Canada A Yearly Journey: 1896

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Today, we enter into the second half of the last decade of the 19th century and it was a big one for Canada in several ways. As usual, I will go through the important events, births and deaths that came in this year.

On Feb. 1, the first copper furnace started operation in Trail at the smelter that would come to define the community for the next century and more. By Aug. 10, the smelter had created its first gold brick, and by December a train was running to Trail.

On Feb. 14, the Winnipeg Victorias would win their first Stanley Cup after defeating the Montreal Victorias 2-0 at the Victoria Skating Rink. The Winnipeg team is the first non-Montreal team to win the Stanley Cup and the last one until 1901 when the Winnipeg Victorias once again claim the Stanley Cup.

On March 8, Charlotte Whitton would be born in Renfrew, Ontario. After attending Queen’s University, where she was a star on the women’s hockey team, she would become the first female editor of the Queen’s Journal. She then became a civil servant, working as the private secretary for Thomas Low, the Minister of Trade under William Lyon Mackenzie King. In 1922, she would become the founding director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare, serving in the position until 1941. In 1934, she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and also served on the Social Questions Committee of the League of Nations. Her most notable contribution to Canadian history though would come following the death of Mayor Grenville Goodwin of Ottawa in August 1951. At the time, Whitton was on the Ottawa Board of Control and following the death of Mayor Goodwin, she was appointed as acting mayor. She was then confirmed by city council on Sept. 30, 1951 to remain the mayor until the end of the normal three-year term. While she was not the first woman to serve as a mayor in Canadian history, she is the first woman to be a mayor of a major Canadian city. She would serve until 1956, two full terms, and would then serve again as mayor from 1960 to 1964. That year, she opposed the new Canadian flag, preferring the Canadian Red Ensign. She called Pearson’s design a “white badge of surrender, waving three dying maple leaves which might as well be three white feathers on a red background, a symbol of cowardice.”

There are accusations that Whitton was anti-Semitic and the Canadian Jewish Congress has said that she was instrumental in keeping Jewish orphans out of Canada because she felt Jewish people did not make good immigrants. According to the co-author of her biography in 1987, Patricia Rooke, she was opposed to all non-British immigration and was racist against Ukrainians. While her racial views have discolored the view of her following her death in 1975, her contribution as the first female mayor of a major Canadian city is without question.

On March 20, the legendary Wop May would be born in Carberry, Manitoba. Wop May deserves his own episode, and he got one earlier this year, so I encourage you to check that out on my website or on your podcast feed. As a result, I will be glossing over his life here rather than going in depth. May would join the Canadian Army in 1916 and eventually applied to the Royal Flying Corps, fighting his first aerial combat on April 20, 1918. On April 21, he would be the last pilot pursued and attacked by the Red Baron before Roy Brown, another Canadian, would shoot down the legendary German pilot. By the end of the war, May had shot down 13 enemy aircraft and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Following the war, he would set up the first airport in Canadian history in Edmonton where the Mayfield neighbourhood is located now. In September 1919, he would take part in the first use of an aircraft in a manhunt as Edmonton police pursued a man convicted of murder. In December 1928, he would take part in the Race Against Death when he and his copilot flew vital medicine to treat diphtheria to Little Red River, Alberta in the freezing cold with an open cockpit plane. His actions saved hundreds of lives, and I also covered this exploit in an episode of the podcast last year. In 1932, he would take part in the Hunt for the Mad Trapper, helping to find Albert Johnson, who was wanted for shooting an RCMP officer. During the Second World War, he would help set up the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and also trained pilots in search and rescue in Montana during the war, which earned him the Medal of Freedom from the United States Army Air Forces. On June 21, 1952, he would pass away from a stroke while hiking with his son. Today, May is widely honoured including through songs, the Wopmay Fault Zone, and even a rock on Mars called wopmay.

On April 13, Sir John Christian Schultz would pass away at the age of 56. Born in Upper Canada in 1840, he would save enough money to study medicine at Queen’s College and then Victoria College. While he didn’t graduate from either place, he did call himself a physician and moved to the Red River settlement in 1861 and worked as a business man and speculator. He would build a general store that was the first building at Portage and Main and also established a museum and Masonic Lodge in the new community that was springing up. In 1868, he was arrested for improper business practices but his wife and supporters broke into the prison and released him.  His business practices made him unpopular among the francophone community and he was one of the leading opponents of Louis Riel’s provisional government. He would be taken prisoner by Riel but would escape soon after. In 1871, he would be elected to the House of Commons, where he would serve until 1882. That year, he became a member of the Senate of Canada, serving until 1888. Once his term as senator was done, he became the fifth Lt. Governor of Manitoba from 1888 to 1895. He would travel to Mexico to improve his declining health, where he would pass away.

On April 27, Sir Mackenzie Bowell resigns as Prime Minister due to cabinet infighting. Bowell had become prime minister in 1894 after the sudden death of Prime Minister John Thompson, because he was the most senior cabinet member. As I mentioned in a previous episode, the Manitoba Schools Question had spread beyond the borders of Manitoba and was now a national issue. Bowell attempted to find a compromise in the issue but that only caused problems within his own party. A cabinet revolt would happen in early 1896, forcing Bowell out. Bowell would remain as a senator until his death in 1917. By that point, he had spent 50 continuous years in the House of Commons, since the very start of Canada as a country.

On May 1, Sir Charles Tupper would become prime minister. Tupper had served as the premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867, leading the province into Canadian Confederation. Upon becoming prime minister, he would serve until July 8, following his loss in the June 23 election. His time as prime minister, 69 days, is the shortest in Canadian history for any prime minister.

ON May 11, Edmund Flynn became the new premier of Quebec, replacing Sir Louis-Olivier Taillon. Flynn had served in the Legislative Assembly since 1878, and would take over as the leader of the party, which made him the 10th premier of Quebec. He would serve for just one year, but during that time he focused on public works, Crown Land adjudication and improving the quality of primary education within the province. He would suffer an election defeat the next year, ending the last Conservative Party leadership in Quebec history.

On May 18, Brock Chisholm was born in Oakville, Ontario. Named after Sir Isaac Brock, his great-great-grandfather was the founder of Oakville. Brock would enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915, and would be twice wounded, while also earning the Military Cross with Bar. After the war, he would become a doctor and would then earn a degree from Yale University, specializing in the mental health of children. He believed that children should not be encouraged to believe in Santa Claus, the Bible or anything supernatural. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he would join the war effort as a psychiatrist, dealing with the psychological aspects of soldier training, eventually becoming the Director General Medical Services. As a result, he was the first psychiatrist to become a head of medical ranks of an army in the world. In 1946, he helped to draft the constitution of the World Health Organization and also helped to choose its name. In 1948, with the establishment of the World Health Organization, he became the first Director General, serving until 1953. He would pass away on Feb. 4, 1971 at the age of 74 after a series of strokes.

On May 26, the Port Ellice bridge disaster would strike in Victoria. A streetcar loaded with 143 people celebrating the Victoria Day long weekend, crashed through the bridge into the Upper Harbour. Falling into the water, a total of 55 men, women and children would be killed, making it one of the worst transit disasters in British Columbian history. Due to how the street car fell in the water, only those on the left side of the street car could escape. On June 12, a coroner’s jury concluded that Consolidated Electric Railway Company was responsible for the disaster because it allowed the street car to be loaded with more weight than the bridge could support. The City of Victoria was also found to be guilty of contributory negligence because the bridge had not been well-maintained. The disaster would force the Consolidated Electric Railway Company into bankruptcy, and it would become the British Columbia Electric Railway in 1897.

On June 19, John Robinson would pass away at the age of 75. Born in 1821 in Upper Canada to Sir John Robinson, he would represent Canada in the inaugural international cricket match in 1844. In the 1850s, he began to serve as an alderman in Toronto and served as mayor briefly in 1856. In 1872, he was elected to the House of Commons, serving until 1874 and then from 1875 to 1880. From 1880 to 1887, he served as the fifth Lt. Governor of Ontario.

On June 22, Leonard Murray would be born in Granton, Nova Scotia. Murray was one of the first 21 recruits into the Royal Naval College of Canada and after graduating in 1913, served in the First World War and would reach the rank of lieutenant. He would help to set up troop convoys across the Atlantic, using techniques that would be used again during the Second World War. He would continue to serve in the navy throughout the inter-war years, eventually becoming a captain by 1938. When the Second World War erupted, he was appointed as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and would play a key role in the build up of the Navy to 332 vessels. He would be promoted to Commodore and then Rear-Admiral in 1941. In 1943, after giving Sir Winston Churchill a tour of Halifax, he would be appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a Companion of the Order of Bath in 1944. Thanks to the work of Murray and his efforts to keep ships safe going across the Atlantic, the largest convoy of the Second World War, 167 merchant ships moving 1.5 million tons of cargo, traveled from New York to the UK from July 17, 1944 to Aug. 3, 1944 without losing a single ship. Following the Halifax Riot that occurred on VE Day when thousands of sailors got too rowdy and caused $5 million in damages, he would quickly retire from the Navy and move to the United Kingdom where he remained for the rest of his life. He passed away on Nov. 25, 1971 at the age of 75.

On June 23, a monumental shift in federal politics would occur when Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberal party swept to a majority victory in the federal election. By the time of the election, the Conservative Party was in disarray and had gone through several prime ministers since the death of Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891. With the Manitoba Schools Question, support in both English and French Canada would be eroded for the party. The Liberal Party, seen as a party that pursued free trade and radical change, instead embraced a more conservative platform, allowing them to gain former supporters of the Conservative Party. Wilfrid Laurier, the leader of the Liberals, also supported the National Policy, which was important to the business interests in Montreal and Toronto. Laurier was also a big supporter of provincial rights and several Liberal premiers supported him. On election day, the Conservatives actually took 48.2 per cent of the votes, compared to 41.2 per cent for the Liberals, but they suffered huge losses in Quebec due to a feeling that Tupper was an imperialist. The Liberals would take 117 seats, up from 90 in 1891, while the Conservatives took 86 seats, down 31 from the previous election. The Conservatives only gained support in Manitoba and parts of Ontario, along with Nova Scotia, losing everywhere else. With Laurier winning the election, Tupper actually refused to cede power stating that Laurier could not form a government even though the Liberals had 55 per cent of the seats. Governor General Lord Aberdeen would not allow Tupper to make appointments as prime minister, forcing Tupper to resign and letting Laurier take power. As for Sir Wilfrid Laurier, he would serve as prime minister until 1911. His 15 years as prime minister is the longest unbroken term of office for a prime minister and today he is often cited as one of the greatest prime ministers in Canadian history.

On July 2, Prudence Heward was born in Montreal. She would become a leading figure in Canadian painting during her life. After spending time in England, she would have her first public showing at the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in Toronto in 1924, but it wouldn’t be until 1932 that she had her first solo exhibition, held at the Scott Gallery in Montreal. After some time in Paris, where she spent time with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, she would get a big boost in 1929 when her painting Girl on a Hill won the top prize at a competition held by the National Gallery of Canada. After exhibiting with the Group of Seven, she would join the Beaver Hall Group and was a co-founder of the Canadian Group of Painters and the Contemporary Arts Society. She would sadly die in 1945 at the age of 50 in Los Angeles. Today, her work hangs across Canada and a stamp was issued in her honour in 2010.

On July 10, Therese Casgrain was born in Quebec. The daughter of wealthy parents and the wife of a prominent politician in the House of Commons, she would lead the women’s suffrage movement in Quebec prior to the Second World War. In 1921, she founded the Provincial Franchise Committee and campaigned for the right for women to vote in election, which would not happen until 1940. In 1942, she stood as an independent Liberal in the same riding that had been held by both her father and her husband. While she didn’t win, she would become one of the federal vice presidents of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and she led the Quebec wing of the party from 1952 to 1957, making her the first female leader of a political party in Canada. In the 1960s, she would campaign against nuclear weapons and founded the Quebec wing of Voice of Women, and served as the national president from 1952 to 1963. In 1970, she was named to the Canadian Senate, serving for nine months until she had to retire at 75. In the last decade of her life, she would be made an Order of Canada, receive the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case and received several honorary degrees. She would pass away on Nov. 3, 1981 at the age of 85. After her death she received the Bar of Montreal medal, a stamp, was honoured on the $50 banknote in 2004 and had a statue unveiled of her in 2012.

On July 14, Jerry Potts died at the age of 56. A Metis man, he became a legendary scout, interpreter and plainsman in western Canada. During his life he also worked as a fur trader and horse trader, and he helped guide the North West Mounted Police on their March West in 1874.

Throughout his life, due to his mother being murdered by a man drunk on whiskey, Potts had a vendetta against whiskey runners. Over the course of his life, he said he had killed at least 40 whiskey runners.

Due to his service to the North West Mounted Police, he was buried with full military honours and with the honourary rank of Special Constable at Fort Macleod.

On July 17, James Mitchell would become the eighth premier of New Brunswick. He would replace Andrew Blair, who had been premier since 1883. Like so many other politicians this year, he was enticed to join the cabinet of Wilfrid Laurier, opening the door for Mitchell. Mitchell would only serve until 1897 when he resigned due to ill health. He would pass away less than two months after resigning.

On July 20, George H. Murray would become premier of Nova Scotia when Premier William Stevens Fielding left provincial politics to join Laurier’s cabinet at the House of Commons. Murray would have an immense impact on Nova Scotia, serving as the premier of the province until 1923. His 26 years and 188 days as premier is the longest unbroken tenure as the head of a government in Canadian history. As premier, he would push road, bridge and railway projects, improve the post-secondary education system, and would help found the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and the Nova Scotia Technical College. He would introduce prohibition in the province in 1906, workers compensation in 1916 and women’s suffrage in 1918. Murray’s government would also appoint public health officers, establish county health clinics and fund a research hospital for tuberculosis patients.

On July 25, Arthur Sturgis Hardy would become the fourth premier of Ontario, replacing Sir Oliver Mowat. Mowat had served as premier of Ontario since 1872, the longest consecutive service by any premier in Ontario history. Prime Minister Laurier would convince him to leave provincial politics to serve as the Minister of Justice in the House of Commons. As for Hardy, he would be chosen as the new premier and would serve until 1899. In his 60s, he did not have the energy to take the government forward but he would survive the 1898 election, the same year he passed an act that allowed all pine cut under licence on crown lands to be sawn into lumber in Canada, something that angered Michigan lumbermen. He would retire from politics in 1899 and die two years later.

On July 27, Anne Savage was born in Montreal. From 1914 to 1918, she would study at the Art Association of Montreal, followed by time in Minnesota at the Minneapolis School of Art. In 1922, she became the art teacher at the Baron Byng High School, where she would remain until 1947. In 1921, she joined the Beaver Hall Hill Group and also spent time at the Ontario College of Art, working with Arthur Lismer, another member of the Group of Seven. In 1933, she was one of the founding members of the Canadian Group of Painters, serving as its president in 1949 and 1960. Throughout her life, she spoke out against gender inequality and always pushed for the importance of the arts in our lives. She would pass away on March 25, 1971 at the age of 74 in Montreal.

On Aug. 12, Mitchell Hepburn was born in St. Thomas, Ontario. After serving in the First World War, and then getting hit with the Spanish Flu, he would return to his family’s onion farm to work. In 1926, he joined the United Farmers of Ontario and was elected to the House of Commons in 1926, serving until 1934. That year, he would be elected to the Ontario Legislature, where he would remain until 1945. During his time in the Ontario Legislature, he would serve as the 11th premier of Ontario from 1934 to 1942. Elected at the age of 37, he is the youngest premier in the history of Ontario. As a young premier, he would appear on the cover of Time Magazine in 1937, and he quickly made changes in Ontario as its leader. This included laying off civil servants, closing the home of the Lt. Governor, auctioning off the limousines of the previous government, putting money into the mining industry, introducing compulsory milk pasteurization and also making the Dionne quintuplets wards of the provincial crown in response to their exploitation at the Chicago Worlds Fair earlier.

After resigning as premier in 1942, he would continue to serve as the Treasurer of Ontario until 1943. On Jan. 5, 1953, he would pass away at the age of 56. Today, two schools are named for him in the province.

Arguably the biggest event of the year was the discovery of gold in the Yukon on Aug. 17, which would ignite the Klondike Gold Rush. Over the next few episodes looking at the subsequent years in Canada’s history, I’ll likely be talking about the gold rush, so here I am just focusing on the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896.

Everything started with an American prospector named George Carmack and his wife Kate Carmack, along with her brother Skookum Jim, were traveling down the river. They began looking for gold on what would be Bonanza River, which at the time was called Rabbit Creek. While it is not known who discovered the gold, George Carmack or Skookum Jim, the group agreed that George Carmack should be the official discoverer because Skookum Jim was Indigenous and there was the worry that the authorities would not recognize his claim as a result. Carmack would measure out four claims along the river, two for himself, and one each for Jim and Charlie. The claims were registered the next day at a police post on Fortymile River and news spread quickly in the area of the find.

The area was already known for some small gold strikes including at Stewart River in 1885, Fortymile River in 1886, Sixtymile in 1891 and Birch Creek in 1892. As a result, by 1896, there were already 1,600 prospectors in the Yukon River basin.

By the end of August, all of the Bonanza Creek had been claimed by miners. One prospector then set down a claim on a creek that would be called Eldorado Creek and he discovered new sources of gold there, which was even richer than Bonanza. Claims quickly began to be sold between miners for huge sums.

Not everyone began to make money from finding gold. Joseph Ladue, an American who had lived in the Yukon since 1882, operated a trading post on the Yukon River, 70 kilometres above the mouth of the Klondike. Instead of staking claims for gold, he chose instead to stake out 65 hectares of swamp and moose pasture at the river, called it Dawson City and made a fortune selling lots and lumber to build them. Within two years, 40,000 people would be in the new community.

By Christmas, Circle City, Alaska had received word about the finds and prospectors began to set out from the city to get to the Klondike, despite the harsh winter weather. Among those miners, there was a real worry that all the best claims would be taken. At this time, the outside world had not heard about the gold strike but some individuals in Ottawa had found out but little attention would be paid to it.

It would not be until June 1897 when the gold rush really kicked into high gear, but that is a story for another episode.

On Aug. 30, Raymond Massey was born in Toronto. If his last name sounds familiar it is because his brother, Vincent Massey, was already talked about on this show, and would go on to become the Governor General of Canada. As for Raymond, he would serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, and then with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. In 1919, he returned home to Canada and began to sell farm implements but found himself drawn into theatre.

His first acting job was on the London Stage in 1922 in the play In The Zone. He would appear in dozens of plays over the next decade, numbering as many as 80. In 1928, he would appear in his first film, High Treason. In 1931, he played Sherlock Holmes in the first talking movie of the famous detective. He would appear in dozens of films over the course of his career, earning an Academy Award for Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois in 1940. His most famous role would come as Dr. Gillespie in the show Dr. Kildare that ran from 1961 to 1966. He would pass away on July 29, 1983 at the age of 86 in Los Angeles.

On Nov. 3, Madeleine Fritz would be born in Saint John, New Brunswick. She would go on to become a noted Canadian paleontologist and a professor at the University of Toronto, where she taught vertebrate studies at the University of Toronto. Known as a pioneering researcher in the Paleozoic fossil Bryozoa, she would earn the title of the “great-grandmother of Paleozoic Bryozoa.” From 1936 to 1955, she was the associate director of the Royal Ontario Museum, and served as the paleontology professor at the University of Toronto from 1956 to 1967. She would pass away on Aug. 20, 1990 at the age of 94.

On Nov. 7, Henry Botterell was born in Ottawa. In 1916, he would join the Royal Naval Air Service and became a probationary flight officer with the service in 1917. On Aug. 15, 1917, he received his wings and was flying with the No. 8 Naval Squadron the next month. On Sept. 18, 1917, his plane crashed at Dunkirk after his engine failed, resulting in head injuries, broken teeth and a fractured leg. He would spend six months in the hospital and was sent back to Canada but before he could, he was able to do 10 hours of refresher training and was approved to fly once more. He would then serve as a pilot in the Royal Air Force from May 11 to Nov. 27, 1918, flying in dozens of missions and shooting down one German observation balloon. His real mark on history though is the fact that he lived to the age of 106 when he passed away on Jan. 3, 2003. That made him the last surviving pilot in the world to have seen action during the First World War.

Also this year, Dr. George Ryerson brought back the Red Cross by setting up the first branch in Canada.

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