The Canal Basin: Going, Going, Gone

14 November  1927

Readers may be surprised to learn that the Rideau Canal of the twenty-first century is considerably different from the Rideau Canal of the nineteenth century. In the old days, the Canal was very much a gritty, working canal. While it had its share of pleasure boats that plied its length, commerce was its main function. At its Ottawa end, barges, pulled by horses and men along canal-side tow paths, were drawn to warehouses that stretched from the Plaza at Wellington Street to the Maria Street Bridge (the predecessor of the Laurier Avenue Bridge). Lumber, coal and other materials were piled high along its banks awaiting delivery. Consequently, the Rideau Canal was anything but a scenic port of entry into the nation’s capital. Later, railroads and train sheds replaced the warehouses on the eastern side when the Central Depot, the forerunner of Union Station (currently the Ottawa Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of the Senate), opened in 1896. While practical, this was not an aesthetic improvement.

The quality of the Canal’s water during the late nineteenth century was also considerably different than that of today. While we sometimes complain about the turbid nature of the water and the summertime weeds that choke stretches of the waterway and parts of Dow’s Lake, this is nothing compared to the complaints of residents of the 1880s. Then the Canal literally stank. The sewer that drained the southern portion of Wellington Ward, the neighbourhood located between Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) and Bank Street flowed into the Canal at Lewis Street. The smell was particularly bad in spring when the effluent that had entered the Canal through the winter thawed. Reportedly, the stench of festering sewage was overpowering. So bad were the conditions, the federal government forced the municipal authorities to fix things. After considerable delay, a proper sewer was constructed.

The other not so delightful feature of the waterway was its flotsam and jetsam. Stray logs—a hazard to navigation—was the least of the problem. Prior to the first annual Central Canada Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1888, one concerned citizen pointed out the many nuisances to be found by boaters on the Canal. These included several carcasses of dead dogs floating in the Deep Cut (that portion of the Canal between Waverely Street and today’s city hall) and a bloated body of a horse bobbing in the water opposite the Exhibition grounds. The citizen also groused about the “vulgar habit” of people swimming in the Canal without “bathing tights.” He didn’t comment on the advisability of canal swimming given the horrific water quality.

The physical geography of the Rideau Canal was also different back then. Patterson’s Creek was much longer in the nineteenth century than it is today; its western end became Central Park in the early twentieth century. There was also Neville’s Creek that flowed through today’s Golden Triangle neighbourhood and entered the Canal close to Lewis Street. The Creek, which was described as a cesspool in the 1880s, was filled in during the early twentieth century.

But the biggest difference was the existence of a large canal basin located roughly where the Shaw Centre and National Defence are today on the eastern side of the Canal and the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park are on the western side.  This basin, which was lined with wooden docks, was used for mooring boats, turning barges, and picking up and delivering cargo and passengers.

Canal Basin 1842 (2)

Map of Bytown, 1842, Bytown or Bust. Note the Lay-By (Canal Basin) in the lower centre of the map on the Rideau Canal. The By-Wash can be seen running north east from the Lay-By to the Rideau River. Barracks Hill will become Parliament Hill in the 1860s.

Before the Canal was constructed, the canal basin was originally a beaver meadow from which a swamp extended as far west as today’s Bank Street. Following the Canal’s completion in 1832, which included digging out the basin, a small outlet or creek called the By-Wash extended from the north east side of the basin. It was used to drain excess water from the Canal. Controlled by a sluice gate, the By-Wash flowed down Mosgrove Street (now the location of the Rideau Centre), went through a culvert under Rideau Street, re-emerged above ground on the northern portion of Mosgrove Street, before heading down George Street, crossing Dalhousie Street on an angle to York Street, and then running along what is now King Edward Street to the Rideau River. In addition to controlling the Canal’s water level, the By-Wash was used by Lower Town residents for washing and fishing. In 1872, the City successfully petitioned the federal authorities who controlled the Rideau Canal to cover the By-Wash. It was converted into a sewer with only a small rump remaining close to the canal basin that was used as a dry dock.

Canal Basin 1888

Detail of 1888 Map of Ottawa, City of Ottawa Archives. Note the Canal Basin. By now, only a rump of the By-Wash remained.

Big changes to the canal basin started during the last decade of the nineteenth century. John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s lumber baron and owner of three railways, the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound Railway (the O.A. & P.S.), the Montreal & City of Ottawa Junction Railway, and the Coteau & Province Line Railway & Bridge Company (subsequently merged to form the Canadian Atlantic Railway–CAR), received permission from the Dominion government to bring trains into the heart of Ottawa. Hitherto, his railways provided service to the Bridge Street Station in LeBreton Flats and to the Elgin Street Station, both a fair distance from the city’s centre. In early March 1896, Booth, through his O.A. & P.S. Railway, acquired from the government a twenty-one year lease for the

Canal Basin Evening Journal 30-10-1897

Diagram of the Rideau Canal and the covered eastern Canal Basin, 1897, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 30 October 1897.

east bank of the Rideau Canal from Sapper’s Bridge (roughly the location of today’s Plaza Bridge) to the beginning of the Deep Cut for $1,100 per year “for the purpose of a canal station and approaches thereto.” Lease-holders of properties between Theodore Street (today’s Laurier Avenue East) and the canal basin were told to vacate. After building a temporary Central Depot at the Maria Street Bridge on the Theodore Street side, Booth subsequently extended the line across the canal basin to a new temporary Central Station at the Military Stores building at Sappers’ Bridge.

Canal Basin c. 1900

Detail of Map of Ottawa, circa 1900, City of Ottawa Archives. Note that the eastern Canal Basin has disappeared.

Initially, the railway crossed the basin on trestles, leaving the basin underneath intact while Booth dredged the western side of the canal basin and built replacement docks—the quid pro quo with the government for removing the eastern basin’s docks. It seems that the government was reluctant to allow Booth to fill in the eastern portion of the basin until the western portion had been deepened, fearing that any unexpected rush of water might be larger than the locks could handle leading to flooding. By mid-March 1896, 75 men and 25-35 horses were hard at work excavating the site. The Central Depot at Sappers’ Bridge was completed in 1896, and was promptly the subject of dispute between Booth and his railway competitors who also wished to use a downtown station. There was rumours that if the Canadian Pacific Railway could not come to terms with Booth, it would build a railroad on the western side of the Canal with a terminus on the other side of Sappers’ Bridge across from the Central Station. Fortunately, with government prodding an accommodation was made. Initially covered over with planks, the western portion of the Canal Basin was subsequently filled in. A new Central Station, later renamed Union Station, opened in 1912.

Canal Basin Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys LACanadaPA-023229

Rideau Canal, circa 1911. The western Canal Basin is on the left. Union Station and the Château Laurier are under construction. Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, Library and Archives Canada, PA-023229.

If the eastern Canal Basin was sacrificed to the railway, the western Canal Basin was the victim of the automobile. This time, the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, was responsible. Consistent with its plan to beautify the nation’s capital, the FDC in cooperation with the municipal authorities decided to extend the Driveway from the Drill Hall to Connaught Plaza (now Confederation Plaza) at a cost of $150,000. These funds also covered the construction of two connections with Slater Street, a subway at Laurier Avenue, new light standards, landscaping, and a new retaining wall for the Rideau Canal. Again, firms with warehouses at the Canal Basin, including the wholesale grocers L.N. Bate & Sons and the wholesale hardware merchant Thomas Birkett & Son, were forced to relocate. By the end of April 1927, workmen using steam shovels and teams of horses were hard at work filling in the western Canal Basin. Huge piles of earth were piled up near the Laurier Street Bridge ready to be shifted into the basin. On 14 November 1927, the last renovations to the Rideau Canal commenced with the construction of the new retaining wall from Connaught Plaza to the Laurier Street Bridge. With that, the old Canal Basin, which had served Ottawa for almost 100 years, vanished into history.

Sources:

Colin Churcher’s Railway Pages, 2017. The Railways of Ottawa, http://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Central_Depot_stations.htm#CARCentralDepot.

Daily Citizen (The), 1895. “Central Station Site,” 1 August.

Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “The New Line.” 11 June.

Evening Journal (The), 1888.” The City Sewerage,” 19 April.

—————————, 1888, “The By-Law,” 27 April.

—————————, 1888. “Canal Nuisances,” 28 May.

—————————, 1895. “Notice to Quit,” 3 October.

—————————, 1895. “Now For The New Basin,” 9 November.

—————————, 1896. “Now For The Depot,” 4 February.

—————————, 1896. “Basin Widening Begun,” 4 March.

—————————, 1896. “Pushing It Ahead,” 11 November.

—————————, 1896. “For The New Station,” 23 May.

—————————, 1897, “Picked From Reporter’s Notes,” 20 October.

————————–, 1897, “Special C.P.R. Depot All Talk,’ 30 October.

————————–, 1898, “The Central Station,” 7 November.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1925. “History of Early Ottawa,” 10 October.

————————–, 1927, “Start Filling Basin Of Rideau Canal,” 26 April.

————————–, 1927. “Artist’s Conception of Park Scheme Proposed by The Prime Minister,” 11 June.

————————–, 1927, “The Railways And he Central Station,” 1 November.

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

————————–, 1935. “Ottawa’s Beauty Developed On Broad Lines,” 10 December.

————————-, 1949. “Ottawa’s Vanished Water Traffic,” 15 September.

Ottawa, Past & Present, 2014. “Aerial View of the Rideau Canal 1927 and 2014,” http://www.pastottawa.com/comparison/aerial-view-of-the-rideau-canal/474/.

 

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The Jersey Lily

8 November 1883

During the early 1880s, the population of Ottawa, while growing rapidly, totalled less than 30,000 souls, far smaller than Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City. But being the capital of the new Dominion of Canada, and therefore home to the Governor General and Parliament, what the community lacked in numbers it made up in political and social clout. The town also boasted a small but wealthy group of industrialists who had mostly made their fortunes in the forestry industry. Because of these political and economic elites, Ottawa enjoyed the amenities of a far larger city, including the luxurious Russell Hotel, Ottawa’s premier hostelry, and the Grand Opera House, a top-quality hall for theatrical and other performances. With such facilities, Ottawa was equipped to welcome the international celebrities of the age, including the witty Oscar Wilde, the divine Sarah Bernhardt, and the incomparable Mrs Lillie Langtry.  Mrs Langtry, a.k.a. “The Jersey Lilly,” captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for more than forty years. She made three visits to Ottawa during her career, the first occurring on 8 November 1883.

Mrs Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1853, the daughter of a prominent clergyman. While brought up in a liberal, loving family, island life was confining for the beautiful young girl, known to everyone as “Lillie.” To get off the island and experience a taste of adventure, she married Edward Langtry in 1874, a widower ten years her senior. The couple settled in London. Sadly, the marriage quickly soured. Husband Edward drank heavily, and lived beyond his means. Although he had two racing yachts, his family’s wealth had been largely dissipated by the time it reached him. High living quickly went through the remaining fortune.

landgtry-by-millais-1878

“The Jersey Lily,” portrait of Lillie Langtry painted by John Everett Millais, 1878.

Lillie Langtry’s society career was launched when she was introduced to the artist John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a non-conformist group of Victorian artists who aimed to revive a medieval, artistic aesthetic. Attracted by her great beauty and charm, she became the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, posing for Millais, George Francis Miles, and others, including Sir Edward Poynter. Oscar Wilde also became a close friend and mentor, introducing her to his friends in the Aesthetics Movement, including the American artist, James Whistler.

Mrs Langtry arrival in society coincided with photography going mainstream, and the beginning of a mass celebrity culture. Joining the ranks of the “Professional Beauties,” her photograph graced the store fronts and middle-class sitting rooms of Britain. As part of this elite group, Langtry gained an entreé into the dining rooms and ball rooms of the aristocracy ever eager to seek out the latest sensation.  Male admirers, known as “Langtry’s lancers,” followed her as she rode daily in Hyde Park, a popular society past time that provided an opportunity to see people and be seen. In 1877, she caught the philandering eye of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, the oldest son of Queen Victoria. The married prince and Mrs Langtry began a well-publicized affair that raised her to the pinnacle of British society. Although the relationship cooled after a time, and the prince looked elsewhere for extra-marital affection, they remained close friends. On his coronation as Edward VII in 1902, Mrs Langtry, along with other former mistresses, attended the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in a special box, known sotto voce as the “King’s Loose Box.” After the prince, Mrs Langtry went on to have many other affairs that brought her considerable notoriety, including one with Prince Louis of Battenberg, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Prince Louis is reputed to have been the father of Mrs Langtry’s only child, a daughter, Jeanne Marie, though she was also in a relationship with another man at the time.

In 1881, with the Langtrys close to bankruptcy, Lillie embarked on a stage career on the advice of Oscar Wilde, after taking acting lessons from the English actress Henrietta Hodson, the mistress and later wife of the politician Henry Labouchère. (As an aside, Labouchère’s uncle, also Henry, was the person who conveyed Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada to Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General, in 1857.) The theatre was a daring career decision. In the late nineteenth century, acting was not viewed a proper vocation for gentlewomen. Actresses were often looked upon as little more than prostitutes. Mrs Langtry’s stage career, which was supported by the Prince of Wales, helped to change attitudes. She also broke convention by handling all her bookings herself, as well as hiring a theatre troupe.

Mrs Langtry went on to have an illustrious stage career on both sides of the Atlantic that lasted several decades. While her acting was uneven, especially during the early years of her career, her beauty and notoriety brought people out in droves to her performances. Her fame also led her to become an advertising pioneer. As one of the first, if not the first celebrity endorser, she allowed the producers of Pears’ soap to use images of her, in various stages of undress, in its advertising. She also provided a testimonial that her flawless complexion was due to Pears’ soap. Langtry promoted other products during her long career, including cigarettes, hair tonic, dresses and accessories.

Needless to say, her marriage with Edward Langtry, never strong owing to his excessive drinking, suffered further due to her affairs and notoriety. They mostly lived apart while she pursued her acting career and a series of liaisons in the United States and in Britain. After twenty-three years of marriage, Lillie got a divorce in 1897. Edward died shortly afterwards. In 1899, she married 28 year-old Sir Hugo de Bathe, eighteen years her junior, against the wishes of the groom’s parents. This marriage also foundered. Lillie Langtry died in Monaco in 1929, and was buried is St Saviour Church in Jersey.

Lillie Langtry’s first visit to Ottawa in November 1883 occurred at the start of her long stage career. She and her company performed the appropriately named play The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan in front of an audience described as “large and fashionable.” It was unclear, however, whether people had shown up to watch the classic comedy or just to catch a glimpse of the famous Mrs Langtry. Tickets for reserved seats, which had gone on sale at Nordheimer’s Music Store for $1.50 each a week ahead of the production, were quickly snapped up. The performance was held with the patronage of the Governor General and the Marchioness of Lansdowne, though, oddly, the vice-regal couple arrived someway into the first act, perhaps an indication of a certain reserve towards the notorious actress. Also in the audience were Lord Melgund, an aide of the Governor General, as well as several Cabinet ministers. The performance was the first of a series of evening and matinee shows that ran over three days. In addition to The School for Scandal, Langtry and her troupe put on She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. This was a reprise of the first play in which Langtry performed in 1881 at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, gave Mrs Langtry rave reviews for her performance as Mrs Teazle in The School for Scandal, saying that she “played with an artistic delicacy we have seldom seen equal.” In her role as Miss Hardcastle in She Stoops To Conquer, the Journal said that she displayed “versatility as an actress” and a “genuine appreciation of the requirements of the character.” The review looked forward to seeing Mrs Langtry in a dramatic role and opined that “from the little we have seen we believe she possesses many of the qualities which go to make a leading actress.”

Mrs Langtry returned to Ottawa and the Grand Opera House for a one-evening event on Good Friday, 12 April 1895. Billed as the “Society Event of the Season,” she appeared in Gossip, a play by Leo Ditrichstein and Clyde Fitch, supported by the American actor Eben Plympton. Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents to $1.50. Advertisements  for the show noted that electric cars would be at the Opera House to take theatre goers home after the production; the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company had opened for business five years earlier.

As soon as the performance date was announced, there was controversy.  Churches objected saying that a Good Friday show “was an insult.” At a prayer meeting, The Rev. W. Witten of the Reform Episcopal Church stated that “he would rather [people] went to the theatre Sunday than Good Friday. Those of his people who did go could not expect to come to church on Sunday and take part in communion.” Of course, the controversy only heightened the excitement, and provided Mrs Langtry with free advertising.

Fittingly given the name of the play, there was also much talk about what Mrs Langtry was going to wear for the production. Her new gowns were designed by Mme Laferrière of Paris and were “modelled after the style to prevail the coming summer.” Ottawa was even more agog over her jewels. According to the Journal, the coronet she wore in Gossip, which was made up of 2,000 diamonds “of the first purity and brilliance,” and twenty-five large Oriental pearls, was valued at $180,000. Her necklace of rubies and diamonds were said to be worth $25,000 while a jewelled broach consisting of a 44 carat ruby surrounded by diamonds was appraised at $300,000, an immense sum today let alone 120 years ago.

In a curt review the day after the performance, the Evening Journal reported that while there was a large and appreciative audience, Mrs Langtry was disappointing in the first act though she “showed a marked improvement” as the play progressed. The most attractive feature of the play was the dresses.

langtryoj1900

Engraving of Lillie Langtry, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 12 May 1900.

Lillie Langtry’s last appearance in Ottawa occurred in May 1900. This time she appeared at the Russell Theatre in a production of The Degenerates by the English dramatist Sydney Grundy. With the patronage of the Governor General, Lord Minto, and Lady Minto, the play was held as a benefit, with all profits going to the fire relief fund.

She played to a full house and received numerous curtain calls. At the end of the performance, she made a short patriotic speech and recited a poem by Rudyard Kipling titled “The Absent-Minded Beggar,” in support of British soldiers then fighting in the Boer War. The first lines of the poem read:

When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia:” When you’ve sung “God Save The Queen,” When you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth: Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine For a gentleman in khaki ordered South?

Quite a few coins were thrown on stage in response. At that time, some 1,000 Canadian volunteers organized into the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, were fighting in South Africa.

The Journal claimed that Mrs Langtry, now 47 years old, had the looks and figure of a woman of 25—“years seem to have left no impression on her.” However, the comment may have been more gentlemanly than factual. Two months earlier, it was reported that in New York, Mrs Langtry had insisted that all the gas jets in the theatre in which she was about to perform be covered with tinted mosquito netting because the glaring lights brought into “unpleasant evidence ‘crow’s’ feet.” After the netting caught fire, the gas lights were replaced with electric lights with the bulbs softened with pink fabric.

Although Lillie Langtry made several more North American tours, she never again appeared in Ottawa. She retired from acting in 1917. The life of Lillie Langtry has been the subject of numerous books. In 1978, London Weekend Television produced an excellent mini-series on her life titled Lillie, starring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.

 

Sources:

Beatty Laura, 1999. Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals, London: Chatto & Windus.

Brough James, 1975. The Prince and the Lily, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan Inc.

Evening Journal (The),

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry Coming,” 28 March.

—————————, 1895. Mrs. Langtry’s Gems and Gowns,” 11 April.

—————————, 1895. “Lillie Langtry at Grand Opera House One Night Only, 12 April.

—————————, 1895. “Mrs. Langtry At The Grand,” 13 April.

—————————, 1900. “Personal and Pertinent,” 20 March.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 10 May.

—————————, 1900. “Mrs Langtry At The Russell,” 17 May.

Globe (The), 1883. “Mrs Langry At Ottawa,” 9 November.

—————, 1895. “A Good Advertisement for the Jersey Lily,” 12 April.

Holland, Evangeline, 2008. “The Professional Beauty,” Edwardian Promenade, http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/women/the-professional-beauty/.

Holmes, Su & Negra, Diane, Eds. 2011. In the Limelight and Under the Microscope, Forms and Functions of Female Celebrity, New York and London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 9 November.

————————, 1883. “Grand Opera House,” 10 November.

 

Ahoy-hoy Ottawa

9 November 1877

Even though one hundred and forty years have passed since Alexander Graham Bell was awarded a patent for the telephone, there is still bitter disagreement over whether he was truly the inventor of the device. Many others were working simultaneously in the field, including Antonio Meucci, Elisha Gray and Johann Reis. All have claims on being the telephone’s “father.” Even if priority of claim is accorded to Bell, the telephone is hardly an all-Canadian invention as many Canadians believe. According to Bell himself, the telephone was conceived in Brantford but developed at his workshop in Boston. Moreover, three countries can consider Bell to be one of their own as he was born in Scotland, moved to Canada in 1870, but subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Later, he divided his time between Canada and the United States, dying at his country retreat near Baddeck, Nova Scotia in 1922.

In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution (No. 269) drafted by Congressman Vito Fossella that in essence gave priority of claim to Antonio Meucci, an Italian inventor who had immigrated to New York in the nineteenth century, based on a patent caveat (a notice of an intention to file a patent) for a “sound telegraph” filed with the U.S. Patent Office in 1871. Worse still, the Congressional resolution insinuated that Bell had stolen Meucci’s invention.

Alexander Graham Bell Moffett Studio LAC C-017335

Alexander Graham Bell, late in life, Moffett Studio, Library and Archives Canada, C-017335.

Appalled by this slight on Canadian history and Bell’s integrity, the Canadian House of Commons responded ten days later by passing a parliamentary motion affirming Bell as the inventor of the telephone. While there is no evidence that Bell stole Meucci’s ideas, it’s true that Meucci had been working on developing a similar instrument for some years. However, his patent caveat application did not describe an ability to transmit voices. Unable to afford the small fee to maintain his position, Meucci let his patent caveat lapse.

On the same day that Bell’s lawyer filed a patent application at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington D.C. in February 1876, Elisha Gray submitted a patent caveat for his telephone. The two submissions were remarkably similar. While many accounts say Bell’s submission beat Gray’s by two hours, it’s not clear which got to the Patent Office first. A contrary view has Gray getting his application in ahead of Bell only for it to end up at the bottom of an “In” basket. Regardless, under the law at the time who got to the Patent Office first mattered less than who could demonstrate that he came up with the idea first. Bell successfully made his case to the patent examiner, and was awarded U.S. patent #174,465 in March 1876 for “The method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically…by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.” His case was strengthened by the fact that Gray withdrew his patent caveat and did not immediately challenge Bell’s claim.

Three days after receiving his patent, Bell produced a functioning telephone. While tinkering with a device at his Boston workshop, Bell’s famous words “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” were heard by his assistant, Thomas Watson, who was working in a separate room down the hall. For that particular experiment, Bell had used a water-based transmitter similar to the one proposed by Gray in his patent caveat—providing Bell naysayers “proof” that he had lifted Gray’s idea. However, Bell never used this type of transmitter in public demonstrations, working instead on the electromagnetic telephone that he demonstrated at the Centennial Exposition in June 1876 in Philadelphia. As an aside, Bell recommended that people answering the phone should say “Ahoy-hoy” rather than “Hello.” This suggestion never caught on, though it did gain a following after its use by “Mr Burns” on the popular television cartoon series The Simpsons.

Needless to say, with the similarities between the Bell and Gray submissions, legal suits began to fly, especially after Gray re-submitted his patent application in 1877. But after two years of litigation, Bell was credited with the invention. This did not stop the legal challenges. Over the next decade, as it became increasingly apparent that there were huge profits to be had in the telephone industry and as new advances in telephone technology were made, the Bell Telephone Company, which was established in 1876 by Bell, his father-in-law, and a Boston financier, was embroiled in hundreds of patent challenges. Some of these law suits went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A U.S. Congressional study into the telephone was also undertaken in 1886. Despite all the hearings and all the law suits, the Bell Telephone Company emerged triumphant, its patent rights confirmed.

North of the U.S. border, Alexander Graham Bell received Canadian patent #7,789 for his telephone in August 1877. Canadians did not appear to be greatly impressed by the new technology. In early 1878, The Globe newspaper ran an article posing the question Is the telephone a failure? While saying that the invention was “awe-striking” and that it “had faced little popular or scientific hostility,” the newspaper opined that the telephone had serious operational problems, in, particular interference from other lines and “leakage” that led to “the force of the voice to be lost.” Just as we have concerns today about internet security, the newspaper also fretted about telephone security; telephone lines could be easily tapped.

Alexander Melville Bell, the inventor’s father, wrote a blistering riposte, saying that he regretted “that it should be necessary to defend the merits of so original an invention against the pretensions of pottering envy and wise-after-the-event detraction.” Bell senior called the telephone “a triumphant success,” and that they were “learning and improving,” noting that the problem with interference with other wires had already been remedied.

Notwithstanding this stout defence of his son’s invention, there were no Canadian buyers for Bell’s Canadian patent rights when they came on the market. In 1879, Bell senior, to whom his inventor son had earlier given his Canadian patent rights, could not find a Canadian buyer willing to pay his $100,000 asking price. (This is equivalent to about $2.5 million today.) Instead, he sold them to the National Bell Telephone Company of Boston that was later to be become the American Bell Telephone Company. The American company in turn established the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, based in Montreal, under a federal charter at the end of April 1880.

Ottawa’s introduction to the new communications technology occurred in the fall of 1877. After a demonstration of the telephone at the Ottawa Agricultural Exposition in September of that year by William Pettigrew, a friend of Bell senior, the first telephone line was installed on 9 November 1877, linking the office of Alexander Mackenzie, the Premier of the Dominion of Canada, in his capacity as the Minister of Public Works to the office of Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General, at Rideau Hall. It was a private line. Telephone exchanges that would allow multiple people to be connected to each other through an operator were still in the future.

The contract between Bell senior and the Premier called for the installation of two wooden hand telephones #18 and #19 and two wooden box telephones, #25 and #26, at a fee of $42.50 per annum, payable in advance, due annually on 21 September each year. While the lease was executed on 9 November, the lease was backdated to 21 September so that the honour of Canada’s first telephone lease could go to the government. In actuality, the first Canadian commercial telephone lease was signed by Hugh Cosset Baker, an entrepreneur in Hamilton, Ontario, with the District Telegraph Company in October 1877. The telephone line linked Baker’s office to that of a colleague.

Dave Allston, in his Ottawa blog titled The Kichissippi Museum, recounts a delightful story of the first telephone test call between Rideau Hall and Mackenzie’s office. It seems that Mackenzie’s private secretary, William Buckingham, who was stationed at Rideau Hall for the test, was so rattled by hearing the Premier’s voice coming out of a wooden box, that he flubbed reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Admonished by the Premier, he was forced to repeat himself. Following that embarrassing introduction, the Premier and the Governor General spoke to each other for the first official telephone call.

Mackenzie was not terribly impressed with the new-fangled communications instrument owing to its unreliability. It must also have been awkward to use; the same hole was employed for both listening and talking. But when the Premier asked for the telephone to be removed, he was overruled by the Governor General. Apparently, Lady Dufferin, the Governor General’s formidable consort, was much taken with the telephone. According to a 1961 Citizen article she would sing and play the piano into the phone to people at the Premier’s office. Captain Gourdeau of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards would sing back to her.

With the invention of the telephone exchange—the first exchange in Canada (and, indeed, the first in the British Empire) was installed in 1878 in Hamilton, Ontario—a telephone service similar to what we know today was made possible. In the major Canadian cities, service was initially provided by two competing companies—the Dominion Telegraph Company that marketed Bell equipment and the Montreal Telegraph Company that marketed Edison equipment. This competitive struggle between the two companies paralleled the patent war underway at that time in the United States between the Bell Telephone Company that naturally used Bell equipment and the Western Union Telegraph Company that used Edison equipment. Inconveniently to telephone users, subscribers of one service could not make or receive telephone calls from the other service. The Dominion Telegraph Company opened its Ottawa telephone exchange managed by Warren Soper in January 1880. Its first telephone directory consisted of two pages with less than 80 subscribers. The Montreal Telegraph Company followed suit a month later with its Ottawa office managed by Thomas Ahearn.

Almost immediately after it was established in April 1880, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada purchased the Dominion Telegraph Company. Later that same year, it also acquired the Montreal Telegraph Company, thereby uniting the two large Canadian providers of phone services under one company, and in the process stopping the ruinous war between the two companies that brought them to the point of bankruptcy. In Ottawa, the new Bell Telephone Company was managed by Thomas Ahearn who later went on to fame and fortune as Ottawa’s electricity baron when he joined forces with Warren Soper to create the electrical firm called Ahearn and Soper.

Through the 1880s, the Bell Telephone Company successfully saw off other challengers in the Ottawa market through acquisitions and legal threats. Mid-decade, the company issued a public notice that it would prosecute anyone using the “Wallace” Telephone, or any other telephone provider that infringed on patents originally granted to Bell, Edison, Berliner, and others,” that were still in force and were owned by the Bell Telephone Company of Canada. Instead, the company advertised “instruments under the protection of company patents and are entirely free of risks of litigation.” Would-be buyers of competing equipment were also reminded that such telephones “will not be allowed to connect…into the Company’s lines or exchanges.” The announcement was signed by Thomas Ahearn, Bell’s agent in Ottawa.

By early 1886, Bell Telephone had roughly 400 telephone subscribers in Ottawa, and was growing rapidly. (There were 1,400 subscribers in Montreal.) In October the following year, direct long distance service between Ottawa and Montreal was inaugurated. Previously, callers were routed through Brockville and Prescott. Within weeks, a rapid increase in traffic led to plans for additional long distance lines. In 1888, new telephone poles were erected on Rideau Street and Sussex Avenue to replace old ones that were too short to carry the increasing number of wires. The Ottawa Journal complained that “a telephone company has been stringing wires all over the streets at its own sweet will, without the slightest reference to any civic authority.”  In April 1900, Ottawa was the first Canadian city to do away with the old hand-cranked telephones. With batteries installed in a central office instead of in a customer’s telephone, a person could now reach an operator by simply picking up the receiver. The familiar, table-top telephone that would dominate the telephone scene for the next century had arrived.

Sources:

Allston Dave, 2015. “When the telephone arrived in Kitchissippi,” The Kitchissippi Museum, http://kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.ca/2015/10/when-telephone-arrived-in-kitchissippi.html.

Bell Homestead: National Historic Site, City of Brantford, 2016. Telephone History, http://www.bellhomestead.ca/history/Pages/TelephoneHistory.aspx.

BCE, 2016. History: From Alexander Graham Bell Until Today, http://www.bce.ca/aboutbce/history.

CBC Digital Archives, 2016. Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/topic/canada-says-hello-the-first-century-of-the-telephone.

Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell, 2016. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Parliamentary_Motion_on_Alexander_Graham_Bell.

Casson, Herbert N. 1910. The History of the Telephone, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/819/819-h/819-h.htm.

Globe (The), 1878. “Is The Telephone A Failure,” 4 January.

———, 1878. “The Telephone,” 12 January.

———, 1883. “Discovery of the Telephone: Interview with Pref. Bell,” 1 September.

Globeandmail.com. 2016, Bell Canada: The History of One of Canada’s Oldest Companies, http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/v5/content/features/BellIncomeTrust/bell_incometrust.html.

Mccord Museum, Operator. May I help you?: Bell Canada’s 125 years, http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca.

Motherboard, 2012, No-one remembers who invented the telephone,” 17 July, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/alexander-graham-bell-did-not-invent-the-telephone.

Ogle. E. B. 1979. Long Distance Please: The Story of the Trans-Canada Telephone System, Toronto: Collings Publishers.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1961. “Line Veterans Revive Old Days,” 28 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1886. “Public Notice,” 1 February.

—————-, 1886. “Ottawa to Montreal,” 21 April.

—————-, 1886. “Montreal and Ottawa,” 22 July.

—————-, 1887. “Another Telephone Line,” 22 November.

—————-, 1888. “The Overhead Network Growing,” 5 June.

—————-, 1888. “Civic Notes,” 25 June.

Stritof, Bob and Sheri, 2006. “Who Really Invented The Telephone,” Telephone Tribute, http://www.telephonetribute.com/telephone_inventors.html.

Uren, Janet, 2006. “The man who lit up Ottawa,” Ottawa, http://wordimage.ca/files/Ahearn.pdf.

U.S.Patent Office, 1876. Improvements in telegraphy, Patent #174465, 7 March.

Armistice Day

11 November 1918

The headline in The Citizen said it all: “PEACE! World War Ends; Armistice Signed; Kaiser Is Out; Revolution Grows.” After four years and a half years of fighting, the war was over. Shortly after 5am, Paris time, on 11 November 1918, the German politician Mathias Ezberger signed the armistice on behalf of Germany in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne, about 60 kilometres north of Paris. It was to take effect six hours later, allowing time for the news to reach the front—a delay that cost many men their lives as fighting continued right up until 11am. The last Canadian soldier to die in the war was Private George Lawrence Price of the 2nd Canadian Division who was killed at 10.58am by a sniper while his unit attempted to take the small Belgian village of Havré near Mons.

Newspaper

Front Page of The Citizen, 11 November 1918

News of the armistice reached Ottawa via an Associated Press dispatch at 3.06am that Monday morning. Seconds later, electric lights throughout the capital blinked four times—a pre-arranged signal organized by The Ottawa Citizen with the Ottawa Electric and Hydro-Electric Companies to indicate the arrival of peace. Except for patrons of all-night diners, most Ottawa citizens were home in bed, though many had left their lights on in hopes of witnessing history in the making.

Two days earlier, mid-Saturday afternoon, Ottawa’s electric lights had also blinked; that time twice on news that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated. Within minutes, the streets were a mass of exultant people, celebrating the end of the “Beast of Berlin,” and the overthrow of the House of Hohenzollern. Vehicles of all descriptions, flivvers, touring cars, tractors, and trucks, many decorated with flags and pennants, and loaded with people, slowly made their way down Sparks Street. The noise was deafening. In addition to horns, tin whistles, and the beat of pots and pans, some automobile owners had attached whistles to “cut outs” in their car exhaust pipes adding still more decibels to the cacophony. That evening, a mob of celebrating young people paraded through the revolving doors of the Château Laurier Hotel, past the statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the rotunda, and into the dining room, to the applause of diners. Shortly after 11pm, an effigy of Kaiser Bill, decorated with pictures of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, the instigator of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Austrian Emperor, and the German Crown Prince, was burnt on Connaught Square. The effigy had been made by the Citizen press-room staff using oil-soaked rags and waste. It was set alight by Chief Graham of the Ottawa Fire Department. The crowds started to disperse after midnight to await news that peace had arrived.

An armistice had been expected the following day. But Sunday came and went without an announcement. Nonetheless, plans for the big day went ahead. Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher announced that the day of the armistice would be a public holiday. A “monster” parade was scheduled. A request went out for all car owners to decorate their vehicles with flags of allied nations, and join the parade. Along with the war veterans and members of the 2nd Battalion stationed at Lansdowne Park, the letter carriers would parade in uniform. The pipe band of the St Andrew’s Society was also requested to gather for the march on Parliament. Kiwanis Club members were asked to form up at the entrance to Parliament Hill close to Bank Street. A series of floats were also planned, including one of a boat on which the Kaiser was on his knees tied to a winch.

When the news finally broke in the wee hours of Monday morning, the city went wild; the ensuring celebration far outstripped anything two days earlier. As the Citizen noted, Saturday’s celebrations merely marked the passing of a murderer and tyrant, while Monday’s “was a celebration of the greatest victory for civilization in the history of the world.” After the city’s lights flashed, Ottawa residents were summoned to the streets by the sound of fire station gongs and sirens, factory whistles, and church bells. In these days before radio, telephone girls quickly spread the word across telephone exchanges. Whole families, tousled haired and hastily dressed, stumbled out onto the early-morning streets waving flags or pennants, and blowing tin horns. The Postmaster-General, Lieutenant-Col. Hon. Pierre-Édouard Blondin was in his home library on Range Road when his electric lights blinked. Immediately, he and his family got dressed and drove in their car to Sparks Street where they found themselves at the head of an impromptu parade of celebrating citizens.

At 3.10am, the Citizen posted the new bulletin “GERMANY SURRENDERS” on their Sparks Street office window, eliciting prolonged cheers from the growing throng outside. A short time later, the skirl of bagpipes could be heard over the din, emanating from the corner of O’Connor and Slater Streets, followed by the sound of drums and horns of the “Victory Loan” and G.W.V.A. (Great War Veterans’ Association) bands that had quickly assembled. Making their way to Parliament Hill, they played “Maple Leaf Forever,” with thousands of voices joining in the song. After the last chorus, the bands struck up the famous tune of the “Old Hundred,” to which the crowd sang “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” After a moment of silence, an immense cheer went up that lasted for more than two minutes. The massed bands and then played another old church favourite “Our God Our Help In Ages Past.” As dawn approach, Reverend (Major) T. Thompson gave a concluding prayer. Afterwards, the bands struck up some familiar tunes, followed by the National Anthem, and, finally, “Tipperary,” in tribute to the boys a long way from home in the trenches in France and Belgium. Unabashed tears ran down the cheeks of many as they sang.

The Ottawa Citizen described the scene as one of “extreme beauty.” Above the heads of the crowds, stars sparkled, with a faint hint of dawn in the east.  Over at Connaught Square, the lights illuminating the Victory Loan campaign, which included a huge promotional “cash register,” twinkled, giving the appearance of a “fairy spectacle.” High in the sky, the large electric sign mounted on top of the Château Laurier Hotel read “Victory” instead of “Buy Victory Bonds,” thanks to a quick-thinking hotel electrician. On Wellington Street, a bonfire cast an orange, flickering glow on the surrounding buildings and the milling crowds.  The partying continued through the day. Stores, decorated in flags and bunting, experienced a run on Allied flags. One shop even sold out of old Diamond Jubilee Flags, bearing an image of Queen Victoria, left over and almost forgotten from the 1897 festivities.

The official celebrations began at 2pm that afternoon with more than 10,000 people assembled on Parliament Hill. In a huge parade, veterans and the G.W.V.A. band, directed by Lieutenant Jones, assembled on Cartier Square, and marched to the Hill. There, the “vets” met up once again with the “Victory Loan” band, conducted by Sergeant Cook, in front of the new Centre Block, still being rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1916. On either side of the steps leading up to the building were soldiers representing the allied nations holding their flags. At 2.30, the official party arrived, including the Governor General and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Borden, the wife of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden was in England at the time), Hon. Newton Rowell, the President of the Privy Council, as well as senior religious and military leaders.

After being introduced by Mr Rowell, the Governor General spoke of the major role played by Canadian troops in achieving victory, and how glad he was to be in Canada and “share in the pride that Canada had every right to feel.” He added “the Empire would never forget the deeds of its soldier sons, on land, in the air, and on the seas.” He concluded by saying that “we have laid the foundation for a long peace.” Although the Governor General was wildly cheered, the newspaper reported that his speech was difficult to hear owing to “small boys extracting horrible sounds from tin horns.” After prayers of thanksgiving offered by the clergy, the two bands reprised the hymns that they had played earlier in the morning in the spontaneous celebrations that had occurred immediately follow news of the armistice. The official ceremonies concluded by a speech from Rowell who spoke of the “debt of gratitude” owned by the nation to those who sacrificed their lives for the Empire in the fight for civilization. He also read out to the cheering crowd the armistice terms signed by Germany. The proceedings ended with a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia.”

That evening, a special Thanksgiving service was held at St Bartholomew’s Church with the Governor General reading the lesson. The following day, 12 November, another Thanksgiving service was held at Christ Church Cathedral at noon. Among the congregation were the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Lady Borden. Later that day, members of the Ottawa Motor Club assembled at the corner of Wellington and Bank Streets for the “Great Victory Parade” down Rideau, Bank, and Sparks Streets.

Sadly, as we all know, the Governor General’s hope that the war had laid the foundation for a lasting peace was not fulfilled. Twenty-one years later, a new generation of Canadian soldiers were called to arms.

Sources:

The Ottawa Citizen, 1918. “PEACE!,” 11 November.

————————, 1918. “When Peace Comes Ottawa Will Have Full Celebration, 11 November.

———————-, 1918. “Ottawa Joyfully Celebrated The News Of The Kaiser’s Abdication, 11 November.

———————–, 1918. “Ottawans Joined In Celebrations As Never Before,” 12 November.

The Ottawa Journal, 1918. “The Auto Parade,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. “People’s Victory, Says Bishop Roper,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. People Of Capital Celebrate Twenty-four Hours, 12 November.

Ottawa the Beautiful — The Gréber Report

18 November 1949

Ottawa is undoubtedly a beautiful city. Blessed by geography, the city borders the mighty Ottawa River, and is bisected by the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, one of only eight UNESCO world heritage sites in Canada.  Reputedly, Ottawa has 8 hectares (20 acres) of parklands for every 1,000 residents, compared to only 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of green space for every 1,000 Toronto residents, and a miniscule 1.2 hectares (3 acres) for every 1,000 Montréalais. And that’s not counting Gatineau Park that encompasses 361 square kilometres (139 square miles) of rolling hills and pristine lakes, and extends close to the centre of Gatineau, Quebec, just a few minutes’ drive from Parliament Hill.

Befitting a capital city, Ottawa can also boast magnificent governmental, cultural, and historic buildings and monuments. The National Capital Commission’s “Confederation Boulevard,” which is bordered with broad, tree-line sidewalks, runs along Sussex Drive and down Wellington Street before looping across the Ottawa River and along rue Laurier in Gatineau before returning to Ottawa. On this ceremonial route, one can find the stately homes of the Governor General and the Prime Minister, Canada’s National Gallery, the War Memorial, the storied Château Laurier Hotel, and the Canadian Museum of History. Of course, the crown jewels of the route are Canada’s iconic Gothic Revival Parliament buildings on Wellington Street, perched on a bluff overlooking the Ottawa River.

While a beautiful and extremely livable city, Ottawa is not without blemish. Sparks Street, once the commercial heart of the city, hardly beats these days, while parts of Bank and Rideau Streets are tired and shop-worn. And let’s not talk about LeBreton Flats. But Ottawa is redeemed by its parks and gardens, flourishing neighbourhood communities, thriving markets, and leafy parkways that border its waterways.

Not that long ago, however, Ottawa was a grim, dirty, industrial town; crumbling buildings and blighted neighbourhoods were but a short distance of the Parliament buildings. During World War II, most of the downtown green spaces was filled with “temporary” wooden office buildings hastily constructed to house the Capital’s burgeoning civil service. The city’s natural beauty was also threatened with unplanned urban sprawl, while its waterways were fouled by the detritus of the area’s extensive wood-products industry and the untreated sewage of its mushrooming population.

Efforts to improve the city began shortly after Confederation with the creation of Major’s Hill Park in 1874. In 1899, three years after Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier voiced his desire for Ottawa to become the “Washington of the North,” the first city improvement committee called the Ottawa Improvement Commission (later the Federal District Commission) initiated a number of landscaping projects, including the Rideau Canal Driveway. A series of urban planning studies were subsequently commissioned, including the Todd Report in 1903, the Holt Commission in 1915, and the Cauchon Report in 1922. Their recommendations included an expansion of Ottawa parklands, the rationalization of the city’s tangle of railway lines, and the enforcement of building regulations. Broadly speaking, however, little was achieved owing to changing government priorities, war, and the Great Depression. One idea that initially found traction but ultimately also failed was the suggestion of forming a National Capital District, akin to the District of Columbia in the United States, that would encompass the cities of Ottawa in Ontario and Hull in Quebec, along with their hinterlands. Political opposition, notably from Quebec, and concerns about the linguistic future of the area’s francophone residents scuppered the idea.

Another effort at rejuvenating Ottawa’s downtown core close to the Parliament buildings began in 1937 under the guidance of Jacques Gréber, a noted French urban planner whom Prime Minister Mackenzie King had met at the Paris Exhibition (Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne) held that same year. Gréber had been the Chief Architect of the Exhibition. When the two men hit it off, King asked Gréber to come to Ottawa to help prepare long-term plans for the development of government buildings along Wellington Street and in adjacent areas. However, war broke out before much could be achieved beyond the construction of the National War Memorial at the intersection of Wellington and Elgin Streets.

Wellington and Lyon Streets

Ottawa the Ugly – Intersection of Wellington and Lyon Streets, looking South in 1938

Immediately following the end of World War II, Mackenzie King invited Gréber back to Ottawa to head a far larger urban planning project—devising a long-term development plan for the entire 2,300 square kilometre (900 square miles) National Capital Region. Gréber was a controversial choice. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada objected, writing a letter to Mackenzie King saying that the National Capital development project should have been entrusted to a group of Canadian specialists rather than to a foreigner. Officially, responsibility for the project rested with the 17-member National Capital Planning Committee composed of representatives of the cities of Ottawa and Hull and area counties, the chairman of the Federal District Commission (FDC), the Federal Minister of Public Works, Canadian professional institutes, including the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and others. While Gréber was clearly the lead consultant, he was supported by the FDC and a staff of Canadian architects and engineers.

The final 300-page report, along with the accompanying volume of maps, watercolours, and scale model of the city, was released on 18 November 1949 after more than four years of work. Mackenzie King, who had retired as prime minister the previous year, wrote the foreword to the report. In many ways, Gréber’s plan for the National Capital was King’s legacy to the country. The plan was also dedicated as a memorial to Canadian service people who died in World War II.

Before discussing its recommendations and their justification, the Report provided an in-depth survey of the National Capital Region, covering its physical characteristics, history, demographics, land use, housing, public buildings, transportation systems, with a special section on the railways, and recreational/touristic facilities. Sometimes the Report is more poetry than prose, referring, for example, to the “broad bosomed” Ottawa River and the “boisterous leaping Chaudière.” At one point it strays into conjecture, uncritically accepting the unsubstantiated claim that the 1916 fire that demolished the Centre Block on Parliament Hill was “set by a German hand.” Despite such quibbles, the Report is exhaustive, and makes a compelling case for its sweeping urban renewal plans for downtown Ottawa-Hull, and the preservation of rural greenspaces.

The key recommendation was the relocation of the railways and associated rail yards and warehouses out of the downtown core. Gréber argued that the tracks had been laid to serve the interest of their operators and the lumber barons rather than those of the broader community. Originally on the outskirts of the city, the railways had been constructed without regard for future urban expansion. In addition to beautifying the city, their removal would return the city to its citizens by eliminating rail barriers that divided neighbourhoods, improve safety, and speed traffic circulation. Replacing the railways would be a network of highways, urban arteries, and tree-line parkways. Gréber recommended the construction of two new bridges across the Ottawa River on the outskirts of the city that would link the Ontario and Quebec highway systems, one in the west over Nepean Bay at Lemieux Island, and another in the east over Upper Duck Island. Gréber also sought the elimination of Ottawa’s trolleys as their overhead wires and related infrastructure in the downtown core detracted from the beauty and monumental nature of the area.

Jacques Gréber

Jacques Gréber shows off the model of his plan for the National Capital to Members of Parliament, 30 April, 1949

Other important recommendations included urban renewal for blighted neighbourhoods close to Parliament Hill, such as LeBreton Flats, the elimination of the war-time “temporary” buildings that littered the city, the imposition of strict building regulations to preserve the view of Parliament Hill, and the decentralization of government operations. To address urban sprawl, Gréber recommended that the Government acquire land to build a greenbelt around the city. He also favoured the expansion of Gatineau Park and the preservation of neighbouring forests and rural areas for recreational and touristic purposes. In downtown Ottawa, he recommended the construction of a number of large monumental buildings, including an Auditorium and Convention Centre on Lyon Street between Sparks and Albert Streets, the establishment of a National Theatre on Elgin Street, a National Gallery on Cartier Square, and a National Library on Sussex Street, north of Boteler Street. Noting that, a “capital without a dignified City Hall is a paradox,” Gréber proposed the construction of a new Ottawa City Hall to replace the one destroyed by fire in 1931 but never rebuilt. His proposed building fronted on Nicholas Street with a new bridge across the Rideau Canal at that point. He also recommended relocating Carleton College (the forerunner of Carleton University) to the fields of the Experimental Farm along Fisher Avenue. Finally, in keeping with the idea that the redesigned National Capital Region would be a memorial to Canada’s war heroes, Gréber planned a giant memorial terrace at the southernmost point of the Gatineau Hills with “an imposing panoramic view” of Ottawa.

As one might expect with any such sweeping plan, there was opposition; many of Gréber’s recommendations were rejected or ignored. But the French urban planner got his way on two key recommendations—the relocation of the railways out of downtown Ottawa, and the establishment of a greenbelt. Through land swaps between the FDC and the railways companies, downtown Union Station, which was across the street from the Château Laurier Hotel, was replaced with a new passenger station built south of the city on Tremblay Road. The unsightly, 600 foot long, train shed at Union Station was demolished, and the tracks that ran alongside the Rideau Canal were removed, making way for Colonel By Drive. Similarly, the Ottawa West freight station and tracks at LeBreton Flats were expropriated. Ottawa’s rattling trams with their unsightly overhead wires were also retired in favour of more economical buses. Earning the gratitude of future residents, the Federal Government was also able to push through Gréber’s greenbelt proposal south of the Capital, despite opposition from suburban townships—Nepean politicians called the greenbelt the “weed belt.”

On other issues, Gréber was less successful. His idea of a huge war memorial in Gatineau was dropped owing to opposition from veterans who wished to commemorate World War II dead at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. Most of the monumental buildings he planned for the downtown core were never built, or were located elsewhere, though his call for the demolition of the “temporary” war-time office buildings was heeded, albeit over a very long time, with the last one—the Justice Annex to the east of the Supreme Court building—only succumbing to the wrecking ball in 2012. His attempt to preserve the view of Parliament Hill from the south through height restrictions on commercial buildings also failed as high-rise office buildings, constructed to house federal civil servants, blocked the view. Similarly, his attempt to rejuvenate the LeBreton Flats took more than a generation to get underway owing in part to changing government priorities and inertia. Fifty years after the blighted neighbourhood was demolished, it remains a work in progress.

With hindsight, Gréber’s preference for the automobile over trains and trams, also had its downside, in part because he grossly under-estimated the expected future population of the National Capital Region. He had anticipated a population on the order of 500,000-600,000 by 2020, compared to 1.4 million today. Like the railways that preceded them, highways and major urban arteries came to divide neighbourhoods. A case in point is the Queensway which replaced the east-west CN rail line; Gréber had envisaged a tree-lined boulevard. Many mourn the loss of a downtown train station, and the passing of the city’s tram lines. The failure to build two new bridges across the Ottawa River at the city’s periphery linking the Ontario and Quebec highway systems has meant that interprovincial traffic continues to be routed across downtown bridges, aggravating traffic woes. Finally, the development of the greenbelt did little to stop urban sprawl as Gréber had hoped. Instead of the greenbelt promoting the development of self-contained satellite communities as he had envisaged, the automobile permitted them to become bedroom communities for Ottawa, and in the process further contributed to traffic congestion.

In sum, the Gréber Plan was marred by faulty assumptions and inadequate follow-through. But, despite all, Ottawa was transformed from a grimy, industrial city to a capital Canadians can be proud of. For that, we must give a big hand to the vision of Jacques Gréber.

Sources:

Butler, Don, 2012. “Putting things back on track for Ottawa’s train station,” 27 May, The Ottawa Citizen, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Putting+things+back+track+Ottawa+train+station/6690940/story.html.

City of Ottawa, 2010-15. Relocating the Rail Lines, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/witness-change-visions-andrews-newton-6.

Gordon, David. 2000. Weaving a Modern Plan for Canada’s Capital: Jacques Gréber and the 1950 Plan for the National Capital Region, https://qshare.queensu.ca/Users01/gordond/planningcanadascapital/greber1950/Greber_review.htm.

Théoret, Huger, 2013. “Le plan Gréber dévoilé aux Communes,” Le Droit, 8 mars.

NCC Watch, 2003(?). NCC Blunders: Ottawa’s Union Station, http://nccwatch.org/blunders/unionstation.htm.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1945. “Canadian Architectural Institute Protest Hiring of Jacques Greber,” 2 October.

———————-, 1945. “Jacques Greber Arrives to Plan National Capital,” 2 October.

National Capital Planning Committee, 1950. “Plan for the National Capital,” (The Gréber Report), https://qshare.queensu.ca/Users01/gordond/planningcanadascapital/greber1950/index.htm.

Macleod, Ian, 2014. “The lost train of nowhere,” The Ottawa Citizen, 18 December, http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/from-the-archives-the-lost-train-of-nowhere.

Images:

Intersection of Wellington Street and Lyon Street, looking south, 1936, the Gréber Report, Illustration #153.

Jacques Gréber shows off the model of his plan for the National Capital to Members of Parliament, 30 April, 1949,National Capital Commission, 172-5, http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/dossiers/100-evenements-historiques/201303/08/01-4629049-16-le-plan-greber-devoile-aux-communes.php.

Movie Magic

3 November 1894

Motion pictures have entertained and informed us for more than a hundred years. Through the media of the cinema, television, and most recently the internet, they are an integral part of western culture. They reflect our dreams, hopes, and nightmares, and have helped to shape who we are and who we aspire to be. Their appeal is universal. They fascinate us, and draw us together. Watching a movie in a darken cinema, or at home on a television or computer, provides a common experience, and the source of limitless debate and discussion.

The Kinetoscope, circa 1894

The Kinetoscope, circa 1894

Two Ottawa-born, nineteenth-century entrepreneurs, Andrew and George Holland, were midwives to this cultural phenomenon. Thanks to them, Ottawa was among the first cities in the world to witness motion pictures. The Holland brothers were business associates of Thomas Edison whose company invented the kinetoscope, an early motion picture machine. While conceived by Edison, the invention was largely developed by his employee William Dickson in the early 1890s. The electrically-powered device, which stood roughly four feet high in a wooden cabinet, drew a perforated 35 millimetre celluloid film strip bearing sequential images over an electric light. A high-speed shutter rapidly broke the beam of light, providing the illusion of movement when each frame of the film was illuminated in turn. The continuous film strip, roughly fifty feet in length, was looped around a series of spools in the body of the kinetoscope. A viewer looked at the film through a peep-hole about an inch in diameter at the top of the wooden cabinet. A magnifying lens enlarged the image. In one version, called a kinetophone, an audio cylinder was included in the cabinet which allowed the kinetoscope viewer to listen to sound by using a stethoscope-like instrument.

The Holland brothers, who were the Canadian agents for the distribution of Edison’s phonograph, were quick to spot the commercial possibilities of the new invention, and acquired the eastern U.S. and Canadian distribution rights. Andrew Holland, a founding partner of the Kinetoscope Company, opened the world’s first kinetoscope parlour in New York City in April 1894, roughly a year after the machine’s first public showing at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 May 1893. Similar parlours were quickly established in other major US cities, including Chicago and San Francisco. They were highly lucrative. On 3 November 1894, the Holland brothers brought the kinetoscope to Canada, setting up a machine for public viewing in Ottawa at the Perley building on Sparks Street.

Andrew M. Holland (left) and George C. Holland (right)

Andrew M. Holland (left) and George C. Holland (right)

To a modern moviegoer’s eye, the programme menu was hardly riveting stuff. Viewers could choose to watch a number of very short movies made by Edison’s film-production company. These included a ballet dance, a blacksmith at work, and a barber cutting somebody’s hair. For the sporting enthusiast, a clip of a boxing match between Champion Jim Corbett and P. Courtenay was also on offer. But to a nineteenth century audience, this was pure magic. Despite the steep ten-cent cost, the price of a good meal in those days, for a single viewing that lasted but a few seconds, the kinetoscope drew huge crowds. The Ottawa Journal reporter covering the machine’s arrival in Ottawa, was held spellbound by the ballet dance. He wrote: “There were three figures in the view and every motion of the dancers was perfectly reproduced. Even the slightest movements of the folds of the dancers’ fluffy skirts were shown. The view was quite as good as a ballet at an opera house.”  He called the kinetoscope “the scientific wonder of the age.”

Two years later, the Holland brothers wowed Ottawa audiences again with an exhibition of the vitascope, a film projector that could cast moving images on a wall or screen, enabling many people to witness a show simultaneously. An earlier version of the device, called the phantascope, had been developed by Charles Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895. The machine was subsequently refined by Armat, who receive a U.S. patent in February 1896 for a modified version that he called the vitascope. The vitascope was manufactured under licence by the Edison Company, and marketed as a new Thomas Edison innovation to cash in on the inventor’s reputation. As was the case with the earlier kinetoscope, the Holland brothers purchased the exclusive rights to exhibit the vitascope in Canada.

Working with the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OERC), the firm that operated Ottawa’s trams, the Holland brothers held the first exhibition of the vitascope in Canada on 21 July 1896 at the West End Park, an amusement park owned by the OERC in Hintonberg, then on the outskirts of the city. Located on Holland Avenue, which was named after the brothers, the park had previously been farmland owned by the duo. Later known as Victoria Park, the area is now roughly the site of the Fisher Park Public and Summit Alternative Schools, Fisher Park playground, and the Elmdale Tennis Club. Although this was the inaugural demonstration of the vitascope in Canada, it was not the first time a movie was projected in Canada. A month early, August and Louis Lumière, French competitors of Edison, demonstrated their cinematograph in Montreal.

Tickets to the vitascope screening cost ten cents for adults, and five cents for children. For twenty-five cents, people could buy a package deal from the OERC which included the price of the tram ride out to the West End Park, admission, and a reserved seat. The show also included a live performance by Belsoz, the magician, who warmed up a crowd of several hundred before the actual vitascope exhibition began. The short, silent films, which were projected onto a canvas screen the size of a bedsheet on an outdoor stage, included hand-tinted footage of an exotic dance, a moving train, and an Atlantic City bathing scene. Also featured was the first cinematic kiss—pretty risqué and controversial stuff for the Victoria era. The 47-second clip, widely known as The Kiss, was produced by Edison’s production company, and directed by William Heise. It starred stage and vaudeville actors Canadian-born May Irwin and John Rice. The vitascope exhibition was a great hit with Ottawa viewers. The Citizen newspaper enthused “It is safe to say that nothing has been brought out in the nineteenth century that has created anything like the enthusiasm, caused by Edison’s success in bringing the vitascope to perfection.”

Frame from “The Kiss,” starring May Ellen and John Rice, 1896

Frame from “The Kiss,” starring May Irwin and John Rice, 1896

The success of the vitascope helped launched the motion picture industry. To celebrate the centenary of the first projected movies in Ottawa, the Canadian Film Institute held in July 1996, a free public screening of the same four vitascope films at the Astrolabe Theatre at Nepean Point behind the National Gallery of Canada. In July 2014, cinema enthusiasts, in co-operation with Tamarack Homes, again paid homage to the event with a showing of The Kiss. The event, part of “Hintonberg Happenings,” was held on Wellington Street, not far from where the original vitascope films were first shown.

Sources:

About.com, 2014. “Inventors: Kinetophone,” http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bledison_kinetoscope.htm.

EarlyCinema.com, 2014. An Introduction to Early Cinema, Technology, Kinetoscope, http://www.earlycinema.com/technology/kinetoscope.html.

Gutteridge, Robert, 2005. “The Holland Brothers,” The Photographic Historical Society of Canada, http://phsc.ca/holland-bros.html.

Hum, Peter, 1996. “A hundred years at the movies: You can watch what great-grandad watched,” The Citizen, 21 July.

Kroon, Richard, W. 2010. A/V, A to Z: An Encyclopedia Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

McKernan, Luke, 2014. “Andrew M. Holland and George C. Holland,” Who’s Who in Victorian Cinema, http://victorian-cinema.net/holland.

Miguelez, Alain, 2004, A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau, Penumbra Press.

Nyugen, Andrew, 2014. “Movie-lovers look to re-create first Ottawa film screening in Hintonberg,” The Citizen, 11 June.

Russell, Hilary, 2006, “All that Glitters: A Memorial to Ottawa’s Capitol Theatre and its Predecessors,” Canadian Historical Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, No. 13, Parks Canada, http://parkscanadahistory.com/series/chs/13/chs13-1f.htm.

The Evening Journal, 1894. “Kinetoscope Is Here,” 3 November 1894.

The Citizen, 1896. “Edison’s Vitascope,” 20 July.

————–, 1896. Edison’s Vitaschpe (sic),” 21 July.

Images: Kinetoscope, http://www.eduhacker.net/libraries/5-reasons-libraries-fail-written-1864.html/attachment/kinetoscope.

Holland Brothers, Canadian Film Institute, http://parkscanadahistory.com/series/chs/13/chs13-1f.htm.

The Kiss, The Public Domain Review, http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-kiss-1896/.

 

“The Catch”

28 November 1976

The afternoon of 28 November, 1976 was chilly and overcast in Toronto, with the temperature hovering about the freezing point. A stiff northwesterly breeze made it seem even colder. But the weather did not deter the more than 53,000 exuberant Canadian football fans that crowded into Exhibition Stadium that afternoon for the 64th Grey Cup Championship between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders. It was a record crowd and a record gate of $1,009,000. Both teams had finished the regular season in first position in their respective divisions. To reach the Grey Cup, Ottawa had bested the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the eastern divisional final held the previous weekend in a close 17-15 contest, while Saskatchewan had topped the Edmonton Eskimos 23-13 in the west. The western Riders were five-point favourites owing to the strong arm of their veteran, all-star quarterback, Ron Lancaster, and the best defence in the Canadian Football League. Saskatchewan had also beaten Ottawa 29-16 in their only meeting of the regular season. Despite the youthful Ottawa team’s lacklustre play during the second half of the season, it was no pushover. Its coach, George Brancato, had been named the CFL’s coach of the year in 1975, and had put together back-to-back first place finishes for the eastern Riders.

Televised coast-to-coast by both CBC and CTV, this Grey Cup game promised to live up to its pre-game hoopla. But fans could not have known that they were about to be treated to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, championship game in CFL history. It featured the heroics of unlikely players, broke Grey Cup records, and, with the outcome in doubt into the last minute, ended in one of the most thrilling plays seen in Canadian football. Sports fans will always remember it as “The Catch.”

Ottawa was the first to draw blood. With slightly more than five minutes left to play in the opening quarter, Gerry Organ scored a field goal from Saskatchewan’s 30-yard line. With the western Riders retaking control of the ball, Ottawa’s defence held tough, forcing Saskatchewan to punt, setting the stage for Bill Hatanaka, the 22-year rookie kick returner out of York University. Catching the ball booted by Saskatchewan kicker Bob Macoritti, Hatanaka scampered 79 yards for a touchdown, the first punt return touchdown in Grey Cup history. It was also the longest Grey Cup punt return to that time, and only subsequently surpassed twice. It was 10-0 Ottawa at the end of the first quarter.

Late in the second quarter, Ottawa’s fortunes soured when Macoritti finally put the western Riders on the board with a 32-yard field goal. With the Ottawa offence under the direction of sophomore quarterback Tom Clements (“Captain Cool”) unable to sustain a scoring drive, this was quickly followed by a Saskatchewan major when Ron Lancaster found wide receiver Steve Mazurak who ran 15 yards for the touchdown. With Macoritti’s convert, the game was tied at 10.  Seconds later, Ted Provost intercepted an errant pass from Tom Clements, intended for Ottawa’s star receiver, Tony Gabriel. This set the stage for another Lancaster touchdown throw, this time to tight end, Bob Richardson. Again Macoritti converted. The score was 17-10 in Saskatchewan’s favour at half time. Despite the score, everything had not gone in Saskatchewan’s way. Running back, Molly McGee, suffered a rib injury late in the quarter after a bruising tackle, crimping Lancaster’s running game.

In the third quarter, the two teams traded field goals. With a stiff wind favouring Saskatchewan, the Ottawa defensive team did great work in holding the western champions to only three points. Late in the quarter, Ottawa fans were brought to their feet by Jerry Organ, who faked a punt and ran 52 yards to bring his team deep into Saskatchewan territory.  Organ’s gamble, caught Coach Brancato by surprise. After the game, Organ revealed that the play originated in a half-time dressing-room discussion with linebacker Mark Kosmos about Saskatchewan not rushing punts. Organ said that he “ran like a scared rabbit,” and had planned to kick the ball had he got into difficulty. Unfortunately, his heroics were snuffed out when Saskatchewan linebacker Cleveland Vann intercepted another one of Tom Clements’s passes. Seven points continued to separate the two teams as they entered the final quarter.

With only 7.33 minutes left of the final frame, Gerry Organ kicked a 32-yard field goal to bring Ottawa to within four points of their rivals. On the next series of plays, the Ottawa defensive squad stopped Saskatchewan midfield. With third down and less than a yard to go, the Saskatchewan’s coach, John Payne, decided to punt the ball instead of trying for the first down. It was an uncharacteristic conservative play. It was also a fateful decision with huge consequences.

Macoritti’s punt gave the Ottawa Rough Riders the ball on their 26-yard line with five minutes to go. Tom Clements then went to work, methodically working the sticks down field to bring Ottawa just outside the Saskatchewan 10-yard line. After a short pass to Art Green, Clements attempted to run the ball in himself but was tackled short of the first down, and tantalizingly close to the goal line. It was third down and less than a yard to go. With 1:32 remaining on the clock, and Ottawa needing at least four points, Coach Brancato decided to gamble.  But the Saskatchewan’s defensive wall stopped the eastern Riders inches short of the first down.  With the western Riders taking possession of the ball, it looked like Saskatchewan had the Grey Cup in the bag.

But they hadn’t counted on the Ottawa defence.  Promising Coach Brancato one last chance, the defensive team gave up only six yards, forcing Saskatchewan to punt into the wind from their own 7-yard line. Ottawa’s Hatanaka, returned the ball to the western Riders’ 35-yard line. In two plays, Clements moved the ball down to the 24-yard line, with a pass to Tony Gabriel picking up the first down. With only 31 seconds remaining on the clock, everybody knew that Clements would try to find Gabriel again, his go-to-man the entire season…everybody, that is, except the Saskatchewan Roughriders who failed to double cover the scoring threat. Waving off a play from Coach Brancato, quarterback Tom Clements sought out Tony Gabriel who, first faking a post pattern, had turned instead to the outside. Clements found him in the clear, five yards behind Saskatchewan’s Ted Provost in the end zone. The Ottawa quarterback launched the ball. Gabriel reached above his head and pulled it in. Touchdown! Fans poured onto the field and mobbed Gabriel in the end zone. With Gerry Organ’s convert, the Ottawa Roughriders went ahead 23-20.

The Catch

“The Catch” by Tony Gabriel

Although Saskatchewan had one more opportunity to score, with only 20 seconds left in the game, there was simply not enough time. Ottawa became the 1976 Grey Cup Champions. The perfectly executed 24-yard touchdown pass from Clements to Gabriel went down in CFL lore as simply “The Catch.” Clements was named the game’s most valuable offensive player, while Gabriel was named the most valuable Canadian. Saskatchewan’s Cleveland Vann was the game’s most valuable defensive player. Members of the winning team each received $6,000 bonus, with the losing team members each receiving $3,000. Tom Clements, as the top offensive player of the game, was also given a new car, a timely prize as is old one was the “team’s joke.”

Back home in Ottawa, the place went wild as fans poured onto the streets. Bank Street turned into a parking lot as fans celebrated their Rough Riders’ victory, honking horns and consuming vast quantities of beer as police turned a blind eye to minor infractions. At noon the next day, the team returned home, greeted at the airport by hundreds of fans and a brass band. A civic celebratory dinner was held for the team that night. The event totally eclipsed a black tie dinner hosted by Prime Minister Trudeau on Parliament Hill for Team Canada, winner of the 1976 Canada Cup Hockey Tournament the previous September.

The 1976 Grey Cup was the Ottawa Rough Riders’ ninth and last CFL Championship. Although the team again made it to the finals in 1981, they went down to defeat 26-23 to the Edmonton Eskimos. The Ottawa Rough Riders team collapsed in 1996 owing to falling attendance, poor management, and growing debts. Founded in 1876, the oldest professional sports team in North America was no more. In 2002, a new team, the Ottawa Renegades, briefly played out of Landsdowne Park, but it too folded after only four years. In 2014, another Ottawa team, the Redblacks, wearing the familiar colours of their storied predecessors, took the field.

UPDATE (27 November 2016): Ottawa Redblacks win the Grey Cup! In an exciting contest in Toronto, the underdog Ottawa Redblacks held off a fourth-quarter surge by the Calgary Stampeders to take the Cup 39-33.

Sources:

CBC, 1976. 64th Grey Cup Game, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IZY6wCmo1Y.

CFL, 2014. 64th Grey Cup, November 28, 1976, http://cfl.ca/greycupcentral/year/1976.

The Globe and Mail, 2012. “Punt return in ’76 Grey Cup was one for the record books,” 23 November.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1976. “Grey Cup Returns to Ottawa,” 29 November.

———————–, “Football Fervor spoils hockey heroes’ dinner,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Battle was saved in the third quarter,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Organ weighs future,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Clements, Gabriel dynamite,” 29 November.

———————–, 1976. “Inventive gambling pays,” 29 November.

Ottawa Citizen.com, 2006. “Our last Grey Cup ever?,” 26 November.