The First Ottawa International Dog Derby

5 February 1930

If you ask most Canadians today to name the principal winter sports, hockey would undoubtedly top any list. Other contenders would include skiing (alpine or cross-country), ice-skating, snow-boarding, bobsledding, and snowmobiling. Curling too would likely make the cut. If people thought about the question a bit longer, dog sled racing might also be mentioned. Today, the most famous dog sled race is the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod from Anchorage in the south to Nome on the western Bering Sea. The race, held annually, covers some of the toughest winter terrain. The race was started in 1973 in part as a means of saving the dog-sled culture and the Alaskan husky, threatened by the growing popularity of the snowmobile. Another prominent sled race is the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile journey, held annually since 1984, from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, tracing the route prospectors took during the great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Despite the high profile of these two races, dog-sledding is pursued by relatively few outdoor winter enthusiasts. But ninety years ago, it was mainstream stuff, with both national and locally-sponsored races known as “dog derbies.” Major sled races of the day included the American Dog Derby of Ashton, Idaho, the Hudson Bay Dog Derby of Le Pas, Manitoba, and the Eastern International Dog Derby held at Quebec City. Just as today’s fans idolize star hockey players, the top sled drivers, such as Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and Finnish-American Leonhard Seppala of Nome, Alaska were household names. Seppala became world famous in 1925 when he and his team of dogs led by Togo, along with other “mushers,” brought much needed anti-diphtheria serum to Nome from Nenana, Alaska, a distance of 600 miles, by sled. Seppala, who drove the most dangerous section across the treacherous ice of Norton Sound in order to save a day’s travel time, handed the serum off to Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his team of dogs led by Balto for the final leg of the journey into Nome. Being the first dog to enter Nome, Balto received the public’s adulation; a fact that didn’t sit well with Seppala who thought his dog Togo was more deserving of honour. A bronze statue of Balto stands in New York’s Central Park, while his stuffed body is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1995, an animated Hollywood movie titled Balto, which was loosely based on the 1925 serum run, was produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures.

In 1930, as part of the Ottawa’s Winter Carnival activities, the Ottawa Business Men’s Association organized the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. Under the leadership of Major F. D. Burpee, the Association raised $3,895 from area businesses and citizens to help fund the event. The Sparks Street department stores Murphy-Gamble and Bryson-Graham donated $100 and $50, respectively. The Ottawa Electric Railway and the Ottawa Electric Company each gave $50, while Thomas Ahearn, the great Ottawa inventor and entrepreneur personally donated $25. Additional funding to cover transportation, as well as room and board for the drivers and their dogs, was provided by the Canadian National Railways and the Château Laurier Hotel. The Château also purchased the gold Challenge Trophy for the Derby winner valued at $1,000.


The Challenge Trophy donated by the Château Laurier Hotel, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 7 February 1930

The 100-mile Derby was held over three days, with the third and last segment of the race taking place on 5 February 1930. The course for the Derby started at Connaught Place in front of the Château Laurier. It crossed the site of the old Russell Hotel, before heading down the Driveway, under the Bank Street Bridge, along Carling Avenue out to Britannia and Bell’s Corners, over to Fallowfield, down a side road to the Prescott Highway (Prince of Wales Drive), then homeward for the “final dash” along the Driveway to the finish line at Connaught Place. Weather conditions for the Derby were perfect—cold and snowy.

The event was open to any individual from Canada and the United States, with teams of no more than seven dogs. The dogs’ feet could be enclosed in protective boots or moccasins. Doping was prohibited. Teams were divided into three groups, with starting positions within each group determined by lot. The starting position of each group rotated so that the sled teams in the first group on Day One would start last on Day Two, and second on Day Three. There were five race judges, among whom were some eminent mushers, including Major Burwash who had gone out to the Yukon in the 1898 Gold Rush and had mushed 175,000 miles through the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

There was lots of pre-race hype. In late January, one of the Derby contestants, Jack “Yukon” Melville, an Algonquin Park camp owner, made a $500 bet with Mayor Plant and Joseph Van Wyck, the manager of the Château Laurier, that he could mush 400 miles from Rochester to Ottawa, and arrive in time for the start of the race. Melville attached long banners to the sides of his sled inviting everybody to Ottawa to advertise the Dog Derby and the Ottawa Winter Carnival. To facilitate Melville’s journey, Mayor Plant wired town mayors along his route. The Ottawa Automobile Club also wired ahead to ascertain snow conditions on the highways. While Melville completed the sled trip, he arrived back in Ottawa one day late, losing the bet and missing the start of the Ottawa Derby, owing to a lack of snow in upstate New York. The unfortunate Melville also broke two ribs setting out from Rochester. However, so delighted was the city, hotel and the Ottawa Business Men’s Association with the massive press coverage of Melville’s journey and the Ottawa Winter Carnival, his losses were covered. “Jack Melville is not going to lose out on his trip, wager or no wager,” the Château’s manager said according to The Ottawa Evening Journal.

With Melville out of the running, eight sled teams showed up on Day One of the Derby on Monday 3 February. However, judges scratched the entry of Mrs E. P. Ricker Jr of Poland Springs, Maine, the only female musher, owing to four of her dogs being injured in a fight. This left seven teams to contest the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. At noon, in front of a huge, frenzied crowd, estimated at up to 20,000 people, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King who attended with his dog Pat, the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon, officially opened the Derby. First away was Harry Wheeler of Grey Rocks, Quebec and his team of five huskies. Next was the crowd favourite, Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and his team of seven greyhound/husky mixed breeds led by Toby. Third out was Leonhard Seppala and his seven huskies, followed by Georges Chevrette of Quebec City. Chevrette’s team of greyhound/husky mixed breeds dashed into the crowds on the word “Go,” forcing people to scatter. Undeterred, Chrevette continued the race after disentangling his team, aided by a helpful bystander. Next came Earl Brydges of Le Pas and his seven huskies, followed by Boston’s Walter Channing and his seven Russian wolfhound/husky mixed breeds. Last, was Frank Dupuis of Berthier, Quebec and his six-dog team, owned by the “Come-On Travellers’ Club” of Quebec. Dupuis, held up by Ottawa traffic, almost missed his start. A bellboy from the Château Laurier rushed out to the starting line with a telephone message to the officials saying that Dupuis was on his way. Arriving a few minutes later, Dupuis, unperturbed by a time penalty, gave a jaunty wave to the crowd, and set out puffing on a big cigar. St. Godard easily won the first leg of the Derby in a time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, many minutes ahead of his nearest opponent.

Day Two was also easily won by St. Godard who set the pace in front of another huge crowd that lined the route. But the second day of the competition was not without its excitement. Frank Dupuis’ dogs got spooked by a heaving throng of people who had pushed their way onto the Driveway track despite police barricades. With no place to go, he and his sled were forced over a snow bank into the railing of the Rideau Canal. As it wasn’t his fault, Derby judges allowed him to restart the race without penalty.


Emile St. Godard led by Toby, The Ottawa International Dog Derby, 1930, Department of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-043702.

The third and final day of the competition also had its share of thrills. Prior to the start of the last lap, judges disqualified Frank Dupuis “for cause,” reducing the field to just six teams. The rumour was that he had mistreated his dogs. Then St. Godard, who had run flawless legs the previous two days, got into early difficulties when his dogs ran into the crowd and tangled their leashes. Although he lost more than a minute of time re-organizing his sled team, St. Godard continued to have commanding cumulative time advantage over his nearest rivals, leaving Seppala and Brydges to fight it out for second place.

As the clock on the old Post Office read 3.04 pm, a loud roar went up from the huge crowd of spectators, many of whom were school children whose principals had given them time off to watch the race. “Here comes St. Godard under the bridge” was the cry as the “The Saint” mushed his way down the Driveway under the Laurier Street Bridge. Onlookers crowded the windows and even the roof tops of the Post Office, the Château Laurier and Union Station. When the leaders swept down the Driveway past the court house, the presiding magistrate allowed people to rush to the eastern windows for a view of the passing sledders. Emile St. Godard won the first Ottawa International Derby in a total time of 8 hours, 13 minute and 23 seconds. Second place went to fellow Manitoban Earl Brydges with a time of 8 hours 33 minutes and 45 seconds. In third place, close behind, was Leonhard Seppala with a time of 8 hours 34 minutes and 13 seconds.

The following evening at the Carnival Ball, hosted by the Ottawa Business Men’s Association, St. Godard strode into the Château Laurier’s ballroom wearing breeches and moccasins with Toby by his side to be presented the gold Challenge Trophy by the Governor General. To honour Toby, the Trophy was filled with milk. Lord Willingdon also gave St. Godard a cheque for $1,000, the purse for first place. (An anonymous sportsman gave St. Godard an additional $300.)  Earl Brydges, the runner-up, received $400, while third-place Leonhard Seppala received $100.

With the Derby judged a huge success, organizers of the Ottawa Carnival hoped that it would become an annual event. While the second Ottawa International Dog Derby, which was also won by St. Godard, was held in 1931, it was to be the last for almost twenty years, a victim of the Depression. In its place a “Junior Dog Derby” for youngsters was organized at Lansdowne Park until it too succumbed.  In February 1949, senior dog-sled racing resumed in the nation’s capital under the auspices of the Junior Board of Trade’s first Winter Carnival. Once again, the Château Laurier’s Gold Challenge Cup was presented to the winner. Annual races were held through the 1950s.

Over a sledding career that spanned ten years form 1925 to 1934, Emile St. Godard, the winner of the first Ottawa International Dog Derby, won more than twenty major races, including the 1932 Winter Olympics held at Lake Placid, New York,  A demonstration sport at that year’s Olympics, St. Godard took the gold medal beating his arch-rival Leonhard Seppala who had to settle for silver. Fellow Canadian Shorty Russick took bronze.

Toby, St. Godard’s lead dog, died from peritonitis in 1934 at the age of nine. Indicative of his fame, many newspapers, including The Ottawa Evening Journal, ran obituaries for the half husky, half greyhound sled dog. Devastated by the death of his devoted friend, to whom he credited his victories, St. Godard retired. He died in 1948 at the age of 43. He was inducted posthumously into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1956, the only sled dog racer so honoured. In 2007, he was also inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Dog sledding has seen a modest revival in recent years, helped by the success of the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races. In eastern Ontario and west Quebec, there are a number of dog sled operators, including Escapade Eskimo, Timberland Tours, and Mush Larose, who offer the chance to feel the thrill of racing across snow-covered fields behind a team of powerful, sled dogs.


Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Emile St. Godard,

Escapade Ottawa, 2016. Activités Extérieure en Outaouais,

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Ottawa, Evening Journal (The), 1930. “State Dog Derby Will be Greatest of Any In Canada,” 18 January.

————————————, 1930. “Course Is Decided For Big Dog Derby,” 21 January.

————————————, 1930. “Dogs To Mush 400 Miles Before February 2 To Win $500 Wager,” 27 January.

————————————, 1930. “Woman’s Entry Leave Field To Seven Men,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Rules For Dog Sled Derby,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Melville Suffers Two Smashed Ribs On Rochester Trip,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “Another Huge Crowd To See Dog Teams Go,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “These Dog Derby Judges Men With A Keen Sense For Adventurous Life,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard’s Team Runs Into Crowd At Starting Post,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard Wins Dog Derby; Brydges Comes Second,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “Godard Sets Up World Record 100-Mile Course.” 6 February.

————————————, 1930. “Toby Attends Ball As St. Godard Gets Beautiful Trophy,” 7 February.

————————————, 1930. “Total Dog Derby Donations $3,895, 25 February.

————————————, 1931. “Goes To Dogs With Great Vigor,” 6 February.

————————————, 1931. “Junior Dog Derby To Be Big Feature Of Carnival Week,” 29 December.

————————————, 1934. “Toby, Famous Lead Dog, Dead,” 31 July.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, 2106. Emile St. Godard,

Mush Larose, 2016. Ottawa Region Harness Dog Sports Club,

Sam Waller Museum, Le Pas, Manitoba, Sled Dog Racing, Community Memories, Virtual Museum,

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Timberland Tours, Avec chiens de traineaux toute l’année,

Yukon Quest, 2016. The 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race – Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska,

The Maxwell Challenge

22 February 1912

By the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, the automobile was no longer the delicate, temperamental curiosity that it was just a decade earlier. In ten years, the internal combustion engine used in most automobiles had been largely perfected. The one-cylinder vehicle, common at the turn of the century, which was noisy, slow and rough to drive, had evolved into a multi-cylinder machine that was, according to the Ottawa Evening Journal, not only a “thing of beauty” but “whisks by you on the street to the tune of a quiet purr, suggesting the passing of a contented cat.” Luxuriously appointed, such cars could go 50 miles per hour compared to less than 20 miles per hour achieved by vehicles a decade earlier, assuming of course drivers could find roads that were not potholed and heavily trafficked by pedestrians and horses.


Cartoon, The Evening Journal, 10 February 1912, artist unknown

For the majority of people, however, owing an automobile was a dream rather than a reality. Prices were high relative to incomes, especially during the years prior to the introduction of the assembly line that lowered production costs. In 1912, there were only 500 automobiles cruising the streets of the capital, up from a dozen ten years earlier. Demand was growing rapidly, spurred by the motor car’s many advantages over a horse-drawn vehicle. While the initial outlay for a car or truck was substantial, motor vehicles were more convenient, faster, and could carry heavier loads over longer distances, though winter motoring was problematic. Macdonald & Co., the concessionaire for Albion vans, advertised that the van “could do the work of six horses.” But the automobile’s appeal went far beyond the practical or the economic.  In 1912, the Journal summed up the automobile’s almost irresistible appeal. “To own a motor car and enjoy the numerous pleasures that such affords is to own a kingdom. The driver’s seat is a throne, the steering wheel a sceptre, miles are your minions and distance your slave.”

Hundreds of small automobile companies sprang up across North America and Europe to meet the burgeoning demand for cars and trucks. Even Ottawa sported its own automobile manufacturer—the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company. At its peak, the firm employed as many as twenty mechanics at its plant located at the corner of Lyon and Wellington Streets, just a short walk from Parliament Hill, with a showroom at 26 Sparks Street. Sadly, the firm only produced cars from 1910 to 1912, and disappeared without a trace like so many of the small, craft-style producers, a victim of strong competition, high costs, and the inability to take advantage of economies of scale.

In mid-February 1912, Ottawa held its first automobile show, hosted by the Ottawa Valley Motor Car Association founded five years earlier. The show, which attracted thousands, was held in Howlick Pavilion at the Exhibition Grounds. (The Howlick Pavilion, also known as Howlick Hall or the Coliseum was knocked down in 2012 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.) Some 37 different automobile marques from Canada, the United States, and Europe were on display, ranging in price from an economical $495 to a princely $10,000. Some brands, such as Rolls-Royce, Ford, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, remain household names today. But most, like Jackson, Russell, Tudhope, and Hupp, are long forgotten except by auto historians and antique-car enthusiasts. Show goers were wowed by the latest advance in automobile technology, the self-starter. No longer did a car owner have to get out and manually crank the vehicle to get it started. The 1912 Cadillac also boasted electric headlights—a first in the motoring world. Up until then, car headlamps were filled with oil and acetylene, and had to be manually lit.

With a crowded field, dealers sought ways of standing out among their competitors. Messrs Wylie Ltd of Albert Street advertised that by buying a Tudhope, a Canadian-built vehicle, purchasers avoided the 35 per cent duty levied on the imported cars. Their advertisement argued that the $1,625 Tudhope should be compared “point to point” to imported cars selling for $2,300. The American-made Cutting, selling for $1,725, boasted of its “big, husky power plant;” the Cutting had participated in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.


Old Ottawa City Hall, Elgin Street, date unknown, site of the first leg of the Maxwell Challenge, William James Topley/Library & Archives Canada, Mikan No. 3325359.

Mr F.D. Stockwell, the eastern Canadian distributor of Maxwell motor cars, manufactured by the United States Motor Company, believed action spoke louder than words. To prove the superiority of his automobile, he loaded his Maxwell touring car with twenty boys and drove it up the steps of Ottawa’s City Hall—a considerable feat given the number of steps and the sharp incline. He then drove the car through the deep snow surrounding the building, and pulled a standard car, allegedly twice the weight of his Maxwell, out of a hole. Leaving City Hall, he repeated his stunt on Parliament Hill, driving up the main walkway and up the steps leading to the front of the Centre Block. He again demonstrated the Maxwell’s ability to plough through deep snowdrifts—an important selling feature for cars at the time since few streets and highways were cleared of snow.

After a copycat repeated the stair trick within a half hour of Stockwell’s stunt, and another competitor called the Stockwell’s actions “cheap advertising,” Stockwell retorted that both had ignored “the snow tests.” He then issued the following challenge.

If there is a man in Ottawa selling a touring car from $1,000 to $10,000 (any standard stock touring car, 5 to 7 passengers, not a stripped chassis or runabout), who will drive his machine up the terrace at the City Hall through the snow bank (not doing the path cut through by the Maxwell) we will immediately deposit $100 against one or more cars depositing a like amount for a contest to take place immediately at the Parliament grounds, or anywhere there is a field of good, deep snow.

The proceeds of the bet would got to the charity of the winner’s choice.

Stockwell invited all of Ottawa to come and see who would “meet the Maxwell at the snow plow game.” While he conceded that there were other good cars, he noted that the Maxwell was the only car that for two consecutive years had completed the Glidden tour with a perfect score. The Glidden tour was an American long-distance, automobile, endurance event that began in 1905. The 1911 tour, held in October of that year, was 1,476 miles long from New York to Jacksonville, Florida. It was the most gruelling event up to that time, with the course running along treacherous roads and across streams. Recall this was long before the United States had constructed its inter-state highway system.


Maxwell Car Advertisement, 1912 (U.S. market), History of Early American Automobile Industry, 1891-1929.

The gauntlet was thrown down at 12.30pm on Thursday, 22 February in front of the Ottawa City Hall. Only the Peerless Garage Company, located at 344-348 Queen Street, the distributor of Cadillac, arrived to pick it up. The judges of the challenge were: Mr R. King Farrow, Mr E. H. Code and Alderman Dr Chevrier. What transpired was not exactly what Stockwell, the Maxwell distributor, had in mind.

At City Hall, the Cadillac went first, easily going up and over the building’s terrace without stopping. Stockwell, the driver of the Maxwell, refused to do likewise, but instead shouted out to the other participant “Come up where we will find some real snow at the Parliament Buildings.” The challenge was immediately accepted. On Parliament Hill, the Maxwell went first, having the choice of where to drive. Unfortunately, the automobile had gone only a few yards before it got stuck in a snowbank. Then, it was the Cadillac’s turn. Starting approximately fifteen feet from where the Maxwell had began, the Caddy drove five to seven times further across the snow-covered lawn in from the Centre Block, thereby winning the $100 wager. The Peerless Garage Company donated its winnings in equal amounts of $25 to four Ottawa charities—the “Protestant Home for the Aged” on Bank Street, the “Protestant Orphans’ Home” on Elgin Street, the “St Patrick’s Orphans’ Home” on Laurier Avenue West, and the “Perely Home for Incurables” located on Wellington Street.

1912 cadillac

Advertisement, 1912 Cadillac, winner of the first Maxwell challenge, 22 February 1912, The Evening Journal, 23 February 1912.

Maxwell’s Stockwell immediately issued a second “Maxwell Challenge.” In a letter to the Evening Journal, he admitted that the Cadillac was a good car, and that “it proved a good snow plow, and was cleverly driven.” After adding that the Cadillac cost $600 more than the Maxwell, and that its wheels were two inches higher, Stockwell attributed the Maxwell’s loss to the “misfortune” of having run into a snowbank deposited by a plough before the car got to the open field. After being pulled off the snowbank, he said that the Maxwell had been able to pass the Cadillac that had foundered in deep snow, “its wheels suspended and running freely in the air.” Consequently, Stockwell claimed that the Maxwell was still the champion. He then sent a letter to the Peerless Garage asking for a rematch “on a course which will permit both cars to enter freely the open field, then let the best car win.” He then handed a $100 wager to the sporting editor of the Citizen newspaper, asking him as well as representatives of the Evening Journal and the Ottawa Free Press to act as judges. When the Cadillac representative refused the challenge, Stockwell upped the wager to $150 from him, against $125 from Cadillac, and set the date of the second challenge to the following Saturday afternoon, 25 February, to take place on the snow-covered lawns of Parliament Hill.

There was no sign of Cadillac that Saturday afternoon. With the field to himself, Stockwell demonstrated the proficiency of the Maxwell motor car in front of a large crowd of spectators. The Journal reported that the automobile entered the field near the foot of the main steps and slowly circled the field, ploughing gracefully through every ice and snow obstacle. “The Maxwell cut through the biggest drifts on Parliament Hill with consummate ease and was only forced to stop through a broken chain grip.” Stockwell then drove the car down the main walkway “amidst enthusiastic applause” from an appreciative audience.

So, who won the Maxwell Challenge? Clearly, the Cadillac won the first challenge. But, Maxwell achieved at least a moral victory through its subsequent, uncontested challenge match. However, in the highly competitive world of the automobile, Cadillac was the ultimate victor, becoming a North American synonym for luxury and success. The Maxwell, on the other hand, disappeared shortly after the First World War, a victim of the post war depression and large debts. The Maxwell Motor Car Company was purchased by Chrysler in 1921. The last Maxwell was produced in 1925 and was replaced by the Chrysler Four.


71st Revival AAA Glidden Tour, 2016. History, 1904-1913,

Bowman, Richard, 2016. Maxwell: First Builders of Chrysler Cars,

Evening Journal (The), 1910. “First Made In This City,” 29 August.

—————————, 1912. “Ottawa, A Popular Motor Car Centre,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. Cutting Cars, 1912. “Gather ’round—Come Close—Listen!,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Motor Car Driving A Recreation In Ottawa,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. “A Maxwell Challenge, $100,” 21 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Stockwell Motor Company of Montreal Issued Challenge,” 23 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Cadillac Easily Defeats Maxwell,” 23 February.

—————————–, 1912. “Re that Automobile Competition, Maxwell Challenge No. 2, 23 February.

—————————–, 1912. “The Maxwell Challenge Was Not Accepted,” 26 February.

Macdonald & Company, 1912. “The Albion,” The Evening Journal, 10 February.

Messrs Wylie Ltd, 1912. “What does 35% duty add to the value of a Car?” The Evening Journal, 10 February.




The Passing of Lord Tweedsmuir

6 February, 1940

Since Confederation in 1867, twenty-nine individuals have held the position as Governor General—the Monarch’s representative in Canada. The current incumbent is Julie Payette. Although most have been forgotten, the names of some continue to resonate today. Lord Stanley of Preston (1888-1893), a hockey enthusiast, is remembered for the Stanley Cup, the trophy he originally awarded in 1892 to the top amateur hockey team in Canada, and now the symbol of North American hockey supremacy. Similarly, Earl Grey (1904-11) is known for the Grey Cup, the trophy he commissioned in 1909 for the champion team of Canadian football.

Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada’s Governor General from 1935 to his death in 1940, is also worthy of remembrance. Scottish by birth, Tweedsmuir is perhaps better known as John Buchan, the novelist. He was created 1st Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield by George V on his appointment in 1935 as Canada’s Governor General. Buchan was the author of more than 100 fiction and non-fiction works, the most famous of which is The Thirty Nine Steps, a novel about a German spy ring in Britain at the outset of the Great War that he wrote in 1914. In 1935, the book was made into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It has been remade at least twice, the latest in 2008 for television by the BBC. Tweedsmuir is considered by many to be the father of the modern spy thriller.  While he was Governor General, he somehow found the time to write three books—the novel The Island of Sheep, a biography of the Roman Emperor Augustus, the manuscript of which is housed at McGill University, and his memoirs, which were published posthumously.

Thirty-Nine Steps

Book Cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps, First Edition, 1915

Tweedsmuir was passionate about Canada, and all things Canadian. In turn, he was much loved by Canadians across the country. He was the first Governor General to be appointed after the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 that effectively gave Canada its independence from Great Britain. Reflecting Canada’s changed status, he was made Governor General by King George V on the advice of the Canadian Government of R.B. Bennett rather than by the British Government. A staunch supporter of Canada’s new autonomy, he was keen to foster the development of a distinct Canadian nationalism at a time when many in Canada still looked first to Britain for leadership. He earned the ire of Canadian imperialists by insisting that the first loyalty of Canadians was to Canada and its King, rather than the British Empire. He was also the main promoter of a Royal Visit that saw King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth come to North America in 1939 not as King and Queen of Great Britain but as King and Queen of Canada.

He also worked hard to foster Canadian unity, travelling extensively across the country. In one trip in 1937, he journeyed more than 12,000 miles, visiting people in every part of Canada, including the far north, a part of the country that entranced him. Instead of the elites, Tweedmuir met with ordinary Canadian citizens of all backgrounds; he was an ardent supporter of Canadian multiculturalism. Reflecting his love of literature, he established in 1936, with the encouragement of his wife, the Governor-General’s Awards for literature, creating awards for the best English fiction and non-fiction writing. The awards subsequently expanded to cover seven categories, including poetry, drama, translation, and children’s literature (text and illustration) in both official languages.


Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, 1935, Author unknown.

Sadly, Tweedsmuir died a relatively early age of sixty-four. At about 9am on Tuesday, 6 February 1940, he “took a weak turn,” and fell heavily in his bathroom at Rideau Hall. He hit his head against the edge of the bathtub, and suffered a concussion. Initial press releases regarding his health were upbeat. Four physicians, two of whom were specialists from the Montreal Neurological Institute, reported a “steady improvement” in Tweedsmuir’s condition. They also stated that he was resting comfortably, and that he was conscious. In reality, however, Tweedsmuir’s condition was grave. Even prior to his fall, he had been in frail health. He had gone to New York the previous autumn for a complete medical, and had declined an offered extension of his term as Governor General on health grounds. The evening after his fall, Prime Minister Makenzie King went to Rideau Hall to check personally on the Governor General’s condition. Although King spoke to the doctors, he was not permitted to see Tweedsmuir. The Governor General was put under 24-hour medical surveillance, with updates on his condition reported regularly to an anxious Canada. The telephone switchboard at Rideau Hall was manned around the clock. With his condition deteriorating, doctors performed an emergency trepanning operation on Tweedsmuir to reduce intracranial pressure.

On the Friday after his accident, he was taken to Montreal on a special three-car train, attended by five physicians. Arriving at Bonaventure Station, he was carried from the train on a stretcher, his head swathed in bandages, and driven by ambulance to the Montreal Neurological Institute. The entire fifth floor was set aside for him, his doctors, Lady Tweedsmuir and one of their sons, the Hon. Alastair Buchan.  The Neurological Institute, considered one of the finest in North America, was built in 1933, and was attached to the Royal Victorian Hospital. Dr Meakins, the Hospital’s chief physician, and Dr Wilder Penfield, Canada’s leading neurosurgeon, as well as Lieut.-Colonel Dr Russell, another neurosurgeon, performed a second trepanning operation on the fading Governor General. Briefly, he appeared to rally, but he suffered a relapse. After a third trepanning operation, which lasted four hours, Lord Tweedsmuir, died at 7.13pm on Sunday 11 February, 1940. He had never fully regained consciousness. The proximate cause of death was a pulmonary embolism due to a clot that had formed in his leg. However, a post mortem revealed that he had suffered a stroke that had caused acute swelling of the right side of his brain. His left side has also been paralysed.

News of his passing was taken hard by Canadians. Prime Minister King described Tweedsmuir as “Canada’s adopted son.” The Ottawa Citizen said that the Governor General had “won the hearts of every person in this great Dominion in an unbelievably short period of time.” The newspaper added that Tweedsmuir was “at once a statesman, an able administrator, a wise politician, a popular novelist, a scholarly biographer, a skilled historian, a clever soldier, and a masterful poet.”

A special funeral train brought Tweedsmuir’s body back to Ottawa, where it laid in state in the Senate chamber. His coffin was escorted to Parliament Hill by representatives of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the 4th Princess Louise Dragon Guards—the two household regiments. The closed casket was draped with the Union Jack. On top of it rested Tweedsmuir’s official Governor General’s hat and sword. At one end laid his medals and honours on a black satin cloth. A wreath of carnations from his wife rested at the foot of the bier. Officers of the Governor General Foot Guards and the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, with their head bowed and their swords reversed, provided a ceremonial guard. Over fourteen thousand men, women and children solemnly filed past his bier in two lines to pay their last respects during the short public visiting period. Many were kept waiting outside in sub-zero temperatures for a chance to enter the Centre Block.

On 14 February, just over a week after his collapse at Rideau Hall, Tweedsmuir was given a state funeral at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street. Three thousand servicemen lined the route of the funeral cortege. His coffin was brought to the church from Parliament Hill by car. After the service, it was conveyed to Union Station on a naval gun carriage pulled by 60 ratings from the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. The chimes on the Peace Tower were muffled. Some 50,000 people packed every inch of the short route to the train station—a solemn counterpoint to the joyous throngs that had filled Ottawa’s streets the previous year when the King and Queen had visited the capital. Millions more listened to the funeral service broadcasted over CBC radio. Schools across Canada were closed to permit children to attend memorial services. Provincial legislatures closed, while municipal governments held remembrance services. Even Mammon took notice of Tweedsmuir’s passing, with the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver Stock Exchanges either closing early or pausing for two minutes of silence.

Following the ceremony, Lord Tweedsmuir’s body was conveyed to Montreal for cremation. His ashes were returned to the United Kingdom, and buried in accordance with his wishes in Elsfield Church in Oxfordshire, England. Until the arrival of the Earl of Athlone, Tweedsmuir’s successor, some months later, Sir Lyman Duff, Canada’s Chief Justice, fulfilled the duties of the Governor General as Canada’s “Administrator.”

Today, Tweedsmuir is remembered in Canada by a provincial park in British Columbia, the John Buchan Senior Public School in Toronto, and streets named in his honour across the country. In Scotland, his life and works are kept alive by the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Museum in Peebles. In 2015, he was named one of fifty Scottish heroes who changed the world.



Hitchcock, Alfred, 1935. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Youtube,

Pearson, Stuart, 2015, Great Scottish Heroes, John Blake: London.

Queens’s University Archives, John Buchan: 1st Barn Tweedsmuir (1875-1940),

The Governor General Of Canada, 2015, Lord Tweedsmuir, 1935-1940,

The John Buchan Museum, 2015. The John Buchan Story,

The John Buchan Society, 2015.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1940. “Steady Improvement In Governor-General’s Condition,” 7 February.

————————, 1940. “Report No Change In Condition Of Lord Tweedsmuir,” 8 February.

————————, 1940. “Anxiety About Lord Tweedsmuir Continues,” 9 February.

————————, 1940. “Lord Tweedsmuir’s Condition Has Improved,” 10 February.

————————, 1940. “Beloved Viceroy Gone,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Canada’s Grief Expressed By Prime Minister,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Governor-General’s Death Ends Life Of Fine Achievement,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Lord Tweedsmuir, The Man,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “State Funeral To Be Conducted In Ottawa, Internment In Britain,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Plans For Nation’s Tribute Are Complete,” 13 February.

———————–. 1940. “More Than 14,000 People Reverently Pass Through Hallowed Halls Of Parliament,” 14 February.

———————–, 1940. “Farewell Tribute Of Nation To Viceroy Is Heartfelt, Inspiring,” 15 February.

———————-, 1940. “Canada Pauses In Tribute To Loved Viceroy,” 15 February.


Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, 1935. Author unknown, Bilan du Siècle, University of Sherbrooke.

The Thirty-Nine Steps, First Edition, 1915, Wikipedia.


Lady Aberdeen’s Historical Fancy Dress Ball

17 February 1896

These days, dressing up in fancy costumes is mostly confined to Halloween parties and fantasy conventions such as Comic Con, where super heroes and fairy princesses abound. But back in the latter part of the nineteenth century, costume parties were very fashionable, especially among the upper and middle classes in Britain and North America. Popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, dress-up balls were quickly adopted by high society. People delighted in wearing fantastic costumes as long as there was some ostensible historical or literary theme to provide social cover; one couldn’t just have fun. Balls hosted by socialites or aristocrats were widely covered by newspapers and magazines just as today’s tabloids report on celebrity events. The names of the invited, the costumes they wore, and the evening’s entertainments were often front page news even in the most serious broadsheet.

For the sexually repressed and sober-minded Victorians, being able to dress up provided relief from convention’s restrictions, as well as scope for self-expression. A lady, whose normal clothing consisted of a floor-length dress with multitudinous petticoats and long sleeves, could provocatively display her ankles, or wear a diaphanous silk gown, as long as she was portraying a peasant girl or some exotic Oriental princess. Instead of a severe chignon, she might wear her hair loose on her shoulders, a style suggestive of the bedroom, without fear of social opprobrium. For a gentleman, the fancy dress ball allowed him to become the peacock. For an evening, a man could put aside his black frock coat in favour of brightly coloured satins, ruffs, and lace, and transform himself into an Elizabethan courtier, a Stuart cavalier, or a Georgian dandy.

Aberdeen Fancy Dress Ball

Lady Aberdeen’s Historical Fancy Dress Ball , Senate Chambers, Ottawa, 1896

While many rented their outfits from professional costumiers, others spent small fortunes having their costumes specially made following extensive historical research. No higher accolade could be received than to be called historically accurate. Even better would be to wear actual period clothing handed down through the generations, or to buckle on an ancestral sword.

In February 1876, Canada’s Governor General, the Earl of Dufferin, and his wife hosted a historical fancy dress ball at Rideau Hall. Lord Dufferin appeared as James V of Scotland, while Lady Dufferin came as Mary of Guise, James V’s wife. The event, which was widely covered by journalists in North America and Britain, put Ottawa, and for that matter Canada, on the social map of the world. No longer could the city be considered a rough, shanty-town in some distant, frigid land. The ball was effectively Ottawa’s “coming out” party.

The Dufferin ball was the talk of the town for a generation. However, by all accounts, it was eclipsed by an even more spectacular ball hosted by a later governor general and his wife, Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Lady Aberdeen, born Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, was the prime mover behind the event. A considerable personality in her own right, she had strong social views, founding the Victorian Order of Nurses. She was also a proto-feminist, establishing the Canadian branch of the National Council of Women whose mission was to advance women through education and encouragement.  She also loved historical pageants and fancy dress. The Aberdeens hosted three major fancy dress balls during the late 1890s, held respectively in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

The first of the three was held in the Senate Chamber in the old Centre Block on Parliament Hill on Monday, 17 February 1896. Its theme was outstanding episodes in Canadian history. It was no accident that the contributions of French Canadians were highlighted. The late nineteenth century was a time of major religious and linguistic divisions in Canada. The decision of the Manitoba government in 1890 to eliminate Catholic public school education, and to make English the sole language of instruction in publicly-funded schools brought these divisions into the open, and threatened the unity of the country. After a number of court decisions, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, Canada’s highest appellant court, ruled in 1895 that the Dominion government had the power to force the province to fund French-language, Catholic schools. This ruling split the weak, vacillating Conservative government of Sir Mackenzie Bowell, some of whose members were anti-Catholic and anti-French. The progressive Lord and Lady Aberdeen, who were very conscious of the prevailing religious and linguistic undercurrents, wanted to underscore and honour the richness of French Canadian history, thereby helping to educate English Canadians about the role played by their Francophone co-citizens in the discovery and development of Canada.

Approximately 1,300 invitations to the ball were sent out in early February, but planning for the event started much earlier. Lady Aberdeen and eight society women (the wives of judges and members of parliament) each took responsibility for enlisting their friends and acquaintances to participate in nine historical groups of twenty or so members. Each group dressed in period costumes, with individuals representing historical figures, such as Jacques Cartier, or supporting characters such as peasants, trappers, and aboriginal peoples. The theme for each group was chosen with the help of Dr John Bourinot, the clerk of the House of Commons, the author of a number of books on Canadian history. In chronological order, the groups included: i) the Voyage of the Norsemen to North America, circa 986-1015; ii) the Discovery of the Continent by Jean Cabot,1497; iii) the Discovery of Canada by Jacques Cartier, 1534-36; iv) the Foundation of Port Royal (Annapolis) and the Settlement of Acadia, 1604-1677; v) the Foundation of Montreal and the Settlement of the Surrounding District, 1641-1670; vi) Days of Settlement and Exploration from Tracy to Frontenac, 1665-98; vii) the Days of Montcalm and Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada, 1754-60; viii) from the Fall of Port Royal (Annapolis) to the Second Taking of Louisbourg, including the Expatriation of the Acadians,1710-58;  and, finally, ix) the Coming of the United Empire Loyalists, 1775-92.

The ball was almost cancelled before the formal invitations went out owing to the death in late January of Prince Henry of Battenberg who was married to Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. Court protocol called for six weeks of public mourning, meaning no court entertainments. Notwithstanding this, the Aberdeens went ahead with their plans. As a nod to protocol, the governor general and his wife did not dress up for the ball. Instead, Lady Aberdeen wore formal court dress with ostrich feathers and veil while her husband wore his official Windsor uniform.

Prior to the big day, the historical groups practiced the period dances they were asked to perform, as well as a number of special poses, or attitudes, that illustrated their particular subject. A dress rehearsal was held two days before the actual ball. Some groups hired dance instructors to help them with their steps as some of the dances were quite intricate. For example, the group portraying Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada performed a quadrille, while the participants in the “Days of Montcalm and Wolfe” danced a faranole. Other dances included a gavotte, a bourrée, and a pavane. For the expatriation of the Acadians, young girls danced around a maypole; there was little reference to the Acadians’ expulsion despite the title of the theme, though perhaps a direct reference to that unpleasantness would not have been well received given the circumstances.

To keep down the personal expenses of guests, Lady Aberdeen invited two costumiers from Montreal to come to Ottawa to help outfit her invitees. People could rent their outfits for the night for $5 to $10 dollars (roughly $100-200 in today’s money). In preparation for the ball, the Senate chamber was closed for two days prior to the big event to permit workmen to lay a temporary pine dance floor at a cost of $25,000, equivalent to at least a half million dollars today, the tab for which was picked up by the Dominion government. This exorbitant cost was later the source of criticism, as was the allegation that labourers worked through the Sabbath to complete the floor in time for the ball.

In addition to the dance floor, bunting and decorations were also installed in the Senate chamber. Each pillar was draped with blue silk banners, topped with a crown. On one side of the vice-regal throne the armorial shields of the governors of New France were installed along with the white royal standard of France decorated with golden fleur-de-lys. On the other side were placed the shields of English governors and Union flags. The escutcheons of Great Britain and Canada were also displayed. One of the galleries overlooking the Senate chamber was set aside for the orchestra, while the Parliamentary rotunda was converted into buffet-style dining room.

The ball began at 9pm, guests having previously arrived on Parliament Hill on sleighs, their invitations checked at the door by policemen. Most of the guests were initially confined to the upstairs Senate galleries to watch the performances of the nine historical groups who began their routines after the arrival of the Governor General and Lady Aberdeen, along with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and Supreme Court Judges.  After each historical groups had performed its dances, their members were formally presented to the vice regal couple. The Aberdeens marked their appreciation for the dancers’ efforts by giving each participant a silver brooch or a scarf pin carrying their family motto, Fortuna sequitur. At about 11pm, the roughly 240 participants in the nine historical groups and the vice-regal party left the dance floor to take refreshments in the Parliamentary rotunda. With the floor cleared, the other guests who had been watching from the upstairs galleries were allowed onto the dance floor. Dancing continued until 5am.

Just before the vice-regal party and the nine groups of historical performers left the Senate chamber, the performers who had played parts of First Nations’ people in the earlier historical groups rushed to the centre of the room war-whooping in a stereotypical display of “the savage Indian.” The impromptu group was led by Hayter Reed, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. Hayter, who was dressed in a full-length, Plains feather headdress, was supposed to represent the sixteenth-century, Iroquois leader Donnacona, who travelled to France with Jacques Cartier. Ostensibly speaking in Cree, with his words “interpreted” by another individual representing the Algonquin chief Tessouat, Hayter spoke of the Indians’ love for the “great chief,” and passed Aberdeen a peace pipe. It was not evident that anybody minded or was even aware of the cultural insensitivity and historical inaccuracy of the portrayal of Canada’s first inhabitants.

The ball was deemed a great success. Toronto’s Globe newspaper said “the brilliant spectacle was beyond comparison.” The Aberdeens could take comfort watching “Montcalm” and “Wolfe” dancing on the same floor. Their efforts at bringing together English and French in harmony was achieved at least for one night, the nation’s linguistic and religious divisions temporarily forgotten.



Bourinot, J. G. 1896. Historical Fancy Dress Ball held in the Senate Chamber, Ottawa, John Derie & Sons Publishers.

Buchart, Amber, 2012. In the Spotlight: An Unofficial History of Fancy Dress, 26 October,

Canadian Museum of History, 2015. Dressing Up Canada,

Cooper, Cynthia, 1997. Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada’s Governors General, 1876-1898, Goose Lane Editions and Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The Globe, 1896. “Vice-Regal Ball, The Brilliant Affair, The Talk of the City,” 19 February.

————, 1896. “Vice-Regal Ball: Senate Chamber Thronged with Youth and Beauty,” 19 February.

————, 1896. “The Commons Bar,” 13 April.

Image: The Aberdeens’ Fancy Dress Ball in the Senate Chambers, Ottawa, Ontario, 1896, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3384402, Samuel J. Jarvis Fonds, C-010108.

Ill-Starred Royal Romance

26 February 1941

Mrs Thorkild Jueslberg died at her Danish estate, Bjergygaard, near Copenhagen on 26 February 1941 at the young age of 43. With Denmark occupied by the Nazis, news of her passing went through consular channels to her widowed mother who was living in California in neutral United States before being relayed to the rest of her family in Ottawa. It was the end of the last chapter of what had been an ill-starred royal romance that rivalled that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer a half century later.

Mrs Jueslberg was born Lois Frances Booth on 2 August 1897, the only daughter of Mr and Mrs John Frederick Booth, and granddaughter of John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s pioneering lumber baron. In late 1923, it was announced that she would wed Prince Erik of Denmark, the first cousin of both King Christian X of Denmark and King George V of Great Britain. The couple had met at Lake Louise, Alberta. At the time, Prince Erik was a rancher near the small hamlet of Markerville, Alberta, located roughly 30 kilometres southwest of Red Deer. Because he was marrying a commoner, Prince Erik, was required, as was customary at that time, to renounce his (distant) right to the Danish throne and forfeit the style “Royal Highness.” Instead, he became known as His Highness Prince Erik Count of Rosenborg.  His wife would receive the title “Her Highness Princess Erik Countess of Rosenborg.”

Princess Erik

Wedding Party of Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik of Denmark, Ottawa, 11 February 1924

On the bright, sunny morning of 11 February, 1924, Prince Erik, accompanied by the bride’s brother, went to city hall for a marriage licence. The city clerk, Mr Norman Lett, described the prince as a “nice, pleasant, young man.” The wedding was held that afternoon at 4pm at the All Saints Anglican Church at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Chapel Street. It was the society event of the age. Some 1,000 guests were invited, including all of Ottawa’s elite. Among the attendees were Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and Sir Robert and Lady Borden. The Governor General, Lord Byng of Vimy, and his wife also attended. Many members of Prince Erik’s family were in Ottawa for the wedding, including his father, Prince Valdemar, and brother, Prince Viggo, who acted as one of the four ushers at the nuptials. Prior to the ceremony, Mackenzie King hosted a reception for the visiting “royals.”

More than 4,000 mostly female spectators jammed the streets around the church to get a glimpse of the bride as she was driven in a limousine the short distance from her family home at 285 Charlotte Street to the church. So great was the crush that spectators who had climbed onto curb-side snow banks to get a better vantage point were pushed into the road, blocking traffic. At the church, guests had difficulty negotiating the crowds to get inside. Mackenzie King, who walked to the church from his home across the street, was lucky. He had arrived early, avoiding the worst of the crush. Other dignitaries fared less well. The Governor General and his wife only managed to get inside with the help of a police escort who had to physically push back the throngs to make way for the vice-regal vehicle.

Notwithstanding the cold, the temperature of the crowd reached a fevered pitch with the arrival of the bride. An awning over the entrance way of the church was pushed off its moorings and began to sway dangerously. Reportedly, Miss Booth said “Oh dear, I’ll never be able to get through.” Appeals from the bride’s father standing on the running board of the limousine, and a phalanx of policemen, were successful in opening up a narrow path up the stairs to the church doors. But the two little page boys who were desperately trying to hold up the white satin train were separated from the bride. It was only with the help of two policemen and a Citizen reporter that the pages were able to gather up the bride’s train and avoid it from being ripped.

On entering the church, the bridal party made their way through six evergreen arches, draped with clusters of southern smilax. White lilies, hyacinths, and freesia perfumed the air. Palm trees and ferns also decorated the church interior. In addition to the bride and groom, the bridal party consisted of a matron of honour, four bride’s maids, (two of whom were daughters of the Earl of Stratford, nieces of the Governor General), four ushers, two flower girls and two page boys. The service was conducted by Rev. J. C. Roper, the Bishop of Ottawa, assisted by Rev. Hepburn, rector of All Saints Church. Miss Booth’s gown was made of white, duchess satin, embroidered with pearls at the yoke, with long plain sleeves edged with pearls and a satin train. Her veil was held in place with a bandeau of pearls and rhinestones. She wore a corsage of rubies and diamonds presented to her by Prince Valdemar, and a diamond bracelet, a gift of her father. Her bouquet was made of lilies of the valley and maidenhair fern. Her attendants wore pale turquoise blue crepe gowns, edged with fur and embroidered with silver and blue forget-me-nots.

After the short ceremony, the bridal party left for the reception held at the bride’s family home. Their departure from the church was even more fraught with difficulty than their entry owing to the crowd of well-wishers and sightseers which had swollen to about 6,000. As Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik left the church, a cry went up “Here they come” which elicited more pushing and shoving. Two women fainted and had to be carried off on the shoulders of policemen. The tattered awning over the church entrance was reduced to a twisted wreck. Police locked arms to force back the crowds to allow the newly married couple to get into their car; lilies were torn from the bridal bouquet, while the bride’s veil was disarranged. Fortunately, there were no serious accidents, and everybody remained in good cheer.

At the Booth home, guests were greeted in the drawing room with refreshments served in the dining room. The pièce de résistance was a four-tiered wedding cake decorated with Danish and British flags, and tiny sugar elephants, emblems of Danish chivalry. Wedding presents were on display in the billiards room; Prime Minister Mackenzie King gave the couple a large sterling picture frame with a photograph of himself. The bride’s father gave the couple a cheque for reputedly $4 million (about $56 million in 2014 money). There was a rumour that her grandfather had provided half of the dowry but this was later denied. The couple also received hundreds of congratulatory telegrams, including ones from King George V and Queen Mary, and Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother. After the reception, the royal couple took a train to Montreal before leaving for New York. They later sailed for London, and then onto the French Rivera, before going to Copenhagen to meet the Danish King.

The couple settled in Los Angeles County, California where they started a chicken farm. There, in 1927, their daughter, Alexandra, was born. Unfortunately, the chicken business failed the following year.  The couple subsequently moved to Denmark, where there son, Christian, was born in 1932.

As was the case with Prince Charles and Diana decades later, the marriage did not last. On 16 November 1934, it was announced that the couple had separated and were seeking permission from the Danish king to divorce. This request was granted and the marriage was dissolved in 1937. Lois lost her titles as Princess Erik Countess of Rosenborg. Days later, on 8 July 1937, it was announced in Copenhagen that she had married her secretary, Thorkild Jueslberg, six years her junior. Jueslberg was the son of the director of the Copenhagen Post Office. After a honeymoon abroad, plain Mr and Mrs Thorkild Jueslberg settled down in the former princess’s Danish estate, Bjergygaard, where she died four year later. After the war, her body was interred, as she had requested, in the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa alongside that of her father.



The Citizen, 1924. “Bright Sunshine For Wedding Of Miss Lois Booth,” 12 February.

—————, 1924. “People of Ottawa Pay Loving Tribute To Their Princess,” 12 February.

—————, 1924. “Wedding Of Miss Booth To Prince Erik Causes Unparalleled Scenes Of   Enthusiasm In Capital,” 12 February.

—————, 1941. “Former Princess Erik, Lois Booth, Passes On,” 27 February.

The Daily Gleaner, 1934. “Danish Prince is Seeking Divorce,” Kingston, Jamaica, 19 November.

The Montreal Gazette, 1937. “Ex-Princess Erik Believed Married,” 9 July.

The New York Times Archives, 1998. “1923: No Longer Heir: In Our Pages: 100, 75, and 50 Years Ago,” 28 December.

Time, 1937. “Milestones,” 26 July,,9171,758044,00.html.

Wikipedia, Count Erik of Rosenborg,

Image: Wedding Party of Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik of Denmark, by Central News, 1924, Royal Weddings in Postcards,




The Phantom Air Raid

14 February 1915

One of the most curious events in Ottawa’s history occurred on Valentine’s Day night, Sunday 14 February 1915, six months after the start of the Great War. At roughly 10.30pm, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, received an urgent telephone call from Mayor Donaldson of Brockville informing him that at least three German airplanes had crossed the St Lawrence River from Morristown, New York. The invaders, apparently seen by scores of Brockville citizens who were returning from Sunday evening church services, had just passed directly over the community travelling in a northerly direction, presumably towards the capital. One of the planes shone a powerful searchlight on the town, lighting up its main street. Reportedly, the planes dropped  “fireballs,” or “light balls,” into the river on the Canadian side of the border. Many Brockville citizens become hysterical.

After receiving the mayor’s call, Borden immediately contacted the Canadian Militia. Meanwhile, Brockville’s chief of police telephoned Colonel Percy Sherwood, Commissioner of the Dominion police regarding the air invaders. At 11.15pm, Sherwood ordered Parliament Hill to be blacked out to avoid giving the raiders an easy target.  While the phlegmatic Commissioner was not unduly apprehensive about the report of approaching enemy planes, he believed it expedient to take precautionary measures, including blacking-out key government buildings. The lights that illuminated the Centre block’s Victoria Tower when Parliament was in session were extinguished. The Royal Mint, which was also typically lit up at night, was similarly darkened. At Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General, the blinds were drawn. Although the Governor General was away inspecting troops in Winnipeg, his wife, the Duchess of Connaught, was in residence. Other buildings observed the black-out as news of the pending attack hit the streets. The Globe newspaper reported that the entire city of Ottawa was in darkness that night.

Victoria Tower

Centre Block, Houses of Parliament, Ottawa, 1914

Despite Ottawa being only 100 kilometres distant from Brockville as the crow flies, aviation experts told the Canadian authorities that it might take until midnight for the invaders to make their way to the capital owing to poor weather conditions, which included low clouds and rain. Recall that planes at that time were lucky to go much more than 100 kilometres per hour under favourable conditions. Smith Falls, Perth, and Kempville, which were on the expected flight path, were alerted, and told to keep a sharp look-out. But midnight came and went without any sign of the intruders.

The next day, newspapers were full of stories on the putative air raid. The Globe’s headline screamed: “Ottawa In Darkness Awaits Aeroplane Raid. Several Aeroplanes Make A Raid Into The Dominion Of Canada.”  In the streets of the capital, citizens experienced a frisson of excitement with the war apparently being brought to the city. The Ottawa Journal reported that “Ottawa feels first thrill of war,” and marvelled that usually reserved Ottawa citizens were stopping complete strangers on the street seeking news of the invaders. In the House of Commons, Sir Wilfrid Laurier rose and asked the Prime Minister for any information that he might be able to provide. Borden confirmed that he had received a telephone call from the Mayor of Brockville, and that he had communicated the news of the expected raid to the chief of the general staff, but he was “unable to give the point of departure of the aeroplanes in question.” That night, fearing that the previous night’s attack might have been aborted owing to bad weather and subsequently re-launched, government buildings were blacked out for a second night. Parliament sat as usual, but behind drawn curtains.

For two hours, Ottawa’s city council debated a motion submitted by St George Ward alderman Cunningham “that in view of the possibility of an air raid on the city hall while this august body is in session, Constable McMullen be instructed to pull down the blinds.” The Ottawa Journal wryly noted that the debate occurred under the glare of 61 electric lights which lit up the building. It also noted that the alderman frequently absented himself from the debate to climb the city hall tower to scan the skies for sight of the approaching planes so that he could be the first to warn his colleagues to take shelter in the cellar.

When no planes appeared, people started to look for other explanations. Quickly, suspicion focused on some Morristown youths, described as “village cut-ups,” who admitted to having sent up three “fireworks balloons” from the American side of the St Lawrence at about 9pm which exploded in the air above Brockville. Giving credence to this story, the remains of balloons with firework attachments were subsequently recovered from the ice on the St Lawrence two miles east of the town, as well as from the grounds of the Brockville Asylum, now called the Brockville Mental Health Centre. The ostensible reason for sending up the balloons was to commemorate the centenary of the end of the war of 1812. More likely it was a prank aimed at scaring Canadians.

Officials in Ottawa didn’t readily believe these reports. The Dominion Observatory reported that the wind that night was consistently coming from the east. It contended that as Morristown is directly opposite Brockville, any balloons sent up from the Morristown area would have travelled to the west, and certainly not in the direction the airplanes were said to have taken. The press also reported that militia authorities were in contact with Washington, and that a thorough inquiry had been set in motion to locate the airplanes’ base of operation.

Across the Atlantic in England, which had experienced its first German Zeppelin air raid just three weeks earlier, the phantom air raid on Ottawa was a source of merriment. By chance, the night after the Ottawa scare, the lights of Parliament at Westminster suddenly went out. Making a reference to the Ottawa raiders, William Crooks, Labour MP for Woolwich cheekily called out in the darkness” “Hello, they’re here!” The House of Commons cracked up with laughter.

So what really happened that Valentine’s Day night? How plausible was an attack on Ottawa?

It wouldn’t have been the first time that armed raiders had crossed the U.S. border into Canada. There were precedents. Less than fifty years earlier, the Fenians, an Irish extremist group, made a number of military forays into Canada across the U.S. border. The Ottawa Journal also claimed that German sympathizers in the United States had contemplated action against Canada during the early days of the war in 1914, going so far as to set up training bases in the United States with the objective of “making a descent upon Canada to destroy canals and railways” before being told to desist by U.S. authorities. Less than two weeks prior to the supposed air raid on Ottawa, Werner Horn, a German army reserve lieutenant, tried to blow up the Vanceboro international bridge between St Croix, New Brunswick and Vanceboro, Maine in an attempt to disrupt troop movements.


British B.E.2c, manufactured by the British Air Factor, Vickers, Bristol, circa. 1914

However, an air raid on Ottawa by German sympathizers seems highly unlikely. While on a sharp upward development trajectory, aviation was still primitive in early 1915, the first powered flight having taken place only eleven years earlier. Even at the front in France, airplanes were then mostly used for reconnaissance. Typical of that era, the British military airplane, the B.E.2c, could stay aloft for only three hours.

The most likely explanation is the toy balloon story, combined with a bad case of war jitters. As suggested by one of the newspapers, the searchlight beam that reportedly lit up Brockville could be explained by a fortuitous flash of lightning while the balloons were above the city. However, the fact that the Dominion Observatory was adamant in its view on the wind direction that night fuelled fears that the bombers were real.

Certain modern-day investigators have a whole different explanation—UFOs. The story of Ottawa’s phantom air raid has featured in a number of books on the paranormal, including The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed. To add grist to the paranormal mills, the same night Ottawa prepared for an air raid, strange lights and planes were apparently spotted over other Ontario towns.


Colombo, John Robert, 1999. Mysteries of Ontario, Hounslow Press.

House of Commons, 1915. “Reported Appearance of Aeroplanes,” Twelfth Parliament, Fifth Session, Volume One, 15 February.

Rutkowski, Chris & Dittman, Geoff, 2006. The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

The Globe, 1915. “Ottawa In Darkness Awaits Aeroplane Raid,” 15 February.

————————, 1915. “Were Toy balloons and not Aeroplanes!” 15 February.

The Ottawa Journal, 1915. “House To Be Dark Again To-night,” 15 February.

————————, 1915. “Wind From East; Fact That Casts Doubt On Toy Balloon Story; But It Seems Most Likely Explanation,” 15 February.

———————-, 1915. “The Air Raid That Didn’t,” 15 February.

———————–, 1915, “Brockville Statement,” 15 February.

———————–, 1915. “Laughing at Ottawa,” 16 February.

Unikoshi, Ari, 2009. The War in the Air, 2007. “The Phantom Invasion of 1915,” Rootsweb, Quebec-Research Archives,

Images: Statistics Canada. Parliament, 1914.

British B.E.2c, circa 1914,

Vexing Vexillology

15 February 1965

Of all domestic issues that the Canadian government had to deal with during the first century following Confederation, the most vexing and enduring was our national flag, or, rather, our lack of one. Canadians couldn’t make up their minds how to be represented. Everybody could agree that the maple leaf was an important Canadian symbol, but that was the end of the consensus. The country was torn, not just down linguistic lines, but also between Canadian nationalists, who wanted something uniquely Canadian, Canadian imperialists, who wished to retain imperial symbols on the flag, and those who wanted a little from column A and a little from column B, to denote “a strong united Canada in a strong united Empire.” It was going to be hard to reconcile these sentiments.

Of course, views evolved and shifted over time. During the early, uncertain years immediately after Confederation, support for the British connection was very strong, politically and emotionally. With the United States casting an avaricious eye northwards, you can appreciate this sentiment. Even Quebecers were content to live under the British flag, in a land that provided a constitutional guarantee for their religious and linguistic rights. The flag most commonly, but unofficially, flown at that time was the British Red Ensign with the provincial shields of the four founding provinces on the fly. As additional provinces joined Confederation, their arms were added.

Canadian Flag 1868

Red Ensign with provincial coats of arms, 1868

While a Red Ensign with a Canadian coat of arms on the fly was approved by the British Admiralty for use by Canadian-registered ships in 1902, at home things seemed to go backwards. The federal government began flying the Union Flag, or Jack, over Parliament Hill after the Boer War reflecting the prevailing strong imperial feelings. But nationalist sentiment surged during World War I. Although Canadian soldiers fought under the Union Flag, they were identified by a maple leaf emblem on their uniforms. With Canada coming of age on the battlefield, and amidst growing national confidence, there was heightened interest in developing a distinctive Canadian flag. In 1922, the government of Mackenzie King replaced the provincial crests on the Red Ensign with the arms of Canada. Two years later, this new Canadian Red Ensign was authorized for use abroad to help identify Canadian foreign legations. However, the Union Flag continued to fly at home.

Canadian Flag, 1921

Canadian Red Ensign used from 1922-1957. In 1957, the colour of the maple leaves was changed to red.

The first flag debate started innocuously. In 1925, the Department of National Defence, noting that the Canadian Red Ensign was used on Canadian-registered ships and at overseas legations, asked for something distinctive to fly at home. King set up a committee of civil servants to come up with something. When news leaked to the press, a firestorm of opposition was ignited, especially in loyalist Ontario.  Demands were made for a parliamentary resolution to confirm the Union Flag as the only official Canadian flag. Heading a minority government, King wilted under the pressure. Disbanding the flag committee, he said that there would be no change in flag unless sanctioned by Parliament.

Proposed Flag, 1946

Proposed Flag, 1946

The Statute of Westminster which effectively gave Canada its independence in 1931 spurred renewed efforts to design a national flag. World War II provided an additional fillip as Canadian servicemen abroad strongly favoured fighting under distinctive Canadian symbols. When Prime Minister King met Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in Quebec City in 1943 to plan the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Canadian Red Ensign flew proudly between Britain’s Union Flag and the American Stars and Stripes over La Citadelle. The following year, the Canadian Red Ensign was authorized for use by the Canadian Army on land. It temporarily replaced the Union Flag on the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill on Victory-in-Europe Day (8 May 1945), and became a permanent fixture there following an order-in-council on 5 September 1945.

Late in 1945, King tried again to come up with a new national flag. A committee examined roughly 2,700 designs submitted by the general public, the majority of which featured some sort of maple leaf motif. But the committee, like its 1920s’ predecessor, struggled to find a compromise between nationalists and imperialists. A vocal minority demanded the Union Flag to be retained. The committee finally agreed to a modest change—the Red Ensign adorned with a gold maple leaf instead of the Canadian arms on the fly. Although it received King’s approval, it didn’t go over well among nationalists both inside and outside Quebec who wanted to eliminate all foreign symbols. With the country still divided, the flag issue returned to the back burner and left to simmer for another twenty years.

The great flag debate of 1963-64 pitted Lester B. Pearson against John G. Diefenbaker. Pearson, at the head of a minority Liberal government, promised that Canada would have a new flag in time for its 1967 centennial. His point man on the flag issue was John Matheson, the Liberal MP for Leeds. Drawing on earlier maple-leaf proposals, and using the red and white colours of Canada proclaimed by King George V in 1921, he suggested a design of three red maple leaves on a white field. Matheson’s simple but striking proposal was subsequently modified by designer Allan Beddoe who added two vertical blue bars on either side to represent the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. A delighted Pearson presented this design to Parliament in June 1964.

Pearson Pennant

The “Pearson Pennant,” 1964

As in the past, the country was riven over the flag question. Diefenbaker, the old Conservative who cherished the imperial connection, fought tooth and nail against what he derisively called the “Pearson pennant.”  Canadian veterans, who favoured retaining the Canadian Red Ensign, booed and hissed at Pearson when the prime minister came to address the Winnipeg Legion in May 1964. But a majority of Canadian were ready for change. A special 15-member committee, chaired by Herman Batten, was given the herculean task of finding a new flag. After gruelling discussions and the consideration of roughly 3,500 suggestions sent in by Canadians, three design archetypes made the finals: a flag containing the Union Flag or fleur-de-lys, a three-leaf flag represented by the Pearson pennant, and a one-leaf flag represented by the red and white maple leaf flag. The third design was inspired by the flag of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In March 1964, Col. George Stanley, the Dean of Arts at RMC, suggested to John Matheson that the RMC’s red and white flag might make a suitable national standard if the RMC crest were replaced with a red maple leaf. With a little tweaking of the design to enlarge the white central panel to better display the single, eleven-point red maple leaf of designer Jacques St. Cyr, our flag was conceived.

RMC Flag

Flag of the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario

When the committee came to choose among the designs, Matheson outmanoeuvred the Conservatives. On a series of votes, the Canadian red ensign was eliminated, as was any new design containing the Union Flag or fleu-de-lys. That left in contention the Prime Minister’s three-leaf flag and Col. Stanley’s one-leaf flag. Expecting the Liberals to support their leader’s cherished “pennant,” the Conservatives voted for the one-leaf flag. But Matheson, realizing that Pearson’s choice was a non-starter, had already solicited the other members’ support for the one-leaf design. When the secret ballots were tallied on 22 October 1964, Conservative members were horrified to discover that it was a unanimous committee decision for the red and white, single-leaf flag.

The kicking and screaming continued in the House of Commons for the next two months but this time the end was in sight. After closure was applied to limit debate, weary MPs voted 163-78 for the single-leaf design at 2:00am on 15 December 1964. Two days later the Senate passed the necessary legislation, and on 24 December Queen Elizabeth gave her approval. A Royal Proclamation, describing Canada’s new flag in appropriate heraldic terms, was released on 28 January 1965.

Maple Leaf Flag

The Maple Leaf Flag Flies for the first time, 15 February 1965

At noon, on 15 February 1965, in front of a crowd of 10,000 on Parliament Hill and in the presence of the Governor General, Georges Vanier, Prime Minister Pearson, and an unhappy Diefenbaker, RCMP constable Gaetan Secours lowered the old Canadian Red Ensign for the last time and raised Canada’s new national standard. As the Governor General’s flag was flying on top of the Peace Tower as protocol demanded, our new national flag was raised on a temporary flagstaff set up specially for the occasion. When it reached the top of the pole, a timely puff of wind unfurled our now much-beloved, red and white, Maple Leaf Flag for all to see. Canada’s official national flag was born.


Archbold, Rick, 2014. A Flag for Canada,

Canada Heritage, 2014. Birth of the National Flag of Canada,

CBC, 2001. The Great Flag Debate,

Fraser, Alistair B., 1998. The Flags of Canada,

Le Citoyen, 1964. “Enfin! Un drapeau canadien,”  16 décembre.

The Globe and Mail, 1964. “Pearson Booed, Hissed Over Maple Leaf Flag,” 18 May.

——————–, 1965. “Pearson’s Address on the Maple Leaf Flag,” 16 February.

——————–, 1965, “PM Proclaims a New Era as Leaf Replaces Ensign,” 16 February.

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The Maple Leaf, 1945. “Canadian Flag,” 7 July 1945.

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