The Russell House Hotel

8 June 1863

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the centre of Ottawa’s social life was the Russell House Hotel that stood on the southeast corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. It was a grand and stately hostelry that dated back to about 1845. Originally, the hotel was a three-storey structure with an attic and tin roof known as Campbell’s House after its first owner. Located in Upper Town close to the Rideau Canal, it was the main stopping point for people vising Bytown, later known as Ottawa. Its food and other supplies came from Montreal by river in the summer and overland by sled in the winter.

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The original Russell House Hotel, formerly Campbell’s Hotel, c. 1864, Library and Archives Canada, C-002567B

When Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada in 1857, the future of the small community was secured. Its population soared after the Parliamentary and Governmental buildings were completed in the early 1860s, and civil servants and Members of Parliament decamped from Quebec City to Ottawa. Thinking ahead to the business opportunities that this influx of people would bring, Mr James A. Gouin from Quebec City bought Campbell’s Hotel. He renamed it the Russell House after the Russell Hotel in Quebec City where he had worked.

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Advertisement, The Ottawa Citizen, 17 July 1863

Advertisements dated 8 June 1863 appeared regularly in the Ottawa Citizen through the latter part of that year announcing that Gouin, the new proprietor of the Russell House, had completely repainted and refurnished “this commodious Establishment,” and that “on the 10th instant” would be ready to receive visitors. The hotel could accept twenty five to thirty boarders “at reasonable rates.”  The advertisement added that Gouin had been “connected for many years with Russell’s Hotel, Palace Street [Côte du Palais], Quebec.” This hotel, located just a few blocks from the provincial parliament buildings (now the site of Parc Montmorency), had been owned by the Russell family, Americans who had apparently settled in Quebec when it had been the centre of the lumber industry. Gouin later built the Caledonia Springs Hotel, a famous spa in eastern Ontario, and was appointed Ottawa Postmaster by Sir John A. Macdonald.

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Mr James A. Gouin, First Proprietor and Manager of the Russell House Hotel, The Canadian Album, 1895.

Like its namesake at Quebec, the new Russell House Hotel was conveniently located at short stroll from Parliament Hill. It immediately attracted the great and powerful, becoming the home for many Members of Parliament, including Sir John A. Macdonald, in need of a place to live while the House of Commons and Senate were in session.  On Confederation Day, 1 July 1867, the Russell House was full, hosting prominent Canadians from across the country who had come to Ottawa to bear witness to that first Dominion Day, now known as Canada Day. Other prominent early guests included George Brown, the fiery Liberal MP. He was apparently staying at the Russell when he penned a complaint to Macdonald regarding the cost of building the Parliament buildings saying: Never mind expenses. Go ahead. Ruin the Country. Stop at nothing. Why not fountains and parks and gardens? It is also believed D’Arcy McGee, the Canadian nationalist and Father of Confederation who was assassinated in 1868 penned some of his poems at the Russell House Hotel.

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The Russell House Hotel, July 1893, Topley Studio Fonds/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008436.

The hotel was enlarged during the 1870s, with the “New Wing” erected on the Elgin Street side across from the Central Chambers (which still stand today). The hotel’s dining room was located in this wing. In 1880, the original Campbell’s Hotel building was torn down and was replaced by a new, larger, five-storey building on Sparks Street, built in the French Second Empire style, with shops located at ground level. Shortly afterwards, a final extension was made on the east side of the building towards what was then known as Canal Street. (Canal Street disappeared with the building of Confederation Plaza and the extension of the Driveway in 1928.) In the end, the hotel boasted more than 250 rooms.

The hotel reached its peak of popularity during the 1880s and 1890s, and was famous across the country as the place to stay while visiting the nation’s capital. The hotel’s manager, François Xavier St Jacques, who succeeded Gouin, was a living legend. Known as “the Count,” St Jacques was a great eccentric who greeted guests wearing high heel shoes that gave him an odd gait. Visiting Victorian luminaries, such as Oscar Wilde, Lilly Langtry, Lillian Russell, and the boxer “Gentleman” Jim Corbett were Russell House guests. Sir Mackenzie Bowell lived there for seventeen years, including when he was prime minister from 1894 to 1896. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was another long-term tenant, staying at the Russell for ten years before moving to Laurier House in 1897. The hostelry with its long bar and leather chairs was also the site of many political intrigues and debates over the decades, second only to the Parliament buildings themselves.

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Russell House Hotel Dining Room, May 1884, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-027059.

The Russell House Hotel, synonymous with Ottawa and renowned across the country for elegance and fine dining, was eclipsed by the Château Laurier Hotel when that hotel opened for business a short distance away in 1912. By then, the grand old lady had become worn and shabby. In 1923, several thousand dollars was spent upgrading the main entrance and the rotunda, but it was too little too late. By that point, the hotel was rat and cockroach infested.

At noon on 1 October 1925, the hotel closed for good, a victim of rising costs and declining occupancy rates. Paradoxically, bookings during the hotel’s last summer had been strong, with the hotel attracting both tourist and convention business; the Russell was the headquarters of the Dominion Trades & Labour Congress that year. But that was not enough to keep the venerable hotel from closing. On its last night, more than 150 guests were booked into the hotel. They had to take “pot luck” for supper in the cafeteria as food supplies were limited. In the rotunda, a number of old timers sat on battered chairs reminiscing about happier times. One hotel veteran was moved by the occasion to pen a poem entitled “Old Russell Farewell.” Its first verse went:

Adieu, adieu old rendezvous

With saddened hearts we’re leaving you;

‘Twas here friends were wont to meet;

Here argued we affairs of state,

How oft’ we talked long and late,

To make the other fellow know.

Ah! Life is but a passing show.

The next morning, with guests forced to seek their breakfast outside of the hotel, the place was virtually deserted. By shortly after noon, the only employee left out of a staff of 150 was a desk clerk tallying up the last day’s receipts. Gone also were the hotel’s “permanent” residents who had called the hotel home. One had been living at the Russell for thirty-three years.

Initially, its then owner, Russell L. Blackburn, planned to tear down the old hotel and replace it with a modern $1 million hostelry. However, Ottawa City Council balked at his demand to fix his property tax at $7,400 for twenty years. The empty building went into limbo, though the many ground-floor stores continued to operate until the Federal Capital District (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Russell block of buildings and torn them down as part of its efforts to beautify the capital. In its place, the FDC built Confederation Plaza in commemoration of the diamond anniversary of Confederation in 1927.

The FDC bought the hotel property and the adjacent Russell Theatre property for $1,270,379.15 (equivalent to roughly $17.7 million in today’s money). The deal was still incomplete when just before midnight on 14 April 1928, the hotel went up in flames in a massive fire. Virtually all of Ottawa’s available fire equipment, which at the time was still being pulled by horses, were called in to tackle the blaze. Five firemen were injured by falling debris and flying glass. The cause of the fire was never ascertained. There was a suspicion of arson as first responders found fires in various places on different floors. However, the fire marshal speculated that had the fire been due to an electrical fault, the fire could have easily spread through the walls and floors before the alarm was called in. Alternatively, the evening’s high winds could have carried embers from floor to floor through the hotel’s many broken and open windows.

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Russell House Hotel after the fire, 1928, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025085.

Thousands of Ottawa citizens watched the firemen fight the blaze. Many were in evening clothes having just left parties and dances. Guests at the Château Laurier Hotel located across Connaught Plaza from the Russell watched the fire from the windows of their rooms. Other spectators arrived by car, with the best parking spots on Parliament Hill near the East Block. There, people watched in the comfort of their heated automobiles. Knowing that the building was slated for demolition, people cheered as the fire progressed. It reached its height at about 2.30am when the flag pole over the central entrance succumbed to the flames. At 4am, more than a thousand hardy spectators were still on hand despite the cold. The firemen were able to contain the blaze, and stop the conflagration from spreading to other structures. At one point Ottawa’s City Hall further down on Elgin Street was threatened. Ironically, the City Hall was to be destroyed by fire three years later.

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The Premier Hat Company before the fire, 1928, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4821789.

Losses from the Russell Hotel fire were relatively modest given the scale of the blaze. The Hotel was insured for only $30,000, the low amount reflecting the fact that it was almost derelict and had been emptied of its contents. Some of the small, street-levels shops were not so lucky. “The Treasure House” owned by Herbert Grierson, which sold jewellery, pottery, paintings, china and leather goods, suffered losses of $15,000-$20,000, of which only $8,000 was covered by insurance. The Premier Hat Company lost $10,000 in stock but carried only $2,500 in insurance. Looters also walked off with dozens of hats; one was seen carrying seventeen. Although the owner, Mr Samuel Gluck, was on hand, he was unable to rescue his stock in time owning to difficulty in obtaining a moving truck. Eighteen crates of Persian and Chinese carpets worth $90,000 were also stored in the former cafeteria of the Russell on Elgin Street awaiting auction. Fortunately, the carpets escaped with only minor water damage. They were disposed of in a “fire sale” held a few days later.

With the hotel ruined, the authorities moved to clear the rubble. It took longer than expected with the city threatening legal action against the wrecking company if it didn’t hurry up. But at precisely 1.06 pm on Saturday 10 November 1928 the grand old Russell House Hotel, which had been the focal point of Ottawa social and political life for over sixty years, entered history. The last remnant to go was its 80-foot chimney. Recognizing the historic nature of the event, A. Brahinsky, a representative of City Iron & Bottle Company, announced the time of the pending demolition to allow citizens to come and watch the spectacle. Hundreds cheered as the chimney crash to the ground, brought down by heavy cables and a horse truck. There must have been a few tears, however. The Ottawa Journal commented that “there must be many among us who, as one by one the old landmarks go, feel little but loss of happy reminders of a brave and gracious past.”

Today, no trace of the old Russell House Hotel remains. The site of the hotel is now occupied by the War Memorial.

 

Sources:

Cockrane, William, Rev., 1895. The Canadian Album. Men of Canada; or Success by Example in Religion, Patriotism, Business, Law, Medicine, Education and Agriculture, Bradley Garretson & Co: Brantford,

Evening Journal (The), 1924. “Fixed Hotel Assessments,” 2 October.-

—————————, 1925. “Reached No Decision Over Hotel Request,    23 January.

—————————, 1925. “New Russell House Is Going Out Of Business After Being In Operation Over 50 Years,” 1 September.

—————————, 1925.  “Russell Hotel Comes To An End Of Long Career,” 1 October.

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

—————————, 1928. “Russell Hotel For 60 Years Past An Intimate Part Of City Life,” 16 April.

—————————, 1928. “Demolish Russell,” 9 November.

—————————, 1928. “Hundreds Watch Demolition of Big Chimney At Russell,” 12 November.

—————————, 1928. “The Old Russell House: Some Memories,” 13 November.

—————————, 1934. “Understanding Shown In Letters Between King, Ministry and Ottawa Concerning Beautification of City, 6 January.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1863. “Russell House,” 17 July.

————————-, 1925. “Russell Hotel Closes Doors: Passing of Historic Hotel Is Devoid Of Any Ceremony,” 1 October.

————————-, 1928. “Fire Will Help Park Scheme To Pass Commons,” 16 April.

 

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The Governor General’s Foot Guards

7 June 1872

For more than fifty years, a highlight of every summer visitor’s trip to Ottawa has been the “Changing of the Guard” ceremony conducted daily on Parliament Hill from June to August by young reservists drawn largely from the Governor General Foot Guards. Starting at 10am sharp, rain or shine, the “new” guard marches from the Cartier Square Drill Hall to Parliament Hill to relieve the “old” guard drawn up on the east lawn in front of the Parliament buildings. Dressed in scarlet uniforms and bearskin hats and accompanied by the regimental band with bagpipers and drummers, the Changing of the Guard presents a colourful spectacle of military pomp and ceremony.

The Foot Guards have a long and impressive pedigree, dating back to the early days of Confederation. During the 1860s, there wasn’t in truth much of a regular military presence in British North America. As early as 1855, Britain began withdrawing its forces, keeping only naval bases at Halifax and Esquimalt on the east and west coasts, respectively. This left the defence of Canada and the other British colonies in North America to local militia consisting of ill-equipped, civilian volunteers who trained for only a few weeks each year.

This was not a good time for Canada to be largely defenceless. Many in the United States viewed the eventual takeover of all of North America as that country’s “manifest destiny.” With British sympathies laying mostly with the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), many north of the border feared that the U.S. government might try to annex British North America once the war with the South was won. Canadian authorities also had to deal with the Fenians who raided across the Canadian-American border between 1866 and 1871 in a bizarre attempt to force Britain to leave Ireland. Many of these Fenian raiders were battle-hardened, former U.S. soldiers who learned their trade in the Civil War. Against this backdrop, in 1866, the year prior to Confederation, the government of John A. Macdonald and Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau called for 10,000 volunteers to serve for three weeks each year for a period of three years to help defend Canada.

Here in Ottawa, the Civic Service Rifle Corps, made up of volunteer bureaucrats, was already embodied. The Corps had originally been founded in 1861 in Quebec City after the “Trent Affair,” which had brought Britain and the United States to the brink of war, but had moved to Ottawa when government workers were transferred to the new Canadian capital when the Parliament buildings were completed. The Corps was reconstituted as the Civil Service Rifle Regiment in 1866 but was disbanded in 1868.  The two companies that made up the Rifles were later to become the nucleus of the Governor General’s Foot Guards.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Ross and Members of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, circa 1875, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan No. 3194356.

The father of the Foot Guards was Major Thomas Ross. Ross was the senior civil servant in the Department of Finance working under Sir Francis Hincks, the Minister of Finance. He had started his civil service career in 1839 as a clerk in the Secretary’s Office of Lower Canada. Following the Act of Union in 1841, he became a clerk in the Secretary’s Office of the new Province of Canada. He later become the chief clerk in the Department of the Dominion Secretary of State after Confederation, before moving to the Department of Finance. Ross came from a military family; his grandfather had been one of General Wolfe’s officers in the war with the French one hundred years earlier. He also had considerable personal military experience.  He joined the Civil Service Rifle Corps as a private when it was founded in 1861. He later became an officer in the Ottawa Brigade Garrison Artillery, a provisional brigade established in 1861 composed of four, later seven, artillery batteries in the region. He subsequently commanded the brigade as its Major. Fond of military music, Ross was also President of the brigade’s band committee. He saw active service during the Fenian raids.

In early June 1872, Major Ross sent a memorandum to Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, the Minister of Militia and Defence, proposing the establishment of an Ottawa-based volunteer force to be called The Governor General’s Foot Guards. Ross suggested that the Guard would be placed at the disposal of the government for state occasions. Ross stressed that the new formation would provide military music at Government House and elsewhere, filling a void left by the absence of Imperial troops. He also recommended that the uniform of the Foot Guards be similar to that worn by Queen Victoria’s Household troops.

Cartier’s response was swift. On 7 June 1872, only two days after he had received Ross’s memorandum, he authorised the Major to raise a battalion of foot guards with its headquarters in Ottawa to be designated “1st Battalion Governor General’s Foot Guards (General Order 16). Cartier also ordered the guards to have the same precedence and status in Canada’s active militia as Queen Victoria’s Foot Guards had in the Imperial army. Ross was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and placed in command of the new battalion.

Within days of the creation of the battalion, which incorporated the former 1st and 2nd companies of the Civil Service Rifles, the Guards consisted of 80 men and three officers in addition to Colonel Ross—Major White, Lieutenant Walsh, and Lieutenant G. Patrick. The battalion also has a 35-member band under the direction of John C. Bonner. Their first official function was the provision of a guard of honour for the Earl of Dufferin who arrived in Ottawa on 25 June 1872 to take up his position as Canada’s governor general. With their scarlet guards’ uniforms still on order, the men paraded in their old Rifles’ uniforms.

By September 1872, the battalion consisted of six companies with supporting staff. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ross, the unit was divided into two half battalions, each commanded by a major, with the senior major in charge of the right half, and the junior major in charge of the left. The half battalions were subdivided into companies, each with their own captain, lieutenant, and ensign; the lieutenant commanded the right half of a company, and the ensign, the left.

Initially without an official home, the battalion practised on the lawn in front of the Parliament buildings in the evenings starting at 6pm. Band practice took place in the East Block, one evening every week. Officer meetings were held in Colonel Ross’s office in the Department of Finance in the East Block. Later, the Guards began to drill in an old wooden warehouse located on the east side of the Rideau Canal close to Rideau Street. Subsequently, the unit moved to another warehouse on what today is called Besserer Street.

In November 1879, the Foot Guards settled into the Cartier Square Drill Hall, built to house the battalion and which remains the Guards’ home today. In 1881, the 43rd Ottawa and Carleton Battalion of Rifles, now known as the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own), joined them. The Drill Hall, located on the west side of the Rideau Canal at Laurier Avenue (originally Maria Street), was constructed for $18, 879, a considerable sum in those days. Its architect was Thomas Seaton, the Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works. The original, one-story building initially had an earthen floor. Wooden flooring was installed in 1881, and a second floor added during the 1890s. The Guards and the Highlanders drilled both inside this building as well as in the field outside, now partially occupied by the Ottawa City Hall.

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Regimental Badge of the Governor General’s Foot Guards

The uniform of the Governor General’s Foot Guards was modelled on that of the Coldstream Guards, one of the regiments that make up the Household Division—the personal force of the British monarch. There are some minor differences, in particular the badge. The regimental badge of the Coldstream Guards is a star with the red-cross emblem and motto — Honi soit qui mal y pense — of the Order of the Garter at its centre. The badge of the Governor General’s Foot Guards is a six-pointed star representing the six provinces of Canada in 1872. In its centre is a blue cross, surrounded by the Guards’ Latin motto Civitas et princeps cura nostra, loosely translated as “Our country and ruler are our concern.” The other minor difference is that the Governor General’s Foot Guards wear a scarlet plume on the left side of their bearskin hats instead of on the right side as done by the Coldstream Guards. During the early years of the Battalion, the Guards’ uniform was, however, not completely standardized. Their “bearskins” were in reality Fusiliers’ busbies made of racoon, though apparently few outsiders could tell the difference. Slight differences in dress also emerged owing to officers using their own tailors to make their uniforms. In addition, as soldiers had to provide their own boots, there were footwear differences. Uniformity of uniform was finally achieved in 1889 following a dress review.

If Major Ross can be considered the “father” of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, Lord Dufferin has been called the battalion’s “godfather.” After his arrival in Ottawa, he took an active interest in the unit. On the Queen’s birthday on 24 May 1874, Dufferin presented the Foot Guards with their first Colours, or regimental flag.

Since its creation in 1872, the Foot Guards have seen action on numerous occasions, earning 34 battle honours, of which 22 are displayed on the Colours. Three guardsmen have won the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour. The Guard was represented on Canada’s first international mission, when Captain Telmont Aumond and four men participated in the Nile Campaign (1884-5), the failed British attempt to rescue General Gordon who was besieged by Islamist forces at Khartoum, Sudan. The Regiment took its first casualties at the Battle of Cut Hill in 1885 during the North-West Rebellion in Manitoba when privates John Rogers and William Osgoode lost their lives. A statue honouring them currently stands outside of the Cartier Square Drill Hall. Six officers and 85 other ranks participated in the Boer War (1899-1900). Two guardsmen died and two were injured.

During World War I, 242 officers and 5,084 other ranks saw active service the famous “Iron Second” (2nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force) and the 77th Battalion. Present in many of the great battles of the war including Passchendaele, Amiens, and the Somme, the Governor General’s Foot Guards were awarded twenty-one battle honours. Of those that served, 1,279 were injured or lost their lives. The Guards were mobilized again in May 1940 for duty at home and abroad during World War II. In 1942, the unit was converted into an armoured regiment called the 21st Canadian Armoured Regiment (G.G.F.G.). Fighting in France and Germany, the Guards were awarded another eleven battle honours, seeing action in such places as Falaise, the Rhineland and the Scheldt. Of the 2,339 men and 165 officers who saw action, 515 were killed and 178 wounded.

After World War II, the regiment resumed its role as a part-time, infantry reserve unit based in Ottawa with special ceremonial duties on Parliament Hill and at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. But the men and women of the Guards are not toy soldiers just putting on a show for tourists. They are ready for duty both home and abroad should they received the call. Living up to their motto, the Guards were mobilized after the devastating ice storm in Eastern Canada in 1998 to support Operation Recuperation. In recent years, members of the Guards have also serviced in Cyprus, Somalia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

 

Sources:

Camerons, Ottawa’s Regiment, History, http://camerons.ca/history/.

Canada, Government of, 2014. Canadian Army: A Conversation with Cartier Square Drill Hall’ amateur historian, 6 November, http://www.army-armee.forces.gc.ca/en/news-publications/national-news-details-no-menu.page?doc=a-conversation-with-cartier-square-drill-hall-s-amateur-historian/i251ryc4.

————————–, 2016. Governor General’s Foot Guards, http://www.army-armee.forces.gc.ca/en/ggfg/index.page.

————————–, 2016. “Governor General’s Foot Guards,” National Defence and the Canadian Forces, Volume 3, Part 2: Infantry Regiments, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/ol-lo/vol-tom-3/par2/ggfg-eng.asp.

Governor General’s Foot Guards, Regimental Museum, 2016.  http://footguards.ca/.

Foster, Capt. M. et al. 1999. Steady the Buttons : Two by Two, Governor General’s Foot Guards, 125th Anniversary, 1872-1997, Governor General’s Foot Guards Foundation.

Historica Canada, 2014. The Governor General’s Foot Guards Band, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-governor-generals-foot-guards-band-emc/.

Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum (The), 2016. Beginnings, http://www.lermuseum.org/en/canadas-military-history/beginnings/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1947. “GGFG, Veteran of Five Wars To Mark 75th Anniversary,” 22 May.

————————–, 1972. “Ottawa’s GGFG 100th birthday celebration calls for something special,”

Images:

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Ross and Members of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, circa 1875, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3194356.

Badge of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, National Defence and the Canadian Forces, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/ol-lo/vol-tom-3/par2/ggfg-eng.asp

Marathon of Hope Reaches Ottawa

30 June 1980

In the pantheon of Canadian heroes stands a young, twenty-one year old man from British Columbia named Terry Fox. Fox, who had lost his right leg to cancer, inspired millions with his attempt in 1980 to run across Canada, from the Atlantic shore of Newfoundland to the Pacific coast of British Columbia, to raise funds for cancer research. Starting his journey in relative obscurity, Fox’s initial goal was to raise $1 million through his Marathon of Hope. But as the word began to spread about his journey, the entire country got behind him enabling him to increase his goal first to $10 million, and then to $24 million ($60 million in today’s money), or $1 for every Canadian.

With a distinctive hopping gait as he compensated for the limitations of his prosthetic limb, Fox ran close to a marathon every day. Weather, traffic, fatigue, blisters, equipment failure, and nagging thigh pain did not deter him. Only the return of his cancer which had metastasized to his lungs stopped him halfway from his goal, after he had run 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles) in 143 days from St John’s, Newfoundland to just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. Despite enduring further bouts of chemotherapy, Fox succumbed to the disease roughly nine months later. But his courage and self-sacrifice has had a lasting impact on people everywhere. School, roads, sports fields and even a mountain have been named after him to honour his memory. Each year, Terry Fox runs are held around the world to raise funds for cancer research. To date, more than $650 million has been raised worldwide by the Terry Fox Foundation. Thanks in part to these funds, considerable progress has been made in the war against cancer since Fox’s day. Indeed, osteosarcoma, the cancer which ultimately killed the young man, is now highly treatable, with a cure rate of 80 per cent. As well, most victims, typically young people, no longer face the pain and trauma of amputation.

Terry Fox’s story began in the fall of 1976 when he was in a traffic accident near his home town of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Fox seemingly hurt his right knee in the incident. But the pain persisted. In March 1977, X-rays and other tests confirmed the worst—cancer. In an effort to halt the spread of the disease, doctors amputated the leg six inches above the knee. Within weeks of the surgery, he was relearning to walk using a prosthetic limb. While undergoing follow-up chemotherapy, Fox, an avid athlete, joined the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association basketball team, and help the team win three national championships.

Inspired by a story of an amputee runner in the New York City Marathon, Fox decided to run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. Through 1979, he trained daily with weights to increase his upper-body strength. He also begun to run, just a half mile at the beginning. But by the fall he had built up his endurance sufficiently to run his first marathon in Prince George, British Columbia. Although he finished in last place, he crossed the finishing line to the cheers and applause of other contestants. Encouraged by his progress, he contacted the Canadian Cancer Society regarding his intentions for a cross-country run, and to get its support. Friends and family raised $3,000 though garage sales and dances to help fund his journey. Fox also approached corporations for financial assistance. Touched by his request, Ford Motors provided a van, Imperial Oil, the gasoline, Adidas, his running shoes, and Safeway, food coupons, redeemable in its stores.

On 12 April 1980, Fox dipped his artificial leg in the water of St. John’s harbour and commenced his Marathon of Hope. He hoped to reach the west coast by the following November. Accompanying him on his journey was his good friend Doug Alward who drove the van a short distance ahead of Fox, carrying supplies, including three spare legs and various parts. They were later joined by Fox’s younger brother Darryl. The early going was tough. Bad weather, including snow and heavy rain, hampered the run. Often, the boys were disappointed by poor receptions as they travelled through towns on their route, owing to a lack of publicity for the Marathon of Hope. While the run through the St Lawrence Valley of Quebec was beautiful, their inability to speak French hampered communication; they apparently went five days without showers. Traffic on the trans-Canada highway was another issue until the Quebec police gave them an escort. Happily, things markedly improved on their arrival in Montreal. There, they were greeted by Isadore Sharp, the CEO of the Four Seasons Hotel chain. Sharp, who had lost a son to cancer in 1978, took the young men under his wing, putting them up in his Montreal hotel. In addition to sponsoring the marathon, Sharp challenged other businesses to do likewise, an act which hugely raised their national profile.

Fox jogged into Ottawa on 30 June, 1980 to a hero’s welcome. At 11am, the young runner was received by Governor General Ed Schreyer at Rideau Hall. Still dressed in his sweaty, running clothes, the athlete, accompanied by his two t-shirted companions, drank orange juice, and lemonade out of champagne glasses in a grand reception room. He later spoke to a large crowd of supporters on the Sparks Street Mall who gave him a boisterous welcome. Jean Luc Pepin, the federal minister of transport, released a thousand helium balloons from the roof of Ottawa’s Four Seasons Hotel; each balloon advertised Fox’s Marathon of Hope. That night Fox dined with Ron Foxx, an outside linebacker for the Ottawa Rough Riders, as well as volunteers from the Ottawa branch of the Cancer Society.

The next day, Fox was honoured at the Canada Day football game between the Ottawa Rough Riders and their western arch-rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Despite some initial trepidation, he took the ceremonial opening kick-off, receiving a standing ovation from 16,705 Ottawa fans. Tony Gabriel, Ottawa’s star running back, gave Fox a football autographed by the whole team. Agreeing that he was “one tough kid,” Gabriel commented that there wasn’t a single player among them that could do what Fox was doing. Moved by his spirit, Gabriel hoped that Fox would achieve his dream, and was honoured to have had the opportunity to meet the courageous runner. Fox was later introduced to Prime Minister Trudeau, though the meeting was a bit awkward as the prime minister had not been properly briefed.

Terry Fox

Terry Fox in Ottawa meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, July 1980

Following his rapturous greeting in Ottawa, Fox was a national celebrity. Concerns about publicity melted away, and funds in support of his marathon began to pour in. Amounting to about $300,000 when he entered the nation’s capital at the end of June, pledges soared as he made his way to Toronto and through southern Ontario. By mid-August, $11.4 million had been raised for cancer research with more coming in each day.

But by the end of August, it was apparent that something was wrong; Fox had seemingly caught a bad cold. On 1 September, despite suffering from a hacking cough and chest pains, he resumed his run, unwilling to disappoint cheering fans who turned out to welcome him into Thunder Bay. Eighteen miles outside of town, he was forced to halt. Taken to hospital, doctors confirmed the worst; his cancer had returned. The next day, Fox and his parents held a press conference to announce the news, and that the Marathon of Hope would have to be suspended. The young runner returned to British Columbia to undergo more treatment.

News of Fox’s relapse stunned the country. Tens of thousands of letters of support poured into the hospital from across Canada, and around the world. Many came from young children. The CTV television network organized a nationwide, five-hour televised tribute to Terry Fox, raising more than $10 million for his cause. Celebrity singers, included Anne Murray, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Elton John, and Nana Mouskouri. Ballet dancers, Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn, performed a dance from Romeo and Juliet on the broadcast. By February 1981, Fox’s Marathon of Hope had reached its goal of $24 million. Fox received many honours for his courage and self-sacrifice.  Governor General Ed Schreyer flew out to British Columbia in September 1980 to make him the youngest ever Companion of the Order of Canada. Fox was also awarded the Order of the Dogwood by British Columbia’s Premier, Bill Bennett, and the Lou Marsh trophy for Canada’s top sportsman of 1980. Canadian Press named him Canada’s newsmaker of the year for 1980; an accolade which he again received in 1981 posthumously. With his family at his bedside,

Terry Fox Statue

Terry Fox Statue, Wellington St, Ottawa

Terry Fox passed away on 28 June 1981. He was later buried in his home town of Port Coquitlam. At a memorial service held on Parliament Hill attended by more than 8,000 people, Prime Minister Trudeau tearfully praised Fox saying that his “selfless generosity” “elevated him above the merely courageous to the exceedingly thin ranks of the truly heroic.” The Prime Minister called the Marathon of Hope “a gift of the spirit, and act of love for mankind.” On the twenty-five anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a special commemorative dollar coin. A statue of Terry Fox stands on Wellington Street across from the Parliament Buildings. In 2015, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau exhibited memorabilia from Fox’s marathon, including a jug of Atlantic Ocean water that Fox had wanted to pour into the Pacific, as well as two prosthetic legs, his camper, and scans of some 60,000 cards and letters well-wishers had sent him.

Sources:

Brown, Jeremy & Harvey, Gail, 1980. Terry Fox: A Pictorial Tribute To The Marathon Of Hope, General Publishing Co, Don Mills, Ontario. CBC, 2008. Terry Fox, http://www.cbc.ca/greatest/top_ten/nominee/fox-terry.html.

Greenizan, Nick, 2014. “Terry carried people’s emotions with him,” PeaceArch News, http://www.peacearchnews.com/community/274144061.html.

Skuce, Tony, 2014. Terry Fox is still inspiring Canadian kids,” Canadian Running; http://runningmagazine.ca/terry-fox-still-inspiring-canadian-kids/.

The Globe and Mail, 2015. “New Canadian Museum of History honours Terry Fox,” 1 April.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1980. “Cancer victim jogs into Ottawa on a leg and a prayer,” 28 June.

———————–, 1980. “Ottawans cheer for courageous one-legged runner,” 2 July.

———————–, 1980. “Prairie drought threatens to hit Roughriders,” 2 July.

———————–, 1981. “Terry Fox funeral to be televised,” 2 July.

The Tuscaloosa News, 1981. “Terry Fox is buried near home,” 3 July.

The Terry Fox Foundation, 2014, Mission Statement and History, http://www.terryfox.org/TerryFox/Mission_Statement.html.

Trottier, Maxine, 2005. Terry Fox, A Story of Hope, Scholastic Canada Ltd. Toronto.

Images: Terry Fox with Prime Minister Trudeau, July 1980, http://blogs.theprovince.com/tag/terry-fox/.

Terry Fox Statue, Wellington Street, 2015, by Nicolle Powell.

Television Arrives In Ottawa

2 June 1953

By the late 1930s, commercial television broadcasting was ready for “prime time” after years of experimentation, first with mechanical systems and later with electronic systems. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is credited with the first “high-definition” television broadcast when it began regularly scheduled transmissions in late 1936 from its studios at the Alexandra Palace in London using Marconi-EMI’s fully electronic system. “High definition” in this context should not to be confused with today’s high-definition television.  The BBC was broadcasting with just 405 lines of resolution, much less than the 720-1,080 lines considered to be high definition today. Its broadcast resolution was, however, far superior to that of earlier broadcasting systems that had resolutions ranging from roughly 30 to 204 lines. The BBC station’s range was officially only forty kilometres, though unofficially it could reach much farther depending on atmospheric conditions. BBC television quickly became a big hit; the hot, new gift in London during the 1937 Christmas season was the television set. Some 10,000 receivers were sold. But progress came to a halt at the outbreak of World War II when the BBC suspended its broadcasts owing to fears that German bombers could use its signal to home in onto London. BBC technicians were also needed elsewhere to support the war effort.

In North America, experimentation also went into high gear during the 1930s. The Canadian experimental station VE9EC, owned by La Presse and CKAC radio in Montreal, broadcasted during the early years of the decade using mechanical systems with 60-150 lines of resolution. In the United States, a number of competing broadcasting systems were also being tested and perfected. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) began regular experimental television broadcasts in New York City in the spring of 1939, transmitting monochrome (i.e., black and white) programmes from the top of the Empire State Building. RCA’s television subsidiary became the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). That same year, RCA began to ramp up its production of television receivers for sale to the general public. RCA also demonstrated the television at the 1939 Canadian National Exposition in Toronto, marketing it as “science’s most modern miracle,” that will soon feature in every home. In 1940, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) began regular black-and-white television broadcasting in the United States. In the spring of the following year, U.S. regulators adopted the 525-line resolution as the standard for the American television industry, allowing commercial television to move out of its experimental phase. However, like in Britain, the United States’ entry into the war delayed a wider roll-out of commercial television as vacuum tubes used in television sets were required for defence purposes.

With the war’s end in 1945, television took off in the United States. While initially confined to the major urban centres, the number of stations rose from 16 in 1948 to 354 by 1954. In 1947, 179,000 television sets were produced in the United States. By 1953, annual production was more than 7.2 million. This compares with only 2,000 receivers in use at the end of 1939.

Notwithstanding its success south of the border, television was slow to come to Canada. In 1947, senior Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) officials declared that “the time had not yet come for the general development of television on a sound basis in Canada.” Not surprisingly, given the burgeoning growth of U.S. television, there was criticism that CBC was dragging its feet. There were also fears that Canada was falling behind the United States and other competitors in the technology race. Two related and highly political issues were delaying television’s Canadian debut—ownership and funding. The big question was whether Canada should have a national, state-owned television network, similar to publicly-owned networks in Europe, which would promote Canadian values and culture, or allow private television networks, as in the United States, that might be foreign owned, and broadcast foreign shows. There was also considerable controversy about the cost of building a Canada-wide television network. The initial funding for CBC television was placed at $4.5 million (roughly $46 million today). Later, material shortages were also cited as delaying the building of stations, with expansion beyond Toronto and Montreal dependent on the defence production programme associated with the Korean War.

In part, the government’s hand was forced by US border stations whose signals could be picked up by Canadians living close to the U.S. border. In Ottawa, the signal from the NBC affiliate WSYR-TV from Syracuse, New York could be picked up from early September 1951. The Evening Citizen reported that a Mr Kitchen of 350 Chapel Street managed to receive a good video signal with his home-made antenna and three home-made boosters. Canadian television was finally born on 6 September 1952 when CBC’s Montreal station CBFT began regular programme broadcasts. Its Toronto station, CBLT, commenced broadcasting two days later.

First programme listing for Ottawa channel CBOT, 30 May 1953, Ottawa Evening Citizen

First programme listing for CBOT, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 30 May 1953

Canadian television officially arrived in Ottawa at 2pm on 2 June 1953 when CBOT, the CBC’s third station, began regular broadcasting. Using equipment supplied by Marconi’s Wireless and Telegraph Company of Montreal, the station initially had a range of only 15 miles (24 kilometres). Its signal was later boosted to have a range of 40 miles (65 kilometres). Found on channel 4 on the television dial, CBOT actually started testing its equipment roughly two weeks earlier when a microwave relay tower built on the top of the Bell Telephone Building on O’Connor Street became operational. The microwave system, which could simultaneously carry both telephone and television signals, linked Ottawa to Toronto and Montreal. After test programmes were transmitted with “astonishing clarity” over the long May weekend, the station felt confident enough to list its programming schedule for Saturday, 30 May in the newspaper, albeit with a warning that it was still operating on an experimental basis. The station, which broadcasted for less than four hours that day, started at 6.45pm with Uncle Chichimus, the much beloved Toronto-based production starring John Conway and his two puppets, Uncle Chichimus and Hollyhock. The evening’s entertainment ended with an hour of wrestling starting at 9.30pm. During these early days of television, CBOT, like the Montreal station CBFT, offered programs in both English and French, a practice that continued until Radio Canada had its own stations.  That first night’s French-language program was called Télescope.

The official launch of CBOT on 2 June 1953 was timed to coincide with an event guaranteed to attract the largest audience possible—the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Not only were celebratory events on Parliament Hill in Ottawa televised on the three CBC stations, but the entire Coronation ceremony from London with a delay of only four hours. In “Operation Pony Express,” three RAF Canberra bombers flew film footage across the Atlantic from North Weald Airport outside of London to Goose Bay, Newfoundland, with the first plane carrying the first two hours of film coverage, with the other two planes following with later hours of coverage. In Goose Bay, the film canisters were transferred onto RCAF CF-100 fighters for the flight to the St Hubert Airport outside of Montreal. A truck then took the film to the Radio Canada building in downtown Montreal for broadcasting, with simultaneous viewing in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Coverage of the Coronation from London started at 4.30pm, after a broadcast of the ceremonies on Parliament Hill, and the Queen’s Coronation message. Prior to the start of its Coronation coverage, CBC broadcasted a test pattern and music. Regular updates on the status of the Canberra flights were also provided. The Coronation broadcast was in black and white; colour programming would not be launched in Canada until 1966, thirteen years after colour was introduced in the United States. If people wanted to see the Coronation in colour, they had to go to the cinema when the film became available a few days later.

RCA Victor advertisement, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 28 May 1953

RCA Victor advertisement, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 28 May 1953

With the day declared a national holiday, people scrambled to find a television to watch the historic event. In Ottawa, the Radio and Television Manufacturers Association of Canada installed televisions in every school without charge to allow all students to watch the Coronation. An abridged French-language version was also televised. Naturally, parents were invited to watch as well–a good marketing ploy. Stores also offered special Coronation deals so that families could watch the events on their own sets. One enterprising store invited those uncertain about television, or were unable to afford a receiver (the price for the monochrome receiver started at $249.99, equivalent to $2,200 today), to come in and watch the Coronation on its sets for free.

From that day on, there was no looking back. Television quickly became, as RCA had predicted in 1939, an indispensable part of every Canadian household. In 1948, there were only 325 TV sets in Canada. In 1951, roughly one percent of Canadian households, mostly located in southern Ontario in range of American TV signals, had purchased a TV set. Ten years later, 83 per cent of Canadian households had a television, a higher percentage than that of homes with indoor plumbing.

Sources: Canadian Communications Foundation, 2013. Television Station History, Ontario, Eastern Canada, CBOT-DT (CBC Nework), Ottawa, http://www.broadcasting-history.ca.

CBC-Radio Canada, 2015. Our History, http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/explore/our-history/.

CBC, 2015, “A TV Renaissance, TV In Canada, A History,” Doc Zone with Ann-Marie MacDonald, http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/features/tv-in-canada-a-history.

Freemeth, Howard, 2010, “Television,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/television/.

Hammond Museum of Radio, 2004, “Some Dates From Canadian Broadcasting,” http://www.hammondmuseumofradio.org/dates.html.

TV History, 2013. Television History—The First 75 Years, Television Facts and Statistics—1939 to 2000, http://www.tvhistory.tv/facts-stats.htm.

The Evening Citizen, 1951. “Ottawans Get Good Video Reception,” 11 September.

————————, 1953. “Fly TV ‘Take’ To CBC: See Coronation Same Day Here,” 6 May.

————————, 1953. “Ottawa Microwave Radio Relay Tower In Operation on May 14th,” 6 May.

————————, 1953. “TV Sets To Be Installed In Schools For June 2,” 26 May.

————————, 1953. “Station CBOT Now On The Air Each Night,” 26 May.

————————, 1953. “Television,” 30 May 1953. The Globe and Mail, 1937. “Television Is London’s Newest Christmas Gift Idea,” 13 December.

————————, 1938. “10,000 Sets Made And Sold In United Kingdom,” 13 January.

————————, 1941. “Commercial Television Is Delayed By Defense,” 3 July.

————————, 1947. Television—Canada Not Ready, Says Frigon,” 28 June.

————————, 1949. “Ottawa Studies Loan in Millions for CBC Video,” 2 March.

————————, 1949. “Claims TV Delay Due To Ottawa Pre-Election Fears,” 3 May.

————————, 1951, “Hints Windsor, Ottawa, Quebec Next In Line For Canadian Television,” 16 November.

———————-, 1953. “Temporary Television Hookup To Let Ottawa See Coronation,” 13 March.

———————-, 1953. “Jets Bring Coronation Films For TV Viewers on Tuesday,” 30 May.

———————-, 2014. “Ferris-Wheel highs and nauseating lows from 135 years of the Ex,” 13 August.

Project 4000

27 June 1979

The fall of Saigon to communist forces in April 1975, two years after American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, may have ended the Vietnam War but didn’t end the misery. Hundreds of thousands of people associated with the U.S.-backed, South Vietnamese regime fled the country. Millions more were sent to re-education camps, forcibly relocated within Vietnam, or imprisoned. Some were killed. In neighbouring Laos, Hmong tribesmen, an ethnic minority who had fought alongside U.S. troops, fled their homeland after the December 1975 communist takeover of that country. Three years later, thousands of starving Cambodians crossed the border into Thailand following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, then called Democratic Kampuchea, that toppled the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. When China retaliated and temporarily invaded northern Vietnam in support of its Khmer Rouge allies, ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, already viewed with suspicion, were forced to flee. It’s estimated that as many as 1.4 million refugees left their homelands in search of safety between 1975 and 1979. Many more were to follow.

Boat People

“Boat People,” 1979

While the majority of refugees fled overland, a sizeable minority left by sea. Some paid extortionate fees for the dubious privilege of leaving on crowded, rickety, old boats chartered by human traffickers. Many barely navigable vessels were swamped by rough seas as refugees attempted to make their way across the South China Sea to safety in neighbouring countries. The loss of life was appalling. Of the estimated 300,000 “boat people,” as many as one third may have died in transit. Those lucky enough to survive the harrowing sea passage were prey to pirates that robbed and raped the already traumatised people. Their arrival at a safe harbour didn’t end their ordeal. Neighbouring countries, already sheltering hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in appalling conditions, resisted new arrivals. Some boats packed to the gunnels with men, women and children were forcibly turned away within sight of land. With 50,000 refugees arriving monthly, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand issued a joint communique in June 1979 saying that they had had enough; they would not accept any more newcomers. In response, the UN called an emergency international conference to come up with a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

Ottawa’s Mayor Marion Dewar witnessed the unfolding tragedy in Asia on her television set while on a much needed summer holiday. Deeply moved, she held a private meeting on 27 June 1979 with community, church, and business leaders to see what the city could do to help. All were supportive of settling refugees in Ottawa. When a federal immigration official invited to the meeting suggested that Canada was already doing a lot, having already welcomed to Canada 4,000 refugees out of an expanded 8,000-person quota, an exasperated Mayor Dewar is reported to have said “Fine. We’ll take the other 4,000.”

Marion Dewar

Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar in 1979

What started off as an off-hand remark became the rallying cry for action.  News of the meeting and the Mayor’s intentions were quickly picked up by the press which ran the story the following day. Initial commentary was sympathetic, though some doubted the city’s ability to absorb so many newcomers. At a press conference, Mayor Dewar, encouraged by the support she had received so far, challenged other cities and the federal government to do more to help the tidal wave of refugees.

On 4 July, Ottawa’s city council unanimously supported the mayor’s initiative. A public meeting was held at Lansdowne Park a week later to gauge the extent of the public’s interest. Expecting perhaps 500-800 people, as many as 3,000 people showed up to hear Dewar and experts speak about the situation in Asia, and what they could do to help. Bruce Cockburn, the popular Canadian guitarist, and a choir of Vietnamese children entertained the crowd. Also in attendance in support of the mayor were representatives of faith-based institutions which were already active in settling refugees in Canada. At the end of the meeting, the enthusiastic crowd gave Marion Dewar a standing ovation.

The City provided $25,000 to launch Project 4000 which was quickly established as a non-profit organization with a mission to assist Ottawa residents who sponsored a refugee individual or family under the federal government’s private sponsorship program. The new agency, directed by a volunteer board of directors drawn from a cross-section of the community, had a small paid staff of no more than four headed by project co-ordinator, Alan Breakspear. Volunteers ran six committees: accommodation, health, education, employment, media relations, and fund raising. Space downtown for the budding agency was donated by a property development company. Later, Project 4000 volunteers ran clothing and furniture depots for refugees and others in need. A newsletter was also published.

Private refugee sponsorship represented a considerable economic and emotional commitment.  Sponsors were legally bound to financially support their refugee person or family for up to one year at an estimated cost of $8,000-$12,000 ($25,000-$38,000 in 2014 dollars). In addition to bearing these considerable financial costs, sponsors helped to integrate the newcomers into the community. A myriad of jobs needed to be done, such as finding adequate housing, enrolling children in schools, and organizing health checkups. While some of the refugees knew a little French, or had a smattering of English, language training was also essential. For the refugees, arriving in Ottawa represented a huge cultural shock, especially for those coming in the dead of winter, accustomed as they were to the tropical climate of Indochina. Even if greeted by eager sponsors, they had to orient themselves in a strange, city with unfamiliar food and customs in a foreign language.

Mayor Dewar’s “call to arms” galvanized the city, and, indeed, the entire nation. Thousands of Ottawa citizens organized themselves into sponsorship groups. The Ottawa Citizen, discarding its role as an independent, dispassionate reporter of the news, helped residents form groups by printing a sponsorship form on the front page of the newspaper. Anybody wanting to sponsor a refugee could send in the filled-out form to the Citizen which would then divide people into groups of about 30 households in the same neighbourhood. The newspaper stressed that sponsorship was “a moral and financial commitment not to be taken lightly,” and that only “seriously interested” people should send in a form. The newspaper also agreed to sponsor a refugee family and challenged other area businesses to do likewise.

Project 4000

Sponsorship Coupon that appeared in The Citizen, July 1979

Citizens across Canada responded positively to the appeal to aid the refugees. In a flood of good will and compassion, more than 7,000 sponsorship groups were established across the country. In time for the UN conference held in late July 1979, the federal government under the leadership of Joe Clark increased the quota of refugees Canada was willing to take to 50,000 from 8,000—a politically courageous decision for a minority government. External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald later said that the Project 4000 initiative was instrumental in persuading hesitant Cabinet colleagues to approve the huge increase. The following year, the quota was raised again to 60,000 in response to the overwhelming sponsorship demand.

By the time Project 4000 was wound down at the end of 1983, roughly 2000 refugees had been resettled in Ottawa under the private sponsorship program, with an additional 1,600 sponsored by the government under a matching program. Nationally, 59,000 refugees found safety in Canada between 1979 and 1982, of which 34,000 were privately sponsored. 60 per cent of the refugees came from Vietnam, with the remainder roughly split between Cambodia and Laos. During these years, refugees accounted for roughly a quarter of all immigrants to Canada. In 1986, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees took the unprecedented step of awarding the Nansen Medal to the Canadian people in recognition of “their essential and constant contribution to the cause of refugees within their country and around the world.”

The winding down of Project 4000 did not stop the flow of Asian refugees to Ottawa, or to Canada more generally. When the torrent had slowed to a trickle by the late 1990s, more than 200,000 immigrants had come to Canada from Indochina. In contrast, there had been only 1,500 people of Vietnamese origin living in Canada in 1975, prior to the arrival of the boat people. By the time of the 2006 census, almost 60,000 residents in Ottawa-Gatineau identified themselves as having East or Southeast Asian roots. Successfully integrated into their new communities in all walks of life, the former boat people have greatly enriched the economic, cultural, and culinary fabric of the country. Marion Dewar was made member of the Order of Canada in 2002. She passed away in 2008, a year short of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Project 4000.

 

Sources:

Buckley, Brian, 2008. Gift of Freedom: How Ottawa welcomed the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

Canadian Council for Refugees, 1999. The Resettlement of Indochinese Refugees in Canada: Looking Back after Twenty Years, https://ccrweb.ca/20thann.html.

Dorais, Louis-Jacques, 2003. From Refugees to Transmigrants: The Vietnamese in Canada, Laval University, paper presented at the 8th International Metropolis Conference, Vienna.

Statistics Canada, 2009. Population by selected origins, by census metropolitan areas (2006 census), Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo27e-eng.htm.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1979. “The Refugees: Waning concern main fear facing refugee co-ordinator,” 10 July.

———————–, 1979. “Overwhelming show of support,” 13 July.

UNHCR, 2014. The People of Canada, Nansen Award Winners, 1986, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4ad5dc559&query=1986%20nansen%20award.

Ward, Bruce, 2008. “We’ll take them,” The Ottawa Citizen, 30 April.

Images: “Boat People,” History Learning Site, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam_boat_people.htm.

Mayor Marion Dewar in 1979, The Ottawa Citizen, http://www2.canada.com/ottawacitizen/features/boatpeople/index.html.

Sponsorship Coupon, The Ottawa Citizen, 10 July 1979.

 

 

Ottawa’s Castle

1 June 1912

The Château Laurier Hotel with its fairyland turrets and copper roof is one of Ottawa’s iconic buildings. Majestically located beside the Rideau Canal locks on Wellington Street and backing onto Major Hill’s Park, it has breathtaking views of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, and the Gatineau Hills. Given its aristocratic bearing and central location, one can almost forgive tourists for confusing it with Canada’s Parliament buildings but a short walk away. Indeed, its architecture was deliberately chosen to complement the Gothic Revival style of Canada’s legislative buildings.

The hotel and the Union Train Station (now the Conference Centre), located across the street and connected via a pedestrian subway, were constructed by the Grand Trunk Railway Company (GTR) during the early twentieth century. They were lynchpins in a new trans-continental rail and hotel network being developed by the GTR to compete head on with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the travel and hospitality industry. The Château Laurier was the first in a series of grand railway hotels that the GTR was to build, including the Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton and the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. For the federal government, which had an almost symbiotic relationship with the GTR, the hotel and train station were part of a broader plan to beautify Ottawa. They provided a striking entrance to the city, helping to realize Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s dream of turning it into the “Washington of the North.”

Chateau Laurier

Château Laurier Hotel, circa 1912

The preliminary design for the hotel was drafted by U.S. architect Bradford Lee Gilbert who had been hired in 1907 by fellow American, Charles Melville Hays, then General Manager and later President of the Grand Trunk Railway. Gilbert was famous for designing the “Tower Building” in New York City, that city’s first skyscraper. The French château architecture he proposed for Ottawa’s new hotel was a style popularized by the CPR which had previously built several grand baronial hotels, including the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, and the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta. After submitting drawings of the proposed hotel to Hays, the railway tycoon fired Gilbert, replacing him with George Ross and David McFarlane of Montreal. However, the new Ross-McFarlane design was remarkably similar to that originally submitted by Gilbert, leading to charges of architectural plagiarism.  Gilbert sued in 1908, and received $20,000 (close to $500,000 in today’s money) in an out-of-court settlement with the Grand Trunk Railway. Although their ethics were debatable, the controversy did not dent Ross and McFarlane’s careers. Their success with the Château Laurier demonstrated that Canadians were competent to tackle large architectural projects, hitherto typically given to Americans. Their company subsequently gained national prominence, winning major contracts across the country.

With a budget of $1.5 million, construction on the new hotel began in 1909 and was competed in 1912. It was named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the sitting prime minister of Canada. If this sounds a bit odd, it was. But it was an astute political move. Laurier had used his influence to carve out a piece of Major’s Hill Park for the site of the new hotel; an action that had provoked considerable controversy in Ottawa. Also, the railway owed its survival to the federal government that had provided it with millions in subsidies and loan guarantees. Even as the Château was being readied for its opening day in the spring of 1912, the GTR’s finances were on shaky grounds, with President Hays in London trying to find fresh funds for the railway. Indeed, the Grand Trunk was destined to be nationalized roughly a decade later to form, along with other bankrupt lines, the Canadian National Railway (CNR).

The grand opening of the hotel, with guests coming from across Canada and the United States, was scheduled for late April 1912. But catastrophe struck. Charles Hays and his family, which had accompanied him to England, elected to return to North America for the hotel’s opening on the RMS Titanic. They were the special guests of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line that owned the “unsinkable” liner. As we all know, the ship struck an iceberg four hundred miles south of Newfoundland and sank. More than 1,500 people perished in the cold North Atlantic waters. Although Hays’s wife and daughter survived the ship’s sinking, as did Ismay, Hays, his son-in-law, and his secretary drowned. Hays’s body was subsequently recovered, and was buried in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.  Also lost in the sinking of the Titanic were dining room furniture and other decorations purchased in London by Hays for his new hotel.

Paul Chevré, the Belgain-born sculptor of the bust of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which can be seen today in the lobby of the Château Laurier, was also aboard the Titanic. He boarded the ship as a first class passenger at Cherbourg, France. Chevré was on his way to Canada for the installation of his statue of former Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier on the grounds of the National Assembly in Quebec City, and for the unveiling of his Laurier bust in Ottawa. Chevré survived the sinking, having been persuaded to board the first life boat to be lowered into the water. Contrary to rumours, the bust, which was also making its way across the Atlantic, neither went down with the Titanic, nor was smuggled onto one of the Titanic’s life boats. Instead, it was safely shipped aboard another ship, La Bretagne, arriving in Ottawa in time for the hotel’s official opening.

On 1 June 1912, the magnificent Château Laurier and Union Station were officially opened to the public. With Hays’s death just six weeks before, the opening was a subdued affair. A silent toast was drunk to his memory. In attendance were senior executives of the Grand Truck Railway who played hosts at an informal banquet for the Parliamentary Press Gallery and a few journalists from Montreal, Boston and New York. That day, two hundred guests registered, with Sir Wilfrid Laurier the first to sign the hotel’s register.

The Château Laurier received rave reviews. The day after the opening, the reporter from Toronto’s Globe newspaper enthused “The latest word in palace hotels on this continent in point of chaste and impressive architecture, in point of beauty of interior decorations, and in point of completeness of arrangements for the comfort and convenience of guests, was spoken last night.” The hotel was indeed a masterpiece. Its walls were built of Indiana limestone, its lobby of Belgian marble, and its windows by Tiffany. Each of its principal public rooms on the main floor was thematically decorated: the lobby in simple Flemish style, the “palm room” in Renaissance style, and the waiting room in wainscoted oak, reminiscent of Tudor England. The dining rooms were fitted out in the manner of Louis XVI, with panels painted with classical subjects. In the basement, was the grill-room, bar, and barber shop, while on the mezzanine were the ladies’ parlours and the corridor writing room; a balcony overlooked the rotunda. As well as being beautiful, the hotel had all the modern comforts of the time, with electricity, and a state-of-the art kitchen and refrigeration plant. Also almost unheard of for the era, 155 of the hotel’s 350 bedrooms had private baths. The rest were equipped with washstands, complete with running hot and cold water. Room rates started as low as $2 per night, (equivalent to roughly $42 today).

The hotel immediately became the premier resting spot for visitors to the capital, eclipsing the old Russell hotel which subsequently fell on hard times. The Château also became the watering hole of choice for MPs and senators; so much so that it became known as the “third chamber of Parliament”—and not necessarily the least important being the location of many smoke-filled, back-room, political deals. In 1929, the hotel underwent a major expansion, adding its east wing and the installation of an art deco swimming pool. Another major refit occurred in 1983 that saw many of its small rooms enlarged to present-day standards.

In recent years, the hotel has changed hands several times. It’s currently owned by Capital Hotel Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Larco Investments of Vancouver. Larco is a family-run private company co-owned by Amin and Mansour Lalji.  The Laljis purchased it in late 2013 from Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate subsidiary of Quebec’s Caisse du dépôt et placement, for an undisclosed amount, but believed to have been in the range of $100-150 million.

Over its storied past, the Château has hosted kings, queens, princes and princesses, as well as a host of celebrities and politicians, including Shirley Temple, Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, the Beatles, Roger Moore, and Nelson Mandela. R.B. Bennett called it home from 1930 to 1935 while he was prime minister of Canada. Yousuf Karsh, the famed portrait photographer, had his studio in the Château from 1973 until his retirement in 1992. The sixth floor of the Château was also the home of the Canadian National Railway Radio Station (CNRO) from 1924 until 1937 when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) took it over. CBC continued to broadcast from the same location until it moved to its new headquarters on Sparks Street in 2004. The Château Laurier Hotel was designated a national historic site in 1981.

Sources:

CBC News, 2013. “Ottawa’s Iconic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel sold,” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-s-iconic-fairmont-ch%C3%A2teau-laurier-hotel-sold-1.2335695, 2 November.

Charles, R., 2012. “Fairmont Château Laurier,’s Unsinkable Titanic Link,” Vacay.ca, http://vacay.ca/2012/04/fairmont-chateau-lauriers-unsinkable-titanic-link/.

Encylopedia Titanica, 2014. “Paul Romaine Marie Léonce Chevré,” http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/paul-chevre.html.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier, 2014. Hotel History, http://www.fairmont.com/laurier-ottawa/hotel-history/.

Lachapelle. J., 2001. “Le Fantasme Métropolitaine,” Érudit, http://www.erudit.org/livre/lachapellej/2001/livrel1_div7.htm.

National Post, “Not just any hotel: Ottawa’s Château Laurier celebrates 100 years of celebrity,” http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/01/not-just-any-hotel-ottawas-chateau-laurier-celebrates-100-years-of-celebrity/.

The Citizen, 1929. “Fills a Long Felt Want In The Capital,” 8 June.

 The Globe, 1908. “Chateau Laurier Plans,” 10 October.

—————, 1912. “Mr. Chevre Repudiates False ‘Interviews,’” 13 April.

—————, 1912. “Chateau Laurier Opened in Ottawa,” 3 June.

Wikipedia, 2014. “Château Laurier,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_Laurier.

Image: Château Laurier, circa 1912, City of Ottawa Archives