A Free, Public Library

30 April 1906

While libraries have existed since the emergence of writing in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt more than four thousand years ago, free, public libraries are a recent phenomenon, dating back only to the nineteenth century. Previously, libraries were the preserve of the Church, kings and wealthy private citizens—the small minority who were literate and had the resources to afford books. Mass education was viewed by elites with suspicion. It might lead people to question their station in life. In a largely agrarian society, knowing how to plough fields, grow crops, and raise livestock were deemed far more important skills for the common person than reading and writing.

Ideas became to shift during the industrial revolution. Social reformers started to advocate in favour of educating workers in order to advance science and reduce superstition. Increasingly, an educated workforce was seen as an economic blessing rather than a social curse. With thousands of men and women pouring into the cities seeking employment in those “dark satanic mills,” the Church and temperance supporters hoped that edifying lectures and libraries would reduce crime, and keep people out of bars and brothels during their (limited) time off. Starting from the early nineteenth century, mechanics’ institutes and literary and philosophical societies, often sponsored by wealthy industrialists, began popping up in the major cities of Britain. These institutions provided lectures on scientific subjects to their members, typically industrial workers and clerks, who could join for a small fee. They also operated libraries and reading rooms for the benefit of their members. In Britain, the Museums Act of 1845 allowed boroughs to raise funds to support museums and libraries for the edification of the general public.

Similar developments took place in Bytown, later Ottawa, albeit with a lag. Calls for a library to be established in Bytown started as early as 1837. Four years later, a small, circulating library opened for subscribers out of the offices of Alexander Gray, a jeweller and bookseller. Unfortunately, it apparently failed after only one year. In 1847, the Bytown Mechanics’ Institute was founded by the town’s leading citizens. In addition to uplifting educational lectures, the Institute provided a library for its members. Drawing principally upon the English-speaking community, the Institute was unable to attract sufficient members, and quickly became inactive. It was, however, revived in 1853 as the Bytown Mechanics’ Institute and Athenaeum (BMIA). Area Francophones established their own cultural institution, l’Institut canadien français d’Ottawa in 1852 that still exists today.

The new BMIA, which received an annual grant from the provincial government, did better than its antecedent. It too provided lectures, classes, a reading room and a small circulating library for its members initially out of the basement of the Congregational Church located near Sappers’ Bridge. By 1856, BMIA had a library of roughly 1,000 volumes, mostly academic works though there were a few novels as well. It also subscribed to British, French and American newspapers, journals and periodicals. In 1869, the BMIA merged with the Ottawa Natural History Society to form the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society (OLSS). While the new organization continued to offer classes, held lectures, and maintained a growing library, its membership was drawn largely from the ranks of civil servants and industrialists rather than mill workers and labourers. Although a fine Parliamentary Library also existed in Ottawa, its use was also largely confined to the town’s elite rather than the working poor.

In 1882, the Ontario Government passed the Free Libraries Act, allowing municipalities to establish public libraries funded out of local taxes with the assent of the ratepayers. A number of cities across the province, including Toronto, took advantage of this new legislation and established public libraries for their citizens. In these cases, the libraries of local mechanics’ institutions were transferred to the new municipally-run libraries. In Ottawa, however, the new legislation had little impact.

During the early 1890s, the Ottawa Council of Women began to lobby for the establishment of a free library in the Capital. In February 1895, the Council, chaired by Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General, issued the following statement:

“Whereas the Local Council of Women of Ottawa feel that the establishment of a Free Library would be a benefit to the city, resolved: That this Council recommend that the subject be brought prominently before the public through the medium of the press and that a petition to the city council in accordance with the terms of the Free Libraries Act, be prepared for circulation by the Women’s Council.”


The Perley mansion at 415 Wellington St was offered to the City as a home for a public library in 1896. Topley Studio Fonds/Library & Archives Canada, PA-027381.

In March 1885, the Council of Women submitted its petition to the city with 280 signatures (almost triple the number required by law). The city then prepared a draft by-law establishing a free library to be voted on by Ottawa ratepayers at the upcoming municipal elections. Ratepayers consisted of men over 21 years of age who owned property in excess of $400. Single women and widows who met the property requirement could also vote.  The Council of Women then launched an advertising campaign in support of a free library. With the support of Philip Ross, the editor of The Evening Journal, the Council of Woman published the “Woman’s Edition” of the newspaper in April 1895, with all profits of the edition going to a fund for the free library. In this edition, all the articles, stories and letters were written and edited by women. Front and centre were articles in support of a free library. The movement got a further boost when the heirs of William Perley, a lumber baron, offered the Perely mansion on Wellington Street as home for the new library.

However, the efforts of the women came up short. In the vote held in January 1896, the city’s eight wards all decisively turned down the idea of a public library, with the popular vote 1,958 for and 3,429 against. It seemed that cost of running a library, estimated at about $10,000 per year, was too steep for ratepayers. Instead of becoming a library, the Perley mansion became “The Perley Home for Incurables” until the land was expropriated by the Dominion government in 1912. (In the long run, the location did become a library; the site is now the home of Library and Archives Canada.)

The Council of Women did not give up, and continued to press the issue at city council. But councilmen, while supporting the idea of a free library, collectively continued to reject the idea as being too costly. In 1899, a draft by-law was defeated on second reading on a vote of 13-11. By the early 1900s, with over 400 public libraries in Ontario, Ottawa was looking decidedly backward.


Andrew Carnegie, 1835-1919, Theodore C. Moreau, Library of Congress

Salvation came from the United States. In 1901, Otto Klotz, past president of the OLSS and husband of Marie Klotz who was a leading light in the Ottawa Council of Women’s fight for a public library, wrote Andrew Carnegie, the prominent, Scottish-born, American philanthropist for funds to build a free, public library in Ottawa. The day after Klotz sent his letter, Ottawa mayor W. D. Morris also petitioned Carnegie for funds. By this point, Carnegie had funded hundreds of libraries throughout the United States, Canada, and Britain. Within weeks of receiving the letters, Carnegie pledged $100,000 to pay for an Ottawa Public Library, if Ottawa found a site and if it would agree to spend not less than $7,500 per year in upkeep.

It took several years, however, to bring this about. First, the city hoped that the Dominion government would supply land for the library. When that didn’t happen, city council purchased a site at the corner of Laurier Avenue (then called Maria Street) and Metcalfe Street. Second, it took time to select the design by architect E. L. Horwood out of eleven plans submitted. Third, the project was almost derailed following publication of Carnegie’s views that the United States should annex Canada. But work proceeded. In 1905, council approved $15,000 for the purchase of books, of which $3,500 was spent on French books. Lawrence Burpee, former clerk at the Department of Justice, was selected as Librarian. In turn, Burpee hired an assistant librarian, a cataloguer, three assistants for the circulation desk, and a caretaker. To help expedite the huge task of cataloguing books, Burpee purchased ready-made index cards at a penny a card from the U.S. Library of Congress.


The Carnegie Library. Notice the stained glass window above the entrance, and the words “Ottawa Public Library” in raised letters on the lintel. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys/Library and Archives Canada, PA-023297.

Opening day was Monday, 30 April 1906. Carnegie himself was there for the big event. It was the great industrialist and philanthropist’s first visit to Canada. He came the day before via Toronto, where he had given a speech at the Canadian Club. He was met at the train station by Sir Sandford Fleming and the U.S. Consul General who conveyed him to Government House where he stayed on his short trip to Ottawa. The evening before the official opening, Carnegie was the guest of honour at a formal dinner at the Russell House Hotel. With the prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, at his side, Carnegie spoke extemporaneously about the union of English-speaking countries, especially the United States and Canada—his favourite hobby horse. Calling himself as a “race imperialist,” he dubbed Canada “the Scotland of America,” and disingenuously envisaged Canada annexing her southern neighbour, just as Scotland had “annexed” England, and “afterwards boss it for its own good, as Scotland did also.” [James VI of Scotland became James I of England at the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.] He also praised Laurier for maintaining Canada’s fiscal independence [from Britain] and for not being swept into the vortex of militarism [a dig at the British who were engaged in an arms’ race with Germany]. Despite Carnegie’s annexationist and racial views, Laurier replied graciously saying that he too was a “race imperialist,” and opined that the separation of England from her American colonies had been a “crime,” and hoped for re-union. He added that had he “not been born of French parentage, there was nothing he would have rather been than a Scot.”

For the official opening the next afternoon, the classical, four-storey library building was clad in Union Jacks, the Stars and Stripes and colourful bunting. Constructed at a cost of slightly less than $100,000, the building was made of Indiana sandstone. The central main entrance was bracketed by four Corinthian columns, two on either side. Above the entrance was a large stained glass window that featured famous authors—William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Lord Tennyson, and the Canadian Confederation poet Archibald Lampman. Overhead, on the lintel of the building, was inscribed the words “Ottawa Public Library” in raised letters. For the official opening, these words were hidden by bunting to avoid embarrassment as the official name of the building was “The Carnegie Library,” a name used by the Ottawa Public Library into the 1950s.


Interior of The Carnegie Library looking towards the main entrance, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009086.

The building’s interior walls were clad in Italian marble with beautiful red oak wooden flooring and wainscoting. In front of the entrance hung a portrait of Carnegie painted by Miss V. Fréchette, the daughter of Achille Fréchette the translator of the House of Commons, and Annie Howells Fréchette who edited the “Woman’s Edition” of The Evening Journal in 1895. The basement held classrooms, a newspaper room, a furnace room and the caretaker’s quarters. The ground floor was devoted to reading rooms to the right and left of the large lobby, the librarian’s offices, the stack room as well as the circulation desks. A marble and bronze staircase led upstairs to boardrooms, a reference department, a lecture room for 125 persons, staff offices, and a cloakroom.

After the customary welcoming speeches, Carnegie thanked the city and praised it for constructing such a fine building. He then reprised his speech on “race imperialism.” On a tour of the facilities, Carnegie was “waylaid” by a delegation of the St Andrew’s Society who gave the philanthropist an honorary membership to the Sons of Scotland of Canada. After the ceremonies, Carnegie left by train for Montreal, where he was granted an honorary degree at McGill University, and gave yet another speech on race imperialism before returning to New York.

The Carnegie Library was a great success. By the end of 1907, almost 20,000 library cards had been handed out, with an annual circulation of 129,000 books. So successful was it that the old Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society closed for good, its members flocking to the free services provided by the city. Before long, strong demand for the Library led to the establishment of branch operations. In 1916, Carnegie donated an additional $15,000 to build a western branch on Rosemount Avenue. It opened in 1919. This donation was the last Carnegie gave to Canada. He died in 1919 at the age of 83.


Columns salvaged from The Carnegie Library, Rockcliffe Rockeries, 2016, by Nicolle Melanson-Powell

By the 1960s, the downtown Carnegie library was showing signs of age. Serious cracks had opened up in its walls and ceilings under the weight of the books it contained. In a time when little thought was given to heritage considerations, the beautiful, classic structure was demolished in 1971, a year after the gracious Capitol Theatre also succumbed to the wrecking ball. It was replaced by the current, Brutalist style, concrete building that was completed in 1974. The only thing retained from the old building was the stained glass window. The Library’s Corinthian columns were also saved and were reused as a “folly” in the Rockcliffe Rockeries.

Today, things have gone full circle. Plans are afoot to replace the current central library at 140 Metcalfe Street. Also, the aging Rosemount Branch, built a century ago using a Carnegie donation, is too small for current needs. Its future is now in doubt.


Bytown Gazette & Ottawa Advertiser (The), 1841, “Circulating Library,” 9 December.

Carnegie Library (The), 1908. 3rd Report, Ottawa: The Ottawa Printing Co. (Limited).

Evening Journal (The), 1895, “Women In Council,” 4 February.

—————————, 1895. “Woman’s Edition,” 13 April.

—————————, 1895, “Free Library Law,”19 December.

—————————, 1896. “Just the Place,” 4 January.

—————————, 1896. “All Jumped On,” 7 January.

—————————, 1899. Free Library By-Law Killed, 5 December.

—————————, 1901. “Free Public Library for City of Ottawa, Carnegie to donate $100,000,” 11 March.

—————————, 1906. “The Program In Ottawa,” 28 April.

—————————, 1906. “The Carnegie Library,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Carnegie Library Formally Opened,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Reception of Library King,” 30 April.

—————————, 1906. “Ceremonies at the Opening,” 1 May.

—————————, 1967. “Old Library to Come Down,” 21 November.

—————————, 1969. “Funds, Weather, Moon Shot Blames for Library Woes,” 12


————————–, 1970. “Library Cracks Up,” 8 August.

—————————, 1971. “Old Building Wrecked by Cohen’s, 24 September.

—————————, 1974. “Salute to the New Central Ottawa Public Library,” 8 May.

Gaizauskas, Barbara, 1990. Feed The Flame: A Natural History of The Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, Carleton University, M.A. Thesis, https://curve.carleton.ca/b81c434b-04c8-4886-9c97-cfc1a560ff51.

Jenkins, Phil, 2002. The Library Book: An Overdue History of the Ottawa Public Library, 1906-2001, Ottawa: Ottawa Public Library.

Rush, Anita, 1981. The Establishment of Ottawa’s Public Library, Carleton University.

Urbsite, 2012. Unforgotten Ottawa, The Carnegie Library, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2012/09/unforgotten-ottawa-carnegie-library.html?q=Carnegie+library.




The Evening Journal — Woman’s Edition

13 April 1895

Prior to the twentieth century, women in Canada, and indeed throughout most of the world, had few political, economic or social rights. Typically, women went directly from the jurisdiction of their fathers to that of their husbands. They had little control over property, income, children, or their own bodies. Women were denied the franchise, banned from most professions, and were often forbidden university-level education. A woman’s place in society was limited to caring for her husband, raising a family and managing the household. Few married women were in the paid labour force. If a single woman was forced by poverty to seek out paid employment, she was confined to occupations that were extensions of home life—carrying for children, sick, or elderly, or being a seamstress, or a house maid. Teaching was also acceptable. Once married, however, a woman was expected to resign her position so that she could devote her time to wifely duties. In 1901, only 14 per cent of Canadian women were in the paid labour force, many earning only a pittance, much less than their male counterparts doing the same work, a rationale being that a man had a family to support whereas a woman had only herself.

However, during the later decades of the nineteenth century, Canadian women began to organize and agitated for change. They challenged the widely-held belief that it was ordained by God that a woman’s place was in the home. They also rejected the paternalistic notion that they were the weaker sex, who must be sheltered from the hurly burly of politics, or worse did not have the intellectual capacity to work in the professions. But change came slowly in Canada, and when it did it came in small steps. In 1872, the Married Women’s Property Act gave married women the right to their own wages. Three years later, Dr Jennie Trout became the first woman to be licensed to practise medicine in Ontario. In 1876, Toronto women formed the Women’s Literary Society with a covert aim of obtaining equal rights; it later was transformed into the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Association.  The Young Women’s Christian Association and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were also formed during the 1870s, with a mission, among other things, to improve the lot of women. In 1884, Ontario granted married women the right to own and dispose of their own property without the consent of their husbands. In 1889, the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association grouped local suffrage groups into a national body, giving them more political clout. In 1893, Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General at that time and an early feminist, formed the National Council of Women in Canada to improve the status of women. The Council’s initial efforts focussed on women immigrants, factory workers and prisoners. In 1895, the Law Society of Upper Canada agreed to admit women as barristers.

Female suffrage was still a dream, however. In June 1895, the House of Commons debated votes for women…and thoroughly rejected such an outlandish idea. One Member of Parliament, Flavien Dupont, expressed the prevailing sentiment of the time. He argued against throwing “upon woman’s shoulders one of the heaviest burdens that bears on those of men, the burden of politics, the burden of electoral contests, the burdens of representation.” He contended “To invite the fair sex to take part in our political contests seems to me to be as humiliating and as shocking a proposition as to invite her to form part of our militia battalions.” Women over 21 years of age had to wait until 1917 to be enfranchised in Ontario, and until 1918 to be able to vote in federal elections.

Against this backdrop, the Ottawa Evening Journal ran a unique edition on Saturday, 13 April 1885—an all-women production of the newspaper. For that one day, Ottawa women assumed all the responsibilities, including managing, editing and reporting, necessary for producing a newspaper. While a number of women had been personally asked to contribute articles, the management of the newspaper invited the ladies of Ottawa to submit stories of up to 600 words-“an opportunity for feminine Ottawa to ventilate her ‘fads and fancies.'” The Editor for the day was Annie Howells Fréchette of 87 McKay Street, New Edinburgh. Fréchette was a poet and the author of many magazine articles, some of which were published in Harper’s Magazine. She was also the wife of the translator for the House of Commons. The Managing Editor was Mary McKay Scott, while the News Editor was Ellie Cronin. The Journal’s office boy was “the only person of the male persuasion” who assisted in the newspaper’s production. Female reporters selected and edited international stories that came in over the newswires, as well as covered local newsworthy events, including sports. Instead of a “Woman’s” column, a common feature in newspapers of the age, a “Gentleman’s” column appeared. Women also solicited advertisements from area businesses, and all letters to the Editor were written by women.


The Evening Journal — Woman’s Edition, 13 April 1895

This special edition of The Evening Journal was in support of the creation of a “Free” or Public Library in Ottawa. At that time, library resources in the Capital was essentially limited to the Parliamentary Library, the University of Ottawa library and the library of the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society (OLSS).  The OLSS, which had a small, circulating collection of roughly 3,100 volumes in 1895, was funded by Society members and an annual grant from the Ontario government. The Ottawa Council of Women, founded by Lady Aberdeen, together with women’s church groups and other charities, were the principal advocate of a free Ottawa Library that would be open to all. The special newspaper edition was a way of rallying support for the initiative. More tangibly, the profits from the issue would form the nucleus of a library fund. Library supporters hoped that others would contribute and, in time, lead to a grant from the City that would fund a Public Library.

Given the purpose of the special, twenty-page, newspaper edition, there was an extensive front-page article making the case for a free, public library in Ottawa. Three principal motivations were outlined: a way of uplifting men and women to a higher plane; a means of securing greater remuneration for work; and a way to form better citizens, thereby adding to the advancement and stability of the state. A public library was viewed as an extension of the school system—a “peoples’ university where “rich and poor, old and young, may drink at its inexhaustible fountain.”

Besides articles in support of an Ottawa library, there was an array of fascinating news stories, both national and international, that emphasized women. One article titled La Penetenciaria featured a hard-hitting report on an Ottawa lady’s visit to a Mexican state prison in Guadalajara. Another story focussed on Canadian women in poetry. Front and centre was Emily Pauline Johnson, the daughter of a Mohawk hereditary chief and an English mother. Johnson’s poem “In Sunset” was published. Johnson is recognized today as one of Canada’s leading poets of the nineteenth century. Others profiled included Ethelwyn Wetherald, author and journalist at The Globe newspaper in Toronto, who wrote under the nom de plume Bel Thistlewaite, and Agnes Maule Machar. As well as being an early feminist, Machar wrote about Christianity and Darwinism, arguing that Christians should accept evolution as part of God’s divine plan.

Others stories had a more domestic focus. One provided tips on how to deal with servants: “If the mistress wishes her household machinery to run smoothly, give her orders for the day immediately after breakfast.” In turn, servants were advised never to “put white handled knives into hot water, and to “cleanse the sink with concentrated lye at least once a day.” In the light-hearted “Gentlemen’s Column,” “matters pertaining to the sterner sex” were dealt with, including “men’s rights, and, “the age when a man ceases to be attractive.” Regarding the former, the columnist thought that men looked after their own rights and the needs of their own sex far better than did women, “because they probably know more about them.” As for the latter issue, she thought that there was no definite conclusion.


Lady Aberdeen, Wife of Canada’s  Governor General, 1893-1898, prominent early feminist and contributor to the “Woman’s Edition of The Evening Journal, Library & Archives Canada, PA-22760.

Notable women in the Ottawa community also contributed articles to the special newspaper edition. Lady Aberdeen wrote a lengthy column about what “society girls” might do. She opined that “service is the solution of the problem of life.” In Experimental Farm Notes, Mrs William Saunders, the wife of the director of Ottawa’s Experimental Farm, described life on the Farm, and wrote about what the visitor could see in April, which included a “good display of early spring flowering bulbs.” Mrs Alexander, the Assistant Librarian at the Geological Museum, located at the Geological Survey at the corner of Sussex Avenue and George Street, wrote about the many treasures to be found there. In addition to an extensive collection of rocks and minerals, there were botanical, entomological exhibits as well as a collection of birds and mammals. A range of “Indian relics” were also on display from western Ontario, Yukon and the Queen Charlotte Islands, including a sacrificial stone of the Blackfoot Indians, also known as the Niitsitapi, presented to the Geological Survey by the Marquis of Lorne, a previous Governor General. The Geological Museum later became known as the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The most fascinating stories deal with women’s rights, providing a glimpse of the state of play at that time, and the aspirations of Canadian women in the late nineteenth century. There were at least two references to the decision just made by the Law Society of Upper Canada to admit women as barristers. One reporter with considerable foresight wrote:

Until two weeks ago, women in the province of Ontario had only the privilege of obeying or breaking the law. Now, however, they may assist men in interpreting it. And who can say that he is altogether wrong who looks forward to the time when they shall share in making it, either through the ballot box or the legislative assembles, or becoming its interpreters upon the bench?

In an article called “The Home,” Mrs Stone Wiggins drew readers’ attention to the proverb “Women’s sphere is the home and of it she should be queen.” Notwithstanding the proverb’s wide acceptance by society, she asked “how many wives in Canada have a legal title to their home over which they preside so that it may be safe from the bailiff in case of financial loss on the part of the husband?” As only one in one hundred women owned their own home, she argued that the proverb “has no significance in our age.” She contended that “If the stronger sex have the almost exclusive right to possess themselves of all the offices, and the professions in the state, surely women make a modest request when they ask that the home should be the legal property of the wife.”

Another article looked toward the position of women in the upcoming twentieth century. Its author wrote:

It is my cherished belief that in the twentieth century there will be no artificial restrictions placed upon women by laws which bar them out of certain employments, professions and careers, or by that public sentiment, stronger than law, which now practically closes to them many paths of usefulness for which they seem to me to be specially adapted. All the most progressive pioneers have ever dreamed of asking is that, in the case of women as in that of men, they should not be hedged about by barriers made by the privileged classes, who, in politics, ecclesiastical, professional and business life, have secured the power to say who shall come in and who shall stay out….I confidently expect that they [women] will win their greatest laurels in the realm of government. Many of the great statesmen of the future will be women; many of the most successful diplomatists will be women; many of the greatest preachers will be women.

The special one-day “Woman’s Edition” of The Evening Journal was a great success. The newspaper sold 3,000 additional copies beyond its normal daily circulation. Many local businesses also supported the issue through their advertisements. It demonstrated that women could do men’s jobs, and excel at them. However, the women’s campaign to establish a Free, or Public Library in Ottawa foundered, at least for a time. The Capital had to wait another decade before Andrew Carnegie, the American millionaire, came to the rescue, and provided the money necessary to build a Public Library.

How have women fared in Canada since that 1895 special newspaper edition in government, in the church, in the courts, and in business? Have the “artificial restrictions” and societal pressures been eliminated? The answer is mixed. Despite the approaching hundredth anniversary of female enfranchisement in Ontario and at the federal level, women still account for a minority of federal Members of Parliament and Senators. Kim Campbell has been the only woman to become Prime Minister of Canada, holding power for only 133 days in 1993. At the provincial level, women have fared better. Kathleen Wynne is the current Premier of Ontario, while women currently head governments in Alberta and British Columbia. For a short period in 2013, six of ten provinces had a woman premier. The ordination of women as ministers or priests has been permitted since 1936 in the United Church of Canada, and since 1975 in the Anglican Church of Canada. The first woman Moderator of the United Church was elected in 1980. The ordination of the first Canadian woman Anglican bishop occurred in 1994. There are, of course, no woman Roman Catholic priests. At the Supreme Court of Canada, women are well represented, four of nine Justices are women, including the Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin. In business, however, women continue to fare poorly, According to the 2013 Catalyst Census, only 15.9 per cent of board seats of Canadian companies are filled by women.



Anglican Church of Canada, 2016. Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada (Deacons, Priests and Bishops), http://www.anglican.ca/help/faq/ordination-of-women/.

Catalyst, 2013. Catalyst Accord: Women On Corporate Boards In Canada, http://www.catalyst.org/catalyst-accord-women-corporate-boards-canada.

Connelly, M.P. 2015. “Women in the Labour Force,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/women-in-the-labour-force/.

Evening Journal (The), 1895. “Air Your Fancies,” 4 April.

————————–, 1895. “Saturday is the Day,” 11 April.

————————–, 1895. “Woman’s Edition,” 13 April.

————————–, 1895. “The Woman’s Number,” 15 April.

Gaizauskas, Barbara. 1990. Feed The Flame: A Natural History Of The Ottawa Literary And Scientific Society, Carleton University, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, https://curve.carleton.ca/b81c434b-04c8-4886-9c97-cfc1a560ff51.

House of Commons, 1895. Debates, 7th Parliament, 5th Session, Vol. 1, page 2141, http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0705_01/1081?r=0&s=1.

Ottawa Council of Women, 2016, About, http://www.ottawacw.ca/index.html.

National Council of Women of Canada, 2016. History, http://www.ncwcanada.com/about-us/our-history/.

The End of Winter Driving Woes

16 April 1928

Ottawa is known for its long, snowy winters. Notwithstanding this, driving conditions are typically good throughout the season. Even through the worst blizzards, the snow ploughs, salters and sanders are out promptly, keeping Ottawa’s thoroughfares open, and the traffic moving. While minor, neighbourhood streets may not get the same attention, they too are cleared within hours of a major snowfall; sidewalks are also quickly ploughed. And when snowbanks begin to obstruct sightlines and impede traffic, city crews are out to reduce or eliminate them. Specialized equipment, which can eat through the iciest snowbank like a hot knife through butter, throws the snow into the open boxes of awaiting trucks that cart it away to dump sites throughout the city.

So accustomed have we become to good winter driving conditions, there was widespread criticism of a recent City staff recommendation to Council that snow-plough operators wait until ten centimetres of snow had fallen before they start clearing roads instead of seven centimetres. Apparently, the City could save $1 million by so doing—a considerable sum, but only a drop out of its snow-clearing budget.


Sparks Street, 6 April 1885, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, C-002186

Our forebears would be amazed by the state of Ottawa’s winter roads. Until the late nineteenth century, no roads were ploughed. While sidewalks were cleared, typically by store-owners, the snow was simply thrown into the middle of the street. Over time, the road bed could rise four feet or more above the sidewalk level. Wheeled traffic became impossible, and many businesses were forced to suspend operations until the return of warm weather. People got around on foot or by horse-drawn sleigh. The latter might sound romantic, but city roads quickly became rutted and icy. “Cow holes”—potholes, only larger—became a significant nuisance. Public transit, provided by Ottawa’s street passenger railway, was to be avoided. In summer, its horse-drawn carriages were pulled smoothly along railway tracks from New Edinburgh to LeBreton Flats. Its winter sleigh service was not so comfortable. The Ottawa Journal described progress down Ottawa’s streets as being “painfully slow.” This was not just a figure of speech. Customers were bumped, jostled and jolted as sleighs were dragged in and out of the cow holes. The coming of spring only made things worse. Roads became virtually impassable. Pedestrians were knee-deep in slush. Flooding was a serious risk if clogged drains and ditches were not opened in time.

Things began to improve in 1892 with the arrival of the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OER) that operated a railed, electric tram service on the main streets of the city. Initially, City Council permitted the company to run sleighs through the winter months; nobody thought trams could operate once the snow arrived. However, Thomas Ahearn, the owner of the OER, invented an electric, rotary snow plough that was fixed to the front of the tram, thereby assuring year-round service.

Sleigh Dept. of Interior - Library and Archives Canada - PA-043776.PNG

Sleigh on Wellington Street in front of the East Block, Parliament Hill, date unknown, Interior Ministry/Library and Archives Canada, PA-043776.

By the 1920s, a variety of agencies were responsible for snow ploughing in Ottawa. Under the terms of its service contract with the City, the OER ploughed the snow off the 60 miles of streets on which its trams ran, roughly one-third of Ottawa’s 168 miles of roadways. This did not mean, however, that these streets were cleared to the pavement. The OER was required to leave sufficient snow on the roads for sleighs. The Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, also ploughed the Driveways for which it was responsible, while the Federal Department of Public Works cleared snow from the roadways on Parliament Hill and on parts of Wellington Street. However, all other Ottawa arteries and side streets, roughly 100 miles, remained unploughed, and quickly became impassable to wheeled traffic.

Fortunately for pedestrians, Ottawa’s Public Works Department took responsibility for clearing 250 miles of city sidewalks using horse-drawn, walkway ploughs at a cost of roughly $30,000 per season. City workers were paid 50 cents an hour, time and a half at night. Ottawa was divided into nine districts, each with a foreman in charge of snow-ploughing operations. Ploughing teams were sent out as soon as 4-5 inches of snow had fallen. After a heavy snow fall, or two or more light falls, amounting to 12-15 inches, the walkway ploughs were used to push the snow into the centre of the streets where it was flattened by heavy rollers. Heated sand was sometimes used on slippery walks.

As the Roaring Twenties progressed, and the number of automobile owners rose dramatically, Ottawa City Council came under growing pressure to improve winter driving conditions throughout the city. Snow-covered roads increasingly became an economic issue. Retailers worried that customers couldn’t reach them. Grocers complained that their profit margins were too slim for them to own a truck for summer deliveries as well as a horse and sleigh for winter deliveries. City staff also discovered the main arteries along which the OER ran were deteriorating faster than expected, owing to automobile traffic being funnelled along those few ploughed roads. Tire chains installed by car owners to improve traction in snow were chewing up the pavement. City Council considered a ban on chains but rejected it as chains were widely used throughout the province. An alternative was to plough the side streets, thereby spreading the automobile traffic, and hence road wear, over more roadways.

In late 1926, City Council ordered the Public Works Department to try “various measures” to keep Ottawa’s principal streets open. Poor Works Commissioner Macallum was reported to have been “quite at a loss” to know what he should do. He had only eighteen, old, horse-drawn walkway ploughs at his disposal. In early 1927, the Council acquired mechanized help in the form three tractors and ploughs: two Fordson crawler-type tractors, furnished with V-type Sargent ploughs from Campbell Motor Sales for $2,295, and one 1.5 ton Holt Caterpillar tractor with a Walsh V-type plough from E. N. & W. E. Soper for $5,970. Unfortunately, the vehicles didn’t arrive in time to avoid “violent attacks” at City Council over the quality of Ottawa’s streets when warmer weather arrived in March. Councilmen complained that Carling Avenue was in a “disgraceful condition” owing to ruts. Meanwhile, downtown pedestrians were said to be wallowing around in slush up to their knees.

The following winter (1927-28), the City’s newly equipped Public Works Department started to plough twenty-four miles of Ottawa streets adjacent to those cleared by the OER. This still wasn’t adequate. In February 1928, Frank Askwith, the City’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Works submitted a report to the City’s Board of Control, recommending the ploughing of all streets, some 100 miles of roadway, that were not cleared by the OER or the FDC. (As a point of comparison, Ontario ploughed 800 miles of provincial highways during the 1928-29 winter season.) Askwith also recommended the purchase of two high-powered tractor ploughs capable of clearing streets at a speed of 12 miles per hour at a cost of $15,000. He additionally suggested that more “scarifiers” be used to break down ice ridges and reduce uneven road surfaces. The estimated additional annual cost to the City of his proposal was $25,000. Askwith recommended against removing snowbanks from the streets owing to cost considerations. The Board of Control welcomed the recommendations, and on 16 April 1928, City Council adopted Askwith’s plan to commence that following winter season. The cost of the endeavour was to be borne by property owners at a charge of 30 cents per foot of frontage.

Unfortunately, you can’t please all the people all the time. Sleigh owners complained about insufficient snow being left on the roads. Some property owners also objected to the cost of snow ploughing, preferring their streets to remain unploughed. But most citizens wanted the City to do even more. Retail merchants argued persuasively about the dangers, especially to the elderly, of people trying to alight from parked cars that were perched dangerously on roadside snowbanks. The City consequently began to remove the snowbanks from in front of stores. Permission to dump the snow into the Rideau Canal at a site south of the Laurier Street Bridge was granted by the Superintendent of Canals. The City later began to clear snow in front of all churches as well as in front of residences from which funerals were to take place; district foremen were required to monitor funeral notices.

Ruts too were a perennial source of complaint, as they made winter motoring hazardous. Once a driver got stuck in one, it was almost impossible to get out until the car came to an intersecting channel. For several years, the City and the OER fought over whether the tram company was doing an adequate job of maintaining the roads its carriages used. The tramline company claimed that while it was responsible for the ploughing of snow from the streets on which it operated, it was not responsible for the removal of ruts that might subsequently develop. After a battle of words, the City threatened in 1929 to send a $1,025 bill to the tramline company for rut removal. It desisted when the City’s solicitor said that the contract was sufficiently vague that it was uncertain that the City would win a legal case. Fortunately, harmony was restored when the OER took steps to cut down the ruts to a depth the City considered acceptable.

Ottawa’s first year of cleared streets was deemed a great success. At the end of February 1930, in an editorial titled “The Ruts of Yesteryear,” The Ottawa Journal opined that the nuisance of spring ruts had been finally overcome. “For the first time, motoring has been practicable in all parts of the city for the whole winter.”

In 2015, the City of Ottawa cleared 5,938 kilometres of highways, road and bike paths, and a further 2,233 kilometres of sidewalks at a cost of $67.5 million.


CBC News, 2016. “Ottawa $7.6 million over budget for snow clearing in 2015,” 1 March.

City Of Ottawa, 1927. “Borrowing of $15,000 for the purchase of snow-ploughing apparatus,” By-Law # 6269, 16 May.

——————, 1927. Minutes of Board of Control, 3 March.

——————, 1928. Minutes of Board of Control, 16 April.

——————, 1928. Minutes of Council, 20 February.

——————, 1928. “Snow plowing,” By-law 6554, 10 December.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1929. “City Gets Permission To Dump Snow Into The Canal, Ruts On Road A Major Problem, 6 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1922. “With Six Horse Cars Running And “Toonerville” Equipment Ottawa Hops Into City Class,” 21 October.

——————–, 1924. “Criticize System Of Plowing Snow,” 11 January.

——————–, 1926. “City Is Buying Three Tractors To Move Snow,” 26 November.

——————–, 1927. “Violent Attacks In Council on ‘Disgraceful Conditions” Existing On Roads,” 8 March.

——————–, 1928. “More Roadways May Be Plowed With Tractors, 1 February.

——————–, 1928. “Keeping Up Roads,” 27 March.

——————–, 1928. “Suggest Plowing 100 Miles Of Streets At Cost Of $25,000,” 4 April.

——————–, 1928. “Preparing for Next Winter,” 5 April.

——————–, 1928. “Council Approves Of Plan To Plow 100 Miles Streets, 17 April.

——————–, 1928. “Planning To Keep 1,200 Miles Open.” 22 September.

——————–, 1928. “Dr. McElhinney Endorses Plan of Controller, 7 December.

——————–, 1929. “City Gives Up Hope Of Collecting Cost Cutting Down Ruts,” 24 April.

——————–, 1929. “City Accepts OER Efforts To Clear Snow,” 21 December.

——————–, 1930. “The Ruts Of Yesteryear,” 25 February.

——————–, 1932. “Snow Removal Policy Passed, Cost is $20,000,” 8 January.

Quebec Telegraph (The), 1921. “Question Of Snow Removal From The Streets Of Quebec Important One For Citizens,” 26 November.



Spring Forward, Fall Back

14 April, 1918

When you mess with Father Time, you can be sure be sure somebody is going to be riled. Reportedly, people rioted when Britain and its overseas territories (including its North American colonies) switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, fearing that the government had stolen a fortnight of their lives since 14 September followed immediately after 1 September. While this story is apocryphal, it’s no exaggeration that the adoption of daylight saving time a century ago was highly controversial. Although people didn’t come to blows, the time change pitted rural communities against urban centres across North America. So highly charged was the issue, the Canadian and U.S. federal governments, after a temporary wartime trial run in both countries in 1918, bowed out of the fray, leaving the decision to adopt daylight saving time to junior levels of government. For the most part, individual cities determined whether or not they would go on “summer” or “fast” time each year. You can imagine the confusion this caused. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that some official order was instituted in the United States, with Canadian provinces following suit to facilitate cross-border commerce. Even so, daylight saving time has continued to be divisive. In Saskatchewan, the provincial government promised a referendum on the issue in 2007 though it was never held. In March 2015, the National Post ran an article in favour of eliminating daylight saving time. You can even join a Facebook community contending that “Daylight Saving Time is torture and should be abolished.”

Benjamin Franklin is sometimes referred to the “inventor” of daylight saving time. When he was ambassador to France in 1784, he suggested that if people got up and went to bed earlier, they would make better use of their daylight hours, and would save a fortune in candles. Daylight saving time, in the sense of advancing the clock rather than just encouraging early rising, was first proposed in 1895 by New Zealander George Hudson. He argued in favour of moving clocks forward by two hours during the summer so that people could make better use of the morning light, and to have more time for outdoor activities in the evening. As a part-time entomologist, he wanted more time before dusk to devote to bug collecting after he had finished his day job with the Post Office.

George Hudson

George Hudson, (1867-1946), late in life, author unknown

In 1907, Englishman William Willett published a pamphlet titled The Waste of Daylight, and began a campaign to have daylight saving time introduced in the United Kingdom. He proposed a gradual phase-in of daylight saving time over four successive Sundays in April (20 minutes each Sunday morning) with a similar four-week phase-out in September. Like today, to minimize disruption, he proposed changing the time at 2am, a point in the day when few trains ran. He estimated that daylight saving time would save the people of Great Britain and Ireland at least £2,500,000 a year (a huge sum in those days) through a reduced need for artificial lighting during the evenings. Despite intensive lobbying of the British Government, Willett died in 1915 without seeing his idea implemented. Many ridiculed him.


Cover of William Willett’s pamphlet

It took World War I to shift opinions in Europe. The first country to adopt daylight saving time was Germany where clocks were advanced one hour on 30 April 1916. The principal reason was to conserve coal used to produce electricity. Britain, ashamed that an enemy country had acted before it had, swiftly followed suit with the Summer Time Act of 1916 under which daylight saving time began on 21 May 1916, and ended on 1 October. The experiment was deemed a great success, and was repeated in subsequent years. It was estimated that Great Britain and Ireland saved 300,000 tons of coal during the summer of 1916, equivalent to roughly 1.5% of production. Most other European countries also introduced daylight saving time that year.

While Britain may have been slow to act, some Canadians who were following the debate in London were more eager to experiment with ways to make better use of their early daylight hours. Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) was the first Canadian community to effectively introduce daylight saving time by advancing its clocks one hour for a two-month summer trial period in 1908. The town’s residents liked the effect so much that the following year the community permanently shifted to the Eastern Time Zone from the Central Time Zone. Neighbouring Fort William followed suit in 1910.  In 1912, Orillia introduced daylight saving time starting on 23 June to run until the end of August. However, the town revoked “Orillia time,” after only two weeks owing to opposition from workers who refused to abide by the time change. Between 1914 and 1916, Regina, Brandon, Winnipeg, and Halifax also introduced daylight saving time for trial periods.

Here in Ottawa, the American Bank Note Company experimented with ‘daylight saving time’ during the summers of 1911 and 1912, starting work at 7 am and ending at 4 pm. However, the company discontinued the trial owing to the difficulty employees had in getting to work by 7 am when the rest of the city continued to operate on regular hours. In June 1916, Ottawa City Council adopted daylight saving time, starting on 20 June 1916 and running until 1 October, on the recommendation of Mayor Nelson Porter and the Board of Control. A proclamation to this effect was prepared for the Mayor’s signature. However, the night before summer time was to begin, Council unanimously rescinded the measure owing to overwhelming community opposition. Businesses feared that if they advanced their clocks, competitors might not, allowing them to stay open an hour later in the day. The Ottawa Electric Railway, which operated Ottawa’s trams, also refused to abide by the Council’s decision. The final blow to the idea came from the lack of support from the federal government, the city’s largest employer. With the public service continuing to operate on standard time, daylight saving time in the capital was a non-starter.

Prompted by Europe’s successful experience with daylight saving time, the federal governments in both Canada and the United States passed legislation in 1917 to advance the clocks on a trial basis. Seen as a way to save fuel, the move was deemed imperative for the war effort. After considerable debate, the United States set daylight savings time to start the last Sunday in March, running until the last Sunday in October, i.e. 31 March 1918 to 27 October 1918. The debate in Canada was also lengthy, and, as was the case south of the border, pitted rural communities that wanted to maintain standard time against urban centres.  What swung the debate in favour of daylight savings time was the insistence of Canadian railways that they would adopt daylight saving time to remain consistent with U.S. railways regardless of what the federal government decided. Canadian rail companies were concerned about the impact on their schedules and the risk of accident should the U.S. and Canadian time practices diverged.

Sir George Foster, Minister for Trade and Commerce, led the fight in the House of Commons for daylight saving time, arguing that the primary consideration was “economy, particularly in the matter of lighting.” He noted that manufacturing industries, boards of trade, and business associations of towns and cities all favoured putting clocks ahead by one hour during the summer. But members of Parliament from farming communities were almost universally against the move. Rural MPs argued that farmers would have to continue to function on standard time as the tending of animals could not be advanced. As well, fields could not be entered until the dew had evaporated, which would be an hour later if clocks were set forward. This would leave less time at the end of the day for farm workers to go to town before the stores closed. Some also argued that daylight saving time went against God’s plan. Still others worried that it would be more difficult to get children to go to bed, and was therefore anti-mother. One MP disparaging said it was no surprise that boards of trade favoured daylight saving time since they were comprised of lawyers, doctors, and merchants who were eager to get in an extra round of golf or tennis game after work. Notwithstanding these many objections, the Daylight Saving Act 1918 was passed, but not in time for Canada to move in tandem with the United States. Daylight saving time started in Ottawa, and in most of the country on Sunday, 14 April 1918, two weeks after it did in the United States. Both countries returned to standard time on Sunday, 27 October.

Following the end of the war in November 1918, the rural lobby forced the U.S. and Canadian governments to back-track. In the United States, Congress voted to repeal daylight saving time, and successfully overturned a presidential veto by Woodrow Wilson, a daylight saving time supporter. In Canada, daylight saving time was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons in early 1919. The defeat was described as “a great victory for the men who tilled the soil.” In both countries, the decision to adopt daylight saving time, as well as the dates of observance, became the responsibility of junior levels of government. Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher announced that the nation’s capital would observe daylight saving time from 14 April to 27 October 1919. Toronto and Montreal did likewise. However, south-western Ontario farming communities and Windsor remained on standard time. With Ottawa adopting daylight saving time, the big question was what the federal government would do. Despite its rejection of daylight saving time for the nation, the federal government relented when it came to its Ottawa civil servants to ensure that “the time outside the door of the Parliament building would coincide with that within the building.”

This patchwork of observance across North America continued through the 1920s and 1930s. But when World War II commenced, wartime exigencies again predominated; the conservation of electricity became of paramount importance. In Canada, a federal order-in-council, issued in late September 1940, extended daylight saving time indefinitely in Ontario and Quebec on the advice of the Ontario and Quebec Hydro Companies. Towns that had already reverted to standard time, such as Arnprior near Ottawa, were required to switch back to summer time. On 9 February 1942, year-round daylight saving time was extended to the entire country, coinciding with the adoption of a similar policy, called “War Time,” in the United States.

As was the case at the end of World War I, daylight saving time reverted to local control in both Canada and the United States at the end of World War II. Again, North America was divided up into a patchwork quilt of observance with varying start and end dates. In some parts of the United States, a short car journey could require several time changes. To reduce the risk of accident and scheduling costs, railways operated year-round on standard time. Order was finally restored with the introduction of the federal Uniform Time Act in 1966 in the United States that specified the start and end dates for daylight saving time in the United States, though the decision to advance clocks was left up to individual states. Although no such uniformity was legislated in Canada, provinces adopted in 1967 the U.S. dates for advancing clocks to facilitate cross-border trade. Consequently, in 2005, when the United States lengthened the period of daylight saving by roughly a month starting the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, Canadian provinces followed suit.

Today, most of Canada, with certain exceptions, observes daylight saving time. The largest exception is Saskatchewan. However, as that province adheres to the Central Time Zone despite being geographically in the Mountain Time Zone, it is arguably on daylight saving time all year round. Today most people take daylight saving time for granted, and enjoy the extra hour of light in the evening. However, opposition is on the rise owing to the inconvenience of adjusting clocks twice a year, and recent studies that suggest that the economic benefits from “springing forward” each March and “falling back” each November are minimal.


CBC, 2008. “Springing forward, falling back: the history of time change,” 31 October, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/springing-forward-falling-back-the-history-of-time-change-1.755925.

Citizen, (The), 1916. “Daylight Saving Is Favored by Ottawa City Controllers,” 2 June.

————–, 1916. “Prepared For Proper Trial,” 6 June.

————–, 1916. “Will Try Out The Daylight Saving Plan,” 11 June.

————–, 1916. “Depends On Government,” 14 June.

————–, 1916. “Daylight Saving Is In The Balance, 15 June.

————–, 1916. “May Rescind Resolution,” 16 June.

————–, 1916. “Delay Trial of Daylight Saving Plan,” 20 June.

Globe, (The), 1912. “Orillia Revoked Daylight Saving,” 13 July.

————-, 1918. “Daylight Saving Over Continent,” 7 February.

————-, 1918. “Daylight Is To Be Saved,” 27 March.

————-, 1918. “Bill Through Committee Now,” 3 April.

————–, 1919. “Likely To Respect Daylight Saving,” 11 February.

————–, 1919. “Canada’s Parliament Spurns ‘Daylight Saving’ In Summer,” 28 March.

————–, 1919. “Summer Time Sweeps Land,” 31 March.

————–, 1919. “Parliament ‘About Turns,’” 12 April.

————–, 1922. “Save Daylight In Cities of U.S.,” 29 April.

————–, 1940. “Time Saving Is Extended Indefinitely.” 21 September.

————–, 1940. “Centres Which Turned Clocks Back Required To Revert To ‘Fast’ Time,” 24 September.

————–, 1942. “Daylight Time Now in Effect Throughout Canada and the U.S,” 9 February.

House of Commons Debates, 1917. Daylight Saving Bill, 23 July.

———————————-, 1918, Daylight Saving, 26 March.

Klein, Christopher, 2012, “8 Things You May Not Know About Daylight Saving Time,” History, 9 March, http://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-daylight-saving-time.

Macdonald, Cheryl, 2007. “The Battle for Daylight Saving,” Pinecone.on.ca, http://www.pinecone.on.ca/MAGAZINE/stories/BattleDaylightSaving.html.

National Post (The), 2015. “National Post View: Time to eliminate daylight savings,” 9 March.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1913. “Daylight Saving,” 19 June.

Prerau, David. 2005, Seize the Daylight, New York, Thunder Mouth Press.

Willet, William, 1907. “The Waste Of Daylight,” Daylight Saving Time, http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/willett.html.


George Vernon Hudson, (1867-1946), late in life, author unknown, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Hudson_

Cover of William Willett’s pamphlet, https://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2011/11/saving-energy-the-fall-back-position/.

The Capitol

30 April 1970

Thursday, 30 April 1970 marked the end of an era for cinema and theatre fans in Ottawa. That evening, the historic Capitol Theatre held its last official performance—a screening of the movie Mash, the Oscar-winning, black comedy set in a Korean War field hospital, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. Earlier that day, a small advertisement appeared in the entertainment section of the Ottawa Citizen inviting people to come to the performance and join the staff of the Capitol in bidding farewell to the theatre. Beyond that, there was little fanfare to mark the theatre’s passing. The Capitol’s manager, Jack Critchley, is reported to have said: “you don’t celebrate something like this.” As cinema patrons filed out after the last show that evening, the only sign that something out of the ordinary had occurred was the presence of television cameras recording the event for posterity. Despite widespread protests, the Capitol, considered one of the most beautiful movie palaces in Canada, had a date with the wrecking ball. As a last hurrah, a special fund-raising event was held the following evening at the historic theatre to benefit the Canadian Save the Children Fund. With CBC host Alex Trebek acting as master of ceremonies, supporters watched the silent movie Pollyanna, starring Mary Pickford. At the end of the show, they sang Auld Lang Syne as the curtain dropped for the very last time.

The Capitol, Corner of Bank St and Queen St. 1920-1970

The Capitol, Corner of Bank St and Queen St.                                      1920-1970

According to Paul Terrien of the Ottawa newspaper Le Droit, the Capitol was a casualty of its own grandeur.  The massive 2,530-seat theatre was simply no longer economic to run, either as a cinema or as a theatre. It was a victim of the television age; people were not going to the cinema as frequently, or in the numbers they used to. Competition from smaller, multiplex cinemas that were cheaper to operate had also taken its toll. Most nights, there was only a thin sprinkling of viewers in the Capitol’s cavernous auditorium.

While built for cinema and vaudeville shows, the Capitol had also become the centre of Ottawa’s theatrical and musical life, hosting on its large stage the great performers of the age, including Nelson Eddy, Nat King Cole, and Glenn Gould. The New York Metropolitan Opera played there, as did the Royal Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony Orchestras. The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Ravi Shankar all had gigs at the Capitol. But the opening of the National Arts Centre in 1967, which provided a modern venue for such performances, was the last straw for the grand, but venerable, Capitol. Despite being an Ottawa landmark for fifty years, there was little heritage supporters could do to save the building; Ontario’s Heritage Act only came into force in 1975, five years after the Capitol was reduced to but a memory.

The Capitol had been built for Loew’s Theatres, a chain of upscale movie palaces owned by Marcus Loew, an American pioneer in the movie industry, who got his start owning penny arcades and nickelodeons. Scottish-born architect Thomas W. Lamb was the building’s architect. Lamb was the twentieth century’s foremost designer of cinemas and theatres, building landmark structures in major cities across North America, including New York, Boston, and San Francisco. He was the architect of Toronto’s Pantages Theatre, now known as the Ed Mirvish Theatre. Ground for the Capitol was broken in 1919.  Located at the corner of Queen and Bank Streets, the theatre was completed the following year at a cost of close to $1 million (equivalent to roughly $11 million in today’s dollars). The theatre’s concert pipe organ alone cost $40,000.

The Capitol, interior, circa 1943

The Capitol, interior, circa 1943

The building was an architectural jewel, beautifully decorated in the neoclassical Adam style. The rectangular building boasted three Palladian windows on the Bank Street side of the building, set above a central door and marquee. Theatre goers entered through heavy oak doors into a magnificent lobby that was lined with columns and large mirrors, and illuminated by crystal wall sconces. Ticket booths were finished in bronze and ivory. Geometric patterns decorated the ceiling of the foyer, lit by a large central chandelier. Ahead was a grand marble staircase that led up to the mezzanine level and, during the Capitol’s early years, a ballroom. To the right and left of the staircase were entrances to the orchestra. On the mezzanine level, there were a writing room, a ladies’ room furnished in mahogany with blue upholstery, and a smoking room decorated in “Pompeian green.” Comfortable leather chairs and couches beckoned the weary. Tapestries, murals and niches adorned the walls, while underfoot was an old rose carpet. The auditorium boasted an ornate proscenium arch that surrounded the stage. To ensure the comfort of its guests, large blowers circulated fresh air at all times via under-seat ducts.

The gala opening of the Capitol was held on 8 November 1920. Marcus Loew, accompanied by more than a dozen screen and theatre stars, came for the big event, arriving in Ottawa just before noon by a special train from New York. Newspaper accounts enthused that it was the greatest number of screen and theatre stars ever assembled in North America. At Union Station, they were met by an official delegation of Rotary and Kiwanis Club officials, thousands of fans, and the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards. Among the arriving stars was Grace Valentine, a “Broadway success,” who had just starred in the New York stage comedy The Cave Girl. She had also performed in the 1917 silent movie Babbling Tongues. The first female western star, Mary “Texas” Guinan was also there. She had played the role of The Tigress, a gun-toting heroine who could outmatch any man, in the 1918 movie The Gun Woman. Tall and blond, she later became known as the wisecracking “Queen of the Night Clubs,” rubbing shoulders with gangsters in New York speakeasies—a symbol of the Roaring Twenties. Another well recognized actress was Vivian Martin, at the time, a rival of Mary Pickford. Martin was the star of the 1919 movies, The Third Kiss, The Innocent Adventuress, and Louisiana.

“Texas” Guinan, circa 1920

“Texas” Guinan, circa 1920

Led by three soldiers carrying the British, American, and French flags, followed by the scarlet-clad Foot Guards and mounted police, Loew and the film stars were brought by limousine from the train station to the city hall for a civic reception. With Mayor Fisher out of the city, the celebrities met other members of the city’s Board of Control. The parade then wound its way through Ottawa, passing in front of the new Capitol Theatre, before visiting Parliament Hill, entering through the west gate. There had been a rumour that they were to meet Acting Premier Sir James Lougheed, but this was later denied. Loew and the stars then attended a lunch held in their honour at the Château Laurier Hotel, hosted by the Rotary Club. Two cameramen took motion pictures to record the proceedings.

The doors of the new theatre opened at 1pm that afternoon. It was standing room only to greet the arrival of the stars. The cost of a ticket was fifteen cents (taxes included) for a balcony seat at the afternoon performance; a seat in the loge or in one of the boxes went for thirty-five cents. Prices went up to as much as fifty-five cents for the evening performance. Novel features of the theatre including no reserve seating, and continual screenings of a feature picture, alternating with a vaudeville show, through the day. That first week, theatregoers were treated to D.W. Griffith’s 1920 movie The Love Flower, starring Carol Dempster, Richard Barthelmess and George McQuarrie. It was a suspense story of a detective who falls in love with the daughter of a murderer on a tropical island. The vaudeville production headlined “a girly whirly” act called Choir Up, a musical comedy that was billed as a “tuneful tonic for tiny troubles.”

That night, following the formal opening of the Capitol, the fun really got started. The actors, led by “Texas” Guinan, certain city councillors, and friends whooped it up at city hall. There was plenty of booze despite Prohibition being in full swing. Afterwards came the political fallout, with complaints about the appropriateness of the reception accorded by city officials to the celebrities. Alderman McKinley proposed a motion of censure against the city’s Board of Control, arguing that when the mayor was away, the city had been “buncoed and stampeded into a civic reception.”  When Lower Town’s fun-loving and appropriately-named alderman Napoléon Champagne, a past and future mayor of Ottawa, was taken to task for participating in the revelries, the unmarried Champagne, argued that as he was above suspicion, he had only been at the party to look after the other controllers, and had “warned some of the ladies that all the other controllers were married and that if they wanted to say any sweet things they should say them to him.” He had attended to be the “moral watchdog,” and “had kept the married men from entanglements.”  After Champagne’s assurances that the controllers had conducted themselves respectfully, McKinley withdrew his motion.

In 1924, Marcus Loew sold his Canadian theatres. Ottawa’s Capitol was purchased by the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theatre chain, with the Capitol renamed “Keith’s Vaudeville.” In the late 1920s, the Capitol’s name changed again to RKO Capitol, following the merger of KAO and the Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) in 1928. The following year, RKO’s Canadian operations merged with the Famous Players’ group, and the theatre’s name reverted back to the Capitol, and remained that way until the theatre’s demise in 1970 to make way for an office building.


Capitol Cinema (Ottawa), 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_Cinema_%28Ottawa%29.

Griffth, D. W., 1920. The Love Flower, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nPofsDGwjY.

Miguelez, Alain, 2004, A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau, Penumbra Press.

The Citizen, 1920. Film Stare Are Here For Opening Loew’s Theater,” 8 November.

———————.“Girl Act Heads The Performance,” 8 November.

———————. “Notable Cast Seen in Loew’s Feature,” 8 November.

———————. “‘Love Flower’ Latest Griffith Production,” 8 November.

———————. “New Loew Theater Is One Of Canada’s Finest Play Houses,” 8 November.

———————. “Council Talks OF The Reception To Marcus Loew, Etc.” 16 November.

The Ottawa Journal, 1970, “CSCF Benefit: Mary Pickford Returning to Ottawa—On Film,” 25 April.

———————–, 1970. “Children Will Benefit As Capitol’s Era Ends, 1 May.

Mahon, Elizabeth, M. 2011. “Texan Guinan – Queen of the Night Clubs,” Scandalous Women, http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.ca/2011/09/texas-guinan-queen-of-night-clubs.html.

Russell, Hilary, 1975. All that Glitters: A Memorial to Ottawa’s Capitol Theatre and its Predecessors, Canadian Historic Sits: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History – No. 13, Parks Canada.

Terrien, Paul, 1970. “Le Capitol ferme ses portes, victime de sa propre grandeur,” Le Droit, 1 May.

Images: The Capitol, http://www.pastottawa.com/tag/capitol-cinema/537/.

The Capitol, interior, circa 1943, by Chris Lund, Archives and Library Canada, PA-110976, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_Cinema_%28Ottawa%29#mediaviewer/File:Ottawacapitolmgs2.jpg.

“Texas” Guinan, Scandalous Women, http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.ca/2011/09/texas-guinan-queen-of-night-clubs.html

Happy Independence Day?

17 April 1982

There is no definitive moment in history that marks the birth of Canada as an independent nation. Instead, we have a series of dates representing steps along a constitutional continuum from colonial subordination to complete independence. To complicate matters further, Canada became effectively independent decades before the legal papers were signed. Confusingly, none of the dates coincide with Canada Day on 1 July. Canada Day commemorates the passage of the British North America Act (BNA Act), a piece of British legislation that took effect on that date in 1867, giving birth to the Dominion of Canada. The Act, which set out religious and linguistic rights as well as the respective responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments, became Canada’s constitution. One thing it did not do was change Canada’s status within the British Empire.

Notwithstanding the fuzziness over when Canada became independent, there are two strong contenders for a Canadian “independence day.” The first is 11 December 1931, when the Statute of Westminster received Royal Assent in London. The second is 17 April 1982, when Queen Elizabeth assented to the Constitution Act 1982 in Ottawa. While the former date has its merits, I favour the latter.

When the Statute of Westminster became law on 11 December 1931, the British Parliament renounced its right to enact laws for a dominion without the consent of the dominion government, or to overturn dominion legislation that was considered “repugnant” to English law under the Colonial Validity Act of 1865. The Statute was the culmination of work undertaken by Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in concert with other dominion leaders, especially South Africa’s J.B.M. Hertzog, at the Imperial Conference of 1926. Leaders agreed that the United Kingdom and dominion governments (Canada, Australia, Union of South Africa, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and the Irish Free State) within the British Empire were in no way subordinate to each other in both domestic and foreign affairs, though all were united through a common allegiance to the Crown, and were freely associated members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Up until the Statute’s passage, Canada’s governors general were appointed by the British government (or more correctly by the Crown on the advice of the British government) and reported to British authorities. After 11 December 1931, Canada’s governors general were appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Canadian government. As well, diplomatic contacts between the Canadian and British governments were handled by high commissioners who held ambassadorial rank rather than by governors general talking to their British authorities. Canada could also conduct its foreign affairs with other countries without British involvement, though it had already been doing so for some years by convention, signing a bilateral agreement with the United States as early as 1911.

However, whether the Statute of Westminster implied independence is debatable. In 1959, Maurice Allard, the Progressive Conservative MP for Sherbrooke, was sufficiently convinced that he submitted a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to declare 11 December Canada’s Independence Day. Like most private members’ bills, however, his proposal went nowhere.

Back in 1931, the Statute’s passage was largely ignored; there were no independence-day fireworks. The Ottawa Evening Citizen’s brief coverage was sandwiched between a story on an abducted American co-ed and another on four Christmas turkeys left at an Ottawa police station. Toronto’s Globe covered the Statute on page fourteen. While calling it “an admirable piece of legislation,” the newspaper stated, “But let us be honest, who in Canada, barring a few gentlemen suffering from ‘status’ on the brain, worries about the Statute of Westminster?” In another article, the Globe wrote “As far as Canada is concerned, everything remains virtually as it was before the constitutional hair splitting commenced. Canada has governed herself without any interference from any outside source since 1867; She will continue to do so.”

The Globe was partially right. The last time Britain overturned a Canadian law was in 1873 with respect to an act dealing with oaths. But while Canada was effectively independent when it came to domestic matters, it remained subordinate in foreign affairs. Consequently, when Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, Canada was automatically committed on Britain’s side. Things were different following the passage of the Statute of Westminster. Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 did not mean Canada was at war. To stress Canadian independence, Prime Minister Mackenzie King waited a week before joining the Allies. While Canada and Britain had the same monarch, the Crown had effectively been divided. There was now a British Crown and a Canadian Crown, with the same person wearing both “hats.” The divisibility of the Crown subsequently became a generally-accepted constitutional principle throughout the Commonwealth, with the Queen speaking on the advice of her Canadian prime minister when she is in Canada, and on the advice of her Australian prime minister when she is in Australia, etc.

Notwithstanding the Statute of Westminster, legal and constitutional links with Britain remained after 1931 which continued to place Canada in a subordinate position. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was Canada’s highest appellant Court until 1949 for civil cases. Canada’s Governors General continued to be Britons for another twenty years; the first Canadian appointed to the post, Vincent Massey, didn’t take office until 1952. Most importantly, the Statute explicitly exempted changes to the BNA Act from its purview. In other words, Canadians were unable to make changes to their own constitution without the consent of the British Parliament. This was not a task the British government had insisted on retaining. Rather, the anomalous situation was due to the inability of the federal and provincial governments to agree on a formula to make constitutional amendments. Consequently, Canada’s Parliament remained subordinate to the British Parliament in one vestigial but important way until the BNA Act was finally patriated in early 1982 by the government of Pierre Trudeau.

On 29 March 1982, Queen Elizabeth, wearing her “hat” as Queen of the United Kingdom, assented to the Canada Act 1982, legislation passed by her British Parliament at the request of the Canadian government to patriate the BNA Act to Canada. Three weeks later, on 17 April 1982, as Queen of Canada, she assented in Ottawa to the Constitution Act 1982, legislation passed by her Canadian Parliament. This Act, which includes Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a constitutional amending formula, forms part of Canada’s Constitution. Other key parts of the Constitution include the BNA Act, renamed in Canada as the Constitution Act 1867, and subsequent amendments.

The decision to patriate the Constitution was highly controversial. Two years earlier, with the failure of a separatist referendum in Quebec on “sovereignty association,” Prime Minister Trudeau had promised constitutional renewal to Quebec. But despite lengthy negotiations, a federal-provincial consensus could not be reached. A major sticking point was the proposed charter of rights and freedoms which many provinces feared would transfer powers from legislatures to the courts. Only Ontario and New Brunswick supported Trudeau. The others, known as the Gang of Eight, which included Quebec, held out. Following last ditch talks in Ottawa in November 1981, and threats by Trudeau to patriate the Constitution without provincial support, a position that the Supreme Court ruled as being legal though not desirable, the Gang of Eight collapsed.  In what later became known as the “Night of Long Knives,” a late-night agreement was reached in Ottawa among the leaders of the federal government and nine provinces after Levesque had left the negotiations to go to bed. In his memoirs, Levesque said that “he had been stabbed in the back by a bunch of carpetbaggers.”

Constitution Act

Queen Elizabeth signing Proclamation of Constitution Act, 17 April 1982

17 April 1982 was a drab, rainy day in Ottawa when Queen Elizabeth appended her signature to the Constitution Act on an outdoor dais setup on Parliament Hill. The proclamation document was also signed by Prime Minister Trudeau, André Ouellet, in his capacity as the Registrar-General, and Justice Minister Jean Chrétien. 32,000 spectators watched the historic occasion, undaunted by torrential rain showers. People started to show up on the Hill as early as 5.30am, five hours before the scheduled event. But the event was clouded by more than just the weather. Quebec, under the separatist Parti Quebecois government of René Levesque, boycotted the event. Instead, Levesque led a demonstration in Montreal against the new Constitution attended by 20,000 people. With considerable hyperbole, the demonstrators called Quebec’s Liberal MPs who supported the new Constitution “traitors,” and the Constitution, a “charter of genocide.”

Proclamation of Canada's Constitution

Proclamation of Canada’s Constitution

Trudeau made reference to Quebec’s absence at the patriation ceremony on Parliament Hill. Speaking to the “silent majority” in Quebec, he remarked that the Charter and the amending formula which allows Quebec to opt out of any constitutional change that might touch on language and culture with full financial compensation, did not sacrifice anything “essential to the originality of Quebec.” For her part, Queen Elizabeth, speaking in French, expressed sorrow for Quebec’s refusal to participate in the proclamation of Canada’s new Constitution. She ended her remarks saying “Today, I have proclaimed the new Constitution – one that is truly Canadian at last. There could be no better moment for me, as Queen of Canada, to declare again my unbounded confidence in the future of this wonderful country.”

In the years that followed, attempts were made by the federal government under Brian Mulroney to find a formula acceptable to Quebec. With the failure of both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the constitutional issue was put on the back burner, the nation fatigued by its constitutional problems. The Province of Quebec has still not endorsed the Constitution Act.



CBC, 2001, “The Knight of Long Knives,” http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP17CH1PA3LE.html.

Edinger, Elizabeth, 2011-12. Casebook, Law 100, Canadian Constitutional Law, University of British Columbia, http://faculty.law.ubc.ca.

Department of Justice, 2013. The Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/CONST_E.pdf.

Heard, Andrew, 1990. Canadian Independence, http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/324/Independence.html.

Hilmer, Norman, 2013. “Patriation: The Constitution Comes Home,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/patriation-the-constitution-comes-home-feature/.

Senate of Canada, 2014. The Constitution Table, Royal Proclamation on Parliament Hill, http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Senate/Constitution/royal_proclamation-e.html.

The Globe, 1931. “Constitutional Safeguards,” 9 April.

———————, 1931. “Score for the First Week,” 16 November.

———————, 1931. “Westminster Bill Goes to Committee in British House,” 21 November.

———————, 1931. “Finis to Status,” 5 December.

——————–, 1931.  “Westminster Bill Given Final Assent,” 11 December.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1982. “The nation’s coming of age was a day made for children,” 19 April.

———————-, 1982. “Queen offers Quebec praise for its cultural contribution,” 19 April.

———————-, 1982. “Ceremonies leave PM in a Whirl,” 19 April.

———————-, 1982. “PQ renews drive for separation,” 19 April.

———————-, 1982. “Queen Elizabeth: ‘I have seen a vision of this country take shape,’” 19 April.

———————-, 1982. “PM: Constitution a fresh beginning,” 19 April.

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1931. “Westminster Statute Given Royal Assent,” 11 December.

The National Archives (UK), 2014. Statute of Westminster 1931, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/22-23/4/section/7.

Images: Queen Elizabeth signing Proclamation of Constitution Act, 17 April 1982, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/patriation-the-constitution-comes-home-feature/.

Proclamation of Constitution Act, Government of Canada, http://data2.archives.ca/misc/txt/23v886k.jpg.

Heartbreak Hotel

3 April 1957

In 1956 came a musical phenomenon the likes of which the world had never before seen. Elvis Aaron Presley, a poor, twenty-one year old boy from Nashville Tennessee with a ducktail haircut, smoldering good looks and deep blue eyes, took the world by storm.  His seductive, wide-ranging voice, and tunes that combined black rhythm and blues with country music, electrified the youth of America, starved for a fresh sound. “Heartbreak Hotel,” released by RCA Victor in January 1956 and Elvis Presley’s eponymous debut LP released two months later were instant successes.  Both rocketed to the top of Billboard charts, and stayed there for weeks. On stage, Presley’s singing prowess and sexually-charged performances wowed teenagers, and shocked a deeply conservative American establishment.

After his first album was released, Presley’s career, astutely managed and promoted by Colonel Tom Parker, went into overdrive with multiple appearances by the young singer on U.S. nationwide television, including the CBS Stage Show, the Milton Berle Show, and the Steve Allen Show. An estimated 60 million viewers watched Presley perform on the iconic Ed Sullivan Show in early September 1956. At this appearance, Presley sang the title song of his up-coming movie Love Me Tender for the first time in public. Advance sales of the song went gold before the movie’s release by 20th Century Fox that November. Owing to the wild success of his first appearance on his show, Sullivan invited Presley back twice more over the next four months. Many of his viewers were in Canada, able to pick up the American television signals.

Elvis Presley 1957

Elvis Presley on stage at the Ottawa Auditorium, 3 April 1957

Now a celebrity, Presley went on a multi-city eastern tour in March 1957 which brought him and his backup group, the Jordanaires, to Fort Wayne, St Louis, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and, across the border for the first time, to Toronto and Ottawa. Other than a stop in Vancouver later that year, it was the only time Presley was to perform outside of the United States. After back-to-back shows at Maple Leaf Gardens wearing his famous Nudie Cohen-design gold lamé suit in front of 30,000 adoring fans, Presley and his entourage boarded the overnight train to Ottawa. They arrived in the nation’s capital at 8am on 3 April 1957.

The Ottawa Journal disparagingly reported that Presley skipped lightly like a girl through Ottawa’s downtown Union Station, passing bemused and largely unmoved commuters on his way to an awaiting taxi. The singer was described as “red-eyed and rumpled with sleep,” with “traces of makeup and what looked like mascara” failing “to hide tired lines around the wobble-singer’s Grecian nose.”  Presley, who looked like “any Canadian boy who needs a haircut,” was wearing a dark suit, and a velvet shirt, covered by a “crumpled rosy beige raincoat, with smudgy white buckskin shoes.” Protected by “a flying wedge” of police guards and his entourage, he was taken by taxi to an undisclosed location for some much needed sleep, safe from the prying eyes of teenaged fans who were laying siege to the city’s hotels in hopes of catching a glimpse of the young singer.

Later that day, Presley played two sold-out gigs at the old Ottawa Auditorium, located on the corner of O’Connor and Argyle Streets where the YMCA is today. Ticket prices ranged from $2 to $3 for the 5pm show, and $2.50 to $3.50 (roughly $20 to $30 today) for the 8.30pm performance. While Presley was the headline performer, also on the program were Frankie Trent, a tap dancer, and Frankie Connors, an Irish tenor. Needless to say, the warm-up acts were at best tolerated by fans who were there to see Elvis in the flesh. Many had come from afar to be part of the fun. Busloads of teenagers made their way from Cornwall, Ontario, and from upstate New York. A special 10-car special CPR train called the “Presley Special,” or the “Rock N’ Roll Cannon Ball,” brought hundreds of fans from Montreal who paid $11 for the roundtrip, which included the price of admission. Some of the riders were the lucky winners of a Montreal, city-wide contest which asked them to answer the question “Why I would like to go to Ottawa April 3.” En route, four rock and roll guitarists got the fans into the mood.

16,000 mostly teenaged fans saw Elvis at the Auditorium, though a number of adults sporting “I love Elvis” buttons were spotted in the crowd. The singer again wore his trademark gold lamé jacket and gold accessories, but this time chose to wear dark trousers. Keeping to the adage of always leaving them wanting more, his sets were only 40 minutes long, consisting of nine songs. But he played most of his big hits of the day, including Don’t be Cruel, You Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel. He also sang Love Me Tender, his adaptation of an old U.S. Civil War love ballad Aura Lee (or Aura Lea). Now considered a classic, ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one in the greatest 500 songs of all time, the Ottawa Journal reporter called Presley’s rendition “a travesty.” It was reported that the gate for the two performances amounted to $45,000, of which Elvis’s cut was $20,000.

Elvis’s trip to Ottawa was not without controversy. As was often the case south of the border, many adults considered Presley’s on-stage gyrations immoral and un-Christian.  Across the city, students were warned to behave themselves, and to do nothing that would bring disrepute on themselves or their schools. The nuns at Notre Dame Convent went further, pressuring their students to promise that they would not take part in the Elvis festivities. They kids were obliged to copy from the blackboard and sign a letter that read “I promise that I shall not take part in the reception accorded Elvis Presley and I shall not be present at the program presented by him at the Auditorium on Wednesday April 3 1957.” Some went notwithstanding the pledge. Those caught were suspended by the school, though they were later reinstated following complaints from their parents.

Fearing that crowds of screaming, near hysterical, teenagers might become disorderly as they had been at previous Elvis performances, a hundred special police and guards were on hand to keep control and to stop spectators rushing the stage. But the guards had relatively little to do besides keeping the aisles clear. Although the throngs of fans proved to be well behaved, they were extremely loud. So loud were they that it was difficult for anybody except those at the very front rows in the arena to hear Presley sing. Poor audio facilities at the Auditorium didn’t help either. But most spectators didn’t appear to mind, content to watch Presley do his thing on stage and be part of the event. As reported by the Journal “With every shimmy the idol’s knees further beckoned the floor. The closer they came, the louder became the screams and when he finally rested on the stage floor—thunder!”

Between performances, a quieter, more subdued Elvis Presley was on display. He greeted a number of young female fans that had been chosen to come backstage, and was photographed with them. Young Janet Fulton, only 13-years old at the time and, fortunately for her, a student at the Sacred Heart Catholic School rather than at the Notre Dame Convent, not only met her idol but received a kiss on the cheek. Presley also gave an interview to Gord Atkinson, host of the CFRA radio’s popular weekly program Campus Corner. Presley politely answered Atkinson’s questions about his sudden popularity, his purchase of Graceland mansion the previous week, his music, and family life. Atkinson then presented him with a scroll indicating that he had been chosen the “Top Artist” by the listeners of Campus Corner. Presley courteously thank him, and replied that he had received more fan mail from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal than anywhere else.

Elvis Kiss

13-year old Janet Fulton gets a kiss from the “Crown Prince of Rock and Roll” at the Ottawa Auditorium, 3 April 1957.

Pictures were also taken of Elvis Presley with Ottawa jazz musician, drummer Arni May. As union rules required local talent to be hired for the performance, Presley requested that the Ottawa drummer, then only 18-years old, and his orchestra, play with him and the Jordanaires. May recalled that Elvis was a “first-class gentleman,” and had treated him like a friend. May was paid $30 as the band leader; his band members each received $20. May reprised his performance in August 2007 at an Elvis tribute concert at the Pacific National Exposition, fifty years after the singer’s only western Canadian event.

At the end of the evening performance, Elvis left the stage and quickly left the Auditorium never again to return to Ottawa. But behind him, he left memories of a lifetime for thousands of Ottawa teenagers.


Beagley, Piers, 2011. “Kissed by Elvis”—Interview with Janet Fulton, Elvis Information Network, http://www.elvisinfonet.com/interview_janetfulton_elvis_canada.html.

CBC, 2014. Elvis shakes his pelvis in Canada, CBC Digital Archives, CBC News Roundup, 2 April 1957.

City of Ottawa, Elvis Presley, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/witness-change-visions-andrews-newton-35.

Click It Ticket, 2014-2018. All About the King, https://www.clickitticket.com/elvis/about-the-king/biography.asp.

Elvis Australia, 2014. Elvis Presley: Ottawa, Canada, 3 April 1957, http://www.elvispresleymusic.com.au/pictures/1957_april_3.html#sthash.iADsmbfF.UbassjUA.dpbs.

Elvis Presley, Official Website of the King of Rock and Roll, 2014. Elvis Presley Biography, http://www.elvis.com/about-the-king/biography_.aspx.

Plummer, Kevin, 2013. “Historicist—Elvis in Toronto, 1957,” Torontoist, http://torontoist.com/2013/04/historicist-elvis-in-toronto-1957/.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1957. “Flying Wedge Gets Elvis Safely Past Giddy Girls,” 3 April.

———————–, 1957. “Riding the Elvis Special was Weird and Wonderful,” 4 April.

The Ottawa Journal, 1957. “Presley in Ottawa, Skips Through Union Station,” 3 April.

————————, 1957. “16,000 See Elvis in Ottawa Shows,” 3 April.

————————, 1957.  “Teenagers Beseige (sic) Hotels,” 3 April.

————————, 1957. “Asked Girls Stay Away From Elvis,” 3 April.

————————, 1957. “Overwhelmed by Police Control,”

Toronto Sun, 2012. “Ottawa’s Arni May played with Elvis,” 9 January.

Vancouver Courier, 2007. “Arni’s ready to beat drums again for the King,” 3 August.

Images: A. Andrews, C. Buckman, D. Gall, T. Grant, 3 April 1957, City of Ottawa Archives, http://www.elvis-collectors.com/candid-central/ottawa1.html.