Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

22 June 1897

Queen Victoria was our longest reigning monarch until her record of 63 years, seven months was eclipsed by that of Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. When Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne in 1897, the British went wild with joy. They had lots to celebrate. During her reign, Britain had been transformed. The nation had undergone an industrial revolution that had sharply raised national income. Electricity illuminated city streets and was beginning to light British homes. The telephone and the telegraph provided rapid communications, while railways and fast steamships moved people and goods effectively and efficiently around a British Empire that covered a sixth of the globe. This is not to say Victoria personally had much to do with all this, but she was the symbol of British achievement. There were clouds on the horizon, however. Germany and the United States were both challenging Britain on multiple fronts. And trouble was brewing in South Africa with the Boers. But in that glorious summer of 1897, Britain was on top of the world, economically, militarily, and politically. The Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne was a good opportunity to celebrate. Although the actual anniversary date of her accession was Sunday, 20th June 1897, the official celebrations took place on Tuesday, 22nd June—declared an Empire-wide holiday.

QueenVictoriaCelebrationPH1897-William James TopleyLAC-PA-009636
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Parliament Hill, 22 June 1897, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009636.

In Ottawa, preparations for the celebrations began weeks before the big day. The Capital bedecked itself in festoons of red, white and blue bunting and flags. For the patriotically minded, John Murphy & Co. sold bunting at 5 1/2 cents per yard. Large flags went for 15 cents, while a bust of the Queen could be had for 39 cents, marked down from 75 cents. For those who could afford it and were connect to the grid, electric lights were the way to go. Thousands of electric lights were strung along streets, and on store fronts at a cost of 10 cents per light, and 25 cents per light installation. So many were the lights, they strained the capacity of the Ottawa Electric Company. On Parliament Hill, the Centre Block was completely illuminated. Above the main entranceway into the Victoria Tower was a massive circle of lights surmounted by a crown, enclosing the letters “V.R.I.” for Victoria Regina Imperatrix. On the top floor of the far western tower was a crown surrounded by a circle of lights. In the three small windows beneath was “1837.” This was matched by a circle of lights around a star with “1897” in the three small windows in the second western tower. Between the two dates were the words “Dieu sauve la Reine.” This decorative motif was repeated on the eastern side of the building but with the words “God save the Queen.”

Queen Victoria Jubilee Topley StudioLAC-PA-027878CAR SE corner of Sparks and Elgin
Front entrance of the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway Company at the south-east corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, June 1897, Topley Studio-Library and Archives Canada, PA-027878. Note the newly-asphalted roadway.

City streets were also illuminated. According to the Journal newspaper, “Sparks Street never looked gayer.” Flags lined both sides of the thoroughfare. Coloured streamers crossed the street from Sappers’ bridge to the Upper Town market (Lyon Street).” A “myriad” of lights lit up the street “like stars along the milky way.” The best display was reportedly at the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. Picked out in red, white and blue lights was a Union Jack over the front door, with the figures “37” and “97” on either side. The lights switched on and off giving the impression that the flag was waving. The words “Victoria” and “Regina” were written in electric lights at the top of the store windows on either side of the main door. In the Sparks Street window was the front of a railway engine, its cowcatcher covered with lights. On the front of the boiler were the dates 1837 and 1897 below the letters “V.R.” Next to the engine was the Queen’s portrait in a diamond-shaped frame surrounded by lights.

Dimboola, What we have we'll hod, Maud Earl Cdn War museum
Dimboola, the mastiff, by Maud Earl, “What we have we’ll hold,” 1896, Canadian War Museum.

Wilson & Sons Art Store on Sparks Street displayed a striking patriotic print of a painting by Maud Earl of the mastiff champion “Dimboola” standing defiantly on a Union Jack with war ships in the background. The inspiration for the painting was a speech by Joseph Chamberlain, a popular British imperialist, in the House of Common in London who said “What we have we’ll hold.” The print was later purchased by Colonel Sherwood and given to the officers’ mess of the 43rd Battalion stationed in Ottawa.

The bank buildings that lined the south side of Wellington Street were also decorated in electric lights. Most chose variants of “V.R.I.,” crowns, or stars. The Union Bank had both, adding the words “The Queen God Bless Her” for good measure. The Quebec Bank was a bit more original opting for a diamond surrounding the figure “60.” The American Bank Note Company was decorated by two large flags, one British and one America on either side of an electrically-lit crown. On Elgin Street, Ottawa’s city hall was decorated with a large crown inside a circle of electric lights as well as “chromos” (colour prints) of the Queen and various British emblems, with flags, colourful bunting and festoons of lights.

Queen Victoria Jubilee American Bank Note Co Topley StudioLAC-PA-027912
British American Bank Note Company, Wellington Street, decorated for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, June 1897. Note that the street is not asphalted. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027912.

Jubilee celebrations began on the Saturday with the release of Canada’s first issue of commemorative stamps–two portraits of the Queen, one as a teenager on her accession and the other as an elderly woman. There was a huge crush of people at the Ottawa post office all trying to buy stamps as souvenirs. Many went home disappointed as the supply was very limited, especially of the one half and six cent stamps. All were gone within an hour of the post office’s opening. Reportedly, premiums were being paid by people to acquire them.

On the Sunday, the actual anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession, churches across the city held Thanksgiving Services. That afternoon at 4pm, the Sons of the Empire sang God Save the Queen. Orders had gone out to all the lodges around the Empire to sing at that hour, starting in Fiji, “the exact antipodes to England.” Afterwards, the Sons of the Empire and other societies, including the Caledonian Society and the Boys’ Brigade, marched in a parade through Ottawa streets.

Queen Victoria 1-2 cent
½cent Canadian postage stamp, Canadian Commemorative Issue for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897.

On that Sunday, the Evening Journal ran a fascinating story on the reminiscences of old timers looking back at Queen Victoria’s accession to the Crown in 1837. Captain Thomas Jones, who arrived in Bytown in 1827 as a young boy, recounted that the news reach the community six or seven weeks after the event. At that time, Bytown boasted a population of just 2,000 souls—300-400 in Upper Town and 1,600-1,800 in Lower Town—apart from the “canallers” who lived in mud and wooden shanties along the canal. Jones recalled that some soldiers would have preferred her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, to have become the Sovereign. They expressed “strong feelings against a woman, especially a young one,” assuming the Crown. Paradoxically, he added that “loyalty was always prominent.” Rev. John Gourley of Nepean Street said Bytown residents were “reaping the wheat and saving the last of the hay” when the news finally reached them. In church, people were still praying for health of the old king, and the royal family, including Princess Victoria.  The news, when it finally came, was, however, overshadowed by the Rebellion of 1836-37. But “there was not a man in the land so rebellious as not to pray sincerely for the best health, longest peaceful reign, and the greatest prosperity.”  He added that in 1837 the city centre was a duck pond, Bank Street was a cedar and ash swale, and the garrison just a few stone huts. Another senior citizen, John Joyce of Henry Street, recalled that a celebratory bonfire had been lit at the corner of Nicholas and Rideau Streets, and everybody was there. “Cheer after cheer went up in honour of the youthful Queen.”

Tuesday, 22 June 1897 dawned to perfect weather—bright sunshine, warm and a refreshing breeze, though later there were some complaints of dust kicked up from unwatered city streets. (Most streets were still unasphalted.) At 7.59am, the bells at St. Patrick’s church began ringing, followed by those at St. George’s, and the Basilica. Within moments, thirty churches had joined in the peel. The whistle at E.B. Eddy’s then began to blow, and was shortly joined by factory and shop whistles across the city, followed locomotive horns at the train depots. The church bells continued at intervals for the next half hour, while the E.B. Eddy whistle went continuous for nine minutes. Adding to the cacophony was the barking of dogs and the shouting and cheering of Ottawa residents standing in front of their homes waving flags.

At 9am, a 1,000-man parade of the St. Jean Baptiste Society set out on a procession through the streets of Ottawa after a celebratory Mass at the Basilica to demonstrate “what loyalty exists in the hearts of French Canadians towards Her Majesty the Queen.” At the head of the procession was Monsieur F. Laroque, the grand marshal of the Society as well as the grand marshals of the Artisans. The Saint Anne band played marching tunes while various other societies that had joined the parade carried banners and flags.

Later in the day, 8,000 children—6,000 from Ottawa and 2,000 from Hull—dressed in white or pale blue with red, white and blue trimmings, waving tiny Union Jacks, assembled on Parliament Hill. The Upper Town children had walked from Central West School with each class headed by their teacher, and each school headed by their principal. Lower Town children began their march to the Hill from the Byward Market. Separate school children were led by grey-gowned nuns. The children took their position on either side of the central walkway in front of the Centre Block where a large decorated stage had been erected. The dignitaries present for the event included the Governor General, Lord Aberdeen and senior Cabinet ministers, and civic leaders. Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, was absent. He was in London participating in the Queen’s parade as a guest of honour. He was knighted the same day.

Lord Aberdeen, wearing the uniform of a Lord Lieutenant with the star of a baronet of Nova Scotia and other honours pinned to his chest, spoke to the children and a crowd of 25,000 people about the Queen’s life of service, her dedication to duty, and the example she set for others. He also read out loud the Queen’s blessings and thanks to “my beloved people” in Canada, that he had received earlier that morning. Following a tremendous cheer from the crowd, he read out his response saying that Her Majesty’s “most gracious and touching message” will “stir afresh hearts already full.” To provide a lasting tribute to the Queen, Lord Aberdeen announced the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses to be dedicated to help and relief of the sick and lonely.

Following other speeches, Professor Birch of the College of Music stood on a chair and raised his baton—the signal for the Bandmaster McGillicuddy of the 43rd Battalion to sound the key for the National Anthem. Upon the third beat, the massed choir of children from Ottawa and Hull began to sing “God Save the Queen.” After singing the anthem twice through, “three cheers” were given to the Queen and Lord Aberdeen.

Later at Cartier Square by the Drill Hall, the 43rd Battalion held an inspection and completed complicated military practices, including sword drill, pursuit exercises on horseback, and independent firing drill. The battalion, accompanied by a company of Fenian Raid veterans, also did a “march past.” Crowds of onlookers stood five and six persons deep around the Square to witness the military manoeuvres. The Journal commented that “the main part of the rising generation occupied reserved seats on the trees and telephone poles.” Lord Aberdeen presented the Royal Humane Society medal to Pte Douglas Lyon of the 43rd Battalion for bravery in attempting to save the lives of two young boys who drowned after falling through the ice while skating on the Rideau Canal at the end of November the previous year. This was followed by a 21-gun Royal Salute by the Ottawa Field Battery from Nepean Point.

The afternoon of Jubilee Day was taken up by sporting events at Lansdowne Park, including a lacrosse match between the Capitals and the Shamrocks. The Capitals emerged victorious 6-1. After sundown, Ottawa residents and visitors strolled around downtown streets to admire the illuminated buildings. There was, however, a lighting glitch on Parliament Hill. When the lights were switched on shortly before 9pm, a portion stayed dim. Fortunately, the problem was quickly rectified. Musical entertainment was provided on the big stage in front of the Centre Block. Madame Arcand opened, singing a solo of The Land of the Maple. She was joined by a 300-voice choir. Other patriotic songs sung by other vocalists included: Hearts of Oak, British Tailors’ Toast and, of course, Rule Britannia. Mr. Choquette MP followed with Dieu Brigadier in French. A Highland Pipes band also played a number of tunes, followed by Scottish dances.

At 10pm, the fireworks began at Cartier Square. Paper balloons were sent up into the sky with multi-coloured lights attached to them. In addition to the usual rockets, and “whiz bang bombs” that exploded in red, white, blue and green stars, there were a number of set pieces on the ground. This included a triple wheel that changed colour, Prince of Wales feathers with red fire coming out of the top of each feather, and a diamond jewel. The piece de resistance was a double head of Queen Victoria thirty feet long and 20 feet high with the motto “Our Queen of 60 years, 1837-1897” at the base. The double head, which constantly changed colour, remained lit for five minutes as the band struck up God Save the Queen. For the grand finale, the words “Good night” were spelt out while sky fifty rockets exploded overhead.

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901.

Sources:

Evening Journal, 1896. “Sank To Death Together,” 1 December.

——————–, 1897, “John Murphy & Co.” 18 June.

——————–, 1897. “Will Follow The Beat of The Drum,” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “Oh! Did You Get One?” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “With United Vocies,” 19 June.

———————-, 1897. “Remember the Day the Queen Was Crowned,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “Pulpit Tributes to the Queen,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Jubilee Has Begun,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Capital Celebrates,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “City Illuminations,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Fireworks,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “Ten Thousand Lights,” 24 June.

———————-, 1897. “An Impressive Potrait,” 24 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1897. “A Striking Picture,” 22 June.

——————, 1897. “god Save The Queen,” 22 June.

VON Canada, 2018, About VON, http://www.von.ca/en/about-von.

Project 4000

27 June 1979

The fall of Saigon to communist forces in April 1975, two years after American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, may have ended the Vietnam War but didn’t end the misery. Hundreds of thousands of people associated with the U.S.-backed, South Vietnamese regime fled the country. Millions more were sent to re-education camps, forcibly relocated within Vietnam, or imprisoned. Some were killed. In neighbouring Laos, Hmong tribesmen, an ethnic minority who had fought alongside U.S. troops, fled their homeland after the December 1975 communist takeover of that country. Three years later, thousands of starving Cambodians crossed the border into Thailand following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, then called Democratic Kampuchea, that toppled the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. When China retaliated and temporarily invaded northern Vietnam in support of its Khmer Rouge allies, ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, already viewed with suspicion, were forced to flee. It’s estimated that as many as 1.4 million refugees left their homelands in search of safety between 1975 and 1979. Many more were to follow.

While the majority of refugees fled overland, a sizeable minority left by sea. Some paid extortionate fees for the dubious privilege of leaving on crowded, rickety, old boats chartered by human traffickers. Many barely navigable vessels were swamped by rough seas as refugees attempted to make their way across the South China Sea to safety in neighbouring countries. The loss of life was appalling. Of the estimated 300,000 “boat people,” as many as one third may have died in transit. Those lucky enough to survive the harrowing sea passage were prey to pirates that robbed and raped the already traumatised people. Their arrival at a safe harbour didn’t end their ordeal. Neighbouring countries, already sheltering hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in appalling conditions, resisted new arrivals. Some boats packed to the gunnels with men, women and children were forcibly turned away within sight of land. With 50,000 refugees arriving monthly, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand issued a joint communique in June 1979 saying that they had had enough; they would not accept any more newcomers. In response, the UN called an emergency international conference to come up with a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

Ottawa’s Mayor Marion Dewar witnessed the unfolding tragedy in Asia on her television set while on a much needed summer holiday. Deeply moved, she held a private meeting on 27 June 1979 with community, church, and business leaders to see what the city could do to help. All were supportive of settling refugees in Ottawa. When a federal immigration official invited to the meeting suggested that Canada was already doing a lot, having already welcomed to Canada 4,000 refugees out of an expanded 8,000-person quota, an exasperated Mayor Dewar is reported to have said “Fine. We’ll take the other 4,000.”

Marion Dewar
Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar in 1979, Ottawa Citizen

What started off as an off-hand remark became the rallying cry for action.  News of the meeting and the Mayor’s intentions were quickly picked up by the press which ran the story the following day. Initial commentary was sympathetic, though some doubted the city’s ability to absorb so many newcomers. At a press conference, Mayor Dewar, encouraged by the support she had received so far, challenged other cities and the federal government to do more to help the tidal wave of refugees.

On 4 July, Ottawa’s city council unanimously supported the mayor’s initiative. A public meeting was held at Lansdowne Park a week later to gauge the extent of the public’s interest. Expecting perhaps 500-800 people, as many as 3,000 people showed up to hear Dewar and experts speak about the situation in Asia, and what they could do to help. Bruce Cockburn, the popular Canadian guitarist, and a choir of Vietnamese children entertained the crowd. Also in attendance in support of the mayor were representatives of faith-based institutions which were already active in settling refugees in Canada. At the end of the meeting, the enthusiastic crowd gave Marion Dewar a standing ovation.

The City provided $25,000 to launch Project 4000 which was quickly established as a non-profit organization with a mission to assist Ottawa residents who sponsored a refugee individual or family under the federal government’s private sponsorship program. The new agency, directed by a volunteer board of directors drawn from a cross-section of the community, had a small paid staff of no more than four headed by project co-ordinator, Alan Breakspear. Volunteers ran six committees: accommodation, health, education, employment, media relations, and fund raising. Space downtown for the budding agency was donated by a property development company. Later, Project 4000 volunteers ran clothing and furniture depots for refugees and others in need. A newsletter was also published.

Private refugee sponsorship represented a considerable economic and emotional commitment.  Sponsors were legally bound to financially support their refugee person or family for up to one year at an estimated cost of $8,000-$12,000 ($25,000-$38,000 in 2014 dollars). In addition to bearing these considerable financial costs, sponsors helped to integrate the newcomers into the community. A myriad of jobs needed to be done, such as finding adequate housing, enrolling children in schools, and organizing health checkups. While some of the refugees knew a little French, or had a smattering of English, language training was also essential. For the refugees, arriving in Ottawa represented a huge cultural shock, especially for those coming in the dead of winter, accustomed as they were to the tropical climate of Indochina. Even if greeted by eager sponsors, they had to orient themselves in a strange, city with unfamiliar food and customs in a foreign language.

Mayor Dewar’s “call to arms” galvanized the city, and, indeed, the entire nation. Thousands of Ottawa citizens organized themselves into sponsorship groups. The Ottawa Citizen, discarding its role as an independent, dispassionate reporter of the news, helped residents form groups by printing a sponsorship form on the front page of the newspaper. Anybody wanting to sponsor a refugee could send in the filled-out form to the Citizen which would then divide people into groups of about 30 households in the same neighbourhood. The newspaper stressed that sponsorship was “a moral and financial commitment not to be taken lightly,” and that only “seriously interested” people should send in a form. The newspaper also agreed to sponsor a refugee family and challenged other area businesses to do likewise.

Project 4000
Sponsorship Coupon that appeared in The Citizen, July 1979

Citizens across Canada responded positively to the appeal to aid the refugees. In a flood of good will and compassion, more than 7,000 sponsorship groups were established across the country. In time for the UN conference held in late July 1979, the federal government under the leadership of Joe Clark increased the quota of refugees Canada was willing to take to 50,000 from 8,000—a politically courageous decision for a minority government. External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald later said that the Project 4000 initiative was instrumental in persuading hesitant Cabinet colleagues to approve the huge increase. The following year, the quota was raised again to 60,000 in response to the overwhelming sponsorship demand.

By the time Project 4000 was wound down at the end of 1983, roughly 2000 refugees had been resettled in Ottawa under the private sponsorship program, with an additional 1,600 sponsored by the government under a matching program. Nationally, 59,000 refugees found safety in Canada between 1979 and 1982, of which 34,000 were privately sponsored. 60 per cent of the refugees came from Vietnam, with the remainder roughly split between Cambodia and Laos. During these years, refugees accounted for roughly a quarter of all immigrants to Canada. In 1986, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees took the unprecedented step of awarding the Nansen Medal to the Canadian people in recognition of “their essential and constant contribution to the cause of refugees within their country and around the world.”

The winding down of Project 4000 did not stop the flow of Asian refugees to Ottawa, or to Canada more generally. When the torrent had slowed to a trickle by the late 1990s, more than 200,000 immigrants had come to Canada from Indochina. In contrast, there had been only 1,500 people of Vietnamese origin living in Canada in 1975, prior to the arrival of the boat people. By the time of the 2006 census, almost 60,000 residents in Ottawa-Gatineau identified themselves as having East or Southeast Asian roots. Successfully integrated into their new communities in all walks of life, the former boat people have greatly enriched the economic, cultural, and culinary fabric of the country. Marion Dewar was made member of the Order of Canada in 2002. She passed away in 2008, a year short of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Project 4000.

Sources:

Buckley, Brian, 2008. Gift of Freedom: How Ottawa welcomed the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

Canadian Council for Refugees, 1999. The Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees in Canada: Looking Back after Twenty Years, https://ccrweb.ca/20thann.html.

Dorais, Louis-Jacques, 2003. From Refugees to Transmigrants: The Vietnamese in Canada, Laval University, paper presented at the 8th International Metropolis Conference, Vienna.

Statistics Canada, 2009. Population by selected origins, by census metropolitan areas (2006 census), Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo27e-eng.htm.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1979. “The Refugees: Waning concern main fear facing refugee co-ordinator,” 10 July.

———————–, 1979. “Overwhelming show of support,” 13 July.

UNHCR, 2014. The People of Canada, Nansen Award Winners, 1986, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4ad5dc559&query=1986%20nansen%20award.

Ward, Bruce, 2008. “We’ll take them,” The Ottawa Citizen, 30 April.

Images:

Mayor Marion Dewar in 1979, The Ottawa Citizen, http://www2.canada.com/ottawacitizen/features/boatpeople/index.html.

Sponsorship Coupon, The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1979.