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The century is nearly drawing to a close, but we have a couple years to go first. Today, we are diving into 1898 and the births, deaths and events that happened in Canada that year.
The March 1, Ontario election would bring about monumental changes in Ontario politics, but not in terms of what party was ruling. Sir Oliver Mowat had moved on to federal politics after Sir Wilfrid Laurier took office as the Liberal Prime Minister in 1896. The Liberals were now led by Arthur Hardy, who had been serving in the Legislature since 1873 and had served in the cabinet of Mowat since 1877.
Heading into the election, he campaigned on the fact that the Liberals had led Ontario for 26 years of what he called quote:
“progressive legislation and honest administration.”
James Whitney was now the leader of the Conservatives, having come into office in 1888. A former soldier in the Canadian militia, he would see success in the election campaign leading up to the election.
On the election, the Liberals did gain six seats to finish with 51, but the Conservatives surged ahead with 19 more seats to finish with 42. Despite this, the Liberals still had a clear majority in the Legislature. The Patrons of Industry and Protestant Protective Association lost nearly all their support and finished with no seats after having success in the previous election.
The Montreal Gazette wrote quote:
“The Ontario government had a narrow escape from defeat today. Mr. Whitney has proved that he put up one of the best fights the province ever witness in a provincial campaign.”
Due to the result being close and several races needing recounts, competing papers would claim victory for the party they supported. The Toronto Globe declared that Hardy was the victor with a clear majority, while opposition papers in places such as Parry Sound stated that Whitney had the majority.
After the election, Hardy wanted to call another election almost immediately but his ministers would talk him out of this. As for the Conservatives, since they had come so close to winning, decided that with more money, they would win the next election. Whitney would begin launching election protests in the hope of pushing the Liberals to call an election.
In April, Ten Years in Manitoba, the first Canadian film, was showcased in the United Kingdom by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The film was used as propaganda to convince people to immigrate to Western Canada.
The Klondike Gold Rush continued through this year, but it was not without tragedy. On April 3, an avalanche in the Chilkoot Pass killed over 60 people.
Duncan Clark, a farm boy from Iowa, saw the avalanche and describes it, quote:
“It was a horrible sight to see. Big robust men, the very picture of health, dug from the snow, put on a sled and hauled to the morgue. Forty were dead from the first day, my brother John among the number.”
By the spring, a tramway was built on the pass that could take up nine tons of goods per hour. The amount of people going to the Klondike continued to be high, and in May alone 7,124 boats of various sizes and quality went down the Yukon River. There were many claims but few prospectors made any real money due to the best claims already snapped up months and even years earlier.
By the summer of 1898, Skagway had 20,000 people in it and was the largest city in Alaska. In Skagway, Jefferson Randolph Soapy Smith operated with his gang, effectively controlling the entire city. His gang of 300 men cheated and stole from the prospectors who arrived. He operated three saloons on the guise he was an upstanding member of the community, but he had several fake businesses. One was a fake telegraph office that charged to send messages to the rest of the continent, but nothing was sent, and a fake reply was usually received. Eventually, people grew fed up with Smith and he was shot on July 8, 1898.
Even communities far from the Yukon, like Edmonton, saw an increase. At the time of the gold strike in the Yukon, Edmonton had 1,500 people. By 1898, there were 4,000 people living in the community.
By the spring of 1898, the population of Dawson City was 30,000 strong with buildings appearing on a daily basis. This was not good news for the community. There was no running water or sewer system, and only two springs for drinking water, along with the river that was quickly becoming heavily polluted. By that spring, plots were selling for $10,000, or $280,000 today, with prime spots on Front Street selling for $20,000, or $560,000 today. A small log cabin would rent out for $100, or $2,800 today.
On one city block, a huge white circus tent could be seen surrounded by ramshackle wooden buildings. Inside the tent was a portable bowling alley, a soda machine, two dozen pigeons, along with fine china and silver. The owners of the tent were two rich American women named Edith Van Buren and Mary Hitchcock, who perfectly showed the heyday of Dawson City and the things that you could find.
One couple made $30,000, or $500,000, in one single winter in the Yukon selling coffee and pies.
With the community springing up so quickly and building codes not being something anyone considered, fires were common. The first fire happened on Nov. 25, 1897 when Belle Mitchell, a dance hall girl accidently started a fire. She accidently started another one on Oct. 14, 1898, which destroyed the post office, a bank and two saloons.
In order to maintain order, on June 13, the Canadian government created the Yukon Territory.
On July 1, George Dixon, a boxer from Africville, Nova Scotia, went 25 rounds against Ben Jordan. While he lost in the close bout, it was at the time considered to be the best boxing match in history. Dixon would reclaim the featherweight title on Nov. 11, when he beat Dave Sullivan.
On Nov. 12, John Gordon Hamilton’s time as Governor General came to an end. Prior to leaving Canada, Hamilton would state that a new Rideau Hall be built that provided a better view of the Ottawa River and that Major’s Hill Park be utilized as a skating rink in the winter.
He would say according to the Ottawa Journal quote:
“The capital, like the Dominion, he said, would be bound to grow and he hoped the municipal representatives would take every opportunity to improve it.”
Lady Aberdeen would say of their time in Canada, quote:
“Of all these 21 happy years, I think none were happier than the five we have spent in Canada.”
Back in Liverpool, Hamilton praised Canada by stating quote:
“Canada’s bold policy in turning towards England when the markets of the United States were closer to her. Canada is working out her own development and destiny, for her own sake, but, in doing so, she is necessarily working, also for the sake of the great empire of which she forms so splendid a portion.”
On Nov. 12, Lord Minto officially became the 8th Governor General of Canada. Arriving at midnight, he would speak to the public at an official ceremony the following day. He would state quote:
“It is very encouraging to me to receive such hearty words of welcome on assuming the duties and responsibilities of my high office and it is very pleasant to me to feel that any small service I may have rendered to Canada in the past have not been forgotten.”
On Dec. 1, 1898, Lord Minto was made the honorary Lt. Colonel of the Governor General’s Foot Guards. This began the tradition of appointing Governors General as the honorary colonels of the guards that continues to this day.
Also this year, the first real push for a national prohibition happened in 1898 when there was a federal referendum on the matter. A total of 51 per cent of voters voted in favour of it, but voter turnout was incredibly low for the time at only 44 per cent. In every province but Quebec, prohibition votes were in the majority. With the majority vote, it would have been feasible for the government to push for a federal bill on prohibition. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier chose instead not to pursue it because of the strong opposition to the matter in Quebec, as well as the low turnout of voters.
While there was no federal prohibition, Prince Edward Island did begin its prohibition era, which would last for 50 years. This decision to ban alcohol came about after the referendum in the province this year, which had only 20 per cent against prohibition. The province would put in prohibition officially in 1901.
Mary Pickford made her stage debut this year, appearing in Bottle’s Baby, put on by the Valentine Stock Company. This began her eventual rise to becoming one of the most famous women in the world through her silent films of the 1910s.
Lastly, when the Spanish-American War broke out, Toronto Mail reporter Kit Coleman volunteered to cover the war. The newspaper agreed and she became the first female war correspondent in history.