Canada Year-By-Year: 1881

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We continue our look at each year through Canada’s history from Confederation to today with 1881.

On January 2, Frederick Varley is born. He will become one of Canada’s iconic Group of Seven artists after he immigrates to Canada in 1912. Known as one of Canada’s top war artists, he will paint Canadian troops in France and Belgium. In 1920, he will be a founding member of the Group of Seven and become known for painting landscapes in green, pink or purple. Due to his experience in the war, he often chose to paint landscapes that were damaged by the climate or fire. He would eventually become the Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the School of Decorative and Applied Arts in Vancouver, serving in the position from 1926 to 1933. In 1954, he would visit the Soviet Union in the first exchange of artists during the Cold War, and would pass away in 1969 in Toronto.

On February 16, the Canadian Pacific Railway is incorporated. This would officially kick start the building of the railway across Canada, from sea to shining sea.

On April 4, a census finds that Canada’s population stands at 4, 324,810 people.

On May 24, the steamer Victoria capsizes after being overloaded with passengers and cargo. The steamer capsizes near London, Ontario, killing 182 people in total.

On June 17, Tommy Burns is born in Hanover, Ontario. He would become the only Canadian-born World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, when he took the title in 1906 and would hold the title for three years against 11 challengers. He was also the first Canadian boxer to travel the globe to defend his title. Unlike many white American boxers of the time, who did not fight African Americans, Burns had half a dozen fights with black boxers including a fight with the legendary Jack Johnson, which resulted in Johnson becoming the first black heavy-weight champion of the world. In 59 fights, Burns had 46 wins, 35 by knockout. He would pass away in Vancouver in 1955.

On Sept. 27, James Ralston is born in Nova Scotia. He will go on to attend law school and become the Liberal candidate for Cumberland in the 1908 federal election, which he was unsuccessful at. He would run again in 1911 in the provincial election and win, followed by another win in 1916. During the First World War, he would reach the rank of Lt. Col., and reach the rank of Colonel in 1924. From 1926 to 1945, he was a Member of Parliament and served as the Minister of National Defence during the Second World War from 1940 to 1944. He would pass away in Montreal in 1948.

On Oct. 23, Alfred Christie would be born in London, Ontario. He would began working in the movies in 1909 and started to put out the popular Mutt and Jeff comedy every week. Throughout the Silent Movie Era, he would make comedies that were noted for relying on humorous situations and embarrassing moments rather than slapstick. He would run his own studio, the first in Hollywood, from 1911 to 1933. He would pass away in 1951 at the age of 69 in Hollywood.

On Nov. 4, Hector Authier would be born in Quebec. He would serve in the Quebec Legislature from 1923 to 1936, followed by a stint in the House of Commons from 1940 to 1945. He would pass away on April 14, 1971 at the age of 89.

On Nov. 19, Robert James Manion would be born in Pembroke, Ontario. He would serve in the First World War as a medic and earn the Military Cross at Vimy Ridge. Once home, he served in the Houes of Commons as a Conservative beginning in 1917 and running until 1935, followed by another stint from 1938 to 1940. In that time, he would serve as the Leader of the Opposition from 1938 to 1940. He would pass a way at 61 in 1943.

On December 2, Joseph-Adolph Chapleau wins a Conservative majority in the Quebec election. Chapleau had served as premier of Quebec since 1879 and would continue for another year following this victory. In the election, the Conservatives increased their seats by 17 to 49, while the Liberals fell by 16 seats to 15. One independent was also elected.

On Dec. 29, George Kennedy would be born in Montreal. He would become a sports promoter and owner of the Montreal Canadiens from 1910 to 1921. Known as a wrestler as well, he would eventually become a wrestling promoter after his wrestling career was done. He also created the Club Athletique Canadien, and promoted boxing, hockey and other sports. His Canadiens would win him the Stanley Cup in 1916, and Kendall was instrumental in forming the National Hockey League. He would contract the Spanish Flu during the pandemic and die from complications related to it in 1921. His widow would sell the Canadiens to a new group of owners for $11,000, or $139,900 today.

On Dec. 31, Florence Graham would be born in Ontario. She would go on to found the Elizabeth Arden Inc. company, which would turn into a cosmetic empire throughout the United States. By 1929, she would own 150 salons in the United States and Europe and her 1,000 products would sell in 22 countries around the world. At the peak of her career, as the sole owner of the company, she would be one of the wealthiest women in the world. She would pass away on Oct. 18, 1966 at the age of 84.

Also this year, the borders of Manitoba are extended north, east and west. The eastward expansion of Manitoba brings a dispute with Ontario over where the border should be.

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