The Statute of Westminster

11 December 1931

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

First page, Statute of Westminster,

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 The Statute repealed the Colonial Validity Act of 1865, under which the British government could void any act of a dominion government that if felt was “repugnant to the law of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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada at War with Japan

8 December 1941

All those interested in history know the date 7 December 1941. This was, of course, the date of the surprise Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack, which commenced shortly before 8:00 am Hawaii time, took the lives of more than 2,300 service people and destroyed or damaged twenty-one US ships. The battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were complete right-offs. Several other battleships were also sunk in the attack though they were later refloated and restored to service. Also destroyed in the attack were almost two hundred US airplanes; scores more were damaged.

As horrific as the loss of personnel and ships and other major assets was, it could have been worse. The aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga, which were stationed at Pearl Harbor, were not in port at the time of the attack.

The next day, in front of a joint session of Congress, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that 7 December 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy” since the Japanese government had not declared war before the attack.

Proclamation of War with Japan, 8 December 1941, The Canada Gazette.

The assault was supposed to have occurred a half hour after the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. had delivered its declaration of war. But, owing to decoding and translation delays, the diplomatic note was not delivered until after the attack was underway. The United States declared war upon Japan one hour after Roosevelt’s “Infamy Speech.”

While the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a big shock to all—Americans, British and Canadians—few were surprised by the outbreak of hostilities given the deterioration of the political situation in Asia over the previous months. On hearing the news, the United Kingdom quickly declared war on Japan, even before the United States did. In Ottawa, following a Cabinet meeting during the evening of 7 December, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced the Canadian government’s decision to declare war. King George VI approved Canada’s declaration in a proclamation announced on 8 December 1941 but backdated to the previous day. 

Whereas by and with the advice of Our Privy Council of Canada We have signified our Approval of the issue of a Proclamation in the Canada Gazette declaring that a State of War with Japan exists and has existed in Canada as and from the 7th day of December 1941.”

One of the more surreal events of that time occurred in Ottawa the evening before the Pearl Harbor attack. As the Japanese naval ships were approaching the Hawaiian Islands and Japanese pilots were being given their last-minute briefings, Seijiro Yoshizawa, the Japanese Minister to Canada, was hosting a sumptuous banquet at the Japanese Residence at 192 Daly Avenue. (The Japanese rented the house from Senator Carine Wilson, Canada’s first woman senator.) Yoshizawa was a career diplomat, and described as a member of the business clique in Tokyo that opposed the army. He had presented his credentials to the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, in October 1940, replacing Baron Tomii as Japan’s Minister to Canada.

Invited to Mr and Mrs Yoshizawa’s diplomatic soirée were: Commander W. Strother, US Naval Attaché; Mr Lewis Clark, Third Secretary at the US Legation; Mr D. B. Jordan, US Legation; the Brazilian Minister to Canada; the Argentine Minister to Canada; the Argentine First Secretary; the Commercial Councillor for Brazil; and S Kanaya of the Japanese Legation. All were accompanied by their wives. The Japanese also invited two Canadian couples—Mr and Mrs E. F. Newcome, KC and Mr and Mrs J. G. MacPhail.

Guests were courteously greeted at the door of the Residence by white-coated servants who passed around Martini and Bacardi rum cocktails along with canapés and other hors d’oeuvres. Sherry was served with the opening course, a clear asparagus consommé with a soupçon of carrot. This was followed by white fish, garnished with lobster and washed down by a slightly chilled Sauterne. A dry Burgundy and a sherry were served with the next course—breast of chicken and stuffed tomatoes. The meal concluded with a strawberry mousse accompanied by French Champagne.

After the sumptuous meal, Yoshizawa played eight reels of coloured film that he had personally taken of that year’s fall colours at Kingsmere and at the Seigniory Club at Montebello. Meanwhile, waiters circulated amongst the guests, serving orangeade, or something stronger if requested.

According to attendees at the dinner, the evening’s conversation avoided politics and the situation in the Far East, focusing instead on inconsequential, inoffensive subjects. Some felt uncomfortable to be there. While the Japanese were always courteous, and entertained lavishly, there was a growing disinclination to accept invitations, given their relationship with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and their war in China. However, it was sometimes difficult to say no; there are only so many excuses one could give. For some, especially the Americans, attendance was virtually a diplomatic necessity given the strained circumstances.

In hindsight, one of the guests described the dinner party “as something out of a dream” as it had a disturbing feeling of unreality. It was likened to the 1939 Hollywood movie Idiot’s Delight, a comedy drama that starred Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. The film featured events in a fictious Alpine country on the day before war was declared. (The movie is notable for being the only film in which Clark Gable sings and dances.) Another guest called it the “dinner of destiny,” one that could not have occurred twelve hours later.

With a state of war existing between Canada and Japan, the office of the Japanese Legation in Ottawa located on the sixth floor of the Victoria Building on Wellington Street closed immediately. Its lights were turned out and telephones disconnected. An RCMP officer was stationed outside of the Legation office to keep away the curious.

There was a report that on 7 December, immediately prior to the Peral Harbour attack, Yoshizawa and three others had left the Legation office with three large bags, contents unknown. An employee in the building also recalled seeing bits of charred paper floating in the street just a few days before. Given what happened in Hawaii, he surmised that embassy staff had been burning documents.

With the Legation’s offices closed, reporters flocked to the Japanese Residence on Daly Avenue seeking a statement from Yoshizawa. However, they were met at the door by a polite official who told them that while the Minister was home, he was not speaking to the press. Through the windows, the reporters could see staff packing.  

The next issue was how to get the Japanese officials back to Japan and, conversely, Canadian diplomats stationed in Japanese territory back to Canada. Previously, diplomats of newly belligerent countries were sent to a neighbouring neutral country to travel home. However, with the United States also at war, this was no longer an option. In a radio broadcast, Prime Minister King said that the passports of the Japanese Legation and consular officials would be returned as soon as satisfactory arrangements had been made for the safe return of Canadian diplomatic staff in the Far East.

Meanwhile, Yoshizawa and his colleagues were under RCMP guard—reportedly more for their own safety rather to prevent them from doing something nefarious. They were permitted to move about Ottawa, as long as they were accompanied. However, they were not allowed to communicate with anybody outside of the city. The big question now was money. With their bank accounts frozen, the Japanese officials had to rely on credit, but who would be willing to extend credit to them? There was also the issue of outstanding bills. Mrs Yoshizawa had her hair done the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor and had asked for the bill to be sent to the Legation. There were also the monthly rent payments owed to Senator Wilson. The Canadian government told creditors to be patient. Frozen Japanese assets would be used to cover such expenses.

The declaration of war also meant the Legation’s Canadian chauffeur lost both his job and his home, an apartment in the Legation Residence. Jack Long, who had won a DCM in the World War I, doubted his ability to find another job that compared as well to the one he had had for more than twelve years with the Japanese.

It wasn’t until early May 1942 that the Japanese Legation staff left Ottawa. Six months to the day from the Pearl Harbor attack, RCMP guards escorted twenty Japanese diplomats to Union Station to catch the evening CNR train to Montreal from whence they would travel through the United States, presumably meeting up with Japanese officials departing from that country, to leave North America. How they did so is not clear though they most likely travelled to still neutral Mexico which did not enter the war against the Axis powers until 22 May 1942. Senator Wilson subsequently rented the now vacated Japanese Legation at 192 Daly Avenue to the Norwegian Legation and Military Mission.

Canadian diplomats in Tokyo were treated in a similar fashion to the Japanese diplomats in Ottawa. The staff at the Canadian Legation was headed by E. D’Arcy McGeer, the first Secretary and Chargé d’affaires, as the post of Canadian Minister to Japan had been unfilled since the resignation of Robert R. Bruce in 1938. McGeer and his staff of seven were confined to the Canadian Legation’s grounds while awaiting repatriation and were only allowed out with an escort.  McGeer said that the Japanese authorities made sure that they had adequate food. Indeed, he believed that the food’s quality was superior to that available to most Japanese citizens. McGreer and his companions left Japan on in July 1942 on the Japanese steamer Asama Maru bound for Lourenco Marques in neutral Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), the first leg on the arduous and dangerous trip back to Canada.

Years later after the war, then External Affairs Minster Lester B. Pearson visited Tokyo for preparatory talks to re-establish diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan. There, he met three former Japanese Ministers to Canada, including Seijiro Yoshizawa. Pearson said it was something like a home reunion. The Japanese ex-ministers wanted to know the latest Ottawa gossip and asked Pearson about people they had known in Ottawa, golf and other activities they had enjoyed during their pre-war postings in Canada.

Full diplomatic ties between Canada and Japan were re-established with the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952.


Expositor (Branford), “Japan Invades Thailand, U.S. Congress Declares War,” 8 December.

Gazette (Montreal), 1941. “Jap Minister Is Home at Ottawa But Not to Inquiring Reporters,” 8 December.

Montreal Daily Star, 1941. “Premier King Explains Action,” 9 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1941. “Jap Minister’s Departure Poses Problem For Driver,” 8 December.

——————, 1941. “Tackle Problem of How to Get Diplomats Home,” 9 December.

——————, 1942. “Japanese Legation Staff In Capital Leaving Tomorrow,” 7 May.

——————, 1942. “Norwegians Take Over Former Jap Legation,” 2 October.

——————, 1950. “Jap Ex-Ministers Remember Ottawa,” 11 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1941. “Japs Dine U.S. Diplomats on Eve of Pacific Treachery,” 8 December.

——————-, 1941. “Jap Minister and Staff Can Move as They Please,” 10 December.

——————-, 1941. “Ottawa Firms Worry Officials Over Japanese Beauty Bills,” 17 December.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 1942. “Hong Kong Prisoners’ Fate As Desperate As Americans,” 29 July.

Vancouver Sun, 1942. “Total War,” 23 July.

The Christmas Massacre

22 December 1963

Warning: this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Christmas is a holy time, a time for people to come together, a time for families to share their love and celebrate the blessings of the Christ child whose birth is being remembered. But Christmas 1963 for the parish of Christ-Le Roi (Christ the King) in downtown Ottawa was a bleak, sorrowful time. Instead of experiencing the joys of the season, parishioners mourned the sudden loss of friends and neighbours who died three days earlier in a hail of bullets in the church’s rectory located beside the church at 252 Argyle Street, just east of Bank Street.

Sunday, 22 December 1963 started as a normal pre-Christmas Sunday. Reverend Guillaume Chevrier greeted more than three hundred parishioners, including his distant cousin Lionel Chevrier, the Minster of Justice, to the service which celebrated the fourth Sunday in Advent. The mass started as usual at noon. At about 12:45pm, Agathe Jensen, who lived in a third-floor apartment in the neighbouring rectory building, pounded on the side door of the church. Frantic, she ran to Father Chevrier, saying that somebody had been shot. Chevrier stopped the service and asked for help from his parishioners. Four persons answered the call: Paul Mercier, John Horner, Roger Lecroix and Léo Binette.

Roger Binette (age 22) and Réginald Binette (age 17), Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1963.

Horner and Mercier got to the rectory first and began to climb the staircase. About five steps up, Horner came face to face with a youth pointing a revolver at him. A voice higher up shouted out in French “We have no choice.” Shoot them.” The young man fired two shots. Both Horner and Mercier fell backwards. Unhurt, Horner slumped to the ground, feigning death. Mercier, the parish’s young, 22-year-old scoutmaster, was not so fortunate. He was shot in the chest and died almost instantly. A few minutes later, when everything in the stairwell had gone quiet, Horner got up and fled the rectory. Meanwhile, Léo Binette hearing the shots, ducked, scampered from the front porch of the rectory, and sprinted down Argyle Street in a zig-zag pattern. When he cautiously returned, Roger Lecroix had organized a number of parishioners, mostly teenagers, to surround the rectory building to prevent the perpetrators from escaping. Later, Lecroix was shocked when he recalled his actions which put many young people at risk.

The police arrived at the scene roughly five minutes after receiving word that there was a shooter in the rectory. They entered the blood-splatted vestibule. After donning a bullet-proof vest, Detective Tom Flanigan slowly made his way up the stairs. The first body he discovered was that of Paul Mercier. On the second-floor landing, he came across the bodies of Alberte Guindon, age 45, the rectory’s housekeeper, and that of a young man, apparently an assailant who had shot himself in the temple. The revolver, a German 9mm Mauser, was still clutched in his hand. Word was passed to Flanigan that another person had been spotted in a window above. Flanigan shouted up “Come down or we’ll shoot.” A few seconds later, a slight, dark-haired youth, scarcely more than a boy, surrendered. When police led the young man out of the building, Léo Binette froze. The suspect was his younger son, Réginald, age 17. “What have you done? My God, what have you done?” he asked. Later, he heard that the other assailant found dead on the scene was none other than his older son, Roger, age 22.

Murder victim, Paul Mercier (age 22), scoutmaster at Christ-Le-Roi Church, Le Droit, 23 December 1963.

Also found on the second floor was Doralice Béchard, age 65, who was gravely injured with gunshot wounds to her abdomen and chest, and her sister Henédine, age 61, who had suffered a flesh wound to her hand. The two sisters shared an apartment on the second storey. Doralice was to die on the operating table at the General Hospital later that day.

The police also recovered a small arsenal of weapons, as well as bullets, knives, handcuffs, lengths of chains and padlocks, along with tape, blindfolds, fishing line and first aid kits. Each of the two young men had been armed with two revolvers which they had carried in home-made western-style leather belts and holsters. Two rabbit’s feet were sewn onto Roger’s belt. In addition to the Mauser found in his dead hand, Roger packed a .45 calibre Colt-style revolver. Réginald’s .45 calibre revolver was found on the kitchen table of apartment number five, the home of Agathe Jansen. His .38 calibre revolver was found on the fourth step of the stairway leading to the third floor where he had dropped it after being told to surrender.

In total, the two brothers fired twelve shots of which at least seven hit people. Slugs were found in the walls of the stairwell. A bullet had also shattered a second-storey window. The death toll could have been much higher. Roger’s homemade ammunition pouch, found in a cardboard box wrapped in Christmas paper, contained six spent cartridge cases and 38 fresh ones; Réginald’s held 42 live bullets.

Initially, police believed that the Binette brothers had intended to rob the church of its Sunday collection offerings, but their plans had been foiled when they were discovered by Alberte Guindon. The police reasoned that when she began screaming, the boys panicked and began firing. Later, following interviews with the police, psychiatrists and psychologists, Réginald revealed their intentions had been far more elaborate and bizarre. 

The pair had intended to kidnap Father Chevrier and force him to bring them to the homes of wealth Ottawa businessmen from whom they would extort money. Their aim was to steal $1 million. They would then force neurosurgeons to implant electronic equipment in the brains of people thereby turning them into robots. The Binette brothers would use the robotized individuals to commit crimes. They also wanted to build rocket ships and develop a longevity serum so they could live for 200-300 years. Needless to say, there were serious questions about Réginald’s sanity.

The Monday following the murders and suicide, young Réginald Binette was charged with the murder of Paul Mercier. It was his eighteenth birthday. Since the crime had been committed before he had turned eighteen, his sentence, if convicted, would be life imprisonment. Had he been eighteen, just one day older, when he shot Paul Mercier, he would have faced the death penalty. Binette looked on impassively as he was sent for psychiatric tests to see if he was sane enough to stand trial. His parents sat in the front row of the court room until his sobbing mother had to leave, escorted by her grieving husband and a police constable.

Léo and Valeda Binette had no idea that either of their sons were in Ottawa. The previous summer, they had sent young Réginald to stay with his older brother Robert who lived in British Columbia. The parents had been worried that Réginald was too much under the sway of Roger who seemed to control his every action. Réginald was their adopted son. They had started looking after him when he was five months old on behalf of the Children’s Aid Society. When he was five, they officially adopted him.

Roger Binette had left home on December 8th, two weeks before the shootings. His parents had thought he had gone to the United States. Instead, unbeknownst to their parents, Roger and Réginald had got in touch with each other and had moved in together in Room 9 in a boarding house at 170 Metcalfe Street.

Réginald was sent first to the hospital at Brockville and then to a secure government facility in Penetanguishene for psychiatric tests. Government doctors questioned him using hypnosis and drugs—sodium amytal, a drug sometimes used in psychiatric interviews at the time. The Ottawa Journal described it as a “truth serum.” Réginald was also given methadrine, also known as methamphetamine, or speed. (The use by investigators of truth serums, which were unreliable at best, was later discontinued or banned.)

The psychiatrists and psychologists concluded that Réginald was mentally ill with schizophrenia and lived in a fantasy world. He also suffered from paranoia and had delusions of grandeur and persecution. However, he was able to understand the charges against him and was capable of directing counsel. Consequently, they contended that he was fit to stand trial.

While his competency was being assessed, police tracked down the guns used by the brothers in the rectory attack. They had been stolen in a vicious home invasion and robbery staged by the two men the previous June at the house of Kenneth Mayhew, a gun collector, of 68 Pineglen Crescent in Nepean. The men, armed with brass knuckles, bounded and gagged Mayhew and his family, before making off with four revolvers. Mayhew’s daughter was wounded in the leg in the assault when one of the stolen revolvers went off. Réginald was charged with assaulting Kenneth Mayhew’s wife, discharging a firearm causing bodily harm to Mayhew’s daughter, and robbing Mayhew of his weapons.

Following a preliminary hearing held in March 1964, Réginald Binette’s trial began in late April in front of Justice Sam Hughes of Ontario’s Supreme Court. Witnesses described the horror of events on that tragic Sunday before Christmas. Henédine Béchard, who was in hospital at the time suffering from sciatica, was brought into the courtroom on a stretcher.

Agathe Jensen, who was also called to testify, was ordered from the witness box by Justice Hughes when she insisted on speaking in French even though she understood English. After conferring with both the defence and Crown counsels, the judge said she could speak in French and have an interpreter but warned her against turning his courtroom into a “demonstration.” He added that there was “nothing objectionable” about her testifying in her native tongue. In her testimony, Jensen said that the accused had twice put his gun to his head but couldn’t pull the trigger.

Louis Assaly, Réginald’s lawyer, asked for a not-guilty verdict on grounds that his client was insane. He noted that this would not mean that Binette would be free to walk Ottawa’s streets. Instead, Binette would be committed to the Penetanguishene maximum security mental hospital under a Lieutenant General’s warrant where he would stay until cured. In support of his plea, four defence psychiatrists testified that Binette was “certifiably insane.”

The Crown would have none of it, arguing that the shooting spree plan was carefully thought-out and logical. As well, schizophrenia was not enough to justify acquittal. The judge informed the jury that with an insanity plea, the burden of proof laid with the defence counsel. As well, he said that insanity was legally defined to be a state of natural imbecility or a disease of mind which rendered a person incapable of appreciating that an act was wrong.

After a ten-day trial, Réginald Binette was found guilty of killing Paul Mercier, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury deliberated for only four hours.

While defence counsel launched an appeal, it was subsequently withdrawn. Three months after his trial for murder Binette was tried for robbing Kenneth Mayhew. The other two charges were dropped. Binette received a sentence of five years to be service concurrently with his murder sentence of life imprisonment.


American Addiction Centers, 2019. Methadrine,

Le Droit, 1963. “Un drame dans un presbytère : 4 morts,” 23 décembre.

Ottawa Citizen, 1963. “Black Sunday –official police story of killings,” 23 December.

——————, 1963. “Four killed at rectory,” 23 December.

——————, 1963. “Defence says boy ‘not responsible,’” 30 December.

——————, 1964. “Rectory murder suspect facing 3 more charges,” 3 January.

——————, 1964. “Mental Exam for Binette,” 4 January.

——————, 1964. “Mental test ordered for Binette,” 9 January.

——————, 1964. “Detective describes ‘arsenal,’” 12 March.

——————, 1964. “Rectory slaying trial underway,” 21 April.

——————, 1964. “My sister fell at my feet – witness sobs,” 23 April.

——————, 1964. “Twice put gun to his head,” 24 April.

——————, 1964. “‘I went wild,’ Binette said in statement,” 27 April.

——————, 1964. “Accused obeyed brother,” 28 April.

——————, 1964. “Shooting-spree plan logical – attorney,” 1 May.

——————, 1964. “Binette given life term for slaying scoutmaster,” 2 May.

——————, 1964. “Binette spared gallows by age,” 2 May.

——————, 1964. “Gun theft costs Binette 5 years,” 23 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1963. “It Was My Son, My Baby…. He’s Only 17…!” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “This Is What Happened In 30 Minutes of Madness,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Detectives Astonished By Weapons,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Standing at Back of Church When…”, 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “He Lived…Died As a Volunteer,” 23 December.

——————-, 1963. “Arraigned on 18th Birthday,” 23 December.

——————-, 1964. “Accused Killed Victim – Witness,” 13 March.

——————-, 1964. “Woman Refuses To Speak English,” 22 April.

——————-, 1964. “Says Murder Accused Living ‘Fantasy Life,’” 23 April.

——————-, 1964. “Witnesses Recall Horror Of Four Rectory Killings,” 24 April.

——————-, 1964. “‘Fantastic’ Plot Told In Court,” 28 April.

——————-, 1964. “Says Youth Under Orders To Kill,” 29 April.

——————-, 1964. “Asks Not Guilty Verdict for Binette,” 30 April.

——————-, 1964. “Binette Admits Robbery,” 16 September.

Rinde Meir, 2015. “Stranger than Fiction,” Distillations, Science History Institute,

NEWS FLASH: Today in Ottawa’s History has been selected by Feedspot as one of the top 25 Canadian history blogs. See Feedspot: Top 25 Canadian History Blogs.

British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

17 December 1939 and 5 August 1940

“You must get on with the war, and in order to enable you to do so I now declare No.2 Service Flying Training School [SFTS] open,” said the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, under bright blue skies at Uplands Airport just outside of Ottawa. With these words, the first intermediate flying school of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was open for business. (No. 1 SFTS, located at Camp Borden opened three months later.) Eight Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), located across the country, had already opened earlier that summer to provide basic flying skills to novice flyers.

Wings Ceremony, 16 July 1941, at No. 2 SFTS, Uplands Airport, Ottawa, PL5021, [Hatch, 1983].

The opening of No.2 SFTS came none too soon. Across the Atlantic that afternoon of 5 August 1940, the Battle of Britain was raging. With the RAF sorely stretched, trained pilots were desperately needed, both for the battle underway and for the successful future prosecution of the air war against the German Luftwaffe.

The genesis of the BCATP dated back to the mid-1930s when Britain, conscious of the growing Nazi threat, began to rebuild its armed forces, including its air service.  In 1936, a Scottish-Canadian in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Group Captain Robert Leckie, wrote a memorandum to Arthur Tedder, then Director of Training at the British Air Ministry, suggesting Canada as an ideal location to train air crews. Canada was safe from enemy attack, and was close to the U.S. industrial heartland which could supply necessary aircraft engines and parts.

Additionally, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had a close relationship with its British counterpart. As well, the RAF routinely recruited Canadians for both short-term and permanent positions. Moreover, during the latter years of World War I, flight training schools had been established in Canada by the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner of the RAF.

When Prime Minister Mackenzie King got wind of the idea, he was conflicted. On the one hand, he was very protective of Canada’s new sovereignty. Following the ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada was no longer subordinate to Great Britain either domestically or internationally. Consequently, he could not support RAF bases in Canada. The Prime Minister was also conscious of how the presence of British bases in Canada might appear to Quebec voters. On the other hand, he thought that if Canada’s contribution to the coming war effort could be largely focused on training air crews in Canada, it might be possible to avoid both large-scale casualties and a repeat of the conscription crisis that had divided the country during the previous war.

Agreement was reached to increase the number of Canadian-trained pilots for the RAF, and steps were taken to develop a common RAF/RCAF flying syllabus among other things. However, Leckie’s concept of using Canada for RAF training bases was put on the backburner until the outbreak of war in September 1939 when Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner in London, met with his Australian counterpart, Stanley Bruce. Out of this meeting was born the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Who came up with idea is unclear as both men took credit for it. Regardless, they made a joint submission to the British authorities. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister, was enthusiastic, and made a personal appeal to Mackenzie King asking him to give the proposal his very urgent attention. Chamberlain expressed the view that the establishment of training bases in Canada safe from German attack would have a psychological impact on Germany equivalent to that produced by the entry of the United States into the previous war.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King signing the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 17 December, 1939, LAC 3362872.

While Prime Minister King was initially upset that Massey had exceeded his authority, he quickly warmed to the idea…with conditions. Most importantly, Canadian sovereignty had to be respected. The flying schools would come under the authority of the Canadian government and would be administered by the RCAF. Consequently, trainees would be attached to the RCAF, would be subject to its jurisdiction, and would receive Canadian rates of pay. King also demanded that Britain agree to purchase Canadian wheat and that the BCATP would take priority over other Canadian war commitments. He also wanted Canadian pilots to be sent after graduation to RCAF squadrons in Britain as opposed to being subsumed into the RAF.

The Australians and Zealanders also had conditions of their own, importantly that costs be shared on the basis of population and that elementary flying instruction for their pilots would be conducted at home.

With these terms acceptable to the British, King sent his agreement in principle to Chamberlain at the end of September 1939 though his government continued to worry about the scale and cost of the venture.

Over the next three months, Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand negotiators thrashed out the fine print of the accord and how the costs would be divided. It was hard going at times. But in the wee hours of 17 December 1939, Mackenzie King’s birthday, the Canadian prime minister signed the accord, followed by Lord Riverdale on behalf of the British government. As the Australian and New Zealander delegates had already left Ottawa, their governments’ signatures were appended later.

The agreement was officially titled “An Agreement to the Training of Pilots and Aircraft Crews in Canada and their Subsequent Service.” Later that day, in a radio address to the nation, King described the agreement as “a co-operative undertaking of great magnitude.” Charles Power, the Minister of National Defence, called it “the most grandiose single enterprise which Canada has ever embarked.”  In a similar broadcast, Chamberlain, as requested by King, said that the BCATP would be more effective than any other kind of Canadian military co-operation. However, he added that the British Government would welcome “no less heartily” Canadian land forces in the theatre of conflict as soon as possible.

The cost of the agreement, which was to run until end-March 1943 unless otherwise extended, was placed at $607 million of which Canada’s share would be $353 million. The British contribution was set at $185 million, mainly in the form of airplanes and parts. The Australians and New Zealanders would contribute $40.2 million and $28.8 million, respectively.

Work immediately began to make the agreement a reality, with C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supply, taking charge. Within days, offices were organized in temporary buildings in Ottawa, and contracts signed. By early spring 1940, air fields were being prepared, and the construction of hangers and other facilities underway.

Here in Ottawa, No. 2 SFTS, making use of an existing civilian airfield, practically sprang out of the ground overnight. In the space of just a few months, roughly forty buildings were constructed at the edge of Uplands field on what the Citizen described as a “desert waste of hillocks, tufted here and there with rank, saffron-coloured grass.”

The flying school boasted five double hangars to store aircraft, each 224 feet by 160 feet with 20-foot sliding doors. There were also buildings to house ambulances, a fire truck, refueling tankers, tractors, and other vehicles. There were quarters for 1,100 military and civilian personnel with canteens, messes, a recreation building, and a sports pavilion. As well, there were a supply depot, a guard house, a watch office, a drill hall, a ground instruction school, two bombing instruction schools, and a 34-bed hospital. Special storage tanks held 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel. There was also a depot for aerial bombs and machine gun ammunition. Located close to the main runway was an air-traffic control room. The landing facilities consisted of three tarmacked landing strips and three grass strips. Planes could land in every direction. There were also two subsidiary air fields located at Edwards and Pendleton, Ontario.

As the Ottawa training school was for intermediate training, pilots assigned to No.2 SFTS had already received flight instruction on Fleet or Tiger Moth aircraft, accumulating 40-50 hours of solo training. The maximum speed of these airplanes was 90-100 miles per hour. In Ottawa, the men graduated to Harvard training craft, capable of a top speed of more than 200 mph.

The Harvards, which were painted bright yellow, were dual-controlled, and were powered by 400hp Pratt & Whitney engines. The twelve planes stationed initially at Ottawa were built by the North American Aviation Company of California. More were in transit. Later, Harvards were constructed under licence by the Noorduyn Aircraft Company in Montreal.

On the other side of the Bowesville Road across from the flying school, the Ottawa Car and Aircraft Company was in the process of erecting a new plant for the construction of parts for the Avro Anson twin-engine aircraft to be used for training bomber pilots.

On opening day, 5 August 1940, the Governor General was accompanied by a distinguished entourage, including Prime Minister King, Defence Minister Ralston, Air Minister Power, Air Vice Marshall Breadner, and Honorary Air Marshall W.A. (Billy) Bishop, VC. The twelve, yellow Harvard trainers were lined up in front of the hangars. In front of the aircraft was an honour guard standing at attention to take the salute of Earl Athlone. A RCAF band from Trenton played Land of Hope and Glory. After No.2 SFTS was declared open, the Harvard trainers were flown in various formations to the delight of the crowds there to witness the historic event.

In July 1941, a Warner Brothers crew from Hollywood filmed part of the feature movie Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney, at Uplands airfield. Billy Bishop played a cameo role in a “wings ceremony,” where actual pilots received their wings in a stirring graduation ceremony. (Click here for a preview of the movie: Captains of the Clouds.)

The BCATP was a huge success, training roughly 50 per cent of all Commonwealth airmen during the war. In addition to Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand personnel, men from many other Allied countries received their flight training in BCATP schools, including Norwegians, Poles, Belgians, Free French, Czechs and Americans. In a 1943 congratulatory letter to prime minister King. US President Roosevelt called Canada “the aerodrome of democracy.”  (As an interesting sidebar to history, Lester B. Pearson, then the number two person at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, was the person who coined the phrase—an allusion to Roosevelt naming the US the “arsenal of democracy” in a late 1940 speech. Breaking diplomatic protocol, the White House staff had contacted the Canadian embassy and had asked Pearson to help draft the latter.)

With an Allied victory on the horizon, the program started to be wound down in late 1944 and was terminated at the end of March 1945. During the BCATP’s time in operation, more than 131,553 aircrew graduated from 105 flight schools of various description at a cost of $2.23 billion (roughly $35 billion in today’s money). Of this amount, Canada paid $1.6 billion ($25 billion).  While the cost was considerable, victory in the air was made possible by the BCATP.

In 1949, representatives from all countries that had participated in the BCATP paraded at RCAF Station Trenton to witness the unveiling of a set of wrought-iron gates given to Canada by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, as a permanent memorial and a symbol of Commonwealth friendship and unity.


Dunmore, Spencer, 1994. Wings for Victory, McClelland & Stewart, Inc. Toronto.

Evening Citizen, 1939. “Four Govts. Are ‘Well Pleased’ With Air Pact,” 19 December.

——————-, 1939. “Gives Further Details Of Air Training Plans,” 19 December.

——————-, 1940. “Governor-General Opens Empire Training School At Uplands Field,” 6 August.

——————, 1940. “Crowds Are Thrilled By Formation Flying,” 6 August.

Hatch, F. J., 1983. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945, Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Monograph Series No. 1.

Kidney Transplants and Artifical Kidneys

7 November 1963 and 18 December 1963

It’s hard to believe that less than sixty years ago, kidney failure was a virtual death sentence. Once the kidneys stopped their vital function of filtering toxins and excessive water out of one’s body via the bladder, death was inevitable owing to uremia, the condition where wastes back up into the blood system.  

In the early 1960s, hope for those with kidney disease arrived in the form of kidney transplants and dialysis machines, widely referred to at the time as artificial kidneys. The theory behind both procedures had been long known, but actually performing them successfully was another matter.

The first successful transplant reportedly occurred in 1950 when an American woman in Illinois received a kidney. It lasted for less than a year before it failed; this was a time before immunosuppressive drugs were available. However, the transplanted kidney lasted long enough for the woman’s remaining kidney to resume function. Four years later, a successful kidney transplant was made between twins. Owing to the close genetic similarities between twins, the transplanted kidney was not rejected. The recipient lived for eight years. However, transplants between unrelated persons were rarely attempted until the 1960s owing to rejection problems.

The first successful kidney transplant in Canada occurred in 1963 when a 55-year-old Ottawa man, Herbert Verne Trewin, of 2233 Braeside Drive in Alta Vista received a donated kidney at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. In late October 1963, Trewin had been told at the Ottawa Civic Hospital that his kidneys were failing and that his only hope was an experimental kidney transplant. He was transferred to the Royal Victoria to await the arrival of a suitable kidney.  That kidney became available on 7 November 1963, courtesy of an anonymous, 35-year-old man who had consented before dying to donating a kidney. Within an hour of the donor’s death, Trewin was on the operating table receiving his new organ. This time, a new immunosuppressive drug called Imuran would be used to counter rejection.

The operation was a success, as was the follow-up anti-rejection drug treatment. Unfortunately, there were complications, and Trewin was subjected to two further operations. He was in hospital for ten months before being well enough to return home. Throughout his ordeal, his wife Greta was at his side—contrary to hospital protocols that demanded him being kept in isolation. A bed was made up for her in his Montreal hospital room. Trewin’s hospitalization costs, amounting to $10,490, were covered by Ontario Hospital and Blue Cross insurance.

In August, 1964, a grateful Trewin, now back in his Alta Vista home, said that “It will be easier for others now. I understand they are already scheduling more kidney transplants – and someday it may even become a routine operation.” He hoped to return to his job as a Customs computing clerk at the Besserer St postal station at the beginning of October.

Newspaper clipping of Verne Trewin’s return home with his wife, Greta, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1964.

Sadly, Trewin continued to have serious health problems. In April 1965, he contracted pneumonia. Just weeks later, he was operated on to fix a bowel disorder. He died two days after the operation. His death was not directly attributed to the kidney transplant. But his body, weakened by successive operations and the anti-rejection drugs, had failed.

Within weeks of Verne Trewin’s receipt of a kidney in Montreal, the Ottawa General Hospital unveiled the first dialysis machine in the capital, and only the third in all of Canada, the other two being in Montreal and in Edmonton. On 18 December 1963, a small reception was held at the General for medical staff and a dozen donors who had contributed the $7,500 (roughly $66,000 in today’s money) to buy the machine. Press reports stressed that the machine could be used for both acute and chronic kidney problems. While it was not as efficient as a human kidney, some US patients had been kept alive for more than three years using similar machines.

The machine was made by a subsidiary of a Swedish company in Seattle, Washington, and was described as looking like a washing machine on the inside and a large soda pop dispenser or a fancy ice cream machine on the outside. The fact that the manufacturer of the machine also made soda pop dispensers and ice cream machines was perhaps not coincidental. It took several months of staff training before the machine was put into operation. The new hospital department was headed by Dr. Jaworski, with two urologists, four general surgeons and “a battery of nurses” said the Ottawa Journal.

Dialysis machines had been used for acute kidney problems for some time. Successful dialysis dated back to 1945 when Willem Kolff of the Netherlands used a type of rotating drum and membranous tubes made of cellophane. As the blood passed through the tubes, which were wrapped around the rotating drum filled with an electrolyte solution, the toxins passed through the membranes into the solution thereby cleansing the blood of toxins. The procedure was subsequently improved by the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston (now part of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital). The new Kolff-Brigham dialysis machine was used during the Korean War to save the lives of servicemen suffering acute kidney failure. Once their kidneys resumed normal function, the men were disconnected from the machine.

Later developments improved the ability off the kidney machine to remove excessive water in addition to the toxins. But a key advance that made the machine usable for cases of chronic kidney failure was the 1960 development by Dr. Belding Schriber of the University of Washington of a means of connecting a patient’s circulatory system to the dialysis machine via a shunt. The shunt was implanted in an artery and a vein of a patient which could then be opened repeatedly for dialysis. This shunt, initially composed of two thin, Teflon tubes, was subsequently manufactured out of flexible, plastic material. In 1962, a new connection procedure was established using an arteriovenous (AV) fistula whereby an artery was surgically connected to a vein. During dialysis, a nurse inserts two needles into the fistula, one needle removes the blood and sends it into the dialysis machine, while the other returns the cleaned blood back into the patient’s body.

In 1960, the American Clyde Schields of Seattle was the first chronic kidney disease sufferer to receive dialysis using Dr. Schriber’s new technique. He survived eleven years before succumbing to heart disease.

Newspaper clipping of Rachel Dicarie receiving dialysis at Ottawa General Hospital, Ottawa Citizen, 24 February 1964.

The first chronic sufferer of kidney disease to receive dialysis in Ottawa was Rachel Dicaire, a 25-year-old mother from Alexandria, Ontario. She had suffered from kidney disease from her youth, but matters became critical after her pregnancy. The procedure, undertaken in late April 1964, was a success. From then on, she returned to the General on a weekly basis for dialysis that took from six to eight hours per visit.

Dicarie was one of the lucky ones. The new dialysis machine could only accommodate five persons.

The hospital established a committee to choose candidates for the life-saving procedure. The criteria were stiff. A person needed to be between 20 and 40 years of age, be married, have children, and be of general good health other than for their kidneys.  In early 1965, only twenty patients in all of Canada received dialysis.

Choosing eligible candidates for dialysis must have been extraordinarily difficult for the committee as those rejected faced a bleak future. Mirroring reality, in early November 1965, CJOH television aired the first episode of a seven-part drama of Dr. Kildaire, entitled “The Life Machine.” In this show, Drs. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) and Gillespie (Raymond Massey) must choose four candidates out of fifty for dialysis.

With demand for dialysis vastly outstripping supply, there was a campaign to raise funds for a second machine at the Ottawa General Hospital. In 1965, the Rotary Club of West Ottawa put up $2,000 towards the purchase of a second dialysis machine in honour of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Club, while fifty Rotary members gave a promissory note for the remaining $5,000 that was needed. The Rotary Club hoped to raise these funds from the general public.

Dialysis machines were something very close to the hearts of Rotary Club members. A former president of the Ottawa branch, Cecil K. Wolff, was one of the lucky five chronic kidney disease sufferers who received regular dialysis on the first machine at the Ottawa General Hospital. Wolff was to become a member of the provisional committee that established the Kidney Foundation of Ottawa. Another member was Mr. Ken Hamilton, who was also a dialysis recipient. His wife Dorothy was another provisional committee member. In addition to raising funds for a second dialysis machine, the new Foundation hoped to raise $15,000 for special laboratory facilities as well as a further $7,000 for the training of medical staff.

The Ottawa community quickly took up the challenge. Within a week, more than $5,200 was received in cash donations. The Cradle Leaguers hockey players even turned over the proceeds of their final games of the season to the collection.

The second dialysis machine was up and running by the summer of 1965. One of its first patients was Mrs. Ann Gervais. While she waited for the second machine to become operational, she had received emergency dialysis through her stomach, submitting seventeen times to the procedure which at that time was very painful. It also could not be done indefinitely. Afterwards, Gervais wrote an open letter to the Ottawa Journal expressing her thanks to the Kidney Foundation, to the people of Ottawa who contributed so generously towards the purchase of a second dialysis machine, and to her doctors, nurses and technicians.

While dialysis offered life to kidney patients, it was not a cure. Many dreamt of the day they would receive a kidney transplant that would liberate them from long weekly stints at the hospital, and enable them to live normal lives. While Verne Trewin’s operation and his post-operative immunosuppressive drug treatment showed what was possible, it took some years before kidney transplants become routine in Ottawa. In the four years following Trewin’s transplant, the Ottawa General performed only two successful kidney transplants while the Ottawa Civic did three.

Things began to change in early 1968. In March of that year, two persons received kidneys from the same donor owing to a remarkable bequest of Jacques Patenaude who worked at the Besserer Street postal station, coincidentally the same place Verne Trewin used to work. After collapsing on the job, the victim of an aneurysm, his wife gave permission for Patenaude’s kidneys to be donated. Pregnant with their third child, the grieving woman said that this was something that her husband would have wanted. They had in fact discussed this very possibility.

Within minutes of Patenaude’s passing at the Ottawa General Hospital, surgeons removed his kidneys, one of which was taken across the city in a special organ preservation unit to the Civic Hospital. There, a team of eleven physicians, twelve nurses and two laboratory technicians transplanted the organ into W. James Harris from Vancouver. A similar team at the Ottawa General transplanted the other kidney into Jean Wright of Pembroke, Ontario. Both transplants were successful. A month after her operation, Jean Wright was back home. James Harris followed a week later. The dual, inter-hospital kidney transplant was a first in Canada.

Less than a month later, a second dual inter-hospital kidney transplant was performed in Ottawa. This time, the donor was leading seaman Roy McFarland, who had died at the Ottawa General Hospital following a traffic accident on Sussex Drive. After permission was received from McFarland’s mother, a 40-year-old man received a kidney at the Ottawa Civic Hospital while a woman received McFarland’s second kidney at the Ottawa General.

Today, Verne Trewin’s wish that some day a kidney transplant would be a routine operation has become a reality. More than 100 kidney transplants are undertaken annually in Ottawa alone. Roughly 1,700 kidney transplants were undertaken in Canada in 2018. As well, the Ottawa Hospital operates three dialysis centres at the Civic, General and Riverside campuses and at five satellite units. The centres provide dialysis services to more than 650 patients, with more than 200 receiving dialysis at home.

To help ensure that chronic kidney disease sufferers like Verne Trewin can receive a kidney, please sign your organ donor’s card to guide your family in the event of your untimely death. Organ donation is an act of love that will bring some joy amidst the grief. And who knows, you may be the lucky recipient.


Fresenius Medical Care, 2021. The History of Dialysis.

Mapes, Diane, 2021. Shunting Death, University of Washington Alumni News.

Ottawa Hospital, 2021. In-Centre Hemodialysis.

Ottawa Citizen, 1964. “Kidney Machine offers mother new life,” 24 April.

——————, 1964.  “Surgery, wife’s love gave him a new life,” 13 August.

——————, 1965. “His Life Was Saved By A Medical Break-Through,” 9 January.

——————, 1968. “2 kidney patients in good condition,” 18 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1963. “Artificial Kidney Machine Unveiled,” 19 December.

——————-, 1963. “Kidney Machine Gives Woman New Lease on Life,” 24 April.

——————-, 1965. “Lucky Five Get New Life-Saving Kidney Treatment,” 6 February.

——————, 1965. “Gifts for Hospital, Crippled Children,” 24 February.

——————, 1965. “Cradle Leaguers Join Kidney Drive,” 26 February.

——————, 1965. “Funds, Forces Mount in War on Kidney Disease,” 8 March.

——————, 1965. “Thank You,” 25 September.

——————, 1965. “Dr. Kildare,” 6 November.

——————, 1968. “Second Inter-Hospital Kidney Transplant,” 27 April.

Ottawa’s Ski Hill

9 December 1965

If Ottawa residents wish to go skiing on a typical winter weekend afternoon, they probably think about heading to the slopes of the beautiful Gatineau Hills in Quebec, the home of Camp Fortune, Edelweiss and Vorlage ski resorts in the Chelsea-Wakefield area, less than thirty minutes from Parliament Hill. Some might venture a bit further to Monte Ste Marie, or even Mont-Tremblant, the latter located 140 kilometres from the capital in the Laurentians. On the Ontario side, Mount Pakenham, found to the south-west of Ottawa near the village of Pakenham, provides good family fun. Calabogie Peaks, located “in the heart of the Ottawa Valley” slightly more than an hour’s drive from the city, offers slopes for all levels of expertise. Until 1990, there was another possibility, Carlington Hill, located but a hop, skip and a jump from downtown Ottawa, just south of the Queensway.  The hill was accessed from Kirkwood Avenue.

A ski resort at this site was the dream of Ottawa developer, John Clifford, the president of City Ski Centres Ltd, who brought the project to Ottawa City Council during the early 1960s, during the tenure of Mayor Charlotte Whitton. But it took almost five years for his dream to become reality. A significant part of the delay was due to Mayor Whitton’s appropriate mistrust of any city deals with developers that did not involve competitive tenders. As it turned out, Clifford’s company was the sole bidder on the contract when it went to public tender.

Carlington Hill, a.k.a. Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, photo by James Powell

The site for the ski resort, Carlington Hill, was the location of a former dump. Reportedly, some fifteen feet of garbage had been deposited at is base where fetid water, draining from the hill in springtime, laid stagnant. While the home for frogs and other wild creatures, the area was also known for its noisome odours. On one occasion, a fire sent foul-smelling fumes into the surrounding neighbourhood.

Building the ski hill was a joint venture between the Ottawa’s Recreation Department and Clifford’s company. The Recreation Department of the City of Ottawa paid roughly $50,000 for extensive grading and filling of the site, a small ski lodge at the bottom of the hill, and the planting of trees and other landscaping. Clifford’s company invested another $50,000 for state-of-the-art Larchmont snowmaking equipment, a special Bombardier machine to groom the hill, a high-capacity T-bar lift able to carry 1,400 skiers up the hill every hour, as well as mercury-vapour lighting to permit night-time skiing. Clifford was granted the concession for the ski facility for ten years, with the City receiving five per cent of gross revenue.

Once completed the hill was 500 feet wide, with a vertical drop of 100 feet with a run of 600 feet. The lodge at the bottom of the hill was equipped with a canteen, a ski rental, an equipment room and a first aid room. Clifford boasted that it was “the biggest little ski area in the East.” He hoped that the hill would appeal to mothers with families who found it too difficult to take their children to Camp Fortune. By being right in the heart of Ottawa close to bus lines and with ample free parking, skiing was in reach of everybody. Clifford also opined that the hill would attract a lot of “housewives’ classes.” (This was not an enlightened age!)

At the beginning of December 1965, with temperatures dropping below the freezing point, crews at Carlington Hill began to make snow and groom the hill in preparation for upcoming ski season. On Thursday, 9 December 1965, the ski hill welcomed Ottawa skiers for the first time. Over the following week, employees worked out the kinks in preparation for the hill’s official opening. The price for a half day (four-five hours) or an evening of skiing was $1.50. The hill was open weekdays from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, closed on Saturday mornings, and open from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Sundays.

Mother Nature looked kindly on Carlington Hill for its official opening day. On the day before officials descended upon it, three inches of fresh snow fell, making perfect ski conditions. At 7:00 pm on Thursday, 16 December, Santa Claus snow-ploughed down the hill with a sack of candy for the hundreds of children waiting with their parents at the bottom. The grand old elf was accompanied by members of the Gatineau Ski Patrol who slowly descended the slope to the tune of Jingle Bells. At 7:30 pm, Mayor Reid cut the ribbon officially opening Ottawa’s newest and only in-town ski hill. Reid declared “Our dreams have come true.” Event organizers experienced a momentary panic just prior to the official launch when the T-bar lift failed owing to a loose bolt that fell into the machinery. Fortunately, embarrassment was avoided when the lift’s engineers quickly repaired it.

In addition to Mayor Reid, also in attendance that first official evening were other members of city council and George Gowling, the vice-president of the development company, who subbed for John Clifford who was out of town on a business trip. Following Reid’s ribbon-cutting speech, the Gatineau Ski Patrollers began a series of intricate, torchlit manoeuvres on the hill which led into five minutes of fireworks. More than 1,000 skiers then took advantage of the free skiing until closing.

Unfortunately, the Carlington ski hill was judged to have been a “colossal flop” during its first year of operation. Warm weather reduced the number of days of skiing and converted the car park, the site of the former dump, into a muddy mire. However, things improved in subsequent years.

Anne Heggtviet with her gold Olympic Medal, 1960, Squaw Valley, California by E. Ferrat, National Film Board, Library and Archives Canada

In 1969, another ceremony was held when Carlington Hill was re-named the Anne Heggtviet Hill in honour of Ottawa’s ski hero. Anne Heggtviet, nicknamed “Ottawa’s first lady of snows,” was born in the capital and grew up in New Edinburgh. She was the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing, accomplishing this feat at the 1960 Olympic Games held at the now controversially named Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe in California. Heggtviet took first place in the slalom, handily beating Betsy Snite of the United States who took the silver medal, and Barbi Henneberger of the “unified” German team who won the bronze medal. (West and East Germany fielded a joint team under a neutral flag—the German tricolour superimposed with the Olympic rings.) In front of a large crowd of her Ottawa friends and family, Heggtviet skied down the hill and broke a ceremonial ribbon. The re-named hill was the second ski slope in the region to be named in her honour. The first one was at Camp Fortune. By now married, and going under the name Mrs Ross Hamilton, she remarked that “The youngsters of Ottawa are lucky to have facilities like this so close at hand.”

Rusting remains of the ski lift at the Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, by James Powell

The Anne Heggtviet ski hill remained in operation for twenty-five years through to the end of the 1989-1990 ski season. But with declining attendance and aging equipment, the City’s Community Services and Operations Committee took the decision to close the facility. The biggest, little ski area in the East could no longer compete against more challenging, nearby ski resorts. The Anne Heggviet Hill with its 100-foot vertical drop and uninspiring run of only 600 feet was essentially a “bunny hill,” attractive to only the very young or the most novice skiers. Other ski resorts could offer something for all levels of experience. Camp Fortune in Quebec has twenty-five runs or trails, eight lifts, and a vertical drop of 590 feet. Calabogie Peaks boasts twenty-four runs, three lifts, a vertical drop of 780 feet, with a run of 6,961 feet long. The vertical drop of Mont-Tremblant, the greatest of all regional ski resorts, is 2,116 feet. Its longest run is four miles in length.

Bike Park at the top of Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, by James Powell

Today, reminders of the Ann Heggtviet Hill’s skiing past can still be seen in the old tow equipment slowly rusting away. But the hill remains one of the city’s premier winter sports locations. Instead of downhill skiers, it draws hundreds of tobogganers on a winter day when snow conditions are just right. In 2020, a bicycle park opened at the top of the old ski hill despite neighbourhood opposition upset about the likely impact of the facility on wildlife and the area’s tranquility. Fortunately, the toboggan hill was not affected.


Boddy, Sharon, 2016. A Jewel In Ottawa’s West: The Carlington Ski Hill,” 23 September,

Kinsella, Jack. 1965. “Dreams of four years at Carlington Hill,” Ottawa Citizen, 15 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1965. “Carlington ready to open,” 8 December.

——————, 1965. “Conditions now ‘very good,” 15 December.

——————, 1965. “Colorful Carlington ski opening,” 17 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1965. “Spectacular Opening For Carlington Ski Centre,” 8 December.

——————-, 1965. “Carlington Ski Centre,” 16 December.

——————-, 1965. “Carlington Park Ski Centre Opens Tonight,” 16 December.

——————-, 1965. “Open $100,000 Ottawa Ski Site—Hint at Green’s Creek Development,” 17 December.

——————-, 1965. “The Sportspiel,” 18 December.

——————-, 1966. “Carlington Ski Park Was a Colossal Flop,” 16 April.

——————-, 1969. “to Name Carlington Slope for Anne Heggtveit,” 18 December.

Women’s Memorial Building

21 December 1925

Intimations received mid September 1925 that the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King had informally agreed to provide a plot of land for the proposed Women’s Memorial Building must have been greeted with considerable satisfaction by Mrs. Asa Gordon. (Her first name was Amelia, but she was always known as Mrs. Asa Gordon.) Then in her late 70s, Mrs. Gordon had spent a lifetime in service, toiling for the great causes of the day, especially temperance and women’s suffrage. At one time, she was the Dominion President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union as well as the Dominion President of the King’s Own Daughters, an international Christian service group. She had also been a founding member of the Ottawa Women’s Club organized in 1914. Another cause dear to her heart was the erection of a memorial that would recognize the contribution of women to Canadian society, and their service through the Great War. She and the Ottawa Women’s Club had approached the government the previous January and had lobbied hard for funding. An Order-in-Council dated 21 December 1925 made official the government’s offer of land for the memorial.

Women's Memorian OJ30-1-26

Proposed architectural drawing for the Women’s Memorial Building,  The Ottawa Journal, 30 January 1926.

The site for the proposed Memorial Building was immediately to the south of the Dominion Archives building between Sussex Street and Lady Grey Drive, close to Nepean Point Park. It would have been difficult to find a more prestigious location. The government also drafted architectural plans for the proposed four-storey edifice that would conform with the nearby neo-gothic Parliament buildings and the baronial-style Château Laurier Hotel. There was a catch, however. Canadian women would have to raise $100,000 of the estimated $250,000 price tag for the Memorial Building before construction would commence. To this end, Mrs. Gordon, despite her advanced age, threw herself whole heartedly. The Ottawa Women’s Club immediately pledged to raise $5,000. Within two months almost half of that amount had been raised.

The reasons behind Mackenzie King’s support for the Women’s Memorial Building are unclear. It has been suggested that he wanted to curry favour with a large new electorate; women had only received the federal vote in 1918. However, it’s possible that the grant of land was a sincere gesture, particularly given King’s attachment to his mother. Regardless, politicians of all strips quickly got on board.

In addition to recognizing Canadian womanhood in all their activities, including as pioneers, war nurses and mothers, the building was to be the headquarters of national Canadian women’s organizations. The building would be non-sectarian and open to all women regardless of race. It would be a place for women’s groups to hold their national conventions and banquets. To accommodate everybody, Richard C. Wright, the chief architect of the Public Works Department, designed a four-story neo-Gothic building to be built of Nepean sandstone. As well as providing space for the national headquarters of the major Canadian women’s organizations, the edifice would contain a 2,000-seat auditorium, a banqueting hall, a museum/Hall of Fame, and archives. In addition to offices and a memorial for the historical contributions made by women to Canadian society, the building would also be used “for the cultivation of the finer arts and sciences,” and to provide an “inspiration for the future.”

An interim committee of Ottawa women, with Mrs. Asa Gordon as chair, was appointed to oversee fundraising activities until a national board was elected. To this end, representatives from more than two dozen national women’s organizations gathered first at the Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street and later at the Château Laurier Hotel to elect a permanent governing committee and to endorse the Memorial Building proposal. Among the women’s organizations that gave their support were: The King’s Daughters, The Catholic Women’s League, The Hadassah of Canada, The Women’s Art Association, La Fédération des Femmes Canadiennes Françaises, and La Fédération Nationale St. Jean Baptiste. The representatives at this inaugural meeting naturally chose Mrs. Gordon as their President. The organization was later incorporated as the Women’s Memorial Building Federation.

At the municipal level, Ottawa Mayor Balharrie threw his support behind the Women’s Memorial Building proposal. In March 1926, he appeared at a benefit concert of religious music held at the Keith’s Theatre organized by the Ottawa Women’s Club. At the benefit, Mayor Balharrie noted that monuments to deeds of men were commonplace, but that there were few to women. He reviewed the careers of famous women, including Florence Nightingale who organized nursing care for English soldiers during the Crimean War and in so doing turned nursing into a respectable profession, and Edith Cavell, an English nurse who was executed by the Germans during the Great War for helping Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium. He added that Canada owed much to women, “to none more that its mothers, who worked quietly and prayerfully at home during the dark days of the war.” He hoped that the provincial government would contribute much of the necessary $100,000 that the women needed to raise before the federal government would commence construction. Later, the City pledged $5,000 to the building fund. The concert only raised $100 for the building but it was optimistically viewed as the “nucleus” of the $100,000 fund.

Over the following years, women’s groups and churches, especially in the Ottawa area, held teas, benefits and socials to raise funds for the Memorial building. Any society or individual that donated $25 or more could enter the name of one person on the Memorial’s “golden scroll.” The name of every donor who gave a $1 or more would be entered in the “Book of Remembrance.” The name of any child, aged 16 or younger, who gave $1, with the consent of her parents, would be entered into the “Child’s Book of Remembrance.

Mrs. Asa Gordon campaigned tirelessly for the building. She argued that the memorial would be “a factor in the unifying of all classes, creeds and nationalities into the highest Canadian citizenship.” She requested grants from both Premier Taschereau of Quebec and Premier Ferguson of Ontario. When the provincial leaders came to Ottawa for meetings, Mayor Balharrie asked Premier Ferguson for a $25,000 provincial grant for the building. Ferguson said that the issue had come up at conference, but that some premiers were “not fully seized with the proposal.” He thought that a publicity campaign was needed to educate the people. Once citizens showed that they were “in sympathy” with the idea, he was sure that provincial legislatures would provide the necessary backing. Premier Taschereau said he would follow the lead of Ontario’s premier.

Funds trickled in. To give publicity to the Memorial, Mayor Baharrie gave the unveiling of a tablet that was to be installed on the wall of the Memorial Building a prominent place in Ottawa’s centenary celebrations held in mid August 1926. The brass tablet was engraved with Canada’s coat of arms in its centre with sprays of maple leaves and the word “Memorial” over it. On the left-hand side were the words “Dedicated to the Women of Canada,” with the same words in French on the right. The names of every person who donated $1,000 or more would be immortalized on the wall of the Memorial Building alongside the brass tablet.

Lady Byng, the wife of the Governor General, was asked to unveil the tablet at a ceremony to be held on the proposed site of the building on Lady Grey Drive. Among the invited speakers were Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Sir Henry Drayton, who would represent the opposition Conservative Party, and the Bishop of Ottawa. Souvenir booklets were prepared as a way of raising funds.

In the event, Lady Byng declined the invitation as her husband’s term of office ended before the Ottawa’s centenary festivities began and they had left the country. There was also a change in government, with the minority Liberal government replaced by Arthur Meighen’s Conservative Party in the famous “King-Byng Affair.” (Lord Byng had refused King’s request for new elections following the Liberals’ defeat in the House of Commons, but instead asked Meighen to try to form a new government. The Conservatives held 116 seats to the Liberals’ 101, with the remaining 28 seats shared among Progressives, Labour and Independent members. Meighan tried, but subsequently failed to win a vote of confidence in his government. New elections were finally called with King’s Liberals winning a majority in September 1926 just a month after Ottawa’s centenary celebrations.)

With political sands shifting, the organizing committee, headed by the indomitable Mrs. Asa Gordon, quickly tacked, and asked Mrs. Meighen to unveil the brass tablet. In the event, Sir Henry Drayton, the acting Prime Minister in the absence of Arthur Meighen, represented the federal government, and Lady Drayton did the actual unveiling. Mackenzie King, who was out of Ottawa, sent a congratulatory telegram, as did Lady Byng. At the ceremony, Sir Henry said that there were “some things on which we are all agreed upon, and this is one of them.” He also claimed that the Conservatives were at least partially responsible for the memorial building, saying that “this is one of the things which we let Mr. Mackenzie King do; in fact, we assisted him to do it.” However, in his speech, he entirely missed the point of the building. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of women as men’s equals, he applauded their supporting role. “The man who gets the best start in life is he who thinks he has the best mother in the world. Another essential to success is when a man believes he has the best wife.”

Over the next few years, fund-raising went on across the country, especially in the Ottawa region. It was hard going. A national membership campaign was launched in May 1928. However, the response was tepid. In Ottawa, where the objective was to raise $1 from every woman and girl, only 1,000 people contributed.

Some women were dead set against the proposed memorial. Lady Henriette Pope, a prominent Ottawa citizen, wrote a letter in 1926 to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen voicing her opposition to the use of public funds to what she called a “vainglorious scheme.” She thought that instead of allocating money to fund a monument to women, Ottawa City Council should use its $5,000 to help the poor buy fuel. When there was talk that the City might increase its contribution in 1930, she wrote a second letter saying that the inability of the committee of ladies to succeed after four years of ceaseless efforts was evidence that “the women of Canada will have none of it: their innate good senses and good taste repudiate such glorification”. City Council desisted.

Women's Memorial Foundation winding up 20-5-1936

Winding up notice of the Women’s Memorial Building Federation, Ottawa Citizen, 20 May 1936.

By early 1931, Mrs. Asa Gordon and her Women’s Memorial Building Foundation had raised only $46,407 in cash and pledges, far short of the $100,000 goal. The idea of erecting a building on Lady Grey Drive was slipping away. Promotion of the scheme shifted to emphasize the benefits to Ottawa, especially the attraction of a new large auditorium which could be used as a theatre that Ottawa lacked owing to the demolition of the Russell Theatre. Mrs. Gordon said that the Memorial building would be like London’s Albert Hall, and would be part of the beautification of Ottawa.

It was not enough. With the country gripped by the Great Depression, there was no money for a Women’s Memorial Building. In June 1932, the coup de grace came with the death of Mrs. Gordon, aged 85, in Columbus, Ohio, where she had been attending a meeting of the Sons and Daughters of the King. With the death of its most avid supporter, the building project also died. In December 1934, the City of Ottawa transferred the $5,000 it had promised to the Building Fund in 1926 out of an escrow account into the City’s general account as it seemed unlikely that the building would ever be constructed.

In 1936, at a special general meeting of the Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation at the King’s Daughters’ Guild on Laurier Street in Ottawa, acting President Jane R. Stewart signed the document winding up the Federation. The Federation returned the bulk of $26,293 it held in cash and investments to contributors, giving them back their subscriptions, plus 5% interest. 98 per cent of contributors of $2 or more were tracked down. The largest was the Ottawa Women’s Club which received $4,500. The estate of Mrs. Asa Gordon received $3,000. After paying liquidation and legal fees, the remaining $3,000 was turned over to the Crown in 1938.

Today, the site of the proposed Women’s Memorial Building is occupied by the National Gallery of Canada.


Montreal Gazette, 1926. “Mrs. Meighen To Unveil Tablet,” 14 August.

———————, 1935. “Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation,” 26 November

Ottawa Citizen, 1925. “Grateful To Govt. For Building Site,” 25 September.

——————, 1926. “Drive Launched To Get $100,000 Memorial Fund,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “Two Deputations To Mr. Ferguson,” 10 June.

——————, 1926. “unveiling Brass Insert, August 19th,” 3 August.

——————-, 1926. “Plan Unveiling Founders’ Tablet,” 13 August.

——————-, 1926. “Memorial To Women Of Canada Will Be Erected In Capital,” 16 August.

——————-, 1926. “Commemorate Beginning Of Rideau Canal Construction And Women’s Memorial Building,” 19 August.

——————-, 1928. “Campaign In Aid Women’s Memorial Building Fund Is Starting Today,” 15 May.

——————-, 1930, “Letter to the Editor from A. E. Gordon,” 24 February.

——————-, 1930, “Lady Pope Protests,” 14 July.

——————-, 1934. “No title,” 12 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1925. “Govt. Accedes to Desire For Women’s Hall,” 12 September.

——————-, 1926. “Representatives of 440,500 Women Endorse Memorial Building Plan,” 30 January.

——————-, 1926. “Canadian Women’s Memorial To Be Erected On Lady Grey Drive, Near Nepean Point,” 30 January.

——————, 1926. “Mayor Balharrie Approved Plan To Erect A Woman’s Memorial,” 22 March.

——————, 1926. “Says Women’s Memorial Building Factor In Unifying All Classes,” 29 April.

——————, 1926. “City To Give $5,000 To Aid New Memorial,” 27 August.

——————, 1926. “Lady Pope’s Protest,” 10 September.

——————, 1937. “Returns $26,293 To Contributors,” 30 January.

——————, 1937 “Ottawa Women’s Club Will Receive $4,500 In Memorial Funds,” 1 February.

——————, 1938. “Return Contrbutions To Memorial Federation

Province (The), 1926. “Women’s Memorial At Ottawa Will Cost $250,000,” 4 April.

Urbsite, 2014. Ottawa’s 1926 Centenary Projects & The King-Byng Affair, 2 February,


The Re-Birth of the Ottawa Senators

20 December 1991

Major league sports franchises have not always thrived in Ottawa, a relatively small market sandwiched between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two sporting giants. The city’s football team failed twice in recent decades, the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996 and the Ottawa Renegades in 2002. The Red Blacks now take the field to uphold the Capital’s football honour in the Canadian Football League. Hockey too has had its challenges. After winning multiple Stanley Cups during the 1920s, the storied Ottawa Senators, collapsed in 1934. Barely profitable during good times, the team simply could not survive the ravages of the Great Depression. Decades later, a WHA franchise, the Ottawa Nationals, appeared and disappeared in a matter of months during the early 1970s.

Imagine the excitement, and the scepticism, when news broke in June 1989 that an Ottawa development company was not only attempting to restore NHL hockey to the nation’s capital after a break of close to 60 years, but it also planned to revive the old Ottawa Senators club, an honoured name that still resonated in Canadian hockey lore.

Ottawa senators original logo

Initial pre-launch Ottawa Senators logo used to fire up fan interest in 1989-90. This emblem was never official. Reportedly, the logo was rejected by the NHL for being too local. Team officials said that it was “the official logo of the campaign to bring back the Senators.” Fans who had bought Senators’ merchandise with this logo were not pleased when it was replaced by a Roman centurion. Sensnation.

That company was Terrace Investments Ltd, under the direction of its young president and chief executive officer, Bruce Firestone. Terrace Investments was no fly-by-night operation. The family-owned firm, established in 1956 by Bruce Firestone’s father, Jack Firestone, was well known, the developer of a number of commercial properties in the Ottawa region. However, bringing an NHL franchise to the city was a huge undertaking for the company, one that would require outside investors to bring it off as well as a lot of hard work and much good fortune. The price of admission was steep, a cool $US50 million. And that was before paying for players, building an arena, and covering all the ancillary costs associated with starting a hockey club from scratch, including putting together a convincing bid to the NHL’s board of governors.

A bid for an NHL franchise was not a wacky idea, however. The NHL was in the mood to expand after a decade of stability; it had previously added four new teams in 1979—Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets—former members of the World Hockey Association. Reportedly as many as thirty cities had expressed an interest in obtaining a hockey franchise. In addition to Terrace Investments’ bid for an Ottawa team, investors were interested in bringing major league teams to Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatoon and Kitchener-Waterloo. A number of US cities were also keen, including Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Seattle. As well, there was talk of European cities obtaining franchises in what would become a global hockey league. Cities like, Moscow, Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg), Stockholm and Helsinki were mentioned as likely contenders. But did little Ottawa stand a chance? Many doubted it. The senior Firestone was sceptical of the idea. Ottawa Mayor Jim Durrell, while wishing Bruce Firestone well, thought his bid for an NHL franchise had little chance of success. Alan Eagleson, the former director of the NHL’s Players’ Association, said that Ottawa was a “long shot.”

Ottawa senators second logo

The first official emblem of the re-born Ottawa Senators (1991-1997). People criticized it for being “generic, derivative and unoriginal.” Some likened it to the Amex logo or the logo of the University of Southern California Trojans football team. Logopedia.

Firestone’s bold game plan was to build a 20,000-seat arena on agricultural land that Terrace Investments had purchased in West Carleton and Kanata. Around the arena would be constructed a mini-city of 9,000 residents to be called Terrace West. An adjacent, upscale hotel was also planned for the site. The cost of the franchise would be covered, at least in part, by Terrace reselling land for development, assuming the site was rezoned for commercial and residential use. This was a big assumption.

Firestone officially kicked off his bid for an NHL franchise at a news conference in early September 1989 with Frank “Finny” Finnegan at his side. Finnegan had been a member of the Ottawa Senators’ team that had won the club’s last Stanley Cup in 1927. Firestone also announced that plans for the new arena, to be called the “Palladium,” would be forthcoming shortly. Simultaneously, he launched a campaign for reservations for season tickets.

The words had hardly left his mouth when Firestone’s bid for a franchise hit the first of the many stumbling blocks that were to come. The Ottawa Senators of the Central Junior A Hockey League (CJHL) had launched a law suit over use of the name “Ottawa Senators.”

For the next fifteen months, Firestone worked hard to put together a package that would convince John Zeigler, the president of the NHL, and the NHL’s Board of Governors that his Ottawa Senators bid was genuine, and that he had the financial backing to bring it off.  Things initially moved smoothly according to Firestone’s game plan. In January 1990, Terrance Investments came to an agreement with the CJHL Senators over the name as well as members of the Thomas P. Gorman family who also had a claim on the name. In March, Terrace put up an initial non-refundable US$5 payment, a down payment on the $50 million franchise fee. Three months later, Regional Council and the Kanata City Council agreed to rezone the agricultural land for the construction of the Palladium. In October, Milwaukee, a front-running city in the bidding for an NHL franchise, pulled out, improving Ottawa’ chances. Subsequently, Ottawa Mayor Durrell urged supporters of the Ottawa Senators to swamp Premier Bob Rae with letters demanding provincial support for Firestone’s bid. The Premier complied sending a letter of support to the NHL governors on behalf of Ottawa, but also for Hamilton whose bid was backed by Tim Horton’s Donuts. Kanata residents were urged to support Operation Blackout in which they were to turn off their electricity on one day in November in support of the team. An estimated 134,000 people took part.

In early December 1989, the NHL’s Board of Governors met in conclave at the tony Breakers resort in Palm Springs, Florida to consider competing bids for NHL franchises. Firestone provided them with an impressive black, leather bound bid book with gold trim. Outside in the street in front of the hotel, the Ottawa Fire Brigade band and enthusiastic, placard-waving Senators supporters did their best to sway governors’ opinions.

Two years of lobbying and US$3.5 million in bid preparation costs paid off. Just before noon on 6 December 1989, President Zeigler announced that Ottawa, along with Tampa Bay, had been awarded conditional franchises.

From that point, the really hard slogging began. It was not obvious that Firestone and Terrace Investments would be able to meet all of the NHL’s conditions. Most importantly, there was the matter of finding US$45 million of the franchise fee to be paid in two tranches, the first by June 1991 and the second by December 1991. Second, the NHL insisted that by December 1991, Terrace had to have a binding financial agreement for the construction of the Palladium.

Both conditions were problematic. Terrace did not have the cash to make the payments; it needed outside investors. But Canada was experiencing a deep recession in 1991, and money was not easy to find. As well, much of Terrace’s financial plan hinged on the rezoning of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of Kanata for the construction of the arena and surrounding hotel, retail and residential development. But a Carp farmer, later joined by others, had protested the rezoning to the Ontario Municipal Board, setting in motion a hearing into the rezoning decisions made by Kanata and the regional government.

One condition that was easily met was the number of season tickets sold. In a ten-day selling “blitz” late December 1990, 9,355 season tickets were reserved for the Senators’ first season in the Ottawa Civic Centre, their temporary home before the Palladium was built. This was essentially all the seats in the arena. Following a renovation in 1991, capacity was increased to 9,793 seats by reducing the width of seats to a standard 16 inches.

Through 1991, Firestone worked on both the financing and zoning issues. To help him, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Durrell, now a convert to the Senators’ cause, became President of the club in late 1990. Shortly afterwards, he resigned from the mayor’s chair after there were complaints of his “moonlighting.”

Terrace Investments began selling limited partnerships in the new franchise, which were divided into Class A, B, and C units. Buyers did come in, but it was slow going. And it looked touch and go whether the June US$22.6 million payment could be met. In the event, Terrace placed the funds in escrow on the due date (which had been extended a week for both Ottawa and Tampa Bay). Reportedly, Terrace borrowed the necessary funds. Funding prospects improved with news that Paul Anka, the crooner from the 1950s and 1960s who had roots in Ottawa, had stepped forward and bought a significant interest in the team and the Palladium project. A television deal with Baton Broadcasting for CTV affiliates CJOH in Ottawa and CHRO in Pembroke also brought in much needed cash.

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing, held over an eleven-week period through the summer of 1991, was a close call. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food as well as twelve individuals opposed the rezoning of prime agricultural land for other purposes. If there was no rezoning, the Firestone’s NHL’s franchise bid would fail. The opposition of the Minister of Agriculture incensed Firestone. Firestone thought that the NDP government’s hostility to the rezoning reflected its preference for Hamilton to receive an NHL franchise as Hamilton was an NDP stronghold.

The decision of the three-person Board hinged on six points. These comprised: the appropriateness of using agricultural land for commercial purposes, specifically a hockey area; whether Terrace Investments had made an adequate search for alternate sites; the size of the economic benefits to the project; the need for commercial development around the proposed arena, i.e. the proposed hotel and the homes and retail spaces; traffic congestion in the area; and the integrity of the municipal planning process.

While critical of Firestone’s approach to the rezoning issue, the Board agreed that 220 acres of land could be rezoned to permit the building of the Palladium arena. However, it required Terrace Investments to pay for all the required infrastructure, including the interchange linking road access to the arena to the Queensway. Moreover, the Board denied permission to rezone additional agricultural land for a hotel and the Terrace West “mini-city.”

It was enough. Construction on an NHL-size arena to house the re-born Ottawa Senators could begin. A key condition of the franchise had been met. Now that this major hurdle had been crossed, investor money was easier to raise. Terrace Investments paid the second US$22.5 million installment into the escrow account in mid-December 1991. On 20 December 1991, following the completion of the necessary paperwork, an excited Bruce Firestone held up a framed NHL franchise certificate. The Ottawa Senators had been reborn. Firestone said “The Senators will never leave town again.”

The re-born Sens were back in action at the start of the 1992-93 season. Bruce Firestone, however, didn’t stay around beyond that first year. In August 1993, he sold his and his family’s interest in Terrace Investments to his partner, Rod Bryden. The financial and emotional toll of bringing an NHL franchise to Ottawa had been too great.


NHL, 2016. From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion,

Ottawa Citizen, “20,000 seat arena, hotel part of NHL franchise bid,” 23 June.

——————, 1989. “Inside Bruce Firestone,” 5 December.

——————, 1990. “The Rocky Road To An NHL Franchise,” 7 December.

——————, 1991. “SRO for Senators’ seats, 2 January.

——————, 1991. “The Opposition Mounts,” 4 January.

——————, 1991. “It’s pay day: NHL to receive $5m down payment,” 14 January.

——————, 1991. “Hockey controversy hurting city hall, says O’Neil,” 15 January.

——————, 1991. “The Last Act,” 7 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrace looking for investors,” 28 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrae’s brilliant selling job,” 2 March.

——————, 1991. “Firestone’s vision remains true despite the many questions,” 7 March.

——————, 1991. “Citizen’s (sic) group shows support for Senators,” 19 March.

——————, 1991. “Anka wants quick return on Senators,” 23 March.

——————, 1991. CJOH, CHRO win TV deal with Senators,” 27 April.

——————, 1991. “Anka to be Senators’ landlord,” 14 May.

——————, 1991. “The logo they love to hate,” 18 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena site crucial, hearing told,” 22 May.

——————, 1991. “Bring back the Peace Tower,” 23 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena would defy city plan,” 28 May.

——————, 1991. “Developer gains Kanata approval for town centre shopping mall,” 30 May.

—————–, 1991. “Senators in a ‘war’ to survive,” 15 June.

—————–, 1991. “All is rosy for Senators on pay day,” 16 June.

—————–, 1991. “NDP’s obstinate opposition,” 24 June.

—————–, 1991. “Crunch time for the Senators,” 20 July.

—————–, 1991. Race against time at Civic Centre,” 1 August.

—————–, 1991. “Finding himself: Anka’s deal is oh so sweet,” 23 August.

—————–, 1991. “Major victory for the team,” 27 August.

—————–, 1991. “Now for the cash…” 29 August.

—————–, 1991. “Senators have sold $37m in shares.

—————–, 1991. “NHL says Senators financing in place,” 17 December.

—————-, 1991. “Its Official,” 21 December.

Red Deer Advocate, 1989. “Pro hockey on way to Saskatoon: report,” 24 November.

Star-Phoenix, 1989. “NHL expansion plan outlined by Shenkarow,” 11 November.

The Chaudière Ring Dam

19 December 1908

It would be hard to underestimate the importance of the Chaudière Falls to the development of the city of Ottawa. Along with the Rideau Canal, the city owes its existence to the power that was (and continues to be) generated at the Falls. Indeed, one could argue that without the Falls, the lumber industry, which was the economic life blood of the city through the nineteenth century, would have located elsewhere. And without its mills, it’s hard to imagine that little Ottawa would have been a viable candidate to be the capital of Canada in 1857 notwithstanding its ideal location.

From the early nineteenth century, settlers recognized the energy potential of the Falls. Lumber mills popped up on both sides of the River as well as on the islands that straddle the border between Ontario and Quebec, including the Wright’s, Chaudière, Victoria, Albert and Amelia Islands. Logs cut in the Ottawa hinterland were floated down the Ottawa River and its tributaries to these mills. In the years before electricity, the mills were powered by water wheels.

By the early 1880s, water-powered turbines had advanced to the point where it was economic to convert the energy of flowing water into electricity. The first hydro-electric plant in North America opened in 1881 on the U.S. side of the Niagara Falls. That same year, E.B. Eddy used a generator run by waterpower to power arc lights in his lumber, match and woodenware factory in Hull.

By the mid-1890s, Ottawa was known as the “Electric City,” due importantly to the development of electrical power made possible by harnessing the Chaudière Falls. At the time, it was estimated that 20 per cent of Ottawa’s population and 75 per cent of Hull’s population were directly dependent on the Falls for their livelihoods.

The two men most responsible for this electrical revolution, were Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. Ahearn was an inventor par excellence, Canada’s answer to Thomas Edison, while Warren Soper was the man with the business acumen. Together, the duo formed a powerful partnership that dominated Ottawa for a generation. In 1896, the Illustrated Buffalo Express newspaper wrote:

Through the splendid supply of cheap power afforded by the falls, combined with the business foresight and ability of two of its citizens [Ahearn and Soper], Ottawa has led the van, not only for the Dominion but also in many respects for the continent, in the way of the development of practical electricity.

In addition to powering a timber industry worth $5 million per year, a huge sum in those days, Ahearn and Soper’s Ottawa Electric Company provided power to many Ottawa-area businesses—as long as they were located within four miles of the generators at the Chaudière Falls. The Canadian Atlantic Railway Company’s repair shops in LeBreton Flats were powered by electricity. R.A. McCormick, a pharmacy on Spark Street, was heated electrically. The Ottawa Canoe Club even used an electric motor for hauling canoes out of the water. Ahearn and Soper’s electric railway system was also powered by hydro-electricity. The streetcar system had thirty miles of track with 40 cars running daily through the year. The streetcars were heated and lighted electrically, unheard of luxuries just a few years earlier.

The Ottawa Electric Company also provided street lighting throughout the city as well power for most of the 60,000 incandescent light bulbs in use in Ottawa at that time. The Buffalo newspaper enthused that is amounted to more than one bulb for every inhabitant, “a proportion claimed to be unequal by any other town of like size in America.”

While less expensive than using manufactured gas to light lamps, electricity did not come cheap, notwithstanding what the Buffalo newspaper said. In 1903, electricity reportedly cost 8 cents per kilowatt hour in Ottawa, equivalent to roughly $2 per kilowatt hour in 2019 dollars. The 2019 Ottawa Hydro’s off-peak rate is 6.5 cents a kilowatt hour.

Chaudiere Falls dam 3328647 Dept of Public Works

Picture of the Chaudière Ring Dam shortly after completion in December 1908, Department of Public Works, Library and Archives Canada, 3328647.

Growing demand for electricity as electrical lines were strung across the city, combined with economic growth, led to pressures to increase the production of hydro power at the Falls. However, conflicting interests and bickering among the power owners at the Chaudière caused long delays. On the Ottawa side of the river alone, there were 26 water lots lettered A to Z, most of which were controlled by electric power generators, lumber and flour companies. These lots were leased from the Dominion government for $100 per year. Added to the complexity of the problem was the fact that any agreement among the Ontario and Quebec power owners at the Grand Chaudière Falls had to respect the rights of power owners at the upstream Little Chaudière Falls. While the Dominion government recognized the importance of developing water power on the Ottawa river, it was not going to move until the private power owners came up with a solution to their disagreements.

In 1907, a settlement was finally reached among the water powers on the Ottawa River that settled “the vexed and prolonged differences between the users of water power at the Chaudière Falls.” The agreement was executed on the Ontario side by J.R. Booth, the Ottawa Electric Company, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, the Ottawa Power Company, the Bronson Company, and the Ottawa Investment Company. On the Quebec side were the E.B. Eddy Company and the Ottawa and Hull Power Company. To facilitate matters, Thomas Ahearn and the Ottawa Land Association gave up their water rights at the Little Chaudière Falls.

The agreement was quite simple, and hugely profitable for the power producers. The Ontario and Quebec companies would share the water equally. They would also build a modern dam at the Chaudière Falls, replacing the existing submerged dam built forty years earlier. The new dam would raise the head of water at the cost of partially drowning the Little Chaudière Falls. For its part, the Dominion government would dam the upper reaches of the Ottawa river. By storing water upstream, water could be saved during the spring freshet and slowly released during the low water months of later summer and autumn. A steady, regulated flow of water would allow the hydro turbines to run more consistently and efficiently through the year. It would also improve navigation on the Ottawa River. As well, spring flooding would be mitigated. The City of Ottawa would also benefit. A higher water level behind a new dam would reduce the problem of anchor and frazil ice in the winter that blocked intakes to the City’s waterworks located upstream from the Falls. Anchor ice is submerged ice that forms in face-moving rivers at very low temperatures. Frazil ice is slushy ice that also forms in turbulent, super cold water.

Work began on a new dam in early August 1908 and proceeded rapidly in part owing to the Ottawa River’s extraordinarily low water level that year. The power owners established a committee in charge of the work consisting of George Millen, representing the north shore owners, William Baldwin, representing the south shore owners, and two engineers, J.B. McRae and William Kennedy Jr. Messrs. Quinlan and Robinson of Montreal were the contractors. The site’s superintendent was Mr. J. B. Laflamme who had considerable experience, having worked on the bridge across the Rio Grande River between the United States and Mexico at Eagle Pass and on the Trent Valley Canal. He kept a firm grip on the workers. He is reported as saying: “Two things I do not permit among my men are swearing and drinking.”  In charge of the concrete gangs was Uldric Marcotte would had worked on the piers for the Quebec bridge and the power dam on the Severn River at Ragged Rapids.

The first task was to take some two thousand soundings to determine the elevation of the river bed. Tests were also done to determine the velocity of the water at various points. Detailed drawings and specifications were approved for the contracts for concrete, steelwork, etc. Divers also cleaned the river bed. A temporary road to transport supplies to the site from the Chaudière Bridge was constructed along with a tool house, cement shed and a store shed.

Work began on the dam proper in late August on the Quebec side. Work commenced on the Ontario side shortly afterwards. As many as three hundred men were employed on the site working day and night to ensure that the dam was completed before the end of the season. The cost was $250,000.

Chaudiere dam winch 3326122 Topley LAC

The travelling winch used to raise the stoplogs that controlled the flow of the river, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3326122.

The dam consisted of 49 concrete piers and two abutments constructed in the form of an arc of a circle with a radius of 546 feet, 9 inches, with the centre of the arc situated at a point within the Big Kettle of the Falls. Each pier was made of reinforced concrete, with steel rods bolted together. 1¾ inch anchor bolts fasten the rods to the bedrock of the river. To construct the piers, a wooden mould, made exactly to the shape of the pier, was filled with concrete and allowed to set. Each pier was 39 feet 5 inches long and four feet thick on the upstream side and 2 feet thick on the downstream side. To protect them from ice floes in the winter, the upstream sides were faced with a curved ½ inch steel plate.

The final pier was completed at 2.45 pm on Saturday, 19 December 1908. When the last bucket of concrete was poured, workmen hoisted the Union Jack on an improvised flagstaff in the presence of the engineers and representatives of the contractor. So accurately were the piers positioned, that holes drilled in the steel beams that connected the tops of the piers were only ½ inch out when the final pier was connected.

In total, the construction of the Chaudière Ring Dam entailed the excavation of 7,400 cubic yards of rock, the laying of 8,926 cubic yards of concrete, and the installation of 700 tons of steel.

To regulate the flow of the river through the dam, large stoplogs of British Columbian Douglas fir were purchased from Cameron & Company, and transported by rail across the country, arriving in Ottawa by mid-November. There were 550 pieces, totally more than 300,000 board feet of lumber. According to their position in the dam, the logs, each roughly 24 feet long, came in three sizes, 14 inches x 16 inches, 16 inches x 16 inches, and 16 inches by 18 inches. They were lowered between the piers by an electrically-operated, travelling winch with a lifting capacity of 50 tons. The winch travelled along a rail laid on top of a concrete road that connected the piers.

By the summer of 1909, several thousand horse-power of electricity was ready for sale at $15 per horse power per year, equivalent to 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour. 14,000 additional horse-power (roughly 10 Megawatts) could be made available with the installation of additional generators. Once the government had completed the water storage dams on the Upper Ottawa, many times that amount could be generated.

The Chaudière Ring Dam was the principal source of electrical power in Ottawa for the next twenty years. By 1928, however, electrical demand finally outstripped what could be generated at the Falls. Increasingly, additional power had to be purchased from the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, later known as Ontario Hydro.

Chaudiere Ring Dam 2019

Aerial View of the Chaudière Ring Dam, courtesy of Jeff Young.

Today, the Chaudière Ring Dam produces 84.6 Megawatts of clean, renewable hydro-electricity. This is enough power to supply 58,000 homes. All of the six hydro-electric facilities in operation at the Chaudière Falls on both sides of the Ottawa River are owned and operated by Portage Power, a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa. This includes Canada’s oldest operating hydro-electric plant situated on Victoria Island, which dates back to 1891. In 2017, Generating Station No. 5 located on Chaudière Island, was opened. Its state-of-the art powerhouse with four turbines was constructed entirely below ground. This permitted the creation of the Chaudière Falls Park with a viewing platform over the Falls, thereby restoring public access to the area for the first time in over 100 years.  To reinforce the eco-friendly nature of the new hydro facility, a fish ladder was installed to facilitate the migration of the American eel up the Ottawa River. As well, a sturgeon spawning bed was created to help restore the sturgeon population on the Ottawa River, devastated in the past by pollution.

Despite the environmental credentials of the hydro-electric facilities at the Chaudière Falls, the Chaudière Ring Dam remains controversial given its location at a site long considered sacred by Algonquin First Nations. The area, indeed all of Ottawa, remains unceded Algonquin territory. A “Free The Falls” group seeks the demolition of the Chaudière Ring Dam and the return of the Chaudière and Victoria Islands to their natural state or parkland.



Back, Margaret, 2016. “Report of March meeting: Franz Kropp – Electrical Power Generation at the Chaudière Falls,” Historical Society of Ottawa, HSO Newsletter, June.

Illustrated Buffalo Express, 1896. “Making the Waterfalls Work,” 27 December.

Lambert, Lindsey, 2014. “Free Chaudiere Falls,” Ontario Rivers Alliance,

Ottawa Citizen, 1907. “Water Power Interests Settle Their Differences,” 25 November.

——————-, 1908. “Begin Work on Chaudiere Dam,” 11 August.

——————-, 1908. “Rapid Progress,” 18 August.

——————-, 1908. “Dam’s Progress,” 3 November.

——————-, 1908. “A Most Serious Condition,” 26 November.

——————-, 1908. “Piers Completed At Chaudiere,” 22 December.

——————-, 1909. “Ottawa’s Wealth Of Cheap Water Power,” 9 October.

——————-, 1909. “Electric Power Is Plentiful,” 6 November.

——————-, 1912. “Judge Gunn’s Report,” 2 December.

——————-, 2017. “Chaudière Falls opens up to the public with new viewing platform, free show, 10 October.

Portage Power, 2019. Portage Power,


The Inter-Provincial Bridge, a.k.a. the Royal Alexandra Bridge

12 December 1900

During much of the nineteenth century, only one bridge spanned the mighty Ottawa River linking the burgeoning community of Bytown, later known as Ottawa, with its sister town of Hull on the northern shore. Initially, this was the wooden Union Bridge which was completed in 1828 close to the Chaudière Falls. That bridge collapsed a few years later and was superseded by the Union Suspension Bridge in 1843. This bridge became the main thoroughfare linking Ontario and Quebec for the rest of the century. Condemned in 1919, it was replaced by the Chaudière Bridge which is still in operation today.

In 1880, the Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway Company built a railway bridge across the Ottawa River close to Lemieux Island. Initially called the Chaudière Railway Bridge, its name was later changed to the Prince of Wales Bridge in honour of the eldest son of Queen Victoria, the future King Edward VII. (When this name change occurred is uncertain but it was no later than 1887.) However, the Prince of Wales bridge did not carry pedestrian or carriage traffic, and was far removed from the city centre.

Alexandra Bridge Mikan 4459589
The Inter-provincial Bridge under construction, 1900, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4459589.

Discussion of a new interprovincial bridge to the east of the Union Suspension Bridge actually predated the construction of the Prince of Wales Bridge. In 1877, meetings were held at Ottawa’s City Hall on the construction of a railway and carriage road bridge linking Rockcliffe in Ontario with the small Quebec community of Waterloo on the north shore of the Ottawa. The plan was for the Ottawa & Toronto Railway Company to link its rails with the Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway by way of the bridge. There were also plans to build a central depot near Elgin Street linking downtown Ottawa with the Rockcliffe bridge. But the scheme failed to gain political traction with the provincial or federal governments. Bridge supporters had hoped that governments would provide much of the $380,000 needed to fund construction.

In 1883, Sir Charles Tupper, the then Minister of Railways and Canals, put the kibosh on the proposal on the grounds that the road to the bridge had not been completed, and that the Quebec and Ontario governments had not provided any funding. Four years later, a similar proposal was mooted, with a bridge over the Ottawa at Rockland, Ontario. Supporters viewed it as an ideal Jubilee project to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden anniversary on the throne with the suggestion that it be called the “Victoria Inter-provincial Bridge.” The idea went nowhere.

In 1890, the Pontiac & Pacific Junction Railway (P.P.J.R.) and the related Gatineau Valley Railway Company came up with a new proposal for an interprovincial bridge to link Ottawa to Hull at Nepean Point with a central depot to be built at the Rideau Canal. The price tag was estimated at roughly $800,000 including the cost of building the approaches to the bridge on both shores.

This idea was warmly greeted by important Ottawa citizens and groups, including former mayor Francis McDougal. Ottawa’s City Council, the Ottawa Board of Trade, and the Trades and Labour Council. Other communities in eastern Ontario and western Quebec later came out in support of the proposal. In 1894, the City of Ottawa taxpayers voted in favour of By-law 1,458 to give a “bonus” of $150,000 to the P.P.J.R. upon the completion of a bridge for railway, carriage and pedestrian traffic. Instead of cash, the City would hand over 30-year debentures paying an interest rate of 4 per cent. There were conditions, however. Most importantly, the inter-provincial bridge would have to be completed by July 1897.

Applications for grants also went to the Ontario, Quebec, and Dominion governments. High-powered deputations of railway and municipal officials lobbied members of legislatures. Ontario came through with $50,000 in April 1895, only a fraction of what was sought. The Quebec government chose not to provide any funds. After much delay, the Dominion government provided $212,000. In the meantime, the City of Ottawa twice extended its deadline for the railway to qualify for its $150,000 bonus.

With financing, both private and public, adequately secured, and the plans approved by the Department of Railways and Canals, work finally commenced in February 1898. The bridge would carry a single-track railway line in the centre with two carriage roads and sidewalks for pedestrians.

Including its approaches, the bridge is 2,685 feet long with a clear span of 1,050 feet, the fourth longest bridge of this type in the world at that time. Five piers were constructed to support the structure with the deepest pier located in 70 feet of water. Messrs. McNaughton & Broder were awarded the contract for building the piers.  The Dominion Bridge Company of Montreal won the contract for the bridge’s superstructure. The bridge was designed by a team of Canadian engineers led by G.C. Dunn.

Bridge engineers faced some difficult challenges in building the piers owing to sunken logs and sawdust littering the river bed. Before finding bedrock for pier two, workers had to go through eight feet of drowned boards and timbers. At pier three, sawdust thirty feet deep had to be removed using a “clam-shell” dredge. While there were federal laws against fouling waterways, the law apparently did not apply to the Ottawa River—a testament to the political strength of the Ottawa Valley timber barons.

After clearing away the debris at pier two, workers discovered that the bedrock was sharply sloped. To level the area, they blasted the stone using dynamite placed in holes and attached by wires to an electric battery on Nepean Point. Reportedly, the blasts were imperceptible until smoke and bubbles came to the surface of the river.  Caissons, built of twelve-inch thick wooden boards, were installed around the work sites. Into them, workers poured cement to form the base of the piers. Ten thousand barrels of cement were used in building the five piers. Stone for the masonry work came from quarries in Rockland and Eganville.

Alexandra bridge approach triple tracks and underpass road MIKAN 4269727
The Ottawa Approach to the Inter-provincial bridge, Nepean Point, William Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009430.

Another challenge that workers faced was building the approaches to the new bridge, especially on the Ontario side of the River. Labourers carved out thirty-five feet from the face of the cliff at Nepean Point to form the roadbed. A considerable portion of Major’s Hill Park was also sacrificed to make the entrance into downtown Ottawa. As well, the stone abutments of Sappers’ Bridge were pierced to provide an entry for trains into the new central train station located beside the Canal. The stone abutments were replaced by iron and steel supports that allowed for room for the trains.

Given the engineering challenges, the extensive excavation work, and delays in obtaining needed supplies, the construction of the bridge took much longer than expected. There was also the occasional labour action. In January 1900, stone cutters downed tools when their wages were cut from $3 per day prevailing during the previous summer, to $2.50 per day at the beginning of December to only $2 per day.

Because of these delays, work was hurried to ensure that conditions for the Ottawa bonus were met. Despite the haste, however, there seems to have been few accidents, and the ones that did occur were relatively minor.

Whether or not the P.P.J.R. had met all the conditions to qualify for the City of Ottawa bonus of $150,000 in debentures became contentious. Some aldermen as well as the City’s engineer maintained that the railway had failed to meet an intermediate condition of spending a minimum of $50,000 on the construction by the middle of March 1898. Consequently, they wanted to withhold the bonus. The railway said otherwise and threatened to sue. In the event, the bonus was eventually paid. There was also controversy over the nature of the bonus. Since the time the bonus was originally agreed, interest rates had fallen from 4 per cent to 3 ½ per cent. This implied that market value of the debentures had increased significantly. Instead of $150,000, the bonus was effectively worth roughly $162,000. There were unfavourable comments in the press about the City’s financial acumen in promising to give the railway company marketable debentures rather than cash.

Alexandra bridge 12-12-00OEJ
The small announcement of the first bridge transit, 12 December, 1900. The Ottawa Evening Journal

Another hiccup along the way was a proposal by a consortium of investors led by the Hull & Alymer Electric Railway to build another bridge across the Ottawa River, with the Ottawa end coming out at roughly Bank Street. The idea was to provide electric streetcar service from Hull to the Ottawa shore of the Ottawa River. The proposal was warmly greeted by both the Hull and Ottawa city councils as well as the Ottawa Retail Merchants Association, especially as the backers of the bridge were not seeking public money. However, there was strong opposition from the Inter-provincial Bridge Company, which was owned by the P.P.J.R., that argued that the new bridge would divert business away from its bridge.  As well, the Ottawa Electric Railway owned by Thomas Ahearn, complained that should the Hull streetcar company provide service to Ottawa, even just to the Ontario shore of the Ottawa River, its monopoly rights would be infringed. The proposed Bank Street bridge failed to get a charter from the federal government despite several attempts.

By December 1899, the Dominion Bridge Company was ready to start building the building’s superstructure with six barge loads of steel on site. Work moved rapidly from that point. By October 1900, Ontario and Quebec were connected and work was underway in building the roadbed. Venturesome youth were spotted making the dangerous journey across the iron work from one side of the bridge to the other. On 12 December 1900, the first test train made its way over the new bridge without mishap and without fanfare. Only a small announcement in the Journal newspaper celebrated the event. A month later, Chief William F. Powell of the Ottawa Police Force and his wife were the first to drive their carriage over the bridge. They were initially stopped by a bridge guard, but were subsequently allowed to proceed when the Chief identified himself. In mid-February 1901, the inter-provincial bridge was checked out first by Dominion inspectors and subsequently by the City of Ottawa’s inspector and aldermen. Having received a positive assessment, the bridge opened to the general public for the first time at noon, 5 March 1901.

More test trains ran over the bridge, including one consisting of four heavy locomotives drawing several cars bearing heavy loads of stone and steel. Weighing more than 400 tons, far beyond the weight of a usual train, the idea was to test the endurance of the bridge. Not even the slightest tremor was felt.

Alexandra bridge from Nepean Point William James TopleyLACPA-009430
Inter-provincial Bridge a.k.a. Royal Alexandra Bridge, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-009430.

Another less felicitous milestone occurred on 14 April 1901 when the bridge experienced its first accident. An approaching train spooked a horse pulling a rig occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Lahaise, the owners of a furniture store on Rideau street. The horse galloped across the bridge towards Hull and crashed into a carriage driven by Mr. and Mrs. James Cudd who were out for a pleasure drive. Mr. and Mrs. Lahaise suffered shock and bruises when they jumped from their rig to safety. Pedestrians were also sent scurrying to safety to get out of the horse’s path.  While the Lahaise carriage suffered no damage, the Cudds’ buggy sustained a badly twisted wheel and back axle.

The cross-bridge train service from the Hull Station to Ottawa’s new Central Station was officially opened on 22 April 1901; scheduled service had in fact commenced four days earlier. For the big event, both bridge and train were decorated with flags and bunting. On board, were city dignitaries and railway officials. Mr. John Lauzon was the first official paying passenger. Souvenir badges were presented to all on board that inaugural seven-minute journey. Conductor Hoolihan was in charge, with engineer Mr. W. McFall. As the train rolled onto the bridge, Mr. Noe Valiquette, the proprietor of the Cottage Hotel, broke a bottle of wine on the locomotive. Huge crowds of spectators standing on the Dufferin Bridge, greeted the arrival of the train into Ottawa.

Alexandra bridge today, wikipedia by SimonP
Alexandra Bridge today, by SimonP, Wikipedia

In August 1901, Ottawa’s Mayor William Morris suggested that the new inter-provincial bridge be called the Royal Alexandra Bridge in honour of the wife of King Edward VII. The bridge’s railway owners readily agreed with the suggestion. The bridge’s “christening” was planned for the following month when Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, (the future King George V and Queen Mary), came to Ottawa for the unveiling of a monument to Queen Victoria on Parliament Hill. It was proposed that the Duchess would press a button to illuminate the bridge. However, while the bridge was decked out in electric lights, which spelled out the words “Royal Alexandra Bridge” in twelve-foot letters on its side as part of the illumination of the City done specially for the Royal Visit, contemporary newspaper accounts don’t mention whether the Duchess turned the lights on. However, the royal couple did cross the bridge by carriage to visit Hull which was still recovering from the great fire of 1900.

When the Central Station, called Union Station from 1920, was closed for train traffic in 1966, the train tracks on the Alexandra Bridge were removed and the bridge converted entirely to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. In 1995, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering designated the bridge as a National Historical Civil Engineering Site.

Today, the venerable Alexandra Bridge, the oldest bridge in service across the Ottawa River, is approaching the end of its life. Owned by the federal government, the decision has been made to replace the bridge with construction on its replacement to be completed by 2032.


CSCE, 2022. Alexandra Bridge, Ottawa Ontario — Hull, Quebec.

National Capital Commission, 2021. Alexandra Bridge Replacement, December.

Montreal Gazette, 1995. “From The Queen City,” 11 April.

Ottawa Citizen, 1877. “The Inter-Provincial Bridge Scheme, 13 November.

——————, 1877. “The Inter-Provincial Bridge,” 14 November.

—————–, 1883. “Dominion Parliament,” 18 May.

—————–, 1887. “Queen’s Jubilee – Bridge Over The Ottawa,” 23 March.

—————–, 1895. “The Inter-provincial Bridge,”31 January.

—————–, 1997. “New Bridge For The Ottawa,” 22 November.

—————–, 1898. “Everything Arranged,” 11 January.

—————–, 1898. “Work Starts In A Few Days,” 1 February.

—————–, 1898. “Work On The Big Bridge,” 7 February.

—————–, 1898. “The First Pier Started,” 8 February.

—————–, 1900. “Work On Sapper’s Bridge,” 28 February.

—————–, 1900. “The New Bridge,” 17 November.

—————–, 1901. “Bridge Was Inspected,” 18 February.

——————, 1901. “Begun Three Years Ago,” 5 March.

——————, 1901. “The First Runaway,” 15 April.

——————, 1901. “Stood The Test,” 20 April.

——————, 1901. “Formally Opened,” 23 April.

——————, 1901. “Alexandra Bridge,” 8 August.

——————, 1901. “Alexandra Bridge,” 26 August.

——————, 1901. “The Duchess of Cornwall and York,” 21 September

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1887. “Cold Water,” 5 February 1887.

—————————–, 1893. “By-Law No. —,” 6 December.

—————————–, 1894. “Nepean Point Bridge,” 16 June.

—————————–, 1898. “Bank Street Bridge Defeated,” 14 April.

—————————–, 1898. “A Scene Of Great Activity,” 6 June.

—————————–, 1898. “A Stupendous Undertaking,” 15 October.

—————————–, 1900. “Train Over The New Bridge,” 12 December.

—————————–, 1901. “First To Drive Across,” 15 January.

—————————–, 1901. “To Be Named Alexandra,” 15 August.

Woodard, Rick. 2019. “Alexandra Bridge could be replaced within 10 years,” Global News, 19 March.