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.

To Arms! The Fenians Are Coming

7 March 1866

Canadians are taught in school that Canada was the product of the Fathers of Confederation immortalized in the 1883 painting by Robert Harris. (The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 fire that gutted the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.) The fathers include such notables as John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, Étienne-Paschel Taché, Samuel Tilley, and Charles Tupper. One “father” that is seldom mentioned is the Fenians.

Fenians

The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York, published by John Bradburn, Villanova Digital Library.

Waves of Irish immigrants had come to North America during the first half of the nineteenth century following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the potato famine of the 1840s with the ensuing “clearances” or evictions of starving, penniless, farm labourers. 2,250,000 Irish men women and children took the perilous journey across the Atlantic, of whom roughly 500,000 came to Canada. Needless to say, many Irish immigrants harboured few warm feelings towards the British who controlled Ireland. Some continued their fight for an independent Ireland using violence. One such group was the Fenians.

They saw their chance in the mid-1860s. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 with a victory for the northern Union Army. Thousands of war-hardened soldiers of Irish descent were demobilized. Sympathy for the Irish cause and bitterness towards the British was running high in the United States at that time. During the Civil War, Britain and British North America were neutral but had favoured the Confederate cause. War had almost broken out between the Britain and the U.S. Union government in 1861 over the “Trent affair” when a U.S. naval ship stopped the Trent, a British merchantman, and forcibly took captive two Confederate diplomats on their way to London from Cuba. Britain protested this violation of its neutrality. In Canada, militias were hastily organized to help defend their country in the event of an American invasion.  In the end, the Union government backed down and returned the two Confederate emissaries, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts. While the threat of war receded, British-American relations remained cool owing to the success of the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, which had been built in secret in Britain in 1862, and blockade runners based in British possessions in the West Indies and Bermuda who traded arms to the South in exchange for cotton for the textile factories of Britain.

In 1865, Fenians based in the United States tried to free Ireland. They failed miserably.  A ship carrying arms and munitions to Ireland was seized by the British en route. Meanwhile, the Irish people ignored the call to revolt. Following this setback, a group of American Fenians came up with a new, quixotic plan. They would invade British North America. Once this was accomplished, they figured they would have a base of operations to continue the fight for an independent Ireland, or would use their conquest of Canada to somehow force the British to leave Ireland. Led by former senior U.S. army officers (for example, the Fenian Secretary of War was General T.W. Sweeny, the commander of the 16th United States Infantry), the slogan at the 1865 Fenian Convention in Cincinnati was “On to Canada!”

With U.S. public opinion anti-British, the hope was that the U.S. government would turn a blind eye to the assembly of Fenian soldiers and munitions on the frontier with Canada. The Fenian leaders believed that as many as 50,000 war-hardened volunteers would join their army and that the Irish in Canada would rise up and join the invading force. (In actuality, the Fenian cause had few supporters in Canada where Irish settlers were prospering and whose religious rights were protected.) They thought that a quick victory would result in the recognition of an Irish Republic by the United States government, and subsequently by European nations.

Fenian conventions, meetings and fund-raisers in the United States were extensively covered in the press. So, their plans and objectives were hardly secret. British spies also kept an eye on them. Initially, Canadian and British authorities didn’t take the Fenians too seriously believing that the U.S. government would intervene if they went too far. But by early March 1866, rumours were rife that a Fenian invasion was imminent, possibly on St. Patrick’s Day. Armed men and were assembling on several points on the Canadian border as well as out east in Maine on the border with the Colony of New Brunswick.

Fenians Civil service reg

The Civil Service Rifle Corps morphed into the Civil Service Rifle Regiment in October 1866. Every civil servant (all men at the time) between the ages of 18 and 45 were members.

On 7 March 1866, the government of the Province of Canada under John A. Macdonald called for 10,000 men of the volunteer forces to be mobilized in defence of the Province in 24 hours for three weeks duty, and go wherever required. The call-up included Ottawa’s Civil Service Rifle Corps which went on parade the following afternoon.

The Civil Service Rifles had been formed in Quebec City in 1861 following the Trent affair. When the seat of government moved to Ottawa in 1865, the Corps moved as well. Two days after Macdonald’s call to arms, the Rifles were guarding Gilmour’s Armoury on Hugh Street. According to a history of the Rifle Corps, on that first night of guard duty no rations had been provided for the sergeant, the two corporals and the twelve men on duty. So, somebody ordered in a lavish meal consisting of beef sirloin and plum pudding from the posh, members-only Rideau Club. The meal was described “as find a spread as any gourmand could possibly desire.” Unfortunately, the men had a hard time enjoying it. Twice, they were called out in the middle of their meal leaving Rideau Club waiters to keep things warm. Finally, the men sat down to eat fully dressed and armed.

Other area volunteer units were also mobilized. These included the Bell’s Corner Company, the Argenteuil Rangers, 1st Company, the Ottawa Rifles, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies, and the Buckingham Infantry Company. These companies, along with the Civil Service Rifles, were assembled into the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wily at the end of March. Later in 1866, the 43rd Carleton Battalion of Infantry was formed uniting units from Bell’s Corners, Huntley, Metcalfe, North Gower, Munster, Richmond, Manotick, Vernon and Duncanville.

On orders from the Department of the Militia, volunteers across the Province extended their guard duty to bank branches, railway stations, telegraph offices, and post offices. Here in Ottawa, there were little trouble beyond a couple of minor incidents. On one occasion, an old drunkard was taken into custody when he threatened to burn down the armoury. A second, more serious incident occurred at the railway station when Private Maingy was assaulted by Patrick Mahoney. Maingy subdued Mahoney who was conveyed to the guard house. When he subsequently appeared before a magistrate, Colonel Wily of the Ottawa Provisional Battalion intervened and asked that mercy be shown. The judge complied, fining Mahoney $10 plus costs for common assault. The judge told Mahoney him he had been lucky as Maingy could have shot him.

Fenians volunteers

Militia Volunteers from Metcafe, Ontario, 1866, Frank Iveson fonds, Library and Archives Canada, PA-103906.  Frank Iveson is seated centre front.

With the Fenian scare seemingly passed without incident, the Provisional Battalion stood down in early April but not before the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Civil Service Rifle Corps held a grand ball at the British Hotel on Sussex Street. With the hall decorated with flags and the crest of the Rifles with a triple row of swords radiating from it, unformed men and their ladies danced the night away. Both the Premier, John A. Macdonald, and the Minister of the Militia, George-Étienne Cartier, attended.

Scarcely had the Ottawa Provisional Battalion stood down, the Fenian scare took on more serious proportions. In mid-April, Fenians, who had been assembling in Maine for some weeks, tried to attack Campobello Island, part of the New Brunswick. The attack was a dismal failure. The Fenians were easily dispersed by the Royal Navy that had sent ships to the area from Halifax. While some buildings were destroyed, there was no loss of life.

By late May, the focus of attention shifted back to Canada with reports of Fenians assembling in great numbers along the Canadian border, including at Ogdensburg, New York. Reportedly, the citizens of Prescott could hear the bugles of Fenian soldiers on the other side of the St. Lawrence. In Buffalo, New York, an alarmed British consul sent a telegram asking the Great West Railway to stop all traffic between Hamilton and the frontier with rumours of a pending attack on the Welland Canal. The next day, the shocking news was received in Ottawa that the Fenians had crossed the border and had seized the town of Fort Erie.

Immediately, the volunteer militias were called out, including the Ottawa Provisional Battalion under Colonel Wily. At 2am on the morning of 6 June, the Civil Service Rifles along with the Bell’s Corners Infantry Company, the No. 2 Garrison Artillery, the Buckingham Company, and the Hawksbury Company boarded a train of the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company ready to go to defend Prescott. Fortunately, the frontier remained quiet and the men were finally dismissed without leaving Ottawa. However, they were called on to patrol the streets of Ottawa and to guard the opening of the first session of the Provincial Parliament in Ottawa by Lord Monck. At this first session, two bills were given speedy passage and Royal Assent in response to the Fenian crisis: one to suspend the habeus corpus Act for one year, and another to provide for trial of state offenders by Courts Martial.

The invading Fenian army of roughly 1,000 experienced and well-armed ex-U.S.-Army soldiers under command of General John O’Neil gained a temporary measure of success at the Battle of Ridgeway near Niagara taking 36 prisoners when Canadian troops withdrew.  Nine Canadian soldiers died on the field along with six Fenians. The Fenians won another victory in a skirmish called the Battle of Fort Erie. However, the victory proved to be fleeting. The Fenian troops fled back to the United States on hearing of the approach of some 5,000 British regulars and Canadian volunteers, and surrendered to the U.S. Navy.

A few days later, a force of about 1,000 Fenians under the command of General Samuel Spear crossed the border into the Eastern Township of Canada East, and occupied the border communities of Pigeon Hill, St Armand, Frelighsburg, and Stanbridge. However, they quickly surrendered on the approach of Canadian and British troops when they ran low on ammunition. Timothy O’Hara, a private in the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism for putting out a fire on a railway train loaded with ammunition. O’Hara was Irish.

In total, the Canadian Militia counted 32 dead and 103 wounded in the 1866 Fenian campaigns in the Province of Canada. Another British soldier died of heat stroke.

This was not the end of the Fenians. In 1868, D’Arcy McGee, the great Irish-Canadian leader and patriot, who had ridiculed the Fenians, was assassinated on Sparks Street in Ottawa. A Fenian, Patrick Whelan, was arrested and later hanged for the crime. In 1870, two small Fenian “armies” crossed the border into the Eastern Townships of Quebec near Missisquoi. At Eccles Hill, one group, again led by General O’Neil, was defeated by local Canadian volunteers. The Fenians lost five men and 18 wounded. There were no casualties on the Canadian side. The second band of Fenians was defeated at Trout River, Quebec and sent packing back across the border. Again, there were no Canadian casualties. In 1871, a small Fenian band of 35-40 men, once again led by General O’Neil, took over a trading post at Pembina on the fuzzy border between Manitoba and North Dakota. Canadian troops in Winnipeg and St. Boniface were mustered but the Fenians were quickly subdued by the U.S. Army.

The Fenians failed in achieving their goal of capturing Canada and liberating Ireland. But they succeeded in swinging public opinion in the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in favour of Confederation. In unity, British North America would find strength.

 

Sources:

Chambers, Captain Ernest J. 1903. A Regimental History of the Forty-Third Regiment, Ottawa: E.J. Ruddy, https://electriccanadian.com/forces/cornwallsrifles00chamuoft.pdf.

Macdonald, John A. 1910. Troublous Times in Canada : A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Troublous_Times_in_Canada:_A_History_of_the_Fenian_Raids_of_1866_and_1870.

Memorials of the late Civil Service Rifle Corps, 1867, https://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055320543d.pdf.

Ottawa Daily Citizen,1866.  “untitled,” 8 March.

————————–, 1866. “Militia General Orders,” 24 September.

————————–, 1866. “Civil Service Rifles,” 5 October.

————————-, 1923. “The Civil Service Company and Civil Service Regiment,” 26 August.

Rees, Jim, 200? Surplus People, The Fitzwilliam Estate Clearances – Coolattin (Co. Wicklow) 1847-1856, http://www.countywicklowheritage.org/page_id__45.aspx.

Standing Orders of the Civil Service Rifle Regiment, October 1866, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=aeu.ark:/13960/t81k00k94;view=1up;seq=8.

Stanton, James B, 1972. “The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870,” Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 2, Manitoba Historical Society, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/17/fenianraids.shtml.

Villanova Digital Library, 2014, The Fenian’s Progress, 1865, New York: John Bradburn, Publisher, https://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:120884#?c=&m=&s=&cv=2&xywh=-2086%2C-1%2C6043%2C2868.

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.

 

 

Ottawa’s First Newspaper

24 February 1836

Bytown independent title 24-2-1836On 24 February 1836, the first edition of the first local newspaper appeared on the streets of Bytown, the small village that was destined to become Ottawa. That newspaper was called The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate. Its banner on the front page under its name proudly read:

“Let it be impressed upon your minds, Let it be instilled in your children, that the Liberty of the Press is the Palladium of all your civil, political and religious rights.—Sumus.”

The newspaper’s proprietor and editor was James Johnson. An Irish Protestant, Johnson had come to Canada in 1815. In May 1827, he settled in Bytown, which had only been founded the previous year. Reportedly a blacksmith by trade, Johnson quickly became a man of considerable property, earning a living as a merchant and auctioneer in the rough, tough frontier community that was Bytown.

The establishment of a newspaper in the small community was no easy feat, and must have taken many months in put into effect. Johnson purchased his press in Montreal. He personally disassembled it and packed the pieces along with its moveable type in boxes for shipment to Bytown. Most likely, he sent the equipment via boat as there were no railways or good highways linking Bytown to the outside world.

The Prospectus of The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate was dated December 16, 1835, indicating that Johnson had been working on the newspaper for several months before he released its first issue. He committed to publishing the newspaper every Thursday until demand was such that a semi-weekly publication was warranted. He intended “to advocate the national character and interest of every true Briton—Irishmen and their descendants first on the list.” In addition to being the spokesman for the Irish, Johnson promised to “promote the interests and prosperity of the County of Carleton and the Province [Canada West, i.e. Ontario] in general.” However, he also promised to take “the occasional peep into the affairs of our Sister [Canada East, i.e. Quebec]” since the prosperity of the two Provinces were tightly connected.

Johnson proclaimed that on “all occasions,” the newspaper will “uphold the King, and Constitution by enforcing obedience to the laws.” “May the Union Jack of Great Britain never cease to proudly wave over the Citadel of Quebec,” he declared. However, Johnson was very clear that his allegiance did not extend to the King’s ministers and officers, many of whom he believed incompetent and who put their own self-interest ahead of that of the citizens of the two Provinces. He said that they should be “turned adrift to gain a livelihood by their own industry.” Johnson added that “at all times,” would the newspaper speak out against “any misapplication of public monies, or malefaction with which public officers may be charged.”

One thing the newspaper would not do is to wade into religious controversies, except if “a wonton attack is made upon any body of Christians.” Johnson wrote “every man should be allowed to walk in his own peaceful ways without intolerance, as he is responsible for them to God alone.”

The cost of subscribing to the newspaper, which Johnson promised to publish on “good paper” of “a fair size,” was an expensive £1 or $4 per year, exclusive of postage payable semi-annually in advance. Rates for advertising in the newspaper were set at 2 shillings and sixpence for six lines for the first insertion, with every subsequent insertion set at 7 1/2d. Rates went up for larger advertisements. From six to ten lines, the initial rate was 3s. 6d. with subsequent insertions costing 10d. For submissions of great than ten lines, the rate would be 4d. per line for the first time, and 1d. per line for subsequent insertions.

That first edition had a run of about 500 copies, four pages long, which he produced with the help of John Stewart, his compositor. Johnson tried to deliver by hand all the copies of that inaugural issue of the Bytown Independent as he didn’t want to use the Post Office. Johnson, an irascible and opinionated man, was angry at Bytown’s Deputy Post Master and didn’t want to give him the business. “We have always been ill treated by the Deputy Post Master,” he raged. “To have him enlarge his bags for five hundred copies of the Bytown Independent would be unreasonable on our part.”

Johnson requested that friends and foes alike peruse the newspaper and if they didn’t agree with the paper’s politics they could return the issue by the post. Those who retained the issue would be placed on the Subscribers’ List—an early example of what today is called unsolicited supply. Johnson also advised recipients not to keep a copy out of compassion since if necessary he would seek reforms even if they affected “our best friend.”

Johnson pledged that at the end of the year if he was satisfied with himself, he would treat himself and any well-wishers to a bottle of something that would remain nameless.

Politically, Johnson pledged himself to being neither Whig (Reform) or Tory (Conservative). However, it is evident from the newspaper’s coverage of political events that Johnson was an ardent reformer. The newspaper’s account in its first issue of the evolving Canadian political scene provides a fascinating contemporary look into the turbulent period immediately prior to the Rebellions of 1837 when radical reformers took up arms against repressive, non-representative governments in Upper and Lower Canada.

The first issue of the Bytown Independent took place against the backdrop of a change in the leadership of Upper Canada. Sir John Colborne had just been replaced by Sir Francis Bond Head as Lieutenant Governor. Colborne, a military man who had served under the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic War, was conservative by nature and served Upper Canada with an unostentatious style. He successively increased the population of Upper Canada through emigration from Britain and instituted a major public works programme to improve communications across the Province. However, while conscious of the need for constitutional reform, Colborne did nothing to address the provincial political grievances.  While many moderates approved of his administration, radical reformers resented his treatment of the House of Assembly, the cost of assisting immigrants, and his use of public funds without the support of the legislature.

Johnson comments on Colborne were scathing and were often close to being libelous. He wrote:

“We can speak of Sir John’s administration from our own knowledge—not from rumours afloat; and we do say this of it, that it was the most puny, partial and political Government that ever any Colony was governed by.”

As well, Johnson, who called Colborne “a scanty head,” accused the Lieutenant Governor of interference in the 1832 by-election in Carleton County. He blamed the election of Hamnet Pinney (or Pinhey), a Tory, over George Lyon, a reformer, by Colborne’s appointment of a corrupt and biased returning officer.

In the newspaper’s first issue, Johnson published the first half of a letter of instructions to Sir Francis Bond Head from Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in London. (The second half was to appear in the second issue of the Independent.) The instructions refer to the mammoth Seventh Report of the Select Committee, which had been chaired by William Lyon Mackenzie, on the grievances of Upper Canada’s House of Assembly. The chief grievance was the “almost unlimited extent of the patronage of the Crown,” exercised by the Colonial minister and his advisers. Lord Glenelg made it very clear that he did not favour the appointment of public officials by the legislature, or by any form of popular election. He feared that such public officials would not work for the general good and “would be virtually exempt from responsibility.” Far better for the Lieutenant Governor to appoint able men who would not promote “any narrow, exclusive or party design.” Given the explosive contents of Glenelg’s letter, it was astonishing that Head released it to the press.

A lengthy response to Glenelg’s instructions written by William Lyon Mackenzie, which originally appeared in a Toronto newspaper, was also published. Mackenzie wrote that throughout the two Canadas there was a “general feeling of disappointment and regret.” He added:

“If Sir Francis appoints to Executive Council men…known for their ability, integrity, firmness and sincere attachment to reform principles, his path will be smooth and easy…but if His Excellency shall retain in office the avowed enemies of free institutions, men whom the basest governments of England ever knew, have made use of their minions to oppress our country, it will be our duty at once to demand his recall and insist that a government which is in itself the greatest of all grievances be made suitable to our wants.”

Unfortunately, Head went on to alienate reformers—his arrogance and ignorance a disastrous combination.  Although Tories won the General Election in June 1836 owing to Head’s appeals of loyalty to the Crown, his actions against reformers led to rebellion. In late 1837, Mackenzie declared himself president of the short-lived Republic of Canada. But the insurrection quickly fizzled. Mackenzie fled to the United States while Head was recalled in disgrace. These events set the stage for the introduction of responsible government under the leadership of moderates such as Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine during the following decade.

In addition to giving a contemporary account of the political struggle between reformers seeking what Americans might call a “government by the people for the people,” and Tories desiring to preserve an autocracy run by the Governor, the Bytown Independent also provides a fascinating window into economic life of early 19th century Canada. During these years, it was unclear whether British North America would use pounds, shillings and pence or dollars and cents as its currency. British and America coins circulated side by side. Canadian banks, which had just began to circulate their own bank notes, issued paper money in both pounds and dollars, sometimes simultaneously in the form of dual denominated notes. This currency ambivalence can be seen by Johnson setting the price of an annual subscription to his newspaper at $4 dollars in one place and at 20 shillings (£1) in another. It wasn’t until 1857 that the Province of Canada (the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada united in 1841) finally chose dollars and cents—economic ties with its U.S. neighbour trumped political and emotional ties with Britain.

There is also a reference in the newspaper to “bons”–a form of alterative paper scrip, usually of small denomination issued by merchants which could be used to buy goods in the issuer’s store. Bon stood for “Bon pour,” French for “Good for.”

Bytown independent 24-2-1836

During the early 19th century, promissory notes (notes of hand) were often used as currency. Endorsed on the back, the notes would pass from person to person as money. Ruglass Wright is probably Ruggles Wright, a son of Philemon Wright who founded Hull. Ruggles, a lumberman like his father, built the first timber slide to transport logs around the Chaudière Falls. In this case, Hugh McGreer is warning potential buyers of the note that he will not pay it if presented.

As well, there is a fascinating reference to “Halifax Currency.” Halifax Currency denoted a way of converting pounds into silver dollars. (It was called Halifax currency after the city where it originated.) One pound, Halifax currency, converted into four silver dollars, or 5 shillings equalled $1. The issuer of a promissory note specified Halifax currency because of the existence of other conversion ratings. For example, in York Currency, which was still in use in parts of Upper Canada in 1836, one silver dollar was worth 8 shillings. To avoid confusion and being short-changed on repayment, it was a sensible precaution to specify the type of currency being used in financial contracts.

Among the advertisements in the newspaper’s first issue are notices from the Post Office listing the times when letters destined for various communities in Upper and Lower Canada had to be received by the Post Office and when letters were delivered at Bytown from these communities. A long list of names of people with mail waiting for them at the Post Office was also provided along with the amount of postage due by them. As these were the days before postage stamps, the recipient of a letter paid the delivery fee. G.W. Baker, the Post Master, warned that unless the amounts were paid by April 5th, the letters would be sent to the dead letter box in Quebec.

Bytown independent Personal ad 24-2-1836

The first personal advertisement. Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, 24 February 1836. One must wonder whether Daniel Murphy ever reconnected with his sisters.

In another advertisement, Mr. William Northgraves, a watch and clock maker with an office “nearly opposite the Butcher’s Shambles in Lower Bytown,” announced to Bytown residents that from long experience he had acquired “a perfect knowledge of the practical as well as the theoretical part of the science” and was ready to clean and repair all kinds of watches and clocks. Among other things, he could also repair mathematical and surgical instruments, and make all kinds of fine screws. As a side line, he bought old gold and silver.

Two advertisements were placed in the newspaper by Alexander J. Christie. The first he inserted in his capacity as Secretary of the Ottawa Lumber Association announcing a meeting to be held on March 1st at 10 am at J. Chitty’s Hotel to promote the prosperity of the lumber trade. The second was a request for tenders to clear one hundred acres of land close to Bytown.

Christie must have taken a keen liking in the newspaper. He purchased the The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate from James Johnson after its second issue.  The sale must have surprised the small Bytown community. Christie was a Tory who had helped Hamnet Pinhey win the disputed 1832 Carleton County by-election. Dr. Christie, as he was generally known, was a medical practitioner of uncertain qualifications who had been appointed coroner in 1830 for the Bathurst District in which Bytown was situated. He was also appointed a public notary by Sir John Colborne. Consequently, he represented everything that Johnson had railed against in his newspaper.

Christie relaunched the newspaper a few months later as the Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser. In his prospectus, Christie claimed that “he comes forward unfettered by a blind adherence to any party.” However, the Gazette’s coverage of political events had a strong Tory bias. The Bytown Gazette folded in 1845 two years after the death of Dr. Christie.

Bytown regained a local reformist newspaper with the establishment of The Packet in 1843 by William Harris. The Packet was to be renamed The Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and remains the most prominent newspaper in the city to this day.

Sources:

Ballstadt, Carl, 2003. “Christie, Alexander James,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 7. University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/christie_alexander_james_7E.html.

Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate (The), 24 February 1836.

House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1835, The Seventh Report from the Select Committee on Grievances, chaired by W. L. Mackenzie, Esq., M. Reynolds: Toronto.

Powell, James, 2005, History of the Canadian Dollar, Bank of Canada.

Wilson, Alan, 2003. “Colborne, John, Baron Seaton,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/colborne_john_9E.html.

Wise, S. W., 1972. “Head, Sir Francis Bond,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/head_francis_bond_10E.html.

 

Archbishop Boris

10 December 1955

It was the height of the Cold War. In 1955, West Germany joined NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites established the Warsaw Pact as a military counterweight to the Western Alliance.  In November of that year, the Soviet Union tested an inter-continental ballistic missile that could deliver a hydrogen bomb, many times more potent that the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the U.S. mainland. Tension was also rising over the future of Berlin, with Russia seeking to end four-power control of the German city. Another blockade was feared. Amidst this tense international environment, Archbishop Boris (Vik) of the Russian Orthodox Church came to Canada.

Boris

Archbishop Boris (Vik) 1906-1965, http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Archbishop Boris was appointed Archbishop of the Aleutians and North America and Exarch of North and South America in late 1954. His Canadian visit was organized by the United Church of Canada. The trip was the result of an invitation extended by the United Church to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1952. Two other Russians accompanied Boris—Archpriest Constantine Ruzitsky, the rector of the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Anatole Gorbatchov, the lay inspector of seminaries. Bishop Paladeus of Volynack and Rovensk was also supposed to visit Canada, but he was a no-show. No reason was given. The Russians were supposed to arrive in late November. However, the visit was delayed a week owing to an unexplained “mix-up” with their passport and visa arrangements.

Boris had hoped to twin a visit to Canada with a trip to the United States. But after initially granting the Archbishop a visa, the U.S. State Department retracted it. Boris had become caught up in a tit-for-tat struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union over religious representation. After he had received his appointment in late 1954, Boris had come to the United States on a 60-day visa. However, the U.S. State Department turned down his request for the visa to be extended when it expired at the end of February 1955. U.S. authorities were afraid that the United States might become the headquarters of a Moscow-controlled faction of the Russian Orthodox Church. In response, the Russians expelled Georges Bissonnette, an American Roman Catholic priest who was administering to the religious needs of U.S. citizens living in the Soviet Union and the broader diplomatic community. According to the 1933 Roosevelt-Litvinov agreement under which the United States recognized the Soviet regime, the U.S.S.R. had agreed that Americans in Russia would have freedom of worship. While the agreement did not clearly state that officiating clergy must be American, the Russian authorities typically granted a permanent visa to an American priest as long as he did not minister to Russian citizens.

The Soviet government finally agreed to give a visa to Father Dion, a replacement for Father Bissonnette, in November 1955, and the U.S. State Department in return issued a visa for Archbishop Boris to come to the United States. However, it retracted the visa a few days later on the grounds that the exchange of clergymen was not reciprocal. Father Dion was not permitted preach to Russians whereas Archbishop Boris could preach to Americans. This impasse was not broken until the beginning of 1959 when Dion finally went to Moscow and Boris received a three-month visitors’ visa to the United States.

In the meantime, Archbishop Bois and his colleagues made do with a two-week visit at the end of 1955 to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton. The Russians arrived by airplane at the Dorval Airport in early December and was met by a welcoming committee of United Church dignitaries and G.F. Popov from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa. Dr Ernest Long, Secretary of the General Council of the United Church of Canada, said that the three-fold purpose of the visit was to promote understanding, give visibility to Christian unity, and to foster goodwill between Canadian and Russian Christians.

Conspicuously absent from the welcoming party was any representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Canada. The rector of the Orthodox St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in Montreal said that he would ignore the visit as the delegation did “not represent the true and continuing branch of the orthodox church” and that the Russian Orthodox Church had become “a mere political organ of the Soviet government.” The Russian visitors also had to sidestep a small group of about fifty demonstrators with banners who were handing out leaflets at the airport in protest of the visit. In answering questions from Canadian and American journalists, Archbishop Boris said through an interpreter that he was not a communist and did not have a personal acquaintance with either Party Secretary Khrushchev or Premier Bulgarin. He added that many Russians believed in God and practised those beliefs: there was no ban on practising religion in the Soviet Union. When asked about Canadian Orthodox churches, Boris said that there were fewer than ten Russian Orthodox churches in Canada and that they were “unfriendly” to the Russian hierarchy. As reconciliation attempts had proven unfeasible, the churches were considered to be “in schism.”

After a short stay in Montreal, Boris and his entourage took a train to Toronto. There, two Ukrainian Catholic priests presented him with a letter asking him to negotiate the release of Bishop Joseph Slipyj from a Siberian labour camp. Slipyj and eleven other Ukrainian Catholic bishops had been sent to Siberian gulags after the war. Slipyj received an eight-year sentence in 1946 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis and for his refusal to accept the forced take-over of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church by the Russian Orthodox Church. (Constatine Ruzitsky, one of Boris’ travelling companions, was reportedly one of the masterminds behind this takeover.) Despite the conclusion of his sentence, Slipyj remained in custody. Archbishop Boris promised to place the request before the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on his return to Moscow. If Boris did anything, it was not effective. Slipyj remained in a Soviet prison for another eight years, and was only released through the intervention of President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII in 1963. Expelled from Russia, the Pope made Slipyj a cardinal in 1965.

While in Toronto, Archbishop Boris visited the large department stores, took a side trip to Niagara Falls, and officiated at a service at the Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church dressed in full Orthodox regalia including a golden mitre studded with precious stones, a purple robe banded with scarlet and white, a lavender stole, two large golden crosses, one around his neck and another in his hand, and a glittering bracelet on his left wrist. When a newspaper reporter took pictures in a gallery, Anatole Gorbachov followed him and asked if he had permission to take pictures. When the journalist said no, Gorbachov told him to go. This put paid to the notion that none of the Russians spoke English.

Archbishop Boris, Archpriest Ruzitsky and Anatole Gorbatchov arrived by train at Union Station in Ottawa at 8.30 am on Saturday, 10 December 1955.  An Ottawa Citizen article described Boris as a “huge man” with a “long ginger-coloured beard flowing over the front of his long black cloak,” carrying a silver-topped staff. Rev. Frank Fidler of Toronto and Rev. Herman Neufeld of the United Church College in Winnipeg accompanied the Russians. As they were being welcomed by United Church dignitaries, Lydia Szarwarkowska of 325 Laurier Avenue pushed ahead of the greeters to plead for help from the Russian prelate. In tears, she asked in Russian for his intercession on her behalf with the Soviet government for an exit permit for her 70-year old mother who lived alone, the rest of her family having been killed in the War.

After checking into the Château Laurier Hotel, the Russians were taken on a tour of the capital, visited the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street (the embassy was to burn down three weeks later on New Year’s Day 1956), and was taken out to dine at a restaurant by the Ottawa Presbytery of the United Church. Apparently, the Archbishop spent the evening relaxing and watching Russian movies.

Boris The Ottawa Journal 10-12-1955

Advertising a church service with Archbishop Boris, The Ottawa Journal, 10 December 1955

The next day, the Russian delegation joined the congregations of the Greek Orthodox Church on Albert Street and St Elijah’s Syrian Orthodox Church on Lyon Street for Sunday services. The Russians were also given a tour of the Parliament buildings—the Archbishop was surprised there was a Liberal government in power. Boris, a big man weighing close to 300 pounds, reportedly “beamed” when he was told that Jack Garland, the Liberal member for Nippising, tipped the scales at 400 pounds. The group also went to the National Galley. While Boris was not impressed with a modern Henry Moore sculpture, he liked art made by Canada’s native peoples. That evening, the Russians attended a candlelit service at the Dominion United Church for the Canadian Girls in Training. Archbishop Boris, wearing a cross of thirty two diamonds, sat behind the pulpit with the Rt Rev. George Dorey, the Moderator of the United Church and the Rev. J. Lorne Graham, minister and Presbytery Chairman. Boris spoke at the service, urging Christian unity and told the girls the Russian legend of the Christmas tree. Moderator Dorey warned against western propaganda that religion was non-existent in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a dozen men, apparently immigrants from Communist-ruled Eastern Europe, handed out anti-Russian pamphlets.

The following day, a luncheon was held in Archbishop Boris’ honour attended by senior representatives of the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church, as well as a representative of Canada’s External Affairs. Afterwards, Archbishop Boris, accompanied by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator and Lorne Graham, the Presbytery Chairman, held a press conference. Boris, dressed in flowing black robes spoke of his experience so far in Canada, saying he found Canadians to be “hospitable and hard-working.” He was also impressed with the church services. Boris also took this opportunity to denounce the U.S. decision to rescind his visa. He said it amounted to “pressure on religion.” In contrast, he said that although communists were unbelievers, he knew that some came to his church. Moreover, he had seen with his own eyes the good work the communist government was doing. He posed the rhetorical question “Is the American Government Christian?” He also insisted that there was no interference in the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet Government. He added that Russians were entitled to their own opinion and could practice religion. After a final service at Southminster United Church, the Russian clerics headed west, stopping first in Toronto.

Archbishop Boris did not have a good flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Leaving on a small DC-3 airplane, he was given two seats to accommodate his size. However, he had trouble buckling his seatbelt. After an attempt to use two seatbelts failed, an attendant managed to fasten him in using a cargo belt. Unfortunately, Boris’ long whiskers got caught in the strap. Reportedly, he “let out an unchurchmanlike roar,” as he, his two Russian aides, and a stewardess struggled to free him.

After a brief stay in Edmonton, the Russians returned to Montreal, before heading back to Moscow via Amsterdam.

The two-week visit was a great propaganda coup for the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet Union. Well covered by Canadian and American press, Boris faithfully toed the Communist party line that religion, while not encouraged, was thriving in the Soviet Union, and that Russians were free to practice without hindrance. This view was openly supported by George Dorey, the United Church Moderator. Boris also had the opportunity to literally demonize the United States for barring his entry. “I believe in God, but there is also a devil [a.k.a. the U.S. Government],” he thundered. Of course, the reality was quite different. Although there had been some thawing of government-church relations which began during the War when the Soviets sought the help of the Orthodox Church in defeating the Nazis, that window of relative tolerance was fast closing. Despite religious freedom being enshrined in law, the Soviet Union was militantly atheist. Thousands had died or had been imprisoned for their faith. Nonetheless, Boris disingenuously claimed that “the Russian government had never persecuted the church as such but only church members who had been against the government.” Also, communist toleration of religion, if you can call it that, only went so far. Persecution of believers, especially non-Orthodox practitioners, continued. Roman Catholics, given their “allegiance” to the Pope, were under particular suspicion.

The pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Echo Drive called the United Church “tragically naïve” in arranging the visit. He added that Archbishop Boris is trusted by the Communist Party.  He likened the Russian trip to “a secret police mission.” Before inviting Archbishop to Canada, the United Church ought to have consulted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada. “We have no quarrel with the United Church. But we do after all know a little more than them about Russia. We know that the Soviets executed 38 bishops of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine alone.”

Following Archbishop Boris’s visit to Canada, Soviet oppression of religious organizations increased under Nikita Khrushchev during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many anti-religious measures taken was the closure of thousands of churches and monasteries. Clergymen who criticized atheism were forcibly retired or imprisoned, while parents were forbidden to teach religion to their children.

Sources:

Bishop, Donald Gordon, 1965. The Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements, An American View, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York.

Decatur Sunday Herald and Review (The), 1955. “Delegation From The Russian Church Hits Opposition on Visit to Canada,” 25 December.

Globe and Mail (The), “U.S. Cancelled A Visa Granted To Boris 11 Days Earlier,” 15 November.

————————–, 1955. “Forbidden To Enter U.S., Moscow Prelate Due In Canada On Monday,” 22 November.

————————–, 1955. “Expect Four Russian Clerics To Arrive Sunday,” 30 November.

————————–, 1955. “Russians Pledge Action on Priests’ Requests,” 8 December.

————————–, 1955. “Satisfied With Reds,” 13 December.

Orthodox Canada, 2018. Archbishop Boris (Vik), http://orthodoxcanada.ca/Metropolitan_Boris_(Vik).

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1955. “Woman In Tears Pleads For Aid From Russ Cleric,” 10 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Archbishop Tells Christmas Legend,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Protest Visit of Russian Clerics Here,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “‘Our Only Aim to Live In Peace,’ Archbishop Affirms At Luncheon,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Visiting Red Priests Called Moscow Spies,” 13 December.

Ottawa Journal, The, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Escape Demonstrators at Montreal,” 5 December.

————————-, 1955. “Russian Archbishop Shows Interest,” 7 December.

————————-, 1955. “United Moderator Says Russian Church Autonomous,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “U.S. Bars Russian Bishop,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “Russian Churchmen Display Keen Interest In Parliament,” 12 December.

————————, 1955. “At CGIT Service, Russian Inspector Pockets Pamphlets,” 12 December.

————————-, 1955. “Ottawa Clergyman Calls Visiting Russians Stooges,” 13 December.

————————-, 1955. “Tangled in Strap, Couldn’t Be Freed,” 13 December.

Soviet History Museum, 2018. Hydrogen Bomb, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/hydrogen-bomb/.

The Mystery of the Wandering Ballots

28 February 1928

At the beginning of December 1926, the Conservative government of George Howard Ferguson was returned to power in a General Election with an overwhelming majority in the Ontario Legislature. Although the Conservatives lost three seats from the previous election, they won over 57 per cent of the popular vote and claimed 73 of the Legislature’s 112 seats. The principal issue of the election was prohibition. Ferguson, who had already eased the ban on liquor by permitting the sale of low-alcohol beer, promised to repeal the Ontario Temperance Act and replace it with Liquor Control Act which would allow alcohol sales in government-owned liquor stores. The two major opposition parties, the Progressive Party under William Raney and the Liberal Party under William E.N. Sinclair, supported continued prohibition. In Ottawa, Conservatives took two of three city seats. Conservative Thomas Birkett took the South Ottawa riding with a large majority over his Liberal rival, Robert Russell Sparks—9,171 votes to 5,526. In North Ottawa, Conservative Albert Honeywell also triumphed with a large majority. In East Ottawa, Joseph Pinard, an Independent Liberal supporter of liquor control rather than prohibition, eked out a narrow victory in a three-way contest.

Ten months later, at the beginning of October 1927, George Landerkin, a civil servant working for the Ministry of the Interior living at 171 Fifth Avenue, was walking along Alymer Avenue which runs parallel to Sunnyside Avenue. As he strode along the road, he spotted black-edged papers lying on the pavement and blowing in the wind. He reached down and picked one up. On it was printed two names—Thomas M. Birkett and Robert Russell Sparks. It was a blank ballot from the previous year’s provincial election for the South Ottawa constituency. Counting at least 75 ballots littering the roadway, he picked up nineteen and took them home.

Ballots TOEJ 24-2-1928

Photograph of one of the nineteen ballot papers found by George Landerkin and sent to Liberal leader W.E.N. Sinclair, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 24 February 1928.

The matter might have gone no further except Landerkin, not knowing what to do with the ballots he found, gave them to his solicitor, Alexander Smith, of the Ottawa legal firm Smith and Johnson. Smith sent the ballots to Russell Sparks, the losing Liberal candidate for the South Ottawa constituency, who in turn forwarded them to W.E.N. Sinclair, Opposition Leader and leader of the Liberal Party.

A few months later, in mid-February 1928, (the reason for the delay is unclear) Sinclair stood in the Ontario Legislature and announced that he had in his possession a number of ballots from the 1926 provincial election for the South Ottawa constituency. Suggesting that a crime might have been committed, he demanded an explanation from the government. Premier Ferguson replied that this was the first time that he had heard of the matter. He added that his government would make every effort to investigate and invited Sinclair’s co-operation.

Approached by the press after the news broke, Francis M. Scott, the returning officer responsible for conducting the election in the South Ottawa riding, emphatically denied that there had been any election irregularities on his watch. “There were positively no irregularities and so far as I am concerned, a careful check was made throughout election day on all ballots and polling places.” Other prominent Conservatives (Scott was a Conservative appointee) in Ottawa expressed their “full confidence in the manner in which the election had been carried out by returning officers and other election officials.” Thomas Birkett, the South Ottawa deputy, denied having any knowledge of the ballots until the Liberal leader “sprang” the issue in his speech. Birkett, who wasn’t in the House at the time, hurried into the chamber when colleagues told him that his riding was being discussed.

The mystery of the wandering ballots was referred to the Privileges and Elections Committee. Sinclair, who was a member of the Committee, insisted that it conduct a complete scrutiny of the South Ottawa ballots, tracing their movement from the Office of the King’s Printer in Toronto to the polling booth and then their return for safekeeping with the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, the civil servant responsible for elections’ administration. Conservative members demanded that Sinclair produce the ballots before launching an investigation.

Several days of political wrangling ensued with Sinclair unwilling to cough up the ballots until the government started a scrutiny of the South Ottawa ballots. A motion to subpoena Sinclair and force him to produce his ballots and tell the committee where he got them easily passed given the Conservative majority on the committee. Only the Liberal and Progressive members dissented. Sinclair protested, calling the motion “political byplay.” He added “I haven’t got them about me. Do you suppose I’d walk around in this crowd with all those ballots?” Sinclair did admit, however, that he received the ballots from Russell Sparks, the defeated Liberal candidate. He later added that Sparks got them from the law firm Smith and Johnson.

Meanwhile, Sinclair allowed journalists to see and photograph one of the wayward ballots, something that offended members of the Privileges and Elections Committee who had been denied a similar opportunity. Conservatives said that Sinclair’s stance was “unprecedented” and “farcical.” Sinclair replied that he didn’t understand why the Conservative Party didn’t want the inquiry to proceed, “but the man in the street is believing more and more every day that there is something wrong.”

With Sinclair refusing to hand over the nineteen ballots, the Committee was deadlocked. The issue returned to the Legislature unresolved. To break the impasse, and sooth those who had become “agitated and high strung,” Premier Ferguson agreed on 28 February 1928 to appoint a Royal Commission headed by two Ontario Supreme Court Justices, The Honourable James Magee and The Honourable Frank Egerton Hodgins, to examine the matter. “Nothing should be left undone to preserve that sacredness [of the ballot] or to protect it against suspicion,” said the Premier in the Legislature.

The Commission quickly got down to work in Toronto calling witnesses and perusing evidence. Sinclair, the first witness, finally produced the nineteen ballots. After the clerk of the Crown in Chancery verified their authenticity, the Commission traced the ballots’ movements starting from the King’s Printer who supplied the specially watermarked ballot paper to the United Press in Toronto who printed blank sheets of black-bordered ballots for the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. The Clerk in turn supplied blank sheets in packages to constituencies for a local printer to add the names of candidates to the ballots and cutting. Each sheet has spaces for twelve names. Consequently, in the South Ottawa riding where there were only two candidates, each sheet could be cut into six ballots. The Clerk sent Francis Scott, the South Ottawa returning officer, 8,000 sheets of ballot paper. On their arrival in Ottawa, the packets of ballot paper was dropped off at Scott’s residence. He subsequently sent them to Modern Press in Ottawa to print 30,000 ballots made into pads. Once printed with Birkett’s and Sparks’ names, the ballots were sent back to Scott. Each ballot consisted of a numbered stub, a counterfoil similarly numbered, and the actual ballot itself.

On election day, returning officers tore off a ballot from the stub, and gave it with the counterfoil to each voter. After the ballot was marked in secret, the voter returned to the returning officer and gave him the ballot. The counterfoil was then torn off and the ballot placed in the ballot box. Left behind would be stubs and counterfoils that could be verified against each other. The number of ballots cast could also be compared to the number of counterfoils or stubs to ensure against ballot-box stuffing. The Commission’s lawyer noted that the Sinclair ballots did not have attached counterfoils. Consequently, he argued that “with ordinary care” they could not have be used.

The Commission determined that a lot more than Sinclair’s nineteen ballots had gone astray. Other people came forward with stories of finding ballots. The daughter of Mrs Charles Dore of 16 Alymer Avenue brought home more than 100 ballots, some loose, some still in packets. Charles Mullin and Thomas O’Neil also saw ballots lying on the same roadway. Fred Taggert of Fairburn Avenue testified that a newsboy collecting money from his wife had showed her a pad of clean ballots. Another newsboy, Nelson Wilkins, gave W. J. Lowrie of Ottawa in February 1927 a pad of twenty ballots, complete with counterfoils and stubs. Lowrie in turn gave the ballots to Thomas Birkett, the Conservative winner.  Wilkins had found the ballots in a back room of the Hill building at 282 Sunnyside Avenue where Scott had rented rooms prior to the election as his office and a polling station. After the provincial election, the rooms had been used as a polling station for Ottawa’s municipal election held a few days later. They then were occupied by a Conservative Club. In early 1927, the rooms become a newsboy’s newspaper distribution centre. Finding pads of unused ballots on the floor of a back storage room and in a waste paper basket, the newsboys began to play with them. Harry Nicholson, one of the newsboys, told the inquiry that he and his friends took away 15-20 pads of ballots “for fun.” Many found their way outside—the apparent source of the ballots littering nearby Aylmer Avenue.

Called to testify, Francis Scott, the responsible returning officer, admitted that he did not verify the number of ballots received from the Modern Press, nor did he note how many ballots he provided to each polling station. He swore, however, that after the election he returned all used and unused ballots along with unused sheets of ballot paper to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in sealed boxes as required under the elections legislation.

However, when boxes containing election materials were opened up at the inquiry, Scott was shocked to discover one box was empty and another contained only three packets of ballot stubs without counterfoils. To add to the mystery, the seals on the boxes had been previously broken. Scott told Justices McGee and Hodgins that there was a “long story” behind the missing ballots which he could not reveal for family reasons, claiming that his wife was sick to death of the affair. “I will take the blame of the whole thing rather than say anything,” he is reported to have said. He added that a number of persons had tampered with the boxes.  Scott wrote down three names on a piece of paper and gave it to the Justices. He ominously remarked that the story will reflect on “somebody in Ottawa.” Their motive was jealousy or spite. His initial suspicion was somebody in the Liberal Party but when Birkett brought in his ballots, he thought both parties might be involved.

The Ontario Provincial Police were called in to investigate. Inspector Stringer examined the rooms on Sunnyside Avenue, and personally found additional blank ballots. Testimony from newsboy Nelson Wilkins and a number of Conservative Party workers, including the three whose names were on Scott’s piece of paper, did not shed much further light on the issue. None of the three were in the rooms on election day.

In subsequent testimony, Scott declined to give his “long story.” Contrary to what he had said earlier, he admitted that he might not have packed up and shipped to Toronto the unused ballots and excess ballot paper. Indeed, a worker from the Modern Press testified to having found the blank election paper in the company’s storage four months after the election. The worker burnt the sheets. As for the unused ballots, Scott considered them “waste election paper” and simply threw them away. Finally, Scott admitted to the Commission that he had been “in a particular frame of mind” when he alleged that jealous persons had broken into the sealed boxes. His stories were untrue.  In order to clear himself of wrongdoing, he had tried to blame others.

In the end, the Commission found many irregularities in the handling of the ballots and ballot paper, but concluded that the outcome of the South Ottawa election had not been affected. The Justices believed that the unused ballot paper had been fully accounted for—the paper had been burnt at the premises of the Modern Press. While only a portion of the unused ballots were ever found, the Justices were also satisfied that they had been strewn about the street by the newsboys.

However, the Justices were concerned that the discovery of loose ballots might have created suspicion and uncertainty about the election outcome. While deciding that no criminal act had been committed, the Commission declared Francis Scott, the returning officer, to be “guilty of carelessness, irregularity, negligence and incompetence as well as unintentional wrongdoing.” The Justices also remarked that returning officers needed to be honest and “thoroughly competent and careful.”  Some blame for the incident was also placed on the Modern Press which couldn’t say with certainty how much ballot paper it had received, and how many ballots it had printed. It also didn’t return unused ballot paper to the returning officer as required by law. However, this again was judged as an unintentional wrongdoing rather than a criminal act.

The Justices made a number of recommendations to protect the integrity of the election process including a recommendation for strict accounting of ballots and ballot paper with receipts issued at every stage of the printing and distribution process.

The Justices’ decision was accepted by everybody including Russell Sparks, the defeated Liberal candidate. Of course, the two political parties tried to spin the outcome in their favour. Premier Ferguson called the mystery of the wandering ballots a “dud.” Liberal Leader Sinclair saw the outcome as a “condemnation of the government.”

 

Sources:

Elections Canada, 2018. Canada at the Polls. http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?dir=yth/stu/gui&document=dx&lang=e&section=vot.

Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario from the 9th February to 3rd April, 1928, inclusive. Second Session of the Seventeenth Legislature of the Province of Ontario, Session 1928, Vol. LXII.

Globe (The), 1928. “High Court Judges To Probe Ballot Mystery,” 29 February.

————–, 1928. “Flaws in Election Act Noted at Last Session of South Ottawa Probe,” 27 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1926. “Decisive Mandate At Polls For Premier Ferguson,” 2 December.

————————————-, 1928. “Now Asks For Investigation Of Evidence Of Corruption In Riding Of South Ottawa,” 15 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Will Summon Two Election Officials Now,” 17 February.

————————————, 1928. “Hectic Verbal Tilts Between TheMembers,” 21 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Ballots Were Handed To Him By Legal Firm,” 24 February.

————————————-, 1928. “In Warm Debate On Clearing Up Ballot Mix-up,” 25 February.

————————————-, 1928. “Ballot Enquiry To Open Monday Next,” 2 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Must Deiscover If The Ballots Were Genuine,” 5 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Stray Ballots Are Produced At the Enquiry,” 15 March.

————————————-, 1928. “Brings Out Fact That Other Ballots Also Missing,” 16 March.

————————————, 1928. “F.M. Scott Gives Evidence In Ballot Inquiry,” 16 March.

————————————, 1928. “Civil Servant Who Provided Ballots Names,” 19 March.

————————————, 1928. “Given Surprise On Opening Up Ballot Boxes,” 20 March.

————————————, 1928. “Police To Solve Ottawa Ballot Mystery,” 20 March.

————————————, 1928.  “Provincial Man Makes Search Hill Premises,” 21 March.

————————————, 1928.  “Inquiry Likely To Terminate This Afternoon,” 22 March.

————————————, 1928. “Police Officer Tells Of Visit Paid To Ottawa,” 23 March.

————————————, 1928. “He Now Admits Did Not Return The Left-Overs,” 24 March.

————————————, 1928. “Mystery Over South |Ottawa Ballots Ends,” 26 March.

————————————, 1928. “Scott Careless The Election Judges Deeclare,” 13 April.

————————————, 1928. “States Ballot Affair Turned Out To Be “Dud,” 24 April.

Report of The Honourable James MaGee, and the Honourable Frank Egerton Hodgins, appointed by Order-In-Council to enquire into certain matters regarding the election held on December 1st, 1926 in the electoral district of South Ottawa, April, 11, 1928, https://archive.org/stream/b249458#page/n0/mode/2up.

The Shiners’ War

20 October 1835

Bytown, the future Ottawa, was a rough place to live during the early nineteenth century. The combination of French, Irish, English, and Scottish settlers was a combustible mixture, especially when combined with religious differences, historic grievances, discrimination, a rigid social structure, poverty, and alcohol. Mother Mcguinty’s Tavern, which was located in Corktown amidst the shanties that lined the Rideau Canal, and Firth’s Tavern close to the Chaudière Falls, were notorious watering holes. If those didn’t suit, there were dozens of other legal taverns as well as illegal grog houses to patronize. Drunken fights and brawls were commonplace, especially when the lumbermen and raftsmen, the workers who brought the cut logs downriver, were in town to gather supplies for the lumbering season.

Despite being co-religionists, Irish and French Canadians often duked it out on the streets of Bytown. Folklore has it that Joseph Montferrand, big Joe Mufferaw to English-speakers, fought off as many as 150 Irishmen in 1829 standing in the middle of the Union Bridge that linked Bytown in Upper Canada to Hull in Lower Canada across the Chaudière Falls. The story has it that Montferrand, a muscular lumberman of considerable proportions, dumped each Irishman who challenged him into the Ottawa River. Montferrand came to be seen as a defender of French rights.

Lumbermen, Ottawa, late 19th century, Topley Studio Library and Archives Canada PA-012605

Lumbermen in the Ottawa Valley, late 19th century, Topley Studio-Library and Archives Canada, PA-012605.

Matters only got worse after the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832 and work became scarce. Unemployed Irish canal workers looked for jobs in the lumber industry, a business hitherto dominated by French Canadians. Tempers flared and fists flew. The Irish gained the upper hand against their French Canadian neighbours when they found a champion who organized them. That leader was Peter Aylen. Of Irish extraction, he was born Peter Vallely in Liverpool, England.  He came to Canada in 1815, reportedly after jumping ship at Quebec. At some point he changed his name to Aylen. Little is known about his early years in Canada, but by the 1830s he had become prominent in the lumber business in the Ottawa Valley. Aylen hired only Irish workers, a fact that endeared him to the Irish community in Lower Bytown. He was very successful, becoming a member of the “Gatineau Privilege” who obtained a monopoly to cut timber in the Gatineau River area. He also had lumber operations in the watersheds of the Bonnechere and Madawaska Rivers. In the 1830s, Aylen built a substantial stone homestead on Richmond Road which still stands today.

Aylen’s Irish followers were called Shiners. The origins of the term is obscure. One explanation is that it’s a corruption of the French word chêneurs, or fellers of oak. Another has it that they considered themselves to be the shining ones who stood out above all others. Yet other explanations have them named for the shiny tall hats that newcomers wore, or the shiny silver half-crown coins with which they were paid. Regardless, the Shiners were hooligans who terrorized Bytown and the environs for years. Many offences were laid at their doorstep including stripping children naked in the snow, fouling wells, accosting women in the street and shattering windows. On one occasion, it is said that they broke up a funeral cortege and threw the coffin off the hearse into the street.

They were also accused of serious crimes such as assault, arson, rape and murder. On one occasion, the pregnant wife of a farmer called Hobbs, who had somehow crossed the Shiners, was attacked while driving home in a sleigh with other female members of the family. Beaten with sticks, Mrs Hobbs tried to jump to safety. But her clothing caught in the sleigh and she was dragged over the frozen ground before coming free. The Shiners cut her team of horses loose from the sleigh and ran them off. The next day, the horses managed to find their way home. Their ears and tails had been mutilated.

Aylen house 2018

Peter Aylen’s House, built circa. 1830, 150 Richmond Road, Ottawa. In 1914, the home’s substantial out-buildings were destroyed by fire. July 2018, by James Powell

According to the Capuchin priest, Father Alexis de Barbezieux, people said “Il n’y a pas de Dieu à Bytown.”  (There is no God in Bytown.) Families without news of children who had gone to Bytown to work in the lumber camps feared that they had been killed. Many years later, some believed that in the middle of the night at the Chaudière Bridge (the bridge that replaced the Union Bridge) you could hear the cries of drowned French-Canadian voyageurs and Irish Shiners, the victims of desperate fights who had fallen to their deaths into the rapids below.

In 1835, Peter Aylen stepped up his campaign to control the lumber industry. Shiners began interdicting timber rafts owned by French Canadians going down the Ottawa River to Montreal. Aylen also had bigger ideas—taking over Bytown. Beatings and intimidation increased on the town’s streets. Special constables that were supposed to keep the peace looked the other way, or were in Aylen’s pay. If pursued, hooligans simply crossed the border into Lower Canada and evaded arrest. Even if they were captured, they had to be transported to Perth for trial as there was no jail or courthouse in Bytown. Poorly paid constables were loath to make the perilous fifty-mile journey given the many opportunities for ambush along the way.

Aylen House plaque

Commemorative Plaque on Peter Aylen’s house, 150 Richmond Road.  The home was later owned by the Heney family. July 2018, by James Powell

Despite the anarchy, the community’s wealthy elite in Upper Bytown didn’t take serious action to suppress the Shiners as long as problems were confined to Lower Town. But when the Irish-French feud disrupted the all-important timber trade, and prices rose as farmers became reluctant to bring provisions to lawless Bytown, the town’s merchants woke up to the risks. In August 1835, Peter Aylen challenged the elites politically when he took over the Bathurst District Agricultural Society, the pinnacle of Bytown society life. Drunken Shiners, furnished by Aylen with the necessary one dollar membership fee, overwhelmed authentic members and voted in Aylen and his friends as directors.

With this, Aylen had gone too far. On 20 October 1835, a group of prominent Bytown householders established the Bytown Association for the Preservation of the Peace. They appealed to town magistrates for one hundred guns to arm citizens. Vigilantes made nightly patrols in an attempt to maintain order. As the army based in Barrick Hill was called out only on rare occasions to quell riots, the town formed a volunteer force, the Bytown Rifles, to combat the Shiners. However, the Rifles quickly disintegrated as nobody was willing to serve under its commander, Captain Baker, who was apparently something of a martinet.

Although the vigilantes had some success in keeping the peace, the Shiners continued to terrorize Bytown citizens. In March 1836, the community’s leading lumbermen founded the Ottawa Lumber Association as a further step in suppressing violence in their industry. However, with Aylen as one of its officers, the first act of the new organization was “to improve the movement of timber” on the Madawaska River where Aylen had operations. This likely meant protecting Aylen’s timber interests from angry French Canadians.

In early January 1837, Aylen and his gang disrupted the election of councillors to the Nepean Township Council held in John Stanley’s Tavern in Bytown. While Aylen was elected as one of the three councillors, he demanded that the other two positions be filled with his cronies. A gang of 40-60 of his men, many of whom had arrived at the tavern walking behind a sleigh bearing a portrait of St Patrick, stormed the meeting room, some entering via a broken window. Several of Aylen’s opponents, including James Johnson the founder of The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, Bytown’s first newspaper, were violently beaten with sticks and horse whips in the meeting room and in the tavern’s courtyard. Protests that Aylen’s supporters were not Bytown property owners and hence were ineligible to vote went unheeded. The meeting ended in disarray with legitimate attendees fleeing in panic, and the provincial statutes and other important papers destroyed. Order was only restored by intervention of the military.

An official inquiry into the riot was held ten days later by four Bytown magistrates.  Most of the dozen or so witnesses who testified blamed Aylen for the affray. Aylen and his cronies did not testify. The magistrates concluded that vigorous measures needed to be adopted to prevent a recurrence of a similar breach of the Peace. They recommended the establishment of a municipal police force and the building of a courthouse and jail in Bytown.

The Bytown Gazette didn’t comment on what it called the “disturbances” until almost eight weeks after the riot at Stanley’s tavern, and only did so with “a good deal of reluctance.” The newspaper cautiously concluded that “our more intelligent readers will doubtless perceive, that a subject of this nature will be viewed in many different lights by different men, that no detail of occurrences with satisfy every one.” It thought there was enough blame to be shared around. “[A]lthough the disturbances have in general been attributed to the Lumbermen, under the cognomen of shiners, there have been instances in which our yeomanry have been the aggressors.”  The newspaper also opined that Bytown was being maligned due to the circulation of untrue or exaggerated stories.

Like the magistrates who held the inquiry, the Gazette thought that part of the problem was the lack of a jail. “A wholesome dread of prompt punishment would deter them from committing [crimes].” The newspaper also argued that there were too many unlicensed “Tippling Houses” where men could obtain alcohol. Legal tavern keepers should form an association to stop illegal drinking establishments. This would be an “effectual means of suppressing these hordes of vice from whence so large a portion of these disorders proceed.”

The Gazette stiffened its resolve against the Shiners when in early March 1837 armed men went to the house of James Johnson who had been beaten in the January riot on the pretense of searching for a man. Shots were fired into the upstairs rooms. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The Gazette fumed that it was “high time measures were adopted to check them.” Poor James Johnson was to suffer yet another attempt on this life a short time later. This time, his three assailants armed with guns and whips nearly succeeded. Ambushed on Sappers’ bridge that linked Upper Town to Lower Town, Johnson had to jump into deep snow to save himself. He was rescued by passersby, but suffered a fractured skull. Fortunately, he recovered.

Unlike in the past when the Shiners could act with impunity, the three men who committed the outrage were captured and taken to Perth to stand trial. Although Aylen broke them out of jail, they were subsequently recaptured in late 1837 and served three years with hard labour in a penitentiary for attempted murder.

By this time, the age of the Shiners was fading. Bytown citizens were themselves becoming better organized and less likely to be cowed. Aylen, who had been charged with a number of offences over the years without any apparent consequence, either sold or rented out his properties on the Upper Canada side of the Ottawa River, and moved to Aylmer on the Lower Canada side. There, he continued in the lumber business. But in Aylmer, he apparently mellowed, becoming a respected member of the community. He even helped to build the area’s first church. He also became a member of the Hull Township Council in 1846, a Justice of the Peace (no joke) in 1848 and the superintendent of roads in the mid-1850s. He died peacefully in 1868.

The Shiners continued to commit acts of violence into the 1840s. But without Peter Aylen at the helm, they faded into history. Ottawa didn’t get a permanent police force until 1863. The Aylen family remained prominent in the Ottawa area. Five generations of Peter Aylen’s descendants have been lawyers, including H. Aldeous Aylen, Peter Aylen’s great grandson, who was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1950. In the year 2000, the legal firm of Scott and Aylen, co-founded by the Aylen family almost fifty years earlier, merged with a number of other firms to create Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, now the largest and oldest law firm in Canada with roots going back almost 200 years.

Sources:

Barbezieux, Alexis de, (Father), 1897. Histoire de la Province Ecclesiastique D’Ottawa et la Colonisation dans la Vallée de l’Ottawa, Vol.1, Ottawa : La Cie d’Imprimerie.

Bytown Gazette (The), 1837. “Reported Disturbances in Bytown,” 23 February.

————————–, 1837. “Untitled,” 2 March.

Cross, Michael S, 1973. “The Shiners’ War: Social Violence in the Ottawa Valley in the 1830s,” The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. LIV, No. 1, March, pp. 1-26.

———————, 1976-2018. “Aylen (Vallely), Peter, Dictionary of Canadian Biography,” http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/aylen_peter_9E.html.

Globe and Mail (The), 2000, “Five law firms wed in cross-country mega-merger, 29 February.

House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1837. Journal, 1st Session of the 13th Provincial Parliament, Session 1836-37, No. 52 Letter from Magistrates to Mr. Secretary Joseph on the subject of the Bytown Riots, 12 January, W.J. Coates, Printer: Toronto.

———————————————, 1837. “No. 58, Report of the Select Committee on Message of his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor and Documents relative to the Riots at Bytown.” 18 February.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 2014. “John Gordon Aylen, Obituary,” 29 December.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1936. “Christmas In Ottawa One Hundred Years Ago, 19 December.

————————–, 1950. “Name H. Aldous Aylen Supreme Court Justice,” 13 September.