A new decade dawns for Canada, its third decade, so let’s look into what happened in the year 1880 for Canada.
On Jan. 17, Mack Sennett is born in Melbourne, Quebec. He would start making films in New York before founding Keystone Studios in California. The studio featured the first completely enclosed film stage ever constructed and it was with this company that some of the most important actors in the early history of Hollywood got their start including Raymond Griffith, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields and one actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.
Sennett was the first person to specialize only in comedies with his studio, through his Keystone Cops series that were based on humorous situations, rather than the personal traits of the comedian.
He would say in 1915 quote:
“Having found your hub idea, you build out the spokes. Then introduce complications that make up the funny wheel.”
By 1917, Sennett had started the Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation and throughout the 1920s his movies were in great demand but as talkies arrived, his movies became less popular even though his studio made a smooth transition into talking pictures and even won an Academy Award in 1932. The studio could not survive The Great Depression though and Sennett made his last film in 1935, a Buster Keaton movie called The Timid Young Man. By the time of his retirement, Sennett had made over 1,000 silent films and several dozen talkies.
It would be said years later that Sennett helped define screen comedy in the silent era and beyond.
On Feb. 4, five members of the Donnelly family near Lucan, Ontario were killed in one of the most shocking crimes in Canadian history. The Donnellys were an Irish family who emigrated to Ontario and were murdered by an armed mob, while their farm was burned down. Why did this happen? It was essentially the culmination of a long-standing conflict between the family and other residents. The family were not well-loved and generally considered to be troublemakers in the area. They were very familiar with local law enforcement because of the accounts of their activities that included assault, arson, trespassing, attempted murder, verbal assault, the murder of local Patrick Farrell, assaulting a police officer, theft and robbery. After their murder, despite two trials, no one was ever convicted of the crime of murdering the family.
On Feb. 6, Edward Chandler would pass away at the age of 79. He was born in 1800 in Nova Scotia and would become a politician in New Brunswick, serving as the Government Leader from 1848 to 1854. Considered to be a Father of Confederation for his support of the inclusion of New Brunswick in Canada, he would go on to become the fifth Lt. Governor of the Province, serving from 1878 to his death.
On Feb. 14, the wife of the Governor General, Princess Louise, was severely injured when the sleigh she was in overturned in Ottawa. After the carriage overturned, the coachman and footman fell from the sleigh and the horses bolted, running one-third of a kilometre with the carriage dragging on the ground. Princess Louise was knocked unconscious when she hit her head on an iron bar. Afterwards, doctors said she had a severe concussion, and her earring had caught on the side of the carriage, ripping her ear lobe in two.
Parliament would issue a proclamation regarding the incident, stating quote:
“We, Her Majesty’s faithful subjects, the Senate of Canada, in Parliament assembled, desire to approach you with our hearty congratulations on the escape of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Louise and yourself from the serious danger occasioned by the untoward accident which happened to you on the 14th.”
The press would play down the incident on instructions from Campbell’s personal secretary. Very little was published of the incident in Canadian newspapers and she would leave for England soon after the incident.
On March 6, the Royal Academy for the Arts is founded.
On March 25, George Brown was shot by an angry employee. Brown was the founder and editor of the Toronto Globe, the most influential newspaper of its time. He had a major role in helping to unify Canada and was a powerful spokesman for the Liberal Party. He had served as the Premier of Canada West from Aug. 2, 1858 to Aug. 6, 1858, and was a senator from 1873 to 1880. On March 25 though, he was shot by George Bennett, an angry former Globe employee who had been fired recently. Brown had managed to push the gun down when confronted but he was shot in the leg. This minor injury became gangrenous and seven weeks later, on May 9, he would die from his wound. Bennett would be hanged for the murder.
On May 4, Edward Blake became the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He would serve as leader of the Liberal Party from 1880 to 1887, and is one of only three federal Liberal leaders never to become prime minister. He is the first Leader of the Official Opposition in Canadian history to never serve as prime minister.
As leader, Blake saw that the party had to recruit Roman Catholic voters in Ontario and Quebec, which he did by attacking the Orange Order Incorporation Bill in 1884, but it came at the cost of some Ontario Liberals.
As the leader of the opposition, he would go into the 1882 election and actually help the Liberals gain 10 seats from their previous total, but it was not enough to unseat the Conservatives, who had a majority government with 133 seats.
After the North West Resistance of 1885, Blake knew he had to take the right stance because of Quebec and its admiration for Riel. In early 1886, he would take a position that Riel had engaged in treason but that he was insane. This would avoid outraging Quebec but it disappointed followers in Ontario.
As the Leader of the Official Opposition, he would launch into long speeches regarding what he saw as needless spending on the railroad and the undermining of the moral fibre of the nation through the creation of a railroad monopoly.
In 1885, a bill was put forward to establish dominion qualifications for voters in federal elections, which was resisted by the Liberals. Blake would lead a debate in the House of Commons that lasted months and included a 57-hour filibuster.
Once again, Blake found his health declining. After the election loss of 1882, he would attempt to leave as leader soon after but stayed on. He would then attempt to resign in 1884 due to illness but after staying in Europe for a time, he reversed his decision.
In 1887, he once again helped the Liberals rise in seats, this time by six, while the Conservatives fell by 10. Once again though, it was not enough to prevent another Conservative majority.
After that second election loss, Blake chose to resign from federal politics.
On May 15, after years of delays and British Columbia nearly seceding from Canada, construction began on the railroad in the province, beginning at Yale. On the other side of the country, 1,000 kilometres of track had been finished across the Canadian shield, but trains could only run on 500 kilometres of the track. Building from this point was extremely difficult. The mountains were made of granite and it took 18 months of round the clock blasting to build four tunnels. In order to build the line only 27 kilometres north of Yale, it required 30 tunnels. Within one 40 kilometre section north of the community, 100 trestles and bridges had to be built.
On June 24, O’ Canada was performed for the very first time. The song had been commissioned by the Lt. Governor of Quebec at the time, Theodore Robitaille, The original lyrics were in French, and would be translated into English in 1906. Beginning in 1939, O ‘Canada would be the de facto anthem of the country, until 1980 when it became the official national anthem through the National Anthem Act.
In August of 1880, the first night games of lacrosse were played under electric light at the Shamrock Lacrosse Field. As well, during breaks in the game, track and field events would be held.
In the saga of Sitting Bull in Canada, Officer James Walsh with the NWMP wrote a report speaking about the conduct of the Sioux and of their relationship with the police, stating quote:
“The conduct of those starving and destitute people, their patient endurance, their sympathy, the extent to which they assisted each other, and their strict observance of all order would reflect credit upon the most civilized community. The little that was daily left from their table was carefully preserved and meted out as far as it would go to the women and children. During those five or six weeks of distress, I do not think that one ounce of food was wasted at Wood Mountain Post.”
Eventually, the Canadian government felt that the friendship between Walsh and Sitting Bull was impeding Sitting Bull’s move back to the United States and Walsh was transferred to Fort Qu’Appelle in the summer of 1880. It is believed that Walsh was the only white man Sitting Bull ever trusted. Walsh’s replacement was not able to maintain the same relationship with Sitting Bull, further causing friction for the Sioux in their new home.
On Aug. 29, Marie-Louise Meilleur was born in Quebec. She would spend most of her life in Ontario and Quebec. She would have 12 children with two husbands, and only four children would outlive her. She would have 85 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren and 57 great-great grandchildren, as well as four great-great-great grandchildren in her lifetime. By 1982, at the age of 102 she quit smoking and on Aug. 4, 1997, she became the oldest living person in the world. By the time she was 117, she was too weak to talk and could only hear if someone shouted in her right ear. She would die on April 16, 1998 at the age of 117 years, 230 days. She is the oldest Canadian in history.
On Oct. 9, the United Kingdom gave Canada control over the Arctic islands, helping to make the eventual country the second largest in the entire world.
Lord Bessborough was born on Oct. 27, 1880 in London as the first son to Edward, the Eighth Earl of Bessborough and his wife Blanche. His mother’s father was Sir Josiah Guest, who was the great-uncle of Sir Winston Churchill. In early 1931, the announcement came that Bessborough would be the new Governor General of Canada. This greatly surprised him as he did not think he was in the talks to take on the post. He had been recommended by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. King George V accepted this and Bessborough became the first businessman to be appointed as Governor General. As his wife was from Paris and the daughter of a Paris baron, the appointment was also looked upon favourably by the French Canadians of Canada.
Opposition leader William Lyon Mackenzie King was happy with the appointment, calling it a good appointment. King also wrote in his diary that it was made without consultation with the British Government. He would write quote:
“An Irish gentleman, I hope with a wife who apparently is charming and beautiful and has great wealth. We shall be in for a social regime that will strengthen Toryism in Canada, but the people will win notwithstanding.”
On April 4, 1931, he would be sworn in as the Governor General of Canada.
King would write in his diary quote:
“Bennett introduced me and I said to his Excellency, personally and on behalf of the Opposition in Parliament, may I extend the heartiest of welcomes to your Excellency. I was favourably impressed with him. He is the first Governor General I have known who has been younger in years than myself.”
The Countess of Bessborough arrived wearing a black fur coat and was described by the Ottawa Citizen as quote:
“Tall, slim, a perfect type of brunette and her personality, of which so much has been written, was reflected in the very friendly smile with which she greeted those who met her.”
The Governor General was described as quote:
“A striking and handsome figure. Attired in the uniform of the Imperial Privy Councilors he looked the picture of health. He is well over six feet, erect and soldierly in his bearing.”
Throughout his time as Governor General, Bessborough travelled the country and saw the impact that The Great Depression was having on Canadians. He would say in a speech quote:
“There is nothing more encouraging and cheering than the calm steady way Canadians have pursued their daily tasks during the difficult period with supreme faith in the destiny of their country.”
Due to what he saw, he would give up 10 per cent of his salary. He would also support the Employment Service Plan, congratulating cities who had implemented the plan. He would say quote:
“I am not inaugurating a new idea, nor am I making an appeal, but I think and hope that this spirit of friendliness has become part of us.”
As Governor General, he would help open the Welland Canal, his installation ceremony would be broadcast by radio for the first time, he would inaugurate the first trans-Canada telephone line by calling each lieutenant governor in the country. He also had a direct telephone line installed in his office that went straight to Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. He would sign the Act to create the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and he would be the first viceroy to fly the new standard that was dedicated to his office. This new standard was created after it was decided that the Governor General represented the British Crown, not the British Parliament. In a tradition that continues to this day, it is flown at other locations for official ceremonies and at Rideau Hall when the Governor General is home.
His time as Governor General would come to an end on Nov. 2, 1935, just as William Lyon Mackenzie King regained the office of prime minister. The Governor General ended his time in Canada early due to the health of his wife, as it was felt another winter in the country would not be good for her.
As the family left Canada, they were escorted by the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, and a 19 gun salute took place to honour the family for their time in Canada.
On Dec. 8, Charles Fisher would pass away. He was born on Aug. 15, 1808 in New Brunswick and would first be elected to the colonial assembly in 1837. He would serve as the Premier of the Colony of New Brunswick from 1857 to 1861 and his government would initiate several reforms to education and the electoral system. He would participate in the Quebec Conference of 1864 and is considered to be a Father of Confederation after he took part in the London Conference of 1866 that drafted the British North America Act. In 1867, he would be elected to the House of Commons but resign in 1868 to become a judge on the New Brunswick Supreme Court.
On Dec. 14, David Christie would pass away. He was born in Scotland on Oct. 1, 1818 and would come to Canada in 1833. He would be elected to the Parliament of the Province of Canada in 1852 and serve through two more Parliaments. In 1867, he was summoned to the Senate of Canada and would serve in that position until his death. From 1873 to 1874, he was the Secretary of State of Canada and from 1874 to 1878, he was the Speaker of the Senate of Canada.
Some events also occurred without a set date.
Emily Stowe became the first woman to practice medicine in Canada. She would eventually become the second licensed female physician in Canada, and an activist for women’s rights and suffrage. She would help to found the suffrage movement in Canada and she would campaign for the country’s first medical college for women.
Bell Canada was founded in this year. Today, it makes $23 billion per year in revenue and has 52,790 employees.
The Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate is created this year. This creation of this new syndicate came only a few months after Sir Charles Tupper, future prime minister of Canada, dismissed Sir Sandford Fleming as chief engineer and hire Sir Collingwood Schreiber as its chief engineer in June 1880. This new syndicate would agree to build the railroad in exchange for $25 million, about $625 million today, in credit from the Canadian government and, most importantly, the granting of 25 million acres, or 100,000 square kilometres of land. That land grant would allow the syndicate to create towns across the landscape, sell lots and make a fortune in the process.
In addition to the land grant and the credit, the syndicate was given ownership of the sections of railway the government had already built in the east, as well as the line from Port Moody to present-day Kamloops, which had cost an estimated $37 million during the previous years. The government also deferred all surveying costs and exempted the railway from paying property taxes for two decades. The stations, grounds, workshops, buildings and yards would be free from taxation forever and the land for those would be provided for free. There would also be no regulation of rates for the railroad until the company was earning 10 per cent. Needless to say, this was a good deal for the syndicate, although the syndicate did need to come up with an estimated $100 million in funding because the construction of the railroad through British Columbia was estimated to cost $60 million alone. A major change from the previous syndicate was that while the government would have originally supervised the construction of the railroad under Sir Hugh Allen, the new syndicate had no such rule.
The Syndicate itself would have to be approved by Parliament, but that wouldn’t happen until Feb. 16, 1881. Prior to that, there was a very, very long debate. Beginning on Dec. 9, 1880, the great debate over the syndicate would soon begin. At the time, it was likely the most important debate in the history of the country. When the debate started, a special gallery that was soon crowded with observers.
Edward Blake would call the contract a national scandal and his main goal was to oust the government over it, the same thing that had happened seven years previous during the Pacific Scandal. Over the course of the next two months, the debate with rage. The Opposition would hit as hard as it could against the government, citing American interests in the syndicate, accusing the government of bribery, corruption and political handouts. Blake truly believed that history would repeat itself and an election could be forced. Of course, Macdonald had a majority government and the independents, which amounted to nine MPs, were on his side but he needed to hold them in line. Another issue, as illustrated by Sir Charles Tupper regarding Blake was that his speeches, quote:
“Contained more matter than even the House of Commons could assimilate, and to that extent his labours were lost.”
At the time, the debate was the longest to ever be held in the House of Commons to that point, and today remains one of the longest in the history of Canadian Parliament. During that time, its estimated one million words were spoken on the subject of the contract, and many were filled with venom at opponents across the aisle.
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald would create the office of the Canadian High Commissioner to Britain this year, in an effort to establish more independence from England.