Moving Day

25 September 1865

The day had finally arrived. After decades of dithering, political wrangling and construction snafus, the seat of Canada’s capital was finally moving. On 25 September 1865, the first boxes of government effects were loaded onto trains and barges for their one-way journey from Quebec, dubbed “the ancient capital,” to Ottawa. For almost a quarter century since the merger of Upper and Lower Canada to form the Province of Canada in 1841, the colony’s peripatetic capital had moved from Kingston to Montreal, before alternating between Toronto and Quebec. Imagine the cost of picking up sticks every few years as well as the physical and emotional toll on public servants and their families.

In 1857, Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the permanent seat of Canada’s capital after partisan provincial legislators were unable to select a city. Even then, it took two more years for Canadian politicians to ratify her choice and for construction on the new legislature and department buildings to commence. Cost overruns due in part to contracts being awarded on the basis of patronage rather than price, led to further delays. When the money ran out, construction came to a temporary halt before building was resumed under new leadership. But by the beginning of 1865, work had progressed to the point that the government, then resident in Quebec, was encouraged enough to issue an Order-in-Council to set in motion the removal of the government to Ottawa for the following May.

West Block Government Building nearing completion, c. 1865, Library and Archives Canada, ID 3246837.

This date was also missed. However, with 500 workmen on site, the departmental buildings were nearing completion, though the legislature building was not quite as advanced, and the Parliamentary Library to the rear of the legislature building scarcely begun. Press reports suggested that the government was determined to move government employees to Ottawa by the fall. The Bytown Consumer Gas Company, which had won the contract for suppling the government buildings with illuminating gas, was told that it had to lay it pipes and make all arrangements necessary to supply lighting by mid October.

In late July 1865, Thomas D’Arcy McGee visited Ottawa to assess the progress and report back to Cabinet on the possibility of the civil service staff moving to their new quarters by the fall. The Ottawa Citizen reported that he spent virtually all of his time in the city examining and exploring the governmental buildings. He was favourably impressed.

A month later, Jean-Charles Chapais, the Commissioner of Public Works, told the Clerk of the House to have everybody ready for removal to Ottawa immediately after the close of the session expected in a month’s time. Based on Chapais’ announcement, many government employees instructed their agents in Ottawa to immediately secure housing. There were reports, however, that some public servants, fearful of not finding adequate accommodations, had in fact rented houses for a year or more in anticipation of the move.

At the end of August, three senior civil servants, Mr. T. Trudeau, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. Himsworth from the Executive Council Office, and Mr. William White, Secretary of the Post Office Department, came down from Quebec to make their own assessment of the state of the buildings.

Ottawa was abuzz with excitement. The big day when the city was to finally become the seat of government was at hand.

On 7 September, Robert Bell, the owner of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, and MP for Russell County in the Provincial legislature, sent a private dispatch to the newspaper informing it that Public Works Department had began to advertise for tenders for moving government effects from Quebec to Ottawa with the move to be completed no later than mid November. Ottawa MP J. M. Currier also reported to Ottawa’s Mayor Dickenson that there was “not the slightest doubt…that the Government will be removed to Ottawa this fall.”

The small announcement that the government’s move to Ottawa was finally underway, Ottawa Citizen, 25 September 1865.

Fourteen bids were received by the government for the removals contract, ranging from $12,000 to $39,000. The winner was the firm of Craig & Vallière, Quebec cabinetmakers.

The first departments to be packed were Crown Lands and the Post Office, with the first load of government effects leaving Quebec bound for Ottawa on 25 September, 1865.  Papers were loaded securely in bound wooden boxes, closely watched by Mr. Trudeau of Public Works who kept a wary eye out for careless packing.

Written papers and departmental books were transported by the Grand Trunk Railway. Office furniture and the Parliamentary Library, part of which had been in storage in Laval University, went by barges towed by steamers to Ottawa. Most of the books were to be held in storage until the new Parliamentary Library was completed a decade later. The government allowed the barges to pass through the Lachine Canal free of tolls on their way down the St. Lawrence River before being pulled down the Ottawa River to the new capital. On 15 October 1865, the Post Office and the Crown Lands Department opened for business in Ottawa. The Globe newspaper reported that “Quebec may be said to be decapitalized.” The last government effects left Quebec for Ottawa on 24 October.

As departments were given orders to pack their belongings in Quebec, the government buildings in Ottawa were being buffed and polished. Disused workshops were dismantled while rubbish was carted away from around the government building in preparation for their new occupants.

Journalists were given a three-hour tour of the buildings, escorted by Mr. Page, the public servant in charge of the Parliament buildings, and Mr. Thomas Fuller, one of the architects of the central legislative building. The reporters were very impressed. They enthused about the large, airy departmental offices, each supplied with water and gas. The reporters’ room, located on the northwest corner of the centre building had a fine view of the Chaudière Falls. The governor general’s office was described as an elegant apartment with windows of stained glass. The universal opinion of the Press Association was that despite some bungling and some chiselling, the buildings were spectacular and that generations of Canadians as yet unborn will be proud of them.

Journalists also remarked that downtown face of Ottawa had been transformed beyond the Parliament buildings. On the principal streets, first class stone buildings had recently been erected. Most of these buildings had been built of blue limestone and were deemed to be both substantial and elegant, with high French windows and projecting sills that gave them an air of “grace and strength.” Ottawa was clearly destined for a great future.

What about the poor civil servants who had to move from the delights of old Quebec to rough hewn, little Ottawa? The Ottawa Citizen opined that “removal to Ottawa [was] not quite synonymous with banishment to a penal colony.”

The government softened the blow by providing allowances to its civil servants. Each employee was given two months salary plus $40 for each adult in the family, with children of twelve years of age considered adults, and $20 for each child and servant. This scale of payment was the same as that given to civil servants when they moved to Toronto in 1855 and to Quebec in 1859. However, the allowances were reduced by 10 per cent to account for the shorter travel distance.

The biggest fear of government employees was finding adequate housing in Ottawa. Not only was it much smaller than Quebec, having a population of only 16,000 compared with more than 60,000 for the ancient capital, but it seems that relatively little new housing had been constructed in anticipation of a flood of new arrivals. Reportedly, this was due to the uncertain timing of when the government would actually move the seat of government to Ottawa.

According to John A. Macdonald, who stopped in Ottawa to see how things were going in late September 1865 while his way to Quebec, upwards of 2,000 people would be moving to Ottawa. He told Ottawa officials that in addition to heads of departments, there were “numerous labourers, workers and employees with small income, who have to look at a shilling twice before they spend it.”

It is not clear, however, who Macdonald was counting in this total. Twenty years later, total federal head office staff (inside service) accounted for fewer than 750 positions. It’s possible Macdonald was counting family members as well. Alternatively, he was counting non-government ancillary jobs that were also moving to Ottawa. For example, George Desbarats, the Queen’s printer, moved his printing business from Quebec to Ottawa. Regardless, for tiny Ottawa, this was a large number of people.

Macdonald expressed his conviction that the people of Ottawa would do all in their power to smooth the path for the new arrivals. He also claimed that according to his inquiries, Ottawa landlords were not taking advantage of the tight housing conditions, and rents remained reasonable. He attributed this to Ottawa landlords taking the long view.

Others were not so sure, especially Quebec-based papers, though perhaps they were biased, keen to point out the worst in the move to Ottawa. The Quebec Chronicle reported (and reproduced in the Ottawa Citizen) that not only were houses few and far between in Ottawa but private boarding was “scarcely to be had” and what rooms that were available costed from eight to ten dollars per week. “What are the single men with small salaries to do at these rates? Or, for that matter, the married ones?” the newspaper worried.

Another report said that a departmental officer paid £45 ($220), inclusive of tax, per year in Quebec but was forced to pay £90 ($440), exclusive of tax, in Ottawa. Ottawa’s taxes were also higher than Quebec’s. Another report in October 1865 claimed that most of the employees who had gone to Ottawa could not obtain “anything approaching a moderately comfortable dwelling without paying exorbitant rates. The shabbiest hovels costed £25 to £85 (roughly $120-$400). (The salary of a male, third-class clerk, which was a middle-rank position, ranged from $600-$1,000 per annum in 1886. Guards made only $500 per annum.)

The Ottawa Citizen rubbished these reports, claiming that rents of eight to ten dollars per week were ridiculous. The newspaper said that a single man could find “good quarters” for $6 per week. Moreover, it contended that private boarding houses were not scarce and that accommodations could be easily found. However, it added the qualifier, as long as people were “not overly fastidious.”

In early 1866, a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen from somebody with the nom de plume “Government Clerk,” said that there had been too much whining by civil servants. He asserted that the inconvenience of moving was less than what it had been after the moves to Toronto in 1855 and to Quebec in 1859. While one could hardly expect that comfortable accommodations at reasonable rates could be immediately found given the large number of persons arriving at once in Ottawa, its landowners demanded less than Toronto and Quebec landowners had in similar circumstances. Ottawa was not a “den of thieves.”

Public servants also had to hope that their personal effects made the journey from Quebec to Ottawa intact. The Globe reported that there had been a series of mysterious robberies leading to a very large quantity of belongings of government employees apparently stolen.

While government employees moved in late in 1885, members of Parliament and the Legislative Council moved later. Like the civil servants, they too had difficulties finding accommodation. Some, like George Brown, the fiery Liberal leader, stayed at the Russell House Hotel when the Legislature was in session. Others found lodgings in rooming houses. Thomas D’Arcy McGee took rooms in the Toronto Hotel, otherwise known as Mrs. Trotter’s Boarding House. He was to die on its front steps, felled by an assassin’s bullet, less than a year after Confederation.

The first session of the Provincial Legislature opened in its new home in Ottawa on Friday, 8 June 1866, when Governor General, the Viscount Monck delivered the speech from the Throne in the Legislative Council. The first two bills introduced by John A. Macdonald and Georges-Étienne Cartier dealt with the apprehension and punishment of Fenian raiders.

Sources:

Department of the Secretary of State, 1886. Civil Service List of Canada, Ottawa, March.

Evening Telegraph & Commercial Advertiser, 1865. “Removal To Ottawa,” 27 January.

Globe, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 26 September.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 29 September.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 16 October.

——-, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 21 October.

Ottawa Citizen, 1865. “No title,” 23 May.

——————-, 1865. “Editorial,” 22 July.

——————, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 18 August.

——————, 1865. “Latest From Quebec,” 29 August.

——————, 1865. “Editorial,” 30 August

——————, 1865. “From Toronto,” 6 September

——————, 1865. “From Quebec,” 8 September.

——————, 1865, “The Late Press Excursion,” 18 September.

——————, 1865. “The Late Press Excursion,” 20 September.

——————, 1865. “Editorial,” 21 September.

——————, 1865. “The Removal to Ottawa,” 23 September.

——————, 1865. “The Removal,” 25 September.

——————, 1865. “No title,” 26 September.

——————, 1865. “No title,” 28 September.

——————, 1865. “The Hon. J.A. Macdonald In Ottawa,” 29 September.

——————, 1865. “Removal,” 18 October.

——————, 1866. “Correspondence,” 22 January.

——————, 1866. “Editorial,” 5 October.

Death of Queen Victoria

22 January 1901

Despite her deteriorating health, Queen Victoria continued to work from her favourite palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On Monday, 14 January 1901, she asked Field Marshal Lord Roberts pointed questions about the Boer War. Roberts had just returned from South Africa, having turned over command of British forces there to Lord Kitchener. It must have been a difficult interview as the Queen opposed the conflict. On Tuesday, the Queen went for a ride in the palace grounds. However, it became clear that something was wrong; she was visibly affected by some malady. On Wednesday, she suffered a paralytic stroke and experienced an intense physical weakness that caused the left side of her face to sag. Queen Victoria never recovered.

For the next few days, as she moved in and out of consciousness, family members, including Edward, the Prince of Wales, and her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, gathered at Osborne House. At the Queen’s request, Turi, her pet Pomeranian dog, was brough to her. Throughout her last days, she was cared for by two nurses and four dressers, overseen by a matron. The Ottawa Journal reported that she was nourished through these last days with “warm milk, champagne and brandy.”

HM Queen Victoria, c. 1895, W. & D. Downey, Library and Archives Canada, 3623494.

Shortly after 9:00 am on Tuesday, 22 January 1901, her doctors summoned members of the Royal Family and the Rector of the Royal Chapel. The end was near. For a short period, the Queen was strong enough to greet her children and grandchildren one last time, reportedly receiving them singly and in groups of two or three, before she relapsed into unconsciousness. She died peacefully that evening at 6:30 pm.

The news of her passing quickly spread throughout Britain and across the Empire. Despite her advanced age, people had difficulty comprehending that the Queen had died. She was the longest reigning monarch at that time, and had become the embodiment of an age. She seemed indestructible. Even the Court was flummoxed with few arrangements for her funeral prepared ahead of time. Nobody knew what the protocol was. All the courtiers who had organized the funeral of Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, were long dead.

Official news of the Queen’s passing was conveyed to Lord Minto, Canada’s Governor General, by cable from Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Minto replied that “No greater sovereign has ever ruled over the British people, or been more beloved and honoured by her subjects than Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and by none has this love and respect been more deeply felt than by the people of His Majesty’s Dominion of Canada.”

Ottawa’s newspapers immediately posted bulletins announcing the Queen’s death at their offices. The Ottawa Journal also telephoned the news to schools and other places in the city. Within the hour, the bell at Ottawa City Hall began to toll, followed by the city’s church bells. Flags were lowered to half mast. Large crowds appeared in front of the offices of the Ottawa Journal and the Ottawa Citizen to await news updates. Everywhere, the death of Queen Victoria was the sole subject of conversation.

At City Hall, the Council met to pass a resolution of regret. The Ottawa Journal reported that “never before in the history of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa has such solemnity reigned over a council meeting.”  The council chamber was immediately draped in black. A large engraving of Queen Victoria surrounded by heavy black drapes appeared above the front entrance of City Hall on Elgin Street.

A sombre Mayor William Morris said: “The Queen had been so long inseparably connected in our minds with the Empire which has grown to such vastness during her reign that we can scarcely realise the possibility of the awful loss which will be felt in every portion of the globe, and will be mourned by every nation. Windsor Castle and Rideau Hall in Ottawa have been linked by the ties of Royalty almost since Confederation. Ottawans have had better opportunities of judging Her Majesty’s representatives than have had other Canadian communities. She has been reverently esteemed by the Radical and the Loyalist alike in an irreverent age. I think the judgement of history will concede her the foremost place among the monarchs and colossal figures of the nineteenth century.”

The Ottawa City Council’s resolution was moved by Aldermen R.J. Davidson and Napoleon Champagne. It began: “The Council of the City of Ottawa assembled on the occasion of the death of our late beloved Sovereign, Queen Victoria, hereby, on its own behalf and on behalf of the citizens, records the deep and heartfelt sorrow experienced by our people by the decease of one who for upwards of sixty years has ruled over the destinies of our Empire and by the innate nobility of her character and her many great and estimable qualities of head and heart, has been enshrined in the affections of her subjects.” In addition to extending Ottawa’s “loving sympathy” to members of the Royal Family, the resolution authorized the mayor to proclaim the suspension of business of the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, and to lower flags to half mast between then and the day of the funeral.

City Council then adjourned and made its way to Rideau Hall to present the resolution to Lord Minto, who personally welcomed them to Government House. After the City Clerk read the address, the Governor General thanked the mayor and council and said he would forward the resolution to the proper place. He added that Queen Victoria was “a model Queen and a model woman.”

Queen Victoria’s funeral was held on 2 February 1901. Following instructions she had left behind, the Queen’s body was dressed in a white gown with her wedding veil over her face. In her coffin, attendants placed mementos of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who had died forty years earlier, including his dressing gown and a plaster cast of his hand. King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, and her youngest son the Duke of Connaught took responsibility for placing her body in her coffin. (The duke was to become Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916.) Later, again according to her instructions, her personal physician folded her hand over a photograph of John Brown, the Scottish gillie who had worked for Prince Albert and had later become the Queen’s personal attendant and friend. The doctor covered the photograph with flowers so that it could not be seen.

Queen Victoria’s body was conveyed from Osborne House and placed on the ship Alberta, for the short trip across the Solent to Portsmouth. From there, it was transported via train to London where her coffin was placed on a gun carriage drawn by eight white horses. (See the British Pathé film of Queen Victoria’s funeral.) After the funeral cortege, her remains went by train to Windsor where her coffin rested in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for two days before she was buried beside her beloved husband at Frogmore Mausoleum.

Centre Block in Mourning for HM Queen Victoria, January 1901, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada

All of Canada went into mourning. Federal buildings across the country were draped in black or purple through the mourning period. The front of the centre block on Parliament Hill was swathed in bunting in a similar fashion as during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee held in 1897 except in the colours of mourning instead of celebration. Above the front entrance to the Victoria Tower was a crown wreathed in black. Most principal buildings and shop windows in the city were also draped in mourning colours. The window of Wright’s Flower Shop at 63 Sparks Street was the exception. In it was a picture of the late Queen surrounded by a wreath of white roses, calla lilies, white carnations and white hyacinths, topped by two white doves looking downward with a third with its wings outspread at the bottom of the display. On the right of the Queen’s picture was a large cross of roses, carnations and white hyacinths. On the left was a crown of yellow daffodils, violets, white carnations and lilies of the valley.

On the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, all business came to a standstill. At 11:00 am, the City Hall bell began tolling and guns boomed from Nepean Point. Schools and churches across Ottawa held memorial services. At Notre Dame Basilica, Archbishop Duhamel and Monseigneur Routhier held a High Mass in honour of the late Queen.

Thousands of people watched a military parade, consisting of men from the 43rd Regiment and the Garrison Battery, make its way from Parliament Hill to Christ Church Cathedral where Lord and Lady Minto was to attend. Regimental colours were draped in black. The interior of the cathedral was draped in royal blue, sable and purple. With the military in their bright dress uniforms the Ottawa Journal described the scene as one of “serene beauty.” Archbishop Machray, Primate of Canada, gave the sermon. In addition to speaking of the late Queen’s attributes as a monarch and mother, he stressed the scientific progress made during her long reign. “The discoveries and inventions of men of science have almost made a greater change during it in the conditions of life than in all the 2,000 years before. Comforts and conveniences in countless ways are brought to the man of very ordinary means that previously the greatest monarch was a stranger to… The world is not only a richer and brighter but a happier, kinder and probably better world than she found it.”

Fast forward 121 years, the world witnessed another epoch-marking event with the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The parallels between the passing of the two monarchs are striking. Both held the record for the longest reign, with generations of people knowing only one monarch on the throne. Both died leaving the Crown in the uncertain hands of Kings who in other circumstances would be long retired. Queen Victoria witnessed the apogee of an Empire on which the sun never set, while Queen Elizabeth saw the dissolution of Empire, though also perhaps the creation of something better, the development of a Commonwealth of equals where countries freely join out of bonds of friendship and shared history rather than imperial conquest. Just as Archbishop Machray spoke of the amazing technological achievements of the Victorian age that had improved the lives of millions, one can also marvel at humankind’s achievements over the seventy years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. However, the archbishop’s view that the world of 1901 was a “happier, kinder and probably better world” than the one Queen Victoria saw on her coronation in 1838 is clouded by our knowledge of what was to come.  Just thirteen years later, the world would be at war. The German Kaiser who had lovingly rushed to the side of his dying grandmother, would become Britain’s greatest foe. As people around the world today mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, another European war is underway.

Sources:

Ottawa Citizen, “Loyal Millions Bid A Farewell,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “The Schools,” 2 February.

—————-, 1901. “Empire’s Grief –World’s Sorrow,” 4 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1901. “The End of An Era,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “When The News Came,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “All Britain is Silent With Grief,” 23 January.

——————, 1901. “Her Majesty’s Funeral Takes Place Feb. 2,” 24 January.

——————, 1901. “Silent Thousands Saw The Dead Queen Pass,” 2 February.

——————, 1901. “Memorial Services in Ottawa Today,” 2 February.

Rosenberg, Jennifer, 2019. Queen Victoria’s Death and Final Arrangements, ThoughtCo., 21 June.

World History Edu, 2020. Queen Victoria’s Death: How, When & Where Queen Victoria Died, 30 June.

The West Block Fire

11 February 1897

When people think of a fire on Parliament Hill, their thoughts likely go to the huge conflagration that destroyed the Centre Block in February 1916. To this day, the cause of that blaze remains unknown; a Royal Commission that investigated it did not come to a conclusion. Some people were convinced, and many still are, that it was an act of war-time German sabotage. Others believed that it was caused by careless smoking in the reading room.

Incredibly, however, the Centre Block fire wasn’t the first major blaze on Parliament Hill. Nineteen years earlier, the West Block, then being used as offices for the federal civil service, was almost consumed by fire.

West Block Fire, 11 February 1897, Library and Archives Canada, c-017502

At approximately 4:15 pm on Thursday, 11 February 1897, when most civil servants had already left for the day, a fire was detected in a small tower room used for storage close to an elevator in the attic storey. An elevator operator tried to extinguish it using a hand-held Babcock fire extinguisher. At the same time, three other men pulled out a fire hose that was installed in the corridor, but when they turned it on the stream of water barely extended three feet owing to low water pressure. Another Babcock extinguisher was brought into play, again without much impact. By this time, the fire was well established in the floor and wall.

At 4:35pm, an alarm was sent in the Central Station of the Ottawa Fire Department located off of Elgin Street. Within minutes, the horse-drawn hose reels arrived and were hooked up to hydrants. Meanwhile, the fire burst through the West Block’s wooden roof about 40 feet south of the Mackenzie Tower. An extension ladder was run up against the western wall of the building where a fireman tried to send a stream of water through an attic window. Unfortunately, only a meager stream came out of the big hose. The city’s low water pressure, made worse by several hoses running from the same Wellington Street water main, was responsible. Flames began to shoot out of a skylight located above the elevator shaft as the fire worked its way southward down the corridor.

In desperation, Fire Chief Young called out the steam-driven fire engines which used coal to heat a boiler to provide water pressure. The Union was stationed at the corner of O’Connor and Wellington Streets, while the Conqueror hooked up to the hydrant located on Parliament Hill at the nearest corner of the West Block. Both engines experienced what a journalist called “exasperating delays” to get water onto the fire. It took the Union almost thirty minutes to get its hose, which extended through the main entrance and up the stairs to the attic, into action owing to valve problems and other malfunctions. Meanwhile, the Conqueror, after failing to get sufficient water from hydrants on the Hill, possibly due to ice, had to be moved to a hydrant at the corner of Sparks and O’Connor Streets. A third fire engine from the E.B. Eddy Company was also brought in to help but to no effect as firemen discovered that its hoses were of a different calibre from that used by the city and couldn’t be coupled to city mains.

Through the evening, fire roared through the upper attic story of the building, fuelled by tinder-dry timbers, a warren of wooden panelled offices and piles of paper—government documents, briefing notes, and memoranda. Flames tore through the roof to the south-west of the Mackenzie Tower and then moved eastward reaching the middle of the Wellington Street side of the building, feeding on flammable materials found in a photographic studio and later in the draughting room of the Marine and Fisheries Department.

By 9:00pm, the whole top storey of the western wing of the building was gone. Shortly afterwards, the top storey of the eastern wing was ablaze. Two hours later, the northern and eastern wings were roofless.

Thousands of spectators, including the Governor General, Lord Aberdeen, and his wife, the Countess of Aberdeen, watched in horror despite the bitter cold; the temperature that evening had dropped to -18 degrees Celsius. It was quite a spectacle. The West Block’s turrets and chimneys were highlighted by the flames with the Mackenzie Tower rearing above the chaos.

While firemen battled the blaze, an army of civil servants and Dominion police worked frantically to empty offices of their documents and other valuables. Even if not immediately threatened with fire, offices on the lower floors were inundated by the water being hosed onto the attic level above. Sleighs of all sorts were pressed into service to evacuate things to the safety of the Langevin Block on the other side of Wellington Street. In the Department of Public Works alone, the Minister and his officials managed to save several tons of books and papers. In the Customs Department, rubber sheets requisitioned from Militia stores were used to protect precious books and papers from water damage.

At 11:00pm, at the height of the fire, Ottawa’s mayor called Montreal for emergency back-up. A detachment of fifteen men from the Montreal Fire Department, equipped with a fire engine and two hose reels answered the call. They immediately set off for Ottawa by train, arriving at 3:00am the next morning. But by this time, the worst was over. The fire had been largely subdued, leaving only glowing embers and smoke.

The next day, Ottawa residents could see for themselves the extent of the damage. Virtually the entire building had lost its top attic floor. The only part of the West Block that was spared was the new wing north of the Mackenzie Tower. This wing, being of more modern construction than the rest of the building, had a metal roof.

The fire continued to smolder despite the deluge of water that had been sprayed onto the building. One fire engine, the Conqueror, was kept pumping water onto the West Block through Friday. However, by 3:00pm, it had to cease operations, having exhausted its stock of hard Welsh coal used to fire its boiler. A switch to ordinary bituminous coal proved unsuccessful in maintaining sufficient pressure to drive the water the long distance from the hydrant at Sparks and O’Connor Streets to the top of the West Block on Wellington Street. The fire revived. An alarm was sounded bringing Chief Young, who had just returned to the station for supper, back on the scene along with another hose reel and two ladder trucks. It wasn’t until 8:00pm that the West Block fire was finally subdued by Ottawa firemen after almost 30 hours of continuous gruelling work in sub-zero temperatures.

The clean-up afterwards was also demanding. Owing to the cold temperatures, hoses were buried under as much as a foot of ice. Even if uncovered, the hoses were frozen stiff, requiring them to be thawed out before being moved. The concrete floor immediately under the attic level was also buried deep in debris.

Even before the fire was out, Cabinet met to discuss rebuilding and to find temporary quarters for affected departments. Only the offices of two departments, Inland Revenue and Railways and Canals remained usable. Space was found in the Nagle building opposite the main entrance to Parliament on Wellington Street for Public Works, Trade and Commerce, Customs and the Public Works departments. The Marine and Fisheries Department moved to offices in the Slater Building on Sparks Street. With more than a foot of water sloshing about in the basement of the West Block where the Dominion Archives were kept, it was imperative to move irreplaceable documents to safety in the Langevin Block. A unit of the Governor General’s Foot Guards stood guard while the papers were transferred.

Amazingly, there were few injuries in the disaster. A fireman suffered a seriously cut finger when a glass skylight fell on him. Another man was hit on the head by a piece of slate thrown from the top of the building during the clean-up; his injury, while painful, was not serious. There were some close calls, however. Four firemen who were fighting the fire in the attic felt the wooden floor beneath them begin to give way. They rushed to a ladder at the window. The first three men made it to safety but the fourth, Harry Walters from the Central Fire Station, had just reached the window when the floor disappeared from under him. He was saved from by William Thompson who managed to grab him.

The official report of the disaster didn’t reach a conclusion about the cause of the fire, though newspaper reports speculated on the possibility of a carelessly discarded cigar or cigarette. Later, a consensus opinion blamed the fire on a “heating apparatus.”

The report did conclude that a doorway cut into a fire wall to permit movement from one office to another helped to spread the blaze. As well, valuable time in fighting the fire was lost owing to firemen being unfamiliar with the layout of office rooms and being unwilling to accept direction from departmental officials. Overall, the report found that officials and workmen had exerted themselves “to the utmost” to prevent the fire from spreading and to save valuable papers and documents. “Nothing which could be done was left undone.”

The cost of the blaze was approximately $200,000. This amount did not, however, include the loss of valuable papers and documents. As the West Block was not insured, the government had to bear the entire cost of reconstruction. The Premier, Wilfrid Laurier, immediately requested a “Governor General’s warrant” to raise $25,000 to cover the initial costs associated with the fire, including the rental of new office accommodations for displaced government offices. The warrant was approved General Alexander Montgomery Moore, Commander of Canada’s Militia, who was acting as the Administrator of Canada on behalf of Lord Aberdeen.

Work on re-building commenced quickly. As a stop gap, a temporary roof, 29,000 square feet in size, was erected at a cost of $4,500. This was later replaced by a fire-proof roof covered with copper. Work also began on the clean-up, the re-building of new offices and the re-furbishing of those offices that managed to survive the blaze but were water damaged. Labourers were paid $1.00 to $1.25 per day. Carpenters and painters received $2.00 per day.

Call for tenders for repairs to West Block, Ottawa Journal, 9 August, 1897.

Rebuilding became highly political. The Conservative opposition accused the government of featherbedding and hiring only Hull workers in order to curry favour with Hull voters ahead a forthcoming federal by-election in Wright Country which encompassed Hull.  The Liberal candidate, Mr. Louis Napoléon Champagne, was unapologetic saying Hull wasn’t the only city that had obtained patronage as other places got their share of federal business. He added that the Liberals were prepared to do it again “to those who are really friends of Mr. Laurier.” Champagne won the contest. The day after the by-election, 50 of the 313 workers on the West Block were dismissed, with further dismissals expected in order to reduce the size of the work force to what was appropriate.

Repairs were sufficiently advanced within a year to permit public servants to re-occupy their offices. But work on the West Block was not completed until 1899, more than two years after the fire.

The West Block fire led to considerable reflection on the size of the Ottawa Fire Department and its equipment, and the extent of the fire hazard posed by public buildings, particularly those on Parliament Hill. The Citizen opined that Ottawa was “comparatively helpless in the presence of a major conflagration.” The “noble government structures,” which cost $5-6 million to build, were the “crowing beauty of the Capital of the Dominion.” Yet, the buildings, constructed using wooden beams and partitions and filled with irreplaceable records, papers and documents, were fire traps. The newspaper contended that should fire break out in either the Central Block or the East Block, “the result would be equally bad” as what had just occurred.

It added that the House of Commons was particularly at risk since the Centre Block was built on a higher elevation that the West or East Blocks which meant that water pressure would be even more of a problem. The Library of Parliament was “the most serious case of anxiety,” as it held more than $1 million in books, and contained no dividing walls. Given these risks, the newspaper was appalled that smoking was permitted and argued that smoking should be banned in all public buildings.

These were prophetic words. Virtually nineteen years to the day later, on 3 February 1916, the Centre Block was destroyed by fire. The precious Library of Parliament was the only part of the building saved, owing to the quick thinking of a librarian who had the presence of mind to close an iron fire door that separated the structure from the main part of the building.

Over the decades that followed, the West Block was much altered. In 1911, a new wing was built linking the east and west wings to form an enclosed quadrangle. During the mid-1950s, the West Block suffered from extensive renovations which were unsympathetic to the original design. However, this was better than the alternative. In 1956, the St. Laurent government almost manage to achieve which the 1897 fire had failed to do—the complete destruction of the beautiful and historic Gothic-revival building. The Federal District Commission, the fore-runner of the National Capital Commission, wanted to replace it with a modern office tower. But after a nation-wide protest, wiser heads prevailed and the building was saved. However, the neighbouring Supreme Court building was not so lucky. It was destroyed to make way for a parking lot.

Today, the enclosed quadrangle in the middle of the West Block, now covered by a glass ceiling, is the temporary home of the House of Commons while the Centre Block undergoes much needed restoration and renovation.

Sources:

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1897. “The Western Block in a Blaze,” 12 February.

————————-, 1897. “The Second Alarm,” 13 February.

————————-, 1897. “A Present Danger,” 13 February.

————————-, 1897. “After The Fire,” 15 February.

————————-, 1897. “Their Usefulness Done,” 25 March.

————————-, 1897. “West Block Blaze,” 24 June.

————————-, 1898. “West Block Fire,” 24 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1897. “The Talk of Today,” 13 February.

——————————, 1897. “The Official Report,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1897. “The Wright Campaign,” 17 March.

—————————–, 1897.  “An Insult To Hull,” 18 March.

—————————–, 1897. “One Million Dollars,” 27 March.

—————————–, 1899. “West Block Repairs,” 9 August.

Privy Council Office, 1897, “Special Warrant $56,000 [sic] [$25,000], Fire, Western Departmental Buildings – Minister of Public Works,” 17 February, Library and Archives Canada.

Lovers’ Walk

14 May 1938

When visitors come to Ottawa, they naturally gravitate to Parliament Hill to view the magnificent neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings, to stroll in the surrounding gardens where statues and memorials to Canadian sovereigns and statesmen abound and, of course, to take in the stunning views across the Ottawa River towards Hull and the Gatineau Hills. One hundred years ago, the number two Ottawa tourist destination was Lovers’ Walk—a pathway that wended its way around the Parliament Hill bluff roughly half-way up the escarpment. Surrounded by a hardwood forest and flowering shrubs, including lilacs and honeysuckle, the pathway commanded splendid views of the Ottawa River, with benches for the weary or for the amorous. Visitors to this tranquil wilderness could easily forget that they were in the heart of Canada’s capital city. According to a 1920s’ guide book, anyone who has not taken a stroll there “has not seen all the charms of the capital. In fact, he has missed one of the greatest of them.” Fast forward to today, you would be hard pressed to find an Ottawa resident who has any knowledge about this once-famous pathway.

LoversLaneAlbertype Company LAC PA-032894
Lovers’ Walk, Parliament Hill, Albertype Company, Library and Archives Canada, PA023894.

The history of Lovers’ Walk apparently dates back long before the arrival of the first Europeans to the Ottawa Valley. Accounts say that the pathway was used by Canada’s native peoples travelling along the southern banks of the Ottawa River. During the first half of the nineteenth century, raftsmen took this same route as a short cut moving to and from their homes in Lower Bytown and the timber chutes at the Chaudière Falls. Sometime after Confederation in 1867, the rough path was widened, decorative iron railings were fitted to protect users from falling, and staircases were installed at several points to give the general public ready access.

One story says that William Macdougall, the Minister of Public Works from 1867-69 in Sir John A. Macdonald’s first Dominion government, was responsible for upgrading the trail from a rough, dangerous track to a gentle path that even women dressed in the long gowns of the period could stroll along without fear of tripping. Macdougall, who was apparently a “hands on” type of Minister, stumbled upon the footpath when he was inspecting the construction of a ventilation shaft for the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Another story gives the credit for Lovers’ Walk to Thomas Seaton Scott, the Dominion Chief Architect from 1872-1881. Seaton was responsible for laying out the structured gardens that surround the Parliament Buildings as well as designing the Drill Hall on Elgin Street. According to this account, Seaton constructed the steps down from the formal gardens on top of Parliament Hill to allow the general public access to the wilder charms of the pathway.

Who actually came up with the name Lovers’ Walk is unknown. The first newspaper reference to this name appears in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in 1873. A visitor at about this time said that “no more appropriate name could be devised.”

LoversWalkDept. of InteriorLACPA-034227c.1920s
Steps down to Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Dept  of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-034227, circa 1920s.

In addition to tourists and Ottawa residents, the denizens of Parliament on top of the bluff also took advantage of the pathway, seduced by Lovers’ Walk’s winsome charms. Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Senators and ordinary Members of Parliament were all known to take breaks from the hard work of politicking to refresh themselves with a stroll through its sylvan beauty. Lovers’ Walk also attracted bird watchers. One avid amateur naturalist in the early 1930s spotted 59 different species from the pathway.

Lovers’ Walk could be accessed from either side of the Parliament Buildings. On the eastern side, there was a flight of stairs leading from roughly where the equestrian statue of Queen Elizabeth stands today. Another flight of stairs started from a location behind the Bytown Museum close to the locks on the Rideau Canal. On the western side of Parliament Hill at the end of Bank Street, behind the old Supreme Court of Canada, which was demolished in 1956, strollers entered the Walk through a stone gateway. Midway on the path there was a lookout with benches for those wanting to stop to rest or admire the views. There was also a lion-headed water fountain to refresh the thirsty. Unfortunately, strollers and lovers sometimes came across less-savoury elements who also frequented Lovers’ Walk. In 1875, there was a call for police to exclude “roughs” who amused themselves by throwing burrs onto ladies’ dresses. It was also advisable not to pick the flowers. In 1931, Mrs Pamela Cummings of 726 Cooper Street was fined $3 plus $2 court costs for stealing lilacs.

Lovers’ Walk was closed in the winter owing to snow and ice that made walking dangerous, but re-opened each spring, typically in May, once conditions were suitable. Given the steep nature of the hillside, there were frequent rockslides that were dealt with by the Department of Public Works. At the start of the First World War, the pathway was closed to the public and was patrolled by the Dominion Police. The authorities feared that German saboteurs could use Lovers’ Walk to access the ventilation shafts that aired the Centre Block. By cutting the iron protective grills, saboteurs could potentially plant explosives under the building and blow up Parliament. These precautions were discontinued after the Centre Block was destroyed by fire in February 1916.

LoversWalkTopley StudioLACPA-009322
Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA039-220.

By the 1930s, Lovers’ Walk was becoming less popular. With the Depression at its peak, the pathway had become the haunt of panhandlers and the homeless, and was considered unsafe for casual strollers. The Ottawa Journal reported that “the dregs of humanity would pan handle the lovers, even seek to molest them.” A “jungle” of tin-patched shacks built by homeless men sprung near the path close to the western entrance. The eastern end, close to the Canal locks, was described as the haunt of drunks whose wild shouts could be heard from men drinking denatured alcohol. Regular police patrols and RCMP efforts to dismantle the shacks did little. There were also dark allegations of immorality.

In the winter of 1937-38, two landslides washed out more than sixty feet of Lovers’ Walk. It never officially re-opened. On 14 May 1938, the Ottawa Citizen reported that to repair the pathway would cost over $30,000. Although the Senate Standing Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, chaired by Cairine Wilson, recommended that the Department of Public Works take steps to stabilize the cliff face and reopen Lovers’ Walk, the repairs were not undertaken. During a time of depressed economic conditions, $30,000 was simply too much.

Besides landslides and the presence of “undesirables,” another possible factor behind the closure of Lovers’ Walk was concerns about Government liability. In 1933, a young boy had climbed over a gate when Lovers’ Walk was closed for the winter. He slipped on the ice, fell 50 feet, and was lucky to get away with only a broken femur. His father unsuccessfully tried to sue the government for his doctor’s bill. In 1937, a man, who had been sitting on a guard railing, broke his spine when he lost his balance and plunged down the cliff.

Some say that it was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King who ordered the closure of Lovers’ Walk. However, another account says that King had wanted to keep it open and that it was only following extensive discussions with the RCMP, Public Works, and the Speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons that the decision to close it was reluctantly taken. High barricades were installed at both ends to stop people from using the path now deemed unsafe.

By the 1950s, Lovers’ Walk was a “desolate ruin of crumbling masonry, rusted and broken iron guardrails and rotten wooden shoring.” What was left of the pathway was overgrown and narrowed by erosion. Empty bottles, and other refuse littered the place—evidence that the deteriorating ruins of Lovers’ Walk remained a refuge for the homeless sleeping rough during the summer months. After an intoxicated painter fell to his death in 1960, a coroner’s jury recommended that what was left of the pathway be destroyed to ensure public safety.

Nothing was done. The area got a fearsome reputation, especially at night. By the late 1960s, secretaries and clerical staff working late on Parliament Hill were fearful of using the stairs, which cross Lovers’ Walk, to get to the parking area known as “the Pit,” despite, according to the Ottawa Journal, “routine flushing out by the RCMP foot patrols of winos, ‘rub-a-dubs,’ vagrants and, more recently, hippies from their dormitory-pad along Lovers’ Walk.” In July 1968, ex-MP Herman Laverdière was stabbed and robbed by hooligans when he went to investigate a scream that had emanated from the wooded area after he left his office at 11 pm.

Notwithstanding the increasingly bad press, there were attempts during the 1960s to restore Lovers’ Walk to its former glory. Members of all major parties championed the pathway at various times. But with the price tag rising steadily, the government in power always demurred owing to the difficulty in controlling erosion on the escarpment. In the 1980s, when Jean Pigott was Chair of the National Capital Commission, there was another look at restoring the pathway. Again, it was deemed too expensive. In 2000, the Department of Public Works looked at rebuilding the pathway given the historic nature of Lovers’ Walk and the magnificent views of the Ottawa River. Again, the issue was put on the back burner.

Most recently, LANDinc was commissioned by Public Works to develop a strategy “to restore and reforest the slopes [of Parliament Hill] to ensure long-term sustainability.” Over time, invasive species, including the lilacs, would be removed and replaced by endemic shrubs and trees. In 2014, Graebeck Construction won a $4.78 million contract to rehabilitate the western slope of Parliament Hill and the perimeter wall. There was, however, no mention of re-opening Lovers’ Walk to the general public.

Sources:

Capital Gems, 2018, Lover’s Walk Ruins, http://www.capitalgems.ca/lovers-walk-ruins.html.

Canada, 1938. Senate Journals, 18th Parliament, 3nd Session, Vol. 76, p. 344, 24 June.

———-, 1960. House of Commons Debates, 24 Parliament, 3rd Session: Vol. 6, p. 6605-06, 20 July 1960.

LANDinc, 200? Parliament Hill Stabilization,” http://www.landinc.ca/escarpmentwalkway-1.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1873. “Town Talk,” 7 July

————————-, 1875. “The Parliament Hill,” 20 March.

————————-, 1875. “The Lovers Walk,” 23 August.

————————-, 1926. “Lovers Walk As Seen In Seventies,” 24 December.

————————–, 1933. “Boy Injured On Parliament Hill,” 27 March.

————————-, 1937. “Has Romance Departed From Lovers’ Walk.” 16 January.

————————-, 1937. “When Sturdy Raftsmen Used Lovers’ Walk as Short Cut,” 6 February.

————————-, 1938. “Repair Works on Lovers’ Walk May Cost Over $30,000,” 14 May.

————————-, 1960. “Destroy Lovers’ Walk Jury’s Recommendation,” 20 May.

————————-, 1966. “Lovers find road to romance rocky on Parliament Hill,” 14 May.

————————-, 2000. “Behind the Hill: A Walk into history,” 22 May.

Ottawa Construction News, 2014. Graebeck Construction wins bid for Parliament Hill slope stabilization work, 1 February, https://ottawaconstructionnews.com/local-news/graebeck-construction-wins-bid-for-parliament-hill-slope-stabilization-work/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1931. “Magistrate Warns Flower-Bed Vandals,” 29 May.

————————–, 1937. “Fear Spine May Be Broken,” 15 June.

————————–, 1938. “Sweethearts Missing Famous Lovers’ Walk,” 18 July.

————————–, 1939. “May Not Re-open Lovers’ Walk,” 26 May.

————————–, 1939. “Remember When?” 8 July.

————————–, 1942. “Lovers’ Walk Ruled ‘Dangerous,’ It Won’t Be Reopened,” 31 July.

————————–, 1968. “Perils of ‘The Pit’ Worry Hill Security Staffs,” 12 July.

Urbsite, 2009. Lovers’ Walk,” http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2009/12/lovers-walk.html, 29 December.

Windsor Star (The), 1952. “Today in Ottawa,” 23 August.

Gay Liberation

28 August 1971

In a CROP poll of Canadians taken in 2017, 74 per cent of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage, up from 41 per cent twenty years earlier. In its analysis of the results, CROP said “we are witnessing a social phenomenon… of substance – a unique, historical process of social change.” What’s more, the polling company postulated that since younger demographic groups had the highest level of acceptance of same-sex marriage, the “legitimacy of same-sex marriage and consequently, homosexuality will grow” as the weight of these demographic groups increases over time.  Four years earlier, the Washington-based Pew Research Center, found that 80 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement “Homosexuality should be accepted by society.”  (This compared with roughly 75 per cent or higher in Western Europe countries and Australia, 60 per cent in the United States, but less than 10 per cent in much of Africa and the Middle East.)

Fifty years ago, Canadians were far less tolerant. Up until the late 1960s, sexual relations between men were illegal, punishable by severe penalties. In 1967, Everett Kippert of the North-West Territories was given an indefinite prison sentence as a “dangerous offender” for simply being a homosexual who was unwilling to remain celibate.  His sentence was sustained following a Supreme Court challenge. (He was released in July 1971.) In 1968, only 42 per cent of Canadians agreed in a Gallup poll that homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults aged 21 or older should not be a criminal act. This was just one percentage point more than the 41 per cent of respondents who considered such behaviour as being criminal.

Things slowly changed. In December 1967, then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said that the “state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” Two years later, the Canadian government, now led by Trudeau, passed Bill C-150, a massive omnibus bill that radically changed the Criminal Code of Canada. The bill touched upon many things, including abortion, contraception, gun control, lotteries, and homosexuality. Sexual relations between two consenting men 21 years of age and older were henceforth legal. Given prevailing public opinion, the change in law was highly controversial. Opposition to legalizing male homosexuality was fierce, especially from socially conservative groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Oddly, there had never been a law prohibiting sexual relations between women. There are apocryphal explanations for this omission. One story goes that when introducing legislation against homosexuality in Britain during the nineteenth century, government leaders were unwilling to explain what a lesbian was to Queen Victoria. Consequently, when British laws were introduced into Canada, the same lacuna appeared in Canadian legislation.

While the change in legislation made homosexuality legal, there was a huge panoply of laws, regulations and, of course, public opinion that remained unaffected. Most people, even those sympathetic to homosexuals, viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. (It wasn’t until 1987 that homosexuality was dropped from the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose mental conditions.) Homosexuals were not protected by Canada’s Bill of Human Rights that had been passed by the Conservative government of John G. Diefenbaker in 1960, or subsequently by the federal Human Rights Act of 1977, or by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that came into effect in 1982. Nor were there any changes to provincial laws.  Homosexuals continued to be the subjected to discrimination and abuse, or worse.

Gay Lib Canadian museum of Human rights
The Gay Day Parade on Parliament Hill, 28 August 1971, Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Activists, mostly young university students, began to lobby and protest for change. On 28 August 1971, a wet Saturday afternoon, a small group of men and women numbering anywhere from 80 to 200, accounts vary, marched on Parliament Hill in the first “gay liberation” protest in Canada. The represented a dozen or so mostly university homophile organizations from Guelph University, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Toronto, York University and Waterloo University. Also represented were the Community Homophile Association of Toronto, le Front du Liberation Homosexual of Montreal, the Gay Alliance Towards Equality of Vancouver, the Vancouver Gay Activists Association, the Vancouver Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Sisters, also of Vancouver, and the Toronto Gay Action. Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver.

On Parliament Hill, the activists “presented” a petition to the federal government signed by Brian Waite and Cheri Denovo on behalf of the August 28th Gay Day Committee. (See CBC archival footage of The Gay Day Parade, 28 August 1971.) In truth, there was few witnesses to the event beyond the press and a lone policeman standing in the pouring rain. The petition, which was read out loud, was researched and written in large part by Herb Spiers, an American living in Toronto. Spiers was a founding member of Toronto Gay Action and a member of the Body Politic Collective. Reportedly, he had wanted to be in Ottawa to read out part of the petition but a car accident prevented him from making it to the Capital. The petition titled “We Demand” listed ten demands for ending state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals.

In the petition’s introduction, it was noted that although the law had changed regarding homosexuality, it did not put homosexuals on an equal footing as heterosexuals. The law did nothing “to alleviate oppression of homosexuals” and that homosexual men and women were still subject to discrimination, police harassment, exploitation and pressure to conform sexually. Moreover, the petition argued that society’s prejudices against homosexuals were due “in no small way” to the practices of the federal government. The petition set out a way for the government to redress the grievances of the homosexual community.

The first three demands were aimed at putting homosexual and heterosexual acts on an equal footing in Canada’s Criminal Code. This included the removal of nebulous terms, such “gross indecency” and “indecent act,” from the Criminal Code and their replacement with a list of clearly defined offences. It also called for penalties for illegal sexual conduct to be equalized for both homosexual and heterosexual acts. In addition, the petition demanded the removal of “gross indecency” and “buggery” as grounds for calling an individual a “dangerous sexual offender,” the section of the Criminal Code under which Everett Kippert had been indefinitely incarcerated. It also sought a uniform age of consent, though something lower than the 21 years of age set for homosexual acts which was deemed as being unrealistically high. The age of consent for heterosexual sex was then 14 years of age. (It was raised to 16 for both heterosexual and homosexual sex in 2008 with a close-in-age exception.)

The fourth demand sought amendments to Canada’s Immigration Act to eliminate references to homosexuality or “homosexualism.” At that time, homosexuals were prohibited from becoming landed immigrants. Homosexuality was even grounds to deny a person entry into Canada as a tourist.

The fifth demand focused on the practices of the federal government which denied equality of opportunity and promotion to homosexuals, especially into the upper ranks of the civil service. The government claimed that homosexuals were at risk to blackmail, and hence were security risks. Homosexuals were in a classic “Catch-22” position. Even though they might be more willing to reveal their sexuality given changing social mores, they couldn’t since their careers would be jeopardized. And since they couldn’t reveal their sexuality because their careers would be compromised, they were deemed a security risk.

The sixth demand focused on amendments to Canada’s Divorce Act which equated homosexual acts to illegal acts. The writers of the petition favoured no fault divorce as had been recently legislated in England. They also wanted homosexuality not to be a bar to child custody in divorce cases.

The seventh demand was for the right of homosexuals to serve in Canada’s armed forces.  As homosexuality between consenting adults was no longer an illegal act under the Criminal Code, a ban on homosexuals serving in the army, navy or air force under the Queen’s Regulations was anomalous and outdated.

The eighth demand was an end to the policy of the RCMP of trying to identify homosexuals anywhere in the government. It also demanded the destruction of all records pertaining to past investigations.

The ninth demand focused on the extension of legal rights to homosexual. At that time, homosexuals could not adopt children, were not eligible for public housing, and could be discriminated in employment, in renting apartments, and in other areas. They were also regularly harassed by police.

Finally, the tenth demand asked for public officials including the police the use their positions to help change society’s negative attitudes towards homosexuals.

These demands were initially ignored. Few paid attention to what most saw as a bunch of social misfits, or worse. Here in Ottawa, homosexual civil servants continued to work in fear of losing their jobs. It is estimated that between four hundred and eight hundred federal civil servants were fired owing to their sexuality. Still, the capital had long hosted a thriving gay community. A key meeting spot for decades was the Lord Elgin Hotel, sometimes known as the “Lord Organ” to its denizens. There, gays had their choice of two taverns to hang out and meet people—Pick’s Place in the basement, and the more sophisticated Library on the first floor. However, during the late 1970s, hotel management, tired of the Lord Elgin being known as a gay hangout, began to discourage gay men from coming. In 1981, Pick’s Place closed at 3pm, and only opened in the evening for special events. Consequently, its gay patrons decamped to other locales, in particular 166B, Ottawa’s first official gay bar, situated around the corner from the Lord Elgin. But Ottawa gays continued to be harassed. In 1989, Alain Brosseau, a waiter at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel was mugged in Major’s Hill Park while walking home at night by thugs who incorrectly assumed he was a homosexual; the Park was a known gay pick-up area. Robbed and beaten, Brosseau was thrown to his death from the Alexandra Bridge. His assailant was given a life sentence.

On the legal front, nothing materially changed for Canada’s gay citizens until 1978 when homosexuals were finally removed from the group of inadmissible persons under the Immigration Act. In 1980, nine years after that first “gay liberation” demonstration on Parliament Hill, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation came to a vote in the House of Commons. It failed. In 1985, the offence of “gross indecency” was finally repealed. Seven years later, Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled that the failure of the Human Rights Act to protect homosexuals was discriminatory. This prompted the federal government to promise to amend the law though it took several years owing to elections and a change in the party in power. In 1992, the federal government lifted the prohibition of gays serving in the armed forces. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were protected, and an Ontario court ruled in favour of same-sex couples adopting children. The following year, the federal government finally added sexual orientation to the federal Human Rights Act.

In 1999, the Supreme Court went further, ruling that same-sex partners had the same rights and responsibilities as common law heterosexual couples, including access to social programs. Parliament updated the legislation the following year. Sixty-eight federal laws covering a wide range of subject from pension rights, and income tax to the Criminal Code of Canada were amended. In 2002, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that laws the prohibited same-sex marriages were discriminatory, leading Ontario to become the first province to permit “gay” marriage in 2003. British Columbia followed a few months later. In 2004, Quebec’s Court of Appeal also ruled in favour of same-sex marriages. In 2005, the federal Bill C-38 was passed, according same-sex couples the right to marry across Canada. This made Canada the third country in the world to sanction gay marriage, after the Netherlands in 2000, and Belgium in 2003.

While much has changed over the past fifty years, gay Canadians still face hardships. Although mostly accepted by friends and family, a recent survey of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, 75 per cent reported that they had been bullied sometime in the lives. The federal government is currently trying to bring legislation into compliance with court rulings that have rendered a number of laws (so-called ‘zombie’ laws) unconstitutional. Among other things, Bill C-39 would repeal the prohibition against anal sex (Section 159) which bears a penalty of up to ten years in prison. Although the Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of this section of the Criminal Code, courts in five provinces and the Federal Court of Canada have found that it violates Canadians’ Charter rights.

Sources:

Bank Street Business Improvement Association, 2018. 166-B-The B-La Réception,  The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/14.

————————, 2018. Ottawa LGBT History: ‘We Demand, The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/8?tour=1&index=43.

————————-, 2018, Video: ‘Lord Organ’ and the Persecution of Queers, The village legacy project, http://www.villagelegacy.ca/items/show/51.

Body Politic (The), 1971. “We Demand,” Volume 1, November-December, https://ia800708.us.archive.org/30/items/bodypolitic01toro/bodypolitic01toro.pdf.

CBA, 2017. CBA groups urge repeal of Criminal Code section 159 at ‘earliest opportunity,’” 6 April, http://nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/April-2017/CBA-groups-urge-repeal-of-Criminal-Code-section-15.aspx.

CBC, 2012. TIMELINE-Same-sex rights in Canada, 25 May, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/timeline-same-sex-rights-in-canada-1.1147516.

————, 2017, For Canada’s LGBT community, acceptance is still a work in progress-survey says,” 9 August, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/canada-lgbt-community-survey-1.4240134.

CBC Digital Archives. 2018. The First Gay March,” http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-first-gay-march.

Canada, Government of, 1985. “Criminal Code (R.M.C., 1985, c-46), Anal Intercourse, Section 159,) Justice Law Website, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/section-159.html.

Canada, Government of, Department of Justice, 2017. “Charter Statement –Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 6 June, http://nationalmagazine.ca/Blog/April-2017/CBA-groups-urge-repeal-of-Criminal-Code-section-15.aspx.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 2015. “The ‘We Demand’ protest held in Ottawa in 1971,” https://humanrights.ca/we-item/we-demand-protest-held-ottawa-1971.

Georgia Straight (The), 2011. ““We Demand”: sex and activist history in Canada gets spotlighted,” 25 August, https://www.straight.com/article-441761/vancouver/we-demand-history-sex-and-activism-canada-gets-examined.

Globe and Mail, (The), 1971. “Equality urged for homosexuals,” 30 August.

HuffPost, 2013. “Canada Accepts Homosexuality, But Global Divide Exists,” 6 October, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/10/canada-homosexuality_n_3412593.html.

Marchand, Blaine, 2013. “View from the Honey Dew,” Xtra, 31 December, https://www.dailyxtra.com/view-from-the-honey-dew-56366.

Newsmax, 2015. First Countries That Legalized Same-Sex Marriage,” https://www.newsmax.com/fastfeatures/same-sex-marriage-legalized-countries/2015/06/15/id/650672/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1971. “Gay protest marks a first for the hill,” 30 August.

Tatalovich, Raymond, 2003, Morality, Policy and Political Unaccountability: Capital Punishment, Abortion, and Gay Rights in Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, Loyola University, Chicago, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Halifax, May 30-June1, 2003, https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/paper-2003/tatalovich.pdf.

The Inquiry, 2018. “The Ever-Changing Criminal Code of Canada,” https://theinquiry.ca/the-inquiry/order-in-council-the-mandate/the-ever-evolving-criminal-code-of-canada/.

We Demand, 2011. Author of 1971 We Demand Statement Passes Away, http://ocs.sfu.ca/history/index.php/wedemand/2011/announcement/view/3.

The Old Supreme Court Building

11 September 1956

Few Canadians are likely to be aware that there used to be another major building on Parliament Hill besides the Centre Block, home of the House of Commons and the Senate, and the East and West Blocks. (Starting in the Fall of 2018, the West Block will become the temporary home of the House of Commons while the Centre Block is restored and renovated, a process that is expected to take ten years.) That other structure was the old Supreme Court building located just inside the western gates of the Parliamentary Precinct, with its entrance on Bank Street. Bizarre and horrific as it might sound to history and architecture buffs, the building was torn down in the mid-1950s and replaced by a parking lot.

The story begins back before Confederation. During the early 1860s, the three iconic Parliamentary Buildings were constructed on what was then called Barrack Hill in the neo-Gothic style popular at that time. By 1865, the construction of the East and West Blocks were sufficiently advanced to permit civil servants to finally decamp from Quebec City to Ottawa, the new capital of the then Province of Canada. The following year, the Centre Block was ready for the opening of Parliament in June, though work on the Victoria Tower and the Library continued until 1873 and 1877, respectively.

Supreme Court-Topley StudioLAC-PA-008389

Old Supreme Court Building, with the West Block in the background,  late 19th century, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-008389.

The same year the Tower was finished, work began on a two-story structure constructed of the same stone as that used to build the Parliament buildings at the base of the western side of Parliament Hill. Designed by the Chief Dominion Architect, Thomas Seaton Scott, the building was erected to house government workshops whose purpose was to construct and repair government furnishings, such as bookcases and cabinets. Previously, such work had been conducted in the basement of the West Block but the rooms used were too cramped and too dark. The new workshops were completed in 1874. It’s likely that the interior fittings for the Parliamentary Library were made there. Contrary to later folklore, there is little evidence to suggest that the workshops building was ever used as a stable.

An 1875 article entitled “The Workshops of the Board of Works” in the Ottawa Citizen gives a fascinating account of the building shortly after its opening.  Although the Citizen’s reporter didn’t care for the building’s architecture, claiming that it didn’t present “any great claims to beauty of style” and looked “unfinished,” he highly recommended tourists visiting the two-storey, mansard-roofed structure. Apparently, its director, Mr. Pruneau, proud of his domain, was ever ready to provide tours to visitors. The journalist opined that the workshops’ interior was “admirably arranged” with a 25-horse power engine in the basement that powered the machinery located above, and a boiler. He was also impressed that the building was heated by steam, and was consequently very comfortable to work in.

On the workshops’ ground floor were offices, including that of Mr. Pruneau, and storerooms filled with cupboards and drawers. There were also a machine shop and a turning shop used for making furniture. A variety of specialist wood-working tools were on hand, including a morticing machine, and lathes used to make table and chair legs. All were driven by steam. Upstairs was the carpenters’ shop containing twelve double benches, circular saws, and other tools. Next door was the cabinet makers’ shop. At the time of the visit from the Citizen’s journalist, a handsome black walnut bookcase was being readied to go to the finishing room for its final varnishing and polishing. The journalist’s opinion was the workshops were among the finest in the Dominion, and were a credit to all who worked in them.

But the government workshops were not to last. In July 1881, their fittings, tools and stock were sold off at auction. Either there was insufficient work to keep them fully employed following the completion of the Parliamentary Library, or in-house production of furnishing was not cost-effective. Instead, the building was renovated to house the new Supreme and Exchequer Courts of Canada. (The Exchequer Court became the Federal Court of Canada in 1971.)

The Supreme and Exchequer Courts came into existence in early January 1876. There were initially six Supreme Court Justices who at that time also sat on the Exchequer Court bench. The Justices were temporarily allocated four rooms in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill close to the House of Commons chamber. A reading room was used as a court room, while three nearby offices were used for the judges’ consulting room, office space for staff, and a room for counsel. No space was allocated for offices for the six Justices.

Plans were drawn up to build an extension onto the West Block to permanently house the two courts but with an economic recession underway in 1876, the $120,000 price tag was too much for the Liberal Government of Alexander Mackenzie. It didn’t help that the Supreme Court did not have the prestige that it has today. It wasn’t even the highest court of the land. That honour went to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. So, the Justices had to make do with their temporary offices in the Centre Block until the government workshops building was fitted out for them. They moved in during the spring of 1882.

$12,500 was allocated to convert the workshops into a court room and suitable offices. The outside of the building was improved and made more elaborate. Gabled windows were added to provide better lighting into the upstairs courtroom. On the ground floor were offices of the registrar and his clerks, and the précis writer. Upstairs, in addition to the courtroom, were six private rooms for the Justices, a conference room, a barristers’ room, a consulting room and a waiting room. The only thing the building lacked was a law library. The Justices and staff had to go to the Parliamentary Library at the top of Parliament Hill if they wanted to consult a legal tome. The National Gallery was also given space in the renovated building, occupying part of the ground floor to the rear with a staircase to another room on the second floor. This led to a lot of grumbling from the Justices who wanted that space for their Library.

Supreme Court 1890 interior James Topley-LAC-PA-027195

Interior of the old Supreme Court, 1890, James Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-027195.

In 1887, a report was compiled listing the complaints of the building’s occupants. In addition to the lack of a library, there was a bad smell, the roof leaked, and there was insufficient storage space. The Justices also complained about a lack of privacy owing to the public going to and fro in front of their offices to look at the paintings in the National Gallery. To ease the congestion and address some of the concerns, the Gallery moved out later that year. But the freed-up space was needed for the Exchequer Court that had been split off from the Supreme Court and consequently needed its own staff and accommodations. The building was finally extended to the north in 1890, nearly doubling its size, at a cost of $30,457. The Justices moved into the new wing with their old offices converted into a law library. A private entrance was also built. No longer did the Justices have to mix with the general public when going to and leaving work. Most complaints ended.

By the late 1930s, the Supreme Court building was showing its age. In May 1939, during the Royal Visit just before the outbreak of World War II, Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI, laid the cornerstone of a new Supreme Court building on Wellington Street. It would be seven years, however, before the Supreme Court Justices managed to move into their new quarters. Their building, once finished, was temporarily used to house civil servants required to operate the bureaucratic war machine. It wasn’t until the end of 1945 did the Income Tax and National War Services Departments moved out to allow the Justices to move in.

For the next few years, the increasingly dilapidated old Supreme Court building continued to be used for government offices, first for Government Economy Control, then for the Government Travel Bureau. In 1954, it was briefly the stage for a television movie being made by CBC starring Lloyd Bridges, directed by the Hollywood director Victor Stoloff. (The film, to be one of a series of thirteen shows based on real life RCMP cases, subsequently disappeared off of the radar screen though a similar series was made for CBC television in 1959 by Ottawa’s Crawley Films.)

In the spring of 1956, the word came that the old building was to be demolished in phase one of a plan by the Federal District Commission (FDC), the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, to build a grand mall from the West Block on Parliament Hill to the new National Library. The plan called for the western slope of Parliament Hill to be terraced with the mall running from that point, behind the Confederation and Justice buildings where Vittoria Street is located, and in front of the new Supreme Court building. (Earlier plans had also called for the demolition of the West Block and its replacement with a modern concrete building. Thankfully, this idea was dropped.) The site of the old Supreme Court would be used temporarily as a parking lot to relieve parking congestion on the Hill until work started on later phases of the plan.

In the House of Commons, Conservative opposition leader John G. Diefenbaker and George Nowlan, another senior Conservative, were appalled. They pleaded with the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent to save the old building, the home of more than fifty years of Canadian judicial history. Ottawa’s mayor Charlotte Whitton launched a “Save-the-Old-Supreme-Court” campaign. She also tried to put forward a motion at a meeting of the FDC to find other possibilities for the area that didn’t involve tearing down the old building. All was for naught. On 11 September 1956, workmen started stripping off the slate roof as the first step in demolishing the old building.

Supreme Court site Googe streetview august 2017

Site of old Supreme Court, Google Streetview, August 2017

Within a few short weeks the building was gone—“an act of engineering barbarism by the utilitarians” according to R. A. “Dick” Bell, later the Conservative Member of Parliament for Carleton. On the other hand, the Ottawa Journal opined that the old building was “not an embellishment to Parliament Hill from a landscaping or architectural standpoint.” It thought that the “national capital must grow even though among the growing pains are regrets that some of the old must necessarily be replaced.” In 1958, a commemorative plaque was affixed to a low wall made of salvaged stone that separates the parking lot from the sidewalk. Some of the stones from the building were also used to make a pond on the 14th hole of the Rivermead Golf Club in Gatineau, Quebec.

The public outcry from the demolition of the building apparently rattled the government. Future plans for the area were put on the backburner, and were shelved for good with the election of Diefenbaker’s Conservatives in 1957.

The site of the old Supreme Court remains a parking lot.

 

Sources:

Globe (The), 1881. “Dominion Estimates: The Proposed Expenditures for the Year 1881-82,” 16 February.

—————, 1881. “Notes From the Capital,” 28 July.

Nowlan, George, 1956. House of Commons Debates, 22nd Parliament, 3rd Session, Vol. 4, p. 3377.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1875. “The Workshops of The Board of Works,” 23 March.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1946. “Eminent Judges Move Into Wellington Street Building,” 3 January.

———————–, 1949. “Diefenbaker Both Right and Wrong About Old Supreme Court history,” 24 December.

————————, 1954. “Ottawa Actors Face Camera, Start Shooting Mountie Film,” 25 January.

————————, 1955. “Build Sweeping Mall From Hill To New National Library Site,” 30 December.

————————, 1956. “Fails to Get Fate of Old Supreme Court Building Before House,” 4 May.

————————, 1956. ‘Mayor Unable to Save Old Supreme Court.” 7 July.

————————, 1956. “Old Supreme Court Being Demolished,” 11 September.

————————, 1956. “West Block Reconstruction Shelved,” 15 October.

————————, 1956. “Built Pond on 14th Hole at Rivermead,” 8 November.

————————, 1958. “A Plaque for the Old Court,” 29 March.

————————, 1958. “Bell Expects Early Action on Capital,” 23 May.

————————, 1979. “Gov’t studying future of ‘parliamentary precinct,’ 17 September.

Snell, James G. and Vaughan, Frederick, The Supreme Court of Canada: History of the Institution, Toronto: The Osgoode Society, 1985.

Urbsite, 2013. Workshops, The Old Supreme Court, 24 June, http://urbsite.blogspot.ca/2013/06/workshops-old-supreme-court.html.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

22 June 1897

Queen Victoria was our longest reigning monarch until her record of 63 years, seven months was eclipsed by that of Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. When Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne in 1897, the British went wild with joy. They had lots to celebrate. During her reign, Britain had been transformed. The nation had undergone an industrial revolution that had sharply raised national income. Electricity illuminated city streets and was beginning to light British homes. The telephone and the telegraph provided rapid communications, while railways and fast steamships moved people and goods effectively and efficiently around a British Empire that covered a sixth of the globe. This is not to say Victoria personally had much to do with all this, but she was the symbol of British achievement. There were clouds on the horizon, however. Germany and the United States were both challenging Britain on multiple fronts. And trouble was brewing in South Africa with the Boers. But in that glorious summer of 1897, Britain was on top of the world, economically, militarily, and politically. The Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne was a good opportunity to celebrate. Although the actual anniversary date of her accession was Sunday, 20th June 1897, the official celebrations took place on Tuesday, 22nd June—declared an Empire-wide holiday.

QueenVictoriaCelebrationPH1897-William James TopleyLAC-PA-009636
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Parliament Hill, 22 June 1897, Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009636.

In Ottawa, preparations for the celebrations began weeks before the big day. The Capital bedecked itself in festoons of red, white and blue bunting and flags. For the patriotically minded, John Murphy & Co. sold bunting at 5 1/2 cents per yard. Large flags went for 15 cents, while a bust of the Queen could be had for 39 cents, marked down from 75 cents. For those who could afford it and were connect to the grid, electric lights were the way to go. Thousands of electric lights were strung along streets, and on store fronts at a cost of 10 cents per light, and 25 cents per light installation. So many were the lights, they strained the capacity of the Ottawa Electric Company. On Parliament Hill, the Centre Block was completely illuminated. Above the main entranceway into the Victoria Tower was a massive circle of lights surmounted by a crown, enclosing the letters “V.R.I.” for Victoria Regina Imperatrix. On the top floor of the far western tower was a crown surrounded by a circle of lights. In the three small windows beneath was “1837.” This was matched by a circle of lights around a star with “1897” in the three small windows in the second western tower. Between the two dates were the words “Dieu sauve la Reine.” This decorative motif was repeated on the eastern side of the building but with the words “God save the Queen.”

Queen Victoria Jubilee Topley StudioLAC-PA-027878CAR SE corner of Sparks and Elgin
Front entrance of the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway Company at the south-east corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets, June 1897, Topley Studio-Library and Archives Canada, PA-027878. Note the newly-asphalted roadway.

City streets were also illuminated. According to the Journal newspaper, “Sparks Street never looked gayer.” Flags lined both sides of the thoroughfare. Coloured streamers crossed the street from Sappers’ bridge to the Upper Town market (Lyon Street).” A “myriad” of lights lit up the street “like stars along the milky way.” The best display was reportedly at the office of the Canada Atlantic Railway at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. Picked out in red, white and blue lights was a Union Jack over the front door, with the figures “37” and “97” on either side. The lights switched on and off giving the impression that the flag was waving. The words “Victoria” and “Regina” were written in electric lights at the top of the store windows on either side of the main door. In the Sparks Street window was the front of a railway engine, its cowcatcher covered with lights. On the front of the boiler were the dates 1837 and 1897 below the letters “V.R.” Next to the engine was the Queen’s portrait in a diamond-shaped frame surrounded by lights.

Dimboola, What we have we'll hod, Maud Earl Cdn War museum
Dimboola, the mastiff, by Maud Earl, “What we have we’ll hold,” 1896, Canadian War Museum.

Wilson & Sons Art Store on Sparks Street displayed a striking patriotic print of a painting by Maud Earl of the mastiff champion “Dimboola” standing defiantly on a Union Jack with war ships in the background. The inspiration for the painting was a speech by Joseph Chamberlain, a popular British imperialist, in the House of Common in London who said “What we have we’ll hold.” The print was later purchased by Colonel Sherwood and given to the officers’ mess of the 43rd Battalion stationed in Ottawa.

The bank buildings that lined the south side of Wellington Street were also decorated in electric lights. Most chose variants of “V.R.I.,” crowns, or stars. The Union Bank had both, adding the words “The Queen God Bless Her” for good measure. The Quebec Bank was a bit more original opting for a diamond surrounding the figure “60.” The American Bank Note Company was decorated by two large flags, one British and one America on either side of an electrically-lit crown. On Elgin Street, Ottawa’s city hall was decorated with a large crown inside a circle of electric lights as well as “chromos” (colour prints) of the Queen and various British emblems, with flags, colourful bunting and festoons of lights.

Queen Victoria Jubilee American Bank Note Co Topley StudioLAC-PA-027912
British American Bank Note Company, Wellington Street, decorated for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, June 1897. Note that the street is not asphalted. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027912.

Jubilee celebrations began on the Saturday with the release of Canada’s first issue of commemorative stamps–two portraits of the Queen, one as a teenager on her accession and the other as an elderly woman. There was a huge crush of people at the Ottawa post office all trying to buy stamps as souvenirs. Many went home disappointed as the supply was very limited, especially of the one half and six cent stamps. All were gone within an hour of the post office’s opening. Reportedly, premiums were being paid by people to acquire them.

On the Sunday, the actual anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession, churches across the city held Thanksgiving Services. That afternoon at 4pm, the Sons of the Empire sang God Save the Queen. Orders had gone out to all the lodges around the Empire to sing at that hour, starting in Fiji, “the exact antipodes to England.” Afterwards, the Sons of the Empire and other societies, including the Caledonian Society and the Boys’ Brigade, marched in a parade through Ottawa streets.

Queen Victoria 1-2 cent
½cent Canadian postage stamp, Canadian Commemorative Issue for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897.

On that Sunday, the Evening Journal ran a fascinating story on the reminiscences of old timers looking back at Queen Victoria’s accession to the Crown in 1837. Captain Thomas Jones, who arrived in Bytown in 1827 as a young boy, recounted that the news reach the community six or seven weeks after the event. At that time, Bytown boasted a population of just 2,000 souls—300-400 in Upper Town and 1,600-1,800 in Lower Town—apart from the “canallers” who lived in mud and wooden shanties along the canal. Jones recalled that some soldiers would have preferred her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, to have become the Sovereign. They expressed “strong feelings against a woman, especially a young one,” assuming the Crown. Paradoxically, he added that “loyalty was always prominent.” Rev. John Gourley of Nepean Street said Bytown residents were “reaping the wheat and saving the last of the hay” when the news finally reached them. In church, people were still praying for health of the old king, and the royal family, including Princess Victoria.  The news, when it finally came, was, however, overshadowed by the Rebellion of 1836-37. But “there was not a man in the land so rebellious as not to pray sincerely for the best health, longest peaceful reign, and the greatest prosperity.”  He added that in 1837 the city centre was a duck pond, Bank Street was a cedar and ash swale, and the garrison just a few stone huts. Another senior citizen, John Joyce of Henry Street, recalled that a celebratory bonfire had been lit at the corner of Nicholas and Rideau Streets, and everybody was there. “Cheer after cheer went up in honour of the youthful Queen.”

Tuesday, 22 June 1897 dawned to perfect weather—bright sunshine, warm and a refreshing breeze, though later there were some complaints of dust kicked up from unwatered city streets. (Most streets were still unasphalted.) At 7.59am, the bells at St. Patrick’s church began ringing, followed by those at St. George’s, and the Basilica. Within moments, thirty churches had joined in the peel. The whistle at E.B. Eddy’s then began to blow, and was shortly joined by factory and shop whistles across the city, followed locomotive horns at the train depots. The church bells continued at intervals for the next half hour, while the E.B. Eddy whistle went continuous for nine minutes. Adding to the cacophony was the barking of dogs and the shouting and cheering of Ottawa residents standing in front of their homes waving flags.

At 9am, a 1,000-man parade of the St. Jean Baptiste Society set out on a procession through the streets of Ottawa after a celebratory Mass at the Basilica to demonstrate “what loyalty exists in the hearts of French Canadians towards Her Majesty the Queen.” At the head of the procession was Monsieur F. Laroque, the grand marshal of the Society as well as the grand marshals of the Artisans. The Saint Anne band played marching tunes while various other societies that had joined the parade carried banners and flags.

Later in the day, 8,000 children—6,000 from Ottawa and 2,000 from Hull—dressed in white or pale blue with red, white and blue trimmings, waving tiny Union Jacks, assembled on Parliament Hill. The Upper Town children had walked from Central West School with each class headed by their teacher, and each school headed by their principal. Lower Town children began their march to the Hill from the Byward Market. Separate school children were led by grey-gowned nuns. The children took their position on either side of the central walkway in front of the Centre Block where a large decorated stage had been erected. The dignitaries present for the event included the Governor General, Lord Aberdeen and senior Cabinet ministers, and civic leaders. Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, was absent. He was in London participating in the Queen’s parade as a guest of honour. He was knighted the same day.

Lord Aberdeen, wearing the uniform of a Lord Lieutenant with the star of a baronet of Nova Scotia and other honours pinned to his chest, spoke to the children and a crowd of 25,000 people about the Queen’s life of service, her dedication to duty, and the example she set for others. He also read out loud the Queen’s blessings and thanks to “my beloved people” in Canada, that he had received earlier that morning. Following a tremendous cheer from the crowd, he read out his response saying that Her Majesty’s “most gracious and touching message” will “stir afresh hearts already full.” To provide a lasting tribute to the Queen, Lord Aberdeen announced the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses to be dedicated to help and relief of the sick and lonely.

Following other speeches, Professor Birch of the College of Music stood on a chair and raised his baton—the signal for the Bandmaster McGillicuddy of the 43rd Battalion to sound the key for the National Anthem. Upon the third beat, the massed choir of children from Ottawa and Hull began to sing “God Save the Queen.” After singing the anthem twice through, “three cheers” were given to the Queen and Lord Aberdeen.

Later at Cartier Square by the Drill Hall, the 43rd Battalion held an inspection and completed complicated military practices, including sword drill, pursuit exercises on horseback, and independent firing drill. The battalion, accompanied by a company of Fenian Raid veterans, also did a “march past.” Crowds of onlookers stood five and six persons deep around the Square to witness the military manoeuvres. The Journal commented that “the main part of the rising generation occupied reserved seats on the trees and telephone poles.” Lord Aberdeen presented the Royal Humane Society medal to Pte Douglas Lyon of the 43rd Battalion for bravery in attempting to save the lives of two young boys who drowned after falling through the ice while skating on the Rideau Canal at the end of November the previous year. This was followed by a 21-gun Royal Salute by the Ottawa Field Battery from Nepean Point.

The afternoon of Jubilee Day was taken up by sporting events at Lansdowne Park, including a lacrosse match between the Capitals and the Shamrocks. The Capitals emerged victorious 6-1. After sundown, Ottawa residents and visitors strolled around downtown streets to admire the illuminated buildings. There was, however, a lighting glitch on Parliament Hill. When the lights were switched on shortly before 9pm, a portion stayed dim. Fortunately, the problem was quickly rectified. Musical entertainment was provided on the big stage in front of the Centre Block. Madame Arcand opened, singing a solo of The Land of the Maple. She was joined by a 300-voice choir. Other patriotic songs sung by other vocalists included: Hearts of Oak, British Tailors’ Toast and, of course, Rule Britannia. Mr. Choquette MP followed with Dieu Brigadier in French. A Highland Pipes band also played a number of tunes, followed by Scottish dances.

At 10pm, the fireworks began at Cartier Square. Paper balloons were sent up into the sky with multi-coloured lights attached to them. In addition to the usual rockets, and “whiz bang bombs” that exploded in red, white, blue and green stars, there were a number of set pieces on the ground. This included a triple wheel that changed colour, Prince of Wales feathers with red fire coming out of the top of each feather, and a diamond jewel. The piece de resistance was a double head of Queen Victoria thirty feet long and 20 feet high with the motto “Our Queen of 60 years, 1837-1897” at the base. The double head, which constantly changed colour, remained lit for five minutes as the band struck up God Save the Queen. For the grand finale, the words “Good night” were spelt out while sky fifty rockets exploded overhead.

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901.

Sources:

Evening Journal, 1896. “Sank To Death Together,” 1 December.

——————–, 1897, “John Murphy & Co.” 18 June.

——————–, 1897. “Will Follow The Beat of The Drum,” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “Oh! Did You Get One?” 19 June.

——————–, 1897. “With United Vocies,” 19 June.

———————-, 1897. “Remember the Day the Queen Was Crowned,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “Pulpit Tributes to the Queen,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Jubilee Has Begun,” 21 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Capital Celebrates,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “City Illuminations,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “The Fireworks,” 23 June.

———————-, 1897. “Ten Thousand Lights,” 24 June.

———————-, 1897. “An Impressive Potrait,” 24 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1897. “A Striking Picture,” 22 June.

——————, 1897. “god Save The Queen,” 22 June.

VON Canada, 2018, About VON, http://www.von.ca/en/about-von.

The Funeral of J. Thad Johnson

3 July 1927

The fiftieth anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 1917 came and went with only a token official acknowledgement. The horror of World War I was at its height and Canadians had more important things on their mind. But by the time of the Diamond Jubilee ten years later, Canada was feeling its oats. The country was at peace, the economy was booming, and, with the 1926 Balfour Declaration just a few months earlier, Canada had been recognized as being the equal of and in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom. It was time for a party. Three consecutive days of celebrations, festivities and parades were organized across the country, starting on Dominion Day, Friday, 1 July.

With Ottawa festooned with flags and bunting, Day I featured the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon (later the Marquess of Willingdon), laying the cornerstone of the Confederation Building on Wellington Street, followed by the inauguration of the 53-bell carillon in the newly completed Peace Tower, and official speeches on Parliament Hill. Later that day, a huge parade of floats wended its way through downtown Ottawa. The floats featured exhibits depicting Canadian history, industry, and economic progress. A guest of honour at the festivities was Hortence Cartier, the only surviving daughter of Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, one of Canada’s leading “fathers” of Confederation.

The highlight of Day II of the Jubilee celebrations was a visit by the hero of the hour American Colonel Charles Lindbergh, “the Lone Eagle.” Just weeks early, Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic travelling from New York City to Paris in his single-engine, monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis, specially built by Ryan Airlines and custom designed by the aeronautical engineer Donald Hall. Although this was not the first transatlantic flight, it was almost double the length of that initial 1919 flight from Newfoundland to Ireland by British aviation pioneers John Alcott and Arthur Brown. By successfully making the first New York to Paris flight, Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize. It took the 25-year old Lindbergh 33 ½ hours to make the solo flight. To lighten the airplane to allow it to carry more fuel, Lindbergh had stripped it of “unessential” equipment such as a sextant, radio, and a parachute. Lindbergh arrived in Paris to a hero’s welcome. Returning home by a U.S. naval ship, Lindbergh received a rapturous reception from American fans, and was feted to a tickertape parade through New York City. He followed this by a three-month, celebratory tour of 92 American cities.

Lindbergh landing 1927
Charles Lindbergh arriving in Ottawa flying The Spirit of St. Louis, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-027647.

Lindbergh was also invited to Canada to help celebrate the Dominion’s Diamond Jubilee. Accompanying the intrepid aviator on his journey north were twelve airmen of the 1st Pursuit Group of the United States Army Air Service. Based at Selfridge airfield, north of Detroit, Michigan, the Group flew Curtis P-1 Hawk biplanes. Leaving early in the morning of 2 July, the airmen flew directly from their aerodrome, travelling across Lake St. Clair and southern Ontario before heading to Ottawa. They arrived over a temporary airfield located about a quarter mile from the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club on the Bowesville Road, roughly the location of the Ottawa Airport today, at 1pm, one hour late from their scheduled arrival time. Nobody had informed the flyers that Ottawa was on daylight savings time. (Prior to World War II, the decision to adopt daylight savings time was left up to cities not the province.) A huge crowd, kept back from the landing strip by police and 500 militia members, had assembled to greet the flyers.

After making a tour over Ottawa, Lindbergh safely landed his famous silver-grey airplane, and taxied to the side to make way for the accompanying squadron that was wowing the crowd by swooping low over the fields in its famous “V” formation. The twelve airplanes were divided into four sets of three. Only 25 to 50 feet separated one airplane from

Curtis P1 Hawk
The U. S. Air Force Curtis P-1 Hawk, Wikipedia.

another. To land, the biplanes went into a “Laffberg circle,” the formation typically used for landing on a small airfield, with each machine touching ground in turn. The first seven airplanes landed without incident. With five still in the air, the leader of the final fourth set, Lieutenant John Thad Johnson, aged 34, unexpectedly side-skipped to the left, the typical indication that for some reason he wished to land out of sequence. As customary in such situations, the next pilot in line, Lieutenant H. A. Woodring, moved ahead into the position vacated by Johnson. Suddenly, Woodring’s aircraft was struck as Johnson’s airplane reared up, its tail hitting Woodring’s propeller. With its “elevator” sheared off, Johnson’s airplane spun out of control from a height of only three hundred feet. Johnson initially tried to ride his aircraft down, but at an altitude of only 100 feet, he jumped. Although his parachute functioned properly, there was insufficient time for it to fully deploy. Johnson struck the ground with horrific force, leaving an eighteen-inch depression in the ground. Although doctors and an ambulance had been stationed at the field in the event of an accident, there was nothing that could be done. Death was instantaneous. Johnson’s crippled biplane crashed nose-down 100 yards away. The aviator’s broken wristwatch indicated precisely the time of death: 12.21, or 1.21 Ottawa time.

Johnson Thad
Lieut. J. Thad Johnson, 1893-1927, Born: Johnson City, Texas, Died: Ottawa, Canada. Collection of Troy Benear, Grandnephew of J. Thad Johnson.

The tragedy occurred in front of thousands of stunned onlookers, as well as Col. Lindbergh and the other members of the pursuit squadron. Immediately, soldiers surrounded Lieutenant Johnson’s crushed body and his downed airplane, holding back the crowds and stopping souvenir hunters. Lindbergh, ashen-faced, was driven to the site of Lieut. Johnson’s body where he paid his respects before being driven away in an open limousine for the official greeting ceremonies on Parliament Hill.

On the Hill, the packed crowds had been waiting for hours in the hot July sun for a glimpse of the famous aviator. Finally, delayed more than two hours, the shaken Lindbergh arrived on Parliament Hill in the limousine. Few in the cheering multitude were aware of the tragedy that had just occurred. Despite the strain he was under, Lindbergh, dressed in a double-breasted, blue, serge suit was greeted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and William Phillips, the American Minister to Canada (equivalent to ambassador). Phillips called Lindbergh the United States’ “unofficial ambassador,” and noted that the aviator, who was born in Detroit, had Canadian blood in his veins; Lindbergh’s grandfather on his mother’s side had been born in Canada.

Lindbergh speaking 1927
Charles Lindbergh speaking on Parliament Hill, 2 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, C-006257.

The Prime Minister greeted Lindbergh in the name of the government and the people of Canada. He called the aviator “the embodiment of the spirit of the Happy Warrior,” a gentleman unafraid.” The visibly stricken Lindbergh spoke for less than ten minutes, pausing between words. After saying, how much he had appreciated the welcome he had received from Canadians, he added that in flying from Detroit he was struck by the need for air transportation in Canada and the United States.  Airlines would eliminate distance and would bring Americans and Canadians even closer that they already were. Nobody mentioned the death of Thad Johnson.

After his short speech, Lindbergh was whisked away to perform his other official duties: meeting the Governor General, going to Lansdowne Park for a series of sporting events, and then back to Mackenzie King’s home, Laurier House, before attending the government dinner on Parliament Hill in honour of William Phillips, the American representative in Canada. While these events were going on, a coroner’s inquest was hastily held into the death of Thad Johnson. Evidence given by the U.S. airmen suggested that the most likely reason for Johnson’s airplane to go out of control was “propeller wash,” a frequent hazard when planes are flying close to each other. No blame was ascribed to Lieutenant Woodring whose airplane was in collision with Johnson’s. The Crown Attorney conclude that the “most lamentable accident was due to mischance.”

Johnson funeral
Funeral of Lieut. J. Thad Johnson in from of the old Ottawa Post Office, Wellington Street, Ottawa, 3 July 1927, Library and Archives Canada, PA-0279950.

The Canadian government quickly organized a state funeral for Lieutenant Johnson to be held the following day, 3 July, Day III of the Jubilee celebration. His body was placed in a bronze casket, and conveyed to the East Block of the Parliament Buildings. There, he laid in state through the morning and early afternoon. Members of the RCAF stood with bowed heads at each corner of the casket which was draped with the American Stars and Stripes. Thousands passed by the flower-bedecked bier. After a curtailed Jubilee Thanksgiving Service held at the Auditorium presided over by the Governor General, Canadian officials and other dignitaries hurried over to Parliament Hill to pay their respects to the fallen airman and to attend his funeral. Reverend (Major) H. I. Horsey of the 38th Royal Ottawa Highlanders read the service. More than 25,000 people watched the proceedings and the imposing military funeral cortege. Camille Lefebvre, assistant carillonneur of the cathedral at Malines, Belgium, played Chopin’s Death March followed by Handel’s Death March from Saul, on the newly-inaugurated carillon in the Peace Tower. The Union Jack above Parliament was lowered out of respect for the fallen aviator.

After the funeral, the flag-draped casket was carefully placed on a horse-drawn gun carriage, and, to muffled drums, was drawn slowly to the train station, escorted by RCMP officers in their scarlet dress uniforms. On either side were three RCAF flying officers acting as honorary pallbearers. Leading the cortege was the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, followed by a firing party and buglers. Official mourners included the Prime Minister, the U.S. Minister to Canada, and Vincent Massey, the Canadian Envoy to the United States who had hurried up to Ottawa from Washington, as well as the Chairman of the Jubilee Committee, Cabinet members, senior militia officers, civil servants, and the Boy Scouts. More than 100 officers and 1,000 other ranks, from almost every military unit in the region, were represented. When the funeral cortege halted in front of the Chateau Laurier Hotel, seven members of the U.S. Pursuit team swooped down low before climbing high again to salute Lieutenant Johnson.

At Union Station, its cheery Jubilee bunting removed in favour of funereal black and purple, the casket was transferred into the care of a U.S. army official, and conveyed to a special funeral train organized by Canadian National Railway for Lieutenant Johnson’s last trip back to Selfridge Field, Michigan. After the train left the station, Colonel Lindbergh, flying The Spirit of St. Louis, threw peonies over the carriage as a final tribute to the fallen airman. Railwaymen collected the blossoms so that they could be delivered to Johnson’s young widow; the couple had been married only a year.

Lieutenant Johnson’s remains were buried the following day in Fenton, Michigan.  Today, a small road called Thad Johnson Private, located near the Ottawa airport not far from where the pilot fell to his death, honours the memory of the American Pursuit pilot.

Sources:

Ottawa Journal (The), 1927. “Ottawa Jubilee Celebrations Will Surpass In Its Scope Anything Hitherto Planned,” 1 July.

—————————, 1927. “Col. Lindbergh With ‘Spirt of St. Louis’ Leads Squadron of U.S. Planes.” 2 July.

—————————, 1927. “Plane Flowers on the Casket of Dead Pilot,” 4 July.

————————–, 1927. “Capital Bows Head In Sorrow As Body OF U.S. Flyer Is Borne Slowly To Funeral Train,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greets ‘Lindy’ As Gentleman Without Fear,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Lieut. J.T. Johnson Is Killed As He Leaps From Airplane Disabled In Air Collision,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Flier’s Parachute Opens But Distance Too Short To Break Rapid Fall Towards The Field,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Impressive National Thanksgiving Service Held in the Auditorium,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Assured Safety Visiting Airmen and Spectators,” 4 July.

—————————, 1927. “Greatly Enjoyed His Stay While In The Capital City Says Lindbergh On Landing, 5 July.

Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project, 2014. Charles Lindbergh, An American Aviator, The Story of the Land Family, http://www.charleslindbergh.com/.

The Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. 2000. John Thad Johnson, http://earlyaviators.com/ejthadjo.htm.

The Maxwell Challenge

22 February 1912

By the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, the automobile was no longer the delicate, temperamental curiosity that it was just a decade earlier. In ten years, the internal combustion engine used in most automobiles had been largely perfected. The one-cylinder vehicle, common at the turn of the century, which was noisy, slow and rough to drive, had evolved into a multi-cylinder machine that was, according to the Ottawa Evening Journal, not only a “thing of beauty” but “whisks by you on the street to the tune of a quiet purr, suggesting the passing of a contented cat.” Luxuriously appointed, such cars could go 50 miles per hour compared to less than 20 miles per hour achieved by vehicles a decade earlier, assuming of course drivers could find roads that were not potholed and heavily trafficked by pedestrians and horses.

Carcartoon10-2-12Journal
Cartoon, The Evening Journal, 10 February 1912, artist unknown

For the majority of people, however, owing an automobile was a dream rather than a reality. Prices were high relative to incomes, especially during the years prior to the introduction of the assembly line that lowered production costs. In 1912, there were only 500 automobiles cruising the streets of the capital, up from a dozen ten years earlier. Demand was growing rapidly, spurred by the motor car’s many advantages over a horse-drawn vehicle. While the initial outlay for a car or truck was substantial, motor vehicles were more convenient, faster, and could carry heavier loads over longer distances, though winter motoring was problematic. Macdonald & Co., the concessionaire for Albion vans, advertised that the van “could do the work of six horses.” But the automobile’s appeal went far beyond the practical or the economic.  In 1912, the Journal summed up the automobile’s almost irresistible appeal. “To own a motor car and enjoy the numerous pleasures that such affords is to own a kingdom. The driver’s seat is a throne, the steering wheel a sceptre, miles are your minions and distance your slave.”

Hundreds of small automobile companies sprang up across North America and Europe to meet the burgeoning demand for cars and trucks. Even Ottawa sported its own automobile manufacturer—the Diamond Arrow Motor Car Company. At its peak, the firm employed as many as twenty mechanics at its plant located at the corner of Lyon and Wellington Streets, just a short walk from Parliament Hill, with a showroom at 26 Sparks Street. Sadly, the firm only produced cars from 1910 to 1912, and disappeared without a trace like so many of the small, craft-style producers, a victim of strong competition, high costs, and the inability to take advantage of economies of scale.

In mid-February 1912, Ottawa held its first automobile show, hosted by the Ottawa Valley Motor Car Association founded five years earlier. The show, which attracted thousands, was held in Howlick Pavilion at the Exhibition Grounds. (The Howlick Pavilion, also known as Howlick Hall or the Coliseum was knocked down in 2012 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.) Some 37 different automobile marques from Canada, the United States, and Europe were on display, ranging in price from an economical $495 to a princely $10,000. Some brands, such as Rolls-Royce, Ford, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, remain household names today. But most, like Jackson, Russell, Tudhope, and Hupp, are long forgotten except by auto historians and antique-car enthusiasts. Show goers were wowed by the latest advance in automobile technology, the self-starter. No longer did a car owner have to get out and manually crank the vehicle to get it started. The 1912 Cadillac also boasted electric headlights—a first in the motoring world. Up until then, car headlamps were filled with oil and acetylene, and had to be manually lit.

With a crowded field, dealers sought ways of standing out among their competitors. Messrs Wylie Ltd of Albert Street advertised that by buying a Tudhope, a Canadian-built vehicle, purchasers avoided the 35 per cent duty levied on the imported cars. Their advertisement argued that the $1,625 Tudhope should be compared “point to point” to imported cars selling for $2,300. The American-made Cutting, selling for $1,725, boasted of its “big, husky power plant;” the Cutting had participated in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

CityHallOttawa
Old Ottawa City Hall, Elgin Street, date unknown, site of the first leg of the Maxwell Challenge, William James Topley/Library & Archives Canada, Mikan No. 3325359.

Mr F.D. Stockwell, the eastern Canadian distributor of Maxwell motor cars, manufactured by the United States Motor Company, believed action spoke louder than words. To prove the superiority of his automobile, he loaded his Maxwell touring car with twenty boys and drove it up the steps of Ottawa’s City Hall—a considerable feat given the number of steps and the sharp incline. He then drove the car through the deep snow surrounding the building, and pulled a standard car, allegedly twice the weight of his Maxwell, out of a hole. Leaving City Hall, he repeated his stunt on Parliament Hill, driving up the main walkway and up the steps leading to the front of the Centre Block. He again demonstrated the Maxwell’s ability to plough through deep snowdrifts—an important selling feature for cars at the time since few streets and highways were cleared of snow.

After a copycat repeated the stair trick within a half hour of Stockwell’s stunt, and another competitor called the Stockwell’s actions “cheap advertising,” Stockwell retorted that both had ignored “the snow tests.” He then issued the following challenge.

If there is a man in Ottawa selling a touring car from $1,000 to $10,000 (any standard stock touring car, 5 to 7 passengers, not a stripped chassis or runabout), who will drive his machine up the terrace at the City Hall through the snow bank (not doing the path cut through by the Maxwell) we will immediately deposit $100 against one or more cars depositing a like amount for a contest to take place immediately at the Parliament grounds, or anywhere there is a field of good, deep snow.

The proceeds of the bet would got to the charity of the winner’s choice.

Stockwell invited all of Ottawa to come and see who would “meet the Maxwell at the snow plow game.” While he conceded that there were other good cars, he noted that the Maxwell was the only car that for two consecutive years had completed the Glidden tour with a perfect score. The Glidden tour was an American long-distance, automobile, endurance event that began in 1905. The 1911 tour, held in October of that year, was 1,476 miles long from New York to Jacksonville, Florida. It was the most gruelling event up to that time, with the course running along treacherous roads and across streams. Recall this was long before the United States had constructed its inter-state highway system.

Maxwellad
Maxwell Car Advertisement, 1912 (U.S. market), History of Early American Automobile Industry, 1891-1929.

The gauntlet was thrown down at 12.30pm on Thursday, 22 February in front of the Ottawa City Hall. Only the Peerless Garage Company, located at 344-348 Queen Street, the distributor of Cadillac, arrived to pick it up. The judges of the challenge were: Mr R. King Farrow, Mr E. H. Code and Alderman Dr Chevrier. What transpired was not exactly what Stockwell, the Maxwell distributor, had in mind.

At City Hall, the Cadillac went first, easily going up and over the building’s terrace without stopping. Stockwell, the driver of the Maxwell, refused to do likewise, but instead shouted out to the other participant “Come up where we will find some real snow at the Parliament Buildings.” The challenge was immediately accepted. On Parliament Hill, the Maxwell went first, having the choice of where to drive. Unfortunately, the automobile had gone only a few yards before it got stuck in a snowbank. Then, it was the Cadillac’s turn. Starting approximately fifteen feet from where the Maxwell had began, the Caddy drove five to seven times further across the snow-covered lawn in from the Centre Block, thereby winning the $100 wager. The Peerless Garage Company donated its winnings in equal amounts of $25 to four Ottawa charities—the “Protestant Home for the Aged” on Bank Street, the “Protestant Orphans’ Home” on Elgin Street, the “St Patrick’s Orphans’ Home” on Laurier Avenue West, and the “Perely Home for Incurables” located on Wellington Street.

1912 cadillac
Advertisement, 1912 Cadillac, winner of the first Maxwell challenge, 22 February 1912, The Evening Journal, 23 February 1912.

Maxwell’s Stockwell immediately issued a second “Maxwell Challenge.” In a letter to the Evening Journal, he admitted that the Cadillac was a good car, and that “it proved a good snow plow, and was cleverly driven.” After adding that the Cadillac cost $600 more than the Maxwell, and that its wheels were two inches higher, Stockwell attributed the Maxwell’s loss to the “misfortune” of having run into a snowbank deposited by a plough before the car got to the open field. After being pulled off the snowbank, he said that the Maxwell had been able to pass the Cadillac that had foundered in deep snow, “its wheels suspended and running freely in the air.” Consequently, Stockwell claimed that the Maxwell was still the champion. He then sent a letter to the Peerless Garage asking for a rematch “on a course which will permit both cars to enter freely the open field, then let the best car win.” He then handed a $100 wager to the sporting editor of the Citizen newspaper, asking him as well as representatives of the Evening Journal and the Ottawa Free Press to act as judges. When the Cadillac representative refused the challenge, Stockwell upped the wager to $150 from him, against $125 from Cadillac, and set the date of the second challenge to the following Saturday afternoon, 25 February, to take place on the snow-covered lawns of Parliament Hill.

There was no sign of Cadillac that Saturday afternoon. With the field to himself, Stockwell demonstrated the proficiency of the Maxwell motor car in front of a large crowd of spectators. The Journal reported that the automobile entered the field near the foot of the main steps and slowly circled the field, ploughing gracefully through every ice and snow obstacle. “The Maxwell cut through the biggest drifts on Parliament Hill with consummate ease and was only forced to stop through a broken chain grip.” Stockwell then drove the car down the main walkway “amidst enthusiastic applause” from an appreciative audience.

So, who won the Maxwell Challenge? Clearly, the Cadillac won the first challenge. But, Maxwell achieved at least a moral victory through its subsequent, uncontested challenge match. However, in the highly competitive world of the automobile, Cadillac was the ultimate victor, becoming a North American synonym for luxury and success. The Maxwell, on the other hand, disappeared shortly after the First World War, a victim of the post war depression and large debts. The Maxwell Motor Car Company was purchased by Chrysler in 1921. The last Maxwell was produced in 1925 and was replaced by the Chrysler Four.

Sources:

71st Revival AAA Glidden Tour, 2016. History, 1904-1913, http://www.gliddentour.org/.

Bowman, Richard, 2016. Maxwell: First Builders of Chrysler Cars, http://www.allpar.com/history/maxwell.html.

Evening Journal (The), 1910. “First Made In This City,” 29 August.

—————————, 1912. “Ottawa, A Popular Motor Car Centre,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. Cutting Cars, 1912. “Gather ’round—Come Close—Listen!,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Motor Car Driving A Recreation In Ottawa,” 10 February.

—————————-, 1912. “A Maxwell Challenge, $100,” 21 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Stockwell Motor Company of Montreal Issued Challenge,” 23 February.

—————————-, 1912. “Cadillac Easily Defeats Maxwell,” 23 February.

—————————–, 1912. “Re that Automobile Competition, Maxwell Challenge No. 2, 23 February.

—————————–, 1912. “The Maxwell Challenge Was Not Accepted,” 26 February.

Macdonald & Company, 1912. “The Albion,” The Evening Journal, 10 February.

Messrs Wylie Ltd, 1912. “What does 35% duty add to the value of a Car?” The Evening Journal, 10 February.

The Governor General’s Foot Guards

7 June 1872

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

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

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

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

Col. Ross and GGFootGuards,c.1875,MIKAN3194356
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Ross and Members of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, circa 1875, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan No. 3194356.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GGFG Badge
Regimental Badge of the Governor General’s Foot Guards

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images:

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

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