You can support Canadian History Ehx with a donation at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/craigU
As Canada entered its 11th year and second decade of existence, many important events, births and deaths would occur. Today, we continue our look at Canada through the years with 1878.
On Jan. 22, Ernest Drury would be born in Crown Hill, Ontario. He would go on to lead the Ontario Liberal Party and become its leader. This would lead him to becoming the eighth premier of Ontario, serving from 1919 to 1923. Under his leadership, Ontario would introduce a minimum wage for women, a mandatory weekly day of rest, broaden workers compensation benefits, provide improved support for parents and children born out of wedlock, and he would allow for greater expansion of electrification of the province. He would also start the first major reforestation project in North America and, most importantly, he would arrange for a grant to be given to two unknown men named Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the two men who would go on to discovery insulin.
On Feb. 23, William Worman would pass away. He had served as mayor of Montreal from 1868 to 1871 after becoming one of the leading businessmen in the city through investments in railroads and banking.
On March 7, both the Universite de Montreal and the University of Western Ontario would be incorporated. The Universite de Montreal still exists to this day and counts government officials, academics and business leaders as alumni. Currently, there are 34,335 undergraduate and over 11,900 post-graduate students attending the school. Some of the most notable graduates of the university include former Governor General Michaelle Jean, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Robert Bourassa, former premier of Quebec. As for the University of Western Ontario, which is in London, Ontario and sits on 455 hectares of land. Currently, it has 24,000 students and 306,000 living alumni worldwide. Notable alumni include Sir Frederick Banting, astronaut Roberta Bondar, and John Robarts, former premier of Ontario.
It was on March 8, 1878 that Luc Letellier de Saint Just, the Lt. Governor of Quebec, dismissed Premier Boucherville over a proposed railway legislation. The Lt. Governor had refused to approve legislation that had already passed both houses of the Quebec Legislature. This legislation would have required municipalities to pay for their own railway construction.
This decision was made because the Conservatives had borrowed more than $7 million and used all their credit. In order to continue building railroads, the party decided to fall back on the municipalities along the rail route as they had pledged funds but not made contributions yet.
Letellier justified the measure by stating the government was acting incompetently and corruptly in regards to the railway legislation. Letellier had recently left politics where he supported the Liberals, and he made no attempt to conceal his dislike for his Conservative advisors.
He would state quote:
“After having studied the general state of the affairs of our province, after having become convinced that legislative and administrative changes were becoming more and more necessary, I decided upon using, with moderation, and with greatest possible discretion, the influence attached to my position, in order to obtain the realization of that which I deemed to be the greatest advantage to the province.”
Boucherville would complain to the Governor General, but it would do little.
With Boucherville now out as premier, Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere was brought in to form the government, giving Quebec its first Liberal government.
The Montreal Gazette wrote of the matter on May 9, 1878, quote:
“We have no disposition this morning to deal at length with this new Government. It is a straight Rouge Ministry, and on party grounds, apart from the great and more vital question of the violation of the constitutional principle of responsible government, for which it has made itself responsible, and to which it owes its existence, we are naturally opposed to it.”
The Conservative still held the majority in the Legislature, so Lotbiniere requested the dissolution of the Assembly and an election was called.
Throughout this election, the main issue was the economy, as well as the actions of the Lt. Governor. The Conservatives would attack the Lt. Governor repeatedly on the campaign trail. Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, a leading Conservative, would even open his campaign with the slogan of quote:
“Silence the voice of Spencer Wood and let the mighty voice of the people speak.”
Spencer Wood was the official residence of the Lt. Governor.
Joly de Lotbiniere would campaign on the slogan of quote:
“The province must choose between direct taxation and economy.”
For election, all hotels, taverns, shops and stores were closed, whether they were licensed or not. Any place that sold alcohol was closed during the day of voting. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $200, or six months in prison if the establishment owner failed to pay the fine.
For many, the election was a more interesting affair than in previous years. This was especially true in the House of Commons on election night. The Brantford newspaper would write quote:
“The Quebec elections excite a great deal of interest here and furnishes all absorbing topic of conversation in the chamber. Speculative telegraphs of all kinds have been received by the hundred tonight.”
On election day, there were issues with people trying to influence others at the polling stations. The Kingston British Whig would report that in one riding, the Liberals were surrounded by crowds of rough individuals who were apparently bent on interfering with voting.
The newspaper stated quote:
“An additional force of river and other police have been placed at the separate polls. The contest in this Division will be severe and close.”
In the May 1, 1878 election, Boucherville and the Conservatives lost 11 seats to fall to 32. Their share of the popular vote also fell by 1.5 per cent. The Kingston British Whig wrote quote:
“May day has proved a sombre holiday for the Blues of Quebec. Contrary to the all too sanguine predictions of the Tory press, the electors of Quebec have doomed the party of taxation and corruption to at least a four years’ term of banishment from power.”
The Liberals under Joly de Lotbiniere were able to pick up 12 seats and almost 10 per cent more of the popular vote than they had in the previous election.
The Liberals were able to hold onto power, who worked with the two Independent Conservatives to swing the number of seats in their favour, but only by one.
On April 14, John Walter Jones was born in Prince Edward Island. He was instrumental in introducing potato crops to the island, which are now a staple of the economy there. In 1935, he received a medal from King Georg V for being the best farmer in the province. That same year, he was elected for the first time to the legislature as a Liberal. In 1943, he would become the 20th premier of the province. During his tenure, which lasted a decade, he would repeal the strict prohibition of the province.
He would join the Senate of Canada in 1953, passing away one year later.
In June, the New Brunswick election was held only one month after John James Fraser had been appointed as premier of the province after George Edwin King resigned. He would lead his government to victory. While there were no party labels, 31 MLAs supported the government, while 10 formed the opposition.
On June 20, Seymour Farmer is born. He will go on to become the 30th mayor of Winnipeg, serving from 1923 to 1924, and eventually lead the Manitoba Co-operative Commonwealth Federation from 1935 to 1947. In all, he will serve in the Winnipeg Legislature from 1922 to 1949, passing away two years later.
On July 12, 1878, the Alexander Mackenzie government, selected the Fraser River to Burrard Inlet route for the CPR, ending the hope for Bute Inlet of being the terminus on the mainland, with the Yellowhead Pass being the entry into the mountains from the Prairies. As with so many things in politics in Canada, there were sharp party lines in regards to the routes. The Liberals supported the Fraser River to Burrard Inlet route, while the Conservatives supported Bute Inlet route but both agreed on the Yellowhead Pass.
Sir John A. Macdonald would speak of the Yellowhead Pass as the right route on Feb. 12, 1878, stating quote:
“One thing is clear, and that is that Yellow Head Pass is to be the pass through which the road will go and I presume the Government will at an early day lay all the papers before us and all the survey reports, in order to justify the conclusion.”
On July 20, British Columbia would host its election only one month after George Walkem became premier of the province for the second time. Walkem would win the election and continue to serve as premier of the province until 1882.
On July 23, James Thomas Milton Anderson was born in Ontario. He would go on to become leader of the Conservative Party and find his way out to Saskatchewan. From 1929 to 1934, he was the premier of Saskatchewan despite accusation that he was closely tied with the KKK that operated in the province for a brief time at that point.
Eva Tanguay was born on Aug. 1 in Marbleton, Quebec to a doctor father and his wife. She would live in the small community in Quebec until the age of six when she moved from Quebec to the United States. Her father would sadly die soon after, around the same time she was becoming interested in the performing arts. At the age of eight, she would make her first appearance on stage, during an amateur night that had a prize of one dollar, something the family desperately needed. For the performance, she wore a dress made from an umbrella, a sign of things to come with her stage career.
As a child actress, she would spend five years touring in Little Lord Fauntleroy before taking small roles in the stage productions of The Engineer in 1895 and Who is Who in 1899.
In 1901, she had found her way to Broadway, performing in My Lady. She would first appear in newspapers at the age of 19 when she appeared in a production of Hoodoo and a cast mate accused her of hot-dogging on stage, which resulted in Tanguay turning and choking the girl until she passed out. Three years later in 1904, she was in The Chaperons, which helped her gain popularity and the following year she was performing in vaudeville as a solo act. From this point on, she would see her popularity soar. She would soon find herself going from making $350 a week to $3,500 a week.
She would release her most famous song around this time, I Don’t Care. The following is a recording she made in 1922 of the song:
Her voice was described as average but it was her enthusiasm on the stage, and the fact that she sang suggestive songs, that the audience grew to love her. Many critics could not understand why she was so popular. One critic said her voice was like the wail of a prehistoric diplodocus and had no more music than a buzz saw.
Aleister Crowley, after seeing her perform in 1912, would state
“She cannot sing, as others sing, or dance, as others dance. She simply keeps on vibrating, both limbs and vocal chords without rhythm, tone, melody or purpose. I feel as if I was poisoned with strychnine, so far as my body goes. I jerk, I writhe, I twist, I find no ease. She is perpetual irritation without possibility of satisfaction, an avatar of sex insomnia. Solitude of the soul, the worm that dieth not, ah me. She is the vulture of Prometheus and she is the music of mitylene. I could kill myself at this moment for the wild love of her.”
By 1910, she was at the height of her fame and was selling out shows across the continent. The American Genius, a publication of the time, would write that she was the perfect artist
She would also gain publicity for having a champagne baths before performances and riding in hot air balloons, or posing with tigers. Often, she would go through as many as 10 costume changes in one 30 minute performance. These dresses included everything from a dress and headdress made of feathers, to a dress covered in coral. The coral dress weighed 45 pounds and cost $2,000, or $45,533 today.
There was a time when she was nearly always in the newspaper for everything from allegedly being kidnapped, having her jewels stolen or throwing a stagehand down a flight of stairs. On another occasion, she was said to have sliced a fire curtain when she felt her billing wasn’t satisfactory. One time, occasion, a theatre manager fined her $100 for sleeping through a matinee. In the evening, she would shred the stage curtain with a dagger. She would also get mad at a stagehand who stepped in front of her as she walked to her dressing room. She took a hat pin and stabbed him three times in the abdomen.
According to the New York Times, as she was taken to the police station she produced a roll of bills and said, “take it all and let me go, for it is now my dinner time.”
Through her costumes, she often made news. In 1909, the Lincoln penny was issued. Tanguay would appear on stage a year later, in a coat made entirely from the new coins.
She would see her career slowly begin to decline in the 1920s as movies began to take over the entertainment world.
In 1927, Tanguay married 23-year-old Al Parado but had the marriage annulled very early into the relationship claiming fraud because Parado had two different names and she didn’t know which was real. Later it would be discovered that the marriage was a publicity stunt, and when it did not get the promotional press she expected, she terminated the relationship.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, Tanguay would lose what some have estimated to be $2 million, or $30 million in today’s funds. In 1931, she was playing four or five times a day in small venues to help bring in some money.
By the 1930s, she had retired from show business as she had trouble adapting to the changing entertainment world. She would lose her eyesight in the 1930s from cataracts and her friend Sophie Tucker would pay for her to get her vision restored.
In 1934, she wrote Henry Ford asking for a free car stating,
“I live off a sort of an alley in a small house which is set in back of a big one, there is no view other than the backyards of other houses. It is very sad to have had so much and be cut down to poverty but my illness prevents me from doing any work. I’m no tramp, having lived the very best, my home consisted of gold glasses silver plates and everything that meant refinement, now I’m alone and cut off entirely from my own world I so loved. If I had a car I could go out afternoons and might connect some way with managers, agents and find something to do.”
Ford would decline to give her a free car.
She would spend the remainder of her life living of her savings and the selling of her costumes. Many would later believe that she would become the template for Norma Desmond in the classic movie Sunset Boulevard. Prior to her death, she would do an interview with Life Magazine, stating that her artistry had been forgotten.
She would die on Jan. 11, 1947 at the age of 68 in Hollywood, blind and in relative obscurity.
On Aug. 15, Thomas Laird Kennedy is born. He will go on to serve briefly as the 15th premier of Ontario. While he will serve in the legislature from 1919 to 1934, and from 1937 to 1959, he was only premier from Oct. 19, 1948 to May 4, 1949.
On Sept. 17, the federal election was held with Sir John A. Macdonald and his Conservatives going up against Alexander Mackenzie’s Liberals. This was a critical election as Macdonald had been forced to resign following the Pacific Scandal, relating to Conservatives taking money from deals related to the railroad.
Many call this the first modern election in Canadian history. After being elected in 1874, the Mackenzie Government began to reshape the election process in Canada. Along with the secret ballot that was extended nationwide, laws were changed so that the election took place across all the provinces on a single day. This would also be the first election to truly be dominated by economic issues.
Newspapers were typically against the Liberals as well. The Montreal Gazette on Sept. 17, 1878, the day of the election, reported in a column quote:
“If the present government should be sustained at the polls and their one-sided free trade policy is continued in operation, the progress of this country towards greatness will be a slow and tedious process. If, on the other hand, the policy of the Conservative Party is endorsed by a majority of the electors of Canada, we can confidently anticipate a speedy revival of business, the rapid settlement of the country and the building up on this North American continent of a Dominion which will serve as the right arm of the British Empire.”
In 1876, Macdonald had reintroduced The National Policy as a platform of the Conservative Party. This policy called for high tariffs on imported manufactured items to protect the manufacturing industry, a massive expansion of physical infrastructure in the country and promoting population growth in Western Canada. It would be on this policy that Macdonald and the party would campaign on.
The Conservatives campaigned on the slogan of “Canada for the Canadians” and their campaign was run in such a way that it would seem that those who opposed the Conservatives were disloyal to Canada itself.
The Liberals were very much against the National Policy, feeling that it would set region against region.
Mackenzie would state, quote:
“I not only believe in having Canada for the Canadians but the United States, South America, the West Indies and our share of the European and Australasian trade.”
Many saw Mackenzie as overworked and tired after leading the country, while Macdonald, after five years away from the top post, seemed to be rested and healthy, and by all accounts, sober for the most part. Macdonald would speak at many summer picnics throughout Ontario, where his natural speaking style was well received by residents.
In the election, the Conservatives gained 69 seats, finishing with a majority of 134 seats. Their percentage of the popular vote also increased heavily, with 229,151 votes for the party. The Liberals in contrast collapsed, losing 66 seats to finish with 63. Voter turnout was as at its lowest level in Canadian history to that point, with 69.1 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. That would be the lowest turnout until 1891.
British Columbia, which nearly pushed to secede from the country over the previous five years due to the delay over the railroad, split its seats between the Liberals and Conservatives, while in Ontario the Conservatives finished with 60 seats to the Liberals 27. In Quebec, the Conservatives dominated, claiming 45 seats to the 17 won by the Liberals. The only place where the Liberals won more seats than the Conservatives was in New Brunswick, where they picked up nine seats to the Conservatives four.
The Ottawa Daily Citizen would report on election day, quote:
“The policy of Mackenzie, Cartwright and Company universally condemned. The People’s Verdict, a splendid majority for Sir John Macdonald and the National Policy.”
The Montreal Gazette would report, quote:
“On the street crowds collected and the most intense enthusiasm prevailed. Friends who had known each other by sight previously grew fraternal under the cheering over the Conservative Reaction was the order of the evening. Bands played through the street and were followed by immense crowds, singing and cheering for Sir John A. and the Conservative Party.”
Macdonald would be elected in Victoria of all places, and the story of how that happened is an interesting one.
Despite his party gaining a majority government, voters in his native Kingston had not forgotten about the scandal and as a result, in a very rare occurrence, Macdonald’s party won the election, but he lost his own seat. The Liberal, Alexander Gunn, defeated Macdonald 991 votes to 847. This was no small feat. Gunn was a new politician who had unseated not only a prime minister, but someone who had held the Kingston seat since Confederation.
Say what you will about Macdonald, but the man was a skilled politician and he had foreseen this as in the previous election he narrowly won. To secure his victory, he had himself put on the ballot in another place as well, Victoria.
It was acceptable for a party leader to go into an election running in several ridings at once, but it was rare. In the 1878 election, Macdonald ran in three ridings, Kingston, Victoria and a small riding in Manitoba. He would win in two of the three ridings, losing in Kingston. Despite never visiting Victoria, and being the perfect example of a parachute candidate, Victoria elected Macdonald with 46.8 per cent of the popular vote. Likely a big part of that was the hope that Macdonald as leader would bring the railroad in sooner rather than later.
In the Victoria election, Macdonald ran against Amos De Cosmos, the eccentric second premier of British Columbia who had also served as an MP for Victoria since 1872.
As it would turn out, thanks to Victoria being a two member constituency, Amor De Cosmos would be re-elected to Parliament along with Macdonald.
Macdonald would not visit Victoria until 1886, well after his time as its MP had ended.
As for the National Policy, it would be implemented in 1879 and would fundamentally change Canada forever. The policy was popular in Eastern Canada but by the 1900s, it was very unpopular in Western Canada, and would lead to the rise of the Progressive Party of Canada in the 1920s. By the 1930s and 1940s, it would slowly be dismantled by the Liberals until it was gone for the most part by the 1950s.
Also on Sept. 17, the Nova Scotia election was held with Simon Hugh Holmes and his Conservatives winning a majority over Philip Carteret Hill and the Liberals. Holmes would be the fourth premier of the province and would serve until 1882.
On Sept. 18, Billy Sherring was born in Hamilton. He would go on to become the winner of the marathon race at the 1906 Olympic Games, taking the gold medal. Thanks to his win, two townships in Ontario would be named for him. He then quit athletics immediately and spent the rest of his life working as a customs officer, until his death in 1942.
The changes in leaders, something this year had a lot of, would continue, this time in Manitoba. John Norquay would replace Robert Davis in November 1878, becoming the first premier of Manitoba to actually be born in the region that would become the province. He would survive the December election in Manitoba, barely winning his own seat. Nonetheless, he would continue to serve as premier for the next nine years in the province.
On Nov. 25, 1878, John Campbell would take over as the Fourth Governor General of Canada. At 33, he became the youngest Governor General of Canada and the first representative of Queen Victoria to have been born during her reign.
Queen Victoria was at first not in favour of the appointment. The Montreal Star would report one person stating quote:
“The Queen, when I first spoke of it, thought that she would not like her daughter to be so far, but on considering that Canada is now only 10 days off, and that you might return home every year, and after sleeping over it, she was quite in favor of the proposal.”
This generated a great deal of excitement within Canada since there would be a member of the Royal Family living at Rideau Hall for the first time in Canadian history.
The Montreal Gazette would report quote:
“There is no doubt that special interest has been felt in the arrival of His Excellency, from the fact that he is accompanied by Her Royal Highness The Princess Louise, and that for the first time in the history of this country the vice-regal residence is to be graced by the presence, as its mistress, of a Princess of the blood Royal.”
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, who had just been returned to power in the October election, altered his schedule to ensure he could prepare for the arrival of Campbell and Princess Louise. He would also order a special carriage and guards to protect her.
It would be written of the appointment quote:
“The appointment was hailed with satisfaction in all parts of the Dominion, and the new Governor General entered upon his term of office, with the hearts of the people strongly prepossessed in his favour.”
The Toronto Mail would write of the appointment quote:
“With fine natural gifts, with more than the ordinary culture of educated men, with the experience of a politician, with moreover, the mistakes and successes of many predecessors before him, Lord Lorne will enter on his vice-regal duties with the happiest attitude.”
William Aberhart, also known as Bible Bill, was born in Ontario on Dec. 30 and would go on to have a teaching career, teaching across the prairies and eventually finding his way to Alberta where he worked as a principal in Calgary, earning $1,400 per year. He would become principal of several notable schools including Crescent Heights High School in the city.
During the Great Depression, Bible Bill became interested in politics, especially as he saw the harsh conditions that Albertans farmers were dealing with. As a result, he was drawn to the Social Credit theories put forth by British engineer C.H. Douglas, which would be the precursor to the ideology of today’s New Democrats.
From 1932 to 1935, he would lobby the United Farmers of Alberta to adopt the social credit theories, citing that prices rise faster than income and that the purchasing power of individuals should be supplanted to allow for this.
His efforts were successful so he formed the Social Credit Party of Alberta, which would run in the 1935 provincial election and go to a landslide victory, taking all but seven of the seats in the Alberta Legislature. The Social Credit Party had not expected to come close to winning, and as a result had no leader, so the province was without a premier at first. Bible Bill was the logical choice as he was the driving force behind the party and on Sept. 3, 1935, he was sworn in as premier of Alberta, despite not having a seat in the Legislature. In a Nov. 4 by election, Bible Bill won the Okotoks-High River seat.
Bible Bill was known for belief that the Great Depression was caused by ordinary people not having enough to spend. The social credit ideas he wanted to implemented couldn’t be though because of the poor financial position of the province. One of those was an effort to give every Albertan $25 per month to spend to stimulate the economy. It was as premier that he would earn the nickname Bible Bill for his outspoken Baptist views.
Bible Bill did implement efforts for relief programs to help out people who were dealing with poverty through public works and a debt relief program. Of course, Bible Bill was deeply religious and he would push his ideas including incredibly strict restrictions on alcohol sales. One such item was the banning of alcohol sales on planes while they were flying over Alberta, something that would remain in place until the 1960s.
He would pass away unexpectedly as premier of Alberta in 1943. He was succeeded by Ernest Manning, who would serve as premier from that year until 1971. In 1974, Aberhart was named a Person of National Historic Significance.
It was also in this year that British Columbia would succumb to Anti-Chinese racism when the provincial government officially banned Chinese workers from public works.
One significant law passed by the federal government in 1878 was the Canada Temperance Act, later known as the Scott Act. This would allow for the ban of the sale of alcohol across Canada. It put the power of banning alcohol in the hands of communities and provinces.