The Plains of Abraham

15 January 1908

The Plains of Abraham are one of the most important historical sites in Canada. They mark the spot where two empires clashed, setting the stage for the founding of what would become modern-day Canada. Outside the walls of Quebec, British forces under the command of James Wolfe defeated French forces led by the Marquis de Montcalm in September 1759, and occupied the city. Both commanding generals died in the battle. The British victory was the beginning of the end for the French Regime in North America.

It was also on the Plains of Abraham that the forces of the Chévalier de Lévis defeated the British led by James Murray seven months later in a virtual rerun of the previous battle. But there was one major difference. This time, the victorious French army was unable to capture the city. Shortly afterwards, Lévis retreated to Montreal when British ships arrived to resupply Murray.

France ceded its Canadian territories to the British in 1763 in the Treaty of Paris. In exchange, France retained valuable fishing rights off of Newfoundland and the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as a base for French fishermen, while the British gave back the important sugar-producing islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Many thought that France got the better end of the deal. Voltaire famously dismissed New France as quelques arpents de neige [a few acres of snow].

In late 1775 and early 1776, the Plains of Abraham were again the site of military action. Revolutionary U.S. armies led in part by General Benedict Arnold (yes, the same Benedict Arnold who later switched allegiance back to the British and became forevermore a byword for treachery) unsuccessfully laid siege to British forces at Quebec. When the local French population refused to rise up, the arrival of British ships forced the Americans to retreat, thus ensuring Canada remained British.

Despite the importance of the battlefield sites on the Plains of Abraham to the development of Canada as a nation, little effort was made to conserve them for posterity until the early twentieth century.

Plains of Abraham 1907, Edmund Sargent LAC 3858782

The Plains of Abraham, Quebec, 1907. The provincial jail is centre right, the Quebec City Observatory is on the left. Edmund Sargent, Library and Archives Canada, 3858782.

Their conservation story begins in early 1907 when a small Quebec delegation came to Ottawa to meet with Sir Wilfrid Laurier with regard to the upcoming 300th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Canada which was to occur the following year. The delegation sought funding from the Dominion government towards the celebration, the creation of a park on the Plains of Abraham, and the erection of monuments where English and French forces fought. While Laurier was sympathetic to the idea, he asked the delegation to go back home and flesh out their plans. That spring, under the direction of Mayor Jean-Georges Garneau of Quebec, the Quebec Landmark Commission released is report. It called for the preservation and maintenance of historic buildings and sites, the removal of private businesses (notably, the Ross Rifle Factory) from the Plains of Abraham, and the creation of a park from La Citadelle in the east to Wolfe’s Cove (L’Anse-au-Fulon) on the west. The Report suggested naming the entire park in honour of King Edward VII. The Report also called for the building of a national museum on the site.

These plans dovetailed nicely with those of Earl Grey who was an enthusiastic supporter of developing a national battlefields park in Quebec City. In December 1907, he spoke on the issue at the inauguration of the Canadian Women’s Club in Montreal. He said a national park consisting of the Plains of Abraham and the battlefield of Ste Foy would be a way of celebrating what amounted to the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Canada, the union of French and English in the Dominion, and the founding of “Greater Britain” (i.e., the British Empire). He noted that the idea had been received with “warm approval” by Premier Gouin of Quebec and by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the prime minister.

Plains of Abraham, Lord Grey LAC 157911

4th Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911, Library and Archives Canada 157911.

To these plans he added another element—the building of a colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace” with outstretched arms to stand on Cap Diamant. This statue would greet new immigrants to Canada, offering welcome and hope, in a similar fashion as did the Statue of Liberty in New York. Grey noted with disgust that the first thing immigrants then saw as they entered Quebec, or passed on their way to Montreal, was a jail, “associated with all that is darkest in the life of Canada.” Finally, the Governor General announced the formation of a fund that would seek donations from across the British Empire to help fund the renovation of the Plains. He closed by saying that King Edward had subscribed 100 guineas ($525—equivalent to about $12,000 today) to the battlefields fund.

A month later, on 15 January 1908, plans to turn the Plains of Abraham into a national park received a major boost in Ottawa. First, during the afternoon at their national conference, Canadian Clubs unanimously agreed that they would co-operate in helping to bring forward Earl Grey’s proposal to celebrate the tercentenary of Quebec and the preservation of the battlefields of Quebec at the Plains of Abraham and Ste Foy. Second, a mass public meeting was held at the Russell Theatre that evening in aid of the proposal. It was a packed house. All of Ottawa’s great and good attended. Speakers at the event included Earl Grey, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, the speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons, and the mayor of Ottawa.

At the Russell Theatre, the lead-off speaker was, of course, Lord Grey who repeated the message he made the previous month in Montreal at the Canadian Women’s Club. He congratulated the Canadian Clubs for “their spirited action” in support of his appeal to celebrate Champlain’s tercentenary by “rescuing the famous battlefields of Quebec from their present condition of neglect.” He singled out the Canadian Club of Edmonton in particular—the club had just pledged $500 to the project. Grey said that there was “no better way of doing honour to what may be regarded as the 300th birthday of Canada, than by taking the necessary measures to secure the nationalization of the battlefields of Quebec.” He added that “it was on the battlefields of Quebec that French and English parentage gave birth to the Canadian nation. Today the inhabitants of the Dominion… stand before the world not as English or French but as Canadians.”

Next up on the agenda was Sir Wilfrid Laurier who gave another stirring speech. “We should consecrate the ground around the old Citadel of Quebec, and make it a national property because it has been hallowed by the most heroic blood. We may certainly claim, and we of French origin, and of British origin, that nowhere was French dash and British resolution ever shown with greater éclat than at these places,” he said. Alluding to the 1775-6 American invasion, he added “And may I be permitted in this occasion to remember, British citizen that I am, a British subject as I am, that in my veins flows the blood of the race which saved the British flag at the time it was disgraced by those of Britain’s own kith and kin.” He noted that while monuments to victors are commonplace, the Quebec monument to Wolfe and Montcalm is probably unique in honouring both the victor and the vanquished. He was proud to recall that the monument was erected by the British government.

Robert Borden, the Conservative leader of the Opposition, echoed Laurier’s words. He also referred to the War of 1812 when “French Canadians saved Canada for the British at Chateauguay” when De Salaberry and 300 men repelled an American force ten times their size. He called the battle to “the Thermopylae of Canada.” (This was a reference to the famous battle in 480 BC when a small Greek force led by Leonidas of Sparta held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass.)

In addition to similar speeches by Speaker Dandurand of the Senate, and Deputy Speaker Marell of the House of Commons, the 7th Lord Aylmer also spoke in favour of Lord Grey’s proposal. He was the nephew of the 5th Lord Aylmer who was the Governor General of British North America and Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada during the 1830s. Aylmer’s inclusion in the evening activities was rather odd from a historical perspective. His noble forebear had not been known for promoting harmony between French and English. Rather, his policies exacerbated tensions between the two communities and contributed to the 1834 Rebellion. He was recalled in disgrace the following year. Whether Lord Alymer’s presence raised eyebrows is not recorded.

The evening wrapped up with a speech by Ottawa’s Mayor Scott. He moved “That this public meeting of citizens of Ottawa expresses its cordial endorsement of the proposal which has been launched by His Excellency Earl Grey for the fitting celebration of the tercentenary of the founding of Quebec and for the preservation of the historic plains of Abraham and of St. Foy, in that city, and pledged its hearty support to and co-operation in this most praiseworthy undertaking. Seconded by P.H. Taylor, ex president of the Canadian Club, the motion was unanimously approved.

With such distinguished support, the federal government quickly passed the National Battlefields Act in March 1908. The Act created the National Battlefields Commission with a mandate to acquire and conserve the Quebec battlefields and turn them into a national park, to preserve this legacy for future Canadians, and to develop the land so that the public can fully benefit from them.

A fund was also officially established for this purpose. Contributions came from across Canada and throughout the Empire. The Dominion government provided $300,000 with the provinces of Quebec and Ontario each giving $100,000. Other provinces provided smaller amounts. More than $50,000 was raised from Great Britain. In addition to the King, other illustrious contributors included the Prince of Wales, former Governors General and Princess Louise, who had been Canada’s vice-regal consort during the 1880s. Others also gave. The boys of Eton public school contributed $500. Here in Canada, collections were made across the country, importantly by the Canadian Clubs. Lord Grey gave a personal contribution of $1,000. Quebec City provided $50,000, with both Montreal and Ottawa each raising between $12,000 and $15,000 by the time of the tercentenary celebrations held in late July 1908.

Plains of Abraham, 1908, la messe solonelle 3362009

Tercentenary of Champlain’s arrival, Plains of Abraham, Quebec, La messe solennelle, July 1908, Library and Archives Canada 3362009.

The tercentenary celebrations were a triumph. While the history was sometimes shaky in its quest to find common ground between English and French, it was a fine show. Thousands of people dressed up in period costumes for the event held on the plains of Abraham where a re-enactment was staged of Champlain being greeted by indigenous Canadians on his arrival. The Royal Navy, the U.S. Navy and the French Navy all sent ships, this time in peace, to help celebrate the historic event. The new national battlefields park was officially dedicated by the Prince of Wales, the later King George V.

One thing not constructed was Lord Grey’s colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace.” Funding was likely part of the reason. Consequently, Canada’s answer to the Statue of Liberty was never built. It also took many years before the Plains of Abraham were restored to the state they are in today. The infamous Ross Rifle Factory remained there until 1931, even though the federal government expropriated the company in 1917. Jobs and where to put the factory were major issues. The provincial prison was finally closed in 1970. Restored, the building is now the Charles Baillairgé Pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

Sources:

Canada, Government of, Justice Law Website, 1908. An Act Respecting the National Battlefields of Quebec, 17 March.

National Battlefields Commission, 2016. Plains of Abraham, Inf Source 2016, http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/access-information-and-privacy/completed-access-information-requests/info-source-2016/.

Montreal Gazette, 1907. “Quebec Battlefields,” 14 December.

———————, 1908. “Quebec Battlefields,” 4 March.

———————, 1908. “From The Capital,” 10 April.

———————, 1908. “First Report of the Quebec Landmark Commission,” 29 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1907, “Wants A Colossal Statue On Heights Of Quebec,” 13 December.

——————, 1907. “An Inspiring Project,” 13 December.

——————, 1908. “Earl Grey’s Great Conception Endorsed By Citizens Of Capital, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Canadian Clubs Approve And Decide Upon Central Committee, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Brilliant Conception,” 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Quebec Scheme,” 10 March.

——————, 1908. “An Appeal For Battlefields,” 13 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1907. “Save The Plains of Abraham,” 24 January.

——————-, 1908. Subscriptions Received,” 15 January.

Vancouver Daily World, 1907. “Ross Rifle Factory Causes Much Trouble,” 6 April.

Windsor Star, 1908. “Plains Dedicated,” 25 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1908. “Battlefield Fund,” 7 August 1908.

The Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy

2 February 1907 and 29 February 1908

Each November, thousands of rabid Canadian football fans huddle in the freezing cold, or more typically settle back on their chesterfields, to watch the Grey Cup game that pits the Canadian Football League’s Western Division Champions against the Eastern Division Champions in the quest for bragging rights as Canada’s best football team. The trophy was first given by Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, in 1909 as the top prize in Canadian amateur rugby football. The first Grey Cup champions were the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

Lord Grey

Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911

During his term as Governor General from 1904 to 1911, Lord Grey handed out trophies for all sorts of events, including skating, horse racing, and even for the best dog in show at the Ottawa Kennel Club championships. Not to be outdone, Lady Grey had her own award for best Ottawa garden. Of all these prizes, the Grey Cup is probably the only one that has survived. However, for a few years, the Grey Trophy, properly known as the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy, was likely the best known of all of Lord Grey’s awards, and was highly coveted across the country.

Government House announced the trophy in late 1906 as means of promoting the performing arts in Canada and Newfoundland, then a separate dominion. Very early on, it was decided to offer two trophies, one for the country’s top amateur musical or choral group, and another for the best amateur theatrical company. Entrants were initially limited to provincial capitals, including St. John’s, and cities with a population of more than 50,000. Multiple city entries were permitted though it was expected that provincial government houses would limit the numbers to about fourteen, enough for two shows per evening during a week-long musical and dramatic extravaganza. Colonel J. Hanbury-Williams, the Governor General’s secretary, who was also a friend of Rudyard Kipling, took charge of the event, with the help of at least eight committees that dealt with such things as transportation, finance, entertainment, and the press. There was also a special committee for women. Provincial chairmen were also appointed.

The competition was open to amateurs, defined as persons who had not “lived by the profession” within the previous five years. However, the rule was not intended to exclude those that had been paid a nominal amount for performing in a choir or with a dramatic organization. The performances of each company would be limited to ninety minutes, and no company could have more than 50 members.

The first competition was held in Ottawa from 28 January to 2 February 1907 at the Russell Theatre. Sixteen companies—eight musical and eight dramatic—entered the competition from Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s. To ensure impartiality, the judges for the competition were American. George Chadwick, the director of the New England Conservatory in Boston judged the musical entries. Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Langdon Mitchell, a Broadway playwright, judged the dramatic productions.

Earl Grey Trophy ii

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy. The trophy was designed and executed by Louis Philippe Hébert from suggestions of Lord Grey. The woman holding the mask symbolizes drama while the man holding the lyre symbolizes music. The fence between the two figures indicates that music and drama have their own territories. Each figure has a foot on the lowest rail to indicate a willingness to cross onto the other side. See Souvenir Programme, the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition, Ottawa 1912.

Competitors had to pay their own way to Ottawa but the transportation committee organized discount fares on the railways. Group rates were also provided by area hotels, though the main venue hotel was the Victoria Hotel in Alymer which was completely booked for the event. In downtown Ottawa, a Reception Committee organized a city “rendezvous” spot at the Racket Club at 153 Metcalfe Street where a dancing hall was converted into a large, temporary drawing room complete with settees, comfortable arm chairs, and other amenities. There, performers, who were made honorary members for the competition, could relax, write letters, use the telephone, or read newspapers. It was staffed throughout the week with volunteers. Social events were organized for contestants, including a skating and toboggan party at Rideau Hall hosted by Lord and Lady Grey. There was also a tea at the Wright’s Greenhouse, a seven-acre, glass-covered conservatory, in Aylmer.

Two shows were held each evening through the week at the Russell Theatre—one musical and one dramatic—with ticket prices of up to $1. Ottawa led off the competition on the first evening with the D.F.P. Minstrels in the musical event. Shockingly racist, the minstrel show, in which its performers wore “black face,” was warmly received by the Ottawa audience. The finale of the show was “a medley of plantation songs and Southern war ballads.” Later that same evening, the Ottawa Dramatic Company put on Gringoire, a short comedy by Théodore de Banville about a poet forced to play in front of Louis XI of France. The play was performed in English despite it being written in French and all the actors, francophone.

The finale of the event was held on Saturday, 2 February in front of the largest and “most fashionable” audience. After the last two performances of the week, the judges announced the winners of the competition. The winner for best dramatic performance was Winnipeg’s The Release of Allan Danvers. The play had been expressly written for the Earl Grey competition by three amateur Winnipeg authors, Messrs. Beaufort, Devine and Blue, two of whom acted in the show while the third was the stage manager. According to the Ottawa Citizen, it was the first time a Canadian-written play had debuted in Canada. It was a three-act play with a very heavy plot line. Danvers, afflicted with locomotor ataxia, a muscle disorder, falls in love. Although his love is reciprocated, Danvers refrains from declaring his affections to his lady love since he is dying. Before running off to England to hide from her, his lady indicates her affection for him, but Danvers falls dead at her feet—hence, his “release.”

Based on criteria which included stage setting and the company acting as a unit, individual excellence in grace, diction, make-up and dress, and the power to impersonate and express a range of emotions, the Winnipeg Dramatic Club was selected as the competition winner with a total of 49 out of 50 marks. The Ottawa Dramatic Company managed 41 points for its Gringoire.

Overall, the two drama judges were impressed by the high quality of all the theatrical performances. They added that amateur theatre was typically “a crucifixion of the soul,” but that wasn’t the case over the week-long competition. They opined that Lord Grey’s competition should have a positive impact on both the amateur and professional stage. They hoped that it would help address the lack of a standard spoken English which was a deficiency of North America.

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1904 and led by its conductor, Joseph Vezina won the musical trophy. It had presented a classical programme but one of its best numbers, Valse de Concert, was written by Vezina himself. According to the Citizen, it was hard to believe that the orchestra consisted of amateurs, so good was the playing. Spontaneous applause broke out on several occasions during their performance. In scoring the competition, the judge gave the Quebec orchestra 27 out of a possible 40 points in four categories—attack, precision, and accuracy; intonation (singing/playing in tune); technical proficiency; and expression and interpretation. Ottawa’s minstrels received 16 points.

So successful was the week-long competition, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced on the last night of the performances that Lord Grey was making the competition an annual event.

The following year, thirteen teams competed in the second annual Lord Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition. The competition was again held at the Russell Theatre in Ottawa. Subscription tickets for the full six nights of the competition cost $5. Again, the judges were American to avoid the appearance of bias.  Although competition rules had been eased for 1908 to allow any musical or theatrical group from a town or city of any size to compete, all the competing groups came from major eastern cities. Six of the contestants came from Ottawa, with the remaining participants coming from Quebec City (2), Toronto (2) and Montreal (3).

Again, the week-long series of musical and theatrical performances were judged a great success. Ottawa fared particularly well. On 29 February, 1908, Colonel Hanbury-Williams announced that Ottawa teams had won both the musical and dramatic events. The musical trophy went to the Canadian Conservatory of Music, conducted by Donald Heins. The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the 1907 winner, and Ottawa’s Orpheus Glee Club came in tied for second place. The Canadian Conservatory of Music’s entry was essentially a string orchestra consisting of thirty violins, violas, violincellos and basses plus a grand piano. Its classical programme included Grieg’s Elegiac Melody, Minuet by Motzart, and La Dernier Sommeil by de la Vierge.

On the theatrical side, Ottawa’s Thespian Club won the Earl Grey Trophy for its two short productions of Food and Folly, a two-act “gastronomic” farce and A Light From St. Agnes, a one-act Broadway tragedy. Although the eventual winner of the competition, the Citizen’s reviewer was not terribly impressed by the Thespians’ farce. He described the play as “impossible,” thin on humour, with dialogue that tended to drag. He had much kinder words for A Light From St. Agnes. He thought the climax of the play was “admirably acted” with both the leading man and leading woman putting on strong performances.

Earl Grey Trophy

Souvenir Programme for the last Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition held in Ottawa in 1912, City of Ottawa Archives.

The Early Grey Musical and Dramatic Competition continued to be held for the next four years, moving to Montreal in 1909, Toronto in 1910, Winnipeg in 1911, and back to Ottawa in 1912. The 1912, and ultimately the final winners of the Lord Grey Trophy, were the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (for the fourth time) and Winnipeg’s Dramatic Society.

In late 1912, Colonel Lowther, the military secretary to HRH the Duke of Connaught who had succeeded Lord Grey as Governor General the previous year, said that the 1913 Competition would be dropped for “various reasons.”  It is possible that the new Governor General had other priorities, and didn’t see the point of adding to the lustre of his predecessor’s reputation. Organizing the competition must also have been a considerable challenge. Given its scale and the huge number of volunteers needed to organize and run it, the necessary logistics may have been too onerous to sustain.

Did the competition succeed in its mission in encouraging amateur music and drama? It’s difficult to say, not knowing the counterfactual. However, in 1913, just months after the cancellation of the Earl Grey Competition, the Canadian Federation of University Women launched the Ottawa Drama League (ODL), later known as the Ottawa Little Theatre. Over time, “little theatres” were also established in other Canadian cities. The ODL presented its first production at the Russell Theatre in 1914. In 1933, the Earl of Bessborough launched the Dominion Drama Festival in co-operation with the ODL at its Little Theatre on King Edward Avenue.

As for the Earl Grey trophies themselves, they seem to have disappeared.[1] An Earl Grey Trophy continues to be awarded at the Winnipeg Music Festival for the best school chorus. But it only dates back to 1923, six years after Lord Grey’s death. It is likely named for the “Earl Grey School,” the first winner of the cup-like trophy.

 

Sources:

Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition, 1912, Programme, City of Ottawa Archives.

Manitoba Free Press, 1907. “Through Milady’s Lorgnette,” 12 January.

Montreal Gazette, 1906. “Earl Grey’s Contest,” 21 December.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1908. “Ability Shown by Ottawans,” 29 February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1906. “The Musical Competition,” 27 October.

——————-, 1907. “Judges For The Competition,” 18 January.

——————-, 1907. “Today Opens Competition,” 28 January.

——————-, 1907. “Last Night’s Performances,” 30 January.

——————-, 1907. “Winnipeg Dramatic Club and Quebec Orchestra,” 4 February.

——————-, 1907. “Earl Grey Competitions,” 4 March.

——————-, 1907. “Arranging For A 2nd Competition,” 26 March.

——————-, 1908. “Earl Grey Trophy,” 14 February.

——————-, 1908. “Not In Ottawa,” 18 March.

——————-, 1908.  “Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Competitions and Competitors,” 19 February.

——————-, 1912. “No Earl Grey Competition,” 16 November.

Ottawa Little Theatre, 2019. History, http://www.ottawalittletheatre.com/history/.

Winnipeg Music Festival, 2019. Trophies, https://www.winnipegmusicfestival.org/earl-grey-trophy/

 

[1] If you are aware of the location of a trophy please send me an email.