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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Lord Elgin Hotel

19 July 1941

Across from Confederation Park on Elgin Street stands The Lord Elgin Hotel. Built in the French Chatêau style with a copper roof, and clad in the famous Queenston limestone from Niagara, the hotel has been an Ottawa landmark for 75 years. While conceived prior to the outbreak of World War II, the hotel was erected during the first half of 1941, helping to alleviate the shortage of affordable accommodation in the nation’s capital, made worse by an influx of thousands of service men and women. So urgent was the housing crisis, 1,000 tons of steel and 30,000 tons of other construction materials were appropriated for the hotel’s construction despite pressing war-related needs. The municipal government also provided considerable financial inducements to the owner of the building.

Lord Elgin Hotel, Phixed

The Lord Elgin Hotel by Phixed

According to John Udd, the President of the Ford Hotels Company that built and managed The Lord Elgin, the construction of a hotel in Ottawa had been his dream since 1930. However, it was the City of Ottawa that made the first overture in February 1939 when a delegation of city officials canvassed hotel chains in the United States and Canada with a view to finding a hotel company willing to build a modern, fireproof hotel in Ottawa. The delegation eventually chose the Ford Hotels group based in Rochester, N.Y. that operated major hotels in Toronto and Montreal as well as Buffalo, Rochester, and Erie in the United States. Serious negotiations were subsequently held between Udd and the federal and municipal governments in the spring of 1940 with a final agreement reached in July of that year. Udd is reported to have said that the “entire undertaking was conceived and determined at Laurier House [Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s residence] in the relatively short course of an informal interview.” King indicated Dominion support for the venture as long as the building was consistent with government plans aimed at beautifying the capital.

The City of Ottawa and Udd agreed that Ford Hotels would erect a hotel of at least 350 rooms, each equipped with a private bath or shower, at a cost of at least $900,000 in downtown Ottawa. Design upgrades to win the Prime Minister’s support plus other improvements brought the bill to $1.5 million (equivalent to roughly $23.5 million today). The hotel’s Elgin Street site was made possible when the Dominion government agreed to let a portion of the land to the Ford group for $5,000 per year with a 99-year lease. The contract also called for the edifice to have a “pleasing stone exterior,” and would be constructed using local labour and materials as far as possible. The room rates would start at a modest $2.50 per day for single occupancy and $3.50 for double occupancy.

The City furthermore agreed to provide a sizeable property tax break. The hotel’s assessment for tax purposes was fixed at one third of its normal assessed value for fifteen years. There was considerable opposition to this concession at City Council. Opponents noted that such concessions were not granted to the hotel chain for the construction of similar hotels in Toronto and Montreal. They also argued that a tax break would be unfair to competitors. However, the hotel’s supporters won the Council debate. They pointed to the amount of new construction spending that would be brought to the city as well as the hotel’s expected annual payroll. Although the property taxes paid to the city would be temporarily reduced, they would still amount to $15,000 per year. It was also hoped that the hotel would attract U.S. tourists to the capital, bringing with them much needed U.S. dollars—an important consideration during the war years when Canada was desperate for American currency to buy war materiel.

Once the contract was signed, attention turned to the name for the new hotel. Hundreds of names were proposed by the general public. Among the favourites were the “Kingsford,” a catchy combination of the Prime Minister’s name and the name of the hotel chain, the “Empire,” the “Tweedsmuir” after Canada’s much-loved Governor General who died in office in early 1940, the “Churchill,” after Britain’s Prime Minister, and “The Lord Elgin,” after James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, who was the governor general of the Province of Canada from 1847-54. The street on which the hotel was to be constructed was already named in his honour. The original idea for “The Lord Elgin” came from Ottawa resident C. Sheppard in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen’s editor. It was later championed at City Hall by Alderman H. P. Hill Jr. After two ballots, City Council’s Industry and Publicity Committee unanimously chose it for the new hotel. The name was subsequently approved by John Udd on behalf of the Ford Hotels Company.

The ink was scarcely dry on the contract when construction work began on the new hotel. Mayor Stanley Lewis turned the first sod in late September 1940. Its architects were Messrs Ross & Macdonald of Montreal, the successor firm that designed the Chatêau Laurier Hotel and Union Station a generation earlier. The main contractor was John Wilson of Ottawa. Following the erection of the hotel’s steel girders, which began at the beginning of January 1941, the building was constructed by skilled masons in six months. Each stone of the hotel was cut at the quarry to a pattern, numbered, and shipped to Ottawa for assembly like a big jig-saw puzzle. While most workers came from Ottawa, there was a shortage of masons, scores of whom were needed for the project. The contractor said that they “had to raise a cry to gather the old Scottish masons to a sufficient number for the job.”

By the end of February, work was sufficiently advanced to allow Prime Minister Mackenzie King to lay the cornerstone of the new hotel. At the ceremony, he praised the co-operation of all parties that had made the hotel possible. He also underscored the appropriateness of naming the hotel after Lord Elgin saying “few names in Canadian history were more associated with freedom that Lord Elgin.” It was during Elgin’s tenure as Governor General during the mid-nineteenth century that responsible government came to Canada. Elgin’s successful trip to Bytown, later called Ottawa, in 1853 also marked the first step towards the city being named Canada’s capital by Queen Victoria in 1857. King also thought it appropriate that the new hotel was located on the corner of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue as it was Sir Wilfred Laurier that initiated plans to beautify the capital. The prime minister likened Elgin Street and its approach to the Parliament Buildings to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Whitehall Street in London, and the Avenue Champs-Élysées in Paris.

At lunchtime on Thursday the 17 July 1941, the brand-new hotel was officially opened. Mayor Lewis had the honour of cutting a white silk ribbon that was bound around the four pillars of the hotel’s porte cochère that protected arriving guests from the elements. The mayor was handed the shears by the ten year-old daughter of the City’s controller, Chester Pickering, who did much to make the hotel a reality. The Prime Minister’s car then drove up to the hotel’s entrance to be met by civic officials and senior hotel officials, including John Udd, president of the Ford Hotels Company and Richard Ford, the company’s chairman of the board.

Inside, the prime minister unveiled two marble busts of the 8th Earl and Countess of Elgin and Kincardine that were donated to the Dominion by the 10th Earl with the intention that they be put on display in the new hotel that bore the name of his illustrious grandfather. The bust of Lord Elgin was made by William Behnes, while that of the Countess was by Amelia Hill. The busts were brought to Canada from the Bruce family home in Scotland on a Royal Navy warship. Afterwards, the prime minister and Mr Udd sent telegrams of thanks to the 10th Earl.  Mackenzie King then signed the hotel’s register as its first guest, followed by Mayor Lewis. Then came a celebratory lunch for one hundred guests in the dining room and a hotel tour.

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Bust of Lord Elgin, Replica in lobby of The Lord Elgin Hotel

 

The Lord Elgin was designed with relatively few of the facilities commonly expected in a hotel of this calibre. Hotel management stressed that there was no ballroom or grill, and that the “beverage rooms” were of modest scale aimed to serve the needs of its transient residents rather than compete with existing bars and restaurants in the city. Room service was provided, however, by Murray’s Lunch, a new, independent restaurant that could be accessed through the hotel’s premises as well as from the street.

Entering the lobby on the ground floor of the twelve-storey hotel, one could find directly ahead, the registration desk, an information desk and a cashier’s wicket. To the right of the entrance was a newsstand and a passageway to Murray’s Lunch and the bank of elevators. To the left was a travel and transportation desk, along with a corridor to a convention room, beverage rooms, and the barber and hair salon. The “men’s” beverage room had a club-like atmosphere, and could accommodate 150 persons. It was furnished with settees and light-coloured furniture. The table tops were blue with a mark-proof veneer. The “ladies’” beverage room was larger, holding 250 persons. Its colours were grey, mauve and orchid. Both beverage rooms were air-conditioned.

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Bust of Lady Elgin, Replica in lobby of The Lord Elgin Hotel

The hotel boasted 371 private guest rooms, each with private washrooms, located on the second to twelfth stories. The lower stories each had forty-six guestrooms, while upper level floors had either thirty-one or sixteen larger guestrooms or suites. Rooms were decorated in three colour schemes, with matching drapes and appointments. The lower three guest floors were decorated in blue-grey and dusty rose, the next four floors were in mauve and dusty rose, while the upper floors were in suntan buff and ivory. Drapes had a matching floral design. Instead of antiseptic white, the bathrooms were painted a suntan buff with ivory baked enamel walls. For the comfort of the guests, the bathroom floors were made of rubber rather than tile. Guestrooms were furnished in natural oak, with four armchairs. The hotel noted with pride that beds were five inches longer than usual with a reading lamp mounted onto the headboards. Each room was also equipped with a radio built into the telephone stand. Residents had their choice of two channels. Each room door was equipped with an indicator to alert the maid to whether the room was occupied. Although guestrooms were not air-conditioned, they had casement windows with extension hinges that the hotel claimed induced air currents to enter the room regardless of wind direction. Doors were also equipped with “peek-proof” ventilators.

On opening day, The Lord Elgin had a staff of 225, most of whom were women, with a payroll of roughly $200,000 per annum. Indicative of the close relationship the hotel had with the municipal government, both the hotel’s manager, Redverse F. Pratt, and the night manager, Gerald Cherry, were both previously employed by the Ottawa Tourist Bureau. Chester Pickering, member of the Ottawa’s Board of Control, later joined the hotel’s board of directors.

In 1949, the Ford Hotels Company was acquired by the Sheraton Group of hotels. Shortly thereafter it was reported that Sheraton Hotels had sold The Lord Elgin to a group of Ottawa and Montreal businessmen. President of the new company was Mr P. H. Bruneau of Montreal. Chester Pickering was named vice-president. The hotel subsequently changed hands several times. The Lord Elgin has been owned by Ottawa’s Gillin family since 1987.

In 2003, the busts of Lord and Lady Elgin were moved to Rideau Hall for an exhibit on the contribution the Earl made to Canadian culture and democracy. They were never returned despite entreaties from the hotel.  Government officials argued that the busts were only “on loan” to the hotel, and could be moved at any time. The hotel replaced the busts with replicas. Possibly to make partial amends, the National Capital Commission loaned a portrait of Lord Elgin to the hotel in 2015 to help celebrate the hotel’s 75th anniversary. Previously, the painting had hung in Rideau Hall. The portrait, which was purchased by Lord Grey, a later governor general, in 1907 is believed to have been painted at the beginning of the 20th century by an unknown artist in the style of Sir Francis Grant. The portrait is currently on display in the hotel’s lobby.

 

Sources:

Boswell, Randy, 2016, The Lord Elgin Hotel, Mackenzie King’s capital vision and birth of a landmark, Lord Elgin Hotel, February, http://lordelginhotel.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/109930_LEH_BookFeb18.pdf.

Gazette (Montreal) The, 1949, “Lord Elgin Hotel Sale Is Announced,” 19 December.

—————————-, 1950. “Lord Elgin Hotel Purchasers Named,” 12 January.

Lord Elgin Hotel, 2016. A historic landmark in downtown Ottawa, http://lordelginhotel.ca/hotel/history/.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1941, “The Lord Elgin Hotel,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Former Director of Ottawa’s Civic Publicity Appointed Hotel Manager,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Co-operation of Municipality Is Eulogized by Premier King,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “All Available Space Above First Floor Guest Rooms,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “400 Guest Rooms In The New Lord Elgin Designed For Rest and Comfort,” 19 July.

————————, 1941. “All The Most Modern Features Are To Be Found In The Lord Elgin,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Stones Of New Hotel Fitted Together As If A Huge Jig-saw Puzzle,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Ottawa Aldermen And Civic Officials Opened Negotiations For New Hotel,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Construction Work Completed In Little More Than Six Months,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Murray’s Lunch In The Lord Elgin,” 19 July.

————————-, 1941. “Many Suggestions Put Forward Before Name Selected by Civic Committee,” 19 July.

————————-, 2011. Sculptures of Lord and Lady Elgin Have moved from Hotel to Rideau Hall, 20 February.

————————-, 2016, “Expectations of Grandeur: The Lord Elgin Turns 75,” 3 March.

Petchloff, Tom, 2015. “Lord Elgin to undergo major renovations as it celebrates its 75th anniversary, Ottawa Business Journal, 29 February.

Images:

The Lord Elgin Hotel, by Phixed, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Elgin_Hotel.

Lord Elgin, 2016, by James Powell

Lady Elgin, 2016 by James Powell

 

 

Captains of the Clouds

16 July 1941

It was mid-summer 1941. Britain, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth had been at war with Nazi Germany for almost two years. Although the Royal Air Force had fought off the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the war news was grim. That June, German forces had launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. By mid-July, Russian forces, their officer corps decimated by Stalin’s purges, were in rapid retreat falling back towards Kiev and Moscow.

On the other side of the globe, shooting of a very different sort got underway in Canada. A crew from Warner Brothers, the motion picture studio, arrived in Ottawa, their six-week mission to film Captains of the Clouds, the first ever Hollywood movie shot entirely in Canada. The movie was the story of brash, Canadian bush pilots joining the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) after hearing Churchill’s historic “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech following Dunkirk. Deemed too old for combat missions, they become instructors, but later are called upon to ferry bombers to Britain.

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Cinema Poster for the Warner Brothers’ Film “Captains of the Clouds” 1942.

The BCATP was the largest-ever aircraft instructional programme, training Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen as well as men from other Commonwealth and foreign countries, including the United States. From when it commenced operations in early 1940 until it was wound down in late 1944, the Plan trained 131,553 pilots and crewmen, over half of whom (72,835) were Canadian. Costing $2.2 billion of which Canada paid $1.6 billion (equivalent to about $25 billion in today’s money), the Plan was Canada’s single-most important contribution to the Allied war effort. Recall also that Canada’s population at the time was only 12 million, a third of what it is currently.

The movie, which was directed by Michael Curtiz, starred James Cagney who was at the peak of his skills and at the height of his popularity. It was Cagney’s first movie to be filmed in Technicolor. Co-starring were Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale Senior, and George Tobias as his bush pilot pals, and Brenda Marshall as the love interest. The movie was filmed in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Air Marshal “Billy” Bishop played a cameo role as himself in a graduation, or “wings,” ceremony. Bishop was an ace Canadian pilot from the First World War, and a recipient of the Victory Cross. In 1941, he was the Director of the RCAF and in charge of recruitment. Hundreds of RCAF servicemen and women also appeared in the film as bit players and extras. Much of the movie was filmed at Uplands Airport (now the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport) in Ottawa, with the bush scenes filmed in the North Bay area at Trout Lake and Jumping Caribou Lake. Flying scenes were also filmed at air stations located in Trenton, Dartmouth, Jarvis and Mountain View.

Cagney arrived in Ottawa dressed in a white suit in the wee hours of the Sunday morning before the beginning of the shoot, scheduled for Wednesday, 16 July 1941 at Uplands Airport, site of the No. 2 Service Flying Training School. He arrived by train from his Martha’s Vineyard farm, and stayed in a suite on the second floor of the Château Laurier Hotel, accompanied by his brother William who was a producer on the movie. Initially reluctant to star in the movie, Carney apparently made his participation contingent on Warner Brothers hiring his brother. Despite the early hour of his arrival, there was a crowd of female fans and a large press contingent there to greet him in the lobby. The Ottawa Evening Citizen reported that Cagney was not the “tough guy of the screen” but rather a “mild spoken, quiet, mannerly, young fellow.”

The first scene filmed on the Wednesday morning was the “wings” ceremony starring Air Marshall Billy Bishop, along with Wing Commander, W.R. MacBrien, the chief instructor at Uplands, Group Captain W.A. Curtis, the airport’s commanding officer, and Flight Lieutenants Harry Wood and Paul Rodier. Behind the scenes, the Warner film technicians wore sky-blue overalls to identify themselves as the film crew so they wouldn’t be confused with possible “fifth columnists” and saboteurs. Although Bishop performed well—Cagney called him “a natural”— the shoot was a nightmare requiring many takes owing in part to bad weather, malfunctioning equipment and the need to coordinate the ground action with complex aerial manoeuvres. It was well worth the effort, however. The scene of the airmen receiving their wings set against the backdrop of bright yellow Harvard trainers and camouflaged bombers with the service flags of Canada, Britain and Australia flying overhead provided a stirring spectacle, especially when you remember that these weren’t actors but real, wartime servicemen who would shortly be thrown into combat.

Generally speaking, the film was difficult to make from other perspectives. The American movie crew was unused to filming in wartime conditions. America was still a neutral country when Captains was made, five months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ottawa was choc-a-block full of servicemen and women. Consequently, living space was at a premium. While Cagney and the other stars were put up at the Château Laurier, the rest of the crew slept in the barracks at the Uplands flight school, eating service food. They were also far from the amenities of Ottawa. Reportedly, the crew almost struck over unsatisfactory conditions. Working in the bush also proved challenging. Cagney, who did some of his own stunts, suffered a concussion that delayed filming for several days as he recovered. As well, Sol Polito, the cinematographer, who initially had trouble getting into Canada owing to his Italian birth, reportedly suffered a heart attack while the film was being made.

Cagney, the other stars, and the Warner Brothers’ crew stayed in Ottawa for ten days. For Ottawa residents, the filming provided a much needed morale boost and a distraction from wartime privations and worries. The Hollywood stars were mobbed in the streets and at their hotel. On one occasion, Alan Hale had to take refuge in a shop when spotted on Sparks Street by admirers. Dennis Morgan, described by a journalist as having “the shoulders of a football player, voice of an opera star, and the face of a matinee idol,” received hundreds of letters, many of the “mash” variety, from adoring female Ottawa fans. Small boys staked out the hotel in wait for their heroes. Four enterprising young teenagers, brothers Frankie and Buddy Russell and their two friends Jim McNally and Bob Vaive managed to evade security and knocked on Cagney’s hotel room door. Cagney cheerfully signed autographs for them.

The most serious occurrence took place on the Thursday night, the day after the initial shoot at Uplands Airport. Cagney and the other stars had agreed to perform for service people, wives and sweethearts at the Rockcliffe air station. When the news got out, more than a thousand fans stormed the Château Laurier to catch a glimpse of the stars as they left for their performance. Cagney was tackled by near hysterical girls who grabbed his arms, clutched at his clothing and ruffled his hair. Alan Hale and Dennis Morgan also had a difficult time getting through the crowds. It was only with the help of a security team of soldiers who held back the straining fans that filled the hotel’s rotunda that the celebrities were able to get to their automobile. The Citizen described the spectacle as resembling “a mob scene from one of the bigger Hollywood epics.” The stars were good natured about it, but arrived a half hour late for their performance.

For the servicemen, it was worth the wait. With Cagney acting as the impromptu master of ceremonies, the Warner Brothers’ gang put on a lively vaudeville show, complete with dancers and singers.  Dennis Morgan sang “Annie Laurie,” accompanied by Miss Jean McGuire of Ottawa on the piano, followed by an encore of “A Little Bit of Heaven.” George Tobias and Alan Hale told jokes. Apparently, Hale had the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter. At the end of the evening, the stars acknowledged the Dominion’s war effort saying “For what you people are doing, we salute you.”

During their stay in Ottawa, the stars and members of the Warner Brothers technical crew also played two ball games with servicemen. The Hollywood stars lost the first softball game 8-6 at Rockcliffe air station. Claiming they knew nothing about softball, the Hollywood stars asked for a rematch hardball game. This second game was played at Landsdowne Park in front of 2,000 Ottawa fans; tickets were 25 cents each, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross, the RCAF Benevolent Fund and towards the construction of a sports field at No. 2 Flying School at Uplands. For the Hollywood visitors, James Cagney played catcher, Dennis Morgan played first base, and George Tobias pitched. Other members of the Warner Brothers technical and engineering team rounded out the team. Alan Hale was umpire. Hale said “I asked to be umpire because I am prejudiced. I want to see the air force win.” Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis threw the first pitch. The visitors won the five-inning game by a close 5-4 score. The winning pitcher was Dick Emmons, the Warner Brothers’ grip who relieved Tobias after the first inning. Douglas Heiman was the losing RCAF pitcher. Cagney played one inning, while Hale refereed for two. Dennis Morgan played the entire game.

After ten days of shooting, the Hollywood stars and the rest of the Warner team left Ottawa to go to their next film location at North Bay. Several hundred fans were at the Château to see their idols leave. As a birthday gift for Cagney, who turned 42 while in Ottawa, the “Upland boys” presented him with a silver identification tag engraved with his name and movie rank. It read “Flying Officer James Cagney, Captain of the Clouds, 1941.”

Capts of the Clouds, 12-2-42

Advertisement for the World Premiere of “Captains of the Clouds,” The Capitol Theatre, Ottawa, 12 February 1942, The Evening Citizen.

The movie was released on 12 February 1942, with premieres in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, London, and Cairo. The Ottawa premiere was held in the Capitol Theatre located at the corner of Bank and Queen Streets. The cinema was filled to capacity. Among the official attendees was Lieutenant General Andrew McNaughton who commanded the Canadian Corps. Before the movie started, RCAF service men and a trumpet and drum band from Uplands paraded to the cinema. On the Capitol stage, the band of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police played a programme of patriotic, marching tunes. The Capitol’s management bought Victory bonds with the proceeds of the first week’s shows.

The same night, two hundred RCAF airmen attended the New York premiere at the Strand Theatre. The airmen were feted on their 36-hour stay in New York at the Waldorf hotel. For the showing of the film, each airman was escorted by a John Powers model. Also in attendance was Leighton McCarthy, the Canadian Minister to the United States.

While the aerial shots were applauded and the film garnered two Academy Award nominations, one for best colour cinematography, and the other for colour interior decoration, film critics gave the movie mixed reviews. The New York Times described the first half as a “routine, he-man fable,” but said the documentary-like, second half took on “some consequence.” The Times critic added that “he had the odd feeling throughout the second half of the film that a company of Hollywood actors, fugitive from a previous picture, had got loose amid the serious activities and flashing planes of the R.C.A.F.”  Unsurprisingly, the movie was a big hit with Ottawa fans. The Citizen called it “breathtaking in its loveliness.” The paper gushed “There can be no doubt that “Captains of the Clouds” is without prejudice in any way, the finest aviation picture ever produced.”

Released only weeks after the United States’ entry into the war, Captains of the Clouds was a propaganda success for the RCAF. It also earned its place in cinematographic history as a forerunner of later combat movies. One modern critic called the film the Top Gun of its age. While IMDb gives Captains of the Clouds a middling 6.5 rating, it’s worth seeing if for no other reason than the spectacular aerial shots and the glimpses of Uplands Airport and downtown Ottawa as they were seventy-five years ago.

Sources:

Arnold, Jeremy, 2016. “Captains of the Clouds,” Turner Classic Films, http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/78131%7C0/Captains-of-the-Clouds.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1941. “Jimmy Cagney Arrives To Play Lead in Film,” 14 July.

————————-, 1941. Four Ottawa Boys ‘Blitz’ Jim Cagney For Autograph,” 15 July.

————————-, 1941. “Canadian Flying Ace Takes Speaking Role In Picture Filmed At Upland Airport,” 16 July.

————————-, 1941. “Movie Stars Will Entertain Airmen At Party Tonight,” 17 July.

————————-, 1941. “Soldiers Battle Crowd And Rescue Movie Stars, 18 July.

————————-, 1941. “Film Stars Due To Play Airmen,” 21 July.

————————-, 1941. “Fun Is Promised Tonight In Special Softball Game,” 23 July.

————————-, 1941. “Film Stars Turn Back Airmen In Benefit Softball Game,” 24 July.

————————-, 1942. “Captains of the Clouds Rated No. 1 Flying Film,” 13 February.

————————-, 1942. “Canadian Airmen Royally Feted on Manhattan Visit, 13 February.

Hatch, F.J., 1983. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945, Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Monograph Series No. 1, http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/docs/aerodrome_e.pdf.

IMDb, 2016. Captains of the Clouds, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034578/.

New York, Times (The), 1942. “Captains of the Clouds, Heroic Film About The Royal Canadian Air Force and Starring James Cagney, Arrives At The Strand,” 13 February.

Taylor, Chris, 2016. “Inflight Movie: Captains of the Clouds (1942),” Taylor Empire Airways, http://taylorempireairways.com/2009/08/in-flight-movie-captains-of-the-clouds-1942/.

Youtube, 2011. Captain of the Clouds, trailer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1NG0os_-3o.

 

Some Chicken! Some Neck!

30 December 1941

News that Japan had attacked and destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in early December 1941 simultaneously appalled and elated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While disheartened by the destruction and loss of life, he was overjoyed that the sleeping American giant was finally fully awake to the global threat posed by the Axis Powers. With the English-speaking peoples of the world now united against the common foe, Churchill was convinced that eventual victory was assured.

Churchill immediately made plans to go to the United States to confer with his new war ally, President Franklin Roosevelt. Initially, Roosevelt advised Churchill against the trip, citing the enormous risks of crossing the U-boat infested, North Atlantic, as well as domestic American political reasons; he was unsure of Churchill’s reception. But there was no dissuading the redoubtable British Prime Minister. Accompanied by staff and senior military leaders, he arrived on American soil on 22 December, just two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, having journeyed to North America on the newly-commissioned battleship HMS Duke of York. The perilous journey took ten days.  Churchill spent much of the next four weeks a guest of the Roosevelts’ at the White House.  In so doing, a close, personal bond was established between the two leaders. After spending Christmas Day with the Roosevelt family, Churchill addressed the joint Houses of Congress on Boxing Day. At the Senate rostrum, Churchill reminded his audience, and the American people who were listening to his speech by radio, that he was half American himself, and, but for a quirk of fate, he might have had a seat there instead of the House of Commons in London. He also warned his audience not to understate the severity of the ordeal they faced. He predicted dark days to come in 1942, but was confident in their ultimate success. Churchill’s frankness, and boundless enthusiasm, charmed U.S. lawmakers, who gave him a thunderous ovation.

While the prime reason for his trip to North America was to woo the United States, and to coordinate the next steps in the Allied military campaign, Churchill made a two-day side journey to Canada. With the American trip off to an excellent start, Churchill felt that he was able to accept an invitation from Canada’s Governor General, the Earl of Athlone, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King to visit Ottawa. The trip was a “thank-you” to the Dominion for the significant contribution the country had made to the war effort in the form of manpower, materials, food, and money.

For obvious security reasons, Churchill’s visit to Canada was kept top secret until only shortly before his arrival in Ottawa.  But when the news broke, a wave of excitement gripped the nation’s capital. Flags and bunting quickly appeared on the city’s buildings and telephone poles. At shortly after 10am on Monday, 29 December, Winston Churchill arrived at Ottawa’s Union Station on President Roosevelt’s luxurious, bullet-proof, personal train, complete with the President’s personal valet, chef, and body guards. Also on board was Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had travelled down to Washington on Christmas Day to confer with American and British officials, and to witness first hand Churchill’s historic address to the U.S. Congress.

Despite the cold and a light snow falling, twenty thousand people filled the streets around Ottawa’s Union Station to catch a glimpse of Churchill. The official welcoming committee consisted of representatives of the Governor General, Cabinet Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, heads of diplomatic corps resident in Ottawa, and Mayor Stanley Lewis. As the train backed into the station, the British Prime Minister stood at the end-car platform, wearing a dark overcoat and a dark blue muffler, with a heavy walking stick in hand, and his characteristic cigar clenched between his teeth. He greeted the crowd’s welcoming cheers with broad smiles, waves of his hat, and his famous “V” for Victory sign. On exiting the train, Churchill was swamped by enthusiastic citizens who had burst through the police cordon as he made his way to the official car. Apparently, he was forced to use his elbows to reach the car, though he took all the jostling in good humour.

Churchill was driven from Union Station to Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, with whom Churchill would be staying on his short visit to Ottawa. Along the processional route, which took his motorcade down Nicholas Street, the Laurier Avenue Bridge, Mackenzie Avenue, Lady Jane Drive, and Sussex Avenue, thousands of Ottawa citizens cheered themselves hoarse. People clambered on top of cars to get a good view of their wartime hero who had sustained an Empire through more than two desperate years of war. Office windows on the route were jammed with spectators. Security was provided by scores of RCMP and Ottawa police both in uniform and in plain clothes.

Newspaper accounts commented that Churchill had been accompanied to Ottawa by Sir Charles Wilson, the prime minister’s personal physician. The Ottawa Citizen pointed out that Wilson’s presence signified nothing; it was “not that Mr. Churchill is in the least need of medical attention.” On the contrary, the paper said that the 66-year old British Prime Minister was “fighting fit,” looked younger than expected, and there was “no evidence of fatigue, nothing to indicate that the weight of his responsibilities is proving too much for him.” In reality, that assessment was far from the truth. Years later, it was revealed the night after his triumphant Congressional speech, just two days before leaving for Ottawa, Churchill experienced a gripping pressure in his chest, with pain radiating down his left arm. Wilson recognized the symptoms of a heart attack, but said nothing, telling Churchill that he had simply overdone things. Fortunately, for Churchill and the entire world, the symptoms eased, and the British Prime Minister continued with his gruelling schedule without further incident.

The following afternoon, 30 December, Churchill was taken in procession to Parliament Hill to address a joint session of the Senate and House of Commons. As Parliament was officially in recess, members were recalled for Churchill’s speech. Before entering the Centre Block, Churchill inspected a guard of honour consisting of personnel from the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteers, RCAF, and cadets from the Canadian Officers’ Training Centre in Brockville. In charge of the guard was Major Alexandre Dugas of the Maisoneuve Regiment, recently returned from Britain. Again, the British leader was given a huge welcome by the many thousands of Ottawa citizens. To their cheers, Churchill got out of his car, and raised his hat in acknowledgement.

Inside, the House of Commons was packed. Almost 2,000 people, including MPs, Senators, privy councillors, provincial premiers, judges, clergy, high-ranking military leaders, and heads of Commonwealth and foreign delegations, sat on the parliamentary benches and on temporary seats set up on the Commons’ floor. The galleries too were packed with humanity, including a virtual army of photographers and movie cameramen there to record the historic proceedings.

Churchill in HofC

Churchill Speaking in the House of Commons,  Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada

At 3pm, Churchill took his seat to the right of the Commons Speaker, the Hon. James A. Glenn; the Senate Speaker, the Hon. Georges Parent, sat on Glenn’s left. Churchill’s arrival was the signal for minutes of near-frantic cheering from the assembled multitude. After the words of welcome, Churchill rose and strode over to the end of the table nearest the Speaker’s chair, where a bank of microphones had been set up. When silence was restored, Churchill addressed the throng, his words transmitted live over CBC radio, and to the crowds outside on Parliament Hill over a loudspeaker system. In his speech, one of his most memorable, Churchill thanked the Canadian people for all they have done in the “common cause.”  He also said the allies were dedicated to “the total and final extirpation of the Hitler tyranny, the Japanese frenzy, and the Mussolini flop.”  Alluding to defeatist comments made by French generals who in 1940 had said that in three weeks England would have her neck rung like a chicken, Churchill famously said “Some Chicken! Some Neck!”  Simple words, but ones that captured the resolve of a people to fight on to victory. The House erupted into cheers.

After his speech, Churchill retired to the Speaker’s chambers. There, Yousef Karsh, the photographer, persuaded the British leader to pose for an official portrait. Churchill gruffly agreed, giving him five minutes. When Karsh took Churchill’s iconic cigar out of his mouth, Churchill glowered. Karsh immediately snapped a picture, capturing the pugnacious pose that became symbolic of British resistance to Nazi aggression. (See Karsh photograph.) Karsh later said “By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me.” The photograph made Karsh internationally famous. Mackenzie King was so delighted with the photograph that he sent three copies to Churchill.

The next day, Churchill returned to the United States for more talks with President Roosevelt and U.S. political and military officials, as well as for a short, but much needed, holiday in Florida. On 16 January 1942, Churchill finally left America on a Boeing 314 Flying Boat called the Berwick, departing from Virginia to Bermuda. The intrepid leader took the controls of the plane and flew it for part of the journey. Arriving in Bermuda, he had been scheduled to rendez-vous with the battleship Duke of York for the remainder of the trip back to the United Kingdom. However, advised that the weather was favourable, and eager to get back home after being away for more than a month, he continued his journey to Britain by plane—an audacious undertaking; transatlantic air travel was still in its infancy. While the flight itself was largely uneventful, disaster was narrowly averted when the airplane accidently flew within five minutes of the coast of occupied France. When a course correction was finally made, the flying boat, now headed north to Plymouth Harbour, was identified by British coastal defences as a German bomber. Six Hurricane fighters were sent to intercept the airplane and shoot it down. Thankfully, they were unable to locate it. As Churchill laconically put it “They failed in their mission.”

Churchill returned to Canada in late 1943 to confer once again with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. By then, the tide of war had finally turned. Instead of focusing on how best to resist the Axis onslaught, the leaders, at La Citadelle in Quebec City, plotted the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

 

Sources:

British Pathé, 1941. “Churchill in Ottawa,” http://www.britishpathe.com/video/churchill-in-ottawa.

CBC Digital Archives, 2015. 1941: Winston Churchill’s ‘Chicken’ Speech, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1941-churchills-chicken-speech.

Cobb, Chris, 2011. Winston Churchill 70 Years Ago: “Some Chicken! Some Neck!” The Churchill Centre, http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support?catid=0&id=1360.

Dr. Tsai’s Blog, 2011. Did Churchill have a heart attack in December 1941?” http://doctorjytsai.blogspot.ca/2011/11/did-churchill-have-heart-attack-in.html.

Evening Citizen (The), 1941. “Grim War Ahead, Churchill Warns U.S.,” 26 December.

————————–, 1941. “Prime Minister Churchill To Visit Ottawa And Address Parliament, 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “City Prepares Warm Welcome For Churchill,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Crowd To Hear Speech On Parliament Hill Tomorrow,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Mr. King Returns After Taking Part In War Conference,” 27 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Takes Ottawa By Storm As Crowds Shout Tumultuous Welcome,” 29 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Again Widely Cheered On Hill Arrival,” 30 December.

————————–, 1941. “Churchill Promises To Carry The War Right To Homelands of Axis,” 31 December.

Karsh.org, 2015. “Winston Churchill, 1941,” http://karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits/winston_churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, 2015. http://www.ottawachurchillsociety.com/media/.

Wilson, James Mikel, 2015. “Churchill and Roosevelt: The Big Sleepover at the White House, Christmas 1941 – New Year 1942,” Columbus, Ohio: Gatekeeper Press.

Maier, Thomas, 2014. “A Wartime White House Christmas With Churchill,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 December.

World War II Today, 2012. “January 16, 1942: Churchill Returns to Britain By Air,” http://ww2today.com/16th-january-1942-churchill-returns-to-britain-by-air.

Image:

Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, Ottawa, 30 December 1941, Library and Archives Canada, C-022140.

 

The 1939 Royal Visit

19 May 1939

In early May 1939, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth sailed from England on the Empress of Australia bound for Canada on a month-tour of North America. It was the first visit by a reigning sovereign to Canada, for that matter to any overseas Dominion. It was also the first time that a British monarch had visited the United States of America. With the clouds of war darkening Europe, the tour had tremendous political significance as Britain sought allies in the expected conflict with Nazi Germany. Lesser known is the constitutional significance of the trip, with the King visiting Canada, not as the King of Great Britain, but as the King of Canada.

Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada’s Governor General, raised the possibility of a Canadian Royal Tour in early 1937, with Prime Minister Mackenzie King extending the official invitation while he was in London for the King George’s coronation in May of that year. Tweedsmuir, also known as John Buchan, the famous Scottish novelist, was a passionate supporter of Canada. He sought to give substance to the Statute of Westminster. The Statute, passed in Britain in December 1931, effectively gave Canada its autonomy, recognizing that the Canadian government was in no way subordinate to the Imperial government in either domestic or international affairs, although they shared a common allegiance to the Crown. At a time when many Canadians saw their first loyalty as being to the Empire, Tweedsmuir hoped that a Royal Tour of Canada would strengthen a still nascent Canadian nationalism. He believed that it was essential that King George be seen in Canada doing his kingly duties as the King of Canada rather than a symbol of Empire. Earning the ire of Canadian imperialists, Tweedsmuir publicly stated that “A Canadian’s first loyalty is not to the British Commonwealth of Nations but to Canada and Canada’s King.” When U.S. President Roosevelt heard that a trip to Canada was being planned for the royal couple, he extended an invitation to the King and Queen to come to the United States as well, writing that a visit would be “an excellent thing for Anglo-American relations.”

Although the British Government was supportive of a North American Royal Tour, the trip was delayed for almost two years owing to the political situation in Europe. When the decision was finally made to proceed in the spring of 1939, the original plan to use a battleship for the transatlantic voyage was scrapped in favour of a civilian ocean liner in case the warship was needed to defend Britain. Even so, the trip was almost stillborn given deteriorating European political conditions. The cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Southampton provided a military escort for the King and Queen. The two vessels also secretly carried fifty tons of British gold destined for the Bank of Canada’s vault on Wellington Street, out of reach of Germany, and ready to be used to buy war material and other supplies, from Canada and the United States.

After taking leave of their daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, at Waterloo Station in London, the royal couple made their way to Portsmouth where they met the 20,000 ton Empress of Australia. Delayed two days by heavy seas and fog, the gleaming white ship received a rapturous welcome on its arrival in Québec City on 17 May. In the days before the Quiet Revolution, the Crown, seen as a guarantor of minority rights, was held in high esteem in French Canada. More than 250,000 people crammed onto the Plains of Abraham and along the heights overlooking the St Lawrence to greet the ocean liner, and for a glimpse of their King and Queen. The crowds roared Vive le Roi and Vive la Reine as the King and Queen alit on Canadian soil for the first time at Wolfe’s Cove. A National Film Board documentary covering the event described King George as the “symbol of the new Canada, a free nation inside a great Commonwealth.”

The royal couple was greeted by federal and provincial dignitaries, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, as well as an honour guard of the francophone Royal 22nd Regiment—colloquially known in English as the Van Doos—that escorted them through the crowded, flag-bedecked streets of old Québec to the provincial legislature building. There, the King and Queen were officially welcomed, with the King replying in both English and French in the slow, deliberate style he used to overcome his stammer.

The King and Queen spent two days in la belle province, also stopping in Trois Rivières, and Montreal before making their way to the nation’s capital. By one estimate, 2 million people were on the streets of Montreal to greet the monarchs. Their luxurious blue and white train, its twelve cars each equipped with a telephone and radio, pulled into Ottawa’s Island Park Station at about 11am on 19 May. Despite the cold, inclement weather—drizzle and what suspiciously looked like snow—tens of thousands had assembled to greet the King and Queen. Many had gone early, either to the train station, or to find a viewing spot along the processional route. At morning rush hour, downtown Ottawa was deserted “as though its entire population had been mysteriously wiped out overnight” according to the Ottawa Citizen. In actual fact, the city’s population had doubled with many coming from outlying areas to see the King and Queen. Thousands of Americans had also come north to witness history in the making.

King George in Ottawa

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth en route to Parliament, Wellington Street, Ottawa, 19 May 1939.

Descending from the train onto a red-carpeted platform under a canopy draped with bunting, King George and Queen Elizabeth were met by Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, members of cabinet who were not presented at Québec City, and Ottawa’s mayor Stanley Lewis. A 21-gun salute was fired by the 1st Field Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery to honour the sovereigns’ arrival. Church bells began pealing. With the clouds parting, the royal party, accompanied by an escort of the 4th Princess Louise’s Dragoon Guards, rode in an open landau from the Island Park Station through the Experimental Farm, along Highway 16, down the Driveway to Connaught Place, and finally along Mackenzie Avenue and Lady Grey Drive to Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. Along the route, the royal couple was greeted by a continuous rolling applause by the hundreds of thousands that line the eight-mile route.

With the King now resident in Canada, the Governor General, as the King’s representative in Canada, was essentially out of a job—exactly what Lord Tweedsmuir wanted to achieve with the Royal Visit. According to Gustave Lanctôt, the official historian of the tour, “when Their Majesties walked into their Canadian residence [Rideau Hall], the Statute of Westminster had assumed full reality: the King of Canada had come home.” One of his first acts as King of Canada was accepting the credentials of Daniel Roper as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, something that the Governor General would normally have done. Later that afternoon in the Senate, after another procession through the streets of Ottawa to Parliament Hill, the King gave Royal Assent to nine bills; again, this typically would have been the job of the Governor General. The King subsequently ratified two treaties with the United States—a trade agreement, and a convention on boundary waters at Rainy Lake, Ontario. For the first time ever, King George appended the Great Seal of Canada. Prior to the Royal Visit, The Seals Act 1939 had been passed specifically to allow the King to append Canada’s Seal rather than the Seal of the United Kingdom. Once again, this underscored Canada’s sovereignty as a distinct nation within the British Commonwealth.

King George in Senate 1939

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Canada’s Senate. Prime Minister Mackenzie King is to the King’s right, 19 May 1939.

That evening, a State Dinner was held at the Château Laurier hotel for more than 700 guests consisting of clear soup, a mousse of chicken, lamb with asparagus, carrots, peas, and potatoes, followed by a fruit pudding with maple syrup. While a formal affair, the meal was held “in an atmosphere of democratic ease.” After dinner, the King and Queen stepped out on the balcony of the hotel to receive a thunderous applause from the 40,000 people in the Square below.

The following day, 20 May, was declared the King’s official birthday; his actual birthday was 14 December. With great pageantry, a Trooping of the Colours was held on Parliament Hill to mark the event. This was followed by the laying of the cornerstone of Canada’s Supreme Court building on Wellington Street by Queen Elizabeth as her husband looked on. Speaking in English and French, the Queen remarked that “Perhaps it is not inappropriate that this task [laying the cornerstone] should be performed by a woman; for a woman’s position in civilized society has depended upon the growth of law.”

After the laying the Supreme Court’s cornerstone, the royal couple had a quick tour of Hull, with an impromptu stop in front of the Normal School so that the Queen could accept a bouquet of flowers. They then returned to Ottawa via the Alexandra Bridge for a private lunch with the Prime Minister at Laurier House. That afternoon, the King and Queen took a break from their official duties to tour the Quebec countryside near Alymer. On their way back home to Rideau Hall, they stopped at Dow’s Lake where they talked to a small boy who was fishing. When informed that he was talking to the King and Queen, the little boy fled.

On Sunday, 21 May, the King formally unveiled the National War Memorial in front of more than 100,000 spectators and 10,000 veterans of the Great War. Commenting on the allegorical figures of Peace and Freedom at the top of the memorial, the King said that “It is well that we have in one of the world’s capitals a visible reminder of so great a truth that without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace, no enduring freedom.”

After the unveiling, God Save the King and O Canada were played. There was considerable press commentary that the King remained in salute for O Canada, which was until then just a popular patriotic song. It is from this point that the song became Canada’s unofficial national anthem, something which was finally officially recognized in 1980. The King and Queen then strolled into the crowd of veterans to greet and talk to them personally. This was an unprecedented event. Never before had the King and Queen walked unescorted and unprotected through such crowds; an act that delighted the ex-servicemen and terrified the security men.

Mid-afternoon, the King and Queen returned to their train, leaving Ottawa for Toronto, their next stop on their month-long Royal Tour of Canada and the United States. Interestingly, on their short U.S. visit, no British minister accompanied the King and Queen. Instead, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the sole minister present to advise the King. This underscored the point that King George was visiting the United States as King of Canada. After four days in the United States, with stops in Washington and New York, including a visit to Canada’s pavilion at the World Fair, the King and Queen resumed their Canadian tour in eastern Canada.

After crisscrossing the continent by train, King George and Queen Elizabeth bade farewell to Canada on 15 June, leaving Halifax on the Empress of Britain, bound for St John’s, capital of Newfoundland, then a separate Dominion. The royal couple left North America two days later, returning to England on 21 June.

The trip was an overwhelming success. The King was seen and widely acclaimed as King of Canada—the objective of the Governor General. It was a political triumph for Prime Minister Mackenzie King who accompanied the royal couple throughout their trip. It was also a huge success for the King and Queen. Later, the Queen remarked that “Canada had made us, the King and I.” The handsome, young couple charmed their Canadian subjects. With the world on the brink of war, they pushed the grim international headlines to the back pages, and reminded Canadians of their democratic institutions, and the freedoms they enjoyed. The King and Queen also enchanted President Roosevelt and the U.S. public. The goodwill they earned was to be of huge importance following the outbreak of war less than three months later. Lastly, the visit was a triumph for the new Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). With more than 100 journalists covering the Royal Tour, the event established the broadcaster as the authoritative voice of Canada.

Sources:

Bousfield, Arthur and Toffoli, Garry, 1989. Royal Spring: The Royal Tour of 1939 and the Queen Mother in Canada,” Dundurn Press Ltd: Toronto.

British Pathé, 1939. Royal Banners Over Ottawa, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PFkqjWuUio.

Canadian Crown, 2015. The Royal Tour of King George VI, http://www.canadiancrown.com/uploads/3/8/4/1/3841927/the_royal_visit_of_king_george_vi.pdf.

Galbraith, J. William, 1989. “Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1939 Royal Visit,” Canadian Parliamentary Review, http://www.revparl.ca/english/issue.asp?art=820&param=130.

————————-, 2013. John Buchan: Model Governor General, Dundurn Press Ltd: Toronto.

Harris, Carolyn, 2015. “1939 Royal Tour,” Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/1939-royal-tour/.

Lanctôt, Gustave, 1964. The Royal Tour of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Canada and the United States of America, 1939. E.P. Taylor Foundation: Toronto.

National Film Board, 1939. “The Royal Visit,” https://www.nfb.ca/film/royal_visit.

National Post, 2004. “It made Us, the King and I,” http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=277DDDEB-AF29-433D-A6F3-7FCC99CB6998, November 16.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1939. “Over 10,000 Veterans Ready To Line Route For Royalty,”1 May.

———————–, 1939. “Magnificent Royal Welcome Given By Quebec,” 17 May.

———————-, 1939. “Complete Official Program For Royal Visit To Ottawa Contains Ceremonial Detail,” 18 May.

———————, 1939. “Palace on Wheels Official Residence Of King And Queen,” 18 May.

———————, 1939. “Our King And Queen, God Bless Them!” 19 May.

———————, 1939. “Their Canadian Capital Extends Affectionate, Warm-Hearted, Greeting,”19 May.

ThemeTrains.com, 2015. “The Story of the Canadian: Royal Train of 1939,” http://www.themetrains.com/royal-train-timeline.htm.

Vipond, Mary, 2010. “The Royal Tour of 1939 as a Media Event,” Canadian Journal of Communications, Vol. 35, 149-172.

Images:

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in State Landau, Wellington St, Ottawa, 19 May 1939, British Pathé, 1939. Royal Banners Over Ottawa.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth giving Royal Assent to Bills in Canada’s Senate, 19 May 1939, Imperial War Museum, C-033278.

Victory in Europe

7 May 1945

For over a week, it was apparent that a German surrender to Allied forces was imminent. On Friday, 27 April, 1945, newspapers reported that the American and Soviet armies had linked up at the Elbe River, cutting Nazi Germany in two. On Tuesday, 1 May, the electrifying news that Hitler was dead came over the wire. Finally, on Monday, 7 May, The Evening Citizen’s headline screamed “It’s All Over In Europe!”

The instrument of surrender was signed by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl on behalf of Germany at 2.41 am French time (8.41pm, 6 May, Ottawa time) at Reims in the little school house used by General Dwight Eisenhower as the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, signed on behalf of the Allies. France’s General François Sevez and Russian General Ivan Susloparov witnessed the document. Owing to an Allied news blackout, it took more than twelve hours for word to reach Ottawa. Unofficial reports of the surrender from German sources actually reached the capital ahead of the official Allied announcement. On that Monday morning, Mayor Stanley Lewis received telephone calls from neighbouring municipalities asking why Ottawa hadn’t started to celebrate. The Mayor replied that he took orders from the Canadian government, not German sources.

An Associated Press report of the surrender broke the Allied news embargo when its Paris reporter telephoned the AP London office with the story. After verification, the report was relayed across the Atlantic, and posted on the news wires at 9.34am EDT. The news flash, picked up by The Canadian Press, was immediately posted on the window of the Ottawa Citizen office on Sparks Street. It tersely read: “Allies Officially Announce Germany Has Surrendered Unconditionally.” A young boy yelled out to passersby “It’s all over!” Seconds later, a fashion store across the street replaced the goods in its front window with pictures of Churchill, Truman, and Stalin, with the words “May we remain strong and united to ensure a lasting peace” posted underneath. A nearby electrical supply shop brought a radio out onto the pavement so that everybody could hear the news broadcasts.

Ottawa V-E Day Celebration

Sparks Street Celebration in from the Bank of Commerce building, 7 May 1945

Even anticipated, it took an hour or so for the momentous news to sink in. It was hard to process that after five years, eight months, and six days of hostilities the war in Europe was finally over. The party started slowly, but as the news spread, the celebrations began in earnest. First out of the blocks were the schoolkids from Lisgar Collegiate, Glebe Collegiate, and the Ottawa Technical High School. They poured into the streets at around 11am, having been let out early by their principals. Hundreds paraded down Sparks Street on bicycles, hooting and hollering. By lunchtime, it was pandemonium on Ottawa’s main thoroughfares as tens of thousands of typically reserved civil servants and service people took to the streets. As if by magic, the flags of Allied nations and bunting appeared on every office building and private home in the city as a wave of patriotic fervour and excitement swept the city.

From upstairs office windows along Sparks, Wellington, and Rideau Streets, office workers threw confetti and torn-up government forms that fluttered down to the pavement in a multi-coloured snow storm. Tickertape and rolls of adding machine paper were launched as ready-made streamers. At the Daly building, home of the Department of Veteran Affairs, at the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, girl clerks leaned out of windows, and shouted the news to the crowds below while contributing their wastepaper and government forms to the swirling blizzard of paper. At Parliament Hill, more than ten thousand students, cadets, soldiers, and civilians, all shouting and cheering, converged in front of the Peace Tower. Added to the cacophony was the skirl of bagpipes, firecrackers, and the sound of thousands of tin horns, whistles, and other noisemakers purchased from nearby department stores. Overhead, an RCAF airplane dropped paper over the city. Church bells rang out in celebration of the glad tidings.

The Ottawa Citizen reported that “WRENs, Quacks and WDs,” [Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNs), Women’s Canadian Army Corps (CWACs), and Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force] walked arm-in-arm down Sparks Street kissing uniformed men. Cars were commandeered to form an impromptu parade, with young people perched on their hoods, or clinging to the running boards. Amidst the crowd, a colourful Victory Loan float slowly made its way along Sparks Street to Confederation Square. When it arrived, the crowd gave a spontaneous rendition of “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here.” At the Rideau Canal, fireworks went off, sending dozens of Allied flags high in the sky which subsequently fell to earth under little parachutes to be picked up by school kids on Laurier Bridge. At 324 McLaren Street, an effigy of Hitler was burnt on the front lawn to the cheers of the crowd that chanted “We want Tojo,” the Japanese prime minister.

The partying went on well into the night; people didn’t want the celebration to end. Bars, taverns and liquor stores did a booming business. Men, women, boys, and girls continued to stroll down the middle of Sparks Street, or sat on the curb eating ice cream or drinking pop. For the first time since the beginning of the war, Parliament Hill was lit up, the official blackout lifted. With Prime Minister Mackenzie King and many of his cabinet ministers in San Francisco for the international meeting that was to launch the United Nations, it was up to Acting Prime Minister James Ilsley to make the official announcement that the next day, Tuesday, 8 May, 1945, had been designated Victory-In-Europe Day, and would be a public holiday. He also announced that the following Sunday, 13 May, would be a national day of prayer, thanksgiving, and remembrance. Virtually simultaneously, there was an official announcement from Labour Minister Humphrey Mitchell that compulsory military service had ended, and that recruitment would begin for volunteers for the Pacific War against Japan. Munitions and Supply Minister Clarence Howe appealed to munitions workers to appear for work promptly on Wednesday, as their job “would not be completed until the last gun has been fired in the Pacific.”

The official programme for the V-E ceremonies began the following afternoon. Following an address by George VI speaking from London to the British Commonwealth and the world, Prime Minister Mackenzie King spoke to the nation via radio link from San Francisco. In his fifteen minutes speech carried live over CBC radio, he thanked God for victory over Nazi Germany, and paid tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives, as well as to those wounded or maimed during the war, and those who had suffered in prison camps. He also underscored his hopes for the future, saying that “out of the fires of war, the San Francisco conference has begun to forge and fashion a might instrument for world security.” His speech was repeated in French by Justice Minister Louis St-Laurent.

At 5pm, the official ceremonies began on Parliament Hill. A massive crowd of 40,000 people watched service men and women and cadets march in the Victory parade, and listen to music played by massed military bands. After the singing O Canada, Mayor Lewis, Acting Prime Minister Ilsley, and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths gave thanks for the victory at a special Thanksgiving service in front of Peace Tower. Ilsley also read out a statement sent by British Prime Minister Churchill expressing “the heartfelt thanks of the people of the United Kingdom to the government and the people of Canada for the Dominion’s magnificent contribution to our common victory.” To the sound of the Parliamentary carillon, the Canadian Red Ensign, the flag under which tens of thousands of Canadian service men had fought, flew for the first time from atop of the Peace Tower.

In the streets of Ottawa, the partying continued. As reported by the Citizen, “residents of the Capital tore aside what remained of the cloak of staidness and gave full vent to their feelings.” Impromptu dances were held throughout Ottawa and Hull. People jitterbugged and square danced at the intersection of Rochester and Arlington Streets to music provided by two violins and a guitar. The Ottawa Fire Department responded to a number of street bonfires where the “Beast of Berchtesgaden” was burnt in effigy. On Sparks Street, firemen extinguished a fire in front of the Laura Secord candy store, and another at the intersection of Sparks and Bank Streets. The latter was sufficiently serious to ignite the road’s asphalt. A third fire was put out on the Elgin street side of the Toronto General Trust building, located on the corner of Sparks Street.

With a public holiday declared, most of the city’s restaurants closed for the day so that staff could join in the festivities. There was one problem, however. Thousands of service people and civilians who lived in rooming houses depended on them for their meals. Where to eat was a big problem on V-E Day.

V-E Day Cartoon

V-E Day Cartoon, The Evening Citizen, 7 May 1945, author unknown

Amidst the jubilant music, there were discordant notes. The war in the Pacific was yet to be won. Those who had lost loved ones contemplated the high cost of victory. As well, the end of the fighting did not mean a return to normal living. Shortages of staples continued. The same day victory in Europe was announced, the individual sugar ration for the coming six-month period was reduced by more than a third to nine pounds. Gasoline rationing would also continue “for some time.”

As a postscript to history, watching the victory festivities from his suite at the Château Laurier Hotel was General Fulgencio Batista, the president of Cuba from 1940-44. The general and his brother, Mario Batista, were touring Canada. Seven years later, General Batista was to lead a military coup in Cuba and seize back power. His larcenous, corrupt, and repressive regime was toppled in 1961 by Fidel Castro.

Sources:

The Evening Citizen, 1945. “It’s All Over In Europe! Nazi Surrender Complete,” 7 May.

————————, 1945. “Ottawa Warms Up Slowly To Victory But Breaks Out Flags and Bunting,” 7 May.

————————, 1945. “Citizen Bulletin Gives Sparks St. News Of Surrender,” 7 May.

———————–, 1945. “Enemy Asks Mercy As Terms Signed,” 7 May

———————–, 1945. “Ilsley Reads Churchill Message To Thousands On Parliament Hill,” 9 May.

———————–, 1945. “More Abundant Life For Everyone Urged By Mr. King As A Memorial,” 9 May.

———————–, 1945. “V-E Day Winds Up As Crowds Enjoy Street Dancing,” 9 May.

———————-, 1945. “Gen. Batista Enjoys Ottawa Celebrations,” 9 May.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1945. “Joyous Bells Of Victory Ringing Around World As Germany’s Downfall Proclaimed,” 8 May.

———————–, 1945, “Ottawa Continues V-Celebrations Till Late At Night,” 8 May.

———————–, 1945. “Scenes Of Jubilation In Streets As Ottawa Celebrates Victory In Europe.” 8 May.

———————–, 1945. “Red Ensign To Fly Over Peace Tower,” 8 May.

———————–, 1945. “Proclamations For Public Holiday And For A Day Of Prayer, Thanksgiving,” 8 May.

Images: 2015, Ottawa Street Celebration, Library and Archives Canada a114617, Warner, Glenn, “Victory In Europe 3 – The Home Front,” Maple Leaf Up, http://www.mapleleafup.ca/ve3.html.

Editorial Cartoon, The Evening Citizen, 7 May 1945, author unknown.

Operation “Fish”

2 July 1940

When Sidney Perkins left his house on Euclid Avenue in Ottawa South to go to work on the morning of 2 July 1940, he had no notion that he was about to become part of one of the most secretive and daring operations of the Second World War. An operation that, had it failed, would have meant Britain’s almost certain defeat. Perkins worked for the Foreign Exchange Control Board which had been set up by the Bank of Canada at the outset of the war the previous year to husband Canada’s foreign currency resources. Shortly before noon, Perkins was summoned to the office of David Mansur, the Assistant Chairman of the Board and told that he was to make immediate arrangements to fly to Halifax and meet an important shipment. With the only flight to Halifax leaving in thirty minutes via Montreal, Perkins had no time even to pick up his toothbrush, and had to borrow $100 from two colleagues. After touching down in Montreal, Perkins received an urgent call from Bank headquarters, telling him that plans had changed. Bank staff in Halifax had met the shipment, and that he should wait in Montreal for Mansur who was joining him by car. Mansur arrived in time for the two men to meet a mystery train from Halifax. At Bonaventure Station, a team of five tired Bank of England men led by Alexander Craig disembarked. Craig apologized to Perkins and Mansour for their unexpected visit and said they had brought a “load of fish.”

Roughly two weeks earlier, Craig and his colleagues had received a similar summons from Governor Montagu Norman of the Bank of England who enquired if they were willing to embark on a top secret mission. Agreeing, the men were informed that their task was to shepherd the wealth of Britain to safety in Canada. The mission, code name “Operation Fish,” was a bold, but desperate, gamble by the British Government to protect the gold stored at the Bank of England as well as British-owned, marketable, foreign securities from a threatened Nazi invasion, ensuring that the country had the financial resources to prosecute the war from across the Atlantic, if necessary.

Invasion was a very real possibility that mid-June 1940. German armed forces were on the Channel coast, after having brushed aside the British Expeditionary Force in Europe and crushed the French Army. Although more than 300,000 British and French troops had just been heroically and miraculously evacuated from Dunkirk, they had abandoned enough armaments to equip an army of ten divisions. The British Army was virtually powerless to stop an invasion.  Britain’s European Allies were also faltering. Netherland and Belgium had already fallen to the Nazis, while France was on the point of capitulation, the German army having entered Paris on 14 June. To make matters worse, Italy had just entered the war on Germany’s side.

It was not an easy decision to send all of Britain’s foreign assets to Canada. The only way to transport the tons of gold and securities was by ship across the U-boat infested, North Atlantic where 100 Allied and neutral merchant ships had been sunk in May 1940 alone. History was also not reassuring. During World War I, the SS Laurentic, carrying 43 tons of gold from Liverpool to Halifax, had been sunk in 1917 by a German U-boat off of Ireland. The loss of even one treasure ship would have major negative consequences. To buy weapons and other war materiel that it sorely needed from neutral United States, Britain has to pay in gold or U.S. dollars; no credit was permitted under the strict Neutrality Act in effect in the United States at that time.

When storm clouds started to gather in 1938, the Bank of England decided to increase its gold reserves held at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. In May 1939, fifty tons of gold bars, then worth £14 million (roughly US$2 billion at 2014 prices), was brought over on HMS Southampton and HMS Glasgow. The two cruisers had escorted King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, across the Atlantic on their Royal Tour of Canada and the United States.  A few months later after the outbreak of hostilities, a convoy of five ships, led by HMS Emerald captained by Augustus Agar, VC, DSO, each carrying £2 million in bullion, safely made its way to Canada. The Emerald made another “bullion run” in November 1939, as did other ships over the course of the next several months without incident.

HMS Emerald

HMS Emerald, circa 1940

With the Emerald and others having successfully tested the waters, and the war situation in Europe turning grave, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the green light to “Operation Fish.” With speed of an essence, limits on the amount that could be sent on individual ships were discarded. The battleship HMS Revenge, accompanied by two converted liners, together shipped £60 million in gold to Halifax in early June. But the real “show” had yet to get underway. On 24 June, the Emerald, now under the command of Captain Francis Flynn, was sent to Halifax, packed to the gunnels with £30 million in gold bullion and £200 million in negotiable securities. The gold was stored in ammunition lockers, while boxes of securities were stashed in every conceivable nook and cranny of the ship, including covering the floor of the Captain’s day cabin on which Alexander Craig, the leader of the Bank of England team, had to make his bed. The Emerald crossed the Atlantic in a full gale. So bad were the weather conditions that its two accompanying destroyers were forced to return to Britain while the Emerald raced at full speed for Halifax. It arrived battered but safe on the morning of 1 July. It was met by the Halifax Agent of the Bank of Canada, a CN train, and a large armed guard. During the ship’s unloading, the perimeter of the dock was tightly sealed to prevent anyone getting a peek at its cargo. That night, the heavily-guarded train, stuffed with gold and securities, set off for Montreal where it was met by Sidney Perkins and David Mansur late the next day.

In Montreal, the train was split in two, with the portion carrying the gold headed for Union Station in Ottawa to be meet by Bank of Canada personnel and armed guards for the short journey to the Bank’s headquarters on Wellington Street. The portion carrying the negotiable securities was unloaded at a secluded siding. In the wee hours of morning, with the streets closed to traffic, the precious cargo was delivered by truck to the Sun Life Assurance Company in Montreal. The Sun Life building, chosen earlier by Mansur to house the “United Kingdom Security Deposit,” was the only building with a large enough secure space to store the securities. A special, custom-built vault was subsequently built in its basement. To assist the Bank of England officials in checking, filing, and managing the securities, Mansur hired 130 retired bankers, brokers and secretaries and swore them to total secrecy. Although the UKSD remained in operation throughout the war, the 5,000 member staff of the Sun Life never knew what was going, or what was stored in the vault beneath their feet.

Bank of Canada

The Bank of Canada, Wellington Street, circa 1940

A week after Emerald’s arrival, a convoy left Britain also bound for Halifax, under the command of Admiral Sir Ernest Archer. It consisted of the battleship HMS Revenge, the cruiser HMS Bonaventure, and three converted former passenger liners, the Monarch of Bermuda, the SS Sobieski and the SS Batory. On board these ships was a treasure trove of gold and securities, conservatively valued at £450 million, of which £192 million was in gold ($27 billion at 2014 prices). Again, the trip across the North Atlantic was difficult. The Batory developed engine trouble, forcing it for a time to come to a dead stop while repairs were made. In thick fog, it safely diverted to St John’s under the protection of the Bonaventure while the rest of the convoy raced to Halifax to be met by Sydney Perkins and other Bank of Canada officials. On board the Monarch of Bermuda was another precious cargo—refugee families evacuated to Canada for safety.

Following the routine used previously, the gold and securities were unloaded, weighed and checked before being placed on a special CN train protected by more than 300 police and security guards. This was not an easy task as many of the bullion boxes and bags of gold coins had been damaged in shipment. Perkins later commented that “Seeing those tens of millions in gold piled up gave me a cold chill.” To speed up unloading and minimize the risk of detection, Perkins improvised a metal chute made from scrap metal sheeting to slide crates of gold from the ships’ deck to the quay. Once the train was loaded, and Perkins had officially taken delivery, it set off to deliver the securities to Montreal, and the gold to Ottawa. Again, the shipments were made without anybody outside the operation being the wiser; nothing was reported in the nation’s press. At the Wellington Street head office, bullion boxes came in so fast that Bank staff had difficulty finding places to store them. Crates waiting to be processed piled up in basement corridors and in the incinerator room, used for burning old paper money. Men laboured in twelve-hour shifts to unpack the gold bars and bags of coins and store them in the Bank’s 60 by 100 foot vault. Everything had to be meticulously recorded and accounted for. By the end of it, the Bank of Canada was the home to more gold than anywhere in the world outside of Fort Knox in the United States.

The remainder of Britain’s wealth trickled in over subsequent months, with the redoubtable Emerald making yet another crossing in August 1940. In total, more than £470 million in gold was shipped from the Bank of England in London across the Atlantic to the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. (It value today would be about US$67 billion.) The value of the securities stored in the basement of the Sun Life building in Montreal was then estimated at £1,250 million, their value today, incalculable. Against all the odds, of the dozens of ships used to transport Britain’s wealth to Canada, only one, the merchant ship Niagara carrying £2.5 million in gold from New Zealand, was sunk. Its bullion was subsequently recovered. Despite thousands being involved in the mission, Operation Fish remained a secret until after the war.

Sources:

Bank of England, 194?. Unpublished War History, Chapter V, Gold, Bank of England Archives, http://www.bankofengland.co.uk.

Draper, A., 1979. Operation Fish: The Race to Save Europe’s Wealth 1939-1945, Cassell, London.

McDowall, M., 1997. Due Diligence: A Report on the Bank of Canada’s Handling of Foreign Gold During World War II, Bank of Canada, http://www.bankofcanada.ca/publications/books-and-monographs/due-diligence/.

Naval-History.Net, 1998. Campaign Summaries of World War 2, German U-Boats at War, Part 1 of 6, 1939-40, http://www.naval-history.net/WW2CampaignsUboats.htm.

Stowe, L., 1963. How Britain’s Wealth Went West, http://www.defence.gov.au/sydneyii/SUBM/SUBM.001.0323.pdf.

Images, HMS Emerald, Imperial War Museum.

Image, Bank of Canada, Associated Screen News, Bank of Canada Archives, PC 300-5-61.