Trick Or Treat!

31 October 1860

If it’s October 31st, you can count on hordes of ghouls, witches, fairy princesses and Jedi knights to come knocking this evening on the doors of homes across North America, shouting Trick or Treat, and expecting their pillow cases to be filled with bite-size candy bars and mini bags of potato chips or cookies. Ottawa is no exception to this seasonal shakedown with the number of children who come knocking each year varying according to the weather, the demographics of a particular neighbourhood, and parental concerns about what their kiddies might get in their sacks. For 2020, we have to add COVID-19 to the list of considerations. While some have predicted the demise of the tradition, it is likely to be with us for a long time to come, especially if candy manufacturers have anything to say about the matter.

The event is, of course, Halloween, a festival mainly celebrated across North America, and to a lesser extent in parts of the British Isles, on the last day of October. Unlike Christmas or Easter, it is not an officially recognized holiday. It is, however, catching on in other countries owing to marketing and television.

While it’s a secular celebration these days, the origin of the name is Christian—All Hallows’ Even, with “Even” being the Scottish form of “Eve.” This is the day in the Christian calendar that precedes All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Halloween, sometimes spelt Hallowe’en, is a time when supposedly the veil between this world and the hereafter thins. Some believed that the recently dead came back to revisit their homes and loved ones.

While Christian in name, the festival appears to have long roots. Some folklorists say it originated in celebrations of Pamona, the Roman goddess of fruits and orchards. Others place Halloween’s roots squarely in pre-Roman Celtic times, and are related to the celebration of Samhain, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest. With the days getting shorter, this was a time associated with death and the supernatural. Evil spirits that might haunt the living could only be warded off by bonfires and other propitiatory rituals.

Advertisement for Halloween nuts, Ottawa Citizen, 30 October 1880.

In subsequent Christian times, Samhain morphed into the celebration of “Hallowtide,” which coincided with the commencement of the autumn slaughter of livestock. According to Nicholas Rogers, who wrote the definitive book on Halloween, this was also an occasion for merriment when young men played football with animal bladders. It also marked a time of misrule, when ordinary behaviour was upended, with masked and costumed people parading through the streets demanding “tribute” from passersby.

These Halloween traditions were brought to North America by the wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants who flooded into the United States and Canada during the second half of the nineteenth century. According to Nicholas Rogers, there was little or no reference to Halloween in American almanacs prior to that time.

The first reference that I could find to Halloween being celebrated in Ottawa occurred in 1860. An article in the Ottawa Citizen in November 1860 reported that on 31 October of that year a celebration of “the anniversary of this ancient festival” was held by a number of citizens who “partook of an excellent dinner provided by ‘mine host’ of the Grand River Hotel, Mr. James Salmon.” Songs and speeches followed the meal, “and formed an entertainment [that] seemed to be enjoyed most heartily by all present.” (The Grand River Hotel was a hostelry located at the corner of Sussex and Clarence Streets, frequented in particular by farmers coming into the city to sell their products at the Byward Market.) A few years later, the Caledonian Society held a Halloween Festival at which forty-three people competed in a poetry competition. “Maggie,” presumably the name of the poem, won first prize. A “gold medal certificate of honorary membership and a complementary address” were given to vocalist Mr. Kennedy and a locket and chain to Miss Kennedy.

By the 1870s and 1880s, Halloween was widely celebrated in the nation’s capital. The celebrations seemed to divide into three distinct activities. For adults, there were galas and balls held in the major hotels. Scottish groups such as the Caledonian Society and the Sons of Scotland were prominent hosts, as were fraternal organizations, such as the Ancient Order of United Workmen. (The A.O.U.W. was an American-based group that provided social and financial support for its members in the event of sickness or death.) In 1883, the Governor General’s Foot Guards hosted a gala ball at the Drill Hall. More than 600 people attended, with a program of dance music provided by the Guards’ Band and that of the 43rd Regiment. This was a dress event with the Guards resplendent in their crimson uniforms and medals.

Cartoon depicting traditional Halloween hijinks. Notice the toppling of an outhouse in the upper left, author unknown, Ottawa Journal, 30 October 1921.

For youngsters, Halloween became second only to Christmas in terms of fun and excitement. Halloween parties, complete with jack-o-lanterns, corn stalks, witch decorations, and orange and black streamers, were held in homes across the city. Nuts and apples, not candy, featured prominently at the parties. A favourite activity was bobbing for apples, or trying to bite apples suspended from strings without touching them. Girls tried their hand at divination to predict who they were to marry. There were many techniques. One was to enter a dark room backwards holding a lit candle and to look over your shoulder into a mirror. It was said that the shadow cast by the candle in the mirror provided an outline of your future spouse. Another favoured divining technique was to throw apple peelings over your left shoulder and to try to read the initials of your future spouse in the shapes the peelings made on the floor.

Roasting chestnuts over a grate and popping corn were other methods of fortune telling. Two chestnuts burning slowly side by side on the fireplace grate augured a happy marriage, while two that popped suggested strife. While waiting for corn to pop, youngsters chanted a spell that went something like:

“Fire, fire burn your best,

As my fortune there, I test,

Every kernel popping white

Makes my fortune fine and bright,

Every kernel scorched and black

Sets a goblin on my track.”

For male teenagers, Halloween became a time of juvenile hijinks.  At a time when behaviour was strictly controlled and entertainment limited, Halloween was the one day in the year when society’s strictures were eased and boys could cut loose. With masks ensuring anonymity, youth took to the streets and caused mayhem. Shooting peas at windows and at passersby was de rigueur. If it provoked somebody to give chase, all the better. Upsetting outhouses and raiding gardens became clichés of the festival. In 1875, boys took of the gates to the home of Alderman Rocque on Rideau Street and threw them into the middle of the road. Fences in the neighbourhood were torn down while gate handles were daubed with red paint. The following year, vandals blocked Bank Street with pulled down fences, stumps, boards and commercial signs. Out in the country, things could get worse. In 1875 in Masham, Quebec, cellars were plundered, stables were ransacked, and potatoes set aside for the winter were stolen.

Cartoon that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, 30 October 1909, author Grue.

In 1881, rowdy boys upset a pile of bricks outside of the Opera House just when the audience was exiting. The Citizen complained that it was lucky nobody had tripped and hurt themselves. The newspaper demanded that the boys be prosecuted if they could be found.

But nothing beats the experience of poor Mr. Alphonse Frappier, a retired real estate agent, of Eastview (now Vanier) in 1921. While he was sleeping, boisterous youths broke into his home and dumped him out of bed. His bed was then taken outside and placed on top of a nearby telephone pole. The following year, Frappier demanded and received police protection.

Halloween 1919, the first after the end of the Great War, was particularly boisterous with the streets filled with partyers. Like today, elves, witches, princesses and tramps abounded. However, in keeping with the times, children also dressed as Red Cross nurses and soldiers complete with wound stripes and long service ribbons. Most of the mayhem that year was petty stuff—windows shelled with peas, door bells rung, and a few gates removed. There were however numerous hold-ups by boys dressed as baggy-trousered bashi-bazouks—irregular Ottoman soldiers noted for their indiscipline and for raiding civilian populations. The Citizen reported that the bashi-bazouks let their victims go after extorting “small ransoms.”

To keep order, police force in the region were put on full alert for the night. During the mid-1930s, police leave was cancelled and all of Ottawa’s twenty-five patrol cars were out keeping watch on the crowds of revellers on city streets, ready to respond in the event of complaints of rowdiness. Private cars owned by police were also pressed into service. On the Quebec side, a 9 pm curfew was strictly enforced for children under 16 years of age. In Hull, the start of the curfew was announced by the hooter going off at the city’s waterworks. Despite such precautions, widespread property damage was reported in 1935, including the breaking of 40 street lights in the Glebe and Ottawa South where youths untethered the pully wires that suspended the globes. There were also three false fire alarms.

It’s hard to say when door-to-door “trick-or-treating” started in Ottawa. Certainly by 1912 it seems to have become an accepted part of the Halloween tradition. A Citizen article that year reported that many home owners in the city placed jack-o-lanterns in their front windows to invite costumed children to come and share the apples. Note that children came to collect apples rather than candy. While candy featured in Halloween parties, handing out candies at the door seems to have started in earnest only after World War II, encouraged by the confectionary industry. However, even then apples continued to be the traditional treat, no doubt much to the chagrin of many pint-sized ghosts and ghouls.

Apples largely disappeared from the Halloween tradition in the late 1960s and early 1970s owing to fears of sabotage. In 1967, it was reported that an Eastview girl had been given an apple with needles pushed into it. In 1972, there were reports of apples injected with crushed glass or booby-trapped with razor blades. Candies too were not spared. An eight-year old Ottawa boy was reportedly hospitalized in 1968 after he had eaten candy-coated pills that looked like Smarties. Similar stories in the press across the continent led to another Halloween ritual—the parental checking of kiddies’ loot. Of course, this required the occasion taste test just to make sure.

Ottawa children began to collect money for the United Nations’ International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), in 1955, five years after the programme started in the United States. That first year, instead of being furnished with the characteristic orange UNICEF collection boxes, children used milk cartons donated by Ottawa dairies to collect change door to door. In July 2000, the Canadian government proclaimed 31 October National UNICEF Day. In 2006, UNICEF collection boxes were retired in favour of in-school fundraising. Three years later, collections raised by Canadian children had surpassed $100 million.

Today, Halloween remains a popular festival. While it continues to be a much-anticipated event for young children, it has also become a popular celebration among adults just as it was more than a century ago. According to Nicholas Rogers, 65 per cent of American adults participated in Halloween in the early 2000s, not counting handing out candies at the door. Fortunately, the traditional mayhem wrought by young males had largely subsided.

Sources:

Ottawa Citizen, 1860. “Halloween,” 2 November.

——————, 1875. “Juvenile Depredations,” 1 November.

——————, 1875. “Masham,” 10 November.

——————, 1876. “Blocked Up,” 1 November.

——————, 1881. “Rowdy Boys,” 1 November.

——————, 1882. “Halloween,” 30 October.

——————, 1883. “Governor-General’s Foot Guards’ Ball,” 1 November.

——————, 1886. “Complaint,” 1 November.

——————, 1887. “Annual Anniversary, A.O.U.W.” 31 October.

——————, 1892. “2’nd Annual Halloween Concert, Sons of Scotland,” 31 October.

——————, 1893. “Halloween Pranks,” 1 November.

——————, 1912. “Hallowe’en Celebrated,” 1 November.

Ottawa Journal, 1900. “Dunking For Apples,” 31 October.

——————, 1900. “Halloween At The Normal,” I November.

——————, 1900. “Hallowe’en Favors,” 29 October.

——————, 1902. Hallowe’en; Its Customs,” 31 October.

——————-, 1909.  “Halloween Hints and Some Ideas for Entertainment,” 30 October.

——————-, 1912. “Hallowe’en Night, 2 November.

——————-, 1919. “King Revelry Reigned For Halloween,” 1 November.

——————-, 1922. “Broad Sense Of Humor Is Shown In Eastview,” 19 October.

——————-, 1935. “Every Policeman In Ottawa on Duty For Hallowe’en,” 31 October.

——————-, 1935. “Wide Celebration Brings Complaints Of Much Mischief,” 1 November.

——————-, 1946. “More Candy and Apples in Ottawa Stores for Hallowe’en Ghosts and Goblins,” 30 October.

——————-, 1953. “Lively Hallowe’en Moderate Fuel Bill,” 31 October.

——————-, 1955. “Shell-out For UNICEF At Hallowe’en,” 22 October.

——————-, 1967. “Eastview Girl Given Apple With Needle,” 3 November.

——————-, 1972. “… And for human ghouls,” 28 October.

Rogers, Nicholas, 2002. From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press.

UNICEF, 2019. Halloween Fundraising, https://www.unicef.org/support/14884.html.

The Ottawa Nationals

11 October 1972

Back before the Ottawa Senators were reborn in the early 1990s, Ottawa was briefly home to another major league professional hockey team—the Ottawa Nationals.  And when I say briefly, I mean briefly. The team was in existence in the nation’s capital for less than one season before the franchise moved. But for a few short moments, Ottawa was at the centre of a hockey revolution that witnessed the birth of the World Hockey Association (WHA), the upstart professional hockey league that for a time challenged the National Hockey League’s (NHL) domination of major-league professional hockey in North America.

In the 1972-73 season, the WHA launched a new 12-team league located mostly in smaller cities in the United States and Canada. While the NHL had doubled in size from six teams to twelve in 1967, and had added two more teams in 1970, WHA backers thought there was still unmet demand for high-calibre professional hockey. Not surprisingly, the new league faced many obstacles before the first puck was dropped. The absence of appropriate rink facilities was a major handicap that doomed the chances of many cities to acquire a franchise.  The wonderfully named Miami Screaming Eagles plunged to earth when plans for a new arena fell through. The franchise folded, later becoming the Philadelphia Blazers. The Calgary Broncos also vanished before playing a game, only to be resurrected as the Cleveland Crusaders.

Ottawa wasn’t a first-choice city for a WHA franchise. Doug Michel, who had purchased the “Ontario franchise” for a WHA team, had wanted to locate in Hamilton. However, the story goes that Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps couldn’t come to terms with Michel over the construction of a new arena. Reportedly, Copps wanted the team to sign a 10-year contract for $500,000 per year before he would build a $5 million arena. Michel countered with $200,000 per year, but it was not enough.

Instead of Hamilton, Michel brought his franchise to Ottawa, and in mid-February 1972 the Ontario franchise became known as the Ottawa Nationals. The following month, the team came to terms with the Central Canada Exhibition Association (CCEA) to play at the Civic Centre, the home of the Ottawa 67s, the city’s Major Junior A team. It was agreed that the Nationals would guarantee the Central Canada Exhibition Association $100,000 or 15 per cent of the gate, whichever was greater, for each year of a 3-year contract. The amount of the performance bond would decline through the season as money was paid to the CCEA. The CCEA would also receive 15 per cent of television money for games broadcast from the Civic Centre. The Nats wanted a 3-year contract even though potentially the CCEA couldn’t honour it as its lease for the city-owned Civic Centre expired in April 1973.

Despite being playerless and coachless, the Nationals launched a season ticket campaign with prices ranging from $3.50 per seat, or $136.50 for the 39-home game season, for C level seats to $6.50 per seat, or $253.50, for ice-level, AA seats. The team hoped to sell roughly a third of the season tickets to corporations. By the end of March 1972, they had sold 275 seats. They didn’t sell many more.

Logo of the Ottawa Nationals, 1972-73.

The logo of the Ottawa Nationals was described as a combination of both traditional and contemporary features, a product of eight artists who came up with 400 different designs. The winning logo was a red “O” and “N” with a superimposed white maple leaf, with a blue border in the shape of a hockey arena, slightly slanted in an “on the go” fashion.

Having got a city, an arena, and a logo, the next step was to find players and a coach by the start of the 1972-73 season. The Nats, indeed the entire WHA, hoped to sign roughly one-third of its players from the NHL, a third from graduating Juniors, and a third from universities and Europe.

To gain credibility, WHA teams began signing star NHL players whose contracts had expired, offering huge multi-year salaries. Bernie Parent, the star goal tender from the Toronto Maple Leafs, signed a contract with the Miami Screaming Eagles (later the Philadelphia Blazers) for reportedly $750,000. The entire league chipped in to acquire the legendary Bobby Hull for a $2.5 million contract over ten years, of which $1 million was paid up front. Derrick Sanderson, the flamboyant centreman from Boston, signed with Philadelphia for an eye-popping US$2.6 million. The Nationals too had their eye on a number of star players, including New York Ranger Brad Park. Team owner Doug Michel thought Park was worth at least $250,000.  Michel also began talking to Toronto star Dave Keon.

Needless to say, NHL owners were furious with what they saw as talent poaching. It definitely hurt them in the pocket book. The average NHL salary in 1972 was only $32,500, equivalent to roughly $200,000 in today’s money. (The minimum NHL salary in 2019 was US$650,000.) The advent of the WHA meant that the balance of negotiating power had shifted dramatically in favour of players. To stop the hemorrhaging of talent, the NHL tried to tie players in legal knots, arguing that under the reserve clause of their contracts they could not sign with a WHA team even if their NHL contracts had expired. This attempt ultimately failed in court.

Despite the Nationals’ best efforts at finding talent, it wasn’t until June that the club signed its first two players—Bob Leduc (28 years old), a centreman who had played with the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League, and Ron Climie (22 years old), a right-winger from the Kansas City Blues of the Central Pro Hockey League. Neither were household names. A few days later, the team signed Garry Hull, the less-known middle brother of Bobby and Dennis Hull, to a conditional contract—conditional that he could make the team. Gerry Hull had played in Dallas in the Central Pro League in 1970 before leaving hockey to manage a farm near Milbrook, Ontario. Ottawa sportscasters were not impressed. Jack Kaufman of the Ottawa Citizen said the team was “scraping the bottom of the barrel in an effort to fill rosters.”

Advertisement for the Ottawa Nationals, just weeks before training camp was to start. It was hard to sell season tickets without knowing who was playing. Ottawa Citizen, 2 August 1972.

Stretched for money, Nats’ owner, Doug Michel, sold 80 per cent of the club to Nick Trbovitch of Buffalo, NY in July.  With an apparent cash infusion into the team, the Nats began signing players, negotiating contracts first with two former Oshawa Generals Juniors, Mike Amodeo and Tom Simpson, and then with Bob Charelbois a four-year veteran with the Phoenix Roadrunners in the Western Hockey League. They were followed by NHLers, Wayne Carleton, who had played with Toronto, Boston and California, Mike Boland of the L.A. Kings, and Guy Trottier from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among the last to sign were veteran goal tender, Les Binkley, formerly with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and coach Billy Harris, a friend of the team’s general manager, Buck Houle. Harris was the former coach of the Swedish national hockey team.

The Nats also thought they had corralled Dave Keon for a cool $1 million, multi-year contract. However, after accepting $50,000 from the team, which Keon said was a negotiating fee and the Nats said was a down payment on his salary, Keon re-signed with the Leafs. This set in motion law suits that were to last for years to come.

Training camp started mid-September in the Hull arena. Forty-seven rookies were in camp trying out for the team. The former NHLers didn’t arrive until October 1, the day following the expiry of their NHL contracts. That night, without any practice as a team, the Ottawa Nationals took to the ice at the Civic Centre for their first exhibition game against the Philadelphia Blazers. In front of a crowd of just over 7,000, said to have been generously reported, the Nats were downed 3-1. Ottawa went on to lose all five of their pre-season games.

The WHA launched its first official league game at the Civic Centre on 11 October 1972 with a game between the Ottawa Nationals and the Alberta Oilers amidst all the whoopla one would expect. The game was carried live over CBC television. Congratulatory telegrams were received, including one from Prime Minister Trudeau, bagpipes swirled, and special souvenir programs handed out. In a pre-game show, peewee hockey players circled the rink, throwing WHA orange pucks into the stands.  The WHA had originally tried using orange pucks to distinguish the league from the NHL. This was a bad idea since the orange dye reportedly affected the pucks’ solidity. When the frozen pucks were hit during play, they became distorted, sometimes turning potato shaped. Goalies also had a hard time seeing them. The colour was changed to a dark blue. But the orange pucks made for nifty souvenirs.

Lobbing pucks into the stands turned out to be another bad idea. The crowd of only 5,006 fans, half of whom were minor hockey players who had received free tickets, began throwing the orange pucks back onto the ice. Naturally, the peewee players returned fire. Matters deteriorated when balloons, which were fastened to poles, didn’t release properly; the knots suspending them were too tight. Two poles fell over when attendants tugged, bringing down their bagged balloons onto the ice which led to a free-for-all as the peewee players began popping them. Finally, an announcer had to tell the kids to get off the ice.

The opening face-off was timed with the drop of the puck in Cleveland where the Crusaders were taking on the Quebec Nordiques. After a countdown from fifteen to the launch of the first WHA season, Ottawa lost the draw. The night didn’t improve for the Nationals. Four minutes into the first period Ottawa’s defenceman Chris Meloff got a two-minute penalty for using an over-sized stick. Les Binkey, the Nationals’ net minder, had lost his in the corner. Meloff gave him his stick and skated over to retrieve Binkley’s. After he picked it up, he tried to take a pass and was called using an illegal stick. It was that kind of night. The Alberta Oilers took the game 7-4.

For much of the season, the Nationals struggled. Attendance, which was never strong, dwindled. At best, the team drew three to four thousand fans, well short of the 8,000 needed for the team to break even. By the end of February, 1973, after losing twenty of twenty-four games, the team was solidly in the basement. Surprisingly, however, the Nats rallied through March, and somehow snagged themselves a playoff berth. 

Off ice, however, matters went from bad to worse. Mid-March, the team failed to provide another $100,000 bond to the CCEA for the upcoming 1973-74 season, while still owing $50,000 on the 1972-73 season’s guarantee. The club said that it didn’t have to post a bond for the new season since its contract was with the CCEA had been voided when the City took back control of the Civic Centre. The City of Ottawa saw this as a technicality and demanded the bond before being willing to negotiate new terms for the club’s use of the Civic Centre. There was talk of locking the Nationals out of the arena.

Before the playoffs started, the Nationals packed their hockey sticks and headed for Toronto, a move facilitated by the club’s purchase by John Bassett Jr., part owner of Maple Leaf Gardens, for a reputed $1.3 million. The Nationals played the first two games of their best of seven Eastern Division semi-finals in Boston against the New England Whalers. After losing both games, the series resumed at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Nationals’ new “home” ice. Only 4,879 fans watched the Nationals win game three. The Whalers took the series four games to one. And that was the end of the Ottawa Nationals.

The following season, the Nationals were rebaptized the Toronto Toros, and played the year out of Varsity Arena. Owing to poor attendance, the Toros decamped to Birmingham, Alabama in 1976, playing as the Birmingham Bulls. The team folded for good in 1979.

After several years of on-and-off again talks of a merger between the NHL and the WHA, the two leagues finally came to an agreement in time for the 1979-80 seasons. The WHA ceased operations with four WHA teams—the Edmonton Oilers (renamed in 1973), the New England Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets—joining the NHL.

Sources:

Internet Hockey Data Base, 2019. Ottawa Nationals [WHA] all-time player list, http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/display_players.php?tmi=7327

Klein, Cutler, 2016. “From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion,” NHL, https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-expansion-history/c-281005106.

Statista, 2019. Average annual player salary in the National Hockey League in 2018/2019, by team (in millions U.S. dollars), https://www.statista.com/statistics/675382/average-nhl-salary-by-team/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1972. “Hockey Rumors aboud,” 12 February.

——————, 1972. “Ottawa WHA entry ‘land’ Keon and Park,” 14 February.

——————, 1972. “Pro hockey makes Ottawa comeback,” 18 February.

——————, 1972. “Hangup for Nationals just ‘legal falderah,” 16 March.

——————, 1972. “Bright future?” 15 May.

——————, 1972. “Eight-year minor leaguer one of first two Nats,” 2 June.

—————–, 1972. “Nats sign Hull, not Bobby,” 14 June.

—————–, 1972. “Marcelin more important,” 22 July.

—————–, 1972. “Mike Amodeo, Tom Simpson and Bob Charlebois joining Nats,” 26 July.

—————–, 1972. “Carleton and Nats agree,” 3 August.

—————–, 1972. “Nats sign Guy Trottier for cosy WHA ‘house league,” 28 August.

—————–, 1972. “Binkley joins Nats,” 7 September.

—————–, 1972. “Nats offer ‘million’ but Keon not coming,” 8 September.

—————–, 1972.  “Nats seeking legal advice on $50,000 paid to Keon,” 15 September.

—————–, 1972. “’Hungry’ Nats begin training,” 19 September.

—————–, 1972. “A court case,” 20 September.

—————–, 1972. “CBC WHA negotiate TV deal,” 20 September.

—————–, 1972. “Blazers spoil Nats’ start,” 2 October.

—————–, 1972. “Nationals beaten – fans missing,” 12 October.

—————–, 1972. “An odd first,” 12 October.

—————–, 1973. “Kirk’s three put Nats in playoffs,” 30 March.

—————–, 1973. “Face-off near for city, Nats,” 30 March.

—————–, 1973. “Nationals shifting to Toronto,” 3 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1972. “Expect word soon on WHA,” 1 February.

——————-, 1972. “CCEA and WHA team agree on three-year contract,” 18 February.

——————-, 1972. “Maybe not fair, but still some skeptics,” 19 February.

——————-, 1972. “Ottawa, Nationals, CCEA close deal,” 21 March.

——————-, 1972. “Ottawa Nationals make plans official,” 25 March.

——————-, 1972. “Oilers, Nationals unveil WHA tonight,” 11 October.

——————-, 1972. “Opening night no success story for Nats,” 12 October.

General Tom Thumb and Countess Magri

4 October 1861

The first, global, celebrity entertainer was the dwarf General Tom Thumb, a.k.a. Charles Stratton. Born in 1838 in Bridgeport Connecticut, Stratton was discovered at age four by Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum, the future circus impresario and then owner of Barnum’s American Museum. At only twenty-five inches tall, the child, who reportedly had weighed a hefty 9 ½ pounds at birth, had not grown since he was six months old. Barnum, always on the look-out for the odd and the unusual for display in his museum, which was a mixture of a menagerie, theatre, lecture hall, and sideshow, had stumbled upon a winner. The child was quickly signed to a contract and taught to dance and sing. Little Charles put on his first performance at the American Museum at the age of five though billed as an eleven-year old.  His stage name was General Tom Thumb after the fairy tale character of the same name. Precocious and talented, Stratton was an instant hit. Barnum made a fortune as New Yorkers flooded into his museum to see General Tom Thumb.

“General Tom Thumb” dressed as a Scottish clan chieftain, c. 1861, author unknown, Wikipedia.

After wowing New York audiences, Barnum took him and his parents to London, the centre of the world in the nineteenth century. His London debut occurred in February 1844 at the Princess Theatre in London. Following a performance of the comic opera Don Pasquale, Stratton came on the stage singing Yankee Doodle Dandy. He later entertained the audience dressed as Napoleon and performed in a number of “tableaux” as Hercules, Ajax and Sampson. But the act loved best by the crowd was his performance as Cupid, complete with little wings.

His reception was not quite up to the adulation received earlier in New York. But that was soon rectified following multiple audiences with Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family, including the three-year old Prince of Wales. It seems Stratton became a hit after he pretended to fend off one of the Queen’s barking spaniels with his miniature sword. Performances throughout Britain were followed by a tour of continental Europe.

General Tom Thumb first ventured northward to Canada in 1861. It was a good time to perform outside of the United States; the U.S. Civil War had begun in April of that year. At the beginning of October, the troupe came to Ottawa, staying at Campbell’s Hotel, which would be purchased by M. Gouin two years later and renamed the Russell House Hotel.

General Tom Thumb was in town for a two-day gig at Her Majesty’s Theatre located on Wellington Street just west of Bank Street. There were two performances on each of the 4th and 5th of October 1861. Ticket prices ranged from 10 cents for children under ten to 25 cents. Reserved seats were 25 cents each. School groups were admitted “on liberal terms.” Along side General Tom Thumb were the English comic actor and baritone, Mr. W. Tomlin, the American tenor, Mr. W. DeVere, and the pianist Mr. P.S. Caswell. On display at the theatre were the gifts Stratton had received from royalty during his European tours. Interestingly, the advertisement in the Ottawa Daily Citizen warned people to beware of a General Tom Thumb impersonator who worked for Robinson & Company’s circus.

Advertisement that appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1 October 1861.

The spectacle began before the actual theatre performance, with General Tom Thumb driven from Campbell’s Hotel to HM Theatre in a miniature carriage drawn by “Lilliputian” horses. He was also “attended by Elfin coachmen and footmen.” The reporter who covered the event for the Ottawa Daily Citizen described Thumb as multo in parvo—a great deal in a small space. He opined that Stratton had “fully carried out the universal reputation he has acquired.” He praised the performers acting, singing and dancing abilities, and specifically singled out Stratton’s self-possession as an actor and a readiness of wit. He also had “perfect manners and form.”

There still appeared, however, to be some doubt in the reporter’s mind of whether he had watched a performance of the genuine General Tom Thumb. He added that “there was every reason to believe that this one is the ‘original’ Tom Thumb, but whether or not, both he and his ‘aides’ perform a perfect array of rational and attractive entertainment.”

General Tom Thumb returned to Ottawa three more times, in 1864, 1876 and lastly in 1883. On all three occasions he was accompanied by his wife Lavinia who he had married in 1863. The 1864 performance included members of their wedding party—Commodore Nutt, also referred to as the $30,000 Nutt in reference to the value of his three-year contract with P.T. Barnum, and Lavinia’s sister, Minnie Warren. The notice for their show advertised that the “four smallest human beings of mature age” weighed a collective 100 pounds. For part of their 1864 performance, General and Mrs. Thumb wore their wedding costumes. The couple danced and sang. General Thumb also dressed up as Napoleon and a Scottish clan chieftain.  Commodore Nutt appeared as a drummer and a sailor with a hornpipe. As with Thumb’s 1861 shows, on exhibit at the HM Theatre were the jewels and other gifts that he had received on his European tours.

The Fairy Wedding, Souvenir Photograph, 1863, Commodore Nutt, General Tom Thumb, Mrs. Tom Thumb, and Minnie Warren (left to right). By this point, the General has already grown a bit. Author Mathew Brady, Wikipedia

In 1876, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb performed over two days at Gowan’s Opera House. Their act was much the same as that of their previous trip to Ottawa, but this time they were supported by Major Edward Newell, another dwarf under contract with Barnum. Newell was the husband of Minnie Warren, Mrs. Tom Thumb’s sister. Minnie was sadly to die in childbirth two years later.

General and Mrs. Tom Thumb’s 1883 Ottawa performances took place in May of that year, with shows at the Grand Opera House. By this point, the General had actually grown to a still tiny 2 feet 11 inches. He had also grown stouter. The Ottawa Daily Citizen commented that both he and Lavinia were “getting on in years.” Still, the General’s act was described as very amusing. Mrs. Stratton was described as “as charming as ever.” Along with the General and his wife, other members of their troupe included dancers, a ventriloquist and a lady whose odd act consisted of “highly educated, trained canaries.” What these canaries did was unfortunately not reported.

This was to be the general’s last trip to Canada’s capital, and indeed virtually anywhere. He died two months later of apoplexy (most likely, a stroke) at his country home in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He died a prosperous man, leaving his wife a substantial home and a motor yacht. His estate after expenses was valued at $16,000.

His widow, Lavinia, continued in show business. In 1885, she married “Count” Primo Magri, another dwarf who was actually shorter than General Tom Thumb. The newly-weds went on tour together, along with Magri’s supposed brother, “Baron” Magri. Like all things in show business, especially anything connected to P.T. Barnum, truth and fiction were blurred. The titles of nobility were likely fake.

Count Magri, Countess Magri, and Baron Magri, c. 1885, Swords Brothers, Wikipedia

The Count and Countess Magri made two trips to Ottawa, the first in 1887 and the second in 1896. Both were successes. In the first production, the Count and Countess arrived at the theatre in a tiny carriage pulled by two ponies. The pair sang duets, while the Count and his brother Baron Magri duelled and entertained the audiences with comic sketches. They were accompanied by a magician who put on conjuring and ventriloquist act. Much the same act was repeated in 1896. This time, however, Lavinia, Countess Magri, also gave a lecture on her forty years of travelling. The Citizen journalist reported that the lecture was very interesting and pleasing, and that the Countess had “a wonderful talent as a speaker.”

Countess Magri, a.k.a Mrs. Tom Thumb, a.k.a. Lavinia Stratton, died in 1919.

The life of Charles Stratton clearly has an ugly side. Put on public display at a very tender age, he was exploited by P.T. Barnum. His career was also based on his dwarfism. There was also an element that was almost perverse. In 1879, it was estimated that one million women had kissed him.

However, his life also had many positives. At a time when “freak shows” were popular, General Tom Thumb was always portrayed sympathetically, as was subsequently his wife. He might have been small, but he was a genuine showman and entertainer. Stratton also became a wealthy man, and had a standard of living that relatively few could aspire to during the nineteenth century. When Barnum experienced financial difficulty, Stratton came to his rescue, and became his partner. In the end, it’s not clear who was exploiting whom.

General Tom Thumb was buried in Mount Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His wife, Lavinia, chose to be buried at his side. P.T. Barnum, who died in 1891, is buried just a few yards away.

For a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of General Tom Thumb, see the two-episode BBC documentary “The Real Tom Thumb, History’s Smallest Superstar” to be found on Curiosity Stream.

Sources:

BBC, 2014. “The Real Tom Thumb, History’s Smallest Superstar.”

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1861. “General Tom Thumb,” 1 October.

————————-, 1861. “General Tom Thumb,” 8 October.

————————-, 1864. “Her Majesty’s Theatre,” 17 May.

————————-, 1879. “Kissing,” 13 May.

————————-, 1883. “Opera House,” 9 May.

————————-, 1883. “Grand Opera House, 15 May.

————————-, 1883. “Death of General Tom Thumb,” 16 July.

————————-, 1884. “U.S. Doings,” 11 November.

————————-, 1885. “American Dashes,” 7 April.

————————-, 1887. “Roller Rink Opera House,” 30 September.

————————-, 1887. “Amusements,” 4 October.

————————-, 1896. “Mrs. General Tom Thumb,” 20 October.

————————-, 1896. “Music Hall,” 24 October.

The Drive-In

15 July 1948

The drive-in theatre was the trifecta of modern American inventions, combining America’s passion for the automobile, its love of movies, and raging teenage hormones. How could it miss? Investors quickly knew they were onto a winner. In the years immediately following World War II, the number of drive-in theatres exploded. By the late 1950s, there were more than 4,000 in the United States. Canada, too, embraced the new invention, with more than 240 erected in fields on the outskirts of cities across the country.

Drive in patent

Illustration of a Drive-In Theatre, submitted to U.S. Patent office by Richard Hollingshead, Jr., 1933.

The idea of showing movies outdoors was not new. In Ottawa, Andrew and George Holland in 1896 used an early film projector called the vitascope to show short, silent films on an outdoor, canvas screen at the West End amusement park owned by the Ottawa Electric Railway Company. The site of the showing is now roughly the location of the Fisher Park Public School and the Elmdale Tennis Club.

Bringing cars into the mix was just twenty years younger. Reportedly, space was set aside for automobiles at the Theatre of Guadalupe in Las Cruces, New Mexico as early as 1915 for drivers to see first stage performances and, subsequently, films.

But the drive-in theatre that the post-war generation came to know and love during the 1950s and 1960s was the creation of one Richard Hollingshead Jr. of Camden, New Jersey, who in 1933 received U.S. patent 1,909,537 for the idea. In his patent application, Hollingsworth wrote:

It is contemplated from my invention to provide means whereby an audience, particularly in rural sections, may view a motion picture without the necessity of alighting from the automobile, and as a matter of fact, the automobile serves as an element of the seating arrangements.

The patent envisaged most of the features that became standard with drive-in theatres, including small ramps on which cars would park to allow for better screen viewing. The patent even thought of a device for deterring insects from passing through the projected beam of light.

If anything, the invention was a bit ahead of its time. Economic conditions were harsh during the 1930s, and disposable income was low—not the most auspicious time to launch a new consumer product. Early drive-ins also had problems with sound quality, a shortcoming that was rectified by in-car speakers introduced by RCA in 1941. Many years later, sound was provided through car radios.

It was after World War II that things really took off. Young couples with money in their pockets were buying cars and moving to the suburbs. They were also having children, later to be known as Baby Boomers. This was exactly the demographic that owners of drive-in theatres hoped to attract. Customers could drive to the movies in their shiny, new sedans, with the kiddies, often dressed in their pyjamas, tucked away in the back seat, thereby foregoing the cost of a babysitter. To encourage this, the little ones often got in free.

The first drive-in theatre in Canada opened in July 1946 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, now part of Hamilton. Called the Skyway Drive-In, it had an immense screen that measured 100 feet by 50 feet. Sound was provided by loudspeakers rather by individual, in-car speakers.

drive in OC 15-7-48

Full-page advertisement for the gala opening of the Drive-In Theatre, Ottawa Citizen 14 July 1948.

Ottawa had to wait two more years before the first drive-in theatre opened on its outskirts. At dusk on Thursday, 15 July, 1948, the simply named Drive-In Theatre metaphorically raised its curtain for the first time. The new movie facility, which had a screen that was 48 feet by 36 feet, was located in a fenced-in, fifteen-acre site on Highway 17 (Carling Avenue), close to the Britannia crossroads. The managing director of the company that owned the theatre was H. J. Ochs who also ran five of the only ten drive-in theatres then in operation in Canada. The local Ottawa manager was G.F. White.

That first night was a great success. It was estimated that 1,000 cars filled the parking spaces set in semi-circles in front of the large screen. Courteous attendants showed drivers to their parking spots as they entered the field. Seven policemen were needed to control traffic that backed up down Highway 17. Many would-be patrons were turned away, disappointed.  The fortunate parked their cars on slight rises that tipped them upwards to provide a better view of the movie. Each vehicle had its own loud speaker with volume control. There were also several hundred “walk-in” customers who occupied seats in front of the cars. Naturally, a complete snack bar offered food and drinks to patrons, along with a free bottle-warmer for new parents.

Three films were shown that night, including a lead-off cartoon for the children, followed by a news reel that would put the children to sleep, and then the principal attraction, A Night in Casablanca starring the Marx Brothers. The black and white, 1946 comedy was a parody of the famous Warner Brothers’ war-time film Casablanca featuring Humphry Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In the Marx Brothers version, Groucho is hired to run a hotel in post-war Casablanca where a bunch of ex-Nazis are trying to recover stolen treasure.

Two weeks later, Ottawa’s second drive-in theatre, the Auto-Sky, held its own gala opening. This theatre was located at an eighteen-acre site at the corner of Fisher Avenue and Baseline Road. Six hundred cars packed with 1,000 people attended the inaugural performance to watch Gypsy Wildcat, starring Maria Montez. Upping the ante on the Drive-In Theatre, the adventure movie was filmed in Technicolor. Consistent with the vision expressed by inventor Richard Hollingshead, the owner of the Auto-Sky said to the Ottawa Journal that the drive-in was “intended primarily for the farmers of the Ottawa district, who could drive in after finishing their chores and watch a show with the family. For this reason, we let the kids in free of charge.”

What is particularly interesting about this statement from today’s perspective is that the corner of Fisher and Baseline was considered rural. With the exception of the Experimental Farm on the northern side of Baseline, urban sprawl extends today many kilometres from this intersection. The site of the drive-in is now the location of the Fisher Heights neighbourhood.

The drive-in culture reached its peak during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Along with drive-in theatres there were, of course, drive-in restaurants, where you could eat in your car with a tray suspended from the car’s window. Both became closely associated with teenagers. Moralists began calling drive-in theatres “passion pits,” owing to their popularity with teenagers and young adults eager for some date-night privacy.

drive in Jacqueline Tremblay Pinterest

The Old Britannia Drive-In Theatre, Carling Avenue, source, Pinterest, Jacqueline Tremblay.

By the 1970s and 1980s, both types of drive-ins were in steep decline, losing ground to fast food chain restaurants, such as McDonalds in the case of drive-in restaurants, and the proliferation of televisions and video cassette players in the case of drive-in theatres. Some drive-in theatres became tawdry, showing kung fu movies, slasher films, and soft pornography. The appeal for families dwindled. With land prices rising as cities grew up around them, it became more profitable to tear down drive-ins and “develop” the sites, rather than to keep them in operation, especially as many operated only during the summer months.

Here in Ottawa, the drive-in at Britannia lasted for 49 years, outliving virtually all of its competitors, though it changed hands several times through the years.[1]  In the 1970s, it was modified to become a two-screen, drive-in theatre. Indoor cinemas, called Britannia Six, were also built on the site.

Drive in oc 16-8-1997

The last advertisement for the Britannia Drive-In, Ottawa Citizen, 16 August 1997.

In mid-August 1997, the old Britannia Drive-In showed it last film. On that final night, the parking lot was half full to watch Men in Black and Spawn. Management handed out balloons and cake to thank the audience for their patronage over the years. It was the end of an era, and the loss of a neighbourhood landmark. In its place, Famous Players built the Ottawa Coliseum which opened in July the following year, with the old Britannia Six torn down for additional parking. Today, the Coliseum has twelve cinemas, and is operated by the Cineplex chain of cinemas.

The closure of the Britannia Drive-in left Gloucester’s three-screen Airport Drive-In located on Uplands Drive as the last remaining drive-in theatre in Ottawa. Also owned by Famous Players, the Airport Drive-in quickly followed the Britannia into history. It was converted into an offsite, airport parking lot.

After that, if you wanted to go to a drive-in theatre in the Ottawa area, you had to drive to Gatineau to the Cine-Parc Templeton Drive-In on Boulevard Maloney Est. However, the Cine-Parc too finally succumbed in 2019 with the retirement of its owners. Its equipment was sold off to a ski resort.

According to DriveInMovie.com, drive-in theatres have experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, as “a romantic and nostalgic alternative” to the traditional inside cinema experience. At last count, there were thirty-seven drive-in theatres left in Canada, of which sixteen are in Ontario. At time of writing, the closest one to Ottawa is the Port Elmsley Drive-In located between Perth and Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Sources:

Barnett, Stephen, 2017. “The Passion Pit,” The Weekly View, 23 March, http://weeklyview.net/2017/03/23/the-passion-pit/.

Britannia: A History, The Britannia Drive-In Theatre, https://britanniaottawa.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/britannia-drive-in-theatre/.

DriveInMovie.com, The Internet’s Oldest Drive-In Movie Resource, https://www.driveinmovie.com/.

Hamilton Spectator, 2016. “July 10, 1946: First drive-in theatre in Canada opens in Stoney Creek,” 23 September.

New York Film Academy, 2017. The History of Drive-In Movie Theaters (and Where They Are Now), https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/the-history-of-drive-in-movie-theaters-and-where-they-are-now/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1948. “New Drive-In Theater Opens,” 16 July.

———————-, 1948. “Hundreds Attend Premier Showing At New Theater,” 29 July.

———————-, 1980. “Saturday night at the drive-in,” 16 August.

———————-, 1998. “Movie Madness,” 9 January.

———————-, 1998. “Come early and stay longer,” 3 July.

———————-, 1997. “A Drive-in to history,” 18 August.

———————, 1998, “New Park’n Fly lot offers lower rates than airport,” 14 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1948. “Drive-In Theatre Packs in 1,000 Cars On Opening Night,” 16 July.

Port Emsley Drive-in, 2020, http://www.portelmsleydrivein.com/.

United States Patent Office, 1933. Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. of Riverton, New Jersey, Drive-In Theater, No. 1,909,537, 16 May

[1] For an excellent account of the history of the Britannia Drive-In Theatre, see The Britannia Drive-In Theatre on the blog, Britannia: A History at https://britanniaottawa.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/britannia-drive-in-theatre/.

 

Buffalo Bill Comes To Town

1 November 1880

Among the iconic figures of the U.S. Wild West, the most famous must be William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), alias “Buffalo Bill.” Cody was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory, the son of Canadian Isaac Cody. As a young boy, he lived in Canada for several years just outside of Toronto before the family returned to the United States, this time settling in Kansas Territory. (In the 1880s, a story circulated that Buffalo Bill actually hailed from Hope River, Prince Edward Island, where he supposedly still had relatives.)

Buffalo Bill c. 1880 by Sarony Wikipedia,

William Cody, a.k.a. “Buffalo Bill” in 1880 by Sarony, Wikipedia.

Cody was only 11 when his father died and he had to go out and make a living, first riding as a messenger on a wagon train and subsequently as sort of informal scout for the U.S. army in Utah. In his autobiography, Cody claimed to have joined the Pony Express at the tender age of fourteen. However, this may have been self-promotional hype. Some researchers suggest that he was a mounted messenger boy for the company rather than a long-haul rider delivering mail across the far west. Too young to join the Union Army during the American Civil War, Cody was again a scout sometimes with Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer and was involved in the Indian Wars in the western United States where he burnished his reputation as an “Indian fighter.” After the Civil War, he shot bison (buffalo) to feed railway construction workers. He won the moniker “Buffalo Bill” for shooting 68 bison in an eight-hour competition. During his hunting career, he reportedly shot almost 5,000, doing his part to virtually exterminate the species and end the way of life of the Plains First Nations.

Buffalo Bill came into the collective consciousness when he was only in his early 20s, owing to author and publisher Ned Buntline who wrote often semi-fictious stories about Cody’s colourful life. Buntline had met Cody on a train ride in California and the two became friends. In 1872, Buntline wrote a play called Scouts of the Prairie and asked Cody to star in it, thus launching Buffalo Bill on a show business career that was to last forty years. In 1874, Cody formed the Buffalo Bill Combination where he combined stage performances with scouting in the off season. In 1883, he established Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which toured throughout North America. The show also went on four European tours during the 1880s, and performed in Britain for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The Queen was particularly impressed when both Cody and his horse bowed to her at a command performance. Cody and his troupe, which included cowboys and native-American warriors, were a sensation everywhere they went, re-creating (in a fashion) an exotic and by now fast vanishing way of frontier life.

Buffalo Bill, who always admired native-Americans notwithstanding his reputation as an “Indian fighter,” gave a temporary home to a number of important First Nations’ chiefs, including the great Sioux leader Sitting Bull who had defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1877.  Gabriel Dumont, the Métis leader who featured prominently in the North-West Rebellion with Louis Riel, similarly joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West after he had fled south into the United States after the 1885 Battle of Batoche. At an 1886 show in Staten Island NY, he was introduced as Riel’s lieutenant and “a man of ability and courage, who enlisted in what he and many others believe was a righteous cause.” Oddly given the circumstances, when interviewed by Canadian journalists, Dumont called Sir John A. Macdonald, “the greatest man of modern times.”

Buffalo Bill, Gabriel Dumont c. 1886 Orlando Scott Goff LAC archival reference number R13796-2, e010699485

Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, c. 1886, by Orlando Scott, Library and Archives Canada

On Dumont’s return to Canada after being granted amnesty, the Quebec newspaper Le Canadien called him a farceur (buffoon) for his involvement with Buffalo Bill. Dumont replied in the newspaper La Justice that he had lost everything when he escaped to the United States and that he never took direct part in the show. He invited the editor of Le Canadien to come to his hotel and call him a farceur to his face.

In 1893, Cody’s show expanded into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. As the name suggests, performances showcased both the American West and riders from around the world. The troupe performed throughout North America, including in Chicago on the periphery of that city’s 1893 World’s Fair. The company also went on four European tours in the early 1900s with performances before crowned heads and the Pope.

Owing to changing tastes in entertainment and rising costs, the company slowly faded, and went bankrupt in 1913. “Buffalo Bill” died four years later.

Buffalo Bill and his company made two trips to Ottawa during his show business career. The first brought him and his Wild West Combination to the Grand Opera House on Albert Street for three days, starting on Monday, 1 November 1880. Reserved seats were available for 75 cents. The price was only 25 cents for the matinee on the holiday Wednesday (Thanksgiving Day). While in Ottawa, the troupe were guests of the Russell House Hotel. On the morning of their first performance, Cody led a mounted parade of Cheyenne warriors, cowboys and his Serenade Band through the streets of the capital to promote the show.  According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, “The red men were rigged out in their war paint and feathers, and created quite a stir.”  That evening, Buffalo Bill and his troupe put on a play called The Prairie Waif, described as a drama about frontier life. Besides Cody, the play starred Jule Kean as a very funny Dutchman who sang, danced and said witty things, and Miss Lizzine Fletcher as the heroine. The band of Cheyenne warriors performed a war dance while Cody did some trick rifle shooting. How he did this indoors is unclear.

Bufalo Bill TOC1-11-1880

Advertisement for Buffalo Bill’s First Appearance in Ottawa, 1 November 1880, The Ottawa Daily Citizen

It was standing room only at the Grand Opera House for the first performance. So packed was the theatre that many people who had bought tickets for the balcony went away to use the tickets at the following night’s performance. In attendance for the second night’s showing was the Governor General, the Marquis of Lorne, and members of the Harvard College Football team who occupied complementary boxes. The Harvard team had just played the Ottawa Football Club that afternoon on the Rideau Hall cricket grounds. Harvard won by one goal.

Buffalo Bill returned to Ottawa seventeen years later in late June 1897 for the city’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. This time it was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World consisting of 600 men and more than 500 horses. Along with three bands, it created a mile-long procession through Ottawa streets. In the parade were 100 warriors from the Ogallala, Brule, Uncapappa, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe First Nations, 50 cowboys, 30 Mexican Vaqueros and Rurales, 50 Western marksmen, 25 Bedouin Arabs, 30 Russian Cossacks, 30 South American Gauchos, and furloughed English Lancers, German Cuirassiers, and U.S. cavalry and artillery men. As well, Miss Annie Oakley, “The Peerless Lady Wing Shot,” was given prominent billing, as was Johnny Baker, “The Skilled Shooting Expert.” Also in Ottawa for the show was “the only herd of buffalo on exhibition.” How Cody obtained his buffalo was not reported. By this time, the America bison was nearly extinct. Ten years earlier, it was estimated that in the United States there were only 200 bison left in Yellowstone Park, another 150 in Texas and a few others in private herds. In Canada, there were only 68 pure-bred bison and 18 hybrids owned oddly by the warden of the Manitoba Penitentiary. Cody had tried to purchase part of this herd but had been refused.

Buffalo Bill 23-6-97 OEJ

Advertisement for Buffalo Bill’s Second Appearance in Ottawa, 28 June 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal

Needless to say, the exhibition was held outdoors. The massive company and its equipage arrived in Ottawa from Quebec on two heavily laden trains, and set up on the Metropolitan Grounds on the western side of Elgin Street across from the Canadian Atlantic Railway Station. Stands capable of holding 20,000 spectators protected from the sun and rain by a massive, white canvas shelter were quickly erected. There were additional tents for dressing rooms, and a huge meal tent. Apparently, the hundreds of participants consumed 1,500 pounds of meat each day, as well as mountains of potatoes, vegetables and bread. The Native Americans, described as “grim-faced,” were housed in “a little encampment of teepees” on the field. For the evening performance, the grounds were lit by 2,500 electric arc lights powered by a portable power plant. Ticket prices were 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children under 9 years of age.

Thousands of Ottawa residents came to gawk as the tents were raised at what the Ottawa Evening Journal described as “an exhibition of human nature which is only seen once in a lifetime.” The newspaper’s reporter was awed by the exhibition that had clearly lived up to its advance billing. He called it more attractive than a circus, novel, and unique. He also saw the show as educational opining that “In the hurly-burly of American life, people are too apt to forget the history of their own country. They are apt to forget the toils and sacrifices of those who laboured to redeem the great West from barbarism.”

This quote gives a big hint of the show’s character. The performance began with a covered prairie wagon drawn by mules bearing a mother and babies with older children riding outside. Suddenly, the unsuspecting pioneers are attacked by Indians. Just when things look their darkest, along come the cowboys led by Buffalo Bill who quickly disperse the marauders and save the day. (Doing this everyday, no wonder the native Americans, whose homelands had been despoiled by white immigrants, were described as “grim-faced.”)

Buffalo Bill LAC C-000249 From BB's Show

“Cowboys and Indians,” Buffalo Bill’s show, date and place unknown, Library and Archives Canada, C-000249.

After this cliché of the Wild West, which would jar modern sensibilities, the programme shifted to the Exotic East, with Arab riders doing feats of horsemanship. Next on the ticket was Johnnie Baker shooting glass balls as they were thrown in the air, while he on his head, running, and looking backwards. Following Baker came the Cossacks standing on their saddles or hanging from one foot, and cowboys lassoing horses and breaking wild broncos. (The Toronto Star later alleged that the broncos weren’t actually wild but bucked because sharp spurs were driven into their bodies.) Finally, came the armies of Europe and the United States performing cavalry drills.

Buffalo Bill may have overestimated the likely crowds in little Ottawa, which had a population of less than 100,000 in 1897. The first day’s two performances brought in a respectable 15,000-20,000 spectators, though this meant that the bleachers were only about half full at best. On the second day, attendance slipped sharply to only 3,000-4,000 guests owing to inclement weather despite spectators being protected from the weather. After its two-day appearance in Ottawa, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World rode off into the sunset, heading for Belleville.

Sources:

Cody Studies, 2019, https://www.codystudies.org/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1880. “At The Russell,” 30 October.

————————–, 1880. “Musical and Dramatic,” 1 November.

————————-, 1880. “Musical and Drama,” 2 November.

————————-, 1880. “Parade,” 2 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1886. “Gabriel Dumont,” 3 July.

——————————, 1887. “Last of the Buffalo,” 8 June.

——————————, 1887. “People and Personalities,” 22 July.

——————————, 1888. “Gabriel Dumont,” 25 April.

——————————, 1897. “True Heroism,” 18 May.

——————————, 1897. “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West And Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” 23 June.

——————————, 1897. “Extensive Exhibitions,” 24 June.

——————————, 1897. “Buffalo Bill Is Here,” 28 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Buffalo Bill,” 29 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Attendance Small,” 30 June.

—————————–, 1897. “Buffalo Bill’s Broncos, 9 July.

Stillman, Deanne, 2018. “The Unlikely Alliance Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill,” History, https://www.history.com/news/the-unlikely-alliance-between-buffalo-bill-and-sitting-bull.

Ottawa’s Centenary

16 August 1926

In 2026, Ottawa will celebrate its bicentenary, marking two hundred years from when General George Ramsey, 9th Earl of Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel John By advising By of his purchase of land for the Crown that contained the site of the head locks for the proposed Rideau Canal on the Ottawa river, and the suitability of the locality for the establishment of a village or town to house canal workers. Lord Dalhousie asked Colonel By to survey the land, divide it into 2-4 acre lots and rent them to settlers, with preference to be given to half-pay officers and respectable people. The rough-hewn community, which was subsequently hacked out of a hemlock and cedar forest, was quickly dubbed Bytown. Its name was changed to Ottawa in 1855, and two years later the town was selected as the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria.

To celebrate the centenary of its founding by Col. By, the City of Ottawa had a week-long, blow-out extravaganza in the summer of 1926. Although the official opening of the celebrations was on Monday, 16 August 1926, the fun actually began two days earlier on the Saturday with a range of sporting events wide enough to please the most die-hard sports fanatic.  The Capital Swimming Club staged a centennial regatta in the Rideau Canal opposite the Exhibition Grounds—a daring event given the poor quality of Canal water. Swimmers from across Canada participated with five Dominion championships at stake. At Cartier Square on Elgin Street, four soccer teams competed for the McGiverin Cup with the Ottawa Scottish emerging the victor, beating the Sons of England with a 5-2 score in the finals. Also featured that day were track and field events, cycling, golf, baseball, tennis and a cricket match at the Rideau Hall cricket pitch.

Centenary Pipers Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025132
Bagpipers, Ottawa Centenary Parade, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025132.

The following day, there was a huge Garrison Church parade involving 3,000 soldiers including local regiments as well as the Queen’s Own Rifles from Toronto and the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec City who had been quartered in tents on the grounds of the Normal School on Elgin Street (now the Heritage Building of the Ottawa City Hall). The troops marched from downtown to Lansdowne Park where 15,000 people crowded into the stands for divine services. More than 50,000 people watched the soldiers march through the streets of Ottawa.  That evening the band of the “Van Doos” gave a concert that was broadcast from the Château Laurier hotel.

Centenary Devlin Furs Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025130
Devlin Furs’ Float, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025130.

The official opening ceremonies took place on the Monday morning on Parliament Hill in front of cheering thousands and “in the shadow of the nearly completed “‘Victory Tower.’” (The name for the Centre Block didn’t officially become the “Peace Tower” until the following year—the 60th anniversary of Confederation.) After much military pomp and pageantry, Sir Henry Drayton, delivered the opening speech in the absence of the Prime Minister, Arthur Meighan. He welcomed visitors to the Capital in the name of the Dominion of Canada. Mayor John Balharrie also greeted visitors and former Ottawa residents who had come home for the celebrations. To symbolized the granting to them of the “freedom” of the city, he released a coloured balloon that carried aloft a four-foot golden key. Messages of congratulations flooded into Ottawa from near and far. Three Governors General—Aberdeen, Connaught and Byng—sent telegrams, as did the Lord Mayor of London, and Jimmy Walker, the controversial and flamboyant Mayor of New York. Civic, provincial and federal politicians from across Canada did likewise.

After the official opening, sporting events occupied the rest of the day. That night, there was a military display and tattoo involving troops from all services in from of 12,000 spectators at Lansdowne Park. The chief feature of the night was the staging of a mock battle scene. As searchlights played over the field, the soldiers re-enacted the crossing of the “Hindenburg” line by Canadian troops in 1918. The mock machine gun action and field bombardment was apparently very realistic. So much so that many veterans experienced flash-backs of their time in the trenches. Also featured that night was a performance of the 1,000 voice Centenary Choir, platoon drills by the Royal 22nd Regiment, and gymnastics displays by cadets.

A highlight of Tuesday, the second day of the Centenary celebrations, was the unveiling of a stone memorial dedicated to Colonel By in a small a park located on the western side of the Rideau Canal just south of Connaught Square opposite Union Station. To the strains of Handel’s Largo, played by the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, the memorial, which was covered by a Union Jack, was unveiled at noon. Mayor Balharrie presided. More than 2,000 people witnessed the solemn event. The bronze plaque on the side of the stone, which was intended to be the cornerstone of a much larger memorial, bore the inscription 1826-1926 In Honour of John By, Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Engineers. In 1826 he founded Bytown, Destined to Become the City of Ottawa, Capital of the Dominion of Canada. This memorial was unveiled in Centenary Year. (A larger memorial was never built. A statue of Colonel By sculpted by Joseph-Émile Brunet was eventually commissioned by the Historical Society of Ottawa and was erected in Major’s Hill Park in 1971.)

At Lansdowne Park, a multi-day western rodeo and stampede commenced with over 200 horses, 100 cattle, and dozens of cowboys from western Canada and the United States. Log rolling competitions took place on the Canal. That evening, an historical pageant was held involving 2,000 actors from service groups, theatre groups, and drama schools. The pageant began with a prologue depicting Confederation with Miss Canada seated on a throne exchanging greetings with Misses Provinces. After pledges of mutual support and loyalty, the provinces curtsied to Canada. This was followed by tableaux representing scenes from Ottawa’s history, including “The Spirit of the Chaudière,” depicting the region before the arrival of Europeans, “The Coming of the White Man,” “Pioneer Settlers,” “The Lumber Industry,” “Bytown and its Early Inhabitants,” “The First Election,” “Naming of the Capital,” “The Fathers of Confederation,” and, a finale where all joined together with the Centenary Choir to sing a closing anthem. The massed 1,000-member Choir accompanied by the G.G.F.G. band also performed a number of popular songs including, O Canada, Land of Hope and Glory, Alouette, Indian Love Song, and, of course, God Save the King.

The pageant got a mixed review. The Ottawa Citizen opined that it provided a “felicitous treatment of the historical episodes chosen for presentation,” but there was “room for improvement.” However, on balance, the pageant was “stimulating and educative.” The dancing was described as “effective.”

After the performance, street dancing was held from 11pm to 2am on O’Connor Street between Albert Street and Laurier to the tunes of two jazz orchestras. With the crush of people, there was little actual dancing though things got a bit better on subsequent nights. With massive crowds downtown, there was some minor trouble. The police arrested a number of young men for setting off firecrackers in the streets. Some had placed “torpedoes” on the street-car tracks that caused “terrific successive explosions” as the trams went over them.  Police also acted to curb dangerous driving on the crowded city thoroughfares. Reportedly, louts also molested young women. Generally speaking, however, the street partying was carried out in good humour. A dozen youths organized an impromptu game of leap frog on Sparks Street between Bank and Elgin Streets.

Wednesday, 18 August, was declared a civic holiday by Mayor Balharrie, and more commemorative plaques were unveiled. In addition to non-stop sporting events, rodeo competitions and other fun activities at the Exhibition Grounds, one thousand guests attended a garden party at Rideau Hall. Although Lord Byng had left Ottawa to return to Britain, his term of office as governor general having just ended, he had given permission for the residence to be used as the venue for the civic birthday party celebration. Mayor Balharrie provided a massive four-tier cake decorated with silver foliage and tiny silver cupids. Guests received little boxes of cake bearing the inscription “A souvenir of Ottawa’s Centenary with the compliments of Mayor J. P. Balharrie.”

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025127
Float of the Ottawa Electric Company, Col. By’s Home, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025127.

That evening, Ottawa’s merchants and businesses held the second of the week’s three parades. Starting in the Byward Market and ending at Lansdowne Park, the parade highlighted milestones of Ottawa’s commercial progress over the previous one hundred years. Among the many entries, the Producers’ Dairy’s float featured a huge milk bottle and milk maids. Camping equipment in 1826 and 1926 was the theme of the Grant Holden and Graham entry. Also in the parade was the largest shoe ever manufactured in Canada with six little girls seated inside it, courtesy of Ottawa’s boot and shoe stores. Representing the Ottawa Department Stores Association, four white horses with attendants dressed in white and yellow uniforms pulled a float bearing eight young women in long gowns. Not to be outdone, the A. J. Freiman entry, which was decorated in silver and flowers, was drawn by six white horses with six attendants dressed in white and blue livery. On board were five young ladies wearing period costumes. The Ottawa Electric Company float consisted of an (inaccurate) replica of Colonel By’s house. Instead of a pioneer’s log home as depicted, the Colonel’s actual home was made of stone.

With amusements and events continuing at the Exhibition Grounds, Thursday’s highlight was an “old timers’ parade. In front of immense crowds, historical floats, three bugle bands, three brass bands and one band of bagpipers wended their way slowly from the Byward Market, along Rideau and Sparks Streets before heading down Bank Street to Lansdowne Park. Old-time vehicles on display included an 1897 Oldsmobile and penny-farthing bicycles. Firefighters dressed in the red outfits of yore pulled hand reels or drove antique horse-pulled engines including the “Conqueror,” Ottawa first fire engine. There were also historical tableaux depicting the early days of the Ottawa Valley and Bytown, including Champlain and his men, the arrival of the Jesuits, the establishment of the first white settlement in the region by Philemon Wright, and the beginning of the lumber industry.  Guests of honour in the parade included veterans from the Fenian Raids, the South African War and the Great War.

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025131
Ottawa Firefighters with hand reels, “Old-Time Pageant,” Ottawa Centenary, August 1926, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025131.

Centenary celebration wound down on the weekend but not before the finals of the stampede, more street dancing, this time in Hintonburg, more sporting activities, and a “Venetian Nights” boating event held on the Rideau Canal.

For those who hadn’t had their fill of fun and games, the Central Canada Exhibition opened immediately after the official ending of the centenary fun, prolonging the excitement for another week.

Both of Ottawa’s major newspapers covered in detail highlights of Ottawa’s first hundred years and centenary events, with each publishing extended supplements. The Evening Citizen boasted that its edition of 16 August weighed in at more than two pounds. It’s rival, The Ottawa Evening Journal ran a close second. In one regard, however, the Journal went one step further by publishing a fascinating prospective view of what Ottawa might look like on its bicentenary in 2026. Some of its guesses look pretty accurate. It predicted that Ottawa would have a population of 975,000 (actual number 934,240 in 2016) and that it would annex neighbouring communities. It also correctly forecast the elimination of the above-ground, cross-city train tracks and the replacement of the tram lines with buses. It even predicted a tunnel between LeBreton Flats and downtown used by electric trains!

Not surprisingly, however, the crystal-ball gazers got a lot of things wrong. The newspaper predicted that Canada would have a population of 100 million by 2026, and that the airplane would effectively eliminate the automobile as a mode of transportation. The paper also postulated that after decades of delay the great Georgian Bay Ship Canal would finally be completed in 1982, almost eighty years after the idea was first proposed, thereby making Ottawa a deep-water port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. As well, given the region’s cheap hydro-electric power, the Journal envisaged a massive expansion of manufacturing in the Ottawa area, forecasting that the Capital would become the home of the largest Canadian plant for the manufacture of pleasure, commercial and air taxicabs. It also predicted the emergence of a large furniture manufacturing industry in Chelsea in West Quebec, and the construction of immense iron ore smelters in Ironside, just north of the old city of Hull, to process iron ore mined in the Laurentians.

For the Journal, the demise of manufacturing and the conversion of Ottawa into the primarily white-collar city that it is today were unimaginable.

Sources:

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

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.

The Last Presentation of Debutantes

24 January 1958

Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, red letter days on the British social calendar marked royal levées and “drawing rooms” when aristocratic men and women met and socialized with the monarch. Levées, from the French word lever meaning to rise, had their roots in the old tradition of men attending the sovereign when he got up in the morning. To be present when the king used the chaise percée a.k.a. toilet was a great privilege for the up and coming courtier whose future could be made should the royal visage look favourably upon him. Intimacy meant power. Conversely, a courtier’s future could be dashed if he made some unpardonable faux pas, such as pointing and laughing. Like their masculine counterpart, “drawing rooms” were occasions for women to mingle with the sovereign, and became an opportunity for a young girl, or debutante, typically in her late teens, to be lancée, (literally thrown) into high society by being presented to the sovereign. Over time, the distinction between a levée and a drawing room faded.

These highly stylized rituals reached their zenith during the ancien régime in France prior to the Revolution in 1789, though Napoleon was no slouch in the etiquette department either. Courtiers attended every function of French royal life, bodily or otherwise. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth the First apparently mingled with commoners in the gallery at Greenwich Palace during the sixteenth century, with the practice become more regular and formalized by the reign of Queen Anne in the early eighteenth century. But it was during Queen Victoria’s reign that the tradition of presentation parties for young debutantes reached its peak. As anybody knows from watching Downton Abbey, coming out to Society, which had a very different meaning in those days, was a once in a lifetime event for a young aristocratic girl. It marked her emergence into adulthood—a sort of secular, Anglo bat mitzvah. It also marked the start of the social season, which included such events as the Royal Ascot, the Henley rowing competition and the yacht races at Cowes, as well as a constant swirl of parties and receptions. The aim of all these activities was the acquisition of a suitable husband, preferably one with a title.

In republican United States, the lack of a king or queen was only a minor hindrance. Debutante balls and cotillions were regularly held to launch young women into the upper ranks of American society. For those seeking a royal imprimatur, American heiresses with the right connections and heaps of money could be presented at the Court of St. James’s in London. Once presented, they could troll for a suitable British husband who had the right forebears but was short of cash to maintain the family pile.

debutante drawing room 230201888 oj
Notice of a Drawing Room, 23 February, 1888, The Ottawa Journal

Here in Canada, we were fortunate that there was a vice-regal “court” that followed the same traditions as in London. Governors General held levées and drawing rooms just as Queen Victoria did. Indeed, Lord Elgin held a levée in Bytown in 1853 when he visited the town to check it out as a possible capital for the new Province of Canada. By the time of Confederation, the presentation of debutantes to the Governor General was in full swing with “drawing rooms” held in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill.

At one such drawing room held in February 1870, guests were given specific instructions. Sleighs were to enter Parliament Square from the eastern Elgin Street gate, proceed past the East Block and set down guests in front of the Senate entrance which was lit by red lights. Sleighmen were then to exit via the central gates. Parliamentarians with wives and daughters were to enter via the House of Commons door which was lit by green lights. All guests were requested to provide two cards with the name of the person legibly printed, one for the aide de camp at the door and the other for the presentation aide. Presentations would end precisely at 10 pm. In little Ottawa, this was the social highlight of the winter season and received considerable newspaper coverage. More than one thousand people might attend these events. The names of participants were listed in the newspapers complete with descriptions of what the ladies wore and their jewellery.

A whole industry developed to dress ladies attending the drawing rooms, and to provide deportment lessons to the aspiring debutante who was, understandably, stressed about literally putting the wrong foot forward. Girls would practise in the privacy of their bedrooms curtseying before chairs. (For those who need to know, the proper style is to put the right foot in front, left behind, make a deep knee-bend, hold out the right hand, and go down very slowly while maintaining eye contact. Then rise and retire without turning your back on the important personage.)

While many wanted the social cachet of being presented to the Queen or Governor General, some saw the whole rigmarole as excessive or a waste of time. As early as 1863, the satirical magazine Punch called the Queen’s Drawing Room “The House of Detention for Ladies.” In 1896, an American debutante said in the press that “it was vulgar to come out. Boys never come out.  What is the reason of it all, I should like to know? Isn’t it really to announce to the world that we are a marriageable age and that we are on the market? It is perfectly intolerable. I think we are like victims decked out for sacrifice.” Instead of spending thousands on dresses and dinner parties, she asked her father to give her the money to start a business.

By the time of the more egalitarian 1950s, the idea of being presented at Court seemed out-of-date. In November 1957, Buckingham Palace announced that presentations of debutantes would cease the following year and would be replaced by garden parties. This would allow the Queen and the Prince of Edinburgh to meet a wider range of people in a less formal setting. The announcement was widely applauded. “The selection of the privileged few [had] become increasingly difficult and even invidious” said one newspaper. The news led to so many girls applying to be presented that additional presentations had to be laid on in 1958 to accommodate everybody. The last presentation of debutantes in London occurred in July 1958 with the Queen Mother officiating as Queen Elizabeth was ill. The last debutante presented was a Canadian, twenty-year old Sandra Seagram.

debutante oj 17-1-58
Full page advertisement for Le Bal des Petits Souliers, 17 January 1958, The Ottawa Journal

The Buckingham Palace announcement led Vincent Massey, Canada’s Governor General, to also end the custom of debutante presentations in Ottawa which by this time had long left the formal environs of Parliament Hill, and replaced by a charity event held at a major hotel. The last official presentation of Ottawa debutantes occurred on 24 January 1958. Five young girls were presented to Governor General Massey in the context of gala charity dinner and ball hosted by La Ligue de la Jeunesse Feminine (the League of Feminine Youth). The event, held at the Château Laurier Hotel, was called Le Bal des Petits Souliers (the Ball of the Little Shoes) with funds raised going to buy shoes for underprivileged children living in Ottawa, Eastview, Hull, Pointe Gatineau and Aylmer. Called the Fiesta Espanola, the Château was Spanish territory for the evening. Tickets were $15 per couple.

Guests at the Fiesta entered through a wrought-iron portico where they were met by life-sized mannikins of toreadors and ladies wearing mantillas. The ballroom was decorated in red and yellow—the national colours of Spain with wide streamers radiating from the central chandelier which was lit by tiny red lights. The head table was decorated with black lace fans and red carnations. Other tables boasted centrepieces made of straw baskets filled with lemons and red carnations. In the corridor outside of the ballroom, guests could go shopping for Spanish handicrafts, refresh themselves at a Spanish-style café equipped with small tables and umbrellas, or try their luck in the games’ alley. Usherettes were dressed as Spanish dolls in colourful costumes.

The evening started with a reception where the Governor General was welcomed by the president of the League and members of the organizing committee. Later, seated at the head table with the Governor General Massey and senior members of the League, were the Spanish Ambassador and his wife, Mr and Mrs Eduardo Propper de Callijon, and Mr and Mrs Lionel Massey. Lionel Massey was the Governor General’s son and Secretary. Lionel Massey’s wife Lilias was acting chatêlene of Rideau Hall as the Governor General was a widower. The five lucky debutantes were: Miss Isabel Larrabure, the daughter of the Peruvian Ambassador, Miss Louise Brisson, Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Pierrette Vachon, and Miss Catharine Woollam. Each girl was given a fan of white Spanish lace with red carnations and streamers courtesy of the League.

the debutantes oc 25-1-58
The Debutantes,(left to right) Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Catherine Woollam, Miss Pierrette Vachon, Miss Isabel Larrabure, and Miss Louise Brisson, The Ottawa Citizen 25 January 1958.

Spanish-themed entertainment was put on during the evening with Don Quixote, alias comedian Roger Aucouturier, making an appearance with his pantomime horse Rocinante to poke fun at Ottawa. Lively Spanish dances were also performed by a troupe of dance students while a group of “non-so-little boys in berets and short pants” staged a comedic chorus. Dance music was supplied by Fred Quirouet and his orchestra. A strolling guitarist played Spanish tunes throughout the evening. At the end of the night, Mr and Mrs J.A. Roy of 351 Nelson Street won two airline tickets to Madrid in a charity draw.

While the 1958 edition of Le Bal des Petits Souliers was the last presentation of debutantes to the Governor General made in Ottawa, the tradition staggered on in other cities for a few more years. In Montreal, Governor General Massey greeted 28 debutantes at the annual St Andrew’s Day Charity Ball held in early 1959. The Artillery Ball in Toronto, where the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario greeted debutantes, was continued for another year. The last official provincial presentation of debutantes in Canada occurred at Nova Scotia’s St Andrew’s Day Ball held in 1965.

Notwithstanding the withdrawal of regal support, the tradition of debutante balls continues to this day, especially in the United States, but also in Canada. The most prominent ball is New York’s biennial International Debutante Ball that began in 1954.  This is an invitation-only event for the daughters of wealthy, well-connected New York society families. The daughters of U.S. presidents have been invited as have carefully chosen debutantes from Canada and other countries. Candidate debutantes are selected by previous debutantes and must be accepted by a committee. They also have to be able to afford the presentation fee of US$22,000. While the Ball has traditionally been held in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, the event moved to The Pierre while the Waldorf-Astoria undergoes a major renovation.

Since 1994, Ottawa has had its own fairy-tale ball where teenage girls and boys can pretend to be princesses and princes for the evening. Sponsored in part by the Austrian Embassy, the Viennese Winter Ball is held annually in March. In addition to fostering a love of Austrian culture and ball-room dancing, the Viennese Winter Ball raises funds for charity. Single tickets will set you back $400. $5,000 will purchase an eight-guest corporate table. Discount student and young adult tickets are available for as low as $150. Teenagers aged 16 to 18 years of age eager to participate must apply and write two short essays, the first on why they want to participate in this year’s ball and the second on themselves—their community service, charity work, goals and interests. The Ball Selection Committee will then review and interview the applicants, and invite them to a dance practice. (Apparently, kids practise waltzes, fox-trots and polkas for weeks leading up to the big day.) Twelve debutantes and twelve “cavaliers” will be chosen. The dress code is a white, full-length formal gown for the girls, with white comfortable shoes. Complementary long-white satin gloves will be provided. Hair and make-up must be neat and polished. The boys must wear a black tuxedo with a white shirt, black bow-tie, cummerbund and formal, wrist-length, white gloves. Their hair must be trimmed. Unlike debutante balls one hundred years ago, the Viennese Winter Ball is open to all Ottawa youth. For those unable to afford it, financial assistance is available.

Sources:

Montreal Gazette. 1966. “Day of Debutante Ends In Halifax,” 7 March 1966.

Ottawa Citizen, 1863. “Drawing Room Days,” 17 July.

——————, 1870. “Levee & Drawing Room at Parliament House,” 25 February.

——————, 1896. “A Debutante Revolt,” 10 November.

——————, 1957. “Debutante Parties Out,” 19 November.

——————, 1957. “Reaction Is Favorable To Presentation Ban,” 19 November.

——————, 1958. “Debs Storm Palace For Last Party,” 6 January.

——————, 1958. “His Excellency Receives Debutantes At La Ligue’s Annual Charity Ball,” 25 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1887. “Queen’s Drawing Room,” 22 March.

——————-, 1958. “Debutante Ball,” 24 January.

——————, 1958. “Five Debutantes Make Bows to Society Presented to Governor General at Ball,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Two at Ball Win Trip to Spain,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Annual La Ligue Ball Aids Hundreds of Needy Children,” 25 February.

——————, 1958. “Debs set For Last Royal Fling,” 15 March.

——————, 1958. “Canadian Girl Last of Royal Debutantes,” 18 July.

Viennese Winter Ball, 2019. https://www.viennesewinterball.ca/.

The Saturday Funnies

11 February 1905

Comic strips are a standard feature in most newspapers. The Ottawa Citizen currently publishes twenty comics daily, ranging from one image stories to four- or five-panel strips. On Saturdays, the Citizen publishes the comics in colour—sticking with a tradition of a weekend colour comic supplement that goes back to the dawn of newspaper cartoons. Most of the comics in the Citizen are written by Americans whose work has been syndicated to other newspapers around the world. The only exceptions are Carpe Diem, written and drawn by Niklas Eriksson of Sweden, and Between Friends by Canadian Sandra Bell-Lundy. Many of the strips have been published for decades. In longest production is Blondie whose run began in 1930. Cartoonist Chic Young wrote and drew the strip until his death in 1973, when his son Dean Young took over.

comic bayeux wikipedia
Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, circa 1070, showing the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The Latin inscription reads Harold Rex Interfectvs est, meaning King Harold is slain. Wikipedia.

But comic strips, which can be defined as a telling of a story through a series of pictures, have a far longer and illustrious pedigree. Some historians contend that Trajan’s column in Rome, which tells in sculptured pictures the victory of the Roman emperor over the Dacians (modern-day Romanians) in the second century A.D., is a precursor form of a comic strip. A thousand years later in about 1070, Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissioned the making of another early “comic strip” known today as the Bayeux Tapestry. Made by female needle workers, possibly nuns, in Canterbury, England, the tapestry recounts the story of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror that had occurred four years earlier. Bishop Odo was Duke William’s half-brother and principal supporter. Embroidered on linen cloth using multi-coloured woollen yard, it is roughly 68 metres long and 50 centimetres high, and is composed of 75 picture panels. Complete with Latin text, the tapestry is a marvel of medieval European art.

Following the invention of the printing press, satirists and caricaturists used cartoons to mock the social, political and religious life of their times. William Hogarth (1697-1764), an English painter, painted in 1731 a series of moralizing but humorous paintings that he subsequently had engraved and sold together called A Harlot’s Progress. Highly successful, this series was followed by the famous A Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode. The British caricaturist and illustrator, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was the author of many satirical and funny cartoons that lampooned the aristocracy, including King George IV and Queen Charlotte. He was one of the first to employ the multi-panel structure and dialogue bubbles used in cartoon strips of today. His 1849 comic strip The Preparatory School for Fast Men starred the likes of Professor Boozey Swizzle who taught drinking class and Professor Swindle in charge of Finance. See George Cruikshank in Lambiek Comiclopedia.

funnies, yellow kid
The Yellow Kid by R.F. Outcault, 1896, Wikipedia

Newspaper cartoon strips begun appearing at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. They quickly swept North America when newspaper owners realized that comics sold copies. American Richard F. Outcault (1863-1928) is generally regarded as the father of the modern newspaper cartoon strip. He introduced readers of the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, to Uncle Eben’s Ignorance of the City in 1894. He also created the character of The Yellow Kid—a street urchin. Wearing a hand-me-down, oversized, yellow shirt, the Kid was likely drawn bald to indicate that his head had been shaved to prevent lice, a constant problem in the crowded urban slums of North America.

The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph, written in 1896, is believed by many to be the first modern comic strip that combined multiple image panels and speech bubbles. When Outcault was lured away from Pulitzer to the New York Journal-American by William Randolph Hearst in 1907, competing versions of The Yellow Kid were produced by the two newspapers as Outcault had failed to obtain a copyright on the character. The less-popular World version was written by George Luks. The expression “yellow journalism” is based on the Pulitzer/Hearst cartoon rivalry. The expression came to mean an emphasis on comics, fictitious news, exaggeration and misleading headlines. In Britain, it is often referred to as “tabloid journalism.”

Canadians were also active in the early days of newspaper cartooning. Henri Julien (1852-1908), who reportedly spent part of his childhood in Ottawa, drew cartoons for Canadian Illustrated News and satirical publications such as Le Canard. He later became the artistic director for the Montreal Daily Star. Palmer Cox (1840-1924) created the Brownies, a very popular series of humorous cartoon stories about sprite-like creatures based on British mythology. Like later twentieth-century cartoon characters, the Brownies were widely merchandized as toys, games, cards, etc. though Palmer apparently didn’t reap the rewards. Even the early Kodak camera, the Brownie, capitalized on their popularity.  Another prominent early Canadian cartoonist was Arthur Racey (1870-1941). He drew a series of humorous drawings called The Englishman in Canada in 1893-94 that incorporated speech bubbles. Racey took over Julien’s position at the Montreal Daily Star after the latter’s death.

comic fatty 11-2-1905 oej
Fatty Felix by Walter McDougall, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905

The weekend funnies came to Ottawa on 11 February 1905 when the Ottawa Evening Journal published without fanfare three multi-pane cartoon strips. The first was called Fatty Goes On An Errand To The Doctor’s And Gets Sick, featuring Fatty Felix, created by the American cartoonist Walt McDougall (1858-1938). McDougall was an illustrator for the New York Graffic, and was published in Harper’s Weekly and Puck Magazine. Reflecting the power of cartoons to effect society, McDougall’s 1884 satirical cartoon The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings, which appeared in the New York World newspaper, skewered James Blaine, the Republican nominee for President, and is credited with helping Democratic Grover Cleveland win the U.S. Presidency that year. McDougall drew Fatty Felix originally for Philadelphia’s North American. Later, the comic strip also appeared in newspapers associated with the New York Herald’s syndicate. McDougall is also well known for his Handsome Hautry and The Wizard of Oz comic strips.

comic muggsy
Comic Strip Featuring Muggsy by Frank Crane, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

The other major cartoon strip in the Journal was called Muggsy Saves A Dude From The Billposter’s Paste drawn by Frank Crane (1857-1917). Crane, who had graduated from the New York Academy of Design, became a cartoonist and later the art editor for the New York World and later for Philadelphia’s North American. Muggsy was also distributed through the New York Herald syndicate. Crane produced the Muggsy comic strip from 1901 to 1915.

comic unknown, 11-2-05 toej
Untitled by unknown cartoonist, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

Sandwiched between the McDougall and Crane comic strips was a short four-panel strip featuring a circus elephant getting his tooth pulled. There is no title or dialogue, and the author’s name is unclear.

comic buster b 13-1-06 toec
Buster Brown and Tige, by R. Outcault, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 13 January 1906.

The Ottawa Citizen began publishing regular comic strips a year after its rival. From the beginning of January 1906, Richard Outcault’s full-page Buster Brown comic strip, which originally appeared in the New York Herald, could be read in the Citizen. Buster Brown was an upper-class imp with a page-boy haircut who was accompanied by his pit bull terrier Tige. The series was like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes. When Tige spoke only Buster could hear him. Each Buster Brown story ended in a moral with Buster resolving to do something. As was the case with the Yellow Kid, the comic strip got caught up in the Pulitzer/Hearst rivalry with competing versions of the cartoon being produced. Not having the rights to the strip’s title, post-1907 Buster Brown comic strips produced by Outcault were published without a title. Buster Brown became hugely popular across North America. The comic spawned the 1904 silent short movie Buster Brown and the Dude. That same year, Buster Brown’s name was licensed by the Brown Shoe Company. The company also produced “Mary Jane” shoes named after Buster Brown’s comic sweetheart.

In later decades, Ottawa’s two major newspapers carried all of the famous American comic strips, many of whose names remain household words. The Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, and Mutt & Jeff were published by the Journal in the 1920s and 1930s. Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Superman followed in the 1940s. Blondie, with her hapless husband Dagwood Bumstead, debuted in the Journal just a couple of weeks before the start of World War II. Readers of the Citizen would find Felix the Cat, Henry, Li’l Abner, and Tarzan during the 1930s and 1940s, and Roy Rogers Joe Palooka and Dennis the Menace in the 1950s. Beginning in 1957, Citizen readers could also enjoy the philosophy and wisdom of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus when the Peanuts comic strip of Charles Schultz first appeared.

So, the next time you pick up the newspaper to read Bizzaro or Hagar The Horrible spare a thought to their rich comic history that stretches back at least two thousand years.

Sources:

America Comes Alive, “Buster Brown Shoes and Mary Janes,” https://americacomesalive.com/2016/06/20/buster-brown-shoes-mary-janes/.

BBC History Magazine, 2018. “5 Bayeux Tapestry facts: what is it, why was it made and what story does it tell?,” History Extra, https://www.historyextra.com/period/norman/5-bayeux-tapestry-facts-what-is-it-why-was-it-made-and-what-story-does-it-tell/.

Haltz, Allan, 2018. Strippers’ Guide, http://strippersguide.blogspot.com/.

Lambiek Comiclopedia, 2018, Palmer Cox, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cox-palmer.htm.

—————————-, 2018. Frank Crane, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/crane_frank.htm.

—————————-, 2018. George Cruikshank, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cruikshank_george.htm.

—————————, 2018, Henri Julien, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/j/julien_henri.htm.

—————————, 2018. Walt McDougall, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/mcdougall_walt.htm.

—————————, 2018. Richard H. Outcault, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/o/outcault.htm.

—————————-, 2018, Arthur Racey, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/r/racey_arthur.htm.

Old Things, 2013. Buster Brown by R.F. Outcault, 31 October.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 11 February 1905.

San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, Newspaper Comic Strips Guide, http://ead.ohiolink.edu/xtf-ead/view?docId=ead/xOhCoUCR0001.xml;query=;brand=default.

Saturday Evening Citizen (The), 12 January 1906.

The “Talkies” Come to Ottawa

26 December 1928

Imagine the excitement, anticipation and even trepidation that came with the arrival of talking movies—the “talkies”—in the late 1920s. For a generation, silent movies had ruled the cinemas of the world.  Audiences delighted in the romance of Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik (1921), the swashbuckling adventures of Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate (1926), and the antics of Clara Bow, the girl with “IT” (1927). Language was no obstacle; film was universal. Foreign movies, like the German-made Nosferatu (1922), the horror classic that introduced the vampire to the silver screen, and the Russian-made revolutionary thriller Battleship Potemkin (1925) gained large audiences in North America.

Talkies, Regent Theatre, NWcorner Bk&Spks,TopleyLACPA-028126
Interior of the Regent Theatre located at the north-west corner of Bank and Sparks Streets, Ottawa, 1918, Topley Studios/Library and Archives Canada, PA-028126. The Regent became the first Ottawa cinema to show a “talking” film, 26 December 1928.

But for the first time, movie goers, who hitherto had to use their imaginations, were going to be able to hear their idols speak. Yikes! In 1928, the Ottawa Journal described the terror this engendered among the acting fraternity. All of a sudden, actors were rushing off to take elocution lessons. The newspaper opined, “To hear a Spanish beauty speaking in the accent of the East Side or a New England fisherman declaiming in the broken English of a Polish-American might be entertaining but it would not be art.” Many of the great matinee idols of the silent era were not to make the transition.

The first public exhibition of a synchronized film sound track took place at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 using a system pioneered by Henri Loiret and Clément-Maurice Gratioulet called Photo-Cinéma-Théatre. The sound was recorded on a cylinder that was played in sync with the film. But the technology was unreliable. Things didn’t really improve until after World War I when Theodore Case, Earl Sponable, Charles Hoxie and Lee De Forest perfected the optical sound-on film method of synchronizing sound with action.  Three commercial variants of this technique emerged: Photofilm, PhotoPhone and Movietone. Another method of synchronizing a sound track to film involved sound on a disc that was played in synch with the film. Photokinema developed by Orlando Kellum and Vitaphone by Warner Brothers used this technique.

Talkies, Regent ad, TOC 28-12-28
“Where the Screen Speaks,” The Regent Theatre’s advertisement for the official premiere of the talkies that appeared in both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Journal, 28 December, 1928.

The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson is usually credited with being the first feature-length talking film. It used the Vitaphone system. However, the movie was really a hybrid creation; it was a silent movie with four singing and talking scenes. Jolson apparently says a mere 354 words during the film, including the prophetic “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” The previous year, Don Juan, starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor, had been released with a synchronized Vitaphone music track and special effects, but without dialogue. In 1928, Fox Movietone began producing weekly news reports and short one-reel “talkies” using the more reliable sound-on film method for distribution in movie theatres that quickly dominated the talking film market.

There was an immediate rush by cinemas across North America to buy the expensive equipment needed to play the new “talkies.” There were concerns, however. Would audiences accept this costly film innovation?  Many directors deplored the advent of sound, complaining that a focus on dialogue would detract from the aesthetic that they were trying to create.  Mary Pickford reportedly said “adding sound to film was like putting lip rouge on Venus de Milo.” Her career was to founder after talkies became established.

The word “talkie” didn’t go down well with some either. Pedants sought expert academic advice for a new name for the invention. Suggestions included the “Audien,” the “Cinelog,” and the “Phonocinema,” which, according to the Ottawa Citizen, would probably become the “Phocin.” The last alternative would have been particularly unfortunate if pronounced with a hard “c.” Thankfully, none of these possibilities took.

Ottawa was one of the first cities in Canada after Toronto to start playing “talkies.” The Regent Theatre located on the north-west corner of Bank and Sparks Street, where the Bank of Canada Museum is today, debuted Fox Movietone productions on Boxing Day, 26 December 1928. The first showing was a by-invitation-only, private event.

The program started at 11pm with Fox Movietone news, featuring the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty four months earlier in Paris. Signatories to the treaty, which was negotiated by Frank Kellogg, U.S. Secretary of State and Aristide Briand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, renounced war as a means of resolving international disputes. The Ottawa Citizen commented that one could hear the “buzz of subdued sound and then M. Briand arises to speak…” In a succeeding scene, the U.S. Ambassador to France introduces Mr Kellogg who also says a few words of greeting. The Citizen journalist enthused that “every word, every syllable, he utters is distinctly heard.” (Here is a link to that early newsreel footage: Signing of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty.) A second news story showed the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) opening a new dock in Bristol and giving a short speech, followed by an outdoor political rally in Britain with David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, speaking in the rain.

After the newsreel came a short film called “The Hut,” which was set in Siberia, starring the Russian soprano, Miss Nina Tarasova, backed by the Russian Cathedral Choir. Again the Citizen’s journalist was captivated with the quality of the sound which he thought was better than hearing music on “a phonograph, radio, or telephone,” and was “free of mechanical interference.” This was followed by an “all talkie,” ten-minute comedy called The Family Picnic. Directed and written by Harry Delf, this Fox film starred Raymond McKee as the husband and Kathleen Key as the wife. Again, the journalist was impressed with the sound fidelity, especially the reproduction of the actors’ voices, street sounds, and even the approaching sound of a train.

Talkies, Street Angel
Film poster for the “Street Angel,” 1928 by Fox Films, IMDb.

The pièce de résistance of the evening was the 1928 Fox movie Street Angel, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, directed by Frank Borzage. The film is the story of a Neapolitan street waif with a past (Gaynor), who flees to the circus where she falls in love with a starving artist (Farrell). Although there was no dialogue, the 110-piece Roxy Theatre Grand Orchestra of New York provided the musical accompaniment. The film won Photo Magazine’s bronze medal for the best picture of 1928. Janet Gaynor won the very first “Oscar” for best supporting actress in 1929 for her role. The Citizen said that the movie ranked with “the best of all time.” Watch the Street Angel.

For the excited Ottawa citizens invited to this late-night inauguration of talking films, it was worth the bleary eyes they had the next morning. “The Canadian Capital joined movie fandom the world over in applauding this audio-scenic innovation,” wrote the Ottawa Journal. Ray Tubman, the manager of the Regent Theatre, was roundly congratulated by his many friends.

After its special showing on Boxing Day, 1928, a “preview” opened the following night, again at 11pm, with the formal opening the day after that (Saturday). The huge crowds of eager spectators were urged to go to the matinee and early evening performances to help ensure that they could obtain seats. The Journal wrote: “Never in the history of the motion picture has any new development been introduced which has caused such a furore as this new marvel.”

Ottawa companies wanted to be associated with the launch of talkies to the nation’s capital. Stanley Lewis, the future mayor of Ottawa from 1936-48 and the owner of an electrical store, advertised that the Regent Theatre had entrusted the installation of the Movietone equipment to his firm—“Enough Said” read the ad. Merchants on Sparks Street, including Orme’s, Lindsay’s, the Metropolitan Stores and John Raper Piano Co. Ltd—the Home of the Othophonic Victrola—advertised for sale records of the music from The Street Angel. The hit theme song Angela Mia could be purchased for 50 cents on the Domino label with The Rose You Gave To Me on the reverse side. Even the shoe company Gale & Co. got in on the action by advertising Cordovan leather shoes “as New and Distinctive as the Movietone.”

The arrival of the talkies to Ottawa was a huge success, as it was everywhere in North America. Within a few scant years, the great silent film industry fell, well, silent.

Sources:

Naqi, Sheza, 2012, The End of an Era: From Silent Film to Talkies, ETEC540: Text, Technologies — Community Weblog, 28 October, https://blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept12/2012/10/28/the-end-of-an-era-from-silent-film-to-talkies/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1928. “Talking Movies Make Debut For Ottawa People,” 27 December.

——————, 1928. “Gaynor-Farrell In ‘Street Angel,’” 29 December.

——————, 1928. “Movietone Makes Its Ottawa Debut At The Regent,” 29 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1928. “The Changing Movies,” 31 August.

——————-, 1928. “Premier Showing Of Talking Film A Notable Event,” 27 December.

——————-, 1928. “The Talking Movies,” 29 December.

——————-, 1928. “First Movietone Show Here Starts Today at The Regent,” 29 December.

——————-, 1928. “Regent Theatre,” 31 December.

Rosenberg, Jennifer, 2017. “The Jazz Singer, The First Feature-Length Talkie,” ThoughtCo., https://www.thoughtco.com/the-jazz-singer-1779241.