Mrs. Pankhurst Comes to Ottawa

2 March 1916

In 1999, Time Magazine named Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst one of the most influential persons of the twentieth century—and for good reason. She devoted much of her life to obtaining the right to vote for women in her native Britain as well as around the world, including Canada and the United States. To this end, she toiled tirelessly, travelling constantly to spread the word, cajoling often hostile audiences, and raising funds for the cause. She also spent considerable time defending herself against criminal charges, or cooling her heels in prison for rock-throwing, window-breaking and conspiracy as the suffragette movement under her leadership became increasingly militant during the years immediately prior to World War I. Some militant suffragettes went even further, assaulting police and engaging in arson and bombing. One, Emily Davidson, died when she stepped in front of the King’s horse in the middle of a race at the Derby in 1913.

In jail, Mrs. Pankhurst and other militant suffragettes, went on frequent hunger strikes. Many were force-fed by prison officials. When this horrific practice gained the women widespread public sympathy, the British government introduced what became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, officially, the Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act of 1913. Under this legislation, women on hunger strike could be released temporarily from jail to recover their health and then re-prisoned.

The effectiveness of the suffragettes’ tactics is subject to debate. Certainly, militant actions turned off many moderate supporters of women’s suffrage. However, progress towards gaining the vote was glacial despite successive legislative changes that broaden male suffrage. Many women were understandably aggrieved by their lack of progress. All this was to change with World War I.

Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913, Wikipedia.

Emmeline Pankhurst, née Goulden, the heroine of this story, was born in 1858 in Manchester, England to Sophie and Robert Goulden. Her father was a partner and manager of a cotton printing and bleach company. The eldest of ten children, young Emmeline was raised in a loving family and received the education given to a girl of the middle classes of the period, i.e., a bit of everything with a focus on social and “womanly” skills. 

From a very early age, she was politically aware, attending her first suffrage meeting at age fourteen. In 1878, she married Richard Pankhurst, a socialist barrister more than twice her senior who was a supporter of left-wing causes including Home Rule for Ireland, the abolition of the House of Lords, independence for India, and, most importantly, women’s rights. Together, they had five children, Christabel, Sylvia, Francis Henry (who died at the age of four), Adela, and Henry Francis (named in memory of his deceased brother). Their three daughters were later to join Emmeline in the fight for women’s suffrage. Husband Richard died of ulcers in 1898. Their second son, Henry Francis, died in 1910 at the age of nineteen. In 1915, Emmeline Pankhurst was to adopt four “war baby” girls, born to single mothers whose fathers were soldiers.

In 1889, Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst, along with others, founded the Women’s Franchise League. Emmeline also help establish the left-wing Independent Labour Party. In 1903, she and her daughters founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to continue the fight for women’s right to vote when the Women’s Franchise League dissolved.

Prior to World War I, Mrs. Pankhurst made a number of trips to North America to encourage women in Canada and the United States in their fights for women’s suffrage. She was invited to Ottawa by the Ottawa Equal Suffrage Association on several occasions, but to no avail. However, in 1909 Ottawa suffragists travelled to Toronto to hear Mrs. Pankhurst speak first at the Men’s Canadian Club of Toronto, and later that day at Massey Hall. Lady Edgar, the President of the National Council of Women, and Mrs. Falconer, the president of the Women’s Canadian Club, were special guest at the Canadian Club lecture.

While the Ottawa Equal Suffrage Association was supportive of Mrs. Pankhurst objective, the organization did not support militant action in Canada. It contended that “The conditions which have led to extreme measures in the British campaign did not exist here. Our approach is to men’s reason, intelligence, and sense of justice.”

It was slow going; male intelligence seemed to have been in short supply. During a visit to Toronto in 1911, Mrs. Pankhurst was asked by a man “Do women possess the same mental activity as men?” Another argued that “Women were not meant to be on equal footing with men.”

On hearing that Mrs. Pankhurst had said that Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister, “should not be allowed to lead a comfortable life,” the Ottawa Citizen disparagingly opined that the commissioner the of Dominion Police should “recruit a bodyguard of Amazonian police officers” whose duty would be to “deal with militant suffragist demonstrations.” The newspaper also said “it could not imagine Mrs. Pankhurst or any other woman throwing a rock straight, or the chances are it would be some innocent bystander who would get what was not coming to him.” Mrs. Pankhurst and her colleagues were described as the “hysterical sisterhood.”

The first of the Pankhurst family to visit Ottawa to speak on women’s suffrage was actually Sylvia Pankhurst in 1911. Only twenty years of age at the time, Sylvia Pankhurst gave an address at the Russell Theatre in November of that year. At the time, she was the secretary of the WSPU and was a veteran fighter for women’s rights having already served two prison terms.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst’s first visit to Ottawa occurred on 2 March 1916 when World War I was in full swing. Like her daughter Sylvia four years earlier, she lectured at the Russell Theatre. However, instead of Mrs. Pankhurst, the suffragette, people heard Mrs. Pankhurst, the warrior.

When war began in late July 1914, Mrs. Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel immediately put their campaign for women’s suffrage on hold and directed the energies of the WSPU against the “common foe”—the Central Powers, led by Germany. They campaigned vigorously for not only male conscription but also for women’s conscription, successfully encouraging the employment of women in munitions factories, farms and elsewhere to release able-bodied men for the front. Mrs. Pankhurst also participated in hundreds of recruiting meetings. Members of the WSPU also tried to shame un-uniformed men to join up by giving them white feathers. Emmeline and Christabel’s active support for the British war effort led to a split with Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst who were both socialists and pacifists. Both were later to become involved in anti-war movements and communism.

Emmeline and Christabel’s campaign in favour of the war gained them respectability. It also indirectly did much to further the goal of female suffrage. The fact that women, by their tens of thousands, were making munitions and bringing in the harvest meant that the British government owed them…big time. Even before the war was over, it was clear that women were finally about to get the vote in Britain and elsewhere.

Advertisement, 2 March 1916, Ottawa Citizen

Emmeline’s first visit to Ottawa in 1916 was part of a Serbian mission to North America to raise funds for Serbian refugees and to thank Canadians and Americans for their past support.  She was accompanied by Mr. Cheddo Miyatovich of the Serbia government. They had been invited to Ottawa by the British Committee for Serbian Aid whose offices were located on Laurier Avenue at the headquarters of the King’s Daughters. The pair spoke at the Russell Theatre, with ticket prices set very low “so that even those who have already given so generously” could attend. A luncheon for Mrs. Pankhurst and Mr. Miyatovich was held at the Russell House Hotel under the auspices of the Equal Suffrage Association. At the head table was the Mayor of Ottawa along with the guests of honour. A reception followed at the Chateau Laurier Hotel.

Following her presentation, the once critical Ottawa Citizen opined that it was “abundantly clear that Mrs. Pankhurst, the great suffrage leader, places her country and the welfare and integrity of Empire before all else” and that she was “consumed with deep patriotism.” The Ottawa Journal noted that Mrs. Pankhurst was neither a “raging maenad” nor a “frenzied bacchante,” adding “Whether we share your opinions or not, we admire you Mrs. Pankhurst for your perseverance and skill as a leader.” However, the quest for women’s suffrage was not forgotten, just in abeyance. When asked whether suffragists intended to continue their fight for women’s votes after the war, Mrs. Pankhurst replied that they were “like a dog with a bone. The bone might be buried, but they knew exactly where it was and when they should dig it up.”

Ottawa Citizen, 17 February 1916

While in Ottawa, Mrs. Pankhurst visited Parliament and was given a seat on the floor of the House of Commons to listen to the debates. The Ottawa Journal wryly noted that it was but a few days earlier that a resolution calling for women’s suffrage had been rejected.

In Ontario, Premier Hearst also refused to give women the vote in Ontario, saying that such a contentious issue should not be introduced at this time, and that it would lead to division among women and distract them from the splendid work they were doing for their country.

After leaving Ottawa, Mrs. Pankhurst and Mr. Miyatovich continued their Serbian mission tour, visiting next Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and Peterborough. At Carleton Place, she spoke ninety minutes to a spell-bounded audience at a meeting chaired by the President of Carleton Place’s Red Cross. She was introduced as “the greatest woman leader of the world.”

Mrs. Pankhurst returned to Ottawa two years later in September 1918. What a difference two years made! By this time, women had received the vote in six Canadian provinces—Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. At the federal level, voter equality between men and women had also been legislated, effective at the beginning of 1919. (Other provinces were to follow, with the laggard, Quebec, only giving women the right to vote in 1940.)

Similarly in Britain, the Representation of the People Act had been passed, which enfranchised women over the age of 30. (21 was the voting age for men.) Women were also permitted to run for Parliament. When question by the Ottawa Journal, Mrs. Pankhurst said that war had changed the British government. With a British election imminent, she stood solidly behind Prime Minister David Lloyd George. With women (mostly) having been given the franchise, the WSPU was converted into the Women’s Party. Christabel Pankhurst was to run under the Women’s Party banner in the December 1918 general election in the constituency of Smithwick, but lost narrowly to a Labour Party candidate.

Like during her previous visit to the capital, the focus of Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1918 visit to Ottawa was the allied war effort. Her mission, which was supported by the British government, was “to strengthen the union between the women of the Dominion and the women of the Mother Country.” Her message to Canadian women was “Let the women of the Empire unite to make the Empire strong as the pioneer of civilisation for the world.” She later spoke at Knox Presbyterian Church on the state of affairs in Russia, having recently returned from that country.

Before heading to Toronto to speak at the Canadian Club, Mrs. Pankhurst was entertained at a tea at Murphy-Gamble’s tea room on Sparks Street. Isabel Meighen, the wife of future Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, was present at the tea.

After the war, Emmeline Pankhurst spoke frequently on empire unity as well as the evils of Bolshevism. She was also very fond of Canada. In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine in 1922, she said that “in Canada there seems to be more equality between men and women than in any other country I know.” For a time, she lived in Toronto, and was active there in combating venereal disease.

After returning to Britain in 1925, she joined the Conservative Party, a move that shocked many of her friends and colleagues given her past association with the Independent Labour Party and other left-wing organizations.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst died in June 1928 in Hamstead, England at the age of 69.

Sources:

Chapman, Ethel, 1922. Mrs. Pankhurst–Canadian”, Maclean’s Magazine, 15 January.

Ottawa Citizen, 1909. “Nothing In It,” 28 December.

——————, 1911. “Pankhurst Suffragetism [sic],” 27 October.

——————, 1911. “Men Asked Questions,” 13 December.

——————, 1911. “Comment,” 19 December.

——————, 1916. “Mrs. Pankhurst To Visit Ottawa,” 17 February.

——————, 1916. “Women Placed Service First,” 4 March.

——————, 1916. “Ontario Again Refuses The Women’s Vote,” 18 March.

——————, 1918. “…. The War’s Women’s Aim, Says Mrs. Pankhurst,” 10 September.

——————, 1919, “For Mrs. Pankhurst,” 11 September.

Ottawa Journal, 1911. “ Young, But Is No Tyro,” 6 February.

——————, 1916. “Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst,” 2 March.

——————-, 1916. “Impressions of Mrs. Pankhurst,” 3 March.

——————-, 1916. “On Parliament Hill,” 3 March.

Purvis, June, 2002, Emmeline Pankhurst, A Biography, Routledge, London & New York.

Time Magazine, 1999. “Time 100 Persons of the Century,” 6 June.

Windsor Star, 1916. “No Sacrifice Too Great To Bring Allied Victory,” 2 March.

Riley’s Army

4 June 1922

The Great War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Roughly 619,000 Canadians served in the Canadian armed forces during the war, of which more than 54,000 died. Still more perished as members of the British armed services. A further 172,000 Canadians were injured. Officially, another 9,000 men suffered “shell shock”—today called post traumatic stress disorder. Unofficial estimates are far larger. Some historians believe that as many as ten to twelve percent of Canadian solders who served in the trenches of France suffered some form of mental illness owing to their war experiences.

This booklet told returning soldiers what to expect upon demobilization, Wartime Canada.ca

Despite the end of hostilities, returning servicemen faced a new type of struggle, this time with their own government and fellow citizens for jobs, pensions and recognition. Government propaganda had characterized the soldiers as stalwart heroes, fighting for King, Country and Democracy. They had also been promised good jobs on their return to a grateful country. A government pamphlet prepared for demobilizing soldiers read: “When you come back, we want to stand with you as comrades to contribute our united best to the strength, prosperity, goodness and greatness of our beloved land.” Canada would be a country “fit for heroes to live in.”  The reality was far different. Jobs were in short supply. Veterans, many of whom had voluntarily given up promising careers to fight in horrific conditions for their country, faced unemployment and poverty.

This is not to say the federal and provincial governments didn’t try to help. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into pensions and relief programs for returning veterans. In March 1918, the federal government established the Department for Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment (DSCR) with a mandate to provide veterans with medical care, vocational and commercial education, employment assistance, advice, and pensions. The government also undertook an extensive inventory of jobs throughout the country in an effort to match returning solders to vacant jobs. Programs were established under which returning veterans eager to farm could receive up to 160 acres of Crown land and access to loans. A host of private agencies and organizations also provided assistance, including the Red Cross and the YMCA. As well, veteran organizations, such as the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA), provided support.

Despite these funds and a lot of good intentions, many returning veterans suffered. It didn’t help that the wind-down of military orders contributed to a decline in economic activity and a major economic recession in Canada just as service personnel were arriving home. While official numbers are scant, according to the GWVA Canada’s unemployment rate was as high as 25 per cent at the beginning of 1920. There were simply not enough jobs for all. Instead of being greeted as returning heroes, veterans found that their old jobs filled, with few new ones on offer. Businesses were reluctant to hire ex-servicemen with disabilities. Those men who did find employment were the most junior and hence the most likely to be laid off as companies downsized.

With private businesses unable or unwilling to provide employment, veterans turned to the government for additional assistance. However, with heavy war debts, the federal government’s ability to assist was constrained. There was also discontent about how government programs were being managed. Owing to prevailing social views on mental illness, “shell-shocked” veterans had difficulty in obtaining the pensions they deserved. Land settlement programs were poorly conceived and administered. The Crown lands used to re-settle veterans often had to be cleared before they could be farmed. Many settlers lacked the necessary skills. When agricultural prices fell, settlers found it difficult to service the loans they had taken out to buy equipment. To make matters worse, some of the land used to re-settle veterans was taken from indigenous peoples without their consent while few First Nations’ veterans received land grants due to discrimination. The Canadian government also dithered for years over the distribution of its share of “Canteen Funds”—the profits of army canteens established co-operatively by Commonwealth forces. Owing to mismanagement, little went to the men who had patronized the canteens.

Unemployed veterans assembling at Queen’s Park, Toronto, Regina Leader-Post, 12 May 1922.

Despite more than two dozen veteran organizations lobbying the government for veteran assistance, some ex-servicemen felt that their voices were not being heard. In early May 1922, a crowd of unemployed veterans assembled in Queen’s Park in Toronto to hear E.C. Macdonald speak of his plans for a march to Ottawa to lobby the newly-elected federal government of Mackenzie King for more financial aid and improved rehabilitation methods for ex-servicemen. He was warmly applauded.

Less than two weeks later, close to 300 men under command of “General” Macdonald left from College Street in Toronto, heading for the Kingston Road on the trek to the capital. The rear of the parade was commanded by Frank Riley, about whom we’ll hear more later. The marchers had been mostly under the care of the DSCR during the previous winter owing to their unemployment. With their allowances cut off earlier in the month, they were now desperate.

Leadership of the march on Ottawa, E.C. Macdonald is second from right, missing is Frank Riley, Regina Leader-Post, 12 May 1922.

Prior to their departure, deputations of unemployed veterans had raised provisions and money from prominent Toronto stores. The provisions were placed in two trucks that went in advance of the army. As the army’s resources were insufficient to sustain the men for the expected two-week long trek to Ottawa, “General” Macdonald hoped that communities along their route would help house and feed the trekkers.

Right from the start of the trek, there was dissention. “General” Burgoyne, who led ex-soldiers from Hamilton, pulled out of the march and returned home, complaining about the treatment given him by Toronto hikers. “General” Macdonald also expelled all hikers with “red” tendencies.

Despite these problems, the men left downtown Toronto, heading for Dumbarton on the first leg of their journey. The veterans, wearing their service medals, were divided into several companies with “General” Macdonald and two Union Jacks leading the way.

For the most part, the “General” was not disappointed with the trekkers’ reception along the route. Town after town put up the foot-weary men in local armouries, provided entertainment, usually a local military band, and gave them a hot meal. The mayor of Brockville actually sent a fleet of trucks to pick up the men in Mallorytown so they didn’t have to spend the night in the open air. Instead, the men dossed down in the town’s armoury, and were given breakfast before they set out for Prescott.

At this point, something happened. “General” Macdonald, who had spent three days in a Kingston hospital with fatigue, was driven to Prescott to attend a secret army meeting. Suspicious of spies, reporters were not allowed in. At the end of the discussions, Macdonald had been ousted as the head of the army. While he was permitted to continue on the trek in the ranks, the bemused and shocked Macdonald left, complaining that the hike had been his idea. “They’re just a rabble now and are being led by a Siin Feiner [Irish radical] and a Toronto “Red,” he said.

In his place had stepped Frank Riley. Little known until this point, Riley was interviewed by the press. Reportedly, while he talked a lot, he said little. He did reveal that he was a “north of Ireland man” and that he had a deep-seated grudge against the GWVA and its leadership who Riley saw as overpaid bureaucrats who did little to help unemployed veterans.

An Ottawa Journal journalist reported that Riley “modestly laid claim to being familiar with eight professions, including medicine and news reporting.” The clash between Macdonald and Riley was attributed to vanity. Each man was envious of the publicity given the other. Riley refused to discuss what happened though Macdonald later attributed his ouster to being too strict and autocratic with the men. A few days later, before the trekkers had reached Ottawa, Riley, accompanied by the army’s treasurer, made a quick overnight trip to Ottawa to seek Macdonald’s arrest for criminal libel for calling him a “Sein Feiner” and a “Red” and for taking $80 from the army’s treasury.

From that point on Frank Riley was the undisputed leader of the trekkers who became known as “Riley’s Army.”

Riley’s Army of 269 unemployed veterans reached Ottawa shortly before noon on Sunday, 4 June 1922 after spending two nights in Manotick. Three miles short of the city at the Hartwell Locks, the army was met by 36 Ottawa veterans. At the head of his men, “General” Riley paraded through the streets of Ottawa, arriving at the end of Preston Street at 10:00am standard time. The army marched through near-empty streets. Riley was unaware that Ottawa observed daylight savings time. With it being an hour later than he had expected, most Ottawa residents were in church. With a police car preceding the parade and another pulling up the rear, the men marched to Howick Hall at the Exhibition Grounds at Lansdowne Park, where Ottawa’s mayor, Frank Plant, had organized billets.  The mayor had also authorized meals for the veterans; something he did without the approval of City Council.

At Howick Hall, Mayor Plant congratulated the men, noting that he had heard only the best reports of their conduct throughout the trek. While it was not his place to comment on their grievances, he said that he would organize meetings between army representatives and the federal government.

That night, the trekkers dined in Howick Hall on veal, beef, lamb, pork, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and hot biscuits with pie, cake for dessert, accompanied by tea and coffee, courtesy of Mayor Plant.

The next morning, Riley’s Army marched from Lansdowne Park to Parliament Hill, where the men camped out on the west lawn. Riley and the rest of his twelve-member executive met with Prime Minister Mackenzie King and cabinet colleagues in the offices of James Murdock, the Minister of Labour. The meeting only lasted an hour. Riley presented the men’s demands, which included a medical re-examination of all returned soldiers, the elimination of the employment branch of the DSCR, an increased disability allowance, a $1.10 per day gratuity for every day a soldier had served in the army, the official recognition of his army as the veterans’ representative, and immediate action to relieve distress. He also denied rumours that he was a Bolshevik or a Sinn Feiner.

For his part, the Prime Minister said that the government was sympathetic to the plight of veterans but offered little in the way of additional assistance. He noted that the Minister of the Militia had lost a son in the war, and Dr. Béland, the minister in charge of the DSCR, had spent three years in a German prison. Riley was informed that the government had already spent $475 million so far on veterans in the form of pensions, medical treatment, education, land and relief.

After the meeting, Riley addressed his army and curious onlookers on the lawn of Parliament Hill. He told the men that the government had been evasive. For a while, things got tense with Riley saying that army should continue its siege of Parliament until the men got their way. However, after consultations with the army’s executive, Riley changed his mind. He ordered the veterans to return to Lansdowne Park from where they would hike back to Toronto to protest their treatment. J. S. Woodsworth, the outspoken MP of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, also addressed the army. He said that the army represented thousands of ex-soldiers throughout Canada. He warned that if the government didn’t listen to their grievances, there would be a reckoning. Woodsworth received a hearty cheer.

That evening, the Prime Minister, accompanied by James Murdock, the Minister of Labour, spoke briefly to Riley’s Army at Howick Hall. Again, no promises were made. However, Mackenzie King asked for the names and regimental numbers of all members of the army to ensure that the men received all the treatment they deserved.

Riley remained unsatisfied with the government’s response. He spurned the government’s offer of train transport back to Toronto, insisting that the men would trek back the way they came. However, after the men had assembled and had left the Hall at about 9:30pm, a downpour began. Wet and bedraggled, Riley reconsidered his stance. His army finally left by train in the following morning at a cost to the government of $1,883.25.

A few days later, Riley again addressed a crowd of unemployed veterans at Queen’s Park where he proposed a second trek to Ottawa. Even though only a couple hundred answered his call, far fewer than the 5,000 Riley had hoped for, off he went on a second trek just a week after the conclusion of the first. This time, the trekkers only got as far as West Hill, twelve miles from downtown Toronto, before stopping. A telegram from James Murdock promising jobs to the trekkers stopped them in their tracks. Men were told to make an application to the Toronto office of the DSCR. Whether they got the expected jobs is unknown.

News of Riley’s Army then disappeared from the nation’s newspapers. Relief for veterans was to bedevil the government for years to come. The Pension Act alone was modified sixteen times during the inter-war years. In 1930, Mackenzie King introduced the War Veterans’ Allowance Act. The issue of how the Canteen Funds would be disbursed was finally settled after years of wrangling. Interestingly, Riley’s suspicions regarding the GWVA and its management proved to be accurate. In 1925, it was revealed that an advance of Canteen Funds to the GWVA in 1921-1922 went to paying the salaries of the organization’s executives and to finance its newspaper. Nothing was spent on unemployment relief for veterans.

Sources:

Campbell, Lara, 2000. “‘We who have wallowed in the mud of Flanders,’: First World War Veterans, Unemployment and the Development of Social Welfare in Canada, 1929-1939,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 2000, 11(1), 125-149.

Canada, Government of, 1919. Canada and Her Soldiers, St. Clement’s Press, London.

Canadian Museum of History, 2021. The Effects of Unemployment.

Canadian War Museum, 2021. The Cost of Canada’s War.

Gazette, 1922. “Riley’s Army Of Veterans Hiking Back To Toronto,” 6 June.

———, 1922. “Riley’s Men Are Promised Jobs,” 13 June.

Globe, 1922. “Unemployment on Increase In Canada,” 26 April.

——–, 1922. “Jobless Army Begins March Upon Ottawa,” 20 May.

——–, 1922. “Recruits Join Jobless Army,” 22 May.

——–, 1922. “Veteran Army At Prescott,” 31 May.

——–, 1922. “Hikers Hiking Home, Voicing Displeasure With Visit To ‘Hill,’” 6 June.

——–, 1922. “Left Ottawa in Rain,” 7 June.

——–, 1922. “Hikers Return to Toronto Ready to Make ‘Hike’ Again If Ultimatum Not Granted,” 7 June.

——–, 1922. “Jobless Army Halts On Its Second March At Words Of Premier,” 13 June.

Leader, 1922. “Men Who Would Lead The March To Ottawa,” 12 May.

———, 1922. “Riley And Army Accept Offer Of Train Ride,” 7 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1922. “Expected to Reach Brockville Tonight,” 30 May.

——————, 1922. “Veterans Pushing On To Prescott,” 31 May.

——————, 1922. “Makes Charges Against Former Leader of Army,” 3 June.

——————, 1922. “‘General’ Riley And His Army Enter Capital,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Macdonald in Toronto,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Army of Unemployed Veterans Is Not Satisfied With Answer Given: Tense Scenes on Parliament Hill,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Riley and Men Spend Hours At Mercy Of Weather,” 6 June.

——————, 1922. “Asks 5,000 More To Hike To Ottawa,” 9 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1922. “Hamilton ‘General’ Quits,” 22 May.

—————–, 1922. “Hikers’ Army Now On Way To Spencerville,” 1 June.

Province, 1922. “Unemployed Veterans To March To Ottawa, Led by E.C. Macdonald,” 8 May.

Scotland, Jonathan, 2016. And the Men Returned: Canadian Veterans and the Aftermath of the Great War, University of Western Ontario.

Wartime Canada, 2021. Veterans Programs.

Ottawa Recycles

5 June 1972

If you were to do a word search for “recycling” in North American newspapers, you would find very little prior to about 1970. Before then the word simply did not exist in our everyday lexicon. But that dramatically changed with the growing awareness of the consequences of pollution. In 1965, U.S. President Johnson warned Congress that the burning of fossil fuels was leading to “a steady increase in carbon dioxide” in the atmosphere. He added that “pollution destroys beauty and menaces health,” and “the longer we wait to act the greater the dangers and the larger the problem.” Four years later, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire (again). Startling images of flames shooting up from the surface of the river to engulf ships and bridges seared our collective consciousness. People began asking what they could personally do to help; recycling provided a partial answer.

This is not to say people didn’t care about pollution before then. People certainly did. In 1897, the editor of Ottawa’s Evening Journal complained about Ottawa’s high death rate and how it was affected by the lack of a system for disposing of the city’s refuse. “[T]here still remains the unsolved problem of disposing of house refuse, ashes, waste paper and an endless variety of more or less odorous and ornamental material which still disgraces our streets, pollutes our backyards, and in undergoing fermentative processes certainly endangers the health of the community.” But most viewed pollution as the unavoidable, albeit regrettable, consequence of industry, jobs and prosperity.

recycling 17-1-1900 toj
Government seeking tenders to collect waste paper, 17 January, 1900, The Ottawa Journal.

Recycling is nothing new either. Think of the traditional rag and bones man who scavenged for old clothes, bones, scrap metal, paper and other items. But the motivation was profit not pollution. Here in Canada, by 1900 the federal government was putting out the collection of its waste paper to tender to raise extra revenue. The first big city-wide paper recycling campaign in Canada was launched in Ottawa by the Laurentian chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.). In September 1915, the Chapter asked Ottawa’s Board of Control for permission to place bins on Ottawa’s streets to collect bundles of old newspapers, magazines, catalogues, and writing paper for collection. Within weeks, red waste paper bins sprouted on Ottawa street corners. The collected paper was taken to a warehouse where it was weighed and sold. The proceeds were used to supply “comforts” to Canadian troops in the trenches in France. The Chapter also asked car owners to volunteer their vehicles to pick up paper bundles that were too heavy to bring to the collection bins. A depot on Kent Street was also open every Thursday for anyone to drop off their waste paper. Later, one could call “Queen 631” for a truck to come and pick up bundles of unwanted paper.

recycling 2-3-20 toj
Advertisement for waste paper in aid of injured soldiers, 2 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

The program was a huge success. During the war, the waste paper scheme collected more than 1,500 tons of waste paper, raising some $20,000 for Canadian troops. In 1920, the I.O.D.E. scheme was merged with a similar but newer paper pick-up organized by the Y.W.C.A. The merged program was named The Amalgamated Paper Schemes. But the joint enterprise folded the following year owing to a decline in waste paper prices that made paper collection unprofitable. Subsequently, other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, and church groups, organized paper drives when waste paper prices rose to profitable levels. In 1939, the Journal reported that 3,000 tons of paper were being collected annually in Ottawa worth more than $25,000. The prevailing price at that time was about $8 a ton, but reportedly had been as high as $30 a ton in 1932. Prices varied according to the quality of the paper collected. Old writing paper was twice as valuable as waste newspaper.

recycling 3-4-20 toj
Advertisement for the Amalgamated Paper Schemes, 3 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

World War II saw a revival of regular waste paper collection in Ottawa. Within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, Mrs Anna. W. Margosches organized a regular paper drive under the auspices of the United War Services, with the proceeds going to fund entertainment for troops stationed in the capital. Residents were asked to telephone “Paper Collections” at 3-4097 for a truck to come by and pick up bundles of waste paper. Bags were handed out in which to collect the paper. People tagged them “For the Soldiers Entertainment Committee.” The organization later expanded its collections to cover good scrap metals (iron, brass, copper, steel, aluminium) and glass jars and bottles. Tin cans were also accepted for a time but their collection was discontinued owing to low tin prices.

After the war, service organizations and church groups persevered with scrap collections. One particularly successful waste paper collection was organized by L’Association Missionnaire de Marie Immaculée that operated from the 1940s until well into the 1970s. It collected 125-185 tons of waste paper annually, netting $1,000-1,500 for charity and mission work each year. The Boy Scouts were also very active.

Large-scale, regular collections of waste paper resumed in the Ottawa area in 1970 in Kanata, then part of March Township. This time pollution control rather than profit was the prime motivation, though earning money rather than spending money on waste was a great additional incentive. At the beginning of November of that year, the March Township Council in partnership with Pollution Probe organized a three-month trial collection of waste paper. The “Save-A-Tree” program was later extended to twelve months before it was made permanent. Instead of putting paper out for regular garbage pick-up, a private contractor collected the waste paper twice monthly and sold it to the Florence Paper Company for $8-10 per ton. This was a recycling first in Ontario. In its first year of operation, the collection brought in 162 tons of paper, realizing a small profit which in 1972 the township and Pollution Probe put towards bottle recycling—another first in the province. The Village of Rockcliffe followed Kanata’s lead and introduced regular paper collection in September 1971.

In Ottawa, encouraged by the success of the Kanata program, the Glebe Community Association spearheaded by Mrs Luke and Mrs A. C. Holden organized a successful paper drive in late April 1971. In June, a similar paper collection was jointly organized by a number of Ottawa community associations. That same month, Pollution Probe in co-operation with the University of Ottawa and supported by a grant from the government’s Opportunities for Youth program, opened depots across the city for residents to drop of their waste newspapers through the summer.

The City of Ottawa finally got into the act with trial waste-paper collection scheme at the end of October 1971. Each week for four weeks, a different quarter of the city was targeted for waste paper pick-up. The first zone to be serviced was the area north of the Queensway, between Fisher Avenue and the Rideau River, to the city limits in the south. Controller Lorry Greenberg, who led the project, expected the project to be economically viable once residents became aware of the new scheme. In the interim the city was willing to bear a loss.

Participation was lower than expected. The Journal said Ottawa residents suffered from “ecological apathy.” To boost participation, the city enlisted the help of clowns, some of whom were kids from Canterbury High School, to stir up excitement in neighbourhoods and boost paper collection. But during the four-week period, the city collected a much lower than expected 428 tons of waste paper, and incurred a net loss of $6,294 although it did save an estimated 4,488 trees.

For a while it looked like a permanent scheme was going to be still-born. The pilot project had been greeted with ennui by the majority of Ottawa citizens, and had lost a considerable amount of money. However, the outlook radically improved when Ottawa’s garbage contractor, H.O. Sanitation, offered to pick up the paper at no extra cost to the city. To reduce labour costs, the contractor modified its trucks so that paper could be placed in segregated containers. This allowed garbage collectors to pick up waste paper at the same time as regular garbage. The City also received petitions, and hundreds of telephone calls from citizens urging it to introduce a permanent recycling program. Citizens that attended a public meeting on recycling were also encouraging. Thus, starting on Monday, 5 June 1972, Ottawa homeowners began to put out bundles of paper for curbside collection on their regular garbage days.

To break even, H. O. Sanitation needed to collect at least 40 tons of paper per day. That first Monday’s pick-up was a success. Some 70 tons of paper were collected. By the end of the first week, 350 tons of paper were sent to E.B. Eddy for recycling. There were problems, however. Some apartment superintendents were not co-operating in the separation of garbage. And only half of the garbage trucks had been modified. More seriously, daily collection amounts began to drop. It seems that the early success was due to some homeowners storing their waste paper in anticipation of the start of the program. Once that backlog had been picked up, the day-to-day collections fell. Also, many households were not recycling their waste paper, finding it easier to throw it out with the rest of their garbage.  Still, Ottawa’s recycling program was deemed a sufficient success for John Turner, the then federal Finance Minister, to “plant” a tree behind City Hall on Green Island in recognition of Ottawa being the first Canadian city to launch a city-wide waste paper recycling program. In fact, the tree had been planted a month earlier, and Turner just moved a couple of spadesful of soil around its base.

In December 1974, paper recycling screeched to a halt when the City suspended the program. One thing the city hadn’t counted on was a fall in waste paper prices brought about by the increased supply. E.B. Eddy had foreshadowed this possibility back in 1971 when it cautioned people that they were already getting all the used paper they could use to produce cardboard. The City did, however, start to recycle bottles and tin cans at three drop-off depots. An experimental monthly pick-up was also established in Manor Park. The glass, separated by colour, was crushed and sent to Montreal to be converted into new glass products. Tin cans that had been washed and flattened with their bottoms and tops cut out were stored until sufficient stocks warranted being shipped to Hamilton for reprocessing.

Despite early setbacks, the three cities of Ottawa, Nepean and Gloucester jointly introduced in 1987 the curbside Blue Bin program to recover recyclable household waste. The program was operated under contract with Laidlaw Waste Systems. In 1991, the City distributed backyard composers to Ottawa households in an effort to divert kitchen waste from city landfills. In 2010, Ottawa began the curb-side collection of organic wastes. Through its current black bin (paper), blue bin (metals and plastics) and green bin (organics) program, the City earned $10 million in 2016, and diverted tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Trail Road Waste Facility, thereby extending its life. According to City figures, 93 per cent of newspaper and 90 per cent of cardboard are recycled. Concurrently, 71 per cent of steel and tin cans, 64 per cent of aluminium cans, and roughly 75 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled.

recycling ottawa
Ottawa Recycling Bins, Junk the Funk.

Despite this success, Ottawa only diverted 44 per cent of its waste from landfills in 2016, a smaller percentage than the Ontario average, and far lower than Toronto’s diversion rate. Only 51 per cent of Ottawa households use their green bins for recycling kitchen scraps into compost owing to what has been called “the yuck factor.” A quarter of Ottawa citizens don’t recycle at all. According to Waste Watch Ottawa, the City could take a number of measures to improve its diversion rate through better education of its citizens, targeting multi-residential buildings, and the provision of larger blue and black recycling bins. The organization also recommends that the City consider the adoption of a user pay system for garbage, the mandatory use of clear plastic bags (bags containing recyclable items would not be picked up), and a reduction in the number of bags of garbage that would be picked up from a household each week.

Sources:

CBC, 2017. “City of Ottawa earned $10m from your paper, plastic in 2016,” 18 April.

Johnson, Lyndon B. 1965. “Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration Of Natural Beauty,” Public Papers of the Presidents Of The United States, 8 February.

Junk That Funk, 2017. Report Indicates Ottawa Needs To Improve The Recycling Effort, 17 September, http://junkthatfunk.com/report-indicates-ottawa-needs-to-improve-the-recycling-effort/.

Ottawa, City of, 2018. Recycling, https://ottawa.ca/en/residents/garbage-and-recycling/recycling.

Ottawa, City of, various years. “Minutes,” City Council.

Ottawa Citizen, 2017. “Green Bin Program’s ‘Yuck Factor’ still bedevils city hall,” 17 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1897. “Ottawa’s Death Rate,” 5 November.

————————–, 1915. “10 Boxes To Collect Papers For Soldiers,” 22 September.

————————–, 1915. “Our Soldiers At The Front,” 20 October.

————————–, 1917. “Waste Paper Scheme,” 28 February.

————————–, 1919. “Make The Waste Paper Tell,” 15 May.

————————–, 1920. “Waste Paper Collection,” 8 May.

————————–, 1921. “Increase Discount Get Taxes Quickly,” 9 February.

————————–, 1939. “Earn $25,000 Annually On Old Paper,” 18 Februa

————————–, 1939, “Seek Waste Paper To Secure Funds Entertain Troops,” 24 October.

————————-, 1940. “For The Troops,” 23 September.

————————-, 1940. “Want Waste Paper,” 12 November.

————————-, 1971. “What Are You Doing About Pollution?” 15 April.

————————-, 1971. “City To Consider Garbage Recycling,” 20 May.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Drive To Be Conducted Saturday,” 14 June.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Recycling Drive ‘Catching,’” 26 July.

————————-, 1971. “Rockcliffe Park paper pickup starts Sept. 22,” 16 August.

————————-, 1971. “Recycling details set,” 1 October.

————————-, 1971. “Ottawa paper pick-up breaks new ground,” 16 October.

————————-, 1971. “Eddy’s contends waste-paper war misleading,” 29 October.

————————-, 1971. “Waste paper collection drive lags,” 3 November.

————————-, 1971. “Ecological Apathy,” 11 November.

————————-, 1971. “Two Clowns With A Cause,” 22 November.

————————-, 1971. “Public Meeting called to study permanent paper pick-up plan,” 26 November.

————————, 1972. “Kanata recycling glass,” 27 January.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-ups to start June 5,” 10 May.

————————, 1972. “Out of the woods: Paper pick-ups set preservation of trees,” 2 June.

————————, 1972. “Paper recycling rolls off to a successful start,” 6 June.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-up ‘verging on failure,’” 16 June.

————————, 1972. “Tough On The Ol’ Back,” 23 June.

————————, 1973. “Recycling,” 30 June.

————————, 1975. “City to continue glass, tin recycling,” 21 March.

Waste Watch Ottawa, 2017. Improving the City of Ottawa’s Waste Diversion Performance, https://ecologyottawa3.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/wwo-ottawa-waste-diversion-performance-sept-15-2017.pdf.

The Tragic Death of Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker, V.C.

12 March 1930

Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker is the most-highly decorated war hero in Canadian and British Commonwealth history. An ace pilot during World War I, he received the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the Commonwealth for gallantry in the face of the enemy. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order (twice), the Military Cross (three times), the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Silver Medal for Military Valour from Italy (twice). He was additionally mentioned in dispatches three times. Active on the Western Front in France and on the Italian Front, he is credited with shooting down at least 50 enemy aircraft. Despite being a household name one hundred years ago, ranking beside his friend Billy Bishop another Canadian war ace and Victory Cross recipient, he is largely forgotten today. In part, this is likely due to his untimely death at 35 years of age in a tragic accident that occurred on 12 March 1930 in Ottawa.

barkermajorswaine-lac-pa-122516
William George Barker, V.C. by Swaine, Library and Archives Canada, PA-122516.

Barker was born in a log cabin on a farm near the small town of Dauphin, Manitoba in 1894. As a teenager, he was known for his keen eyesight and marksmanship. In December 1914, he enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles with whom he served as a machine gunner at Ypres. In the spring of 1916, he volunteered to serve in the Royal Flying Corps first as a gunner and, following receipt of a commission as a second lieutenant, as an observer in the B.E.2 two-seater reconnaissance airplane.  He received his first MC doing aerial photography. In July of that year, he recorded his first victory, driving down a German scout airplane using his observer’s gun. At the beginning of 1917, he was sent to flying school for four weeks’ instruction to become a pilot. Promoted to flying officer in February 1917, Barker returned to the Western Front again in two-seater reconnaissance airplanes (the B.E.2 and the R.E.8), but this time seated in the front pilot’s seat. Three months later, he was promoted to captain and given command of a flight of airplanes (four to six aircraft).

After being wounded in August 1917, he was transferred back to England to become a flight instructor. Hating his new job, he quickly got himself reassigned to active duty in France, though not before getting into trouble doing acrobatics over London. Barker began flying the Sopwith Camel, a single seater fighter, armed with twin synchronized machine guns. It proved to be a lethal combination of man and machine. Flying the highly manoeuvrable though temperamental Camel, Barker could fully exploit his skills as a marksman. Shortly after his return to France in late October he officially became an ace, downing his fifth German airplane, a German Albatros D.III fighter. Other “kills” quickly followed. Barker’s Sopwith Camel, serial number B6313, was to become the most successful fighter airplane in British history.

When his squadron was transferred to the Italian Front in late 1917, Barker took aim at Austrian air force. By April 1918, he had twenty-two victories. He also earned a reputation for taking down observation balloons, a deadly enterprise since the balloons were heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns. In July, he was promoted to major and given command of the No. 139 Squadron. Although the squadron flew the two-seater Bristol F.2b fighter and reconnaissance aircraft (also known as the “Brisfit”), Barker continued to prefer flying his cherished Sopwith Camel. When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited the squadron in the summer of 1918, Barker took him aloft in a Brisfit, with the prince occupying the rear observer’s seat. Barker flew the prince deep into enemy territory before returning to the Allied lines. Fortunately, although they encountered anti-aircraft fire from the ground, no Austrian airplane went up to challenge them.

By September 1918, he was a highly-decorated ace with at least forty-six victories to his credit. Even more to his credit was the incredible achievement of not losing a single pilot or airplane under his escort during the previous year of active duty. Ordered back to England to take command the flight school at Hounslow, Barker’s greatest exploit, for which he was to earn the Victory Cross, was yet to come. Arguing that he needed to reacquaint himself with the Western Front to do his job properly, he obtained a ten-day roving commission in France. On 27 October 1918, on the last day of his commission and only two weeks prior to the end of the war, he encountered a German reconnaissance airplane over the Forêt de Mormal while flying the new Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe. Although Barker managed to down the two-seater craft, he made a rookie mistake and was caught unaware by a German fighter that had sneaked up behind him. He only found out that he was being pursued when his right leg was shattered by a bullet. Despite the pain, Barker managed to circle around the Fokker DVII, and bring it down too.

barkersopwithcamellac-pa172313
William Barker with his Sopwith Camel, France 1917, Library and Archives Canada, PA-172313

From there, things only got worse. Somehow during the dog fight with the Fokker, Barker had managed to stumble into an entire “circus” of German fighters. While accounts regarding the number of enemy aircraft vary from 15 to an incredible 60, Barker was vastly outnumbered. In front of thousands of Allied soldiers Barker managed to bring down two more German fighters but not before receiving crippling wounds to his left thigh and left elbow. His Snipe, hit repeatedly, with its fuel tank shot away, crashed behind British lines. Barker, amazingly still alive, was pulled from the wreckage by Scottish troops. On 20 November 1918, he was awarded the Victory Cross for this epic, single-handed battle, and the congratulations of his grateful Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Premier.

In early 1919, still recovering from his wounds, Barker flew again with the Prince of Wales, taking him on a tour of London by air. Barker needed canes to walk to the aircraft, and flew with his left arm strapped to his breast.  Speaking of his flight, the Prince commented: “I have enjoyed it immensely but what a sensation it is when you go over backwards.” The RAF promoted Barker to Lieutenant Colonel. On his return to Canada later that year, Barker entered civilian aviation in partnership with Billy Bishop. Together they operated an air-charter and aircraft maintenance firm located at Armour Heights Air Field in Toronto. In 1921, Barker married Jean Smith, the cousin of Billy Bishop. Their daughter Antoinette was born in 1923.

As was the case with many early civil aviation operations, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes failed in 1922. Barker then joined the Canadian Airforce (CAF) and was made commanding officer of Camp Borden. Subsequently, he was made acting director of the CAF, and for a time lived in Ottawa. In 1924, with the establishment of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was sent to England to act as the RCAF’s liaison officer with the British Air Ministry. He later studied at the RAF Staff College at Andover and saw service with the RAF in the Middle East.

In 1926, Barker resigned his commission from the RCAF, reportedly because he didn’t get along with his commanding officer. For a time, he operated a tobacco farm owned by his father-in-law, Horace B. Smith.  This did not go well. In 1927, Conn Smythe, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (himself a former RAF pilot), made Barker the team’s first president. But civilian life did not come easy to the war hero. Like many veterans, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. For a time, he turned to alcohol to quell his demons. His family life suffered.

In early 1930, things finally looked like they were turning around for him. He had just landed the job of vice president and general manager of the Fairchild Aviation Company of Canada in Montreal. The day of his death, he was in Ottawa to help sell the company’s new trainer airplane, the two-person, Fairchild KR-21B biplane, to the Department of National Defence.

Wednesday, 12 March 1930, was a typical, late winter day in Ottawa. Weather conditions were good, with the wind out of the west, and a high temperature of 7 degrees Celsius. The Fairchild trainer was flown from Montreal to the Rockcliffe aerodrome in the morning by Captain Donald Shaw, the Fairchild Company’s test pilot. The trip was uneventful, with the airplane performing as it should. Shortly before 1pm, William Barker, who had travelled to Ottawa by train, decided to take the airplane up for a spin. He had never flown that model aircraft before but liked to take every opportunity to fly to maintain his competency. Apparently, until he joined the Fairchild Aviation Company two months earlier, he had done little flying since leaving the RCAF in 1926.

Barker seated himself in the real cockpit of the small trainer with registration marking CF-AKR. He warmed up his engine, taxied into the wind, and made a perfect take-off. After circling the airfield, he flew to the north-east across the Ottawa River to the Quebec side. Turning back towards the Rockcliffe aerodrome, something went wrong. One observer, struck by the odd manner in which the airplane was performing, claimed that he had a premonition that something was about to happen. Flying at an altitude of only a couple of hundred feet, the aircraft swerved and then plummeted straight down into the slushy ice of the Ottawa River roughly one hundred yards from the Rockcliffe slip close to the aerodrome. Striking the ice nose first, Barker’s aircraft crashed onto its left side. The plane was a tangled wreck. One of the blades of the propeller was sheared off on impact, while the other was broken in two. The engine was jammed back into the fuselage by the force of the crash. Only the rear of the plane and its right wing were left relatively intact. Col. Barker was found still seated in the real cockpit, but he was beyond human help. His body had been crushed on impact, his head smashed against the dashboard of his control panel.

News of the accident flashed through a stunned Capital. Immediately the Department of National Defence established a board of inquiry to examine the cause of the fatal crash. The Board determined that the Fairchild trainer was airworthy before the crash, that weather conditions were good, and that Col. Barker was a “commercial pilot in good standing.” Other than these basic facts, Board members had to depend on unreliable eye-witness testimony to draw their conclusions. Their verdict was pilot error. Later, there was speculation that Barker, suffering from depression, may have killed himself. But there is no evidence to support this contention. In many respects, the reasons for the crash remain a mystery.

Col. Barker’s body was conveyed by train to the home of his father-in-law at 355 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto where distinguished guests and friends paid their last respects. On the Saturday afternoon after the accident, his body was brought to Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery and was laid to rest in the Smith family mausoleum. Two thousand servicemen, representing all of the Toronto-area regiments, paraded in his honour. Immediately behind the casket walked family and friends, Ontario Premier Ferguson, Major General McNaughton, and a group of Victory Cross recipients. A warrant officer bore Col. Barker’s medals on a cushion. More than 50,000 people lined the route of the funeral cortege down St. Clair Avenue to the cemetery. Overhead a flight of planes flew, each in turn swooping down to shower the procession with rose petals. At the mausoleum, Rev. Canon Broughall, rector of Grace-Church-on-the-Hill, officiated at a short service.

For decades, there was little way of a public memorial to Lieutenant- Colonel William Barker, V.C., buried as he was in the Smith family’s mausoleum. In 2011, his grandchildren righted this wrong. They erected a monument outside of the mausoleum, consisting of a bronze propeller blade rising from a granite base with a bronze picture of Barker and a plaque noting his distinction as “The most decorated war hero in the history of Canada and the British Empire.” There for the official unveiling of the memorial was Barker’s descendants and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley. Overhead, two vintage planes, one of them a Sopwith Snipe, and a CF-18 fighter flew a salute while a bugler sounded The Last Post.

Sources:

AcePilots.com, 1999-2016. Major G. “Billy” Barker, http://acepilots.com/wwi/can_barker.html.

CBC, 2011. World War I flying ace honoured 81 years after death, 22 September, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/wwi-flying-ace-honoured-81-years-after-death-1.1062894.

CBC, 2011. Honours for Flying Ace, 22 September, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyKOyoN9ArQ.

Globe (The), 1930. “Gol. Barker, V.C., Great Canadian Ace Dies Airman’s Death,” 13 March.

———————–, “Massed Crowd Mourn Great Airman,” 17 March.

Globe and Mail, (The), 1999. “The Greatest Ace You Never Heard Of,” 8 November.

—————————, 2011. Lieutenant- Col. William Barker,” 22 September.

National Defence and the Canadian Forces, 2009. Victoria Cross – First World War, 1914-1918, William George Barker, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/gal/vcg-gcv/bio/barker-wg-eng.asp.

Evening Citizen, (The), 1930. “Finds Error of Judgement Cause of Plan Crash,” 15 March.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1930. “Col. Barker, Great Canadian Air Ace, Killed Here,” 12 March.

————————————, 1930. “Fatal Crash Which Caused Death of Colonel Barker, V.C., at Rockcliffe Still Remains Shrouded in Mystery,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Epic Air Battle Won V.C. Award For Dead Flyer,” 13 March.

————————————-, 1930. “Toronto V.C.’s To All Attend Funeral In Body,” 13 March.

Ralph, Wayne, 2005-2016. “Barker, William George,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barker_william_george_15E.html.

Roadstories.ca, 2011, William George Barker: Canada’s most decorated hero, 7 November, http://roadstories.ca/william-barker/.

Spring Forward, Fall Back

14 April, 1918

When you mess with Father Time, you can be sure be sure somebody is going to be riled. Reportedly, people rioted when Britain and its overseas territories (including its North American colonies) switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, fearing that the government had stolen a fortnight of their lives since 14 September followed immediately after 1 September. While this story is apocryphal, it’s no exaggeration that the adoption of daylight saving time a century ago was highly controversial. Although people didn’t come to blows, the time change pitted rural communities against urban centres across North America. So highly charged was the issue, the Canadian and U.S. federal governments, after a temporary wartime trial run in both countries in 1918, bowed out of the fray, leaving the decision to adopt daylight saving time to junior levels of government. For the most part, individual cities determined whether or not they would go on “summer” or “fast” time each year. You can imagine the confusion this caused. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that some official order was instituted in the United States, with Canadian provinces following suit to facilitate cross-border commerce. Even so, daylight saving time has continued to be divisive. In Saskatchewan, the provincial government promised a referendum on the issue in 2007 though it was never held. More recently, articles have appeared in numerous newspapers advocating its abolition. You can even join a Facebook community contending that “Daylight Saving Time is torture and should be abolished.”

Benjamin Franklin is sometimes referred to the “inventor” of daylight saving time. When he was ambassador to France in 1784, he suggested that if people got up and went to bed earlier, they would make better use of their daylight hours, and would save a fortune in candles. Daylight saving time, in the sense of advancing the clock rather than just encouraging early rising, was first proposed in 1895 by New Zealander George Hudson. He argued in favour of moving clocks forward by two hours during the summer so that people could make better use of the morning light, and to have more time for outdoor activities in the evening. As a part-time entomologist, he wanted more time before dusk to devote to bug collecting after he had finished his day job with the Post Office.

George Hudson
George Hudson, (1867-1946), late in life, author unknown

In 1907, Englishman William Willett published a pamphlet titled The Waste of Daylight, and began a campaign to have daylight saving time introduced in the United Kingdom. He proposed a gradual phase-in of daylight saving time over four successive Sundays in April (20 minutes each Sunday morning) with a similar four-week phase-out in September. Like today, to minimize disruption, he proposed changing the time at 2am, a point in the day when few trains ran. He estimated that daylight saving time would save the people of Great Britain and Ireland at least £2,500,000 a year (a huge sum in those days) through a reduced need for artificial lighting during the evenings. Despite intensive lobbying of the British Government, Willett died in 1915 without seeing his idea implemented. Many ridiculed him.

Willetpamphlet
Cover of William Willett’s pamphlet

It took World War I to shift opinions in Europe. The first country to adopt daylight saving time was Germany where clocks were advanced one hour on 30 April 1916. The principal reason was to conserve coal used to produce electricity. Britain, ashamed that an enemy country had acted before it had, swiftly followed suit with the Summer Time Act of 1916 under which daylight saving time began on 21 May 1916, and ended on 1 October. The experiment was deemed a great success, and was repeated in subsequent years. It was estimated that Great Britain and Ireland saved 300,000 tons of coal during the summer of 1916, equivalent to roughly 1.5% of production. Most other European countries also introduced daylight saving time that year.

While Britain may have been slow to act, some Canadians who were following the debate in London were more eager to experiment with ways to make better use of their early daylight hours. Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) was the first Canadian community to effectively introduce daylight saving time by advancing its clocks one hour for a two-month summer trial period in 1908. The town’s residents liked the effect so much that the following year the community permanently shifted to the Eastern Time Zone from the Central Time Zone. Neighbouring Fort William followed suit in 1910.  In 1912, Orillia introduced daylight saving time starting on 23 June to run until the end of August. However, the town revoked “Orillia time,” after only two weeks owing to opposition from workers who refused to abide by the time change. Between 1914 and 1916, Regina, Brandon, Winnipeg, and Halifax also introduced daylight saving time for trial periods.

Here in Ottawa, the American Bank Note Company experimented with ‘daylight saving time’ during the summers of 1911 and 1912, starting work at 7 am and ending at 4 pm. However, the company discontinued the trial owing to the difficulty employees had in getting to work by 7 am when the rest of the city continued to operate on regular hours. In June 1916, Ottawa City Council adopted daylight saving time, starting on 20 June 1916 and running until 1 October, on the recommendation of Mayor Nelson Porter and the Board of Control. A proclamation to this effect was prepared for the Mayor’s signature. However, the night before summer time was to begin, Council unanimously rescinded the measure owing to overwhelming community opposition. Businesses feared that if they advanced their clocks, competitors might not, allowing them to stay open an hour later in the day. The Ottawa Electric Railway, which operated Ottawa’s trams, also refused to abide by the Council’s decision. The final blow to the idea came from the lack of support from the federal government, the city’s largest employer. With the public service continuing to operate on standard time, daylight saving time in the capital was a non-starter.

Prompted by Europe’s successful experience with daylight saving time, the federal governments in both Canada and the United States passed legislation in 1917 to advance the clocks on a trial basis. Seen as a way to save fuel, the move was deemed imperative for the war effort. After considerable debate, the United States set daylight savings time to start the last Sunday in March, running until the last Sunday in October, i.e. 31 March 1918 to 27 October 1918. The debate in Canada was also lengthy, and, as was the case south of the border, pitted rural communities that wanted to maintain standard time against urban centres.  What swung the debate in favour of daylight savings time was the insistence of Canadian railways that they would adopt daylight saving time to remain consistent with U.S. railways regardless of what the federal government decided. Canadian rail companies were concerned about the impact on their schedules and the risk of accident should the U.S. and Canadian time practices diverged.

Sir George Foster, Minister for Trade and Commerce, led the fight in the House of Commons for daylight saving time, arguing that the primary consideration was “economy, particularly in the matter of lighting.” He noted that manufacturing industries, boards of trade, and business associations of towns and cities all favoured putting clocks ahead by one hour during the summer. But members of Parliament from farming communities were almost universally against the move. Rural MPs argued that farmers would have to continue to function on standard time as the tending of animals could not be advanced. As well, fields could not be entered until the dew had evaporated, which would be an hour later if clocks were set forward. This would leave less time at the end of the day for farm workers to go to town before the stores closed. Some also argued that daylight saving time went against God’s plan. Still others worried that it would be more difficult to get children to go to bed, and was therefore anti-mother. One MP disparaging said it was no surprise that boards of trade favoured daylight saving time since they were comprised of lawyers, doctors, and merchants who were eager to get in an extra round of golf or tennis game after work. Notwithstanding these many objections, the Daylight Saving Act 1918 was passed, but not in time for Canada to move in tandem with the United States. Daylight saving time started in Ottawa, and in most of the country on Sunday, 14 April 1918, two weeks after it did in the United States. Both countries returned to standard time on Sunday, 27 October.

Following the end of the war in November 1918, the rural lobby forced the U.S. and Canadian governments to back-track. In the United States, Congress voted to repeal daylight saving time, and successfully overturned a presidential veto by Woodrow Wilson, a daylight saving time supporter. In Canada, daylight saving time was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons in early 1919. The defeat was described as “a great victory for the men who tilled the soil.” In both countries, the decision to adopt daylight saving time, as well as the dates of observance, became the responsibility of junior levels of government. Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher announced that the nation’s capital would observe daylight saving time from 14 April to 27 October 1919. Toronto and Montreal did likewise. However, south-western Ontario farming communities and Windsor remained on standard time. With Ottawa adopting daylight saving time, the big question was what the federal government would do. Despite its rejection of daylight saving time for the nation, the federal government relented when it came to its Ottawa civil servants to ensure that “the time outside the door of the Parliament building would coincide with that within the building.”

This patchwork of observance across North America continued through the 1920s and 1930s. But when World War II commenced, wartime exigencies again predominated; the conservation of electricity became of paramount importance. In Canada, a federal order-in-council, issued in late September 1940, extended daylight saving time indefinitely in Ontario and Quebec on the advice of the Ontario and Quebec Hydro Companies. Towns that had already reverted to standard time, such as Arnprior near Ottawa, were required to switch back to summer time. On 9 February 1942, year-round daylight saving time was extended to the entire country, coinciding with the adoption of a similar policy, called “War Time,” in the United States.

As was the case at the end of World War I, daylight saving time reverted to local control in both Canada and the United States at the end of World War II. Again, North America was divided up into a patchwork quilt of observance with varying start and end dates. In some parts of the United States, a short car journey could require several time changes. To reduce the risk of accident and scheduling costs, railways operated year-round on standard time. Order was finally restored with the introduction of the federal Uniform Time Act in 1966 in the United States that specified the start and end dates for daylight saving time in the United States, though the decision to advance clocks was left up to individual states. Although no such uniformity was legislated in Canada, provinces adopted in 1967 the U.S. dates for advancing clocks to facilitate cross-border trade. Consequently, in 2005, when the United States lengthened the period of daylight saving by roughly a month starting the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, Canadian provinces followed suit.

Today, most of Canada, with certain exceptions, observes daylight saving time. The largest exception is Saskatchewan. However, as that province adheres to the Central Time Zone despite being geographically in the Mountain Time Zone, it is arguably on daylight saving time all year round. Today most people take daylight saving time for granted, and enjoy the extra hour of light in the evening. However, opposition is on the rise owing to the inconvenience of adjusting clocks twice a year, and recent studies that suggest that the economic benefits from “springing forward” each March and “falling back” each November are minimal.

Sources:

CBC, 2008. “Springing forward, falling back: the history of time change,” 31 October, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/springing-forward-falling-back-the-history-of-time-change-1.755925.

Citizen, (The), 1916. “Daylight Saving Is Favored by Ottawa City Controllers,” 2 June.

————–, 1916. “Prepared For Proper Trial,” 6 June.

————–, 1916. “Will Try Out The Daylight Saving Plan,” 11 June.

————–, 1916. “Depends On Government,” 14 June.

————–, 1916. “Daylight Saving Is In The Balance, 15 June.

————–, 1916. “May Rescind Resolution,” 16 June.

————–, 1916. “Delay Trial of Daylight Saving Plan,” 20 June.

Globe, (The), 1912. “Orillia Revoked Daylight Saving,” 13 July.

————-, 1918. “Daylight Saving Over Continent,” 7 February.

————-, 1918. “Daylight Is To Be Saved,” 27 March.

————-, 1918. “Bill Through Committee Now,” 3 April.

————–, 1919. “Likely To Respect Daylight Saving,” 11 February.

————–, 1919. “Canada’s Parliament Spurns ‘Daylight Saving’ In Summer,” 28 March.

————–, 1919. “Summer Time Sweeps Land,” 31 March.

————–, 1919. “Parliament ‘About Turns,’” 12 April.

————–, 1922. “Save Daylight In Cities of U.S.,” 29 April.

————–, 1940. “Time Saving Is Extended Indefinitely.” 21 September.

————–, 1940. “Centres Which Turned Clocks Back Required To Revert To ‘Fast’ Time,” 24 September.

————–, 1942. “Daylight Time Now in Effect Throughout Canada and the U.S,” 9 February.

House of Commons Debates, 1917. Daylight Saving Bill, 23 July.

———————————-, 1918, Daylight Saving, 26 March.

Klein, Christopher, 2012, “8 Things You May Not Know About Daylight Saving Time,” History, 9 March, http://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-daylight-saving-time.

Macdonald, Cheryl, 2007. “The Battle for Daylight Saving,” Pinecone.on.ca, http://www.pinecone.on.ca/MAGAZINE/stories/BattleDaylightSaving.html.

National Post (The), 2015. “National Post View: Time to eliminate daylight savings,” 9 March.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1913. “Daylight Saving,” 19 June.

Prerau, David. 2005, Seize the Daylight, New York, Thunder Mouth Press.

Willet, William, 1907. “The Waste Of Daylight,” Daylight Saving Time, http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/willett.html.

Image:

George Vernon Hudson, (1867-1946), late in life, author unknown, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Hudson_

Cover of William Willett’s pamphlet, https://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2011/11/saving-energy-the-fall-back-position/.

 

Armistice Day

11 November 1918

The headline in The Citizen said it all: “PEACE! World War Ends; Armistice Signed; Kaiser Is Out; Revolution Grows.” After four years and a half years of fighting, the war was over. Shortly after 5am, Paris time, on 11 November 1918, the German politician Mathias Ezberger signed the armistice on behalf of Germany in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne, about 60 kilometres north of Paris. It was to take effect six hours later, allowing time for the news to reach the front—a delay that cost many men their lives as fighting continued right up until 11am. The last Canadian soldier to die in the war was Private George Lawrence Price of the 2nd Canadian Division who was killed at 10.58am by a sniper while his unit attempted to take the small Belgian village of Havré near Mons.

Newspaper
Front Page of The Citizen, 11 November 1918

News of the armistice reached Ottawa via an Associated Press dispatch at 3.06am that Monday morning. Seconds later, electric lights throughout the capital blinked four times—a pre-arranged signal organized by The Ottawa Citizen with the Ottawa Electric and Hydro-Electric Companies to indicate the arrival of peace. Except for patrons of all-night diners, most Ottawa citizens were home in bed, though many had left their lights on in hopes of witnessing history in the making.

Two days earlier, mid-Saturday afternoon, Ottawa’s electric lights had also blinked; that time twice on news that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated. Within minutes, the streets were a mass of exultant people, celebrating the end of the “Beast of Berlin,” and the overthrow of the House of Hohenzollern. Vehicles of all descriptions, flivvers, touring cars, tractors, and trucks, many decorated with flags and pennants, and loaded with people, slowly made their way down Sparks Street. The noise was deafening. In addition to horns, tin whistles, and the beat of pots and pans, some automobile owners had attached whistles to “cut outs” in their car exhaust pipes adding still more decibels to the cacophony. That evening, a mob of celebrating young people paraded through the revolving doors of the Château Laurier Hotel, past the statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the rotunda, and into the dining room, to the applause of diners. Shortly after 11pm, an effigy of Kaiser Bill, decorated with pictures of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, the instigator of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Austrian Emperor, and the German Crown Prince, was burnt on Connaught Square. The effigy had been made by the Citizen press-room staff using oil-soaked rags and waste. It was set alight by Chief Graham of the Ottawa Fire Department. The crowds started to disperse after midnight to await news that peace had arrived.

An armistice had been expected the following day. But Sunday came and went without an announcement. Nonetheless, plans for the big day went ahead. Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher announced that the day of the armistice would be a public holiday. A “monster” parade was scheduled. A request went out for all car owners to decorate their vehicles with flags of allied nations, and join the parade. Along with the war veterans and members of the 2nd Battalion stationed at Lansdowne Park, the letter carriers would parade in uniform. The pipe band of the St Andrew’s Society was also requested to gather for the march on Parliament. Kiwanis Club members were asked to form up at the entrance to Parliament Hill close to Bank Street. A series of floats were also planned, including one of a boat on which the Kaiser was on his knees tied to a winch.

When the news finally broke in the wee hours of Monday morning, the city went wild; the ensuring celebration far outstripped anything two days earlier. As the Citizen noted, Saturday’s celebrations merely marked the passing of a murderer and tyrant, while Monday’s “was a celebration of the greatest victory for civilization in the history of the world.” After the city’s lights flashed, Ottawa residents were summoned to the streets by the sound of fire station gongs and sirens, factory whistles, and church bells. In these days before radio, telephone girls quickly spread the word across telephone exchanges. Whole families, tousled haired and hastily dressed, stumbled out onto the early-morning streets waving flags or pennants, and blowing tin horns. The Postmaster-General, Lieutenant-Col. Hon. Pierre-Édouard Blondin was in his home library on Range Road when his electric lights blinked. Immediately, he and his family got dressed and drove in their car to Sparks Street where they found themselves at the head of an impromptu parade of celebrating citizens.

At 3.10am, the Citizen posted the new bulletin “GERMANY SURRENDERS” on their Sparks Street office window, eliciting prolonged cheers from the growing throng outside. A short time later, the skirl of bagpipes could be heard over the din, emanating from the corner of O’Connor and Slater Streets, followed by the sound of drums and horns of the “Victory Loan” and G.W.V.A. (Great War Veterans’ Association) bands that had quickly assembled. Making their way to Parliament Hill, they played “Maple Leaf Forever,” with thousands of voices joining in the song. After the last chorus, the bands struck up the famous tune of the “Old Hundred,” to which the crowd sang “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” After a moment of silence, an immense cheer went up that lasted for more than two minutes. The massed bands and then played another old church favourite “Our God Our Help In Ages Past.” As dawn approach, Reverend (Major) T. Thompson gave a concluding prayer. Afterwards, the bands struck up some familiar tunes, followed by the National Anthem, and, finally, “Tipperary,” in tribute to the boys a long way from home in the trenches in France and Belgium. Unabashed tears ran down the cheeks of many as they sang.

The Ottawa Citizen described the scene as one of “extreme beauty.” Above the heads of the crowds, stars sparkled, with a faint hint of dawn in the east.  Over at Connaught Square, the lights illuminating the Victory Loan campaign, which included a huge promotional “cash register,” twinkled, giving the appearance of a “fairy spectacle.” High in the sky, the large electric sign mounted on top of the Château Laurier Hotel read “Victory” instead of “Buy Victory Bonds,” thanks to a quick-thinking hotel electrician. On Wellington Street, a bonfire cast an orange, flickering glow on the surrounding buildings and the milling crowds.  The partying continued through the day. Stores, decorated in flags and bunting, experienced a run on Allied flags. One shop even sold out of old Diamond Jubilee Flags, bearing an image of Queen Victoria, left over and almost forgotten from the 1897 festivities.

The official celebrations began at 2pm that afternoon with more than 10,000 people assembled on Parliament Hill. In a huge parade, veterans and the G.W.V.A. band, directed by Lieutenant Jones, assembled on Cartier Square, and marched to the Hill. There, the “vets” met up once again with the “Victory Loan” band, conducted by Sergeant Cook, in front of the new Centre Block, still being rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1916. On either side of the steps leading up to the building were soldiers representing the allied nations holding their flags. At 2.30, the official party arrived, including the Governor General and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Borden, the wife of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden was in England at the time), Hon. Newton Rowell, the President of the Privy Council, as well as senior religious and military leaders.

After being introduced by Mr Rowell, the Governor General spoke of the major role played by Canadian troops in achieving victory, and how glad he was to be in Canada and “share in the pride that Canada had every right to feel.” He added “the Empire would never forget the deeds of its soldier sons, on land, in the air, and on the seas.” He concluded by saying that “we have laid the foundation for a long peace.” Although the Governor General was wildly cheered, the newspaper reported that his speech was difficult to hear owing to “small boys extracting horrible sounds from tin horns.” After prayers of thanksgiving offered by the clergy, the two bands reprised the hymns that they had played earlier in the morning in the spontaneous celebrations that had occurred immediately follow news of the armistice. The official ceremonies concluded by a speech from Rowell who spoke of the “debt of gratitude” owned by the nation to those who sacrificed their lives for the Empire in the fight for civilization. He also read out to the cheering crowd the armistice terms signed by Germany. The proceedings ended with a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia.”

That evening, a special Thanksgiving service was held at St Bartholomew’s Church with the Governor General reading the lesson. The following day, 12 November, another Thanksgiving service was held at Christ Church Cathedral at noon. Among the congregation were the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Lady Borden. Later that day, members of the Ottawa Motor Club assembled at the corner of Wellington and Bank Streets for the “Great Victory Parade” down Rideau, Bank, and Sparks Streets.

Sadly, as we all know, the Governor General’s hope that the war had laid the foundation for a lasting peace was not fulfilled. Twenty-one years later, a new generation of Canadian soldiers were called to arms.

Sources:

The Ottawa Citizen, 1918. “PEACE!,” 11 November.

————————, 1918. “When Peace Comes Ottawa Will Have Full Celebration, 11 November.

———————-, 1918. “Ottawa Joyfully Celebrated The News Of The Kaiser’s Abdication, 11 November.

———————–, 1918. “Ottawans Joined In Celebrations As Never Before,” 12 November.

The Ottawa Journal, 1918. “The Auto Parade,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. “People’s Victory, Says Bishop Roper,” 12 November.

———————–, 1918. People Of Capital Celebrate Twenty-four Hours, 12 November.

The Phantom Air Raid

14 February 1915

One of the most curious events in Ottawa’s history occurred on Valentine’s Day night, Sunday 14 February 1915, six months after the start of the Great War. At roughly 10.30pm, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, received an urgent telephone call from Mayor Donaldson of Brockville informing him that at least three German airplanes had crossed the St Lawrence River from Morristown, New York. The invaders, apparently seen by scores of Brockville citizens who were returning from Sunday evening church services, had just passed directly over the community travelling in a northerly direction, presumably towards the capital. One of the planes shone a powerful searchlight on the town, lighting up its main street. Reportedly, the planes dropped  “fireballs,” or “light balls,” into the river on the Canadian side of the border. Many Brockville citizens become hysterical.

After receiving the mayor’s call, Borden immediately contacted the Canadian Militia. Meanwhile, Brockville’s chief of police telephoned Colonel Percy Sherwood, Commissioner of the Dominion police regarding the air invaders. At 11.15pm, Sherwood ordered Parliament Hill to be blacked out to avoid giving the raiders an easy target.  While the phlegmatic Commissioner was not unduly apprehensive about the report of approaching enemy planes, he believed it expedient to take precautionary measures, including blacking-out key government buildings. The lights that illuminated the Centre block’s Victoria Tower when Parliament was in session were extinguished. The Royal Mint, which was also typically lit up at night, was similarly darkened. At Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General, the blinds were drawn. Although the Governor General was away inspecting troops in Winnipeg, his wife, the Duchess of Connaught, was in residence. Other buildings observed the black-out as news of the pending attack hit the streets. The Globe newspaper reported that the entire city of Ottawa was in darkness that night.

Victoria Tower
Centre Block, Houses of Parliament, Ottawa, 1914

Despite Ottawa being only 100 kilometres distant from Brockville as the crow flies, aviation experts told the Canadian authorities that it might take until midnight for the invaders to make their way to the capital owing to poor weather conditions, which included low clouds and rain. Recall that planes at that time were lucky to go much more than 100 kilometres per hour under favourable conditions. Smith Falls, Perth, and Kempville, which were on the expected flight path, were alerted, and told to keep a sharp look-out. But midnight came and went without any sign of the intruders.

The next day, newspapers were full of stories on the putative air raid. The Globe’s headline screamed: “Ottawa In Darkness Awaits Aeroplane Raid. Several Aeroplanes Make A Raid Into The Dominion Of Canada.”  In the streets of the capital, citizens experienced a frisson of excitement with the war apparently being brought to the city. The Ottawa Journal reported that “Ottawa feels first thrill of war,” and marvelled that usually reserved Ottawa citizens were stopping complete strangers on the street seeking news of the invaders. In the House of Commons, Sir Wilfrid Laurier rose and asked the Prime Minister for any information that he might be able to provide. Borden confirmed that he had received a telephone call from the Mayor of Brockville, and that he had communicated the news of the expected raid to the chief of the general staff, but he was “unable to give the point of departure of the aeroplanes in question.” That night, fearing that the previous night’s attack might have been aborted owing to bad weather and subsequently re-launched, government buildings were blacked out for a second night. Parliament sat as usual, but behind drawn curtains.

For two hours, Ottawa’s city council debated a motion submitted by St George Ward alderman Cunningham “that in view of the possibility of an air raid on the city hall while this august body is in session, Constable McMullen be instructed to pull down the blinds.” The Ottawa Journal wryly noted that the debate occurred under the glare of 61 electric lights which lit up the building. It also noted that the alderman frequently absented himself from the debate to climb the city hall tower to scan the skies for sight of the approaching planes so that he could be the first to warn his colleagues to take shelter in the cellar.

When no planes appeared, people started to look for other explanations. Quickly, suspicion focused on some Morristown youths, described as “village cut-ups,” who admitted to having sent up three “fireworks balloons” from the American side of the St Lawrence at about 9pm which exploded in the air above Brockville. Giving credence to this story, the remains of balloons with firework attachments were subsequently recovered from the ice on the St Lawrence two miles east of the town, as well as from the grounds of the Brockville Asylum, now called the Brockville Mental Health Centre. The ostensible reason for sending up the balloons was to commemorate the centenary of the end of the war of 1812. More likely it was a prank aimed at scaring Canadians.

Officials in Ottawa didn’t readily believe these reports. The Dominion Observatory reported that the wind that night was consistently coming from the east. It contended that as Morristown is directly opposite Brockville, any balloons sent up from the Morristown area would have travelled to the west, and certainly not in the direction the airplanes were said to have taken. The press also reported that militia authorities were in contact with Washington, and that a thorough inquiry had been set in motion to locate the airplanes’ base of operation.

Across the Atlantic in England, which had experienced its first German Zeppelin air raid just three weeks earlier, the phantom air raid on Ottawa was a source of merriment. By chance, the night after the Ottawa scare, the lights of Parliament at Westminster suddenly went out. Making a reference to the Ottawa raiders, William Crooks, Labour MP for Woolwich cheekily called out in the darkness” “Hello, they’re here!” The House of Commons cracked up with laughter.

So what really happened that Valentine’s Day night? How plausible was an attack on Ottawa?

It wouldn’t have been the first time that armed raiders had crossed the U.S. border into Canada. There were precedents. Less than fifty years earlier, the Fenians, an Irish extremist group, made a number of military forays into Canada across the U.S. border. The Ottawa Journal also claimed that German sympathizers in the United States had contemplated action against Canada during the early days of the war in 1914, going so far as to set up training bases in the United States with the objective of “making a descent upon Canada to destroy canals and railways” before being told to desist by U.S. authorities. Less than two weeks prior to the supposed air raid on Ottawa, Werner Horn, a German army reserve lieutenant, tried to blow up the Vanceboro international bridge between St Croix, New Brunswick and Vanceboro, Maine in an attempt to disrupt troop movements.

B.E.2c
British B.E.2c, manufactured by the British Air Factor, Vickers, Bristol, circa. 1914

However, an air raid on Ottawa by German sympathizers seems highly unlikely. While on a sharp upward development trajectory, aviation was still primitive in early 1915, the first powered flight having taken place only eleven years earlier. Even at the front in France, airplanes were then mostly used for reconnaissance. Typical of that era, the British military airplane, the B.E.2c, could stay aloft for only three hours.

The most likely explanation is the toy balloon story, combined with a bad case of war jitters. As suggested by one of the newspapers, the searchlight beam that reportedly lit up Brockville could be explained by a fortuitous flash of lightning while the balloons were above the city. However, the fact that the Dominion Observatory was adamant in its view on the wind direction that night fuelled fears that the bombers were real.

Certain modern-day investigators have a whole different explanation—UFOs. The story of Ottawa’s phantom air raid has featured in a number of books on the paranormal, including The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed. To add grist to the paranormal mills, the same night Ottawa prepared for an air raid, strange lights and planes were apparently spotted over other Ontario towns.

Sources:

Colombo, John Robert, 1999. Mysteries of Ontario, Hounslow Press.

House of Commons, 1915. “Reported Appearance of Aeroplanes,” Twelfth Parliament, Fifth Session, Volume One, 15 February.

Rutkowski, Chris & Dittman, Geoff, 2006. The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

The Globe, 1915. “Ottawa In Darkness Awaits Aeroplane Raid,” 15 February.

————————, 1915. “Were Toy balloons and not Aeroplanes!” 15 February.

The Ottawa Journal, 1915. “House To Be Dark Again To-night,” 15 February.

————————, 1915. “Wind From East; Fact That Casts Doubt On Toy Balloon Story; But It Seems Most Likely Explanation,” 15 February.

———————-, 1915. “The Air Raid That Didn’t,” 15 February.

———————–, 1915, “Brockville Statement,” 15 February.

———————–, 1915. “Laughing at Ottawa,” 16 February.

Unikoshi, Ari, 2009. The War in the Air, http://www.firstworldwar.com/airwar/summary.htm.

WFlem72706@aol.com. 2007. “The Phantom Invasion of 1915,” Rootsweb, Quebec-Research Archives, http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/QUEBEC-RESEARCH/2007-04/1176680122.

Images: Statistics Canada. Parliament, 1914. http://www65.statcan.gc.ca/acyb07/acyb07_2014-eng.htm.

British B.E.2c, circa 1914, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Aircraft_Factory_B.E.2.

Sabotage on Parliament Hill?

3 February 1916

It was mid-winter. On the Western Front in France where tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers were entrenched, there was a lull in the fighting; the battle of Verdun was yet three weeks away. Back home in Ottawa, all too was quiet on the parliamentary front. But this was to quickly change. The House of Commons convened in the afternoon of 3 February 1916 with a light agenda. Among the items for discussion was a proposal by Mr. Clarence Jameson, deputy for Digby, Nova Scotia, for an inquiry into the large differential between the retail price of fish and the dock-side price received by fishermen. Shortly before 9.00 pm, Mr. William Loggie, member for Northumberland, New Brunswick, moved that the House refer the issue to the Marine and Fisheries Committee. Further debate was interrupted by a commotion at the far end of the Commons chamber facing the Speaker’s chair. In rushed Mr. R.C. Stewart, the Commons’ Chief Doorkeeper. As tersely reported in Hansard, the parliamentary record, Stewart exclaimed “There is a big fire in the reading room; everybody get out quickly.” Within seconds, the corridor leading to the House of Commons was in flames. With smoke billowing into the chamber, members, officials, and visitors in the gallery fled for their lives. It was a close call. Coughing and gasping for breath, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden had to be helped outside by a fifteen-year old page.

Firefighters from Ottawa’s Fire Department were on the scene within minutes to assist the Dominion Police who were responsible for fire protection on Parliament Hill. They were alerted by a signal sent to a nearby fire station by a newly-installed automatic fire alarm system which responded to the dramatic change of temperature inside Parliament’s centre block. But their quick response was to no avail. The gothic building which housed both the House of Commons and the Senate was quickly engulfed in flames. Constructed fifty years previously, its interior largely consisted of highly inflammable varnished wooden panelling and cabinets, its roof supported by massive pine beams. While furnished with modern fire extinguishers and hoses hooked up to the water system, the building was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, nor did it have fire doors which might have retarded the fire’s progress.

Seventy-eight firemen and Hill staff battled the blaze. Through the smoke and flames, the bell in the Victoria Tower tolled the hours until the stroke of midnight when it finally crashed to the ground. When fire fighters finally got the fire under control at 2.00am, the centre block was gutted. The only part spared was the Parliamentary Library to the rear, saved by the quick action of Michael MacCormac, assistant parliamentary librarian, who closed the iron doors which separated it from the main building.

Sadly, seven people lost their lives. Two were guests of Madame Sevigny, the wife of the Commons’ speaker. She had been hosting three friends in the Sevignys’ third floor apartment. When the alarm sounded, Madame Sevigny left the building with her two children and their nursemaids. Unfortunately, Madame Morin and Madame Brey didn’t immediately follow her, stopping first to retrieve valuables. Unfamiliar with the building, they were unable to find an exit in time and were overcome by smoke. Madame Dusseault, the third friend, survived by jumping from a third-floor window into a net held by firemen. Other victims included Mr Bowman Law, deputy for Yarmouth, and Mr J. Laplante, who were trapped in upstairs rooms. A policeman and two civil servants also perished when a wall fell on top of them as they battled the fire. Also lost in the blaze was the historic mace of the House of Commons, symbol of its authority, acquired in 1845 and used by the Province of Canada prior to Confederation.

Many believed that the fire was deliberately set by a German saboteur.  This was not as far-fetched as it might sound. A year to the day prior to the fire, a German army reservist was partially successful in blowing up a railway bridge between Vanceboro, Maine and St. Croix, New Brunswick in an effort to disrupt troop movements. Chief Graham of the Ottawa Fire Department was convinced it was sabotage, saying that the “fire was set and well set.” He also clamed hearing five explosions that sounded like artillery shells.

Parliament Hill Fire
Parliament, Centre Block after the Fire
4 February 1916

A Royal Commission set up to examine the origins of the fire and its causes, looked closely at the sabotage allegations as well as other more mundane explanations, such as careless smoking or an electrical fault. It established that the blaze began in a lower shelf of one of six large wooden tables in the reading room located between the House of Commons and the Senate chambers at about 8.55pm. The first person to spot the fire was Mr Francis Glass, MP, who was in the reading room at that time. The only other occupant was Madame Verville, the wife of Alphonse Verville, another member of parliament. After Glass called for assistance, a policeman came in with a fire extinguisher but was unable to douse the flames which spread to newspapers hanging from a nearby wooden partition which in turn ignited the highly varnished wooden shelving that lined the room.

Experts testified how incendiary devices or fire accelerants might have been responsible, but no evidence of their use was found. Several people reported seeing strangers in the vicinity, including a “shifty” and “nervous” man with a “rather striking” grey moustache close to the House of Commons lobby shortly before 9.00pm. But nothing came of these allegations.  Most damning was a statement from Mr John Rathom, editor of the Journal, a Rhode Island newspaper, who claimed that three weeks prior to the fire he had received information from employees at the German Embassy in the United States (then a neutral country) that Canada’s Parliament would shortly catch fire. While he had passed on this intelligence to a U.S. District Attorney, it was not sent to Canadian authorities. However, Mr Rathom declined to come to Ottawa for examination, and refused to reveal the names of his informants at the German Embassy.

Colonel Sherwood, head of the Dominion Police, was not convinced by the sabotage explanation. Given the times, he argued that fires were frequently but erroneously attributed to German sabotage, pointing to an incident in Brooklyn, New York where the explosion of two British munitions ships was initially thought to have been the handiwork of German saboteurs but was in fact due to faulty wiring. Although the general public had access to Parliament, including the reading room, the police had added staff at the start of the war and had taken additional security precautions following the Vanceboro incident. Any intruder would have been spotted by the constable on duty immediately outside the reading room.

With others testifying that the “No Smoking” signs in the reading room were routinely disregarded, a wayward cigar or cigarette seemed a plausible explanation for the fire, especially as burn marks marred the reading room’s furniture. But there was no evidence of anybody smoking immediately prior to the fire’s discovery. Alternatively, a fault in the building’s primitive electrical wiring system might have been responsible.  However, experts ruled out the possibility of an electrical fire, testifying that the wires running to the lights on the tables in the reading room were safely housed in metal conduits.

One thing that became apparent at the Commission hearings was the considerable discord between the Dominion Police and the Ottawa Fire Department. Colonel Sherwood had refused to allow Chief Graham to station city firemen permanently on Parliament Hill.  In his view, divided responsibility was “usually fatal and would always be vexatious and productive of friction.” He also maintained that all of his men were qualified to use fire equipment, and were trained to be more observant and alert than Ottawa’s firemen—a view disputed by Chief Graham. This dispute may have coloured the two men’s opposing views on the cause of the fire. A finding by the Commission that the fire had been the result of sabotage might have also reflected badly on the Dominion Police. On the other hand, Chief Graham seemed to see saboteurs behind every large Ottawa fire.

The Royal Commission concluded that “there are many circumstances connected with this fire that lead to a strong suspicion of incendiarism…But, while your commissioners are of such opinion, there is nothing in the evidence to justify your commissioners in finding that the fire was maliciously set.” They hoped that more evidence could be found in the future, and recommended that their report be treated as “interim” rather than “final.” While details of German espionage and sabotage activities in North American became known after the war, no additional evidence ever surfaced linking such activities to the Parliament fire. Nevertheless, the Commission’s suspicions provided grist to conspiracy theorists’ mills for decades to come.

Sources:

Grams, Grant, 2005. “Karl Respa and German Espionage in Canada During World War One,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Fall 2005, Vol. 8, Issue 1.

Royal Commission, 1916. Re: Parliament Hill Fire at Ottawa, February 3, 1916, Report of Commissioners and Evidence, Sessional Paper No. 72a, J. de la Tache, Ottawa.

The Maple Leaf, 1946. “Old clock tolled the hours until midnight when it crashed to the ground on the last stroke of 12,” 8 February 1946.

The Montreal Gazette, 1978. “Parliament on Fire,” 17 June.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1916. “Thousands View the Pathetic Spectacle on Parliament Hill,” 5 February.

———————–, 1946. “Mystery Still Shrouds the Burning of Parliament Buildings in 1916,” 1 February.

———————–, 1949. “Was Big Fire on “Hill” of Incendiary Origin?” 15 February.

———————–, 1949. “How One Mysterious New Resident Vanished,” 22 February.

———————-,1984. “He Helped save PM from 1916 Parliament,” 3 March.

———————-, 1985. “Parliament Can’t Function Without 17 1/2lb Symbol of Authority, 4 March.

Toronto Daily Star, 1945. “Saved Parliament’s Library in ’16, Dies,” 13 March.

Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Hill.

The Spanish Lady

26 September 1918

It was 1918, and the Great War was into its fifth year. In March, Germany launched a massive offensive on the Western Front in a desperate attempt to break the military stalemate before American doughboys arrived in force. But as soldiers of the Allied and Central Powers grappled in the mud of France and Belgium, a new, insidious enemy emerged, affecting both sides without discrimination. Amidst the clamour of war, it initially went unnoticed. But as tens of thousands at the front and at home began to experience symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, aches, stuffy nose, cough, high fever and in some cases death, it became clear that the world was facing something new and terrible. People called it the “Spanish” influenza, or the “plague of the Spanish Lady.”

Those first affected were in fact the lucky ones as they acquired an immunity that largely protected them from a far more virulent form of the disease that emerged later than year. Hundreds of millions of people around the world fell ill. With a mortality rate of 10-20 per cent, millions succumbed either of influenza, or of secondary infections, including pneumonia. Oddly, a disproportionate number were young adults rather than the very young or old. Pandemic experts place the number of dead at 50-100 million, equivalent to 3-6 per cent of the world’s population, before the disease petered out by early 1919. In comparison, “only” 17 million soldiers and civilians died in the Great War. Canada got off relatively lightly. 50,000 Canadians died of the flu in the space of a few months, compared to 65,000 Canadian military deaths in four and a half years of war.

Today, we know the “Spanish flu” as the avian H1N1 subtype of the influenza A virus. But in 1918 the cause of the disease was unknown. Most doctors thought it was a type of bacterial infection. Regardless, nobody was sure how to treat the disease, or how to stop its transmission. The only advice given was to avoid crowds and sneezing or coughing individuals, walk to work, eat well, and get a lot of rest.

Even the origins of the disease were uncertain. With news heavily censored in belligerent countries, accounts of the disease were initially reported in neutral Spain, and so it became identified with that country. One theory placed the disease’s origins in Kansas in the U.S. heartland. Another identified China as its point of origin, with the disease initially transmitted by infected Chinese workers who arrived in France via Canada to work behind the front lines. Regardless, the flu quickly spread around the world as thousands of infected soldiers travelled between home and the trenches.

Ottawa’s first fatality occurred on 26 September 1918, roughly two weeks after the first deaths in Canada were reported in Quebec City. Jules Lemieux, a 72-year old civil servant, succumbed to respiratory failure after a 5-day struggle. By mid-October, there were thousands of cases, with the city recording 50 deaths per day.

Ottawa’s Board of Health ordered the closure of schools and theatres, and forbade public gatherings. After some initial hesitation, churches cancelled services. The city’s streetcars were fumigated with formaldehyde. Stores and government offices closed at 4:00pm; the argument being that the body’s vitality was at its lowest ebb and hence most susceptible to the disease in the late afternoon. Over considerable public opposition, Ottawa’s Mayor Fisher cancelled sporting events, including a ploughing competition to have been held at the Experimental and Booth Farms. Although outdoors activities were considered safe, Fisher was concerned about people crowding onto streetcars to attend them.

In contrast, pharmacy hours were extended, with Sunday shopping temporarily permitted. With doctors prescribing whisky to patients, especially those in the pneumonia stage of the disease, anxious people crowded into drug stores, the only legal vendors of hard liquor during Prohibition. But pressure to allow drug stores to sell whisky without a $2 doctor’s prescription was resisted. Fisher argued that “the better physical condition of people, resulting from prohibition, had saved a great many lives.”

Despite precautionary measures, hospitals were flooded with patients. With medical staff also sickening, healthy doctors and nurses were taxed almost beyond human endurance. To help cope, a registry of voluntary nurses was set up by Lillian Freiman, wife of A. J. Freiman, the owner of Freiman’s department’s store on Rideau Street. Upon her recommendation, temporary hospitals were also established in schools and in the University of Ottawa dormitory on Laurier Avenue.

The disease hit all segments of society. But a disproportionate number of deaths occurred in the poor, largely francophone and Irish working class districts of LeBreton Flats, the home of the CP Railway Station, Lower Town, and areas adjacent to the Grand Truck Railway corridor than ran along the Rideau canal to Central (Union) Station. With the railways the main entry point for the disease, those working on or living close to the railways were at greatest risk. Over-crowded living quarters and poor hygiene were other contributing factors.

Influenza
Hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918,
A Flu Hot Spot
, Wikipedia

There were many sad stories. On Sunday, 6 October, George Neville of 61 Augusta Street, his wife Irene and their newborn child died within hours of each other in the same hospital. In Rochesterville on the city’s outskirts, a woman and her eight children were found ill by a worried neighbour. The mother was almost unconscious, while the children were laying about the house, all stricken with influenza.

With most able-bodied men in military service, the burden of caring for the sick and dying fell to women. Mayor Fisher called for their mobilization, asking the women of Ottawa “to get into the trenches themselves.” Women switched from making socks for soldiers to gauze masks and “pneumonia jackets” (padded cotton coats to keep in the body’s heat, supposedly hastening the disease’s progress and stimulating respiration). Female volunteers cared for those unable to get to hospitals. An appeal also went out for car owners to deliver supplies and nurses to homes of the ill, while the Central Canada Exhibition Office was converted into a soup kitchen, staffed by women.

Although many volunteered to help at great personal risk, some exploited the situation. Dubious patent remedies were sold to desperate people. “Fruit-A-Tives” billed itself as the wonderful fruit medicine that “gives the power to resist the disease.” A box of six tablets sold for $2.50, equivalent to about $37 in today’s money. Even Murphy-Gamble, the big Spark’s Street department store, encouraged women to dress warmly “To Check the ‘Flu.” According to its advertisement in The Ottawa Journal, the store claimed that “The woman who persists in wearing gauze undergarments and illusionary stockings in the face of unfavorable elements not only flirts with pneumonia, but courts the Pale Spectre.”

By mid-November, the disease appeared to have largely run its course in Ottawa, and life gradually returned to normal, or as normal as it could be with so many families having lost loved ones or friends. On 23 November, 1918, The Globe newspaper reported that the Spanish flu had claimed 570 lives in the capital, giving a death rate of 548 per 100,000 people, a far worse rate than that of most other major Canadian cities.

The influenza pandemic underscored the value of a co-ordinated national approach to Canadian health care leading to the establishment of the federal Department of Health in 1919.

Sources:

Bacic, Jadranka,  1998. The Plague of the Spanish Flu: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 in Ottawa, Bytown Pamphlet Series #63, The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Siamandas, George, 199?, The 1918 Influenza Outbreak: The Spanish Flu Panics Canada, http://timemachine.siamandas.com/PAGES/more%20stories/SPANISH_INFLUENZA%20.htm.

St. Pierre, Marc., 2002, Ottawa’s Dance with the Spanish Lady, 11 December, http://www.bytown.net/flu1918.htm.

The Globe and Mail, 1918. “The Spanish Influenza,” 1 October.

————————-,1918.  “Let Liquor Fight The Flu,” 10 October.

————————, 1918. “How Influenza Hit Ontario,” 23 November.

The National Post, 2014. “Spanish flu, the pandemic that killed 50 million, started in China — but may have spread via Canada, historian says, 4 February.

The Ottawa Journal,  1918. “Ottawa Valley is Badly Hit by Spanish Flue,” 4 October.

————————-, 1918. “Close Schools, Theatres, Etc. to Check “Flu,” 5 October.

————————-, 1918. “Influenza Spread Doctors Report to Board of Health,” 7 October.

————————-, 1918, “Mr. and Mrs. Neville And Babe Succumb,” 7 October.

————————-, 1918. “To Check the ‘Flu — Dress Warmly!”, 8 October.

————————-, 1918. “Nine in Family Reported Down With Influenza,” 9 October.

————————-, 1918. “Health Officers Think Situation Here Improved,” 10 October.

————————, “R.C. and Anglican Churches Cancel Sunday Services, 11 October.

————————, 1918. “Football Game Cancelled by Mayor at Late Hour Last Night,” 12 October.

————————, 1918. “Wont Hold Match Until Next Year,” 15 October.

————————, 1918. “To Close Stores at Four O’Clock on Board’s Order,” 15 October.

————————, 1918. “Gov’t Employees Will Quit Work at Four O’Clock,” 16 October.

———————–, 1918. “Spanish Influenza Rages in Canada,” 19 October.

Wikipedia, 2014, The 1918 Flu Pandemic, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic.

Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CampFunstonKS-InfluenzaHospital.jpg.

“Rib”

4 August 1914

On the night of 4 August 1914, a slender, athletic, 21-year old man know as “Rib” took the night train from Ottawa to New York, never to return. That afternoon, he had been playing tennis with three friends at the Rideau Club when he received word that Great Britain had declared war on Germany which meant that Canada was also at war. Being a German national, Rib, along with other citizens of hostile countries including the Austrian chef at the Château Laurier, had four days to settle their affairs and leave the country, or be interned. Rib made a few hurried telephone calls, packed his bag, and dined with friends at the Chateau Laurier before catching his train. So quick was his departure that he had to borrow $10 from James Sherwood, the son of Col. Sir Arthur Percy Sherwood, Commissioner of the Dominion Police Force. Rib was sorry to leave. More than thirty years later, shortly before his death, he commented that if the war hadn’t come along, he might have never had left Ottawa. There, he had been “indescribably happy.”

Young Rib

Young “Rib,” circa 1913

Rib first arrived in Canada with his big brother Lothar in 1910. In an age before passports and visas, Rib, just 17 years old, quickly found employment. He worked for a time at a Molson’s Bank branch as a clerk in Montreal, before being employed by an engineering firm rebuilding the Quebec Bridge that had tragically collapsed in 1907. This was followed by a stint on a railway as a car checker, and a job as a logger in British Columbia. After briefly returning to Germany to convalesce after a bout of tuberculosis, Rib came back to North America. Arriving in New York, friends suggested that he go to Ottawa, where he turned up in late 1913, that halcyon time before the outbreak of World War I.

What he did in Ottawa for a living during the next year is not entirely clear. Using a small legacy left to him by his mother, Rib began importing German wines and champagne, helping to supply Ottawa’s wealthy lumber barons, politicians and lobbyists with their favourite tipple. But his earnings could not have amounted to much. Other reports suggested that he was briefly a civil servant, or that he worked as a clerk, again at Molson’s Bank. But there is no solid evidence to support either contention. Others claimed that he was a German spy. While Rib might have been a bit of a snoop, this allegation is barely credible either. There was very little to spy on in pre-World War I Canada. Moreover, the German government was unlikely to employ a secret agent who was barely out of his teens. One thing certain, however, is that Rib made a huge splash on Ottawa’s small social scene.

Fluent in English and French as well as German, the tall, elegant, blue-eyed Teuton presented a dashing figure, and was an immediate hit among Ottawa society debutantes. A champion schmoozer, he became a fixture at the best parties. Being an expert violinist, Rib also joined an amateur Ottawa orchestra deemed the best in Canada. This too facilitated his access to the cream of society who was starved for good entertainment. His first known appearance at a society event was at a Christmas charity function for needy children put on in December 1913 by the May Court Club. Rib helped Father Christmas hand out presents.

In May 1914, Rib appeared in Ottawa’s premier “Kermiss,” a charity theatrical event held at the Russell Theatre on behalf of the Victorian Order of Nurses. The production drew rave reviews. The Evening Citizen enthused that “not for many years has the capital seen a spectacle so surpassing in brilliance, so bewildering in its riot of color, yet so wholly enjoyable.” Powdered and bewigged, Rib performed a stately “Royal Minuet” with other young men and women of Ottawa’s high society.

The centre of the social whirl in Ottawa during those pre-war years was Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s Governor General, the Duke of Connaught. The German-speaking Duke was the third son of Queen Victoria. His wife was Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. Rib was introduced to the vice-regal couple, by Arthur Fitzpatrick, the son of Canada’s Chief Justice, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick. The suave and debonair German was invited to Rideau Hall for dinner on at least two occasions, where he conversed with the Duchess in her first language.

Rib was also popular with the young men of the city. At his rooms at the Sherbrooke boarding house located at the corner of O’Connor and Slater Streets, Rib installed parallel bars, a flying swing, and a vaulting horse. There, he entertained his friends with gymnastic feats. In the evenings, he dined regularly with other residents of the house, which included a reporter for the Ottawa Free Press, an employee at the Parliamentary Library, an Ashbury College teacher, and a public servant. Never the retiring type, Rib told his friends that “a great future was in store for him.” Rib had few vices. Despite being a wine seller, he was a teetotaller. While he enjoyed a game of poker, he never played for large stakes. On weekends, he went for walks in Rockcliffe, or played tennis at the Rideau Club. Considered one of the Club’s best players, you could count on Rib to turn out nattily attired in court whites, completed with a black bow tie.  In the winter of 1913-14, Rib also joined the Minto Skating Club, and accompanied its skating team to a competition that February for the “Ellis Memorial Trophy” in Boston.

This charmed existence came to an end with Rib’s hurried departure for New York on that fateful August day. He left without paying a number of bills. Sometime after Rib had left the country, his doctor received a letter requesting that his medical bill be sent to an address in Switzerland. The $156 bill, a large sum in those days, was paid in full. Rib neglected, however, to pay his druggist, Harry Skinner of Wellington Street, to whom he owed $1.38. And he never repaid the $10 he borrowed from James Sherwood.

Reichsaussenminister Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1938

Reichsaussenminister
Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1938

The “Ottawa lad” known as “Rib” to his friends was indeed destined to go far…and to fall even farther. Better known to the world as Joachim von Ribbentrop, he became Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1938, the architect of the Russian-German non-aggression pact that immediately preceded the start of World War II. The pleasant young man that had charmed Ottawa high society a quarter century earlier had morphed into an ardent Nazi, fanatically loyal to Adolph Hitler. Following his trial by the Allies in Nuremburg after the war, he was hanged on 16 October, 1946 for war crimes, including his participation in Nazi efforts to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

Sources:

Bloch, Michael, 1992. Ribbentrop, A Biography, Crown Publishers, Inc.

Gwyn, Sandra, 1992. Tapestry of War, Harper Collins, Toronto.

Lawson, Robert, 2007. “Joachim von Ribbentrop in Canada, 1910-1914, A Note,” The International History Review, Vol. 29, No. 4.

von Ribbentrop, Joachim 1954. The Ribbentrop Memoirs, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1954.

Schwartz, Paul, 1943. This Man Ribbentrop: His Life and Times, Julian Messner Inc. New York.

Boston Evening Transcript, “Boston Skaters Winners,” 24 February 1914.

Hamilton Spectator, “Ribbentrop Sold His Wines in Ottawa,” 15 December 1945.

Ottawa Journal, “Ottawa’s Premier Kermiss Was a Feast of Song and Dance for Charity,” 6 May 1914.

—————–, “In Ottawa, Von Rib Foresaw Great Future, 15 June 1945.

——————, “Von Rib’s Days in Ottawa, Nazi Gangster Has C.S. Post, Paid Up Physician in Full,” 16 June 1945.

The Evening Citizen, “The Kermiss,” 6 May 1914.

Toronto Daily Star, “Ribbentrop a Cad Owed Ottawa Bill,” 16 June 1945.

Image: “Rib,” 1913, unknown, http://karkataracts.tumblr.com/post/60015944807/springtime-in-heaven-joachim-von-ribbentrop.

Image: Reichsaussenminister, 1938, unknown, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-18083,_Joachim_von_Ribbentrop.jpg.