Canada Year-By-Year: 1892

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Mary Pickford

On April 8, Gladys Louise Smith would be born in Toronto. She is known much better as Mary Pickford and for a time she was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Called the Queen of the Movies, she was one of the earliest stars to be billed under her own name and was nicknamed America’s Sweetheart, even though she was Canadian. The family was involved in acting from an early age and after Pickford’s father left the family, her mother began to take in boarders to pay the bills. One boarder was a Mr. Murphy, who was the stage manager for Cummings Stock Company and he gave Pickford her first acting role. By the early 1900s, the family was touring the United States performing in small theatre companies and after six years of barely making ends meet, Pickford landed a supporting role in a 1907 Broadway play called The Warrens of Virginia. It was for this play that Gladys became Mary Pickford. In 1909, she screen tested for director D.W. Griffith for a role in Pippa Passes. She didn’t get the role but she began to act in films on a regular basis. Pickford would say of her acting at that time:

“I played scrubwomen and secretaries and women of all nationalities. I decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible, I’d become known and there would be a demand for my work

In 1909 alone, she appeared in 51 films and got her first starring role in The Violin Maker. In 1914, she would appeared in Hearts Adrift, which began to launch her into superstardom and by 1916, only Charlie Chaplin was more popular than Pickford in the movie world. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, it was believed that Pickford was the most famous woman in the world. One journalist said she was, “the best known woman who has ever lived, the woman who was known to more people and loved by more people than any other woman that has been in all history.”

On June 24, 1916, she signed a contract that gave her full authority over production of the films she was in, and was earning $10,000 per week, or $237,000 per week. She also received compensation of half of a film’s profits, with a guarantee of $1,040,000, which would be $18.5 million today.

In 1919, she would found United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. She would continue to be extremely popular throughout the 1920s but with the advent of sound, her career declined as she underestimated the value of sound in movies. Nonetheless, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929 for her role in Coquette.

She would retire from film acting in 1933 after several film failures and would perform in stage occasionally before becoming the vice-president of United Artists in 1936.

In 1955, she published her memoirs called Sunshine and Shadows and she spent most of her life at her home, called Pickfair Manor, an 18-acre estate she had bought with her then-husband Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920s. She would typically receive visitors in the 1960s, speaking to them by telephone from her bedroom. When she received an Academy Honorary Award in 1976, the Academy TV crew recorded her thank you from her home in Pickfair. Throughout her life she held and travelled with a British/Canadian passport and renewed it on a regular basis and never became an American citizen. IN the last years of her life, she made arrangements with the Canadian Department of Citizenship to acquire Canadian citizenship because her wish was, in her words, to die as a Canadian. She would pass away on May 29, 1979 in Santa Monica.

During her life and after her death she would receive many awards and honours. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, several theatres and buildings are named for her and there is a bust of her and a plaque at her birthplace in Toronto, which is now the site of the Hospital for Sick Children. The plaque was unveiled by her husband Buddy Rogers in 1973, and the bust was added in 1983. In 1999, she received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and in 2006, was featured on a postage stamp from Canada post. A Google Doodle on April 8, 2017 commemorated her 125th birthday and in 2019, the Toronto International Film Festival began to award the Mary Pickford Award.

Political Events

On July 2, Theodore Davie would take over as premier of British Columbia. He was the brother of Alexander Davie and unlike the two previous premiers, he would not die in office. He would serve until March 2, 1895 and during that time was instrumental in approving the construction the legislative buildings in Victoria instead of moving the capital to the mainland.

On July 9, Parliament will pass the Criminal Code 1892, which is the first unified criminal law in Canadian history, under the direction of the Minister of Justice. The Act was sponsored by Sir John Sparrow David Thompson and was based on the Stephen Code written by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen for a Royal Commission in 1879 in England. The new code would oust from Canadian criminal law any offence under an Act of the British Parliament unless the Act was applicable to Canada. It also stated that no juvenile under the age of seven could be convicted and those that were between the age of seven and 13 could only be convicted if they were competent to know the nature and consequences of the conduct.

On Nov. 24, Sir John Abbott will resign as Prime Minister of Canada. He became prime minister after the sudden death of John A. Macdonald and Abbott had served from June 16, 1891 to Nov. 24, 1892. In his short time as leader of Canada, he attempted to negotiate a new treaty with the United States but failed to reach an agreement and he would see 52 by-elections held, 42 of which were won by Conservative, reducing his effectiveness as Prime Minister.

On Dec. 5, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, the former Justice Minister, would become Prime Minister. He too would serve for only a short period of time, but was the first Roman Catholic to hold the position. He would serve until Dec. 12, 1894 when he went on a trip to England and died from a heart attack at the age of only 49. This resulted in Canada seeing two of its past three prime ministers die in office. Thompson would be the last prime minister to date to die in office. While he would be prime minister for only a short period of time, he nearly negotiated the admittance of Newfoundland in Confederation but in the end this failed and it would not be until 1949 that Newfoundland joined Canada.

On Dec. 16, Sir Louis-Olivier Tallion would become premier of Quebec once again. He had first served as premier for two days from Jan. 25, 1887 to Jan. 27, 1887 but this year he took over when Boucher de Boucherville resigned. His second stint as premier would see him serving until 1896 when he became the Postmaster-General for the federal Conservative party.

The Great Fire of 1892

On July 8, the Great Fire of 1892 would destroy two-thirds of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The worst disaster to ever hit St. John’s, it would begin at 4:45 p.m. when a dropped pipe in the stable of Timothy O’Brien began the fire but several things would happen that would cause the fire to begin to rage out of control. Reverend Moses Harvey, who saw the fire in its initial stages, stated that it was a bad day for a fire. On that day, a high wind was blowing from the north west and as the fire began to grow, as sparks flew onto the shingled roofs that had not seen any rain for a month. The tinder-like conditions of the roofs quickly caused the buildings to go up in flames, sending more sparks into the air, setting more places on fire. On that same day, work was being done on the water mains, which caused water service to be interrupted or pressure to be down. Water service was established at 3 p.m. that day but the water pressure could not push the water up to the higher sections of the city where the fire had actually begun. Within one hour, it was realized the fire could not be contained and people began to put valuables, and themselves, into stone buildings like the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The fire would soon spread to the building, destroying it completely. It would be described by W.J. Kent as such:

With one fearful rush the demonic fire seized upon the doomed cathedral and sooner than tongue could tell the immense edifice, a gem of Gothic architecture, a masterpiece of Sir Gilbert Scott and the pride of every Newfoundlander, was a seething mass of flame. With a crash, heard even above the din of the elements, the roof fell in and the result of the labours of offerings of thousands for many years vanished in a cloud of smoke and dust.

The fire then spread to Water Street, the commercial centre of the city. Reverend Harvey would say:

“The beautiful shops, full of valuable goods, the stores behind, containing thousands of barrels of flour and provisions of all kinds, the fish stores, the wharves, which it had cost immense sums to erect, disappeared one by one into the maw of the destroyer, the whole of Water Street, on both sides, was swept with the besom of destruction.”

Throughout the night and into the morning, the fire raged through the city. By the next light, the city was a smouldering ruin. Kent would say:

“A walk through the deserted streets demonstrated that the ruin was even more complete than seemed possible at first. Of the whole easterly section, scarcely a building remained.”

In total, the disaster resulted in $13 million in damages, or $370 million today. Less than half of those losses were covered by insurance and huge amounts of money came in from England, the United States and Canada to help the city.

Over the next few years, most of the city would be rebuilt and most of the present-day registered heritage structures in the city were built or rebuilt after the 1892. The fire would also result in a complete reorganization of the fire department and by the end of 1895, the city had 22 paid firefighters and three new fire stations throughout the city.

Other Notable Births

On May 3, Jacob Viner is born in Montreal. He would earn his undergraduate degree from McGill University in 1914 and go on to Harvard to earn his PHD in Economics. He would serve as a professor at the University of Chicago from 1916 to 1917 and from 1919 to 1946, while also teaching at Stanford and Yale. He would teach at Princeton from 1946 until his death in 1970. For a time, he was an advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr. during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is also considered to be the founder of the concept of nuclear deterrence. At the Conference of Atomic Energy Control in 1945, he stated that the atomic bomb was the cheapest way yet devised of killing human beings and that atomic bombs will be peacemaking in effect.

On May 18, John Croak would be born in Little Bay, Newfoundland. He would enlist with the Canadian Army in 1915 and serve in the 55th Battalion as a private. He would arrive as part of the Third Brigade on the Western Front and participated in several notable Canadian battles including Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. On Aug. 8, 1918, during the Battle of Amiens, the 13th Battalion was being held up by machine gun posts at Hangard Wood. Croak would attack a machine gun post and take several prisoners. He had been shot in the arm but he ignored instructions to get the wound treated and he carried out another attack on a machine gun post and was wounded, fatally, in the attack. He would be recognized for his bravery with the Victoria Cross. In all, before he was killed, he captured three machine guns and bayonetted or captured the entire garrison of Germans. His Victoria Cross was the first to be awarded to a soldier born in Newfoundland. At Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he grew up, there is a school named for him. Currently, his medals are on display at the Canadian War Museum.

On Aug. 2 Jack Warner was born in London, Ontario. He would move with his family to Youngstown, Ohio in 1896 where his father established a shoe repair shop. It was there he began to sing at local theatres and performing in Vaudeville. During this time, he began working with his brother Sam to show early films including The Great Train Robbery. In 1910, the brothers pooled their resources and formed a film production company called Warner Brothers. Over the next decade and more, the brothers would build their film production company into a dominant force in Hollywood. They would procure the technology to make the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, and Warner was known for his shrewd instincts and tough-mindedness. James Cagney would make 38 films with Warner Brothers, cementing the studio as a major studio. Warner would continue to lead the company and be a force in the motion picture industry until 1973 when he retired due to failing health. He would pass away on Sept. 9, 1978 at the age of 86. In 2004, he was given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Today, he is considered to be the person who shaped Hollywood’s Golden Age.

On Aug. 16, Hal Foster would be born in Halifax. He would work as a staff artist for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg before riding his bicycle to Chicago in 1919 and studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In 1929, he began to make the Tarzan comic strip, adapted from the novels of the same name. In 1937, he premiered Prince Valiant, which became a huge success and ran for 4,000 Sunday strips and appeared in more than 300 American newspapers at its height. It was so popular that the Duke of Windsor called it the greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years. Foster would continue to draw the strip until 1971 and the strip runs to this day under other artists. At the age of 73, he was elected to membership in the Royal Society of Arts, a rare honour given to someone living in the United States. His work would influence many comic artists including Jack Kirby and Bob Kane. He would pass away in 1982. In 1996, he was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame and in 2005, was inducted into the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Hall of Fame.

On Sept. 24, Adelard Godbout would be born in Quebec. He would be elected to the Quebec Legislature in 1929, and serve until 1936, and then again from 1939 to 1948. During his first terms in the legislature, he would serve as the Minister of Agriculture. He would go on to serve twice as premier of Quebec. The first term was from June 11, 1936 to Aug. 28, 1936 after he took over as Liberal leader and became premier, losing in the election in August. He would make his political comeback in 1939, becoming premier on Nov. 8 of that year and serving until Aug. 30, 1944. As premier of the province, he would enact the right for women to vote in 1940, despite resistance from the Catholic Church. He established the Civil Service Commission in 1943, required school attendance until the age of 14 and introduced free primary school education, he nationalized the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company into Hydro-Quebec and adopted a Labour Code for the province. He would pass away on Sept. 18, 1956 in Montreal, and today is a member of the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame and the Agricultural Hall of Fame of Quebec.

On Oct. 25, Nell Shipman is born in Victoria. She would grow up in a middle class family and the family would move to Seattle in 1904, at which point she joined a theatre company and travelled for a few years performing. She would marry Ernest Shipman in 1910 and the couple would move to Hollywood and Nell would sell the rights to her novel, Under the Crescent Moon, to Universal Studios. Along with writing, she also began working in movies, starting two independent producing companies and in 1919, she would release the most successful silent film in Canadian history, Back to God’s Country. Not only working as a screenwriter and producer, she acted in several films from 1915 to 1918, with a few more film roles in the 1920s. Today, she is considered to be the First Lady of Canadian Cinema. Noted for her passion for animal rights, she would develop her own zoo, which would contain over 200 animals at one time. She would pass away on Jan. 23, 1970 at the age of 77.

Notable Deaths

On March 7, Andrew Wetmore passed away at the age of 71. He was born on Aug. 16, 1820 and would enter politics in 1865 with his election to the New Brunswick Colonial Legislature as an Anti-Confederate. When he wasn’t appointed as the Attorney-General for the party, his opposition to Confederation declined quickly and he crossed the floor to join the Confederation Party, which became the government in 1866. When New Brunswick joined Canada in 1867, many prominent New Brunswick politicians took roles in the House of Commons, allowing Wetmore to assume leadership of the party, becoming the first premier of New Brunswick in 1867. He would serve until May 25, 1870. Under his premiership, he would provide financial extensions to rail lines in the province, incorporate the College of Saint Joseph and would grant full property rights to all married women living apart from, or had been deserted by, husbands.

On April 6, John Ostell would pass away in Montreal. He was born on Aug. 7, 1813 in London and would come to Canada in 1834 to apprentice under Andre Trudeau in Montreal in the French methods of surveying. He would become an architect and designed many important buildings in early Montreal including the McGill University Arts Building, the High School of Montreal and the Grand seminaire de Montreal. In 1859, he left architecture and worked in his lumber business that he had started in 1852. By 1856, he employed 75 people, in a factory that covered five acres.

On May 24, Sir Alexander Campbell would pass away in Toronto at the age of 70. Born on March 9, 1822 in England, he came to Canada when he was a baby with his doctor father. He would study law and become a partner in the law office of John A. Macdonald. In 1858, he was elected to the Legislative Council, serving until 1867. He would attend the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec City Conference, and is considered a Father of Confederation as a result. In 1867, he would be appointed to the Senate of Canada, serving until 1887. That year, he became the sixth Lt. Governor of Ontario, serving from 1887 until his death.

On June 29, something that was oddly common during the early years of British Columbia, John Robson would pass away in office as premier of the province. He had got his finger caught in the door of a carriage while in England and would contract blood poisoning and die in London. Serving as the ninth premier of British Columbia from Aug. 2 1889 to June 29, 1892, he had actually taken over from Alexander Davie, who had died in office as well. During his tenure as premier, he would enable homesteading, get a dry dock constructed near Victoria. In 1886, before he was premier, he was the one who had the Legislature name the new community of Vancouver, in honour of the explorer who had visited the area the previous century.

On Aug. 30, Frederic Gisborne died at the age of 68. He was born on March 8, 1824 in England and came to Canada in 1845 after three years travelling around the world. He became an expert electrician and he was appointed the superintendent of the lines of Nova Scotia at Halifax. He would also lay down the first deep-sea cable in North American waters, between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick in 1852. One year later, he was appointed the chief engineer of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company. That company would lay the first deep-sea telegraph cable between Europe and North America. In 1879, he was made the superintendent of the Canadian government telegraph service, a position he held until his death.

On Sept. 12, Marc-Amable Girard would die at the age of 70. He was born on April 25, 1822 in Lower Canada and would find his way out to Manitoba after he was sent there during the Red River Resistance in 1870. After Manitoba became a province, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, serving until 1883. During that time, he would serve as the second premier of Manitoba, first from Dec. 14, 1871 to March 14, 1872, and then again from July 8, 1874 to Dec. 2, 1874. While serving in the Legislature, he would be appointed to the Senate of Canada, serving from Dec. 13, 1871 until his death.

On Dec. 14, Adams George Archibald would pass away at the age of 78. Born in Nova Scotia on May 3, 1814, he would become known as a Father of Confederation for his support of Confederation. He would be elected to the House of Commons from 1869 to 1870, and again from 1888 to 1891. In that gap, he became the first Lt. Governor of the Northwest Territories, and the first Lt. Governor of Manitoba, serving in both positions simultaneously from May 20, 1870 to Dec. 2, 1872. He then served as the Fourth Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia from 1873 to 1883.

Alexander Mackenzie

There was a very notable death in 1892. Alexander Mackenzie, the second prime minister of Canada, would pass away at the age of 70. He had been born in Scotland on Jan. 28, 1822 and after leaving school at the age of 13, he trained as a stonemason and immigrated to Canada when he was 19, settling in what would become Ontario. He became interested in politics and in 1861, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. A supporter of Canadian Confederation he would be elected to the House of Commons in 1867 and in 1873, became the leader of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the Official Opposition. A few months later, after Macdonald and his party were hit with the Pacific Scandal, Mackenzie and his Liberals would win a majority government in 1874, thereby making him prime minister. Due to his humble background and democratic tendencies, he was very popular with the public. His democratic ideals were shown when he refused the offer of a knighthood three times, something other prime ministers, including those who only served for a few months, gladly took advantage of. Another story of his working class background comes from when he was touring Fort Henry as prime minister. He asked a soldier with him if he knew how thick the wall was. The soldier did not know and Mackenzie stated:

I do. It is five feet, ten inches. I know, because I built it myself

As prime minister, he would establish the Supreme Court of Canada and the Royal Military College. He would establish the District of Keewatin in future Manitoba but he would make little progress in getting the transcontinental railway built. In 1878, his government suffered a terrible defeat as Macdonald and his government rose back to prominence. He would continue to serve as leader of the party, and the opposition, until 1880 and would remain a member of the House of Commons until 1892, when he died following a stroke. In a study of the first 20 prime ministers of Canada, Mackenzie ranked 11th. Several places are named for Mackenzie as well including the Mackenzie Mountain Range, Mount Mackenzie, several buildings, schools and the Mackenzie Building at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Other Events

Three events would happen this year that don’t have specific dates.

The first was the founding of the Toronto Star by Horatio Clarence Hocken. First printed on the presses of Toronto World, which owned 51 per cent of the newspaper, the paper did poorly in its first few years but would slowly see its influence grow and today it is still around and enjoys a circulation of 193,000 on weekdays and 290,000 on Saturdays. It currently ranks second to the Globe and Mail for circulation in Canada.

Harbord Collegiate Institute would be founded this year as well. The school exists to this day and from the 1920s to 1950s, had a 90 per cent Jewish student population. Today, the population consists largely of students of East Asian and Portuguese descent. Several well known Canadians have come from this school including Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin, filmmaker David Cronenberg, Jack Cole, the founder of Coles bookstores, comedian Howie Mandel, Johnny Wayne and Frank Schuster of Wayne and Shuster, Morley Safer and Philip Givens, former mayor of Toronto.

Humberside Collegiate Institute was also founded this year and also exists to this day. Established in 1892 as the Toronto Junction High School in a church basement, it would move to its current site in High Park in 1894. The school has several notable alumni including comedian Samantha Bee, boxer George Chuvalo, Olympian Abby Hoffman and former hockey player J.P. Anderson.

This year also saw the first documented women’s ice hockey game, which took place in Barrie, Ontario on an outdoor ice rink.

Other Tidbits

On Sept. 29, the United States Government filed a complaint against the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, alleging that they were transporting Chinese individuals from China into the United States. The CPR denied the allegations, stating in their reply that:

“the allegations and suggestions of the present note of the honourable the Secretary of State of the United States, are not borne out by the facts and that if his information as to the numbers of Chinese who find access to the United States through Canada, and of those who are awaiting transport thither of Vancouver, is correct, which seems doubtful.”

In a letter from W.C. Van Horne of the CPR to the Right Honourable John Haggart,, he states “It is evident that somebody has been making outrageous misrepresentations at Washington on the subject. There is no congregation of Chinese at Vancouver, or anywhere about our Pacific terminus, waiting to get into the United States, nor has there been at any time, nor have we sold tickets to any Chinese who lacked the proper certificates to secure their return to the United States.”

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