Santa Claus Comes To Town

24 December 1896

It’s hard sometimes not to get a little cynical about Christmas.  Even before the last Halloween candy or pumpkin pie is consumed, it seems that stores have already put up the lights and tinsel of Christmas. Television advertisements urge us to buy things that neither we nor our family need. Christmas catalogues and store flyers clog our mailboxes, both real and virtual. Every shopping centre has its mall Santa, complete with faux ice palace, throne, green-clad helpers, and a posted list of times of when that jolly old elf dressed in red polyester and a fake white beard will be there to hear children’s wish lists. Christmas craft fairs and Santa Claus parades abound. For 2016, a local tourism site listed no less than seventeen Santa parades in the Ottawa area, most taking place in November to help rev up the Christmas spirit and encourage us to shop.

santa-21-12-1895

Santa Claus in the 1890s, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 21 December 1895

This is not to say the “good old days” were necessarily any less commercial. In the lead-up to Christmas 1896, Bryson, Graham Company, a large department store on Sparks Street, billed itself as the “Headquarters of Santa” and advertised “Special Xmas Offerings to the Little Folks.” For boys, these included small iron trains for 25 cents, fire ladder wagons with horse for $1.45, and tops, “some musical, some goers,” for 50 cents, as well as “spring guns, harmless pistols, and cannons.” (One hopes that the spring guns and cannons were also harmless.) For little girls, there were doll perambulators for 25 cents, and “very pretty” doll parlour suites for 15 cents or 25 cents. Games of all kinds, including Bagatelle [a forerunner of pinball], Parlour Croquet, and Go Bang [similar to Go], were also “expressly priced for Christmas.” The store also told shoppers not to forget while they were at the store to buy three dozen oranges or five pounds of candies for 25 cents.

John Murphy & Company, another big Ottawa retailer, urged “everyone to take a stroll round our store and see the sights of Xmas displays. Everything is looking marvellous.”  It advertised “Christmas Dresses at Santa Claus’ prices.” For one day, full length dress robes were only $2.15. Best quality dresses were $3.00. Camel hair cloth was marked down to 50 cents a yard, from 75 cents, while brown and grey all wool homespun was reduced to 75 cents a yard from $1.25. On Christmas Eve, the store advertised a free bottle of perfume with every pair of kid gloves purchased. In the toy department, one thousand games were on sale at half price. While 40 extra staff had been hired for the day, it warned that “Christmas Buyers should do their shopping early” to avoid the rush and to get “better service and better suited.” Store hours were extended to 10pm for the convenience of shoppers, as well as, of course, to provide more opportunity for the store to pry hard-earned cash from the wallets and purses of Ottawa citizens.

Despite the commercialism of Christmas, then and now, once in a while something happens that restore one’s faith in the generosity of mankind, and the almighty dollar is pushed aside for a time. One such occasion occurred in 1896. Three days before Christmas, the Ottawa Evening Journal received a mysterious, little letter from Santa Claus. Dated the previous week from the North Pole, the letter read:

I have arranged to visit Ottawa on Thursday, the day before Christmas, and wish you would let all the little children know that I shall appear on the principal streets during Thursday afternoon on top of an electric [street]car.

Santa added that he would visit Sparks and other streets but would have to disappear by 4.30pm so that he could prepare for the visits he intended to make “that night to the homes of all Ottawa children who are good.” He closed by promising that he would telegraph ahead to tell people his progress on his trip south. The Daily Citizen remarked that Santa’s visit was not connected to any advertising scheme but was “simply the outcome of a desire upon the part of an Ottawa gentleman that the children of the city may see Santa in person.”

The following day, a second letter appeared. Writing from 31 Mile Lake, north east of Gracefield, Quebec, Santa announced his arrival in the region, saying that he would be in Ottawa the next afternoon.

I am bringing my best reindeer and will have him with me on top of a special electric car. I am also bringing with me a couple of thousand oranges and will distribute them from the car to the little boys and girls.

santa-24-12-1896

Santa Claus’s Streetcar, 24 December 1896, Courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives, RG045/CA001513.

He also announced his stops in the city, starting at 2.45pm at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, followed by the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie at 3pm, corner of Queen Street West and Bridge Street, Chaudière, at 3.15 pm, corner of Richmond Road and Albert Street at 3.20 pm, corner of Bank and Maria [now Laurier Avenue] Streets at 3.35 pm and, finally, at the corner of Bank and Ann [now Gloucester Avenue] Streets at 3.45 pm. He would then return to the Post Office and immediately disappear. He apologized to the children of New Edinburgh that he was unable to make it to the town since his reindeer’s horns were so high he couldn’t take his car through the bridges. However, he promised to make his usual visits that night to the homes of all good boys and girls who have gone to bed early and were fast asleep. He asked grown-ups to tell their youngsters to look out for him on Thursday afternoon as it would be his only appearance in Ottawa.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Thursday, 24 December 1896, the excitement in the city was palpable.  Thousands of people of all ages converged on the street corners where Santa Claus was scheduled to appear. They were not disappointed. The Ottawa Evening Journal noted that “the rules of etiquette, or whatever else is supposed to govern the movements of that most mysterious personage Santa Claus, and which from the oldest tradition led most individuals to believe that his visits are of a midnight nature, were rudely broken today.” Right on the scheduled time, Father Christmas arrived. “For convenience sake in transportation about the city streets,” his sleigh and reindeer were mounted on a streetcar of the Ottawa Electric Railway, which was decorated as a snow-covered cabin complete with chimney, and festooned with garlands. On its sides were signs reading “Merry Xmas To All.”

Santa himself was dressed in a fur cap and a long fur coat—very different from the red and white coated Saint Nick described in the classic Clement Clarke Moore poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and popularized by Coca Cola in its commercials. He did, however, have white whiskers, though press reports don’t mention if he also had “a little round belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly.”

santa-sparks-24-12-1896

Santa Claus on Sparks Street, 24 December 1896, Courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives, RG045/CA001514.

Who was that Ottawa gentleman who brought Santa Claus to Ottawa for his first ever official visit to the nation’s capital (outside of his usual Christmas Eve tour of Ottawa rooftops, of course)? The answer was Warren Soper, the wealthy industrialist who, with his partner Thomas Ahearn, owned the city’s streetcar company, as well as other area businesses. Mobbed by adoring children, their parents and grandparents, Santa Claus handed out more than three thousand oranges to the city’s little boys and girls during his short stay. The Ottawa Evening Journal said that the visit was “quite the treat even for the grown people to see a real Santa Claus and such a good and generous one at that.”

The Daily Citizen opined that “No wretched doubter will ever again be able to hold his head in Ottawa and say that good, kindly Santy did not exist.”

Sadly, among the crowds of people that came out to meet the visitor from the North Pole, there was a grinch who stole $4 from the purse of poor Miss Scheik of 20 Keefer Street, New Edinburgh while she waited to see Santa at the corner of Dalhousie and Rideau Streets.

Sources:

Daily Citizen (The), 1896. “Santa Claus in Ottawa,” 22 December.

———————–, 1896. “Santa Clause [sic] Coming,” 24 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1896. “Santa Claus Coming,” 22 December.

————————————, 1896. “Special Xmas Offerings for the Little Folks,” 22 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Trip To Ottawa,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “John Murphy & Co, Seasons Greetings,” 23 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa Comes To Town,” 24 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Entre Nous,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Santa’s Appearance,” 26 December.

————————————-, 1896. “Jottings About Town,” 28 December.

 

 

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The Maharaja of the Keyboard

5 December 1945

In the firmament of great jazz musicians, few stars sparkle as brightly as that of Oscar Peterson. Born in 1925 to a hard-working, immigrant family from the poor St Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, Peterson burst like a fiery comet onto the jazz scene while still a teenager. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Peterson wowed audiences around the world with his prodigious piano technique, his amazing talent for improvisation, and a range that encompassed everything from the classics to stride, blues, boogie and bebop. He played with all the jazz greats of his age, including trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and such famed vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Demonstrating his range, he also accompanied such artistic luminaries as Fred Astaire, and the great violinist Itzhak Pearlman. It was Roy Eldridge who dubbed Peterson the “Maharaja of the Keyboard. Louis Armstrong called him “the man with four hands.” As well as playing the piano, Peterson was a talented composer, and had a singing voice comparable to that of Nat King Cole. His best known compositions are the Canadiana Suite, an album released in 1964, and Hymn to Freedom, composed in 1962. Oscar Peterson and his trio played Hymn to Freedom in 2003 at a gala in Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. In 2008, the Hymn was played at U.S. President Obama’s inauguration.

Oscar Peterson in 1977

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Portrait by Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A.

Jazz was in Peterson’s blood. Both his parents, Daniel and Olive Peterson, had a passion for music, and encouraged their five children to learn instruments. A tight family budget was stretched to include a piano. Daniel Peterson, a self-taught piano player, instructed his wife and their five children how to play. Young Oscar initially studied the trumpet as well as the piano. But after a lengthy bout with tuberculosis in the early 1930s, which claimed the life of his older brother Fred, Oscar concentrated on the piano. Father Daniel was a demanding teacher, insisting on daily practice and assigning musical homework for his children while he was absent working as a porter on the railway. But Oscar, with his perfect pitch and ability to play songs by ear, was up to the challenge. Later, his older sister Daisy became his piano instructor. His first exposure to jazz came from listening to radio. His father, however, looked down on jazz seeing it as music for the uneducated. He insisted that Oscar learn the classics. Peterson later studied under two classically-trained pianists, Lou Harper and Paul de Marky, the latter was Canada’s most acclaimed classical pianist of the time who taught music at McGill University in Montreal. He also instructed private students, charging $15 hour, a huge sum for Oscar’s parents (equivalent to more than $200 in today’s money). From a very early age, Oscar played in churches, community centres, and schools. It was in such venues, Oscar began to learn how to improvise.

Peterson’s first big break came in 1940 when he auditioned for an amateur music contest hosted by CBC radio. He went on to win not only the Montreal competition but also the national finals held in Toronto. He was only 15 years old, and the only black contestant. He received a cheque for $250 (close to $4,000 today). From there, there was no looking back. He quickly out-grew his Montreal High School band, the Victory Serenaders, and gigs in the school gym. In 1943, he dropped out to play full-time in a popular Montreal big band led by the trumpet player Johnny Holmes after a spot for a pianist opened up when the group’s regular pianist was drafted into the army.

Peterson received further national exposure in 1945 when RCA Victor, one of Canada’s largest recording studios agreed to record him, releasing two 78 rpm records. They were hugely successfully. In early June 1945, Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street advertised in The Ottawa Journal “A new VICTOR ‘discovery’ for your piano pin-up collection. Name: OSCAR PETERSON, just a youngster of eighteen, a Canadian lad of inspired rhythm that flows from his fingertips in a sparkling, ear tingling, original style all his own.” The store encouraged people to come listen to a sample recording of I Got Rhythm at Freiman’s Record Studios located on the third floor of the department store, daring them to try to keep their toes quiet!

Peterson’s first known public performance in Ottawa took place on Wednesday, 5 December 1945 at the Glebe Collegiate Auditorium at 8.30pm. The performance called Hot Jazz, featured Oscar Peterson and his jazz trio: Peterson on the piano, Russ Dufort on drums, and George Murphy on bass. The prices of admission was 90 cents, $1.20, and $1.50. The trio played to a capacity crowd, with people standing two and three deep at the back of the auditorium. Extra seats were placed on the stage. Students from Carleton College’s (later Carleton University) sat or stood behind the stage, so that they could at least hear the music even if they couldn’t see the artists. The Ottawa Journal reporter described the twenty-year old Peterson as “one of the foremost exponents of jazz.” The night’s programme featured both classical pieces such as Chopin’s Polonaise as well as jazz pieces, including Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues and Peterson’s own composition “The Boogie Blues.” The enthusiastic crowd gave the trio three encores. At one of the encores, Peterson played the Sheik of Araby that he had recently recorded. The journalist concluded by saying that Peterson’s boogie-woogie was “probably the best heard in Ottawa for some time.” The trio returned to the Glebe Collegiate the following May. More than 1,200 people crammed into the school auditorium to hear them again perform a selection of classical and jazz numbers, including Peterson’s own compositions.

Between these two Ottawa performances, Peterson made his debut at the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto in early March 1946. Most of the audience that night had only heard Peterson through his records. As in Ottawa and elsewhere, the crowd was dazzled by his technique and imagination; Oscar Peterson had made it to the big time. Appearances on the CBC radio series Canadian Cavalcade cemented his reputation for being the country’s most popular, up-and-coming, young artist. He made his American debut in 1949 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, where he played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Ella Fitzgerald. Peterson had been “discovered” by music promoter Norman Granz who had been in Montreal for a meeting. Hearing Peterson play on the radio, Grantz, who produced the “Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)” series of concerts, tours, and recordings, invited him to perform in New York. From then on, Oscar Peterson was an international star. In 1950, Grantz, who later became Peterson manager, signed him to a contract to perform with JATP. Over the following decade, Peterson participated in fifteen, cross-continent JATP tours.  Peterson’s business relationship and friendship with Granz lasted until the latter’s death in 2001.

Over the decades, Peterson performed in a number of small groups, usually trios. During the 1950s, the other two members of the group were Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar. In 1958, Ellis left the trio and was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen. During the 1970s and 1980s, Peterson played with Joe Pass on guitar and bassist Niels-Henning Pederson. In the late 1990s, Peterson formed a quartet, with Pederson on bass, Martin Drew on drums, and Ulf Wakenius on guitar.

Although successful from an early age, Oscar Peterson faced major challenges, not least of which was the racism that he confronted, especially when he toured the U.S. south during the 1950s and 1960s. Even in Canada, he had to endure discrimination, with hotels unwilling to hire black musicians. On one highly publicized occasion in 1951, he was denied a haircut in Hamilton, Ontario owing to his colour. The city’s mayor later apologized. In his quiet, understated way, Peterson fought back. He wrote his Hymn to Freedom in support of the civil rights movement. He was also instrumental in Canadian television advertising becoming more inclusive of minorities. Peterson’s home life also suffered from his constant touring. He was married four times. He also largely missed out on seeing his seven children grow up. Late in life, after suffering a stroke while performing in New York, his ability to use his left hand was impaired. Peterson fought through depression, and continued to perform to adoring audiences. He passed away from kidney failure on 23 December 2007 at 82 years of age.

Oscar Peterson

Statue of Oscar Peterson by Ruth Abernethy, unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 30 June 2010 in front of 10,000 cheering spectators, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, January 2016.

During his lifetime, Peterson received many honours. Sixteen universities, including Carleton University, awarded him honorary doctorates. From 1991-94, he was Chancellor of the University of York in Toronto. He also received eight Grammies from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including a lifetime achievement award in 1997 for his more than 200 records. In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was promoted to Officer of the Order in 1984. In May 2010, just over two years after his death, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a statue of Oscar Peterson seated at his piano outside of the National Art Centre, a place where he had played many times during his long and productive career.

 

Sources:

Batten, Jack. 2012. Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz, Tundra Books: Toronto

Globe and Mail, 1946. “Swing Pianist Stirs Massey Hall throng,” 8 March.

——————-, 2007. “Oscar Peterson, Musician, ‘Man with four hands was one of the greatest piano players of all time.” 26 December.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1945. “Freiman’s platter chatter,” 7 June.

—————————, 1945. “Hot Jazz.” 5 December.

————————–, 1945. “Peterson played to packed audience in Glebe, 6 December

————————–, 1946. “Oscar Peterson Plays to 1,200.” 10 May.

Marin, Riva, 2003. Oscar: The Life and Music of Oscar Peterson, Groundwood Books: Toronto.

Milner, Mike, 2012. “Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson and the maharaja of the keyboard,” CBC Music, http://music.cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2012/3/Frank-Sinatra-Oscar-Peterson-and-the-maharaja-of-the-keyboard, 6 March.

Peterson, Oscar, 1964. Hymn to Freedom, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCrrZ1NnCuM.

Images:

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Author Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Peterson#/media/File:Oscar_Peterson.jpg.

Oscar Peterson statue at the National Arts Centre, 2016  by James Powell.

 

Building Parliament

20 December 1859

In early May 1859, roughly a year after the Canadian Parliament had ratified Queen Victoria’s selection of Ottawa as the permanent capital of the United Province of Canada, steps were taken to turn the regal decision into reality. John Rose, the provincial Commissioner of Public Works, announced an architectural competition for four government buildings to be constructed in Ottawa, still a rough-and-tumble lumber town that lacked the facilities and amenities of a capital city. Three were slated to be built on Barrack Hill, a spectacular 25-acre plot of land overlooking the Ottawa River. These comprised a new Provincial Legislature, and two Departmental buildings to house civil servants. A fourth, called Government House, was planned for nearby Major’s Hill, and was to be the official residence of the Governor General. Submissions were anonymous, with entries identified solely by a motto; the name(s) of the entrants were submitted in sealed envelopes that were opened only after the winning designs had been selected. The first and second-placed entries received prize money: £250 and £100 for the Parliament building, £250 and £100 for the two departmental buildings, and £100 and £50 for Government House.

The scale of the project was monumental, far larger than anything previously commissioned in British North America. Arguably, the buildings and their expected grandeur were out of keeping with both the size of Ottawa, and the population of the Province of Canada, which totalled only 2.5 million in 1860. But as was the case with the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, people were planning for the future.

The government specified that the Legislature building was to contain a Council Chamber and a Hall of Assembly for the upper and lower houses of Parliament, a lobby, a semi-detached library, a picture gallery, and 85 reading rooms, wardrobes, Speakers’ apartments, committee rooms, and clerk rooms, totalling 55,000 square feet.  The two Departmental buildings, which together amounted to roughly the same square footage as the Legislature building, required 170 offices to house the entire Canadian public service, including space for the Governor General, the Executive Council, the Indian Department, Provincial Secretary, Crown Law Offices, the Adjutant General for the Militia, Agriculture, Public Works, Crown Lands, Finance, Customs, Audit, the Receiver General, and the Postmaster General. Specifications for the Governor General’s residence called for a 27,000 square foot mansion with 75 rooms, of which 40 would consist of staterooms, a ball room, dining room, private apartments, and a library, with the remainder taken up with domestic offices. In keeping with Victorian sensibilities, there was no direct reference to washrooms in any of the buildings. Presumably, they came under “&c., &c.” in the specifications. The most detailed requirements were stipulated for the Parliamentary Library for which the Parliamentary Librarian, Alpheus Todd, had insisted on state-of-the-art facilities, and rigorous fire precautions. These latter measures spared the Library the centre block’s fate when the main building was gutted by fire in 1916.

The government call for submissions did not specify any particular architectural style for the buildings beyond saying that it should be “plain” and “substantial,” with “hammer-dressed masonry, with neatly-pointed joints, and cut stone quoits, window dressings, cornices and entablatures,” and that the materials for construction should be found locally. The budget for the buildings was set at $300,000 for Parliament House, $240,000 for the two Departmental buildings which were to flank the Legislature building, and $100,000 for Government House.

Despite the size and complexity of the government’s requirements, architects were given little time to design and draw detailed architectural drawings; completed plans had to be submitted by the following 1 August. The competition had two judges, Samuel Keefer, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, and Frederick Rubridge. Both were engineers.  Rubridge was also a trained surveyor and architect.

Thirty-two designs and 298 drawings for the four buildings were submitted in a variety of styles, including Civil Gothic, Classical, Norman, Tudor, and Italian.  They were judged on the basis of ten criteria: fitness of the plan and interior arrangement, economy of construction, beauty of design, adaptation to site, climate, and materials available locally, economy of heating and ventilation, conformity with required conditions, and safety against fire. Of the sixteen proposals submitted for the Parliament building and library, a Civic Gothic design by “Semper Paratus,” the nom de plume of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones of Toronto, emerged victorious. Of the seven designs submitted for the departmental buildings that were to flank the Legislature building, the Civic Gothic proposal of “Stat nomen in umbra,” (Ottawa architects Thomas Stent and Augustus Lever), took first place. Frederic Cumberland and W. George Storm’s Venetian-style design, submitted under the name “Odahwah,” won the contest for Government House.

It was perhaps no surprise that the two judges, Keefer and Rubridge, selected the Gothic style for the three most important buildings. This was the architectural style chosen for the British Houses of Parliament built during the 1830s. In contrast, the classical style, chosen for the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C., was associated with U.S. republicanism. The Gothic style, symbolic of ties with Britain, was enthusiastically embraced by Canadians who used it extensively over the next fifty years.

West Block

West Block under construction, 1861, by Samuel McLaughlin

Site preparation on Barrack Hill for the Legislature building and the Departmental buildings began promptly, with the official ground-breaking ceremony taking place on Tuesday, 20 December 1859.  It was a low-key affair, and little advertised. Nonetheless, thousands of Ottawa citizens walked to the construction site at noon to be part of the historic event. Mr Rose, the Commissioner of Public Works, the government department responsible for the buildings’ construction, turned the first sod for the Legislature building. In a short speech, he reflected on how laws would be enacted on this spot for the benefit of future generations. He also referred to the acrimonious debate surrounding the selection of Ottawa as the capital of Canada. While ostensibly expressing no opinion on the subject, he contended that the very continuance of the Canadian Union depended on Parliament being in Ottawa. Foreshadowing future constitutional debates, he expressed a “sincere hope that the cries of disunion, which is as yet but faintly heard, may never find an echo in the breasts of any considerable number of Canadian people.” He added that in light of the “moral and material progress made since the Union of Upper and Lower Canada, he could not reconcile himself to the idea that a desire for separation is prompted by…any sentiment of true patriotism.” At the conclusion of his speech, a cannon salute was fired.

Mr Keefer, the Deputy Commissioner and one of the two judges in the architectural competition for the Parliament buildings, was supposed to turn the first sod for the flanking departmental buildings. However, given the cold, and with people already drifting away after Rose’s speech, that part of the ceremony was dropped. Instead the official party, which include Ottawa’s mayor, Edward McGillivray, members of city council, the architects, and contractors, retired to Doran’s Hotel for refreshments.

Within weeks, Barrack Hill, later known as Parliament Hill, was a beehive of activity, employing thousands of labourers, representing a huge portion of Ottawa’s workforce—the city’s entire population numbered less than 15,000. Construction almost immediately ran into trouble leading to cost overruns and delays, though the foundations were sufficiently advanced for the Prince of Wales to lay the cornerstone of the Legislative building at the beginning of September 1860. But by October 1861, despite more than $1.4 million having been spent, the project was far from complete. Work was halted, and some 3,000 men lost their jobs, at least temporarily. To save money, the government also dropped the idea of building Government House.

Centre Block

Centre Block under construction, 1865,  by Samuel McLaughlin

In June 1862, the government appointed a commission to look into charges of financial mismanagement. Reporting back in January 1863, the commission concluded that the excessive costs were due to a number of factors including: a failure of Public Works to assess the depth of the bedrock on the site prior to signing contracts, the improper awarding of the construction contract to Thomas McGreevy, the principal building contractor, who received the job on the basis of patronage rather than price, and a failure to adequately factor in the cost of heating and ventilating the buildings.  The architects were also taken to task for inadequately monitoring the progress of the construction. Samuel Keefer, the Deputy Commissioner, took the blame for the fiasco, and was fired.

Construction resumed in 1863 under the general supervision of Frederick Rubridge, the other judge in the architectural contest. By the fall of 1865, the East and West Blocks were sufficiently ready for civil servants to move from Quebec City into their new quarters. The Legislature building (Centre Block) was officially opened on 6 June 1866, roughly a year before Confederation. Construction on the Victoria Tower in the Centre block continued until 1873, while work on the Library lasted until 1877. The final cost of the three buildings was $2.9 million, four times the original budget.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, 2001-15. A Virtual Exhibit: Ottawa Becomes the Capital, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/building-physical-reality.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1859. “Breaking Ground for the Commencement of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa,” 23 December.

Gowans, Alan, 2012, “Parliament Buildings,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/parliament-buildings/.

Young, Carolyn A., 1995. The Glory of Ottawa: Canada’s First Parliament Buildings, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston.

Images: West Block under construction, 1861, Samuel McLaughlin, Library and Archives Canada, C-018354, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/building-physical-reality.

Centre Block under construction, 1865, Samuel McLaughlin, Library and Archives Canada, C-003039, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/building-physical-reality.

The Arrival of the Iron Horse

25 December 1854

An iconic image of the Industrial Revolution is the train, powering across the countryside, with clouds of smoke and steam billowing from its locomotive’s smokestack. Not only a new, rapid form of communication, the train embodied the scientific and technological discoveries of the age, the heavy industries needed to make and power it, and the innovative manufacturing techniques required to turn out the miles of iron rails on which it ran. Within twenty years of the inauguration of the world’s first steam-powered, interurban rail line between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830, Europe and the Americas were in the grip of a railway mania, similar to the “dot com” bubble of the 1990s. Hundreds of railway companies were formed; many went bust, though not before leaving behind a massive railway infrastructure legacy. The railway transformed the economies of the world, linking distant communities and opening new markets. In the Americas, the railway provided European settlers with access to virgin territory to exploit (and native communities to despoil), and, in the case of Canada, gave birth to a nation that spanned a continent.

The first Canadian railway was constructed in 1836 in Lower Canada, now Quebec. The Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad ran between La Prairie on the St Lawrence to St Jean on the Richelieu River, a navigable waterway that debouches into Lake Champlain. The railway cut hours off the long journey between Montreal and New York City. Railway building began in earnest in Canada following the Guarantee Act of 1849 under which the Province of Canada government offered cheap financing to companies building railways of at least 75 miles in length. Additional government financing was forthcoming after the 1852 Municipal Loan Act. In 1850 there was less than 110 kilometres of railroad laid down in Canada. Ten years later, there was more than 3,200 kilometres.

Locomotive "Ottawa"

Bytown & Prescott Railway’s locomotive,”the Ottawa,” circa 1861, believed taken at the line’s Sussex Street Station.

Discussions to bring the “iron horse” to the Ottawa valley began in 1848. In May of that year, The Packet, the precursor of The Ottawa Citizen, began to enthusiastically promote the building of a railway between Bytown, later to become Ottawa, and Prescott, a small community on the St Lawrence River. Prescott was immediately opposite Ogdensburg, New York which was to be the terminus of a railway linking the St Lawrence River to New York City and Boston. As the only way in or out of Bytown during winter was by sleigh, a rail link from Bytown to Prescott offered the tantalizing possibility of an all-season transportation route for exporting lumber cut from Ottawa valley forests to the important U.S. markets, one that was much speedier and less costly than using the Rideau Canal or the Ottawa River that were locked in ice for four months of the year.

Prescott’s leading citizens held an exploratory meeting with engineers and surveyors in June 1848. A similar meeting took place at the Court House in Bytown the following month. Receiving wide support from both communities, the Bytown and Prescott Railway was incorporated by an act of the Provincial government on 10 May 1850. A prospectus was issued describing the length of the line, its likely location, and its construction and outfitting costs, estimated at £150,000-200,000 (£1=C$4.87). To make it pay, annual revenues of £21,000-30,000 were needed. The possibility of extending the line eastward to link up with the Lachine to Montreal railway was also mooted. The line’s chairman was John McKinnon, the son-in-law of Thomas McKay, whose company helped to build the Rideau Canal, and who was a major lumber mill owner in New Edinburgh, a village he started. John Scott, Bytown’s mayor, was on the railway’s Board of Directors.

Through the winter of 1850-51, the surveyor, Walter Shanley, with two assistants, mapped out four possible routes from Prescott to Bytown, covering more than 300 miles on snowshoe. On 7 April 1851, Shanley gave his report to the president and directors of the railway company. While stressing the preliminary nature of his survey, he favoured a route to the east of the Rideau River that took the tracks from Prescott through Spencerville, Oxford, Kemptville, Osgoode, Manotick, and Gloucester, before arriving in Bytown. While the terminus at Prescott on the St Lawrence was not controversial, the location of the Bytown terminus was. Some shareholders favoured a spot beside the Rideau Canal Basin (roughly where Confederation Park and the Shaw Centre are located today), while others wanted to build the station on land originally set aside for the military between Nepean Point and the Rideau Falls.  The latter option was chosen. It was perhaps not entirely coincidental that the train would conveniently pass in front of Thomas MacKay’s lumber mills. With hindsight, Lebreton Flats, which later was to become the centre of Ottawa’s lumber industry, would have been a much better location, but at the time the area was largely undeveloped.

Funds to build the railway were raised partly by subscription from private shareholders, partly from municipalities, and partly through loans raised in England and Canada. Unfortunately for the railway’s backers, the line, only 52 miles long, was too short to qualify for the provincial subsidy. However, Bytown kicked in £15,000 in equity, and, after the 1852 Municipal Loan Act was passed, provided a massive loan guarantee of £50,000. Tiny Prescott, with a population of only 2,000, provided another £8,000 in capital and £25,000 in loan guarantees. The township of Gloucester chipped in a further £5,000 in equity financing. The links between the towns that provided support, the railway’s largest shareholders, and the railway’s most prominent advocate were unhealthily close, at least by today’s standards. Robert Bell, editor and later owner of the Ottawa Citizen, was the railway’s secretary, as well as a Bytown councilman. John McKinnon, the company’s president, was the reeve of Gloucester.

Workers started to clear land for the railway in early September 1851, with the official ground-breaking ceremony held on 9 October, 1851. A celebratory parade started in front of the railway office on Rideau Street and made its way down Sussex Street. On hand for the big event, were Bytown’s mayor, members of the Town Corporation, the directors and officers of the Bytown and Prescott Railway, a senior magistrate, the area’s member of parliament, the county sheriff, and the “Sons and Cadets of Temperance” in full regalia. That evening, McKinnon and the directors hosted a self-congratulatory dinner at “Doran’s,” a top Bytown hotel. Notwithstanding the presence of temperance followers in the afternoon parade, copious amounts of champagne and wine was consumed, leading to a “number of jovial songs…sung in the course of the evening.”

Construction was initially slow but for the most part straightforward; Shanley had done a good job siting the tracks. The most difficult part was crossing a swamp north of Prescott. Here, engineers laid down a wooden causeway as a bed for the train tracks. Once the rails arrived from England from the Ebbw Vale Iron Company in late 1853 and early 1854, the pace of construction picked up. The railway company laid down a narrow 4 ft 8 1/2 in. gauge track, commonly used in the United States and elsewhere, rather than the broad 5 ft 6 in. “provincial” gauge typically used in Canada at that time. The carriages and locomotives were sourced in the United States, with the first locomotive, the “Oxford” delivered by barge in May 1854. Two more, the “St Lawrence and the “Ottawa,” arrived in July. Immediately, the locomotives and carriages were put into service, servicing Kemptville by August, and Gloucester, just three and a half miles from Bytown, by 11 November.

Advertisement that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1854.

Advertisement that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1854.

When the first train arrived in Bytown is a bit controversial. An advertisement placed by the railway in the Ottawa Citizen, dated 14 December 1854, informed its Bytown customers that “trains will start from the Montreal Road near the Rideau Bridge, at the East end of Bytown, at 7 o’clock, A.M. (Railway time).” Simultaneously, the railway discontinued its temporary stage coach service from Bytown to the Gloucester train station. The place of embarkation was just outside Bytown’s city limits as the bridge over the Rideau River was not finished. Also, the train had to travel the last stretch of the line over wooden rails as the company had run short of iron ones.  The wooden rails were replaced the following year when a new supply of iron rails arrived from England.

Most authorities place the date of the first train as Christmas Day, 1854, based in part on a later newspaper advertisement which said the train would leave Bytown at 6am, Railway time, staring on 25 December (see above).  However, in a speech given eleven years after the event, President Bell of the Railway said the date of the first train was 29 December. Differences in timing may relate to when the Rideau Bridge was finally ready for rail traffic, whether the train carried freight or passengers, or the fog of memory. The official opening of the line occurred on 10 May 1855, exactly five years after the railway company was incorporated. Its name was also changed from the Bytown and Prescott Railway to the Ottawa and Prescott Railway to reflect the city’s new name.

Like many similar ventures of the period, the railway never lived up to the hopes of its shareholders and creditors, and was quickly in financial difficulty. An economic depression in the late 1850s cut into the revenues of the heavily-indebted line. The railway’s Ottawa station was also inconvenient for much of the city’s growing lumber industry located in Lebreton Flats. The building of other rail lines meant more competition and lower prices. At the Ottawa & Prescott’s annual general meeting in May 1863, a faction of shareholders tried to seize control of the failing company; an unseemly brawl ensued. Subsequently, with the railway bankrupt, the company’s senior creditors, most importantly, the Ebbw Vale Iron Company, assumed control. Shareholders and junior creditors, including the municipalities, got nothing. Following a corporate re-organization, the line re-emerged in 1867 as the St Lawrence and Ottawa Railway. In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway took over the line, and began using it as a feeder link to its main east-west route. Declining traffic during the 1950s led to the closure of the line, and its rails pulled up. Much of the route was converted into a recreational path. In downtown Ottawa, the Vanier Parkway was constructed where the old Bytown & Prescott Railway used to run. A portion of the old line’s route is still used today by Ottawa’s “O” train.

 

Sources:

Churcher, Colin, 2005. The First Railway in Ottawa, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Articles/Article2005_1.html.

——————, 2005. First Trips and Early Excursions in the Ottawa Area, http://www.railways.incanada.net/circle/excursions.htm#B&Psod.

Elliot. S. R., 1979. Bytown & Prescott Railway, Bytown Railway Society.

Lavallée, Omer, 1966. “Ottawa Uniion Station Closes,” Canadian Rail, No. 179, July-August.

Pilon, Henri, 1972. “Robert Bell (1821-73),” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bell_robert_1821_73_10E.html.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1851. “Report, Bytown and Prescott Railway Office, Prescott,” 26 April.

———————-, 1851, “no title,” [official opening of the Bytown and Prescott Railroad], 11 October.

———————-, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railway,” 16 December.

———————-, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railway,” 23 December.

———————-, 1862. “Railway Celebration,” 23 August.

———————-, 1863, “The Railway Meeting, Disgraceful Scenes!” 22 May.

The Packet, 1848, “The Ogdensburg Railway,” Bytown, 13 May.

————-, 1848. “Proceeding of a Meeting of the Inhabitants of the town of Prescott,” 19 June.

————–, 1848. “Most Important Intelligence – Prescott & Bytown Railroad,” 24 June.

————–, 1848. “Prescott and Bytown Railroad from Prescott Telegraph,” 24 June.

————–, 1848, “Bytown & Prescott Railroad,” 7 July.

————–, 1850. “Prospectus of the Bytown & Prescott Railroad, 30 November.

————–, 1851. “Public Meeting in Gloucester.” 19 April.

————–, 1854, “Bytown & Prescott Railroad, 6 May.

Vanier Now, 2013. The History of the Vanier Parkway-Part One: Bytown and Prescott Railway Company, http://vaniernow.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-history-of-vanier-parkway-part-one.html.

Images: Churcher, Colin, “All Change at Prescott,” picture of the Ottawa & Prescott Railway’s locomotive “Ottawa,” circa 1861, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Articles/Article2008_01.html.

Bytown & Prescott Railway Advertisement, The Ottawa Citizen, 23 December 1854.

 

 

 

Sir Galahad

6 December 1901 

The next time you go for a stroll down Wellington Street, stop and take a look at the statue right in front of Parliament Hill at Metcalfe Street. Instead of honouring monarchs or prime ministers, it’s a statue of Sir Galahad, the legendary knight of King Arthur’s Round Table renowned for his gallantry. It was erected in 1905 to commemorate a singular act of heroism that had occurred four years earlier.

That fateful Friday, 6 December, 1901 was a bitterly cold day with the temperature in Ottawa struggling to reach -9 Celsius. But it was bright and sunny, encouraging skaters to test the sheet of seductively smooth but treacherous ice that had formed on the Ottawa River during the first cold snap of the season. In the early afternoon, a skating party from Government House had ventured out onto the ice without mishap. Later, as dusk fell, another party set out. The foursome consisted on Miss Bessie Blair, age 21, the youngest daughter of the Honourable A.G. Blair, former premier of New Brunswick, and then Minister of Railways and Canals in the Liberal Government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Alex Creelman, aged 28, an employee of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Miss Snowball, daughter of Senator Jabez Snowball of New Brunswick, who had been visiting the Blair residence, and Henry Albert Harper, aged 28, the assistant editor of the Labour Gazette, the monthly journal of the newly-established Dominion Department of Labour.

Harper

Henry Albert Harper

The young people set out from the newly constructed Interprovincial Bridge and headed east towards Kettle Island, with Miss Blair and Creelman skating hand-in-hand in front, with Harper and Miss Snowball pulling up the rear. Unexpectedly, the leading couple came upon an area of open water near the confluence with the Gatineau River, Unable to halt in time, Blair and Creelman plunged into the icy, dark water.

After sending Miss Snowball back to the shore for help, Harper moved to assist the couple who were frantically struggling in the frigid water weighted down by their heavy winter clothing. Lying prone on the thin ice, Harper extended his walking stick to Bessie Blair but to no avail; she was too far away. Despite entreaties not to venture further, Harper took off his overcoat and gloves and dove into the water to help the sinking woman. Before entering the water, Harper said: “What else can I do?” Moments later, both he and Blair disappeared from sight. Drowned, their lifeless bodies were recovered the following morning.

Almost miraculously, Blair’s companion, Alex Creelman, survived, saved by Mr Arthur Treadgold, a member of the Government House skating party whom Miss Snowball had encountered on her desperate race back to shore for help. Informed of what had happened, he immediately rushed over to the site of the accident in time to pull the unconscious Creelman from the water. Suffering from hypothermia and shock, Creelman was taken to a nearby home to recover, before returning to his rooms at the Turkish Baths Hotel under a doctor’s care. It was Creelman who recounted Harper’s act of sacrifice.

The heroic action of Henry Harper stuck a cord among Ottawa’s citizens. Within days, a large public meeting was held at City Hall where a resolution was passed to commemorate Harper’s heroism by the erection of a memorial statue using funds raised through public subscription. The initiative was strongly supported by William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s future prime minister. He and Harper had been the best of friends at university, and had even shared rooms for a time. King, as Deputy Minister of Labour and editor of the Labour Gazette, had hired Harper in 1900 and was his boss.

The statue was to be symbolic of heroism and nobility of character. One of Harper’s prized possessions was a reproduction of the 1862 painting of Sir Galahad by the British symbolist artist George Frederic Watts, R.A. (1817-1904) which had hung behind Harper’s desk in his office. According to friends, Harper saw Sir Galahad as his “ideal knight.” The painting became the model for the statue.

 

Sir Galahad by G.F. Watts, R.A.

Sir Galahad by
G.F. Watts, R.A.

The American sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser from Baltimore, Maryland won an open competition for the commission. His bronze statue set on a granite plinth was unveiled by the Governor General Earl Grey on 18 November 1905 before a crowd of more than 3,000 people as the regimental band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards played “The Maple Leaf” and “God Save the King.” At the unveiling, Sir Wilfrid Laurier told the crowd that “The stranger to our city will pause as he passes this monument and wonder what deed called for its erection. He will be told of the noble act of self-sacrifice of a life given in an effort to save another.”  P. D. Ross, the chairman of the memorial committee, said that “Harper had lost his life. But in that sacrifice, he left to the rest of us a great lesson and a great inspiration.”

Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad, Wellington Street, Ottawa

The following year, Mackenzie King published a biography of Harper—“his oldest and most intimate friend,”—titled The Secret of Heroism. In it, King recounts the details of Harper’s short life from his birth and school days, to his life as a reporter, first in London, Ontario and later at the Montreal Herald, and finally to his work at the Labour Gazette. King described Harper as a man of “fearless integrity of heart and mind.” Like King, Harper was a practising Presbyterian, with “a strong belief in a definite moral order and the ultimate triumph of right.” King mourned that Canada had lost a “true patriot in sentiment and aspiration,” and had Harper had lived he would have been “an earnest and practical reformer.” Harper’s political and economic sentiments described in the book are believed to mirror King’s own views, and provided the inspiration that motivated the future prime minister over his long career.

Harper was buried in a hill cemetery overlooking Cookstown, Ontario, the town of his birth, on what would have been his 28th birthday.

 

Sources:

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Henry Albert Harper, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harper_henry_albert_13E.html.

———————–, William Lyon Mackenzie King, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/king_william_lyon_mackenzie_17E.html.

King, W. L. Mackenzie, 1906. The Secret of Heroism, A Memoir of Henry Albert Harper, Fleming, H. Revell Company, Toronto. 2nd Edition.

Mayer, Roy, 2012. Galahad Cried, Createspace, Ottawa.

The Globe, 1901. “DROWNED IN THE OTTAWA: Miss Bessie Blair and Mr. H.A. Harper the Victims THROUGH THE ICE Mr. Harper Lost His Life Trying to Save the Lady,” 7 December.

St. John Daily Sun, 1905. “Sir Galahad,” 19 November.

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1947. “Sir Galahad,” 18 September.

———————————, 1948, “Happy Memorable Years at University of Toronto,” 7 July.

Images:

Henry Albert Harper, from King, W. L. Mackenzie, The Secret of Heroism.

Sir Galahad by G. F. Watts, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galahad.

Sir Galahad, Wellington Street, Ottawa by James Powell

 

 

Queen Victoria Chooses Ottawa

31 December 1857

Almost everybody knows that Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital. But few are aware that the city’s selection was anything but a gentile affair. In fact, the Queen was only asked to help after years of sterile political wrangling between contending factions in Parliament. There were more than 200 votes on the issue. Even after the Queen had made her choice, it didn’t go down well with some and was challenged in Parliament. At the end of the day, Canadian legislators only narrowly ratified the Queen’s decision; a change of three votes from yea to nay would have nixed it.

It all began with the merger of Upper and Lower Canada to create the united Province of Canada in 1841 consisting of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec), each equally represented in Parliament, under the joint leadership of a premier from each of the two Canadas. The Governor-General, Lord Sydenham, convened the first opening session of the united parliament at Kingston on 14 June 1841. While Kingston residents were delighted to be living in the de facto capital of Canada, others were less enamoured with Lord Sydenham’s choice. Canada East representatives had hoped that either Quebec or Montreal would have been chosen as both were far larger in population and had more to offer in the way of amenities for debate-weary members of parliament. However, Canada West was insistent on hosting the new capital. As Kingston satisfied Canada West’s requirement, Canada East representatives reluctantly acquiesced on the grounds that at least it wasn’t Toronto.

But Toronto-area MPs weren’t satisfied either. They submitted a bill calling for Parliament to meet alternatively in the old capitals of Toronto and Quebec City. This bill passed though the outcome satisfied few. MPs agreed in 1842 to examine three resolutions each favouring a different city as the permanent capital—Montreal, Toronto, or Bytown, as Ottawa was then called. All motions were defeated, with Bytown receiving the fewest votes, only 6 for against 57 opposed.

In 1843, Canada’s Attorney General moved that Montreal be chosen as the capital. This motion passed on a vote of 55 to 22. Toronto and Quebec City were rejected as being too far from the geographic centre of the newly united Province of Canada. Bytown too failed despite its favourable geographic attributes—it bordered both provinces, was pretty much equidistant between Toronto and Quebec, and was located at the mouth of the militarily important Rideau Canal, safely distant from the United States. But politicians and bureaucrats looked in horror at the idea of decamping to an isolated “Arctic lumber village,” with a population of perhaps 5,000. Its tumbledown wooden buildings offered few creature comforts, especially in the midst of a harsh Canadian winter. Cosmopolitan Montreal was a far better choice. There, public servants could enjoy the social and commercial attractions of a well-established city that boasted a population ten times that of Bytown. It was also located on the St. Lawrence, Canada’s vital trade route to the Atlantic.

In November 1844, Parliament moved from Kingston to Montreal on news that Queen Victoria had graciously approved the selection of that city as Canada’s capital. Montreal had seemingly won the day. However, less than five years later, Montreal blotted its copy book when a mob protesting the passage of the Rebellion Losses Act that compensated “rebels” as well as “loyalists” for property destroyed in the 1838 Rebellion burnt down Canada’s Parliament buildings. Reconvening in Toronto, politicians decided against returning to unstable Montreal and instead agreed once again that Parliament would alternate between Toronto and Quebec City. This was a patently nutty decision given the difficulty and cost of moving Parliament and its supporting bureaucrats and files every few years—the Grand Trunk Railway linking Toronto to Quebec had yet to be built.

In 1854, Sir Richard Scott, the mayor of Bytown and later member of the Legislative Assembly for Ottawa, renewed the campaign to make Bytown the capital. In 1856, Canada’s Attorney General moved for a definitive selection of a permanent capital. MPs were given a choice between Toronto, Hamilton, Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, and newly re-named Ottawa. In a veritable blizzard of motions for and against each city, Quebec City emerged the victor by a vote of 64 to 56. The lower house also voted in favour of providing £50,000 ($250,000) to fund the construction of new legislature buildings. Unfortunately, the Legislative Council (equivalent to today’s Senate) refused to support the funding. No funding meant no capital for Quebec City.

The political impasse continued into 1857. In a series of motions, Ottawa garnered only 11 supporters out of a 130-member house though no other city could attract a majority. To break the impasse, a resolution asking Queen Victoria to make the choice passed the Legislative Assembly, though only over stiff opposition by members who considered royal mediation as undermining the Canadian government’s newly-gained responsibility for domestic affairs. The mayors of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Quebec City subsequently received letters from the Governor-General, Sir Edmund Head, asking them to prepare papers setting out their respective cities’ merits.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1855

This set in motion feverous activity in candidate cities. In Ottawa, the City Council set up a special meeting of leading citizens, including Sir Richard Scott and Mr. R. J. Friel, to draft a memorial to the Queen setting out Ottawa’s many advantages.  Other cities did likewise. Kingston, Montreal and Quebec also sent delegations to London to lobby for support. In the end, Ottawa won the day, a choice favoured by the Governor General. Some say that Ottawa also received unofficial support from Lady Head, the G-G’s wife, who apparently was a good friend of the Queen. The story goes that the Heads had been invited to a picnic lunch in Ottawa held at what would later become Major’s Hill Park. Enchanted with the area and its wonderful river views, Lady Head, an amateur watercolourist, made a number of sketches that she shared with the Queen. Ottawa apparently had other high placed supporters, including Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Consort.

The Queen received all the documents by October 1857. After reviewing the material sent to her and consulting with her advisers, she selected Ottawa. Her decision was officially relayed to Canada’s Governor General by Henry Labouchere, the Colonial Secretary, in a letter dated 31 December 1857.

This did not end the debate, however. A motion asking the Queen to reconsider her decision was  introduced in July 1858 by the opposition led by The Globe newspaper’s radical editor George Brown. The opposition motion passed the House by a vote of 64 to 50. Then things got really weird. The defeated Conservative-led government of John A. Macdonald and George Étienne Cartier, his Canada East confederate, resigned, howling that the opposition motion was an affront to the Crown. With George Brown and his Canada East ally, Antoine-Aimé Dorion, assuming power, it looked like Ottawa’s hopes to be the capital were to be dashed. But the Brown-Dorion government fell after only four days.

J. A. MAcdonald

J. A. Macdonald, 1858

Under the legislative rules of the day, newly appointed Cabinet ministers were obliged to resign their parliamentary seats and seek re-election before assuming their positions. Brown’s newly minted ministers duly resigned following their appointments. In a snap vote of no confidence, Macdonald and Cartier defeated the new Brown-Dorion administration shorn of its Cabinet ministers. When the Governor General refused to call a general election, Brown resigned, and Macdonald and Cartier were asked back to form a government.

Everybody thought that Macdonald and his new ministers would also resign their seats and seek re-election, leaving the new Conservative government at Brown’s mercy. But, taking advantage of another Parliamentary rule that allowed ministers to change portfolios within a 30-day period without having to seek re-election, Macdonald simply appointed the ministers in his old government to different Cabinet posts before reshuffling them back to their original positions. Macdonald, temporarily Postmaster General, ended up as Deputy Premier rather than Premier in the new government. It seems that the Governor General was worried about the optics of Macdonald regaining the premiership and insisted that Cartier become Premier, at least officially. This sneaky, or brilliant (depending on your point of view), political manoeuvre became known as “The Double Shuffle.” With Brown-Dorion out and MacDonald-Cartier back in, Ottawa’s prospects were restored.

There was one more vote to ratify Queen Victoria’s decision. Held in early 1859, the vote in favour of Ottawa squeaked through with a majority of only 5 votes.

Sources:

City of Ottawa, 2014. A Virtual Exhibit: Ottawa Becomes the Capital, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/virtual-exhibit-ottawa-becomes-capital-0.

Joseph Edmund Collins, 1883. Life and Times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, Rose Publishing Company, Toronto.

Gwyn, Richard, 2007. The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times of Sir John A. Macdonald. vol 1: 1815-1867. Random House Canada.

Hamnett P. Hill, K.C., 1935. “The Genesis of our Capital,” Bytown Pamphlet Series #3, Ottawa Historical Society.

The Ottawa Evening Citizen 1925. “How Ottawa Was Chosen The Capital of The Dominion,” 25 June.

——————, 1930. “When Queen Victoria Made Ottawa Capital,” 22 May.

Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013. “Parliament Hill, Pre-construction, 1826-58,” http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/collineduparlement-parliamenthill/batir-building/hist/1826-1858-eng.html.

Image: J. A. Macdonald, 1858, unknown, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_A_Macdonald_in_1858.jpg.

Image: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1855, Roger Fenton, http://www.robswebstek.com/2009/04/queen-victoria-prince-albert-1855.html.