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The year of 1891 in Canada would be a momentous one, with several important events. So, let’s get right down to it.
On Jan. 6, Tim Buck is born in England. He would come to Canada in 1910 and become involved in the labour movement. In 1921, he would participate in the founding convention of the Communist Party of Canada. A supporter of Joseph Stalin, he would be convicted of sedition after his offices were raided. Sentenced to hard labour at the Kingston Penitentiary from 1932 to 1934, he was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. He would serve as the General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1929 to 1962 and would run for a seat in the House of Commons six times. In 1935, when he ran in Winnipeg, he finished third with 25 per cent of the vote. In 1945, in Toronto, he would pick up 26 per cent of the vote. He would pass away in 1973.
On Jan. 21, Calixa Lavallee would pass away in Boston. Born in Canada in 1842, he would begin playing the piano and was performing in concerts by the age of 13. He would eventually serve in the American Civil War and return to Montreal in 1863 to perform concerts there for two years. He would move around the continent until he settled again in Montreal in the 1870s. It was in 1880 he was commissioned to compose O’ Canada, which would be the unofficial anthem of the country for a century until it was made the official national anthem in 1980 after a vote in the Senate and House of Commons.
On Jan. 26, Wilder Graves Penfield would be born in Spokane Washington. After spending time as a doctor in the United States, he would move to Montreal in 1928, remaining in Canada for the rest of his life. He would invent the Montreal Procedure, which involved treating severe epilepsy in patients by destroying nerve cells in the brain where the seizures originated. His scientific contributions on neural stimulation would expand across many topics including hallucinations, illusions, déjà vu and more. He would pass away in Montreal in 1976. In 1988 he was named a National Historic Person, while a postage stamp honouring him would follow in 1991. Several buildings are named for him, and in 2018 a Google Doodle was created on the 127th anniversary of his birth. While his name may not be well-known among most Canadians, nearly any Canadian from the 1990s will remember “I smell burnt toast!” which comes from a Heritage Minute about Penfield.
On Feb. 21, the Springhill Mining Disaster would occur. The explosion in the mine would occur at 12:30 p.m. in the Number 1 and Number 2 mine shafts, which were connected by a tunnel 400 metres under the surface. The fire was caused by accumulated coal dust that swept through both shafts, killing 125 miners, many only 10 to 13-years-old, while injuring dozens more. The disaster was on a scale never seen in the mining industry in Canada to that point and relief funds came in from across the country and British Empire, with Queen Victoria even sending money. An inquiry was held and it was determined that the gas detectors were in working order but the source of the explosion was never found. Sadly, this would not be the only explosion at this mine. Another would occur in 1956, killing 39 and injuring 88. In 1958, another disaster would kill 75 miners.
On March 5, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives won their fourth consecutive majority.
The Liberals would gain 10 seats, reaching their highest total since 1874, with 90 seats. It was not enough to prevent the Conservatives having a majority though. While the party lost five seats, they still finished with 117 seats. The Conservatives won all of the seats in British Columbia, most of the seats in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, but mostly split Ontario with the Liberals. Thanks to Wilfrid Laurier being the first francophone leader of the Liberals, the party was able to take 33 seats in the province, while the Conservatives took 27. This was the first time the Liberals had more seats in Quebec than the Conservatives since 1874.
Macdonald had only planned to direct the campaign from Toronto but since it was looking to be closer than expected, he had to hit the campaign trail. Even at 75 though, he was still a skilled politician and he was able to turn the idea of free trade with the Americans into the main issue, pushing any scandals from only a month previous away from the minds of voters.
It came at a toll for Macdonald though. He would give his last major speech of the campaign on Feb. 25, and after he was said to have stumbled out of the room not from drunkenness as had happened in the past, but from exhaustion.
The Montreal Gazette would report, quote:
“Sir John Macdonald spoke for one hour, remaking that he felt the weight of age and the labors undertaken for the past week or ten days.
Francis Pegahmagabow was born on the Shawinigan First Nation Reserve in Ontario on March 9, 1891, Francis had the Ojibwa name of “the wind that blows off”.
When the First World War erupted, Francis enlisted within two weeks despite the discrimination of the government towards minorities.
In 1916, he took part in the Battle of the Somme and was wounded in the leg. He recovered in time to join the First Battalion as it moved to Belgium. During the Battle of the Somme, he would relay messages along the front lines and his commanding officer Lt. Col. Frank Albert Creighton nominated him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, citing his faithfulness to duty and disregard for danger. For unknown reasons, it was downgraded to a Military Medal. Nonetheless, he was one of the first Canadian soldiers to be awarded the medal, with the citation saying, “He carried messages with great bravery and success during the whole of the actions at Ypres, Festubert and Givenchy. In all his work, he was consistently shown a disregard for danger and his faithfulness to duty is highly commendable.”
In November 1917, he took part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele, earning a bar on his Military Medal. At this point, he was a corporal and he played an important role as a link between the units of the First Battalions flank. When reinforcements became lost, Francis guided them and ensured they reached their spot in line.
His citation for the bar on his medal states, “At Passchendaele, this NCO did excellent work. Before and after the attack, he kept in touch with the flanks, advising the units he had seen, this information proving the success of the attack and saving valuable time in consolidating. He also guided the relief to its proper place after it had become mixed up.”
At the close of the war, Francis had served for nearly the entire war in the front lines and gained a reputation as a skilled sniper. He is credit with killing 378 Germans, and capturing 300 more. His method for gaining kills was to slowly creep into No Man’s Land at night, a very dangerous task, and then wait for German soldiers to start to arrive.
For his bravery throughout the war, he would reach the rank of Sgt-Major, and would receive the Military Medal with two bars, the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Pegahmagabow worked as a guard at a munitions plant and was involved with the local militia.
In 1952, Francis, who by this point was the father of six with his wife Eva, would pass away at the age of 61. By the end of his life, he had to sleep upright because his lungs were so weak from gas exposure that sleeping any other way would cause the lungs to fill with fluid.
On April 27, Frederick Peters would become the premier of Prince Edward Island, replacing Neil McLeod. Peters was asked to form a government after the Conservatives lost a motion of confidence in the house. Peters would serve as premier until 1897.
The country would lose its prime minister on June 6 when Sir John A. Macdonald passed away in office, becoming the first prime minister to die in office. He had suffered a stroke a few days previous and was mentally alert until his death. The death would send the Conservative party in turmoil as Macdonald had led the party since the formation of Canada in 1867, through scandals, election defeats and several majorities. On June 8, he would lie in state in the Senate Chamber and thousands would file past his casket. His body would be transported to his hometown of Kingston with crowds greeting the train at each stop. In Kingston, Macdonald would lay in state in city hall wearing the uniform of an Imperial Privy Counselor. Wilfrid Laurier would say in the House of Commons following the death of Macdonald: “In fact the place of Sir John A. Macdonald in this country was so large and so absorbing that it is almost impossible to conceive that the politics of this country, the fate of this country, will continue without him. His loss overwhelms us.”
While Macdonald was laying in state in the senate chamber, Governor General Lord Stanley was the first to see his body. The Kingston Daily News reported quote:
“At 10 o’clock, the Senate doors were thrown open. Lord Stanley accompanied by his staff, was the first to enter. He paused at the casket to take a farewell look at the old chieftain. He deposited a beautiful wreath on the casket.”
On June 16, Sir John Abbott would become the new prime minister of Canada and this would begin a time when Canada would see four prime ministers over the course of only five years. John Abbott would become the first Canadian-born prime minister of Canada and the first to hold a seat in the Senate, not the House of Commons.
Abbott initially wanted John Thompson to succeed Macdonald but the Conservative Party, which was divided at the time, asked him to take over. Part of this was also because Macdonald saw Abbott as his successor, saying as much prior to his stroke, when he said quote:
“When I am gone, you will have to rally around Abbott. He is your only man.”
Abbott would retire as prime minister on Nov. 24, 1892 due to ill health and would pass away one year later.
On July 27, 1891, the first train made the trip from Calgary to Strathcona, just south of Edmonton, marking a new beginning for the entire area.
On Sept. 16, Julie Winnifred Bertrand was born in Quebec. She would end up living for 115 years and 124 days, making her the oldest living Canadian for a time and the oldest verified living recognized woman at the time of her death in 2007. Only three people have been verified to live longer than her in Canadian history.
On Sept. 29, Thomas McGreevy would be expelled from the House of Commons due to corruption. He had defrauded the government with Hector-Louis Langevin and was sentenced to one year in prison. He would be released in 1894 and re-elected to Parliament the following year.
On Oct. 30, Ada Mackenzie was born in Toronto. She would attend Havergal College from 1903 to 1911 and became interested golf and various other sports. In 1924, she created the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto and in 1930 she would open a women’s sportswear store as she felt women’s golf apparel was not appropriate. On the golf course, she found plenty of success, winning the Canadian Women’s Amateur in 1919, the first of five times, and she would medal at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1927. In 1933, she was named the top Canadian female athlete of the year.
In 1955, she was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, and into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1971. Her last golf tournament win would come in 1969 at the Ontario Senior Women’s Amateur and she would pass away on Jan. 25, 1973. IN 2000, she was inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Without a doubt, the most important birth was that of Frederick Banting on Nov. 14 in Alliston, Ontario.
The day after he earned his medical degree, Banting reported for military duty with the Royal Canadian Medical Corps. At the time, he was also engaged to Edith Roach.
At first, Banting was posted to the Toronto Base Hospital, before going to New Brunswick to continue his military training. By March 26, 1917, when he set sail for Britain, he had found himself promoted to the rank of captain.
Once overseas, Banting would serve in rear hospitals and aid stations along the front line in France. At the Battle of Canal du Nord, which happened at the end of September 1918, he would find himself wounded in the arm from shrapnel.
Despite the fact he could not use his good arm and was most likely in terrible pain, he continued to help other injured soldiers for a further 17 hours until he was finally taken away to be treated.
Thanks to his actions during the battle to save lives, he was awarded the Military Cross, a medal only 3,000 soldiers received during the First World War.
Banting, along with Charles Best, would discover insulin and Banting would be awarded the Nobel Prize for the accomplishment and become one of the few Canadians to be knighted after 1919 for the discovery. Rather than keep the patent, he sold it for one dollar to ensure it could be used by the world
During the Second World War, Banting would look at the issue of aviators blacking out due to high-g forces. He would work with Wilbur Franks to develop a G-suit to stop pilots from blacking out when turning or diving. He also worked on the treatment of mustard gas burns, going so far as to test the gas and antidotes on himself to ensure they were effective.
Sadly, on February 20, 1941, Banting was the passenger in a Lockheed L-14 Super Electra/Hudson plane when both of its engines failed as it left Gander, Newfoundland. The plane crashed in Musgrave Harbour, killing the navigator and co-pilot. Banting would die the next day from his wounds. He is buried at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
It is safe to say that Banting is one of the most important Canadians to ever live. He is a member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, several buildings and schools are named for him, and in 2004 he finished fourth in the ranking of the Greatest Canadian, behind only Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox and Pierre Trudeau.
Also on Dec. 10, Harold Alexander was born in London. A soldier who would serve in both the First and Second World Wars, he would be appointed as governor general of Canada in 1946 on the recommendation of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. He was the last non-Canadian born governor general until Adrienne Clarkson in 1999, and was the last governor general to be a peer. He would serve until 1952 and would pass away in 1969.
On Dec. 21, Sir Charles-Eugene de Boucherville would become premier of Quebec again, replacing Honore Mercier. He replaced Mercier who had decided to take an appointment as a judge. Boucherville would serve until December 1892 when he resigned after Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau was appointed Lt. Governor. Boucherville would die in 1915, the oldest legislator in Canada, at the age of 93.
Cy Denneny was born on Dec. 23, 1891, as Cyril Joseph Denneny in Farran’s Point, Ontario, near to Cornwall. The town no longer exists, as it was flooded with the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958.
Denneny would play senior hockey in Cornwall beginning in 1909-10, before moving on to play for the Cornwall Internationals the following year where he began lighting up the scoresheets. In 1911-12, he would have nine goals in eight games with the team.
Denneny would begin playing for the Toronto Shamrocks in 1914-15. That year, he had six goals in eight games, along with 43 penalty minutes. In his next season with the team, he had 24 goals in 24 games and 28 points total. That year, he was joined by his talented brother Corb Denneny. On a line with Duke Keats, the brothers became the top-scoring line in the NHA. It was also in Toronto that fans started to call Denneny the Cornwall Colt.
When the NHL started up in 1916-17, Denneny would explode with 36 goals in only 21 games, along with 10 assists. For the next decade, he would never have less than 17 goals in a season, and he quickly cemented himself as one of the best players in the entire league.
In 1917-18, Denneny would set an NHL record by opening the season with four straight multi-point games. This record would be solely his until 2013 when Patrick Marleau tied it.
In 1923-24, Denneny led the NHL is scoring with 22 goals and one assist, which is the lowest total anyone has ever led the league with in points.
Denneny would play for the Senators until 1928-29. During that time, he won four Stanley Cups with the team in 1919-20, 1920-21, 1922-23 and 1926-27.
In October of 1928, he would sign with the Boston Bruins.
He would play his last season in the NHL with the Boston Bruins as an assistant coach-player, winning his fifth and last Stanley Cup.
Over the course of his career, he had 247 goals and 85 assists in 329 games. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in goals and points. Howie Morenz would pass him for goals in 1933-34 and for points in 1931-32. He also set a record for the time as the first player to record 200 goals and the fastest to reach 200 goals, which he did in only 181 games. He would hit the 20-goal mark eight times during his career.
On Sept. 10, 1970, Denneny would die in Ottawa at the age of 78.