Stony Monday Riot

17 September 1849

We like to think of Canada as a peaceful nation, full of considerate, tolerant folk who respect authority, accept people’s differences, and, generally, rub along pretty well. In reality, we have had, and sadly continue to have, our share of ethnic, religious, and linguistic strife. And, while we have been able to avoid bloody revolution or civil war, it was a close call on a couple of occasions. We had a narrow escape in 1837-38, when rebellions broke out in both Lower and Upper Canada against repressive, corrupt, local oligarchies. A combination of military action by British soldiers and local militias, and subsequent enlightened political measures by leaders like Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, diffused the situation, paving the way for responsible government, i.e. a government that reflects the will of an elected assembly rather a cabal of unelected, powerful individuals, or, as our American cousins might say, “a government by the people, for the people.”

We had another close call ten years later. In 1849, an elected Reformist government in the Province of Canada passed a bill that financially compensated owners for property destroyed during the 1837-38 Rebellion in Lower Canada. The bill covered everybody except those who had been convicted of treason. Conservatives, called Tories, were outraged that people who had opposed the Crown in the Rebellion would be eligible for compensation. Despite his own misgivings and Tory pressure, the Governor General, Lord Elgin, signed the bill into law in April 1849—an act that underscored the newly established principle of responsible government. An enraged, largely Anglophone, Tory mob in Montreal, then the capital of Canada, pelted Elgin with eggs, and burnt the Canadian Parliament to the ground. With Montreal deemed unsafe, the search began for a new capital.

In 1849, Bytown, as Ottawa was then known, was little more than a village that had grown up around the Ottawa River end of the Rideau Canal. Like the country, it too was politically divided between Reformists and Tories. Loosely speaking, for there were many exceptions, Lower Town residents, mostly working class, Roman Catholic, Francophone and Irish settlers, supported Reform, while the wealthier, largely English, Protestant elite of Upper Town favoured the Tories. Against the backdrop of the troubles in Montreal, Reformist municipal leaders in Bytown called for a town meeting to be held on Monday, 17 September 1849 in the Market Square. On the agenda was the organization of an appropriate reception for Lord Elgin who was expected to visit Bytown as he made his way on a tour of Upper Canada. Leaders also proposed sending a letter to the Governor General to, among other things, express their respect for the Governor General as the Queen’s representative, to place before him the town’s “wants and wishes,” and to underscore the merits of Bytown as a “site for the future Capital of the Province.”

One might think that a vice-regal visit to Bytown would have had the support of Tory Loyalists, especially as they had a lot to gain from the town being selected as the new capital of Canada. However, bearing a grudge against the Governor General for signing the Rebellion Losses Bill into law, they were hotly opposed. According to The Ottawa Advocate, a Tory newspaper, the proposed letter to Lord Elgin was inflammatory. On the Sunday prior to the day of the meeting, Tory supporters, “fully armed and equipped,” began to pour into Bytown from surrounding farming communities, including Nepean, Gloucester, Fitzroy, and North Gower. Their intent was to suppress the meeting. According to The Packet, the main body, roughly 500 men, had arrived by wagon by mid-morning, and were met by Bytown’s Tory leaders, one of whom was the mayor, Robert Hervey. At 1.30pm, they marched to the site of the meeting only to be confronted by an equally large crowd of Reform supporters. Initially, there was no trouble, but as Edward Mallock, the M.P. for the county, and Reformist leaders, Charles Sparrow and Joseph-Balsora Turgeon (both later mayors of Bytown), rose to speak from a platform erected at the south end of the Market Square facing York Street, they were shouted down by the Tory mob. Within minutes, a bloody brawl broke out. Sticks and stones were liberally employed, giving rise to the day’s name “Stony Monday.” When a shot rang out, there was a “general run for Fire-arms,” with up to fifty shots fired. More than two dozen men were wounded. Many fled to the nearby Shouldice Hotel (today, a restaurant at 62 York Street) for safety. Although the newspaper reported that there had been no deaths, a Methodist bystander, David Borthwick, was fatally shot in the chest.

Robert Hervey, 1820-1903, Mayor of Bytown during the Stony Monday Riot
Robert Hervey, 1820-1903, Mayor of Bytown during the Stony Monday Riot

Within twenty minutes of the start of the riot, the Canadian Rifles were mobilized under the direction of Mayor Hervey.  After marching through Lower Town arresting Reformists, the soldiers took control of the Market Square. There, Tory supporters passed their own resolution to write a letter to the Governor General expressing their “unqualified disapprobation of the unprecedented course pursued by Your Excellency’s present advisers, whose whole system of policy in the Administration of public affairs in this Colony, from the day of their assumption of power to the present time, [they] must unhesitatingly and emphatically condemn.” The draft letter was read out loud by Hervey.

According to The Packet, a Reform organ, the Tory letter to Lord Elgin was “steeped in the blood of … fellow-citizens, and adopted at a moment when their hired bullies were butchering the peaceable Inhabitants (Reformers).”  After a series of “violent speeches,” Mayor Hervey swore in special constables who, at the head of the mob, paraded through the streets. The mayor urged fellow Tories to reassemble two days hence, on the Wednesday, and to come “fully equipped for war.” The purpose of this assembly is unclear.

The next day, Tuesday, was fairly quiet, with both sides preparing for battle. Early on Wednesday, Reformers from near and far poured into Lower Town, while Tory farmers from neighbouring farming communities returned to reinforce their Upper Town allies. The Packet described both sides as being “completely armed as if the Country were in a state of civil war.” Tory supporters mustered on the brow of what is now Parliament Hill overlooking the canal. After being addressed by their leaders, including Mayor Hervey, the mob moved eastward down Wellington Street. Meanwhile, the Reformists, who had formed up in the Market Square, moved to intercept the Tories. The two groups, of roughly equal size, totalled at least 1,000 men. At 2pm, armed with rifles and bayonets, and apparently cannon, they came face to face on Sappers’ Bridge, the only crossing over the Rideau Canal linking Upper and Lower Towns. Fortunately, a small contingent of brave soldiers, this time acting in an impartial fashion, interposed themselves on the bridge between the two hostile parties. The situation grew tense. A Tory “proposition” to charge the troops went unanswered. Already taut nerves were rattled when Reformists fired a volley of shots into the air, reportedly to empty their guns as a prelude to leaving. After a face-off lasting two strained hours, Tory supporters, under a “Party Flag,” marched away to a tune played on a fife and drum. A parting volley of shots was fired into the air. With the Reformists also standing down, the troops returned to their barracks.

The Packet opined that if it wasn’t for a number of fortunate occurrences, most importantly the timely intercession of the troops, “one of the bloodiest tragedies on record would for ever hereafter have blacken the character of this fair Town, and made it unfit as a residence for any man but him unfit for civilized society.”  The newspaper marvelled in despair saying that a “stranger may well ask, —Can it be true? …Can such a scene have occurred in the middle of the 19th century in enlightened Canada?” The answer was a disturbing yes.

The drama was not quite over. Men arrested by the troops the previous Monday appeared in court on Thursday. With a large crowd outside, their cases were adjourned. Meanwhile, troops seized a private arsenal of arms, including cannon, from a property owned by Ruggles Wright, Senior, on the Hull side of the Union Suspension Bridge. The soldiers arrested Wright, along with Joshua Wright, Ruggles Wright, Junior, and Andrew Leamy. After being detained at the guard-house, the men were released on bail. The soldiers also temporarily detained reformers, John Scott, Bytown’s first mayor, and Henry Friel, editor of The Packet; Friel later became mayor of Bytown and Ottawa.

In the end, most of those charged in the affray were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Nobody was ever charged with the death of poor David Borthwick. In 1853, Lord Elgin was courteously and enthusiastically welcomed to Bytown, which Queen Victoria selected as the new capital of Canada in 1857. Robert Hervey, the mayor who had led the Tory assault on the Reformers, left Canada in 1852 for Chicago where he became a prominent lawyer.


Byward Market, 2013, History,

Groundspeak, 2015, Stoney Monday Riot – Bytown (Now Ottawa), Ontario –Infamous Crime Scenes on,

The Globe, 1849, “The Bytown Riots: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” 27 September.

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

The Packet, 1849, “State of Bytown During The Past Week,” 22 September.

————-, 1849, “The Late Riots,” 29 September.

Image: Robert Hervey, 1820-1903, Library and Archives Canada, C-002049,

Strike! En Grève!

14 September 1891

For the majority of people in Canada during the nineteenth century, life was hard. If you managed to avoid the myriad of killer diseases that prematurely snuffed out the lives of many, you could look forward to long hours of backbreaking work, regardless of whether you lived on a farm, or in one of Canada’s growing urban centres, such as Ottawa. In the sawmills and lumber yards of the Chaudière, the typical work day started at 6am and finished at 6pm, with an hour off for dinner; often people were forced to work much longer. Sunday was the only day of rest. Wages were low. According to an 1886 Royal Commission, domestic servants earned $6-8 per month, with room and board. Adult male workers at John R. Booth or Erskine Bronson’s sawmills brought home $1.00-1.50 per day, while women doing piece work in Ezra B. Eddy’s match factory in Hull could look forward to the munificent income of $0.35-0.75 per day. Boys and girls earned a pittance. Fortunately, prices were much lower than today. Very roughly, a weekly wage of $7.00-$9.00 might be equivalent to $150-200 per week today. But work was often seasonal; the sawmills and lumberyards of the Chaudière closed during the winter.

Working conditions were also poor. Accidents on the job maimed or killed many each year at a time when there was no workmen’s compensation. If you couldn’t work, you weren’t paid. Match workers, usually women or girls called allumettières, faced the horrible prospect of contracting phossy jaw, the colloquial term for phosphorus necrosis, through their exposure to white phosphorus used to make match heads. Phossy jaw caused terrible jaw abscesses, organ failure, brain damage, and, ultimately, death. Respiratory disease was rampant among lumber workers who laboured in poorly-ventilated, dusty sawmills. Sawdust, dumped into the Ottawa River, polluted the water on which residents relied. In the cramped, unhygienic, wooden shanties constructed on LeBreton Flats and in Hull close to the Chaudière mills and lumberyards, typhoid and other waterborne diseases flourished.

Emblem of the Knights of Labor
Emblem of the Knights of Labor

In the late nineteenth century, mutual aid societies, co-operatives, and unions emerged with the objective of improving the lives of working people, a development encouraged by the passage of the Trade Unions Act of 1872 by the government of John A. Macdonald; hitherto, union activity had been viewed as illegal conspiracy. Early unions active in Ottawa included the Canadian Labour Protective Association (1872) and the Canadian Labour Union (1873). Also prominent were the Knights of Labor, an American union and political movement that had begun in 1869 as a secret society. Although the movement had its dark side in the United States, where it was involved in anti-Chinese riots in the west, it was progressive in other respects, supporting gender equality, and equal pay for equal work. It also welcomed black members, though it condoned segregation in the U.S. south. By the 1880s, it had hundreds of thousands of members, and had opened branch assemblies in Canada, including in Ottawa and Hull, despite opposition from the Catholic Church.

The Knights of Labor were prominent in the great Chaudière strike that began on 14 September 1891. For the next month, lumbermen and sawmill workers staged an impromptu and illegal labour walk-out over a pay cut unilaterally imposed by the lumber barons. The strikers also wanted a reduction in their long working hours. While strikes were legal back in those days, six months’ notice had to be provided to management. Napoléon Pagé, a journalist who had started the Hull assembly of the Knights known as the Canadienne, was a prominent strike leader, though the Knights of Labor never endorsed the strike given the legal requirements to call a walk-out; they officially favoured arbitration. Nonetheless, Pagé’s newspaper, Le Spectateur, became the voice of the striking workers. Also prominent among the leadership of the mill and lumber workers was J. W. Patterson, head of the Ottawa Trades and Labour Council, and Napoléon Fateux (or Fauteux). Fateux, a mill worker, was a particularly effective leader, counselling restraint and peaceful assembly. He warned against mixing strike activity with alcohol, and urged older workers to curb young hotheads.

1891 was a bad year for the Canadian lumber industry. Important markets in Britain and South America were weak owing to a global economic recession; the previous year, an international financial crisis had erupted when Baring Brothers, an important British banking house with a global reach, almost collapsed owing to huge losses on its investments in Argentina. The company was famously rescued by the Bank of England.  In response to weak demand and low lumber prices, the Chaudière lumber barons cut the weekly wages of sawmill workers by 50 cents. They also failed to live up to an earlier promise to reduce the work week to ten hours. When George Pattee refused a demand from workers at the Pearly & Pattee Lumber Company to restore the 1890 wage rate, on the grounds that he was only following the policy set by the lumber industry, his workers struck. Quickly, workers at other sawmills and lumberyards downed tools. At its greatest extent, some 4,000 workers had walked off the job—a huge proportion of Ottawa-Hull’s population, which perhaps totalled 50,000 at that time. Large public meetings were held in both Hull and Ottawa, attracting many thousands of people.

The strike was marred by violence and intimidation on both sides. On 15 September, more than two thousand workers marched from the wharf opposite the Booth mill in Ottawa across the Union Bridge to the Eddy match factory. There, the strikers confronted Ezra Eddy himself and other managers. A man, identified by the sobriquet “Red Moustache” violently kicked Eddy in the stomach before the mob dispersed. Later that same day, C.B. Wright, a sawmill owner, told a delegation of strikers that he was prepared to defend his mills “at the rifle muzzle if necessary.” Subsequently, Mr. Ruggles Wright fired blank rifle shots at workers in an attempt to intimidate them. In the ensuing affray, C.B. Wright was injured. There was more violence at the Mason family mill, where the father was roughed up, and his two sons, William and George, were cut by thrown stones.

Ezra Butler Eddy, 1827-1906, Owner of E.B. Eddy Company and sometime Mayor of Hull, Quebec
Ezra Butler Eddy, 1827-1906, Owner of E.B. Eddy Company and sometime Mayor of Hull, Quebec, Library and Archives Canada, PA25792

Ezra Eddy, who was also the mayor of Hull, persuaded two justices of the peace to call out the militia. Two companies of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and two companies of the 43rd Battalion were called up to report to the Drill Hall at 5am on 16 September. The part-time troops, who were mostly civil servants, were armed with bayonets and live ammunition, though their commander, Lt-Col. Anderson, warned them not to take offensive measures without the command of their officers. The soldiers marched from the Drill Hall to Eddy’s in Hull, where two companies were deployed to avert trouble; the remaining two companies were stationed at the Hurdman sawmill. Fortunately, nothing happened. The strikers remained peaceful, and the soldiers were quickly demobilized after a workers’ delegation, which included Napoléon Fateux and J. W. Patterson, convinced Ezra Eddy that the troublemakers were not mill men, but outsiders. The workers’ delegation also promised to assign men to protect private property.

This was not the end of the violence, however. At the end of the month, there was a serious clash at the Perely & Pattee Company when strikers attempted to stop lumber shipments leaving the mill. Chief McVeity of the Ottawa police force and his men responded with batons “in a lively style,” according to The Ottawa Evening Journal. Striking workmen responded by throwing stones and sticks. Serious injuries were averted by the timely arrival of Napoléon Fateux who succeeded in restoring peace. The ferocity of the police response led public opinion, which already broadly supported the strikers, to swing even more in their favour.

Church, civic groups, small merchants, and individuals contributed money and goods to help families of the strikers. At the peak, more than 200 families were being helped daily. Special shops for strikers were established in Place du Portage in Hull and in LeBreton Flats. Strike relief funds were also provided by other unions, both in the Ottawa area and outside, though the amounts raised were small.

By early October, cracks in the owners’ façade were beginning to show, especially after an attempt to use scab labour brought in from Pointe Gatineau failed when striking workers persuaded strike breakers to desist. As one brought-in worker explained, it was “better to stop work and live a little longer.” On 3 October, work resumed at the Hurdman mill in Hull. While the owners had not budged on pay, they instituted a ten-hour work day.

But the workers were also at the end of their tether. On 12 October, more than 1,100 men returned to work on the old terms; that is to say, no raise and no ten-hour day. More followed. As the Journal put it, “men were, with scarcely an exception, heartily weary of hanging around doing nothing, with empty pockets, on the threshold of winter.” Although most mill owners had provided no concessions, rumours of change were rife. The following day, Perely & Pattee reversed the 50 cent reduction on the face-saving grounds that the men had returned to work of their own free will. The other lumber companies quickly followed suit.

By the time the strike ended, at least 1,000 experienced millworkers and lumbermen, short of money, had left Ottawa-Hull. Some 600 went to the Saginaw region in Michigan, which had its own lumber industry. Consequently, the Chaudière lumber companies had difficulty in quickly restoring full operations. With the balance of power shifting towards the workers, the ten-hour work week was finally implemented in 1895.


Kealy, Gregory S. 1995. Workers and Canadian History, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Martin, Michael, 2006. Working Class Culture and the Development of Hull, Quebec, 1800-1929,

Morton, Desmond, 1998. Working People: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Labour Movement, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1891. “Violence,” 15 September.

————————, 1891. “Strikers’ Meeting,” 15 September.

————————, 1891. “The Strike,” 16 September.

————————, 1891. “Nothing Done,” 17 September.

————————, 1891. “Hard Knock,” 30 September.

————————, 1891. “Work Stopped,” 1 October.

————————, 1891. “Buzzing Again,” 12 October.

————————, 1891. “”Back to Work,” 13 October.

————————, 1891. “50 Cents More,” 13 October.

National Capital Commission, 2013. “Donalda Charron and the E.B. Eddy Match Company: Working Conditions,”,

Images: Knights of Labor,

B. Eddy, Library and Archives Canada, PA25792,

Hull and Ottawa in Flames

26 April, 1900

It was a balmy spring morning. The temperature was on its way to a high of 17 degrees Celsius, with a strong wind out of the north, gusting to about 60 kph. At about 10.00am, the chimney of a small wooden shack located close to the intersection of St. Rédempteur and Vaudreuil Streets in Hull (approximately the current home of the St. Rédempteur community health centre) overheated, setting the shack’s shingle roof afire. Passersby didn’t take much notice. Fire was perennial hazard among the wooden homes of Hull, and there was nothing to distinguish this blaze from the many others successfully attended to by the Hull Fire Department. But this was not any fire. Fanned by the strong winds, the blaze quickly got out of control. By noon, a fire storm had engulfed downtown Hull, forcing thousands to flee for their lives. The speed of the advancing fire was so fast that many left their homes with few possessions beyond the clothes on their backs. Firefighters were helpless in the face of the advancing flames. Within two hours, virtually everything within a several block area was destroyed, including the Court House, Post Office, the Imperial Hotel, an Anglican Church, newspaper offices, as well as numerous shops and residences. The only major building left standing was the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Capriciously, the fire also spared the city jail which was at rear of the gutted Court House.

Hull In flames
Hull in Flames, 26 April 1900

The fire then spread to the many timber yards and mills lining the Ottawa River, including those of the E.B. Eddy match and paper factories, and the Hull Lumber Company.  Millions of dollars worth of lumber was lost to the flames. Mr. Eddy described the fire as “a snow storm of particles of fire.” Leapfrogging from island to island, the fire traversed the Ottawa River. The wooden interprovincial bridge across the Chaudière rapids was also set ablaze severing the only land link between Hull and Ottawa. Of the many industrial building located on Victoria and neighbouring islands, only two survived. The metal sheathing on the Bronson and Weston Carbide Works saved that building from the flames, while staff at the J.R. Booth Sawmills, managed to douse flying embers that menaced the plant using a water system installed four years previously after an earlier mill fire.

By 1.00pm, flying red-hot embers and flaming shingles ignited Bronson’s wharf on the Ottawa side. Shortly afterwards, the nearby lumber yards that lined the shoreline went up in flames. Heading south, the conflagration consumed factory after factory, including the Baldwin Iron Works, the Victoria Foundry, the Ottawa Saw Works, the Martin and Warnock Flour Mills, and the flour mill and grain elevators of McKay Mills Company. Also destroyed were the Erskine Presbyterian Church, the House of Mercy and the Canadian Pacific Railway Station located at LeBreton Flats, along with its adjoining goods sheds and coal yards. Electrical power to Ottawa failed when the power houses of the Ottawa Electric Railway Company and the Electric Lighting Company went up in flames. The lack of lighting added to the misery of the Capital’s citizens. Parliament adjourned when their lights failed though many parliamentarians had already left their desks to monitor the advancing flames.

Through the afternoon and evening the fire worked its way south, devastating the LeBreton Flats area, destroying the shops and homes of mainly poor, working class citizens. However, the wealthy were not spared either. The $100,000 home (more than $2 million in current dollars) of J.R. Booth also went up in flames. The district looked like a war zone consisting of burnt-out columns of smouldering debris.  Only two buildings were spared, the No. 1 Fire Station and the Couillard Hotel located next door to each other on Duke Street.

The fire burnt its way through Rochesterville located to the south of LeBreton flats all the way to Dow’s Lake, roughly at the intersection of today’s Carling Avenue and Preston Street. There, staff of the Dominion Experimental Farm was able to save a number of farm buildings on the south side of the avenue. Meanwhile, a bucket brigade of men from the “Guards” and the 43rd Battalion was able to partially contain the fire to the east by wetting down buildings on the eastern side of Division Street (Booth Street). Fortunately, the central part of Ottawa was protected from the fire by Nanny Goat Hill that rises along Albert and Slater Streets behind Christ Church Cathedral. As well, in the afternoon, the wind which had been blowing from the north, northeast, swung around to the southeast. With little new combustible material to fuel the fire, the blaze began to exhaust itself.

By midnight, the fire had been largely contained by the heroic efforts of the firefighters of Ottawa and Hull and the Militia. Firemen and equipment as far afield as Toronto were called in to help, with a Montreal detachment of eight men and five horses arriving within two hours of being called. Another team made it by 7.00pm.

LeBreton Flats after the Fire, 1900
LeBreton Flats after the Fire, 1900

In the end, the inferno spread over five square miles of territory, consuming more than 3,200 buildings—factories, mills, shops and homes. Seven persons lost their lives, mostly in Hull, including John Dare, a fireman. More than 14,000 people, were left homeless and largely destitute as their places of employment were also destroyed. Estimated losses range from $10 million to $15 million ($300 million to $450 million in current dollars).  Much of this was uninsured.

Temporary shelter for the homeless was provided at the Drill Hall at Cartier Square, the Exhibition Grounds, the Amateur Athletic Club, and the Salvation Army Barracks in Ottawa, and the Roman Catholic Presbytery in Hull.  A Committee of ladies, chaired by the Governor-General’s wife, the Countess of Minto, with Lady Laurier, the wife of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, serving as president, organized distributions of food and clothing.

With the Boer War underway, there were rumours that the fire had been started by pro-Boer sympathizers. This was later denied; it was a simple accident. Moved by the disaster, aid from across Canada, the Empire, and beyond poured in.  In an editorial, The Times of London proclaimed that “Great Britain must help Canada who is lavishing her blood in South Africa.” In total, the Ottawa and Hull Fire Relief Fund, chaired by Mr. George Perley, raised close to $1 million (about $20 million today), much of it from individuals across Canada, Great Britain and the colonies, though funds also came from the United States; $4.86 was contributed from Chile. These funds helped Hull and Ottawa to recover quickly. By the end of the year, 750 replacement houses had been built, and operations at E.B. Eddy’s match and paper factories as well as the CPR rail yards were restored.


Jenkins, Phil, 2008, An Acre Of Time, Chelsea Books.

Shorter, G. W., 1962, Ottawa-Hull Fire of 1900, National Research Council, Division of Building Research, June.

The Evening Citizen, “Hull and Ottawa’s Greatest Calamity,” 27 April 1900.

 —————-,“Ottawa Scene of Big Fires in Years Past,” 14 August 1926.

—————-, “Hull will not Forget Great Fire of 1900,” 20 August 1949.

The Colonist, “A Disastrous Fire,” 30 April 1900.

 The New York Times, “Ottawa and Hull Swept by Flames,” 27 April 1900.

Image: Hull in Flames, 26 April 1900, unknown,

Image: LeBreton Flats after the Fire,  unknown, Library and Archives Canada, PA-121784,