HoveRovers and Spectras

6 March 1969

According to a 1966 Time Magazine report, futurists had great expectations for what the world would be like by the year 2000. Some things they got very right. As projected, technology has indeed enabled us to live longer, healthier lives even though bacterial and viral diseases were not eliminated as forecast. They correctly projected that advances in immunology would permit the ready transplantation of human organs though artificial did not become “commonplace.” An estimated global population of 6 billion at the turn of the millennium was also bang on. (In 2020, it stood at 7.8 billion.) Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher who coined he phrase the medium is the message, foreshadowed the world wide web, predicting that many people would be working from home using a country-wide telecommunications network.

But other things they got very wrong. We did not establish a permanent base on the Moon by the year 2000, nor did we land a human on Mars or send an astronaut past Venus. While automation has had an ongoing dramatic impact on the labour market, it was not the employment killer futurists expected. New jobs replaced jobs lost through computerization so that massive unemployment has not occurred though people continue to worry about the impact of technology—this time, artificial intelligence—on the labour market. As a consequence, work was not and is not being rationed, and moonlighting has not become as “socially unacceptable as bigamy” as some futurists feared in 1966.

Another thing many futurists, including McLuhan, got wrong was the elimination of the family car. They predicted that automobiles and highways would be obsolete by 2000, replaced by the family hovercraft which could easily skin over land, water and ice on a cushion of air. The hovercraft had been developed ten years earlier by Sir Christopher Cockerell, a British engineer.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ottawa-based firms tried to make McLuhan’s prediction a reality. For a short time, the capital became a global centre of air cushion vehicle (a.k.a. hovercraft) production before the dream foundered due to mechanical problems, stability issues, and noise concerns. A deteriorating global economy, including the imposition by the United States of a 10 per cent import tax in 1971 and high oil prices in 1973 also undercut the new industry. But for a time, two Ottawa firms stood out, Canahover Ltd and M.H.V. Industries Ltd, both of which started operations in the capital in 1968. Both companies showed off their model hovercrafts at an outdoor Dominion Day exhibition the following year, fittingly outside of the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology. Canahover, a subsidiary of Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, manufactured hovercrafts under licence from the Hovercraft Company of England out of facilities located on River Road. On 6 March 1969, the company publicly demonstrated for the first time its sports model, designed and built in Ottawa, on the Rideau River in front of journalists and potential dealers from across Canada and the United States. They and William Guttenberg, president of Bogue Electric, who had come up from New Jersey for the event, witnessed two hovercrafts successfully perform manoeuvres at high speed over the ice and open water of Mooney’s Bay.

Advertisement for the HoverRover, Ottawa Journal, 20 December 1969.

The two-seater vehicle, nicknamed the HoveRover was sixteen feet long, seven and a half feet wide, and just over five feet high. It was propelled by two German-built, air-cooled, rear-mounted, 25 hp engines that operated two aircraft-type propellers. A third engine mounted in the front powered two “lift” fans to provide the air cushion. Buoyancy when idle on water was provided by Styrofoam floats. The hovercraft, which was equipped with a Plexiglas canopy, was made of fibreglass over an aluminium and steel frame. It could travel at speeds 45 mph over land, 35 mph over water, and up to 55 mph over snow. The craft’s eight-gallon gas tank permitted a range of about 120 miles on one fill-up. There were two throttles, one for each of the rear engines as well as a rudder mechanism. To change directions, a driver would throttle back one of the engines as well as use the rudder. The craft’s 16-inch air cushion could clear 10-inch-high obstacles and climb at a 30-degree angle. The HoveRover, which retailed for $3,995 (equivalent to more than $28,000 in 2021 dollars), was also equipped with headlights and a safety beacon. Subsequently, the company began to manufacture a freighter model, costing $4,795, that could carry a payload of 1,000 pounds.

The company thought that its hovercraft would appeal to surveyors, hunters, and prospectors in remote areas, especially in the far north where wheeled vehicles damaged the environmentally delicate tundra. Canahover, as well as other manufacturers of small hovercraft, also hoped that the vehicle would repeat the success achieved by Bombardier’s Ski-Doo as a family sports vehicle. Indeed, many felt that the hovercraft’s versatility as a fun vehicle for all seasons and environments would supplant the snowmobile.

The first production HoveRover rolled off of the assembly line in mid-May 1969. It was immediately packed up and sent to Uplands Airport where it was loaded onto an U.S. Air Force freighter for delivery to its buyer who was none other than the Shah of Iran. The Shah must have been impressed. Iran later placed what was probably the company’s single largest order—20 freighter-type machines worth $100,000.

The company had high hopes for the future. With 25 employees in mid 1969, producing one hovercraft per day, the company intended to ramp up production to four vehicles per day and employ 100 persons at its hangar-like plant on River Road. To help boost sales, Canahover held demonstrations of the HoverRover in London on the Thames River and at the Miami Boat Show in 1970 and 1971, respectively.

At the same time, M.H.V. Industries, located initially in Gloucester and later at 1780 Queensdale Avenue in Blossom Park, began developing and testing its sports-style hovercraft called the Spectra I. Smaller than Canahover’s HoveRover, the Spectra I was just over ten feet in length and had a net weight of 450 pounds. It could travel 45 mph on land and 40 mph over water. Its advertising hype called it “the hovercraft for the fun market, comfort designed, industrially engineered, a scientific, aerodynamic, sports space craft, all terrain, all-weather, two-person-on-board capacity, straddle seat, surface-to-air, moon sled.” The Spectra I was priced at a relatively affordable $1,595-$1,095, depending on engine size. The higher price model was apparently able to achieve speeds of 50 mph on water and 70 mph on ice or snow.

The M.H.V. Spectra I in operation on the Ottawa River with the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge in the background, advertising postcard, M.H.V. Industries.

M.H.V. Industries was owned by 32 shareholders, mostly from the Ottawa area. Its president was Geoff Voyce, whose last name supplied the “V” in the company’s name. Two other major shareholders, Ted Michell and Norman Howard, furnished the other two letters.

Time Magazine described the Spectra I as looking like “a funland bump car with a big fan on the back.” Less sophisticated that the HoveRover, it was powered by twin 25 hp engines—one for propulsion and one for lift. The vehicle was also equipped with an instrument panel, a front cowl, a main body shell, and a rear fan guard. It had a 350-pound payload. Time Magazine saw the Spectra I as a potential game changer, commenting that M.H.V. had “raised the specter of a noisy hovercraft in every garage.”

Despite claims of sizeable orders, M.H.V. Industries went into voluntary receivership in 1970, owing to a variety of problems, not least of which were structural problems related to engines that needed to be sufficiently strong to power the craft but light enough to permit it “to fly.” Dealers began returning vehicles. There were other problems. It was tricky to drive. Even Voyce commented that “the first feeling you get in our craft is one of sheer panic.” On turns in water, the Spectra I tended to drift. Sudden stops could propel the operator over the bow into the water. Voyce also remarked frankly that it had “really shoddy mufflers, and its laminated wood propeller deteriorated rapidly in damp climates. Unfortunately, the firm simply didn’t have the funds to make the necessary improvements despite having a “marketable product,” at least as far as the firm’s president was concerned.

M.H.V. Industries briefly re-emerged from receivership under a new president, David Findlay, with aid from the provincial government. Work also began on a new and improved hovercraft—the Spectra II. The machine was quieter than its predecessor using a new drive unit developed in Ottawa by HPL Engineering with financial backing provided by the National Research Council and M.H.V. Industries. Two 30 hp engines powered the craft which gave it 70 per cent more thrust than had the Spectra I. It also had 50 per cent more “lift.” The Spectra II was equipped with a four-bladed propeller instead a two-bladed one. Top speed was 60 mph over ice or snow, 45 mph over water and 35 mph over grassy fields.

You too could win a Spectra I hovercraft! In the spring of 1970, M.H.V. Industries launched a marketing campaign with Harvey’s restaurants, Ottawa Citizen, 2 April 1970.

Despite the introduction of the much-improved Spectra II model, M.H.V. Industries did not last for very long. Sales were anemic. By 1974, the firm was bankrupt, its assets sold off to help pay back creditors. It was officially dissolved for good in 1980.

Canahover too did not endure. What happened to it was not reported in the press. But, like M.H.V. Industries, the firm was officially dissolved in 1980. Its parent company, Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, is still in business.

While hovercraft have yet to feature in every Canadian garage, small recreational air cushion vehicles are readily available today. In the United Kingdom, the home of the homecraft, the British Hovercraft Company offers for sale three recreational vehicles as well as a commercial rescue craft. Small hovercrafts are also made in Canada. Air Rider Hovercraft of Perry Sound is one such manufacturer.

The Canadian coast guard, which is based in Ottawa, currently operate four hovercrafts for search and rescue purposes. These are the CCGS Mamilossa, the CCGS Sipu Muin, the CCGS Siyay, and the CCGS Moytel.  The Mamilossa and the Moytel were built in the United Kingdom, while the Siou Muin and Siyay were constructed by Hike Metal Products of Wheatly, Ontario under licence.

For more information about early Canadian-made hovercraft, see the website of the Hovercraft Club of Canada.


British Hovercraft Company, 2021, https://britishhovercraft.com/.

Hovercraft Club of Canada, 2009, http://www.hovercraftcanada.ca/Default.htm.

Air Rider Hovercraft, 2021. https://airriderhovercraft.com/.

Morning Call (Patterson, New Jersey), 1969. “Bogue Introducing Land-Water-Snow Craft,” 6 March.

Ottawa Citizen, 1969. “Hovercraft starts new local industry,” 7 March. 

——————, 1969. “Ottawa shaping up as A.C.V. manufacturing centre,” 1 November.

——————, 1970. “New Kanata factory to build 9,600 hovercraft this year,” 19 January.

——————, 1971. “Hovercraft, Will it outdo snowmobile?” 18 December.

——————, 1973. “Hovercraft,” 10 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1969. “Local Firm Makes First Hovercraft,” 16 May.

——————-, 1970. “Misfortunes Dog M.H.V. Industries,” 21 March.

——————-, 1971. “Industrial Now, Pleasure Next,” 23 January.

——————-, 1971. “Air Cushion Carrier Firm Gets $100,000 Contract,” 7 June.

——————-, 1974. “Offer ‘quiet thrust package,” 12 January.

Time Magazine, 1966. “The Futurists: Looking Toward A.D. 2000,” 25 February.

——————, 1970. “Modern Living: A New Life for Hovercraft,” 19 January.

Province (Vancouver), 1969. “Miniature hovercraft put to test,” 8 March.

The Rockcliffe Ski Jump

23 March 1937

Ottawa residents of today might be surprised to learn that one hundred years ago, the centre of skiing in the Ottawa area was Rockcliffe Park, not the Gatineau hills. Sure, the hills of Gatineau were popular among hard core skiers, but they were too far away for those without transport. Rockcliffe Park, on the other hand, was close by, just a streetcar ride away from downtown Ottawa. The Park’s crown jewel was a ski jump operated by the Ottawa Ski Club. The jump was the location of many provincial and Dominion ski-jumping championships during the first part of the twentieth century, drawing thousands of spectators.

Sigurd Lockeberg ski jumping at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1912, Ski Jumping Hill Archive.

Ski jumping in the capital started around 1904. In February of that year, a small notice appeared in the Ottawa Citizen advertising a meeting at the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club on Elgin Street for the purpose of organizing a jumping competition at Rockcliffe Park. The outcome of the meeting was unfortunately not reported. However, another contemporary news article noted that a man by the name of Jack Lawless, a noted canoeist, along with other Ottawa residents were busy practicing ski jumps in Rockcliffe area close to the Ottawa Canoe Club. It seems they attracted some high-class attention. Lord and Lady Minto, who were both described as enthusiastic skiers, were frequent spectators. Ski jumping was described as a “most spectacular sport” which had already taken hold in Montreal, where Norwegians were making long aerial leaps in Fletcher’s Field, now called Jeanne-Manse Park, opposite Mont Royal.

The sport really began to take off following the establishment of the Ottawa Ski Club in 1910. A later newspaper article attributed the construction of the first ski jump tower in Rockcliffe Park to Sigurd Lockeberg and two friends, Frank Bedard and Joe Morin. It was said that the trio illegally cut down trees in broad daylight to make the jump, with the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the lease holder to Rockcliffe Park, casting a blind eye to their doings.

Rockcliffe Park, with its many excellent natural ski jumps, was also a favourite spot of Ottawa Senators to both ski and try their luck at ski jumping. Bruce Ridpath, a forward with the team, reportedly “flew” 29 feet in one of his leaps in early 1911 when he was out one afternoon with teammates Fred Lake, Hamby Shore and Albert “Dubbie” Kerr. Ridpath’s career with the Stanley Cup champions was to be cut short later that year when he was hit by a car in Toronto and suffered a fractured skull.

In March 1912, the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park was the site for the first ski-jumping championship hosted by the Ottawa Ski Club (OSC). The Ottawa Journal described the event as “the nearest diversion Ottawa has to aeroplaning.” In addition to members of the OSC, jumpers from Montreal and Berlin Mills, New Hampshire were invited to compete in front of several thousand avid spectators. Members of the OSC captured six of the twelve prizes provided by the Club. Adolph Olsen of Berlin Mills wowed the thousands of spectators by turning a somersault in the air while jumping—”a feat that would appear impossible unless seen with your own eyes.” The overall champion of the event based on both distance and style was Ottawa’s own Sigurd Lockeburg. Reportedly, Lockeburg received a cup donated by Count Malynski of Russia who happened to be in Ottawa at that time. As an encore, Sigurd Lockeburg and his brother Hans made a tandem jump of 65 feet—a first for Ottawa.

Note the prevalence of Scandinavian names among the jumpers. Ski jumping was a sport with a long pedigree in Sweden and Norway, dating back to the early nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, the sport came across the Atlantic with immigrants from that region to Canada and northern United States.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, “Suicide Hill,” Newton Collection, City of Ottawa Archives

The initial Rockcliffe jump was a ramshackle affair, apparently made of cordwood. It blew down in 1914 to be replaced the following year by a tall artificial tower some 128 feet high. The new ski jump was constructed on the highest point in the park and towered more than 50 feet over the trees. The total descent from the top of the chute to the river level was 255 feet. It was hoped that the slide would allow for jumps in excess of 140 feet.

It did not disappoint. At a championship meet held in February 1915, Ragnar Omtvedt of Chicago jumped a record 145 feet from the highest take-off which was constructed by the OSC especially for his visit. Meanwhile, Adolph Olsen, the Canadian champion, increased his record leap from 92 feet to 122 feet. 

Sadly, this impressive ski jump did not last long. It blew down later in 1915, thus ending ski jumping in Rockcliffe Park until after the Great War. An ice toboggan slide was built on the site instead. Ski jumping moved to a site at Dome Hill near Ironside, Quebec, now a suburb of Gatineau. But it was too far out to attract many people.

In late 1919, the Ottawa Ski Club announced that the Ottawa Improvement Commission had given its blessing to the Club’s construction of a new ski jump at the Rockcliffe Park site.  In February 1920, the new jump was inaugurated. At that first tournament, the Duke of Devonshire, the Governor General, donated the Devonshire Cup for the best amateur ski jumper, resident in the Ottawa area, defined as living within a thirty-mile radius of the capital. There were also prizes for intermediate and junior competitions. The winner of the first Devonshire Cup was Arthur Pinault of the OSC, winning both for style and a distance of 77 feet.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, circa 1930, National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, 3224095.

Ski jumping became a fixture at Rockcliffe Park for the next three years. Indicative of the growing interest in the sport, the new Cliffside Ski Club of Gatineau built at considerable club expense a first-class ski jumping facility at Fairy Lake (Lac des Fées) in 1921. It was a good thing they did. In early 1923, the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the fore-runner of Federal District Commission and the National Capital Commission, closed the Rockcliffe ski jump on the advice of the Department of Justice over liability fears should a jumper or a spectator get hurt at the site.

It took several years of lobbying and negotiation on the part of the Ottawa Ski Club, the Cliffside Ski Club and the City of Ottawa with the OIC to work out a deal that would enable ski-jumping to resume at Rockcliffe Park. Legislation was passed in 1925 that permitted the OIC to return the site of the ski jump back to the City of Ottawa and avoid any potential liability.

After a lot of further dickering, it was finally agreed that the Ottawa Ski Club and the Cliffside Ski Club would share equally in the cost of rebuilding the wooden Rockcliffe ski jump at a cost of about $3,000. Plans for a steel structure were dropped when the quote from the Dominion Bridge Company came in at a whopping $12,000. The two clubs would also share the maintenance of the facility.

In 1926, the new Rockcliffe jump was ready for competitions with the Ontario championships held at the site under the auspices of the Ottawa Ski Club and the Dominion championships under the auspices of the Cliffside Ski Club.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump from Rockcliffe Drive, 8 July 1930, Library and Archives Canada, 5066194.

For the next ten years, ski jumping continued at the Rockcliffe facility as well as at the Fairy Lake jump which was taken over in the mid 1930s by the Norland Ski Club.

However, without warning, on 23 March 1937, C.E. Mortureux, President of the Ottawa Ski Club, announced to the press that the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park had been sold to M. Zagerman & Co. for $125 and would be removed immediately. Mortureux said that it was a Board decision to demolish the ski jump, though it was not unanimous. He said that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintaining the ski jump and that these dollars could be better spent on upgrading the natural ski jump at the OSC’s site at Camp Fortune. Mortureux also attributed the decision to a decline in ski-jumping in recent years, and that the closure of the Rockcliffe jump was in keeping with similar decisions made by ski clubs elsewhere to move ski jumps to hills outside of urban centres.

Ottawa’s skiing community was shocked by the announcement. Two pro-ski jump members of the OSC’s Board of Directors, Sigurd Lockeberg and Gérard Dupuis, were out of town on the day of the Board made its decision and did not vote. It was not reported whether their votes would have made a difference.

The decision to close the jump set off a firestorm of letters in the Ottawa Citizen. The president of the Cliffside Ski Club, Stewart Bruce, wrote Mortureux asking for an explanation of why the tower had been sold without consultation, pointing out that in 1926 Cliffside had paid $1,536.51 towards the costs of construction, while the Ottawa Ski Club had paid $1,429.97. He estimated that with a 5% depreciation rate, the ski jump was still worth $1,900. 

The Norland Ski Club also issued a statement say that Norland had approached the OSC in late 1936 with a proposition to keep the Rockcliffe ski jump open and in safe and sound condition for the use of all Ottawa ski clubs. In response to this overture, the OSC had a solicitor draw up a draft agreement which demanded that the OSC receive 30 per cent of gross proceeds from any competition held by Norland. Norland refused. As well, the Norland statement indicated the Club’s surprise that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintenance as Norland members supplied 90 per cent of the labour (gratis) to maintain the jump and often contributed themselves the materials necessary for its maintenance. The statement also took issue with Mortureux’s statement that ski-jumping was on the decline, suggesting instead that it never had an opportunity to flourish under the direction of C.E. Mortureux, the “oft-called Father of Skiing.”

The Ottawa Citizen came to Mortureux’s defence, pointing out the recent closure of two Quebec ski jumps. The article also argued that ski jumping was on the decline owing to the growing popularity of downhill skiing which took more training and a “higher degree of brains and skill.” It added that only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch ski jumping.

This brought Sigurd Lockeberg, hitherto silent, into the fray. In a letter to the Citizen, he indicated that he had been “heartbroken” when he had heard the news of the ski jump’s demise. He rejected the Citizen’s negative comments, saying that ski jumping required fully as much skill and brains as did other forms of skiing. Moreover, if only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch the sport, then this would mean the Governor General down to little boys and girls are “a lot of cripples and nitwits.”

He also disputed the notion that the sport was in decline in the Ottawa area or elsewhere. While two jumps had been closed in Quebec, there were special factors that accounted for them. He believed that Rockcliffe was the ideal sport for ski jumping, and that it was a pity that some members of the OSC’s executive decided to tear down the tower. He added that Mortureux himself had indicated that the Board’s decision to demolish the jump had been “irregular” and that he regretted it. Lockeberg closed his statement with some mollifying words, saying that Mortureax had done a lot for skiers in Ottawa, adding that he hoped that the pause in ski jumping at Rockcliffe would only be temporary.

It was not to be. Although the Ottawa Ski Club asked the city of Ottawa to reserve the right to erect a temporary jump in the event of a Dominion championship, the Federal District Commission was not interested. It said that a jump didn’t fit in with its plans for Rockcliffe Park and that reforestation of the ski jump site would commence immediately.

However, Lockeberg was correct when he said that ski jumping was still popular in the Ottawa area. Jumping continued at the Ottawa Ski Club’s site at Camp Fortune for almost another 60 years. In 1960, O’Keefe’s, the beer company, began sponsoring an international ski-jumping event at Camp Fortune, a relationship that lasted for close to two decades. In 1967, the Centennial International Jumping Competition was held at Camp Fortune on the new 60-metre Lockeberg ski jump, named for Sigurd Lockeberg who had done so much for the sport over the decades.

After a downturn in the sport in the late 1970s, ski jumping experienced a revival during the early 1980s led in part by the success of Ottawa-born Horst Bulau, who took the Canadian senior ski jumping championship in 1979 and who subsequently won thirteen World Cup ski-jumping victories during the 1981-1983 period However, the sport subsequently began to fade again. In 1993, the NCC, which had taken over Camp Fortune from the bankrupt Ottawa Ski Club, dismantled the ski jump owing to structural defects which rendered it unsafe.

Various attempts have subsequently been made to revive the sport at Camp Fortune but have so far met with only modest success.


Gatineau Historical Society, 2021. Echoes from the Past.

Ottawa Citizen, 1904. “Sporting Notes,” 25 February.

——————, 1912. “Ski Jumpers Made Records,” 4 March.

——————, 1915. “Omtvedt Gave Great Exhibition But Failed to Create New Record in Ski Jumps at Rockcliffe Park,” 22 February.

——————, 1920. “Duke of Devonshire’s Trophy And City Ski Championship Was Won by Arthur Pinault,” 1 March.

——————, 1922. “On The Ski Trails,” 30 December.

—————–, 1923. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 5 February.

——————, 1925. “Approve Plans To Seek Saction of Rockcliffe Jump,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “New Ski Jump At Rockcliffe,” 2 February.

——————, 1937. “Ski Jump At Rockcliffe Is Landmark Now Vanishing,” 23 March.

——————, 1937. “Removal of Ski Tower Is Giving Rise To Controversy,” 24 March.

——————, 1937. “On the Ski Trails,” 25 March.

——————, 1937. “The Slump in Ski Towers,” 26 March.

——————, 1937. “Letter to the Editor by S. Lockeberg,” 29 March.

——————, 1937. “reforestation On Site Of Rockcliffe Ski Jump Planned,” 23 April.

——————, 1976. “Ski jumping resembles hand-me-down,” 10 March.

——————, 1982. “Bulau zooms to lead in World Ski jumping,” 25 January.

——————, 1993. “Camp Fortune’s ski jump hil casualty of structural defects,” 28 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1904. “Skiing Contests In Montreal,” 22 February.

——————-, 1904. “Great Spot For Skiers,” 23 February.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing,” [sic], 1 March 1904.

——————-, 1911. “Hockey Stars Take To Ski Jumping, Like Real Natives,” 14 January.

——————-, 1912. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 11 March.

——————-, 1915. “Ottawa Ski Club Building A Big Chute On Rockcliffe Park Site,” 7 January.

——————-, 1919. “Not All Who Jumped Dome Hill Landed Right Side Up With Care,” 18 February.

——————-, 1919. “Ottawa Club Plans To Revive Jumping,” 16 December.

——————-, 1925. “Plans For Big Ski Tower Completed,” 1 August.

Ski Jumping Archive, 2021. Ottawa, http://www.skisprungschanzen.com/.

The Ottawa Alerts

20 March 1923

Women’s hockey has a long and distinguished pedigree, dating back to 1889 when Lady Isobel Stanley, the daughter of Lord Stanley of Stanley Cup fame, strapped on some skates, picked up a hockey stick and played shinny with Rideau Hall ladies on the rink at Rideau Hall. Organized women’s hockey games quickly followed.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw many women’s hockey teams in the Ottawa area, including the Rideau Club Ladies, the Union Jacks, the “Readies” and the “Semi-Readies” (for experienced and not so experienced players, respectively), the Cliffside Ladies, a.k.a. the Busy Bees, the Sandy Hill Ladies, the Westboro Pets, and the Vestas of Hull (a fitting name for the Hull team since a vesta was another word for match, and matches were produced in their millions at E.B. Eddy’s match factory). There were also teams throughout the Ottawa Valley, including in Carleton Place, Smith’s Falls, Renfrew and Pembroke, as well as farther afield in Cornwall and Montreal.

It took time, however, for many to accept the idea of women playing hockey. It was seen as unladylike and undignified. It was often hard for women to get ice time at the rinks. Men also came to games to laugh and to mock women hockey players. But they were quickly disabused of such notions. A 1903 Ottawa Citizen account reported “A ladies hocky team sounds a trifle undignified, but when it’s once seen the idea of it being undignified vanishes.” The ladies were “appropriately dressed” wearing comfortable sweaters, regulation hockey hats, and skirts of a comfortable length. The newspaper also noted that the women of Ottawa don’t play merely for fun but rather play to win. It added that they played a rough game and struck the puck vigorously.

When the First World War began in 1914, many amateur and professional male hockey players enlisted providing more space for women’s hockey. In 1915, a four-team league called the Eastern Ladies Hockey League was formed. Additional teams joined later. In Ontario, while initially there was no formal women’s hockey league, teams from different communities organized to play each other. One powerful team was the Cornwall Victorias led by their star player Albertine Lapensée who was a major draw wherever the team played including in Ottawa. Lapensée was so good that many thought she was a boy. One opponent went so far as to pull off her toque to see how long her hair was, and in doing so revealed Lapensée’s long braids.

Here in Ottawa, a new women’s hockey team emerged in 1915—the Ottawa Alerts. The date of the team’s formation is a bit fuzzy. The first newspaper reference to the team appeared in The Ottawa Journal in April 1915 when it reported that a birthday party was given to Miss M. Prince by the Alert Hockey Club and other friends. By January 1916, the start of the women’s hockey season, the team was in action on the ice.  

In late January 1916, the Alerts journeyed Cornwall to take on the Cornwall Victorias at the Victoria rink. Accompanying the team was their manager Allan Healey and their chaperon, a mother of one of the players, Mrs Frank Ault. Team members included G. Rogers (goal), C. Chambers (point), B. Rogert (cover point and captain), E. Anderson (forward), H. Brown (forward) and M.E. Aula (forward). There were also four substitutes, B. Ault, M. Binns. I. Guppy and Janet McCracken.

Reportedly, the quality of the hockey was “remarkably good,” something that came as a “revelation” to the majority of the spectators. The Ottawa girls were described as strong skaters and beautiful stick-handlers. Tied 1-1 after the first period, the game ended in a 3-1 win for the Victorias. E. Anderson scored for Ottawa while Albertine Lapensée, who came on as a substitute in the second period, scored all three Cornwall goals.

The Ottawa Alerts: Ladies Ontario Hockey Association Champions. Shirley Moulds, the teams star player is in the centre seated above the trophy, Library and Archives Canada, also McFarlane, Brian, Proud Past, Bright Future.

The following month, the Alerts beat the Montreal Champetres 6-2 at Dey’s Arena. They also played a number of local teams. In mid-March 1916, they took on the Westboro Pets with all proceeds going to the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association and the Returned Soldiers’ Home. The referees for the game were none other Frank Nighbor and Horace Merrill of the Ottawa Senators. Nighbor had just joined the Senators from the Vancouver Millionaires, the 1915 Stanley Cup champions.

In 1917, the Alerts, again chaperoned by Mrs Ault, travelled to Pittsburgh where they played three games with the Pittsburgh Polar Maids, winning all three. On the way home, they played the Aura Lee team in Toronto. The game ended in a scoreless draw. The Alerts’ success on this road trip secured them international recognition.

In mid December 1922, women’s amateur hockey in Ontario became more organized with the formation of the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (L.O.H.A.) at a meeting held in the Temple building in Toronto. Initially eighteen teams from both large and small Ontario communities, including the Ottawa Alerts, joined the Association.

At the time, the Alerts were considered one of the best hockey teams in eastern Ontario. But how the team qualified for the L.O.H.A. playoffs is a bit unclear as the Alerts played only local exhibition games in the weeks prior to the beginning of the L.O.H.A. playoffs. The team was also given a bye in the first round. With less than a day’s warning, the league informed the Alerts that they would take on the Campbellford ladies’ team in a two-game, total goal series in the L.O.H.A. semi-finals with the first game to be played in Campbellford. The Campbellford team had earlier defeated the Lakeside and Peterboro team.

Despite the lack of warning and being hampered by the absence of two key players, one owing to illness and the other to an inability to get away, the Alerts took the first game eight goals to four. Stars of the game included the Alerts goalie, Florence Dawson, who had a “sensational” game, and forward Shirley Moulds. The Alerts also won the second game held two days later in Ottawa’s Dey’s Arena, one goal to nothing.

Having made it into the first league championship series, the Alerts were forced to wait for their western Ontario opponents to be determined—Thornhill, Welland, and North Toronto were still in the running. To keep their form, the team played exhibition games in Finch, Winchester and Chesterville.

The first Ontario Ladies’ hockey championship pitted the Alerts against North Toronto in a two-game, total-goal series, with the first game held in Ottawa at Dey’s Arena. (The two teams had met twice the previous year with the first game ending in a scoreless tie and with Toronto winning the second 1-0 on a disputed goal.) 

As expected, the first game was a close, hard-fought contest with the Alerts taking the game 1-0 on a third-period goal by Shirley Moulds assisted by Marion Gilles. According to the Ottawa Journal reporter, the score would have been higher had it not been for the heroics of Toronto player Fannie Rosenfeld, whose play was likened to that of the great Albertine Lapensée. (Fannie Rosenfeld, also known as Bobbie Rosenfeld, was Canada’s premiere female athlete of the 1920s. In addition to hockey, she played numerous other sports and was an Olympic gold medalist.)

The Alerts team, whose colours were yellow and black, was composed of Florence Dawson (goal), Ann O’Connor and Grace Grier (defence), Tena Turner [captain], Marion Giles, and Shirley Moulds (forwards) and Charlotte Forde, Eva Ault, Bee Hagen and Edith Anderson (substitutes).

In the second game held in Toronto on 20 March 1923, Shirley Moulds, the Alert winger, dominated the game scoring four goals in the Alerts’ 5-2 victory. The first period ended tied with Moulds and Toronto’s Rosenfeld each scoring two. Moulds scored the only second period tally and again in the third along with her teammate Marion Gilles. Captain Tena Turner was credited with keeping Rosenfeld largely in check. With the victory, the Alerts won the first Women’s Ontario Ladies Championship and the Dr Lorne Robertson trophy with an overall score of six goals to two.

The Alerts went on to win the league championship for the second time the following year though in a less than satisfactory manner. After two lopsided shut-out victories over Campbellford, the Alerts were again slated to play the North Toronto team in the finals. However, the Toronto team forfeited when the Alerts refused their demand for a guarantee to cover the cost of their travel from Toronto to Ottawa. The Alerts had paid for their own way to Toronto in 1923 and felt it was only right that Toronto covered its own travel expenses.

The Alerts remained a power in Ontario women’s hockey through the rest of the decade, but were weakened by the shift of their star Shirley Moulds to the Ottawa Rowing Club team in 1926. The Rowing Club team dethroned the Alerts as the Ottawa and District champions in 1926 and went on to win the women’s Ontario title in 1927, and lost to Toronto’s Aura Lee team in the 1928 championship. Shirley Moulds subsequently left the Ottawa Rowing Club team to play for Salloway Mills, a team supported by a brokerage firm of the same name that failed in the Great Depression.

In 1930, the Alerts were back on form, taking the Ottawa and District title by trouncing Chalk River, the winner of the Upper Ottawa league, 5-0 in Ottawa’s Auditorium. Expecting to face the Toronto Pattersons in the L.O.H.A. finals, the Alerts were shocked when the L.O.H.A. declared them ineligible. Through an oversight, the team had failed to send in player certificates to the L.O.H.A. by the required date. The far weaker Chalk River team went in their stead, losing to the Toronto Pats in a match that was held at the Montreal Forum owing to a lack of ice in Ontario.

The Alerts subsequently disappeared from the sports pages of Ottawa newspapers, most likely another casualty of the Depression.

The L.O.H.A. continued for another decade before it too collapsed in 1940, a victim of declining interest in women’s hockey. Before that happened, another Ottawa women’s hockey team, the Ottawa Rangers, briefly had some success, making it to the L.O.H.A. finals in 1938 and 1939. The team lost to the incomparable Preston Rivulettes in 1938 who dominated the league through the 1930s. The following year, the Rangers defaulted to the Rivulettes when the team was unable to provide the required $200 financial guarantee demanded by the Rivulettes.


Edmonton Journal,” 1922. “Ontario Ladies’ Hockey Leagues Form Association,” 18 December.

Freeborn, Jeremy, 2021, “Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (LOHA)” Canadian Encyclopedia,

McFarlane, Brian, 1994. Proud Past, Bright Future: One Hundred Years of Canadian Women’s Hockey, Stoddart Publishing Company, Toronto.

Montreal Star, 1916. “Miss Lapensee Is A Young Lady, Says Cornwall,” 12 February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1916. “Ottawa Ladies Met Defeat,” 31 January.

——————–, 1916.  “Alerts Win Fast March,” 24 February.

——————–, 1923. “Pro and Amateur,” 2 January.

——————–, 1923, “Local Ladies Win From Campbellford,” 16 February.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win the Ontario Title,” 21 March.

——————–, 1924. “Alerts Again Champ’ Ladies Hockey Team,” 28 March.

——————–, 1926. “Rowing Club Ladies Sextet Defeats Alerts,” 12 March.

——————–, 1927. “Shirley Moulds Notches Goal That Eliminates Alert Squad,” 28 March.

——————–, 1930. “Girls From Chalk River Defeated 5-0 By Alerts Team In Local Auditorium,” 25 March.

——————–, 1930. “Alerts Ineligible To Play In Finals,” 28 March.

——————–, 1938. “Rivulettes Defeat Ottawa Girls And Retain The Title,” 28 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1915. “Birthday Party,” 20 April.

——————–, 1923. “Alerts Play Again with Campbellford,” 15 February.

——————–, 1923. “Alerts And N. Toronto On Tonight, First Game of Ladies’ Title Series,” 15 March.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win From North Toronto,” 16 March.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win The Ontario Title,” 21 March.

——————–, 1930. “Chalk River Girls Play At Montreal,” 3 April.

——————–, 1030. “Chalk River Girls Lose to Pattersons,” 4 April.

——————–, 1939. “Ottawa Rangers Default to Preston,” 25 April.

Mrs. Pankhurst Comes to Ottawa

2 March 1916

In 1999, Time Magazine named Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst one of the most influential persons of the twentieth century—and for good reason. She devoted much of her life to obtaining the right to vote for women in her native Britain as well as around the world, including Canada and the United States. To this end, she toiled tirelessly, travelling constantly to spread the word, cajoling often hostile audiences, and raising funds for the cause. She also spent considerable time defending herself against criminal charges, or cooling her heels in prison for rock-throwing, window-breaking and conspiracy as the suffragette movement under her leadership became increasingly militant during the years immediately prior to World War I. Some militant suffragettes went even further, assaulting police and engaging in arson and bombing. One, Emily Davidson, died when she stepped in front of the King’s horse in the middle of a race at the Derby in 1913.

In jail, Mrs. Pankhurst and other militant suffragettes, went on frequent hunger strikes. Many were force-fed by prison officials. When this horrific practice gained the women widespread public sympathy, the British government introduced what became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, officially, the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act of 1913. Under this legislation, women on hunger strike could be released temporarily from jail to recover their health and then re-prisoned.

The effectiveness of the suffragettes’ tactics is subject to debate. Certainly, militant actions turned off many moderate supporters of women’s suffrage. However, progress towards gaining the vote was glacial despite successive legislative changes that broaden male suffrage. Many women were understandably aggrieved by their lack of progress. All this was to change with World War I.

Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913, Wikipedia.

Emmeline Pankhurst, née Goulden, the heroine of this story, was born in 1858 in Manchester, England to Sophie and Robert Goulden. Her father was a partner and manager of a cotton printing and bleach company. The eldest of ten children, young Emmeline was raised in a loving family and received the education given to a girl of the middle classes of the period, i.e., a bit of everything with a focus on social and “womanly” skills. 

From a very early age, she was politically aware, attending her first suffrage meeting at age fourteen. In 1878, she married Richard Pankhurst, a socialist barrister more than twice her senior who was a supporter of left-wing causes including Home Rule for Ireland, the abolition of the House of Lords, independence for India, and, most importantly, women’s rights. Together, they had five children, Christabel, Sylvia, Francis Henry (who died at the age of four), Adela, and Henry Francis (named in memory of his deceased brother). Their three daughters were later to join Emmeline in the fight for women’s suffrage. Husband Richard died of ulcers in 1898. Their second son, Henry Francis, died in 1910 at the age of nineteen. In 1915, Emmeline Pankhurst was to adopt four “war baby” girls, born to single mothers whose fathers were soldiers.

In 1889, Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst, along with others, founded the Women’s Franchise League. Emmeline also help establish the left-wing Independent Labour Party. In 1903, she and her daughters founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to continue the fight for women’s right to vote when the Women’s Franchise League dissolved.

Prior to World War I, Mrs. Pankhurst made a number of trips to North America to encourage women in Canada and the United States in their fights for women’s suffrage. She was invited to Ottawa by the Ottawa Equal Suffrage Association on several occasions, but to no avail. However, in 1909 Ottawa suffragists travelled to Toronto to hear Mrs. Pankhurst speak first at the Men’s Canadian Club of Toronto, and later that day at Massey Hall. Lady Edgar, the President of the National Council of Women, and Mrs. Falconer, the president of the Women’s Canadian Club, were special guest at the Canadian Club lecture.

While the Ottawa Equal Suffrage Association was supportive of Mrs. Pankhurst objective, the organization did not support militant action in Canada. It contended that “The conditions which have led to extreme measures in the British campaign did not exist here. Our approach is to men’s reason, intelligence, and sense of justice.”

It was slow going; male intelligence seemed to have been in short supply. During a visit to Toronto in 1911, Mrs. Pankhurst was asked by a man “Do women possess the same mental activity as men?” Another argued that “Women were not meant to be on equal footing with men.”

On hearing that Mrs. Pankhurst had said that Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister, “should not be allowed to lead a comfortable life,” the Ottawa Citizen disparagingly opined that the commissioner the of Dominion Police should “recruit a bodyguard of Amazonian police officers” whose duty would be to “deal with militant suffragist demonstrations.” The newspaper also said “it could not imagine Mrs. Pankhurst or any other woman throwing a rock straight, or the chances are it would be some innocent bystander who would get what was not coming to him.” Mrs. Pankhurst and her colleagues were described as the “hysterical sisterhood.”

The first of the Pankhurst family to visit Ottawa to speak on women’s suffrage was actually Sylvia Pankhurst in 1911. Only twenty years of age at the time, Sylvia Pankhurst gave an address at the Russell Theatre in November of that year. At the time, she was the secretary of the WSPU and was a veteran fighter for women’s rights having already served two prison terms.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst’s first visit to Ottawa occurred on 2 March 1916 when World War I was in full swing. Like her daughter Sylvia four years earlier, she lectured at the Russell Theatre. However, instead of Mrs. Pankhurst, the suffragette, people heard Mrs. Pankhurst, the warrior.

When war began in late July 1914, Mrs. Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel immediately put their campaign for women’s suffrage on hold and directed the energies of the WSPU against the “common foe”—the Central Powers, led by Germany. They campaigned vigorously for not only male conscription but also for women’s conscription, successfully encouraging the employment of women in munitions factories, farms and elsewhere to release able-bodied men for the front. Mrs. Pankhurst also participated in hundreds of recruiting meetings. Members of the WSPU also tried to shame un-uniformed men to join up by giving them white feathers. Emmeline and Christabel’s active support for the British war effort led to a split with Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst who were both socialists and pacifists. Both were later to become involved in anti-war movements and communism.

Emmeline and Christabel’s campaign in favour of the war gained them respectability. It also indirectly did much to further the goal of female suffrage. The fact that women, by their tens of thousands, were making munitions and bringing in the harvest meant that the British government owed them…big time. Even before the war was over, it was clear that women were finally about to get the vote in Britain and elsewhere.

Advertisement, 2 March 1916, Ottawa Citizen

Emmeline’s first visit to Ottawa in 1916 was part of a Serbian mission to North America to raise funds for Serbian refugees and to thank Canadians and Americans for their past support.  She was accompanied by Mr. Cheddo Miyatovich of the Serbia government. They had been invited to Ottawa by the British Committee for Serbian Aid whose offices were located on Laurier Avenue at the headquarters of the King’s Daughters. The pair spoke at the Russell Theatre, with ticket prices set very low “so that even those who have already given so generously” could attend. A luncheon for Mrs. Pankhurst and Mr. Miyatovich was held at the Russell House Hotel under the auspices of the Equal Suffrage Association. At the head table was the Mayor of Ottawa along with the guests of honour. A reception followed at the Chateau Laurier Hotel.

Following her presentation, the once critical Ottawa Citizen opined that it was “abundantly clear that Mrs. Pankhurst, the great suffrage leader, places her country and the welfare and integrity of Empire before all else” and that she was “consumed with deep patriotism.” The Ottawa Journal noted that Mrs. Pankhurst was neither a “raging maenad” nor a “frenzied bacchante,” adding “Whether we share your opinions or not, we admire you Mrs. Pankhurst for your perseverance and skill as a leader.” However, the quest for women’s suffrage was not forgotten, just in abeyance. When asked whether suffragists intended to continue their fight for women’s votes after the war, Mrs. Pankhurst replied that they were “like a dog with a bone. The bone might be buried, but they knew exactly where it was and when they should dig it up.”

Ottawa Citizen, 17 February 1916

While in Ottawa, Mrs. Pankhurst visited Parliament and was given a seat on the floor of the House of Commons to listen to the debates. The Ottawa Journal wryly noted that it was but a few days earlier that a resolution calling for women’s suffrage had been rejected.

In Ontario, Premier Hearst also refused to give women the vote in Ontario, saying that such a contentious issue should not be introduced at this time, and that it would lead to division among women and distract them from the splendid work they were doing for their country.

After leaving Ottawa, Mrs. Pankhurst and Mr. Miyatovich continued their Serbian mission tour, visiting next Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and Peterborough. At Carleton Place, she spoke ninety minutes to a spell-bounded audience at a meeting chaired by the President of Carleton Place’s Red Cross. She was introduced as “the greatest woman leader of the world.”

Mrs. Pankhurst returned to Ottawa two years later in September 1918. What a difference two years made! By this time, women had received the vote in six Canadian provinces—Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. At the federal level, voter equality between men and women had also been legislated, effective at the beginning of 1919. (Other provinces were to follow, with the laggard, Quebec, only giving women the right to vote in 1940.)

Similarly in Britain, the Representation of the People Act had been passed, which enfranchised women over the age of 30. (21 was the voting age for men.) Women were also permitted to run for Parliament. When question by the Ottawa Journal, Mrs. Pankhurst said that war had changed the British government. With a British election imminent, she stood solidly behind Prime Minister David Lloyd George. With women (mostly) having been given the franchise, the WSPU was converted into the Women’s Party. Christabel Pankhurst was to run under the Women’s Party banner in the December 1918 general election in the constituency of Smithwick, but lost narrowly to a Labour Party candidate.

Like during her previous visit to the capital, the focus of Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1918 visit to Ottawa was the allied war effort. Her mission, which was supported by the British government, was “to strengthen the union between the women of the Dominion and the women of the Mother Country.” Her message to Canadian women was “Let the women of the Empire unite to make the Empire strong as the pioneer of civilisation for the world.” She later spoke at Knox Presbyterian Church on the state of affairs in Russia, having recently returned from that country.

Before heading to Toronto to speak at the Canadian Club, Mrs. Pankhurst was entertained at a tea at Murphy-Gamble’s tea room on Sparks Street. Isabel Meighen, the wife of future Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, was present at the tea.

After the war, Emmeline Pankhurst spoke frequently on empire unity as well as the evils of Bolshevism. She was also very fond of Canada. In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine in 1922, she said that “in Canada there seems to be more equality between men and women than in any other country I know.” For a time, she lived in Toronto, and was active there in combating venereal disease.

After returning to Britain in 1925, she joined the Conservative Party, a move that shocked many of her friends and colleagues given her past association with the Independent Labour Party and other left-wing organizations.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst died in June 1928 in Hamstead, England at the age of 69.


Chapman, Ethel, 1922. Mrs. Pankhurst–Canadian”, Maclean’s Magazine, 15 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1909. “Nothing In It,” 28 December.

——————, 1911. “Pankhurst Suffragetism [sic],” 27 October.

——————, 1911. “Men Asked Questions,” 13 December.

——————, 1911. “Comment,” 19 December.

——————, 1916. “Mrs. Pankhurst To Visit Ottawa,” 17 February.

——————, 1916. “Women Placed Service First,” 4 March.

——————, 1916. “Ontario Again Refuses The Women’s Vote,” 18 March.

——————, 1918. “…. The War’s Women’s Aim, Says Mrs. Pankhurst,” 10 September.

——————, 1919, “For Mrs. Pankhurst,” 11 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1911. “ Young, But Is No Tyro,” 6 February.

——————, 1916. “Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst,” 2 March.

——————-, 1916. “Impressions of Mrs. Pankhurst,” 3 March.

——————-, 1916. “On Parliament Hill,” 3 March.

Purvis, June, 2002, Emmeline Pankhurst, A Biography, Routledge, London & New York.

Time Magazine, 1999. “Time 100 Persons of the Century,” 6 June.

Windsor Star, 1916. “No Sacrifice Too Great To Bring Allied Victory,” 2 March.

Le Droit

27 March 1913

English-speaking Ottawa residents got their first English-language newspaper when Ottawa was still called Bytown, not long after the Rideau Canal was completed. The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, owned and edited by James Johnson, opened for business in February 1836. It was renamed the Bytown Gazette a short time later by Alexander Christie who purchased the newspaper from Johnson. The newspaper folded in 1845 leaving The Packet, launched in 1844 by William Harris, as the dominant English newspaper. The Packet was renamed the Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and has remained the main English newspaper in the capital to this day.

French-speaking Ottawa citizens had to wait until 1856 for their first French-language newspaper, Le Progrès. It was a weekly paper which covered politics, literature and business news. It bitterly opposed the idea of U.S. annexation of Upper Canada that found support among many English Canadians at that time. In 1861, it published an editorial arguing that union with the Northern States, which had just entered a civil war with the Confederacy, would ruin the country and would destroy in whole or in part our language [French], our religion [Catholicism] and our nationality [Canadian].  Sadly, the newspaper did not endure. Another newspaper by the same name reappeared in 1877 with offices at 200 Sparks Street. Delivered free of charge, it had a circulation of 2,000. However, it failed within a year. A number of other French-language, Ottawa-based, papers came and quickly went, such as Le Soleil and Le Féderal. A monthly 64-page magazine initially called Le Foyer Domestique appeared in 1876. Written by Catholic writers, its office was on Sparks Street. For a short while, it became a 12-page weekly before returning to a monthly format as L’Album des Familles in 1880. Its focus was primarily religion, philosophy, literature and poetry rather than news.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, initially a bilingual newspaper, commenced publication in 1870. A few months later, English was phased out and the paper changed its name to Le Courrier d’Outaouais after a debate in the paper about the appropriateness of using “Ottawa” in its name since the word was not French. The newspaper, which was for a time printed at 12 Wellington Street, closed in 1876. Its largest circulation was apparently only 600 copies.

Le Canada, owned and published by Ludger-Denis Duvernay, appeared in late 1865 with Elzéar Gérin as its first editor.  This paper was published on York Street three times a week. Conservative in its politics, Le Canada stopped publishing four years later though it later re-emerged in 1879 out of another short-lived newspaper called La Gazette d’Ottawa. The latter’s printers were Messieurs Louis Bélanger & Cie who operated from quarters at 445 Sussex Street at the corner of Sussex and Murray Streets. The paper later moved to 524 Sussex Street. The editor of the second version of Le Canada was Joseph Tassé, a Conservative member of Parliament and later senator who had been a journalist for the first Le Canada. The newspaper became a daily and remained in business until 1896.

Le Temps, whose offices were located at 552 Sussex, commenced publication in November 1893 under the editorship of Mr Oscar McDonnell. Its politics varied, sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal. It stopped publication in 1916.

With the demise of Le Temps, Ottawa’s residents were left with one French-language newspaper. This paper, Le Droit, which was started by a group of eminent Ottawa clergy and prominent local businessmen and politicians in 1913, flourished despite initial pessimistic expectations.

The mock-up of the newspaper, dated 15 January 1913.

The first public indications of the publication of a new Ottawa French-language newspaper occurred in mid January 1913 with the release of a mock-up of the Le Droit. The name can be translated into English as the Law, the Right, the Straight, or even the Upright. That initial, four-page edition didn’t contain much news other than report on the newspaper itself. There was a lot of blank space with headings and descriptions to indicate what the future content of these columns would be. The edition was more akin to a prospectus, announcing to the general public its intentions, its political affiliation or lack thereof, the cost of a subscription, and other important corporate details. Its office was identified as being on Dalhousie Street in Lower Town. But by the time the first official issue was published two months later, it was 88 York Street. The paper’s telephone number was Rideau 1448.

The backers of the newspaper had received a federal charter of incorporation, with an initial capitalization of $100,000, divided into $100 shares, payable in $25 installments, callable by the newspaper’s directors. A “good portion” of this amount had already been subscribed and the newspaper hoped that the balance of funds would come in over the next few days.

The paper was owned by a syndicate of 169 prominent French-Canadian businessmen and Roman Catholic priests called Le Syndicat D’Oeuvres Sociales, Limitée. Prominent members included Alfred Goulet, a political and businessman from Clarence, Ontario, A. T. Charron and F.A. Labelle, a Hull-based notary. The newspaper’s president was Onésime Guibord of Clarence Creek, Ontario. Guibord had been a member of the provincial legislature for Russell Township. Rev. Père Élie Jeannotte, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from Ottawa, was vice-president. Le Droit’s editor-in-chief was J.A. Caron, formerly of Rhode Island. Prior to the release of the mock-up of the newspaper, the shareholders met and elected a board of fifteen directors. Napoléon Antoine Belcourt, a Liberal Senator and head of l’Association canadienne-française d’éducation d’Ontario, was their legal adviser.

Shareholders in the new paper were not very hopeful of Le Droit’s future success. An article in the mock-up suggested that circumstances at that time were not favourable for staring a new newspaper, and that it needed the help of all of its friends if it were to succeed.

The purpose of the newspaper was to fight for the rights of French-Canadians in Ontario. In 1913, French-Canadians in Ontario found their language rights under threat by the passage of Regulation 17 the previous year by the Conservative Ontario Government of Sir James Whitney. The regulation restricted the use of French as the language of instruction in Ontario’s schools to only the first two grades. Thereafter, English was the language of instruction even to francophone children. The fight for language rights was led by Senator Belcourt, French-Canadian clergy, and the Ottawa Separate School Board. This conflict was to culminate three years later in “The Battle of the Hatpins” in which francophone mothers in Ottawa fought and ultimately succeeded in ensuring French remained the language of instruction for their children. Le Droit was to play a vocal supportive role in that coming fight.

In the January 1913 mock-up of the newspaper, there was a French translation of Regulation 17 as well as a reprint of an editorial on the subject that had appeared in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir in September 1912 following the release of the Regulation. Le Droit argued that the best weapon in the fight for linguistic rights was the publication of a daily newspaper which was before all and above all in the service of the Catholic faith, French language, and equal rights for all. It also sought “British Fair Play,” saying that French-Canadians simply wanted fair play on the burning questions of the day, such as the schools’ issue.

The newspaper’s “prospectus” announced that it would independent of all political parties and factions, unlike Ottawa’s English newspapers.  The newspaper also indicated that it would not focus on scandals or on sensational news but would give relevant, useful information. The newspaper saw a pedagogical role for itself. This was true even when it came to the coverage of sports, where it promised to take a “scientific point of view” in order to improve the health of French-Canadian youth. The paper also indicated that while it would take advertisements in order to raise revenue, it would not accept advertisements for alcohol, the theatre or other things that it could not recommend to people. It furthermore promised to limit ads on the front page to only one column.

Le Droit said it would cover current news in Ottawa and Hull, and would follow with interest the work of French-Canadians in all municipal organizations in Ontario and North-West Quebec. It stressed that it would look for useful news, not the sensational, and would report on the lessons to be drawn from the events it covered. The paper would also follow closely political news coming out of Queen’s Park in Toronto. Its particular focus would be on schools and the right of parents to give their children the education they judged to be the best. The paper said that it would have correspondents through Ontario and North-West Quebec. Its weekly Saturday edition would focus on more distant centres like Témiscamingue and Western Ontario.

The cost of the daily newspaper delivered each evening to the home was one cent. A yearly subscription cost $3.00 in Canada and the United States, $6.00 for other countries. The weekly edition, which was delivered on Saturdays, cost $1.00 per year in Canada, $1.50 in the United States, and $2.00 elsewhere.

The first real issue of Le Droit appeared on 27 March 1913, roughly two months after the mock-up addition was circulated. The afternoon before the official launch, Monsignor J.O. Routhier, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Ottawa, blessed the newspaper in a special ceremony in front of the paper’s staff and shareholders.

True to its word that it would focus on French-language education, front and centre of the first edition was an article on Ontario school boards. Beside the article was another called “Our Newspaper” which said that they were pleased to present to the general public a new newspaper that will devote itself to the interest of the French language and French schools in this part of the country. The paper didn’t see itself as “the Saviour of the People.” Instead, the paper said it would be humble, and that it didn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and even less on good actions.

It must have been very hectic in getting the first edition to bed. Le Droit’s management apologized that their service was imperfect that first day. They hoped that readers would understand and wouldn’t be too upset with the gaps that are inevitable in the launch of such an enterprise.

Advertisers in Le Droit that first day included both large and small French-owned companies and professionals with business in Ottawa. Le Sauvegarde Insurance Company, the only French-Canadian insurance company operating in Ontario, had a sizeable advertisement. It must have helped that Senator Belcourt was on the insurance company’s board of directors. J.A. Larocque, the big Ottawa department store located on Dalhousie Street, advertised its Japanese silks, robes, and corsets for all sizes. La Cie Chatillion, a furniture company on Rideau Street, announced its grand sale of stoves, beds, furniture, carpets, mattresses, bedsprings, and other household items. Showing the universal language of business and a keenness to attract francophone customers, many English-Canadian companies took out big, French-language ads that first day, including The Metropolitan Store, the Tally-Ho Pure Water Company, the Ottawa Printing Company and the Federal Typewriting Company.

Le Droit received the support of its friends and prospered. After more than 100 years of service to Ottawa’s francophone community, the newspaper remains an advocate for French rights in Ontario, and is Ottawa’s only French-language daily. It is currently owned by Martin Cauchon through his holding company Groupe Capitales Médias.


Audet, F.J. 1896. Historique des Journeaux d’Ottawa, A. Bureau & Frères.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, 1861. “L’Annexation de 1850 Vit – Elle Encore? ” 24 April. http://crccf.uottawa.ca/passeport/II/D/1/IID1a04-1-2.html.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2020. Joseph Tassé, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tasse_joseph_12E.html.

Le Droit, various issues.

The French-Canadian Genealogist, 2020. Clarence Creek, https://www.tfcg.ca/history-of-clarence-creek.

Ottawa Citizen, 1913. “New French Daily,” 27 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1913. “New French Paper,” 27 March.

Répertoire du patrimoine cultural du Québec, 2013. Duvernay, Ludger-Denis, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=24067&type=pge#.X6r-FWhKg2x.

Ross, A.H.D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, The Musson Book Company Limited, Toronto.


23 March 1973

Ottawa residents of a certain age may recall a department store called Henry Morgan & Company located on the south side of Sparks Street close to Elgin Street, a spot now occupied by the Royal Bank of Canada. Morgan’s, as it was known to all, was a branch of an upscale Montreal-based department store chain that had come to the nation’s capital in 1951 with the purchase of the venerable retail firm of R.J. Devlin & Company from the Devlin family.


R.J. Devlin & Company, 76 Sparks Street, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3422789.

R.J. Devlin & Company had deep roots in Ottawa, dating back to 1869 when its founder, Robert James Devlin, came to the city from London, Ontario to start a furrier business. Devlin was born in 1842 in Londonderry, the son of an Anglican priest. His father died when Devlin was just twelve years old. A guardian subsequently took the young lad to Canada. Took is the operative word. Devlin was a wealthy young man, having inherited $30,000, a huge sum in those days. But when he was out one afternoon as a volunteer water-carrier for the London Fire Brigade, his so-called guardian absconded, leaving Devlin penniless. Forced to look quickly for work, Devlin found a job in a fur factory. He later worked as a journalist for the London Free Press writing a humorous column called Korn Kob Jr. At some point, he met the Hon. John Carling, later Sir John Carling, a prominent London businessman who represented the city in both the provincial and federal governments. Carling advised Devlin that he should start a furrier business in Ottawa which at the time was growing rapidly, the government having just moved there from Quebec City. He arrived in 1869 and set up a fur and hat store on Rideau Street close to the canal. He later moved to No.37 Sparks Street across from the Russell House Hotel. The store’s sign was a large tin hat on which was written the store’s motto — “Hats that R Hats.”

Devlin’s three-story shop at 37 Sparks Street sold hats on the ground floor, had a fur “salon” on the second floor, and the Devlin fur workshop on the third floor; Devlin’s manufactured all its fur products on-site. The store itself was famous for its mirrors. They were carefully angled in the stairwell to allow a person on the ground floor to see end-to-end through the second-floor fur salon as well as up the stairs to the workshop. This must have been a handy feature for salespeople to monitor the store for shoplifters.

Devlins ad ODC 25-9-1869 dated 14-9

An early Devlin’s advertisement, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 25 September 1869.

Each Saturday, when Devlin received the week’s sales tally from the store’s accountant, staff could judge how successful the week had been by Devlin’s choice of cigars. If sales and profits were strong, he would send a clerk over to Nye’s Cigar Store in the Russell Block to purchase 25 cent cigars—the very best. If sales were lacklustre, the clerk would buy cheap ones. Staff wanting a raise would know to approach Devlin only when he purchased the expensive cigars.

In 1891, Devlin built a four-storey building on a 66 x 98-foot lot, formerly known as the Kenley property, at 76 Sparks Street between Elgin and Metcalfe Streets. Before the growing company occupied the entire building, also known as the Carleton Chambers, Devlin’s rented space to a number of tenants, including Ahearn & Soper, Robert Masson’s Shoe Company, and the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. Reportedly, Devlin had difficulty renting the fourth floor since potential tenants didn’t trust the elevator to go so high, and were reluctant to walk up four floors. During the early twentieth century, the store expanded beyond hats and furs to become a women’s and men’s clothes store.

What particularly distinguished R.J. Devlin & Co. from its competitors was the store’s advertising. The advertising copy, which was always prepared by Devlin himself, often took jibes at politicians of all stripes, as well as Ottawa and its residents. A friend of Mark Twain, Devlin had a devilish wit. He called the beaver “Canada’s original lumber king whose tail is as devoid of fur as the head of the average senator.”

Devlins asphalt 30-6-1893 OJ

R.J. Devlin’s satirical advertisement regarding the state of Sparks Street. Ottawa Journal, 30 June 1893.

He frequently complained about the state of Ottawa’s roads, especially Sparks Street. In one of his ads, he quipped that “fishing was recorded as good on a ravine called Sparks St – but if any of my patrons will come to the opposite bank and shout, I well send over a boat and ferry them across.” Another read “my business is located behind a rut on what is known as Sparks Street – not the small rut over on Elgin Street but the large one near the middle of the block [i.e. in front of Devlin’s store].” In 1893, he wrote a satirical piece arguing that Ottawa citizens didn’t need a clean, solid, enduring pavement on Sparks Street. Leave well enough alone. If it was good enough for our forebears it’s good enough for us – as long as “you wear long boots or are handy on stilts.” Sparks Street was finally paved in 1895.

Devlin didn’t spare himself either. For one sale he advertised: “There is a surplus of furs which I should not have – and a chronic deficit in my bank account which the manager says he won’t have – so – betwixt the Devil and the Deep Sea, etc.” Another read: For sale – Grey goat coats $6 – they are grey and the are goat – and they are six dollars – which is all I can truthfully say about them.” Another went: “Waterproof coats $5 – they are not even good coats – unless they possess some hidden virtue of which the undersigned is unaware.”

Robert Devlin’s greatest advertising coup occurred in 1889. On 11 November of that year, his advertisement predicted that winter would start in Ottawa on 27 November with a major blizzard accompanied by howling winds. To prepared for the coming storm, men and women should purchase fur coats and warm sleigh robes from his store before it was too late. Recall that these were the days long before Environment Canada, when people relied on the Farmers’ Almanac and weather “seers” for their forecasts.

Devlin's snow prediction OJ 12-11-1889

Devlin’s advertisement warning Ottawa residents that winter would begin with a major snow storm two weeks hence on 27 November, Ottawa Journal, 12 November, 1889

The city waited with bated breath to see if his prediction would come true. The 27th began grey and dull with a stiff wind. The temperature was in the upper thirties, Fahrenheit. Through the morning, the temperature dropped. The occasional snow flurry changed into a heavy and persistent snowfall. By evening, the snow was so deep that the street railway stopped working. The first sleighs of the season appeared on city streets. The snow continued for close to twenty-four hours, with more than a foot on the ground, just like Devlin had predicted.

Devlin was lionized by the success of his prediction. More than 250 people sent him their congratulations. When asked by a Journal journalist the secret of his success, Devlin demurred, reportedly saying “Do you think I am going to impart my priceless system…mine is the only infallible and true method and I mean keeping it too (sic) myself.” Devlin was crowned by the public as Ottawa’s “prize weather prophet.”

Many years later, Devlin’s advertisements were collected by his sons and given to the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa, the forerunner of The Historical Society of Ottawa, and were housed in the Bytown Museum, then operated by the Society. The three leather-bound volumes are currently stored for safe keeping in the City of Ottawa Archives.

With his unorthodox advertising methods, and a strong reputation for quality furs, Devlin’s prospered. Governors general and prime ministers patronized his store. In 1901, an association of Canadian women presented the future Queen Mary with a mink and ermine wrap made in the Devlin workshop. Famous Hollywood stars including Lilian Russell, Maureen O’Sullivan, Jimmy Cagney, and Gene Tierney were Devlin customers. The fabled Pavlova and Field Marshals Ferdinand Foch of France and Douglas Haig of Britain patronized the store. When Winston Churchill visited Ottawa in December 1941, Devlin’s made a sealskin hat for the British prime minister over night. It was presented to the great man by the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

In 1949, R. J. Devlin & Company celebrated its 80th anniversary. By this time, the store had passed to Robert Devlin’s sons, W.F.C. (“Ted”) Devlin and Brian Devlin; R.J. Devlin himself having died in 1918 at the age of 78. Three years later, in April 1951, the brothers sold the landmark store to Montreal’s Henry Morgan & Company. Ted Devlin stayed on as a director of Devlin’s which was now operated as a subsidiary of Henry Morgan & Company. All of Devlin’s staff were retained by Morgan’s as were Devlin’s policies, including the staff pension fund which was instituted by Ted Devlin in one of his last acts as the company’s president.

While Morgan’s initially ran the store under the Devlin name, six months after the purchase, Morgan’s send 10,000 Ottawa residents a questionnaire asking them whether it should retain the historic name or change it to the Henry Morgan Company. Five thousand people responded with a two to one margin in favour of changing the name.

In 1960, Morgan’s of Montreal was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company. While billed as a “merger,” it was in fact an acquisition under which Morgan shareholders received one Hudson’s Bay share and $14 for every Morgan’s share. The deal was worth $15.4 million. While the takeover was reported in the press, few realized the takeover had occurred as the Bay ran Morgan’s outlets, including the one on Sparks Street in Ottawa, under the Henry Morgan & Company name.

In November 1971, the Hudson’s Bay Company bought Ottawa’s A. J. Freiman’s department stores. With Freiman’s main store on Rideau Street, just a short walk away from the relatively small and elderly Morgan’s outlet on Sparks Street, Morgan’s future looked grim. On 23 March 1973, the hammer came down. The Hudson’s Bay Company announced that Morgan’s on Sparks Street would close for good. But, the Hudson’s Bay, still operating under the Freiman’s name in Ottawa, promised that no jobs would be lost with a new giant Freiman’s store to open later that year in a new west end shopping centre. That fall, with Freiman’s now operating under the Hudson’s Bay brand, a huge Bay store opened in the new Bayshore Shopping Centre.


Hudson’s Bay Company, 2019. Morgan’s of Montreal, http://www.hbcheritage.ca/history/acquisitions/morgans-of-montreal.

Ottawa Citizen, 1931. “Great Devlin Storm Prediction Caused A Sensation In The Eighties,” 5 December.

——————, 1949. “Firm of R. J. Devlin Now Celebrating It’s 80th Anniversary Year,” 5 March.

——————, 1951. “Morgan’s Buys Devlin Company,” 17 April.

——————, 1954. “Bound Volumes of Old Devlin Ads Given To Women’s Historical Society,” 15 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1889. “Winter Is Here,” 28 November.

——————-, 1889. “Prophet Devlin Comes Out On Top,” 28 November.

——————-, 1918. “R. J. Devlin Dead And City Loses Leading Citizen, 22 August.

——————-, 1951. “Devlin’s Becomes Morgan’s After Vote By 5,000 Residents,” 29 October.

——————, 1973. “Morgan store closing ends retailing legend,” 23 March.


The Bytown Consumers Gas Company

25 March 1854

For millennia, cities, stores and homes went dark after sunset. Artificial lighting was limited to the illumination provided by fireplaces and torches of various description. Outdoors, wealthy pedestrians might hire a link-boy who, for a small fee, might carry a flaming brand to light their way. The alternative was the feeble light cast by a lantern, or making do with moon and star light. At home, candles made of tallow from rendered beef, mutton or pig fat, which cast a sputtering and smelly glow, were widely used. Also popular and inexpensive were rush-lights made from the pith of the rush plant dipped in grease. The poorest had to be satisfied with a saucer of grease and a twist of cloth. The wealthy could afford sweet-smelling, beeswax candles. Regardless, evenings must have been dim and shadowy, the light uncertain.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, burning oil derived from the rendered blubber of whales became popular owing to the bright light such fuel provided. The right whale, so-called for being a slow swimmer, which made it easier to catch, and its propensity to float after being harpooned, was the preferred catch. Sperm whales were also prized. Top quality sperm oil, also called spermaceti, was used to make candles given its waxy nature and lack of smell. The spermaceti organ of a sperm whale could contain as much as 1,900 litres of this valuable commodity—the reason why these great beasts were hunted to near extinction along with their right whale cousins.  In 1850, whale-oil lamps were placed over public wells in Bytown’s Upper and Lower Town.

Gas ODC 15-7-1854

Notice that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, 25 March 1854

A new lighting alternative came to the fore during the first half of the nineteenth century, first in Europe then in North America. This was manufactured gas, sometimes called coal gas. Manufactured gas was made by distilling black, bituminous coal in a heated retort. (A retort is a closed vessel made of glass or metal.) The vapour was then cooled and purified. The resulting gas was then stored and conveyed to consumers via underground pipes. Manufactured gas was first used for lighting in Europe during the early nineteenth century. Reportedly, by the mid-1820s, most English towns of any significance were lit by gaslight. The technology crossed the Atlantic, with Boston and New York both furnished with gaslight by 1825. Gaslight came to Montreal and Toronto during the 1840s.

In 1854, Bytown’s leading citizens thought their community was sufficiently large to make a gas works in the town a paying proposition. Although Bytown boasted a population of only 7,000 souls, the town had great prospects. Area politicians hoped to convince the government that Bytown would make a fine capital for the new Province of Canada. Twenty prominent electors requested that Mayor Friel hold a public meeting “on the propriety of getting up a Gas Company for the town.”

In early March 1854, a Town Hall Meeting, chaired by the mayor, was held to discuss the issue. Six resolutions were passed. First, it was resolved that the inhabitants of Bytown were of the opinion that the bringing of gas to the town was “of considerable importance, both socially and economically.”

Second, a joint-stock company should be established to be called The Bytown Consumers Gas Company. The resolution also asked for the support of the Mayor and the Corporation of Bytown of an application to the Provincial Legislature for the necessary powers.

Third, it was resolved that the population of Bytown was sufficiently large and wealthy to make a gas works a profitable investment.

Fourth, it was agreed that a “book” be opened immediately to take subscriptions for stock in the new company, and that an application be made to the Provincial Legislature for an act of Incorporation.

Fifth, it was resolved that a Committee be formed to obtain subscriptions in the new company, and that a meeting of stakeholders would be called to organize a company once £2,000 ($10,000) had been collected. The Committee would include three area members of the Provincial Parliament—G. B. Lyon, E. Malloch, and John Egan—as well as the current mayor, Henry. J. Friel, as well as Alexander Workman, and Joseph-Balsora Turgeon, two prominent politicians who would later become mayor.

Sixth, the citizens agreed that the new gas company should have a capitalization of £10,000, divided into shares of £10 each.

Events moved quickly. Three weeks later, it was official. A notice dated 25 March 1854 appeared in the Ottawa Citizen announcing that an application would be made to the Parliament of Canada at its next session to incorporate The Bytown Consumers Gas Company. It also serviced notice that it would request the ability to dig up roads for the purpose of laying pipes and to be able to hold property and undertake whatever was required for the manufacture of gas.

The following month, a declaration of intent to establish a gas company in Ottawa was registered in the Registry Office of the County of Bytown and sent to the provincial secretary in Quebec. This declaration was required under legislation passed the previous year entitled An Act to provide for the formation of incorporated Join Stock Companies for supplying Cities, Towns and Villages with Gas and Water (Victoria 16, Chapter 173). The act set out the objects of such firms, their rights and obligations. Such rights including the laying down of pipes under public roads so long as they caused no unnecessary damage and permitted free and uninterrupted passage along the streets when the works were underway. The Act also required a gas company to locate their gas works so as not to endanger public health or safety. Consistent with the provincial act, Mayor Friel signed By-law 110c a few days later giving the Bytown Consumers Gas Company the authority to dig up Bytown’s streets and squares to lay down its gas pipes consistent with the provincial legislation. Later, the Ordnance Department gave its consent for the company to install gas pipes along Sappers’ Bridge over the Rideau Canal subject to a nominal rent and the company’s agreement to remove the pipes if requested.

At the beginning of May, sufficient funds had been raised to require the meeting of stakeholders as specified under the fifth resolution approved the previous March. Subscribers to the capital stock of the company met in the office of John Bower Lewis, the second mayor of Bytown (and future first mayor of Ottawa). There, the senior officers of the company were elected: Dr, Hamnet Hill as President; Alexander Workman as Vice-President; and C. H. Piney as Treasurer/Secretary. A corporate seal for the company was adopted, and a corporate by-law was passed authorizing the opening of a stock book.

The first task of the company’s trustees was to find an expert to provide advice on building a gas works. They hired W. R. Falconer of Montreal to make estimates, plans and specifications. Within three weeks, Falconer had submitted his report. He estimated that the cost of the proposed gas works would be £8,310, including the £300 needed for land on which to build the plant. He recommended that while all the tanks and buildings could be erected that summer, the pipes should be laid the following spring, with the works in operation by 1 August 1855.

Subsequently, a Mr. A. Perry of Montreal submitted a tender for the contract according to Falconer’s specifications. To the disappointment of the shareholders in the Bytown Consumers Gas Company, his price to do the work came in at £8,375, excluding the cost of purchasing the necessary land for the gas works. Perry, however, must have liked the company’s prospects. He submitted a supplementary tender offering to buy £1,000 of the company’s shares and to loan it a further £3,000 at 6 per cent per annum for ten years.

The trustees demurred, of the view that Perry’s financial offer was too expensive. They did, however, find a suitable piece of property for £500 that they believed was large enough to accommodate the gas works and allow for future expansion.

However, at a meeting of stockholders held in August 1854, President Dr. Hamnet Hill revealed that the take-up of shares in the Company had been discouraging. Only £3,925 had been raised locally, and no Montreal investors had been found. He was disappointed that people who had said they would subscribe for shares had subsequently backed out, or had bought a smaller amount. He recommended two options to shareholders. Either they wait until “other persons of enterprise” came forward, or dissolve the company and return the investments of people less the costs already incurred.

What exactly happened next is unclear. There is a brief reference in the Ottawa Citizen in September 1854 to the effect that Bytown had “decided against a gas works.” However, in December 1854, the company was still around with the press reporting on a major shake-up of the firm’s senior officers. Alexander Workman resigned as Vice-President and was replaced by Mr. J. M. Currier. Henry Friel was elected Chairman and Francis Clemow was appointed secretary. At the same meeting, it was announced that a site for a gas house had been purchased on King Street (now King Edward Avenue) between Rideau and York Streets for £500. Somehow the necessary capital for the company had been found.

Pipes were laid through 1855, with the main line running under Rideau, Sparks, Sussex, York and Nicholas Streets. By the beginning of 1856, work had progressed sufficiently, despite “some trifling difficulties,” to permit the lighting of gas. In mid-April 1856, the price of gas was set thirty shillings per thousand (presumably cubic) feet, payable at the end of each quarter. A 25 per cent discount was given for prompt payment. This was an astronomical price by today’s standard and was a source of complaint. The Bytown gas price was roughly 50 percent higher than the price in Montreal, which was $5 per thousand feet (20 shillings), less a 35 per cent discount (in 1859), twice the New York price and five times that of that in London. A lack of economies of scale owing to Bytown’s small size might have been a factor in the price differential. By the early 1890s, Ottawa’s gas price had dropped to $1.80 per thousand cubic feet.

Gas ODC 25-12-1860

Advertisement for gas-lit chandeliers, Ottawa Citizen, 25 December 1860.

Notwithstanding the exorbitant price, gas street lights quickly lit Ottawa’s main streets, starting with Rideau and Sussex Streets. Advertisements appeared in local newspapers urging wealthy homeowners to lit their houses with gas lamps. In 1860, William Stevenson, a steam and gas fitter who operated out of Ogdensburg, New York advertised French and English chandeliers for sale in the Ottawa Citizen. He claimed his prices were cheaper than what could be obtained from Montreal, notwithstanding duties. He invited Ottawa residents to check out his store in Ogdensburg where he always had a large stock on display. He also offered a money-back guarantee. This was cross-border shopping nineteenth century style!

The introduction of gas has its downside—pollution. The Bywash, which ran from the Rideau Canal down King Street to the Rideau River became fouled with tar and other refuse from the coal gas plant on the street. Fish deserted the creek and people could no longer drink or wash in it. There is a report of boys who went swimming in the Bywash being dyed a dark colour by the dirty water. Apparently, it took a month for the stain to wear off. The Bywash was finally covered over and converted into a sewer. Of, course, the pollution didn’t go away. It was just hidden from view, and was still funnelled untreated into the Rideau River and thence into the Ottawa River.

In 1865, the Bytown Consumers Gas Company updated its name to the Ottawa Gas Company. Twenty years later, it rapidly lost its lighting business to a new competitor—electricity introduced to Ottawa by Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. However, manufactured gas remained the fuel of choice for home stoves—electric stoves and ovens were uneconomic until the 1930s. As prices fell over time, gas was also increasingly used for heating. In 1906, Ottawa’s electric and gas industries were merged into a giant lighting and heating monopoly called The Consolidated Light, Heat and Power Company controlled by Soper and Ahearn. This state of affairs continued until 1949 when, following a city plebiscite, Ottawa purchased the electrical side of the firm to form Ottawa Hydro, leaving the Ottawa Gas Company in private hands. In 1957, Consumers Gas of Toronto purchased the company. The following year, natural gas was piped into the Ottawa area, and the production of manufactured gas ceased.


City of Ottawa, Bylaws.

National Post, 1957. “Share Purchase Offer Expected For Gas Firm,” 18 May.

Newton, Michael, 1979. Lower Town, Ottawa, Vol. 1, 1826-1854, Manuscript Report # 104, National Capital Commission.

Ottawa Citizen, 1854. “Town Hall Meeting,” 6 March.

————————-, 1854. “Gas Company,” 25 March.

————————-, 1854. “No Title,” 6 May.

————————-, 1854. “To the Shareholders of the Bytown Consumers Gas Company,” 6 August.

————————-, 1854, “From Our London Correspondent,” 23 September.

————————-, 1856. “Meeting of Shareholders,” 9 April.

————————-, 1859. “The Cost of Gas,” 28 October 1859.

————————-, 1926. “Gas Refuse Hurt Old Bywash Creek,” 24 July.

————————-, 1926. “Dye Took Month To Wear Off Boys,” 31 July.

————————-, 1928. “Pioneer Industries Won Over Hardship,” 13 March.

————————-, 1949. “OLHP IS Formally Absorbed,” 31 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1960. “Older Than Ottawa,” 26 April.



To Arms! The Fenians Are Coming

7 March 1866

Canadians are taught in school that Canada was the product of the Fathers of Confederation immortalized in the 1883 painting by Robert Harris. (The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 fire that gutted the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.) The fathers include such notables as John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, Étienne-Paschel Taché, Samuel Tilley, and Charles Tupper. One “father” that is seldom mentioned is the Fenians.

The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York, published by John Bradburn, Villanova Digital Library.

Waves of Irish immigrants had come to North America during the first half of the nineteenth century following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the potato famine of the 1840s with the ensuing “clearances” or evictions of starving, penniless, farm labourers. 2,250,000 Irish men women and children took the perilous journey across the Atlantic, of whom roughly 500,000 came to Canada. Needless to say, many Irish immigrants harboured few warm feelings towards the British who controlled Ireland. Some continued their fight for an independent Ireland using violence. One such group was the Fenians.

They saw their chance in the mid-1860s. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 with a victory for the northern Union Army. Thousands of war-hardened soldiers of Irish descent were demobilized. Sympathy for the Irish cause and bitterness towards the British was running high in the United States at that time. During the Civil War, Britain and British North America were neutral but had favoured the Confederate cause. War had almost broken out between the Britain and the U.S. Union government in 1861 over the “Trent affair” when a U.S. naval ship stopped the Trent, a British merchantman, and forcibly took captive two Confederate diplomats on their way to London from Cuba. Britain protested this violation of its neutrality. In Canada, militias were hastily organized to help defend their country in the event of an American invasion.  In the end, the Union government backed down and returned the two Confederate emissaries, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts. While the threat of war receded, British-American relations remained cool owing to the success of the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, which had been built in secret in Britain in 1862, and blockade runners based in British possessions in the West Indies and Bermuda who traded arms to the South in exchange for cotton for the textile factories of Britain.

In 1865, Fenians based in the United States tried to free Ireland. They failed miserably.  A ship carrying arms and munitions to Ireland was seized by the British en route. Meanwhile, the Irish people ignored the call to revolt. Following this setback, a group of American Fenians came up with a new, quixotic plan. They would invade British North America. Once this was accomplished, they figured they would have a base of operations to continue the fight for an independent Ireland, or would use their conquest of Canada to somehow force the British to leave Ireland. Led by former senior U.S. army officers (for example, the Fenian Secretary of War was General T.W. Sweeny, the commander of the 16th United States Infantry), the slogan at the 1865 Fenian Convention in Cincinnati was “On to Canada!”

With U.S. public opinion anti-British, the hope was that the U.S. government would turn a blind eye to the assembly of Fenian soldiers and munitions on the frontier with Canada. The Fenian leaders believed that as many as 50,000 war-hardened volunteers would join their army and that the Irish in Canada would rise up and join the invading force. (In actuality, the Fenian cause had few supporters in Canada where Irish settlers were prospering and whose religious rights were protected.) They thought that a quick victory would result in the recognition of an Irish Republic by the United States government, and subsequently by European nations.

Fenian conventions, meetings and fund-raisers in the United States were extensively covered in the press. So, their plans and objectives were hardly secret. British spies also kept an eye on them. Initially, Canadian and British authorities didn’t take the Fenians too seriously believing that the U.S. government would intervene if they went too far. But by early March 1866, rumours were rife that a Fenian invasion was imminent, possibly on St. Patrick’s Day. Armed men and were assembling on several points on the Canadian border as well as out east in Maine on the border with the Colony of New Brunswick.

Fenians Civil service reg
The Civil Service Rifle Corps morphed into the Civil Service Rifle Regiment in October 1866. Every civil servant (all men at the time) between the ages of 18 and 45 were members.

On 7 March 1866, the government of the Province of Canada under John A. Macdonald called for 10,000 men of the volunteer forces to be mobilized in defence of the Province in 24 hours for three weeks duty, and go wherever required. The call-up included Ottawa’s Civil Service Rifle Corps which went on parade the following afternoon.

The Civil Service Rifles had been formed in Quebec City in 1861 following the Trent affair. When the seat of government moved to Ottawa in 1865, the Corps moved as well. Two days after Macdonald’s call to arms, the Rifles were guarding Gilmour’s Armoury on Hugh Street. According to a history of the Rifle Corps, on that first night of guard duty no rations had been provided for the sergeant, the two corporals and the twelve men on duty. So, somebody ordered in a lavish meal consisting of beef sirloin and plum pudding from the posh, members-only Rideau Club. The meal was described “as find a spread as any gourmand could possibly desire.” Unfortunately, the men had a hard time enjoying it. Twice, they were called out in the middle of their meal leaving Rideau Club waiters to keep things warm. Finally, the men sat down to eat fully dressed and armed.

Other area volunteer units were also mobilized. These included the Bell’s Corner Company, the Argenteuil Rangers, 1st Company, the Ottawa Rifles, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies, and the Buckingham Infantry Company. These companies, along with the Civil Service Rifles, were assembled into the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wily at the end of March. Later in 1866, the 43rd Carleton Battalion of Infantry was formed uniting units from Bell’s Corners, Huntley, Metcalfe, North Gower, Munster, Richmond, Manotick, Vernon and Duncanville.

On orders from the Department of the Militia, volunteers across the Province extended their guard duty to bank branches, railway stations, telegraph offices, and post offices. Here in Ottawa, there were little trouble beyond a couple of minor incidents. On one occasion, an old drunkard was taken into custody when he threatened to burn down the armoury. A second, more serious incident occurred at the railway station when Private Maingy was assaulted by Patrick Mahoney. Maingy subdued Mahoney who was conveyed to the guard house. When he subsequently appeared before a magistrate, Colonel Wily of the Ottawa Provisional Battalion intervened and asked that mercy be shown. The judge complied, fining Mahoney $10 plus costs for common assault. The judge told Mahoney him he had been lucky as Maingy could have shot him.

Fenians volunteers
Militia Volunteers from Metcafe, Ontario, 1866, Frank Iveson fonds, Library and Archives Canada, PA-103906.  Frank Iveson is seated centre front.

With the Fenian scare seemingly passed without incident, the Provisional Battalion stood down in early April but not before the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Civil Service Rifle Corps held a grand ball at the British Hotel on Sussex Street. With the hall decorated with flags and the crest of the Rifles with a triple row of swords radiating from it, unformed men and their ladies danced the night away. Both the Premier, John A. Macdonald, and the Minister of the Militia, George-Étienne Cartier, attended.

Scarcely had the Ottawa Provisional Battalion stood down, the Fenian scare took on more serious proportions. In mid-April, Fenians, who had been assembling in Maine for some weeks, tried to attack Campobello Island, part of the New Brunswick. The attack was a dismal failure. The Fenians were easily dispersed by the Royal Navy that had sent ships to the area from Halifax. While some buildings were destroyed, there was no loss of life.

By late May, the focus of attention shifted back to Canada with reports of Fenians assembling in great numbers along the Canadian border, including at Ogdensburg, New York. Reportedly, the citizens of Prescott could hear the bugles of Fenian soldiers on the other side of the St. Lawrence. In Buffalo, New York, an alarmed British consul sent a telegram asking the Great West Railway to stop all traffic between Hamilton and the frontier with rumours of a pending attack on the Welland Canal. The next day, the shocking news was received in Ottawa that the Fenians had crossed the border and had seized the town of Fort Erie.

Immediately, the volunteer militias were called out, including the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under Colonel Wily. At 2am on the morning of 6 June, the Civil Service Rifles along with the Bell’s Corners Infantry Company, the No. 2 Garrison Artillery, the Buckingham Company, and the Hawksbury Company boarded a train of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company ready to go to defend Prescott. Fortunately, the frontier remained quiet and the men were finally dismissed without leaving Ottawa. However, they were called on to patrol the streets of Ottawa and to guard the opening of the first session of the Provincial Parliament in Ottawa by Lord Monck. At this first session, two bills were given speedy passage and Royal Assent in response to the Fenian crisis: one to suspend the habeus corpus Act for one year, and another to provide for trial of state offenders by Courts Martial.

The invading Fenian army of roughly 1,000 experienced and well-armed ex-U.S.-Army soldiers under command of General John O’Neil gained a temporary measure of success at the Battle of Ridgeway near Niagara taking 36 prisoners when Canadian troops withdrew.  Nine Canadian soldiers died on the field along with six Fenians. The Fenians won another victory in a skirmish called the Battle of Fort Erie. However, the victory proved to be fleeting. The Fenian troops fled back to the United States on hearing of the approach of some 5,000 British regulars and Canadian volunteers, and surrendered to the U.S. Navy.

A few days later, a force of about 1,000 Fenians under the command of General Samuel Spear crossed the border into the Eastern Township of Canada East, and occupied the border communities of Pigeon Hill, St Armand, Frelighsburg, and Stanbridge. However, they quickly surrendered on the approach of Canadian and British troops when they ran low on ammunition. Timothy O’Hara, a private in the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism for putting out a fire on a railway train loaded with ammunition. O’Hara was Irish.

In total, the Canadian Militia counted 32 dead and 103 wounded in the 1866 Fenian campaigns in the Province of Canada. Another British soldier died of heat stroke.

This was not the end of the Fenians. In 1868, D’Arcy McGee, the great Irish-Canadian leader and patriot, who had ridiculed the Fenians, was assassinated on Sparks Street in Ottawa. A Fenian, Patrick Whelan, was arrested and later hanged for the crime. In 1870, two small Fenian “armies” crossed the border into the Eastern Townships of Quebec near Missisquoi. At Eccles Hill, one group, again led by General O’Neil, was defeated by local Canadian volunteers. The Fenians lost five men and 18 wounded. There were no casualties on the Canadian side. The second band of Fenians was defeated at Trout River, Quebec and sent packing back across the border. Again, there were no Canadian casualties. In 1871, a small Fenian band of 35-40 men, once again led by General O’Neil, took over a trading post at Pembina on the fuzzy border between Manitoba and North Dakota. Canadian troops in Winnipeg and St. Boniface were mustered but the Fenians were quickly subdued by the U.S. Army.

The Fenians failed in achieving their goal of capturing Canada and liberating Ireland. But they succeeded in swinging public opinion in the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in favour of Confederation. In unity, British North America would find strength.


Chambers, Captain Ernest J. 1903. A Regimental History of the Forty-Third Regiment, Ottawa: E.J. Ruddy, https://electriccanadian.com/forces/cornwallsrifles00chamuoft.pdf.

Macdonald, John A. 1910. Troublous Times in Canada : A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Troublous_Times_in_Canada:_A_History_of_the_Fenian_Raids_of_1866_and_1870.

Memorials of the late Civil Service Rifle Corps, 1867, https://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055320543d.pdf.

Ottawa Daily Citizen,1866.  “untitled,” 8 March.

————————–, 1866. “Militia General Orders,” 24 September.

————————–, 1866. “Civil Service Rifles,” 5 October.

————————-, 1923. “The Civil Service Company and Civil Service Regiment,” 26 August.

Rees, Jim, 200? Surplus People, The Fitzwilliam Estate Clearances – Coolattin (Co. Wicklow) 1847-1856, http://www.countywicklowheritage.org/page_id__45.aspx.

Standing Orders of the Civil Service Rifle Regiment, October 1866, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=aeu.ark:/13960/t81k00k94;view=1up;seq=8.

Stanton, James B, 1972. “The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870,” Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 2, Manitoba Historical Society, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/17/fenianraids.shtml.

Villanova Digital Library, 2014, The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York: John Bradburn, Publisher, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:120884#?c=&m=&s=&cv=2&xywh=-2086%2C-1%2C6043%2C2868.

Eugène Ysaÿe, the Tsar of the Violin

6 March 1905

To draw up a list of the top violinists of all time acceptable to everybody would be a nigh impossible task. Selection criteria and their appropriate weights would be open to debate. Recency bias, where we put disproportionate weight on more recent events or observations, could lead us to favour living artists over the dead, especially those whose careers preceded sound recordings. Regardless of such difficulties, on any list purporting to represent the best would appear such virtuosos as Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler and Isaac Stern. Of early masters, Niccolo Paganini, who was active in the early 19th century and was the composer of the fiendishly complex 24 caprices for solo violin, would also be on everybody’s list.  Of those currently playing, Itzhak Pearlman, Viktoria Mullova and Pinchas Zucherman, the Musical Director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1999-2015, stand in the highest regard.

Another master, though one less known outside of music circles today, who would be a candidate for the world’s finest list is the Belgium-born violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (pronounced “Ee-zah-ee).” The late, great Russian violinist, Nathen Milstein, once dubbed him the tsar of the violin. Kreisler reportedly wouldn’t play Ysaÿe compositions in the man’s presence, and said that Ysaÿe was the greatest interpreter of the Elgar Violin Concerto. This Concerto had been expressly written for Kreisler by Edward Elgar and is widely viewed as among the most difficult of a violinist’s repertoire.

ysaye san fran chronicle 21-5-1905
Eugène Ysaÿe, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1905

Ysaÿe was born in 1858 in Liège. During his very early years, he and his older brother were taught the violin by their musician father who scrapped a living by playing in an orchestra in nearby Germany. He made his first public appearance as a violinist at age seven. He later studied music at the Liège Conservatory. His older brother was apparently the one who was supposed to have a musical career. But once he heard his little brother play a violin solo at age nineteen, he abandoned his career and is quoted as saying, “I shall never play again.”

As a young man, Ysaÿe’s talent was recognized by some the leading composers of the time. Ferdinand Hiller, the German-born composer and conductor, introduced Ysaÿe to Jacob Joachim, who at the time was considered one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century. On hearing Ysaÿe play, Joachim delphically said that he had never heard the violin played like that before. While it is unclear whether Joachim liked what he heard, his pronouncement illustrated the originality and freshness for which Ysaÿe was later to become famous.

At age 20, Ysaÿe came under the tutelage of the great Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps. (As a sidebar, Vieuxtemps owned and played a violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 that Ysaÿe used during his early career. In recent years, that same violin, now known as the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesù, was played by Pinchas Zucherman. It was sold in 2013 for more than US$13 million and is currently on lifetime loan to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.) Vieuxtemps enabled Ysaÿe to study music in Brussels for three years and gave him private lessons. In 1880, Ysaÿe became the leader of the Bilse’s orchestra in Berlin. In 1886, he became professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory. He made his first trans-Atlantic tour in 1894.

Ysaye Wikipedia US Library of Congress
Eugène Ysaÿe, later in life, Wikipedia, U.S. Library of Congress.

By the early 20th century, Ysaÿe was in top form and was an international star of the first magnitude. He was described as a polar bear of a man—“huge, massive and royal,” with a broad brow and dark, flowing locks.  “Thoroughly bohemian,” he appreciated the finer pleasures of life, especially good food. He also was keen on the sporting world. However, money seemed to have come second behind his art. In an 1895 interview given in San Francisco, Ysaÿe claimed that he rather earn $80 a month working as a professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory than take home $10,000 per year as a professor in Cincinnati. As fate would have it, he was to become conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1919, a post he held for three years.

He also valued highly his family life, and for many years lived in near seclusion with his first wife Louise Bourdau with whom he had five children—three sons and two daughters—in the small Belgian town of Godinne, south of Namur in Wallonia. (After his first wife died in 1924, Ysaÿe married his student, the American violinist Jeanette Dincin, in 1927.) To an American journalist to whom he gave an interview in his country home in 1904, Ysaÿe said that he found inspiration in the pre-dawn hours of the morning paddling in his small boat on a creek near Godinne.

Ysaÿe owned two famous violins—a Stradivarius and a Guarneri. The Stradivarius, dubbed the “Hercules,” was made in 1734 by Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy. Ysaÿe used this violin when he practised, preferring the Guarneri for concert work as it was less “fatiguing” for him to play. The Stradivarius was stolen from Ysaÿe’s dressing room in 1908 while he was performing on-stage at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was recovered from a Paris stop in 1925. In 1972, the violinist Henryk Szeryng donated the instrument to the City of Jerusalem where it is played by the concert master of the Israel Philharmoic Orchestra.

Ysaye violin Shinichi Yokoyama Nippon Muic Foundation
Ysaÿe’s Guarneri Violin, Nippon Music Foundation, photo by Shinichi Yokoyama.

Ysaÿe’s Guarneri violin was made Bartolomeo Giuseppe, also known as Joseph, Guarneri of Cremona in 1740. The violin bears the original label of its maker—“Joseph Guarnerius, fecit Cremonae, anno 1740, I.H.S.” In 1928, Ysaÿe reportedly added a second label “Ce Del Jesus fut le fidèle compagnone [sic] de ma vie,” which means “this Del Jesus [the name of the violin] was the faithful companion of my life.” Stories about how he acquired the violin vary. One newspaper account says that he had originally purchased the instrument in Paris for 30,000 francs on behalf of man who gave it to his daughter who was a pupil of Ysaÿe. The girl insisted that Ysaÿe play the violin in concerts. When Ysaÿe found it to be the ideal instrument for his temperament, he bought the violin from the pupil’s father for the same 30,000 francs. Another account has him borrowing the violin from the woman for his first North American tour. On his return to Belgium, he traded his own violin made by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and an additional 40,000 francs for the Guarneri. In recent years, the violin was played by Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman who seems to favour instruments used by Ysaÿe. The instrument is owned by the Nippon Music Foundation and is currently played by Sergey Khachatryan.

In February 1905, Ysaÿe came to New York aboard the first super trans-Atlantic liner, the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse of the North German Lloyd line for a massive 75 concert tour of North America with Canadian stops in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. By this time, he was the highest priced violinist in the world. His income was said to be enormous. For this North American tour, which was organized by Robert E. Johnston who managed all the great violinists of the time, he was given a $50,000 advance (equivalent to roughly $1.3 million today) before he even left Belgium.

Ysaye 4-3-05 toej
Advertisement for Ysaÿe’s Ottawa performance, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 4 March 1905.

Ysaÿe arrived in Ottawa on Monday, 6 March 1905 for a single performance at the Russell Theatre. Ticket prices ranged from 75 cents to $2.00. On the day of the performance, 300 rush seats were released at 50 cents each. It was a sell-out crowd. 1,400 spectators came to see Ysaÿe perform. The Ottawa Evening Journal claimed it was the largest audience ever to greet an artist. Ysaÿe was accompanied by M. Jules De Befve on the piano. De Befve was the head of the piano department at the Liège Conservatory.

Without a doubt, the performance was the social climax of the winter season. All of Ottawa’s elite was there to listen to Ysaÿe, including the Earl and Countess of Grey. The programme started with Handel’s Sonata in G minor. The Citizen’s reporter wrote “every pianissimo crescendo, fortissimo, was brought out clear as a silver bell and the audience could have listened till morning.”  Other pieces played included the Ballade et polonaise by Vieuxtemps, the Chaconne by Bach, and Saint-Saëns’ violin concerto No. 3.

The evening was a huge success. The appreciative Ottawa audience gave Ysaÿe five encores.  A local musician of considerable personal reputation called Ysaÿe’s performance “the finest example of tone production and artistic impression he had ever heard.” One observer recounted that only the presence of the Governor General and Lady Grey restrained the exuberance of the crowd. Otherwise “the men would have stood up and thrown their hats into the air.” The Evening Journal enthused that Ysaÿe began where technique left off. “The soul of Bach will sing itself away to everlasting bliss so long as giants like Ysaÿe are raised upon earth” wrote the Journal’s reporter. When the master played Abendlied by Robert Schuman, the journalist wrote that his delicate muted tones seemed to wail and sing at his command and as his face became illuminated with the beauty of the thoughts suggested to him by Schuman so the music itself took on the form of beauty and together Ysaÿe and his audience were absorbed, spell-bound, lost, nor was the spell broken when the music ceased.

The journalist feared that this might be one of the last public performances by Ysaÿe outside of Belgium as there were rumours that the master was exchanging his violin for a conductor’s baton. Fortunately, this was not the case, though over time Ysaÿe devoted an increasing amount of time to composing, teaching and conducting. In part this reflected persistent health problems that plagued the virtuoso, especially in later life. According to Canadian violinist Maurice Solway who was a pupil of Ysaÿe in the late 1920s, ill-health went a long way to explaining why Ysaÿe sometimes trembled his bow hand while playing—that and apparently his unconventional bow grip using only three or even only two of his right-hand fingers.

In 1929, afflicted by diabetes and phlebitis, Ysaÿe lost part of a leg. But he continued to work. Two months before he died, his opus magnum, the opera Peter the Miner, was played in Liège. As he was too ill to attend the debut, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians organized a radio broadcast so Ysaÿe could listen to it from his bed.

Following his death in May 1931, Belgium gave Ysaÿe a state funeral. On a pillow in front of his coffin laid his beloved Guarneri violin.


Corzio.com, 2018. Eugène Ysaÿe (b1858; d1931), Belgium, Violinist, https://web.archive.org/web/20110522002804/http://www.cozio.com/Musician.aspx?id=20.

Cumberland Evening Times, 1931. “Eugene Ysaye, Violinist, Dies In Brussels,” 12 May.

Globe (The), 1931. “Ysaye Is Mourned In Music World,” 13 May.

Globe and Mail (The), 1981. “Grateful Solway’s Memories Pay Homage to Eugene Ysaye,” 23 October.

Detroit Free Press (The), 1904. “A Day With Ysaye.” 6 November.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1905. “Coming Amusements,” 6 March.

————————————-. 1905. “Ysaye, a King Among Violinists,” 7 March.

Ottawa Citizen, (The), 1905. “Ysaye’s Recital,” 7 March.

Nippon Music Foundation, 2018. Instruments, https://www.nmf.or.jp/instruments/eng.html.

Salt Lake Herald (The), 1905, “This Week In The Theatres,” 2 May, 1905.

San Francisco Call (The), 1905. “With the Players and the Music Folk,” 21 May.

San Francisco Chronicle (The), 1895. “He Talks Of His Art,” 12 May.

Smithsonian, 2018. Violins: Guarneri Family of Violin Makers, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/violins/guarneri.

Tarisio Fine Instruments and Bows, 2018. Antonio Stradivarius, Cremona, 1734, the ‘Hercules,’

Ysaye, Szeryng, Kinor David, Semel, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=41564.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1740, the Ysaÿe, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40064.

——————————————, 2018. Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù,’ Cremona, 1741, the Vieuxtemps, https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/property/?ID=40433.

Topeka State Journal, 1905. “Ysaye Is Next.” 18 February.

Eugène Larment: The Last Man Hanged in Ottawa

27 March 1946

Shortly after midnight on 27 March 1946, after playing checkers with his guards, a composed Eugène Larment, age 24, was led from the condemned cell in the Carleton County jail on Nicholas Street to the gallows. Hopes for a last minute reprieve had been dashed when his lawyer’s request for an appeal was refused by the Office of the Secretary of State. After Pastor Gordon Porter of the Salvation Army gave the young man spiritual consolation, Larment was hanged by the neck until he was dead. It was 12.32 am. This was the third and last judicial execution carried out in Ottawa’s historic jail. The first was the famous hanging in 1869 of Patrick Whelan, convicted for the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the father of Confederation struck down by an assassin’s bullet on Sparks Street the previous year. The second was that of William Seabrooke who was executed in early 1933 for slaying Paul-Émile Lavigne, a service-station attendant.

Hanging E Larment 25-10-45 TEJ
Mug Shots of Eugène Larment, The Ottawa Journal, 25 October 1945

To paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Larment’s death marked the end of a life that was poor, nasty, brutish and short. Born into an impoverished family, Larment’s first brushes with the law came when he was but a child. A frequent truant from public school, Larment was sent to an industrial school in Alfred, Ontario at the tender age of twelve. Most likely it was the St Joseph’s Training School for delinquent boys run by the Christian Brothers from 1933 to the mid-1970s. Like the residential schools for indigenous children, such training schools, including St Joseph’s, became notorious for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of their young charges. During the three years he was confined there, Larment apparently received no visitors and no mail from home. He escaped and made his way to Ottawa. Picked up by the authorities, someone reportedly told him that if he confessed to purse snatching, he wouldn’t be returned to the industrial school. Desperate to avoid going back, he did so, and was instead sent to a government reformatory. After he got out on parole, he attended the Kent Street Public School for a short time. With his family described as being “in a bad fix,” he sold junk to scrap dealers to earn a pittance. He also worked as a delivery boy. In 1938, at age 16, he was charged with vagrancy and breaking and entering, and was returned to the reformatory.

Shortly after being released in early 1940, the now eighteen-year old Larment and four friends stole a taxi on McLaren Street in downtown Ottawa and drove to Preston, Ontario where they tied up and robbed two men at gun point at a service station. They netted a meagre $27. Spotted later that night on their return to Ottawa, the young men led police on a wild chase down Bronson Street into LeBreton Flats. Gunshots were exchanged. Turning onto the Chaudière Bridge heading for Hull, the joyriders hit an oncoming car and crashed into a guard rail.  Dazed but uninjured, Larment and his companions were taken into custody. They received six-year terms in the Kingston Penitentiary for armed robbery. Larment was released from jail in late September 1945.

Less than two months after his release Larment, with Albert Henderson and Wilfrid D’Amour staged a daring robbery of the Canadian War Museum on Sussex Street (now Avenue). At about 9 pm on Monday, 22 October 1945, the trio smashed the plate glass of the front door of the museum within a few hundred feet of passersby on the sidewalk, and just a laneway away from the Government of Canada’s Laurentian Terrace girls’ hostel. The bandits made off in a stolen car with three Thompson submachine guns used in World War II, two automatic pistols and four World War I revolvers.

Hanging Bytown Inn postcard undated
Bytown Inn, Ottawa, postcard, undated

The following night, a janitor at an O’Connor Street apartment building called the police to report some men acting suspiciously. A “prowler” car manned by Detective Thomas Stoneman and Constable Russell Berndt was dispatched to investigate. The officers found three men loitering outside of the Bytown Inn. The trio split up, with two, later identified as D’Amour and Henderson, walking in opposite directions along O’Connor Street. Detective Stoneman approached the middle man who had remained between the two canopied entrances of the Inn. “I want to talk to you,” the officer said after he got out of the driver’s side of the car. “What do you want?” replied a man in a khaki trench coat. Without warning, the man pulled a gun from his pocket and fired at Stoneman from a distance of only six feet. Stoneman was struck in the chest and fell to the ground grievously wounded.

His partner, Constable Berndt, who had just returned to the police force after 3 ½ years in the navy, ducked when the gunman subsequently aimed at him. Trading shots, the bandit fled through a maze of laneways and alleys, pursued by Berndt who disconcerting found himself followed by D’Amour. Fortunately, another police cruiser arrived on the scene. Constables Thomas Walsh and John Hardon joined the chase for Stoneman’s assailant, while Flight Lieutenant Appleby, a decorated pilot who had accompanied the police officers, tackled D’Amour. Meanwhile, the shooter, Eugène Larment, who had run out of ammunition, was chased into the arms of beat policeman, Constable René Grenville, at the corner of Metcalfe and Slater Streets. The third man of the trio, Albert Henderson, managed to evade immediate capture but was picked up at his home on Albert Street a few hours later. Back at Larment’s family home on Wellington Street and in an abandoned building next door, police discovered the missing weapons stolen from the War Museum.

Hanging Thomas Stoneman Canadian Police and Peace Officers' Memorial
Detective Thomas Stoneman, Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial

Initially, the men were charged with attempted murder. But the charges were upgraded to murder when Detective Stoneman died a few days later. The fifteen-year veteran policeman with the Ottawa Police Force, aged 37, born in Mortlach Saskatchewan, left a wife Lois (Cleary) and one-year old twins, Richard Thomas and Jill Lois. Stoneman was accorded a civic funeral. Uniformed policemen from the Ottawa and Hull municipal police, the RCMP, the Ontario and Quebec Provincial Police Forces, the RCAF service police and the naval shore patrol marched in the funeral cortege. The slain policeman was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery.

Even while in jail, the charges against Larment, D’Amour and Henderson continued to mount. In early January, the threesome tried to break out of the country jail. Before being recaptured, they brutally beat up Percy Hyndman, a prison guard. A blow to the head from a heavy broom opened a nasty gash in Hyndman’s scalp requiring five stiches to close.

The trial of the trio for the murder of Detective Stoneman began in mid-January 1946 in front of Justice F. H. Barlow of the Ontario High Court. Deputy Attorney General Cecil L. Snyder, who had an outstanding record of 37 convictions in 38 murder cases, was the special Crown prosecutor. For the defence was lawyer W. Edward Haughton, K.C. who represented the trio pro bono; there was no legal aid at this time. The trial lasted roughly a week. Throughout the proceedings the courtroom’s hard wooden benches were packed with people eager to witness the unfolding drama.

Snyder, the Crown prosecutor, quickly established that the gun that fired the fatal bullet was a revolver stolen in the War Museum heist. There was also no doubt that Larment was the shooter. Larment admitted to firing the weapon “from the hip” in two statements that he made to the police, the first, hours after being apprehended, and the second, a couple of days later. One of the jurors, Thomas Bradley, worried about police procedures in obtaining these statements, was permitted by Justice Barlow to question the police witness. Bradley enquired whether Larment had been asked if he wanted a lawyer before he made his statements. The detective answered no, though he added that Larment had been free to ask for one. Apparently, the detective had pursued standard Canadian police procedures of the time. Justice Barlow ruled that the statements were admissible in court, saying he was satisfied they had been obtained “in the proper manner.”

With the identity of the shooter determined, Snyder focused on whether Larment, D’Amour and Henderson had “a common intent to commit crime,” the test necessary to convict all three for murder. He argued that the three men had robbed the Museum together and had armed themselves with weapons the night that Stoneman died, even though Larment’s weapon was the only one loaded (with three bullets). He also noted evidence from D’Amour that the trio had tried to steal a car shortly before the shooting. Although the accused men had been drinking heavily before the shooting, a pathologist at the Ottawa Civic Hospital testified that a blood sample taken from Larment shortly after his arrest showed a “fair indication that the person was sober when it was taken.”

The trio’s lawyer stressed the deprived backgrounds of the accused. He argued that “society might very well be indicted for the death of Detective Stoneman in addition to Eugène Larment.” He also noted that the trio’s ability to reason had been impaired by alcohol. By one account, Larment had drunk as many as fifty beers (most likely the small draft glasses of beer popular in taverns at that time) at the Belmont Hotel in Ottawa and at the Avalon Club in Hull through the afternoon and evening prior to the shooting. The three had also reportedly consumed a bottle of liquor at Larment’s home. Haughton also contended that Larment was unaware that Stoneman was a policeman when Stoneman approached him. Fearing for his life, Larment had fired in self-defence. The killing was neither premeditated nor deliberate but rather was caused by a “misunderstanding” and a “genuine misconception of Stoneman’s intention.” He concluded that Larment should be acquitted of murder, or at worst found guilty of manslaughter. Finally, he asked for the acquittal of D’Amour and Henderson on the grounds that a “common intent” had not been proven. There was no evidence that they knew that Larment’s gun was loaded, they were drunk, and during the evening there had been no joint criminal venture.

In his instructions to the jury, Justice Barlow made it very clear that he thought all three defendants were guilty of murder. He rubbished the idea that Larment fired in self-defence and thought the degree of Larment’s drunkenness was “most exaggerated.” He said to the jury “gentlemen, in my opinion you ought to find Larment guilty without reasonable doubt, and in which you ought to find D’Amour and Henderson guilty beyond reasonable doubt as parties to a common design with Larment who resisted arrest by violence.”

After deliberating for 3 hours and 55 minutes, the jury returned with their verdict. Larment was found guilty of murder as charged. Notwithstanding the judge’s opinions, D’Amour and Henderson were found innocent. Some of the jury members broke down. William Bradley, the juror who asked questions during the trial, tearfully said that given the evidence he had no choice but to find Larment guilty even though he opposed the death penalty. He planned to donate his juror fees to the Ottawa Boys’ Club that worked with troubled youth. The Ottawa Journal had little sympathy for jurors’ tears, describing them as “maudlin.” If tears were to be shed “they should be shed for the widow and family of Detective Stoneman, ruthlessly murdered.”

Although Henderson and D’Amour were found innocent of murder, they were not free men. They were subsequently found guilty in Magistrates’ Court on a range of charges related to the assault of the prison guard in their abortive jail break, the theft of weapons from the War Museum, car theft and other crimes. Henderson received a 29-year sentence, while D’Amour received 27 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. These were the longest sentences ever handed down in Magistrates’ Court history.

Did the men receive a fair trial? They probably did by 1940’s standards. They were also fortunate to have been represented by an experienced trial lawyer who somehow managed to get two of them acquitted on the murder charge. But by today’s standards, the statements made by Larment and his companions would likely have been inadmissible in court. Under Section 10b of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to be informed of that right when they are arrested or detained. Also, the expressed opinion of the presiding judge that Larment (as well as D’Amour and Henderson) were guilty of murder would represent probable grounds for an appeal today.

After his execution, Eugène Larment’s body was turned over to his family for burial. It is reported that he was interred in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Beechwood Cemetery, the same cemetery where the remains of Thomas Stoneman were laid to rest.

The last judicial executions in Canada occurred in December 1962 when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were hanged for separate murders in the Don Jail in Toronto. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.


CBC, 2018. “MP calls for inquiry into abuse at Alfred training school, just east of Ottawa, in the 1970s,” 30 January.

Canada, Government of, 2018. “Constitution Act, 1982, Part I, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Justice Law Website, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.

Deachman, Bruce, 2018. “True crime story: How murder in the streets led to Ottawa’s least execution, The Ottawa Citizen, 15 January.

Evening Citizen (The), 1946. “Two-Hour Plea For Accused Holds Courtroom Spellbound,” 22 January.

————————–, 1946. “Eugene Larment Pays Penalty,” 27 March.

Globe and Mail (The), 1946. “Law Of Jungle Must Be Curbed Grand Jury Told,” 15 January.

————————–, 1946. “Murder Trial Juror To Donate Fee To Ottawa Boys’ Club,” 24 January.

————————–, 1946. “27 and 29-Year Sentences Given To Two Ottawa Men,” 7 February.

————————–, 1946. “Hang Slayer of Detective,” 27 March.

National Judicial Institute, 2018. https://www.nji-inm.ca/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1940. “Youths Arrested After Gun Duel, Charged With Armed Robbery,” 3 April.

————————-, 1940. “Six-Year Terms For Three Arrested Here,” 6 May.

————————-, 1945. “Bandits Steal ‘Tommy’ Guns From Ottawa War Museum,” 23 October.

————————-, 1945. “Hold 3 For Shooting Ottawa Detective,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Thos. Stoneman’s Condition Serious After Gun Battle,” 24 October.

————————-, 1945. “Remanded On Attempted Murder Charge,” 25 October.

————————-, 1945. “Civic Funeral Being Arranged For Detective Thos. Stoneman,” 30 October.

————————, 1945. “Son Was Drunk Before Shooting, Mother Sobs,” 22 November.

————————-, 1945. “Commit Trio on Charge of Killing Ottawa Detective,” 23 November.

————————-, 1946. “Will Get Tough With Thugs –Dunbar,” 5 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Used Gun Stolen From War Museum Witness Tells Murder Trial Of Ottawa Trio,” 17 January.

————————-, 1946. “Trio Sought To Steal Car, D’Amour Says,” 18 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Remembers ‘Firing From Hip,’” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Juror Questions Police Methods Getting Statements,” 19 January.

————————-, 1946. “Henderson Tells Court Of Actions,” 21 October.

————————-, 1946. “Evidence Completed In Murder Trial,” 21 January.

————————-, 1946. “Crown Blames Trio For Stoneman Death,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Defence Pleads For Lives Of Ottawa Men,” 22 January.

————————-, 1946. “Jury Ponders Verdict In Stoneman Case,” 23 January.

————————-, 1946. “Ottawa Men To Face Several Charges in Court Saturday,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Larment Will Hang On March 27 For Stoneman Murder,” 24 January.

————————-, 1946. “Is It The Jurors Who Should Weep?” 25 January.

————————-, 1946. “D’Amour and Henderson Plead Guilty To 10 Charges,” 1 February.

————————-, 1946. “Long Terms For Henderson and D’Amour,” 6 February.

————————-, 1946. “Eugene Larment Hanged In Ottawa,” 27 March.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1946. “Murder Suspects Stage Riot in Ottawa Jail,” 5 January.