Canada Year-By-Year: 1897

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On Jan. 29, the Victorian Order of Nurses would be founded in Ottawa. The creation of the organization dates back to the previous year when Lady Aberdeen, who was the wife of Governor General Lord Aberdeen, came to Vancouver and heard the stories of women and children in remote areas of the country who were often alone as their husbands traveled large distances for medical help. She then spoke with the National Council for Women in Halifax and asked to create an order of visiting nurses in the country. On Feb. 10 of this year, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier would host an inauguration to formally create the organization. The organization continues to operate to this day, and is the largest single, national homecare organization in Canada with a staff of 7,000, who are supported by 14,000 volunteers. For helping to found the organization, Lady Aberdeen would become the first woman to receive an honorary degree in Canada.

On Feb. 2, Clara Brett Martin would become the first woman to practice law in the British Empire. In 1891, she had submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student, but it was rejected with the society saying only men could be admitted to the practice of law. In 1892, women were permitted to be solicitors and in 1893, Martin began to article with the Toronto firm of Mulock, Miller, Crowther and Montgomery but she was treated poorly there. This year, she earned her law degree and entered into partnership at a law firm.

On May 24, Felix-Gabriel Marchand would become the new premier of Quebec. First elected to the Quebec Legislature in 1867, he would serve until his death on Sept. 25, 1900. As premier, serving until his death in 1900, he would attempt to create a Ministry of Education as all education in the province was in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. It would not be until 1964 that a Ministry of Education would be created in the province.

On the same day that Marchand became premier, the Lion of Belfort sculpture would be unveiled in Montreal. The statue is a reclining British Imperial Lion that faces towards France and the United Kingdom. The lion is reposed, calm and alert, indicating that the city is safe.

On Oct. 1, Alexander Warburton would become the premier of Prince Edward Island. He had first been elected to the Legislature in 1891 and would become the premier when Frederick Peters resigned and moved to British Columbia. Warburton would serve very briefly, only until Aug. 1, 1898 when he resigned to take a judicial appointment. One interesting aspect of Warburton was that before entering politics, he pushed to beautify Charlottetown, which included planting 800 trees, many of which still stand today.

On Oct. 7, with the introduction of Responsible Government in the North-West Territories, Frederick Haultain would become premier of the territory. He would remain in charge until 1905 when Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces. Despite pushing to create the provinces, he was denied premiership because he was Conservative and Wilfrid Laurier wanted a Liberal premier.

On Oct. 29, Henry Emmerson became premier of New Brunswick, replacing James Mitchell. Also serving as Attorney-General at this time, his government attempted to promote tourism and wheat farming in the province, as well as the development of the oil and gas industry. He also introduced legislation to grant women the right to vote but it was defeated. He would serve until 1900 when he left to become a Liberal MP in the House of Commons.

Also this year, the first Canadian movie was filmed. Made by James Freer and released in 1898, it is now lost to time but it was exhibited in the United Kingdom as a promotion by the CPR to bring in immigration to the country. The film consisted of a series of short scenes that included trains arriving, people working in fields and footage of Thomas Greenway, the Premier of Manitoba, stooking grain on his farm.

The Klondike Gold Rush

In my episode on 1896 in Canada, the Klondike Gold Rush was just starting but was still quite small. That was all about to change in 1897 when things kicked off in a big way as news spread of the discovery of gold. It took some time for news to reach the wider world through the winter of 1896-97 but on July 15, 1897, the first prospectors from the Klondike arrived in San Francisco and two days later in Seattle, bringing with them huge amounts of gold. The press reported that the gold was worth $1.1 million, or about $1 billion today. Amazingly, this was actually an underestimate of the actual amount that came in.

Not surprisingly, people quickly began to flock to the gold fields of the Yukon. Between 1897 and 1898, 100,000 people would try to reach the Klondike, with 30,000 to 40,000 making it. The reason for this huge influx is partly because of the economic recession the United States was in at the time, leaving many unemployed and dealing with poverty. The promise of riches in the Yukon was too much to ignore for some.

I would like to do a longer episode on the Klondike that will go into more detail, but I will talk about the gold rush a bit here.

The lure of making money in the Klondike, or on those going to the Klondike was too much for some people. William Wood, the mayor of Seattle, actually resigned and formed a company to transport prospectors to the Klondike.

There were several routes to the Klondike but the gold could only be reached by the Yukon River. Getting to the Klondike was not exactly easy with terrible cold in the winters, hot and short summers, impassible rivers and mountainous terrain. Knowing that there was going to be a huge influx of prospectors, the Canadian government implemented rules that required anyone entering the Yukon to have a year’s supply of food, along with tools, camping equipment and other essentials. In all, each prospector was moving about one ton of weight with them.

I want to look at the various routes that were used during the Klondike, especially from 1897 to 1898.

First, you had the All-Water Route, which went from Seattle to the Alaska coast. From St. Michael at the Yukon River delta, it was possible to take a river boat all the way to Dawson. With speed and no overland travel, it was a route that was much easier than the other routes. It was also expensive. At the start of the stampede, tickets for this route were $150, or $4,000 today but by the winter the cost was $1,000 or $27,000 today. In 1897, 1,800 prospectors went this route but most were stuck along the river when the river froze in October. Only 43 of the 1,800 reached the Klondike before winter and 35 had to return because they threw away most of their equipment on route.

The Skagway Route was used by most prospectors. Their ships would land at Dyea and Skagway, at the head of the Lynn Canal at the end of the Inside Passage and from there they would travel over the mountain ranges into the Yukon and then down the river network. Camps were sprung up along the route for prospectors to eat and sleep at. At first, you could go from Seattle to Dyea for $40, or $1,100 today but by the winter steamships were not releasing their prices because they were increasing them on a daily basis. If a prospector landed at Skagway, they took the White Pass Trail, later called The Dead Horse Trail because of the huge number of horses who died on route. The trail was a terrible route, and was closed in late 1897. Those who landed at Dyea took the Chilkoot Trail, which went up the Chilkoot Pass and 22,000 prospectors went over that pass during the gold rush. Due to the need to take so much food and equipment, the cold and the steepness of the slope, it often took a prospector an entire day to get to the top of the slope, and often they had to make numerous trips. By December of 1897, a tramway was set up that could take freight up at a cost of 8 to 30 cents, or $2 to $8 today, per pound. Once over the pass and at the Yukon River, they could take the 800 kilometre journey along the river to Dawson City. Due to people using boats that were not worthy of being on the water, and after the deaths of hundreds on the river, the NWMP introduced safety rules, boat inspections and the banning of women and children from going through the rapids. All boats had to have a licensed pilot as well.

There was also the All-Canadian Routes, which ran up from British Columbia, and three which started in Edmonton, but most were barely trails at all and of the 1,660 prospectors who took the three routes out of Edmonton, only 685 arrived and it took them 18 months to make the journey.

So what of the people who made it to the Klondike to be prospectors. Well, of the 30,000 to 40,000 who reached Dawson City, 15,000 to 20,000 actually became prospectors. Of those, about 4,000 struck gold and only a few hundred actually became rich.

I will go into greater detail in my upcoming episode on the Gold Rush, but for now, we will leave the prospectors here and we will continue our look at 1897 in Canada.

Notable Births

There was a very important birth this year, and I will get to that in its own section, but first let’s look at some of the important Canadians born this year.

On Jan. 23, one of the most unique and important Canadians during the Second World War was born. William Stephenson was born in Winnipeg and would leave school at a young age and then enlist in the First World War in 1916. He would join the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 and scored 12 victories as a flying ace before he was shot down and crashed behind enemy lines on July 28, 1918. Captured by the Germans, he was held as a prisoner of war until he escaped in October of 1918. By the end of the war, he was a captain and had received the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the inter-war years, he returned to Manitoba and patented a system for transmitting photographic images via wireless. This earned him about $12 million a year in today’s funds off the royalties. He then took that money and invested it in movies, automobile construction, cement companies and more. By April of 1936 thanks to his business connections, he was able to provide information to Winston Churchill that the Nazi government was building up its armed forces. On June 21, 1940, he was sent to the United States by Winston Churchill to establish the British Security Coordination with the goal of pushing the American public in favour of entering the war and to investigate any enemy activities. He would become close friends with President Roosevelt and recommended his friend William Donovan be put in charge of U.S. intelligence services. Donovan would found the OSS as a result, which became the CIA in 1947. Through all of his intelligence work across the world during the war, he worked without a salary and paid hundreds of people, mostly Canadian women, out of his own pocket. He would also set up Camp X, a secret training school for covert agents located in Whitby, Ontario. It would train between 500 and 2,000 British, Canadian and American covert operators between 1941 and 1945. Due to his impact on the Second World War, Stephenson was given the rare distinction for a Canadian of being knighted, which was personally requested by Churchill. In 1946, he received the Medal for Merit from President Truman, the first non-American honoured. In 1979, he was awarded the Order of Canada. Several buildings, streets and statues exist in Canada to honour Stephenson. Possibly the biggest impact though was his influence on a man named Ian Fleming, who would create a character named James Bond. Fleming would say “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is William Stephenson.”

On Sept. 23, Walter Pidgeon was born in Saint John, New Brunswick. After attending the University of New Brunswick and studying law and drama, he would serve in the First World War and then move to Boston to work as a banker. Disliking the work of a banker, he started to act on stage, making his Broadway debut in 1925, and appearing in silent films through the decade. After some popular films, he went back to Broadway and by the time he returned to Hollywood in 1935, he was appearing in secondary roles. That changed in 1941 when he starred in How Green Was My Valley. In 1942, he starred in Mrs. Miniver and earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, followed by his second nomination for Madame Curie in 1943. From 1952 to 1957, he served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and would receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. In 1975, he received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. He would pass away in 1984 at the age of 87.

On Sept. 29, Graham Towers was born in Montreal. He would attend McGill University and during the Second World War, served as the Chairman of the Foreign Exchange Control Board and the Chair of the National War Finance Committee. He was a proponent for the creation of a Bank of Canada and would achieve that and be the first Governor of the Bank of Canada from 1934 to 1954. In 1969, he was awarded the Order of Canada. He passed away in 1975 at the age of 78.

Lester B. Pearson

I am in the process of creating a new podcast called From John To Justin, that looks at every single prime minister in Canada’s history. On that show, I will go into much more detail on Lester B. Pearson, but we will do a relatively shallow dive into this fascinating man here.

Pearson was born on April 23 of this year in Newtonbrook, Ontario and he would go on to have a massive impact on Canada. Pearson was the son of a Methodist parson and would spend his childhood moving from one location to another until he enrolled to study history at the University of Toronto. While studying, the First World War erupted and he quickly enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, shipping to Greece in 1915 to join the Allied armies in their fight with the Bulgarians. Unfortunately, his military career ended when a London bus hit him, sending him home.

Pearson would graduate from the University of Toronto in 1919 but he didn’t know where his future career would take him. He would try law and business, and earn a fellowship to Oxford, but settled on teaching history at the University of Toronto, while also coaching tennis and football.

Eventually, with a family to care for, he realized his professor’s salary was not enough and he would join the Department of External Affairs. In 1928, he had become one of the most important workers in the department and deputy minister O.D. Skelton began to notice him.

In 1935, he would be sent as the first secretary in the Canadian High Commission in London and seeing the move towards war firsthand, he realized how important it was to form a collective defence in the face of aggression.

After the war was over, he would find himself the Canadian Ambassador to the United States and attended the founding conference of the United Nations at San Francisco in 1945. One year later, he was called to the home of Prime Minister William Mackenzie King to become the deputy minister of external affairs. In 1948, he became the Minister of External Affairs and was elected to the House of Commons. As minister, he would be instrumental in Canada joining NATO in 1949 as he was strongly in favour of a Western self-defence organization that he hoped would keep the Soviet Union at bay. He would also help lead Canada into the Korean War, and in 1952 he was the president of the UN General Assembly. His goal was to find solutions to the Korean War but the Americans felt he was too inclined to compromise. In 1956 though, he would become instrumental in creating a UN peacekeeping force, which would first be used to reduce the tensions over the Suez Crisis. He was able to ease the British and French out of Egypt. For his work, he would become the first and so far only Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Upon his awarding in 1957, the Nobel Committee stated that he had literally saved the world, likely preventing a nuclear Third World War.

Things continued to look up for Pearson in his career, despite an election loss by the Liberal Party to Diefenbaker and his Conservatives. In 1958, Pearson would become the Leader of the Liberal Party, serving as the Leader of the Opposition. Things did not get off to a great start after Diefenbaker was able to guide his party to the biggest win in Canadian election history, leaving Pearson with the task of rebuilding the Liberal Party. He would succeed in this, helping lead the Liberals to the 1962 general election when they took 100 seats, far above the 49 they had before. One year later, the Diefenbaker government collapsed and the Liberals were able to form a minority government with 128 seats. Lester B. Pearson was now the Prime Minister of Canada.

Effectively taking office on April 22, 1963, his government got down to work with altering Canada in immense ways despite a minority government. One of the most important achievements of the Pearson government, which consisted of two minority governments from 1963 to 1968, Canada got a new flag, was kept out of Vietnam, the armed forces were united into a unified force, Medicare was created, there was a de facto abolishment of capital punishment, and the Canadian Pension Plan was established. By 1965, things were changing in the Liberal Party with Pierre Trudeau rising in prominence and rifts forming with Quebec. In 1967, Pearson announced he was retiring and a Liberal convention picked Trudeau to be the new leader, and new Prime Minister of Canada.

After his retirement, he served as the chair of the Commission on International Development, and he lectured on politics and history at Carleton University. In 1970, he lost his right eye due to a tumor operation and while writing his three-volume set of memoirs, he passed away on Dec. 27, 1972.

Along with the Order of Canada in 1971, Pearson has been honoured extensively in Canada. He was the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year nine times, he is a member of the Canadian Peace Hall of Fame, the UN’s Pearson Medal of Peace was created in 1979 in his honour. Several buildings, streets and more are named for him. Pearson is also a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In a survey done in 2000 of the first 20 prime ministers, Pearson ranked sixth and he is considered the greatest prime minister since the Second World War.

Here, Pearson reflects on his life in politics on Oct. 19, 1972, only months before his death.

Notable Deaths

On Jan. 2, Thomas McGreevy died in Quebec City at the age of 71. Born in that same city on July 29, 1825, he would serve as an MP from 1867 to 1891 and from 1895 to 1896. That gap was because he was expelled from the House of Commons for corruption, and spent a year in prison. His greatest impact on Canada was that he was the contractor for the building of the Parliament of Canada.

On July 4, Amor De Cosmos died in Victoria at the age of 71. He was born in Nova Scotia on Aug. 20, 1825 and after time with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then becoming a prospector during the California Gold Rush, he set up a studio and started taking pictures of miners and their operations. In 1854, he had his name changed from William Alexander Smith to Amor de Cosmos, or Lover of the Universe. In 1858, he moved to Victoria and founded a newspaper, the Daily British Colonist, which is today the Victoria Times-Colonist. He served as its editor until 1863 and he would argue passionately for free enterprise, public education, economic and political privileges for all and responsible government. In 1871, he became a member of the House of Commons, serving from 1872 to 1882. During that time, he also served as an MLA in the British Columbia Legislature from 1871 to 1874. During that same period in the Legislature, he was also the second premier of British Columbia from 1872 to 1874. As premier, he pushed for the development of schools, economic expansion and political reform. As Cosmos grew older, people began to notice odd tendencies in his behaviour. He became prone to outbursts of crying and a fierce temper, and had a deep fear of electricity. In 1895, he was declared insane and as the Klondike Gold Rush began, he set up a company to deliver hot food to prospectors in the gold fields, but the logistics of the service would result in the company failing.

On Sept. 19, Frederick Cope died at the age of only 48 in the Yukon. Born on Aug. 27, 1849 in Canada West, he would come out to British Columbia and served as the third Mayor of Vancouver from 1892 to 1893. As mayor he attempted to limit city expenses and let city employees go due to an economic downturn. He would lose his life while crossing Shallow Lake on his horse. He fell from his horse and while attempting to rescue his horse, he was pulled away by the current.

On Oct. 21, Philip Little would die at the age of 72 or 73 in England. Born in 1824 in Charlottetown, he became the first Roman Catholic lawyer to practice law in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He would lead a charge for responsible government and in 1855 was selected as the first Prime Minister of Newfoundland, serving until 1858. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland that year and served as the chief justice until 1868.

On Dec. 15, James Mitchell died at the age of 54. Born in New Brunswick on March 16, 1843, he served as the eighth premier of New Brunswick from 1896 to 1897 when he resigned due to ill health.

On Dec. 31, David Oppenheimer would die at the age of 63 in Vancouver. Born in Germany on Jan. 1, 1834, he came to North America in 1848 and then traveled to California to take advantage of the California Gold Rush in 1851. In 1858, he and his brother took their supply business to Victoria and established stores for prospectors during the Fraser River and Cariboo Gold Rushes. During the construction of the CPR through British Columbia, he did extensive business with the company, purchasing land through a syndicate at various places along the route. After the Great Vancouver Fire, he founded the Vancouver Board of Trade and was its first chairman. In 1888, he became the Second Mayor of Vancouver, serving until 1891. During his time as mayor, a ferry would be established to Burrard Inlet, a street car system began and water connection to the Capilano River was built. He also set up the first fire department, and pushed hard for a city hospital, playgrounds and parkland. He would be mayor when Stanley Park opened and he would also promote the mining industry of the province.

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