Canada A Yearly Journey: 1886

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After a tumultuous year in 1885, things would slow down a bit in 1886 as Canada moved into the second half of the 1880s.

On Jan. 15, Clarence Howe is born in the United States, but would come to Nova Scotia as a young man to become a professor at Dalhousie University. He would be elected to the House of Commons in 1935, serving until 1957 and is credited with taking the Canadian economy from an agricultural-based economy to one based in industry. Due to his extensive work in the government during the Second World War, he was called the minister of everything. In addition to taking charge of the economy, he would help found the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Trans-Canada Air Lines, which would become Air Canada. After leaving politics, he would work as a director on various company boards before passing away on Dec. 31, 1960 in Montreal.

On Jan. 21, George Kingston would pass away. He was noted for organizing Canada’s first national scientific services and is today called the Father of Canadian Meteorology. He had been born in Portugal on Oct. 5, 1816 to British parents. He would come to Canada in 1852 to take on the position of Principal of the Nautical College in Quebec City for the next three years, followed by time at the University of Toronto. In 1871, he persuaded the federal government to setup a network of stations to observe and issue storm warnings. By 1872, this network ran from Halifax to Winnipeg. In October of 1876, the first storm warning was issued and in 1877, the first general forecast. Weather predictions would be sent by telegraph to 75 cities and towns in Canada every day.

On March 25, the Workman’s Compensation Act would be passed in Ontario, signalling a growing change in the country for protection of workers and providing them with more rights.

On April 6, Vancouver would be incorporated as a city. The Indigenous people had first arrived in the Vancouver area 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Europeans would begin to arrive in the 1700s, although some sources say Sir Francis Drake arrived in 1579. George Vancouver would arrive in 1792 and would explore the harbour, lending his name to the future community. As for Vancouver, the first settlement on what would one day be Vancouver would not happen until 1862. The community would slowly grow and in 1881, it had a population of 1,000. By 1900, it boasted 20,000 people and in 1911, it was a bustling metropolis of 100,000.

On April 26, the New Brunswick general election would be held. The province still did not have political parties but 41 members were elected. Andrew George Blair had come to power in 1883 after a no-confidence vote against the government of Daniel L. Harrington and would win the following election. In the 1886 election, he would pick up 33 seats to Daniel Hannington only getting eight and yes, those Daniel’s are two different people with very similar names. Blair would continue to serve as premier of the province until 1896, his 13 years in the office is the second most in New Brunswick history.

On May 13, William Patterson is born in Grenfell, of what would one day be Saskatchewan. He would be elected to the Saskatchewan legislature in 1921 and would serve until 1949. During that time, he would also serve as the sixth premier of the province, from 1935 to 1944. He would resign as the Liberal leader in 1946. In 1951, he was named the tenth Lt. Gov. Of Saskatchewan, becoming the first person to have been both premier and Lt. Gov. Of Saskatchewan. He would pass away in 1976.

Tom Longboat was born on the Six Nations Reserve on June 4, 1886, to a family deep in poverty who ran a small farm. When he was 12, Longboat was forced to attend residential school. He hated the school, where he was pressured to give up his traditional beliefs in favour of Christianity. He was also told he could not speak his own language.

He would attempt two escapes, with the second one being more successful. His uncle would hide him from the authorities who were searching for him.

Longboat became interested in running when he was 15 after Bill Davis, a fellow resident of his reserve, finished second in the Boston Marathon.

In 1905, Longboat began to race, taking second in his first race at Caledonia, Ontario.

In 1906, he won his first major race when he took first place in the Around the Bay Road Race, winning by over three minutes.

In 1907, Longboat travelled to Boston to take part in the Boston Marathon. He would finish with a record time of 2:24:24, which was almost five minutes faster than any of the previous ten winners of the event. He was the first Indigenous person to win the race, and remains only one of two Indigenous to have ever won it.

The Ottawa Citizen reported on the win, stating quote:

“Longboat running as steadily as if on a practice canter, his long legs eating up yards at every step, was given a terrific reception as he breasted the tape. He was the favourite and many bets were placed on him at even money. All the Canadians, nevertheless, made creditable showings.”

As the Olympics arrived in 1908, Longboat was a favourite to win the race. William Foran, a Canadian Athletic Federation official, would state quote:

“Tom Longboat will start in the Olympic Marathon and Tom Longboat will win.”

Prior to even going to the Olympics, the American team protested Longboat’s attendance stating he was not an amateur.

Even though he competed, Longboat would suffer difficulties in the race. Longboat would be one of several competitors who collapsed during the race. Even the man who did win the race was suffering from extreme dehydration and fatigue. More than half the competitors did not finish the race, collapsing from sunstroke as Longboat did.

When the First World War began, Longboat enlisted to serve overseas. Serving as a dispatch runner, he would also run in races in France, including winning the Canadian Corps Dominion Day Competition in 1918. He would also be promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal in 1916.

During the war, he was twice wounded and twice declared dead.

After the war, Longboat officially retired from running professional. During his running career, it was estimated he made $17,000, amounting to about $300,000 to $400,000 today. Over the course of the rest of his life, he would take on various jobs before he settled in Toronto with his family, where he worked until 1944 in the street cleaning department.

After he retired from work, he moved back to the Six Nations Reserve where he died of pneumonia on Jan. 9, 1949.

On June 7, Elzear-Alexandre Taschereau would become Canada’s first cardinal. His father was a judge and his mother was the daughter of the first speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. He would study at the seminary of Quebec from 1828 to 1836 and then travel throughout Europe. In 1856, he obtained his doctorate in canon law in Rome and served as a teacher afterwards. At the urging of the Canadian government, Pope Leo XIII made him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Della Vittoria, Rome. Unfortunately, illness forced him to turn his workload over to an archbishop. Taschereau would die in Quebec City in 1898.

From June 8 to June 15, the Nova Scotia General Election would be held. The Liberals under William Stevens Fielding would continue their domination of the provincial politics  winning 28 seats, an increase of four from the previous election. Fielding would continue to serve as premier until 1896.

On June 13, as a hot breeze blew in from the Pacific Ocean, that a forest clearing fire was started to the southwest of the city. A second fire was started to the west of the city to clear land for expansion of the city itself.

Due to the wind and hot dry conditions, both fires quickly began to grow out of control. The men at the fires tried to put the fires out with buckets, wet blankets and shovels, but the wind from the Pacific Ocean soon turned into a gale and the men fighting the first fire were forced to give up on their efforts and flee to the shoreline to escape the growing flames.

As the men shouted ahead of the flames, the fire overtook them by leaping from treetop to treetop. According to some reports, men dropped before the eyes of others and were consumed by fire.

An onlooker at the St. James Church nearby began to frantically ring the church bell to alert others to the fire. That bell would eventually be nothing more than a molten bit of metal after the fire had come through. That melted bell now sits in the Vancouver Museum.

In fighting the second fire, the men tried to create a fire break but this was not successful. This fire was abandoned as well, and before long, the two fires joined into one giant fire.

As the fires began to burn into Vancouver, smoke filled the area and people started to flee with whatever belongings they could carry.

The Nanaimo Daily News reported quote:

“For two or three minutes they heard the roar of the approaching torrent of fire and then they saw it rise like a long wall high above the tall trees of the forest, and then it bounded down like a wild beast on the devoted city. I saw it strike one of the churches which disappeared in half a second, the air appeared to be impregnated with gas and in two minutes the city was on fire.”

The correspondent would also come across the body of a woman and her child, both burned beyond recognition in the street.

As people fled the flames carrying what they could, many began to drop what they had to run faster, littering the streets with household debris. 

The Indigenous on the reserve saw the smoke and flames spreading and took their canoes out into the water to view the fire.

As residents fled into the water to escape the flames, the Indigenous began to help the survivors who were floundering, or had fallen out of boats that were filled with people. They would then canoe the people to safety.

By the time the fire was finished, 600 to 1,000 buildings were completely destroyed in Vancouver. Very few buildings survived. One building that did was the Bridge Hotel, which was then turned into a makeshift morgue for the 21 people who died in the fire. Although, the exact number of dead is unknown and due to the transient population of the time, the exact number is likely higher. Often, it was hard to even identify the bodies as human.

The entire city had been destroyed in 45 minutes and the cost of the damages was $1.3 million or $40 million today.

On June 25, Jean-Louis Beudry would pass away. He was born in 1809 in Lower Canada and would grow a successful business in Montreal. In 1860, he was elected councillor and in 1862 began to serve as mayor of the city. He would serve as mayor three different times, from 1862 to 1866, 1877 to 1879 and 1881 to 1885.  His younger brother also served as mayor of Los Angeles from 1874 to 1876. Also, from 1867 to 1886, he would serve in the Quebec Legislature. During his time as mayor, he would establish fire and health departments, inaugurate the new Montreal City Hall and would keep the peace between the Protestants and Catholics in the city.

On June 30, the Prince Edward Island election was held. William Wilfred Sullivan won again, taking 18 seats, a drop of three from the 1882 election. Sullivan would serve until 1889 after 10 years as premier of the province.

In July, Metis leader Gabriel Dumont was given amnesty for the North West Resistance, but he did not return to Canada quite yet. Many claimed that he had taken amnesty just for himself, but he would always state that he never sought amnesty and he wanted amnesty for everyone involved in the resistance.

On July 4, Poundmaker would pass away. The chief of the Plains Cree people, he gained prominence during the Treaty 6 negotiations and in 1881 his band would settle near Battleford. He grew critical of the fact that the federal government did not live up to the promises it put forward in the treaties and in 1885 he went to Fort Battleford to speak with the Indian Agent there. Upon reaching the town, they found it had been abandoned as the residents fled to Fort Battleford because they had heard reports of the Cree and Assiniboine leaving their reserves and heading to Battleford. The Indian Agent refused to come out of the fort to meet Poundmaker, keeping Poundmaker waiting for two days. Looting of the town, now empty, would be done by white settlers leaving and apparently Indigenous from another band, which Poundmaker did his best to stop. His band would leave the next day and set up an encampment at Cut Knife Hill. As I related in a previous episode, Lt. Col. William Otter would attack Poundmaker’s camp on May 2, 1885 with 332 troops and suffer a terrible defeat. The only thing that saved Otter and his men as they fled was Poundmaker telling his people to let the troops escape. Poundmaker had not taken part in the fight, but he saved hundreds with his actions. With his people starving, Poundmaker and his band made peace and Poundmaker would surrender. Since a letter written by Riel had the name of Poundmaker in it, Poundmaker was convicted of treason and sentenced to three years in prison. At his trial he is said to have stated, “everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it that is true. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice.” His adopted father, Crowfoot, was able to ensure that Poundmaker’s hair was not cut in prison and he would only serve seven months before dying of a lung hemorrhage.

On May 23, 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with members of the Poundmaker Cree Nation and officially exonerated Poundmaker, helping to right a historical wrong.

Freeman Thomas was born on Sept. 12, 1886 as the only son of Freeman Frederick Thomas and Mabel Henry. On Aug. 5, 1926, Thomas was appointed as the Governor General of Canada on the recommendation of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Thomas was not the main choice of the government but the King put his name on the list for inclusion to be sent to Canada and it was Thomas that Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King chose for his nomination. King spoke with the current Governor General, Lord Byng, about it. He would write in his diary quote:

“Lord Byng said he thought Willingdon would be far the best of the name.”

King George V accepted this and Thomas was notified while on a diplomatic mission in China.

This would be the last time that the viceregal appointment for Canada would be made by the monarch in his or her capacity as sovereign of the United Kingdom.

On Oct. 10, Yoho National Park is created in British Columbia. The park would be created after John A. Macdonald and his wife Agnes passed through the Rockies on the new transcontinental railway. Upon their return to Ottawa, the creation of the park is inspired. On that same day, Glacier National Park is created as well. These will be the second and third national parks in Canada’s history after the creation of Banff the previous year. In 1984, the park would be labelled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On Oct. 14, Quebec held its election and Honore Mercier would become the new premier of the province after a massive victory. Leading the Liberal Party of the province, he was able to take advantage of the anger among voters for the hanging of Riel the previous year by the federal Conservatives. The Liberals rose from 15 seats in 1881 to 33 seats in 1886, while the Conservatives fell from 49 to 26 seats. The Conservatives would hold onto a minority government with the help of independents and the Parti National, until Mercier became premier in 1887 and would serve as premier until 1891.

On Nov. 23, William Jack would pass away. Born in 1817, he was the first surveying professor of the University of New Brunswick and its second president. He would determine the longitude of Fredericton in 1855 using telegraph signals. This was the first precisely determined longitude in Canada.

On Dec. 28, the Ontario general election is held with Oliver Mowat and his Ontario Liberal Party cruising to their fifth consecutive majority government. The party gained nine seats, rising from 48 to 57, from 1883. The Conservative Party would see their party seats fall from 37 to 32. Mowat will continue to serve as premier until 1896, for a total of 24 years.

The Manitoba Weekly Free Press reported quote:

“At the time of writing the returns show that Mr. Mowat has secured a wonderful victory. The patriotic government of Mr. Mowat has not only preserved its hold upon the affections and admiration of the people of Ontario, but has almost doubled its majority. This is a grand victory which must thrill the bosom, not only of every Liberal, but of every Canadian, with glowing pride.”

Also this year, work would begin on the Banff Springs Hotel, one of the defining destinations in the Canadian Rockies. The hotel would open in 1888 and was one of the earliest grand railway hotels in Canada. In 1988, it would become a National Historic Site and has been the place to stay for the famous and royalty for over a century.

In 1886, Sir John A. Macdonald invited Crowfoot to come to Ottawa, which Crowfoot did, telling the government that his people were starving as the bison had disappeared. The Canadian government did not listen. While out east, he would tour Montreal and Quebec with his friend Father Lacombe.

In 1886, there was a dispute between Canada and the United States over the issue of fishing rights. It would fall to Governor General Henry Fitzmaurice to negotiate this, which he was able to. He would encourage the British government to support Canada in the negotiations. In the end, Fitzmaurice was able to get a new trade agreement accepted by President Grover Cleveland but it was rejected by the American Senate.

This year, the ban on margarine began. Through an Act of Parliament, there was a complete ban on the product, which would continue until 1917. It was at that point that the ban was lifted due to dairy shortages. The ban would come back into place in 1923, and would continue until 1948.

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