came to Ottawa in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, as a gift to the nation’s capital from Queen Elizabeth who also doubles as Seigneur of Swans. It was not the first time that Canada has received Royal swans. In 1912, George V gave a pair of Royal mute swans from his flock at Hampton Court to St Thomas, Ontario. The birds were settled on Pinafore Lake. They didn’t flourish. More mute swans were imported in the early 1950s from the United States, Scotland and from Stratford, Ontario which itself received mute swans in 1918 from Mr J. C. Garden. Today, St Thomas’s imported mute swans have been replaced by native trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) in a programme to re-introduce the breed into southern Ontario. King Edward VIII also presented two Royal swans to North Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1936.

The gift of swans has not always been unidirectional. In 1951, the Federal and British Columbian governments gave six Canadian trumpeter swans to the then Princess Elizabeth. The swans were put into the care of the Severn Wild Fowl Trust.

Ottawa’s Royal mute swans arrived in the city in late May 1967, the culmination of careful planning on the part of Buckingham Place, Rideau Hall, the City of Ottawa, the Federal government and two airlines. Arriving by airplane at Uplands Airport, the birds, which had been specially selected by the Keeper of the Queen’s Swans from the Thames River, were placed into precautionary quarantine. At 4pm on 28 June 1967, following speeches by the Governor General and Ottawa’s Mayor Donald Reid in front of hundreds of guests, eight Royal swans were released into the Rideau River just above the Rideau Falls on the grounds of the old city hall (now the Federal government’s John G. Diefenbaker building) on Green Island. Two other pairs of swans remained at the “swan house” at the City’s Leitrum tree nursery for breeding purposes. Noting that swans mated for life, Governor General Roland Mitchener joked that in light of the prospective liberalization of Canada’s divorce laws, the birds might have to face “some previously unknown temptations.” The birds’ ability to fly was disabled to stop them from straying, physically if not maritially.

The swans were in place on July 1, 1967, Canada’s centennial day, ready for the Queen’s inspection when she and Prince Philip arrived at City Hall on their Royal Tour of Canada. The Ottawa Journal wrote that the swans, paddling from shore to shore on the Rideau River “enhanced a scene of calm and beauty.” Their “regal beauty complemented every natural and man-made fixture in sight.”

The graceful, long-necked, white birds were an instant sensation as they cruised the Rideau River, stopping along the way to eat aquatic vegetation, as well as the odd tadpole, snail or insect. Couples quickly established territories along the river bank. When the cold weather came in late October, the birds were moved to their winter quarters at Ottawa’s tree nursery in Leitrim. There, they were housed in less than regal surroundings in a greenhouse made of heavy-duty plastic and chicken wire with an earthen floor and an artificial pond. In 1971, a wooden swan house was built with pens for each couple and an outside exercise yard. The birds were cared by Ottawa’s first swanmaster, Mr Gerry Strik, who was also the manager of the Leitrim tree nursery. Mr Strik had previous experience caring for swans in his native Holland. That same year, the Royal swans made their theatrical debut, appearing in the National Arts Centre production of the Marriage of Figaro. Swanmaster Strik, dressed appropriately, was in the wings in case the birds misbehaved. Appearing on stage for the entire final act, the swans performed admirably.

Swans2

Swanmaster-Gerry Strik with Royal swans at their indoor winter quarters, March 9, 1978, City of Ottawa Archives/CA025513/Peter Earle.

There were, however, some reservations about the new Rideau River inhabitants. One City Councillor worried that the honking of swans might be a violation of the city’s anti-noise by-law. His concern was allied by Margaret Farr, the deputy commissioner of Ottawa’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said the birds were relatively quiet, though they sometimes “grunted like pigs.” Another councillor worried about the swans’ reproductive capacity. As mute swans lay clutches of up to five eggs, he figured that within five years Ottawa could be the proud owner of 72 pairs of birds. Mute swans are also long-lived, with a lifespan of thirty years or more.

This later concern turned out to be prophetic. Quickly, the swan population rose despite losses due to disease and misfortune. Sadly, there were also a number of cases of cruelty towards the birds and their nestlings. Eggs were also destroyed. One adult bird was shot while another was clubbed to death with a baseball bat. Yet another was found dead with a fish hook in its mouth. Two disappeared without a trace, presumably taken by somebody with a taste for swan flesh. Despite such losses, by the early 1970s, there were forty birds, and the City was looking around for solutions to limit their numbers; forty birds was deemed to be the maximum the Rideau River could accommodate. This gave rise to an interesting problem. Would it be a case of lèse majesté to dispose of some swans? After consulting the British High Commissioner and the Governor General, both of whom didn’t have an answer, the question was resolved by the Lord Chamberlain of England. His answer was there was no problem if the City gave swans away to good homes. However, such birds could not be designated as royal gifts. The Queen herself suggested that only two eggs be left in each nest.

Despite concerns about swan numbers, Ottawa acquired a pair of black Australian swans (Cygnus atratus) in July 1974. The source of the birds and the rationale for acquiring them are a bit murky. According to the City of Ottawa’s website, the birds came from the Montreal Zoo in an exchange. However, contemporary newspaper reports say they came to Ottawa in a trade with Wallaceburg, Ontario. These birds do not carry the “Royal” designation as they were not a gift from the Crown.

By the early 1990s, City Council, looking for cutbacks in an age of austerity, considered eliminating the city’s swans, and in the process saving some $37,500 or more per year in winter maintenance, a cost that had increased ten-fold since 1967 due partly to inflation and partly to the increase in the swan population. One city official jokingly suggested that Ottawa host a big barbecue. After receiving hundreds of letters in support of the birds, City Council instead agreed to reduce their numbers to save money. A few years later, City Council again tried to eliminate the swans. Jim Watson, a city alderman at the time, called the swans “a frill.” Fortunately for swan lovers, the high-tech. company Cognos stepped up in early 1996, providing $26,300 to cover that year the maintenance costs of twenty-two white Royal swans and 5 black Australian swans. The company continued to pay for the swans’ maintenance until 2007. The following year, IBM, which had taken over Cognos, stepped in and contributed $300,000 in a lump sum for the maintenance of the birds.

About the same time, concerns were raised about deteriorating conditions at the swan house at the Leitrim Tree Sanctuary. Although called “Swantanamo Bay” by some wags after the notorious U.S. military and prison camp in Cuba, the Ottawa Humane Society said the unsightly facility did not pose a “significant health or safety risk” to the birds. With IBM funds devoted to the annual maintenance of the birds, the city looked into building replacement quarters for the birds. With the estimated cost approaching $500,000 (!), the idea of building a new swan house was quickly shelved. When the Leitrim facility finally closed in 2015, the birds were sent to winter quarters at Parc Safari in Hemingford, Quebec under a two-year arrangement costing roughly $30,000 per year.

Typically, the swans are released back into the Rideau River in late May. However, in 2017, the swans, now a much reduced group of eight, six Royal mute swans and two black Australian swans, were released in late June owing to high water conditions prevailing earlier in the spring. Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Diane Deans officiated at the event held at Brantwood Park at the end of Clegg Street.

How many more years this annual event will take place remains an open question. While the Royal mute swans are attractive and have many admirers, they are considered an invasive species in North America that competes with native trumpeter swans. Although Ottawa’s swans on the Rideau are pinioned, a requirement of the Federal Wildlife Act in order to stop them flying away and going feral, pinioning is a controversial procedure. Liken to the cropping of the tail and ears of certain breeds of dogs or removing the claws of cats, pinioning involves the surgical removal of the pinion joint of the wing. This procedure permanently stops a bird’s flight feathers from growing thereby disabling its ability to fly. It’s typically done without anesthesia, and is banned in some countries under animal protection laws. While the swans are safe in 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial year (and the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s gift), we shall have to see what happens once the celebrations are over. Unless another sponsor steps forward, the future of the Royal Swans of Ottawa remains uncertain.

Sources:

Answer Fella, 2011. “Why Not Eat a (Black) Swan on Oscar Night?” Esquire, 23 February, http://www.esquire.com/food-drink/food/a9453/black-swan-recipe-0311/.

Barger, Brittani, 2016, “Does the Queen really own all the swans?” Royal Central, http://royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/does-the-queen-really-own-all-the-swans-57621.

CBC, News, 2008. “IBM bails out Ottawa’s royal swans,” 20 November.

Cornell, Lab of Ornithology (The), 2017. “Mute Swan,” https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mute_Swan/lifehistory.

Duhaime.org. 2007. Crazy Laws—English Style (1482-1541), http://www.duhaime.org/LawFun/LawArticle-359/Crazy-Laws–English-Style-1482-1541.aspx.

Field, Mrs Marshall (Dolly), 1951. History of the St. Thomas Filed Naturalist Club, 1950-67), http://inmagic.elgin-county.on.ca/ElginImages/archives/ImagesArchive/pdfs/ECVF_B99_F30.pdf.

Globe and Mail, The, 1951. “To Send Royal Pair Gift Of 6 Swans,” 10 November.

————————–, 1955. “The Swans of St. Thomas,” 10 December.

————————–, 1992. “Squaking Squelches Notion Of Swan Song,” 23 April.

————————-, 1996. “With Her Swans Looked After,” 10 January.

————————-, 1996. “Cognos Picking Up Tab For Swans, $26,300 per year.” 10 October.

Gode Cookery Presents, 2017. “For to dihyte a swan,” Medieval recipes, http://www.godecookery.com/mtrans/mtrans52.html.

Ottawa, City of, 2016. “Royal swans to be released along the Rideau River,” 20 May.

——————, 2016. “Royal swans make annual return to the Rideau River,” 24 May.

——————, 2017. “Royal Swan FAQs,” http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/animals-and-pets/other-animals#royal-swan-faqs.

Ottawa Humane Society, 2013. Royal Swan FAQs, https://web.archive.org/web/20091203010345/http://www.ottawahumane.ca/protection/swan.cfm

Ottawa, Journal (The), 1967.”Swans Fly Atlantic – By Plane,” 31 May.

—————————, 1967. “Royal Swan Song Worries Council,” 20 June.

—————————, 1967. “Mitchener To Present,” 21 June.

—————————, 1967. “Letter to Citizens of Ottawa from Mayor Don Reid,” 27 June.

—————————, 1967. “City’s Royal Swans ‘Launched,’” 29 June.

—————————, 1967. “Those Royal Swans,” 8 July.

—————————, 1967. “The Royal Swans,” 15 July.

—————————, 1967. “Swans To Winter In Leitrim,” 21 October.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swan Upkeep Set At $3,500 in 1971.” 20 May.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swans Have Part In NAC Opera,” 6 July.

—————————, 1971. “Royal Swan Clubbed to Death,” 21 October.

—————————, 1972. “Yes—Swans Can Be Given Away,” 20 March.

—————————, 1973. “Royal Swans….” 24 March.

—————————, 1973. “Queen Finds Answer To City’s Swan Dilemma,” 2 August.

—————————, 1978. “It’s Your Royal Flock,” 19 May.

—————————, 1979. “Swan Song,” 13 September.

—————————, 1979. “Attempt To Cut Numbers by 8 To 20 Defeated.” 13 October.

Ottawa Sun, 2016. “City Still Trying To Find A Permanent Winter Facility,” 24 November.

Queen’s Swan Marker, 2012. Royal Swan Upping, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Edition, http://www.royalswan.co.uk/sources/indexPop.htm.

Shaw, Hank, 2015. On Eating Swans, http://honest-food.net/on-eating-swans/.

Stratford, City of, 2007. “The Swans of Stratford,” http://www.visitstratford.ca/uploads/brochure2007c.pdf.

St. Thomas Times Journal, 2013. “Nature takes toll on St. Thomas swan cygnets,” 21 August.

Toronto, City of, 2011, “Birds of Toronto,” https://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/City%20Planning/Environment/Files/pdf/B/Biodiversity_Birds_of_TO_dec9.pdf.

 

Banish the Bar: The Arrival of Prohibition

16 September 1916

It was foreshadowed by a flickering of the overhead lights. And then, at precisely 7pm on Saturday, 16 September 1916, bars across Ottawa, indeed throughout Ontario, went dark. Prohibition had arrived. That last day, Ottawa’s hotels were chock-a-block full. Retail liquor stores also did a roaring trade. Their deliverymen worked flat out stocking cellars in private homes—the only place where liquor could henceforth be stored in Ontario. Although they faced a bleak future, purveyors of alcohol could take some small solace from the fact that the day’s takings were the best ever as patrons drained their remaining stocks of liquor and beer.

The coming of Prohibition was largely taken in good humour in Ottawa. While the crowds in some places were described as a bit boisterous, nothing got out of hand. Men sang choruses of The Stein Song and How Dry Am I? The latter, which was adapted by Irving Berlin in 1919 and called The Near Future, was later to become a Prohibition favourite in America. As the clock struck the hour, men filed quietly out of the bars. Ottawa’s licence inspector was satisfied that all hotel bars had closed promptly. Some, including the Windsor Hotel, had in fact closed a bit early to ensure that they stayed on the right side of the law. Starting the following Monday, licensed hotels were limited to selling non-intoxicating “temperance beer,” a watery facsimile of real beer containing no more than 1.43% alcohol by volume, or “2 ½ per cent. of proof spirits [British measure]” as described in The Ontario Temperance Act of 1916.

Prohibition King George Hotel 74 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa c1912-1913, Topley Studio LA C PA-04276

King George Hotel, 74 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa, decorated for Christmas, c. 1912, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-04276.

For Ottawa drinkers, a “dry” Ontario was more of an inconvenience than a serious problem. With Quebec still “wet,” the bars and taverns of Hull were amply stocked with their favourite tipple. However, for Ontario residents who lived farther from the border, prohibition was more onerous.  The Ottawa Evening Journal joked that the “joyful refrain of the bibulistic tourist on reaching Ottawa” was “Just one more river to cross.”

The coming into force of the Act was welcomed by local churches, especially evangelical Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists who had been central to the fight to make Ontario “dry.” The Journal reported Rev. P.W. Anderson of Mackay Presbyterian Church saying that prohibition “gave wives and children, as well as drinking husbands,… a fair chance to start things anew.” Rev. Robert Eadie of the Bethany Presbyterian Church thundered that “every Ottawa liquor store dealer who had gone outside [i.e. Hull] to continue his trade should be blacklisted.” It was notable that in the Journal’s coverage of the clerical reaction to the arrival of Prohibition, no Anglican or Roman Catholic priest was quoted. Both traditional denominations had a more nuanced view on alcohol, generally favouring moderation over prohibition.

Ottawa’s hotel owners were the big losers with the coming of Prohibition. While the majority of them applied for licences to become “standard hotels,” which empowered them to sell “temperance beer,” soft drinks and cigars, their bar revenues dropped sharply. Lost sales were estimated at more than $1,500 per day. The City of Ottawa was a loser too. In 1915, the City’s take of the already reduced number of hotel and liquor store licences amounted to $36,525. It also stood to lose a similar amount through reduced business taxes and other imposts.

The closure of Ontario’s bars and liquor stores was the culmination of the efforts of thousands of earnest and pious individuals who sought to eradicate what they believed was a great evil in society. The temperance movement was rooted in a worldwide Protestant Christian revival that started during the early nineteenth century. The movement was particularly strong in North America, but was also important in the Nordic countries, New Zealand, and to a less extent Australia. Britain too had its temperance movement centred in the non-conformist churches though it was never strong enough to push through a legal prohibition against alcohol.

In the United States and Canada, the temperance movement’s most fervent supporter was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Founded in 1874 in Ohio, it quickly went international. Canada got its first branch (or “union”) that same year. In 1883, the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU) was established. Members, mostly drawn from the middle class, pledged to abstain from all distilled liquors, wines and beer, and to discourage the use and traffic of alcohol. This early feminist organization based its values on the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon who advocated moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful. In keeping with this motto, the organization did not limit its opposition to just alcohol, but also lobbied against the use of tobacco, white slavery (a.k.a. prostitution), child abuse, as well as other evils that particularly affected women and children. The WCTU’s world-wide membership peaked during the 1920s and 1930s at roughly 750,000, with roughly half that number in the United States. In 1914, Canadian membership stood at about 17,000. (The WCTU’s worldwide membership stands at about 5,000 today.)

In Canada, a broad anti-alcohol coalition called the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic was formed in 1877. Active across the country, its membership included the WCTU and other organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The strong evangelical protestant nature of such organizations sometimes turned anti-Catholic, reducing its effectiveness in Quebec though there were parallel Catholic temperance groups.

The anti-alcohol fervour of these organizations was not without merit. The excess consumption of liquor and beer was a major social problem during the nineteenth century in Canada, though Canadians on average consumed far less booze than their British or American cousins. In 1851, little Bytown with a population of only 7,000 boasted seventy licensed taverns in addition to an unknown number of illicit “grog” houses. Drunken brawling was commonplace. With husbands running up large tabs at bars, wives and children suffered. This is not to say women didn’t also imbibe or own taverns. Mother McGuinty’s tavern in Corktown (a shantytown located roughly where Ottawa University is located today) was famous. Taverns were also key centres of political activity and sometimes hosted magistrates’ courts.

The prominent role played by alcohol in society during the nineteenth century may in part have reflected a dearth of alternate recreational activities. Other than Church on Sundays, there really wasn’t much for people to do on their very limited free time. Recognizing this fact, wealthy philanthropists, Church organizations, and women’s groups headed the public library movement in the second half of the nineteenth century in an effort to provide the working man an edifying alternative to the bar or brothel.  It also mattered that industrialists wanted a sober work force.

Christopher Dunkin 1870 Topley Studio - Library and Archives Canada - PA-026325

Christopher Dunkin, 1870, the man who sponsored the first temperance legislation in Canada in 1864. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-026325.

The first legislative victory for the prohibitionists was the 1864 Canada Temperance Act, also known as the Dunkin Act after its sponsor Christopher Dunkin. Under this legislation any municipality or county in the Province of Canada could prohibit alcohol following a majority vote in a referendum. This act was extended to all of the Dominion of Canada in the 1878 Canada Temperance Act (the Scott Act). This latter Act was sponsored by Ottawa’s own, tea-totalling Sir Richard William Scott, who had been mayor of Bytown, member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly for Ottawa from 1867 to 1873, and a Senator, and sometime federal Cabinet Minister, from 1874-1913. The first province to go “dry” was Prince Edward Island in 1901.

In Ontario, plebiscites on province-wide prohibition were held in 1894 and in 1902. Although the anti-alcohol forces won both, prohibition in Ontario had to wait as the government chose to ignore the results of the first, non-binding referendum, while the second failed to attract a required fifty per cent of the votes cast in the 1898 election owing to a low voter turnout. In the meantime, however, the federal Scott Act (known as the “local option”) remained in force. Many communities, especially in rural areas, banned alcohol.

Prohibition, Sir Richard Scott 1873, LAC Mikan 3220974, unkown

Sir Richard William Scott, 1873, the man who sponsored the 1878 Canada Temperance Act, photographer unknown, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 3220974.

Like most major cities, Ottawa remained “wet.” But the noose was tightening around the throats of local drinkers. Stand-alone taverns lost their licences as provincial restrictions limited drinking to establishments that provided accommodations. Successive Ottawa plebiscites sharply reduced the number of hotel and liquor store licences from 80 and 33, respectively, in 1898 to 20 and 10, respectively, by early 1916. Bar operating hours were also curtailed, with closing time moving from 11pm to 8pm during World War I.

The bigger, more up-market hotels in Ottawa supported the reduction in the number of liquor stores as it reduced competition. The manager of the Grand Union Hotel called liquor stores “the curse of the trade.” Even the reduction in hotel licences didn’t faze the big hotels. They expected to keep their licences, and increase their business. Those losing out would be the smaller hotels that catered to “a cheaper class of consumer,” as one big hotel manager sniffed. One thing did fuss them, however. They worried about the impartiality of the licence commissioners who were viewed as “the five little gods,” with “too much power” and without “a liberal-minded man in the whole bunch.”

The start of the Great War was the tipping point in the fight against alcohol. Grain supplies were now needed for the war effort. To give up drinking became patriotic. Even King George V had reportedly renounced alcohol for the duration. By the time Ontario went dry in September 1916 all provinces, except Quebec, had banned or announced bans on the retail sale of liquor.

Ontario had, however, a strange kind of prohibition. Booze continued to be made for the export market. The courts had also ruled that the shipment of liquor and beer across provincial boundaries was a federal matter. Consequently, provinces could not restrict the importation of alcoholic products. Ontario residents could order alcohol from Quebec-based middle men and have it delivered to their homes, or have it readied for pick-up at the brewery or distillery. What was key was to have an out-of-province invoice. Ontario-made wines using Ontario grapes were also exempt from the Ontario Temperance Act though wine drinkers had to buy directly from the wineries in wholesale amounts of five gallons or more—the idea being to make it too expensive for somebody to purchase a single bottle at a time. In addition to exemptions for sacramental purposes, doctors could prescribe alcohol to patients in six-ounce amounts. Hundreds of thousands of prescriptions were written by doctors at $2 per prescription, and filled at neighbourhood drug stores. Ontario residents could also buy so-called “nerve tonics” that had a high-alcohol content from pharmacies.

Prohibition beer ad ii 16-9-1916

Beer advertisement that appeared in The Ottawa Evening Journal on 16 September 1916, the day that Prohibition came into force in Ontario. Drinkers could continue to buy full-strength, Ontario-made beer as long as they ordered it through a middle-man located in another province.

Nation-wide, the prohibition hammer came down on Christmas Eve 1917 when the federal government by Order-In-Council under the War Measure Act banned the importation of intoxicating beverages as well as the transportation of such beverages into “dry” areas. The government argued that it was “essential and indeed vital for the efficient conduct of the war that wasteful or unnecessary expenditure be prohibited and that all articles capable of being utilised as food should be conserved.” This order was to be in effect until one year after the end of the war.

For Ottawa hotels, the new regulations were greeted with a yawn. The manager of the Château Laurier Hotel remarked that they had been out of the liquor business for a year and that they weren’t even using alcohol in the kitchen. The big losers were Hull liquor stores who had been filling cross-border liquor orders.

The Prohibition tide began to ebb with the end of the war and the lifting of federal restrictions against the importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages. With the war over, the appeals of prohibitionists to patriotism were no longer effective. In contrast, the appeals of anti-prohibition activists to “liberty” were finding traction. Returning soldiers swelled the “wet” constituency. It was also becoming increasingly apparent that Prohibition was not working. People drank more rather than less in illegal speakeasies called “bling pigs.” Bootlegging and criminality was on the rise, and there was a growing disregard for the law. Imbibers were also dying or being severely injured through drinking bad whisky or rubbing alcohol. As well, labour unions that had once been major temperance supporters turned against prohibition, upset by laws that denied the working man his glass of beer but allowed the wealthy industrialist to stock his cellar with whisky.

Despite another referendum on alcohol in 1924 that was narrowly won by the “dry” forces, the first crack in Ontario’s prohibition laws occurred in 1925 when the Conservative Government of Howard Ferguson permitted 4.4 proof (British measure) beer, i.e. beer with an alcohol content of 2.51% by volume. This beer became known as “Fergie Foam.” In 1927, Ferguson’s government replaced the Ontario Temperance Act with the Liquor Control Act that permitted people to buy alcohol in government-owned stores for consumption in homes. Prohibition in Ontario was officially over. However, it wasn’t until 1934 that drinking in public bars was allowed.

Sources:

Blocker, J., Fahey, D. & Tyrrell, I., eds. 2003. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History, An International Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford.

Coutts, Ian, 2010. Brew North, How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada, Greystone Books, D & M Publishers, Inc.: Vancouver, Toronto, Berkeley.

Heron, Craig, 2003. Booze, A Distilled History, Between The Lines: Toronto.

Lee, David, 2006. Lumber Kings and Shantymen, Logging, Lumber and Timber in the Ottawa Valley, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

Mallack, Dan, 2012. Try To Control Yourself, The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-44, UBC Press: Vancouver.

McRuer, J. C., 1922. 1923 Ontario Liquor Traffic Acts being The Ontario Temperance Act with amendments-1922, https://ia902700.us.archive.org/5/items/ontarioliquorlaw00mcruuoft/ontarioliquorlaw00mcruuoft.pdf.

National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 2017, https://www.wctu.org/.

Ottawa, City of, 1916. “By-Laws 4120 and 4121,” Limiting the Number of Tavern and Shop Licenses”

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1916, “Local Hotelmen Not Dissatisfied By People’s Vote Lopping Licenses,” 4 January.

————————————-, 1916. “A Great Majority In Vote To Reduce Liquor Licenses; Opposition Fail,” 4 January.

————————————-, 1916. “Notable Scenes In Last Closing Hour, Crowds Merry But Well Behaved,” 18 September.

————————————-, 1916. “New Act Welcomed In Local Churches, Pastors Promised A Better Ontario, 18 September.

————————————-, 1916. “Local Bars Trade In A Third Less,” 19 September.

————————————-, 1916. “Canada Under Prohibition,” 20 September.

————————————-, 1916, “Ottawa’s Fine Strategic Position,” 22 September.

————————————, 1917. “Another Big Step To Prohibition In Canada Is Taken,” 24 December.

————————————-, 1919. “Senate Takes Steps To Nullify Government Bill In Respect To Intoxicating Liquor,” 19 June.

————————————, 1927. “Control Bill To Be Effective First Week In May,” 10 March.

Wamsley, Kevin and Kossuth, Robert, 2000, Fighting It Out in Nineteenth-Century Upper Canada/Canada West: Masculinities and Physical Challenges in the Tavern, University of Western Ontario, http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH2000/JSH2703/JSH2703d.pdf.

 

The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November  1927

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

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

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

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

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

Canal Basin 1842 (2)

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

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

Canal Basin 1888

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

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

Canal Basin Evening Journal 30-10-1897

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

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

Canal Basin c. 1900

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bank of Ottawa

20 January 1919

Toronto has its Toronto-Dominion Bank. Montreal has its Bank of Montreal. One hundred years ago, Ottawa had its own Bank of Ottawa too. Of the nineteen Canadian chartered banks at the end of 1918, the Bank of Ottawa ranked in the middle of the pack. Its assets stood at $72.7 million, with paid-in capital and reserves of $8.75 million. In comparison, the Bank of Montreal, Canada’s financial goliath at the time, had assets of $558 million and paid-in capital and reserves of $32 million. Still, the Bank of Ottawa was a well-respected regional bank whose main area of operations were located in the City of Ottawa and in the Ottawa Valley on both sides of the river. One of its directors, Sir George Burn, who had previously been its general manager for most of the bank’s existence, was also president of the prestigious Canadian Bankers’ Association.

Bank of Ottawa, Victoria Chambers, 1902, William James Topley-LACPA-008946

Victoria Chambers, 1902. First home of the Bank of Ottawa’s head office, corner of Wellington and O’Connor Streets, across from Parliament Hill, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008946.

The Bank of Ottawa commenced operations at the beginning of December in 1874 with its head office in the Victoria Chambers at the corner of Wellington and O’Connor Streets across from Parliament Hill. (The location is now the site of the Victoria Building, constructed in 1928.) The new bank had one branch located in Arnprior. Oddly, the Arnprior branch began operations roughly two weeks before the main branch as the bank’s headquarters were not ready on opening day.

The Bank of Ottawa was started by a number of the area’s lumber barons with the express purpose of having a sympathetic financial institution in the region to fund the lumber industry. Widely known as the “lumberman’s bank,” its first president was James Maclaren, a lumberman from Buckingham, Quebec. Other directors included George Bryson, a lumberman who operated out of Fort Coulonge, Quebec, Robert Blackburn, owner of the Hawkesbury Lumber Company, and Allan Gilmour, a pioneering Bytown lumberman who owned one of the largest timber companies in Canada. Other directors, all prominent Ottawa businessmen and suppliers to the timber trade, included Charles Magee, an important wholesale dry goods merchant, C. T. Bate, a wholesale grocer, and George Hay who owned a hardware business. The Bank of Ottawa’s initial paid-in capital was $343,000, and had thirteen employees. After its first year in business, the bank paid a dividend of 7 per cent.

Bank of Ottawa, 1901 William James Topley-LAC-PA-0118221,

Bank of Ottawa, Head Office, Wellington Street, 1901. Decorated for the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the future King George V and Queen Mary, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-0118221.

Given the costs of starting a new enterprise, and the weak state of the Canadian economy during the mid-1870s, the profits of the new enterprise might not have justified such a dividend. Indeed, the bank temporarily cut its dividend in half. However, the new financial institution gradually expanded, building itself a profitable niche in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. By 1885, ten years after it started, the bank had a paid-in capital of $1 million, with a steadily expanding branch network in the Ottawa Valley. It opened its second and third branches in Carleton Place and Pembroke. Over time, it increased its annual dividend to 12 per cent (of paid-in capital).

Its first branch outside of the region was in Winnipeg in 1881. As this was before the opening of the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway, the bank had difficulties in transporting a large safe to the branch. After being told by the Grand Trunk Railway that it would take up to six weeks to deliver it to Winnipeg, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway agreed to do it in fifteen days via trains to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then to Emerson, Manitoba, with the last leg to Winnipeg via boat on the Red River. The Bank of Ottawa subsequently opened offices in Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two financial centres at the time, as well as Vancouver. In 1884, it moved into its new head office building on Wellington Street a short distance from its original offices. (The site is approximately the vacant lot between the former U.S. Embassy building and the former Union Bank building at 128 Wellington Street.)

The salad years for the institution occurred between 1908 and 1913, when the bank experienced rapid growth, with its paid-in capital rising to $4 million. By the end of World War I, the bank had 96 branches, with more than 60 in Ontario and another thirteen in the province of Quebec, mostly in the Outaouais.

Given its years of service and key position in Ottawa economic and financial life, imagine the shock in Ottawa and the Valley when the bank’s directors, many of whom were the sons of the Bank’s founders, announced on 20 January 1919 that they had agreed to merge with the Bank of Nova Scotia. The Bank of Nova Scotia, with its head office in Toronto, was roughly twice the size of the Bank of Ottawa with assets of $149 million in 1918 with capital, reserves of about $18.5 million. It had 194 branches coast to coast. It was a friendly take-over. Apparently, the Bank of Nova Scotia approached the Bank of Ottawa. Under the terms of the deal, shareholders of the Bank of Ottawa received four Bank of Nova Scotia shares for every five shares of the Bank of Ottawa. This was the ratio of their share prices prior to the deal; Bank of Nova Scotia shares were trading at $257 per share on the Montreal Stock Exchange while Bank of Ottawa shares traded at $206.

Bank of Ottawa, Kempville, Dept. of Public Works-LAC- PA-046461

Bank of Ottawa, Kemptville Branch, Department of Public Works/Library and Archives Canada, PA-046461.

The deal had advantages for both banks. For the Bank of Nova Scotia, the merger brought it a thriving business with a solid reputation in areas where it had few branches, both in the Ottawa region as well as in western Canada where the institution was eager to expand. The two banks had competing offices in only eleven locations, most of which were in major cities where there was more than enough business to go around. The merger would also raise the Bank of Nova Scotia to fourth place in the Canadian bank rankings, behind only the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the Bank of Commerce.

For the directors of the Bank of Ottawa, who had brushed off earlier overtures by other banks, an alliance with the Bank of Nova Scotia offered “exceptional advantages.” The merger was a way of entering new more profitable areas at less expense. Alone, the bank had a choice of trying to expand organically in the Ottawa region, or through the expensive route of establishing new branches in unfamiliar areas. But by joining the Bank of Nova Scotia, it could take advantage of the growth potential of a bank that had branches across Canada, Newfoundland, the West Indies as well as operations in the United States. The Bank of Nova Scotia was also better diversified, reducing the consequences of an economic slowdown in the Ottawa region. This was an astute move as Canada experienced a sharp recession in the immediate post-war years.

Despite the many attractions of an alliance, there was one thorny issue to resolve—the name of the new institution. The directors of the Bank of Ottawa were loath to see the venerable name of their institution disappear. The Ottawa Evening Journal reported that for forty-four years, the Bank of Ottawa’s name was “identified with practically all of the best businesses and biggest industrial enterprises in central Canada.”  At the same time, the directors of the Bank of Nova Scotia were equally unwilling to see the end of their bank’s storied name that extended back to 1832. For a time, consideration was given to calling the merged bank “The First National Bank of Canada.” However, in light of the Bank of Nova Scotia’s considerable foreign connections, the Bank of Ottawa’s directors reluctantly concluded that it would be a mistake to change names; a view shared by Sir William White, the Minister of Finance, who gave his blessing to the merger.

Without any forewarning of the pending financial nuptials, the announcement of the merger created a sensation in Canadian financial circles. In Ottawa, there was consternation, especially when it became known that the Bank of Ottawa name was to disappear. One businessman, Mr. N. Poulin, said it was a “murder” not a merger. Another called it a “submerger.” Some worried about their access to credit; the Bank of Ottawa had an uncommonly good reputation for being considerate and liberal in its business decisions. One businessman was concerned that after years of dealing with the Bank of Ottawa he would have to start afresh with the Bank of Nova Scotia. Many regarded the bank as an important city asset. Its loss would be a major blow to the prestige to the nation’s capital.

Bank of Ottawa note

Bank of Ottawa, $5, 2 November 1880, hand-signed by James Maclaren, President, and George Burn, Cashier. Note the lumberjacks in the central vignette. Bank of Canada Museum.

The disappearance of the Bank of Ottawa name would also mean the withdrawal of almost $7 million in Bank of Ottawa banknotes from circulation and their replacement by Bank of Nova Scotia notes. Prior to the formation of the Bank of Canada in 1935, every chartered bank had the right to issue their own distinctive banknotes in the amount of its paid-in capital and reserves. While the circulation of bank notes did not represent a large portion of a bank’s business, it was quite profitable. (A bank earned the difference between the cost of printing and circulating its banknotes, and the interest earned on the assets backing the notes.) It also provided useful advertising for the bank, and in the case of the Bank of Ottawa, for the city as well.  Mr Poulin commented that “with a roll of Bank of Ottawa ten dollar bills in his pocket a man could go to any part of the world and fell comfortable and safe.”

At a hastily-called meeting of Ottawa retail merchants, a resolution was passed citing the merchants’ belief that the departure of the head offices of Ottawa’s only financial institution would have “a decidedly bad effect” on the city. More broadly, they were concerned that the concentration of more financial power and decision-making in Toronto and Montreal would be bad for the country. (There had been a rash of financial takeovers, including the acquisition of the Traders Bank of Canada, the Quebec Bank and the Northern Crown Bank by the Royal Bank of Canada, as well as the acquisition of the Bank of British North America by the Bank of Montreal.) Some thought that a committee should be struck to approach the directors of the Bank of Ottawa to get a better understanding of their decision. Some even pledged money to buy shares in the bank in an effort to stop the merger. Still others wanted to approach the Finance Minister to get him to reverse his decision to permit the merger. They noted that an attempt by the Royal Bank of Canada to acquire the Bank of Hamilton a few years earlier had been stopped by the Minister on the grounds that the merger was against the national interest. Mr A. E. Corrigan, the managing director of the Capital Life Assurance Company likened a bank to a “public utility” that had been given a franchise to serve the people. Consequently, the people had a right to protest if a merger was not in their interest. One person alleged that the reason why the Finance Minister approved the merger was because the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was a shareholder in the Bank of Nova Scotia.

The general manager of the Bank of Ottawa, Mr. D. M. Finnie, tried to allay people’s concerns. He noted that while he would be retiring following the merger, all Bank of Ottawa staff would be retained with the same seniority and opportunities. Critically for Bank of Ottawa customers, its directors would retain their positions within the amalgamated bank and would pay special attention to former Bank of Ottawa clients. Bank of Ottawa customers would also have complete access to the Bank of Nova Scotia’s branches across the country.

At special shareholder meetings held in early March, the shareholders of the Bank of Ottawa and the Bank of Nova Scotia overwhelmingly approved the merger. Following the declaration of a last dividend (no. 111) of 2 per cent for the two-month period ending 30 April 1919, the Bank of Ottawa disappeared into history with all of its assets and liabilities transferred to the Bank of Nova Scotia as of that day. The next morning, all branches of the Bank of Ottawa re-opened as branches of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Sources:

Globe (The), 1919. “Bank of Ottawa Absorbed by Bank of Nova Scotia,” 20 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1918. “Bank of Ottawa’s Gratifying Year,” 19 December.

————————————-, 1919, “Bank of Ottawa To Be Merger With Bank Of Nova Scotia, Making Fourth Largest Bank,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Says The Merger Will Result In Advantage To All Canada,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Evolution Of A Great Bank,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “The Merging Of The Bank Of Ottawa,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Bank of Ottawa Swallowed Up, Strong Protest,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Bank of Nova Scotia Stronger Than Ever,” 20 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Strong Opposition To Banks’ Merger From Businessmen,” 21 January.

————————————-, 1919. “Mr. Finnie Tells About The Merger,” 21 January.

————————————, 1919. “Great War Veterans Debate Merger Of Banks Of Ottawa And Nova Scotia At Forum, 25 January.

————————————, 1919. “Bank Of Ottawa Now Disappears,” 30 April.

————————————, 1951. “Bank of Ottawa Developed Lumber Trade,” 31 October.

Outaouais’s Forest History, 2017, “The Bank of Ottawa and the financing of the forest industry,” http://www.histoireforestiereoutaouais.ca/en/c10/#10.