Canada A Yearly Journey: 1900

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We have finally reached 1900, the first year of the 20th century. This century would transform the country and it all began with this year. So, let’s find out what happened in 1900 in Canada.

On Jan. 10, Hugh John Macdonald was sworn in as premier of Manitoba. The only surviving son of former prime minister John A. Macdonald, having won the 1899 provincial election. Unfortunately, he would only succeed in passing a prohibition bill before he resigned as the premier of the province in order to run for Parliament. Unfortunately, he lost to Clifford Sifton, ending his time in politics.

On Feb. 18, the Battle of Paardeberg began during the Boer War. This was the first major battle for Canadian troops during the South African War. Casualties were high for the Canadians. On the first day of the battle, 18 Canadians died and 60 were wounded. It was the bloodiest day for Canadians of the entire war. On Feb. 26, the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry was called in again to charge against the sheltered Boer positions. As they approached they struck a trip wire that alerted the enemy forces and the two sides began to exchange fire. On Feb. 27, the Boers surrendered to the Canadians. Over 4,000 people surrendered, representing 10 per cent of the entire Boer’s entire army.

For two decades until the end of the First World War, Paardebarg Day was celebrated in Canada to honour veterans. It was replaced with Armistice Day and then Remembrance Day.

On March 21, Frank McGee was hit in the eye by a puck during a game when he was playing for a Canadian Pacific Railway team. While this would end most careers, after a break of a few years, he returned to hockey and would become a legend. More on him in future episodes.

Roland Michener was born on April 19, 1900 in his family’s home near Lacombe.

A Rhodes Scholar, he then attended Oxford University where he met a young man on his hockey team who would become his lifelong friend, Lester B. Pearson. Their hockey team would do a tour of Switzerland during the Christmas holidays one year, playing against several European teams. Not surprisingly, the Canadians won every game.

In 1927, Michener married Norah Willis and the couple had three daughters. Norah had come to Toronto study music and was fluent in French, and well-versed in history and economics. Norah, after her children were born, would attend the University of Toronto and earn a Doctorate in Philosophy in 1952.

In 1953, Roland was elected to Parliament as a Progressive Conservative. For the first four years as a Member of Parliament, Michener still worked as a lawyer on weekends as he did not make enough as an MP.

During his time in Parliament, which would end in 1962, he served as the Speaker of the House of Commons from 1957 to 1962.

As Speaker, he distinguished himself as being civilized and witty. His close friend Lester B. Pearson was at this point serving as the Leader of the Official Opposition, while the Prime Minister was John Diefenbaker. In fact, Diefenbaker was not a fan of Michener because he felt he was too fair to opposition parties. In one case, Diefenbaker would not sit down when Michener called him to order.

Other than a few MPs and the Prime Minister, many felt that he was a fantastic Speaker of the House and a group of university professors launched a campaign to make him the permanent Speaker of the House. Under the plan, he would run as an independent and other parties would not run against him locally. The plan never came to fruition though.

After the death of Georges Vanier, Pearson recommended to Queen Elizabeth II that Michener be appointed the Governor General. This was approved and Michener because the first former MP, the first person born in the 20th century and the first person from Western Canada to serve in the position.

Due to Expo 67 and it being Canada’s Centennial Year, Michener was very busy visiting places in the country and welcoming heads of state. While previous Governors General only welcomed a few, maybe a dozen at most, heads of state during their tenures of five to seven years, Michener welcomed an astonishing 53 heads of state in his first year alone including President Lyndon Johnson and Princess Grace of Monaco. On average, they hosted a visiting head of state every 2.5 days during the Centennial Year.

When the Order of Canada was established in July 1967, Michener was the first to hold the honour and he would award the Order of Canada to its first recipients in November 1967.

Throughout his time as Governor General, Michener would change the atmosphere around the Governor General forever. After his friend Maryon Pearson, wife of Lester B. Pearson, refused to curtsey, he removed the practice completely for any woman meeting the Governor General.

Michener also began regular meetings with provincial Lt. Governors and in 1972, he returned the Governor General’s New Year’s Levee to Rideau Hall.

Known as the Jogging Governor General, Michener was highly active and would go out jogging every morning to stay in shape. He would support the ParticipACTION that was aimed at improving the fitness and health of Canadians.

In 1974, his time as Governor General came to an end. As he left office, he would remark about the difficulty of leaving public life, stating quote:

“I should say thank you, lay down my text on the table and sit down. But reform does not come so fast to one who is guilty of 522 speeches on generalities, and that excludes six speeches from the Throne.”

He would pass away on Aug. 6, 1991. His ashes, as well as his wife’s, would be interred at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa.

On April 21, 1900, a dynamite charge caused minor damage to Lock No. 24 of the Welland Canal. The men responsible were arrested and sentenced to life in prison at the Kingston Penitentiary. The men were caught because Euphemia Constable, a 16-year-old girl, was nearby and had seen the bombers before the blast knocked her unconscious.

The Windsor Star described the incident quote:

“It is a miracle that the gates were not entirely dislodged in which case the result would have been most disastrous to the canals. A large number of light glass in the town were broken with the shock. It is not considered that the damage is sufficient to prevent navigation from opening on Tuesday next.”

On April 26, a defective chimney in a house in Hull caught fire at 10 a.m. and quickly spread to the other houses in the area due to the windy conditions. For the next two hours, the fire destroyed several blocks of land and began to spread across the river to the lumber companies located in Ottawa.

The fire was devastating, destroying two-thirds of Hull, including 40 per cent of its residential buildings and most of the largest employers along the river. In Ottawa, one-fifth of the city was destroyed by the fire, including most of the industrial area of the city. Two ironworks, two flourmills and the Ottawa Electric Railway and Electric Lighting Company, were all destroyed.

To stop the fire from spreading, houses were dynamited to create a fire break. Firefighters from Montreal and Toronto both came to help fight the flames.

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters, the Ottawa militia and a shift in winds, the fire was contained by midnight.

In the fire, seven people were killed and 15,000 were left homeless, including 42 per cent of the population of Hull. Property losses were put at $6.6 million in Ottawa and $3.3 million in Hull.

The Boer War continued to rage, with Canadian troops serving in South Africa. Among the troops, was Sam Hughes. On May 27, 1900, the British Camp at Faber Pass was attacked and Hughes, half-dressed, sprang into action, helping to drive the enemy back at the cost of 23 dead and 33 wounded. Hughes would then campaign, for himself, to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the battle, but he was unsuccessful. Hughes, for his part, felt he was owed two Victoria Crosses.

In the summer of 1900, Hughes would leave South Africa after he was quietly ordered to do so due to his letters home. While he would say that when he left, the British commander was sobbing at losing such a gifted soldier, the truth was that Hughes had been dismissed from service for military indiscipline.

Hughes, writing to Lord Connaught, would state in the third person, quote:

“General Warren begged and implored Hughes to remain. He assured Hughes that he had no officer left on whom he could rely. On the night of June 25, sobbing like a child, General Warren went over the same story and again begged Hughes to remain, but the return fever had seized him, so he insisted on going.”

On June 15, James Dunsmuir became the new premier of British Columbia. As premier, he attempted to resist pressure to stop Asian labour and immigration. While this may seem like he was progressive, it was not due to any humanitarian belief but because he saw the Chinese immigrants as a source for cheap labour. Dunsmuir disliked politics, and resigned as premier on Nov. 21, 1902.

On July 23, John Foster Babcock was born. At the age of 15, he enlisted to fight in the First World War but he was discovered to be underage. He was eventually able to enlist in 1918, but saw no action in France. Nonetheless, in May 2007, following the death of Dwight Wilson, he became the last surviving veteran of the First World War who had served with the Canadian forces. On his 109th birthday, he received greetings from the Governor General, prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II. He died on Feb. 18, 2010. Despite living in Spokane, Washington, he was able to regain his Canadian citizenship prior to his death.

On Sept. 6, W.A.C. Bennett was born in Hastings, New Brunswick. In 1941, he was elected to the British Columbia Legislature, and he would remain in the Legislature, except for 11 months between 1948 and 1949, until 1973. In 1951, he became an independent member of the Legislature due to failing to win his leadership bid. He then joined the Social Credit League, which unexpectedly won the 1952 election. The party was not expected to win and they had no formal leader. Bennett became the leader of the party and was sworn in as premier of the province on Aug. 1, 1952. His party would win seven consecutive elections, and Bennett brought in several changes as leader of the province. He created several Crown corporations such as BC Ferries, BC Hydro and BC Rail. He also advocated for universal medical, dental, hospital and pharmaceutical insurance coverage. His government also expanded the post-secondary education of the province, negotiated the Columbia River Treaty with the United States and helped make the province debt free. He served as premier until 1972 when he lost the 1972 election. His 20 years, 45 days in power is the longest in the history of the province.

On Oct. 29, Rodmond Roblin became premier of Manitoba following the resignation of Macdonald to run for Parliament. For the next 15 years, Roblin would remain as premier of the province. As premier, he created the first Crown Corporations in the province, but he opposed women’s suffrage until it could not be ignored. He also increased the hours of work allowed for women and children, and reduced the ages for child labour. At 14 years and 195 days, he is the second longest serving premier in Manitoba’s history.

The first election of the 20th century would arguably, be one of its most boring. The Liberals were coming off four years of power, and the Conservatives were in disarray after they were ousted from power in 1896.

Charles Tupper, who had spent the previous four years as Leader of the Opposition, had done what he could to hold the party together during those years, but he knew that his time as leader was coming to an end and Laurier was simply too popular to defeat. The Conservatives were hopeful of an election upset considering the results were close enough in 1896. For that reason, they had asked Tupper to stay on as leader, despite the fact that in 1900, he was 79 years old. Another reason that the Liberals were sure of victory was that Canada was going through an economic boom, which started soon after the Liberals came to power. That boom continued through 1900, and would help to fuel the Liberal success for several elections to come.

The 1900 election was a sedate affair. The issue of sending troops to the Boer War had been resolved, the Manitoba Schools Question had appeased most and was not an issue in Quebec four years after it nearly split the country. As such, there were no hard issues for the parties to campaign on. The Liberals built on their success from the previous election and the Conservatives did what they could to hold onto Ontario.

In the November 7 election, the Liberals increased their seat total to 128 seats, the highest for any political party since the Conservatives won 134 seats in 1882. They also increased their share of the popular vote, with 50.3 per cent, an increase of 8.9 per cent.

On the Conservative side of things, they lost seven seats, falling to 79 seats and their share of the popular vote fell two per cent to 46.1 per cent. The number of independents elected was also down, with only six elected total.

The Liberals once again dominated in Quebec, picking up 57 seats, while the Conservatives could only muster eight in total. The Conservatives continued to rely on Ontario to bring in seats, winning 47 while the Liberals picked up 34. Only in Ontario and Manitoba did the Conservatives beat the Liberals. In British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island the Liberals held the majority of seats.

In the Dec. 7, 1900 Quebec election, the Liberals increased their seat total by 16 to finish with an incredible 67, the most ever won by a party in Quebec to that point, and the most that would be won until 1916.

The Conservatives would lose 16 seats, falling to seven, the lowest point for the party to that point, and the lowest amount of seats won by a party to that point in Quebec. It would not be until 1916 that a party would sit with less than six seats in the Legislature.

The Calgary Herald wrote quote:

“The Quebec general election, which was held yesterday resulted in another Liberal sweep, and as a result, the Conservative force in the next Legislature will be reduce to a corporal’s guard.”

Overall, the election was a quiet affair and very few people actually voted. The Montreal Herald wrote quote:

“Very little interest was taken in the election and a very light vote was polled.”

Some other events happened this year without specific dates.

John Ware and his wife, and their five children, made the decision to move to the Calgary area, in the area of Duchess. Ware brought 300 cattle with him and apparently as logs came down the river, he would lasso the logs and haul them ashore. When was able to get enough logs, he built the house. This may seem far fetched but there is actually a picture of this in the Duchess local history book. The logs were apparently from an aborted log boom owned by the Eau Claire Lumber Company upstream. His wife and children lived in Calgary while he built their new home.

The Story of Laura Secord was written by Emma Currie, which brought the story of Laura Secord’s heroism during the War of 1812 to a greater audience. She also campaigned to have a memorial to Secord erected at Queenston Heights, which happened the following year.

The White Pass and Yukon Railway was built from Skagway to the Klondike, making travel much easier. Of course, by this point, the Klondike Gold Rush had mostly finished and the number of people travelling to Dawson City was down to a trickle. By 1900, saying “Ah go to the Klondike” became a phrase of disgust.

Speaking of the Yukon, it was this year that Weldy Young, a former member of the Ottawa Hockey Club, sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen indicating an interest in playing for the Cup.

Young had played for the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1890, and remained with the team until 1899 when he decided to go to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush.

The Ottawa Journal would report quote:

“Hockey men say that if the Dawsonites should happen to win the cup it might likely remain a long time in Dawson, for the possibility of a team from the east going out there to play for it would be a matter of considerable difficulty.”

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