Eastview’s Election Irregularities

5 January 1920

Over the past few years, rumours of widespread election irregularities and voter fraud have gripped our neighbours south of the border despite the lack of any evidence that has stood up to court scrutiny. While Canada has so far avoided similar claims, we shouldn’t be too smug. Charges of voter fraud have occurred here. Indeed, so bad were the irregularities in municipal elections in Eastview, a suburban community neighbouring Ottawa, a hundred years ago, one mayor was unseated by the court, and another given a suspended sentence before his sentence was overturned on appeal.

Eastview, now known as Vanier, was the product of the merger in 1908 of two smaller communities located to the east of the Rideau River called Janesville and Clarkstown. It was promoted to the dignity of a “town” in 1913. Predominantly French-speaking, the town changed its name to Vanier in 1969 to honour Georges Vanier, Canada’s first Francophone governor general. Vanier was amalgamated with Ottawa in 2001.

On 5 January 1920, municipal elections were held across Ontario. The following day, Ottawa newspapers reported that in Eastview, Mr. J. Herbert (Herb) White had emerged victorious in a hard-fought battle for the position of mayor. He had won with a plurality of only 19 votes over the second-place candidate, Camille Gladu. White garnered 428 votes to his rival’s 409. The third-place candidate, Mr. M. Desert, received 125 votes.

Camille Gladu, Ottawa Citizen, 29 May, 1920.

Gladu and White were long-time rivals in Eastview politics. Gladu had been the reeve of the village of Eastview and became its mayor in 1913 when the village became a town, a post he held for three consecutive years. White had won the mayor’s seat over Gladu in the 1916 election with a slim 14 vote majority. Both subsequently lost to Dr. Arthur DesRosiers in 1917 and 1918, with Gladu returning to the mayor’s chair in 1919.

Almost immediately after the 1920 municipal election, Gladu alleged that there had been grave voting irregularities. He claimed that when some of his supporters showed up at their polling stations, they found that somebody else had already voted for them. He additionally claimed that in at least one case, a voter had voted multiple times. He also called for a judicial recount given the narrowness of White’s victory.

Two weeks later in front of Justice Gunn, Eastview’s six ballot boxes were brought into court. Gunn was horrified by what he found. So mixed up were the ballots in four of the six boxes, Gunn didn’t even try to do a recount. He said that their contents were “in such a condition that it [would] be a difficult and tedious task to count… and then with no degree of certainty or satisfaction.” He said the responsible deputy returning officers were apparently unaware of their duties despite having done this job for years at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. He also said that Gladu was a “public benefactor” for seeking a recount and exposing this state of affairs. He then adjourned the recount and called upon White and Gladu to agree on whether he should proceed with a recount, or whether a new election should be held.

There was no agreement. Gladu filed a petition for the election to be set aside on grounds of election fraud.

A month later, again in front of Justice Gunn, Gladu’s lawyer laid out the extent of the fraud. Nearly a dozen affidavits were filed. In one case, a dead man, H. Joinette, had voted. In another, John Brady of 282 Nicholas Street admitted to having voted five times for the promise of a couple drinks. (Prohibition was underway at the time.) It seems he borrowed a cabman’s coat to disguise himself when he voted for a second time at one polling station. In addition, Mr. J.R. Snow of Toronto, who was an Eastview voter, was not in Eastview on the day of the election, but his vote had been cast nonetheless. (In 1920, property owners were eligible to vote in municipal elections regardless of where they lived.) The same was true for R. J. Dougall of Hallsville, and Patrick Finnigan and D. Daze, both of Montreal. All had votes cast in their name despite them not being in Eastview for the election.

There were also allegations that the third candidate in the election, Mr. M. Desert, was put up to run by an agent of Mr. White for the sole purpose of splitting the Francophone vote, thereby improving the odds of White winning. At that time, French-speaking voters in Eastview outnumbered English-speaking voters by slightly more than 100 votes. Camille Gladu also affirmed under oath that the voters’ list had been stuffed by Eastview’s assessor, Mr. Arthur Guilbeault, who was a political foe of Gladu. In all, there were at least 101 ineligible names on a voters’ list of roughly 900 names.

Judge Gunn then had the six ballot boxes re-opened. Their contents were described as looking like “a shingle mill the morning after a bad explosion.” It was also revealed that at some polling stations, the returning officers had left their posts for periods of time.

Under oath, Herb White testified that he knew nothing of the fraud, and denied that Guilbeault was his agent though he admitted that he had asked Guilbeault for a list of out-of-town voters, information that was not shared with the other two candidates. He further denied any knowledge of liquor being distributed. He added that he had paid nobody in the election, had held no meetings prior to the election, and had promised nothing. The cross-examining lawyer wondered why he had run at all.

When it was Guilbeault’s turn to be questioned, Judge Gunn cautioned him, saying that if the allegations made against him were true, he potentially faced a fine or jail time. Guilbeault admitted that there were bad feelings between him and Gladu. Guilbeault feared losing his job should Gladu be elected mayor as he had taken over Gladu’s role as the Liberal party’s Eastview organizer in 1917.

Justice Gunn’s verdict was scathing. The judge called the election irregularities “both before and after the polls closed” a deliberate disregard of laws by election officials that justified the overturning of the entire election. “In four polls out of six the neglect [was] so flagrant that confidence [was] entirely destroyed in the election.”  The judge voided the mayoral election, unseating Mayor White. The judge strongly advised all councillors to resign as they had potentially benefitted from the voting irregularities. However, Judge Gunn absolved White of blame, saying that there was no evidence suggesting that he had attempted to gain “any illegal advantage or unwarranted gain.” He blamed the returning officers. Mayor White still had to pay the court costs.

While the verdict was appealed, Mayor White and other Eastview council members sat tight. Nobody resigned. Weeks went by. At one council meeting, it was claimed that the “whole issue [was] a created one, born and hatched in the minds of some malcontents masquerading under the guise of defenders of the law.” Business went on as usual.

But, in early May 1920, Justice Ross of the Supreme Court of Ontario heard Mayor White’s appeal. The judge swiftly dismissed the case. White was out, and a new election was called.

Herb White did not run in the re-election, Instead, he threw his support behind Dr. Arthur DesRosiers, an Eastview ex-mayor. DesRosiers also had the support of five of Eastview’s six councillors. It was another hard-fought campaign. At one campaign meeting, Gladu told his supporters that he had asked the sexton of Notre Dame Cemetery to lock it up on election day to stop the dead from voting. Camille Gladu emerged victorious, 466 votes to 457—a margin of only nine votes. Gladu’s supporters were jubilant. Lifted onto their shoulders, Camille Gladu gave an impromptu speech saying that after a five-month legal fight, Eastview citizens stood with him. One of Gladu’s council opponents said he shouldn’t be too impressed with a victory of only nine votes. This almost led to blows before cooler heads prevailed. Afterwards, Gladu was seated in the back of a carriage and pulled through the streets of Eastview by his admirers.

If you thought that this was the end of the saga, you would be wrong. Again, there were allegations of election irregularities. This time they were pointed at Camille Gladu. Less than a week after the re-running of the election, Gladu was in court fighting charges of aiding and abetting election fraud, specifically of aiding a person to impersonate another voter. Justice Cummings found Gladu guilty and sentenced him to ten days in jail. The judge subsequently suspended the sentence owing to Gladu’s poor health. On imposing the sentence, Justice Cummings oddly commented that he didn’t think Gladu was “morally guilty,” since he only committed the offence “in the heat of an election fight” but the law required him to find Gladu guilty.

Despite being found guilty by Judge Cummings, Gladu sat in the mayor’ chair. The temperature in Eastview’s council chamber was downright frosty. Gladu appealed. A month later, back this time in front of Justice Gunn, he was found not guilty of corrupt practices. The judge ruled that after carful scrutiny of the evidence, “no illegality or irregularity affecting the result of the voting was clearly established.” Mayor Gladu retained the mayor’s chair in Eastview.

Camille Gladu was re-elected mayor of Eastview in January 1921. Once again there were allegations of electoral fraud, this time levelled by ex-mayor Herb White. White claimed that a number of people not on the voters’ list had voted in the election, and that Gladu had offered jobs in exchange for votes should he win. Judge T. A. McGillivary dismissed the case on the grounds that the election was carried out in accordance with the principles laid out by law, and that any irregularity or mistake did not affect the outcome of the election.

Camille Gladu died in office the following November after a long illness. He was 49 years old. Both ex-mayors Herb White and Arthur DesRosiers, his political enemies, attended his funeral. The Ottawa Journal called Gladu a “picturesque personality,” who was “rather positive in his likes and dislikes,” a “hard fighter but a loyal friend.”


Ottawa Citizen, 1912. “Eastview Is A Town,” 24 December.

——————, 1913. “Eastview Election,” 7 January.

——————, 1919. “Will Run Again,” 11 December.

——————, 1920. “Carleton Co’y Election Results; Recount Likely In Huntley Twp.,” 6 January.

——————, 1920. “Ballots So Muddled Judge Suggests A New Election,” 20 January.

——————, 1920. “Moves To Set Aside Eastview Election,” 2 February.

——————, 1920. “Allege Dead Men ‘Voted’ As Well As Many Outsiders,” 23 February.

—————–, 1920. “Mayor Of Eastview Unseated But Councillors Continue In Office,” 1 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor Is Likely To Be Unseated Monday,” 2 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Old Guard Stays By Its Past,” 4 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor Is Unseated And Councillors Must Show Cause Why They Shouldn’t Go,” 8 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Council Sitting Tight, Call Special Meeting Wednesday,” 9 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Mayor And Council ‘Stand Pat’” 11 March.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Appeal On Saturday In Weekly Court,” 16 March.

—————–, 1920. “New Evidence In The Eastview Case,” 30 March.

—————–, 1920. “New Elections Not Necessary, States Eastview Defence,” 3 May.

—————–, 1920. “Fraud Charged In Eastview’s New Election,” 28 May.

—————–, 1920. “Eastview Factions In Keen Election,” 28 May.

—————–, 1920. “Gladu Elected Eastview Mayor, Bitter Battle,” 29 May.

—————–, 1920. “Declare Mayor Aided Woman To Vote Illegally,” 1 June.

—————–, 1920. “Still Another Charge Against Eastview Mayor,” 2 June.

—————–, 1920. “New Move To Unseat Mayor Of Eastview,” 8 June.

—————–, 1920. “Writ Issued In Action To Unseat Eastview’s Mayor,” 10 June.

—————–, 1920. “Hearing Action To Unseat The Eastview Mayor,” 22 June.

—————–, 1920. “Mayor C. Gladu To Retain Seat In Eastview,” 10 July.

—————–, 1921. “Mayor of Eastview Died This Morning,” 5 November.

Ottawa Journal,

——————-, 1920. “Eastview To Again Vote For Mayor,” 15 May.

——————-, 1920. “Mr. Gladu Is Likely To Run In Eastview,” 7 May.

——————-, 1920. “Gladu Says He’ll Close Cemetery During Eastview Elections Today,” 28 May.

——————-, 1920. “Old Eggs, Hard Words And Writs Flying In Turbulent Eastview,” 31 May.

——————, 1920. “Mayor Gladu Found Guilty By Magistrate,” 5 June.

——————-, 1921. “Notes and Comments,” 7 November.

The Statute of Westminster

11 December 1931

One of the most important dates in Canada’s constitutional development from colony to independent country and for Ottawa as its capital is 11 December 1931. Yet, few Canadians know anything about what happened on that momentous day. This is perhaps not surprising. Even on that day more than ninety years ago, the event was scarcely noticed—no banner newspaper headlines, no fireworks, no celebrations. The Ottawa Journal didn’t even bother to cover the story. The Ottawa Citizen did, but the small article was sandwiched between an item about a University of Vermont student being located in Montreal after disappearing from Burlington, and a story about Christmas turkeys waiting for their owners at the police station. (If you were wondering, four Christmas turkeys had been found in the snow behind a billboard on Wellington Street. The police were keeping them chilled outside of a window until their owners collected them or they were donated to charity.)  This momentous but seemingly barely newsworthy event was the passage into law of the Statute of Westminster.

First page, Statute of Westminster, legislation.gov.uk

The Statute of Westminster was a short twelve clause Act of the British Parliament that gave effect to resolutions passed at the 1926 and 1930 Imperial Conferences on constitutional changes affecting the overseas dominions of the British Empire—the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, and Newfoundland—with respect to their relationship with each other and with the Imperial government in London. The Statute repealed the Colonial Validity Act of 1865, under which the British government could void any act of a dominion government that if felt was “repugnant to the law of England.” As well, dominion governments were empowered to make treaties with foreign governments without the consent of the British Parliament.

After the Statute of Westminster came into force, no law passed by the government of the United Kingdom extended to any of the dominions except at the request and the consent of that dominion. In effect, while the dominions remained united by a common allegiance to the Crown, they became independent states.

Other parts of the Statute covered issues particular to various dominions. Section 7, the Canada clause, ensured that the Statute of Westminster did not repeal, amend or alter the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1930, or applied to any rules, orders, or regulations made thereunder. This clause was inserted at the request of the Canadian government after consultation with the provinces as no domestic agreement had been reached on how to change the British North America Act, which was itself another act of the British Parliament and served as Canada’s constitution. Owing to a lack of agreement on an amending formula, this issue remained unresolved until Pierre Trudeau controversially patriated the Act in 1982 over the wishes of the Quebec government.

In the decades leading up to the 1926 Imperial conference, the future of the British Empire had been under wide discussion. The Imperial Federation League, founded in 1884, envisaged a closer union of the governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions which ultimately could take the form of an imperial federation, akin to the Canadian Confederation. Sir Charles Tupper, who was briefly Canada’s prime minister in 1896, was a supporter of the Imperial Federation League. The British Empire League, a successor organization to the Imperial Federation League, also sought greater imperial unity. Lord Strathcona, president of the Bank of Montreal and co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was one of the league’s founding members. The British Empire League lobbied hard for a preferential trading arrangement within the British Empire as a means of strengthening imperial ties.

However, many viewed a closer union of the disparate parts of the British Empire as a pipe dream owing to the geographic distances involved and divergent political and economic interests of the various territories. The idea of an Empire-wide preferential trading arrangement foundered on Britain’s long-standing policy of free trade as it implied Britain imposing tariffs on non-Empire imports which would lead to higher import costs, and risk retaliation from its non-Empire trading partners. Here in Canada, a tightening of imperial ties was also a non-starter among Francophones. As well, growing Canadian nationalism, nurtured by Canadian successes first in the South African War and later on the battlefields of France, was increasingly at odds with tighter ties to the United Kingdom.

William Lyon Mackenzie King and Stanley Baldwin in London, 1926 Imperial Conference, 1926, LAC 013263.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference held in London, British prime minister Stanley Baldwin, and dominion leaders, which included William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister, unambiguously recognized that the dominions were equal in status to the Mother Country. “The position and mutual relation of the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions may be readily defined. They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one to the other in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” This was the first time the term “British Commonwealth of Nations” was used.  In foreign relations, it was underscored that the dominions would not be required to accept any obligation of the British government without the consent of their own governments.

The role of the governor general was also addressed. Hitherto, governors general in the dominions had a dual role. They represented the Crown and were also the conduit for relations between the dominions and the British government. But at the 1926 Imperial Conference, it was agreed that governors general would solely represent the Crown, while communications between dominion governments and the British government would be conducted on a government-to-government basis.

An unnamed Canadian delegate to the Conference, undoubtedly Mackenzie King himself, described the Conference’s resolutions to the press as “the Magna Carta of the Dominions.”

The public response to this outcome was broadly positive, though many were uncertain about what it meant or whether there was any practical change. The Ottawa Journal opined that the resolutions, “so far as we have been able to compare, involve practically no change.” The paper went on to say: “We are no freer today than we were this time last week or this time last year, for the simple reason that this time last year, we were completely unfettered and free.” As well, it felt that the resolutions did not weaken the British connection. As for Canada taking control of its external relations, the paper argued that “the plain truth is that since the war [Canada’s control of its] domestic and external affairs have been absolute, unfettered, complete.”

The Ottawa Citizen thought that the statute was a “document of historic importance” and a “big step forward in the evolution of Imperial relations.” However, it added, “Extremists here and there might talk of secession and absolute independence, but the real feeling of Empire as a whole is for maintaining the ties that bind but do not chafe,” for both practical and sentimental reasons. While there was a general desire for Imperial unity, there was also a “need of a greater detachment” for each of the dominions.

Opinions in the United States on the outcome of the Imperial Conference ranged from a view that it marked the end of the British Empire to the “beginning of a new epoch of power and influence” for the Empire, bolstered by the elimination of “frictions” and “embarrassments” that had handicapped the Empire in the past. The average view was that the British Empire would be little affected by the proposed constitutional changes, serenely moving ahead as it had in the past.

The 1930 Imperial Conference essentially reiterated the resolutions made four years earlier, underscoring the point that the appointment of the governor general of a dominion was a matter between the King and his dominion government, not the British government. As well, the ministers who provide advice to the Crown are the ministers in the dominion concerned.

Australia was quick off the mark. On the advice of James Scullin, the Australian prime minister, King George V appointed Sir Isaac Isaacs as the first Australian-born Governor General in December 1930. Canada continued to nominate titled Britons to the post of governor general until Canadian Vincent Massey’s appointment in 1952.

In the months that followed the conclusion of the 1930 Imperial Conference, the six dominions each undertook the necessary domestic steps to adhere to the Statute of Westminster. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Bennett met with his provincial counterparts to debate the issues and write the “Canada clause” in the draft Statute of Westminster. All six dominions formally agreed to the Statute by the 1 August 1931, the date set by the British government.

Once the dominions had signed off on the draft statute, debate began in London. The Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas, secretary of state for dominion affairs, described the bill “as being one of the most important and far-reaching issues presented to the House for many generations, representing the culmination of many years’ constitutional development by the dominions.” Approval was far from universal. Winston Churchill, the great imperialist, was concerned that approval of the statute would allow the Irish Free State to break its link with the Crown. He was also concerned that should India be granted dominion status, something that was under discussion, it too could leave the Empire. Notwithstanding this opposition, the bill quickly passed the House of Commons and the Lords, receiving Royal Assent on 11 December 1931.

Like in Canada, the passage of the Statute of Westminster was hardly noticed in the London press. One of the few papers who mentioned it that day, gave the statute equal billing to the passage of a Horticultural Products Bill. So much for the view that it was one of the most important pieces of legislation in generations!

Here in Ottawa, and indeed the rest of Canada, the lack of interest in the passage of the Statute may have been due to its anti-climatic nature. Having been the subject of two Imperial Conferences, as well as a Dominion-Provincial Conference, which had received newspaper headlines, it was hard to evince much enthusiasm for an act of the British Parliament that seem only to codify something that was already done in practice. However, in constitutional terms, the difference couldn’t have been more different than night and day. Canada, and the other dominions were now master in their own houses, or as the Ottawa Citizen put it “Now, in theory, Jack is as good as his master.”

The real-world implications of the Statute of Westminster became apparent eight years later at the start of World War II. Unlike in 1914, Britain’s declaration of war against Germany did not automatically mean Canada and the other dominions were also at war. Canada only declared war on Germany after a week of debate in Parliament. For that week, Canada was a neutral country despite Britain already being at war.

In 1959, Quebec MP Maurice Allard submitted a private member’s bill to recognize 11 December as Canada’s Independence Day. As is the case with most private member’s bills, Allard’s bill went nowhere. With Dominion Day, now called Canada Day, already a mid-summer holiday, a new holiday in cold December must have had little appeal.

If you were of the view that the Statute of Westminster is now ancient history, think again. In 2011, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sydney, Australia, the government of the United Kingdom and fifteen other countries (the Queen’s other realms) agreed to eliminate old, discriminatory laws under which the Royal Succession went to the eldest male son of the monarch unless the monarch had no son (male primogeniture) and which prohibited the monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic. A law to this effect was enacted in the UK in 2013. The question then was how to put this into effect in Canada—via the Canadian Parliament’s consent to the alteration of the succession rule implemented by the British Parliament, or via a constitutional amendment requiring provincial consent. Note that the preamble of the Statute of Westminster says any law touching on the Succession to the Throne of the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the consent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions [now known as realms] as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The government contended that through the issue of “symmetry,” Canada had the same monarch as the United Kingdom. So long as the British government consulted the Queen’s other realms, and received their consent, a constitutional amendment was not necessary. A bill to that effect was debated and passed in the House of Commons and the Senate, and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2013.

Legal challenges followed. In 2019, the Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court ruling that the Succession to the Throne Act 2013 was consistent with Canada’s constitutional framework. In 2020, Canada’s Supreme Court dismissed an application for an appeal to this ruling.


Canada, Government of, Department of Justice, 2015. Statute of Westminster, 1931 – Enactment No. 17.

Daily Herald, 1931. “Churchill Amendment re: India,” 3 December.

—————-, 1931. “Peers Stop Law Lords’ Work,” 12 December 1931.

Daily Telegraph, 1931. “India And Statute of Westminster, Specific Inclusion Necessary,” 3 December.

Jackson, D. Michael, 2022. The Succession to the Throne in Canada, Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, 31 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1926. “Dominions Are Of Equal Status In The Empire,” 20 November.

——————, 1926. “British Public Opinion Welcomes Decisions of Imperial Conference,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Imperial Conference Report,” 22 November.

——————, 1926. “Says British Empire Will Go Ahead in the Old Way,” 22 November.

——————, “Opinions at Washington,” 22 November.

——————, 1930. “Canada Proposes Empire Tariff Preference to Conference,” 8 October.

——————, 1930. “Gratified That Australian Was Named Governor,” 24 December.

——————-, 1931. “All Other Dominions In Favor Of Enlarging Constitutional Status,” 19 January.

——————, 1931. “Hon. H. Guthrie States Purpose Of Conference,” 3 April.

——————, 1931. “Constitution Of Canada Will be Fully Protected.” 9 April.

——————, 1931. “Approved By All Of The Dominions,” 1 August.

——————, 1931. “Around Parliament Hill,” 14 November.

——————, 1931. “Second Reading Given Statute Of Westminster,” 20 November.

——————, 1931. “Each Dominion Must Bear Own Share Of Load,” 24 November.

——————, 1931. “Westminster Statute Given Royal Assent,” 11 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1926. “Dominions To Sign All Future Treaties,” 20 November.

——————-, 1926. “That New ‘Magna Carta,’” 22 November.

——————-, 1931. “Will Maintain Present Order Over B.N.A. Act.” 8 April.

——————-, 1931. “Quebec Accepts Drat of Statute Passed in Ottawa,” 17 April.

——————-, 1931. “Equality Ideal Within Empire Nears Reality,” 25 November.

Organized Labour Praises Conservative Prime Minister

3 September 1872

The notion that organized labour might celebrate a Conservative prime minister seems far-fetched. Think of Stephen Harper being feted by the Canadian Labour Congress. Doesn’t sound particularly likely. But something like that occurred in 1872 when Ottawa trades unions held a torchlit procession in honour of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, the leader of the Conservative Party.

Behind this incredible event was the growing trades’ union movement in Canada and their push for a nine-hour work-week. Typically, people laboured at least ten hours each day, including Saturdays. But, starting in Hamilton, and later spreading to Toronto, Montreal and other major cities, trade unionists in early 1872 took up the call for a shorter work-week. A major supporter of the movement was the Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) which had been formed the previous year, consisting of fourteen unions, including the important Toronto Typographical Society.

At this time, union activity in Canada was essentially illegal, even though trade unions had been active in the country for at least forty years. Prior to 1872, Canadian law viewed any group of workers banding together to seek higher wages as a conspiracy to restrain trade. This was illegal under the Canadian criminal code.

March in support of the Nine-Hour Movement, Hamilton, Canadian Illustrated News, 8 June 1872.

In March 1872, the Toronto Typographical Society submitted a range of demands, including the introduction of a nine-hour work-day to the master printers, a.k.a. the Toronto newspapers, including The Globe, owned and edited by George Brown, the fiery journalist and Liberal politician. At the same time, the TTA organized a massive demonstration of more that 10,000 workers in support of the nine-hour work-day. This was to be a major test of the Nine-Hour Work-Day movement.

All but one newspaper rejected the demands, and the master printers retaliated. In The Globe, Brown wrote: “[I]t is impossible that an organized system from without can be allowed to be brought to bear on an establishment to coerce higher wages, or internal arrangements, contrary to the wishes of the proprietors.” Striking union members were fired, and fourteen leaders of the Toronto demonstration were charged for restraint of trade under the existing anti-union legislation. The judge’s preliminary ruling went against the strikers. He said that the facts disclosed by both parties were sufficient to establish guilt: workers had combined; the accused were members of the combination; and a strike had occurred. A second hearing was organized for early May 1872.

The very day set for the second hearing, Macdonald’s Conservative government introduced The Trades Unions’ Act, 1872. The bill, which was modelled after similar British legislation passed the previous year, provided that “the purpose of a trade union shall not, by reason merely they are in restraint of trade, be deemed to be unlawful so as to render any member of a union liable to criminal prosecution for conspiracy.” While giving with one hand, the Conservative government seemingly took with the other. It also introduced a second bill, An Act to Amend the Criminal Law relating to Violence, Threats and Molestation, that made picketing an offence.

In the House of Commons, Macdonald introduced the draft legislation, saying that “the English mechanic who came to this country, as well as the Canadian mechanic, was subject to penalties imposed by statutes that had been repealed in England, as opposed to the spirit of the liberty of the individual.” He added that the bill was the same in principle as the law in England and provided the same freedom of action and the same right to combine. He intimated that the issue of trade unions was under discussion in Britain and should the law be revised in that country, Canada would take similar steps. He also expressed concern that without parallel Canadian legislation, British workers would be deterred from emigrating to Canada.

At the second reading of the proposed legislation a month later, only one member of Parliament spoke against the bill, regretting the “late hour of submitting the bill,” just weeks before the end of that session of Parliament. Macdonald responded that there was nothing in the bill that “could do injustice to either employers or employees” and that a similar bill had passed without dissent in England as “the old law was too oppressive to be endorsed by free men.” He added that recent events in Toronto “had shown the necessity of adopting some amendment here.” Alexander Mackenzie, a senior Liberal Party member who later became prime minister, said he saw no reason for the objection.

The Trades Unions’ Act, 1872 as well as the amendment to the Criminal Code received Royal Assent on 14 June 1872, hours before the Governor General closed the fifth session of the first Parliament of the Dominion.

Organized labour was jubilant and showered Macdonald with praise, notwithstanding the amendment to the Criminal Code that made striking illegal. The fact that trades unions had been legitimized was sufficient. Ottawa trade unions organized a massive parade in honour of Sir John on his return from the western part of Ontario where workingmen in London, Hamilton and Toronto had already expressed their appreciation. Reportedly, it was the first political demonstration ever made by Ottawa labour.

After dusk on 3 September 1872, members of various trades unions in the capital along with the Fire Department marched to Macdonald’s home on Rideau Street where the Premier was escorted to a horse-drawn carriage. Also in the carriage were the Hon. Mr. Samuel Tilley, Minister of Customs, Joseph Currier, the Conservative member for Ottawa, Ottawa Mayor Martineau, as well as the Chairman of the unions’ welcoming committee, Mr. D. O’Donaghue.

The dignitaries were driven between two processional columns of uniformed Ottawa firemen bearing lit torches. A man holding the Union Jack led the parade, followed by the Band Brigade of the Garrison Artillery, the Stone Cutters’ Union and friends, the Typographical Union and friends, the Marshal (mounted), the Bricklayers’ and Masons’ Union and friends, the Plasterers’ Union and friends, the Carpenters’ Union and friends, Gowlan’s Band, and finally the carriages. Following the parade were an immense crowd of well wishers.

At roughly 9:00pm, Macdonald arrived at City Hall on Elgin Street. The crowd was called to order with the firemen standing in front of the building to provide light. O’Donaghue explained to the crowd why they had assembled in case anybody might still be unaware. He said that there previously had been a law that provided that no more than three men could combine together to form a trade union. This law prevented workingmen from telling employers the price they would be willing to sell their labour. “To say it was a great infamy to the workingmen was putting it very mildly,” he said. He noted the recent events in Toronto and praised Macdonald for giving workers equal rights and privileges to those enjoyed by workingmen in Britain. Looking at the assembled crowd, he added that he never knew that there were so many workingmen in Ottawa, and he looked forward to the day when workingmen could put a man of their own class in Parliament to represent them.

Another union man then read out a letter addressed to Macdonald expressing their gratitude and welcoming Sir John back to Ottawa.

Macdonald then stepped to the front to thank the members of the trade unions. He said “The unwise and oppressive action, pursued towards some of the workingmen of Toronto in causing them to be arrested as criminals, forced my attention on the necessity of immediately repealing laws altogether unsuited to and unworthy of this age, and opposed to the first principles of freedom.”

After Macdonald’s speech, many others stepped forward to say a few words. Samuel Tilly said that his first political speech made in 1848 was on behalf of a mechanic who was seeking to represent the men of St. John against a doctor and a lawyer. Joseph Currier, who was a prominent and wealthy lumberman as well as MP for Ottawa, claimed to have always been a workingman. Mr. Williams, the Secretary of the Trades Association of Toronto, said the demonstration indicated the gratitude felt by the workingmen of the Dominion for the services Macdonald had rendered them. Mayor Martineau followed with similar words in French.

The procession then reformed and escorted Sir John back to his residence.

Looking back at these events, many historians have cast doubt on how committed Macdonald was to the trade union movement. It was likely that he had ulterior motives. In a 1984 journal article that studied the 1872 trade union legislation, Mark Chartrand agreed that the growth of trade unionism in Canada had made a number of the statutes on the legal books “anachronistic and oppressive.” However, if it were Macdonald’s intention to remove shackles on the trade union movement, he argued that the 1872 changes “did little,” calling them “a virtually sterile concession to the trade union movement.” Other restrictive laws, including the amendment to the Criminal Code to ban picketing, remained in force. Consequently, while unions were legal, the means by which unions could achieve their purposes remained illegal. There were also provincial statutes. In Ontario, under the Master and Servant Act an employee could not refuse to go to work and had to obey the employer during the period of an employment contract on penalty of a fine or imprisonment. The act was often used to stop workers from organizing to obtain better working conditions. This act was not repealed until 1877.

Instead of bettering the lot of the working man, Macdonald was likely strongly influenced by the approaching election held after the parliamentary session ended in June 1872. The political winds were shifting against the Conservatives, so attracting the workingman’s vote was an astute political manoeuvre.

An even more compelling motivation for the legislation was to metaphorically stick his finger in the eye of his long-time political opponent, George Brown, the editor and owner of The Globe newspaper who was in the thick of the fight with the Toronto Typographical Society and its demand for a nine-hour work-day. Macdonald and Brown had been rivals for decades. The two had even fought over the location of the capital of Canada during the 1850s, with Macdonald calling Brown disloyal for not accepting Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa.

Regardless of his motivations and the minimal practical changes to Canadian trade union legislation, Macdonald gained the goodwill of workingmen. It might have been enough to tip the balance of the 1872 election in favour of the Conservative Party which retained power, albeit just—the first minority government.

Workingmen were less successful in achieving their aims. The printers’ strike in Toronto failed. The quest for nine-hour work-day was over—for now. According to the Hamilton Standard, The Globe had triumphed over its workers. The newspaper was now a non-union shop. In the opinion of the Hamilton newspaper, the printers’ strike had been ill-advised and had only led to considerable pecuniary losses.

While the Hamilton Standard may have been correct in a narrow sense, the printer’s strike marked an important step in the fight by organized labour in Canada for recognition, and their struggle for better wages and working conditions.


Canadian Labour Congress, 2021. 1872: The fight for a shorter work-week.

Chartrand, Mark, 1984. “The First Canadian Trade Union Legislation: An Historical Perspective,” Public Law, 1 January.

The Globe, 1872. “Printers’ Strike,” 22 March.

————-, 1872. “The Printers’ Strike,” 26 March.

Hamilton Standard, 1872. As reported in The Globe under “Canada,” 15 June.

House of Commons Debates, 1872. Fifth Session, First Parliament, 7 May.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1872. “No title,” 15 May.

————————–, 1872. “The Premier, Grand Ovation by the Workmen,” 4 September.

The Passing of William Lyon Mackenzie King

22 July 1950

Friends and family knew the end was coming; the enigmatic, political warrior had been fading for some time. But his death still came as a shock. It was a warm summer day. Picnickers had left the heat of the capital for the Gatineau hills oblivious to the human drama that was playing out at Kingsmere, close to Chelsea, Quebec. There, at his summer residence, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime minister and leader through the dark days of World War II, was breathing his last. He had slipped into a coma two days earlier. At times, he appeared to rally, but the end came on Saturday, 22 July 1950. At his side throughout his final hours was the Rev. Ian Burnett, the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street, the church where King had faithfully attended for decades. Three nephews were also at his bedside—Arthur King, the son of King’s late brother, Dougall Macdougall “Max” King, as well as John and Harry Lay Jr., the sons of his sister, Janet “Jenny” Lay.

King addressing the Nation on VE Day, 8 May 1945, Library and Archives, Canada, 3623420.

Mackenzie King was born in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario in 1874, the son of John King and Isabel Grace King (née McKenzie). He was named after his grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto and the prominent Reformer leader of the failed 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. The future prime minster was immensely proud of his grandfather, and in many respects inherited his reforming zeal.

King was highly educated, with a BA and MA from the University of Toronto, an LLB from Osgoode Law School and a PhD in political economy from Harvard—the only Canadian prime minister to have earned a doctorate. In 1900, he was appointed the first deputy minister of labour. Eight years later, he ran for Parliament, winning the riding of Waterloo North for the Liberals. He entered the cabinet of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1909 as Minister of Labour. After being defeated in the 1911 General Election he was in the political wilderness for eight years until he was elected leader of the Liberal Party in 1919 after the death of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the first leadership convention held in Canada. A surprising choice in many ways as he was an indifferent orator, awkward with most people, and could not speak French. Shortly afterwards, he re-entered Parliament through a by-election. Healing internal rifts within the party caused by the conscription crisis during the Great War that had divided English and French Canadians, he led the Liberal Party to victory in the 1922 General Election—the first of many victories over the coming decades.

In 1926, leading a minority government, King was defeated in the House of Commons where the opposition Conservative Party had a plurality of votes. The Governor General of the day, Lord Byng, refused a request by Mackenzie King to dissolve Parliament and hold a General Election, but instead offered Conservative Leader, Arthur Meighan, the opportunity to form a government. But when Meighen also failed to command the confidence of the House, an election was called. King triumphantly returned to power. This constitutional crisis, called the King-Byng Affair, pitted the prime minster against the Crown. While Byng’s actions were constitutionally correct, King took political advantage of the situation campaigning on a platform that the British government, which still appointed Canada’s governors general, was interfering in the domestic politics of Canadians.

Losing in 1930 to R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives, King and the Liberal Party were re-elected in 1936. King remained in power through successive elections through the war years until his retirement in 1948. He was succeeded by Louis St. Laurent, his former Minister of Justice.

After King’s death, his body was placed in an open, mahogany casket by the fireplace in the sitting room at Laurier House, his Ottawa residence, the same room where he had received so many people during his lifetime. Close friends, senior officials, including Governor General the Viscount Alexander, who had flown back to Ottawa from holiday out west, came to pay their last respects. Prime Minister St. Laurent who had been at his summer residence in St. Patrice, Quebec also quickly returned to the capital to pay his respects. On top of the casket was the golden, enamelled Order of Merit and its green and red ribbon given to him by King George in 1947. The order, of which there were only twenty-four members, had been created by Edward VII. In accordance with King’s wishes, there was no sign of mourning at Laurier House, its windows open, and the blinds undrawn. Callers at Laurier House were received by King’s relatives, Edouard Hardy, who had been King’s private secretary, and Fred McGregor, his former secretary and friend who had been helping King prepare his memoirs.

Telegrams of condolences poured in from around the world. His Majesty King George said that the prime minister’s “lifelong service to Canada will ensure him a place in the history of his country and in the hearts of its people…his wisdom and wide experience were of constant value in the counsels of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” US President Truman called King “an unwavering champion” of freedom-loving peoples and democratic institutions. Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said that he was “a great statesman and a friend.”

Mackenzie King’s body was subsequently moved from Laurier House to the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings to lie is state in the Hall of Fame. At each corner of his casket was a constant guard of honour of men representing the armed services and the RCMP. Over the next two days, more than 30,000 ordinary citizens filed past his bier to pay their last respects to the man to had led the country through both war and peace. Flags flew at half mast over the capital.

Remains of Mackenzie King laying in state, Centre Block, July 1950, Library and Archives Canada, 4084263.

At 2:00pm on 26 July 1950, the doors to the Centre Block were closed. When the last mourners had left, Fred McGregor, accompanied by Defence Minister Brooke Claxton, removed the Order of Merit from the top of the casket. Charles A. Hulse, the undertaker, then closed the lid.

Mackenzie King’s remains were taken in procession with muffled drums and funeral music from the Peace Tower to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at the corner of Wellington and Kent Streets for the funeral service. The short route was lined with members of the armed services and veterans, standing shoulder to shoulder. An estimated 50,000 people watched the funeral cortege. Accompanying the casket were thirty-nine honorary pallbearers, headed by prime minister St. Laurent. Also in the procession were detachments of four regiments—the Royal 22nd, the Régiment de Hull, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and the Royal Canadian Regiment. The RCAF Central Band and naval detachments were also in the cortege.

In the church, King’s customary pew was draped with purple crepe. Viscount Alexander and Lady Alexander, who has arrived early, sat directly in front of the pulpit close to the coffin. Also in front of the pulpit was a massive display of red roses, a tribute from King’s family. Other floral arrangements on display were from the Government of Canada, Lord Alexander, HM the King, and US President Truman.

Officiating at the service was Rev. Ian Burnett and the Rev, A. F. Scott Mackenzie, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. King’s favourite hymns were sung, including John Oxenham’s “My Own Dear Land” sent to the tune of Londonderry Air, which had been specifically chosen by Mackenzie King. Rev. Burnett gave the eulogy. He said that Mackenzie King was a man wedded to a few great, basic principles of righteousness and truth. First, he was a man of peace who proved to be one of the best leaders through the storms of war. Second, he believed in liberty and detested dictators. Third, he felt deeply for the poor and opposed the unscrupulous use of wealth and power.

Following the service, King’s remains were conveyed in a black hearse to Union Station, preceded by the RCMP and RCAF bands. The route was lined with RCMP constables. At the station, to the beat of a single drum, the coffin was carried to the purple and black draped funeral train. The mahogany casket was then placed in a car by six RCMP constables where it was placed on blocks. In front of it was a bank of flowers.

At 6:00pm, the 15-car funeral train, which included coaches for King’s family, prime minster St. Laurent and others, pulled slowly out of Union station destined for Toronto. On the platform the RCMP band played “Nearer My God To Thee.”

At 10:00am the next morning, William Lyon Mackenzie King’s body was committed to the ground in the family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. He was laid to rest beside the remains of father and beloved mother.

Mackenzie King left a vast legacy. In total, he was prime minister of Canada for more than 21 years, a record that stands to this day. He did much to fashion the modern country that we know today. The King-Byng Affair, held against the backdrop of the 1926 Imperial Conference, set the stage for the Statute of Westminster in 1931 which recognized that the dominions, of which Canada was one, were in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom. This statute was given clear meaning at the outbreak of World War II. Unlike during the previous world conflict, Canada did not automatically enter the war when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Instead, Mackenzie King called for a debate in the Canadian Parliament before a formal declaration of war was signed by George VI as King of Canada a week later.

King also oversaw the revival of the Canadian economy in the late 1930s, negotiating trade deals with both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the war, King became recognized as a major Allied war leader, and Canada as an important ally on the international scene. King also undertook social reforms, introducing unemployment insurance and family allowances, that set the ground for the social safety net that Canadians take for granted today. Adroit political management based on a respect for different traditions and views successfully managed the English-French divide. King also successfully negotiated the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation. Keen to foster a distinct Canadian identity, he crafted a new Canadian citizenship law that came into effect in early 1947; King himself received Canadian citizen certificate number 1.

There were, however, blots on Mackenzie King’s political escutcheon. Like many Western leaders during the 1930s, he was duped by Adolf Hitler, and for a time looked favourably upon the dictator. He also supported Neville Chamberlin’s policy of appeasement. Reflective of prevailing attitudes, Canada’s immigration policies were anti-Semitic during the pre-war years.  The Chinese Exclusion Act, was also enacted during King’s first administration and was only repealed in 1947. Even then non-white immigration continued to be discouraged. First Nations peoples also continued to be denied Canadian citizenship through the King era. His reputation has also suffered from his quirkiness, especially his belief in spiritualism and his communing with his dead mother, something that he kept concealed during his lifetime.

Despite these faults, William Lyon Mackenzie King ranked as Canada’s best prime minister in a 2016 Maclean’s Magazine poll. He is commemorated on Canada’s $50 banknote.


Hilman, Norman and Azzi, Stephen, 2016. “Ranking Canada’s Best and Worst Prime Ministers,” Maclean’s, 7 October.

National Film Board of Canada, Date unknown, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

 Ottawa Citizen, 1950. “Scene At Kingsmere, Home During Mr. King’s Final Hours, 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1874-1950,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “The Career of Mackenzie King,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “U.S. Envoy Pays Tribute, » 25 July.

——————-, 1950. “Cabinet Meeting Draws Up Plans For Funeral of Mr. King,” 25 July.

——————-, 1950. “Nearly 50,000 Line Streets For Mackenzie King’s Funeral,” 27 July.

Ottawa Journal, 1950. “World Leaders Speak of Their Deep Regret of Canada’s Great Loss,” 24 July.

——————-, 1950. “The End of An Era,” 24 July.

Ottawa Entertains The Empire

22 August 1903

Passersby on Wellington Street must have wondered what was happening up on “the Hill” in the early afternoon of Saturday, 22 August 1903 as a large group of smartly-dressed men and women assembled on the steps in front the Centre Block of Parliament for what was clearly a commemorative group photograph.  Who were they and what were they doing in Ottawa?

The visitors were delegates, some accompanied by their wives, to the Fifth Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire. The Congress, hosted at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal by the Montreal Board of Trade and the Canadian government, had wrapped up its deliberations the previous day. The Congress had brought together 548 delegates—all men, given the times—from 124 commercial associations from the far-flung reaches of the British Empire. Some delegates had travelled thousands of miles from Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and South Africa to attend the Montreal event. Travelling such distances in those days was long, arduous and expensive; it was not something done lightly.


Group commemorative photograph of delegates and wives of the 5th Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Congress provided a forum for the great industrialists and merchants of the empire to meet, network, and discuss the big political and economic issues of the age. Some called it the “empire’s non-official commercial parliament.” The group, which enjoyed royal patronage, was extraordinarily influential, able to shape policy both in Britain and in the colonies. The 1903 Congress in Montreal was the first time it had met outside of London, the imperial capital. Canadians were feeling proud of their contributions to the imperial cause in the Boer War, and wanted to demonstrate that Canada was not just some distant, frigid appendage of the empire.  The Congress also provided an ideal opportunity for the Dominion government to advertise Canada’s abundant natural resources as well as the country’s growing industrial capacity.

The Congress discussed a host of issues, some political, some economic. For example, there was unanimous support for a common empire-wide naturalization policy, under which a foreigner, naturalized as a “British subject,” in one part of the empire would have the same rights as a native-born person anywhere in the empire. In other words, say, an American, who became a Canadian, would have full rights as an Australian in Australia. There was also unanimous support for Newfoundland to join Canada.


Delegates and wives inside the Senate Chamber, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa. Given the era, it’s quite striking to see women sitting in the Senate. The first woman senator, Cairine Wilson, did not take her seat until 1930.

A motion by Joseph-Xavier Perrault of the Montreal Board of Trade in favour of the empire adopting the metric system received wide support, as did a motion for all parts of the empire to discard pounds, shillings and pence, and adopt a decimal currency like Canada’s. A more contentious issue, particularly among French-Canadian delegates, was that self-governing colonies, such as Canada, should participate in the cost of defending the empire. (Recall that this Congress was being held just a year after the end of the Boer War.) The motion found unanimous support when Montreal-based participants amended it to ensure that it was up to the colonies to determine the nature of that support.

But, by far the biggest issue under discussion was trade, something that would resonate today. The empire was divided into two camps—free traders and protectionists. For more than half a century, Britain had followed a free trade commercial policy as a way of keeping import costs, especially of essential imports of food and raw materials, as low as possible. But by the beginning the twentieth century, protectionists in the United Kingdom, led by Joseph Chamberlain, were increasing in number. They favoured an “imperial preference,” under which tariffs would be imposed on non-empire imports, giving a price advantage to products made in the colonies. This imperial policy had strong political undertones as Chamberlain and his supporters wanted to bind British colonies closer to the motherland in order to strengthen the empire against other rising powers such as the United States and Germany.

Canada, which had tariffs on all imports, including those from the mother country and other members of the empire, favoured protectionism. However, while Canada desired preferential access to the British market as per Chamberlain’s plan, it was loath to lower its tariffs on imports from Britain and other parts of the empire.

After a long debate on the trade issue, a compromise resolution was negotiated that called for the adoption of a commercial policy throughout the empire based upon the principal of mutual benefit under which each member of the empire would receive a substantial trade advantage as a result of its imperial relationship, with due consideration given to the fiscal and industrial needs of each member. A commission was also proposed to study the issue. In other words, the issue was punted forward.

After four days of deliberations, the Congress wound up its events in Montreal. But for many delegates, their Canadian adventures were just beginning. A series of journeys had been planned that would take them across the country, courtesy of the Canadian government and the railways in a huge public relations campaign to impress and woo British investors.


Sparks St looking west, Saturday, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Their first stop was naturally Ottawa. One hundred and eighty delegates and forty wives arrived in the capital at 11:00 am on Saturday, 22 August, on a special train put on by the Canada Atlantic Railway. Reportedly, their train was the heaviest passenger train ever hauled over a Canadian railroad. It consisted of ten coaches, each weighing 50 tons. They were met at the Central Station by a distinguished group of Ottawa citizens, including Richard Scott (later Sir), who was the Secretary of State and the Liberal leader of the Senate, Mayor Cook, Sir Sandford Fleming, the father of Standard Time, who had attended the Montreal Congress, all members of City Council, and members of Ottawa’s Board of Trade.

After a brief stop at the Russell House Hotel, the guests were conducted on a guided tour of the Parliament Buildings, stopping first at the Senate chamber where Richard Scott welcomed the delegates and their wives to Canada. After referring among other things to the debate over imperial preference, he expressed the hope that Canada and Britain would avoid “selfish propensities.” Scott added that the loyalty of Canadians was greater than any other part of the empire.” He concluded by saying that he expected Canada would be recognized as “one of the strongest props of the empire” in fifty years.

After their tour of the Senate, the delegates and their spouses toured the Library of Parliament, before heading to the Commons chamber to be greeted by Charles Martel, the Liberal MP for Bonaventure in Quebec. Martel noted Canada’s contribution to empire-building by its construction of a second transcontinental railway.

At 12.30 pm, delegates and their wives assembled on the steps of the Centre Block for a commemorative group photograph taken by A.G. Pittaway, a prominent Ottawa photographer. The picture was developed and ready for purchase by delegates in less than three hours.

Amateur photographers also took pictures. The Ottawa Citizen commented that “numerous Kodaks carried by the visitors were kept clicking away.” One of the shutterbugs was Ethelbert Slater, the congressional delegate for Yeadon, a small community outside of Leeds in Yorkshire. Slater was an amateur photographer of some considerable repute in his native Yorkshire. The Citizen commented that Slater had occasionally spoken in public and “on several visits to the continent and Egypt secured some good pictures of scenery, etc. which he has exhibited and explained to public audiences afterwards.”


Delegates assembling outside of the Russell House Hotel, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

Slater had brought his Kodak No. 2 camera, one of the first low cost cameras available to the general public, with him on his journey to Canada and documented his trip from his departure from Liverpool for Quebec City on the SS Canada to his return home via New York, providing a wonderful treasury of Canadian views, including of Ottawa, during his trip across the country with other delegates from the Montreal Congress.

After their tour of Parliament Hill, the tourists walked the short distance back to the Russell House Hotel for a 2:00 pm luncheon. It was called a luncheon instead of a banquet to permit the delegates’ wives to attend. Mayor Cook’s address focused on Canada as a worthy destination for investment, something he said would become apparent as delegates crossed the country. The mayor also put in a pitch for Canada to take over the West Indies. At the time, concerns had been expressed about the United States, having brought Cuba into its sphere of influence and annexing Puerto Rico following the Spanish-American War of 1898, had designs on other parts of the West Indies. Some years later, the United States bought the Danish West Indies, now called the US Virgin Islands.


Pile of logs ready for the sawmills of the Chaudière, 22 August 1903 by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

After lunch, the delegates got a taste of Ottawa’s industrial might with tours of the Chaudière, the heart of the city’s lumber industry, with stops at the E.B. Eddy and Booth sawmills. At the Booth mill, they were greeted by Jackson Booth, the son of the great Ottawa lumber baron, John Rudolphus Booth.

What the delegates did for supper was not reported. Most likely, they fended for themselves before embarking on an evening trip on Ottawa’s Electric Railway to Rockcliffe Park where delegates and wives enjoyed the natural scenery of the park which was illuminated for the event by thousands of multi-coloured electric lights. The Governor General’s Foot Guards’ Band entertained the guests during their visit to the park.

The tourists returned to their coaches in the wee hours of the following morning for the return trip to Montreal.


Log slide around the Chaudière Falls, 22 August 1903, by Ethelbert Slater, Aireborough Historical Society/Historical Society of Ottawa.

This was not, however, the end of the delegates’ travels in Canada. After a free day in Montreal, many, including Ethelbert Slater, embarked on an all-expenses paid cross-country tour, with a side trip to the United States to view the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara from the American side and to visit Detroit, already a major industrial hub before it became the centre of the North American automobile industry.

The delegates visited most major Canadian cities throughout southern Ontario, including Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, steamed through the Muskoka Lakes, before heading out west, visiting Fort William, Winnipeg, Brandon, Banff, Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo, with stops at the Crofton copper mines and the Chemainus sawmills. More stops were made on the return east, including a visit to the great “Soo” Ship Canal at Sault Ste. Marie. After another short visit in Ottawa, the tourists sailed from the capital on a steamer to Grenville, Quebec where they boarded a train to Montreal for the last leg of their 10,000-mile journey. From Montreal, many delegates, including Ethelbert Slater, took a train to New York for the return voyage to the United Kingdom.

Throughout this once-in-a-lifetime trip, Ethelbert Slater took photographs along the way, recording for posterity views of Canadian life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many were typical tourist shots of important buildings. But others captured life as it was being lived, providing viewers today with fascinating glimpses of a long-lost world.

The negatives returned with Slater to Yeadon. Years later, his descendants gave them, as well as other negatives, photographs and other memorabilia, to the Aireborough Historical Society whose mission is to preserve the history of Yeadon, and other neighbouring communities in Yorkshire. In 2017, Carlo Harrison, the archivist at the AHS, kindly donated the fragile Ottawa negatives to the Historical Society of Ottawa, which in turn gave them to the City of Ottawa Archives for safekeeping. Ethelbert Slater’s  Ottawa pictures had returned home.

For a more extensive coverage of the photographs and their story, please read Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, titled When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, published by The Historical Society of Ottawa.


Ottawa Citizen, 1903. “British Guests,” 11 August.

——————, 1903. “Persian Garden Night,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Backbone of Empire,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Welcome To Our Guests,” 22 August.

——————, 1903. “Ottawa Entertained British Capitalists,” 24 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1903. “The Congress of Commerce Completes Its Labors,” 21 August.

——————, 1903. “Trade Lords Visit Ottawa,” 22 August.

Powell, James & Cook, Bryan, 2018. When Ottawa Welcomed the Empire Through a Yorkshireman’s Lens, Bytown Pamphlet No. 105, Historical Society of Ottawa.



24 Sussex

28 April 1951

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

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

24 Sussex 2010 Wikipedia

24 Sussex Drive, 2010, by Alasdair McLellan, Wikipedia

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

So, how did we arrive at this sorry situation?

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

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

24 Sussex Before Renos

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

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

24 Sussex after renos

Front of 24 Sussex Drive after renovations, author unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CBC, 1980. A Tour of 24 Sussex with Maureen McTeer. https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hsimp=yhs-rogers_001&hspart=rogers&p=Maureen+McTeer#id=2&vid=c131ed57812f112dec7e53683dbe3e4e&action=click.

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

NCC, 2019. 24 Sussex Drive, http://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/24-sussex-drive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work or Bread!

5 April 1877

When we think of an economic depression, we usually think of the Great Depression that started in late October 1929 with the New York stock market crash and lasted through the “Dirty Thirties.” But there was another global economic downturn, sometimes called the Long Depression, that started with the Panic of 1873 and lasted until 1896 according to some historians. Like the Great Depression, it resulted from a combination of real, financial and monetary factors. It began in central Europe with a stock market crash in Vienna, then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bursting of a speculative bubble revealed overextended financial institutions and stock market manipulation, leading to bank failures and corporate insolvencies. The financial impact rippled across international borders and even the Atlantic. (Sound familiar?) In North America, there had been a huge overinvestment in railways—the “dotcom-like” speculative investment of the nineteenth century. Many of the railway companies had raised large sums of money based on unrealistic expectations of future profitability. In September 1873, Jay Cooke & Company, a large U.S. bank and a major investor in railway bonds, failed. This sparked a financial panic in New York. Share prices collapsed. The stock exchange closed for ten days. In the months that followed, dozens of railway companies failed, bringing down financial institutions in their wake.

Panic of 1873
Closing the doors of the New York Stock Exchange, 20 September 1873, Picryl

These developments happened against the backdrop of a global economy undergoing major structural changes. The industrial revolution was in full swing. Germany and the United States were challenging Britain’s economic supremacy. New industries and new production processes were rapidly overturning the old economic order. Productivity was rising and prices for industrial and agricultural goods were falling. While many took advantage of the opportunities being created and prospered, those who were unable to adapt to the rapid changes suffered.

Added to these shocks in North America was the impact of the epizootic of 1872-3—an equine flu that started outside of Toronto and spread across Canada and the United States. While the mortality rate was typically low, few horses outside of certain isolated regions were spared. It took weeks for stricken equines to recover, with crippling consequences for an essentially horse-drawn economy. Even the railways were affected as coal was shipped to rail terminals using horse-drawn wagons.

Governments did little to ease the pain of the downturn in economic activity. The idea of government assistance for the poor was still in the future. With all major countries, including Canada, wed to the gold standard, there was also little scope for monetary action to support economic activity, even if central banks (if countries had them) wanted to do something. Meanwhile, the United States joined gold standard countries in 1873, after having had an unbacked fiat currency since the start of their civil war. It ended the unlimited coinage of silver (the Crime of ’73 according to silver supporters) which might otherwise have led to lower interest rates. Protectionist sentiments rose everywhere. The major countries, with the exception of Britain, adopted high tariffs in an effort to protect domestic industries and jobs. International trade suffered.

Canada was in the thick of all these trends. As is the case today, it was a small economy closely linked to its southern, much larger, neighbour. When the United States entered the Long Depression, so did Canada. To make matters worse, the United States had abrogated its trade reciprocity deal with Canada a few years earlier. Although the reciprocity agreement only covered natural resources, this mattered importantly for Canada.

Panic Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds LAC PA-025546
Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds Library and Archives Canada, PA-025546

In February 1876, Richard Cartwright, the Liberal Minister of Finance, attributed the ongoing depression in Canada to: poor U.S. economic conditions, which were “visibly affecting Canadian interests;” overlarge imports; excessive inventories which were depreciating in value; greedy banks who extended loans “to men of straw, possessing neither brains nor money;” and a depression in the lumber trade owing to “inexperienced operators unable to compete when U.S. prices fall.”

To help ameliorate matters, he said that the government was taking advantage of cheap labour and materials to bring forward public works projects. Cartwright, a proponent of free trade, resisted calls for tariffs on manufactured goods beyond those necessary for revenue purposes on the grounds that manufacturing employment accounted for only 40,000 jobs. The government needed to look after the interests of the other 95 per cent of the working population.

In Ottawa, matters came to a head in early 1877. Unemployment, which was always high in winter owing to the seasonality of many jobs, was worse than usual. Each morning, hundreds of unemployed, able-bodied men congregated in the Byward Market looking for an hour or two of work. Times were tough even for those who had jobs. Pay had been reduced from $1.25 per day to a meagre 90 cents per day.

On 5 April 1877, 200-300 unemployed men assembled as usual early in the morning in the Byward Market looking for work. When little was forthcoming, they decided they would do something about their situation. Perhaps the Mayor of Ottawa, William Waller, would be able to able to provide work or bread. The men marched on City Hall on Elgin Street. Unfortunately, the mayor was absent. A messenger was dispatched to find him. Meanwhile a Citizen reporter interviewed some of the men while they waited. Their stories were dire. Many had large families to feed but had been out of work for months. Starvation stared many in the face. Peter Boulez had a family of twelve, but had had no employment since the previous November. With his limited savings exhausted, he needed to find work to put bread on the table. Hans Shourdis had been living off of soup for the past four months, “his stomach a stranger to meat.” Christmas had been his last satisfying meal. A kindly lady had given him charity but that all went to his five children.

When Mayor Waller appeared, he said that he deeply sympathized with the workmen. However, he reminded them that the depression was being felt across the country, and opined that the Dominion government was not responsible for the hard times. He announced that City Council would be meeting on the following Monday to discuss a drainage scheme worth $300,000, one third of which could be expended annually. This project would hire a lot of citizens in need. He expected work to proceed as soon as the frost was out of the ground. The Mayor also said that he had instructed the City Collector not to go after the unemployed for unpaid taxes until they had work.

The men next marched on the Parliament Buildings to seek an immediate interview with Premier Alexander Mackenzie, whose Liberal Party had come to power in November 1873, virtually at the onset of the depression—a timing that had not gone unnoticed by the unemployed workers. At the main entrance of the Centre Block, the men sent a messenger to the Premier who was in the Railway Committee Room attending a meeting of the House Banking and Commerce Committee. When Mackenzie refused to see them, the unemployed workers entered the building and approached the Committee Room’s entrance. They sent another messenger to Mackenzie. When nothing happened, two of the workers’ leaders opened the door, insisting to see the Premier. When a committee member shouted “Shut the door,” the door was closed in their faces. Indignant, some of the workers suggested starving them out “like they did at Sebastopol” during the Crimea War. Others forced the door to great cheers, including cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, Mackenzie’s arch rival.

Needless to say, committee members were shaken by this invasion. Some apparently thought the men were there “to wipe them out.” However, others regained their composure and said that the men were harmless. They simply wanted to speak to Mr. Mackenzie. One of the unemployed men stood on a table and addressed the crowd. He was angry that the Premier had eluded them, calling it “a hardship and an insult.” Peter Mitchell, the MP for Northumberland County, New Brunswick, and a Father of Confederation, calmed them by saying that the Premier would no doubt give an interview at some other time and place. After giving three more cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, the unemployed men left though not before issuing a statement:

“That we the unemployed workingmen of Ottawa, strongly censure the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie for refusing to meet a delegation sent from among us to ask his opinion as to the chances of work during the coming season. And we condemn him for allowing a door to be slammed in our faces, and call upon the workingmen of the Dominion to join us in rebuking the treatment received by us.”

The men made an orderly departure from Parliament, committing themselves to meet again in the Market later that day to plot strategy. That evening, the men, along with political representatives from all levels of government, met outside in the Market Square despite a light rain. Plans to meet in the Market Hall had been foiled by locked doors and a missing key. There was a number of rousing speeches. Mr. Bullman, the self-appointed chairman of the men, spoke on “how the wealth of the world was unequally distributed” and how the poor were oppressed. He said that he had been splitting hardwood for 25 cents a cord and had to feed a family of small children. (His credibility was later damaged when it was revealed that he was not unemployed, and had left a job at the gas works to attend the meeting.) A Mr. Hans added that “it was natural for money to flow into the rich man’s pocket as it was for the water of the St Lawrence to flow into the ocean.” At the end, it was agreed to send a deputation to approach Mackenzie on behalf of the workers.

At 9 am the next morning, a crowd of more than 600 gathered in front of the City Hall and marched to the West Block on Parliament Hill, the location of Premier Mackenzie’s office. The deputation, which comprised the City of Ottawa’s two MPs, one Liberal the other Liberal-Conservative, the Liberal MPP for the City, Mayor Waller, and Mr. Bullman, met with the Premier. This time, Mackenzie agreed to address the men.

The Premier offered the unemployed little in the way of government relief. He claimed that government was “powerless” beyond commissioning public works, pointing to the Welland and Lachine Canals. He also argued that aid should come from the provincial legislature and local charities. Just because Parliament resided in Ottawa was not a reason for the Dominion government to support Ottawa employment. If a man needed a job, he should go to the North-West Territories (Alberta and Saskatchewan) where he could get 100 acres of good farmland for nothing. However, Mackenzie promised that members of Parliament would personally donate as much as they could afford to relief efforts. He was also sure that the Ottawa men’s suffering was only temporary.

The Premier’s response did not go over well. There were more meetings, marches and speeches during the days that followed. The unemployed men sent a “memorial” (an archaic term for a public letter) to the Senate demanding government action in Ottawa and the surrounding area for public works to provide jobs and alleviate distress. Mayor Waller distributed “bread tickets” to the most urgent cases, while City Council expedited expenditures on the drainage project. A large number of men were put to work clearing out the Rideau Canal’s Basin. A relief fund was organized into which the Ottawa area’s more wealthy citizens contributed, including Alonzo Wright and Erskin Bronson. The Ladies Benevolent Society of St John’s Church held a fund raiser in the Temperance Hall selling “fancy work,” refreshments, and flowers and fruits. The take of the last show of the Grand Shaughraun Company at the Opera House also went to poor relief. These relief funds were managed by a committee of aldermen and clergymen which assessed each request for aid “to ascertain who is deserving and who is not.” These funds helped. But it was the arrival of warmer weather that had the most impact, with hundreds of men returning to jobs in the Chaudière lumber mills.

The following year, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative Party thumped Premier Mackenzie’s Liberal Party in the 1878 federal election. This election ushered in the Conservative “National Policy” which sharply raised tariffs on American manufactured goods in order to boost the Canadian manufacturing sector, create jobs, and, just coincidently of course, to protect the interests of businessmen that supported the Conservative Party. Despite some tinkering around the edges, this high-tariff policy remained in effect until the Auto Pact of 1965.


History Central, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.historycentral.com/rec/EconomicPanic.html.

Poloz, Stephen, 2017. Canada at 150: It Takes a World to Raise a Nation, speech given at the 50th Anniversary of Durham College, Oshawa, Bank of Canada, 28 March, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2017/03/canada-150-takes-world-raise-nation/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen (The), 1876. “The Commons,” 26 February.

—————————-, 1877 “Work or Bread,” 5 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Editorial,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “The Unemployed,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Memorial To The Senate,” 9 April.

United States History, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h213.html.

Canadian Citizenship

3 January 1947

Canada’s development as a nation was based on evolution rather than revolution. There is no bright line that marked its transition from a British colony to an independent country. Perhaps the most important step along the path to nationhood was the 1931 Statute of Westminster that recognized Canada and the other Dominions as being equal to and in no way subordinate to the United Kingdom in both domestic and foreign affairs. The final break occurred in 1982 when Canada’s Constitution was finally patriated from Britain over the objections of the Quebec Government. (For those who are wondering about the Queen, Canada’s monarch is deemed to be Canadian.)  A similar progression occurred with respect to Canadian citizenship, though the dates don’t line up neatly with underlying constitutional changes.

Citizenship, 1947 LAC from Can Excyclopedia

New Canadians, Ottawa Citizenship Ceremony, Supreme Court of Canada, 3 January 1947.
(l to r) Naif Hanna Azar from Palestine, Jerzy Wladyslaw Meier from Poland, Louis Edmon Brodbeck from Switzerland, Joachim Heinrich Hellmen from Germany, Jacko Hrushkowsky from Russia, and Anton Justinik from Yugoslavia. (Back row: l.-r.:) Zigurd Larsen from Norway, Sgt. Maurice Labrosse from Canada, Joseph Litvinchuk, Roumania, Mrs. Labrosse from Scotland, Nestor Rakowitza from Roumania and Yousuf Karsh from Armenia with Mrs. Helen Sawicka from Poland. Credit: Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-129262.

During the early 19th century, the word “Canadian” was for many a synonym for settlers of French descent. Other settlers were Irish, English or Scots, who just happened to be living in those territories that was known as Upper or Lower Canada. There were no barriers to immigration. Legally, all were British subjects, owing their loyalty to the British Crown with the right to live anywhere in the British Empire.

When the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, nothing changed, though under the British North America Act, the new country was given authority over the naturalization of aliens, i.e. non-British subjects, in Canada. There was legally no thing called Canadian citizenship. All Canadians remained “British subjects.”  Lord Monck, the Dominion’s first governor general, spoke about Canadians being a new “nationality.” However, what he meant is unclear. It’s possible that he was referring to a new more expansive Canadian nationality that would now include Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers. In 1891, during a hard-fought election over the issue of free trade with the United States, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Dominion of Canada’s first prime minister, said “A British subject I was born–a British subject I will die.” And he did.

However, a sense of being a Canadian began to coalesce during the late 19th century though dual loyalties remained strong, particularly among English-speaking Canadians. Most Canadians saw no contradiction between loyalty towards Canada and loyalty towards the Empire, particularly as both came under the same Crown. But a distinction was emerging between being a British subject and being Canadian (or for that matter an Australian or a New Zealander, etc.). The first term indicated a person’s status within the British Empire, and the second defined the person’s nationality.

Reference to the term “Canadian citizen” first appeared in Canadian legislation in the Immigration Act of 1910. It was apparently not designed to define who a Canadian was but rather to recognize those people who were exempt from immigration controls, in other words, British subjects either born or naturalized and domiciled in Canada. In 1921, the Canadian Nationals Act defined a specific group of British subjects who also had rights and obligations as Canadians. However, according to a Canadian government citizenship website, the references to “Canadian citizen” in these statutes did not create the legal status of Canadian citizen.

Ten years later, when the Statute of Westminster came into force, Canada became a distinct nation within the British Empire, responsible for its own domestic and international affairs. By the time of the May 1939 Royal Visit, constitutionally the Crown had been divided; King George VI came to Canada not as King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or as King of the British Empire, but as King of Canada. (This separation of Crowns was underscored by the fact that King George as King of Canada signed Canada’s declaration of war with Germany a week after he signed Britain’s declaration of war.) Notwithstanding this, Canadians remained British subjects.

Growing nationalism, especially through World War II, prompted the government to take a fresh look at Canadian citizenship. Apparently, when travelling abroad, permanent residents of Canada were not designated as Canadian citizens, but simply as British subjects living in Canada—something that irritated Canadian servicemen.  In 1946, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King passed the Canadian Citizenship Act, which came into force at the beginning of 1947. This Act defined all Canada-born or naturalized Canadians, as well as British subjects domiciled in Canada and brides of Canadian servicemen as Canadian citizens. However, Canadian citizens remained British subjects, holding all the rights and obligations associated with that status. A Canadian passport at that time stated that the holder was a Canadian citizen as well as a British subject.

On Friday, 3 January 1947, a glittering citizenship ceremony was held in the Supreme Court in Ottawa to mark the coming into force of the new Citizenship Act. At 8.30 pm guests, officials, and certificate recipients were met in the Great Hall of the new Supreme Court building on Wellington street with music played by the red-coated RCMP band. They assembled in the wooden panelled court room, where Canada’s coat of arms was emblazoned above the judges’ bench. Fifteen King’s scouts guided people to their chairs. At 9 pm, Chief Justice Thibaudeau Rinfret and five Supreme Court justices filed into the chamber in order of seniority as television cameras whirred and camera bulbs flashed. The Justices were dressed in their ceremonial garb of bright scarlet and white mink robes with black, shovel hats. Chief Justice Rinfret took the middle seat, a heavy, oak chair surmounted by a crown. Behind them filed government dignitaries, including Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Paul Martin, Sr., Minister of Health and Welfare, and Colin Gibson, Secretary of State. After the court usher called the Court to order, O Canada was sung in both English and French by a massed choir under the direction of Cyril Rickwood.

Paul Martin, who had taken the lead in writing the citizenship legislation in his earlier capacity of Secretary of State (there had been a cabinet shuffle three weeks earlier), addressed the assembly. He noted that there were two main purposes underlying the Canadian Citizenship Act. First, it was to define who a Canadian is and how to become one. Second, it was to establish a “community of status for all people which will bring them together as Canadians.” The Act also affirmed “the historical development of Canada with the British Commonwealth of Nations” and “attests to the nationhood of Canada.”

The Chief Justice then addressed the applicants who were presented in turn by Colin Gibson. First in line was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who received Canadian certificate No. 1. There were some poignant moments as one-by-one people came up to receive their citizenship certificates. Winnipeg’s Mrs Stanley Mynarski came forward proudly wearing the Victory Cross that her son, Pilot Officer “Andy” Mynarski, had posthumously received for valour during the war for saving the life of a comrade. After she repeated the oath of allegiance to the King in her strongly accented voice, Prime Minister King bowed to her in acknowledgement of the loss of her son who gave his life for his adopted country. Other recipients of their citizenship papers included the Aberdeen-born bride of Sergeant Maurice Labrosse of the R.C.A.F., 87-year old Wasyl Elyniak of Chapman, Albert, the first of 400,000 Ukrainians who came to Canada, and Armenian-born Yousuf Karsh, the Ottawa-based, world-renowned photographer. A group of eleven Ottawa-area new Canadians followed. First in line was Naif Hanna Azar of 443 Bank Street. A railway labourer, Azar came to Canada from Palestine in 1928. When he walked over to receive his certificate, Prime Minister King stood and shook hands with him.

The Prime Minister then addressed the assembly. He said “Canada was founded on the faith that two of the proudest races in the world, despite barriers of tongue and creed, could work together n mutual tolerance and mutual respect to develop a common nationality. Into our equal partnership of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, we have admitted thousands who were born of other racial stocks, and who speak other tongues. They, one and all, have sought a homeland where nationhood means not domination and slavery, but equality and freedom.”

The evening’s ceremony was also the occasion for the public presentation for the first time of an anthem called This Canada of Ours, written by Percy Philip, the press gallery representative in Ottawa of the New York Times, and set to music by Robert Donnell, the Dominion Carillonneur. The piece, which some had hoped would become Canada’s national anthem, was sung by the massed choir.

The citizenship ceremony closed with a singing of God Save the King. The Justices, Ministers and participants then filed from the chamber to the strains of the classic hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

While a stirring ceremony, there were glaring omissions that evening. None of the participants who received citizenship certificates were indigenous Canadians or persons of African or Asian descent. It wasn’t until 1956 that the Canadian Citizenship Act was amended to retroactively confer Canadian citizenship on “Indians defined in the Indian Act and the race of aborigines commonly referred to as Eskimos” who were born before 1st day of January 1947. Canada’s immigration policy at that time was also racist as it essentially precluded non-white immigrants “owing to their peculiar customs, habits, modes of life, or methods of holding property and because of their probable inability to become readily assimilated.” Just two days before the citizenship ceremony took place in Ottawa, a letter to the Editor of the Vancouver Sun appeared stating that Chinese should not become Canadian citizens. The letter states: “No matter how laudable their general conduct may be as law observers, their customs, their Oriental mental outlook and non-assimilativeness prevent a sociable unity between themselves and true Canadians.” The Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted in 1923, was repealed later in 1947, but a race-based immigration system remained in place until well into the 1960s.

In 1977, the Citizenship Act was radically changed. An amendment removed the special status previous enjoyed by British subjects when they applied for Canadian citizenship. From then on, immigrants to Canada were treated the same regardless of whether they were British subjects or nationals of countries outside of the Commonwealth. Canadians were also no longer defined as British subjects. As well, the sexism of the 1947 Act was addressed. Children born abroad of a Canadian parent were now eligible to be Canadian citizens by right. Previously, they had to have a Canadian father. More changes were made in 2009 and again in 2015 to address quirks of earlier legislation that denied Canadian citizenship to certain groups of people.

Meanwhile, the term British subject was also evolving. In 1948, the term was defined as any citizen of the United Kingdom, colonies, or Commonwealth country. These people had the right to settle in Britain. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, this right was increasingly restricted to only those who parents or grandparents were born in the United Kingdom. After 1983, very few people qualified as British subjects and for the most part the term had became obsolete. Even British citizens were no longer referred to as British subjects. Today, British subject status is largely confined to a handful of individuals born in Ireland and India prior to 1949 and to children of such people who would become stateless without British subject status. British subjects are not British citizens and do not automatically have the right to live in the United Kingdom (though most do). But they are eligible for a British passport and can ask for British consular assistance when travelling.

Canadians are still recognized as Commonwealth citizens in other Commonwealth countries and have certain residual rights depending on the country. For example, if resident in the United Kingdom, a Canadian citizen can join the British armed forces or the police, and can run for public office.

Until quite recently, British subjects, defined as citizens of the Commonwealth, continued to have special status in certain Canadian provinces. For example, British subjects could vote in New Brunswick elections until 1995 while in Nova Scotia, they were eligible to vote in provincial elections until 2006.


Canada, Government of. 2019. History of citizenship legislation, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/canadian-citizenship/overview/history-legislation.html.

Canadian Council for Refugees, 2000. “A hundred years of immigration to Canada 1900-1999,” https://ccrweb.ca/en/hundred-years-immigration-canada-1900-1999.

Gazette (The), 1947. “Canadian Citizenship Begins,” 2 January.

—————-, 1947. “Canadians Have Status As Citizens From Now,” 2 January.

—————-, 1977. “We’re No Longer British Citizens,” 15 February.

Grey, Julius & Gill, John. 2019. “Canadian Citizenship,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/citizenship.

Maas, William, 2015. Access to Electoral Rights Canada, EUDO Citizenship Observatory, European University Institute, Florence, https://www.yorku.ca/maas/Maas2015b.pdf.

McCreedy, Christopher, 2005. The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, University of Toronto Press.

Ottawa Citizen, 1947. “Native-Born Citizens Officially Canadians,” 2 January.

——————, 1947. “Participants Briefed In Citizenship Ceremony, 4 Janaury.

——————, 1947. “Proud, Historic Ceremony As New Citizens Take Oath,” 4 January.

Paul, Daniel, 2019. Canadian Citizen Act Proclaimed: 1947, http://www.danielnpaul.com/CanadianCitizenshipAct-1947.html.

UK Government, 2019. Types of British Nationality, https://www.gov.uk/types-of-british-nationality/british-subject.

Vancouver Sun, 1947, “Votes For Chinese,” 2 January.

Winnipeg Tribune, 1947. “Mr. King Seeks Citizen Papers,” 2 January.

Women’s Memorial Building

21 December 1925

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

Women's Memorian OJ30-1-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Corporation of Bytown

28 July 1847

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bytown logo 1850

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

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

Scott portrait finished

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Ottawa c. 1840, Taylor, 1986

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

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

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

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

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



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.