Crowfoot: Chief, Diplomat, Peacemaker

8 October 1886

During the late nineteenth century, the most influential indigenous leader in Canada was Crowfoot (Isapo-muxika), Chief of the Blackfoot First Nation (Siksika) whose ancestral territory encompassed much of southern Alberta and northern Montana in the United States.  A fierce warrior in his youth, he was highly respected by both the Plains First Nations and white settlers. He recognized that the arrival of the white man heralded the end of his people’s traditional way of life. But when many sought war, he counselled peace. When the Riel Rebellion broke, he refused to join the rebels, believing that conflict would be disastrous for his people. In 1886, Crowfoot and other Plains chiefs came east on the invitation of Sir John A. Macdonald to attend the dedication of a statue in Brantford of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), the Mohawk leader who fought alongside the British during the American Revolution. Before going to Brantford, the chiefs passed through Ottawa where they were greeted by Sir John and Lady Macdonald, and Ottawa’s Mayor McDougal.

crowfoot-at-earnscliffe

Plains First Nations Chiefs at Earnscliffe, home of Sir John A. Macdonald, 9 October 1886. Front Row (L to R): North Axe (Piegan), One Spot (Blood); Middle Row (L to R): Three Bulls (Blackfoot), Crowfoot (Blackfoot), Red Cloud (Blood); Rear Row (L to R): Father Lacombe, John L’Heureux, Library and Archives Canada, PA-045666.

Crowfoot was born into the Blood First Nation (Kainai) in about 1830. The Bloods, while distinct from the Blackfoot, were part of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Niitsitapi), meaning the “Real People.”  They, along with the Piegans (Piikani), shared a common Algonquian language, and were close allies. Initially known as Short Close (Astexomi), Crowfoot, at age five, joined the Blackfoot Nation when his widowed mother married a Blackfoot warrior. At this time, the Blackfoot civilization was at its peak. On horseback, the Real People followed the massive herds of buffalo (bison) that roamed freely over the North American Plains. The buffalo, essential to their way of life, provided them with most of their needs. The Blackfoot protected their hunting grounds from incursions from the Cree Nation to the north and east and the Crow Nation to the south.

As was common practice, Short Close received a new Blackfoot name Bear Ghost (Kyiah-sta-ah), when he became a Blackfoot. Following his first raid, he took a man’s name, Packs A Knife (Istowun-eh’pata), the name of his dead father. Following many acts of valour, he later took the name Crow Indian’s Big Foot, which was later shortened to Crowfoot by interpreters. By his early twenties, Crowfoot had been in nineteen battles, and had been wounded many times.

Even before Crowfoot had become a man, the Blackfoot way of life was under threat. Although few white men, other than a handful of traders, had reached their territory by mid-century, the diseases that they carried spread before them. Smallpox devastated the Real People. Without any immunity, an outbreak in the late 1830s killed two thirds of the Blackfoot people.

By the mid-1860s, Crowfoot had become recognized as one of the important up and coming leaders of the Blackfoot. About this time, he met the Oblate priest Albert Lacombe who had been sent to bring Christianity to the Cree and Blackfoot Nations. Saved by Crowfoot during a Cree raid on a Blackfoot camp, the two became close friends. Lacombe’s accounts of Crowfoot are the reason why we know so much of his life. In 1869, another serious smallpox outbreak stuck killing thousands, including Three Suns, the chief of the Blackfoot Nation. Crowfoot took his place as chief.

In 1870, the new Dominion of Canada took over control (at least in white men’s eyes) of Prince Rupert’s Land, which extended from northern Quebec to southern Alberta, from the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). When the HBC administered the territory, it also policed it, enforcing laws against the selling of alcohol. However, when the Dominion ostensibly assumed control of the territory, now called the North-West Territories, it had no boots on the ground. Into this vacuum moved unscrupulous American traders who set up illegal settlements from which they sold whisky to the Plains First Nations in exchange for buffalo pelts. The most notorious of such “whisky forts” was “Fort Whoop-Up,” built near present-day Lethbridge. Concerned about maintaining Canadian sovereignty over the territory and re-establishing law and order in the west, the government created the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1873.

The arrival of the NWMP was welcomed by Crowfoot who had witnessed the impoverishment and degradation of the Blackfoot Nation as a result of whisky brought in by the American traders. He also was encouraged that the police applied the law equally to white settlers and indigenous peoples. This was in stark contrast with law enforcement practices south of the international border. A strong bond of trust consequently developed between the Blackfoot chief and Colonel Macleod, the commander of the NWMP. Crowfoot willingly co-operated with the police, and discouraged younger warriors from raiding camps of rival tribes. For a time, harmony on the plains was restored, and the Blackfoot Nation began to recover.

The trust that developed between the police and Crowfoot made Treaty 7 possible in 1877. This treaty was the seventh of its kind between the Plains First Nations and the government following its takeover of Prince Rupert’s Land. Recognizing that the buffalo had all but disappeared, and that white settlers in the south and Métis and Cree in the east were encroaching on Blackfoot territory, Crowfoot sought protection for his people and a sustainable livelihood. For its part, the government wanted land for settlers and for the construction of a trans-Canadian railway.

The Real People who lived in the south and had witnessed the U.S. government break newly-signed treaties were reluctant to sign a treaty with the Canadian government. But Crowfoot was persuasive. Putting his faith in his friend Colonel Macleod, he signed. The other chiefs followed suit. Along with Colonel Macleod, David Laird, the Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Territories, signed for the government. While retaining their hunting rights, the Blackfoot surrendered much of their territory for “as long as the sun shines and the rivers run” in exchange for a reserve of one square mile of land for each family of five. The government also promised certain cash payments, cattle for live-stock rearing, farming implements, money to buy ammunition each year, and funds to pay for education.

Things did not work out as Crowfoot had wanted. The Blackfoot chiefs, who had a very different sense of land ownership than white settlers, most likely didn’t fully appreciate what they had signed. The buffalo disappeared quicker than expected, and the few that remained were only to be found deep inside U.S. territory. The Blackfoot Nation headed south into Montana in search of the herds, only to find starvation. They also encountered worried white settlers who feared the reputation of the Blackfoot and the possibility that they might join up with Sioux who had just defeated General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Sick and starving, the Blackfoot returned to Canada to find new, uncaring administrators in charge of the Indian Department who cheated and humiliated them. Discontentment grew. But Crowfoot’s diplomatic skills combined with the appointment of new territorial leaders who had a better understanding of the Blackfoot’s plight prevented outright conflict.

In 1885, Crowfoot’s diplomatic skills were tested again when representatives of the Métis and Cree peoples of Manitoba sought Blackfoot aid in the Riel Rebellion. Crowfoot, who knew Riel, was sympathetic, but was wary about joining the rebellion as he could perceive no benefit for his people—his first priority—from going to war. After seeking the counsel of other Blackfoot chiefs, and speaking with white leaders whom Crowfoot considered friends, he stayed out of the conflict. From Blackfoot Crossing near Gleichen, Alberta, he sent a message to Sir John A. Macdonald. It read:

On behalf of myself and people, I wish to send through you to the Great Mother the words I have given to the Governor [of the North West Territories]at a council held at which all my minor chiefs and young men were present. We are agreed and determined to remain loyal to the Queen… Should any Indian come to our reserve and ask us to join them in war we shall turn them away.

With the Riel Rebellion quickly supressed, Crowfoot’s decision undoubtedly saved many lives.

In July 1886, the Blackfoot leader met Sir John and Lady Macdonald at the Gleichen rail stop in present-day southern Alberta, when the couple crossed the country on the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. During the short meeting, Crowfoot expressed an interest in visiting the Premier in Ottawa. Just two months later, Crowfoot along with his foster brother, Three Bulls, were invited east by the government, accompanied by Father Lacombe. Red Crow of the Bloods, and North Axe of the Piegans followed later with the interpreter Jean L’Heureux.  A group of Cree chiefs also travelled east. The ostensible reason for the visits was the dedication of the memorial to Joseph Brant in Brantford. Another unspoken reason was to impress upon the First Nations’ chiefs the power of the Canadian government.

After stops in Montreal and Quebec City, Crowfoot, Three Bulls and Father Lacombe arrived at noon in Ottawa on 8 October 1886 where they met up with the other Blackfoot chiefs. They were lodged in comfortable rooms on the second floor of the Grand Union Hotel. That afternoon, they met a reporter from the Ottawa Evening Journal. Father Lacombe acted as interpreter. The reporter described Crowfoot as being of medium height, with a “stolid dignity of his race.” He wore “gaudy” flannel pants covered with a fringe, a blue shirt with a vest, and colourful blanket around his waist. Covering his iron-grey, shoulder-length hair was a stiff white hat with gold lace and “gorgeous white plumes.” Around his neck was a silver Treaty medal. Through Father Lacombe, Crowfoot commented that he was delighted to visit the home of kristamonion, his brother-in-law, Sir John A. Macdonald. He also expressed pleasure on how he was being treated.

Unfortunately, the journalist couldn’t resist reporting that Crowfoot and Three Bulls received him with a “series of ughs,” a stereotypical expression that he repeated in subsequent stories. Indeed, the general tone of the news coverage of the Blackfoot leaders was often condescending; their trip appears to have been seen by many as an exotic, carnival sideshow.

The next morning, after reportedly sleeping on the floor instead of a comfortable spring bed, Crowfoot and Three Bulls had a “hearty breakfast,” after which the chiefs returned to Crowfoot’s room pulled out tobacco pipes and settled down for a smoke surrounded by curious on-lookers. At 10am, they were driven in barouches through Lower Town, with a stop in the market. The chiefs were suitably impressed by the commerce underway; a market was something that that Crowfoot wanted established back home.

Afterwards, Crowfoot and the other chiefs headed for Earnscliffe, the home of Sir John and Lady Macdonald. (Earnscliffe is now the home of the British High Commissioner.) Lady Macdonald, who Crowfoot called Asaskit-sipappi, the “good-hearted woman,” came outside to greet the chiefs as they pulled up to the front of the house. They were then taken to the parlour where they met Sir John. With Father Lacombe acting as interpreter, Crowfoot asked for the Premier’s help in starting farms and establishing a market since the buffalo had all gone with the coming of the white man.

Sir John gave each chief $25 and promised to send more presents and clothing to the Blackfoot people. He urged the chiefs to remain peaceful and to be patient if “time elapsed before all their demands were granted.” He added that Edgar Dewdney, the then Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, would take care of them, and promised to find a market for their surplus production. Sir John also granted Crowfoot’s request to return home right away instead of going to Brantford for the unveiling of the Joseph Brant memorial. The Blackfoot leader was unwell and was pining for his people. After the interview, the chiefs were conducted outside for a photograph in the garden.

crowfoot-at-city-hall

Plains First Nations Chiefs at City Hall, Ottawa, 11 October 1886. Front Row (L to R): City Clerk W.P. Lett, Mayor McDougal, One Spot, Three Bulls, Crowfoot, Red Cloud, North Axe, Father Lacombe, Ald. F.R.E. Campeau. Library and Archives Canada, PA-066624.

The following day, the chiefs attended high mass in the Basilica, occupying seats where they would be seen by the entire congregation while Father Lacombe conducted the service. Later, Father Lacombe gave a lecture at the Ottawa College on “The North-West Indians.” Mr F.R.E. Campeau of the Institut Canadien chaired the meeting. During Father Lacombe’s address, the Blackfoot chiefs smoked tobacco, passing a long pipe from one the other. Afterwards, Campeau presented a purse to Crowfoot, who in turn gave the money to his compatriots.

On their final day in Ottawa, the Blackfoot chiefs met with officials of the Indian Department. At the Department, they met up with the Cree chiefs who were also to attend the unveiling of the Joseph Brant memorial. Later in the afternoon, Crowfoot and the other Blackfoot chiefs visited City Hall. Escorted into the Council Chamber by Mayor McDougal, Crowfoot sat in the Mayor’s chair, while City Clerk W.P. Lett read out a letter of welcome. The City presented the chiefs “with the wampum belt of friendship,” offered “the pipe of peace” and gave them money that Crowfoot distributed to the other chiefs.

Exhausted, Crowfoot returned immediately by train to Blackfoot Crossing. He died four years later on 25 April 1890, surrounded by his friends, including Father Lacombe. His grave, marked by a cross, is located near Blackfoot Crossing National Park.

Treaty Seven never lived up to Crowfoot’s expectations. Promised payments and support were not provided. The First Nations that signed the treaty are now represented by the Treaty 7 Management Corporation and are involved in negotiations with the federal government over various aspects of the Treaty.

Sources:

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, 2016, http://www.blackfootcrossing.ca/index.html.

Canada (Government of), Indigenous and Northern Affairs, 2016. Treaty Research Report – Treaty 7, https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028789/1100100028791.

Canadian History Workshop, 2016. Treaty 7, https://canadianhistoryworkshop.wordpress.com/treaties/treaty-seven/.

Commons, House of, 1885. “The Disturbance in the North-West,” Commons Debates, p. 1088, 13 April.

Dempsey, Hugh, 1972. Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2016. Isapo-muxica (Crowfoot), http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/isapo_muxika_11E.html.

Glenbow Museum, 2016. Niitsitapiisini, http://www.glenbow.org/blackfoot/#.

Hacker, Carlotta, 1999. Crowfoot, The Canadians Continuing Series, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd, Markham.

Lacombe, Albert, 1890. “Crowfoot, Great Chief of the Blackfeet,” Our Future, Our Past, The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project, http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/loc_hist/page.aspx?id=245933.

Lethbridge, Daily Herald (The), 1925. “Crowfoot – Chief of Chiefs,” 4 July.

New Federation House, 2016. Native Leaders of Canada, http://www.newfederation.org/Native_Leaders/Bios/Crowfoot.htm.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1886. “The Indian Chiefs,” 8 October.

————————————-, 1886. “The Chiefs,” 9 October.

————————————-, 1886. “Jottings About Town,” 9 October.

————————————-, 1886. “The North-West Indians,” 11 October.

————————————-, 1886. “Father Lacombe’s Views,” 11 October.

————————————-, 1886. “The City and the Chiefs,” 11 October.

————————————-, 1886. “At the Department,” 11 October.

Tesar, Alex, 2016. “Treaty 7,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/treaty-7/.

 

The Tragic Death of Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker, V.C.

12 March 1930

Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker is the most-highly decorated war hero in Canadian and British Commonwealth history. An ace pilot during World War I, he received the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the Commonwealth for gallantry in the face of the enemy. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order (twice), the Military Cross (three times), the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Silver Medal for Military Valour from Italy (twice). He was additionally mentioned in dispatches three times. Active on the Western Front in France and on the Italian Front, he is credited with shooting down at least 50 enemy aircraft. Despite being a household name one hundred years ago, ranking beside his friend Billy Bishop another Canadian war ace and Victory Cross recipient, he is largely forgotten today. In part, this is likely due to his untimely death at 35 years of age in a tragic accident that occurred on 12 March 1930 in Ottawa.

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William George Barker, V.C. by Swaine, Library and Archives Canada, PA-122516.

Barker was born in a log cabin on a farm near the small town of Dauphin, Manitoba in 1894. As a teenager, he was known for his keen eyesight and marksmanship. In December 1914, he enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles with whom he served as a machine gunner at Ypres. In the spring of 1916, he volunteered to serve in the Royal Flying Corps first as a gunner and, following receipt of a commission as a second lieutenant, as an observer in the B.E.2 two-seater reconnaissance airplane.  He received his first MC doing aerial photography. In July of that year, he recorded his first victory, driving down a German scout airplane using his observer’s gun. At the beginning of 1917, he was sent to flying school for four weeks’ instruction to become a pilot. Promoted to flying officer in February 1917, Barker returned to the Western Front again in two-seater reconnaissance airplanes (the B.E.2 and the R.E.8), but this time seated in the front pilot’s seat. Three months later, he was promoted to captain and given command of a flight of airplanes (four to six aircraft).

After being wounded in August 1917, he was transferred back to England to become a flight instructor. Hating his new job, he quickly got himself reassigned to active duty in France, though not before getting into trouble doing acrobatics over London. Barker began flying the Sopwith Camel, a single seater fighter, armed with twin synchronized machine guns. It proved to be a lethal combination of man and machine. Flying the highly manoeuvrable though temperamental Camel, Barker could fully exploit his skills as a marksman. Shortly after his return to France in late October he officially became an ace, downing his fifth German airplane, a German Albatros D.III fighter. Other “kills” quickly followed. Barker’s Sopwith Camel, serial number B6313, was to become the most successful fighter airplane in British history.

When his squadron was transferred to the Italian Front in late 1917, Barker took aim at Austrian air force. By April 1918, he had twenty-two victories. He also earned a reputation for taking down observation balloons, a deadly enterprise since the balloons were heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns. In July, he was promoted to major and given command of the No. 139 Squadron. Although the squadron flew the two-seater Bristol F.2b fighter and reconnaissance aircraft (also known as the “Brisfit”), Barker continued to prefer flying his cherished Sopwith Camel. When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited the squadron in the summer of 1918, Barker took him aloft in a Brisfit, with the prince occupying the rear observer’s seat. Barker flew the prince deep into enemy territory before returning to the Allied lines. Fortunately, although they encountered anti-aircraft fire from the ground, no Austrian airplane went up to challenge them.

By September 1918, he was a highly-decorated ace with at least forty-six victories to his credit. Even more to his credit was the incredible achievement of not losing a single pilot or airplane under his escort during the previous year of active duty. Ordered back to England to take command the flight school at Hounslow, Barker’s greatest exploit, for which he was to earn the Victory Cross, was yet to come. Arguing that he needed to reacquaint himself with the Western Front to do his job properly, he obtained a ten-day roving commission in France. On 27 October 1918, on the last day of his commission and only two weeks prior to the end of the war, he encountered a German reconnaissance airplane over the Forêt de Mormal while flying the new Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe. Although Barker managed to down the two-seater craft, he made a rookie mistake and was caught unaware by a German fighter that had sneaked up behind him. He only found out that he was being pursued when his right leg was shattered by a bullet. Despite the pain, Barker managed to circle around the Fokker DVII, and bring it down too.

barkersopwithcamellac-pa172313

William Barker with his Sopwith Camel, France 1917, Library and Archives Canada, PA-172313

From there, things only got worse. Somehow during the dog fight with the Fokker, Barker had managed to stumble into an entire “circus” of German fighters. While accounts regarding the number of enemy aircraft vary from 15 to an incredible 60, Barker was vastly outnumbered. In front of thousands of Allied soldiers Barker managed to bring down two more German fighters but not before receiving crippling wounds to his left thigh and left elbow. His Snipe, hit repeatedly, with its fuel tank shot away, crashed behind British lines. Barker, amazingly still alive, was pulled from the wreckage by Scottish troops. On 20 November 1918, he was awarded the Victory Cross for this epic, single-handed battle, and the congratulations of his grateful Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Premier.

In early 1919, still recovering from his wounds, Barker flew again with the Prince of Wales, taking him on a tour of London by air. Barker needed canes to walk to the aircraft, and flew with his left arm strapped to his breast.  Speaking of his flight, the Prince commented: “I have enjoyed it immensely but what a sensation it is when you go over backwards.” The RAF promoted Barker to Lieutenant Colonel. On his return to Canada later that year, Barker entered civilian aviation in partnership with Billy Bishop. Together they operated an air-charter and aircraft maintenance firm located at Armour Heights Air Field in Toronto. In 1921, Barker married Jean Smith, the cousin of Billy Bishop. Their daughter Antoinette was born in 1923.

As was the case with many early civil aviation operations, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes failed in 1922. Barker then joined the Canadian Airforce (CAF) and was made commanding officer of Camp Borden. Subsequently, he was made acting director of the CAF, and for a time lived in Ottawa. In 1924, with the establishment of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was sent to England to act as the RCAF’s liaison officer with the British Air Ministry. He later studied at the RAF Staff College at Andover and saw service with the RAF in the Middle East.

In 1926, Barker resigned his commission from the RCAF, reportedly because he didn’t get along with his commanding officer. For a time, he operated a tobacco farm owned by his father-in-law, Horace B. Smith.  This did not go well. In 1927, Conn Smythe, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (himself a former RAF pilot), made Barker the team’s first president. But civilian life did not come easy to the war hero. Like many veterans, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. For a time, he turned to alcohol to quell his demons. His family life suffered.

In early 1930, things finally looked like they were turning around for him. He had just landed the job of vice president and general manager of the Fairchild Aviation Company of Canada in Montreal. The day of his death, he was in Ottawa to help sell the company’s new trainer airplane, the two-person, Fairchild KR-21B biplane, to the Department of National Defence.

Wednesday, 12 March 1930, was a typical, late winter day in Ottawa. Weather conditions were good, with the wind out of the west, and a high temperature of 7 degrees Celsius. The Fairchild trainer was flown from Montreal to the Rockcliffe aerodrome in the morning by Captain Donald Shaw, the Fairchild Company’s test pilot. The trip was uneventful, with the airplane performing as it should. Shortly before 1pm, William Barker, who had travelled to Ottawa by train, decided to take the airplane up for a spin. He had never flown that model aircraft before but liked to take every opportunity to fly to maintain his competency. Apparently, until he joined the Fairchild Aviation Company two months earlier, he had done little flying since leaving the RCAF in 1926.

Barker seated himself in the real cockpit of the small trainer with registration marking CF-AKR. He warmed up his engine, taxied into the wind, and made a perfect take-off. After circling the airfield, he flew to the north-east across the Ottawa River to the Quebec side. Turning back towards the Rockcliffe aerodrome, something went wrong. One observer, struck by the odd manner in which the airplane was performing, claimed that he had a premonition that something was about to happen. Flying at an altitude of only a couple of hundred feet, the aircraft swerved and then plummeted straight down into the slushy ice of the Ottawa River roughly one hundred yards from the Rockcliffe slip close to the aerodrome. Striking the ice nose first, Barker’s aircraft crashed onto its left side. The plane was a tangled wreck. One of the blades of the propeller was sheared off on impact, while the other was broken in two. The engine was jammed back into the fuselage by the force of the crash. Only the rear of the plane and its right wing were left relatively intact. Col. Barker was found still seated in the real cockpit, but he was beyond human help. His body had been crushed on impact, his head smashed against the dashboard of his control panel.

News of the accident flashed through a stunned Capital. Immediately the Department of National Defence established a board of inquiry to examine the cause of the fatal crash. The Board determined that the Fairchild trainer was airworthy before the crash, that weather conditions were good, and that Col. Barker was a “commercial pilot in good standing.” Other than these basic facts, Board members had to depend on unreliable eye-witness testimony to draw their conclusions. Their verdict was pilot error. Later, there was speculation that Barker, suffering from depression, may have killed himself. But there is no evidence to support this contention. In many respects, the reasons for the crash remain a mystery.

Col. Barker’s body was conveyed by train to the home of his father-in-law at 355 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto where distinguished guests and friends paid their last respects. On the Saturday afternoon after the accident, his body was brought to Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery and was laid to rest in the Smith family mausoleum. Two thousand servicemen, representing all of the Toronto-area regiments, paraded in his honour. Immediately behind the casket walked family and friends, Ontario Premier Ferguson, Major General McNaughton, and a group of Victory Cross recipients. A warrant officer bore Col. Barker’s medals on a cushion. More than 50,000 people lined the route of the funeral cortege down St. Clair Avenue to the cemetery. Overhead a flight of planes flew, each in turn swooping down to shower the procession with rose petals. At the mausoleum, Rev. Canon Broughall, rector of Grace-Church-on-the-Hill, officiated at a short service.

For decades, there was little way of a public memorial to Lieutenant- Colonel William Barker, V.C., buried as he was in the Smith family’s mausoleum. In 2011, his grandchildren righted this wrong. They erected a monument outside of the mausoleum, consisting of a bronze propeller blade rising from a granite base with a bronze picture of Barker and a plaque noting his distinction as “The most decorated war hero in the history of Canada and the British Empire.” There for the official unveiling of the memorial was Barker’s descendants and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley. Overhead, two vintage planes, one of them a Sopwith Snipe, and a CF-18 fighter flew a salute while a bugler sounded The Last Post.

Sources:

AcePilots.com, 1999-2016. Major G. “Billy” Barker, http://acepilots.com/wwi/can_barker.html.

CBC, 2011. World War I flying ace honoured 81 years after death, 22 September, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/wwi-flying-ace-honoured-81-years-after-death-1.1062894.

CBC, 2011. Honours for Flying Ace, 22 September, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyKOyoN9ArQ.

Globe (The), 1930. “Gol. Barker, V.C., Great Canadian Ace Dies Airman’s Death,” 13 March.

———————–, “Massed Crowd Mourn Great Airman,” 17 March.

Globe and Mail, (The), 1999. “The Greatest Ace You Never Heard Of,” 8 November.

—————————, 2011. Lieutenant- Col. William Barker,” 22 September.

National Defence and the Canadian Forces, 2009. Victoria Cross – First World War, 1914-1918, William George Barker, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/gal/vcg-gcv/bio/barker-wg-eng.asp.

Evening Citizen, (The), 1930. “Finds Error of Judgement Cause of Plan Crash,” 15 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1930. “Col. Barker, Great Canadian Air Ace, Killed Here,” 12 March.

————————————, 1930. “Fatal Crash Which Caused Death of Colonel Barker, V.C., at Rockcliffe Still Remains Shrouded in Mystery,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Epic Air Battle Won V.C. Award For Dead Flyer,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Toronto V.C.’s To All Attend Funeral In Body,” 13 March.

Ralph, Wayne, 2005-2016. “Barker, William George,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barker_william_george_15E.html.

Roadstories.ca, 2011, William George Barker: Canada’s most decorated hero, 7 November, http://roadstories.ca/william-barker/.

The Jersey Lily

8 November 1883

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

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

landgtry-by-millais-1878

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

langtryoj1900

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

Evening Journal (The),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Funeral of J. Thad Johnson

3 July 1927

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

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

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

Lindbergh landing 1927

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

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

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

Curtis P1 Hawk

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

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

Johnson Thad

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

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

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

Lindbergh speaking 1927

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

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

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

Johnson funeral

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Maharaja of the Keyboard

5 December 1945

In the firmament of great jazz musicians, few stars sparkle as brightly as that of Oscar Peterson. Born in 1925 to a hard-working, immigrant family from the poor St Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, Peterson burst like a fiery comet onto the jazz scene while still a teenager. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Peterson wowed audiences around the world with his prodigious piano technique, his amazing talent for improvisation, and a range that encompassed everything from the classics to stride, blues, boogie and bebop. He played with all the jazz greats of his age, including trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and such famed vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Demonstrating his range, he also accompanied such artistic luminaries as Fred Astaire, and the great violinist Itzhak Pearlman. It was Roy Eldridge who dubbed Peterson the “Maharaja of the Keyboard. Louis Armstrong called him “the man with four hands.” As well as playing the piano, Peterson was a talented composer, and had a singing voice comparable to that of Nat King Cole. His best known compositions are the Canadiana Suite, an album released in 1964, and Hymn to Freedom, composed in 1962. Oscar Peterson and his trio played Hymn to Freedom in 2003 at a gala in Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. In 2008, the Hymn was played at U.S. President Obama’s inauguration.

Oscar Peterson in 1977

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Portrait by Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A.

Jazz was in Peterson’s blood. Both his parents, Daniel and Olive Peterson, had a passion for music, and encouraged their five children to learn instruments. A tight family budget was stretched to include a piano. Daniel Peterson, a self-taught piano player, instructed his wife and their five children how to play. Young Oscar initially studied the trumpet as well as the piano. But after a lengthy bout with tuberculosis in the early 1930s, which claimed the life of his older brother Fred, Oscar concentrated on the piano. Father Daniel was a demanding teacher, insisting on daily practice and assigning musical homework for his children while he was absent working as a porter on the railway. But Oscar, with his perfect pitch and ability to play songs by ear, was up to the challenge. Later, his older sister Daisy became his piano instructor. His first exposure to jazz came from listening to radio. His father, however, looked down on jazz seeing it as music for the uneducated. He insisted that Oscar learn the classics. Peterson later studied under two classically-trained pianists, Lou Harper and Paul de Marky, the latter was Canada’s most acclaimed classical pianist of the time who taught music at McGill University in Montreal. He also instructed private students, charging $15 hour, a huge sum for Oscar’s parents (equivalent to more than $200 in today’s money). From a very early age, Oscar played in churches, community centres, and schools. It was in such venues, Oscar began to learn how to improvise.

Peterson’s first big break came in 1940 when he auditioned for an amateur music contest hosted by CBC radio. He went on to win not only the Montreal competition but also the national finals held in Toronto. He was only 15 years old, and the only black contestant. He received a cheque for $250 (close to $4,000 today). From there, there was no looking back. He quickly out-grew his Montreal High School band, the Victory Serenaders, and gigs in the school gym. In 1943, he dropped out to play full-time in a popular Montreal big band led by the trumpet player Johnny Holmes after a spot for a pianist opened up when the group’s regular pianist was drafted into the army.

Peterson received further national exposure in 1945 when RCA Victor, one of Canada’s largest recording studios agreed to record him, releasing two 78 rpm records. They were hugely successfully. In early June 1945, Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street advertised in The Ottawa Journal “A new VICTOR ‘discovery’ for your piano pin-up collection. Name: OSCAR PETERSON, just a youngster of eighteen, a Canadian lad of inspired rhythm that flows from his fingertips in a sparkling, ear tingling, original style all his own.” The store encouraged people to come listen to a sample recording of I Got Rhythm at Freiman’s Record Studios located on the third floor of the department store, daring them to try to keep their toes quiet!

Peterson’s first known public performance in Ottawa took place on Wednesday, 5 December 1945 at the Glebe Collegiate Auditorium at 8.30pm. The performance called Hot Jazz, featured Oscar Peterson and his jazz trio: Peterson on the piano, Russ Dufort on drums, and George Murphy on bass. The prices of admission was 90 cents, $1.20, and $1.50. The trio played to a capacity crowd, with people standing two and three deep at the back of the auditorium. Extra seats were placed on the stage. Students from Carleton College’s (later Carleton University) sat or stood behind the stage, so that they could at least hear the music even if they couldn’t see the artists. The Ottawa Journal reporter described the twenty-year old Peterson as “one of the foremost exponents of jazz.” The night’s programme featured both classical pieces such as Chopin’s Polonaise as well as jazz pieces, including Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues and Peterson’s own composition “The Boogie Blues.” The enthusiastic crowd gave the trio three encores. At one of the encores, Peterson played the Sheik of Araby that he had recently recorded. The journalist concluded by saying that Peterson’s boogie-woogie was “probably the best heard in Ottawa for some time.” The trio returned to the Glebe Collegiate the following May. More than 1,200 people crammed into the school auditorium to hear them again perform a selection of classical and jazz numbers, including Peterson’s own compositions.

Between these two Ottawa performances, Peterson made his debut at the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto in early March 1946. Most of the audience that night had only heard Peterson through his records. As in Ottawa and elsewhere, the crowd was dazzled by his technique and imagination; Oscar Peterson had made it to the big time. Appearances on the CBC radio series Canadian Cavalcade cemented his reputation for being the country’s most popular, up-and-coming, young artist. He made his American debut in 1949 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, where he played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Ella Fitzgerald. Peterson had been “discovered” by music promoter Norman Granz who had been in Montreal for a meeting. Hearing Peterson play on the radio, Grantz, who produced the “Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)” series of concerts, tours, and recordings, invited him to perform in New York. From then on, Oscar Peterson was an international star. In 1950, Grantz, who later became Peterson manager, signed him to a contract to perform with JATP. Over the following decade, Peterson participated in fifteen, cross-continent JATP tours.  Peterson’s business relationship and friendship with Granz lasted until the latter’s death in 2001.

Over the decades, Peterson performed in a number of small groups, usually trios. During the 1950s, the other two members of the group were Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar. In 1958, Ellis left the trio and was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen. During the 1970s and 1980s, Peterson played with Joe Pass on guitar and bassist Niels-Henning Pederson. In the late 1990s, Peterson formed a quartet, with Pederson on bass, Martin Drew on drums, and Ulf Wakenius on guitar.

Although successful from an early age, Oscar Peterson faced major challenges, not least of which was the racism that he confronted, especially when he toured the U.S. south during the 1950s and 1960s. Even in Canada, he had to endure discrimination, with hotels unwilling to hire black musicians. On one highly publicized occasion in 1951, he was denied a haircut in Hamilton, Ontario owing to his colour. The city’s mayor later apologized. In his quiet, understated way, Peterson fought back. He wrote his Hymn to Freedom in support of the civil rights movement. He was also instrumental in Canadian television advertising becoming more inclusive of minorities. Peterson’s home life also suffered from his constant touring. He was married four times. He also largely missed out on seeing his seven children grow up. Late in life, after suffering a stroke while performing in New York, his ability to use his left hand was impaired. Peterson fought through depression, and continued to perform to adoring audiences. He passed away from kidney failure on 23 December 2007 at 82 years of age.

Oscar Peterson

Statue of Oscar Peterson by Ruth Abernethy, unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 30 June 2010 in front of 10,000 cheering spectators, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, January 2016.

During his lifetime, Peterson received many honours. Sixteen universities, including Carleton University, awarded him honorary doctorates. From 1991-94, he was Chancellor of the University of York in Toronto. He also received eight Grammies from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, including a lifetime achievement award in 1997 for his more than 200 records. In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was promoted to Officer of the Order in 1984. In May 2010, just over two years after his death, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a statue of Oscar Peterson seated at his piano outside of the National Art Centre, a place where he had played many times during his long and productive career.

 

Sources:

Batten, Jack. 2012. Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz, Tundra Books: Toronto

Globe and Mail, 1946. “Swing Pianist Stirs Massey Hall throng,” 8 March.

——————-, 2007. “Oscar Peterson, Musician, ‘Man with four hands was one of the greatest piano players of all time.” 26 December.

Ottawa Journal, (The), 1945. “Freiman’s platter chatter,” 7 June.

—————————, 1945. “Hot Jazz.” 5 December.

————————–, 1945. “Peterson played to packed audience in Glebe, 6 December

————————–, 1946. “Oscar Peterson Plays to 1,200.” 10 May.

Marin, Riva, 2003. Oscar: The Life and Music of Oscar Peterson, Groundwood Books: Toronto.

Milner, Mike, 2012. “Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson and the maharaja of the keyboard,” CBC Music, http://music.cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2012/3/Frank-Sinatra-Oscar-Peterson-and-the-maharaja-of-the-keyboard, 6 March.

Peterson, Oscar, 1964. Hymn to Freedom, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCrrZ1NnCuM.

Images:

Oscar Peterson in 1977, Author Tom Marcello, New York, U.S.A., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Peterson#/media/File:Oscar_Peterson.jpg.

Oscar Peterson statue at the National Arts Centre, 2016  by James Powell.

 

The Passing of Lord Tweedsmuir

6 February, 1940

Since Confederation in 1867, twenty-eight individuals have held the position as Governor General—the Monarch’s representative in Canada. The current incumbent is David Johnson. Although most have been forgotten, the names of some continue to resonate today. Lord Stanley of Preston (1888-1893), a hockey enthusiast, is remembered for the Stanley Cup, the trophy he originally awarded in 1892 to the top amateur hockey team in Canada, and now the symbol of North American hockey supremacy. Similarly, Earl Grey (1904-11) is known for the Grey Cup, the trophy he commissioned in 1909 for the champion team of Canadian football.

Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada’s Governor General from 1935 to his death in 1940, is also worthy of remembrance. Scottish by birth, Tweedsmuir is perhaps better known as John Buchan, the novelist. He was created 1st Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield by George V on his appointment in 1935 as Canada’s Governor General. Buchan was the author of more than 100 fiction and non-fiction works, the most famous of which is The Thirty Nine Steps, a novel about a German spy ring in Britain at the outset of the Great War that he wrote in 1914. In 1935, the book was made into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It has been remade at least twice, the latest in 2008 for television by the BBC. Tweedsmuir is considered by many to be the father of the modern spy thriller.  While he was Governor General, he somehow found the time to write three books—the novel The Island of Sheep, a biography of the Roman Emperor Augustus, the manuscript of which is housed at McGill University, and his memoirs, which were published posthumously.

Thirty-Nine Steps

Book Cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps, First Edition, 1915

Tweedsmuir was passionate about Canada, and all things Canadian. In turn, he much loved by Canadians across the country. He was the first Governor General to be appointed after the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 that effectively gave Canada its independence from Great Britain. Reflecting Canada’s changed status, he was made Governor General by King George V on the advice of the Canadian Government of R.B. Bennett rather than by the British Government. A staunch supporter of Canada’s new autonomy, he was keen to foster the development of a distinct Canadian nationalism at a time when many in Canada still looked first to Britain for leadership. He earned the ire of Canadian imperialists by insisting that the first loyalty of Canadians was to Canada and its King, rather than the British Empire. He was also the main promoter of a Royal Visit that saw King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth come to North America in 1939 not as King and Queen of Great Britain but as King and Queen of Canada.

He also worked hard to foster Canadian unity, travelling extensively across the country. In one trip in 1937, he journeyed more than 12,000 miles, visiting people in every part of Canada, including the far north, a part of the country that entranced him. Instead of the elites, Tweedmuir met with ordinary Canadian citizens of all backgrounds; he was an ardent supporter of Canadian multiculturalism. Reflecting his love of literature, he established in 1936, with the encouragement of his wife, the Governor-General’s Awards for literature, creating awards for the best English fiction and non-fiction writing. The awards subsequently expanded to cover seven categories, including poetry, drama, translation, and children’s literature (text and illustration) in both official languages.

Tweedsmuir

Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, 1935, Author unknown.

Sadly, Tweedsmuir died a relatively early age of sixty-four. At about 9am on Tuesday, 6 February 1940, he “took a weak turn,” and fell heavily in his bathroom at Rideau Hall. He hit his head against the edge of the bathtub, and suffered a concussion. Initial press releases regarding his health were upbeat. Four physicians, two of whom were specialists from the Montreal Neurological Institute, reported a “steady improvement” in Tweedsmuir’s condition. They also stated that he was resting comfortably, and that he was conscious. In reality, however, Tweedsmuir’s condition was grave. Even prior to his fall, he had been in frail health. He had gone to New York the previous autumn for a complete medical, and had declined an offered extension of his term as Governor General on health grounds. The evening after his fall, Prime Minister Makenzie King went to Rideau Hall to check personally on the Governor General’s condition. Although King spoke to the doctors, he was not permitted to see Tweedsmuir. The Governor General was put under 24-hour medical surveillance, with updates on his condition reported regularly to an anxious Canada. The telephone switchboard at Rideau Hall was manned around the clock. With his condition deteriorating, doctors performed an emergency trepanning operation on Tweedsmuir to reduce intracranial pressure.

On the Friday after his accident, he was taken to Montreal on a special three-car train, attended by five physicians. Arriving at Bonaventure Station, he was carried from the train on a stretcher, his head swathed in bandages, and driven by ambulance to the Montreal Neurological Institute. The entire fifth floor was set aside for him, his doctors, Lady Tweedsmuir and one of their sons, the Hon. Alastair Buchan.  The Neurological Institute, considered one of the finest in North America, was built in 1933, and was attached to the Royal Victorian Hospital. Dr Meakins, the Hospital’s chief physician, and Dr Wilder Penfield, Canada’s leading neurosurgeon, as well as Lieut.-Colonel Dr Russell, another neurosurgeon, performed a second trepanning operation on the fading Governor General. Briefly, he appeared to rally, but he suffered a relapse. After a third trepanning operation, which lasted four hours, Lord Tweedsmuir, died at 7.13pm on Sunday 11 February, 1940. He had never fully regained consciousness. The proximate cause of death was a pulmonary embolism due to a clot that had formed in his leg. However, a post mortem revealed that he had suffered a stroke that had caused acute swelling of the right side of his brain. His left side has also been paralysed.

News of his passing was taken hard by Canadians. Prime Minister King described Tweedsmuir as “Canada’s adopted son.” The Ottawa Citizen said that the Governor General had “won the hearts of every person in this great Dominion in an unbelievably short period of time.” The newspaper added that Tweedsmuir was “at once a statesman, an able administrator, a wise politician, a popular novelist, a scholarly biographer, a skilled historian, a clever soldier, and a masterful poet.”

A special funeral train brought Tweedsmuir’s body back to Ottawa, where it laid in state in the Senate chamber. His coffin was escorted to Parliament Hill by representatives of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the 4th Princess Louise Dragon Guards—the two household regiments. The closed casket was draped with the Union Jack. On top of it rested Tweedsmuir’s official Governor General’s hat and sword. At one end laid his medals and honours on a black satin cloth. A wreath of carnations from his wife rested at the foot of the bier. Officers of the Governor General Foot Guards and the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, with their head bowed and their swords reversed, provided a ceremonial guard. Over fourteen thousand men, women and children solemnly filed past his bier in two lines to pay their last respects during the short public visiting period. Many were kept waiting outside in sub-zero temperatures for a chance to enter the Centre Block.

On 14 February, just over a week after his collapse at Rideau Hall, Tweedsmuir was given a state funeral at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street. Three thousand servicemen lined the route of the funeral cortege. His coffin was brought to the church from Parliament Hill by car. After the service, it was conveyed to Union Station on a naval gun carriage pulled by 60 ratings from the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. The chimes on the Peace Tower were muffled. Some 50,000 people packed every inch of the short route to the train station—a solemn counterpoint to the joyous throngs that had filled Ottawa’s streets the previous year when the King and Queen had visited the capital. Millions more listened to the funeral service broadcasted over CBC radio. Schools across Canada were closed to permit children to attend memorial services. Provincial legislatures closed, while municipal governments held remembrance services. Even Mammon took notice of Tweedsmuir’s passing, with the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver Stock Exchanges either closing early or pausing for two minutes of silence.

Following the ceremony, Lord Tweedsmuir’s body was conveyed to Montreal for cremation. His ashes were returned to the United Kingdom, and buried in accordance with his wishes in Elsfield Church in Oxfordshire, England. Until the arrival of the Earl of Athlone, Tweedsmuir’s successor, some months later, Sir Lyman Duff, Canada’s Chief Justice, fulfilled the duties of the Governor General as Canada’s “Administrator.”

Today, Tweedsmuir is remembered in Canada by a provincial park in British Columbia, the John Buchan Senior Public School in Toronto, and streets named in his honour across the country. In Scotland, his life and works are kept alive by the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Museum in Peebles. In 2015, he was named one of fifty Scottish heroes who changed the world.

 

Sources:

Hitchcock, Alfred, 1935. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4v7vUIm4Ws.

Pearson, Stuart, 2015, Great Scottish Heroes, John Blake: London.

Queens’s University Archives, John Buchan: 1st Barn Tweedsmuir (1875-1940), http://archives.queensu.ca/exhibits/buchan.

The Governor General Of Canada, 2015, Lord Tweedsmuir, 1935-1940, http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=15420.

The John Buchan Museum, 2015. The John Buchan Story, http://www.johnbuchanstory.co.uk/.

The John Buchan Society, 2015. http://www.johnbuchansociety.co.uk/thesociety.htm.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1940. “Steady Improvement In Governor-General’s Condition,” 7 February.

————————, 1940. “Report No Change In Condition Of Lord Tweedsmuir,” 8 February.

————————, 1940. “Anxiety About Lord Tweedsmuir Continues,” 9 February.

————————, 1940. “Lord Tweedsmuir’s Condition Has Improved,” 10 February.

————————, 1940. “Beloved Viceroy Gone,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Canada’s Grief Expressed By Prime Minister,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Governor-General’s Death Ends Life Of Fine Achievement,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Lord Tweedsmuir, The Man,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “State Funeral To Be Conducted In Ottawa, Internment In Britain,” 12 February.

————————, 1940. “Plans For Nation’s Tribute Are Complete,” 13 February.

———————–. 1940. “More Than 14,000 People Reverently Pass Through Hallowed Halls Of Parliament,” 14 February.

———————–, 1940. “Farewell Tribute Of Nation To Viceroy Is Heartfelt, Inspiring,” 15 February.

———————-, 1940. “Canada Pauses In Tribute To Loved Viceroy,” 15 February.

Images:

Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, 1935. Author unknown, Bilan du Siècle, University of Sherbrooke.

The Thirty-Nine Steps, First Edition, 1915, Wikipedia.

 

Some Chicken! Some Neck!

30 December 1941

News that Japan had attacked and destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in early December 1941 simultaneously appalled and elated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While disheartened by the destruction and loss of life, he was overjoyed that the sleeping American giant was finally fully awake to the global threat posed by the Axis Powers. With the English-speaking peoples of the world now united against the common foe, Churchill was convinced that eventual victory was assured.

Churchill immediately made plans to go to the United States to confer with his new war ally, President Franklin Roosevelt. Initially, Roosevelt advised Churchill against the trip, citing the enormous risks of crossing the U-boat infested, North Atlantic, as well as domestic American political reasons; he was unsure of Churchill’s reception. But there was no dissuading the redoubtable British Prime Minister. Accompanied by staff and senior military leaders, he arrived on American soil on 22 December, just two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, having journeyed to North America on the newly-commissioned battleship HMS Duke of York. The perilous journey took ten days.  Churchill spent much of the next four weeks a guest of the Roosevelts’ at the White House.  In so doing, a close, personal bond was established between the two leaders. After spending Christmas Day with the Roosevelt family, Churchill addressed the joint Houses of Congress on Boxing Day. At the Senate rostrum, Churchill reminded his audience, and the American people who were listening to his speech by radio, that he was half American himself, and, but for a quirk of fate, he might have had a seat there instead of the House of Commons in London. He also warned his audience not to understate the severity of the ordeal they faced. He predicted dark days to come in 1942, but was confident in their ultimate success. Churchill’s frankness, and boundless enthusiasm, charmed U.S. lawmakers, who gave him a thunderous ovation.

While the prime reason for his trip to North America was to woo the United States, and to coordinate the next steps in the Allied military campaign, Churchill made a two-day side journey to Canada. With the American trip off to an excellent start, Churchill felt that he was able to accept an invitation from Canada’s Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King to visit Ottawa. The trip was a “thank-you” to the Dominion for the significant contribution the country had made to the war effort in the form of manpower, materials, food, and money.

For obvious security reasons, Churchill’s visit to Canada was kept top secret until only shortly before his arrival in Ottawa.  But when the news broke, a wave of excitement gripped the nation’s capital. Flags and bunting quickly appeared on the city’s buildings and telephone poles. At shortly after 10am on Monday, 29 December, Winston Churchill arrived at Ottawa’s Union Station on President Roosevelt’s luxurious, bullet-proof, personal train, complete with the President’s personal valet, chef, and body guards. Also on board was Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had travelled down to Washington on Christmas Day to confer with American and British officials, and to witness first hand Churchill’s historic address to the U.S. Congress.

Despite the cold and a light snow falling, twenty thousand people filled the streets around Ottawa’s Union Station to catch a glimpse of Churchill. The official welcoming committee consisted of representatives of the Governor General, Cabinet Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, heads of diplomatic corps resident in Ottawa, and Mayor Stanley Lewis. As the train backed into the station, the British Prime Minister stood at the end-car platform, wearing a dark overcoat and a dark blue muffler, with a heavy walking stick in hand, and his characteristic cigar clenched between his teeth. He greeted the crowd’s welcoming cheers with broad smiles, waves of his hat, and his famous “V” for Victory sign. On exiting the train, Churchill was swamped by enthusiastic citizens who had burst through the police cordon as he made his way to the official car. Apparently, he was forced to use his elbows to reach the car, though he took all the jostling in good humour.

Churchill was driven from Union Station to Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, with whom Churchill would be staying on his short visit to Ottawa. Along the processional route, which took his motorcade down Nicholas Street, the Laurier Avenue Bridge, Mackenzie Avenue, Lady Jane Drive, and Sussex Avenue, thousands of Ottawa citizens cheered themselves hoarse. People clambered on top of cars to get a good view of their wartime hero who had sustained an Empire through more than two desperate years of war. Office windows on the route were jammed with spectators. Security was provided by scores of RCMP and Ottawa police both in uniform and in plain clothes.

Newspaper accounts commented that Churchill had been accompanied to Ottawa by Sir Charles Wilson, the prime minister’s personal physician. The Ottawa Citizen pointed out that Wilson’s presence signified nothing; it was “not that Mr. Churchill is in the least need of medical attention.” On the contrary, the paper said that the 66-year old British Prime Minister was “fighting fit,” looked younger than expected, and there was “no evidence of fatigue, nothing to indicate that the weight of his responsibilities is proving too much for him.” In reality, that assessment was far from the truth. Years later, it was revealed the night after his triumphant Congressional speech, just two days before leaving for Ottawa, Churchill experienced a gripping pressure in his chest, with pain radiating down his left arm. Wilson recognized the symptoms of a heart attack, but said nothing, telling Churchill that he had simply overdone things. Fortunately, for Churchill and the entire world, the symptoms eased, and the British Prime Minister continued with his gruelling schedule without further incident.

The following afternoon, 30 December, Churchill was taken in procession to Parliament Hill to address a joint session of the Senate and House of Commons. As Parliament was officially in recess, members were recalled for Churchill’s speech. Before entering the Centre Block, Churchill inspected a guard of honour consisting of personnel from the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers, RCAF, and cadets from the Canadian Officers’ Training Centre in Brockville. In charge of the guard was Major Alexandre Dugas of the Maisoneuve Regiment, recently returned from Britain. Again, the British leader was given a huge welcome by the many thousands of Ottawa citizens. To their cheers, Churchill got out of his car, and raised his hat in acknowledgement.

Inside, the House of Commons was packed. Almost 2,000 people, including MPs, Senators, privy councillors, provincial premiers, judges, clergy, high-ranking military leaders, and heads of Commonwealth and foreign delegations, sat on the parliamentary benches and on temporary seats set up on the Commons’ floor. The galleries too were packed with humanity, including a virtual army of photographers and movie cameramen there to record the historic proceedings.

Churchill in HofC

Churchill Speaking in the House of Commons,  Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada

At 3pm, Churchill took his seat to the right of the Commons Speaker, the Hon. James A. Glenn; the Senate Speaker, the Hon. Georges Parent, sat on Glenn’s left. Churchill’s arrival was the signal for minutes of near-frantic cheering from the assembled multitude. After the words of welcome, Churchill rose and strode over to the end of the table nearest the Speaker’s chair, where a bank of microphones had been set up. When silence was restored, Churchill addressed the throng, his words transmitted live over CBC radio, and to the crowds outside on Parliament Hill over a loudspeaker system. In his speech, one of his most memorable, Churchill thanked the Canadian people for all they have done in the “common cause.”  He also said the allies were dedicated to “the total and final extirpation of the Hitler tyranny, the Japanese frenzy, and the Mussolini flop.”  Alluding to defeatist comments made by French generals who in 1940 had said that in three weeks England would have her neck rung like a chicken, Churchill famously said “Some Chicken! Some Neck!”  Simple words, but ones that captured the resolve of a people to fight on to victory. The House erupted into cheers.

After his speech, Churchill retired to the Speaker’s chambers. There, Yousef Karsh, the photographer, persuaded the British leader to pose for an official portrait. Churchill gruffly agreed, giving him five minutes. When Karsh took Churchill’s iconic cigar out of his mouth, Churchill glowered. Karsh immediately snapped a picture, capturing the pugnacious pose that became symbolic of British resistance to Nazi aggression. (See Karsh photograph.) Karsh later said “By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me.” The photograph made Karsh internationally famous. Mackenzie King was so delighted with the photograph that he sent three copies to Churchill.

The next day, Churchill returned to the United States for more talks with President Roosevelt and U.S. political and military officials, as well as for a short, but much needed, holiday in Florida. On 16 January 1942, Churchill finally left America on a Boeing 314 Flying Boat called the Berwick, departing from Virginia to Bermuda. The intrepid leader took the controls of the plane and flew it for part of the journey. Arriving in Bermuda, he had been scheduled to rendez-vous with the battleship Duke of York for the remainder of the trip back to the United Kingdom. However, advised that the weather was favourable, and eager to get back home after being away for more than a month, he continued his journey to Britain by plane—an audacious undertaking; transatlantic air travel was still in its infancy. While the flight itself was largely uneventful, disaster was narrowly averted when the airplane accidently flew within five minutes of the coast of occupied France. When a course correction was finally made, the flying boat, now headed north to Plymouth Harbour, was identified by British coastal defences as a German bomber. Six Hurricane fighters were sent to intercept the airplane and shoot it down. Thankfully, they were unable to locate it. As Churchill laconically put it “They failed in their mission.”

Churchill returned to Canada in late 1943 to confer once again with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. By then, the tide of war had finally turned. Instead of focusing on how best to resist the Axis onslaught, the leaders, at La Citadelle in Quebec City, plotted the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

 

Sources:

British Pathé, 1941. “Churchill in Ottawa,” http://www.britishpathe.com/video/churchill-in-ottawa.

CBC Digital Archives, 2015. 1941: Winston Churchill’s ‘Chicken’ Speech, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1941-churchills-chicken-speech.

Cobb, Chris, 2011. Winston Churchill 70 Years Ago: “Some Chicken! Some Neck!” The Churchill Centre, http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support?catid=0&id=1360.

Dr. Tsai’s Blog, 2011. Did Churchill have a heart attack in December 1941?” http://doctorjytsai.blogspot.ca/2011/11/did-churchill-have-heart-attack-in.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1941. “Grim War Ahead, Churchill Warns U.S.,” 26 December.

————————–, 1941. “Prime Minister Churchill To Visit Ottawa And Address Parliament, 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “City Prepares Warm Welcome For Churchill,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Crowd To Hear Speech On Parliament Hill Tomorrow,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Mr. King Returns After Taking Part In War Conference,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Takes Ottawa By Storm As Crowds Shout Tumultuous Welcome,” 29 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Again Widely Cheered On Hill Arrival,” 30 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Promises To Carry The War Right To Homelands of Axis,” 31 December.

Karsh.org, 2015. “Winston Churchill, 1941,” http://karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits/winston_churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, 2015. http://www.ottawachurchillsociety.com/media/.

Wilson, James Mikel, 2015. “Churchill and Roosevelt: The Big Sleepover at the White House, Christmas 1941 – New Year 1942,” Columbus, Ohio: Gatekeeper Press.

Maier, Thomas, 2014. “A Wartime White House Christmas With Churchill,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 December.

World War II Today, 2012. “January 16, 1942: Churchill Returns to Britain By Air,” http://ww2today.com/16th-january-1942-churchill-returns-to-britain-by-air.

Image:

Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada, C-022140.