The Queen’s Plate

31 May 1872

The most famous and prestigious thoroughbred horse race in Canada is the Queen’s Plate, open to Canadian-bred, three-year-old horses. It’s also the oldest continuously-run horse race in North America, dating back to 1860, seven years before first running of the Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the “Triple Crown” races in the United States. Over its illustrious history, many members of the Royal family have attended this storied event from Princess Louise in 1881, to the Queen Mother in 1965, and to Queen Elizabeth in 1959, 1973, 1997 and, most recently, 2010. Horse racing is indeed the “sport of kings!”

Queen's Plate 6-5-1872
Advertisement for the 1872 running of the Queen’s Plate, Ottawa Daily Citizen

The story of the Queen’s Plate begins in 1859 when Sir Casimir Gzowski, the president of the Toronto Turf Club, petitioned the Governor General for an annual horse racing prize to be awarded by Queen Victoria to horses bred and reared in Upper Canada (Ontario). He correctly believed that the cachet of winning a royal prize would encourage the development of horse breeding in Canada. Queen Victoria graciously agreed to the request providing an annual prize of 50 guineas for a race to be called the Queen’s Plate. (A guinea is defunct British gold coin no longer minted by the mid nineteenth century but widely used as a unit of account in horse racing, the art world, and certain professions well into the twentieth century. It had a value of 21 shillings sterling.)

The Royal Privy Purse continues to provide this annual prize though instead of 50 guineas, it reportedly sends a bank draft for the sterling equivalent except when a member of the Royal Family is present for the race. Then, the winner receives 50 gold sovereigns in a purple bag. The winner also receives 60 per cent of the race purse of $1 million. Confusingly, the “Plate” is a foot-high golden cup on a black base rather than a plate. (The traditional royal prize for a horse race had been a silver plate, hence the name. However, over time the nature of the prize changed but the name stuck.)

The first running of the Queen’s Plate took place at the end of June in 1860 at the Carleton Race Course in Toronto. It was open to all horses reared in Upper Canada which had never won public money. During the early years of the Queen’s Plate, horses competed in three heats rather than a single race as is the case today. The first winner was a five-year old horse by the name of Don Juan, owned by a Mr. White and ridden by Charles Littlefield. Don Juan came in second in the first heat, but won the second and third heats of the competition over a one-mile track with his best time of 1 minute 58 seconds.

Although the next several Queen’s Plates were held at the Carleton Race Course, it subsequently moved around the province depending on the lobbying powers of various racing clubs and politicians before it settled down for good at the Woodbine Race Course in Toronto in 1883. Until 1956, the race was held at the old Woodbine site at the end of Woodbine Street in Toronto close to Lake Ontario. It then moved to the current Woodbine location on Rexdale Boulevard, north of the Pearson Airport in Etobicoke.  During the Queen’s Plate’s journey around Ontario, the race came to Ottawa on two occasions, the first in 1872 and the second in 1880.

The organization that brought the Queen’s Plate to Ottawa in 1872 was the Ottawa Turf Club, founded in 1869 with the patronage of Sir John Young, later known as Lord Lisgar, the Governor General, who was an avid horseman. The President of the Club was Joseph Aumond, Vice-President was Nicholas Sparks, and  Edward Barber was the Secretary.  While the lobbying of Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier, may have helped the new Ottawa Turf Club win the event, Lord Lisgar was likely the one most responsible for bringing the race to Ottawa. With His Excellency as its patron, the Ottawa Turf Club definitely had the inside track for hosting the event. News that the Queen’s Plate had been conferred on Ottawa was officially relayed to the Ottawa Turf Club in February 1872, with the race planned for late spring. The conditions of the race were: “For horses, geldings or mares, bred, raised, trained and owned, in the Province of Ontario, who have not previously won public money at any race meeting. The whole stake to go to the winner.”

The Club organized a two-day racing extravaganza for Friday and Saturday, the 31th of May and the 1st of June, 1872. The event was held at the new Mutchmor Driving Park which had opened the previous year. The race track and the adjoining Turf Hotel were owned by Ralph Muchmor and Edward Barber, the Turf Club’s Secretary. Total prize money for the two-day event amounted to $2,850—a fair sum in those days.

Long before race time, pedestrians and carriages packed Bank Street, all heading for the race track located now where the Mutchmor Public School is today. Race conditions were perfect with the track having just been rolled after a recent rain. The main attraction of the day was, of course, the Queen’s Plate, the third race of the afternoon. By the time Lord and Lady Lisgar arrived at 3 pm, every vantage point was taken up, the stands filled to capacity with ladies and gentlemen, while less fortunate punters made do with fence tops, and the seats of cabs and wagons. According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, it was difficult to estimate the size of the crowd, but the stands scarcely accommodated a quarter of the numbers. Many of the visitors came from other parts of Canada and even from the United States to witness the Queen’s Plate which was already the highlight of the Canadian racing calendar.

The first race of the day was the $300 Hurdles Race, a two-mile run with eight hurdles 3’ 6” high, which was won by Duffy by three lengths. The second race was the $100 Steward’s Race won by Mohawk who took both heats. Up next was the Queen’s Plate. The prize was 50 guineas ($256), the gift of “Her Most Gracious Majesty.” The winning horse may have received an additional purse but the report relating to this was obscurely written. It read: “T.C.W. Entrance, $10 p.p. to go with the plate.”[1] The Ottawa Turf Club provided $100 to the second-place horse.

Six horses were entered in the 1½ mile race (no heats): Blacksmith, a 4-year old, black horse, with its jockey wearing a black jacket and blue cap; Fearnaught, a bay horse with its jockey in scarlet with a dove colour cap; Alzora, a chestnut mare, whose jockey wore brown and white; Jack Vandall, a bay gelding, its jockey in blue and white; Bay Boston, a 5-year old, bay horse, (colours not identified), and Halton, a 5-year old bay horse whose jockey wore scarlet. Halton was the favourite. Three of the horses in the running, Fearnaught, Alzora and Jack Vandall, had the same sire, Jack the Barber, a celebrated thoroughbred horse originally from Kentucky.

Queen's Plate Canadian Museum of History
The Trophy awarded for winning the Queen’s Plate, Canadian Museum of History.

At post time, there were four false starts. But after they were finally off, it was deemed a “splendid race.” After the first half mile, it became apparent that the race belonged to Fearnaught, with the favourite, Halton, fading. In a time of 2 minutes 54 ½ seconds, Fearnaugh, ridden by Richard Leary and owned by Alexander Simpson, won the 13th running of the Queen’s Plate. Jack Vandall came in second and Halton third. Richard Leary, the winning jockey who was also a resident of Ottawa and the horse’s trainer, was presented with a gold-mounted riding whip by Mr. William Young of the firm Young & Radford, a watchmaker and jewellery manufacturer located at 30 Sparks Street.

Two more races followed the Queen’s Plate to round out the racing for the afternoon. These were the $300 Tally Ho! Stakes and the $150 Memorial Plate.

Betting had been fierce in the lead-up to all the races. But all the favourites came up short that day causing “a monetary twinge among the sporting fraternity,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Pelting rain almost caused the postponement of the second day of racing from the Saturday to the following Monday. Racing on a Sunday, the Sabbath, was forbidden. However, as many of the horses were slatted to race in Montreal the following week, the decision was made to go ahead on the principle “run, rain or shine.” Fortunately, at race time the clouds cleared, though attendance suffered. Four more races were held: the $600 Carleton Plate; the $400 Lumbermen’s Purse; the $300 Merchants’ Plate; and, finally, the $150 Consolation Stakes. There was a bit of excitement surrounding the running of the Lumbermen’s Purse. Owing to “a misunderstanding or improper interference,” the race had to be run twice. People almost came to blows before the Club Secretary announced that all pools and bets were off for the race.

The Ottawa Turf Club, the host of the 1872 Queen’s Plate, disappeared from the Ottawa racing news in the decade following its big race weekend but not before becoming mired in controversy. At the end of a racing fixture held in October 1874, the Club held a “deer hunt” as a grande finale to the day’s events. A half-starved deer was released onto the field. It was barely able to run having been cooped up in a small cage, its joints stiffened from lack of use. Instead of taking off into the nearby bush to be hunted by a pack of dogs followed by riders, it stumbled into the crowd. It only took ten seconds for it to be taken down and torn to pieces by the hunting dogs amidst the spectators’ carriages. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thought that this was a case for the S.P.C.A. and “hoped that the people of Ottawa will never be asked to patronize such a “sport” again.”

The Ottawa Racing Association hosted the 21st running of the Queen’s Plate at the end of June 1880. It was the second race of the first day of racing entertainment again held at the Mutchmor track. Five horses were at the post come race time; a sixth, the mare Footstep, had been pulled on a challenge on the grounds of ineligibility since it had not been trained in Ontario. The winner was Bonnie Bird, owned by John Forbes and ridden by Richard Leary, the same jockey who rode to victory in the 1872 Queen’s Plate. Bonnie Bird also ran he following day in the first Dominion Day Derby carrying five pounds extra owing to having been the Queen’s Plate winner. Owing to a very bad send off, Bonnie Bird was virtually out of the race at the start but Richard Leary, the jockey, somehow manage to close the gap with the leaders on the turn but was unable to catch Lord Dufferin who won by a length.

Today, Ottawa horse-racing fans can enjoy standardbred harness racing at the Rideau Carleton Raceway on the Albion Road. But if you want to dress up, wear a fascinator, and otherwise enjoy the excitement of the annual running of the Queen’s Plate, you will need to head to the Woodbine Race Track in Toronto.

Sources:

Anderson-Labarge, 2015. “Canada History Week: Spotlight on Sports (Part 2),” Canadian Museum of History, https://www.historymuseum.ca/blog/canada-history-week-spotlight-on-sports-part-2/.

Buffalo Commercial, 1861, “Great Race at Detroit,” 10 July.

Daily Citizen, 1872. “The Queen’s Plate,” 16 February.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club Races,” 31 May.

—————–, 1872.  “Ottawa Turf Club,” 1 June.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club,” 3 June.

—————–, 1880. “Mutchmor Park,” 2 July 1880.

Dulay, Cindy Pierson, 2018. “2010 Queen’s Plate Royal Visit,” Horse-Races.Net, http://www.horse-races.net/library/qp10-royal.htm.

Rideau Carleton Raceway, 2019. https://rcr.net/.

Smith, Beverley, 2018. “Horse Racing: Queen’s Plate,” Globe and Mail, 17 April.

Wencer, David. 2019. “Toronto’s Horse Racing History,” Heritage Toronto, http://heritagetoronto.org/torontos-horse-racing-history/.

Woodbine, 2019. Queen’s Plate 2019, https://woodbine.com/queensplate/.

Wikipedia, 2019. Queen’s Plate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Plate.

[1] Thanks to Kathy Krywicki’s interpretation, this cryptic phrase likely means that the Queen’s Plate was an entry in the Triple Crown Winner series, and that the $10 per entry free was included in the prize.

Bob, the Fire Horse: The End of an Era

25 September 1929

On 25 September 1929, The Ottawa Evening Journal reported the death of old “Bob,” a twenty-five year old horse. It was front page news as Bob wasn’t just any horse but was Ottawa’s last fire horse. The red ribbon and cup winner at the Ottawa Horse Parade passed away in pasture, honourably retired for more than a year. He had been purchased by the Ottawa Fire Department (O.F.D.) in 1908 at the age of four from Hugh Coon. Standing 16 hands, 2 inches tall (66 inches) from the ground to the top of his withers, the jet black, 1,300 pound horse served four fire stations during his lifetime, retiring from the No. 11 station at 424 Parkdale Avenue. Old Bob wasn’t the last horse in active service, but was the last owned by the O.F.D. In late 1928, the last two-horse team, also at service at No. 11 station, was displaced when the O.F.D. purchased three motorized combination ladder and hose trucks. When the team was sold, only Bob was left, pensioned off in recognition of his many years of noble service to the City. His retirement to greener pastures was controversial. Ottawa City Controller Tulley opposed Bob’s pensioning. A delegate to the Allied Trades and Labour Association meeting held in Ottawa in the fall of 1928 wanted to know if Tulley thought the old horse deserved to be shot, and whether the councillor favoured the same treatment be given to other old employees.

Fire Station No.2 Ottawa, Topley Studio LAC PA-012920, c. 1880
A Horse-Drawn Hose Reel with 500 feet of hose wrapped around the axle in front of No. 2 Fire Station, 123 Lyon Street at Queen Street, 1880. Left to right: Richard Waggoner, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Stanford. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-012920.

Bob’s passing marked the end of an era dating back to 1874 when the City purchased the first horses for its fire department. Prior to then, firemen had to pull their fire engines manually to the scene of a fire. The first fire engine in the city dated back to 1830 when the British regiment stationed on Barracks Hills, now called Parliament Hill, acquired the Dominion, a small manually operated machine. A volunteer fire department was formed in 1838. Later, the first fire hall was established on the ground floor of Bytown’s (later Ottawa’s) City Hall on Elgin Street. During these early years, insurance companies played a major role in fire-fighting, even providing the fire equipment. The first fire stations date from 1853 when the Bytown Town Council established three “engine” houses in West, Central and East Wards, each equipped with hand-pulled engines. In 1860, the now City of Ottawa purchased two hook and ladder trucks. As each weighed more than a ton, they were supposed to have been drawn by horses. But the City was too cheap or too poor to provide the funds for horses so the engines had to be manually pulled to fires.

The volunteer fire department was neither well managed, nor very professional in its operations. According to David Fitzsimons and Bernard Matheson who wrote the definitive history of the Ottawa Fire Department, there were complaints in the 1850s of volunteers who were quick to show off their sky-blue and silver laced uniforms in parades, but were no-shows when there was an actual fire. To “secure the utmost promptitude in the attendance of the different [fire] companies and water carriers at fires,” the City began to offer in the mid-1860s significant financial premiums to first responders. “The first engine to arrive in good working order” received $12, the second $8. The first water carrier received $2 and the second $1. Although such financial incentives did indeed encourage prompt service, they also led to fisticuffs between competing firemen with fires sometimes left unattended. Even when fire fighters managed to arrive at a fire without delay, there was the occasional problem. In 1914, Mr. J. Latimer, a fire department veteran, recalled a major fire in the Desbarats building located on the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets that occurred in February 1869. When the fire threatened to spread to the neighbouring International Hotel, barrels of liquor were rolled out into the street to keep them safe from the flames. In the process, some were broken open and at least two detachments of firefighters went home “wobbly” and had to be replaced before the fire was extinguished.

The first fire horses arrived in 1874 when the City acquired the Conqueror steam engine with a vertical boiler from the Merryweather Company of Clapham, England for the huge sum at the time of $5,953. Considerably heavier than other fire equipment, Ottawa was obliged to buy horses to pull it—anywhere from three to six depending on weather and road conditions. That same year, Ottawa’s volunteer fire department was replaced by a professional, full time force under the leadership of Chief William Young and Deputy Chief Paul Favreau.

The first motorized fire engines were introduced in North America during the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1906, the Waterous Engine Works Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota and Brantford, Ontario produced the Waterous Steam Pumper. That same year, the Knox Automobile Company of Springfield, Massachusetts produced its motorized fire engine. Such machines quickly became popular with fire departments everywhere. Compared with horse-drawn engines, the new motorized engines were faster and cheaper to operate. Horses needed to be fed 365 days of the year, and required stabling, shoeing, harnesses, and veterinary care. Fire horses also needed to be well trained. They had to be strong, obedient, and willing to stand patiently regardless of weather conditions, noise, and swirling hot embers, flames and smoke. Motorized fire engines didn’t need to be trained, were impervious to weather, and consumed gasoline only when used.

Ottawa purchased its first motorized fire engine in 1911 following pressure from insurance companies that threatened to raise their rates if the City didn’t get into the twentieth century and acquire modern fire-fighting equipment. Chief John Graham was also insistent that the City buy motorized fire equipment for efficiency and effectiveness reasons. Although the initial outlay for a motorized fire truck was higher than that of a traditional horse-drawn vehicle, the operating costs were lower.

Fire engine tender 13-3-1911
Call for Tenders for Ottawa’s first motorized fire engine, 10 March 1911, The Ottawa Evening Journal

Chief Graham had recommended buying a motor fire truck costing $10,450 from the Webb Motor Fire Apparatus Company of St Louis, Missouri. However, City Council chose a vehicle produced by the W.E. Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company of Walkerville, Ontario (now part of Windsor), the Canadian subsidiary of a company of the same name that had been established in Ohio in 1881. The company had previously sold three of its motorized fire engines to Vancouver in 1907 and one to Windsor in 1910. The four-ton, 80 h.p. Seagrave vehicle purchased by Ottawa carried a price tag of $7,850.  It was a combination chemical and hose truck capable of carrying ten firemen, two 35 gallon tanks of fire-suppressing chemicals, 1,000 feet of 2 ½ inch hose, a twelve-foot ladder plus extension, door openers, and three fire extinguishers. Fully loaded, the vehicle could attain a speed of up to 50 miles per hour on flat terrain (typically 35 mph), or 20 mph on a 5-10 per cent incline. The City had initially sought a combination automobile pumper truck with a pumping capacity of 700-800 gallons per minute. However, it opted instead for the chemical and hose truck on the grounds that a pumper truck had not yet been adequately proven though tests were underway in New York City on such vehicles.

Fire Apparatus, Ottawa, 1914 Topley Studio LAC PA-032798
The Seagrave Chemical Hose Combination Truck, Ottawa’s first motorized fire truck, 1914, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-032798.

The new Seagrave truck was shown off to Ottawa residents at the end of May 1911 when it was run out on the road with its siren shrieking for the first time. Chief Graham invited reporters to witness the truck take him, two deputy chiefs and several firemen on a tour of Ottawa along Rideau, Sparks, Bank, Elgin, Laurier and Albert Streets. It visited No. 3, 7, and 2 fire stations before parking at its new home at No. 8 station located to the rear of the Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street. In town for the event was Mr W.E. Seagrave himself and an instructor, Mr C.E. Fern, who drove the vehicle that first time. Fern taught Fireman James Donaldson of No. 9 station how to drive the newfangled machine.

The Ottawa Evening Journal hoped that the purchase of the Seagrave vehicle marked the start of a complete replacement by Ottawa of its horse-drawn vehicles by motorized fire trucks. (The second motorized vehicle purchased by the O.F.D. was a flash car for Chief Graham who could then retire his horse and buggy.) At that time in 1911, Ottawa’s fire department owned 46 horses, for which the cost of feed alone amounted to $4,600 per year. This was the department’s second largest budgetary item after paying the firemen’s salaries. On top of this were the ancillary costs associated with owning and taking care of horses that needed to be regularly replaced. The newspaper thought that by 1931, the whole O.F.D. might be equipped with motorized vehicles. This was a pretty accurate guess, with the motorization process taking twenty-seven years.

Fire Car Chief Graham William James TopleyLibrary and Archives CanadaPA-010055
Chief Graham & assistants in auto “Fire Brigade”, 1911, William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-010055.

The last major event that saw horse-drawn engines in action was the fire that consumed the old Russell Hotel in the middle of April 1928. By the end of that year, the entire Ottawa Fire Department had been motorized, leaving only old “Bob” to live out his days in green pastures far from the smoke and flames of his fire-fighting days.

Today, the Ottawa Fire Department has forty-five fire stations strategically positioned to protect close to one million people living in an area of 2,796 square kilometres. Among its equipment are pumper trucks, ladder trucks, rescue trucks, and brush trucks as well as boats, ATVs and other rescue equipment.

Sources:

Fire-Dex, 2011. The Switch from Horsepower to Motorized Fire Apparatus, September, http://www.firedex.com/blog/2011/09/21/the-switch-from-horsepower-to-motorized-fire-apparatus/.

Fitzsimons, David R. & Matheson, J. Bernard, 1988. History of the Ottawa Fire Department, 150 Years of Firefighting, 1838-1988, Kanata: J. B. Matheson and D. R. Fitzsimons, publishers.

Morgan, Carl, 2015. “Seagrave: Birthplace of the Modern Firetruck,” Walkerville Times Magazine, http://www.walkervilletimes.com/seagrave.htm.

Ottawa, City of, 2017. About Ottawa Fire Services, https://ottawa.ca/en/about-ottawa-fire-services#our-services.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1911. “Fire Chief Wants A Motor Engine,” 26 January.

——————————, 1911. “City Will Purchase An Auto Fire Engine,” 10 February.

——————————, 1911. “Read Tenders For Furniture,” 7 April.

——————————, 1911. “Deputy Chief At Eganville,” 12 May.

——————————, 1911. “Using Automobiles For Fire Purposes,” 29 April.

——————————, 1911. “Shriek of New Engine Was Heard,” 1 June.

——————————, 1914. “With the Ottawa Fire Fighters In Bygone Days,” 7 March.

——————————, 1928. “Labor To Take Keen Interest In Coming Vote,” 22 September.

——————————, 1928. “Only Two Horse In Fire Service,” 9 November 1928.

——————————, 1929. “Last Fire Horse Dies In Pasture,” 25 September.

——————————, 1930. “Chief Burnett Dies At Home Was Long Ill,” 3 November.

Saskatoon, City of, 2000. History of Webb Motor Fire Apparatus, http://digital.scaa.sk.ca/gallery/fire/webb.htm.

Wildfire Today, 2016. Horse-drawn fire engines, http://wildfiretoday.com/2016/09/05/horse-drawn-fire-engines/.

The Great Epizootic

12 October 1872

Imagine waking up one morning to discover that all motor vehicles had stopped working—no buses, no cars, no trucks, and no airplanes. People wouldn’t be able to get to work or school unless they lived close by. There would be no deliveries of food and merchandise to stores. Farmers would be left with mounds of rotting produce in the field, while factories would grind to a halt owing to a dearth of spare parts and absent workers. Meanwhile, police, firefighters and other emergency response workers would be unable to respond to urgent calls for help. Government would cease to function (okay, there might be an upside). In short, it would be a nightmare.

Rather than being a script worthy of a Hollywood post-apocalyptic movie, this effectively happened during the autumn of 1872, with disastrous consequences right across North America. It all started about fifteen miles north of Toronto during late September of that year. Horses in the townships of York, Scarborough and Markham began to sicken, coming down with a sore throat, a slight swelling of the glands, a severe hacking cough, a brownish-yellow discharge from the nose, a loss of appetite and general feebleness. Veterinaries hadn’t seen anything like it before. On 30 September, Andrew Smith, veterinary surgeon of the Ontario Veterinary College in Toronto, found fourteen stricken horses in one stable. Three days later, three-quarters of the horses in the district were infected.

The disease quickly spread to Toronto and beyond. It was reported in Ottawa on 12 October, and within a month had reached the east coast. Only Prince Edward Island, cut off from the mainland, escaped the disease. Horses in the United States also began to sicken, the disease striking Buffalo and Detroit by 13 October, and spreading within days to all the major cities on the eastern seaboard. The illness was identified in Chicago on 29 October after a number of horses imported from Toronto a few days earlier fell ill. By mid-March 1873, the disease had reached all the way to California, in the process disrupting a war between the U.S. cavalry and Apache warriors underway in Arizona Territory. With their horses incapacitated, cavalrymen and warriors fought on foot. A year after the Toronto-area outbreak, the illness had spread south to Nicaragua in Central America. The epidemic became known as the “Great Epizootic,” since it was an epidemic than infected animals, or “Canadian horse distemper.”

The horses were ill with equine influenza which we now know is caused by two types of related viruses, equine 1 (H7N7) and equine 2 (H3N8). But at the time, it was widely believed that the disease was due to something in the air. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported that it was the opinion of a well-known veterinary surgeon that the disease was caused by atmospheric influences, “probably having some connection with [] recent thunderstorms.” The disease was typically not fatal, having a mortality rate of 1-3 per cent though it reached 10 per cent in some areas. However, the morbidity rate approached 100 per cent.  Horses were left incapacitated for up to a month, hobbling transportation across the continent.

Epizootic
Advertisement appearing in The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 21 October 1872

Within ten days of its first appearance in Ottawa, the situation had become serious in the capital, with the disease having “assumed a violent form as to cause considerable anxiety to horse owners.” All public livery stables were affected, as were an increasing number of stables owned by private citizens. By 21 October, veterinaries were dealing with hundreds of cases each day. It was estimated that fewer than 50 horses in the Ottawa region were unaffected. The horse-drawn street railway service that provided public transit from New Edinburgh through downtown to LeBreton Flats was temporarily suspended when all but six of its horses came down with influenza. One died.

The Ottawa Daily Citizen recommended that infected horses should be kept warm in well-ventilated stables and fed soft food, such as oatmeal, boiled oats, or gruel. To promote an appetite, the newspaper suggested that owners try to temp sick horses with a carrot or apple.  It also recommended cleaning out stables with bromo-chloralum, a deodorant and disinfectant. According for an advertisement for the product, it protected against “atmospheric influences which contribute to the spreading of disease.”

Small-town Ottawa got off lightly. Big U.S. cities like New York City and Boston, where horses were crammed together in dirty, multi-storied, urban stables, fared far worse. In New York City, more than 30,000 horses sickened within the course of a few days. At least 1,400 animals died of the disease. City transit failed, a major inconvenience for people living in the suburbs. Businesses and draymen, who transported goods on flat-bed wagons, were reported to be the worst affected. In Boston, oxen were brought in to replace sick horses on some transit lines. Tragically, on 9 November 1872, a fire started in a hoop-skirt factory in downtown Boston. In normal circumstances, it would have been easily contained. However, with all its horses down with the flu, the fire service was unable to respond in time, and the fire quickly got out of control. More than 775 buildings housing in excess of 1,000 businesses were destroyed. As many as twenty people perished.

The economic consequences of the disease as it spread across the continent were immense. In addition to cities coming to a virtual standstill for close to a month, traffic on the important Erie Canal from New York to Buffalo came to a halt as the horses that pulled the barges sickened. Even railways were affected as they ran out of coal that was shipped to rail terminals by horse-drawn wagons. Things got so bad that the United States was forced to import healthy horses from Mexico. Many economists believe that the Great Epizootic  set the stage for the “Panic” of 1873, an economic depression that lasted for six years. The disease underscored the fragility of an animal-dependent economy.

Epizootic Map
Map of North America showing the spread of the epizootic from Judson, A., 1873. “History and Course of the Epizootic Among Horses Upon The North American Continent, 1872-73.”

The epidemic was the first disease whose advance was closely tracked across a continent. In the process, it became abundantly clear that “atmospheric conditions” had nothing to do with the contagion. A study of the disease debunked the idea that “cold, heat, humidity, season, climate, or altitude” or any other “unrecognized atmospheric conditions” had any bearing on the disease. Rather, the disease was spread “by virtue of its communicability.”  Everywhere the disease struck was in contact with other places by means of horses or mules. Supporting this conclusion was the fact that isolated places, such as Prince Edward Island in the east or Vancouver Island in the west, were spared the disease; PEI was cut off due to bad winter weather, while a quarantine against the importation of horses was established on Vancouver Island. This analysis helped overturn the “miasma” theory of disease, which attributed illnesses to poisonous vapours, in favour of the “germ theory” of disease. It also set the stage for a better understanding of how disease is transmitted among humans, something that would become of vital importance less than fifty years later with the spread of the Spanish flu, a similar human disease that conservatively killed fifty million people at the end of World War I.

Sources:

Churcher, C. 2014, “Local Railway Items from Ottawa newspapers—1872,” The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “Ottawa City Passenger,” 19 October, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Circle/Papers%20by%20Year/1872.pdf.

——————–, 2014, “Local Railway Items from Ottawa newspapers—1872,” The Ottawa Free Press, 1872, “Ottawa City Passenger,” 23 October, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Circle/Papers%20by%20Year/1872.pdf.

Facts on File, 2014. Great Epizootic, Entry 602, http://www.fofweb.com.

Judson, Adoniram, B. M.D., 1873. “History and Course of the Epizootic Among Horses Upon The North American Continent, 1872-73,” American Public Health Association, Public Health, Reports and Papers, 1873.

Heritage Restorations, H2012. “The Great Epizootic of 1872,” SustainLife Quarterly Journal, (Fall), Ploughshares Institute for Sustainable Culture, http://www.heritagebarns.com/the-great-epizootic-of-1872/#.U-NlzfldWSp.

Horsetalk, 2014. “How Equine Flu brought the US to a standstill,” 17 February, http://horsetalk.co.nz/2014/02/17/how-equine-flu-brought-us-standstill/#axzz36dPerMyd.

Murnane, Brigadier Dr. Thomas, 2014. James Law, America’s First Veterinary Epidemiologist and The Equine Influenza Epizootic of 1872, The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation, http://www.lrgaf.org/medical/jameslaw-murnane.htm.

Passing Strangeness, 2009. The Great Epizootic, 13 May, http://passingstrangeness.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/the-great-epizootic/.

The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “Epizootic,” 21 October.

The Public Ledger, 1872. “The Epizootic in the United States,” 16 November.

Mass Transit

15 August 1866

Mass transit began in Ottawa almost a year before Confederation. On 15 August 1866, the legislature of the Province of Canada, granted a charter to the Ottawa Street Passenger Railway, also known as the Ottawa City Passenger Railway (OCPR), to provide a public transportation system for the city. As the name of the company suggests, the system was rail based. But, unlike trains, it was horse powered.  Horse-drawn carriages with wheels that fitted on steel tracks were an efficient, low-cost means of moving people in the days before electricity, or the invention of the car. They could pull a bigger load than non-railed vehicles, such as omnibuses, and provided a smoother ride owing to less rolling resistance, i.e., friction. Friction was something roads in the 19th century had lots of.  In those days before asphalt, Ottawa’s byways and highways were dusty and rutted in summer.  In winter, when they weren’t dangerously slippery, they were snow-bound, and rutted. In spring and fall, they were quagmires, thick with glutinous mud.  Crossing a street, let alone walking any distance, was fraught with perils to both body and clothing. But a railed, horse-drawn carriage was largely immune to these risks. The horses didn’t seem to mind the uneven or muddy terrain. Their hooves unerringly found sold ground, pulling their passengers in relative, though Spartan, comfort along the smooth rails. Mind you, it was hardly rapid transit. But this was a slower, more measured age than today.

In 1866, the government was keen to have a transit system in Ottawa. Already the capital of the Province of Canada, it was about to become the capital of the much larger Dominion of Canada. With all those politicians and civil servants having to get to work, it wouldn’t do for their daily commute to become bogged down in mud; a convenient, mass transit system was important for civic mobility as well as civic pride. But while Ottawa had great prospects, it was still a small town. At a stretch, it might have had 20,000 inhabitants at the time of Confederation. Montreal had a horse-drawn rail system, but its population was at least five times bigger. Even so, the Montreal service wasn’t profitable. Consequently, to have a similar service in Ottawa, the government was willing to offer major concessions. The charter it awarded to the OCPR was in perpetuity—a unique feature. As well, unlike in Montreal, the OCPR was neither required to maintain the roads on which the railway ran, nor to build anything but the main line, though the company could build branch lines if it desired. Furthermore, the OCPR did not have to provide a minimum number of hours of service per day, and its rates were unregulated. In 1867, The Ottawa Citizen commented that even if the company’s immediate prospects were limited, the charter would likely to prove very valuable in the long run. It noted that similar railways in American cities were “the most profitable of all investments,” and that “their value is yearly increasing, they are subject to no fluctuations, can have no competition, no risks of fire, and must endure as long as the population.” The newspaper also noted that the Ottawa service would run from one burgeoning suburb through the heart of the city to another flourishing suburb, unlike passenger railways in other cities which ran from city centres to sparsely populated outskirts.

The Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company, Circa 1871
The Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company, Circa 1871, LAC

Under the company’s charter, the OCPR could begin operations once $30,000 of its capital had been subscribed by shareholders and twenty per cent paid up. But despite the Citizen’s endorsement, it was a hard task to persuade people to invest in the venture. It didn’t help that the company’s first president was G.B. Lyon-Fellowes, a dodgy lawyer who had been jailed for vote-stuffing after winning a seat in the Province of Canada’s legislature in 1857. He would later briefly become mayor of Ottawa in 1876 in another tainted election but died in office before an investigation into election fraud was completed. Matters improved once Thomas C. Keefer, one of Canada’s foremost engineers, became a director of the company in 1867 and later its president. In early 1868, Thomas Reynolds, managing director of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway, provided the needed additional funds to get the OCPR “on track.” The government also waived its requirement that the Ottawa portion of the railway be completed by 15 August 1868, giving the company an additional year. The OCPR began operations on 20 July 1870. Horse cars ran every 15 to 20 minutes; the fare was six cents.

The line started on what was then known as Ottawa Street (now Sussex Drive) in the Village of New Edinburgh, roughly at the corner of John Street. Leaving the Village, it made its way down the length of Sussex Drive to Rideau Street. Turning onto Sappers’ Bridge, the railway went down Sparks Street to Bank Street. It then headed north for a block, turning left onto Wellington Street, to Duke Street in LeBreton Flats and, finally, to the Union Suspension Bridge, the location of the Chaudière Bridge today. When it commenced operations, the company had six carriages, drawn by a stable of thirty-six horses. In winter, the horses pulled sleighs. The rail service proved to be instant success, carrying 273,000 people during its first year of operation.

Although Ottawa residents welcomed the new transit system, there were problems. Merchants complained about the loss of street parking along the line, and the extent the railway would be double tracked. Others worried about the impact of the line on property values, and the safety of pedestrians. The latter was a real worry; the railway’s first fatality occurred in 1871 when an eight-year old boy was hit near New Edinburgh. City officials, resentful of the special privileges of the company, complained that railway workers were not grading the streets properly after laying the railway, and that the OCPR was using a different gauge from that used by other passenger railways which meant that vehicles couldn’t run inside its tracks. It later squabbled over the maintenance and cleaning of roads.

In August 1889, the railway added a Rockcliffe extension to its route to increase ridership on the New Edinburgh to Centre Town route. The extension, which cost $4,500, linked the railway to an existing ferry service to Pointe-Gatineau in Quebec, thereby providing a convenient method of transportation into Ottawa for people living along the Gatineau River. The new route also gave Ottawa’s citizens easy access to Rockcliffe Park. At the time, this was a remote area which many city residents had never visited. It quickly became a favourite picnicking area; more than 200 people visited on the second day the extension was open and “were charmed with the locality,” said the Ottawa Free Press.  The service ran from May through to December.

There was one hitch that marred early jaunts to the Park. The sometimes fraught relationship between the OCPR and the City of Ottawa had led to a four hundred foot gap in the line between the end of the main line and the new extension that started close to Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General. Unbeknownst to railway officials when they started construction on the extension, the City of Ottawa owned a small stretch of roadway which the company wanted to use. Unwilling to pay what President Keefer though to be excessive fees for the use of the road, a gap was left in the line.  Passengers heading for Rockcliffe Park were met at John Street by a wheeled carriage which took them to the start of the extension at no extra charge. The “missing link” was not closed until May 1891.

Notwithstanding The Citizen’s contention that the horse-drawn railway would endure as long as Ottawa had a population, the OCPR didn’t last long. The horse-drawn service was eclipsed by the Ottawa Electric Railway Company that, starting in 1891, offered a faster and more comfortable electric streetcar service. Later that same year, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company bought a controlling interest in the OCPR. By 1893, horse-drawn, public transit in Ottawa was no more.

Sources:

Burghardt, E., 2013. “Horses, streetcars, and light rail: A look at Ottawa’s transit systems,” Gazette, University of Ottawa, http://www.gazette.uottawa.ca/en/2013/05/horses-streetcars-and-light-rail-a-look-at-ottawas-transit-systems/.

Churcher, C., 2014. “Local Railway Items from Ottawa Papers, 1889,” Ottawa Free Press, 1889. “Ottawa City Passenger, Rockcliffe,” 2014, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Circle/Papers%20by%20Year/1889.pdf.

—————, 2014. “Local “Railway Items from Ottawa Papers, 1889,” Ottawa Journal, 1889. “Ottawa City Passenger, Rockcliffe,” 5 August, http://www.railways.incanada.net/Circle/Papers%20by%20Year/1889.pdf.

McKeown, B., 2006. Ottawa’s Streetcars, Railfare, DC Books, Pickering.

Mullington, D., 2005. Chain of Office: Biographical Sketches of the Early Mayors of Ottawa (1847-1948), General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

The Citizen, 1910. “Ottawa Electric Railway Has Reached Its Twentieth Birthday,” 22 October.

——————–, 1986. “OC Transpo,” 25 April.

The Evening Citizen, 1933. “Horse Vehicles Couldn’t Run In Rails Of The Street Cars,” 7 January.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1867. “Ottawa Street Passenger Railway,” 27 February.

Trout, J. M & Trout, E. 1871. The Railways of Canada, 1870-71, The Montreal Times, Toronto.

Wyatt, D. 2014. All-Time List of Canadian Transit Systems, http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~wyatt/alltime/ottawa-on.html.

Wikipedia, 2014. Ottawa Electric Railway, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottawa_Electric_Railway#CITEREFWetering1997.

Image: Library and Archives Canada