Canada’s contributions to the Allied war effort during the First World War have often been credited with bringing to life a modern sense of Canadian identity. This is not a perception which has arisen since the war; it was shared by those who lived through it. Famously, Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, who commanded the 28th Battalion at Vimy Ridge, stated of the battle “it was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then… that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.” In light of this, it is unsurprising that the idea of a National War Memorial was quite popular in the aftermath of the war. Though numerically Canada’s losses (61,000 dead, 172,000 wounded) were significantly smaller than many of the other nations who participated in the war, as a percentage of the population Canada’s casualties were significant (around 2.8% killed and wounded, with 0.9% killed). Therefore, in 1925 an architectural competition was announced to secure a design for the proposed memorial. Under the circumstances the opposition (King’s Liberals were then in power) raised no objection save for one regarding the cost.
Without a doubt the most recognizable feature of modern Ottawa is the Parliament Buildings. The centre of Canadian governance both symbolically and literally, the Parliament Buildings are a beautiful addition to Ottawa’s skyline and to Parliament Hill. Once Ottawa was chosen as the capital of Canada, the government issued a call for architectural designs for the buildings; the winning designs were chosen in 1859. The firm of Thomas Fuller and Chillion Jones of Toronto won the contract for the Centre Block; another firm, Stent and Laver, won the contract for the East and West Blocks. Construction officially began when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited in 1860 and laid the corner stone. As with any major construction project, the initial cost estimates quickly proved to be unrealistic. One major issue was that the proper type of stone was harder to obtain than originally believed; the original plan had been to ferry the stone over the river from Hull but this turned out to be prohibitively expensive and most of the stone was instead brought in from Nepean Township. The initial cost estimate sat around 1 million dollars; by the time the buildings neared completion, three times that much had been spent.
Today, with Ottawa well established as the capital of Canada, it can be difficult to believe that there was ever much debate on the issue. This would seem unlikely to the political giants of a century and a half ago; not only was the choice of capital (for the Province of Canada, not yet the Dominion) one of the most contentious issues of the day, it may well have been the most contentious issue of the decades before Confederation, save for Confederation itself. Ottawa made, at first glance, an unlikely choice; neither large nor historically prominent, cities such as Toronto, Quebec, Montreal, and even Kingston each had better claim to the role. Therefore for the two decades from the creation of the Province of Canada in 1840 to Queen Victoria finally making the choice for Canadians in December 1857, a vicious debate raged across Canada.
Following the declaration of war in 1939, it was felt that the next Governor General of Canada should have a martial character. To this end, the Earl of Athlone was selected. Athlone, otherwise known as Alexander Cambridge, the Prince of Teck, had actually been nominated for the position once before, in 1914; then, however, he had refused the honour so that he might serve in the First World War. Now that the Second World War had begun and found him too old to serve actively, Athlone accepted the position and arrived in Canada in the spring of 1940, following the tragic death in office of Lord Tweedsmuir, his predecessor. Athlone was not just a soldier, however; he was also a member of the royal family. He had married Princess Alice, who when she died in 1981 was the final surviving granddaughter of Queen Victoria; Athlone’s sister also became Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. In short, few individuals could have been better calculated to promote imperial unity in Canada.
Today’s post is another audio post, this time for Lansdowne Park. Please enjoy, and let me know what you think.
In the beginning, there was a city. Bytown in the 1840s was a rapidly growing settlement, but had not yet received the infrastructure which would allow it to expand beyond its construction-camp roots. The roads were primarily dirt (or mud, for most of the year), there was only a couple of churches, and internal commerce was practically non-existent. Into this void stepped the first Town Council of Bytown in 1847. The articles of incorporation for Bytown ensured that Lower Town (which roughly corresponds to the area of Byward Market today) held the balance of power on the council, and thus John Scott, a lawyer whose office was based in Lower Town and a strong Reformer (analogous to the later Liberal Party), became the mayor. One of the first tasks faced by the new Council was establishing two markets in Bytown, one for Upper Town and one for Lower Town; this decision, however, proved unexpectedly controversial.
For a three-year period in the early twentieth century, the Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne was the heart of hockey in Canada. The Ottawa Silver Seven dominated the league during the years 1903, 1904, and 1905 for a number of reasons. For one, the Silver Seven quit the Canadian Amateur Hockey League in 1903 in favour of the new Federal Amateur Hockey League, where their main opponents were the Montreal Wanderers; Ottawa had already been the defenders of the Stanley Cup, and so the Cup followed them into the new league. This split had been brought about by the growing tensions between the fanatically amateur heads of the League and the Silver Seven, who, as author (and former Prime Minister of Canada) Stephen J. Harper writes, were known as “a gang not merely suspected of accepting pay, but employing dirty play as part of a deliberate strategy of winning at all costs.” As non-scandalous as those charges may appear today, at the time it was a greater concern; the split allowed the rapidly declining CAHL to continue with its enforced amateurism (including banning baseball and lacrosse players, both known hotbeds of professionalism, from playing in the league at varying points) while the FAHL could move in a more professional direction. Indeed, the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA), the successor to the FAHL, dropped the word amateur from its name in 1909 after the final amateur teams quit the league.
For over a hundred years, the Central Canada Exhibition took place annually in Lansdowne Park. As it was located in Canada’s capital, it quickly became an important attraction and a vital aspect of Ottawa’s cultural life. Canadian and global notables often attended; Canadian Thomas Ahearn, who invented what was likely the first electric oven (though he receives little credit for this fact outside of Canada) demonstrated his device at the fair in 1892, for example. The first electric lightbulb in Canada made an appearance as well; the Red Devil, one of the first airplanes in Canada, was flown overhead in 1911 (the organizers attempted to get John A.D. McCurdy and his significantly more famous Silver Dart to make an appearance, but he was busy at the time). The Exhibition was often host to a large number of visitors; 20,000 people attended an 1889 show which saw Professor Baptist Peynaud leap off a 150-foot high tower into a safety net, for example; the population of Ottawa at the time was 44,000.
The majority of tourists who visit Ottawa (and, during a concert, anyone within a kilometre) have had some experience with Lansdowne Park. Lansdowne has been Ottawa’s principal entertainment location since the mid-nineteenth century, and was first established in 1868 when the Ottawa Agricultural Society acquired land on which to hold an annual fair from the Ordnance Department. A common complaint at this time was that the site chosen was too far south, as Lansdowne (which today is more or less in the centre of Ottawa) was well outside the city limits. Nonetheless, the location has proven to be an excellent one; bordering the canal, it is today among the nicest areas in the city.