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.


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.

Miss Civil Service

12 August 1946

For many years, one of the most anticipated fixtures on Ottawa’s public service social calendar was the annual Miss Civil Service contest. It was first held in 1946, the same year that the Miss Canada pageant was founded. Like the Miss Canada pageant, the Miss Civil Service contest was explicitly sexist and objectifying. There was zero focus on contestants’ job performances—surprise! The attribute on which contestants were judged was beauty. Later other “factors” were added. These comprised grooming, posture, clothes and personality. While supremely cringeworthy today, it’s remarkable how accepted the event was during its day. There was extensive press coverage of the various departmental contests to choose departmental “queens” and “princesses” in the lead up to the big event when Miss Civil Service was selected from among the departmental beauties. This coverage was replete with juvenile double entendres, offensive sexual comments and stereotypes that would be totally unacceptable today.

Ada Redsell, Miss Civil Service Commission, is congratulated by Paul Martin, Senior, 12 August 1946, Ottawa Citizen, 13 August 1946.

The first Miss Civil Service Commission competition was held on 12 August 1946. It was the highlight of the annual Civil Service Commission picnic held at Britannia Park. The day also featured tugs of war, softball, races, a sing-a-long, a dance in one of Britannia’s pavilions and a picnic supper. More than three hundred persons attended the day’s events. There were forty-four entrants into the Miss Civil Service pageant, but only seventeen contestants showed up. The winner was Ada Redsell, a Grade 2 Clerk working at the Central Registry. While her measurements were thankfully not divulged (this often happened in later competitions), the newspapers reported that she had brown eyes and dimples, weighed 120 pounds and stood 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. She wore a pale blue jersey dress with a string of pearls and white pumps. Redsell, who lived at 199 Boteler Street in Ottawa, said that her boss had made here enter the contest. She won an all-expense paid airplane trip to Montreal. Second prize went to Eileen Gagne who won a free airplane ride over the capital, while third prize, a pair of nylons, went to Muriel Keogh.

The prizes were presented by Paul Martin (senior), who was Secretary of State in the federal government at that time. He gave each of the winners an “unofficial gift” of a kiss on the cheek. Judges complained that they hadn’t got kisses (from the girls, not Martin). C.H. Bland, the Civil Service Commissioner, remarked that he would have liked to have chosen them all.

Four years went by until the next Miss Civil Service contest was held. This time it was an event of the Civil Service Recreation Association’s Ice Carnival held on 23 February 1950. From then on, the Miss Civil Service pageant was an annual fixture organized by the RA. It ran into the early 1970s.

In the lead-up to the RA’s first annual event in 1950, federal departments held contests to chose their respective representatives in the pageant. These contests were covered in the press. Under a photo of the Post Office’s contestants, the Ottawa Journal had a caption “How would you like to play post office with these three?” (For those unaware, “post office” was a kissing game popular at the time where a group was divided into boys and girls, with one group going into another room which became the “post office.” Then, one by one, each person in the other room entered the “post office” and was kissed by everybody in that room.) The caption under a photo of the three winners from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics read “Statistical Figures” that proved that statistics aren’t “all cold and hard.”  

The Miss Civil Service contest, which presumed to select the ideal government girl, was the highlight of a four-hour carnival program held at the RA rink located at the foot of Bronson Avenue. Other events included broomball, speed skating and figure skating and a parade of floats featuring departmental “queens” and “princesses.” The Ottawa Journal reported that there were “38 luscious beauties.” “If you are looking for the tops in sophisticated swish, the gal with person-al-i-t-y, the blonde bombshell, brunette heartbreaker, or redhot redhead, you can find the peak of perfection among the 15,000 females who adorn the halls of the public service.” Yikes!

The winner, selected by five judges appointed by the Recreation Association, was 23-year-old Teresa Nugent, a five-year veteran at the Tax Branch of the Department of National Revenue. She was described as “the all-Canadian girl” –”a blond, dimple-cheeked, blue-eyed, five-foot, seven-inch bundle of outdoor charm.” Nugent won a wrist watch, two return fares to Montreal, a dinner out with her and her escort at the Copacabana, a permanent wave, and a complete cosmetics kit. Janie Walters, from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs placed second, while third place went to 20-year-old “brownette,” Margaret Skuce from the Department of Mining and Technical Surveys. The caption under a photo of Teresa Nugent read “fellow workers (males of the opposite sex, of course) had mentally reserved her for their own when they saw her crowned queen.”

The “crowning ceremony” was performed by George McIlraith, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West and Jean Richard, the Liberal MP for Ottawa East. Also in attendance were several city aldermen.

During subsequent pageants, the prizes became increasingly lavish, with large numbers of people in attendance. In 1953, some 5,000 whistling and “whoo-whooing” spectators witnessed the crowing of Miss Kathleen Willisher as Miss Civil Service. The 20-year-old “auburn-haired” employee of Defence Construction, won $250, or an all-expense paid trip to Bermuda, or a trip for two to New York City, in addition to a sash, crown and a silver trophy. In 1956, Miss Marie MacDonald, from the National Research Council, weighing 110 pounds and standing five feet three inches with a 34-23-34 figure, had a choice between a 10-day trip to Bermuda, a 7-day trip for two to New York, or $225. She also received a complete spring wardrobe valued at $125, a sheared muskrat stole, a silver rose bowl, an all-expense paid weekend at Adanac Lodge at Lake Le Peche, and dinner for two at a local restaurant. In 1958, first prize included an impressive trip to Europe.

The 1954 Miss Civil Service contest didn’t go as expected. After being crowned, 22-year-old Betty Burton from Defence Productions revealed she was married. This must have come as quite a shock as there were very few married women in the federal public service at this time. Restrictions on married women holding federal jobs weren’t lifted until 1955. Single female employees were forced to resign when they got married. The Ottawa Citizen commented “stand back, fellahs, she’s married.” In 1960, the contest was officially opened to married women. The title was also changed to RA Queen, though the former Miss Civil Service title continued to be widely used.

Another first occurred in 1962, when Barbados-born Betty Gitters, won the coveted title. The mother of two was working at Transport Canada to support her family as her husband attended medical school at the University of Ottawa. The former 1959 Miss Barbados was the first and only woman of colour to win the Miss Civil Service/RA Queen title. The Ottawa Citizen called her the “brown-eyed dusky queen” and erroneously said that this was the first time a married woman had won the title. Gitters won $200, a wrist watch, an all-expense paid weekend in an un-named New York State tourist resort, a free hair styling and a bouquet of tulips. That year, she opened the National Tulip Festival.

By the beginning of the 1970s, the RA Queen contest was fading rapidly in popularity. While it still attracted contestants, it was increasingly out of step with the times. The prizes were also becoming less interesting. Trips to foreign locales were long gone, and a $200 first prize just didn’t go as far as it once did. In 1970, anti-pageant protesters picketed the RA Centre, the venue of the contest.

“Miss Civil Service” also came under attack from another quarter. In an article titled Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity? the Ottawa Journal wrote in 1970: “Now take those long-lacquered fingernails. They can slow down Miss Civil Service to a leisurely 30 words-a-minute as she tippie-pinkies, oh, so very, very carefully to preserve all ten gleaming mirrors of her stylist nails. And those, long, fetching artificial eyelashes—they go with the long-tinted fingernails, the miniskirts, and maxihair – can slow her down too, when they tend to shed off every time she flutters them at her boss or that toothsome bachelor assistant-deputy at the next table in the government cafeteria.”

The last RA Queen pageant was held in May 1973. Out of twenty-two contestants, 20-year-old Lorraine Leduc took home the title. Judges were Mayor Pierre Benoit, former 67s hockey player, Brian McSheffrey (who later briefly played in the NHL), and Miss Ottawa Rough Rider, Lynn Lawson. Only 200 people were in attendance at the RA Centre.

Mercifully, Miss Civil Service then disappeared into the dustbin of history.


Gentile, Patrizia, 1996. Searching for “Miss Civil Service” and “Mr. Civil Service”: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, MA Thesis, Carleton University.

Ottawa Citizen, 1946. “Queen Ada Gets A Crown,” 13 August.

——————, 1954. “Betty Burton Named ‘Miss Civil Service,’” 20 March.

——————, 1956. “Beauty From Saskatchewan Crowned Miss Civil Service,” 16 March.

——————, 1960. “RA Queen of Year Replaces Miss Civil Service,” 23 January.

——————, 1962. “Beauty Reigns,” 17 May.

——————, 1962. RA Queen Captured by Mother of Two,” 17 May.

——————, 1973. NRC Has a Queen,” 26 May.

Ottawa Journal, 1946. “Beauty Contest Win at Picnic by Ada Redsell, Grade 2 Clerk,” 13 August.

——————-, 1946. “Free ‘Plane Trip For Miss Civil Service Commission Of 1946,” 13 August.

——————-, 1950. “CS Beauty Queens Try On Crowns for Size,” 14 February.

——————-, 1950. “Queen Of Queens In Civil Service ‘a Dimpled Blue-Eyes Blonde,’” 24 February.

——————-, 1953. “5,000 Cheering Spectators See ‘Miss Civil Service’ Crowned,” 28 March.

——————-, 1958. “Need No Imports For This Contest,” 14 July.

——————-, 1962. “Miss Civil Service,” 17 May.

——————-, 1970. “Maxi Hairdos, Mini Skirts Hurting CS Productivity?”, 24 August.

The Sad Story of “Punch” Lavigne and “Billy” Seabrooke

10 January 1933

This sorry tale began on 12 December 1931. Paul Émile “Punch” Lavigne, age 24 years, was working the evening shift at the Domestic Service Station on Sussex Street, close to Redpath Street. (This is roughly the location of Foreign Affairs’ Lester B. Pearson Building today.) This wasn’t Lavigne’s usual work shift. He had swapped shifts with his friend and co-worker, Joe Meloche, who wanted to go to the Ottawa Auditorium for the wrestling. Gus Sonnenberg, the ex-world champion, was up against George Vassel, the “Grappling Greek,” in the feature bout.

Lavigne arrived for work at 7.20pm. Meloche handed Lavigne $47, the receipts for the day, and left the station at 7:30pm. Lavigne stuffed the cash in his pocket. A short time later, Hector Charbonneau, a truck driver, one of several who used the service station as an operating base travelling between Ottawa and Montreal, came into the station’s office and talked briefly to Lavigne before leaving. All was quiet. All was well.

At roughly 8:45pm, a young man wearing a brown overcoat and a brown hat walked into the station. Lavigne thought the man was going to use the telephone, a not uncommon occurrence, and went downstairs into the basement of the garage where supplies were kept. When Lavigne returned up the stairs a few minutes later, the stranger pointed a pistol at him and demanded money. Lavigne refused and grabbed the man’s wrist. In the ensuing struggle, the gun discharged, a bullet struck Lavigne in the upper abdomen. He fell to the floor critically wounded. The assailant rifled his pockets, took the cash, and then calmly walked out of the station. He then hopped in a taxi idling about 100 feet away, and was driven away from the scene of the crime.

The taxi driver, Oscar Paquette, who had been sent to the corner of Sussex and Redpath by his dispatcher, was hard of hearing and hadn’t heard the shot fired. The man who got into his car told him that he had ordered a taxi from a different company, but said that Paquette might as well take him. The young man spoke English without an accent. He got into the front seat of the taxi beside the driver. They didn’t go far, just to the corner of Cumberland and Boteler Streets—a 50-cent journey. When Paquette was unable to change a $2 bill, his passenger went into a nearby grocery store for change. When he left the store, the man brushed past a girl who was just entering. She didn’t pay him much attention. After paying Paquette, the man walked down Boteler Street towards King Edward Avenue where he was seen by two young girls. Paquette, believing that he might have another fare waiting, returned to the corner of Sussex and Redpath Streets.

At the same time, Richard Bingham, who was walking on Sussex, saw Paquette’s taxi idling. Owing to recent robberies in the neighbourhood, he took note of the licence number. Shortly afterwards, Bingham heard a gun shot and saw a man leaving the gas station and get into the taxi.

Paul Émile Lavigne, Ottawa Citizen, 14 December, 1931.

Lavigne staggered through the door of the gas station after his assailant and collapsed on the ground. Bingham rushed over to him. He tried to flag down a car to get help. The first passing car didn’t stop. The driver of the second refused to take the injured man to hospital but promised to drive uptown and get the police. Not wanting to wait, Bingham ran across the street to 160 Sussex Street, the home of J.A. Larocque, to call the police and an ambulance.

Lavigne was conveyed by ambulance to the Water Street General Hospital with Dr. Laframboise in attendance. On the way to the hospital, Lavigne told the doctor what had happened.

After a blood transfusion, Lavigne received an emergency operation in a desperate bid to save his life. The .32 calibre pistol bullet had entered the lower side of his chest below the diaphragm, perforated his intestines, and had nicked an artery before exiting Lavigne’s back. The slug was found caught in his clothes. The shell casing was later found at the scene of the crime.

For a short time, Lavigne rallied. Despite being in great pain, he was able to give a statement to Detective Jean Tissot. (A few years later, Tissot was fired from the Ottawa police force for circulating fascist literature and criminally libeling Archibald Freiman, the owner of Freiman’s Department Store.) Lavigne recalled that when he fell to the floor after being shot, he saw that his assailant was wearing buckled shoes. Shown a photograph of a man, he identified the person as his assailant though the man had no connection to the crime.

Paul Émile Lavigne, known as “Punch” by his many friends and co-workers, died a short time later in the early morning of December 14th, his family by his side. He was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery after a funeral at the Basilica. There were hundreds of mourners, including his grieving mother, his brothers Lucien and Albert, and sisters, Alice and Edith.

Ottawa Police were initially baffled by the crime. While the presumed assailant had been seen by many, the description provided—mid to late 20s in age, roughly 5 feet 8 inches in height, average build, wearing a brown overcoat and a brown fedora hat—could apply to many young Ottawa men. A $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Lavigne’s assailant ($500 provided by the City and $500 by Lavigne’s employer) was posted in an effort to shake people’s memories.

William Seabrooke, Ottawa Journal, 16 May 1932.

Police quickly got two breaks in the case. First, Montreal police received a report that an Ottawa man, William “Billy” G. Seabrooke, had stolen a rifle and automatic pistol from Roy McGregor, formerly of Ottawa. Seabrooke, who had been visiting McGregor in Montreal, had apparently left without saying goodbye a few days before Lavigne’s shooting, taking the weapons with him. McGregor had not called the police immediately hoping that Seabrooke might return. But when he heard of the gas station shooting in Ottawa, he worried that his missing pistol might have been used.

The second break in the case came after Christmas when two teenagers, Denis Mirabelle, 14, and Richard Falconer, 15, found a pistol in a leather shoulder holster lodged between rocks on the second pier of the CPR bridge over the Rideau River near the north end of King Edward Avenue. This was only a short distance from the scene of the crime. The boys brought the pistol home and showed it to Mrs Falconer, Richard’s mother. She told them to take it to the police station which the boys did, the gun hidden under Richard’s coat. Fortunately, they did so without incident; the pistol was loaded without the safety on. The weapon, with serial number 674493, was a .32 calibre automatic pistol made by the Herstahl Military Armoury of Belgium. It was an illegal weapon in Canada. Roy McGregor later identified the pistol and holster as the ones stolen by Seabrooke.

In an interview with the Citizen, Roy McGregor said that he and Seabrooke had been friends since their early teens, and that after his move to Montreal, Seabrooke had come several times to visit, always staying with him. McGregor said that Billy Seabrooke was a nice fellow. It was only recently that he had done things that had caused trouble.

Police brought William Seabrooke in for questioning. A search of his bedroom revealed a pair of black, buckled shoes.

Seabrooke, who was only 22 years of age, came from a good family who lived at 125 Spruce Street in Ottawa.  Known as “Bill” or “Billy” to his friends, he was popular and had been a paper tester in the Eddy factory in Hull. He had had one prior brush with the law. Just before Christmas he was in police court for obtaining money under false pretenses when he bounced a $15 cheque. The charge was, however, withdrawn when the “matter was adjusted.” Presumably, he found the funds to cover the cheque.

The police told Seabrooke that he was wanted for the theft of the guns in Montreal. However, they didn’t inform him that he was also a suspect in the murder of Paul Émile Lavigne until after he had been questioned. Without counsel present, Lavigne admitted stealing the weapons. He said he pawned the rifle for $8 in Montreal, an act later confirmed by the pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the seller. As for the pistol, Seabrooke said he threw it away in an alley near Bonaventure Station in Montreal. But when police showed him the pistol found by the two boys, he said: “That looks mighty bad for me.”

Richard Bingham, who had witnessed the assailant leave the gas station, Oscar Paquette, the taxi driver who drove the suspect away from the scene of the crime, Phileas Bisson who changed the suspect’s $2 bill at his grocery store, as well as the girls who saw the suspect walk down Boteler Street, were all brought in to identify Seabrooke. However, none were able to pick Seabrooke out of line-ups.

When asked what he had been doing on the night of murder, Seabrooke said he had gone to the Français Theatre where he watched Clare Bow in a film, and a western called “Cheyenne.” However, he had nobody to vouch for him. Leaving the cinema at about 10:00pm, he said that he boarded a streetcar, where he heard a car employee talking about a shooting. He then taxied to the Montcalm Club in Hull before taking a room for the night under the assumed name “Kingsbury.” The next day he returned to Ottawa and visited the gas station where Lavigne was killed before going home.

Dr. Rosario Fontaine, the medical expert for Quebec and an authority on ballistics, carried out tests on the slug that had killed Lavigne and the shell that had been found at the gas station. Dr. Fontaine positively identified the gun found by the two boys as the weapon that killed Paul Émile Lavigne.

William Seabrooke was sent to trial in front of Justice Logie in May 1932. His defence counsel was Walther F. Schroeder, a young Ottawa lawyer. Colonel J. Keiller was the Crown prosecutor.

The Crown focused importantly on Seabrooke’s admission that he had stolen a pistol from Roy McGregor who in turn positively identified the weapon found by the two boys as his own, and the ballistics evidence that concluded that it was the murder weapon. The Crown also made much of the fact that a previously broke Seabrooke had come into money, and was able to hire taxis, go drinking in Hull and afford to stay in a hotel.

The defence stressed that none of the witnesses of the events of December 12th could identify Seabrooke despite have been very close to the suspect. Seabrooke, at only 5 foot 4 inches tall, was shorter than the description of the assailant. Moreover, the buckled shoes described by Lavigne on his deathbed could have been owned by anyone. As for the pistol, there was nothing linking the weapon to Seabrooke after Montreal.

While Seabrooke’s young lawyer put up a stout defence, it was not enough. Even though the evidence was only circumstantial, William Seabrooke was found guilty by the jury after two hours of deliberation. Justice Logie then pronounced the death sentence to a crying Seabrooke. When the judge said “May God have mercy on his soul,” Seabrooke interjected: “He will.”

Seabrooke’s lawyer immediately launched an appeal on several grounds, including bias on the part of the trial judge who gave an unbalanced summary to jury members before their deliberations. The Court of Appeal, very critical of the actions of the trial judge as well as those of the Ottawa Police who did not inform Seabrooke that he was a suspect in Lavigne’s murder before he was questioned, ordered a new trial.

The second trial took place in October 1932. Again, Walther Schroeder appeared for Seabrooke with Colonel Keller acting as Crown prosecutor. Although the judge ruled that Seabrooke’s answers to police questions were inadmissible as they were improperly obtained, the jury once again concluded that Seabrooke was guilty of murder. When asked if he had anything to say, Seabrooke reiterated: “I did not do this.”

The $1,000 reward for the conviction of the murderer of Paul Émile Lavigne was divided four ways, with $250 going each to the Montreal pawnbroker who identified Seabrooke as the person who pawned the rifle he stole from Roy McGregor, the two young boys who discovered the pistol, and Roy McGregor who informed police of the pistol’s theft and subsequently identified the pistol found by the boys as his own.

When a plea to the federal Justice Minister for a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment failed, this sad story came to an end. William “Billy” Seabrooke was executed at 12:50am on 10 January 1933 on the same gallows used to execute Patrick Whelan for assassinating D’Arcy McGee in 1869. Unused for more than 60 years, it took workmen two days to put the gallows in working order. A small crowd gathered outside of the Carleton County Jail to watch the black flag hoisted indicating that the sentence had been carried out.

Seabrooke died with dignity, maintaining his innocence to the end. Before his execution, he said to Sheriff Samuel Crooks and Governor Alonzo Dawson: “Don’t worry. I will be all right.”

Seabrooke’s body was buried by his family in a private ceremony in Beechwood Cemetery.


Edmonton Journal, 1933. “Murderer Pays Supreme Penalty, » 10 January.

Gazette (Montreal), 1933. “Seabrooke Is Hanged,” 10 January.

Leader-Post (Regina), 1933. “W.G. Seabrooke Hanged Today In East Jail,” 10 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1931. “No Clue To Slayer Of Service Station Worker,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Paul E. Lavigne Dies Of Gunshot Wound At Hands of Hold-Up Man,” 14 December.

——————, 1931. “Final Tribute Paid To Murder Victim,” 16 December.

——————, 1931. “Still Searching For Wanted Man,” 28 December.

——————, 1931. “Fatal Revolver Found By Boys On Bridge Pier,” 31 December.

——————, 1931. “Held W.G. Seabrooke, Ottawa, In Lavigne Murder,” 31 December.

——————, 1932. “Story Now Told By Seabrooke’s Former Friend,” 4 January.

——————, 1932. “Taxi Driver Unable To Give Description,” 18 January.

——————, 1932. “Unusual Marks On Shell Held As Sure Proof,” 29 January.

——————, 1932. “Begin Trial Of Ottawa Man On Capital Charge,” 12 May.

——————, 1932. “Expert Asserts He Is Positive In Conclusions,” 13 May.

——————, 1932. “William G. Seabrooke Held Guilty By Jury, Is Sentenced To Death,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Defence Counsel to Ask for Retrial of William Seabrooke,” 16 May.

——————, 1932. “Innocence Still Asserted While Sentence Given,” 22 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1931. “Curulars Go Out In Lavigne Case,” 28 December.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Case To Reach Jury This Afternoon,” 14 May.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Guilty of Murder; Protests His Innocence When Sentences To Hang on July 20,” 5 June.

——————, 1932. “Hear Seabrooke Appeal at Toronto,” 25 July.

——————, 1932. “Mistakes Made Causes Upset Court Verdict,” 9 August.

——————, 1932. “Case Against Seabrooke Likely To Reach Jury Some Time on Thursday,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Rules Out Seabrooke’s Answers To Police,” 19 October.

——————, 1932. “Seabrooke Jury Pay Visit To Scene of Crime Where Paul E. Lavigne Was Shot,” 20 October.

——————, 1932. “Judge Sentences Seabrooke To Hang January 10,” 21 October.

——————, 1932. “Murder Reward Split Four Ways,” 28 November.

The Pius X High School Tragedy

27 October 1975

Warning: this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Perhaps the greatest horror of a parent is something evil happening to their children. Sadly, on the afternoon of 27 October 1975, evil strode into Pius X High School causing mayhem and death. At roughly 2:30pm, Robert Poulin, a Grade 13 student, arrived at the school on his 10-speed bicycle carrying a large, army duffel bag. He entered the building located on Fisher Avenue in suburban Nepean and walked to classroom 71 on the ground floor. There, Father Bédard was conducting a religious instruction class. After pausing briefly at the lockers located outside the room, Poulin calmly took out a sawed-off, pump-action shotgun from his duffel bag and threw open the classroom door. With a smile on his face, he fired several shots into the crowded room. At first, students thought it was a joke. But the awful reality quickly became apparent as shotgun pellets shattered bodies, and peppered the back wall of the classroom. Students threw themselves to the ground or hid behind desks in a desperate attempt to protect themselves. Poulin then backed out of the classroom. In the hallway, he put the shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger, blowing his brains over the walls and lockers. The whole affair lasted just ten seconds.

Robert Poulin, Ottawa Journal, 28 October 1975.

It took several minutes for the teacher and the students to realize that the attack was over. School principal, Father Leonard Lunney, who had been in his office at the time of the attack, rushed to the classroom to find the shattered remains of Robert Poulin in the hallway in front. He told the students that they were safe and ordered another teacher to stand guard over the body and wait for the police. To avoid passing by Poulin’s body, the traumatized children broke the classroom’s windows and evacuated to safety through them.

Six students were wounded in the attack, one grievously. Shot in the head, Mark Hough, age 18, was later to succumb to his injuries after a five-week battle for his life. Also wounded were Marc Potvin (18), Terry Vanden Handenberg (18), Barclay Holbrook (16), Kurniadi Benggawen (16) and Michael Monette (17). Thankfully, they all recovered. The psychological wounds inflicted on the entire class were, however, long lasting.

As Robert Poulin was entering the school, firemen were entering his house at 5 Warrington Drive in Ottawa South. They had been called to the scene by a neighbour who had gone to Mrs. Stuart Poulin’s assistance after the latter had arrived home from shopping to find smoke billowing from her home. In the basement, the firemen make a horrifying discovery. Manacled to a bed was the charred body of a semi-clad girl.

The body was quickly identified as that of a 17-year-old neighbour, Kimberly Rabot, who lived less than two blocks away. Poulin and Rabot knew each other, having been in the same Grade 10 class at Pius X High School before Rabot changed schools three years earlier. Rabot had also gone to Poulin’s house on one occasion to play the boardgame Risk. Poulin had also reportedly asked her out, but she had declined. Kim Rabot, an avid swimmer, had a sunny disposition and abhorred violence.

In the days leading up to the tragedy, there had been little indication in Poulin’s demeanour to suggest anything was awry. To all, including his family, classmates and teachers, Poulin was a quiet, studious kid. His passions were war board games and the militia. He had joined the Cameron Highlanders, and was hoping to go to officer training school one day. Poulin also had a job delivering newspapers. He was, however, a loner with few friends. He typically arrived at school just as classes were about to start and left immediately afterwards. His write-up in his school yearbook was “Rob takes the cake for this year’s ‘Briefcase of the Year award.’” He never showed much emotion.

The Friday before the attack, Poulin had asked his principal Father Lunney about the chances of him being able to leave school prior to the end of the school year the following June. Poulin wanted to work with the militia on security for the upcoming Montreal Summer Olympic Games. Father Lunney assured him that with his marks and record there would be no problem. That Sunday evening, just hours before he snapped, Robert Poulin had played cards with his parents and three sisters. The only thing unusual to occur was that he quit early to go to his bedroom in the basement.

Second from top, Robert Poulin’s advertisement for companionship, Ottawa Journal, 7 October 1975.

Police worked diligently to trace Poulin’s actions in the days leading up to the attack. They discovered that he had purchased a 12-guage, single-barrel shotgun with the serial number L877371 from a Giant Tiger store on George Street in the Byward Market a few days earlier. Poulin subsequently sawed off the barrel in his home’s basement so that it would fit in his duffel bag. He had also placed an advertisement for companionship in the personals’ column of the Ottawa Journal newspaper. The ad ran the first week in October.

On the fateful Monday morning, he left early, ostensibly to go to school. His mother asked if he wanted breakfast but Poulin said he had already made himself a peanut butter sandwich. Shortly afterwards, his mother heard a door slam and heavy steps on the stairs going down into the basement. She did not investigate. The basement bedroom was her son’s sanctum where neither she nor her husband ever went. She later went down to another part of the basement and called out to her son who was in his room behind a curtain. He said everything was fine. All seemed normal. She could hear nothing unusual above the sound of a radio and an operating washing machine.

What came out at the inquest held in early December, was that poor Kim Rabot was also behind that curtain. She had left her home at about 8:00am to go to the bus stop to catch her bus for school. Her brother was with her. Fifteen minutes later, Poulin approached her and said “I’ve something to show you.” She initially refused to go with him, but then relented when he said that he would drive her to school so she wouldn’t be late for class. She went back to his house with him. That was the last anybody other than Poulin saw her alive. An autopsy showed that she had been raped, then asphyxiated with a plastic, dry-cleaning bag and stabbed eleven times.

After killing the girl, Poulin laid a trail of Playboy magazines throughout the basement and doused them with gasoline. His intent was to destroy his home. The police were later to find more than 250 pornographic magazines and books, some of which portrayed graphic scenes of women in bondage. Unknown to his parents, Poulin had rented a post office box for the delivery of the pornography, which he purchased with the earnings from his paper route. He also had a large collection of women’s undergarments.

Amongst Poulin’s other effects in his bedroom, police found a diary, from which excerpts were read out loud at the inquest. While there was no reference to a pending school attack, there were some very disturbing entries. Poulin fantasized about suicide. He also thought about killing his parents and sisters, but changed his mind. He thought death “was the true bliss” and that he didn’t want them to be happy. He also wrote about burning the house down in a way that would cause maximum hardship to his father. As well, he described his sexual fantasies and his fear of women. He ordered an “Everything doll” from an ad in one of his pornographic magazines, but it didn’t live up to his expectations. Not wanting to die a virgin, he considered buying a model revolver to abduct a neighbourhood girl and rape her. If the girl caused any trouble, he wrote that he would kill her because he had nothing to lose since he was planning to kill himself anyhow. Ominously, the police found a list of girls who lived in the area; Kim Rabot’s name was underlined.

Two psychiatrists at the inquest testified that Robert Poulin was “almost two people,” and that his sudden burst of violence could not have been predicted. They also absolved his parents for responsibility for his deviant behaviour. With this school attack coming just months after a similar attack in Brampton in which a student and teacher were killed, the psychiatrists recommended the complete abolition of hand guns, and tight controls on other firearms. They also recommended additional controls on pornography.

The three-man, two-woman coroner’s jury deliberated for six hours. Their main recommendations focused on guns and pornography. While they dismissed calls for a complete ban on all firearms, they urged the government to ban all hand guns and limit sales of other firearms to only people with valid reasons to own them, such as hunters and target shooters. In addition, they argued that there should be a 30-day cooling off period between gun sale and gun delivery. They also called for a complete ban on pornography which they defined as “anything showing or representing the genital parts of the human body.” As well, the jury castigated the media for sensationalist reporting, a charge the coroner disputed saying that the news coverage had been responsible—the public had the right to know. Other recommendations included schools making periodic, random searches of lockers, and for secondary schools to know where all students are within the first thirty minutes of the school day, and to inform parents of any absences within an hour.

Following the tragedy, Mayor Lorry Greenberg initiated a voluntary, “no-questions-asked” turn-in of weapons. More than 178 guns of which 68 were restricted weapons were handed in to the Ottawa Police, including one from a convict out on parole.

The Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau tightened controls on guns in 1977, two years after the Pius X High School shooting though not as far as the coroner’s jury recommended. Firearms were divided into three categories, unrestricted (rifles and shotguns) and restricted, such as handguns and semi-automatic weapons, and forbidden, such as sawed-off weapons. Fully automatic weapons were prohibited the following year, though existing weapons in private ownership were grandfathered.

While mass shootings, particularly in schools, are rare in Canada, they have occurred on several occasions since the Pius X High School attack. The most infamous was the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal when Marc Lépine killed fourteen women in an attack on feminism. This massacre led to further tightening of gun controls. In 1995, the Canadian Firearms Registry came into effect which required the registration of all firearms, including non-restricted weapons, such as rifles and shotguns. However, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper repealed the “long-gun” registry in 2012 and required all the information collected to be destroyed. While Quebec filed an injunction against the destruction of the data, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the province in 2015.

While there is no constitutional right to bear arms as there is in the United States, gun control remains a contentious issue in Canada. The issue broadly pits rural against urban interests and east versus west. Following the killing of twenty-two persons in Nova Scotia in 2020, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau banned 1,500 different types of assault-style weapons. In 2021, the federal government introduced further measures, including giving cities the ability to ban hand guns. The draft legislation is viewed as insufficient and unworkable by gun control advocates, and is opposed by gun enthusiasts.

Since the 1975 Pius X High School shooting, Canada’s laws on pornography have been liberalized, except in two important areas. Child pornography is prohibited. Pornography that involves crime, horror, cruelty and violence is also illegal.  


CBC, 2020. “Trudeau announces ban on 1,500 types of ‘assault-style” firearms – effectively immediately,” 1 May,

CNN. 2021. “Canada backs away from national hang gun ban and will leave it up to communities,” 16 February,

Ottawa Citizen, 1975. “Rob – ‘a quiet lad’ says it all,” 27 October.

——————, 1975. “Two dead, six wounded,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Relationship with militia ‘psychopathic,’” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Seconds of terror related by witness,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Still no legislation enacted to toughen gun control laws,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “So precious, so loving,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Three of St. Pius injured to go home this weekend,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Kimberly stabbed—coroner,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Mayor invites Ottawans to turn in their guns,” 30 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin looked ‘INSANE,’” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin inquest,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Kim didn’t like to hurt feelings,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin’s Diary,” 3 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin almost 2 people,’” 4 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1975. “Student guns down classmates,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “His best friend was his bicycle,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin told Kim: ‘I’ve something to show you,’” 29 October.

——————-, 1975. “Robert’s room his castle,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Pornography surprise to father,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Porn, gun control a necessity – jury,” 5 December.

President Roosevelt Comes To Ottawa

25 August 1943

Canada, the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire had been at war with Nazi Germany for almost four years. While the hostilities, which had already claimed the lives of millions, was far from over, there was a glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel. After the entry of the United States on the side of the Allies following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the tide of war had slowly begun to shift. By the summer of 1943, Russian forces had finally broken the German line at Kharkov and were racing across the plains of Ukraine towards the Dniester River. Sicily fell to American, British and Canadian troops in mid-August. And out in the north Pacific, Kiska was retaken by American and Canadian forces who made an unopposed amphibious landing on the Aleutian island after Japanese forces secretly retreated. The Régiment de Hull was part of the Allied contingent at Kiska. The francophone soldiers were popular with the U.S. troops who adopted Allouette as their campaign song.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill, Quebec City, August 1943, Library and Archives Canada, 3194622.

Also that August, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met at La Citadelle in Quebec City at a meeting hosted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. There, leaders planned their next steps in the war against the Axis powers, including opening up a new front in Europe. There was also a focus on the Pacific theatre with a meeting with a representative of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government. Other secret negotiations include cooperative work on the development of an atomic bomb. As well, leaders began to look toward post-war security and prosperity.

Following the successful conclusion of the Quebec Conference, Roosevelt came to Ottawa. It was the first visit to the nation’s capital by a sitting president of the United States. Roosevelt was no stranger to Canada, however. His family owned a summer home on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, a place where he vacationed regularly prior to becoming President. Afterwards, owing to the rigours of the office, his visits became few and far between—only three trips in 1933, 1936, and 1939, respectively. He also visited Quebec for an official visit in 1936, and had met with Prime Minister King for the dedication of the 1,000 Island Bridge in 1938. On that occasion, he went to Kingston where he was awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s University. He also briefly stopped in Halifax in 1939 on his way back to the United States from Newfoundland.

His visit to Ottawa on 25 August 1943 was announced to the press the day before, though the exact timing of his arrival was kept a secret for obvious security reasons. However, a press report said that Ottawa citizens would have their first official glimpse of the President at 11:50am when the presidential car was scheduled to drive through the East Gate onto Parliament Hill. The historic event was also to be carried live over CBO radio staring at 11:30am.

Governor General Lord Athlone, President Roosevelt, Presidential Aide Rear Admiral Brown, and Prime Minister King. The president is holding the arm of Admiral Brown, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, August 1943, Library and Archives Canada 3194412.

Roosevelt arrived in his personal train, pulling up to a specially-built platform on Nicholas Street located at the Rideau Canal’s Deep Cut. He was greeted by thousands of Ottawa residents who had waited for hours to see the President in the flesh. The official greeting party included Lord Athlone, the Governor General, the U.S. Minister to Canada (Ambassador) Ray Atherton, and Ottawa’s mayor Stanley Lewis, wearing his gold chain of office. Accompanied by Lord Athlone, Roosevelt got into an open-air, black limousine for the short drive to Parliament Hill, preceded by a large motorcycle escort. Secret Service personnel stood on the car’s running boards and ran beside the vehicle. More than 1,800 Canadian service men and women lined the route. As the presidential car made its way to Parliament Hill, Roosevelt waved his white Panama hat in acknowledgement of the crowd’s cheers and applause. As the presidential motorcade swept through the East Gate to Parliament Hill, a mighty cheer went up. The RCMP band began to play The Star-Spangled Banner.

On the Hill, RCMP and Secret Service people formed a security cordon around the speaker’s podium set up in front of the Peace Tower. Facing the dais were seats for distinguished guests, including senators, members of Parliament and members of Ottawa’s diplomatic corps. Close to two hundred journalists also covered the proceedings. On the greensward in front of the Central Block, some 30,000 Ottawa residents, taking advantage of a half-day holiday, stood in the bright sunshine to hear the President speak. The crowds had actually began to assemble as early as 9am. People also lined up five deep behind barricades along the roads. Others leaned out of windows and stood on rooftops. Only two earlier visits rivalled the greeting given to the American President—that of the King and Queen in 1939 and Winston Churchill’s visit in December 1941. While this was a first time for most people to see the President, for many his voice was familiar owing to Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” that he gave regularly to the American people. Like today, U.S. radio waves were easily picked up by Canadians who lived close to the border.

Prime Minister King introduced President Roosevelt to the cheering throng “as an undaunted champion of the rights of free men and a mighty leader of the forces of freedom in a world at war.” But, as described by the Ottawa Citizen, most Ottawans saw the visit as that of a “good neighbour.”

After the prime minister’s introduction, Roosevelt carefully approached the podium and its battery of microphones supported in part by the strong arm of his naval aide, Rear Admiral Wilson Brown. While it was no secret that his legs were paralysed owing to polio contracted during the 1920s, Roosevelt avoided being seen in public in a way that made him appear physically weak. The president stood to address the massive crowd in front of him. The Ottawa Journal commented that “no one who watched him being led slowly to the speaking stand could other than admire the sheer courage of the man in his victory over physical disability.”

Roosevelt reiterated his faith in what he called the “Four Freedoms” that he had originally articulated in 1941. These freedoms were freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Looking to the future, his aim was a healthy, peaceful life for everyone in a world where no nation would be in a position to commit an act of aggression against a neighbour. He also stressed the United States’ “determination to achieve victory in the shortest possible time” through “the essential co-operation with our great and brave allies.” The crowds roared their approval when the president announced that Canadian, British and American fighting men had just won great victories in Sicily and at Kiska in the Aleutians.

In his folksy manner, he spoke of the recently concluded Quebec Conference. He said that he had sat down with Churchill and Mackenzie King “in the manner of friends, in the manner of partners, I may even say in the manner of members of the same family.” He likened the Axis powers to “a band of gangsters,” and that the Allies had been forced to call out “the sheriff’s posse to break up the gang in order that gangsterism may be eliminated in the community of nations.” At Quebec, he said, there was no secret that the leaders had discussed the post-war world, adding that concerted action can accomplish great things. He didn’t want to return to “the good old days,” which he thought weren’t particularly good. Instead, he wanted to aim higher to a world with a greater freedom from want ever yet enjoyed, and attain freedom from violence by driving out “the outlaws and keeping them under heel forever.” While this goal couldn’t be achieved immediately, he opined that “some day, in the distant future perhaps—but some day with certainty, all of them [the destroyers] will remember with the Master – “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Roosevelt ended his speech with a few sentences in French in which he extolled the union of French and English in Canada seeing it as “an example to all mankind.”

The president’s words were greeted with great acclaim from the assembled crowds on Parliament Hill. People laughed and cheered when Roosevelt mocked the Axis leaders. But they saved their warmest response for when Roosevelt spoke of feeling at home in Canada, and that Canadians feel at home in the United States.

After speeches of thanks from the speakers of both the Senate and House of Commons, the president and his entourage were driven the short distance to the War Memorial. There a presidential aide laid a wreath of flowers while President Roosevelt stood at attention by the car. The RCMP band played the old hymn Abide With Me. This was followed by an official luncheon, hosted by the Governor General, at Rideau Hall.

After the luncheon, the president and his party were taken on a whirl-wind tour of Hull and the Gatineau Hills with a stop at Kingsmere, the prime minister’s country home, where King pointed out various sights of interest. There was one unscheduled stop along the way. On the Chelsea Road, the president changed from his open car to a closed one. The explanation given was that the president’s car was behaving oddly and the automobile change was precautionary. As in Ottawa, Western Quebec folk turned out in their thousands to watch the presidential motorcade.

The last engagement on the president’s Ottawa visit was a final conversation with the Prime Minister and the Governor General over tea at Laurier House, King’s residence.

At the end of a successful day, the President returned to his official car. With motorcycles leading the way, his motorcade swept up Nicholas Street to where the president’s train waited for his return to Washington.

Two months later, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill again met, this time with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Tehran, Iran, to co-ordinate their military plans against Nazi Germany and Japan, and to discuss the fate of Eastern Europe in the post-war era.


Evening Citizen, 1943. “Roosevelt Ceremony Will Be Broadcast,” 24 August.

——————-, 1943. “Troops Joining In Welcome For The President,” 24 August.

——————-, 1943. “Welcome, Good Neighbor!,”25 August.

——————-, 1943. “F.D.R. Impressed with Great Sight Parliament,”

——————-, 1943. “30,000 People Gathered On Parliament Hill, Had Many Chances To Cheer,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Guard of Honor Was Provided By Armed Services,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Thousands Out To Welcome F.D.R. On Secret Arrival,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Uptown Region Is Packed With Holiday Throng,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Mr. King Terms F.D.R. Champion Of Freedom,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Four Departments United To Handle Traffic For Visit,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “Text Of Statement By Churchill, Roosevelt,” 25 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1943. “Roosevelt Cheered By Ottawa, Advises Axis Surrender Now,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “President Wins Crowd’s Affection,” 25 August.

——————-, 1943. “General Peakes Commends Hull Regiment,” 25 August.

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Canada, 2020. Presidential Visits to Canada,

The Canadian Club of Ottawa

9 October 1903

Rudyard Kipling, the early twentieth-century British author, once quipped that in Canada “there is a crafty network of businessmen called Canadian Clubs. They catch people who look interesting, assemble their members during the mid-day lunch hour, and, tying their victim to a steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows.” Since 1893, Canadian Clubs across the country have done just that. And in the process, they have helped to inform Canadians about the big issues of the day.

W. Sandford Evans, Archives of Manitoba

The Canadian Club movement began in Hamilton, Ontario in late 1892 when W. Sanford Evans and four other men met in the office of Charles R. McCullough. Evans, native of Spencerville, Ontario, ran Dr. Stephenson’s Children’s Home and Training School for Christian Workers in Hamilton. McCullough, who was born in Bowmanville, Ontario, was the principal of the Hamilton Business College. The other men present at the meeting were James Ferres, John T. Hall, George D. Fearman, and Henry Carpenter.

The six agreed to establish an organization whose purpose was to encourage the study of Canadian patriotic history, literature, arts, and resources. There would be no party politics, and their organization would be open to all men regardless of creed. They also agreed that speeches would be the focus of the new organization. In February 1893, a provisional organizational structure was formed with W. Sanford Evans as the Club’s first president, and Charles McCullough as Secretary. The following year, the Canadian Club was incorporated.

Canada was ripe for such an organization. Although the Imperial connection to Great Britain was strong, Canadian nationalism, especially among those born in Canada, was beginning to stir. Under Prime Minister (later Sir) Wilfrid Laurier, English-French differences were being ironed out (or at least papered over), settlers were pouring into the country, and the economy was strengthening. Canadians were beginning to feel their oats. While proud to be British subjects, and proud to be part of the British Empire, there was nonetheless a striving for a distinct Canadian identity, however difficult to define.

From Hamilton, the Canadian Club movement slowly spread across the country. Sandford Evans established the Toronto Canadian Club when he moved to that city in 1897. Galt was the third community to boast a Canadian Club, followed by Ottawa in 1903, St. Catharines, Winnipeg (organized by Sandford Evans when he moved to that city from Toronto) and Dawson City in 1904, Montreal and Orillia in 1905, and Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Portage La Prairie, London and Perth in 1906. Canadian Clubs were later to formed in other centres as well as in many major U.S. cities.

Charles R. McCullough, Ottawa Journal, 25 January 1908

The Canadian Club of Ottawa was organized at a meeting held on the 9th October, 1903 in the reception room of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association. Despite inclement weather, a large enthusiastic crown of gathered in the room. Like existing Canadian Clubs, it was stressed that “Canadian” included “every Canadian regardless of creed or ancestry.” There would be no politics, and any subject that would “tend to divide the feelings of the members” would be excluded. The Club’s purpose was “unity, pure and simple.” Lieutenant-Colonel Sherwood was unanimously elected first president. Elected first vice president was William Lyon Mackenzie King. King’s name was put forward by John MacMillan, the principal of the Collegiate Institute. MacMillan said King was “a young man who would take a prominent part in the club.” At the time, King was the editor of the Labour Gazette and deputy minister of Labour. Mackenzie went on to great things, becoming Canada’s prime minister in 1921.

Lieutenant-Colonel A. P. Sherwood, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, 3426639.

To cheer on the new club and to give pointers on how to run it was Mr. Bruce Macdonald, the principal of St. Andrew’s College in Toronto and the President of the Canadian Club of Toronto. The constitution of the new Ottawa Club was modelled on that of its Toronto sister organization. It was agreed that the club would meet every two weeks, and invite speakers “as a form of entertainment and instruction.”

At the organization meeting, the Reverend Dr. W.T. Herridge and the Reverend Father O’Boyle both gave addresses to underline the non-sectarian nature of the new club. Herridge said that the object of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was to encourage patriotism—”not the patriotism of flag wavers or stump speakers but common-place patriotism” shown by the way every man went about his work. Father O’Boyle added that “Canadians should have as their ideal the building up of a national brotherhood.”

The founding list of members of the Canadian Club of Ottawa was a veritable “who’s-who” list of the city’s elite. Notable among them were Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper, Ottawa’s technology barons, George Perley, the lumberman, George Burn, the general manager of the Bank of Ottawa. Thomas Birkett, Ottawa’s member of Parliament, Otto Klotz, a future Dominion Astronomer, and Achille Frechette, translator for the House of Commons.

Sanford Evans, then living in Winnipeg, telegrammed his congratulations and best wishes to Ottawa’s Canadian Club. He added, “Let us have a Canadianism broad, deep, intelligent, sane and aspiring, uniting all, no matter what politics or creeds we hold.”  Ottawa’s Mayor Cook, also sent his congratulations having been being unable to attend the meeting.

Two weeks later, the Canadian Club of Ottawa hosted its first luncheon at the Grand Union Hotel. More than 250 men attended the inaugural event to hear Major-General the Earl of Dundonald speak on a new military program for Canada. Dundonald had served on the Nile Expedition that had attempted to relieve the forces of  General “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 as well as in the Boer War. In 1902, he had been appointed General Officer, commanding the Militia of Canada. The general argued that a militia consisting of trained civilians, which could be temporarily embodied for short periods of time, was to be preferred over an expensive standing army of professionals, or an army composed of conscripts.

Ottawa’s Canadian Club was established against the backdrop of some controversy in the Canadian Club movement. The Alaska Boundary dispute had just been settled in London. To the disappointment of Allen Bristol Aylesworth (later Sir) and Sir Louis-Amable Jetté, the two Canadian members of the international tribunal, Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice of England, had sided with the three American commissioners on the determination of the boundary of the Alaskan panhandle. Believing that Canada’s legitimate rights had been set aside, Aylesworth and Jetté refused to sign the document. Regardless, the agreement became law.

Many Canadians felt unjustly treated by the British in the negotiations. To the consternation of some members of the Canadian Club of Toronto, the club’s president and certain officers reportedly discussed the possibility of Canada leaving the Empire. When Aylesworth spoke to the Canadian Club of Toronto on the negotiations after his return from London at the beginning of November 1903, the atmosphere at the luncheon was tense.

Lady Drummond, 1907, Women’s Canadian Club of Montreal, Library and Archives Canada, 3607494.

Later that month, the Empire Club of Canada was established in Toronto along similar lines as the Canadian Club but with more emphasis on the “Empire” part rather than the “Canada” part. The founders of the new club stressed, however, that they were not in opposition to the Canadian Club. As there was a long waiting list to join the Canadian Club of Toronto, another organization offering a luncheon speakers’ series was warmly received. The Globe newspaper said it was the “latest organization to advocate imperialism,” and will “advance the interests of Canada and the united Empire.”

One thing that was noted very early on was the exclusion of women from virtually all functions of the Canadian Clubs. In late1907, two Women’s Canadian Clubs were formed almost simultaneously in Montreal and Winnipeg. In December of that year, at the Montreal luncheon chaired by Lady Drummond, Lord Grey, Canada’s Governor General, set out his plans to celebrate the tercentenary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in what was to become Canada. In Winnipeg, a luncheon hosted by Mrs. W. Sanford Evans featured two speakers, the Hon. T. Mayne Daly of Winnipeg and John Kendrick Bangs of New York. Daly was a former federal cabinet minister and had been appointed police magistrate of Winnipeg in 1903. Bangs was an American author and humorist.

Here in Ottawa, a Women’s Canadian Club was organized in early 1910. Its first president was Mrs. R.G. McConnell. Madame Lamothe and Mrs. Clifford Sifton were elected vice presidents. Sir George William Ross, Premier of Ontario from 1899-1905, delivered the first address to the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club in December 1910, held in the assembly hall of the Collegiate Institute. Ross spoke on the subject “What every Canadian should know.”

Both the Canadian Club of Ottawa and the Women’s Canadian Club of Ottawa are still going strong after a century or more of service to the Ottawa community. One change from their early days, both organizations are open to all regardless of sex. The two clubs meet regularly through the year at the Château Laurier Hotel, bringing speakers of national and international note to the nation’s capital.


Canadian Club of Ottawa, 2020.

Farr, D.M.L. & Block, Nico. 2016. “Alaska Boundary Dispute,” The Canadian Encyclopedia,

Globe, 1903. “Welcome Aylesworth,” 22 October.

——-, 1903. “A Lunch and Talk Club,” 20 November.

——-, 1903. “Empire Club of Canada,” 26 November.

——-, 1903. “Retain Imperial Bond,” 4 December 1903.

Henry, Wade A, 1994. “W. Sanford Evans and the Canadian Club of Winnipeg, 1904-1919,” Manitoba Historical Society, Number 27, Spring,

Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “Canadian Club Formed,” 10 October.

——————, 1910. “Ladies Form A Canadian Club,” 5 December.

——————, 2017. “Over A Century Of Service,” 18 September.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1903. “Organization Of The Canadian Club,” 10 October.

——————————, 1903. “The First Canadian Club Dinner a Great Success,” 26 October.

—————————–, 1908. “History Of Canadian Club Movement Since Its Inception In 1893,” 25 January.

——————————, 1910. “The Social World,” 9 March.

——————————, 1910. “Social Affairs,” 30 November.

——————————, 1910. “Women’s Canadian Club,” 1 December.

Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club, 2020.

Victoria Daily Times, 1903. “The Just Rights of Canada Ignored,” 20 October.

Mowat and MacGillivray, Stock Market Swindlers

30 August 1930

It was Saturday, 30 August 1930. Two men, soberly dressed in dark suits, waited quietly in an Ottawa courtroom to hear their fate. They had just pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the public and to manipulating the prices of mining companies’ shares. Judge Daly broke the news—three years for each of them in the Collins Bay Penitentiary. It could have been worse. The law allowed for a sentence of up to seven years for their crimes. But they had hoped to get away with just two. However, Justice Daly said that he couldn’t see how a sentence of less than three years would meet the circumstances. He had to look toward to future cases and this would set a precedent. After the pair received their sentences, former colleagues came up to shake their hands and offer condolences. Then, the two men were taken back to the Nicholas Street jail before being processed and sent to Kingston to begin their prison sentences. What had gone so very wrong?

M and M Mowat, OC 6-3-1930

Robert H. Mowat, Ottawa Citizen, 6 March 1930

The story began six years earlier. On 29 February 1924, two young men, Robert H. Mowat and Duncan A. MacGillivray, announced the opening of a brokerage partnership in Ottawa, operating out of the Union Bank building on Metcalfe Street.  The new firm specialized in mining shares, and had a seat on the Standard Stock and Mining Exchange in Toronto. It also provided a statistical service, reporting on developments, production and earnings of mining companies, and produced a publication called The Gold Mines of Ontario which they gave away free to customers.

Mowat, who was a native of Campbellton, New Brunswick, had prior financial market experience. Before establishing the brokerage firm, he had been employed in a prominent Toronto bond house. He was a graduate of the University of Toronto, and had served as an officer in the 26th New Brunswick Battalion. His partner, MacGillivray, was born in North Evans, New York. He also had attended the University of Toronto, and had taken an engineering course at the Kelvin Institute in Glasgow, Scotland. Like his partner, he was a war veteran, having served with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in France.

M and M MacGillivray OC 12-3-30 OC

Duncan A. MacGillivray, Ottawa Citizen, 30 March 1930

Their firm, Mowat & MacGillivray, flourished. It was the Roaring Twenties. The North American economy was growing rapidly, and corporate share prices were effervescent. Once the domain of the wealthy, stock markets were now attracting the savings of the middle class. Stock brokerage firms opened everywhere.

With share prices shooting up, easy money could be had by all…for a time. This was particularly true for investments in junior Canadian mining companies. In 1927, the Ottawa Citizen ran a mining supplement that extolled the virtues of investing in Canadian mining companies. “‘Optimism’ Watchword in Canada’s Mining Areas” the headline read. One article argued that if you were willing to take a chance, the “promising prospects of our great North Country are certainly a wonderful purchase because the prospect when it does develop into a mine brings the investor a reward that he cannot look for in any other industry.” Past “promising prospects” had led to profits of 5,000 to 20,000 per cent. It was hard for people to resist such a sales pitch. And it was hard to distinguish between the truly promising and the truly fraudulent. For a time, it didn’t seem to matter. The price of everything rose in a speculative frenzy.

Mowat and MacGillivray were in the thick of it. In that same Citizen supplement, MacGillivray wrote a lengthy positive article about mines in northern Quebec above a two-thirds page advertisement for the Mowat and MacGillivray brokerage firm. Large pictures of the two principals featured on another page. The firm had sponsored and sold shares in dozens of junior mining and oil companies, including Aconda, Arno, Melnor, and Cold Lake Mines.

Mowat and M 29-2-1924 OC

Announcement of Mowat and MacGillivray opening for business, Ottawa Citizen, 29 February 1924.

The partnership grew quickly. By 1927, they had moved out of their Metcalfe Street offices into larger and more prestigious quarters at 128 Sparks Street. Ironically given what was to come, this building had formerly housed a branch of the Home Bank of Canada. The Home Bank had failed in spectacular fashion in 1923, leading to the loss of millions of dollars, a government bailout of depositors, tarnished reputations, criminal charges, ruined investors, and even suicide.

In addition to their seat on the Standard Mining Exchange in Toronto, Mowat and MacGillivray bought seats on other Canadian stock exchanges that specialized in mining companies, including the Vancouver Stock Exchange, the Calgary Stock Exchange, and the Montreal Curb Exchange. The latter exchange was designed for stocks of companies deemed too speculative (i.e. high-risk) to be listed on the Montreal Stock Exchange. Mowat and MacGillivray also bought a seat on the New York Mining Exchange.

Their physical presence also grew well beyond Ottawa. By 1929, the firm had expanded throughout the Ottawa Valley with offices in Cornwall, Pembroke, Perth and Hawkesbury. The partnership established a limited liability company of the same name in Hull. The establishment of a Quebec company was necessary for them to avoid paying high taxes if they were to transact business in Quebec. Their Hull subsidiary had branches in Trois Rivières and Quebec City. Other Ontario offices were located in Belleville and Brockville. The firm also expanded into the Maritimes, with offices in Halifax, Sydney, Yarmouth, New Glasgow, Glace Bay and Windsor in Nova Scotia as well as in St. John and Moncton in New Brunswick.

The two young brokers became pillars of the Ottawa business community, always ready to support local charities and Ottawa events. They also sponsored an in-house hockey team that played in an Ottawa bank hockey league. The firm even donated the Mowat Trophy for the league’s annual competition.

The edifice came tumbling down with the start of the Great Depression in October 1929. Global share prices, led by prices on the New York Stock Exchange, tumbled. Investor losses were huge, exacerbated by the widespread practice of buying shares on margin. Investors put up as little as 10 per cent of a share’s value, borrowing the rest. In a rising market, margin is a way of leveraging gains. However, in a falling market, the reverse happens. Brokers and banks demand more money to cover margin losses, or sell their clients’ shares which only send the market down further. On Black Tuesday (29 October) alone, one local broker said that “hundreds of small Ottawa investors had been wiped out.”

For many stock brokers, after the heady years of the 1920s, the collapse of markets was a death knell. Few people were willing to buy shares of even the most conservatively run company let alone acquire shares in new enterprises, even ones that held promise. Customer orders dried up.

The hard times also exposed shady practices that weren’t apparent during the boom times. Some stock brokers were exposed for running “boiler rooms” or “bucket shops.” A boiler room operation is where stock dealers using high-pressure tactics to sell speculative penny stocks via telephone to the unwary or the gullible. The dealers might also sell the shares at inflated prices. A bucket shop is a stock dealer who sells clients what amounts to a derivative of a stock at some notional price. There is no purchase of shares on behalf of a client on a recognized exchange. Transactions simply goes “into the bucket.” It is a form of gambling with the client betting against the broker who plays the role of “house.”

On 6 March 1930, Ottawa woke to banner headlines in the city’s newspapers: Mowat and MacGillivray’s firm had failed the day before, their offices closed, and their accounts taken over by a receiver. An application against the firm had been filed in Toronto when their cheque in the amount of $933 issued to one W.W. Beaton, a resident of Haileybury, was returned owing to insufficient funds. The purpose of the receiver was to conserve the assets of the company on behalf of its many creditors.

There had been no warning of the failure. It came as a huge shock to the firm’s clients and the Ottawa business community. The previous Christmas, employees had been given substantial bonuses. Just a few weeks earlier, the firm had taken over the Ottawa brokerage firm of George R. Guy & Company. It had also financially supported Ottawa’s first international dog derby that ran at the beginning of February 1930. The company’s hockey team had just won the “Big Four” hockey series, and were in Ottawa’s industrial league playoffs. After beating the Post Office, the brokers’ team, now unemployed, were defeated by the Telephone Company in the finals at the end of March 1930. It was the last time the brokers’ team played.

Initially, Duncan MacGillivray suggested that the firm’s problem was illiquidity rather than insolvency. He claimed that the firm had sufficient assets to cover all its liabilities. But the problem was that the certain assets could not be realized immediately owing to poor market conditions. Later, he attributed their failure to overexpansion and excessive overhead. There was also considerable speculation that the firm would be consolidated with two other troubled brokers—Solloway, Mills & Company and Stobie, Forlong & Company—and reopened.

G.R.F. Troop, an accountant working for the receivers, took immediate control of the firm’s books, and commenced a comprehensive audit of its accounts. Thirty-five of fifty head office staff were laid off and paid their last week’s salary. The remaining fifteen remained to help the auditors go through the books. It didn’t take Troop long to spot financial irregularities. One week after the company failed, the provincial attorney general issued warrants for the arrest of Robert Mowat and Duncan MacGillivray on a charge of conspiracy to defraud their customers.

The pair were taken into custody but were treated with kid gloves. Instead of being held in the cells, Mowat and MacGillivray waited in the arresting officer’s office while bail was being arranged. They, and Inspector McLaughlin, chief of the morality squad, even partook of a substantial luncheon brought in by outside caterers. The two were released on $50,000 bail each. It took months for the receivers to go through the company’s books, delaying their jury trial. In the meantime, the pair remained free, even travelling to the United States in an attempt to find ways of bailing out their company.

In early August 1930, the Crown laid four additional charges of fraud and theft. With that, the two were taken into custody and held at the Nicholas Street jail. Meanwhile, Hull police stood ready to arrest them on Quebec warrants for conspiracy to defraud in connection with their Hull operations.

The day before their jury trial was to begin, Mowat and MacGillivray surprised everybody by pleading guilty to defrauding the public and stock price manipulation. Since they had pleaded guilty, the details of what they did were not revealed. However, there were reports that during a one-week period, auditors found that 65 per cent of client transactions had not gone through a stock exchange. The receivers also found that the company was missing three million shares of various companies that were owed to their customers. Press reports concluded that Mowat and MacGillivray had been running a bucket shop. The extent of client losses was not reported.

Before Justice Daly pronounced sentence, their defence attorney argued that in mitigation of their crime, Mowat and MacGillivray had been good citizens, and only did what “was common practice to that business.” He argued that overhead had swallowed up the firm, and that the pair were now virtually penniless. After sentencing them to three years in the penitentiary, Daly said that he hoped that they would reduce the length of the sentence by good conduct and making some effort to reimburse those who had suffered financially from their crimes.

Two years later, Mowat and MacGillivray, now dress in prison denims rather than banker grey, were taken to a Hull courtroom. Found guilty of conspiracy to defraud their clients related to the actions of their Hull subsidiary, the pair were sentenced to two more years in jail.


Globe, The, 1930. “Brokers’ Fines Total $250,000,” 24 June.

————-, 1930. “Penitentiary Terms Imposed on Brokers,” 1 September.

Ottawa Citizen, 1927. “Optimism Watchword In Canadian Mining Areas,” 31 October.

——————, 1927. “Taking A Chance,” 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Further Donations To Dog Derby Fund,” 24 January.

MacGillivray, D.A. 1927. “Interesting Stage North Quebec Mines,” Ottawa Citizen, 31 October.

——————, 1930. “Mowat And MacGillivray Assigns And Interim Receiver Is Appointed,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Text Of Statement By D. MacGillivray,” 6 March.

—————–, 1930. “Expect Report on Defunct Firm About Weekend,” 10 March.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat And M’Gillivray Face Conspiracy Charge,” 12 March.

—————–, 1930. “Bail Bond Hitch Causes Delay In Brokers’ Arrest,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “R.H. Mowat Granted Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “D.A. M’Gillivray Secures Release On $50,000 Bail,” 13 March.

—————–, 1930. “Telephone Hockey Team Scores Second Victory Over Brokers,” 31 March.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Hope To Pay 100 Cents On The Dollar,” 10 April.

—————–, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Committed For Trial,” 11 August.

—————–, 1930. “Brokers Ready To Plead Guilty To Conspiracy,” 29 August.

—————–, 1930. “Ottawa Brokers Given Sentence OF Three Years,” 2 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1930. “Mowat and MacGillivray Have Failed And All Their Offices Are Closed Accounts Taken Over By Receiver,” 6 March.

——————, 1930. “Audit Of Brokerage Firm’s Books Now Underway,” 7 March.

——————, 1930. “Warrant Sworn Out For H. Mowat And D.A. MacGillivray,” 12 March.

——————, 1932. “Mowat and MacGillivray In Hull Court,” 30 March.

——————, 1932. Brokers Given Two Years By Judge In Hull,” 18 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1930. “MacGillivray and Mowat Go To Prison,” 30 August.


24 Sussex

28 April 1951

One of the best-known addresses in Canada is 24 Sussex Drive, the official home of the Prime Minister. It is situated across the street from Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, in the tony New Edinburgh neighbourhood of Ottawa. The home, located on a four-acre estate, is perched on a cliff beside the French Embassy with splendid views of the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills. Unfortunately, the house has been unoccupied since 2015, its last residents being Stephen Harper and his family. With it becoming increasingly dilapidated, Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, chose to live with their three children at Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall, rather than punish themselves by living at 24 Sussex Drive.

Actually, the house is worse than dilapidated. That adjective was used more than a decade ago to describe it; unlike fine wine the building has not improved with age. 24 Sussex is stuffed with asbestos, its wiring is a fire hazard, its roof leaks as does the plumbing, there’s mould in the basement, and it is home to little forest critters. As well, the rooms are freezing in the winter and broiling in the summer. There is no central air-conditioning. And then there’s its inadequate security. Just ask Aline Chrétien, who held off an intruder in 1995.

24 Sussex 2010 Wikipedia

24 Sussex Drive, 2010, by Alasdair McLellan, Wikipedia

Simply put, 24 Sussex Drive is scarcely fit to live in let alone be the official residence of the head of government of a G-7 country. Besides the odd coat of paint and roll of wall paper, there has been little significant investment in the fabric of the home since the1970s, the victim of political optics. What prime minister wants to take responsibility for spending millions of tax payers dollars on their home? It’s political dynamite. The last person to have any money spent on the building was Pierre Trudeau back in the mid-1970s when anonymous donors coughed up $150,000 for an indoor swimming pool and sauna connected by an underground tunnel to the main dwelling. Much of the building dates from the early 1950s.

So, how did we arrive at this sorry situation?

Part of the problem may lie in a confusion in the public mind between what is spent for official purposes and what is spent for personal purposes. The two overlap. All prime ministers want 24 Sussex to reflect their personal taste, after all its their home, possibly for a decade or more if they are electorally successful. But frequent leadership changes can lead to wasteful decorating changes. As well, cosmetic alterations can become co-mingled with necessary structural and maintenance expenditures.

Until 1951, Canada’s prime ministers had no official residence. Prime Minister Mackenzie King lived at his home called Laurier House in Sandy Hill from 1923 until his death in 1950.  King had inherited the house from Zoé Laurier, the wife of another former prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier for whom the house was named. R.B. Bennett, King’s predecessor, lived in palatial splendour in a multi-room suite at the Château Laurier Hotel during his term in office. King’s successor, Louis St. Laurent, lived with his wife in a modest, rented flat in The Roxborough Apartments while in Ottawa.

24 Sussex Before Renos

Front of 24 Sussex Drive before the 1950 renovations, Macleans.

In 1943, the federal government expropriated 24 Sussex Street from the then-owner, Gordon Cameron Edwards. (It was Sussex Street not Sussex Drive. The change in name was to come in 1953.) The government was concerned about the possible “commercialisation” of a property so close to Rideau Hall. There was also a concern that other governments might buy the highly desirable property with such commanding views and choice location. The British government had purchased the nearby Earnscliffe, the former home of Sir John A. Macdonald, in 1930 while the French Government had purchased and built its Embassy on the neighbouring property a few years later. With the Mexican government reportedly taking an interest in the old house, the Canadian government decided to expropriate the property. It took three years to negotiate the price after Edwards balked at what the government offered in compensation. The court settled on $140,000 plus costs of $7,319 which was more than the $125,000 the government initially offered but far less than the $251,000 demanded by Edwards.

24 Sussex after renos

Front of 24 Sussex Drive after renovations, author unknown

Almost from the very beginning, Prime Minister Mackenzie King thought that the mansion would make an excellent “permanent and non-political residence for Canada’s prime ministers,” though the idea wasn’t made official until 1949. While the location was superb, many had doubts about the building, then almost eighty years old. At an expropriation hearing, a real estate agent said that the house, which had been previously remodelled in in 1907-10, didn’t fit the needs of 1943. Six years later, the Ottawa Citizen wondered whether remodelling the Edwards home was the right course of action as the building was “already old and out of date” and had no particular distinction. The newspaper also claimed it was draughty, ill-heated, and inconvenient.

The house was originally built over a two-year period from 1866-1868 by Joseph Merrill Currier. Currier was one of Ottawa’s lumber barons, and from 1863 to 1882 the Conservative member of Parliament for Ottawa, barring a few months in 1877 when he had to resign and seek re-election over conflicts of interest. He left politics in 1882 and was appointed Ottawa’s postmaster.

Currier built the home for his third wife, Hannah Wright, a descendent of Philemon Wright, the founder of Hull, Quebec. He called it by the Welsh name Gorffwysfa meaning “Place of Rest”. Reportedly, Currier’s brother James, who was an architect, helped in the neo-gothic design which was undoubtedly inspired by those other neo-gothic buildings under construction at the time—the Parliament buildings. In 1870, the Curriers hosted Prince Arthur, son of Queen Victoria, at a ball held in his honour at 24 Sussex. Prince Arthur, also known as the Duke of Connaught, was later to become Canada’s Governor General from 1911 to 1916. For the royal event, Currier built a ballroom at the rear of the home which was later turned into a picture gallery.

After Currier’s passed away in 1884, his widow lived in the home until her death in 1901, whereupon the house went to their son, James E. W. Currier, who sold it in 1902 to William Cameron Edwards for $30,000. Edwards was at the time the Liberal member of Parliament for the district of Russell. In 1903, he was appointed to the Senate. Edwards made significant modifications to the building, including adding a turret, a curved window on the second floor, and a covered entrance. On his death in 1921, 24 Sussex was bequeathed to his nephew Gordon Cameron Edwards who was the last private owner of the property. After the Canadian government expropriated it, the home was leased on a short-term basis to the Australian government.

In 1948, the government hired the modernist Toronto architectural firm Allward & Gouinlock to renovate the building. The firm’s treatment of the building was not sympathetic to the original design. It totally changed both its exterior and interior. In addition to adding a new wing, the architects stripped the house of its neo-gothic features. Gone were its turret and gingerbread. The ballroom cum picture gallery where Prince Arthur had danced was demolished to make way for an outdoor terrace. The garage and chauffeur’s quarters were also demolished. Inside, the principal rooms were reversed so that they overlooked the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills rather than facing the street.

The renovations cost more than $300,000. With an additional $105,000 spent on furnishings, the total cost of the new official residence for Canada’s prime minister came in at roughly $550,000 (equivalent to $6.3 million in today’s dollars). The Conservative Opposition was not impressed. Rodney Adamson, the Progressive Conservative member for York West, commented that it would have been cheaper to build a completely new residence rather than change 24 Sussex St. around so that the Prime Minister could have a view of the Ottawa River.

Subsequently, a Vancouver newspaper whined that the “final piece of extravagance” was an iron fence that was to be built around the property. It opined that maybe next to come were “a platinum portcullis and a squad of gold-embossed halberdiers.” This was clearly a more innocent time when security was not deemed a high priority by some. However, the comment underscored why future governments became squeamish about spending money on the prime minister’s residence. Any money spent would be considered either a waste or self-serving.

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his wife, moved into their new home on 28 April 1951, though their official move date was 1 May when their lease was up on their apartment at the Roxborough. The prime minister was not keen about having an official residence. “Uncle Louis” was a modest man. Before he would move in, he insisted on paying $5,000 per year for room and board, roughly what he had been spending before. This amounted to one-third of his prime ministerial salary. Politicians and bureaucrats reluctantly acquiesced to this demand, and it was written into the legislation passed for the maintenance of the home. Some years later, the law was changed so that the prime minister lived rent free. C.D. Howe, the Minister for Trade and Commerce, called the new prime ministerial residence “not a palace” but “dignified” and “well-equipped,” an official residence of which Canadians could be proud.

There are fourteen principal rooms in the house, with a formal drawing room and dining room for 24 persons overlooking the Ottawa River. There is a pine-panelled library to the left of the main entrance with an open fireplace. The ground floor was designed so that 150-200 guests could easily circulate between drawing room, dining room and library. A kitchen and pantry are also on the ground floor. On the second floor are the family living room and the main bedrooms with bathrooms. On the top floor are guest and staff bedrooms. A small elevator was installed that ran from the basement to the top floor.

There was some speculation in the press about the home’s name. Its original Welsh name was not in the running; few could spell it or pronounce it. The Ottawa Journal argued that to follow the British example and call the home 24 Sussex Street would be too prosaic. However, Canada House, Beaver House and Maple Leaf Gardens were already taken, and it couldn’t come up with a better idea. Regardless, newspapers thought that given time the address would become as well-known as London’s 10 Downing Street or Washington’s White House.

That prediction has come true. However, today the home is more infamous than famous. Instead of being dignified prime ministerial residence, it has become a money pit. More than ten years ago, a real estate agency thought that the property, then appraised at $7.5 million, was worth more without the house.

Many want the building pulled down, including Maureen McTeer, the wife of former prime minister Joe Clark. McTeer thinks it’s a dump without any redeeming architectural merit. Others, including some historians, disagree. Now that roughly a dozen prime ministers have lived in it, perhaps the residence has acquired some prime ministerial patina that’s worth preserving. As well, the residence has hosted distinguished visitors, such as the Queen, Sir Winston Churchill and John and Jackie Kennedy, who have provided their own gloss.

Renovating the old house will not come cheap. In 2018, the National Capital Commission, announced that to fix up the six official residences owned by the Government in the Ottawa region would cost $83 million over ten years. Only Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s home, and Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition, are in good condition. Ominously, Harrington Lake in the Gatineau hills, the country home of the prime minister, is considered to be in poor condition. If governments shy away from spending money on the official residence of the prime minister, the odds of a summer retreat getting sufficient funding look even more grim. Meanwhile, entropy prevails. The official residences continue to deteriorate and the cost to restore them continues to climb.


CBC, 1980. A Tour of 24 Sussex with Maureen McTeer.

Calgary Herald, “Face-Lifting Starts on P.M.’s New Home,” 13 December.

NCC, 2019. 24 Sussex Drive,

Ottawa Citizen, 1949. “What Kind Of House At 24 Sussex?” 4 October.

——————, 1950. “Approve Act Charging PM $5,000 For Home,” 21 June.

——————, 1951. “St. Laurents Move Into New Home,” 1 May.

——————, 2004. “Martin family finds it chilly in drafty old mansion,” 17 November.

——————, 2008. “It’s a tear-down,” 3 December 2008.

——————, 2013. “Inside 24 Sussex,” 30 November.

——————, 2013. “A Timeline of Troubles At 24 Sussex Dive,” 30 November.

——————, 2017. “This Old House,” 13 February.

——————, 2018. “NCC Seeks $83m to Address ‘Critical’ Maintenance Issues,” 17 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1949. “A Name for the Prime Minister’s Residence,” 4 October.

——————-, 1949. “24 Sussex St.”, 8 October.

——————-, 1950. “Cost of Renovating Residence at 24 Sussex for Prime Minister Startles Opposition,” 23 March.

——————–, 1951. “Apartment Living Over The St. Laurents Now Living in 24 Sussex,” 1 May.

Vancouver Province, 1951. “24 Sussex Street Nearly Ready,” 13 April.

—————————–, 1951. “Iron Fences And High Taxes,” 9 July.

Windsor Star, 1950. “24 Sussex Tradition In The Making,” 19 June.

Ottawa’s Checkered Past

9 April 1877

The game of checkers, also known as draughts, inhabits most family games’ closets. Often, its familiar two colour, eight squares by eight squares board has a backgammon board printed on its flip side. For many, checkers is perceived as a simple game, designed principally for young children before they are ready to move up to the rigours of chess. In a way, this is correct. The rules of checkers are simple. Unlike chess, all of a player’s pieces move in the same fashion. However, this simplicity is deceptive. It’s a game that requires considerable strategy to play well.

Draughts Table, William Payne, 1756
Illustration from William Payne’s 1756 book on the game of Draughts (Checkers)

Checkers is also a game that has a very long and distinguished pedigree. It’s far older than chess, which is a mere pup in comparison.  A version of checkers was played as long ago as 3,000 B.C. in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. The ancient Egyptians also played a type of checkers. However, the “modern” game dates from the Middle Ages in France.

William Payne, an English mathematician, wrote in 1756, An Introduction to the Game of Draughts that contained fifty select games for instructional purposes. In the preface, he writes: Whatever may be determined concerning its Uſe, its Difficulty is inconteſible; for among the Multitudes that practiſe it, very few underſtand it. There are indeed not many who by any frequency of Playing can attain a Moderate Degree of Skill without  Examples and Inſtructions.

The game of draughts, popular in the taverns and coffee houses of England, was brought to North America where it was more usually called checkers owing to the chequered board on which it was played. On both sides of the Atlantic, checker clubs were formed during the nineteenth century—a reflection of its rising popularity among all classes of people. The first checkers/draughts World Champion was Scotsman Andrew Anderson who took the title in 1840. (Scots had a virtual lock on the championship for almost the next one hundred years.)

One of the earliest references to the game in Ottawa was an 1861 advertisement for the opening of Sheffield House, a new up-scale store located in the Porter Block of Sparks Street owned by its proprietors Messrs. Sinauer and Levey. Among other things, the advertisement announced that the shop had “chess and draught men for sale in bone, ivory and wood.  Boards for ditto.” In 1873, the game featured in a criminal trial when Andrew Kendrick was invited to the home of a Mr. Glasford on Clarence Street to watch “an excellent game of checkers.” At Glasford’s home, Kendrick took the opportunity to try to steal his host’s purse. Glasford objected “to any such intimacy with his trouser pockets.” In an ensuing scuffle, Glasford was stabbed in the hand and slightly injured. What happened subsequently to Kendrick was not reported.

During the late 1870s, the game experienced a surge in popularity in Ottawa. Amateur checker clubs began popping up in the City’s wards. In mid-March 1877, a checkers club was organized in the St. George’s Ward, with Mr. F. Graham as President. St. George’s Ward encompassed part of Lower Town including the Sandy Hill neighbourhood. The following month, a club was established in Upper Town’s Wellington Ward. Later, Victoria Ward “determined not to be outdone,” organized its own checkers club centred in LeBreton Flats. It had two presidents, Messrs. Carruthers and McClay of the Perley and Pattee lumber company.

The first known Ottawa checker tournament occurred on 9 April 1877 between Wellington Ward and St. George’s Ward, with each team fielding thirteen members. The contest was held in front of a large audience in a hall over John Roos’s tobacco shop at 50 Sparks Street. After two hours of play, the Wellington Ward team beat their Lower Town rivals by eleven games—66-55 with 11 draws. Among the big individual winners was W. Hutchison with 13 wins for the Wellington Ward team. The prize of the tournament was a bag of meal which was presented to the Protestant Orphans’ Home. A return match was held the following week at Francis Germain’s cigar shop at 512 Wellington Street. This time there were 18 men aside. The Daily Citizen’s account of the match was a bit muddled, though the Wellington Ward again emerged victorious.

In November of that same year, a championship match was held between an Upper Town side and a Lower Town team in the hall above John Roos’s tobacco shop. With 18 men per team, Lower Town took the crown 82 games to 76 with 38 draws. On the Lower Town side, N. Germain was the big winner of the two-hour event, taking 14 wins, with no losses and two draws. On the Upper Town side, John Roos, the tobacconist, won a team-leading eight games. Further Upper Town/Lower Town matches were later held.

Also that November, Mr. Edmund Lemieux, who was employed in the Department of Public Works, completed a combined “chequer, chess, backgammon and polonaise board” that was later exhibited at the Éxposition Universelle in Paris. It was an artistic marvel. Taking nine months to craft, the Board was 32 inches long and 21 inches wide and consisted of 21,360 pieces using 32 different kinds of wood. Inlaid and veneered and ornamented with mosaic work, the board had a drawer on each side for the game’s pieces. Each of the carefully turned checkers were made from nine pieces of wood. The Citizen enthused that Lemieux’s creation would show “to the people of La Belle France that the skill of their compatriots in this land has not been deteriorated by the Canadian atmosphere.”  The newspaper added that the board will “bring great credit upon the artisan skills of this Dominion.”

In September 1883, Ottawa was visited by the greatest checker player possibly of all time—James Wyllie, also known as “Herd Laddie.” Wyllie was another Scotsman who had wrestled the title of world champion from Andrew Anderson in 1844, and would hold it for most of the next fifty years with a couple of short breaks. He received his odd nickname early in life when he worked for a livestock drover. The drover, an avid checkers’ player, recognized Wyllie’s ability in the game, and soon the young man was playing for money, and winning big time. When Wyllie came to Ottawa, he was well into his second North American tour which was to last four years. Apparently, at that point of his tour he had reportedly played 12,386 games of which he had won 10,921, drew 1,283 and lost only 82. Herd Laddie had a “standing challenge to the world” in the American sporting magazine Turf, Field and Farm, of $500 to $1000. Few, if any, took him up on the bet.

James Wyllie Herd Laddie
James Wyllie, “Herd Laddie”, author unknown

Needless to say, Herd Laddie’s visit to the nation’s Capital was a cause for considerable excitement amount the checkers’ fraternity. (Fraternity seems to be the correct word as there is no reference in the press about women playing the game although they undoubtedly did.) Staying at the Albion Hotel, the Citizen described the checkers champion as a “hale old gentleman” of about 61 years of age, stoutly built, standing only about 5½ feet tall, and wearing spectacles with a keen eye and slightly deaf. The journalist, who apparently was a devotee of phrenology, also commented that Wyllie had “an unusually large brain, well developed in the frontal region.”  While in Ottawa, the champion competed in a number of friendly games with local checkers players, playing as many as ten opponents simultaneously. There is no record that he lost any of his games.  Mr. W. Stewart, the Wellington Ward’s ace player, fared the best against the world champion, earning two draws.

The game of checkers remained popular through the remainder of the nineteenth century with weekly tournaments. Checker puzzles appeared regularly in local papers alongside their chess counterparts. The Ottawa Chess and Checker Club (OCCC) was established in December 1891, meeting in the Union Chambers. They subsequently secured quarters for their clubhouse on the first floor of the Perley building at 51 Sparks Street. However, it appears that the game was increasingly eclipsed by chess. The old OCCC also seems to have disbanded by 1904 when there was a failed attempt to re-establish a checker club in the Capital.

Checkers remains a globally popular pastime. The 2018 world men’s (Go-As-You-Please or GAYP) title organized by the World’s Checkers/Draughts Federation was won by South African Lubabalo Kondlo while the women’s (GAYP) championship was won by Nadiya Chyzhevska of Ukraine.


Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1861. “The Sheffield House,” 24 April.

————————-, 1873. “Another Stabbing Affray,” 20 September.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Match,” 18 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 21 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Club,” 25 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 September.

————————-, 1877. “Splendid Workmanship,” 10 November.

————————-, 1877. “Champion Checker Match,” 14 November.

————————-, 1883. “The Herd Laddie,” 23 July.

————————-, 1883. “Sporting Record,” 25 July.

————————-, 1883. “World of Sports,” 19 September.

————————-, 1891. “Chess and Checkers Club,” 15 December.

————————-, 1894. “Upper Town versus Lower Town,” 30 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1899. “Have Secured Rooms,” 5 October.

Payne, William, 1756. An Introduction to the Game of Draughts: Containing Fifty Select Games, Golden Ball, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London.

Reekie, Chris 2007. The Herd Laddie,

Wikipedia, 2019. World Checkers/Draughts Championship,

The Funeral of Sir Wilfrid Laurier

22 February 1919

It was the opening of the second session of the thirteenth parliament of Canada. With traditional solemnity, the Governor General, the Duke of Devonshire, gave the speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber in front of the combined Houses of Parliament. He laid out the upcoming agenda of the government, which included giving women the right to vote and sit in the House of Commons. Afterwards, members of the Commons returned to the Commons chamber. There, Sir Thomas White, the acting prime minister—Sir Robert Borden was in Paris attending the peace talks—rose and stated:

Mr. Speaker, we meet today under the shadow of a great loss and a deep and widespread personal sorrow. The Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, senior member of this House, has passed away, and an entire nation mourns his death.”

Laurier portrait LAC 3441447
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3441447

He announced that with the consent of the family a State funeral would take place on Saturday, 22 February 1919, and that Laurier’s remains would lie is state in the Commons chamber from that evening (Thursday, 20 February) to the Saturday morning, and that Parliament would adjourn until the following Tuesday “out of respect to and in honour of his memory.”

There had been no foreshadowing of the great man’s demise. While Sir Wilfrid was 77 years of age, he was in apparent good health, and was looking forward to retirement. Less that a month earlier, at the Eastern Ontario Liberal Convention, he remarked that he was beginning to feel the “weight of years,” and that it was time to “pass the reins to a younger general and fight in the ranks.” To a journalist, he said that he was looking forward to “the serenity of his study,” working on his memoirs, and writing a constitutional history of Canada.

On Saturday, 16 February, he attended a luncheon at the Canadian Club where he listened with interest to a speech on competing territorial claims of Serbia and Italy. After lunch, he took a streetcar to his office in the Victoria Museum on Metcalfe Street, Parliament’s temporary home since the disastrous fire that gutted the centre block on Parliament Hill three years earlier. There, he dictated some letters dealing with the upcoming new session of Parliament. As Leader of the Opposition, he would be taking a leading role in the upcoming debates.

While accounts vary, it appears that in the afternoon, after he had dismissed his secretary, Laurier experienced a fainting spell while he was alone in his office. He fell and hit his head, leaving a bruise. However, he quickly recovered and was well enough to take a street car to his home (now called Laurier House at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Chapel Street). When his doctor, who had come calling that evening, noticed the mark, Sir Wilfrid made light of it, though he added that his left leg felt weaker than his right.

The following day, at about noon, Laurier was struck by a serious stroke that affected his entire left side. For a time, he rallied, and his doctors became cautiously optimistic that he might pull through. However, at midnight, he was struck by another cerebral hemorrhage and fell into a deep coma. Last rights were administered by Father Laflamme of the Church of the Sacred Heart. Through the following morning he got progressively weaker. His wife, Zoé Laurier, maintained a vigil at his bedside. Shortly before noon, the Governor General came to his residence, followed by Sir Thomas White, the acting prime minister. Meanwhile, messenger boys brought telegrams from across the country and from around the world expressing the hope for a speedy recovery.

It was not to be. Doctors informed family and friends that there was no hope. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who had been in public service for half a century and had been prime minister for fifteen years, died that Monday afternoon (17 February) without regaining consciousness.

After Sir Wilfrid’s body was embalmed, he was laid in his home’s drawing room for family and close friends to pay their last respects. Laurier was dressed in his official Windsor uniform and on his breast was the insignia of a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George. His casket was made of bronze with little ornamentation other than decorated corners and pallbearers’ rails. The interior was lined with white quilted satin with a white satin pillow for his head.

Laurier lying in state LAC 3365409
Sir Wilfrid Laurier lying in state in the temporary House of Commons Chamber. His desk is to the right. Victoria Museum, 1919, Library and Archives Canada 3365409.

On the Thursday after the speech from the Throne, Laurier’s remains were taken without ceremony to the Victoria Museum where he was laid in state in front of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons. A guard of honour comprised of members of the House of Commons stood watch. The chamber was decorated in mourning colours of purple and black. On Laurier’s desk, which was also draped with black and purple cloth, was a large wreath, a tribute from members of the House. A black carpet marked the path for the mourners to file past Laurier’s bier.

The Commons chamber was filled with floral wreaths, crosses and pillows from provinces, cities and private citizens. The Syrian community of Montreal sent a large urn with white and purple ribbons, the premier and government of Saskatchewan a basket of sweet peas. The Ottawa Press Club’s wreath bore the number “30” signifying in newspapermen’s jargon that Laurier’s “story” was over. The Montreal City Council sent a floral tribute seven feet high and five feet wide. So many flowers were sent that Ottawa florists were hard pressed to fill all the orders.

Laurier CBC
Grainy image taken from archival footage of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s remains dressed in his official Windsor uniform with the sash and insignia of a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George. CBC Archives.

It was estimated that between 45,000-50,000 people filed past Laurier’s bier during the 36 hours he laid in state in the Commons chamber. At times as many as 2,000 persons per hour said their adieux to the fallen leader. People of all ages and all stations paid their respects, including soldiers on crutches, and mothers who held their children high so that they might be able to say in the future that they saw Laurier. When the time came for the doors to the Commons chamber to close, thousands were still outside of the Museum.

Laurier’s funeral was held in Notre Dame Basilica. The original plan was for a requiem mass to be celebrated at the Church of the Sacred Heart, the church were Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier attended just a short walk from their home. But owing to the numbers wishing to attend, the service was moved to the much larger Basilica. Even so, two days before the funeral more than 5,000 people had applied for tickets to the 2,000 available seats.

Thousands of people poured into Ottawa to get a glimpse of the funeral procession and to be a part of history. Special trains and extra carriages were laid on from Toronto and Montreal by the CPR and the CNR. Scarcely a room could be found in Ottawa’s hotels that weekend. Public buildings, including the Post Office and the East Block on Parliament Hill, were decorated in the colours of mourning. The window of the Ottawa Electric Company near the corner of Sparks and Elgin Street displayed a portrait of Sir Wilfrid, “heroic in size,” which was illuminated at night.

The funeral procession left the Victoria Museum for the Basilica at 10am on Saturday, 22 February via Metcalfe Street, Wellington and Major Hill’s Park. Despite strong wind and snow, thousands of men, women and children lined the route to pay their last respects. The Ottawa Evening Journal opined that “no funeral in Canadian history, and few, we believe at any time in any country, has presented such a spectacle of national affection and grief.” A civic half day holiday was declared, and all government offices were closed. Shops, stores and industry stopped to allow people to honour the memory of Canada’s dead statesman. Two-thirds of Ottawa’s police force were on duty just to control the crowds and keep the street clear.

Laurier’s coffin was borne to the Basilica in a black and silver hearse drawn by four black horses. ( Click here to view archival footage of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s funeral.) The cortege consisted of officiating clergy, eight Dominion Police pallbearers, ten sleighs of floral tributes, honorary pallbearers, who included Sr Thomas White, the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors General, senators, members of Parliament, judges, civic officials, service organizations and the general public.

The funeral service began at 11am. The interior of the Basilica was draped in black, purple and gold. His Excellency, Monsignor Di Maria, the papal delegate, was the celebrant. Archbishop Mathieu of Regina, a friend of Sir Wilfrid, delivered an oration in French while Rev. Father John Burke of the Paulist Order spoke in English.

Laurier tomb, by SimonP, Wikipedia, Notre Dame Cemetery
Tomb of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa, taken by SimonP, Wikipedia.

After the service, the funeral cortege made its way to Notre Dame Cemetery for the interment. After a brief ceremony, Laurier’s bronze casket was placed in a steel box and lowered into the ground. His grave site was later marked by a stone sarcophagus with nine mourning women, representing the nine provinces of Canada at the time.

Today, Sir Wilfrid Laurier is widely recognized as one of Canada’s greatest statesmen. His image appears on Canada’s $5 bill. Wilfrid Laurier University is named in his honour. In a 2016 survey of scholars conducted by Maclean’s magazine, Laurier placed second after Mackenzie King and above Sir John A. Macdonald as Canada’s greatest prime minister. During his premiership, the first by a francophone Canadian, Canada experienced rapid economic and population growth, and saw the creation of two new provinces—Alberta and Saskatchewan. Sir Wilfrid is, however, best known for bringing together English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians—his main desire throughout his political life.

It was his speech in 1895 that the expression “sunny ways” first came into the Canadian political lexicon. In the context of the vexed political problem of the Manitoba Schools Question, Laurier proposed to deal with the issue through the “sunny way” of negotiation and compromise. Today, the expression “sunny ways” has become associated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who often invokes the spirit of Laurier in his public appearances.

Despite Laurier’s sunny ways, his admirable efforts to unite English and French Canadians, and his economic and political successes, Laurier’s career has its dark side. It was during his tenure as prime minister that the Chinese poll tax was increased from $50 to $100 in 1900 and to $500 in 1903—an amount far out of reach of most Chinese immigrants. Black immigration, notably from the United States, was essentially banned on the ostensible grounds that Canada’s weather was too severe for black immigrants. The rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples were also trampled in the rush of white settlers to “open” Canada’s west. While such racist behaviour was standard fare in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is much harder to overlook today. Laurier’s reputation, like that of his illustrious predecessor, Sir John A. Macdonald, has suffered as a consequence.


Azzi, Stephen & Hillmer, Norman, 2016. “Ranking Canada’s best and worst prime ministers,” Maclean’s, 7 October.

Canadian Encyclopedia 2017. Wilfrid Laurier: “The Sunny Way” Speech, 1895,

House of Commons Debates, 1919. 13th Parliament, 2nd Session, Death of Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, G.C.M.G. 20 February.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1919. “Condition of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Suddenly Stricken On Sunday Is Critical Rapidly Sinking This Afternoon,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Civic Half Holiday For Laurier State Funeral,” 18 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Sir Wilfrid Had First Attack On Saturday Night,” 19 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Lying-In State OF Sir Wilfrid Is Attended By Great Crowds Today,” 21 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Nation’s Final Honors To Sir Wilfrid Laurier; Great State Funeral Of Her Distinguished Son,” 22 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1919. “Rt. Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Death Is Expected At Any Hour,” 17 February.

—————————–, 1919. “Toronto Press Refers Feelingly To sir Wilfrid And Still Hopes For The Best,” 17 February.

—————————-, 1919. “State Will Crown Former Premier’s Career With Every Honor,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Main Desire of Sir Wilfrid Was Harmony Between The Two Races,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Sir Wilfrid Laurier,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Laurier’s Funeral Will Be Largest Ever Seen Here,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Papal Delegate To Be Celebrant,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1919. “Thousands OF Applications For Tickets From Persons Who Would Go to Service, 20 February.

—————————-, 1919. “The Official Programme For Funeral Of Former Premier,” 20 February.

—————————-, 1919. Visitors Pouring In By Every Train To State Funeral,” 21 February.

—————————, 1919. “People Throng Route Early To See Funeral,” 22 February.

————————–, 1919. “Protestants and Catholics Kneel Together In Church Before The Bier Of Laurier,” 24 February.

————————–, 1919. “Distinguished Men Follow Remains Of Laurier To Grave,” 24 February.