We Want The Animals!

1 March 1967

In the mid-1960s, one of the most promising, up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll groups was The Animals. The British group, formed in 1963 with the gravel-voiced, bluesy Eric Burdon as lead vocalist, followed The Beatles across the Atlantic and helped to spearhead the “British Invasion” of North America. By Canada’s centennial year, the band already had a number of hit singles in the United States and Canada. It’s rendition of The House of the Rising Sun (Click here), which had topped the British singles’ charts in the summer of 1964, became number one in the United States that October. Another song, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Click here) recorded in 1965, took the number two spot in Canada. The song became the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Other big hits of the time included See See Rider and Don’t Bring Me Down, both released in 1966. The group appeared a phenomenal six times on the Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most avidly watched television shows of the era, once in 1964, three times in 1965 and twice in 1966.

The Animals

Early Publicity Photo of the original Animals, c. 1964, author: Richard William Laws, Wikipedia.

Imagine the excitement for Ottawa rock fans when it was announced that Eric Burdon and the Animals were to play on 1 March 1967 in the Coliseum at Lansdowne Park. This wasn’t the same group that recorded the band’s initial hits. That early group consisted of Erik Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (keyboard), John Steel (drums), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Byron “Chas” Chandler (bass). But by late 1966, the group had disintegrated owing to a combination of drugs, alcohol, egos, and bad management. Frayed tempers due to long days of performing and touring didn’t help either.  In late 1966, Eric Burdon put together a new group called Eric Burdon and the Animals, consisting of Erik Burdon (vocals), Vic Braggs (guitar), Barry Jenkins (drums), Danny McCulloch (bass), and John Weider (guitar). The addition of John Weider, who also played classical violin, gave a different dimension to the band. It was this version of the Animals, playing many of the old Animals tunes, that toured North America in early1967, starting at Hunter College in New York in February 1967. (Click here for their rendition of See See Rider.) They came to Canada in late February with stops in Hamilton and then Ottawa before returning to New York to continue their U.S. tour.

The Ottawa concert was organized by Peter Charrier through an agency, assisted by James McConnell, a dance promoter, who helped with advertising and the distribution of tickets. Tickets were $2.50 or $3.00, equivalent to roughly $18-$22 today. The venue for the event was the Coliseum on Bank Street at Lansdowne Park. The Coliseum, constructed in 1926, was the venue for innumerable Ottawa political, social and athletic events. Before it was demolished in 2010 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, it was the home of the Ottawa 67s Junior A hockey team’s ticket office.

Eric Burdon and the Animals

Eric Burdon and the Animals, Publicity Photograph, 1967, Copyright ABKCO Records, Inc., Wikipedia.

The warm-up band for the event was Ottawa’s own five-piece The Eyes of Dawn. Formed in 1966, the group came to local prominence after winning a music contest in Hull. It subsequently became the house band for La Petite Souris coffee shop. In January 1967, it released its debut single Time To Be Going, (Click here) a cover of a song by The Fortunes, under the Sir John A. label. Being asked to be the warm-up band to Eric Burdon and the Animals represented the peak of the group’s short career.

The concert, which attracted more than 2,500 excited teenagers to the Coliseum, began without incident. But when The Eyes of Dawn had finished warming up the crowd and had left the stage, Eric Burdon and the Animals failed to show. For an hour and a half, an increasingly irritated and annoyed audience was left waiting without any announcements. Chants of “We want the Animals” changed to shouts of “Refund” and “We want our money.” Behind the scenes, the concert promoter was engaged in frantic negotiations with the band. While accounts vary, it seems there was a contract dispute. Apparently, the group was contracted to play two 40-minute sessions for $3,500. However, the Animals wanted to give one 50-minute performance. Charrier was agreeable as long as there was a pay cut. He claimed that he had already paid $1,750 up front, and was willing to give another $500, but the group wanted $1,000. Another report suggested that Charrier had offered the group only $300 in advance of the concert. Eric Burdon is quoted as saying “I am a product. I deliver my product and it’s over. Therefore the agency requires I be paid before I deliver.” Regardless, Charrier walked out of the negotiations expecting that the band would be forced to play. Burdon called his bluff and the Animals left the Coliseum without playing a single song. Later, Dan McCullough, the group’s bass guitarist, said that this was the first time that they had run into money troubles. While he said they were sorry, they had no choice but to refuse to play.

Inside, tempers were rising. When somebody turned the Coliseum’s lights out, the fans went wild. A sit-in to get ticket refunds turned violent as hundreds of annoyed teenagers vented their anger on their surroundings. The stage was destroyed, chairs thrown, and equipment damaged. Even floorboards were ripped up. A small fire was also reportedly set in a washroom. Damage and clean-up costs were later placed at $7,917. It took more than fifty police and security guards ninety minutes to restore order. At one point, the police threatened to turn fire hoses onto the demonstrators. From time to time, the crowd shouted “police brutality.” Twenty-five teenagers were arrested, though most were subsequently released without charge. A measure of peace was restored when police officers organized a return of ticket stubs to the audience so that spectators could receive a refund. Concert goers had handed in their entire ticket when they entered the Coliseum, rather than retain a ticket stub. Charrier claimed that is was a requirement of the Canada Central Exhibition Association, the Coliseum’s management, to facilitate the operation of automatic ticket-counting machines.

Two days after the riot, five teenagers arrested in the affray pled guilty in magistrates’ court for causing a disturbance, and received a suspended sentence and six-month probation. The magistrate, L.A. Sherwood, stressed that he was being lenient since many more teenagers had been involved in the riot but had not been caught. He also noted that while he had considerable sympathy for the offenders, there was no excuse for what they did. A charge against another teenager for destroying property owned by the Canada Central Exhibition Association was subsequently dropped on a technicality; the CCEA didn’t own the destroyed property. Another charge of underage drinking against the same individual was also dropped as police couldn’t prove that the young man had been imbibing from the half-empty flask of vodka found in his back pocket.

The Ottawa Journal ran an editorial entitled “Youth Running Wild.” It opined that the crowd had “every right to be angry,” but was shocked by “the wanton destruction and contempt for authority.” The newspaper placed the blame on the glorification of civil disobedience. “Teenagers have precedent aplenty for defying the police and taking matters into their own hands.” It thought that “crooked thinking” needed “some straightening out,” and that “discipline in home and school should be tightened up, police must be rapid and thorough…and courts should be clear that the price of lawlessness is intimidating.”

The following day, a remorseful crowd of 50 to 75 young men and women marched from the Ottawa police station to City Hall to apologize for their actions. Their initial intention was to confront the police and seek an explanation for police actions during the riot. However, the youths decided instead to march to City Hall. Acting Mayor Ken Fogarty met the teenagers on the front steps. Group spokesman, Tom Boyle, age 17, said “We have come to make a public apology.” He mentioned that when the Animals didn’t appear, a sit-down had been planned, but things got out of hand. Fogarty replied that the riot had blackened the name of Ottawa and that the city’s youth had been branded as irresponsible. He added, however, that the promoter had been at fault for not explaining the situation. He reminded the group that when somebody owes you something, you have a financial claim; “you don’t knock their block off.” The Acting Mayor thought their apology would go a long way towards correcting the image of the city’s teenagers.

The Animals TOJ, 20-3-67

Refund Advertisement for the Concert, The Ottawa Journal, 20 March 1967.

It took some time for the police to track down Peter Charrier, the principal organizer of the concert, as Charrier had initially disappeared, unwilling to be interviewed until he sought legal counsel. He later said that rumours that he had bunked off to Jamaica were untrue. He promised that all money would be refunded to all concert spectators even those who did not receive a ticket stub from the police. Subsequently, advertisements appeared in local newspapers indicating that concert goers were entitled to “refunds or part thereof” if they applied to certain Treble Clef stores and sign an affidavit indicating that they had purchased a ticket. The operative words were “part thereof.” The organizer later indicated that ticket holders would only get half refunds as they had enjoyed half a concert. In the event, the record is unclear how many concert goers actually received a refund. By the end of May, the Ottawa Journal had been unable to find anybody who had received a refund.

As for the musicians, Eric Burdon and the Animals left the Coliseum immediately for New York. Over coming years, the Animals continued to morph and change as band members came and went. Two days after the riot, The Eyes of Dawn went on to play a gig at The Oak Door, a teen nightclub at 485 Bank Street. The group put out a second single in late 1967 called Kaleidoscope, (Click here) and folded the next year.

After much discussion, the City of Ottawa on a 16-7 Council vote agreed to cover the cost of damages to the Coliseum. With a $5,000 deductible, insurance covered the remaining $2,917. The Coliseum never again held a rock ‘n’ roll concert.

Eric Burdon returned to Ottawa in 2013 for Bluesfest. At age 76 (as of 2017), he continues to perform, bringing the old Animals tunes as well as new ones to appreciative audiences.

 

Sources:

Bunch, Adam, 2017. “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Riot in Ottawa,” Canadian Music Hall of Fame (The), http://canadianmusichalloffame.ca/tag/the-eyes-of-dawn/.

Canadian Music Blog, 2017. Top Hits of 1967, https://musiccanada.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/top-100-singles-of-1967-in-canada/.

Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, 2015. The Eyes of Dawn, http://jam.canoe.com/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/E/Eyes_Of_Dawn.html.

Canuckistan Music, 2017. The Eyes Of Dawn, http://www.canuckistanmusic.com/index.php?maid=194.

Classic Pop Icons, 2010. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, http://www.classicpopicons.com/song-of-the-week-26-we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place/.

Hannan, Ross & Arnold, Cory, 2010. Eric Burdon and The Animals, http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Eric%20Burdon.htm.

Globe and Mail (The), 1967. “5 Youths On Probation For Ottawa Riot Roles,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Animals’ Fans Win A Refund,” 4 March.

Official Ed Sullivan Site (The), 2010. The Animals, http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-animals.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1967. “Animals: Wouldn’t Appear, 2,500 Teens Riot, Coliseum Wrecked. 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “five Admit Charges,” 2 March.

————————–, 1967. “Yourth Running Wild,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Promoter Hopes to Refund Money,” 3 March.

————————–, 1967. “Apology – Protest For A Riot,” 4 March.

————————–, 1967. “Youth Charges Dismissed,” 25 March.

————————–, 1967. “Below the Hill,” 27 May.

————————–, 1967. “City Balks At Paying Riot Costs,” 1 June.

————————–, 1967. “City to Pay Coliseum Riot Damages,” 17 October.

Ottawa Tonite, 2013. “Eric Burdon at Bluesfest, 2013,” http://www.ottawatonite.com/2013/07/eric-burdon-at-ottawa-bluesfest-2013/.

Rolling Stones, 1991(?), “Eric Burdon – The Animals and Beyond,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPUcvLMs36E.

 

 

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The Galloping Gourmet

30 December 1968

Long before Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay worked their culinary magic on television, there was Graham Kerr, a.k.a. The Galloping Gourmet. While Kerr (pronounced “Care”) was not by any means the first gourmet chef to appear on the small screen—that honour goes to James Beard in 1946—he, like Julia Child, did much to popularize fine cooking in North America. At a time when the acme of fine dining for many Americans and Canadians was a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, and Italian cuisine was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Kerr introduced millions to the likes of Lamb Apollo, Red Snapper in Pernod, Crab Captain Cook, and Gateau Saint Honoré. His zany antics, lightning fast wit and double entendres delivered while chopping and sautéing delighted television audiences around the world. At the peak of his popularity in 1970, his television show, The Galloping Gourmet, was seen in thirty-eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, with more than 200 million viewers. Dubbed into French, it was called the Le Gourmet Farfelu on the CBC’s French-language network. Amazingly, The Galloping Gourmet was made in Ottawa.

Graham Kerr 2

Graham Kerr—The Galloping Gourmet, The Cooking Channel

The British-born Kerr learnt how to cook as a teenager during the late 1940s in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel. After five years in the British Army’s catering corps, he moved to New Zealand and joined the New Zealand Air Force as a catering adviser. It was in New Zealand in 1959 that he got his first televised cooking show—Eggs with Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Performing in uniform, the young Kerr received a munificent $25 for his weekly television programme. Spotted by a promoter with links to Australia, Kerr was launched on Australian television with a programme called Entertaining with Kerr in 1964 on the Ten Network.

In 1968, he and his wife Treena came to Ottawa to film The Galloping Gourmet for Freemantle International, a television production/distribution company. Although the show was aimed at an American audience, the Kerrs chose Canada as their base of operations because they wanted to bring a British/Australian flavour to the show that they thought might be lost in an American-made production. Also, Canada had first class television studios that could make colour programmes. Colour television had been introduced to the Canadian market in 1966, whereas Australian television was still operating in black and white. To make the daily 23-minute programme, the Kerrs went to the CJOH studios located at the corner of Merivale Road and Clyde Avenue in Ottawa.  Then owned by Bushnell Communications, CJOH was the third busiest television production centre in Canada. Under the direction of Bill McKee, an exceptional staff of 160 people, of whom 100 were directly in production, worked ten hour days seven days a week producing as many as dozen different television series as well as films for government departments. In a 1970 interview, Kerr stated that CJOH had the “finest” television crew with whom they had ever worked.

Production of The Galloping Gourmet began in the summer of 1968, making six shows a day, thirty shows per week. It was a gruelling schedule. The Kerrs worked as a team, Graham in front of the camera, and Treena as the show’s producer.  Initially, there was little to distinguish the new show. Indeed, the television studio’s audience relations staff found it difficult to find people willing to fill the seats in the studio equipped with a full kitchen with an autumn brown fridge and stove, dining room, bar and wine rack. However, this was to quickly change.

The programme first aired on CBC television (CBOT, channel 4 in Ottawa) at 4pm on Monday, 30 December, 1968, up against the likes of Match Game, Big Spender, House Party, and the cartoon show Hercules. The show was also syndicated throughout the United States. CBOT advertised it as “a cooking show…but what a cooking show! It is as entertaining as the best comedy shows and as informative as a documentary because of the talent of the host Graham Kerr, a world famous gourmet, formerly of England, now living in Australia.”  It added that Kerr was nicknamed the galloping gourmet, “because of the lightning speed at which he moves his six foot, three-inch frame while alternately singing, dancing, telling stories and giving homely advice…all while cooking sumptuous dishes with dazzling dexterity.”

It was an apt description though his nickname was more likely based on a book that he co-authored with wine expert Len Evans called The Galloping Gourmets published in 1967. The book chronicled the authors’ globetrotting efforts to find the world’s best restaurants in 35 days. His address was also wrong. By this time, Graham, Treena and the Kerr children had taken up residence in the tony Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in Ottawa.

The Galloping Gourmet was an instant and huge success though some stations censored the more naughty bits. The Globe and Mail, in a rant about the poor quality of daytime television filled with Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island re-runs, soap operas, and second-rate talk shows, likened The Galloping Gourmet to “a flower growing in a crammed wall.” It opined that “while Graham gallops, there is hope.” Tickets to attend the show’s tapings became as rare as hen’s teeth. Kerr’s most faithful admirers were female. One die-hard fan attended 49 times during the show’s first year. It helped that he was a culinary James Bond with a sense of humour—young, good looking, always impeccably dressed, and a superb British accent.

But the show appealed to all, women and men, young and old. The reason—it was fun. Each show began with Kerr jumping over a chair with a glass of wine in his hand. The manoeuvre, suggested by wife Treena, became his signature move. Most shows had some gag that were sure to provoke guffaws, such as stirring a pot with a five-foot spoon called “Big Mouth,” or pulling a brassiere out of a rolling pin. Shows also featured clips of exciting places around the world visited by the Kerrs for culinary inspiration. But the most endearing feature of the show was Kerr’s unbounded enthusiasm, excellent comic timing, and an ability to roll with whatever happened. To watch him try to unstick a reluctant cake out of a mould while a cherry sauce is cooking on the stove is hysterically funny. The show was nominated for two Daytime Emmys, but lost out to The Today Show. However, Kerr received the ultimate public recognition when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1970.

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr larding a steak in episode “Beer and Rump Pot Roast,” 1970, The Cooking Channel.

But what about the food? Kerr’s culinary critics poo-pooed his skills, seeing him as a showman rather than an expert at fine cuisine. One called him the Liberace of the cooking world. There may be an element of truth to this. But he introduced people to a range of cuisines from Cajun jambalaya and British beer and rump pot roast to Mexican huevos rancheros and Russian shrimp povlik. One thing that was clear, however, his food was rich…very rich. There were few vegetables. In his recipes, Kerr used copious amounts of clarified butter, fat and sugar. Just watching him lard an already well-marbled, two-inch steak, then fry it in butter, bacon fat and brown sugar is sufficient to clog the arteries. But this was a more innocent time. Certainly, willing volunteers, usually women pulled from the audience at the end of each show to taste his culinary creations, appeared to love his food.

At the height of his popularity, disaster struck. In April 1971, Kerr was seriously hurt when a truck rear-ended his car in California, leaving him with a damaged spine and a weakened right arm.  The couple returned to Ottawa to try to tape another season, but things were not the same. With Kerr injured, shows were mostly cobbled together using bits of earlier programmes with celebrities brought in to give their opinions of past shows and dishes. In the summer of that year, the Kerrs bade Ottawa good bye after taping 560 shows in front of 46,000 people. He lauded Ottawans for their support, coming out for tapings in the midst of snowstorms, and stoically sitting through an overheated studio when summer air conditioning failed.

From leafy Rockcliffe, the family charted a new course aboard their $300,000, 71-foot yacht with an aim to visit the world’s beauty spots while they recuperated and worked on new projects, including a Galloping Gourmet line of kitchens, cook books, and cooking utensils. But things didn’t turn out as expected. Treena was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Fortunately, the diagnosis proved to be wrong; it turned out to be tuberculosis. But she still lost part of a lung and became hooked on both prescription and non-prescription drugs. They also lost $800,000 to a man they had trusted. The couple subsequently became born-again Christians and abjured their earlier lives. Turning his back on the galloping gourmet, Kerr gave up alcohol, which had featured prominently in his earlier shows, and his risqué behaviour. The couple visited Ottawa in 1975 to appear at an evangelical rally at the Earl Armstrong Arena in Gloucester. The same year, Kerr returned to television hosting Take Kerr, a five-minute, syndicated cooking show featuring a mix of alcohol-free recipes with a dash of Christianity.

In 1987, Treena suffered a stroke and heart attack exacerbated husband Graham was convinced by his high fat, high sugar recipes of earlier years. In response, he re-doubled his efforts to create healthy “minmax” recipes—minimum fat and cholesterol with maximum flavour and aroma. More television shows, including The Graham Kerr Show, made in Seattle, Washington, and cook books that emphasized wholesome foods followed. In 1997, Kerr returned to Canada, this time to the Bay’s Arcadian Court in Toronto to tape yet another cooking programme called Graham Kerr’s Gathering Place.

Treena Keer died in September 2015 just short of their 60th wedding anniversary. Graham Keer, who turned 85 in January 2017 lives in Mount Vernon in Skaget County, near Seattle. Today, Keer has come to terms with his galloping gourmet past. His latest passion is “upstreaming,” that he describes as the “conversion of habits that can harm” into “resources that can heal” ourselves and the planet. Reruns of The Galloping Gourmet can be seen occasionally on late night television or on the Cooking Channel. Some have also been posted on YouTube. They are worth watching for the Sixties clothes and hairstyles, and, of course, for Graham Kerr’s incomparable cooking style and humour.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune (The), 1972. “A Glimpse of Graham, the Gourmet,” 9 November.

Goldman, Jeanette, 2015. The Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) “The Monty Python of Cooking, http://www.startyourrestaurantbusiness.com/the-galloping-gourmet-graham-kerr-the-monty-python-of-cooking/.

Kerr, Graham, 2017. Time to Grow. http://www.grahamkerr.com/.

Levine, Sarah, 20?. “Devour the Blog: Loving: The Galloping Gourmet,” Cooking Channel, 21 May, http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2010/05/21/loving-the-galloping-gourmet/.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1968. “CBOT Highlights,” 28 December.

————————–, 1969. “A Watched Nockerln,” 30 April.

————————–, 1970. “The Galloping Gourmet in Moscow,” 7 February.

————————–, 1970. “Graham Loves Us,” 8 August.

————————–, 1971. “The Galloping Gourmet goes, salutes ‘fabulous’ Ottawans,” 23 August.

————————–, 1972. “Battle of the Sexes Name of the Game,” 11 March.

————————–, 1972. “Galloping Gourmet hungers for the sea,” 19 July.

————————–, 1974. “Ottawa TV production centre is one of Canada’s busiest,” 21 December.

————————–, 1975. “Galloping Gourmet has come up with a recipe for a good life after his recent conversion,” 23 August.

World Library, 2017. The Galloping Gourmet, http://www.worldlibrary.org/

The Russell Theatre

15 October 1897

On the site of the National Arts Centre (NAC) there once stood an earlier playhouse called The Russell Theatre with its front entrance on Queen Street. On hundred years ago, it was the centre of arts and culture in Ottawa just as the NAC is today. The three-storey structure, which cost $100,000 to build, was owned by The Russell Company, the proprietor of the adjacent Russell House Hotel, which was itself the city’s leading hotel prior to the building of the Château Laurier. Work on the site began at the end of March 1897 when labourers tore down the old “Leader Hotel,” also known as the “Walsh building,” on Queen Street. The Russell Company, seeking the finest that money could buy, hired the New York theatrical architectural firm of J. B. McElfatrick and Son that had built theatres across the United States. Michigan native Fuller Claflin was the on-site architect. The general contractor for the project was Mr “Ed” C. Horne of New York, with whom Claflin had worked on many similar assignments. Imported talent, mostly from the United States, also made the stage decorations, the tile mosaics, the papier maché work, as well as the ornamental paintings and frescos. Even the masons and bricklayers employed on the job came principally from New York. Dr W. A. Drowne, who had been the manager of the Plattsburgh theatre in Plattsburgh, New York, was hired to manage the new Russell Theatre.

Russell Theatre cross sectio 2-10-97

Cross section of The Russell Theatre, The Evening Journal, 2 October 1897.

The theatre, which was built in the Italian renaissance style, was a marvel of late nineteenth century technology, and was judged second to none among North American theatres. It seated roughly 1,500 patrons on three floors and in ten boxes. On the balcony, there was a large room where light refreshments were served during intermissions and after performances. A ladies’ parlour (a.k.a. bathroom) was to be found on the first floor, with the gentlemen’s toilets on the balcony level. In the gallery, there was a smoking lounge for gentlemen. The steam-heated building was equipped with the latest stage apparatus and a modern electrical lighting system, with the wires carefully run through brass tubing to deter fires. In the case of fire, it had a fire pump with ten water outlets each equipped with fire hoses distributed throughout the building. The ground floor was laid in concrete, and the stairwells were separated from the auditorium by brick walls. The proscenium opening was protected by an asbestos curtain. Asbestos was also used in the plaster to retard burning. In an act of hubris suitable for a Greek tragedy, The Evening Journal said the theatre was “practically fireproof.”

On 15 October 1897, the Russell Theatre officially opened its door to the general public. Seats for the premiere had been auctioned off a few days earlier, with the proceeds in excess of the established ticket prices donated to the Prescott and Russell Fire Relief Fund. Roughly $200 were raised to help victims of a massive bush fire that had earlier destroyed three villages in eastern Ontario—Casselman, South Indian and Cheney’s—killing at least six people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Russell Theatre, Kismet 16-Oct-97

Advertisement for Kismet, the Premiere Production at The Russell Theatre, The Evening Journal, 15 October, 1897.

The gala opening featured Kismet or Two Tangled Turks, a comic opera in two acts by the German-born Broadway composer Gustave Kirker, with the libretto by Richard F. Carroll. Unfortunately, the play “was not altogether a success” opined The Evening Journal. The performance lacked “snap and vim” and was judged “dull” for long periods. The problem seemed to lie more with the play than with the theatrical company. The newspaper said that Miss Minerva Dorr, who played the role of the Sultan (sic) of Turkey, had a commanding presence and an exquisite voice while Mr John Saunders was very humorous as the Grand Vizier.  The dancers “of the Odalisques” were also judged to be quite pleasing. In general, the theatrical company was considered to have been good, but would have done better with a better play.

If the play was lacklustre, the theatre wowed Ottawa’s elite. Prior to the beginning of the performance, coloured lights played over the stage curtain that was painted with a scene of the loops of the Selkirk River of Manitoba. Being the première, people turned out in their finest with the newspaper giving a detailed account of the outfits of prominent Ottawa women. A Miss Davis wore “a dainty dress of dresden muslin-de-soie over cream silk, the trimming of cream lace and nile green satin ribbons forming a bolero and full front bodice. Diamond and pearl ornaments.”

It seems the Journal’s judgement of the Russell’s first theatrical production was an accurate assessment of the theatre’s first seasons—second-rate. In a letter to the editor, a theatre-goer in 1899 moaned that the Russell Theatre had claimed that it had been unable to book first-rate theatrical companies since they had already been contracted to play in Toronto and Montreal. He thought that while the excuse might have been a fiction, the result was “painful.” Another angry theatre patron complained that if Ottawa had to put up with second-rate attractions, at least the prices charged shouldn’t be higher than those charged in Montreal.

Fire put an end to the complaints. On 9 April 1901, roughly two hours after the last patrons had left a production of The Belle of New York, a musical comedy written by Hugh Morton with music again by Gustave Kirker, a fire broke out behind the Russell’s stage. Despite the asbestos curtain and other fire retarding measures, the theatre was quickly gutted, its wooden interior fixtures burning like tinder. The alarm was raised by the theatre’s caretaker who had an apartment close to the stage. He had just fallen asleep when he was woken by a loud rushing sound, with his room filling with smoke. Almost naked, he rushed out of the theatre to the nearby police station to bring help. Dr Drowne, the Russell’s manager, and Mrs Drowne who also lived in the theatre, barely escaped with their lives. They fled with only the clothes on their backs. All their possessions, valued at $2,000, were lost.

By the time Fire Chief Provost and his men got to the Russell Theatre, flames were already shooting through the roof. But firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control by plying water streams onto the structure from the Free Press Building at the corner of Queen and Elgin Streets. While the theatre was a write-off, the firemen were able to save surrounding buildings, including the Russell House Hotel. Aiding them was the weather—wet with the wind blowing away from the hotel.

The cause of the blaze was never ascertained. The caretaker thought it started in the furnace room. Others believed it had been caused by a wayward cigarette dropped by one of the players. However, Dr Drowne disagreed, saying he was very strict with smoking around the stage. Also, he had passed through the theatre after The Belle of New York troupe had left, and had checked on every room before retiring for the night.

The next day, Ottawa residents woke up to the realization that only by chance had a great tragedy been avoided. Had the fire broken out just two hours earlier, many men, women and children might have been trampled in a rush for the doors. Despite the considerable fire precautions taken in its construction, the consensus was that the theatre had not been safe due to insufficient exits, especially from the dress circle and balcony levels. Many considered the theatre to have been a “death trap.”

Speculation also began on whether the theatre would be rebuilt. The initial assessment was not favourable. Fire losses were estimated at $100,000, with insurance covering only $63,000. Also, the theatre had not been profitable; no dividends had been paid since the day it was opened. But at a meeting of directors four days after the fire, management announced that an arrangement had been reached to rebuild the Russell Theatre between the owners of the theatre and the Ambrose J. Small Company of Toronto, a theatre management company that had leased the Russell. Apparently, the Ambrose J. Small Company had already booked engagements for two-thirds of the coming season.

As an aside, many years later in 1919, Ambrose J. Small, who was a major Canadian theatre mogul who owned or operated theatres in several Ontario cities, was to disappear under circumstances worthy of a paperback thriller. After receiving $1.7 million from the sale of his theatre operations, it was alleged that he was murdered by his wife and her lover, with his body incinerated in the furnace of the Grand Opera Theatre in London, Ontario. The allegations were never proven. At one point, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, was approached for assistance in solving the case. While interested, Sir Arthur declined to help. Never solved, the police closed the case in 1960.

Russell Theatre interior, 1928 Mikan 7821743 government

Interior of the new Russell Theatre before its demolition in 1928, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 7821743.

The new Russell Theatre reopened on 7 October 1901, almost four years to the day after its first debut. Although rebuilt along similar lines to the original theatre and finished as before in old gold, ivory and red, with shades of blue under the galleries, there were significant differences. Capacity has increased to 1,900 seats from 1,500, with 590 on the ground floor, 500 in the balcony, 700 in the gallery, with the remainder accommodated in twelve boxes. There were other differences too. Most importantly, there were a lot more exits, including four on the gallery and three on the balcony. Frederick Challener, a distinguished Canadian artist, had also been commissioned to paint three murals on the ceiling, depicting the “Triumph of Drama,” “Love” and “Hate.”

Russell Theatre ceiling 1928, Mikan 4821747 Government

Ceiling of the new Russell Theatre showing “The Triumph of Drama” by Frederick Challener, RCA, 1928, Library and Archives Caanda, Mikan 4821747.

The re-opening play was a production of Dolly Varden, a comic opera by the Broadway composer Julian Edwards based on the character Dolly Varden from the Charles Dickens’ book Barnaby Rudge. Miss Lulu Glaser played the lead role. This debut fared better than the first. The Journal’s review described the production as “bright and clever entertainment, while Miss Glaser was “vivacious and dainty.” Unlike Kismet in 1897, Dolly Varden had the necessary “vim.” The newspaper was particularly impressed by a chorus by the entire company performed a cappella. The costumes were also deemed to have been gorgeous.

During that first week, Dolly Varden played for two nights. This was followed by two nights of vaudeville by Shea’s Vaudeville from the Garden Theatre in Buffalo. The week was rounded out by a performance by Louis Morrison in The New Faust on the Friday, followed by Madame Modjeska and Louis James in productions of Mary Stuart and Henry VIII on the Saturday.

The curtain fell for the last time at the Russell Theatre on 14 April 1928. The theatre, along with the now empty Russell House Hotel and other properties on the Russell Block bordered by Sparks, Queen and Elgin Streets and the Canal had been acquired by the Federal District Commission (FDC). All were slated for demolition as part of the Commission’s plan to beautify Ottawa. On that last night, The Dumbells performed in “Bubbling Over,” a series of eleven comedic and musical acts, to a capacity crowd. Led by Captain Merton Plunkett, the troupe was a prominent and extremely popular Canadian vaudeville group that had been formed during World War I by members of Canada’s Third Division. The company took their name from the dumbbell emblem of the Third Division.  At the end of their performance, Captain Plunkett told the audience that it was fitting that a strictly Canadian company should be the last to appear at the Russell.

As The Dumbells were loading their props and other equipment onto a horse-drawn cart after their show, the derelict Russell House Hotel caught fire. Although firemen were able to save the adjacent Russell Theatre from the flames, nothing could save it from the FDC. Three months later, it was demolished. Fortunately, on hearing of the existence of the beautiful ceiling murals by Frederick Challener, Canada’s National Gallery asked that they be saved. The murals now reside at the Gallery. In 1985, the Gallery also obtained Challener’s preliminary scale model of the main mural, Triumph of Drama. See Maquette of Triumph of Drama. 

Sources:

Alberti, Louis-Gèrard, 2015. “The Russell Theatre,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/russell-theatre-emc/.

Bordman, Gerald with Norton, Richard, 2010. American Musical Theatre, A Chronicle, 4th Edition, Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York.

Evening Journal (The), 1897. “Ottawa’s New Theatre,” 30 March.

—————————, 1897. “Down Comes The Wall,” 30 March.

—————————, 1897. “The Russell House Company,” 7 June.

————————–, 1897. “Opera House Decorations,” 14 July.

————————–, 1897. “At Work On The Scenery,” 18 August.

————————–, 1897. “With The Labor Men,” 21 August.

————————-, 1897. “An Up To Date Theatre,” 2 October.

————————-, 1897. “The Russell Offer,” 9 October.

————————-, 1897. “$200 For Fire Sufferers.”

————————-, 1897. “Up Goes The Curtain,” 16 October.

————————-, 1899. “The Russell Theatre,” 18 September.

————————-, 1899. “The Russell Theatre,” 23 September.

————————-, 1901. “The Theatre Fire,” 9 April.

————————-, 1901. “Russell Theatre A Ruin Today,” 9 April.

————————-, 1901. “Opposed To Rebuilding,” 9 April.

————————-, 1901. “Did Not Pay,” 10 April.

————————-, 1901. “Music And Her Devotees,” 13 April.

————————-, 1901. “Theatre To Be Rebuilt,” 13 April.

————————-, 1901. “Russell Will Open Oct. 7,” 25 September.

————————-, 1901. “The Theatre Is Completed,” 4 October.

————————-, 1901. “At The Theatre, Opening Of The Russell,” 8 October.

————————-, 1928. “Dumbells’ Review ‘Bubbling Over,’ A Delight In Music And Comedy,” 10 April.

————————-, 1928. “Five Firemen Hurt When Russell Block Is Prey To Flames,” 16 April.

————————-, 1928, “To Salvage Murals, Russell Theatre,” 22 June.

————————-, 1928. “Strip The Russell, Movable Objects,” 6 July.

Moogk, Edward and Kellman, Helmut, 2014, “The Dumbells,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-dumbells-emc/.

NGC Magazine, 2013. “Artists, Architects and Artisans Photo Gallery, 5 November, http://www.ngcmagazine.ca/exhibitions/artists-architects-and-artisans-photo-gallery/Maquette-for-the-Triumph-of-the-Drama-Russell-Theatre-Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1901. “Theatre To Be Rebuilt, “13 April.

————————-, 1901. “The Russell Theatre, A Suggestion,” 12 April.

The Central Canada Exhibition

24 September 1888

For more than one hundred and twenty years, a feature of Ottawa life during the late summer or early fall was the Central Canada Exhibition. Now sadly defunct, the fair started as an agricultural and industrial exhibition, providing a venue for the farmers of eastern Ontario and western Quebec to display their products, share knowledge, and compete for prizes. It was also an opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit not only the latest agricultural equipment to potential buyers, but also other types of wares.  Arts and crafts were additionally featured. It wasn’t all work, however. There was also entertainment, including circus acts, rides, games, and, of course, copious amounts of food and drink.

exhibition-15-august-1888-tej

Advertisement for the first annual Central Canada Exhibition, The Evening Journal, 15 August 1888

The Central Canada Exhibition began out of civic dissatisfaction with the annual Provincial Exhibition that was organized by the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario. The Provincial Exhibition, which was founded in 1845, moved from city to city in Ontario. However, local or civic fairs, including the Toronto Industrial Fair established in 1879 (to become the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912), began to compete with the more staid Provincial Exhibition. Although Ottawa hosted the Provincial Exhibition in 1887, it was not a great success. Many charged that the fair had been mismanaged, and that it had not been adequately promoted. As well, it appears that the Exhibition’s management irritated the wrong people. Ottawa’s Mayor Stewart was not amused when he was forced to pay a small fee for his horse when he arrived at Lansdowne Park, the venue that the city had provided rent-free to the Provincial Exhibition’s organizers.

Almost immediately after the Provincial Exhibition closed that year, a meeting was organized at Ottawa City’s Hall to discuss the merits of establishing Ottawa’s own annual agricultural fair. Chaired by Mayor Stewart, a long list of Ottawa’s great and worthy attended to voice their support, including Erskine Henry Bronson, a prominent Ottawa businessman and the member of the provincial assembly for Ottawa. (Bronson Avenue is named in his honour.) The Mayor also obtained the backing of the Premier, Sir John A. Macdonald.

In March 1888, the Province of Ontario incorporated the Central Canada Exhibition Association for the promotion of “industries, arts and sciences generally,” and gave it “full power and authority to hold permanent or periodical exhibitions.” Ottawa’s mayor and three members of city council were appointed to the Association, along with representatives from eastern Ontario as far west as Kingston, and from western Quebec as far east as the Island of Montreal. In addition to agricultural groups, a long list of scientific and artistic groups were also to be represented, including the Ontario College of Pharmacy, the Ottawa School of Arts and Sciences, the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, the Geological Survey of Canada, and the Art Association of Ottawa.

In support of the new agricultural exhibition, the City provided $10,000 to upgrade the Exhibition Grounds at Lansdowne Park. These included the relocation of a number of buildings, the erection of a grandstand for two thousand people, and the construction of new floral and machinery halls. Opposite the grandstand, a temporary stage was also built for performances. The cattle sheds, horse boxes and the poultry sheds were freshly white-washed. The fairgrounds were also wired for electricity to permit the fun to continue after dusk; electric streetlights had come to Ottawa three years earlier. The City also made improvements to Elgin and Bank Streets that led to the Exhibition Grounds. The admission fee to the Exhibition was 25 cents. A single carriage with a driver got in for 50 cents, with 25 cents charged for each additional passenger.

All was ready when Exhibition’s doors opened on 24 September 1888; the official inaugural ceremonies took place the following day in the presence of the Governor General, Lord Stanley of Preston. Ottawa was dressed to the nines for the event, with its store windows decorated and flags and bunting everywhere. There were close to 5,000 entries to the Exhibition, twice the number of the previous year’s Provincial Exhibition. Over three hundred horses were on show, including standard horses, blood horses, carriage horses, roadsters, and saddle horses, hunters and heavy draught horses. In the cattle shed could be found Durhams, Ayrshires, Galloways, Herefords, Holsteins, and Polled Angus. In the poultry shed, there were 110 entries in twenty varieties of chicken, including Plymouth Rooks, Cochin Chinas, White and Black Polands, and White Leghorns, as well as turkeys, geese, and pigeons.

The main building housed miscellaneous manufactures, ranging from hardware and harrows, to home furnishings, including the latest in labour-saving devices such as mangles, washing machines, and sewing machines. There were displays of “fancy work,” embroidery, paintings in watercolours and oils, and an “endless display of tidy and kindergarten work.” Two hundred entries were devoted to textile goods alone made from Canadian wool. In the carriage department, one hundred vehicles were on display—coaches, landaus, coupes, phaetons, tea carts, sulkies, 2-horse teams, market wagons, and sleighs. In an annex to the main building, R.J. Devlin, a large Ottawa department store, put on a massive display of furs with everything from musk ox to Persian lamb. Visitors were wowed by two stuffed polar bears and a Bengal tiger skin that stretched twenty feet from nose to tip of its tail.

The newly constructed machinery hall housed steam and horse-powered threshers and separators, ploughs, reaping and mowing machines, combines, windmills and stump extractors—everything a farmer could wish for. A “waterous engine” driving “hundreds of busy wheels,” transfixed visitors. A massive collection of minerals was also on display. All categories of machines, animals, plants, and crafts were judged with monetary prizes ranging from $25 to $5 in addition to gold, silver and bronze medals for first, second and third places, respectively. Diplomas were also awarded.

After the opening ceremonies, described as a “very recherché affair,” by the Ottawa Evening Journal,” there was a luncheon for the dignitaries, hosted by President Charles Magee of the Exhibition Association. The guests of honour were Lord Stanley and Acting Mayor Joseph Erratt; Mayor Stewart was in England and missed the Exhibition. He did, however, supply a number of cases of champagne to toast his health. Unsurprisingly, the mayor’s tent was very popular that afternoon, something that couldn’t have gone over well with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who had been grudgingly allowed to have a booth at the Exhibition. Music for the day was provided by the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards.

That evening, with the electric lights illuminating the Exhibition grounds, the games began over the objections of clergymen who objected “most strongly” about turning an agricultural fair, aimed at improving and instructing people, into anything that resembled fun. Roman chariot races were held on the race track with teams of eight horses. This was followed by a series of circus acts. The Zanfretta family of New York performed a high-wire act with Mr Zanfretta carrying Miss Zanfretta across a rope suspended fifty feet in the air. Levanian and McCormick performed on the trapeze, while Professor Chiton juggled, and the Rice Brothers performed acrobatics. Other performers included Val Vina, a comic juggler, and Philion, the French Necromancer. Mr Topley, Ottawa’s premier photographer, also provided stereopticon views of old and new Ottawa. To cap the evening’s festivities was a brilliant fireworks display.

ex-19-sept

Advertisement for the parachute jump, 1st Annual Central Canada Exhibition, The Evening Journal, 19 September 1888.

The next day, the highlight of the Exhibition, was the ascension of a hot-air balloon to 6,000 feet, from which a Professor Williams would make a parachute jump. The event was described as “the greatest out-door wonder the world has ever witnessed.” Ballooning and parachuting in the 1880s was not for the faint at heart. Balloonists were frequently injured or killed. One contemporary observer commented that “we are no more masters of the balloon than they [the Montgolfier brothers] were a century ago.” To jump from a balloon was an order of magnitude even more dangerous given the primitive parachutes of the time.

Late in the day, Professor Williams was ready to make his ascent. In front of an excited crowd of 20,000 people, he began to inflate his balloon over a fire. A dozen or so men volunteered to shake out the canvas as the bag inflated and hold onto the balloon to steady it. When the balloon was inflated, Williams got into the basket, and the rope securing the balloon over the top was released, leaving the men alone restraining it. Williams gave the command to release. Eleven men did so, but one held on, and was quickly carried into the air. Williams shouted up to the man “For God’s Sake, Drop!”  But, the man ignored the plea, and within seconds, the balloon had carried him hundreds of feet into the air. Silently, he held on for dear life. At one point, the man tried to catch his foot onto one of the ropes that suspended the basket. But he failed and became motionless again.  When his strength gave out, he plunged to his death, striking the ground in the backyard of a house near Bank Street close to the Mutchmor race track (now the site of Mutchmor Public School). Throughout his ordeal, the man never said a word. Powerless to do anything, Professor Williams jumped shortly afterwards, his parachute carrying him safely to the ground near the St Louis dam at Dow’s Lake as his balloon slowly sank as the air inside it cooled.

Below, the spectators first thought that the drama being played out high in the sky was part of the show. But cheers turned to moans as the man’s desperate plight became apparent. When the man’s grasp finally failed, hundreds of people rushed to the place where he hit the ground. A doctor, who happened to have his medical satchel with him, attempted to revive the young man, but it was hopeless. His body was carried inside a nearby home and laid out on the floor of the front room. As he carried no identification, it took police some time to identify him. He was 24-year old Tom Wensley of 107 Chapel Street. His father was an engineer for the Public Works Department. Having occurred in front of thousands of witnesses, Wensley’s death was ruled an accident by the police. There was no inquest. The Central Canada Exhibition paid the funeral expenses for the unfortunate man. Despite this horrific event, Professor Williams took to the air once again later in the week. This time, everybody let go on his command. He landed by parachute without incident.

aberdeen-pavilion-1903-william-james-topley-lac-pa-008938

The Aberdeen Pavilion, 1903. William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008938. Also known as the “Cattle Castle,” the Pavilion was expressly built for the Central Canada Exhibition in 1898. It was named after Lord Aberdeen, the Governor General at that time. Derelict by the late 1980s, Ottawa’s City Council voted to demolish the building but later changed its mind.It was restored and reopened in 1994.

The first Central Canada Exhibition was judged a great success. More than 50,000 people attended the six-day event. (Ottawa’s population was only about 40,000 at the time.) Most came by horse-drawn cab or bus, or by boat along the Rideau Canal. Schools closed for a day to allow students to attend. Civil servants and Chaudière mill workers were given a half-day holiday to permit them to see the sights. Thousands also came from outlying towns and villages. Ottawa hotels were all reported to be full during Exhibition week, except for the upscale Russell House. Merchants did a roaring trade both at the fair and outside. Financially, the Exhibition ended in the black, with revenues of roughly $12,000, slightly in excess of expenditures. The Ottawa Evening Journal commended all who participated in making the Exhibition a success, saying that the fair was a “splendid promise for the future.”

And indeed it was. It was the start of an event that was held annually, except during World War II, until well into the twenty-first century. Over time, however, with farming playing an ever diminishing role in Canadian life, the balance of activities at the Exhibition shifted. Agriculture, the raison d’être of the fair, was increasingly relegated to the sidelines in favour of midway entertainments and musical performances. But amidst the dazzling array of twenty-first century amusements and the temporary loss of its home at Lansdowne Park to redevelopment, the Exhibition could not compete. It died of ennui, with the last Ottawa SuperEx, as it became known, held in 2010. Its last Board of Directors disbanded in 2015.

 

Sources:

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1887. “The Value of the Provincial Exhibition,” 22 September.

——————————–, 1887. “Ottawa Is Willin’,” 6 October.

——————————–, 1888, “Central Canada Exhibition Association, 31 March.

——————————–, 1888. “The $210,000 By-Law,” 4 April.

——————————–, 1888. “Exhibition Notes,” 4 August.

——————————–, 1888. “Exhibition Matters,” 25 August.

——————————–, 1888. “The Light Side-Dishes To The Solid Central Fair,” 15 September.

——————————–, 1888, “Ministers Object,” 17 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Ottawa’s Great Fair,” 24 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Ottawa’s Great Fair,” 26 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Ottawa’s Great Fair,” 27 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Wensley’s Death,” 27 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Notes,” 28 September.

——————————–, 1888. “The Parachute Drop,” 29 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Good-By Central,” 29 September.

——————————–, 1888. “The Exhibition,” 29 September.

——————————–, 1888. “Adventures In The Air,” 4 October.

The Greatest Show on Earth

24 July 1895

The late nineteenth century marked the golden age of the American circus. Travelling the railroads that had just been laid down during the great railway boom, as many as fifty circuses crisscrossed the continent, bringing excitement, diversion, and sometimes education, to towns and cities throughout North America. With popular entertainment in short supply in those days before television, radio, and motion pictures, the arrival of the circus each summer was a much anticipated event. Of all the circuses of that era, the greatest of them was probably the Barnum & Bailey circus, billed as the Greatest Show on Earth. For once, the hyperbole so loved by circus promoters was accurate. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Barnum’s came six times to Ottawa, with each show arguably more fantastic than the previous one.

The Barnum & Bailey circus was brought to the world by two of the greatest showmen and circus impresarios of all times—Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum and James Anthony Bailey. Barnum, who was born in 1810, got his start his start in New York where he acquired Scudder’s American Museum in 1841. Modestly renaming it after himself, the museum, which was a mixture of menagerie, aquarium, museum, lecture hall and freak show, became famous for its display of the FeeJee (Fiji) mermaid. The mermaid, which was much hyped by Barnum as the mummified remains of a mermaid supposedly discovered in the Pacific, captured people’s imagination and drew tens of thousands to Barnum’s American Museum. In actuality, it had been created by stitching together the head and upper body of an ape with the lower body and tail of a fish. Human “curiosities” were also showcased, including “General” Tom Thumb, a 25-inch tall dwarf (who appeared in Ottawa at Her Majesty’s Theatre in October 1861), a “man-monkey”, who was in reality a microcephalic black man, and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Originally from Siam (Thailand), they were the source of the term “Siamese twins.” After his New York museum burnt down, Barnum went into the circus business, establishing P.T. Barnum’s Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome in 1871. He is credited for being the first to use the railway for transporting his circus from city to city. He also began to call his circus “the Greatest Show on Earth.”

James A. Bailey was born James A. McGinniss in 1847. Orphaned as a child, he adopted the last name Bailey to honour the man who got him started in the circus business. In the early 1870s, he was a partner in a travelling circus known as the Cooper & Bailey Circus, and was in competition with Barnum.  Bailey linked up with Barnum in 1881. The merged company retained the advertising slogan of “the Greatest Show on Earth,” though it wasn’t to use the joint Barnum & Bailey name until 1888, sticking until then with the better-known Barnum name.

The newly merged company quickly gained international notoriety for buying Jumbo, an African elephant, from the London zoo for £2,000, then equivalent to almost $10,000.  Jumbo was a sensation wherever it went. The huge elephant, billed as the largest outside of Africa, came to Ottawa in 1883 and 1885 as the prime exhibit of the grandly named “P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth and Howes Great London Circus and Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie.” The 1885 Ottawa performance occurred just days before Jumbo died in an accident in a rail yard in St Thomas, Ontario.  While accounts vary, it appears that Jumbo and another small elephant called Tom Thumb were struck by a freight train. Jumbo was killed instantly, while Tom Thumb sustained a fractured leg. While viewed as an “irreplaceable loss” by the circus, Barnum, the perennial showman, had Jumbo’s skeleton and skin preserved and put on display in the circus. Jumbo’s remains came back to Ottawa when Barnum’s returned to the capital in 1887. The circus’s advertised that JUMBO was “as Large as Life and Quite as Natural,” and was the “Only Elephant Skeleton on Exhibition Anywhere.” He was accompanied by Alice his “Affectionate and Distressed Companion.”

circus-23-11-1895

Barnum and Bailey Circus Advertisement, The Evening Journal, 23 July 1895

Of the six Barnum circuses that came to Ottawa during the late nineteenth century, the greatest was probably the 1895 edition that arrived in town in the early morning of Wednesday, 24 July. With Barnum’s death in 1891, the circus was now run solely by James Bailey who had bought out his partner’s share from Barnum’s widow. The show remained, however, Barnum & Bailey’s Great Show on Earth, giving the famous dead showman top billing. It advertised that its capital was $3.5 million, with daily expenses of $7,000.

So huge was the Barnum & Bailey circus that it took four specially-equipped trains of 68 cars to transport performers and other personnel, animals, including a “monster” herd of twenty-four elephants, sideshows, and tents and other equipment from Montreal to Ottawa on the Canada Atlantic Railway (CAR), pulling in at the Elgin Street station (Catherine Street at Metcalfe Street). But so organized were the roadies responsible for setting up the circus that the tents were raised and made ready for the day’s performances in under ninety minutes at the old race track opposite the Exhibition Grounds at Lansdowne Park on Bank Street. The Ottawa Evening Journal commented that the “easy way” that the workers put up the big tents “demonstrated that they have the thing down to a science.” In preparation for the thousands of spectators that would be heading to the temporary circus grounds, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company “watered” Bank Street (still a dirt road at that time) from the CAR tracks to the circus venue at its own expense to ensure that the street was in good condition. It also put on extra trams on the Bank Street route from downtown.

At 9.30am, the circus paraded through Ottawa as was customary at that time, in front of thousands of excited onlookers, including many drawn into the city from surrounding villages by advertising posters that said “It is worth coming miles to see and once seen never forgotten.” One newspaper story only half-jokingly commented that there was a high demand for children that morning by usually “sedate” citizens who wouldn’t otherwise appear alone at a circus.

The parade’s Order of March gives a sense of the awesome scale of the circus.

Military Band

Gentlemen Fox Hunters and Cavaliers

Lady Performers and Side-Saddle Experts

Band Chariot drawn by ten horses

Menagerie

Open Den of five tigers and trainer

Open Den of four lions and trainer

Open Den of six leopards and trainer

Open Den of six panthers and trainer

Open Den of six hyenas and trainer

Open Den of four bears and trainer

Open Den of six wolves and trainer

Band Chariot drawn by ten horses carrying Euterpe (muse of music)

Mounted Ladies of the Hippodrome

Mounted Gentlemen of the Hippodrome

Three teams of Standing Roman racers

Three four-horse Roman chariots

Twelve performing elephants

Twelve dromedaries with Asiatic riders

Dragon chariot with harnessed camels

Chariot of India drawn by ten horses

Floats

Cinderella’s Fairy Coach

Bluebeard

Old Woman who lived in a Shoe

Santa Claus

Little Red Riding Hood

Sinbad the Sailor

Mother Goose

A Steam Calliope [a very loud musical instrument that uses steam to power large whistles]

The Crowned Heads of the World accompanied by correctly uniformed military retinues

Emperor of China

King Thibaw of Siam

Khedive of Egypt

Mikado of Japan

Sultan of Turkey

Infant Queen of Holland

King Leopold of Belgium

King Oscar of Sweden

Infant Queen of Spain

King Humbert of Italy

Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany

Queen Victoria

American Allegorical Chariot with representatives of the Army, Navy, Washington, Lincoln, Uncle Sam and the Goddess of Liberty.

The parade route took the band wagon, floats, animals and performers from its grounds down Bank Street to Albert Street, turning onto Lyon Street, and then along Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings before crossing Sappers’ Bridge into Lower Town, passing down Cumberland, Clarence, Sussex and Rideau Streets, before retracing their steps along Wellington and Bank Streets back to the circus grounds. The procession through the streets received a rapturous applause from onlookers, though the Journal noted some casting problems, wryly commenting that it’s impossible to make an Irishman into a Chinese dragoon.

forepaughsellsc-1905deptofminestechnicalsurveyslacpa034081

Parade along Wellington Street of the Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus, c. 1905 with the East Block of Parliament Hill in the background. This circus company, originally a competitor of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, was purchased by James Bailey in the late 19th century and was later acquired by Ringling Brothers following Bailey’s death. Forepaugh & Sells made three visits to Ottawa during the early 20th century. It folded in 1911. Dept. of Mins & Technical Surveys/Library and Archives Canada, PA-034081.

Later that day, the circus put on two performances. Tickets were 50 cents, 25 cents for children under nine years of age. Reserved seats could be purchased at Rosenthal & Company’s Jewellery Store at 89 Sparks Street. There were 110 acts performed in three rings and two stages used simultaneously. Barnum’s advertised that their circus was the only one to have a lady ringmaster and a lady clown. The Journal reported that the performance was a “kaleidoscopic display of leapers, tumblers, gymnasts, equestrian, hurdle riders, aerialist, trapezists and clowns.”  If there was any complaint it was that here was too much to see. Among the aerialist performers were The Three Dunbars and The 3 Flying Dillons. The Meer sisters, Marie and Ouika, billed as Europe’s greatest lady equestrians, also performed. They were reputedly hired at an enormous salary of $100 per day. Swimming exhibits were held in a large tank in the middle of the main tent. Louis Golden dove into a five foot deep tank of water from the top of the tent, fifty-one feet in the air. The wild beasts performed in a special steel-barred arena. Other acts included Johanna, the only giantess gorilla in captivity, chariot races, and champion log rolling.

The featured sideshow was a great Ethnological Congress displaying representatives of “strange and savage tribes arranged in their barbaric clothes.” The people gave exhibitions of war dances, and religious ceremonies using “their own peculiar musical instruments.” Among the peoples exhibited were “Hindoos, Pagans, Cannibals, Idolaters, Vishnus, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Fire and Sun Worshippers.” The Journal highly commended the show as “educational and instructive.” Typically degrading and racist, such “human zoos” were very popular in North America and Europe during the late nineteenth century.

While the circus was only in Ottawa for one day. The food bill for the performers and animals was gargantuan. It was reported that Barnum’s ordered twelve tons of hay, four loads of straw for bedding, fifty bushels, large quantities of vegetables, and 1,400 pounds of meat for the lions and other carnivores. Meanwhile, Ottawa butchers Slattery and Terrance supplied 800 pounds of beef, pork, lamb and other meats for circus members. Twelve cooks made the troupe’s dinner, with sixty waiters serving more than 300 people.

The Barnum & Bailey circus, which went on a five-year tour of Europe, did not return to Ottawa until 1906. Following Bailey’s death in 1906, the Ringling Brothers, who operated the Ringling Brothers Circus, bought Barnum’s. The two circuses were merged in 1919. In mid-January 2017, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that owing to declining attendance and rising costs it would close in May, bringing an end to the Greatest Show on Earth after 146 years.

Sources:

Jando, Dominique, 2016. “Short History of the Circus,” Circopedia, http://www.circopedia.org/SHORT_HISTORY_OF_THE_CIRCUS.

Circus Historical Society, 2002. http://www.circushistory.org/.

Conover, Richard E., 1957. The Affairs of James A. Bailey,” http://www.circushistory.org/Pdf/ConoverJAB.pdf.

Global News, 2017. “Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years,” 15 January, http://globalnews.ca/news/3182186/ringling-bros-circus-to-close-after-146-years/.

Springhall, John, 2008. The Genius of Mass Culture, Show Business Live in America, 1840-1940, Palgrave MacMillan: New York

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1887. “Barnum Coming,” 16 July.

———————————–, 1895. “A Costly Pageant,” 23 July.

———————————–, 1895. “The Circus In Town,” 24 July.

———————————–, 1895. “Barnum and Baily Show Arrives,” 24 July.

———————————–, 1895. “Things Strange and New,” 25 July.

 

 

June & Company’s Great Oriental Circus

12 August 1851

Life was hard in Bytown during the mid-nineteenth century. The small community, which was to become Ottawa, had perhaps 7,000 souls. People laboured long hours, six days of the week, for low pay. For tired workers after-work entertainment options were limited. Many simply repaired to their neighbourhood watering hole. For the well-to-do, Hough’s Dramatic Company, a troupe of five ladies and ten gentlemen, put on dramatic productions—tragedies, dramas and farces—at the Union Hall. A seat at their performances cost 1s. 3d., the equivalent of 25 cents. Those looking to improve themselves could join the Mechanics Institute and Athenaeum or l’Institut canadien français d’Ottawa. Both organizations, which were established in the early 1850s, put on edifying lectures and organized reading rooms and small libraries for their subscribers. For the sportsman, pigeon shooting on Major’s Hill was another popular activity during the annual spring and fall migrations—at least it was until most of the trees were cut down sometime before 1860 destroying the birds’ roosting sites.

circus-june-co-26-7-51

Advertisement for the June & Company’s Great Oriental Circus, The Ottawa Citizen, 26 July 1851.

Given this limited range of entertainment possibilities, imagine the excitement when a circus came to town. For most people, it was their only exposure to the outside world, enabling them to see exotic animals, mysterious peoples, and astonishing acts that they could otherwise only dream about.

The first circus on record to find its way to Bytown was June & Company’s Great Oriental Circus operated by James M. June with his partner Seth Howes. The circus was called “oriental” because the bandwagon used in the parade was drawn by eight camels instead of horses. Typically, the June circus travelled from town to town through New York and New England. But, in 1851, its itinerary included Canada, with stops in Montreal and Toronto before coming to Bytown for a three-day visit from the 12 to 14 August, 1851. As the railway had not yet linked Bytown to the outside world, the circus must have travelled to the town by road—an onerous journey given the quality of inter-city highways of that era. The entrance fee was 1s. 3d. There was no price reduction for children; early circuses did not cater to youngsters.

The June & Co circus entered Bytown with the band car in front drawn by its eight Syrian camels “imported at vast expense expressly for this Establishment.” The circus’s advertisement also promised “a greater variety of startling and attractive entertainments than ever before been given by any single Troupe, for the effectual production of which an ‘Unparalleled Array of Talent’ has been secured.” As you can see, circus bombast started early. Most of the circus performances were equestrian in nature. Featured artists included Laverter Lee, the “great English EQUILIBRIST and DOUBLE RIDER, and his Talented Children.” The very large Lee family, which had immigrated to the United States in the 1840s, was a notable show family that provided a number of fine equestrians. The family is also reputed to have invented the “perch act,” where one performer conducts a series of acrobatic tricks on top of a pole that is being balanced by another performer. William H. Cole and his wife Mary Anne also performed. William Cole was a famed contortionist and clown. His wife was a renowned equestrienne who was billed to have come from Astley’s Amphitheatre in England. Astley’s was a famed London circus performance venue during the nineteenth century. Mary Anne Cole was the star of a show called “EXERCISES OF THE MANEGE.” Other featured equestrians were Mrs Caroline Sherwood, Mr. Lipman, “the distinguished dramatic rider” and Mr Sherwood, “the rapid rider.” The acrobats Messrs MacFarland and Sweet also performed. MacFarland was renowned for having executed eighty-seven successive somersaults. To round out the show was the clown John Gossin. Gossin, who was coming to the end of his career when he performed with the June circus, was a witty raconteur as well as a rider and tumbler. In the course of each performance, which started at 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm each day, the camels were introduced in “a new and magnificent Oriental Pageant” called the Caravan of the Desert, “representing the means of travelling in in the East and an Encampment of Wandering Arabs.”

News of the circus’s arrival in Bytown prompted controversy as well as excitement. A week prior to its appearance, a small critical article appeared in The Ottawa Citizen. It read “He of the Gazette,” in noticing the June & Company’s advertisement in the newspaper, invited readers to “a lecture on the immorality of such exhibitions.”  While unnamed, “he of the Gazette” was William F. Powell, a prominent Bytown citizen who had been the editor of the Bytown Gazette. He was to become the Conservative Member of Parliament for Carleton Country in 1854. (Powell Avenue in the Glebe neighbourhood is named in his honour.)

Robert Bell, the reformist and liberal-minded editor of The Ottawa Citizen, mocked Powell. He opined that June & Co. was a “most respectable company,” and that he was “at a loss to appreciate justly the various performances, and the decent and becoming manner with which it was carried on.” He added “Really the Editor of the Gazette is impayable [priceless], when forgetting who he is, he robes himself in the garb of the casuist, and decides for the spiritual benefit of his townsmen, what sort of amusement they are to have, and what are those which might prove detrimental to their morals.” Given the warm reception given to the Circus by Bytown’s residents, Bell said Powell was “preaching in the desert.”  Bell described the performance of Mrs Cole as “lady-like,” and that she had managed her spirited horse in an elegant manner. He also thought Mrs Sherwood was a good equestrian performer. As well, he praised highly the performance of the circus men especially that of John Gossin who Bell described as “a spirited and merry Clown of the troupe who kept the audience in a constant fit of laughter.” In one of the Circus’s performances, Gossin’s jokes about Powell, elicited “a roar of laughter.” Bell hoped that that would teach Powell that his position in the community “is not such as to warrant his giving advices as to what is morally becoming to the ladies of Bytown.”

If June & Company was the first itinerant American circus to make its way to Ottawa, it was far from the last. Until World War I, few years went by without at least one circus stopping in Bytown and later Ottawa. Once the city was accessible by rail, productions also became bigger and more elaborate owing to both supply and demand reasons. Rail service lifted the constraints on what travelling circuses could transport from town to town at reasonable cost. This allowed them to respond to competitive pressures for new and more bizarre acts from increasingly jaded audiences who had become bored with equestrians, tumblers and clowns, the mainstay of early circuses. Perhaps the greatest circuses of the late nineteenth century that came to Ottawa was the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  So fantastic was the Barnum & Bailey Circus, it warrants its own story.

Sources:

Brown, Col. T. Allston, 1994. Amphitheatres & Circuses, Emeritus Enterprise, San Bernardino, California.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1851. “June and Co.’s Splendid Oriental Circus,” 9 August.

————————-, 1851. “Theatre,” 16 August.

————————-, 1851. “The Circus,” 16 August.

Circus Historical Society, 2002, http://www.circushistory.org/index.htm.

Slout, William L, 2002. Chilly Billy, The Evolution of a Circus Millionaire, Emeritus Enterprise: San Bernardino, California.

 

 

Santa Claus Comes To Town

24 December 1896

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

santa-21-12-1895

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

santa-24-12-1896

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

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

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

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

santa-sparks-24-12-1896

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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