We have reached the mid-way point of the last decade of the 19th century and for Canada, it would be an interesting and important year that would influence Canada well into the 20th century. So, let’s look at the year 1895 in Canada.
In March, Maria Grant would become the first woman in Canada to be elected to any sort of politic office. Grant had been born in Quebec City and was active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894, she would found the Victoria Local Council of Women, which was the first organization to endorse women’s suffrage. This year, Grant was elected to the Victoria School Board, where she would serve for six years. The future King George V would meet her when she was presented to the king as the only woman school trustee in Canada.
On March 2, Theodore Davie, who had been the premier of British Columbia since 1892, would resign as premier so he could become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Two days later on March 4, John Herbert Turner would become the 11th premier of British Columbia. He had moved to Victoria in 1862 and founded Turner, Beeton and Company, a canning, insurance and importing company. From 1876 to 1881 he would serve as the mayor of Victoria and was first elected to the legislature in 1886. He would serve as the Minister of Finance from 1887 to 1895, and his time as premier would run until 1898. From 1901 to 1915, he would represent British Columbia in England.
On March 9, The Montreal Hockey Club would win their second Stanley Cup by defeating Queen’s University 5-1 at the Victoria Rink in Montreal.
On April 24, 1895, the Jean-Olivier Chenier Monument would be erected. Standing 14.2 feet tall and made of pink granite, bronze and copper, honouring a physician in Lower Canada. He had commanded the Patriote forces at the Battle of Saint Eustache, and when he was trapped in a church with his men, government troops set the building on fire. He left through a window and was shot while screaming “Remember Weir”, in reference to George Weir, a spy that had been executed by the Patriotes. His corpse was mutilated to intimidate the Patriote supporters. Until 1945, Chenier was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic religion because he fought on holy ground. The Chenier Cell of the FLQ was named for him, as are several buildings and streets in Quebec.
The Maisonneuve Monument would be unveiled on July 1 in memory of the founder of Montreal, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve. This statue was unveiled to honour the 250th anniversary of the City of Montreal in 1892.
Also this year, the Chinese Board of Trade would be formed in Vancouver and Mount Hector in Banff National Park would see its first ascent. The mountain rises to 11,135 feet and is the 47th highest major peak in Canada. It was named by George Dawson in 1894 after James Hector, a geologist on the Palliser Expedition. Philip S. Abbot, Charles Fay and Charles Thompson would be the first ones to climb the mountain. Abbot would pass away the next year at the age of 29 while free climbing Mount Lefroy near Lake Louise, falling to his death and becoming the first recorded mountaineering fatality in North American history. Fay would was also at Mount Lefroy when Abbott lost his life and he would defend mountain climbing despite moves to ban it in North America. In 1907, he would summit Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria and Mount Fay is named for him. In all, he made more than a dozen first ascents in the western Canadian Rockies.
Among the notable births in Canada this year, there are two I am going to cover in depth and the first happened on the first day of the year with the birth of Conn Smythe. Smythe was born in Toronto on Feb. 1 to English immigrants, being the second of the couple’s two children. Sadly, his older sister would pass away when he was only eight. The family was poor and would move several times during his early life, with the quality of their home depending on how much his father was making at the time. Eventually, his parents would separate and his father would remarry in 1913. Smythe would attend high school at Upper Canada College but disliked it. It was at his next school, Jarvis Collegiate Institute, that he began to show his athletic abilities, playing rugby, basketball and hockey, playing on the city championship teams in hockey and basketball in 1912. In 1916, he would meet his future wife Irene Sands, while he was playing in a football game. At the age of 17, Smythe left home to homestead on 150 acres near Cochrane, Ontario. He built a home, only to have it destroyed by fire the next year, so he left and went to the University of Toronto where he played hockey and captained the school’s hockey team to the finals in the 1914 Ontario Hockey Association championship. The team he lost to was coached by Frank J. Selke, someone we talked about a couple years previous.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Smythe would enlist with eight of his teammates. Smythe would earn the rank of lieutenant and was sent over the France with his unit in February of 1916. On Oct. 12, his unit, the 40th Battery, would be hit by shelling, killing both the Major and Sgt. Major of the unit, making Smythe the commanding officer. For the next two months his unit fought in the trenches at the Somme without relief. In February 1917, Smythe earned the Military Cross for running into a fight as Germans were throwing grenades and killing three Germans himself and saving several wounded Canadian soldiers. In July 1917, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was shot down by the Germans on Oct. 14, 1917, and spent the remaining part of the war, despite two escape attempts, in a POW camp. In describing his life at the camp he would say:
Upon returning to Toronto, Smythe would start a sand and gravel business that he would own for the next four decades. During that same time, he began coaching the University of Toronto’s varsity team and it was through that he became involved in the NHL. In 1926, Charles Adams, the owner of the Boston Bruins, recommended Smythe to John S. Hammond as the general manager and coach for the new team entering the NHL, the New York Rangers. Smythe put together a team but was fired just before the Rangers played their first game. Smythe would return to Toronto and two years after he was fired from the Rangers, the team won the Stanley Cup, largely thanks to the team Smythe assembled.
In 1927, Smythe was given the opportunity to purchase the Toronto St. Pats for $160,000. Smythe quickly put together a syndicate and invested $10,000 of his own money, finally purchasing the team on Valentine’s Day that year. The first thing he did was change the team’s name to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Smythe made himself the general manager and changed the team’s colours from green and white to white and blue to represent the Canadian skies and snow. Known as the Little Dictator, Smythe would develop feuds with other general managers. Once, when he learned that Art Ross, the general manager of the Boston Bruins, was suffering from hemorrhoids, he sent him flowers with a note written in Latin telling him where he could shove the flowers.
In 1929, just as The Great Depression was starting, Smythe decided that the team needed a new arena that could seat more people than their current arena. He would raise the money for the construction, which would cost $1 million, and work began on June 1, 1931. Within five months the new arena was built and was called Maple Leaf Gardens, which would become one of the most important and celebrated arenas in the NHL.
In 1931-32, Smythe fired Art Duncan as coach and hired Dick Irvin, who then led the team to its first Stanley Cup as the Maple Leafs. In 1940, he decided it was time for a new coach and Hap Day was hired, while Irvin would be hired by the Canadiens. Day would lead the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup in 1942, 1945 and from 1947 to 1949. Irvin would go on to win three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.
When the Second World War began, Smythe would go on to serve in the Canadian Army again, this time as a captain. He would eventually be sent to England to guard a depot and was badly wounded by a German bombing attack, leading him to suffer a limp and bowel and urinary tract problems for the rest of his life.
Upon returning home, Smythe found himself in a power struggle for the Maple Leafs with Frank Selke, who would resign and go to the Canadiens, leading them to a dynasty in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs would be mostly mediocre during the 1950s so Smythe turned hockey operations over to Hap Day but in 1957 Day would resign after he felt Smythe blamed him in the media for the struggles of the Leafs.
Smythe was known for his strict rules on players, in a time when players had very little control over their careers. Anyone who didn’t follow his rules were traded or sent to the minors. Two players were even sent to the minors when they got married without Smythe’s permission. Smythe also worked with other owners to bust any unions that the players tried to form.
Eventually, Smythe would step down as governor of the team, a position he held since 1927, on Feb. 5, 1962. The same year he resigned, the team would win the Stanley Cup and start a new dynasty.
Smythe would sell his shares in Maple Leafs Gardens in 1966 and resign from the board of directors after a Muhammad Ali boxing match was held at the Gardens. Smythe disliked Ali because he refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Smythe would write later:
Smythe would also oppose the creation of a new Canadian flag, and the expansion of the NHL from six teams to 12. Smythe would die in 1978 from a heart attack.
While Smythe was known for being a hard man to know, he was also charitable and was heavily involved in the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, and would finance and build the Ontario Community Centre for the Deaf. Smythe also supervised the construction of the Hockey Hall of Fame and served as its chairman. In 1965, the Conn Smythe Trophy was created by the NHL, given to the MVP of the playoffs. In 1974, the Smythe Division was named for him and would remain in his name until 1992. In 1998, Smythe was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
The next big name to be born this year was John Diefenbaker, who would go on to become one of our most important prime ministers and politicians during the middle of the 20th century. Born on Sept. 18 in Ontario, he would move with his family to the North-West Territories, in what would one day be Saskatchewan, in 1903. Living near Borden, the family then moved to Saskatoon in 1910 and Diefenbaker developed such an interest in politics as a young man that when he was eight his mother told him he would be prime minister one day. In 1910, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was in Saskatoon and Diefenbaker sold him a newspaper and started talking to him before Diefenbaker said, “I cannot waste anymore time on you Prime Minister, I must get about my work.” Of course, this may not have been true and there is some evidence the story was invented by Diefenbaker himself to tell during an election campaign.
In 1916, Diefenbaker would enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Force but was sent home in 1917. Diefenbaker said he was hit with a shovel and that resulted in him being sent home and not serving overseas. He would then go to the University of Saskatchewan and earned a law degree in 1919. He would open a small practice in Wakaw, Saskatchewan. In 1920, he was elected to the village council, serving a three-year term, and starting his political career. In 1924, he moved to Prince Albert and would run in the federal election as a Conservative, finishing third in the election. In 1929, he ran in the provincial election for Saskatchewan but he was defeated. Diefenbaker would continue to run his practice in Prince Albert, and ran for mayor of the city in 1933, losing by only 48 votes. Diefenbaker would mostly focus on his law career and family throughout the 1930s but in 1940, he would run in the federal election and would finally win a seat in the House of Commons. On June 13, 1940, he would make his first speech in the House of Commons, stating that most Canadians of German origin were loyal, something that was important to him as he was of German heritage and had been called a Hun in previous elections. In 1942, Diefenbaker would stand for leadership of the Conservative Party but would not win. Diefenbaker would again pursue leadership in 1948, this time losing to George Drew. Through the next several years, the Liberal Party would try and dislodge Diefenbaker from his riding in Prince Albert. They would also open a home for unwed Indigenous mothers next door to Diefenbaker’s home in the city. While serving in the House of Commons, he would continue to practice law but he would lose his wife Edna in 1951 to leukemia. He remarried to Olive Palmer in 1953. In 1956, Drew would resign as leader and Diefenbaker would finally be elected leader, becoming the Leader of the Official Opposition. In 1957, he would lead his party to 112 seats to the Liberal 105, and now found himself as the Prime Minister of Canada.
Diefenbaker would get to work putting together a cabinet, appointing Ellen Fairclough as the Secretary of State for Canada, making her the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet post, and Michael Starr as Minister of Labour, making him the first Ukrainian-Canadian to serve in the cabinet. In 1958, Diefenbaker would call an election and would lead his party to a massive majority, winning 208 seats to the Liberals 48 seats, which is still the largest majority based on the percentage of seats in Canadian Parliamentary history.
As Prime Minister, Diefenbaker would also appoint the first Indigenous person to the Senate of Canada and grant the right to vote to Indigenous and Inuit people. He held a strong stance against apartheid but would also be remembered for the 1959 cancellation of the Avro Arrow project, something that deserves its own episode. His government would also pass the Canadian Bill of Rights while he was prime minister.
Unfortunately for Diefenbaker, the Conservatives would begin to fracture and in 1963, he would lose the federal election to Lester B. Pearson and the Liberals. In 1967, a leadership convention was held and he was forced out as leader of the party. Nonetheless, he would continue to serve in the House of Commons until Aug. 16, 1979, the year of his death. In all, he had served from 1940 to 1979, one of the longest uninterrupted periods in Canadian political history.
Since his death, many locations have been named for Diefenbaker including the largest lake in southern Saskatchewan, a bridge, an airport in Saskatoon and his home has been designated as a National Historic Site.
I have glossed over some things but I am actually looking at doing a separate podcast, or a series within this podcast, all about Canada’s Prime Ministers.
On Feb. 15, Earl Thomson was born in Birch Hills, in what would one day be Saskatchewan. He would move to California at the age of eight because the warm weather was better for his mother’s health. In 1916, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving in the First World War. In 1920, he would go to the Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, hoping to represent the United States but was told he had to represent Canada. He would set a new world record in the 110 metre hurdles, a record that stood until 1931 and he was the first Olympic gold medalist in the 110 metre hurdles from outside the United States. He would go on to become the United States Naval Academy track coach for 36 years. In 1955, he was one of the first inductees to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and would pass away in 1971.
On March 23, John Cartwright was born in Toronto. He would earn a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1912 and in 1914 would enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving in the First World War, being wounded twice and earning the Military Cross. Upon his return he would go back to practicing law and would be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 22, 1949. In 1967, he was named as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, serving until March 23, 1970. He would pass away nine years later in 1979.
On May 27, Douglas Campbell was born in Portage La Prairie. Working as a farmer and school teacher in his adult life, he would be elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1922, winning by 500 votes. In 1936, he would become the Minister of Agriculture and in 1944 was the Minister of the Manitoba Power Commission, which oversaw the complete electrification of the rural areas of the province and created Manitoba Hydro. In 1948, Campbell was elected as the 13th premier of Manitoba, serving for the next 10 years in the position. He would spend four years as the Leader of the Opposition before retiring from politics. In 1972, he was awarded the Order of Canada and would pass away at the age of 99 in 1995.
On July 7, Thane Campbell was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and would become a lawyer in the province until he ran for the provincial legislature in 1930, winning and serving until 1943. During that time, he would become the 19th premier of Prince Edward Island in 1936, serving until 1943. As premier, he would organize a provincial police force, establish the first national park in the province and committed his province to the war effort. He was also known to be an excellent curler and would be inducted into the Prince Edward Island Curling Hall of Fame and Museum, and into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. In 1973, he was awarded the Order of Canada. He passed away at the age of 83 in 1978.
On Sept. 7, Pete Parker was born and would go on to become the world’s first complete play-by-play radio broadcaster of a hockey game. The broadcast was carried out at CKCK in Regina for a game between the Regina Capitals and the Edmonton Eskimos. This broadcast predated the March 22, 1923 broadcast by Foster Hewitt in Toronto by one week.
On Sept. 20, Leslie Frost was born in Orillia, Ontario. He would go on to attend law school and then served in the First World War, earning the rank of captain. In 1921, he was called to the bar and would practice law in the province for several years. In 1937, he was elected to the Ontario Legislature and would become the premier of Ontario in 1949, serving until 1961. During that time he led Ontario through an economic boom, helping lead the Ontario Conservatives to three majority victories in 1951, 1955 and 1959. His government would expand the role of government, expanding on schools, highways and hospitals. He would implement the province’s first sales tax, and introduce health insurance prior to universal health care. Several investments were made during his time as premier as well, and the education budget would increase from $13 million to $250 million over the decade. His government also gave voting rights to the Indigenous and updated the Ontario Human Rights Code. He would resign as premier in 1961 and in 1969 was awarded the Order of Canada. He would pass away on May 4, 1973 at the age of 77.
On April 4, Malcolm Alexander MacLean would pass away at the age of 50. He had been born in Scotland and came to Canada in the 1860s, operating a store in Oshawa, Ontario. He would relocate to Winnipeg in 1878 and moved to Granville, British Columbia in 1885, which would become Vancouver. On May 3, 1886, he would be elected as the first mayor of Vancouver by less than honest means it seems. He won the election by 17 votes and it is claimed by some that 100 ballots were cast illegally, something that was later confirmed by using the names of hotel guests. The Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 made everyone forget about the scandal and as mayor MacLean would convince the Governor General to give the area that would become Stanley Park to the city. In 1886, he ran on a platform of anti-Chinese sentiment and was re-elected. He would serve until 1887.
On Sept. 4, Antoine Plamondon would pass away at the age of 91. He had been born in Quebec and by 22 had travelled to Paris to study art. He would return to Canada in 1830 and began painting portraits of living subjects, along with religious paintings for churches. For the rest of his life, he would be one of Canada’s most notable artists, painting many religious paintings and copies of the Old Masters. His self-portrait in 1882 is considered his last work. He would become a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and was notable for his pushing for the rights of Indigenous people.
On Sept. 11, Thomas Haviland would pass away at the age of 72. Born in Charlottetown in 1822, he would study law and was called to the bar in 1846, the same year he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. He would serve until 1876. Three years later, he was made the third Lt. Governor of Prince Edward Island, serving until 1884. In 1886, he became the mayor of Charlottetown, serving until 1893 when he resigned due to poor health.