Ottawa Foot Ball Club a.k.a. Rough Riders

19 September 1876

A small advertisement appeared in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in mid-September 1876 inviting those interested in forming a “Foot Ball” club to meet on Monday afternoon, 18 September next, at 4:30pm sharp at the pavilion of the Ottawa Cricket Club located at Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor General.

Announcing a meeting to form the Ottawa Football Club, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 16 September 1876.

The meeting went on a long time as it was adjourned until the following evening when “a goodly number of gentlemen” assembled in a private room at the Russell House hotel. There, on 19 September 1876, a club to be called the Ottawa Football Club was formed with thirty-four members. The president of the new sports club was Mr. Allan Gilmour, a pioneering Ottawa lumberman for whom Gilmour Street is named.  

There seems to have been little doubt that a team would be established as the uniforms for the Ottawa Club’s footballers had already been ordered from England and were expected to arrive in Ottawa in ten days or less. The jerseys and stockings were in cerise and French grey—the colours of the new team. Their trousers were navy blue knickerbockers.

The new football club wasted no time in getting on the field. The following Saturday, the Ottawa Football Club took on the Aylmer Football Club. The game lasted one and a half hours with Ottawa emerging victorious. The score of the closely contested game was not reported. But Ottawa secured its first victory when Mr. Sherwood kicked the ball through the Aylmer goal.

During much of their early years, the team played in either the Quebec or Ontario Rugby Unions under the name the Ottawa Football Club, or more colloquially known as the “Ottawas” or even the “Senators.” It didn’t get the moniker, the “Rough Riders,” until 1898, the year the team won its first Canadian championship title.

1898 was the year of the Spanish-American War in which the United States intervened on the side of Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule. In this conflict, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, later President Roosevelt, came to popular attention as the commander of the “Rough Riders” who distinguished themselves at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Up until then, a rough rider was synonymous with a horse breaker. Roosevelt’s regiment apparently received its nickname owing to many of its members being “bronco busters” from the western plains.

Ottawa Football Club, November 1890, Topley, Library and Archives Canada 3386008.

In mid-October 1898, the sobriquet “Rough Riders” was given to the Ottawa Football Club by disgruntled Hamilton sports journalists following a hard-fought game in Ottawa where the home town team defeated the visiting Hamilton Tigers 9 to 1. According to Hamilton players, the game was one of the roughest they had ever played in. The Hamilton captain said that “Ottawa has three of the dirtiest football players that ever played on a Canadian gridiron.” A news report from Hamilton declared that the “Westerners” (a.k.a. Hamilton) were “foully used in the capital.”

Ottawa had something of a reputation. The previous year, the Ottawa Football Club had been expelled from the Quebec Rugby Football Union in which it had played due to rough play. Ottawa journalists, however, attributed the team’s expulsion to personal spite and a desire to eliminate a contender for the Quebec Union championship. One article in the Journal called the team’s expulsion “the most disgraceful exhibition of unfairness recorded in Canada sports.”

The Toronto Star demanded an investigation into Hamilton’s allegations of Ottawa dirty playing saying that “either Ottawa does play a foul game, or that its disappointed rivals are not above the trick of exciting popular opinion against the team to such an extent that it may be expelled from the Ontario Union.” According to the Ottawa Journal, one aspect of the game in which the Ottawa Club was very weak was its lack of squealers. It also called the Hamilton claims “a very bad libel on truth.”

The rematch was held in Hamilton at the end of October. Again, Ottawa vanquished the Tigers. This time, there were few complaints. The Toronto Star reported that while fairly rough, “it was not a dirty game.” Even the Hamilton Herald thought that the Rough Riders’ [italics added] victory was well-deserved and that the team was forgiven for their treatment of the Tigers in the earlier game in Ottawa. This is possibly the first time that the Ottawa team was referred to as the Rough Riders.

As an interesting aside, the Montreal Herald said that the Ottawa team was “composed of heavy men.” But the average weight of an Ottawa footballer was only 169 pounds—very light by today’s standards. Frank McGee, the nephew of D’Arcy McGee, the famed “father of Confederation,” who played for both the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Ottawa Senators hockey team, weighed in at only 143 pounds. Today, the average weight of a CFL football player is roughly 230 pounds, while the average NFLer weighs close to 250 pounds.

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, soprano, whose Troubadours entertained Ottawa and Hamilton footballers at the Russell Theatre, October, 1898, Wikipedia.

Despite the supposed roughness of the game, there was no apparent animosity between the two teams. They went out partying together after the game and had a “good time” at the Russell Theatre where the footballers occupied two boxes to watch the Troubadours, courtesy of the manager of the Troubadours and Mr. Drowne, the theatre’s manager. Between acts, the footballers sang songs.

The Troubadours were an African-American musical and acrobatic group led by Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones. A New England Conservatory-trained soprano, she was the highest paid African-American singer of her age, performing for US presidents and the Royal Family.

The moniker Rough Riders given to the team by Hamilton journalists as a poke at Ottawa’s alleged rough play, was adopted by the Ottawa Club. Just days later, Ottawa footballer Fred Chittick showed off his Rough Rider cufflinks that were 1 1/8 inches in diameter, bearing the figure of a rough rider with a football enclosed in a border of red, white and black.

Along with the new name came new colours. While the original team colours had been cerise and French grey, at some point Ottawa footballers began to play in black and white. This posed a problem for the 1898 season when Ottawa shifted to the Ontario Rugby Football Union after its expulsion from the Quebec Union, as the Osgoode team from Toronto also played in black and white uniforms. Ottawa opted to dress in new colours, wearing heavy white jerseys with scarlet sleeves and scarlet stockings. The new outfits went on display in Young Brothers’ windows—a local store. There is no mention of black in the initial newspaper descriptions, but presumably the pants were in that colour.

Ottawa won the 1898 Ontario Rugby Football Union title as well as the Inter-Collegiate Championship when it vanquished the Toronto University’s Varsity squad 7 to 3—according to the Journal the team’s “greatest and most glorious victory.” The game was vicious. The Varsity men “liberally used knee or anything else to stop Ottawa runners.”  But notwithstanding the provocation, the Journal reported that the Rough Riders played a “clean, square game without a sign of temper.”  This win, in front of 2,000 fans, set the stage for the Dominion Championships between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Ottawa College, the champion of the Quebec Rugby Football Union for two years in succession. Ottawa College’s garnet and grey colours are today the colours of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Rough Riders’ Harvey Pulford who suffered a broken collar bone in the Dominion Championship with Ottawa College, Ottawa Daily Citizen, 25 November 1898.

The inter-city, Dominion championship was held at the Metropolitan Grounds. The grandstand and bleachers were packed with more than 3,000 rabid football fans. In a bruising contest in which the tackling was described as “vicious and in some cases brutal,” the perhaps aptly named Rough Riders won with a score of 11 to 1. But the College team gave as good as they got.  Rough Riders Harvey Pulford and Weldy Young received a broken collar bone and a concussion, respectively. (Weldy Young later left Ottawa to try his luck in the Klondike gold rush. Young, who like Frank McGee and Harvey Pulford also played for the Ottawa Senators hockey club, was to captain the Dawson City Nuggets, the team that challenged the Ottawa club for the Stanley Cup in 1905.)

Over the seven-game, 1898 football season, the Rough Riders went undefeated, scoring 188 points to only 24 points against.

In early December, a celebratory banquet for the team was held at the Russell House Hotel, hosted by its eccentric manager, François Xavier St. Jacques. More than 200 persons were invited to the feast, including Major Bigham. The dining room was decorated with streamers in the team’s red, white and black colours. In show of friendship, the Hamilton Tigers’ colours of yellow and black were also on display. Each table was decorated with bouquets of carnations, roses, mums and ferns. The menu featured such dishes as oysters à la scrimmage, boiled Saguenay salmon (Hold on the line) with referee sauce and Spec-“taters.” Also served were Stuffed young Vermont turkey (Tackled on the Run) with offside green beans and “scragged” potatoes. The meal ended with the “Sweets of Victory” consisting of a choice between umpire pudding with grandstand sauce and an apple turnover with a sauce “ruled off.”

In the following speeches, Fred Colson, President of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association noted that “Ottawa had defied the Tigers in their jungle, by Hamilton’s mole hill which was called a mountain.” President Seybold of the Ottawa Club said that the team was “called the Rough Riders like Roosevelt’s men.”

The 1898 Dominion Championship was the first of three Dominion championships and nine Grey Cup titles that the Ottawa Rough Riders were to win during their long, storied career. The club folded for good in 1996. Today, The Ottawa RedBlacks wear the historic red, black and white colours.

Sources:

McAuley, Jim, 2016. Inside The Huddle: Rough Riders To Redblacks, John Ruddy, publisher.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1876. “Ottawa Football Club,” 20 September.

————————–, 1876. “Football,” 25 September.

————————-, 1898. “No title,” 28 September.

————————–, 1898. “Tigers Trounced By The Ottawas,” 17 October.

————————–, 1898. “The Rough Riders In Championship,” 25 November.

————————–, 1898. “Rough Riders At the Festive Board,” 10 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1897. “The Football Trouble,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas’ New Uniforms,” 28 September.

——————-, 1898. “The Ottawa Suits,” 6 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Tigers Were Downed,” 17 October.

——————-, 1898. “Should Be Investigated,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “Where Ottawas Are Very Weak,” 19 October.

——————-, 1898. “The Toronto Star Man Can Always See Two Sides Of A Game,” 18 October.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Need To Be Careful,” 20 October.

——————-, 1898. “It Was Great Football,” 31 October.

——————-, 1898. “Seen Through Other Eyes,” 1 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Rider Buttons,” 12 November.

——————-, 1898. “Ottawas Down ‘Varsity,” 21 November.

——————-, 1898. “Rough Riders Win A Great Struggle,” 21 November.

HoveRovers and Spectras

6 March 1969

According to a 1966 Time Magazine report, futurists had great expectations for what the world would be like by the year 2000. Some things they got very right. As projected, technology has indeed enabled us to live longer, healthier lives even though bacterial and viral diseases were not eliminated as forecast. They correctly projected that advances in immunology would permit the ready transplantation of human organs though artificial did not become “commonplace.” An estimated global population of 6 billion at the turn of the millennium was also bang on. (In 2020, it stood at 7.8 billion.) Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher who coined he phrase the medium is the message, foreshadowed the world wide web, predicting that many people would be working from home using a country-wide telecommunications network.

But other things they got very wrong. We did not establish a permanent base on the Moon by the year 2000, nor did we land a human on Mars or send an astronaut past Venus. While automation has had an ongoing dramatic impact on the labour market, it was not the employment killer futurists expected. New jobs replaced jobs lost through computerization so that massive unemployment has not occurred though people continue to worry about the impact of technology—this time, artificial intelligence—on the labour market. As a consequence, work was not and is not being rationed, and moonlighting has not become as “socially unacceptable as bigamy” as some futurists feared in 1966.

Another thing many futurists, including McLuhan, got wrong was the elimination of the family car. They predicted that automobiles and highways would be obsolete by 2000, replaced by the family hovercraft which could easily skin over land, water and ice on a cushion of air. The hovercraft had been developed ten years earlier by Sir Christopher Cockerell, a British engineer.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ottawa-based firms tried to make McLuhan’s prediction a reality. For a short time, the capital became a global centre of air cushion vehicle (a.k.a. hovercraft) production before the dream foundered due to mechanical problems, stability issues, and noise concerns. A deteriorating global economy, including the imposition by the United States of a 10 per cent import tax in 1971 and high oil prices in 1973 also undercut the new industry. But for a time, two Ottawa firms stood out, Canahover Ltd and M.H.V. Industries Ltd, both of which started operations in the capital in 1968. Both companies showed off their model hovercrafts at an outdoor Dominion Day exhibition the following year, fittingly outside of the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology. Canahover, a subsidiary of Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, manufactured hovercrafts under licence from the Hovercraft Company of England out of facilities located on River Road. On 6 March 1969, the company publicly demonstrated for the first time its sports model, designed and built in Ottawa, on the Rideau River in front of journalists and potential dealers from across Canada and the United States. They and William Guttenberg, president of Bogue Electric, who had come up from New Jersey for the event, witnessed two hovercrafts successfully perform manoeuvres at high speed over the ice and open water of Mooney’s Bay.

Advertisement for the HoverRover, Ottawa Journal, 20 December 1969.

The two-seater vehicle, nicknamed the HoveRover was sixteen feet long, seven and a half feet wide, and just over five feet high. It was propelled by two German-built, air-cooled, rear-mounted, 25 hp engines that operated two aircraft-type propellers. A third engine mounted in the front powered two “lift” fans to provide the air cushion. Buoyancy when idle on water was provided by Styrofoam floats. The hovercraft, which was equipped with a Plexiglas canopy, was made of fibreglass over an aluminium and steel frame. It could travel at speeds 45 mph over land, 35 mph over water, and up to 55 mph over snow. The craft’s eight-gallon gas tank permitted a range of about 120 miles on one fill-up. There were two throttles, one for each of the rear engines as well as a rudder mechanism. To change directions, a driver would throttle back one of the engines as well as use the rudder. The craft’s 16-inch air cushion could clear 10-inch-high obstacles and climb at a 30-degree angle. The HoveRover, which retailed for $3,995 (equivalent to more than $28,000 in 2021 dollars), was also equipped with headlights and a safety beacon. Subsequently, the company began to manufacture a freighter model, costing $4,795, that could carry a payload of 1,000 pounds.

The company thought that its hovercraft would appeal to surveyors, hunters, and prospectors in remote areas, especially in the far north where wheeled vehicles damaged the environmentally delicate tundra. Canahover, as well as other manufacturers of small hovercraft, also hoped that the vehicle would repeat the success achieved by Bombardier’s Ski-Doo as a family sports vehicle. Indeed, many felt that the hovercraft’s versatility as a fun vehicle for all seasons and environments would supplant the snowmobile.

The first production HoveRover rolled off of the assembly line in mid-May 1969. It was immediately packed up and sent to Uplands Airport where it was loaded onto an U.S. Air Force freighter for delivery to its buyer who was none other than the Shah of Iran. The Shah must have been impressed. Iran later placed what was probably the company’s single largest order—20 freighter-type machines worth $100,000.

The company had high hopes for the future. With 25 employees in mid 1969, producing one hovercraft per day, the company intended to ramp up production to four vehicles per day and employ 100 persons at its hangar-like plant on River Road. To help boost sales, Canahover held demonstrations of the HoverRover in London on the Thames River and at the Miami Boat Show in 1970 and 1971, respectively.

At the same time, M.H.V. Industries, located initially in Gloucester and later at 1780 Queensdale Avenue in Blossom Park, began developing and testing its sports-style hovercraft called the Spectra I. Smaller than Canahover’s HoveRover, the Spectra I was just over ten feet in length and had a net weight of 450 pounds. It could travel 45 mph on land and 40 mph over water. Its advertising hype called it “the hovercraft for the fun market, comfort designed, industrially engineered, a scientific, aerodynamic, sports space craft, all terrain, all-weather, two-person-on-board capacity, straddle seat, surface-to-air, moon sled.” The Spectra I was priced at a relatively affordable $1,595-$1,095, depending on engine size. The higher price model was apparently able to achieve speeds of 50 mph on water and 70 mph on ice or snow.

The M.H.V. Spectra I in operation on the Ottawa River with the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge in the background, advertising postcard, M.H.V. Industries.

M.H.V. Industries was owned by 32 shareholders, mostly from the Ottawa area. Its president was Geoff Voyce, whose last name supplied the “V” in the company’s name. Two other major shareholders, Ted Michell and Norman Howard, furnished the other two letters.

Time Magazine described the Spectra I as looking like “a funland bump car with a big fan on the back.” Less sophisticated that the HoveRover, it was powered by twin 25 hp engines—one for propulsion and one for lift. The vehicle was also equipped with an instrument panel, a front cowl, a main body shell, and a rear fan guard. It had a 350-pound payload. Time Magazine saw the Spectra I as a potential game changer, commenting that M.H.V. had “raised the specter of a noisy hovercraft in every garage.”

Despite claims of sizeable orders, M.H.V. Industries went into voluntary receivership in 1970, owing to a variety of problems, not least of which were structural problems related to engines that needed to be sufficiently strong to power the craft but light enough to permit it “to fly.” Dealers began returning vehicles. There were other problems. It was tricky to drive. Even Voyce commented that “the first feeling you get in our craft is one of sheer panic.” On turns in water, the Spectra I tended to drift. Sudden stops could propel the operator over the bow into the water. Voyce also remarked frankly that it had “really shoddy mufflers, and its laminated wood propeller deteriorated rapidly in damp climates. Unfortunately, the firm simply didn’t have the funds to make the necessary improvements despite having a “marketable product,” at least as far as the firm’s president was concerned.

M.H.V. Industries briefly re-emerged from receivership under a new president, David Findlay, with aid from the provincial government. Work also began on a new and improved hovercraft—the Spectra II. The machine was quieter than its predecessor using a new drive unit developed in Ottawa by HPL Engineering with financial backing provided by the National Research Council and M.H.V. Industries. Two 30 hp engines powered the craft which gave it 70 per cent more thrust than had the Spectra I. It also had 50 per cent more “lift.” The Spectra II was equipped with a four-bladed propeller instead a two-bladed one. Top speed was 60 mph over ice or snow, 45 mph over water and 35 mph over grassy fields.

You too could win a Spectra I hovercraft! In the spring of 1970, M.H.V. Industries launched a marketing campaign with Harvey’s restaurants, Ottawa Citizen, 2 April 1970.

Despite the introduction of the much-improved Spectra II model, M.H.V. Industries did not last for very long. Sales were anemic. By 1974, the firm was bankrupt, its assets sold off to help pay back creditors. It was officially dissolved for good in 1980.

Canahover too did not endure. What happened to it was not reported in the press. But, like M.H.V. Industries, the firm was officially dissolved in 1980. Its parent company, Bogue Electric Company of Patterson, New Jersey, is still in business.

While hovercraft have yet to feature in every Canadian garage, small recreational air cushion vehicles are readily available today. In the United Kingdom, the home of the homecraft, the British Hovercraft Company offers for sale three recreational vehicles as well as a commercial rescue craft. Small hovercrafts are also made in Canada. Air Rider Hovercraft of Perry Sound is one such manufacturer.

The Canadian coast guard, which is based in Ottawa, currently operate four hovercrafts for search and rescue purposes. These are the CCGS Mamilossa, the CCGS Sipu Muin, the CCGS Siyay, and the CCGS Moytel.  The Mamilossa and the Moytel were built in the United Kingdom, while the Siou Muin and Siyay were constructed by Hike Metal Products of Wheatly, Ontario under licence.

For more information about early Canadian-made hovercraft, see the website of the Hovercraft Club of Canada.

Sources:

British Hovercraft Company, 2021, https://britishhovercraft.com/.

Hovercraft Club of Canada, 2009, http://www.hovercraftcanada.ca/Default.htm.

Air Rider Hovercraft, 2021. https://airriderhovercraft.com/.

Morning Call (Patterson, New Jersey), 1969. “Bogue Introducing Land-Water-Snow Craft,” 6 March.

Ottawa Citizen, 1969. “Hovercraft starts new local industry,” 7 March. 

——————, 1969. “Ottawa shaping up as A.C.V. manufacturing centre,” 1 November.

——————, 1970. “New Kanata factory to build 9,600 hovercraft this year,” 19 January.

——————, 1971. “Hovercraft, Will it outdo snowmobile?” 18 December.

——————, 1973. “Hovercraft,” 10 February.

Ottawa Journal, 1969. “Local Firm Makes First Hovercraft,” 16 May.

——————-, 1970. “Misfortunes Dog M.H.V. Industries,” 21 March.

——————-, 1971. “Industrial Now, Pleasure Next,” 23 January.

——————-, 1971. “Air Cushion Carrier Firm Gets $100,000 Contract,” 7 June.

——————-, 1974. “Offer ‘quiet thrust package,” 12 January.

Time Magazine, 1966. “The Futurists: Looking Toward A.D. 2000,” 25 February.

——————, 1970. “Modern Living: A New Life for Hovercraft,” 19 January.

Province (Vancouver), 1969. “Miniature hovercraft put to test,” 8 March.

Velocipedes and Bicycles

1 May 1869

It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when the bicycle or its predecessor, the velocipede, were introduced to Ottawa. But, the first reference to a velocipede in the Ottawa Daily Citizen appeared in February 1862. However, instead of referring to a two-wheeled vehicle, it was the name of a horse that competed in the winter ice races held in Aylmer, Quebec. Out of a field of four, Velocipede, a brown colt owned by a Mr. Kenny, came in last in races held on in February 1862. If punters wondered what a velocipede was, they were certain it wasn’t a runner.

The velocipede was invented in Germany in 1817 by Baron Karl von Drais. In its earliest form, it consisted of two wheels attached to a saddle. As there were no pedals, riders pushed themselves along with the feet. This design remained essentially unchanged for roughly fifty years, until Pierre Michaux or his employee Pierre Lallement (accounts vary) added pedals to the front wheel in 1863. This improved velocipede became all the rage in France among both men and women, with the craze spreading around the globe. In 1868, it was reported that so many people were using velocipedes on the Champs Élysées at night that police were requiring riders to attached lanterns to their machines owing to the number of accidents.

Man riding a velocipede, c.1870, State Library of Southern Australia.

In mid-February 1869, the Citizen reported that velocipedes were about to be introduced into Toronto, and that a carriage builder had gone to New York to obtain a pattern to manufacture them. A few days later, the newspaper said that a velocipede had appeared on Toronto’s King Street and had caused much excitement… and laughter when the rider “came to grief.” Meanwhile in Montreal, velocipede “fever” had set in, with schools established to teach people how to ride them. It was also reported that France was apparently exporting the machines in huge numbers to North America. The Citizen opined that “surely, the world is suffering from velocipede on the brain.”

The newspaper was, however, dubious about how long the velocipede fad would last. In May 1869, it claimed that six months of velocipeding in the United States had “been sufficient to show that this mode of locomotion is practically worthless.” The Citizen also reported that in Harrisburg, New York the velocipede had found a new rival—stilts.

The problem appears to have been that velocipedes were very heavy and, while they performed well on prepared tracks, they were difficult to ride on ordinary roads. Riders quickly exhausted themselves. As well, with its pedals attached directly to the front wheel, a velocipede had a tendency to swerve every time one pushed down on a pedal. They were also uncomfortable to ride owing to their heavy iron frames and solid wheels. Uneven road surfaces were another problem. These were the days long before smooth, asphalted road surfaces. At best, city roads were cobbled or “macadamized,” in other words made up of layers of stones. Owing to its uncomfortable ride, the velocipede was sometimes referred to as “the boneshaker.”

While Toronto and Montreal might have led the pack when it came to velocipeding in Canada, Ottawa was not far behind. By late April 1869, velocipedes were sufficiently numerous on Ottawa’s relatively smooth wooden sidewalks, that the “new fangled equestrians” were a great nuisance to “dress trains,” baby perambulators, and pedestrians in general. So great was the problem, police were instructed to ticket offenders. However, at the police court held on 1 May 1869, the presiding magistrate dismissed charges on the grounds that there was no city by-law prohibiting velocipedes from city sidewalks. In Toronto, however, a similar case led to a $1 fine being levied.  

By the summer of 1869, velocipede races were seemingly commonplace in Ottawa. In August of that year, the St. George’s Picnic, held in McKay’s Grove near New Edinburgh, featured a velocipede race. A “handsome silver medal” was awarded to the winner.

As an interesting aside, an article that appeared in the Citizen in 1869 but attributed to the Pall Mall Gazette of London referred to a proposal to make what would likely have been the world’s first, dedicated, city bike lanes. The article said that “An enterprising individual in Berlin” had suggested that the city cover over the gutters on each side of its streets to be “the future velocipede high road of the city.” He also proposed a thousand tricycles with uniformed drivers could use these lanes to deliver parcels, letters, and passengers for a small fee—a sort of nineteenth-century cross between UPS and Uber.

A “high-wheeler” like the one made in 1877 by Mr. Back. Howard Morton/Library and Archives Canada, C-002624.

The 1870s saw the appearance in Ottawa of the “high-wheeler” bicycle, also known as the “ordinary” or the “penny-farthing,” named after the two old British coins. The huge front wheel, which could have a diameter of four to five feet, was the “penny” and the small rear wheel, the “farthing.” The big front wheel apparently offered improved shock absorption. The bicycles were so high that a two-step stool was necessary to mount them.

In 1877, a Mr. Back, then eighteen years old, read about this latest technological marvel in American magazines and yearned to own one. Unable to afford the expensive machine that cost as much as a worker might earn in six months, the enterprising young man made his own machine using carriage wheels. The frame and handlebars he crafted from flat iron and pipe, while the pedals were fashioned from blocks of wood. Not surprisingly, the vehicle was heavy. But it rode well, and became the talk of the town. Back went on to sell four copies to other Ottawa residents. Years later when interviewed by the Ottawa Journal, Back, now a piano tuner at Orme’s Music Store on Sparks Street, said that he had recently seen one of his creations for sale in a second-hand shop.

In mid-August 1880, an advertisement submitted by A.E. Wilson appeared in the Citizen asking gentlemen who were interested in forming a bicycle club to meet at No. 40½ Elgin Street, opposite the Russell House to look at price lists for machines. That evening, the men formed the Ottawa Bicycle Club. Members of the club apparently wore a distinctive uniform. Riding on Sundays got members in trouble with local churches that viewed biking on Sunday as a desecration of the Sabbath. The Club advised people to ride “as unostentatiously as possible” on Sundays.

Not surprisingly, the proliferation of velocipedes and high-wheeler bicycles led to accidents. In one possibly apocryphal story, Sir Hector Langevin, then Minister of Public Works, was run down by a high-wheeler. It was reported that because of this accident, an Order-in-Council was issued to bar high-wheelers from Parliament Hill. This ban apparently lasted for five years.

In 1884, a man on a bicycle was involved in a serious accident with a horse and buggy at the top of the hill on Albert Street. In a letter to the editor of the Citizen, an irate witness to the accident said that the horse had been spooked by the cyclist, causing the animal, vehicle and the two clergymen riders to capsize off the cliff and fall onto rocks ten feet below. While the horse was severely injured, the two men escaped with only bruises. The witness described the cyclist as being tall, with a light moustache, and wearing the uniform of the Ottawa Bicycle Club. He ended his letter by writing: “It is full time that a stop was put to allowing such machines to run on the streets and endanger the lives and limbs of the travelling public.” He was not alone in demanding such a ban. The Canadian Wheelmen’s Association, which was established in 1882 in St. Thomas, Ontario to promote biking, apparently spent considerable time and resources defending cyclists’ rights from attempts to legislate bicycles off of city streets. The Association had a branch in Ottawa and other major cities, and more than 650 members across the country in early 1885.

The Humber safety bicycle, 1892. The Humber was made under licence in Canada. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History.

By the mid-1890s, the high-wheeler had been replaced by the more familiar “safety bicycle” or “low bicycle” that didn’t risk life or limb in case of a tumble. Like modern bicycles, safety bikes utilized a chain and had two wheels of the same size. Initially equipped with sold tires, inflatable pneumatic tires were introduced in 1892. Pneumatic tires provided a much more comfortable ride. The first bicycle so equipped in Ottawa was a “Humber” safety bicycle. Its pneumatic tires were described as “a large rubber hose,” and was quite the novelty. The bicycle cost $170 (more than $5,000 in today’s money) and was brought to the city by a syndicate made up of Messrs. W.B. Parr, D.F. Blyth, Stewart McClenaghan, and Dr. M.G. McElhinney. McElhinney was the first to ride it from downtown to the Electric Park on Bank Street, near Patterson’s Creek. Stewart McClenaghan ended up owning the bicycle. Dr. McElhinney must have been passionate about all things related to personal transportation. In 1902, he purchased the first automobile sold in Ottawa.

As bicycle cycle production ramped up and new manufacturers entered the market, the cost of safety bicycles declined. By 1896, the Humber was down in price to a much more affordable, though still expensive, $65. A biking craze ensued in North America and Europe among both men and women eager to adopt this effective, invigorating and liberating form of transportation.

Mabel Williams with Bicycle at 54 Main Street, Ottawa, residence of James Ballantyne, July 1898, Library and Archives Canada, 3191717.

Biking was quickly adopted by early feminists. In the United States, Susan B. Anthony said the bicycle had done more to emancipate women than anything else. “It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel–the picture of free, untrampled womanhood.” While female cyclists were initially hampered by the Victorian dress code that mandated long skirts, petticoats and corsets for women, the impracticality of this type of costume for cyclists led to pressure for more rational dress.

Susan B. Anthony, 1890, author unknown, Wikipedia

By May 1895, Ottawa had roughly 250 bikers who, like bicycling enthusiasts elsewhere, sought good, smooth roads on which to drive. At that time, city streets in Ottawa were mostly made of crushed stone, wooden blocks, or cobbles. Even when well maintained, which they seldom were, such roads quickly became heavily rutted. Not surprisingly, Ottawa’s city fathers came under pressure to pave the streets.

At the end of August, 1895, Sparks Street was paved with asphalt from roughly where the National Arts Centre is today to Bank Street. The newly-paved street was inaugurated by bicycle races sponsored by Mayor Borthwick and City Council. Thousands of Ottawa residents turned out in the early evening to cheer on competitors in three races. The first was from the old Russell Hotel, which stood where the War Memorial is today, to Bank Street. It was won by T. Harvey of Hull with W. Besserer, in second place. Harvey also won the second race from the Russell to Bank Street and back, three yards ahead of A. Parr. In the third and final race, in which contestants had to had to go twice around the same course dismounting at each turn, Besserer emerged victorious beating out Harvey.

The introduction of the automobile at the beginning of the twentieth century put a brake on the bicycle mania of the 1890s. However, the bicycle’s utility as an effective mode of transportation and exercise meant that the vehicle has had enduring appeal. Today, the bicycle is popular as a fun, environmentally-friendly and healthy form of transportation and recreation suitable for people of all ages.

Sources:

Age of Revolution, 2020. The Velocipede, https://ageofrevolution.org/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1862. “The Trotting Races At Aylmer, 22 February.

————————–, 1868. “No Title,” 18 December.

————————–, 1869. “Toronto 13th,” 19 February.

————————–, 1869. “Police Court,” 3 May.

————————–, 1869. “Defective,” 3 May.

————————–, 1869, “The Failure Of The Velocipede,” 10 May.

————————–, 1869. “St. George’s Pic Nic (stet),” 17 August.

————————–, 1869. “No Title.” 1 October.

————————–, 1880. “Ottawa Bicycle Club,” 18 August.

————————–, 1884. “A Complaint,” 26 July.

————————-, 1892. “Local Briefs,” 27 February.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1895. “Do You Ride A Bike?”  27 May.

—————————–, 1895. “The Town Was Out,” 27 August.

—————————–, 1896. “We have the best,” Fotheringham & Popham, 17 March.

—————————–, 1942. “Return of Bicycling Recalls Wheeling In Mauve Age,” 11 April.

Smith, Kenneth, V. 2012. “Competitive Cycling in Canada,” Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/cycling.

Smithsonian, 2021. The Development of the Velocipede, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/si-bikes/si-bikes-velocipede.

World Bicycle Relief, 2021. How Women Cycled Their Way To Freedom, https://worldbicyclerelief.org/how-women-cycled-their-way-to-freedom/.

The Rockcliffe Ski Jump

23 March 1937

Ottawa residents of today might be surprised to learn that one hundred years ago, the centre of skiing in the Ottawa area was Rockcliffe Park, not the Gatineau hills. Sure, the hills of Gatineau were popular among hard core skiers, but they were too far away for those without transport. Rockcliffe Park, on the other hand, was close by, just a streetcar ride away from downtown Ottawa. The Park’s crown jewel was a ski jump operated by the Ottawa Ski Club. The jump was the location of many provincial and Dominion ski-jumping championships during the first part of the twentieth century, drawing thousands of spectators.

Sigurd Lockeberg ski jumping at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1912, Ski Jumping Hill Archive.

Ski jumping in the capital started around 1904. In February of that year, a small notice appeared in the Ottawa Citizen advertising a meeting at the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club on Elgin Street for the purpose of organizing a jumping competition at Rockcliffe Park. The outcome of the meeting was unfortunately not reported. However, another contemporary news article noted that a man by the name of Jack Lawless, a noted canoeist, along with other Ottawa residents were busy practicing ski jumps in Rockcliffe area close to the Ottawa Canoe Club. It seems they attracted some high-class attention. Lord and Lady Minto, who were both described as enthusiastic skiers, were frequent spectators. Ski jumping was described as a “most spectacular sport” which had already taken hold in Montreal, where Norwegians were making long aerial leaps in Fletcher’s Field, now called Jeanne-Manse Park, opposite Mont Royal.

The sport really began to take off following the establishment of the Ottawa Ski Club in 1910. A later newspaper article attributed the construction of the first ski jump tower in Rockcliffe Park to Sigurd Lockeberg and two friends, Frank Bedard and Joe Morin. It was said that the trio illegally cut down trees in broad daylight to make the jump, with the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the lease holder to Rockcliffe Park, casting a blind eye to their doings.

Rockcliffe Park, with its many excellent natural ski jumps, was also a favourite spot of Ottawa Senators to both ski and try their luck at ski jumping. Bruce Ridpath, a forward with the team, reportedly “flew” 29 feet in one of his leaps in early 1911 when he was out one afternoon with teammates Fred Lake, Hamby Shore and Albert “Dubbie” Kerr. Ridpath’s career with the Stanley Cup champions was to be cut short later that year when he was hit by a car in Toronto and suffered a fractured skull.

In March 1912, the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park was the site for the first ski-jumping championship hosted by the Ottawa Ski Club (OSC). The Ottawa Journal described the event as “the nearest diversion Ottawa has to aeroplaning.” In addition to members of the OSC, jumpers from Montreal and Berlin Mills, New Hampshire were invited to compete in front of several thousand avid spectators. Members of the OSC captured six of the twelve prizes provided by the Club. Adolph Olsen of Berlin Mills wowed the thousands of spectators by turning a somersault in the air while jumping—”a feat that would appear impossible unless seen with your own eyes.” The overall champion of the event based on both distance and style was Ottawa’s own Sigurd Lockeburg. Reportedly, Lockeburg received a cup donated by Count Malynski of Russia who happened to be in Ottawa at that time. As an encore, Sigurd Lockeburg and his brother Hans made a tandem jump of 65 feet—a first for Ottawa.

Note the prevalence of Scandinavian names among the jumpers. Ski jumping was a sport with a long pedigree in Sweden and Norway, dating back to the early nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, the sport came across the Atlantic with immigrants from that region to Canada and northern United States.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, “Suicide Hill,” Newton Collection, City of Ottawa Archives

The initial Rockcliffe jump was a ramshackle affair, apparently made of cordwood. It blew down in 1914 to be replaced the following year by a tall artificial tower some 128 feet high. The new ski jump was constructed on the highest point in the park and towered more than 50 feet over the trees. The total descent from the top of the chute to the river level was 255 feet. It was hoped that the slide would allow for jumps in excess of 140 feet.

It did not disappoint. At a championship meet held in February 1915, Ragnar Omtvedt of Chicago jumped a record 145 feet from the highest take-off which was constructed by the OSC especially for his visit. Meanwhile, Adolph Olsen, the Canadian champion, increased his record leap from 92 feet to 122 feet. 

Sadly, this impressive ski jump did not last long. It blew down later in 1915, thus ending ski jumping in Rockcliffe Park until after the Great War. An ice toboggan slide was built on the site instead. Ski jumping moved to a site at Dome Hill near Ironside, Quebec, now a suburb of Gatineau. But it was too far out to attract many people.

In late 1919, the Ottawa Ski Club announced that the Ottawa Improvement Commission had given its blessing to the Club’s construction of a new ski jump at the Rockcliffe Park site.  In February 1920, the new jump was inaugurated. At that first tournament, the Duke of Devonshire, the Governor General, donated the Devonshire Cup for the best amateur ski jumper, resident in the Ottawa area, defined as living within a thirty-mile radius of the capital. There were also prizes for intermediate and junior competitions. The winner of the first Devonshire Cup was Arthur Pinault of the OSC, winning both for style and a distance of 77 feet.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump, circa 1930, National Film Board of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, 3224095.

Ski jumping became a fixture at Rockcliffe Park for the next three years. Indicative of the growing interest in the sport, the new Cliffside Ski Club of Gatineau built at considerable club expense a first-class ski jumping facility at Fairy Lake (Lac des Fées) in 1921. It was a good thing they did. In early 1923, the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the fore-runner of Federal District Commission and the National Capital Commission, closed the Rockcliffe ski jump on the advice of the Department of Justice over liability fears should a jumper or a spectator get hurt at the site.

It took several years of lobbying and negotiation on the part of the Ottawa Ski Club, the Cliffside Ski Club and the City of Ottawa with the OIC to work out a deal that would enable ski-jumping to resume at Rockcliffe Park. Legislation was passed in 1925 that permitted the OIC to return the site of the ski jump back to the City of Ottawa and avoid any potential liability.

After a lot of further dickering, it was finally agreed that the Ottawa Ski Club and the Cliffside Ski Club would share equally in the cost of rebuilding the wooden Rockcliffe ski jump at a cost of about $3,000. Plans for a steel structure were dropped when the quote from the Dominion Bridge Company came in at a whopping $12,000. The two clubs would also share the maintenance of the facility.

In 1926, the new Rockcliffe jump was ready for competitions with the Ontario championships held at the site under the auspices of the Ottawa Ski Club and the Dominion championships under the auspices of the Cliffside Ski Club.

Rockcliffe Ski Jump from Rockcliffe Drive, 8 July 1930, Library and Archives Canada, 5066194.

For the next ten years, ski jumping continued at the Rockcliffe facility as well as at the Fairy Lake jump which was taken over in the mid 1930s by the Norland Ski Club.

However, without warning, on 23 March 1937, C.E. Mortureux, President of the Ottawa Ski Club, announced to the press that the ski jump at Rockcliffe Park had been sold to M. Zagerman & Co. for $125 and would be removed immediately. Mortureux said that it was a Board decision to demolish the ski jump, though it was not unanimous. He said that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintaining the ski jump and that these dollars could be better spent on upgrading the natural ski jump at the OSC’s site at Camp Fortune. Mortureux also attributed the decision to a decline in ski-jumping in recent years, and that the closure of the Rockcliffe jump was in keeping with similar decisions made by ski clubs elsewhere to move ski jumps to hills outside of urban centres.

Ottawa’s skiing community was shocked by the announcement. Two pro-ski jump members of the OSC’s Board of Directors, Sigurd Lockeberg and Gérard Dupuis, were out of town on the day of the Board made its decision and did not vote. It was not reported whether their votes would have made a difference.

The decision to close the jump set off a firestorm of letters in the Ottawa Citizen. The president of the Cliffside Ski Club, Stewart Bruce, wrote Mortureux asking for an explanation of why the tower had been sold without consultation, pointing out that in 1926 Cliffside had paid $1,536.51 towards the costs of construction, while the Ottawa Ski Club had paid $1,429.97. He estimated that with a 5% depreciation rate, the ski jump was still worth $1,900. 

The Norland Ski Club also issued a statement say that Norland had approached the OSC in late 1936 with a proposition to keep the Rockcliffe ski jump open and in safe and sound condition for the use of all Ottawa ski clubs. In response to this overture, the OSC had a solicitor draw up a draft agreement which demanded that the OSC receive 30 per cent of gross proceeds from any competition held by Norland. Norland refused. As well, the Norland statement indicated the Club’s surprise that the OSC was spending $200 per year on maintenance as Norland members supplied 90 per cent of the labour (gratis) to maintain the jump and often contributed themselves the materials necessary for its maintenance. The statement also took issue with Mortureux’s statement that ski-jumping was on the decline, suggesting instead that it never had an opportunity to flourish under the direction of C.E. Mortureux, the “oft-called Father of Skiing.”

The Ottawa Citizen came to Mortureux’s defence, pointing out the recent closure of two Quebec ski jumps. The article also argued that ski jumping was on the decline owing to the growing popularity of downhill skiing which took more training and a “higher degree of brains and skill.” It added that only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch ski jumping.

This brought Sigurd Lockeberg, hitherto silent, into the fray. In a letter to the Citizen, he indicated that he had been “heartbroken” when he had heard the news of the ski jump’s demise. He rejected the Citizen’s negative comments, saying that ski jumping required fully as much skill and brains as did other forms of skiing. Moreover, if only the “halt and lame” could be induced to come out to watch the sport, then this would mean the Governor General down to little boys and girls are “a lot of cripples and nitwits.”

He also disputed the notion that the sport was in decline in the Ottawa area or elsewhere. While two jumps had been closed in Quebec, there were special factors that accounted for them. He believed that Rockcliffe was the ideal sport for ski jumping, and that it was a pity that some members of the OSC’s executive decided to tear down the tower. He added that Mortureux himself had indicated that the Board’s decision to demolish the jump had been “irregular” and that he regretted it. Lockeberg closed his statement with some mollifying words, saying that Mortureax had done a lot for skiers in Ottawa, adding that he hoped that the pause in ski jumping at Rockcliffe would only be temporary.

It was not to be. Although the Ottawa Ski Club asked the city of Ottawa to reserve the right to erect a temporary jump in the event of a Dominion championship, the Federal District Commission was not interested. It said that a jump didn’t fit in with its plans for Rockcliffe Park and that reforestation of the ski jump site would commence immediately.

However, Lockeberg was correct when he said that ski jumping was still popular in the Ottawa area. Jumping continued at the Ottawa Ski Club’s site at Camp Fortune for almost another 60 years. In 1960, O’Keefe’s, the beer company, began sponsoring an international ski-jumping event at Camp Fortune, a relationship that lasted for close to two decades. In 1967, the Centennial International Jumping Competition was held at Camp Fortune on the new 60-metre Lockeberg ski jump, named for Sigurd Lockeberg who had done so much for the sport over the decades.

After a downturn in the sport in the late 1970s, ski jumping experienced a revival during the early 1980s led in part by the success of Ottawa-born Horst Bulau, who took the Canadian senior ski jumping championship in 1979 and who subsequently won thirteen World Cup ski-jumping victories during the 1981-1983 period However, the sport subsequently began to fade again. In 1993, the NCC, which had taken over Camp Fortune from the bankrupt Ottawa Ski Club, dismantled the ski jump owing to structural defects which rendered it unsafe.

Various attempts have subsequently been made to revive the sport at Camp Fortune but have so far met with only modest success.

Sources:

Gatineau Historical Society, 2021. Echoes from the Past.

Ottawa Citizen, 1904. “Sporting Notes,” 25 February.

——————, 1912. “Ski Jumpers Made Records,” 4 March.

——————, 1915. “Omtvedt Gave Great Exhibition But Failed to Create New Record in Ski Jumps at Rockcliffe Park,” 22 February.

——————, 1920. “Duke of Devonshire’s Trophy And City Ski Championship Was Won by Arthur Pinault,” 1 March.

——————, 1922. “On The Ski Trails,” 30 December.

—————–, 1923. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 5 February.

——————, 1925. “Approve Plans To Seek Saction of Rockcliffe Jump,” 23 January.

——————, 1926. “New Ski Jump At Rockcliffe,” 2 February.

——————, 1937. “Ski Jump At Rockcliffe Is Landmark Now Vanishing,” 23 March.

——————, 1937. “Removal of Ski Tower Is Giving Rise To Controversy,” 24 March.

——————, 1937. “On the Ski Trails,” 25 March.

——————, 1937. “The Slump in Ski Towers,” 26 March.

——————, 1937. “Letter to the Editor by S. Lockeberg,” 29 March.

——————, 1937. “reforestation On Site Of Rockcliffe Ski Jump Planned,” 23 April.

——————, 1976. “Ski jumping resembles hand-me-down,” 10 March.

——————, 1982. “Bulau zooms to lead in World Ski jumping,” 25 January.

——————, 1993. “Camp Fortune’s ski jump hil casualty of structural defects,” 28 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1904. “Skiing Contests In Montreal,” 22 February.

——————-, 1904. “Great Spot For Skiers,” 23 February.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing,” [sic], 1 March 1904.

——————-, 1911. “Hockey Stars Take To Ski Jumping, Like Real Natives,” 14 January.

——————-, 1912. “Ski-Jumping At Rockcliffe,” 11 March.

——————-, 1915. “Ottawa Ski Club Building A Big Chute On Rockcliffe Park Site,” 7 January.

——————-, 1919. “Not All Who Jumped Dome Hill Landed Right Side Up With Care,” 18 February.

——————-, 1919. “Ottawa Club Plans To Revive Jumping,” 16 December.

——————-, 1925. “Plans For Big Ski Tower Completed,” 1 August.

Ski Jumping Archive, 2021. Ottawa, http://www.skisprungschanzen.com/.

The Ottawa Alerts

20 March 1923

Women’s hockey has a long and distinguished pedigree, dating back to 1889 when Lady Isobel Stanley, the daughter of Lord Stanley of Stanley Cup fame, strapped on some skates, picked up a hockey stick and played shinny with Rideau Hall ladies on the rink at Rideau Hall. Organized women’s hockey games quickly followed.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw many women’s hockey teams in the Ottawa area, including the Rideau Club Ladies, the Union Jacks, the “Readies” and the “Semi-Readies” (for experienced and not so experienced players, respectively), the Cliffside Ladies, a.k.a. the Busy Bees, the Sandy Hill Ladies, the Westboro Pets, and the Vestas of Hull (a fitting name for the Hull team since a vesta was another word for match, and matches were produced in their millions at E.B. Eddy’s match factory). There were also teams throughout the Ottawa Valley, including in Carleton Place, Smith’s Falls, Renfrew and Pembroke, as well as farther afield in Cornwall and Montreal.

It took time, however, for many to accept the idea of women playing hockey. It was seen as unladylike and undignified. It was often hard for women to get ice time at the rinks. Men also came to games to laugh and to mock women hockey players. But they were quickly disabused of such notions. A 1903 Ottawa Citizen account reported “A ladies hocky team sounds a trifle undignified, but when it’s once seen the idea of it being undignified vanishes.” The ladies were “appropriately dressed” wearing comfortable sweaters, regulation hockey hats, and skirts of a comfortable length. The newspaper also noted that the women of Ottawa don’t play merely for fun but rather play to win. It added that they played a rough game and struck the puck vigorously.

When the First World War began in 1914, many amateur and professional male hockey players enlisted providing more space for women’s hockey. In 1915, a four-team league called the Eastern Ladies Hockey League was formed. Additional teams joined later. In Ontario, while initially there was no formal women’s hockey league, teams from different communities organized to play each other. One powerful team was the Cornwall Victorias led by their star player Albertine Lapensée who was a major draw wherever the team played including in Ottawa. Lapensée was so good that many thought she was a boy. One opponent went so far as to pull off her toque to see how long her hair was, and in doing so revealed Lapensée’s long braids.

Here in Ottawa, a new women’s hockey team emerged in 1915—the Ottawa Alerts. The date of the team’s formation is a bit fuzzy. The first newspaper reference to the team appeared in The Ottawa Journal in April 1915 when it reported that a birthday party was given to Miss M. Prince by the Alert Hockey Club and other friends. By January 1916, the start of the women’s hockey season, the team was in action on the ice.  

In late January 1916, the Alerts journeyed Cornwall to take on the Cornwall Victorias at the Victoria rink. Accompanying the team was their manager Allan Healey and their chaperon, a mother of one of the players, Mrs Frank Ault. Team members included G. Rogers (goal), C. Chambers (point), B. Rogert (cover point and captain), E. Anderson (forward), H. Brown (forward) and M.E. Aula (forward). There were also four substitutes, B. Ault, M. Binns. I. Guppy and Janet McCracken.

Reportedly, the quality of the hockey was “remarkably good,” something that came as a “revelation” to the majority of the spectators. The Ottawa girls were described as strong skaters and beautiful stick-handlers. Tied 1-1 after the first period, the game ended in a 3-1 win for the Victorias. E. Anderson scored for Ottawa while Albertine Lapensée, who came on as a substitute in the second period, scored all three Cornwall goals.

The Ottawa Alerts: Ladies Ontario Hockey Association Champions. Shirley Moulds, the teams star player is in the centre seated above the trophy, Library and Archives Canada, also McFarlane, Brian, Proud Past, Bright Future.

The following month, the Alerts beat the Montreal Champetres 6-2 at Dey’s Arena. They also played a number of local teams. In mid-March 1916, they took on the Westboro Pets with all proceeds going to the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association and the Returned Soldiers’ Home. The referees for the game were none other Frank Nighbor and Horace Merrill of the Ottawa Senators. Nighbor had just joined the Senators from the Vancouver Millionaires, the 1915 Stanley Cup champions.

In 1917, the Alerts, again chaperoned by Mrs Ault, travelled to Pittsburgh where they played three games with the Pittsburgh Polar Maids, winning all three. On the way home, they played the Aura Lee team in Toronto. The game ended in a scoreless draw. The Alerts’ success on this road trip secured them international recognition.

In mid December 1922, women’s amateur hockey in Ontario became more organized with the formation of the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (L.O.H.A.) at a meeting held in the Temple building in Toronto. Initially eighteen teams from both large and small Ontario communities, including the Ottawa Alerts, joined the Association.

At the time, the Alerts were considered one of the best hockey teams in eastern Ontario. But how the team qualified for the L.O.H.A. playoffs is a bit unclear as the Alerts played only local exhibition games in the weeks prior to the beginning of the L.O.H.A. playoffs. The team was also given a bye in the first round. With less than a day’s warning, the league informed the Alerts that they would take on the Campbellford ladies’ team in a two-game, total goal series in the L.O.H.A. semi-finals with the first game to be played in Campbellford. The Campbellford team had earlier defeated the Lakeside and Peterboro team.

Despite the lack of warning and being hampered by the absence of two key players, one owing to illness and the other to an inability to get away, the Alerts took the first game eight goals to four. Stars of the game included the Alerts goalie, Florence Dawson, who had a “sensational” game, and forward Shirley Moulds. The Alerts also won the second game held two days later in Ottawa’s Dey’s Arena, one goal to nothing.

Having made it into the first league championship series, the Alerts were forced to wait for their western Ontario opponents to be determined—Thornhill, Welland, and North Toronto were still in the running. To keep their form, the team played exhibition games in Finch, Winchester and Chesterville.

The first Ontario Ladies’ hockey championship pitted the Alerts against North Toronto in a two-game, total-goal series, with the first game held in Ottawa at Dey’s Arena. (The two teams had met twice the previous year with the first game ending in a scoreless tie and with Toronto winning the second 1-0 on a disputed goal.) 

As expected, the first game was a close, hard-fought contest with the Alerts taking the game 1-0 on a third-period goal by Shirley Moulds assisted by Marion Gilles. According to the Ottawa Journal reporter, the score would have been higher had it not been for the heroics of Toronto player Fannie Rosenfeld, whose play was likened to that of the great Albertine Lapensée. (Fannie Rosenfeld, also known as Bobbie Rosenfeld, was Canada’s premiere female athlete of the 1920s. In addition to hockey, she played numerous other sports and was an Olympic gold medalist.)

The Alerts team, whose colours were yellow and black, was composed of Florence Dawson (goal), Ann O’Connor and Grace Grier (defence), Tena Turner [captain], Marion Giles, and Shirley Moulds (forwards) and Charlotte Forde, Eva Ault, Bee Hagen and Edith Anderson (substitutes).

In the second game held in Toronto on 20 March 1923, Shirley Moulds, the Alert winger, dominated the game scoring four goals in the Alerts’ 5-2 victory. The first period ended tied with Moulds and Toronto’s Rosenfeld each scoring two. Moulds scored the only second period tally and again in the third along with her teammate Marion Gilles. Captain Tena Turner was credited with keeping Rosenfeld largely in check. With the victory, the Alerts won the first Women’s Ontario Ladies Championship and the Dr Lorne Robertson trophy with an overall score of six goals to two.

The Alerts went on to win the league championship for the second time the following year though in a less than satisfactory manner. After two lopsided shut-out victories over Campbellford, the Alerts were again slated to play the North Toronto team in the finals. However, the Toronto team forfeited when the Alerts refused their demand for a guarantee to cover the cost of their travel from Toronto to Ottawa. The Alerts had paid for their own way to Toronto in 1923 and felt it was only right that Toronto covered its own travel expenses.

The Alerts remained a power in Ontario women’s hockey through the rest of the decade, but were weakened by the shift of their star Shirley Moulds to the Ottawa Rowing Club team in 1926. The Rowing Club team dethroned the Alerts as the Ottawa and District champions in 1926 and went on to win the women’s Ontario title in 1927, and lost to Toronto’s Aura Lee team in the 1928 championship. Shirley Moulds subsequently left the Ottawa Rowing Club team to play for Salloway Mills, a team supported by a brokerage firm of the same name that failed in the Great Depression.

In 1930, the Alerts were back on form, taking the Ottawa and District title by trouncing Chalk River, the winner of the Upper Ottawa league, 5-0 in Ottawa’s Auditorium. Expecting to face the Toronto Pattersons in the L.O.H.A. finals, the Alerts were shocked when the L.O.H.A. declared them ineligible. Through an oversight, the team had failed to send in player certificates to the L.O.H.A. by the required date. The far weaker Chalk River team went in their stead, losing to the Toronto Pats in a match that was held at the Montreal Forum owing to a lack of ice in Ontario.

The Alerts subsequently disappeared from the sports pages of Ottawa newspapers, most likely another casualty of the Depression.

The L.O.H.A. continued for another decade before it too collapsed in 1940, a victim of declining interest in women’s hockey. Before that happened, another Ottawa women’s hockey team, the Ottawa Rangers, briefly had some success, making it to the L.O.H.A. finals in 1938 and 1939. The team lost to the incomparable Preston Rivulettes in 1938 who dominated the league through the 1930s. The following year, the Rangers defaulted to the Rivulettes when the team was unable to provide the required $200 financial guarantee demanded by the Rivulettes.

Sources:

Edmonton Journal,” 1922. “Ontario Ladies’ Hockey Leagues Form Association,” 18 December.

Freeborn, Jeremy, 2021, “Ladies Ontario Hockey Association (LOHA)” Canadian Encyclopedia,

McFarlane, Brian, 1994. Proud Past, Bright Future: One Hundred Years of Canadian Women’s Hockey, Stoddart Publishing Company, Toronto.

Montreal Star, 1916. “Miss Lapensee Is A Young Lady, Says Cornwall,” 12 February.

Ottawa Citizen, 1916. “Ottawa Ladies Met Defeat,” 31 January.

——————–, 1916.  “Alerts Win Fast March,” 24 February.

——————–, 1923. “Pro and Amateur,” 2 January.

——————–, 1923, “Local Ladies Win From Campbellford,” 16 February.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win the Ontario Title,” 21 March.

——————–, 1924. “Alerts Again Champ’ Ladies Hockey Team,” 28 March.

——————–, 1926. “Rowing Club Ladies Sextet Defeats Alerts,” 12 March.

——————–, 1927. “Shirley Moulds Notches Goal That Eliminates Alert Squad,” 28 March.

——————–, 1930. “Girls From Chalk River Defeated 5-0 By Alerts Team In Local Auditorium,” 25 March.

——————–, 1930. “Alerts Ineligible To Play In Finals,” 28 March.

——————–, 1938. “Rivulettes Defeat Ottawa Girls And Retain The Title,” 28 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1915. “Birthday Party,” 20 April.

——————–, 1923. “Alerts Play Again with Campbellford,” 15 February.

——————–, 1923. “Alerts And N. Toronto On Tonight, First Game of Ladies’ Title Series,” 15 March.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win From North Toronto,” 16 March.

——————–, 1923. “Ottawa Alerts Win The Ontario Title,” 21 March.

——————–, 1930. “Chalk River Girls Play At Montreal,” 3 April.

——————–, 1030. “Chalk River Girls Lose to Pattersons,” 4 April.

——————–, 1939. “Ottawa Rangers Default to Preston,” 25 April.

The Boston Red Stockings Come To Town

27 August 1872

In 1994, the federal government passed a bill naming hockey as Canada’s national sport of winter and lacrosse as the country’s national sport of summer. The latter might surprise some since I suspect relatively few Canadians have ever watched a lacrosse game. Football, soccer and even baseball have greater followings. Samuel Hill, author of an article titled Baseball in Canada that appeared in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, makes the audacious claim that if it wasn’t for baseball being the national summer game of the United States, it would be the national sport of Canada.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, there were three popular summer sports for Canadian men—lacrosse, cricket and baseball—that could claim to be the nation’s favourite. Lacrosse was a game first popularized by Indigenous Canadians and later adopted and adapted by European settlers. First Nations’ games could involve as many as 1,000 participants in a community event with religious overtones that could last for days. Apparently, it was combat by other means. The European version of the sport, codified by Montrealer William Beers in 1860, reduced the number on a team to twelve and drastically shortened the game. This version of the sport proved to be very popular, with lacrosse clubs and teams forming throughout Canada, and indeed in the United States and even in Britain and elsewhere.

Cricket was also popular, especially in what is now Atlantic Canada and in Ontario. While it may have had an elitist connotation, there were many cricket clubs across the country, including in Ottawa. Cricket was also enthusiastically played in the United States until baseball supplanted it. Perhaps Canada’s most prestigious cricket pitch in the nineteenth century, and even today, is found on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s governor general.

In 1869, the Ottawa Daily Citizen commented that cricket was growing in popularity among young men and that the sport deserved that popularity. It was “both a graceful and manly game and a healthy exercise.” The newspaper added that at one time it believed that lacrosse would supersede cricket in Canada and become the national game but that this was now unclear. “We are inclined to think that cricket will maintain a place in the regard of our young men for many a day to come.”

Baseball, or base ball (two words back in the nineteenth century) was also very popular throughout southern Ontario, with the first game reputedly played as early as 1838 in Beachville, Ontario. Apparently, the Canadian game was very different from that played today, or even in the United States at the time, as the sport’s rules had yet to be standardized. Among other things, there were five bases in the Canadian version instead of four, and the ball could be thrown directly at a runner for an “out”. According to Samuel Hill, “New York Rules,” which became the standard rules of baseball, were introduced to Canada during the 1850s. Canadian and US teams competed frequently, with north-south matches facilitated by easy rail access. The first international baseball match was a contest between Hamilton and Buffalo, New York. By 1877, London and Guelph baseball clubs joined the International Association which also included US teams, such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis. That year, the London Tecumsehs won the league championship over the Pittsburgh Alleghenies—Canada’s first major league baseball championship, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays by more than a century.

According to a splendid 2005 Citizen article on early Ottawa baseball written by David McDonald, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, the sport was brought to the nation’s capital in 1870 by Ottawa-native Tom Cluff. Cluff, who had been an avid lacrosse player, became enamoured with the new sport after a visit to the United States. He and others formed the Ottawa Base Ball Club, an amateur team.

By 1872, the Citizen was lamenting the disappearance of lacrosse in the city. The newspaper opined “What has become of our old Lacrosse Clubs? Are they disposed to let the national game die out in the capital of the Dominion? We hope they will take a lesson from the more enterprising devotees of the United States game and revive the excellent sport.”

That year, the Ottawa Base Ball Club leased a ten-acre field “in a line with Elgin Street and running close to the Rideau Canal, a ten-minute walk south from the old Post Office. It was accessible by foot and boat. The Club erected a 7 to 8-foot fence around the site, and built a grandstand with refreshment booths. Unlike games today, there was no alcohol served. According to the Citizen, this was “something which will, we are sure, meet with universal approval” as it will show that the “sport can be enjoyed without the use of the drinks that invariably ‘inebriate’ but seldom cheer.”

Cal McVey, Boston Red Stockings’ catcher who scored nine runs in the 64-0 rout over the Ottawa Base Ball Club, 27 August, 1872, Picture taken in 1874, New York Public Library, Public Domain.

The inaugural game played in the new ball field was a match between the Ottawa Base Ball Club and the Boston Red Stockings held on Tuesday, 27 August 1872, a civic holiday. The Boston team had been formed just the previous year and had been a great success, playing in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. It also toured throughout the United States and Canada playing exhibition games. The team should not be confused with the similar-sounding team, the Boston Red Sox. That team was founded in 1908. The Boston Red Stockings became the Boston Braves in 1912, and are now known as the Atlanta Braves.

The Boston Red Stockings were a professional team. The Citizen was awed that members were paid salaries ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 per annum “to do nothing else but play base ball.” The Boston Club had a capital base of $15,000 and was established under a Massachusetts charter.

That 1872 civic holiday in Ottawa was a sporting extravaganza. The day started with a cricket match at the Rideau Hall pitch between 22 selected Canadian players and the Eleven of England. On the English side were cricket luminaries Cuthbert Ottaway, deemed the most versatile athlete of the age, and William Gilbert Grace, generally considered one of the finest cricketers of all time. Grace, who was feeling ill during the match still managed to score 73 runs. The English team overwhelmed Ottawa, downing the home team 201 runs to 42. The Red Stockings, who were in the crowd of about three thousand, thought the batting was “very fine” but remarked that the game was “darned slow.”

After the match, the Red Stockings were driven to the baseball grounds by the Russell House’s horse-drawn bus. Team members were immediately surrounded by admiring fans. The Citizen journalist appreciatively called the Red Stockings the “most athletic looking lot of players that have ever visited the city.” He added that the “Red Stockings [were] all heavy men, very strong and active, in fact picked men.” The Boston players wore a loose-fitting uniform of light brown flannel with red belts and red stockings—“admirably adapted for their active play of sinew and muscles.”

The team took to the field and immediately began to practise pitching and catching. The crowd of several thousand, some of whom had walked to the baseball field across the newly opened Maria Street bridge over the Rideau Canal, quickly could see that the home team would have little chance against the tourists. “There were very few even of the most sanguine of the Ottawa men who would bet one to ten that our club would obtain a single run,” opined the Citizen’s journalist. Just the day before, the Red Stockings had beaten the Toronto “Dauntless” team 68 to nothing. Indeed, it was reported that nineteen of twenty amateur clubs they had played that season had lost without even being allowed to first base, let alone score a run. Up until their game with Ottawa, the Boston team had only been defeated three times that season, twice by the Athletics of Philadelphia and once by the Haymakers of Troy, both professional clubs. Against these three losses, the Red Stockings had more than forty victories.

The game’s box score, Ottawa Citizen, 28 August 1872.

The Ottawa Club won the toss and elected to field for the first inning. Initially, the Boston Club found the pitching of R. Lang to be “puzzling,” according to the Citizen. But they visitors soon figured him out. The Red Stockings had considerable praise for the fielding abilities of the home team, especially that of W. McMahon in left field. Reportedly, he made a number of very difficult catches. They also complemented the skills of Tom Cluff at first base.

It was Ottawa’s batting that fell very short. Boston said the home team suffered from the same fault as other amateur teams that they had faced—a lack of confidence that prevented balls leaving the in-field.

The Ottawa-Boston match-up lasted 2 hours and 13 minutes with the score an extraordinarily lopsided 64 to nothing. Mind you, that was better than how Toronto’s “Dauntless” team had fared. The Citizen very charitably noted that the final score was 18 earned runs to zero. The newspaper added that the Boston team was “undoubtedly the finest club in existence.”

This wasn’t the only appearance of the Red Stockings in Ottawa. The following year, the Boston team returned to the nation’s capital for a rematch with the Ottawa Base Ball Club. This time, the Ottawa Club managed to score not just once but four times in a losing cause, being downed 41 to 4 by the visitors.

Sources:

Hill, Samuel R., 2000. “Baseball in Canada,” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies: Vol. 8. Issue 1, Article 4.

Lemoine, Bob, 2015.  “April 6th 1871: Boston Red Stockings take to the field for the first time,” Society for American Baseball Research.

McDonald, David, 2005, “Aug. 27th: The day the tide turned in Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, 27 August.

Ottawa Citizen, 1868, “The Lacrosse Match At Prescott,” 2 October.

——————, 1869. “No title,” 6 September.

——————, 1872. “Many Sports,” 12 August.

——————, 1872. “Toronto,” 26 August.

——————, 1872. “The Civic Holiday,” 28 August.

——————, 1873. “The Base Ball Match,” 27 August.

The Marbles and Jacks Competitions

21 April 1924

In February 1924, the Ottawa Evening Citizen announced that it would be hosting a marbles and jacks competition for children aged thirteen and under in Ottawa and surrounding towns. Little information was initially provided, except to say that there would be similar competitions held in other Canadian cities, and that city champs would meet in a grant final contest in Toronto to determine the Canadian champions of both games. Prizes would be awarded, and there was no entry fee. Reflective of the sexist times, the marbles competition was strictly for boys and the jacks competition strictly for girls. Similar announcements were made by newspapers in Toronto, Halifax, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg and Edmonton. All were members of the Southam chain of newspapers.

The official rules of both games were published the following month.

The version of marbles to be played was called “Marble in the Hole.” The game was very different from the typical game of marbles where contestants try to knock competitors’ marbles out of a circle drawn on the ground. In Marble in the Hole, a line, called the “rolling line,” is drawn on a flat playing surface ten feet from a hole which is four inches in diameter and three inches deep, shaped like an inverted cone. After determining the order of play, each player gives one of his three marbles to the player going first. The player who goes first, rolls his competitors’ marbles and one of his own simultaneously at the hole from the rolling line. He scores one point for every marble that goes in the hole. Then, stepping over the rolling line, the first player flicks with one finger each marble resting on the ground towards the hole, scoring one additional point for every marble successfully sunk. Should he miss, his turn is over.

The remaining marbles on the ground are picked up and given to the second player who rolls them towards the hole from the rolling line. Like the first player, he scores a point for every marble he gets in the hole. He then steps over the line and attempts to flick the remaining marbles left on the ground into the hole, scoring one point for every marble successfully sunk. Like player number one, the second player’s turn ends when he misses sinking a marble. It is then the third player’s turn. Play continues until all marbles are sunk. This is the end of the first round. Three rounds make a game. Whoever has accumulated the most points at the end of the game is the winner. All marbles are returned to their original owner.

The form of jacks that was played in the competition also differed from the game commonly played. Importantly, there was no ball. Like the marbles game, there were three rounds to a game. The rules were the following: After determining who goes first, the first player takes ten, six-pronged jacks in one hand while sitting or standing. She then drops, rolls, or throws the jacks onto the playing surface. This is called scrambling the jacks. She then picks up one of the ten jacks and tosses it into the air. While the jack is in the air, she picks up one of the jacks on the ground and catches the thrown jack with the same hand before it hits the ground. She repeats this until all the jacks are picked up. This is called “ones.” Each time, the jacks she picks up are put to one side. The competitor then picks up the ten jacks again with one hand and “scrambles” nine of them. Like before, she then tosses the remaining jack in the air, but this time picks up two jacks before the tossed jack hits the ground. She does this until all the jacks are picked up. This is called “twos.” As only nine jacks were scrambled, the remaining single jack is picked up by itself. This process is repeated for “threes,” “fours, “fives” all the way up to “eights.”

Advertisement promoting the marbles and jacks competition, Ottawa Evening Citizen, 16 February, 1924.

Each time, “residual” jacks are picked in the last toss. Then the player takes ten jacks in her hand and tosses one in the air. While the jack is airborne, she places the remaining nine jacks on the ground. Then the tenth jack is tossed again, with the player picking up the nine jacks on the surface with the same hand and catching the tossed jack before it touches the ground.

At any time should a player fail to pick up the right number of jacks, her turn is over. She must re-start the missed level.

The game now gets even more challenging. After completing the above levels, the player then takes the ten jacks in her hand, tosses them up into the air, and catches at least two on the back of her hand. The two or more jacks so caught are then tossed again and the remaining jacks are picked up from the playing surface. If a player is able to catch all ten jacks on the back of her hand, she has scored a ringer. As a reward, the player skips a round.

The winner of the contest is the first player who completes the three rounds of the games with the fewest number of turns.

The Citizen heavily promoted the city’s marbles’ championship over the next two months, exhorting boys to establish marbles’ clubs at their schools, churches and other organizations. The Y.M.C.A. boys’ division began hold training sessions. The newspaper boasted that “the game may soon be as popular as baseball.” It also advertised that it was ready to assist in the formation of marbles clubs across the city and neighbouring communities. Representatives from the newspaper visited schools throughout Ottawa and the valley during recess and lunch hours to interest boys in the game. School clubs were formed with inventive names, like “The Never Misses” and “The Sure Winners” of the Slater Street School, “The Sharpshooters” and “Shamrocks” of St. Patrick’s, and the “York Street Stripes” of the York Street School.

In early March, an exhibition game was held at the Glashan School yard between a Glashan School team and the Cambridge Street School team. The Cambridge boys won 16-14 before a large gallery of young marbles enthusiasts. The match was filmed as a learning aid for others. A month later, two St. Patrick’s teams, the “Tigers” and the “Sharpshooters” took on two Slater Street School teams, the” Never Misses” and the “Pickups.” In the finals, the “Never Misses” beat the “Tigers” twenty-one points to nine.

While the Citizen reported daily on progress made in organizing marbles clubs and the exhibition games, it was virtually silent on the jacks tournaments. The only comment it made was that interest among girls for the jacks competition was less than it was among boys for the marbles competition.  

Preliminary rounds of the Ottawa district marbles and jacks began mid-April. To help ensure fairness, Ottawa was divided up into sections by ward to help equalize the chances of winning. More than 1,000 boys and girls participated in the contests. Children who came from outside of Ottawa for the competition were put in in city hotels as guests of the Citizen.

Apparently, the ward contests were keenly followed by hundreds of people—schoolmates of contestants, parents and friends. After winning his ward marbles championship, Albert Groulx of 289 York Street, who attended St. Brigid’s School, was hoisted on the shoulders of his friends. There was so much hullabaloo that the “harassed” reporter had difficulty in obtaining Groulx’s correct address. Each ward winner received a silver medal.

The Ottawa district championships were held on Easter Monday, 21 April 1924. The marbles championship was played at Cartier Square which the Civic Playgrounds Commission had placed at the disposal of the Citizen. To control the crowds, police were stationed at the Square with the newly-rolled playing area, fifty feet by forty feet, roped off from the milling throngs there to witness the play. Alderman McGregor Easson, principal of the Elgin Street School, was the referee. The elimination games were played in four groups; eighteen boys competed. The final battle was among the four boys who won their individual groups. In the audience were prominent Ottawa citizens, including the president of the Rotary Club, several clergymen, schoolmates, and many girls and ladies.

The games were reportedly played with a high level of sportsmanship, with the audience of close to 300 cheering for all players. Many older spectators commented on the type of marbles being played. They concluded that it was far more sporting than the version they were used to—the version where you try to knock out competitors’ marbles out of a circle and you keep the marbles won. Mr. Harold Fisher, the provincial member of parliament for Ottawa and Mr. G.A. Disher of the Citizen played the ceremonial first game; Fisher was the easy winner.

Four boys made it to the finals: Harry Adelstein of the Elgin Street Public School, Anatole Charron of the Kiwanis Boys’ Club, Clifford Milford of Almonte, and John Carnegie of East Ward School, Pembroke. Adelstein had made it to the finals after having beaten Albert Groulx in the preliminaries. Groulx had taken a commanding early lead in the match but had come up short when he missed an easy shot in the final round. This left the door open for Adelstein who sank the remaining marbles—one was six feet from the hole!

In the finals, Harry Adelstein was declared the Ottawa district champion after Clifford Milford of Almonte, who had seemingly won the championship in a closely-fought battle, was disqualified. Milford had misread the entry requirements which stated that players had to be under fourteen as of May 1st. He had had fourteenth birthday in March.

The girls’ jacks competition were held the same day, 21 April, in the Y.M.C.A. Special Exercise Room. Competitors were divided into three groups. The winner of each group met in the finals. The Citizen’s coverage of the event was thin. The newspaper opined that girls had shown a “keen interest” in the game but were reluctant to “face the limelight of public contests.” After indicting the names of the officiants, the Citizen reported that Marion Scharf of Eastview Public School had won the Ottawa championship. Helen Nicholson of Borden School was the runner-up.

After the events, all the contestants were taken on a tour of the Parliament Buildings, the Citizen building on Sparks Street and the Experimental Farm.

Three days later, the Canadian championships were held in Toronto at the Pantages Theatre. In truth, it really wasn’t an all-Canada championship. Only three provinces were represented: Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, from communities where the Southam group of newspapers were located. The Vancouver Sun, which was not part of the Southam chain, cheekily held marbles and jacks competition for British Columbia. While its winners did not go to Toronto to compete in the Dominion championships, the winning boy and girl each received a gold medal.

Ottawa’s marbles champ, Henry Adelstein, was accompanied to Toronto by his mother, Mrs. L. Adelstein of 294 Laurier Avenue. They stayed at the Walker House Hotel free of charge, including meals, courtesy of the hotel. The jacks champion, Mildred Scharf, was accompanied to Toronto by her father, Mr. D. Scharf of Eastview. They stayed at the Carls-Rite Hotel where their lodgings and meals were also paid for by the hotel.

Oddly, while the Citizen reported that Adelstein and Scharf made it safely to Toronto, the newspaper did not report on the championship. In a printing error, on the day after the championship was held in Toronto, the newspaper re-ran on its front page an article that it had published a month earlier. An entry form for the now completed Ottawa district competition ran on page two. This oversight was not corrected the following day. Instead, the newspaper ignored the story. This must have been quite a blow to Ottawa’s two champions and their families.

A week later, a small article appeared on page six of the Citizen saying that Mildred Scharf, who had come in second in Toronto, had received a lady’s wristwatch and a silver medal, while her school, the Eastview Public School, had been awarded a silver cup. There was no mention of Henry Adelstein, though presumably he too received a watch and silver medal, with the Elgin Street Public School also receiving a silver trophy.

Other newspapers in the Southam chain did, however, report on the Toronto finals, though their coverage was hardly effusive. It seems that Kathleen Perry and Eddie Henderson, both of Toronto won the championships. After a nervous start to the jacks competition, Perry was an easy victor over the other players. In the marbles competition, Henderson, wearing his lucky red woollen toque, took the championship. Henry Adelstein of Ottawa came in third place.

The marbles and jacks competitions were not repeated.

Sources:

Edmonton Journal, 1924. “Marble, Jacks Cups Both Go To Toronto,” 25 April.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1924. “Championships in Marbles and Jacks For The Ottawa District To Be Decided In Capital,” 18 February.

—————————-, 1924. “Organization Work For Marbles And Jacks Contests Is Underway,” 19 February.

—————————-, 1924. “Every School Is Scene Marbles In The Hole Game,” 1 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Cambridge Team Winners Of Marbles In The Hole Exhibition,” 3 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Invites Marbles And Jacks Champions As Their Guest,” 6 March.

—————————–, 1924. “Rules for “Marbles,” Canadian Championship, 1924,” 24 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Rules for “Jacks,” Canadian Championship, 1924, 24 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Marbles And Jacks Contest Open About April 5th,” 25 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Valuable Trophies Will Be Awarded To School Winners,” 29 March.

—————————-, 1924. “Slater Street School Team Winners In The Preliminary,” 7 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Big Marbles And Jacks Tournament Commences Tomorrow; Play Opens In The Schools of Central Ward,” 14 April.

—————————-, 1924. “By Ward Marbles Contest Brought Out Keen Battle,” 19 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Preparations Complete For District Finals In The Jacks And Marbles Championships,” 19 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Elgin Street School Pupil And Eastview Girl Winners,”22 April.

—————————-, 1924. “Marbles And Jacks Contest Open About April 5th,” 25 April.

—————————-, 1924. “District Winner Of Jacks Contest Gets Wrist-Watch,” 3 May.

Vancouver Sun, 1924. “In Marbles And Jacks Finals,” 25 April.

The Winter Trots

9 February 1921

A sport that flourished in central Canada and in the northern United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was winter harness racing. In 1907, the Ottawa Citizen reported that there were few places of any importance with cold weather and access to a river or lake big enough to accommodate a quarter or half-mile track that did not indulge in the sport. In addition to major centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, ice racing was enjoyed in small Ontario communities, such as Napanee, Belleville and Port Perry.

Ice racing on the Ottawa River, 1902, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, 3387722.

Initially, horse owners were skeptical of the new sport, owing to the heightened risk of injury to their valuable horses from running on ice. Part of the risk came from the type of shoes the horses wore. According to a report in an 1893 edition of the Canadian Sportsman,[1] horses ran on five-calk (caulkin), all-steel horseshoes. These calks gave the horses grip on the ice. They were also sharp, and could cause serious injury. To help fortify the horses against the cold, horses were reportedly given very strong black coffee between heats. Apparently, for one aristocratic mare called Lady Mary Tudor the coffee was replaced with a bottle of champagne!

Racing on ice also had its particular challenges for drivers. In the early days of the sport, cutters (a single-person sleigh) were used. These cutters had a propensity of swinging wide in the turns leading to trouble on crowded tracks. Consequently, they were equipped with a “knife” on the cutter’s runner which could be deployed by the driver depressing a foot-controlled lever. The knife would be thrust into the surface of the ice track, thereby giving the cutter great stability on turns and lessening the swing. In later years of the sport, cutters were replaced by the same bike sulky used in dirt track races.

Despite the risks, the sport took off. With substantial money to be had, the reservations of horse owners quickly disappeared. Times on ice tracks were slower than on the usual dirt tracks—roughly ten seconds for a mile circuit.

When ice racing started in the Ottawa area is a bit murky. A newspaper report from the 1920s claimed that sometime about 1860 horse racing was held on the Rideau Canal. As the Canal was not drained at this time, the surface was wide enough to make a wide racing surface. The track apparently went from a point east of the Bank Street Bridge to a spot near the “Deep Cut,” close to where the University of Ottawa is today.

Certainly, by the mid-1870s, the sport was well established across the Ottawa River in Hull at an ice track at Leamy Lake. According to the Democrat of Rochester, New York, the Leamy Lake course was “the most perfect ice track in America.” Racing was held under the auspices of the Winter Trotting Club at Crystal Park. It was a popular, annual, mid-winter event. The first day of racing in February, 1877, drew more than 3,500 spectators. The Citizen marvelled that given the amount of “cordial” consumed, it was remarkable that the day passed without a single fight. Prize money for the races was often provided by local hotels. In 1887, gold and silver championship medals were offered by the Winter Trotting Club. The medals were designed and manufactured by Mr. C. Addison of Sparks Street with the inscription “Crystal Park – 1887 Champion.”

In 1900, ice racing commenced on the Ottawa River under the auspices of the Central Canada Ice Racing Association. The half-mile course was located on cleared ice near Queen’s Wharf, located roughly a quarter mile to the east of the Queen Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge then under construction. The meet, which was held in the middle of February, was the talk of the sporting world. It was widely advertised throughout Canada and the United States, and attracted hundreds of racing fans to Ottawa, some from as far away as New York City. Naturally, betting was a key attraction. F.H. Hoskins of Hamilton, Ontario did the bookkeeping while Fitch & Company, also of Hamilton, was in charge of the pools.

This is an interesting view of the ice track from the Hull side. In the background are the Parliament Buildings and the Queen Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge. Source: Lost Ottawa.

To ensure the success of the meet, no expense was spared. The half-mile oval track was prepared two weeks in advance on ice that was as much as three feet thick. Local horsemen were encouraged to try out the new track in the days leading up to the big event. Stands and stalls were erected for the anticipated thousands of racing fans, punters and horses. A perimeter fence was also erected around the track. To raise the tone of the meet, ladies were admitted free. The opening ceremonies were performed by Ottawa’s Mayor Payment, with the guests of honour being Lord and Lady Grey, the Governor General and his wife. The first day’s races featured the 2.50 class and the 2.10 class; the fields for both were very large.

The three-day meet was a huge success and was repeated annually for more than a decade, with racing extended to a full week. The facilities for spectators and horses also improved over time. By 1909, the large, wooden club house, provided for the comfort for spectators, was heated and lit by electricity.  Heated sheds were also constructed for the horses and their riders. As well, there was a separate club house for ladies.

The races attracted all segments of society, including the city’s upper crust.  The Buffalo Sunday Courier said that on the ice of the Ottawa River one could see “belles and beaux galore, clad in seal, otter, black fox and Persian lamb.”  Draped over the backs of Russian sleighs and English hacks were wraps of fox, musk-ox and wolf, representing “quite a bank account.”

Not all the racing was above board. In 1908, a grey horse oddly named The Eel, owned by a Mrs O’Keefe of Buffalo, New York, had escaped the attention of bookmakers and horse enthusiasts. With few horses of any merit apparently coming out of Buffalo, people ignored it and instead focused on the top-heavy favourite, Anita. Punters began to take note when The Eel came out onto the ice driven by noted reinsman Danny McEwen who had driven a similar grey horse called Silver Joe through the 1907 Grand Circuit with considerable success. The Eel, a.k.a. Silver Joe, beat Anita, and in the process earned a fortune in bets for Silver Joe’s true owner, Frank Entricken. Mrs O’Keefe of Buffalo was none other than Frank Entricken’s sister.

The Central Canada Ice Racing Association hosted the annual event until 1911. It had expected to continue to do so. But something went wrong late in 1911 that disrupted plans for the coming 1912 winter racing season. What exactly occurred is unclear, though a newspaper account suggested organizational problems within the association. There was also competition from both the Ottawa and Hull Driving Clubs which were both hosting ice harness racing meets during the upcoming 1912 winter season.

In mid-January, 1912, just a few days after the Ottawa Driving Club had sponsored harness racing on a flooded ice track at Lansdowne Park, the Hull Driving Club opened its inaugural meet on the ice of the Ottawa River. The stands the club erected could accommodate three thousand spectators. As in past years under the previous organizers, special stands were built for ladies who were admitted to the races for free. There were also cooling stands for the horses and refreshment booths for spectators.

Each year, the annual meet became bigger and better. The 1917 meet, which was held over the first week of February, turned out to be the most lavish ever with purses totalling $23,000 (over $380,000 in today’s money). But there was a cloud hanging over the event, indeed every horse racing event in Canada. While the slogan for the races that year on the Ottawa River was “business as usual,” the curtain was about to come down on the racing season in Canada. Starting the beginning of May 1917, gambling, deemed “incommensurate with the war effort,” was suspended. Winter harness racing on the Ottawa River was over until at least the end of the war.

Advertisement for the last day of harness racing on the Ottawa River, Ottawa Citizen, 9 February 1921.

Ice harness racing resumed in 1920 when the law was amended to once again allow betting. That year, the races were held at Lansdowne Park. The following year, ice racing on the Ottawa River re-commenced under the auspices of the River View Park Racing Association of Hull. The Association, whose membership consisted of Ottawa and Hull sportsmen, was established for the sole purpose of reviving winter ice racing on the Ottawa River. The president of the Association was Hull’s mayor, Louis Cousineau.

Fourteen races were organized with a total purse of $7,000 (later increased to about $9,000 with the addition of new races)—substantially smaller than the $23,000 purse of the previous 1917 meet on the Ottawa River before racing was halted owing to the wartime ban on gambling. Betting was via auction-pools, bookmaking, and pari-mutuels. Fitch & Company of Hamilton, Ontario was awarded the auction-pool and bookmaking privileges for the meet.

The seven-day meet, which ran from 3 February to 9 February 1921, was held on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Press reports don’t give the precise location, but access to the circuit was likely from what is now Jacques Cartier Park. Like in earlier years prior to the war-time interruption of ice racing, there were stands on the ice for 3,000 spectators along with a heated wooden pavilion 380 feet long by 140 feet wide. A separate stand for ladies was also built. The judges’ and timers’ stands were enclosed by glass. The track, 60 feet wide in the stretches, was described as the best ever. In addition to local horses, many horses came in from the United States—some had just competed in the Mt. Clemens, Michigan ice races held a few days before the Hull event.

Each day of racing featured two or three races (with heats), each with a purse of $300-$500, with half going to the first-place horse, 25 percent to the second, 15 percent to third place, and 10 per cent to the fourth-place finisher. In addition, $6 and $4 were given to the fifth and six-place finishers, respectively. The 1921 races were held under the rules of the Canadian National Trotting and Pacing Harness Horse Association.

The week-long event was a huge success. The crowds were large and the races were well received. Mayor Cousineau was the guest of honour on opening day, and said the word “Go” for the start of the first heat of the opening race, the 2.35 class for horses born within 100 miles of Hull.

The last day of racing, 9 February 1921, featured two classified one mile-races—the classified trot and the classified pace—each with a purse of $300. Franklin B., a chestnut gelding, won the trot in a time of 2 minutes 25 ¾ seconds. King Zip, a black gelding, took the pace in a time of 2 minutes, 21 ¼ seconds.

Despite the resounding success of the meet, which the Citizen described as “the cleanest and best race meeting seen on ice in many years,” the last day of the River View meet was also the last time ice racing was held on the Ottawa River. In 1922, the ice races were held at Lansdowne Park in the context of the Canadian National Winter Carnival. Despite the popularity of the sport, ice harness racing then disappeared from Ottawa’s winter scene.

Winter harness racing was resuscitated in 1979 for the first Ottawa Winterlude and was held annually on the Rideau Canal until 1985.

Sources:

CBC, 2018. Horse Racing on the Rideau Canal kickstarted first Winterlude, 4 February, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-winterlude-horse-racing-rideau-canal-1.4518108.

Buffalo Sunday Courier, 1902. “Winter Racing,” in Ottawa Journal, 28 January.

Democrat (Rochester, NY), 1878. “Sporting,” in Ottawa Citizen, 26 January.

Elder, Ken, 2014. “Ice Race Meetings on the Ottawa River, — a forgotten tradition?”, Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, January, Volume 41, No. 1.

Ottawa Citizen, 1877. “The First Day’s Racing at Leamy’s Lake,” 16 February.

——————, 1886. “Championship Medals,” 8 December.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,”5 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 6 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 16 February.

——————, 1900. “World of Sport,” 19 February.

——————, 1900. “The Turf,” 20 February.

——————, 1900. “The Ice Record Was Recorded,” 21 February.

——————, 1907. “Winter Sports in Canada,” 12 January.

——————, 1911. “Another Meet,” 7 December.

——————, 1911. “Success Is Already Assured Ottawa Driving Club’s Meet,” 27 December.

——————, 1912. “Many Horsemen In Town For Ice Races, All Roads Lead Today To Ottawa River,” 18 January.

——————, 1916. “Ice Racing as Usual,” 22 December.

——————, 1917. “Slow Music Please For Canadian Racing,” 1 August.

——————, 1921. “River View Park Racing Ass’n (Limited),” 25 January.

——————, 1921. “Ice Racing Meet Opened Thursday on Ottawa River,” 4 February.

——————, 1921. “Ice Racing Meet Closed Yesterday,” 10 February.

——————, 1925. “First Ice Racing Was On The Canal,” 10 October.

Ottawa Journal, 1920. “River View Park Racing Ass’n Complete Plans For Ice Races,” 18 December.

——————-, 1925. “Racing on Ice,” 12 January.

——————-, 1925. “Always Gave Horse Bottle Of Wine Between Races,” 26 March.

Wilenius, Ian, 2018. “A Safe Bet: Regulating Online Gambling and Lotteries Through the Criminal Code,” 27 Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies 1. 


[1] The Canadian Sportsman was established in 1870, and was the oldest harness racing magazine in North America. It ceased publication in December 2013.

Norwegian Snowshoes, Skees and Skilobning

22 January 1887

It would be hard to imagine a Canadian winter without skiing, either cross-country, also known as Nordic skiing, or the downhill variety, a.k.a. Alpine skiing. Across the country, there are many towns that rely on the sport for their livelihoods. Think of the resort communities of Mont Tremblant in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, or Whistler, nestled in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, to name but a couple.

 Ottawa has the weather and the terrain for top-quality, cross-country skiing. In addition to the many trails through Ottawa’s greenbelt and along the Ottawa River, the trails of Gatineau Park in Quebec are but a short drive from the capital. The Park boasts more than two hundred kilometres of groomed paths fit for all levels of experience. Since 1967, the Ottawa Ski Marathon has attracted thousands of skiers, from the novice to the hardy coureur de bois who camp out in the frigid cold in addition to completing the 100-mile course through the Gatineau Hills.

Let’s also not forget downhill skiing in the region. Mont Cascades, Vorlage, Camp Fortune, and Edelweiss ski resorts on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River offer excellent downhill skiing.  All are located within a half-hour drive of the Parliament Buildings.

Caricature of Lord Frederick Hamilton, 1895, by “Spy,” Vanity Fair.

You might ask how the sport came to Canada, a country traditionally known for snowshoeing, the mode of winter transportation favoured by its indigenous peoples and later adopted by European settlers. Oddly, it had much to do with an English aristocrat living in Ottawa. In January 1887, Lord Frederick Hamilton, the aide-de-camp to Lord Lansdowne, the Governor General at that time, and brother to Lord’s Lansdowne’s wife, brought out some skis and took a turn on the hills of Rockcliffe Park near Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s home. Hamilton, who was a diplomat, had been stationed at the British Embassy in St. Petersburg during the early 1880s prior to being posted to Canada. It was in Russia that Hamilton took up the sport. Coincidentally, the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg at the time of Hamilton’s posting, was none other than Lord Dufferin who had been Canada’s Governor General during the late 1870s.

In his memoir titled The Days Before Yesterday, Lord Hamilton recounts: “I brought out my Russian skis to Ottawa, the very first pair that had ever been seen in the New World. I coasted down hills on them amidst universal jeers; everyone declared that they were quite unsuited to Canadian conditions.” (As an aside, Hamilton’s three-volume set of memoirs provides a fascinating window into the almost forgotten world of the late nineteenth century. Despite the passage of time, his reminiscences are fresh and highly entertaining. Links to the books are provided at the end of this article.)

Skiing at Rockcliffe Park, circa 1898, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3386372.

When exactly in January 1887 this memorable skiing event occurred is open to conjecture as it wasn’t reported in the local newspapers at that time, nor did Hamilton record the precise date in his memoirs. However, the most probable date is Saturday, 22 January 1887, though Saturday, 15 January is another possibility. It’s unlikely that Hamilton ventured out onto the slopes on a weekday. A Sunday would also have been improbable given the Lord’s Day Act which barred people from doing anything but go to Church on Sundays. On the first Saturday of that year, New Year’s Day, everybody would have spent the day home recovering from the previous night’s excesses. It was only on the 22nd that the weather was perfect for skiing, other Saturdays being either perishingly cold or too wet to make skiing attractive.[1]

Despite Hamilton’s claim of bringing skiing to North America, there are other claimants. An 1895 article in the Ottawa Daily Citizen says that Mr. Anders Nostrom, “a Swedish gentleman” who lived in Ottawa, was the originator of the sport in the capital. When he was supposed to have done this is not mentioned. During the winter of 1895, Nostrom and a number of other Swedes demonstrated the sport by skiing over hills and along the Ottawa River. In that year’s winter carnival, the men paraded through Ottawa’s streets wearing sashes in the yellow and blue colours of the Swedish flag and carrying Swedish and Norwegian flags.

Dr. L. Brault, a noted Ottawa historian, credited another Swede, Fru Wetterman, for introducing the sport to Ottawa in 1893. Wetterman was apparently a governess in the employ of Lord and Lady Aberdeen. In a 1946 Citizen article, Brault wrote that Wetterman brought a number of pairs of skis with her from Sweden and taught her young charges how to ski on the slopes of Rockcliffe Park. Fru Wetterman may have taught skiing to the Aberdeen children, but Hamilton’s claim is six year’s older.

An Ottawa Citizen article, which appeared in a regular weekly feature called “Old Time Stuff,” written during the 1920s and 1930s, made mention of Lord Hamilton’s claim of bringing the first skis to North America. However, the journalist interviewed a Mr. W.J. Annand of Lindenlea, but formerly of Lancaster, Ontario, who said he first put on a pair of skis in 1872, some fifteen years before Lord Hamilton swooshed down that Rockcliffe Park hill. Annand came to Ottawa in 1874, and was certain that skis were already in Ottawa prior to Hamilton’s arrival in the city, but he was “not prepared to stake his oath on that.”

Yet another story, which appeared in the Ottawa Journal in 1899, concerned a pair of “Greenland skis” covered with sealskin, hairy side down on the underside of each ski with the grain of the fur pointing towards the heel of the skis to stop backsliding. The skis were displayed in the window of Messrs. Orme & Son on Sparks Street. Apparently, the skis, then owned by Mr. C.W. Lett, had been brought to Canada some forty years earlier. The skis’ backstory sounded like an opera’s script. The story went that a young Greenland maiden had used them to escape her father. Skiing across snowy, moonlit fields she met up with her lover at the shore. Although she managed to board his waiting ship, her father caught up with her and demanded that she leave her lover and return home. She refused. The father verbally goaded the lover to disembark. In the ensuing fight, the father killed the lover. The distraught daughter remained on board the ship which soon sailed for Quebec, where the maiden got off, thereby bringing her skis to Canada.

Advertisement, Ottawa Journal, 24 January 1898.

Regardless of which tale you believe, there is little doubt that Lord Hamilton’s skiing adventure cast a spotlight on the new sport. Celebrity endorsements were just as effective in the nineteenth century as they are today. And Hamilton was a bona fide celebrity—a dashing, debonair aristocrat, the sixth son of the 1st Duke of Abercorn.

Skiing quickly took off in popularity among Ottawa’s elite. One enthusiastic skier is reported as saying that the sport far outstrips tobogganing: “standing erect and shooting down steep slopes at the speed of the fastest locomotives has to be experienced to be realized.” He cautioned, however, that working uphill was not an easy task for the novice.

During its early days, the name of the sport and its spelling had not yet been standardized. Skis were sometimes known as Norwegian snowshoes to distinguish them from Canadian snowshoes. In Montreal, they were briefly called jimpatony shoes after the person who introduced the sport to that city. The word ski itself, appears to have Norwegian roots, the word skilöber meaning a person who snowshoes. Consequently, for a time, skiing was called skilobning in North America. The term did not catch on. Ski was also sometimes spelled “skee” or “skei.”

Nineteenth century equipment was similar to what is used today for cross-country skiing. Reportedly, early skis, which were made of maple or birch, were six to seven feet long, 3 ¾ inches wide in front, tapering to 3 ¼ inches in the middle and widening out slightly to 3 ½ inches at the tail. The toes of the skis were pointed and upturned. On the underside of each ski was a central groove to help the skier keep their legs together and parallel. The underside of the skis was smooth; wax and grease were regularly applied. Like today, ski boots were attached at the toe to the skis so that the heel could be easily raised. One type of attachment was called “the Ottawa cane fitting.” This was a leather-covered cane strap that went around the heel of the boot with the two ends brought together tightly at the front of the toe and attached to a brass adjustment screw. The boot itself was made of oiled leather and worn several sizes larger than usual to accommodate several pairs of wool socks.

One distinguishing feature of a nineteenth-century skier’s equipage was a single pole or staff, six to seven feet long, made of hickory wood. At the pole’s snow end was a spike with a ring of cane and ribbing a few inches up so the pole wouldn’t sink too far into the snow. The pole was used for balance and breaking.

In addition to the “Ottawa cane fitting,” there was the “Ottawa skie” made naturally in Ottawa. During the late nineteenth century, the city was the centre for the manufacture of skis, “due to the energy and enterprise of Ottawa sportsmen and businessmen” said the Ottawa Journal. Their promotion of the sport helped the sport’s early rapid growth.

One interesting feature of the new sport was the active participation of women. In 1894, the Ottawa Journal reported that it won’t be long in all probability before the American girl will go skilobning.” Two years later, a Harvard professor commented that the lives of the women of Norway have been “revolutionized by the ski and snowshoe.”

Ski Party near Ottawa, circa 1898, William Louis Scott fonds, Library and Archives Canada, 3386437.

Here in Ottawa, upper-class women embraced the sport. The standard feminine skiing apparel consisted of a slightly shortened skirt with bands of red and black on the hem, red mittens, a sash, and a toque that contained a dash of bright colour such as scarlet. Big ski parties were organized. In January 1898, the Journal reported that among others, Miss Lemoine, Miss Powell and Miss Blair were out skiing on the hills. (Miss Blair was likely Miss Bessie Blair who was to die tragically in December 1901 when she fell through the ice while skating on the Ottawa River. Mr. Henry Harper, who attempted her rescue, was also to die. The statue of Sir Galahad on Wellington St. in front of the Parliament buildings was erected to honour his heroic sacrifice.)

By the late 1890s, the Gatineau Hills were already luring Ottawa skiers to test their skills on its slopes. Lord Aberdeen hosted a ski party near the small community of Ironside, Quebec in early January 1898. Ironside, which is today a suburb of Gatineau, was located on the west side of the Gatineau River, north of Lac Leamy. Fairy lake, or Lac des Fées, also became a popular skier venue for Ottawa civil servants who established a club house there.

By the time the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, skiing was well established, and was a big part of Ottawa’s winter life. Lord Frederick Hamilton, who launched the Canadian ski industry, died in 1928 at the age of seventy-one.

Sources:

Gazette (Montreal), 1887. “Ski vs. Toboggan,” 11 April.

Hamilton, Lord Frederick, 1920. The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/60901/60901-h/60901-h.htm#chap02.

——————————-, 1921. The Days Before Yesterday, George H. Doran Company, New York,  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3827/3827-h/3827-h.htm#chap09.

————————————, 1921. Here, There and Everywhere, George H. Doran Company, New York, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6368/pg6368-images.html.

Ottawa Citizen, 1895. “Sparkstockings And Skis,” 28 January.

——————, 1896. “The Women of Norway,” 15 October.

——————, 1935. “Romance And Adventure Of Skiing In Ottawa Back In The Nineties,” 2 March.

——————, 1946. “The First Skis in Ottawa,” 16 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1898. “Doings In The Capital,” 17 January.

——————-, 1899. “The Social Round,” 24 January.

——————-, 1899. “Ski’s With A History,” 3 March.

——————-, 1899. “Tale Of Love And Death,” 6 March.

——————-, 1904. “Skieing (sic), The Popular Outdoor Winter Sport,” 30 January.


[1] If any reader can help me pin the date down more conclusively, please let me know!

Ottawa’s Ski Hill

9 December 1965

If Ottawa residents wish to go skiing on a typical winter weekend afternoon, they probably think about heading to the slopes of the beautiful Gatineau Hills in Quebec, the home of Camp Fortune, Edelweiss and Vorlage ski resorts in the Chelsea-Wakefield area, less than thirty minutes from Parliament Hill. Some might venture a bit further to Monte Ste Marie, or even Mont-Tremblant, the latter located 140 kilometres from the capital in the Laurentians. On the Ontario side, Mount Pakenham, found to the south-west of Ottawa near the village of Pakenham, provides good family fun. Calabogie Peaks, located “in the heart of the Ottawa Valley” slightly more than an hour’s drive from the city, offers slopes for all levels of expertise. Until 1990, there was another possibility, Carlington Hill, located but a hop, skip and a jump from downtown Ottawa, just south of the Queensway.  The hill was accessed from Kirkwood Avenue.

A ski resort at this site was the dream of Ottawa developer, John Clifford, the president of City Ski Centres Ltd, who brought the project to Ottawa City Council during the early 1960s, during the tenure of Mayor Charlotte Whitton. But it took almost five years for his dream to become reality. A significant part of the delay was due to Mayor Whitton’s appropriate mistrust of any city deals with developers that did not involve competitive tenders. As it turned out, Clifford’s company was the sole bidder on the contract when it went to public tender.

Carlington Hill, a.k.a. Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, photo by James Powell

The site for the ski resort, Carlington Hill, was the location of a former dump. Reportedly, some fifteen feet of garbage had been deposited at is base where fetid water, draining from the hill in springtime, laid stagnant. While the home for frogs and other wild creatures, the area was also known for its noisome odours. On one occasion, a fire sent foul-smelling fumes into the surrounding neighbourhood.

Building the ski hill was a joint venture between the Ottawa’s Recreation Department and Clifford’s company. The Recreation Department of the City of Ottawa paid roughly $50,000 for extensive grading and filling of the site, a small ski lodge at the bottom of the hill, and the planting of trees and other landscaping. Clifford’s company invested another $50,000 for state-of-the-art Larchmont snowmaking equipment, a special Bombardier machine to groom the hill, a high-capacity T-bar lift able to carry 1,400 skiers up the hill every hour, as well as mercury-vapour lighting to permit night-time skiing. Clifford was granted the concession for the ski facility for ten years, with the City receiving five per cent of gross revenue.

Once completed the hill was 500 feet wide, with a vertical drop of 100 feet with a run of 600 feet. The lodge at the bottom of the hill was equipped with a canteen, a ski rental, an equipment room and a first aid room. Clifford boasted that it was “the biggest little ski area in the East.” He hoped that the hill would appeal to mothers with families who found it too difficult to take their children to Camp Fortune. By being right in the heart of Ottawa close to bus lines and with ample free parking, skiing was in reach of everybody. Clifford also opined that the hill would attract a lot of “housewives’ classes.” (This was not an enlightened age!)

At the beginning of December 1965, with temperatures dropping below the freezing point, crews at Carlington Hill began to make snow and groom the hill in preparation for upcoming ski season. On Thursday, 9 December 1965, the ski hill welcomed Ottawa skiers for the first time. Over the following week, employees worked out the kinks in preparation for the hill’s official opening. The price for a half day (four-five hours) or an evening of skiing was $1.50. The hill was open weekdays from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, closed on Saturday mornings, and open from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Sundays.

Mother Nature looked kindly on Carlington Hill for its official opening day. On the day before officials descended upon it, three inches of fresh snow fell, making perfect ski conditions. At 7:00 pm on Thursday, 16 December, Santa Claus snow-ploughed down the hill with a sack of candy for the hundreds of children waiting with their parents at the bottom. The grand old elf was accompanied by members of the Gatineau Ski Patrol who slowly descended the slope to the tune of Jingle Bells. At 7:30 pm, Mayor Reid cut the ribbon officially opening Ottawa’s newest and only in-town ski hill. Reid declared “Our dreams have come true.” Event organizers experienced a momentary panic just prior to the official launch when the T-bar lift failed owing to a loose bolt that fell into the machinery. Fortunately, embarrassment was avoided when the lift’s engineers quickly repaired it.

In addition to Mayor Reid, also in attendance that first official evening were other members of city council and George Gowling, the vice-president of the development company, who subbed for John Clifford who was out of town on a business trip. Following Reid’s ribbon-cutting speech, the Gatineau Ski Patrollers began a series of intricate, torchlit manoeuvres on the hill which led into five minutes of fireworks. More than 1,000 skiers then took advantage of the free skiing until closing.

Unfortunately, the Carlington ski hill was judged to have been a “colossal flop” during its first year of operation. Warm weather reduced the number of days of skiing and converted the car park, the site of the former dump, into a muddy mire. However, things improved in subsequent years.

Anne Heggtviet with her gold Olympic Medal, 1960, Squaw Valley, California by E. Ferrat, National Film Board, Library and Archives Canada

In 1969, another ceremony was held when Carlington Hill was re-named the Anne Heggtviet Hill in honour of Ottawa’s ski hero. Anne Heggtviet, nicknamed “Ottawa’s first lady of snows,” was born in the capital and grew up in New Edinburgh. She was the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing, accomplishing this feat at the 1960 Olympic Games held at the now controversially named Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe in California. Heggtviet took first place in the slalom, handily beating Betsy Snite of the United States who took the silver medal, and Barbi Henneberger of the “unified” German team who won the bronze medal. (West and East Germany fielded a joint team under a neutral flag—the German tricolour superimposed with the Olympic rings.) In front of a large crowd of her Ottawa friends and family, Heggtviet skied down the hill and broke a ceremonial ribbon. The re-named hill was the second ski slope in the region to be named in her honour. The first one was at Camp Fortune. By now married, and going under the name Mrs Ross Hamilton, she remarked that “The youngsters of Ottawa are lucky to have facilities like this so close at hand.”

Rusting remains of the ski lift at the Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, by James Powell

The Anne Heggtviet ski hill remained in operation for twenty-five years through to the end of the 1989-1990 ski season. But with declining attendance and aging equipment, the City’s Community Services and Operations Committee took the decision to close the facility. The biggest, little ski area in the East could no longer compete against more challenging, nearby ski resorts. The Anne Heggviet Hill with its 100-foot vertical drop and uninspiring run of only 600 feet was essentially a “bunny hill,” attractive to only the very young or the most novice skiers. Other ski resorts could offer something for all levels of experience. Camp Fortune in Quebec has twenty-five runs or trails, eight lifts, and a vertical drop of 590 feet. Calabogie Peaks boasts twenty-four runs, three lifts, a vertical drop of 780 feet, with a run of 6,961 feet long. The vertical drop of Mont-Tremblant, the greatest of all regional ski resorts, is 2,116 feet. Its longest run is four miles in length.

Bike Park at the top of Anne Heggtveit Hill, August 2020, by James Powell

Today, reminders of the Ann Heggtviet Hill’s skiing past can still be seen in the old tow equipment slowly rusting away. But the hill remains one of the city’s premier winter sports locations. Instead of downhill skiers, it draws hundreds of tobogganers on a winter day when snow conditions are just right. In 2020, a bicycle park opened at the top of the old ski hill despite neighbourhood opposition upset about the likely impact of the facility on wildlife and the area’s tranquility. Fortunately, the toboggan hill was not affected.

Sources:

Boddy, Sharon, 2016. A Jewel In Ottawa’s West: The Carlington Ski Hill,” 23 September, https://sharonboddy.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/715/.

Kinsella, Jack. 1965. “Dreams of four years at Carlington Hill,” Ottawa Citizen, 15 December.

Ottawa Citizen, 1965. “Carlington ready to open,” 8 December.

——————, 1965. “Conditions now ‘very good,” 15 December.

——————, 1965. “Colorful Carlington ski opening,” 17 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1965. “Spectacular Opening For Carlington Ski Centre,” 8 December.

——————-, 1965. “Carlington Ski Centre,” 16 December.

——————-, 1965. “Carlington Park Ski Centre Opens Tonight,” 16 December.

——————-, 1965. “Open $100,000 Ottawa Ski Site—Hint at Green’s Creek Development,” 17 December.

——————-, 1965. “The Sportspiel,” 18 December.

——————-, 1966. “Carlington Ski Park Was a Colossal Flop,” 16 April.

——————-, 1969. “to Name Carlington Slope for Anne Heggtveit,” 18 December.