Ottawa’s Checkered Past

9 April 1877

The game of checkers, also known as draughts, inhabits most family games’ closets. Often, its familiar two colour, eight squares by eight squares board has a backgammon board printed on its flip side. For many, checkers is perceived as a simple game, designed principally for young children before they are ready to move up to the rigours of chess. In a way, this is correct. The rules of checkers are simple. Unlike chess, all of a player’s pieces move in the same fashion. However, this simplicity is deceptive. It’s a game that requires considerable strategy to play well.

Draughts Table, William Payne, 1756

Illustration from William Payne’s 1756 book on the game of Draughts (Checkers)

Checkers is also a game that has a very long and distinguished pedigree. It’s far older than chess, which is a mere pup in comparison.  A version of checkers was played as long ago as 3,000 B.C. in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. The ancient Egyptians also played a type of checkers. However, the “modern” game dates from the Middle Ages in France.

William Payne, an English mathematician, wrote in 1756, An Introduction to the Game of Draughts that contained fifty select games for instructional purposes. In the preface, he writes: Whatever may be determined concerning its Uſe, its Difficulty is inconteſible; for among the Multitudes that practiſe it, very few underſtand it. There are indeed not many who by any frequency of Playing can attain a Moderate Degree of Skill without  Examples and Inſtructions.

The game of draughts, popular in the taverns and coffee houses of England, was brought to North America where it was more usually called checkers owing to the chequered board on which it was played. On both sides of the Atlantic, checker clubs were formed during the nineteenth century—a reflection of its rising popularity among all classes of people. The first checkers/draughts World Champion was Scotsman Andrew Anderson who took the title in 1840. (Scots had a virtual lock on the championship for almost the next one hundred years.)

One of the earliest references to the game in Ottawa was an 1861 advertisement for the opening of Sheffield House, a new up-scale store located in the Porter Block of Sparks Street owned by its proprietors Messrs. Sinauer and Levey. Among other things, the advertisement announced that the shop had “chess and draught men for sale in bone, ivory and wood.  Boards for ditto.” In 1873, the game featured in a criminal trial when Andrew Kendrick was invited to the home of a Mr. Glasford on Clarence Street to watch “an excellent game of checkers.” At Glasford’s home, Kendrick took the opportunity to try to steal his host’s purse. Glasford objected “to any such intimacy with his trouser pockets.” In an ensuing scuffle, Glasford was stabbed in the hand and slightly injured. What happened subsequently to Kendrick was not reported.

During the late 1870s, the game experienced a surge in popularity in Ottawa. Amateur checker clubs began popping up in the City’s wards. In mid-March 1877, a checkers club was organized in the St. George’s Ward, with Mr. F. Graham as President. St. George’s Ward encompassed part of Lower Town including the Sandy Hill neighbourhood. The following month, a club was established in Upper Town’s Wellington Ward. Later, Victoria Ward “determined not to be outdone,” organized its own checkers club centred in LeBreton Flats. It had two presidents, Messrs. Carruthers and McClay of the Perley and Pattee lumber company.

The first known Ottawa checker tournament occurred on 9 April 1877 between Wellington Ward and St. George’s Ward, with each team fielding thirteen members. The contest was held in front of a large audience in a hall over John Roos’s tobacco shop at 50 Sparks Street. After two hours of play, the Wellington Ward team beat their Lower Town rivals by eleven games—66-55 with 11 draws. Among the big individual winners was W. Hutchison with 13 wins for the Wellington Ward team. The prize of the tournament was a bag of meal which was presented to the Protestant Orphans’ Home. A return match was held the following week at Francis Germain’s cigar shop at 512 Wellington Street. This time there were 18 men aside. The Daily Citizen’s account of the match was a bit muddled, though the Wellington Ward again emerged victorious.

In November of that same year, a championship match was held between an Upper Town side and a Lower Town team in the hall above John Roos’s tobacco shop. With 18 men per team, Lower Town took the crown 82 games to 76 with 38 draws. On the Lower Town side, N. Germain was the big winner of the two-hour event, taking 14 wins, with no losses and two draws. On the Upper Town side, John Roos, the tobacconist, won a team-leading eight games. Further Upper Town/Lower Town matches were later held.

Also that November, Mr. Edmund Lemieux, who was employed in the Department of Public Works, completed a combined “chequer, chess, backgammon and polonaise board” that was later exhibited at the Éxposition Universelle in Paris. It was an artistic marvel. Taking nine months to craft, the Board was 32 inches long and 21 inches wide and consisted of 21,360 pieces using 32 different kinds of wood. Inlaid and veneered and ornamented with mosaic work, the board had a drawer on each side for the game’s pieces. Each of the carefully turned checkers were made from nine pieces of wood. The Citizen enthused that Lemieux’s creation would show “to the people of La Belle France that the skill of their compatriots in this land has not been deteriorated by the Canadian atmosphere.”  The newspaper added that the board will “bring great credit upon the artisan skills of this Dominion.”

In September 1883, Ottawa was visited by the greatest checker player possibly of all time—James Wyllie, also known as “Herd Laddie.” Wyllie was another Scotsman who had wrestled the title of world champion from Andrew Anderson in 1844, and would hold it for most of the next fifty years with a couple of short breaks. He received his odd nickname early in life when he worked for a livestock drover. The drover, an avid checkers’ player, recognized Wyllie’s ability in the game, and soon the young man was playing for money, and winning big time. When Wyllie came to Ottawa, he was well into his second North American tour which was to last four years. Apparently, at that point of his tour he had reportedly played 12,386 games of which he had won 10,921, drew 1,283 and lost only 82. Herd Laddie had a “standing challenge to the world” in the American sporting magazine Turf, Field and Farm, of $500 to $1000. Few, if any, took him up on the bet.

James Wyllie Herd Laddie

James Wyllie, “Herd Laddie”, author unknown

Needless to say, Herd Laddie’s visit to the nation’s Capital was a cause for considerable excitement amount the checkers’ fraternity. (Fraternity seems to be the correct word as there is no reference in the press about women playing the game although they undoubtedly did.) Staying at the Albion Hotel, the Citizen described the checkers champion as a “hale old gentleman” of about 61 years of age, stoutly built, standing only about 5½ feet tall, and wearing spectacles with a keen eye and slightly deaf. The journalist, who apparently was a devotee of phrenology, also commented that Wyllie had “an unusually large brain, well developed in the frontal region.”  While in Ottawa, the champion competed in a number of friendly games with local checkers players, playing as many as ten opponents simultaneously. There is no record that he lost any of his games.  Mr. W. Stewart, the Wellington Ward’s ace player, fared the best against the world champion, earning two draws.

The game of checkers remained popular through the remainder of the nineteenth century with weekly tournaments. Checker puzzles appeared regularly in local papers alongside their chess counterparts. The Ottawa Chess and Checker Club (OCCC) was established in December 1891, meeting in the Union Chambers. They subsequently secured quarters for their clubhouse on the first floor of the Perley building at 51 Sparks Street. However, it appears that the game was increasingly eclipsed by chess. The old OCCC also seems to have disbanded by 1904 when there was a failed attempt to re-establish a checker club in the Capital.

Checkers remains a globally popular pastime. The 2018 world men’s (Go-As-You-Please or GAYP) title organized by the World’s Checkers/Draughts Federation was won by South African Lubabalo Kondlo while the women’s (GAYP) championship was won by Nadiya Chyzhevska of Ukraine.

Sources:

Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1861. “The Sheffield House,” 24 April.

————————-, 1873. “Another Stabbing Affray,” 20 September.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Match,” 18 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 21 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checker Club,” 25 April.

————————-, 1877. “Checkers,” 19 September.

————————-, 1877. “Splendid Workmanship,” 10 November.

————————-, 1877. “Champion Checker Match,” 14 November.

————————-, 1883. “The Herd Laddie,” 23 July.

————————-, 1883. “Sporting Record,” 25 July.

————————-, 1883. “World of Sports,” 19 September.

————————-, 1891. “Chess and Checkers Club,” 15 December.

————————-, 1894. “Upper Town versus Lower Town,” 30 January.

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1899. “Have Secured Rooms,” 5 October.

Payne, William, 1756. An Introduction to the Game of Draughts: Containing Fifty Select Games, Golden Ball, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London.

Reekie, Chris 2007. The Herd Laddie, http://www.wylliedraughts.com/HerdLad.htm.

Wikipedia, 2019. World Checkers/Draughts Championship, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Checkers/Draughts_Championship.

 

The Re-Birth of the Ottawa Senators

20 December 1991

Major league sports franchises have not always thrived in Ottawa, a relatively small market sandwiched between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two sporting giants. The city’s football team failed twice in recent decades, the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1996 and the Ottawa Renegades in 2002. The Red Blacks now take the field to uphold the Capital’s football honour in the Canadian Football League. Hockey too has had its challenges. After winning multiple Stanley Cups during the 1920s, the storied Ottawa Senators, collapsed in 1934. Barely profitable during good times, the team simply could not survive the ravages of the Great Depression. Decades later, a WHA franchise, the Ottawa Nationals, appeared and disappeared in a matter of months during the early 1970s.

Imagine the excitement, and the scepticism, when news broke in June 1989 that an Ottawa development company was not only attempting to restore NHL hockey to the nation’s capital after a break of close to 60 years, but it also planned to revive the old Ottawa Senators club, an honoured name that still resonated in Canadian hockey lore.

Ottawa senators original logo

Initial pre-launch Ottawa Senators logo used to fire up fan interest in 1989-90. This emblem was never official. Reportedly, the logo was rejected by the NHL for being too local. Team officials said that it was “the official logo of the campaign to bring back the Senators.” Fans who had bought Senators’ merchandise with this logo were not pleased when it was replaced by a Roman centurion. Sensnation.

That company was Terrace Investments Ltd, under the direction of its young president and chief executive officer, Bruce Firestone. Terrace Investments was no fly-by-night operation. The family-owned firm, established in 1956 by Bruce Firestone’s father, Jack Firestone, was well known, the developer of a number of commercial properties in the Ottawa region. However, bringing an NHL franchise to the city was a huge undertaking for the company, one that would require outside investors to bring it off as well as a lot of hard work and much good fortune. The price of admission was steep, a cool $US50 million. And that was before paying for players, building an arena, and covering all the ancillary costs associated with starting a hockey club from scratch, including putting together a convincing bid to the NHL’s board of governors.

A bid for an NHL franchise was not a wacky idea, however. The NHL was in the mood to expand after a decade of stability; it had previously added four new teams in 1979—Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets—former members of the World Hockey Association. Reportedly as many as thirty cities had expressed an interest in obtaining a hockey franchise. In addition to Terrace Investments’ bid for an Ottawa team, investors were interested in bringing major league teams to Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatoon and Kitchener-Waterloo. A number of US cities were also keen, including Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Seattle. As well, there was talk of European cities obtaining franchises in what would become a global hockey league. Cities like, Moscow, Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg), Stockholm and Helsinki were mentioned as likely contenders. But did little Ottawa stand a chance? Many doubted it. The senior Firestone was sceptical of the idea. Ottawa Mayor Jim Durrell, while wishing Bruce Firestone well, thought his bid for an NHL franchise had little chance of success. Alan Eagleson, the former director of the NHL’s Players’ Association, said that Ottawa was a “long shot.”

Ottawa senators second logo

The first official emblem of the re-born Ottawa Senators (1991-1997). People criticized it for being “generic, derivative and unoriginal.” Some likened it to the Amex logo or the logo of the University of Southern California Trojans football team. Logopedia.

Firestone’s bold game plan was to build a 20,000-seat arena on agricultural land that Terrace Investments had purchased in West Carleton and Kanata. Around the arena would be constructed a mini-city of 9,000 residents to be called Terrace West. An adjacent, upscale hotel was also planned for the site. The cost of the franchise would be covered, at least in part, by Terrace reselling land for development, assuming the site was rezoned for commercial and residential use. This was a big assumption.

Firestone officially kicked off his bid for an NHL franchise at a news conference in early September 1989 with Frank “Finny” Finnegan at his side. Finnegan had been a member of the Ottawa Senators’ team that had won the club’s last Stanley Cup in 1927. Firestone also announced that plans for the new arena, to be called the “Palladium,” would be forthcoming shortly. Simultaneously, he launched a campaign for reservations for season tickets.

The words had hardly left his mouth when Firestone’s bid for a franchise hit the first of the many stumbling blocks that were to come. The Ottawa Senators of the Central Junior A Hockey League (CJHL) had launched a law suit over use of the name “Ottawa Senators.”

For the next fifteen months, Firestone worked hard to put together a package that would convince John Zeigler, the president of the NHL, and the NHL’s Board of Governors that his Ottawa Senators bid was genuine, and that he had the financial backing to bring it off.  Things initially moved smoothly according to Firestone’s game plan. In January 1990, Terrance Investments came to an agreement with the CJHL Senators over the name as well as members of the Thomas P. Gorman family who also had a claim on the name. In March, Terrace put up an initial non-refundable US$5 payment, a down payment on the $50 million franchise fee. Three months later, Regional Council and the Kanata City Council agreed to rezone the agricultural land for the construction of the Palladium. In October, Milwaukee, a front-running city in the bidding for an NHL franchise, pulled out, improving Ottawa’ chances. Subsequently, Ottawa Mayor Durrell urged supporters of the Ottawa Senators to swamp Premier Bob Rae with letters demanding provincial support for Firestone’s bid. The Premier complied sending a letter of support to the NHL governors on behalf of Ottawa, but also for Hamilton whose bid was backed by Tim Horton’s Donuts. Kanata residents were urged to support Operation Blackout in which they were to turn off their electricity on one day in November in support of the team. An estimated 134,000 people took part.

In early December 1989, the NHL’s Board of Governors met in conclave at the tony Breakers resort in Palm Springs, Florida to consider competing bids for NHL franchises. Firestone provided them with an impressive black, leather bound bid book with gold trim. Outside in the street in front of the hotel, the Ottawa Fire Brigade band and enthusiastic, placard-waving Senators supporters did their best to sway governors’ opinions.

Two years of lobbying and US$3.5 million in bid preparation costs paid off. Just before noon on 6 December 1989, President Zeigler announced that Ottawa, along with Tampa Bay, had been awarded conditional franchises.

From that point, the really hard slogging began. It was not obvious that Firestone and Terrace Investments would be able to meet all of the NHL’s conditions. Most importantly, there was the matter of finding US$45 million of the franchise fee to be paid in two tranches, the first by June 1991 and the second by December 1991. Second, the NHL insisted that by December 1991, Terrace had to have a binding financial agreement for the construction of the Palladium.

Both conditions were problematic. Terrace did not have the cash to make the payments; it needed outside investors. But Canada was experiencing a deep recession in 1991, and money was not easy to find. As well, much of Terrace’s financial plan hinged on the rezoning of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of Kanata for the construction of the arena and surrounding hotel, retail and residential development. But a Carp farmer, later joined by others, had protested the rezoning to the Ontario Municipal Board, setting in motion a hearing into the rezoning decisions made by Kanata and the regional government.

One condition that was easily met was the number of season tickets sold. In a ten-day selling “blitz” late December 1990, 9,355 season tickets were reserved for the Senators’ first season in the Ottawa Civic Centre, their temporary home before the Palladium was built. This was essentially all the seats in the arena. Following a renovation in 1991, capacity was increased to 9,793 seats by reducing the width of seats to a standard 16 inches.

Through 1991, Firestone worked on both the financing and zoning issues. To help him, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Durrell, now a convert to the Senators’ cause, became President of the club in late 1990. Shortly afterwards, he resigned from the mayor’s chair after there were complaints of his “moonlighting.”

Terrace Investments began selling limited partnerships in the new franchise, which were divided into Class A, B, and C units. Buyers did come in, but it was slow going. And it looked touch and go whether the June US$22.6 million payment could be met. In the event, Terrace placed the funds in escrow on the due date (which had been extended a week for both Ottawa and Tampa Bay). Reportedly, Terrace borrowed the necessary funds. Funding prospects improved with news that Paul Anka, the crooner from the 1950s and 1960s who had roots in Ottawa, had stepped forward and bought a significant interest in the team and the Palladium project. A television deal with Baton Broadcasting for CTV affiliates CJOH in Ottawa and CHRO in Pembroke also brought in much needed cash.

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing, held over an eleven-week period through the summer of 1991, was a close call. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food as well as twelve individuals opposed the rezoning of prime agricultural land for other purposes. If there was no rezoning, the Firestone’s NHL’s franchise bid would fail. The opposition of the Minister of Agriculture incensed Firestone. Firestone thought that the NDP government’s hostility to the rezoning reflected its preference for Hamilton to receive an NHL franchise as Hamilton was an NDP stronghold.

The decision of the three-person Board hinged on six points. These comprised: the appropriateness of using agricultural land for commercial purposes, specifically a hockey area; whether Terrace Investments had made an adequate search for alternate sites; the size of the economic benefits to the project; the need for commercial development around the proposed arena, i.e. the proposed hotel and the homes and retail spaces; traffic congestion in the area; and the integrity of the municipal planning process.

While critical of Firestone’s approach to the rezoning issue, the Board agreed that 220 acres of land could be rezoned to permit the building of the Palladium arena. However, it required Terrace Investments to pay for all the required infrastructure, including the interchange linking road access to the arena to the Queensway. Moreover, the Board denied permission to rezone additional agricultural land for a hotel and the Terrace West “mini-city.”

It was enough. Construction on an NHL-size arena to house the re-born Ottawa Senators could begin. A key condition of the franchise had been met. Now that this major hurdle had been crossed, investor money was easier to raise. Terrace Investments paid the second US$22.5 million installment into the escrow account in mid-December 1991. On 20 December 1991, following the completion of the necessary paperwork, an excited Bruce Firestone held up a framed NHL franchise certificate. The Ottawa Senators had been reborn. Firestone said “The Senators will never leave town again.”

The re-born Sens were back in action at the start of the 1992-93 season. Bruce Firestone, however, didn’t stay around beyond that first year. In August 1993, he sold his and his family’s interest in Terrace Investments to his partner, Rod Bryden. The financial and emotional toll of bringing an NHL franchise to Ottawa had been too great.

Sources:

NHL, 2016. From six teams to 31: History of NHL Expansion, https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-expansion-history/c-281005106

Ottawa Citizen, “20,000 seat arena, hotel part of NHL franchise bid,” 23 June.

——————, 1989. “Inside Bruce Firestone,” 5 December.

——————, 1990. “The Rocky Road To An NHL Franchise,” 7 December.

——————, 1991. “SRO for Senators’ seats, 2 January.

——————, 1991. “The Opposition Mounts,” 4 January.

——————, 1991. “It’s pay day: NHL to receive $5m down payment,” 14 January.

——————, 1991. “Hockey controversy hurting city hall, says O’Neil,” 15 January.

——————, 1991. “The Last Act,” 7 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrace looking for investors,” 28 February.

——————, 1991. “Terrae’s brilliant selling job,” 2 March.

——————, 1991. “Firestone’s vision remains true despite the many questions,” 7 March.

——————, 1991. “Citizen’s (sic) group shows support for Senators,” 19 March.

——————, 1991. “Anka wants quick return on Senators,” 23 March.

——————, 1991. CJOH, CHRO win TV deal with Senators,” 27 April.

——————, 1991. “Anka to be Senators’ landlord,” 14 May.

——————, 1991. “The logo they love to hate,” 18 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena site crucial, hearing told,” 22 May.

——————, 1991. “Bring back the Peace Tower,” 23 May.

——————, 1991. “Arena would defy city plan,” 28 May.

——————, 1991. “Developer gains Kanata approval for town centre shopping mall,” 30 May.

—————–, 1991. “Senators in a ‘war’ to survive,” 15 June.

—————–, 1991. “All is rosy for Senators on pay day,” 16 June.

—————–, 1991. “NDP’s obstinate opposition,” 24 June.

—————–, 1991. “Crunch time for the Senators,” 20 July.

—————–, 1991. Race against time at Civic Centre,” 1 August.

—————–, 1991. “Finding himself: Anka’s deal is oh so sweet,” 23 August.

—————–, 1991. “Major victory for the team,” 27 August.

—————–, 1991. “Now for the cash…” 29 August.

—————–, 1991. “Senators have sold $37m in shares.

—————–, 1991. “NHL says Senators financing in place,” 17 December.

—————-, 1991. “Its Official,” 21 December.

Red Deer Advocate, 1989. “Pro hockey on way to Saskatoon: report,” 24 November.

Star-Phoenix, 1989. “NHL expansion plan outlined by Shenkarow,” 11 November.

Ottawa’s Champion Hose Reel Team

2 October 1880

The crowds had started to gather at the train station hours ahead of the arrival of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway train from Prescott, anxious to get a glimpse of their “boys.” On board was the Chaudière No. 1 Hose Reel team, the newly crowned “Champions of America” who were returning from an international meet held in the small town of Malone in upstate New York.

Arriving at 6.30 pm, the team was met by an official welcoming committee that included Fire Chief William Young, head of the Ottawa Fire Brigade. At that time, the Brigade consisted of eighteen professional fire fighters located in five stations, each equipped with a two-wheeled hose reels that could be pulled by one horse, or manually if necessary. Also present were Aldermen Lauzon, Coleman and Heney. Outside of the train station, a hook and ladder truck along with No. 1, 2 and 3 hose reels were drawn up in preparation for the parade through the streets of Ottawa. After the customary greetings, a procession formed up, starting with the team’s reel which was decorated with flags and bore a banner strung between two brooms with the word “Champion” written on it. The time being long past sunset, the parade was lit by torches. On their route to the City Hall on Elgin Street, the “boys” were cheered by crowds of Ottawa residents and supporters.

ottawa fire department

Hose Reel being drawn by horse outside of Ottawa’s No.1 Fire Station, undated, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-013103.

At City Hall, in the absence of the Mayor, Alderman Lauzon welcomed back the champion hose real team of America. He said that after the team’s earlier defeats at Canton and Potsdam, New York, the victory showed what perseverance can accomplish. The victory was being “hailed with pleasure throughout the Dominion.”  Alderman Coleman remarked that the win “added another to the long list of trophies won by Ottawa representatives.” Somewhat more tangibly, Alderman Heney promised that as soon as the City was in better financial shape, the fire brigade would get a pay raise.

Hose reel racing was a very popular activity during the late nineteenth century, with competitions organized among fire departments across North America.  Agricultural shows often hosted hose reel races, offering significant prize purses to attract the best teams. With serious money to be had, team members were often professionals selected for their speed or brawn to represent a particular fire hall rather than true fire fighters. Betting on these races was fierce.

In a typical hose reel race, a team of up to 18 men competed to draw a 450-pound reel cart carrying 350 feet of hose yards to a fire hydrant. They would then attach and lay 300 feet of hose, break the couplings and screw on a nozzle. Typically, a total of 400 yards would be run from start to finish. The races were timed. A good team could complete the course in a minute or less. Sometimes, two or more teams would race side by side. In early competitions, a team would push the hose reel cart along the track by hand. In later events, the men were tied to the carts, allowing them to put their entire bodies into the push, leaving their arms free. This was a dangerous sport. If a team member couldn’t keep up, he risked falling and being trampled by his team mates or run over by the hose reel cart. Serious injury could result.

Ottawa Hose Reel team 1880

The Chaudière Hose Reel Team, Champions of America, 1880, Topley Studio. Back Row: Cyrille Crappin, W. Cousens, Peter Duffy, “Boston” Ed O’Brien, W. McCullough; Middle Row: Andy Lascelles, Sam Cassidy, Chief William Young, Johnnie Shea; Front Row: J. Newton, Johnnie Raine, and Bob Raine. Missing: W. Grand, B. Leggo, W. Palen, and F. McKnight. Ottawa Citizen, 25 February 1925.

The Chaudière Hose Reel team was formed in LeBreton Flats in 1880. There were in fact at least two hose real teams in Ottawa at this time. At the Fourth Annual Fireman’s Picnic held in early August of that year, the Chaudière Hose Reel team faced the Union Company Hose Real Team which was captained by Cyrille Crappin, a legitimate fire fighter, who belonged to the “Queen Company” stationed at the Nicholas Street Station. At the Fireman’s picnic, organizers had expected that hose real teams from Prescott and Ogdensburg to compete in the same event. But at the last moment, both teams pulled out leaving only the two Ottawa teams in competition. The Chaudière team won the $75 first prize, with the Union team taking home the $30 second prize. Divided among the participants the prizes didn’t amount to much, though it was nice pocket money. This was about to change.

After that early August competition, Crappin joined the Chaudière team. Already a fast team with all its members noted runners—Peter Duffy reportedly ran the 100-yard dash in 9 4/5 seconds—the addition of Crappin took the Chaudières to a new level. He had competed in a number of professional foot races over the previous several years, invariably winning. Most famously, he had defeated a field of a dozen competitors from Montreal, Toronto and the Mohawk First Nation of Caughnawaga in a four-day racing event. Race participants ran continuously for four hours for four consecutive days. Whoever ran the furthest won the competition. The race took place in Powell’s Grove on Bank Street, opposite the Muchmor race track. The hotel located in the Grove sponsored the race. Crappin emerged the victor, having run 119 miles.

With the extra speed and endurance brought by Crappin, the Chaudière Hose Reel team was ready to take on all challengers. Chief Young of the Ottawa Fire Brigade said that he had “from $100 to $1,000 that says that Ottawa can produce a hose reel team…that can beat, and make better time than any hose reel team belonging to any part of the Dominion of Canada.” In September 1880, representatives of the St. Lawrence County Agricultural Society of Canton, New York, who had heard of the Chaudières’ prowess, came to Ottawa to invite the team to compete in Canton’s upcoming hose reel meet. The purse was US$250—a considerable sum of money in those days, equivalent to over US$6,000 today.  The Chaudières came in second at the Canton competition behind the Relief Company of Plattsburgh, New York. A few days later, at another meet in Potsdam, New York, the same thing occurred—the Chaudières fell short against the first-place Relief squad. According to hose reel race aficionados, while the team had the necessary speed to win, it lacked an expert coupler. This deficiency was filled by Johnnie Shea who became the new captain of the Chaudière Hose Reel team. Shea hailed from Burlington, Vermont where he had been the coupler for the renowned Barnes Hose Reel team. At Postdam, he asked if he could join the Chaudière team.

After their return to Ottawa with Shea, the Chaudière Hose Reel team practiced on Parliament Hill in front of a large crowd of onlookers and fans to prepare themselves for their next competition to be held in Malone, New York. This time, the purse totalled $450, of which $225 went to the winning team. The Ottawa team arrived two days ahead of the competition which was held on Friday, 1 October on the track of the Franklin County Agricultural Society. They had to borrow all their equipment—the reel from the Blake Hose Company of Swanton, NY, couplings from Chief Engineer Drew of Burlington, Vermont, and the hose from the Blake Hose Company and the Frontier Hose Company of St. Albans, Vermont.

The Ottawa team was met at the Malone train station by the Chief Engineer of the Malone Fire Department and members of the Active Hose Company of Malone. Owing to their late arrival, all the restaurants in the town were closed. Fortunately, the foreman of the Active Hose Company supplied an excellent meal to the hungry Chaudière team who stayed at Hogle House hotel. Owing to rain the next day, the team practiced indoors in a rink. Prior to their arrival, betting had strongly favoured the Relief team. However, once it was known who was on the Chaudière team, the odds shifted heavily in favour of the Ottawa team.

At 10 am Friday morning, six hose reel teams formed up in order of their turn to race—Chaudière Company No.1 of Ottawa, Blake Hose Company of Swanton, NY, the Relief Company No. 2 of Plattsburgh, NY, Washington No. 1 of St. Albans, Vermont, Chamberlin No. 1 of Canton, NY, and the Frontier No.2 of St. Albans, Vermont. The Chaudières and Reliefs came in first tied at 59¼ seconds, necessitating a tie-breaking run. The Ottawa team offered to run the tie-off as a direct race against the Relief squad instead of against the clock. But the Plattsburgh team declined. Betting odds were 2 to 1 on the Ottawa team.

There was considerable excitement among the 8,000 spectators as they waited for the drop of the umpire’s flag. As the Chaudières raced to the finish line, disaster almost happened. A boy who had been running alongside the Ottawa team was apparently pushed “violently” by one of the Relief’s team members into the way of the Ottawa team nearly tripping one of the members. The Ottawa Citizen reported that “fortunately this despicable action did not accomplish what was evidently intended.” Instead,  at the finish line, “Shea caught the coupling as it came over the reel…and broke it in a twinkling, with a team member quickly screwing the pipe on “in a masterly and satisfactory manner.” Their time was a phenomenal 58 seconds, easily out classing the Relief Company team who ran next. To great cheers, the Ottawa team drew their reel through the streets of Malone to their hotel. It was reported that the team “carried brooms to show that they had swept the day and also a rake to show the had racked in the cash.”

After their victorious return to Ottawa. Mr. Topley of Topley Studios took the team’s picture in their “full running costume.” Topley had planned to take the picture outside on Parliament Hill, the site of the practice runs. However, inclement weather forced him to take the photograph inside.

The Chaudière Hose Reel team competed the following year in Malone, and won their second American championship, again against the Relief Company of Plattsburgh, NY, taking home the $225 first prize. As a follow-up, the team was slated to race side-by-side with the Wentworth Hose Reel Team of Malone for a $100 prize. Controversially, the Malone team refused to race unless the course was shortened from 400 yards to 300 yards, citing an implicit agreement. The judges ruled against Malone. With the Wentworth Hose Reel team still refusing to run, the $100 was awarded to the Chaudière team. Subsequently, the Franklin Gazette, the Malone newspaper, reported that the Wentworth team was disbanded for their unsporting behaviour.

The success of the Chaudière Hose Reel team may have gone to members’ heads. The Montreal Gazette reported that the team was not willing to compete in any tournament where first prize money was less than $500. By 1882, the Chaudière Hose Reel team appears to have disbanded. In August of that year, Cyrille Crappin, the running star who had helped to bring victory to the Chaudière team in 1880 and 1881, was once again part of the Union Hose Reel Team that was competing in a race for a prize of only $50. There was no mention of the great coupler, Johnnie Shea.

Sources:

Franklin Gazette (Malone), as reprinted in The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1881“Hose Reel Racing,” 8 October.

Malone Palladium, as re-printed in The Ottawa Daily Citizen, 1880. “Hose Reel Contests,” 9 October.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1880. “Dominion News, From Ottawa, 3 August.

—————————-, 1880. “Dominion News, From Ottawa,” 24 September.

—————————-, 1880. “Dominion News, From Ottawa,” 28 September.

—————————-, 1881. “Dominion News, From Ottawa,” 16 August.

Ottawa Daily Citizen (The), 1880. “The Firemen’s Picnic,” 6 August.

———————————, 1880. “A Champion Fire Brigade,” 13 August.

———————————, 1880.  “The Chaudiere Hose Reel Team,” 28 September.

———————————, 1880. “Return of the Victors,” 4 October.

———————————, 1880. “Photographed,” 5 October.

———————————, 1881. “Hose Reel Competition,” 28 September.

———————————, 1925. “These Were Champions of Champions,” 28 February.

———————————, 1925. “Cyrille Crappin Brought Home The Bacon; Wonderful Distance Runner Of Seventies; Won a Great Victory in Sixteen Hour Race,” 28 February.

———————————, 1925. “Great Pete Duffy In Action,” 25 April.

 

 

 

 

Ottawa’s Centenary

16 August 1926

In 2026, Ottawa will celebrate its bicentenary, marking two hundred years from when General George Ramsey, 9th Earl of Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel John By advising By of his purchase of land for the Crown that contained the site of the head locks for the proposed Rideau Canal on the Ottawa river, and the suitability of the locality for the establishment of a village or town to house canal workers. Lord Dalhousie asked Colonel By to survey the land, divide it into 2-4 acre lots and rent them to settlers, with preference to be given to half-pay officers and respectable people. The rough-hewn community, which was subsequently hacked out of a hemlock and cedar forest, was quickly dubbed Bytown. Its name was changed to Ottawa in 1855, and two years later the town was selected as the capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria.

To celebrate the centenary of its founding by Col. By, the City of Ottawa had a week-long, blow-out extravaganza in the summer of 1926. Although the official opening of the celebrations was on Monday, 16 August 1926, the fun actually began two days earlier on the Saturday with a range of sporting events wide enough to please the most die-hard sports fanatic.  The Capital Swimming Club staged a centennial regatta in the Rideau Canal opposite the Exhibition Grounds—a daring event given the poor quality of Canal water. Swimmers from across Canada participated with five Dominion championships at stake. At Cartier Square on Elgin Street, four soccer teams competed for the McGiverin Cup with the Ottawa Scottish emerging the victor, beating the Sons of England with a 5-2 score in the finals. Also featured that day were track and field events, cycling, golf, baseball, tennis and a cricket match at the Rideau Hall cricket pitch.

Centenary Pipers Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025132

Bagpipers, Ottawa Centenary Parade, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025132.

The following day, there was a huge Garrison Church parade involving 3,000 soldiers including local regiments as well as the Queen’s Own Rifles from Toronto and the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec City who had been quartered in tents on the grounds of the Normal School on Elgin Street (now the Heritage Building of the Ottawa City Hall). The troops marched from downtown to Lansdowne Park where 15,000 people crowded into the stands for divine services. More than 50,000 people watched the soldiers march through the streets of Ottawa.  That evening the band of the “Van Doos” gave a concert that was broadcast from the Château Laurier hotel.

Centenary Devlin Furs Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025130

Devlin Furs’ Float, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025130.

The official opening ceremonies took place on the Monday morning on Parliament Hill in front of cheering thousands and “in the shadow of the nearly completed “‘Victory Tower.’” (The name for the Centre Block didn’t officially become the “Peace Tower” until the following year—the 60th anniversary of Confederation.) After much military pomp and pageantry, Sir Henry Drayton, delivered the opening speech in the absence of the Prime Minister, Arthur Meighan. He welcomed visitors to the Capital in the name of the Dominion of Canada. Mayor John Balharrie also greeted visitors and former Ottawa residents who had come home for the celebrations. To symbolized the granting to them of the “freedom” of the city, he released a coloured balloon that carried aloft a four-foot golden key. Messages of congratulations flooded into Ottawa from near and far. Three Governors General—Aberdeen, Connaught and Byng—sent telegrams, as did the Lord Mayor of London, and Jimmy Walker, the controversial and flamboyant Mayor of New York. Civic, provincial and federal politicians from across Canada did likewise.

After the official opening, sporting events occupied the rest of the day. That night, there was a military display and tattoo involving troops from all services in from of 12,000 spectators at Lansdowne Park. The chief feature of the night was the staging of a mock battle scene. As searchlights played over the field, the soldiers re-enacted the crossing of the “Hindenburg” line by Canadian troops in 1918. The mock machine gun action and field bombardment was apparently very realistic. So much so that many veterans experienced flash-backs of their time in the trenches. Also featured that night was a performance of the 1,000 voice Centenary Choir, platoon drills by the Royal 22nd Regiment, and gymnastics displays by cadets.

A highlight of Tuesday, the second day of the Centenary celebrations, was the unveiling of a stone memorial dedicated to Colonel By in a small a park located on the western side of the Rideau Canal just south of Connaught Square opposite Union Station. To the strains of Handel’s Largo, played by the band of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, the memorial, which was covered by a Union Jack, was unveiled at noon. Mayor Balharrie presided. More than 2,000 people witnessed the solemn event. The bronze plaque on the side of the stone, which was intended to be the cornerstone of a much larger memorial, bore the inscription 1826-1926 In Honour of John By, Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Engineers. In 1826 he founded Bytown, Destined to Become the City of Ottawa, Capital of the Dominion of Canada. This memorial was unveiled in Centenary Year. (A larger memorial was never built. A statue of Colonel By sculpted by Joseph-Émile Brunet was eventually commissioned by the Historical Society of Ottawa and was erected in Mayor’s Hill Park in 1971.)

At Lansdowne Park, a multi-day western rodeo and stampede commenced with over 200 horses, 100 cattle, and dozens of cowboys from western Canada and the United States. Log rolling competitions took place on the Canal. That evening, an historical pageant was held involving 2,000 actors from service groups, theatre groups, and drama schools. The pageant began with a prologue depicting Confederation with Miss Canada seated on a throne exchanging greetings with Misses Provinces. After pledges of mutual support and loyalty, the provinces curtsied to Canada. This was followed by tableaux representing scenes from Ottawa’s history, including “The Spirit of the Chaudière,” depicting the region before the arrival of Europeans, “The Coming of the White Man,” “Pioneer Settlers,” “The Lumber Industry,” “Bytown and its Early Inhabitants,” “The First Election,” “Naming of the Capital,” “The Fathers of Confederation,” and, a finale where all joined together with the Centenary Choir to sing a closing anthem. The massed 1,000-member Choir accompanied by the G.G.F.G. band also performed a number of popular songs including, O Canada, Land of Hope and Glory, Alouette, Indian Love Song, and, of course, God Save the King.

The pageant got a mixed review. The Ottawa Citizen opined that it provided a “felicitous treatment of the historical episodes chosen for presentation,” but there was “room for improvement.” However, on balance, the pageant was “stimulating and educative.” The dancing was described as “effective.”

After the performance, street dancing was held from 11pm to 2am on O’Connor Street between Albert Street and Laurier to the tunes of two jazz orchestras. With the crush of people, there was little actual dancing though things got a bit better on subsequent nights. With massive crowds downtown, there was some minor trouble. The police arrested a number of young men for setting off firecrackers in the streets. Some had placed “torpedoes” on the street-car tracks that caused “terrific successive explosions” as the trams went over them.  Police also acted to curb dangerous driving on the crowded city thoroughfares. Reportedly, louts also molested young women. Generally speaking, however, the street partying was carried out in good humour. A dozen youths organized an impromptu game of leap frog on Sparks Street between Bank and Elgin Streets.

Wednesday, 18 August, was declared a civic holiday by Mayor Balharrie, and more commemorative plaques were unveiled. In addition to non-stop sporting events, rodeo competitions and other fun activities at the Exhibition Grounds, one thousand guests attended a garden party at Rideau Hall. Although Lord Byng had left Ottawa to return to Britain, his term of office as governor general having just ended, he had given permission for the residence to be used as the venue for the civic birthday party celebration. Mayor Balharrie provided a massive four-tier cake decorated with silver foliage and tiny silver cupids. Guests received little boxes of cake bearing the inscription “A souvenir of Ottawa’s Centenary with the compliments of Mayor J. P. Balharrie.”

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025127

Float of the Ottawa Electric Company, Col. By’s Home, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025127.

That evening, Ottawa’s merchants and businesses held the second of the week’s three parades. Starting in the Byward Market and ending at Lansdowne Park, the parade highlighted milestones of Ottawa’s commercial progress over the previous one hundred years. Among the many entries, the Producers’ Dairy’s float featured a huge milk bottle and milk maids. Camping equipment in 1826 and 1926 was the theme of the Grant Holden and Graham entry. Also in the parade was the largest shoe ever manufactured in Canada with six little girls seated inside it, courtesy of Ottawa’s boot and shoe stores. Representing the Ottawa Department Stores Association, four white horses with attendants dressed in white and yellow uniforms pulled a float bearing eight young women in long gowns. Not to be outdone, the A. J. Freiman entry, which was decorated in silver and flowers, was drawn by six white horses with six attendants dressed in white and blue livery. On board were five young ladies wearing period costumes. The Ottawa Electric Company float consisted of an (inaccurate) replica of Colonel By’s house. Instead of a pioneer’s log home as depicted, the Colonel’s actual home was made of stone.

With amusements and events continuing at the Exhibition Grounds, Thursday’s highlight was an “old timers’ parade. In front of immense crowds, historical floats, three bugle bands, three brass bands and one band of bagpipers wended their way slowly from the Byward Market, along Rideau and Sparks Streets before heading down Bank Street to Lansdowne Park. Old-time vehicles on display included an 1897 Oldsmobile and penny-farthing bicycles. Firefighters dressed in the red outfits of yore pulled hand reels or drove antique horse-pulled engines including the “Conqueror,” Ottawa first fire engine. There were also historical tableaux depicting the early days of the Ottawa Valley and Bytown, including Champlain and his men, the arrival of the Jesuits, the establishment of the first white settlement in the region by Philemon Wright, and the beginning of the lumber industry.  Guests of honour in the parade included veterans from the Fenian Raids, the South African War and the Great War.

Centenary Samuel J. Jarvis Library and Archives Canada PA-025131

Ottawa Firefighters with hand reels, “Old-Time Pageant,” Ottawa Centenary, August 1926, Trades & Industry Pageant, August 1926, Samuel J. Jarvis/Library and Archives Canada, PA-025131.

Centenary celebration wound down on the weekend but not before the finals of the stampede, more street dancing, this time in Hintonburg, more sporting activities, and a “Venetian Nights” boating event held on the Rideau Canal.

For those who hadn’t had their fill of fun and games, the Central Canada Exhibition opened immediately after the official ending of the centenary fun, prolonging the excitement for another week.

Both of Ottawa’s major newspapers covered in detail highlights of Ottawa’s first hundred years and centenary events, with each publishing extended supplements. The Evening Citizen boasted that its edition of 16 August weighed in at more than two pounds. It’s rival, The Ottawa Evening Journal ran a close second. In one regard, however, the Journal went one step further by publishing a fascinating prospective view of what Ottawa might look like on its bicentenary in 2026. Some of its guesses look pretty accurate. It predicted that Ottawa would have a population of 975,000 (actual number 934,240 in 2016) and that it would annex neighbouring communities. It also correctly forecast the elimination of the above-ground, cross-city train tracks and the replacement of the tram lines with buses. It even predicted a tunnel between LeBreton Flats and downtown used by electric trains!

Not surprisingly, however, the crystal-ball gazers got a lot of things wrong. The newspaper predicted that Canada would have a population of 100 million by 2026, and that the airplane would effectively eliminate the automobile as a mode of transportation. The paper also postulated that after decades of delay the great Georgian Bay Ship Canal would finally be completed in 1982, almost eighty years after the idea was first proposed, thereby making Ottawa a deep-water port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. As well, given the region’s cheap hydro-electric power, the Journal envisaged a massive expansion of manufacturing in the Ottawa area, forecasting that the Capital would become the home of the largest Canadian plant for the manufacture of pleasure, commercial and air taxicabs. It also predicted the emergence of a large furniture manufacturing industry in Chelsea in West Quebec, and the construction of immense iron ore smelters in Ironside, just north of the old city of Hull, to process iron ore mined in the Laurentians.

For the Journal, the demise of manufacturing and the conversion of Ottawa into the primarily white-collar city that it is today were unimaginable.

 

Sources:

The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1926. Various issues, 14-24 August.

 

Frank Amyot and the Berlin Olympics

8 August 1936

When the International Olympic Committee selected Berlin over Barcelona in 1931 as the host city for the Summer games of the 11th modern Olympiad to be held in 1936, nobody expected that Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a.k.a. the Nazis, would then be in power. The Olympiad was to have been a public demonstration of the return of Germany into the fold of civilization nations—the Great War and its atrocities for which Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary were held responsible now relegated to history. Instead, the Games became an opportunity for the Nazis, who had just remilitarized the Rhineland a few months earlier, to show off Germany’s new political and military vigour. More ominously, it was also an opportunity for the Nazis to demonstrate their warped racial belief in the supremacy of the so-called “Aryan” race, with the blond, blue-eyed Nordic subtype at the pinnacle, the so-called master race (the Herrenvolk).

1930s olympics

Arrival of the Olympic Torch, Berlin, August 1936, Illinois Holocaust Museum

By this time, the Nazis had already put into effect their “Blood laws” which among other things made it illegal for an “Aryan” German to marry a Jew or even to have a romantic affair with a Jew. German Jews were also stripped of their legal rights and were banned from many occupations and activities, including their participation in German sporting clubs. Also, under harsh eugenic laws, those deemed “life, unworthy of life,” which included the mentally handicapped, sufferers of hereditary disorders and severe physical handicaps, and homosexuals, were sterilized, or worse, killed. The purpose was to improve the German gene pool. The corollary of this was the encouragement of those of pure Aryan stock to breed. Girls deemed racially pure were essentially turned into brood mares in SS-run stud farms—the Lebensborn e.V.

Needless to say, given the Nazis’ growing oppression, especially of Jews, Germany’s hosting of the Olympic Games was controversial. Owing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and the United States, Hitler allowed Jews to participate in the Games. The German sporting federation included a token Jew on the German Olympic summer team—26-year old Helene Meyer who later gave the Nazi salute when she won the silver medal for women’s fencing. Meyer had left Nazi Germany in 1935 to settle in the United States but returned temporarily to Germany for the Summer Games.

This tokenism was enough for the IOC to close its eyes to what was going on in Germany. In April 1936, the President of the IOC, Count Henri de Baillet-Letour, said the Winter Olympics, which were also held in Germany, had been a great success and that there been many Jewish athletes including on Germany’s team. He said: “The Nazi question has no connection with sports at the Olympic Games.” Some countries and athletes were not convinced, and a “Peoples’ Olympiad” was organized for late July in Barcelona, just days prior to the start of the official Olympic Summer Games in Berlin. However, as athletes from 22 countries, including the Soviet Union, which did not participate in the official Olympic Games at that time, assembled in Barcelona, the Spanish Civil War began. The Peoples’ Olympiad was cancelled.

Despite concerns about Hitler’s Germany, almost 4,000 athletes from 49 countries and territories participated in the Summer Games held during the first two weeks of August 1939 in Berlin. Germany pulled out all the stops, shelling out millions for a huge new stadium and an athletes’ village. The games were the first to be broadcast live over television though few people had sets to watch them. Anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed for the occasion. The Nazis’ aim was to impress and reassure the tens of thousands of foreign visitors. They were going to present to the world the allusion that Germany was an open, tolerant society. The games were a propaganda coup, and were recorded for posterity by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker.

The opening parade of nations was a cause of angst for many of the athletes. Should they give the Nazi salute to honour Hitler, or not? Some apparently opted for the Olympic salute which was similar. The Olympic salute is made by holding the right arm straight with the hand outstretched with the fingers together. The arm is held high and at an angle to the right from the shoulder. To make the Nazi salute, one raises the arm straight forward. Both are variants of the ancient Roman salute. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion.

News reports immediately after the opening ceremonies claimed that the Canadian team gave the Nazi salute, which won them an enthusiastic response from the predominantly German audience. Later reports suggested that the Canadians had actually given a “half-Nazi salute” or the Olympic salute, with an “eyes right.” However, this may have been just after-the-fact revisionism to avoid embarrassment. The Chairman of the Canadian Olympic team claimed “It wasn’t actually the Nazi salute…The outstretched right hands of the Canadians pointed skyward rather than forward. It was merely a salute toward Herr Hitler.” Other teams left no confusion. The British and Australian teams made only an “eyes right,” while the American team held their hats over their hearts while giving an “eyes right.” Given its close similarity to the Nazi salute, the Olympic salute was abandoned in 1948.

Canada sent 97 competitors to Berlin—79 men and 18 women, competing in 69 events in 12 sports. The team’s performance was disappointing. It garnered only nine medals—one gold, three silver and five bronze, and ranked 17th among participating nations. (This was better, however, than the lone silver medal for ice hockey that Canada won in the 1936 Winter Games.) Canada’s only gold medalist at the Summer Games was Ottawa’s Frank Amyot who won the men’s C-1 1,000 metre, single-man sprint canoe race held at the regatta course at Grünau on the Langer See situated on the south-east outskirts of Berlin.

Frank Amyot, 1936 PA-050285

Frank Amyot, Olympic Gold Medalist, 1,000 Metre Sprint Canoe, Berlin 1936, Library and Archives Canada, PA-050285.

Amyot had been the favourite to win the event. The 32-year old was a veteran canoer, and six times the Canadian Canoe Association’s Senior Singles Champion. He won his first title in 1923 while rowing for the Rideau Canoe Club. He later competed for the Britannia Boating Club. As the most senior and experienced member of the eight-man paddling team selected to represent Canada in the Olympics, Amyot was chosen as the team’s captain and coach. The other members of the team included Gordon Potter, F. Dier, Stan Potter, and Frank Wills from the Gananoque Canoe Club and Bill Williamson, Harvey Charters and Warren Saker from the Balmy Beach Club, Toronto. Charters and Saker also went on to win medals at the regatta course at Grünau, capturing the silver medal in the men’s C-2 10,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe competition and the bronze medal in the men’s C-2 1,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe race.

Despite Amyot’s standing in the sport, the Canadian Olympic Committee did not contribute a penny towards his travel expenses to Germany. Indeed, the Canadian Olympic Committee initially refused to fund any of Canada’s paddlers, though it later coughed up a token $65 to each of the three Toronto-based canoeists following protests. The other paddlers were ignored. The reason is unclear. True, money was tight that year. The Depression was still underway. The federal government had provided only $10,000 to the Canadian Olympic Committee to help fund Canada’s participation in both the Winter and Summer Games. But one would have thought that some dollars would have been allocated to cover Amyot’s expenses as he was widely regarded as Canada’s best chance to win a gold medal. The Canadian Olympic Committee also had the gall to charge Amyot $8 for his white-trimmed, crimson Canadian team blazer; Amyot refused to pay.

To help cover travel expenses, estimated at about $500 for each of the eight-man paddling team, the Canadian Canoe Association contributed $800. The remaining funds had to be arranged privately. The Britannia Boat Club organized a fundraiser for Frank Amyot, including selling reproduction prints of the painting “The Bluenose” at $1 per copy, with the proceeds to be given to the canoer. A professional tennis tournament held at Ottawa’s Auditorium in April 1936 also turned over part of the gate to the Britannia Boat Club to help cover Amyot’s costs. The Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, for which Amyot worked, also provide considerable financing for his journey.

With the support of friends, family, and community, Canada’s Olympic team, including the eight paddlers, set sail in mid-July from Montreal to Le Havre in France on the SS Duchess of Bedford. The team spent a day in Paris sightseeing before taking a train for Berlin.

Frank Amyot’s big race took place on 8 August 1936 at the Grünau regatta course. As there were only six contestants, there were no heats. According the Evening Citizen, Amyot’s performance was “acclaimed as one of the finest ever witnessed in Europe.” Using a borrowed boat, he won gold in a time of 5 minutes 32.1 seconds over the 1,000-metre course, almost five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Bohuslav Karlik of Czechoslovakia, who Amyot had passed 100 metres from the finish line. Erich Koschik of Germany took the bronze medal.

When Amyot arrived back at the dock, the other members of the paddling team boosted their victorious captain on their shoulders and carried him back to the boathouse to the cheers of fans. Later, he received congratulatory telegrams from Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis. In a letter to Captain Gilman, his boss at the Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, Amyot wrote: “I must confess it was a very proud moment for me when I stood on the pedestal and watched the Canadian flag hoisted above all the flags of the world and watched over a hundred thousand people of all nationalities stand at attention while they played ‘O Canada.’”

Amyot returned home a month later, sailing from Liverpool in England on the liner Montcalm to Montreal.  Arriving at Union Station in Ottawa after his journey, he was greeted by cheering fans, civil officials, including Mayor Lewis, Commodore F. Skuce of the Britannia Boating Club and fellow paddlers. Also at the train platform were members of his family, including Bungo, his black and tan Gordon setter who almost knocked his master over in an enthusiastic welcome. The band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Ottawa Boys’ Band played “The Conquering Hero Comes.” Amyot was escorted to his home at 52 Maclaren by a parade and motorcycle outriders.

A few days later, he was feted at a gala celebration at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel by more than 250 sportsmen and government dignitaries. Amyot entered the ballroom dressed in his Canadian Olympic uniform of crimson and white to the strains of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”

Amyot gratefully thanked all those who made his trip to Germany possible, and presented an oak tree that had been given to him in Germany to Mayor Lewis. The Mayor accepted the gift voicing his hope that the tree “would grow as straight, strong and clean as its donor.” In return, Mayor Lewis presented Amyot with a Royal Bank passbook containing more than $1,000 (worth more than $18,000 in today’s money), the proceeds of a community-wide collection. Amyot expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the gift. Already a life-time member of the Britannia Boating Club, the sportsman was also made a lifetime member of eleven different boat and canoe clubs.

Frank Amyot, a member of Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, died of cancer in 1962. A photograph of Amyot and his trophies graces the stairwell of the Britannia Yacht Club in Ottawa.

 

Sources:

Calgary Herald, 1936. “Canada Wins Canoe Event At Olympics, 8 August.

——————-, 1936. “Sport-O-Scope,” 15 August.

Leader-Post, 1936. “Canadians In Nazi Salute At Stadium, 1 August.

————–, 1936. “Only Half-Nazi Salute by Canadians at Berlin,” 4 August.

Macleans Magazine, 1936. “What Happened at Berlin,” 1 October.

O’Malley, JP, 2018, “How the Nazis’ token Jew turned the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a Propaganda win, The Times of Israel, 10 March, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-nazis-token-jew-turned-the-1936-berlin-olympics-into-a-propaganda-win/.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1936. “Fred Brown Flag Officer,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1936. “Crossed Signals,” 4 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Captures Olympic Title,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Short Shots On Sports,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Premier Congratulates Amyot On Victory,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Acclaimed At Banquet,” 10 September.

—————————–, 1947. “May Discontinue Olympic Salute,” 16 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1936. “Worthy Representative,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Assures Germany Olympic Games,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Is Chosen Olympic Team Manager,” 11 May.

——————-, 1936. “Campaign For Frank Amyot,” 1 June.

——————-, 1936. “Will Inquire Why Sculler Pays Own Way,” 6 July.

——————-, 1936, “Further Appeal For Frank Amyot,” 8 July.

——————-, 1936. “Paddling Official Voices Complaint,” 17 July.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Describes Scene When He Won Paddling Title,” 6 August.

——————-, 1936. “Crowd Gives Frank Amyot Big Ovation,” 7 September.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot, Olympic Star, Is Given Ovation At Banquet,”10 September.

Province, 1936. “Canadian Athletes At Le Havre on Saturday,” 24 July.

United States Holocaust Museum, 2019. The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936, https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/olympics/?content=august_1936&lang=en.

Victoria Daily Times, 1936. “Elect New Gyro Board,” 15 September.

Windsor Star, 1936. “Eyes Right,” 25 July.

—————-, 1936. “Nasty Row In Nazi Salute,” 5 August.

—————-, 1936. “Canuck Win Is Ironical,” 10 August.

The Queen’s Plate

31 May 1872

The most famous and prestigious thoroughbred horse race in Canada is the Queen’s Plate, open to Canadian-bred, three-year-old horses. It’s also the oldest continuously-run horse race in North America, dating back to 1860, seven years before first running of the Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the “Triple Crown” races in the United States. Over its illustrious history, many members of the Royal family have attended this storied event from Princess Louise in 1881, to the Queen Mother in 1965, and to Queen Elizabeth in 1959, 1973, 1997 and, most recently, 2010. Horse racing is indeed the “sport of kings!”

Queen's Plate 6-5-1872

Advertisement for the 1872 running of the Queen’s Plate, Ottawa Daily Citizen

The story of the Queen’s Plate begins in 1859 when Sir Casimir Gzowski, the president of the Toronto Turf Club, petitioned the Governor General for an annual horse racing prize to be awarded by Queen Victoria to horses bred and reared in Upper Canada (Ontario). He correctly believed that the cachet of winning a royal prize would encourage the development of horse breeding in Canada. Queen Victoria graciously agreed to the request providing an annual prize of 50 guineas for a race to be called the Queen’s Plate. (A guinea is defunct British gold coin no longer minted by the mid nineteenth century but widely used as a unit of account in horse racing, the art world, and certain professions well into the twentieth century. It had a value of 21 shillings sterling.)

The Royal Privy Purse continues to provide this annual prize though instead of 50 guineas, it reportedly sends a bank draft for the sterling equivalent except when a member of the Royal Family is present for the race. Then, the winner receives 50 gold sovereigns in a purple bag. The winner also receives 60 per cent of the race purse of $1 million. Confusingly, the “Plate” is a foot-high golden cup on a black base rather than a plate. (The traditional royal prize for a horse race had been a silver plate, hence the name. However, over time the nature of the prize changed but the name stuck.)

The first running of the Queen’s Plate took place at the end of June in 1860 at the Carleton Race Course in Toronto. It was open to all horses reared in Upper Canada which had never won public money. During the early years of the Queen’s Plate, horses competed in three heats rather than a single race as is the case today. The first winner was a five-year old horse by the name of Don Juan, owned by a Mr. White and ridden by Charles Littlefield. Don Juan came in second in the first heat, but won the second and third heats of the competition over a one-mile track with his best time of 1 minute 58 seconds.

Although the next several Queen’s Plates were held at the Carleton Race Course, it subsequently moved around the province depending on the lobbying powers of various racing clubs and politicians before it settled down for good at the Woodbine Race Course in Toronto in 1883. Until 1956, the race was held at the old Woodbine site at the end of Woodbine Street in Toronto close to Lake Ontario. It then moved to the current Woodbine location on Rexdale Boulevard, north of the Pearson Airport in Etobicoke.  During the Queen’s Plate’s journey around Ontario, the race came to Ottawa on two occasions, the first in 1872 and the second in 1880.

The organization that brought the Queen’s Plate to Ottawa in 1872 was the Ottawa Turf Club, founded in 1869 with the patronage of Sir John Young, later known as Lord Lisgar, the Governor General, who was an avid horseman. The President of the Club was Joseph Aumond, Vice-President was Nicholas Sparks, and  Edward Barber was the Secretary.  While the lobbying of Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier, may have helped the new Ottawa Turf Club win the event, Lord Lisgar was likely the one most responsible for bringing the race to Ottawa. With His Excellency as its patron, the Ottawa Turf Club definitely had the inside track for hosting the event. News that the Queen’s Plate had been conferred on Ottawa was officially relayed to the Ottawa Turf Club in February 1872, with the race planned for late spring. The conditions of the race were: “For horses, geldings or mares, bred, raised, trained and owned, in the Province of Ontario, who have not previously won public money at any race meeting. The whole stake to go to the winner.”

The Club organized a two-day racing extravaganza for Friday and Saturday, the 31th of May and the 1st of June, 1872. The event was held at the new Mutchmor Driving Park which had opened the previous year. The race track and the adjoining Turf Hotel were owned by Ralph Muchmor and Edward Barber, the Turf Club’s Secretary. Total prize money for the two-day event amounted to $2,850—a fair sum in those days.

Long before race time, pedestrians and carriages packed Bank Street, all heading for the race track located now where the Mutchmor Public School is today. Race conditions were perfect with the track having just been rolled after a recent rain. The main attraction of the day was, of course, the Queen’s Plate, the third race of the afternoon. By the time Lord and Lady Lisgar arrived at 3 pm, every vantage point was taken up, the stands filled to capacity with ladies and gentlemen, while less fortunate punters made do with fence tops, and the seats of cabs and wagons. According to the Ottawa Daily Citizen, it was difficult to estimate the size of the crowd, but the stands scarcely accommodated a quarter of the numbers. Many of the visitors came from other parts of Canada and even from the United States to witness the Queen’s Plate which was already the highlight of the Canadian racing calendar.

The first race of the day was the $300 Hurdles Race, a two-mile run with eight hurdles 3’ 6” high, which was won by Duffy by three lengths. The second race was the $100 Steward’s Race won by Mohawk who took both heats. Up next was the Queen’s Plate. The prize was 50 guineas ($256), the gift of “Her Most Gracious Majesty.” The winning horse may have received an additional purse but the report relating to this was obscurely written. It read: “T.C.W. Entrance, $10 p.p. to go with the plate.”[1] The Ottawa Turf Club provided $100 to the second-place horse.

Six horses were entered in the 1½ mile race (no heats): Blacksmith, a 4-year old, black horse, with its jockey wearing a black jacket and blue cap; Fearnaught, a bay horse with its jockey in scarlet with a dove colour cap; Alzora, a chestnut mare, whose jockey wore brown and white; Jack Vandall, a bay gelding, its jockey in blue and white; Bay Boston, a 5-year old, bay horse, (colours not identified), and Halton, a 5-year old bay horse whose jockey wore scarlet. Halton was the favourite. Three of the horses in the running, Fearnaught, Alzora and Jack Vandall, had the same sire, Jack the Barber, a celebrated thoroughbred horse originally from Kentucky.

Queen's Plate Canadian Museum of History

The Trophy awarded for winning the Queen’s Plate, Canadian Museum of History.

At post time, there were four false starts. But after they were finally off, it was deemed a “splendid race.” After the first half mile, it became apparent that the race belonged to Fearnaught, with the favourite, Halton, fading. In a time of 2 minutes 54 ½ seconds, Fearnaugh, ridden by Richard Leary and owned by Alexander Simpson, won the 13th running of the Queen’s Plate. Jack Vandall came in second and Halton third. Richard Leary, the winning jockey who was also a resident of Ottawa and the horse’s trainer, was presented with a gold-mounted riding whip by Mr. William Young of the firm Young & Radford, a watchmaker and jewellery manufacturer located at 30 Sparks Street.

Two more races followed the Queen’s Plate to round out the racing for the afternoon. These were the $300 Tally Ho! Stakes and the $150 Memorial Plate.

Betting had been fierce in the lead-up to all the races. But all the favourites came up short that day causing “a monetary twinge among the sporting fraternity,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Pelting rain almost caused the postponement of the second day of racing from the Saturday to the following Monday. Racing on a Sunday, the Sabbath, was forbidden. However, as many of the horses were slatted to race in Montreal the following week, the decision was made to go ahead on the principle “run, rain or shine.” Fortunately, at race time the clouds cleared, though attendance suffered. Four more races were held: the $600 Carleton Plate; the $400 Lumbermen’s Purse; the $300 Merchants’ Plate; and, finally, the $150 Consolation Stakes. There was a bit of excitement surrounding the running of the Lumbermen’s Purse. Owing to “a misunderstanding or improper interference,” the race had to be run twice. People almost came to blows before the Club Secretary announced that all pools and bets were off for the race.

The Ottawa Turf Club, the host of the 1872 Queen’s Plate, disappeared from the Ottawa racing news in the decade following its big race weekend but not before becoming mired in controversy. At the end of a racing fixture held in October 1874, the Club held a “deer hunt” as a grande finale to the day’s events. A half-starved deer was released onto the field. It was barely able to run having been cooped up in a small cage, its joints stiffened from lack of use. Instead of taking off into the nearby bush to be hunted by a pack of dogs followed by riders, it stumbled into the crowd. It only took ten seconds for it to be taken down and torn to pieces by the hunting dogs amidst the spectators’ carriages. The Ottawa Daily Citizen thought that this was a case for the S.P.C.A. and “hoped that the people of Ottawa will never be asked to patronize such a “sport” again.”

The Ottawa Racing Association hosted the 21st running of the Queen’s Plate at the end of June 1880. It was the second race of the first day of racing entertainment again held at the Mutchmor track. Five horses were at the post come race time; a sixth, the mare Footstep, had been pulled on a challenge on the grounds of ineligibility since it had not been trained in Ontario. The winner was Bonnie Bird, owned by John Forbes and ridden by Richard Leary, the same jockey who rode to victory in the 1872 Queen’s Plate. Bonnie Bird also ran he following day in the first Dominion Day Derby carrying five pounds extra owing to having been the Queen’s Plate winner. Owing to a very bad send off, Bonnie Bird was virtually out of the race at the start but Richard Leary, the jockey, somehow manage to close the gap with the leaders on the turn but was unable to catch Lord Dufferin who won by a length.

Today, Ottawa horse-racing fans can enjoy standardbred harness racing at the Rideau Carleton Raceway on the Albion Road. But if you want to dress up, wear a fascinator, and otherwise enjoy the excitement of the annual running of the Queen’s Plate, you will need to head to the Woodbine Race Track in Toronto.

Sources:

Anderson-Labarge, 2015. “Canada History Week: Spotlight on Sports (Part 2),” Canadian Museum of History, https://www.historymuseum.ca/blog/canada-history-week-spotlight-on-sports-part-2/.

Buffalo Commercial, 1861, “Great Race at Detroit,” 10 July.

Daily Citizen, 1872. “The Queen’s Plate,” 16 February.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club Races,” 31 May.

—————–, 1872.  “Ottawa Turf Club,” 1 June.

—————–, 1872. “Ottawa Turf Club,” 3 June.

—————–, 1880. “Mutchmor Park,” 2 July 1880.

Dulay, Cindy Pierson, 2018. “2010 Queen’s Plate Royal Visit,” Horse-Races.Net, http://www.horse-races.net/library/qp10-royal.htm.

Rideau Carleton Raceway, 2019. https://rcr.net/.

Smith, Beverley, 2018. “Horse Racing: Queen’s Plate,” Globe and Mail, 17 April.

Wencer, David. 2019. “Toronto’s Horse Racing History,” Heritage Toronto, http://heritagetoronto.org/torontos-horse-racing-history/.

Woodbine, 2019. Queen’s Plate 2019, https://woodbine.com/queensplate/.

Wikipedia, 2019. Queen’s Plate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Plate.

[1] If any reader can decipher this cryptic phrase, please let me know.

The First Ottawa International Dog Derby

5 February 1930

If you ask most Canadians today to name the principal winter sports, hockey would undoubtedly top any list. Other contenders would include skiing (alpine or cross-country), ice-skating, snow-boarding, bobsledding, and snowmobiling. Curling too would likely make the cut. If people thought about the question a bit longer, dog sled racing might also be mentioned. Today, the most famous dog sled race is the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod from Anchorage in the south to Nome on the western Bering Sea. The race, held annually, covers some of the toughest winter terrain. The race was started in 1973 in part as a means of saving the dog-sled culture and the Alaskan husky, threatened by the growing popularity of the snowmobile. Another prominent sled race is the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile journey, held annually since 1984, from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, tracing the route prospectors took during the great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Despite the high profile of these two races, dog-sledding is pursued by relatively few outdoor winter enthusiasts. But ninety years ago, it was mainstream stuff, with both national and locally-sponsored races known as “dog derbies.” Major sled races of the day included the American Dog Derby of Ashton, Idaho, the Hudson Bay Dog Derby of Le Pas, Manitoba, and the Eastern International Dog Derby held at Quebec City. Just as today’s fans idolize star hockey players, the top sled drivers, such as Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and Finnish-American Leonhard Seppala of Nome, Alaska were household names. Seppala became world famous in 1925 when he and his team of dogs led by Togo, along with other “mushers,” brought much needed anti-diphtheria serum to Nome from Nenana, Alaska, a distance of 600 miles, by sled. Seppala, who drove the most dangerous section across the treacherous ice of Norton Sound in order to save a day’s travel time, handed the serum off to Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his team of dogs led by Balto for the final leg of the journey into Nome. Being the first dog to enter Nome, Balto received the public’s adulation; a fact that didn’t sit well with Seppala who thought his dog Togo was more deserving of honour. A bronze statue of Balto stands in New York’s Central Park, while his stuffed body is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1995, an animated Hollywood movie titled Balto, which was loosely based on the 1925 serum run, was produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures.

In 1930, as part of the Ottawa’s Winter Carnival activities, the Ottawa Business Men’s Association organized the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. Under the leadership of Major F. D. Burpee, the Association raised $3,895 from area businesses and citizens to help fund the event. The Sparks Street department stores Murphy-Gamble and Bryson-Graham donated $100 and $50, respectively. The Ottawa Electric Railway and the Ottawa Electric Company each gave $50, while Thomas Ahearn, the great Ottawa inventor and entrepreneur personally donated $25. Additional funding to cover transportation, as well as room and board for the drivers and their dogs, was provided by the Canadian National Railways and the Château Laurier Hotel. The Château also purchased the gold Challenge Trophy for the Derby winner valued at $1,000.

dog-derby-chateaulgoldchallengecup

The Challenge Trophy donated by the Château Laurier Hotel, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 7 February 1930

The 100-mile Derby was held over three days, with the third and last segment of the race taking place on 5 February 1930. The course for the Derby started at Connaught Place in front of the Château Laurier. It crossed the site of the old Russell Hotel, before heading down the Driveway, under the Bank Street Bridge, along Carling Avenue out to Britannia and Bell’s Corners, over to Fallowfield, down a side road to the Prescott Highway (Prince of Wales Drive), then homeward for the “final dash” along the Driveway to the finish line at Connaught Place. Weather conditions for the Derby were perfect—cold and snowy.

The event was open to any individual from Canada and the United States, with teams of no more than seven dogs. The dogs’ feet could be enclosed in protective boots or moccasins. Doping was prohibited. Teams were divided into three groups, with starting positions within each group determined by lot. The starting position of each group rotated so that the sled teams in the first group on Day One would start last on Day Two, and second on Day Three. There were five race judges, among whom were some eminent mushers, including Major Burwash who had gone out to the Yukon in the 1898 Gold Rush and had mushed 175,000 miles through the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

There was lots of pre-race hype. In late January, one of the Derby contestants, Jack “Yukon” Melville, an Algonquin Park camp owner, made a $500 bet with Mayor Plant and Joseph Van Wyck, the manager of the Château Laurier, that he could mush 400 miles from Rochester to Ottawa, and arrive in time for the start of the race. Melville attached long banners to the sides of his sled inviting everybody to Ottawa to advertise the Dog Derby and the Ottawa Winter Carnival. To facilitate Melville’s journey, Mayor Plant wired town mayors along his route. The Ottawa Automobile Club also wired ahead to ascertain snow conditions on the highways. While Melville completed the sled trip, he arrived back in Ottawa one day late, losing the bet and missing the start of the Ottawa Derby, owing to a lack of snow in upstate New York. The unfortunate Melville also broke two ribs setting out from Rochester. However, so delighted was the city, hotel and the Ottawa Business Men’s Association with the massive press coverage of Melville’s journey and the Ottawa Winter Carnival, his losses were covered. “Jack Melville is not going to lose out on his trip, wager or no wager,” the Château’s manager said according to The Ottawa Evening Journal.

With Melville out of the running, eight sled teams showed up on Day One of the Derby on Monday 3 February. However, judges scratched the entry of Mrs E. P. Ricker Jr of Poland Springs, Maine, the only female musher, owing to four of her dogs being injured in a fight. This left seven teams to contest the first Ottawa International Dog Derby. At noon, in front of a huge, frenzied crowd, estimated at up to 20,000 people, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King who attended with his dog Pat, the Governor General, the Viscount Willingdon, officially opened the Derby. First away was Harry Wheeler of Grey Rocks, Quebec and his team of five huskies. Next was the crowd favourite, Emile St. Godard of Le Pas, Manitoba and his team of seven greyhound/husky mixed breeds led by Toby. Third out was Leonhard Seppala and his seven huskies, followed by Georges Chevrette of Quebec City. Chevrette’s team of greyhound/husky mixed breeds dashed into the crowds on the word “Go,” forcing people to scatter. Undeterred, Chrevette continued the race after disentangling his team, aided by a helpful bystander. Next came Earl Brydges of Le Pas and his seven huskies, followed by Boston’s Walter Channing and his seven Russian wolfhound/husky mixed breeds. Last, was Frank Dupuis of Berthier, Quebec and his six-dog team, owned by the “Come-On Travellers’ Club” of Quebec. Dupuis, held up by Ottawa traffic, almost missed his start. A bellboy from the Château Laurier rushed out to the starting line with a telephone message to the officials saying that Dupuis was on his way. Arriving a few minutes later, Dupuis, unperturbed by a time penalty, gave a jaunty wave to the crowd, and set out puffing on a big cigar. St. Godard easily won the first leg of the Derby in a time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, many minutes ahead of his nearest opponent.

Day Two was also easily won by St. Godard who set the pace in front of another huge crowd that lined the route. But the second day of the competition was not without its excitement. Frank Dupuis’ dogs got spooked by a heaving throng of people who had pushed their way onto the Driveway track despite police barricades. With no place to go, he and his sled were forced over a snow bank into the railing of the Rideau Canal. As it wasn’t his fault, Derby judges allowed him to restart the race without penalty.

dog-derby-st-godard-canada-dept-of-interiorlibrary-and-archives-canadapa-043702

Emile St. Godard led by Toby, The Ottawa International Dog Derby, 1930, Department of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-043702.

The third and final day of the competition also had its share of thrills. Prior to the start of the last lap, judges disqualified Frank Dupuis “for cause,” reducing the field to just six teams. The rumour was that he had mistreated his dogs. Then St. Godard, who had run flawless legs the previous two days, got into early difficulties when his dogs ran into the crowd and tangled their leashes. Although he lost more than a minute of time re-organizing his sled team, St. Godard continued to have commanding cumulative time advantage over his nearest rivals, leaving Seppala and Brydges to fight it out for second place.

As the clock on the old Post Office read 3.04 pm, a loud roar went up from the huge crowd of spectators, many of whom were school children whose principals had given them time off to watch the race. “Here comes St. Godard under the bridge” was the cry as the “The Saint” mushed his way down the Driveway under the Laurier Street Bridge. Onlookers crowded the windows and even the roof tops of the Post Office, the Château Laurier and Union Station. When the leaders swept down the Driveway past the court house, the presiding magistrate allowed people to rush to the eastern windows for a view of the passing sledders. Emile St. Godard won the first Ottawa International Derby in a total time of 8 hours, 13 minute and 23 seconds. Second place went to fellow Manitoban Earl Brydges with a time of 8 hours 33 minutes and 45 seconds. In third place, close behind, was Leonhard Seppala with a time of 8 hours 34 minutes and 13 seconds.

The following evening at the Carnival Ball, hosted by the Ottawa Business Men’s Association, St. Godard strode into the Château Laurier’s ballroom wearing breeches and moccasins with Toby by his side to be presented the gold Challenge Trophy by the Governor General. To honour Toby, the Trophy was filled with milk. Lord Willingdon also gave St. Godard a cheque for $1,000, the purse for first place. (An anonymous sportsman gave St. Godard an additional $300.)  Earl Brydges, the runner-up, received $400, while third-place Leonhard Seppala received $100.

With the Derby judged a huge success, organizers of the Ottawa Carnival hoped that it would become an annual event. While the second Ottawa International Dog Derby, which was also won by St. Godard, was held in 1931, it was to be the last for almost twenty years, a victim of the Depression. In its place a “Junior Dog Derby” for youngsters was organized at Lansdowne Park until it too succumbed.  In February 1949, senior dog-sled racing resumed in the nation’s capital under the auspices of the Junior Board of Trade’s first Winter Carnival. Once again, the Château Laurier’s Gold Challenge Cup was presented to the winner. Annual races were held through the 1950s.

Over a sledding career that spanned ten years form 1925 to 1934, Emile St. Godard, the winner of the first Ottawa International Dog Derby, won more than twenty major races, including the 1932 Winter Olympics held at Lake Placid, New York,  A demonstration sport at that year’s Olympics, St. Godard took the gold medal beating his arch-rival Leonhard Seppala who had to settle for silver. Fellow Canadian Shorty Russick took bronze.

Toby, St. Godard’s lead dog, died from peritonitis in 1934 at the age of nine. Indicative of his fame, many newspapers, including The Ottawa Evening Journal, ran obituaries for the half husky, half greyhound sled dog. Devastated by the death of his devoted friend, to whom he credited his victories, St. Godard retired. He died in 1948 at the age of 43. He was inducted posthumously into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1956, the only sled dog racer so honoured. In 2007, he was also inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Dog sledding has seen a modest revival in recent years, helped by the success of the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races. In eastern Ontario and west Quebec, there are a number of dog sled operators, including Escapade Eskimo, Timberland Tours, and Mush Larose, who offer the chance to feel the thrill of racing across snow-covered fields behind a team of powerful, sled dogs.

Sources:

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Emile St. Godard, http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=196&catID=all.

Escapade Ottawa, 2016. Activités Extérieure en Outaouais, http://www.escapade-eskimo.com/.

Iditarod, 2016. The Last Great Race, http://iditarod.com/.

Ottawa, Evening Journal (The), 1930. “State Dog Derby Will be Greatest of Any In Canada,” 18 January.

————————————, 1930. “Course Is Decided For Big Dog Derby,” 21 January.

————————————, 1930. “Dogs To Mush 400 Miles Before February 2 To Win $500 Wager,” 27 January.

————————————, 1930. “Woman’s Entry Leave Field To Seven Men,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Rules For Dog Sled Derby,” 3 February.

————————————, 1930. “Melville Suffers Two Smashed Ribs On Rochester Trip,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “Another Huge Crowd To See Dog Teams Go,” 4 February.

————————————, 1930. “These Dog Derby Judges Men With A Keen Sense For Adventurous Life,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard’s Team Runs Into Crowd At Starting Post,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “St. Godard Wins Dog Derby; Brydges Comes Second,” 5 February.

————————————, 1930. “Godard Sets Up World Record 100-Mile Course.” 6 February.

————————————, 1930. “Toby Attends Ball As St. Godard Gets Beautiful Trophy,” 7 February.

————————————, 1930. “Total Dog Derby Donations $3,895, 25 February.

————————————, 1931. “Goes To Dogs With Great Vigor,” 6 February.

————————————, 1931. “Junior Dog Derby To Be Big Feature Of Carnival Week,” 29 December.

————————————, 1934. “Toby, Famous Lead Dog, Dead,” 31 July.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, 2106. Emile St. Godard, http://honouredmembers.sportmanitoba.ca/inductee.php?id=360&criteria_sort=name.

Mush Larose, 2016. Ottawa Region Harness Dog Sports Club, http://mushlarose.ca/.

Sam Waller Museum, Le Pas, Manitoba, Sled Dog Racing, Community Memories, Virtual Museum, http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_memories/pm_v2.php?id=story_line_index&fl=0&lg=English&ex=00000382&pos=1.

Rankin, Joan, E. 1990. Meet me at the Château, A Legacy of Memory, Natural Heritage Books: Toronto.

Timberland Tours, Avec chiens de traineaux toute l’année, http://timberlandtours.ca/index.html.

Yukon Quest, 2016. The 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race – Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, http://yukonquest.com/about.