The Plains of Abraham

15 January 1908

The Plains of Abraham are one of the most important historical sites in Canada. They mark the spot where two empires clashed, setting the stage for the founding of what would become modern-day Canada. Outside the walls of Quebec, British forces under the command of James Wolfe defeated French forces led by the Marquis de Montcalm in September 1759, and occupied the city. Both commanding generals died in the battle. The British victory was the beginning of the end for the French Regime in North America.

It was also on the Plains of Abraham that the forces of the Chévalier de Lévis defeated the British led by James Murray seven months later in a virtual rerun of the previous battle. But there was one major difference. This time, the victorious French army was unable to capture the city. Shortly afterwards, Lévis retreated to Montreal when British ships arrived to resupply Murray.

France ceded its Canadian territories to the British in 1763 in the Treaty of Paris. In exchange, France retained valuable fishing rights off of Newfoundland and the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as a base for French fishermen, while the British gave back the important sugar-producing islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Many thought that France got the better end of the deal. Voltaire famously dismissed New France as quelques arpents de neige [a few acres of snow].

In late 1775 and early 1776, the Plains of Abraham were again the site of military action. Revolutionary U.S. armies led in part by General Benedict Arnold (yes, the same Benedict Arnold who later switched allegiance back to the British and became forevermore a byword for treachery) unsuccessfully laid siege to British forces at Quebec. When the local French population refused to rise up, the arrival of British ships forced the Americans to retreat, thus ensuring Canada remained British.

Despite the importance of the battlefield sites on the Plains of Abraham to the development of Canada as a nation, little effort was made to conserve them for posterity until the early twentieth century.

Plains of Abraham 1907, Edmund Sargent LAC 3858782

The Plains of Abraham, Quebec, 1907. The provincial jail is centre right, the Quebec City Observatory is on the left. Edmund Sargent, Library and Archives Canada, 3858782.

Their conservation story begins in early 1907 when a small Quebec delegation came to Ottawa to meet with Sir Wilfrid Laurier with regard to the upcoming 300th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Canada which was to occur the following year. The delegation sought funding from the Dominion government towards the celebration, the creation of a park on the Plains of Abraham, and the erection of monuments where English and French forces fought. While Laurier was sympathetic to the idea, he asked the delegation to go back home and flesh out their plans. That spring, under the direction of Mayor Jean-Georges Garneau of Quebec, the Quebec Landmark Commission released is report. It called for the preservation and maintenance of historic buildings and sites, the removal of private businesses (notably, the Ross Rifle Factory) from the Plains of Abraham, and the creation of a park from La Citadelle in the east to Wolfe’s Cove (L’Anse-au-Fulon) on the west. The Report suggested naming the entire park in honour of King Edward VII. The Report also called for the building of a national museum on the site.

These plans dovetailed nicely with those of Earl Grey who was an enthusiastic supporter of developing a national battlefields park in Quebec City. In December 1907, he spoke on the issue at the inauguration of the Canadian Women’s Club in Montreal. He said a national park consisting of the Plains of Abraham and the battlefield of Ste Foy would be a way of celebrating what amounted to the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Canada, the union of French and English in the Dominion, and the founding of “Greater Britain” (i.e., the British Empire). He noted that the idea had been received with “warm approval” by Premier Gouin of Quebec and by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the prime minister.

Plains of Abraham, Lord Grey LAC 157911

4th Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, 1904-1911, Library and Archives Canada 157911.

To these plans he added another element—the building of a colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace” with outstretched arms to stand on Cap Diamant. This statue would greet new immigrants to Canada, offering welcome and hope, in a similar fashion as did the Statue of Liberty in New York. Grey noted with disgust that the first thing immigrants then saw as they entered Quebec, or passed on their way to Montreal, was a jail, “associated with all that is darkest in the life of Canada.” Finally, the Governor General announced the formation of a fund that would seek donations from across the British Empire to help fund the renovation of the Plains. He closed by saying that King Edward had subscribed 100 guineas ($525—equivalent to about $12,000 today) to the battlefields fund.

A month later, on 15 January 1908, plans to turn the Plains of Abraham into a national park received a major boost in Ottawa. First, during the afternoon at their national conference, Canadian Clubs unanimously agreed that they would co-operate in helping to bring forward Earl Grey’s proposal to celebrate the tercentenary of Quebec and the preservation of the battlefields of Quebec at the Plains of Abraham and Ste Foy. Second, a mass public meeting was held at the Russell Theatre that evening in aid of the proposal. It was a packed house. All of Ottawa’s great and good attended. Speakers at the event included Earl Grey, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, the speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons, and the mayor of Ottawa.

At the Russell Theatre, the lead-off speaker was, of course, Lord Grey who repeated the message he made the previous month in Montreal at the Canadian Women’s Club. He congratulated the Canadian Clubs for “their spirited action” in support of his appeal to celebrate Champlain’s tercentenary by “rescuing the famous battlefields of Quebec from their present condition of neglect.” He singled out the Canadian Club of Edmonton in particular—the club had just pledged $500 to the project. Grey said that there was “no better way of doing honour to what may be regarded as the 300th birthday of Canada, than by taking the necessary measures to secure the nationalization of the battlefields of Quebec.” He added that “it was on the battlefields of Quebec that French and English parentage gave birth to the Canadian nation. Today the inhabitants of the Dominion… stand before the world not as English or French but as Canadians.”

Next up on the agenda was Sir Wilfrid Laurier who gave another stirring speech. “We should consecrate the ground around the old Citadel of Quebec, and make it a national property because it has been hallowed by the most heroic blood. We may certainly claim, and we of French origin, and of British origin, that nowhere was French dash and British resolution ever shown with greater éclat than at these places,” he said. Alluding to the 1775-6 American invasion, he added “And may I be permitted in this occasion to remember, British citizen that I am, a British subject as I am, that in my veins flows the blood of the race which saved the British flag at the time it was disgraced by those of Britain’s own kith and kin.” He noted that while monuments to victors are commonplace, the Quebec monument to Wolfe and Montcalm is probably unique in honouring both the victor and the vanquished. He was proud to recall that the monument was erected by the British government.

Robert Borden, the Conservative leader of the Opposition, echoed Laurier’s words. He also referred to the War of 1812 when “French Canadians saved Canada for the British at Chateauguay” when De Salaberry and 300 men repelled an American force ten times their size. He called the battle to “the Thermopylae of Canada.” (This was a reference to the famous battle in 480 BC when a small Greek force led by Leonidas of Sparta held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass.)

In addition to similar speeches by Speaker Dandurand of the Senate, and Deputy Speaker Marell of the House of Commons, the 7th Lord Aylmer also spoke in favour of Lord Grey’s proposal. He was the nephew of the 5th Lord Aylmer who was the Governor General of British North America and Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada during the 1830s. Aylmer’s inclusion in the evening activities was rather odd from a historical perspective. His noble forebear had not been known for promoting harmony between French and English. Rather, his policies exacerbated tensions between the two communities and contributed to the 1834 Rebellion. He was recalled in disgrace the following year. Whether Lord Alymer’s presence raised eyebrows is not recorded.

The evening wrapped up with a speech by Ottawa’s Mayor Scott. He moved “That this public meeting of citizens of Ottawa expresses its cordial endorsement of the proposal which has been launched by His Excellency Earl Grey for the fitting celebration of the tercentenary of the founding of Quebec and for the preservation of the historic plains of Abraham and of St. Foy, in that city, and pledged its hearty support to and co-operation in this most praiseworthy undertaking. Seconded by P.H. Taylor, ex president of the Canadian Club, the motion was unanimously approved.

With such distinguished support, the federal government quickly passed the National Battlefields Act in March 1908. The Act created the National Battlefields Commission with a mandate to acquire and conserve the Quebec battlefields and turn them into a national park, to preserve this legacy for future Canadians, and to develop the land so that the public can fully benefit from them.

A fund was also officially established for this purpose. Contributions came from across Canada and throughout the Empire. The Dominion government provided $300,000 with the provinces of Quebec and Ontario each giving $100,000. Other provinces provided smaller amounts. More than $50,000 was raised from Great Britain. In addition to the King, other illustrious contributors included the Prince of Wales, former Governors General and Princess Louise, who had been Canada’s vice-regal consort during the 1880s. Others also gave. The boys of Eton public school contributed $500. Here in Canada, collections were made across the country, importantly by the Canadian Clubs. Lord Grey gave a personal contribution of $1,000. Quebec City provided $50,000, with both Montreal and Ottawa each raising between $12,000 and $15,000 by the time of the tercentenary celebrations held in late July 1908.

Plains of Abraham, 1908, la messe solonelle 3362009

Tercentenary of Champlain’s arrival, Plains of Abraham, Quebec, La messe solennelle, July 1908, Library and Archives Canada 3362009.

The tercentenary celebrations were a triumph. While the history was sometimes shaky in its quest to find common ground between English and French, it was a fine show. Thousands of people dressed up in period costumes for the event held on the plains of Abraham where a re-enactment was staged of Champlain being greeted by indigenous Canadians on his arrival. The Royal Navy, the U.S. Navy and the French Navy all sent ships, this time in peace, to help celebrate the historic event. The new national battlefields park was officially dedicated by the Prince of Wales, the later King George V.

One thing not constructed was Lord Grey’s colossal statue of the “Angel of Peace.” Funding was likely part of the reason. Consequently, Canada’s answer to the Statue of Liberty was never built. It also took many years before the Plains of Abraham were restored to the state they are in today. The infamous Ross Rifle Factory remained there until 1931, even though the federal government expropriated the company in 1917. Jobs and where to put the factory were major issues. The provincial prison was finally closed in 1970. Restored, the building is now the Charles Baillairgé Pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

Sources:

Canada, Government of, Justice Law Website, 1908. An Act Respecting the National Battlefields of Quebec, 17 March.

National Battlefields Commission, 2016. Plains of Abraham, Inf Source 2016, http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/access-information-and-privacy/completed-access-information-requests/info-source-2016/.

Montreal Gazette, 1907. “Quebec Battlefields,” 14 December.

———————, 1908. “Quebec Battlefields,” 4 March.

———————, 1908. “From The Capital,” 10 April.

———————, 1908. “First Report of the Quebec Landmark Commission,” 29 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1907, “Wants A Colossal Statue On Heights Of Quebec,” 13 December.

——————, 1907. “An Inspiring Project,” 13 December.

——————, 1908. “Earl Grey’s Great Conception Endorsed By Citizens Of Capital, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Canadian Clubs Approve And Decide Upon Central Committee, 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Brilliant Conception,” 16 January.

——————, 1908. “Quebec Scheme,” 10 March.

——————, 1908. “An Appeal For Battlefields,” 13 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1907. “Save The Plains of Abraham,” 24 January.

——————-, 1908. Subscriptions Received,” 15 January.

Vancouver Daily World, 1907. “Ross Rifle Factory Causes Much Trouble,” 6 April.

Windsor Star, 1908. “Plains Dedicated,” 25 July.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1908. “Battlefield Fund,” 7 August 1908.

Women’s Memorial Building

21 December 1925

Intimations received mid September 1925 that the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King had informally agreed to provide a plot of land for the proposed Women’s Memorial Building must have been greeted with considerable satisfaction by Mrs. Asa Gordon. (Her first name was Amelia, but she was always known as Mrs. Asa Gordon.) Then in her late 70s, Mrs. Gordon had spent a lifetime in service, toiling for the great causes of the day, especially temperance and women’s suffrage. At one time, she was the Dominion President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union as well as the Dominion President of the King’s Own Daughters, an international Christian service group. She had also been a founding member of the Ottawa Women’s Club organized in 1914. Another cause dear to her heart was the erection of a memorial that would recognize the contribution of women to Canadian society, and their service through the Great War. She and the Ottawa Women’s Club had approached the government the previous January and had lobbied hard for funding. An Order-in-Council dated 21 December 1925 made official the government’s offer of land for the memorial.

Women's Memorian OJ30-1-26

Proposed architectural drawing for the Women’s Memorial Building,  The Ottawa Journal, 30 January 1926.

The site for the proposed Memorial Building was immediately to the south of the Dominion Archives building between Sussex Street and Lady Grey Drive, close to Nepean Point Park. It would have been difficult to find a more prestigious location. The government also drafted architectural plans for the proposed four-storey edifice that would conform with the nearby neo-gothic Parliament buildings and the baronial-style Château Laurier Hotel. There was a catch, however. Canadian women would have to raise $100,000 of the estimated $250,000 price tag for the Memorial Building before construction would commence. To this end, Mrs. Gordon, despite her advanced age, threw herself whole heartedly. The Ottawa Women’s Club immediately pledged to raise $5,000. Within two months almost half of that amount had been raised.

The reasons behind Mackenzie King’s support for the Women’s Memorial Building are unclear. It has been suggested that he wanted to curry favour with a large new electorate; women had only received the federal vote in 1918. However, it’s possible that the grant of land was a sincere gesture, particularly given King’s attachment to his mother. Regardless, politicians of all strips quickly got on board.

In addition to recognizing Canadian womanhood in all their activities, including as pioneers, war nurses and mothers, the building was to be the headquarters of national Canadian women’s organizations. The building would be non-sectarian and open to all women regardless of race. It would be a place for women’s groups to hold their national conventions and banquets. To accommodate everybody, Richard C. Wright, the chief architect of the Public Works Department, designed a four-story neo-Gothic building to be built of Nepean sandstone. As well as providing space for the national headquarters of the major Canadian women’s organizations, the edifice would contain a 2,000-seat auditorium, a banqueting hall, a museum/Hall of Fame, and archives. In addition to offices and a memorial for the historical contributions made by women to Canadian society, the building would also be used “for the cultivation of the finer arts and sciences,” and to provide an “inspiration for the future.”

An interim committee of Ottawa women, with Mrs. Asa Gordon as chair, was appointed to oversee fundraising activities until a national board was elected. To this end, representatives from more than two dozen national women’s organizations gathered first at the Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street and later at the Château Laurier Hotel to elect a permanent governing committee and to endorse the Memorial Building proposal. Among the women’s organizations that gave their support were: The King’s Daughters, The Catholic Women’s League, The Hadassah of Canada, The Women’s Art Association, La Fédération des Femmes Canadiennes Françaises, and La Fédération Nationale St. Jean Baptiste. The representatives at this inaugural meeting naturally chose Mrs. Gordon as their President. The organization was later incorporated as the Women’s Memorial Building Federation.

At the municipal level, Ottawa Mayor Balharrie threw his support behind the Women’s Memorial Building proposal. In March 1926, he appeared at a benefit concert of religious music held at the Keith’s Theatre organized by the Ottawa Women’s Club. At the benefit, Mayor Balharrie noted that monuments to deeds of men were commonplace, but that there were few to women. He reviewed the careers of famous women, including Florence Nightingale who organized nursing care for English soldiers during the Crimean War and in so doing turned nursing into a respectable profession, and Edith Cavell, an English nurse who was executed by the Germans during the Great War for helping Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium. He added that Canada owed much to women, “to none more that its mothers, who worked quietly and prayerfully at home during the dark days of the war.” He hoped that the provincial government would contribute much of the necessary $100,000 that the women needed to raise before the federal government would commence construction. Later, the City pledged $5,000 to the building fund. The concert only raised $100 for the building but it was optimistically viewed as the “nucleus” of the $100,000 fund.

Over the following years, women’s groups and churches, especially in the Ottawa area, held teas, benefits and socials to raise funds for the Memorial building. Any society or individual that donated $25 or more could enter the name of one person on the Memorial’s “golden scroll.” The name of every donor who gave a $1 or more would be entered in the “Book of Remembrance.” The name of any child, aged 16 or younger, who gave $1, with the consent of her parents, would be entered into the “Child’s Book of Remembrance.

Mrs. Asa Gordon campaigned tirelessly for the building. She argued that the memorial would be “a factor in the unifying of all classes, creeds and nationalities into the highest Canadian citizenship.” She requested grants from both Premier Taschereau of Quebec and Premier Ferguson of Ontario. When the provincial leaders came to Ottawa for meetings, Mayor Balharrie asked Premier Ferguson for a $25,000 provincial grant for the building. Ferguson said that the issue had come up at conference, but that some premiers were “not fully seized with the proposal.” He thought that a publicity campaign was needed to educate the people. Once citizens showed that they were “in sympathy” with the idea, he was sure that provincial legislatures would provide the necessary backing. Premier Taschereau said he would follow the lead of Ontario’s premier.

Funds trickled in. To give publicity to the Memorial, Mayor Baharrie gave the unveiling of a tablet that was to be installed on the wall of the Memorial Building a prominent place in Ottawa’s centenary celebrations held in mid August 1926. The brass tablet was engraved with Canada’s coat of arms in its centre with sprays of maple leaves and the word “Memorial” over it. On the left-hand side were the words “Dedicated to the Women of Canada,” with the same words in French on the right. The names of every person who donated $1,000 or more would be immortalized on the wall of the Memorial Building alongside the brass tablet.

Lady Byng, the wife of the Governor General, was asked to unveil the tablet at a ceremony to be held on the proposed site of the building on Lady Grey Drive. Among the invited speakers were Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Sir Henry Drayton, who would represent the opposition Conservative Party, and the Bishop of Ottawa. Souvenir booklets were prepared as a way of raising funds.

In the event, Lady Byng declined the invitation as her husband’s term of office ended before the Ottawa’s centenary festivities began and they had left the country. There was also a change in government, with the minority Liberal government replaced by Arthur Meighen’s Conservative Party in the famous “King-Byng Affair.” (Lord Byng had refused King’s request for new elections following the Liberals’ defeat in the House of Commons, but instead asked Meighen to try to form a new government. The Conservatives held 116 seats to the Liberals’ 101, with the remaining 28 seats shared among Progressives, Labour and Independent members. Meighan tried, but subsequently failed to win a vote of confidence in his government. New elections were finally called with King’s Liberals winning a majority in September 1926 just a month after Ottawa’s centenary celebrations.)

With political sands shifting, the organizing committee, headed by the indomitable Mrs. Asa Gordon, quickly tacked, and asked Mrs. Meighen to unveil the brass tablet. In the event, Sir Henry Drayton, the acting Prime Minister in the absence of Arthur Meighen, represented the federal government, and Lady Drayton did the actual unveiling. Mackenzie King, who was out of Ottawa, sent a congratulatory telegram, as did Lady Byng. At the ceremony, Sir Henry said that there were “some things on which we are all agreed upon, and this is one of them.” He also claimed that the Conservatives were at least partially responsible for the memorial building, saying that “this is one of the things which we let Mr. Mackenzie King do; in fact, we assisted him to do it.” However, in his speech, he entirely missed the point of the building. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of women as men’s equals, he applauded their supporting role. “The man who gets the best start in life is he who thinks he has the best mother in the world. Another essential to success is when a man believes he has the best wife.”

Over the next few years, fund-raising went on across the country, especially in the Ottawa region. It was hard going. A national membership campaign was launched in May 1928. However, the response was tepid. In Ottawa, where the objective was to raise $1 from every woman and girl, only 1,000 people contributed.

Some women were dead set against the proposed memorial. Lady Henriette Pope, a prominent Ottawa citizen, wrote a letter in 1926 to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen voicing her opposition to the use of public funds to what she called a “vainglorious scheme.” She thought that instead of allocating money to fund a monument to women, Ottawa City Council should use its $5,000 to help the poor buy fuel. When there was talk that the City might increase its contribution in 1930, she wrote a second letter saying that the inability of the committee of ladies to succeed after four years of ceaseless efforts was evidence that “the women of Canada will have none of it: their innate good senses and good taste repudiate such glorification”. City Council desisted.

Women's Memorial Foundation winding up 20-5-1936

Winding up notice of the Women’s Memorial Building Federation, Ottawa Citizen, 20 May 1936.

By early 1931, Mrs. Asa Gordon and her Women’s Memorial Building Foundation had raised only $46,407 in cash and pledges, far short of the $100,000 goal. The idea of erecting a building on Lady Grey Drive was slipping away. Promotion of the scheme shifted to emphasize the benefits to Ottawa, especially the attraction of a new large auditorium which could be used as a theatre that Ottawa lacked owing to the demolition of the Russell Theatre. Mrs. Gordon said that the Memorial building would be like London’s Albert Hall, and would be part of the beautification of Ottawa.

It was not enough. With the country gripped by the Great Depression, there was no money for a Women’s Memorial Building. In June 1932, the coup de grace came with the death of Mrs. Gordon, aged 85, in Columbus, Ohio, where she had been attending a meeting of the Sons and Daughters of the King. With the death of its most avid supporter, the building project also died. In December 1934, the City of Ottawa transferred the $5,000 it had promised to the Building Fund in 1926 out of an escrow account into the City’s general account as it seemed unlikely that the building would ever be constructed.

In 1936, at a special general meeting of the Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation at the King’s Daughters’ Guild on Laurier Street in Ottawa, acting President Jane R. Stewart signed the document winding up the Federation. The Federation returned the bulk of $26,293 it held in cash and investments to contributors, giving them back their subscriptions, plus 5% interest. 98 per cent of contributors of $2 or more were tracked down. The largest was the Ottawa Women’s Club which received $4,500. The estate of Mrs. Asa Gordon received $3,000. After paying liquidation and legal fees, the remaining $3,000 was turned over to the Crown in 1938.

Today, the site of the proposed Women’s Memorial Building is occupied by the National Gallery of Canada.

Sources:

Montreal Gazette, 1926. “Mrs. Meighen To Unveil Tablet,” 14 August.

———————, 1935. “Canadian Women’s Memorial Building Federation,” 26 November

Ottawa Citizen, 1925. “Grateful To Govt. For Building Site,” 25 September.

——————, 1926. “Drive Launched To Get $100,000 Memorial Fund,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “Two Deputations To Mr. Ferguson,” 10 June.

——————, 1926. “unveiling Brass Insert, August 19th,” 3 August.

——————-, 1926. “Plan Unveiling Founders’ Tablet,” 13 August.

——————-, 1926. “Memorial To Women Of Canada Will Be Erected In Capital,” 16 August.

——————-, 1926. “Commemorate Beginning Of Rideau Canal Construction And Women’s Memorial Building,” 19 August.

——————-, 1928. “Campaign In Aid Women’s Memorial Building Fund Is Starting Today,” 15 May.

——————-, 1930, “Letter to the Editor from A. E. Gordon,” 24 February.

——————-, 1930, “Lady Pope Protests,” 14 July.

——————-, 1934. “No title,” 12 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1925. “Govt. Accedes to Desire For Women’s Hall,” 12 September.

——————-, 1926. “Representatives of 440,500 Women Endorse Memorial Building Plan,” 30 January.

——————-, 1926. “Canadian Women’s Memorial To Be Erected On Lady Grey Drive, Near Nepean Point,” 30 January.

——————, 1926. “Mayor Balharrie Approved Plan To Erect A Woman’s Memorial,” 22 March.

——————, 1926. “Says Women’s Memorial Building Factor In Unifying All Classes,” 29 April.

——————, 1926. “City To Give $5,000 To Aid New Memorial,” 27 August.

——————, 1926. “Lady Pope’s Protest,” 10 September.

——————, 1937. “Returns $26,293 To Contributors,” 30 January.

——————, 1937 “Ottawa Women’s Club Will Receive $4,500 In Memorial Funds,” 1 February.

——————, 1938. “Return Contrbutions To Memorial Federation

Province (The), 1926. “Women’s Memorial At Ottawa Will Cost $250,000,” 4 April.

Urbsite, 2014. Ottawa’s 1926 Centenary Projects & The King-Byng Affair, 2 February, http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2014/02/ottawas-1926-centenary-projects-king.html?q=Women%27s+Memorial+Building.

 

The Corporation of Bytown

28 July 1847

Municipal elections don’t get the respect they deserve in Canada. Invariably, far fewer people vote in them than they do in their provincial or federal counterparts. And Ottawa’s municipal elections are no exception. In the 2018 election, the percentage of registered voters who actually voted was less than 43 per cent. In comparison, two-thirds of registered Canadian voters exercised their franchise in the 2015 federal election. Reasons for municipal voters’ apathy include a lack of awareness about what local candidates stand for, and a feeling that municipal governments don’t matter very much. Two hundred years ago, the sentiment was very different. The quest for independent, municipal governments responsible to local ratepayers was a potent political issue that divided communities.

When British sympathizers fled northward following the American Revolution, they brought with them the democratic processes that they had grown up with in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. These included elected municipal officials and town hall meetings where local issues were publicly thrashed out. For British military leaders in what was to become Canada, such democratic ideas were anathema. After all, hadn’t democracy led to the loss of the southern American colonies? In their view, free elections, even at the local level, threatened peace and order. What was needed was the firm guiding hand of Crown-appointed magistrates and officials.

In 1791, Quebec was divided into two parts under the Constitutional Act—Lower Canada where the French civil code and customs prevailed and Upper Canada where British common law and practices were introduced to accommodate the many English-speaking, United Empire Loyalists. However, General Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor, was loth to permit democratic notions from taking root in Canada. He was appalled when one of the first acts of the Assembly of Upper Canada was to approve town meetings for the purpose of appointing local officials. He stalled and prevaricated, favouring instead a system of municipal government guided by justices of the peace appointed by the Crown. It took decades for real democracy to be introduced. In the interim, power at both the provincial and municipal level was tightly controlled by a small group of powerful merchants, lawyers and Church of England clergymen who became known as the Family Compact.

Cracks in this authoritarian structure began to show in 1832 when Brockville won the right to have an elected Board of Police. Other towns quickly followed suit. In 1834, the town of York became the city of Toronto under its radical first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, and held direct elections for its mayor and its aldermen. In 1835, a new Act of the Provincial Assembly transferred municipal powers from the justices of the peace to elected Boards of Commissioners. However, this democratic reform was repealed amidst the Rebellions of 1838 by resurgent conservative forces who managed to frame the debate as between order and loyalty to the Crown on one side and disorder and republican disloyalty on the other.

This set the stage for Lord Durham’s famous investigation into the causes of the Rebellions and possible solutions. In his Report made public in 1839, Durham recommended the introduction of responsible government in Canada with ministers responsible to an elected assembly rather than appointed by the Crown. He also said that “the establishment of a good system of municipal institutions throughout the Province [Upper Canada] is a matter of vital importance. In 1841, the District Council Act was passed by Parliament. It was a compromise between conservative (Tory) forces that wanted to maintain central control over local affairs in order to ward off republicanism and radical (Reform) forces that wanted total local self-government. Districts would be governed by a warden appointed by the Crown and a body of elected councillors. While some municipal officials were appointed by the councillors, certain positions, including that of treasurer, would continue to be appointed by the Crown. It wasn’t until the “Baldwin Act” of 1849 (named for Robert Baldwin) that municipalities in Upper Canada were granted wide powers of self-administration.

The broad forces that were in play in Upper Canada were also in play in little Bytown which was established in 1826 by Lieutenant-Colonel By, the architect of the Rideau Canal. Initially, it was a military town where the British Ordnance Department was the dominant player in the local administration and a major landowner. In the 1830s, Bytown became part of Nepean Township and subsequently the “capital” of the Dalhousie District with an appointed warden. In addition to Bytown, other communities represented in Dalhousie District included Nepean, Gloucester, North Gower, Osgoode, Huntley, Goulbourn, Marlborough, March, Torbolton, and Fitzroy. It was a cumbersome arrangement owing to the size of the district and poor roads.

On 28 July 1847, Bytown gained new status when the Governor General gave his assent to “An Act to define the limits of the Town of Bytown, to establish a Town Council therein, and for other purposes.” Bytown was divided into three wards, with elections held in mid-September for seven town councillors—two from each of North and South Wards and three from West Ward. North and South Wards encompassed Lower Bytown, the home of mainly working class, Roman Catholic, Irish and French settlers. West Ward contained Upper Bytown, the smaller of the two Bytowns, and the home of the upper-class, Protestant, English elite. Given these demographics, Lower Town was broadly Reform territory, while Upper Town was a Tory bastion.

Bytown logo 1850

Emblem of the Mayor and Town Council of Bytown, 1848, The Packet and Weekly Commercial Gazette.

With eligible voters limited to male ratepayers, there weren’t many voters—only 878 men voted in that first Bytown election. Voting was also public. A secret ballot wasn’t introduced until the Baldwin Act was passed two years later. At the time, a secret ballot was widely perceived as being cowardly and a voting method that promoted political hypocrisy. Elected were Messrs. Bedard and Friel from North Ward, Messrs. Scott and Corcoran in South Ward and Messrs. Lewis, Sparks and Blasdell in West Ward. With the four elected from the North and South Wards all reformers, they held a narrow one-vote majority on Council over the three Tory victors elected in West Ward. At the first session of Council, John Scott was elected Bytown’s first mayor by the seven elected councillors who split down political lines: four Reformers versus three Tories.

Scott portrait finished

Portrait of John Scott, First Mayor of Bytown, 1848 by William Sawyer, City of Ottawa

In January 1848, John Scott was also elected to the Provincial Parliament as the member for Bytown—this was an era when politicians could hold multiple elected posts simultaneously. In the second municipal election held the following April, Scott chose not to run leading to the election of Tory John Bower Lewis as the second Mayor of Bytown. In 1849, fellow Tory, Robert Hervey, was chosen as Mayor.

Hervey’s term in office was marred by two major political events—the Stony Monday riots in September 1849 in which Tories and Reformers came to blows, inflamed by Hervey’s own partisan actions and rhetoric[i], and the disallowance of the very Act of Parliament that had incorporated Bytown two years earlier.

The disallowance of the Act has its roots in a dispute between the Town Council and the Ordnance Department. Under its Act of Incorporation, Bytown had the right to expropriate land. Using this power, the Town Council expropriated a strip of Ordnance property along Wellington Street for the purpose of continuing the street “over the hill between the two towns to meet Rideau Street, in a direct line” at Sappers’ Bridge. At that time, Wellington Street made a bulge around the base of Barrick Hill (later known as Parliament Hill). But with the construction of Sparks Street immediately south of Wellington Street to Sappers’ Bridge following the settlement of another dispute over the ownership of the Government Reserve between Ordnance and Nicholas Sparks in Sparks’ favour, Town Council wanted to straighten Wellington Street. According to the Packet newspaper, the piece of land was “of no value” to the Ordnance Department but was “essential to preserve the uniformity of Wellington Street.”

The Town went ahead and straightened the street over the strenuous objections of the Ordnance Department. Ostensibly, Ordnance claimed that the property was necessary for possible future defensive works. The Packet thought the dispute was caused by the “avarice of one or two self-interested individuals” in Ordnance. In late September 1849, rumours started to circulate that the Home Government in London was about to overturn Bytown’s Act of Incorporation passed by the Canadian Parliament and assented to by the Governor General two years earlier. Fearing this possibility, Councillor Turgeon (a future Mayor of Bytown) proposed repealing the offending By-law that had expropriated the land.

It was to no avail. In late October, the hammer came down. Bytown’s Act of Incorporation was officially disallowed by the British Government in the name of Queen Victoria at the request of the Ordnance Department. Bytown’s politicians were thunderstruck. The news “occasioned no little hub-bub,” said the Packet. “The shock was a dreadful one.” Nobody knew what it meant practically. While “magisterial business” would devolve to the Dalhousie District magistrates, what about other business? Could Bytown pay its bills? What about staffing?  The town was described as being in “a bad state” with everything “topsy-turvy.” The Packet fumed at the intrusion of the Home Government in London into a “parish,” i.e. local, matter, and darkly threatened it would be a new argument for the Annexationists (those who wanted the United States to annex Canada).

Map of Ottawa c. 1840, Taylor, 1986

Map of Ottawa, c. 1840 showing Ordnance land and Wellington Street. Nicholas Sparks, another major landowner, successfully fought the Ordnance Department for the return to him of the Government Reserve Land. This allowed for the development of Sparks street to Sappers’ Bridge by 1849. Taylor, John 1986. “Ottawa, An Illustrated History,” James Lorimer & Company, Toronto.

To make matters worse, the Ordnance Department erected a fence across Wellington Street close to Barrick Hill blocking passage of residents to Sappers’ Bridge. Fortunately, there was an alternate route down Sparks Street. The Packet raised its rhetoric called the street closure “a petty act of tyranny inflicted on the habitants of our Town.” It added, “If anything was every calculated to create in the breasts of the inhabitants of this Town an indignant opposition to the British Crown, it is the blocking of one our principal streets.”

Fortunately, municipal business was quickly regularized with the passage of the Baldwin Act, which allowed towns and cities to incorporate, and the holding of new Bytown Town Council elections in January 1850. With John Scott re-entering municipal politics and his election along with a majority of Reform councillors, Scott was re-elected Mayor of Bytown. Consequently, Scott has the honour of twice being the first Mayor of Bytown. The new Council presented “a humble Petition to the Master General and Board of Ordnance, praying that the Hon. Board may be pleased to grant the use of a space of land opposite Wellington Street to be used for street purposes.” Despite the begging, Ordnance refused to budge.

Residents began to wonder if there was something shady going on. One writer to the Packet in 1851 thought that the Corporation was conspiring in favour of Sparks Street merchants to keep traffic routed down this street rather than negotiating for the re-opening of Wellington Street. Finally, in June 1853, almost four years after the road was closed, Ordnance relented. But its terms were steep: the removal of the fence would be at Bytown’s expense; ownership of the strip of land would remain vested in Her Majesty; the road would be closed on May 1st every year to assert the Queen’s right; Bytown would pay a nominal rent of 5/- per year; no buildings could be erected on this strip of land; and Ordnance reserved the right to resume possession should it feel necessary to do so.

In time, the whole issue became moot when the Ordnance Department dropped its plans to fortify Barrick Hill.  On January 1st, 1855, the City of Ottawa, formerly Bytown, was incorporated. One year later, under the Ordnance Lands Transfer Act, ownership of ordnance land in Bytown, and elsewhere, was transfer to the Province of Canada.

 

Sources:

Canada, Department of the Secretary of State, 1873. Report for the Year Ending 30 June 1873, Appendix A., Department of the Interior, Ordnance Lands Branch, Ottawa.

Durham, Lord, 1839. Report on British North America, Institute of Responsible Government, https://iorg.ca/ressource/lord-durhams-report-on-british-north-america/#.

Elections Canada, 2018. Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2015 General Election, http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/42ge&document=p1&lang=e#e1.

Mika, Nick & Helma, 1982. Bytown: The Early Days of Ottawa, Belleville: Mika Publishing Company.

Owens, Tyler, 2016. “A Mayor’s Life: John Scott, First Mayor of Bytown (1824-1857),” Bytown Pamphlet Series, No. 99, Historical Society of Ottawa.

Packet (The) & Weekly Commercial Gazette, 1847. “Prorogation of Parliament,” 31 July.

—————————————————–, 1847. “The Corporation Election.” 18 September.

—————————————————–, 1849. “Bytown Corporation,” 20 September.

—————————————————–, 1849. “The Town of Bytown,” 20 October.

—————————————————–, 1849. “The Ordnance Department And The People Of Bytown,” 13 November.

—————————————————–, 1849. “No Title,” 22 December.

—————————————————–, 1850. “The Elections,” 2 February.

—————————————————–, 1850. “Vote By Ballot, Etc.” 23 February.

—————————————————–, 1850. “Town Council Proceedings,” 23 February.

—————————————————–, 1851. “Queries Addressed To No One In Particular,” 21 June.

—————————————————–, 1853. “No Title,” 11 June.

Shortt, Adam & Doughty, A.G. Sir, 1914. Canada and its Provinces : a history of the Canadian people and their institutions, Volume 18, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company.

Taylor, John H. 1986. Ottawa: An Illustrated History, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

Whan, Christopher, 2018, “Voter turnout for Ottawa’s municipal elections up from 2014,” Global News, 23 October.

 

 

 

[i] See Story for 17 September.

The Last Presentation of Debutantes

24 January 1958

Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, red letter days on the British social calendar marked royal levées and “drawing rooms” when aristocratic men and women met and socialized with the monarch. Levées, from the French word lever meaning to rise, had their roots in the old tradition of men attending the sovereign when he got up in the morning. To be present when the king used the chaise percée a.k.a. toilet was a great privilege for the up and coming courtier whose future could be made should the royal visage look favourably upon him. Intimacy meant power. Conversely, a courtier’s future could be dashed if he made some unpardonable faux pas, such as pointing and laughing. Like their masculine counterpart, “drawing rooms” were occasions for women to mingle with the sovereign, and became an opportunity for a young girl, or debutante, typically in her late teens, to be lancée, (literally thrown) into high society by being presented to the sovereign. Over time, the distinction between a levée and a drawing room faded.

These highly stylized rituals reached their zenith during the ancien régime in France prior to the Revolution in 1789, though Napoleon was no slouch in the etiquette department either. Courtiers attended every function of French royal life, bodily or otherwise. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth the First apparently mingled with commoners in the gallery at Greenwich Palace during the sixteenth century, with the practice become more regular and formalized by the reign of Queen Anne in the early eighteenth century. But it was during Queen Victoria’s reign that the tradition of presentation parties for young debutantes reached its peak. As anybody knows from watching Downton Abbey, coming out to Society, which had a very different meaning in those days, was a once in a lifetime event for a young aristocratic girl. It marked her emergence into adulthood—a sort of secular, Anglo bat mitzvah. It also marked the start of the social season, which included such events as the Royal Ascot, the Henley rowing competition and the yacht races at Cowes, as well as a constant swirl of parties and receptions. The aim of all these activities was the acquisition of a suitable husband, preferably one with a title.

In republican United States, the lack of a king or queen was only a minor hindrance. Debutante balls and cotillions were regularly held to launch young women into the upper ranks of American society. For those seeking a royal imprimatur, American heiresses with the right connections and heaps of money could be presented at the Court of St. James’s in London. Once presented, they could troll for a suitable British husband who had the right forebears but was short of cash to maintain the family pile.

debutante drawing room 230201888 oj

Notice of a Drawing Room, 23 February, 1888, The Ottawa Journal

Here in Canada, we were fortunate that there was a vice-regal “court” that followed the same traditions as in London. Governors General held levées and drawing rooms just as Queen Victoria did. Indeed, Lord Elgin held a levée in Bytown in 1853 when he visited the town to check it out as a possible capital for the new Province of Canada. By the time of Confederation, the presentation of debutantes to the Governor General was in full swing with “drawing rooms” held in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill.

At one such drawing room held in February 1870, guests were given specific instructions. Sleighs were to enter Parliament Square from the eastern Elgin Street gate, proceed past the East Block and set down guests in front of the Senate entrance which was lit by red lights. Sleighmen were then to exit via the central gates. Parliamentarians with wives and daughters were to enter via the House of Commons door which was lit by green lights. All guests were requested to provide two cards with the name of the person legibly printed, one for the aide de camp at the door and the other for the presentation aide. Presentations would end precisely at 10 pm. In little Ottawa, this was the social highlight of the winter season and received considerable newspaper coverage. More than one thousand people might attend these events. The names of participants were listed in the newspapers complete with descriptions of what the ladies wore and their jewellery.

A whole industry developed to dress ladies attending the drawing rooms, and to provide deportment lessons to the aspiring debutante who was, understandably, stressed about literally putting the wrong foot forward. Girls would practise in the privacy of their bedrooms curtseying before chairs. (For those who need to know, the proper style is to put the right foot in front, left behind, make a deep knee-bend, hold out the right hand, and go down very slowly while maintaining eye contact. Then rise and retire without turning your back on the important personage.)

While many wanted the social cachet of being presented to the Queen or Governor General, some saw the whole rigmarole as excessive or a waste of time. As early as 1863, the satirical magazine Punch called the Queen’s Drawing Room “The House of Detention for Ladies.” In 1896, an American debutante said in the press that “it was vulgar to come out. Boys never come out.  What is the reason of it all, I should like to know? Isn’t it really to announce to the world that we are a marriageable age and that we are on the market? It is perfectly intolerable. I think we are like victims decked out for sacrifice.” Instead of spending thousands on dresses and dinner parties, she asked her father to give her the money to start a business.

By the time of the more egalitarian 1950s, the idea of being presented at Court seemed out-of-date. In November 1957, Buckingham Palace announced that presentations of debutantes would cease the following year and would be replaced by garden parties. This would allow the Queen and the Prince of Edinburgh to meet a wider range of people in a less formal setting. The announcement was widely applauded. “The selection of the privileged few [had] become increasingly difficult and even invidious” said one newspaper. The news led to so many girls applying to be presented that additional presentations had to be laid on in 1958 to accommodate everybody. The last presentation of debutantes in London occurred in July 1958 with the Queen Mother officiating as Queen Elizabeth was ill. The last debutante presented was a Canadian, twenty-year old Sandra Seagram.

debutante oj 17-1-58

Full page advertisement for Le Bal des Petits Souliers, 17 January 1958, The Ottawa Journal

The Buckingham Palace announcement led Vincent Massey, Canada’s Governor General, to also end the custom of debutante presentations in Ottawa which by this time had long left the formal environs of Parliament Hill, and replaced by a charity event held at a major hotel. The last official presentation of Ottawa debutantes occurred on 24 January 1958. Five young girls were presented to Governor General Massey in the context of gala charity dinner and ball hosted by La Ligue de la Jeunesse Feminine (the League of Feminine Youth). The event, held at the Château Laurier Hotel, was called Le Bal des Petits Souliers (the Ball of the Little Shoes) with funds raised going to buy shoes for underprivileged children living in Ottawa, Eastview, Hull, Pointe Gatineau and Aylmer. Called the Fiesta Espanola, the Château was Spanish territory for the evening. Tickets were $15 per couple.

Guests at the Fiesta entered through a wrought-iron portico where they were met by life-sized mannikins of toreadors and ladies wearing mantillas. The ballroom was decorated in red and yellow—the national colours of Spain with wide streamers radiating from the central chandelier which was lit by tiny red lights. The head table was decorated with black lace fans and red carnations. Other tables boasted centrepieces made of straw baskets filled with lemons and red carnations. In the corridor outside of the ballroom, guests could go shopping for Spanish handicrafts, refresh themselves at a Spanish-style café equipped with small tables and umbrellas, or try their luck in the games’ alley. Usherettes were dressed as Spanish dolls in colourful costumes.

The evening started with a reception where the Governor General was welcomed by the president of the League and members of the organizing committee. Later, seated at the head table with the Governor General Massey and senior members of the League, were the Spanish Ambassador and his wife, Mr and Mrs Eduardo Propper de Callijon, and Mr and Mrs Lionel Massey. Lionel Massey was the Governor General’s nephew and Secretary. Lionel Massey’s wife Lilas was acting chatêlene of Rideau Hall as the Governor General was a widower. The five lucky debutantes were: Miss Isabel Larrabure, the daughter of the Peruvian Ambassador, Miss Louise Brisson, Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Pierrette Vachon, and Miss Catharine Woollam. Each girl was given a fan of white Spanish lace with red carnations and streamers courtesy of the League.

the debutantes oc 25-1-58

The Debutantes,(left to right) Miss Pierrette Larocque, Miss Catherine Woollam, Miss Pierrette Vachon, Miss Isabel Larrabure, and Miss Louise Brisson, The Ottawa Citizen 25 January 1958.

Spanish-themed entertainment was put on during the evening with Don Quixote, alias comedian Roger Aucouturier, making an appearance with his pantomime horse Rocinante to poke fun at Ottawa. Lively Spanish dances were also performed by a troupe of dance students while a group of “non-so-little boys in berets and short pants” staged a comedic chorus. Dance music was supplied by Fred Quirouet and his orchestra. A strolling guitarist played Spanish tunes throughout the evening. At the end of the night, Mr and Mrs J.A. Roy of 351 Nelson Street won two airline tickets to Madrid in a charity draw.

While the 1958 edition of Le Bal des Petits Souliers was the last presentation of debutantes to the Governor General made in Ottawa, the tradition staggered on in other cities for a few more years. In Montreal, Governor General Massey greeted 28 debutantes at the annual St Andrew’s Day Charity Ball held in early 1959. The Artillery Ball in Toronto, where the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario greeted debutantes, was continued for another year. The last official provincial presentation of debutantes in Canada occurred at Nova Scotia’s St Andrew’s Day Ball held in 1965.

Notwithstanding the withdrawal of regal support, the tradition of debutante balls continues to this day, especially in the United States, but also in Canada. The most prominent ball is New York’s biennial International Debutante Ball that began in 1954.  This is an invitation-only event for the daughters of wealthy, well-connected New York society families. The daughters of U.S. presidents have been invited as have carefully chosen debutantes from Canada and other countries. Candidate debutantes are selected by previous debutantes and must be accepted by a committee. They also have to be able to afford the presentation fee of US$22,000. While the Ball has traditionally been held in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, the event moved to The Pierre while the Waldorf-Astoria undergoes a major renovation.

Since 1994, Ottawa has had its own fairy-tale ball where teenage girls and boys can pretend to be princesses and princes for the evening. Sponsored in part by the Austrian Embassy, the Viennese Winter Ball is held annually in March. In addition to fostering a love of Austrian culture and ball-room dancing, the Viennese Winter Ball raises funds for charity. Single tickets will set you back $400. $5,000 will purchase an eight-guest corporate table. Discount student and young adult tickets are available for as low as $150. Teenagers aged 16 to 18 years of age eager to participate must apply and write two short essays, the first on why they want to participate in this year’s ball and the second on themselves—their community service, charity work, goals and interests. The Ball Selection Committee will then review and interview the applicants, and invite them to a dance practice. (Apparently, kids practise waltzes, fox-trots and polkas for weeks leading up to the big day.) Twelve debutantes and twelve “cavaliers” will be chosen. The dress code is a white, full-length formal gown for the girls, with white comfortable shoes. Complementary long-white satin gloves will be provided. Hair and make-up must be neat and polished. The boys must wear a black tuxedo with a white shirt, black bow-tie, cummerbund and formal, wrist-length, white gloves. Their hair must be trimmed. Unlike debutante balls one hundred years ago, the Viennese Winter Ball is open to all Ottawa youth. For those unable to afford it, financial assistance is available.

Sources:

Montreal Gazette. 1966. “Day of Debutante Ends In Halifax,” 7 March 1966.

Ottawa Citizen, 1863. “Drawing Room Days,” 17 July.

——————, 1870. “Levee & Drawing Room at Parliament House,” 25 February.

——————, 1896. “A Debutante Revolt,” 10 November.

——————, 1957. “Debutante Parties Out,” 19 November.

——————, 1957. “Reaction Is Favorable To Presentation Ban,” 19 November.

——————, 1958. “Debs Storm Palace For Last Party,” 6 January.

——————, 1958. “His Excellency Receives Debutantes At La Ligue’s Annual Charity Ball,” 25 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1887. “Queen’s Drawing Room,” 22 March.

——————-, 1958. “Debutante Ball,” 24 January.

——————, 1958. “Five Debutantes Make Bows to Society Presented to Governor General at Ball,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Two at Ball Win Trip to Spain,” 25 January.

——————, 1958. “Annual La Ligue Ball Aids Hundreds of Needy Children,” 25 February.

——————, 1958. “Debs set For Last Royal Fling,” 15 March.

——————, 1958. “Canadian Girl Last of Royal Debutantes,” 18 July.

Viennese Winter Ball, 2019. https://www.viennesewinterball.ca/.

 

Lord Elgin Visits Bytown

27 July 1853

What a difference a few years can make! In 1849, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kincardine, and Governor General of the Province of Canada, had been vilified in the Tory press in Bytown. News of a planned visit by him was greeted with jeers and worse. Shots were fired and rocks thrown in what later became known as the Stony Monday riots between Tories (Conservatives) and Reformers. One man died and many were injured. Serious fighting was only averted by the quick thinking of soldiers stationed on Barrick Hill who interposed themselves on Sappers’ Bridge between the furious armed factions. Needless to say, Elgin’s trip to Bytown was cancelled.

Lord Elgin James Bruce, Earl of Elgin LAC C-000291, 1848

James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kincardine and Governor General of the Province of Canada, 1848, Library and Archives Canada, PA-000291.

The affray was caused by Tory disgruntlement over compensation granted by the Provincial government to citizens of Lower Canada who had incurred losses in the 1837-38 Rebellion. While convicted traitors were denied compensation, the law applied even to those who opposed the government and Royal authority. To Conservatives, this smacked of rewarding disloyalty. Despite Tory pressure and his own personal qualms, Lord Elgin gave Royal Asset to the compensation bill. This action underscored the arrival of responsible government to Canada. On hearing that the bill had passed into law, an enraged Tory mob burnt down the Parliament buildings in Montreal in 1848, thereby launching the quest for a new, safer site for Canada’s capital.

By 1853, tempers had cooled and the vice-regal tour of the Ottawa Valley could finally proceed. This was now an opportunity for the Governor General to take the measure of the small community of Bytown as a possible site for Canada’s new capital city. This time, Bytown citizens and neighbouring communities were going to put their best foot forward in a charm offensive to elicit vice-regal support for the Ottawa Valley. It was a pivotal moment in Bytown’s history.

We are fortunate that Lord Elgin’s visit to Bytown and nearby towns along the Ottawa River was extensively covered in the Ottawa Citizen. As well, we have a remarkable first-hand account written by Mary Anne Friel, the widow of the last Mayor of Bytown and three times mayor of Ottawa. Penned in 1901, when she was quite elderly, Mary Anne Friel’s recollection of the visit corroborates the Citizen’s account of events while adding a delightful personal touches, including a vignette of her dancing with the Governor General at a ball held at the Aylmer home of John Egan, MPP, a prominent area lumberman and politician.

Travelling from Quebec City, the then seat of government, to remote Bytown in 1853 was not easy. Lord Elgin and his entourage left Quebec on Tuesday the 26th of November on the steam John Munn, arriving in Montreal shortly before 6am the following morning. Despite the early hour, the steamer was met at the wharf by hundreds of well-wishers and a full honour guard. From Montreal, the party took the train to Lachine on the St. Lawrence River where it met the steamer Lady Simpson for the journey to Carillon, arriving shortly after noon. At Carillon, Lord Elgin was met by a carriage and four horses sent the previous day from Bytown to convey him over the rough and uncomfortable road to Grenville. From there, Lord Elgin and his company embarked at 3.30pm on the Ottawa Mail Steamer Phoenix for the last stage of his journey to Bytown. The Phoenix, which was met partway by the steamboat Otter filled with well-wishers, finally arrived at Bytown at about 8.30 pm on 27 November 1853—the journey from Quebec having taken more than 24 hours.

At each stop along the way, Lord Elgin was feted, with local dignitaries welcoming him and expressing their support and loyalty. All stressed the importance of the Ottawa River and its tributaries as “repositories of great wealth” that only needed the “fostering hand of Government to make them a source of great individual and provincial prosperity.”

At Bytown, huge crowds started to gather as early as 6pm along the high banks of the Ottawa River and at the wharves to await the arrival of the Governor General and his staff. When the Phoenix came into view, a cannon mounted high above the river, most likely on Barrick Hill or Nepean Point, fired a 21-gun salute. On board the steamship, a band played God Save the Queen which was followed by the skirl of bagpipes. Disembarking from the Phoenix, a tired Lord Elgin was taken by carriage to Rideau Hall, the residence of Thomas McKay, where he was to stay during his short visit to Bytown. (A few years later, the home was rented and then purchased by the Canadian government as the official residence of the Governor General.)

At 10am the next morning, a large procession formed on Sussex Street and greeted Lord Elgin at the Rideau Bridge on the road that led to Rideau Hall. Proceeded by two constables with “wands” (most likely, decorated truncheons indicating their office), the Union Jack and a further two constables with wands, came Lord Elgin’s carriage. Thomas McKay was seated beside him. Following behind the Governor General’s carriage were carriages carrying Mayor Joseph-Balsora Turgeon and members of the Corporation of Bytown, the Warden and County Council, Members of Parliament, the County Judge, the County Sheriff, various members of organizing committees, the clergy and members of professions in their robes of office, including lawyers, doctors, and magistrates. Pulling up the rear were local residents on horseback and members of the public on foot.

The procession wended its way through the streets of Lower Town, crossed Sappers’ Bridge before heading to Barrick Hill where a bower, or arch, was erected at a spot described as commanding “one of the finest views on this continent.” (This was the very spot where the future Houses of Parliament would later be built.) There, Mayor Turgeon addressed Lord Elgin in both English and French. He assured the Governor General of Bytown’s “inalienable attachment to Her Majesty’s person and Government.” In light of what had transpired four years earlier, these words were not just a diplomatic nicety.  Without explicitly lobbying for Bytown to become the new capital of Canada,  the Mayor stressed the geographical position of the community “in the very Centre of Canada, situate on the banks of the majestic Ottawa, one of the largest rivers in British America, at the junction of the Rideau Canal with that river, —having extensive fertile salubrious country above and around us, inexhaustible in timber and minerals, and unequalled in water powers, —therefore we hope we may be excused in anticipating for our intended City a high rank in the future destiny of this great and fast growing country.”

In response, Lord Elgin thanked the Mayor for the hearty welcome accorded to him and said that the purpose of his visit was to become personally acquainted with “the capabilities and requirements of the Valley of the Ottawa.” He concluded by saying that “Bytown and the region of the Ottawa may henceforward reckon me among their most evident admirers.” These words were greeted by “loud and continued cheering,” said the Citizen.

Following more speeches by the Sons and Cadets of Temperance, who lobbied for total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, the Governor General, his entourage and other notables continued their progress, through the principle streets of Upper Town, before arriving at the Mechanics’ Institute and Athenaeum where an Exhibition had been hastily organized in only ten days by a committee headed by Dr. Van Courtlandt. There were four categories of exhibits—fine arts, manufactured goods, mechanical objects, specimens of natural history, and geological finds. The Exhibition Hall had been tastefully decorated with flowering plants and flags, with a birch bark canoe suspended from the ceiling. High up near the roof was a banner with the words “Only the presage of a coming time.”

The purpose of the displays was to show Lord Elgin that in spite of the rough-hewn outward nature of Bytown, the community was both cultured and prosperous with a sterling future. The highlight of the fine arts collection on display was the Flight into Egypt by Murillo lent by the Bishop of Bytown from the Roman Catholic Cathedral. In the manufactured goods section, fine tweeds produced by the textile factory owned by Thomas McKay were on display as well as other fabrics made in Bytown and New Edinburgh mills. There were also displays of hats, furs and leather products. In the mechanical section were carriages and sleds made by Humphreys and McDougall, agricultural implements, and a biscuit-making machine from Mr. A. Scott, and a lathe and portable bellows supplied by J.R. Booth. Thirty-three specimens of wood were on show as well as window blinds furnished by Messrs. Cherrier, Dickenson & Co. of New Edinburgh. Specimens of natural history included fossils, provided by Mr Billings, and other curiosities were displayed on a wide table that ran up the middle of the hall. To underscore the mineral wealth of the Ottawa Valley, six different kinds of iron ore were on show, along with samples of Nepean cement stone.

Naturally, there were speeches, lots of them. Elgin commented about how pleased he was to hear the addresses read “in the Scottish tongue.” He also indicated that he was fully aware of the importance of the lumber industry to the region saying “the Lumberman is followed by the Farmer who finds in the wants of the lumberman a ready market for the produce of his industry, and the Farmer, in his turn is immediately succeeded by the Mechanic and the Artisan.”

After his stop at the Mechanics’ Institute, Lord Elgin held a levee at Doran’s Hotel that ended at 1.45pm. This was followed by visits to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals before returning to Rideau Hall for a sumptuous collation for fifty guests held in a tent erected on the lawn of the residence.

After luncheon, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages to Alymer in Canada East (Quebec) to dine at the residence of John Egan, M.P.P. He party passed again through Bytown, then over the Ottawa River via the Union Suspension Bridge. The streets of the town were decorated with flags and evergreen branches. Several arches ornamented with flags and banners spanned the roads. In front of Messrs. G. Herou & Co., eight trees had been planted, with a large evergreen wreath hung from the front of the building with a twenty-foot banner. In the centre was a large crown.

At the Union Bridge, Lord Elgin witnessed an exciting descent of three cribs of timber decorated with flags through the timber slide around the Chaudière Falls. The signal to launch was given by a musket discharge. In the middle of the Bridge, the Governor General was met by a mounted deputation from Aymer, escorted by a “cavalcade of the Yeomanry of the Country” to accompany him to Egan’s residence. He then witnessed another timber crib slide on the Canada East side of the bridge before passing under an archway of pines into the village of Hull and onto the road to Aylmer.

The small town of Alymer was decorated for the great man’s arrival, with a reception held outside as the Town Hall was too small to accommodate the crowds. After the customary speeches, the vice-regal party repaired to the Egan residence where dinner was served, followed by a ball that started at 10pm and Mary Anne Friel’s dance with the Governor General. This was followed by fireworks.

The next day, Lord Elgin’s party voyaged up the Ottawa River on the steamship Emerald, passing Horaceville, the seat of the Honourable Hamnett Pinhey, where the Governor General was greeted by a 21-gun salute, before docking at Quillon (Quyon) for more speeches. From Quyon, the Emerald steamed to Union Village where the vice-regal party took the Chats Falls Horse Railway to portage around the Falls. At the other end of the portage railway, the group boarded the steamer Oregon at Chats Lake to run first to Arnprior, then to the home of Alexander McDonnell at Sand Point, Bonnechere Point, and finally Portage Du Fort, with speeches given at each stop. At Portage Du Fort, Lord Elgin was greeted by 250 Orangemen in full regalia with four white and green banners. The Oregon then retraced its journey, stopping at Fitzroy Harbour where the vice-regal party disembarked for a walk through the village to the mills amidst cheering crowds and gunfire. The citizens of Fitzroy Harbour weren’t shy about recommending Bytown as the new capital of Canada. In an address presented at that stop, the community said that they were glad that Lord Elgin had visited Bytown, “which from its central position in the Province [of Canada], its salubrious climate and its position in the valley of the Ottawa possesses the first claim to be the permanent seat of government.”

Lord Elgin replied that it gave him great pleasure to see “a large number of people of all creeds and races – English, Irish, Scotch and Canadians [French] – living together in the upmost harmony and exerting themselves for the advancement of Canada, the common country of the all.” Alluding to the disturbances of 1848-49, he added that “His day in Canada, as they were aware, had not been entirely cloudless, —but what care we now for the storm that has passed away… We had our dark and cloudy morning here in Canada—we now enjoy our noon-day sunshine.”

Afterwards, Lord Elgin and his party took the portage railway again and re-embarked on the Emerald for the return journey to Alymer. On the way, some of the ladies and gentlemen, “tripped the light fantastic on the upper deck.”  It was dark by the time the group arrived in Alymer which was brilliantly illuminated. After a short halt, the Governor General and his entourage took carriages back to Bytown, the route lit up by large bonfires set at strategic points.

After spending the night at Rideau Hall, Lord Elgin left Bytown for good at 5.30 the next morning bound for Montreal on the Phoenix—his trip through the Ottawa Valley an unqualified success.

Four years later, Queen Victoria chose Bytown, now renamed Ottawa, as the capital of the Province of Canada.

 

Sources:

Friel, Mary A. By. 1901. A Reminiscence, 4 November, Historical Society of Ottawa, A 2009-0147, Box #12, City of Ottawa Archives.

Leggett, R.F. 1968. The Chats Falls Horse Railway,” Science Museum, London, 7 February, https://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Research%20Notes/Chats%20Falls.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1853. “Lord Elgin’s Visit to Ottawa,” 30 July.

————————, 1853. “Exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute,” 30 July.

 

 

The Canadian Historical Dinner Service

18 June 1898

When John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, the 7th Earl of Aberdeen (later 1st Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair) was appointed Governor General of Canada in May 1893, few Canadians would have known that they were effectively getting two governors general rather than one. Lord Aberdeen’s wife, Ishbel, the Countess of Aberdeen, was not the traditional, self-effacing Victorian wife, content to live in the shadow of her illustrious spouse. While she fulfilled her expected roles of mother and hostess, her real passion in life was improving the lot of the poor, at home in Scotland, or wherever her husband was posted.

Lord and Lady Aberdeen LAC

Lord and Lady Aberdeen with (left to right) Dudley, Marjorie, George, and Archibald, Topley Studio-Library and Archives Canada, PA-027852.

Both she and her husband were progressive socially and politically, with links to the Liberal Party. Back in Scotland, she had founded charitable organizations aimed at improving the education and health of working-class women. When her husband was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the mid-1880s (and again prior to World War I), it was hard to tell who worked harder. Sensitive to growing Irish nationalism, Lord Aberdeen favoured Home Rule while his Countess worked tirelessly for Irish economic development, and better health care and housing for Irish poor. A Sinn Féin (Irish Nationalist) newspaper called her “the real governor-general of Ireland.”

In Canada, Lady Aberdeen continued her social crusading ways.  Immediately upon her arrival in the country, she launched the National Council of Women and was elected its first president, a position she accepted on the proviso she be considered an honorary Canadian. This was not some sinecure. She took the lead in making the Council a reality. She had already been elected President of the International Council of Women at the Chicago World Fair, a position she was to hold for more than thirty years. In 1897, she started the Victorian Order of Nurses in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, criss-crossing the country to drum up support and donations. She and other leading Ottawa ladies also worked hard to establish a public library in Ottawa, though this campaign didn’t bear fruit until some years after she and her husband had left Canada.

Charming, persuasive and an excellent orator, Lady Aberdeen’s effectiveness was also due to her willingness to use her high social position and contacts to her advantage. Needless to say, she irritated men who thought the role of the wife of a governor general should be limited to official hostess. Some saw her as bossy, sticking her aristocratic nose into things that weren’t her concern. One Halifax newspaper fumed that “we expect our Governors General to so govern their own families as to keep them out of mischief.” A New York newspaper said she was “too clever and too advanced for Canadians” and that she was “too much interested in movements.”

During Lord Aberdeen’s five-year appointment, the couple tirelessly crossed the country meeting and greeting Canadians of all types. They had a particularly strong connection with British Columbia where they had a large ranch. The Aberdeens are credited with launching the Okanagan fruit industry on a commercial scale. Lord Aberdeen, already extremely popular among Canadians of Scottish and Irish extraction, endeared himself to French Canadians by speaking French, and promoting French culture and heritage. It was he who started the practice of speaking in both official languages at public gatherings in Quebec. He also spoke Gaelic when he visited Nova Scotia. (There were so many Gaelic speakers that there was an attempt in the mid-1890s to make Gaelic Canada’s third official language.)

Aberdeen dinner plate

Dinner plate, Parliament Buildings and Ottawa River by Martha Logan (1863-1937), Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia.

In 1898, Lord and Lady Aberdeen took leave of Canada. His last speech in the Senate was on 13 June 1898 when he prorogued Parliament. It was an emotional affair for all concerned. After the Governor General had concluded his valedictorian speech, people adjourned to the drawing room of the Senate’s speaker. There, Lady Aberdeen was given a farewell present, the gift of senators and members of parliament. The Honourable George William Allan of the Senate and Mr. Frank Frost, the Liberal MP of Leeds North and Grenville North made the formal presentation of a 204-piece formal dinner service. Speaking on behalf of everyone, Senator Allan said that the dinner service was a “memorial to their esteem and affection in recognition of the signal devotion of Her Excellency [Lady Aberdeen] to the promotion of all good works in Canada and [her] invariable kindness to the members of the Dominion Parliament.” He noted that the painted plates were the work of the Women’s Art Association of Canada and was hence “most suitable for presentation, both because it is purely Canadian and because it is the result of efforts of Canadian women, in whom Your Excellency has always shown the deepest interest.”

Aberdeen Fish

Fish plate, Cytherea gibbia, Halymenia ligulata by Lily Osman Adams (1865-1945), Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia

Lady Aberdeen was surprised and genuinely touched by the magnificent gesture. She responded without notes, saying that she was “overwhelmed” by the splendid gift. She added that the parliamentarians “could not possibly have chosen anything that [she and her husband] could have valued more,” and that it held “a special value to [her], being handiwork of those Canadian women workers with whom [she had] so many cherished associations of affectionate sympathy and co-operation for common aims and common works.” She concluded by saying that during every festive event, the plates would remind them of their stay in Canada.

The dinner service had its origins in an idea championed two years earlier by Mary Ella Dignam, the founder and president of the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC) as a way of celebrating the 400th anniversary of the John Cabot’s journey of discovery to North America in 1497.  Sixteen Canadian women artists were jury-selected to paint images of Canadian places of historic importance as well as examples of Canadian flora and fauna on the 204-piece, ceramic dinner service.[1] Dignam hoped that the Dominion Government would buy the service, which was called the Cabot Commemorative State Service, for use at Government House (Rideau Hall) for state banquets. The selling price was $1,000 (roughly $30,000 in today’s prices).

Aberdeen soup

Soup plate, Entrance to Fort Lennox, by Clara Elizabeth Galbraith (1864-1941), Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia

In an interview that appeared in The Globe newspaper in 1897, Dignam credited a Mr. Howland (most likely Oliver Aiken Howland, an Ontario politician and future mayor of Toronto) as coming up with the idea of commemorating the event with a historical work, and a Mr. Thompson with the suggestion that the work take the form of a state dinner service. However, Dignam was the person who brought the idea to fruition. In addition to honouring Cabot and equipping Rideau Hall with a distinctively Canadian dinner service for state events, Dignam hoped that the work would help establish ceramic art as a “permanent industry” in Canada.

The inspiration for a Canadian state dinner service appears to have come from south of the border. In 1879, the wife of then U.S. president Rutherford Hayes commissioned a state dinner service for the White House featuring American flora and fauna. The plates were designed by the American artist Theodore R. Davis and were produced by a company in Limoges, France. While this American service may have provided the model for the Canadian dinner service, Dignam was adamant that there was no resemblance between the two services except for their intended use. The American plates were designed by one man and decorated in one factory, whereas the Canadian plates were the designed by many female artists and were made across the country.

Aberdeen dessert

Dessert plate, Redcurrants by Alice M. Judd (18?-1843), Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia

After being selected through a competition, the sixteen artists bought commercially-produced, plain white, ceramic “blanks” produced by Doulton China of England for $6.60 a dozen. Dignam promised the artists at least $60 less ten percent for twelve pieces of original ceramic art, on the assumption that the service would be sold for $1,000. The rest of the funds raised would go to cover other expenses such as postage. If the service didn’t sell, the artists were on the hook to find buyers for their creations.

Each place setting consisted of a soup plate, fish plate, dinner plate, game plate, salad plate, cheese plate, dessert plate and a coffee cup and saucer. Each plate and cup had its own unique design. A ceramics committee of the WAAC provided a collection of pictures and sketches of Canadian historic sites, Canadian game animals, fish, shells and ferns for the inspiration of the artists. Artists were assigned plates to design, paint and fire. For example, Mrs Egan of Halifax and Miss Whitney of Montreal were assigned the game plates, with the former painting large game birds and the latter small game birds. On the rim of the game plates were painted the food favoured by the species shown in the centre. On the back of every plate was a special red logo of the shield of the WAAC surmounted by rendering of Cabot’s ship, the Matthew, with the dates 1497-1897 underneath.

Aberdeen saucer

Saucer, Jewel weed by Anna Lucy Kelly (1849-1920), Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia

The artists had only four months to complete their designs and fire the plates. Working in isolation from each other, the full dinner service was only seen in its entirety when the ceramics committee assembled it for inspection. The Cabot Commemorative State Dinner Service went on public display at the Pantecnetheca (116 Yonge Street) in Toronto in July 1897. It was subsequently displayed during the British Association meeting held in Toronto the following month, and at the headquarters of the WAAC where Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, and Lady Laurier inspected the pieces. The dinner service then travelled to other cities for public viewing.

While the dinner service was highly praised, Mary Dignam was unable to persuade the Dominion Government to part with the $1,000 needed to cover the costs of production. So, Dignam approached Lady Edgar, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, who put her in touch with a number of senators and members of Parliament. More than 150 senators and MPs put up the required $1,000 in a private subscription to purchase the dinner service to honour the Canadian achievements of Lady Aberdeen.

The dinner service, now called the Canadian Historical Dinner Service, went home with Lord and Lady Aberdeen and took up residence in their home, Haddo House, where it was stored in a specially-built cabinet. The dinner service, which is now owned by the National Trust of Scotland, resides there to this day. In 1997, part of the service was exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, now known as the Canadian Museum of History, for the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s journey to North America.

Sources:

Duncan, March 2015, “An Irishman’s Diary on Lady Aberdeen,” The Irish Times, 3 March.

Elwood Marie, 2018. “The Cabot Commemorative State Service for Canada, 1897 – A History,” Canadian Museum of History, https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/cadeau/caint02e.shtml.

—————–, 1977. “The State Dinner Service of Canada, 1898, Material Culture Review, Vol. 3, Spring, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/MCR/article/view/16955/23046.

Globe (The), 1897. “Chit Chat,” 15 April.

—————, 1897. “The State Dinner Set,” 23 July.

—————, 1897. “Chit Chat,” 8 October.

—————, 1897. “Ceramic Art,” 4 December.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1997, “Exhibits celebrate unusual art objects,” 8 September.

Ottawa Evening Citizen (The), 1898. “A Farewell to the Aberdeens,” 14 June.

[1] Lily Osman Adams, Jane Bertram, M. Louise Couen, Alice M. Egan, Clara Elizabeth Galbraith, Justina A. Harrison, Juliet Howson, Margaret Irvine, Alice Lucy Kelley, Margaret McClung, Hattie Proctor, M. Roberts, Phoebe Amelia Watson and Elizabeth Whitney.

Freiman’s becomes The Bay

24 November 1971

The A. J. Freiman Department Store was an Ottawa retailing institution that dated back to the end of the nineteenth century. Its founder was Archibald (Archie) Jacob Freiman who had immigrated to Canada as a child with his family in the late 19th century from Lithuania. Coming to Ottawa from Hamilton in 1899, the nineteen-year old Freiman and his partner Moses Cramer started the Canadian Home Furnishing Company at 223 Rideau Street close to Cumberland Street. The company sold carpets, oilcloth and other types of household furnishings. The following year, the firm expanded, moving into next door 221 Rideau as well. In 1902, the firm moved into still larger quarters at 73 Rideau Street.

Freiman logo 1911-10-23 TOJ

Freiman’s logo after Archie Freiman bought out his father’s interest in the company, 23 October 1911, The Ottawa Journal

Despite the company’s success, the Freiman-Cramer partnership foundered when Freiman announced his intention of opening a credit department which would permit customers to purchase goods on installment. This was just too risky for the conservative-minded Cramer. Fortunately, Frieman’s father, Hersh, stepped in, becoming young Archie’s partner. In 1911, Archie was ready to go it alone, and he bought out his father’s share of the business. Over time, the name of the store morphed from The Canadian Home Furnishing Company, A.J. Freiman, Proprietor, to A. J. Freiman Ltd. Ottawa residents knew it simply as Frieman’s. In part, the change in name reflected the shift in the nature of the firm’s business. In a 1925 interview, Freiman said that he had always been interested in the possibilities of a general store.

Freiman 1920-11-12 TOJ

Freiman’s logo, 12 November 1920, The Ottawa Journal

Consequently, he added a men’s and women’s clothing to his line of products, thus setting the stage for the development of a department store. He also indicated that beyond hard work, the secret of his success was advertising.

In 1944, Archie died suddenly after he had unveiled a plaque in the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue on King Edward Street in honour of his friend, the synagogue’s cantor. Archie’s son, Lawrence, took over the family business.

Freimans 1939royalvisitMikkan4169781

Freiman’s Department Store, Rideau Street, decorated for the 1939 Royal Visit, Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4169781.

Under Lawrence Freiman’s direction, the retail company continued to thrive and expand, always keeping up with the times. Freiman’s was one of the first Ottawa stores to have an escalator, and as markets moved and changed, the company moved and changed with them. When people began settling in the suburbs after World War II, Freiman’s followed, opening a branch store in Ottawa’s first mall, the Westgate Shopping Centre on Carling Avenue in 1955. Freiman’s was also quick to introduce basement discount outlets for the budget conscious and in-house boutiques for the fashion minded. As well, it offered a phone-in service called Freiman’s Buy-Line. With its Charge-a-Plate, customers could also put things “on their account.”

Freimans1946fashionshowOffice National du Film du CanadaLACMikkan4310145

Freiman’s first fashion shop after the War, April 1946, National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada, Mikkan 4310145.

However, by the late 1960s, it was increasingly difficult for the firm to compete successfully. Lawrence Freiman’s health began to fail. He starting spending several months each year in Palm Springs, California or Palm Beach, Florida; his doctors felt the warm weather would do him good. He also had other interests. He was a two-term President of the Zionist Organization of Canada and was the Chairman of the Board of the new National Arts Centre. Of necessity, the direction of the company passed to the next generation—A. J. Freiman II and son-in-law Gordon Roston. While the two were capable young men, the company lacked depth. Lawrence feared that Freiman’s didn’t have the calibre of senior management necessary for both the present and the future.

Freimans 1946-10-05 TOJ

Freiman’s art deco logo from the 1940s, 5 Ocotber 1946, The Ottawa Journal

Family-owned, quality department stores also found it difficult to attract the talent needed to compete with the larger, nation-wide chain stores that offered better career possibilities. Expansion also required vast sums of money that family-owned business, like Freiman’s, simply didn’t have.

As well, the Ottawa market was becoming increasingly competitive with no less than eight new department stores under construction or under consideration during the summer of 1971 says Lawrence Freiman in his autobiography. Simpson-Sears had gone into Carlingwood Mall when it opened in the late 1950s, and had moved into the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in 1967 and was about to take over the former Murphy-Gamble store on Sparks Street. Eaton’s was also entering the Ottawa market with an anchor store in the new Bayshore Shopping Centre scheduled to open in 1973. The Hudson’s Bay Company of Winnipeg was also eager to have an Ottawa presence. In August 1971, the firm approached Lawrence Freiman about a friendly take-over.

Freimans logo 1965-04-02 TOJ

Freiman’s logo, early 1960s, 2 April 1965, The Ottawa Journal

It was an opportunity that the ailing Lawrence couldn’t refuse. Although he had hoped to leave Freiman’s to the next generation, neither his son nor his son-in-law were interested in running the company as they would not have a controlling interest. With the family’s shareholding becoming increasingly dispersed over time, they would be at the mercy of people with no direct involvement in the firm’s operations. As Lawrence said in his autobiography, his son and son-in-law wanted to be “their own people.” The clincher of the deal was the Bay’s promise to honour Freiman’s pension commitments to staff. Lawrence himself was to receive an annual pension of $35,000.

Freimans logo 1967-03-22

Freiman’s logo, late 1960s, 22 March 1967, The Ottawa Journal

On 24 November 1971, the news broke in both Ottawa and Winnipeg: The Hudson Bay Company was to buy Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street, its two branch stores located in the Westgate Shopping Centre and on St. Laurent Boulevard and its two discount “Freimart” outlets. It was virtually a “done deal.” The Freiman family had already agreed to sell their 70 per cent share of the publicly–traded company for $6 per share, a mark-up of $1.25 over the last trading price on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The deal valued the company at $4.59 million.

That day, staff crowded into Lawrence Freiman’s office on Rideau Street to hear the news. Also present was Don McGiverin, the Managing Director of the Bay’s 200 retail outlets across Canada. Freiman and McGiverin reassured employees that their futures in the company was secure and that their pension rights had been preserved. McGiverin added that Freiman staff could “aspire” to any position in the Canada-wide company.

The investment dealer community was surprised by the comparatively low price put on Freiman’s shares. Even though the company’s profitability had slipped somewhat during the first half of 1971 to $86,626 from $101,274 over the same period the previous year on sales of almost $14 million, the company was in sound financial shape. According to one broker, Freiman’s book value was greater than $9 per share—but still down from the $9.75 per share price the company had been valued at when it had gone public roughly ten years earlier. The company’s shares had traded as high as $13 some months earlier, but their value had fallen in tandem with a broad sell-off in the Canadian stock market. Another dealer thought the $6 price was deceptive. As the Freiman’s pension plan was unfunded, the Bay’s all-included cost of purchasing the company was roughly $8 per share if one included the cost of the Bay assuming the firm’s pension liabilities.

News of the take-over was greeted with sorrow and concern in some quarters. The company had a reputation of being a good employer. A letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen appeared shortly after the announcement. Written by Mansab Ali Khan, the letter read: “The magnanimity and generosity [of Freiman’s] toward colored people is very well known. Any qualified person from Asia or Africa who applied for a job in that company was never refused employment because of color or nationality.” Mr. Ali Khan hoped that the new owners would “follow in the footsteps of A.J. Freiman.” The Citizen opined that it was “not a surprise to see Freiman’s go,” but Ottawa “won’t be quite the same.”

Freimans Bayman26-6-73 TOC

The Arrival of “Bayman,” 26 June 1973, The Ottawa Citizen

The Bay officially took control of Freiman’s shortly before Christmas 1971 and began operating under the name Freiman-Hudson Bay Company. Freiman’s shareholders received one last dividend of 5 cents per share, payable in mid-January 1972. Gordon Roston, Lawrence Freiman’s son-in-law was appointed Vice-President and General Manager. A senior HBC executive was appointed Assistant General Manager. A.J. Freiman II remained on the company’s Board of Directors.

In June 1973, Freiman’s was subsumed completely within the Bay, and the Freiman name disappeared from Ottawa retailing. To mark the event, there was a one-day celebration at the Rideau Street, Westgate and St. Laurent stores. Models showed fashions worn by people over the Bay’s 300-year history. The store also launched “Bayman,” a superhero who fought inflation with Bay Day flyers “full of top quality merchandise at great savings,”

Lawrence Freiman died in 1986. The eponymous Lawrence Freiman Lane that runs behind the National Arts Centre recognizes Lawrence’s contribution to the arts in Ottawa. An arcade enclosed within the Hudson Bay Company between Rideau Street and George Street is officially known as the Freiman Mall. This passage had previously been known as Freiman Street, and before that as Mosgrove Street. When the Rideau Centre was constructed at the beginning of the 1980s, the City of Ottawa closed the street and leased it to the Bay on the proviso that the company enclosed the space and allowed through access to the Byward Market. A plaque in the Mall unveiled by Mayor Marion Dewer in 1983 honours Freiman’s Department Store and the Freiman family. The pedestrian bridge that links the Rideau Centre to the Hudson Bay Company above Rideau Street is also officially known as the Freiman Bridge.

Sources:

Figler, Bernard, 1959. Lillian and Archie Freiman, Biographies, Northern Printing and Lithography Co.: Montreal.

Freiman, Lawrence, 1978. Don’t Fall Off The Rocking Horse: An Autobiography of Lawrence Freiman, McClellan and Stewart: Toronto.

Ottawa Citizen (The), “Bay buying Freiman’s Company offering $6/shr.” 24 November.

————————-, 1971. “A.J. Freiman Sales Higher,” 8 October.

——————, 1971, “Freiman sale surprises financial community,” 25 November.

——————, 1971. “Freiman terms out,” 9 December.

——————, 1971. “Brocker backs Freiman deal, 10 December.

——————, 1971. “New Freiman top brass includes present hands,” 15 December.

——————, 1971. “Open to all,” 17 December.

——————, 1973. “Big store chains learning capital a strong market,” 21 July.

——————, 2015. “Council approves Freiman bridge deal,” 13 May.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1971. “Hudson’s Bay buying Freiman’s,” 24 November

————————–, 1971. “Enter The Giants,” 25 November.

————————–, 1971. “The Bay takes over Freiman’s Dec. 20,” 15 December.

————————–, 1973. “Freiman’s Becomes The Bay,” 25 June.