Death of Queen Victoria

22 January 1901

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norwegian Snowshoes, Skees and Skilobning

22 January 1887

It would be hard to imagine a Canadian winter without skiing, either cross-country, also known as Nordic skiing, or the downhill variety, a.k.a. Alpine skiing. Across the country, there are many towns that rely on the sport for their livelihoods. Think of the resort communities of Mont Tremblant in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, or Whistler, nestled in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, to name but a couple.

 Ottawa has the weather and the terrain for top-quality, cross-country skiing. In addition to the many trails through Ottawa’s greenbelt and along the Ottawa River, the trails of Gatineau Park in Quebec are but a short drive from the capital. The Park boasts more than two hundred kilometres of groomed paths fit for all levels of experience. Since 1967, the Ottawa Ski Marathon has attracted thousands of skiers, from the novice to the hardy coureur de bois who camp out in the frigid cold in addition to completing the 100-mile course through the Gatineau Hills.

Let’s also not forget downhill skiing in the region. Mont Cascades, Vorlage, Camp Fortune, and Edelweiss ski resorts on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River offer excellent downhill skiing.  All are located within a half-hour drive of the Parliament Buildings.

Caricature of Lord Frederick Hamilton, 1895, by “Spy,” Vanity Fair.

You might ask how the sport came to Canada, a country traditionally known for snowshoeing, the mode of winter transportation favoured by its indigenous peoples and later adopted by European settlers. Oddly, it had much to do with an English aristocrat living in Ottawa. In January 1887, Lord Frederick Hamilton, the aide-de-camp to Lord Lansdowne, the Governor General at that time, and brother to Lord’s Lansdowne’s wife, brought out some skis and took a turn on the hills of Rockcliffe Park near Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s home. Hamilton, who was a diplomat, had been stationed at the British Embassy in St. Petersburg during the early 1880s prior to being posted to Canada. It was in Russia that Hamilton took up the sport. Coincidentally, the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg at the time of Hamilton’s posting, was none other than Lord Dufferin who had been Canada’s Governor General during the late 1870s.

In his memoir titled The Days Before Yesterday, Lord Hamilton recounts: “I brought out my Russian skis to Ottawa, the very first pair that had ever been seen in the New World. I coasted down hills on them amidst universal jeers; everyone declared that they were quite unsuited to Canadian conditions.” (As an aside, Hamilton’s three-volume set of memoirs provides a fascinating window into the almost forgotten world of the late nineteenth century. Despite the passage of time, his reminiscences are fresh and highly entertaining. Links to the books are provided at the end of this article.)

Skiing at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1898, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3386372.

When exactly in January 1887 this memorable skiing event occurred is open to conjecture as it wasn’t reported in the local newspapers at that time, nor did Hamilton record the precise date in his memoirs. However, the most probable date is Saturday, 22 January 1887, though Saturday, 15 January is another possibility. It’s unlikely that Hamilton ventured out onto the slopes on a weekday. A Sunday would also have been improbable given the Lord’s Day Act which barred people from doing anything but go to Church on Sundays. On the first Saturday of that year, New Year’s Day, everybody would have spent the day home recovering from the previous night’s excesses. It was only on the 22nd that the weather was perfect for skiing, other Saturdays being either perishingly cold or too wet to make skiing attractive.[1]

Despite Hamilton’s claim of bringing skiing to North America, there are other claimants. An 1895 article in the Ottawa Daily Citizen says that Mr. Anders Nostrom, “a Swedish gentleman” who lived in Ottawa, was the originator of the sport in the capital. When he was supposed to have done this is not mentioned. During the winter of 1895, Nostrom and a number of other Swedes demonstrated the sport by skiing over hills and along the Ottawa River. In that year’s winter carnival, the men paraded through Ottawa’s streets wearing sashes in the yellow and blue colours of the Swedish flag and carrying Swedish and Norwegian flags.

Dr. L. Brault, a noted Ottawa historian, credited another Swede, Fru Wetterman, for introducing the sport to Ottawa in 1893. Wetterman was apparently a governess in the employ of Lord and Lady Aberdeen. In a 1946 Citizen article, Brault wrote that Wetterman brought a number of pairs of skis with her from Sweden and taught her young charges how to ski on the slopes of Rockcliffe Park. Fru Wetterman may have taught skiing to the Aberdeen children, but Hamilton’s claim is six year’s older.

An Ottawa Citizen article, which appeared in a regular weekly feature called “Old Time Stuff,” written during the 1920s and 1930s, made mention of Lord Hamilton’s claim of bringing the first skis to North America. However, the journalist interviewed a Mr. W.J. Annand of Lindenlea, but formerly of Lancaster, Ontario, who said he first put on a pair of skis in 1872, some fifteen years before Lord Hamilton swooshed down that Rockcliffe Park hill. Annand came to Ottawa in 1874, and was certain that skis were already in Ottawa prior to Hamilton’s arrival in the city, but he was “not prepared to stake his oath on that.”

Yet another story, which appeared in the Ottawa Journal in 1899, concerned a pair of “Greenland skis” covered with sealskin, hairy side down on the underside of each ski with the grain of the fur pointing towards the heel of the skis to stop backsliding. The skis were displayed in the window of Messrs. Orme & Son on Sparks Street. Apparently, the skis, then owned by Mr. C.W. Lett, had been brought to Canada some forty years earlier. The skis’ backstory sounded like an opera’s script. The story went that a young Greenland maiden had used them to escape her father. Skiing across snowy, moonlit fields she met up with her lover at the shore. Although she managed to board his waiting ship, her father caught up with her and demanded that she leave her lover and return home. She refused. The father verbally goaded the lover to disembark. In the ensuing fight, the father killed the lover. The distraught daughter remained on board the ship which soon sailed for Quebec, where the maiden got off, thereby bringing her skis to Canada.

Advertisement, Ottawa Journal, 24 January 1898.

Regardless of which tale you believe, there is little doubt that Lord Hamilton’s skiing adventure cast a spotlight on the new sport. Celebrity endorsements were just as effective in the nineteenth century as they are today. And Hamilton was a bona fide celebrity—a dashing, debonair aristocrat, the sixth son of the 1st Duke of Abercorn.

Skiing quickly took off in popularity among Ottawa’s elite. One enthusiastic skier is reported as saying that the sport far outstrips tobogganing: “standing erect and shooting down steep slopes at the speed of the fastest locomotives has to be experienced to be realized.” He cautioned, however, that working uphill was not an easy task for the novice.

During its early days, the name of the sport and its spelling had not yet been standardized. Skis were sometimes known as Norwegian snowshoes to distinguish them from Canadian snowshoes. In Montreal, they were briefly called jimpatony shoes after the person who introduced the sport to that city. The word ski itself, appears to have Norwegian roots, the word skilöber meaning a person who snowshoes. Consequently, for a time, skiing was called skilobning in North America. The term did not catch on. Ski was also sometimes spelled “skee” or “skei.”

Nineteenth century equipment was similar to what is used today for cross-country skiing. Reportedly, early skis, which were made of maple or birch, were six to seven feet long, 3 ¾ inches wide in front, tapering to 3 ¼ inches in the middle and widening out slightly to 3 ½ inches at the tail. The toes of the skis were pointed and upturned. On the underside of each ski was a central groove to help the skier keep their legs together and parallel. The underside of the skis was smooth; wax and grease were regularly applied. Like today, ski boots were attached at the toe to the skis so that the heel could be easily raised. One type of attachment was called “the Ottawa cane fitting.” This was a leather-covered cane strap that went around the heel of the boot with the two ends brought together tightly at the front of the toe and attached to a brass adjustment screw. The boot itself was made of oiled leather and worn several sizes larger than usual to accommodate several pairs of wool socks.

One distinguishing feature of a nineteenth-century skier’s equipage was a single pole or staff, six to seven feet long, made of hickory wood. At the pole’s snow end was a spike with a ring of cane and ribbing a few inches up so the pole wouldn’t sink too far into the snow. The pole was used for balance and breaking.

In addition to the “Ottawa cane fitting,” there was the “Ottawa skie” made naturally in Ottawa. During the late nineteenth century, the city was the centre for the manufacture of skis, “due to the energy and enterprise of Ottawa sportsmen and businessmen” said the Ottawa Journal. Their promotion of the sport helped the sport’s early rapid growth.

One interesting feature of the new sport was the active participation of women. In 1894, the Ottawa Journal reported that it won’t be long in all probability before the American girl will go skilobning.” Two years later, a Harvard professor commented that the lives of the women of Norway have been “revolutionized by the ski and snowshoe.”

Ski Party near Ottawa, circa 1898, William Louis Scott fonds, Library and Archives Canada, 3386437.

Here in Ottawa, upper-class women embraced the sport. The standard feminine skiing apparel consisted of a slightly shortened skirt with bands of red and black on the hem, red mittens, a sash, and a toque that contained a dash of bright colour such as scarlet. Big ski parties were organized. In January 1898, the Journal reported that among others, Miss Lemoine, Miss Powell and Miss Blair were out skiing on the hills. (Miss Blair was likely Miss Bessie Blair who was to die tragically in December 1901 when she fell through the ice while skating on the Ottawa River. Mr. Henry Harper, who attempted her rescue, was also to die. The statue of Sir Galahad on Wellington St. in front of the Parliament buildings was erected to honour his heroic sacrifice.)

By the late 1890s, the Gatineau Hills were already luring Ottawa skiers to test their skills on its slopes. Lord Aberdeen hosted a ski party near the small community of Ironside, Quebec in early January 1898. Ironside, which is today a suburb of Gatineau, was located on the west side of the Gatineau River, north of Lac Leamy. Fairy lake, or Lac des Fées, also became a popular skier venue for Ottawa civil servants who established a club house there.

By the time the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, skiing was well established, and was a big part of Ottawa’s winter life. Lord Frederick Hamilton, who launched the Canadian ski industry, died in 1928 at the age of seventy-one.

Sources:

Gazette (Montreal), 1887. “Ski vs. Toboggan,” 11 April.

Hamilton, Lord Frederick, 1920. The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/60901/60901-h/60901-h.htm#chap02.

——————————-, 1921. The Days Before Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York,  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3827/3827-h/3827-h.htm#chap09.

————————————, 1921. Here, There and Everywhere, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6368/pg6368-images.html.

Ottawa Citizen, 1895. “Sparkstockings And Skis,” 28 January.

——————, 1896. “The Women of Norway,” 15 October.

——————, 1935. “Romance And Adventure Of Skiing In Ottawa Back In The Nineties,” 2 March.

——————, 1946. “The First Skis in Ottawa,” 16 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1898. “Doings In The Capital,” 17 January.

——————-, 1899. “The Social Round,” 24 January.

——————-, 1899. “Ski’s With A History,” 3 March.

——————-, 1899. “Tale Of Love And Death,” 6 March.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing (sic), The Popular Outdoor Winter Sport,” 30 January.


[1] If any reader can help me pin the date down more conclusively, please let me know!