Canada A Yearly Journey: 1901

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The year started off on a sad note when Queen Victoria died on Jan. 22. She had been the Queen of Canada since Confederation, had chosen Ottawa as the capital and was a major figure in the creation of Canada. For that reason, she was called the Mother of Confederation.

The Canadian government chose to make Victoria Day, which had been celebrated on her birthday in Canada since 1845, a permanent holiday. Many sites throughout Canada were also named for her to honour her and Parliament was draped in black for days after her death.

On Feb. 6, 1901, Robert Borden was chosen as the new leader of the Conservative Party and he agreed to serve for one year and wanted the party to have a committee in place to find a new leader by that point. Borden would serve for the next 19 years as the leader.

At the time, the party was in the shadow of the Liberals and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, so Borden began to work to rebuild the Conservative Party over the next decade. He would also start to craft the new platform for the party, culminating in the Halifax Platform of 1907 that called for government regulation of railways, telegraphs and telephones and reforms to civil service and the Canadian Senate.

As leader, many found Borden to be reserved, serious and distant at times. He also sought advice from outside the party, which often angered some of the MPs in the party. Many were unhappy in the direction that Borden was moving the party during its time in opposition. Samuel Hughes, who was close with Borden, would write about him, quote:

“A most lovely fellow, very capable but not a very good judge of men or tactics and is gentle hearted as a girl.”

Born on Feb. 17, 1901 in Middleton, Nova scotia to N.H. Parsons and Mary Parsons, the only daughter they would have.

She would attend the Acadia Ladies’ Seminary in Wolfville where she earned a certificate in elocution, which is the study of formal speaking.

After her graduation, she attended the Currie School of Expression in Boston, and then came back to Nova Scotia and attended Acadia University where she began acting in local theatre productions. After some time in Arkansas, she would study acting and move to New York City in 1928 so she could become one of the legendary Ziegfeld Chorus Girls in the Ziegfeld Follies.

In 1937, Parsons was introduced to Willem Leonhardt, a Dutch millionaire and the couple would marry on Sept. 1, 1937 in the Netherlands, where she began to live a life of privilege in a huge house.

Despite her wealth and her ability to come back to Canada as a Canadian citizen, she would join the Dutch Resistance with her husband in May of 1940 when the Netherlands were invaded by the Nazis. One of the most notable ways she helped was by providing sanctuary to Allied airmen who had crashed in the Netherlands. When the Germans first invaded, she dismissed the servants from her home so that the top floor could be used to shelter airmen. For times when the Nazis searched the home, she would put the airmen in a hiding spot behind the closet in the master bedroom to protect them. Due to the fact that their home, which they called Ingleside, was a large property with a long driveway, surrounded by trees, it was a perfect place to hide pilots. The pilots would then be taken by the Dutch Resistance to boats that allowed them to rendezvous with British submarines and return to England. The last airmen to be housed in her home stayed for six days in September 1941, before they were caught by the Gestapo during transport to the coast after an informer told the Nazis about Parsons and her husband.

The story goes that on Sept. 19, 1941, Mona and Willem visited with friends in Amsterdam and upon their return back, they had two men, William Moir and Richard Pape, with them, two crew members of a downed Royal Air Force bomber. Due to the informant, the two men were arrested when they attempted to get out of Denmark.

Soon after, on Sept. 29, Parsons was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison. Interestingly, in my research I found stories that stated Parson’s husband was arrested with her, but others stated that he went into the underground on the assumption the Nazis would not prosecute Parsons due to the fact that she was a woman. In that story, she told the Nazis that her husband was on a fishing trip, and she was promptly arrested. In this story, her husband was found three months later, after which Parsons went on trial.

Parsons would wait for several months before her trial on Dec. 22, 1941. Her counsel in the trial was a young German soldier who spoke neither Dutch nor English, and Mona spoke no German.

Found guilty of treason, she was sentenced to death but due to how she responded to her sentence, described as with a dignified calm, the judge permitted an appeal and a sentencing to life with hard labour. According to sources, rather than break down at her death sentence, Parsons proceeded to walk out of the court room, then turned, clicked her heels and said “Guten morgen meine herren” or “Good morning gentlemen.”

On March 6, 1942, Parsons was taken to Anrath Prison, and then to Widenbruck where she worked creating plywood wings for small crafts, and making igniters for bombs. Conditions were terrible at the facility she was kept at, and she fell ill several times until she was eventually just tasked with knitting socks for German soldiers. In her work, Parsons would often do a poor job on purpose, as a sign of a minor resistance to her situation.

She would remain at the facility for three years until Feb. 6, 1945 when the prisoners were put on a train and sent to a prison in Vechta. 

On March 24, 1945, the prison camp was bombed and Parsons was able to escape with Dutch Baroness Wendelien van Boetzelaer. Some accounts state that the warden opened the gates and told the women they could take their chances with the bombs and bullets flying around, other accounts state that Parsons and Boetzelaer fled as the bombs were flying. According to some sources, the warden was sympathetic and would even give Mona her sweater and shoes before she left. The two walked through freezing temperatures wearing just their prison clothes until their shoes finally fell apart. Parsons was fluent in German but she did not speak it out of a worry that her Canadian accent would give her away. Instead, she pretended to be the Baroness’ mentally-challenged aunt would could not speak.

The ruse would work, but there were close calls. At one point they accidently hailed an SS policeman while looking for a place to spend the night. He offered to take them to his home, and they knew refusal would invite suspicion, so they went with him.

The pair would evade capture for three weeks, exchanging work for food and a bed to sleep in. Over the course of those three weeks, they walked 125 km through Germany until they were separated at the border. Parsons continued on by herself, finally reaching the Netherlands where a Dutch farmer took her to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. By the time she reached them, she was thin, weighing only 87 pounds, looking sickly with blisters all over her bare feet. She was also missing two toenails.

Upon reaching the Canadian troops, her story sounded almost unbelievable and she was taken to the Canadian Army Rear Headquarters to determine if she was a spy or not. Thankfully, she would encounter several officers with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who she had known back in Nov Scotia and they would vouch for her. One man was Captain Robbins Elliott, whose father was the doctor who attended to Mona’s mother during her final illness.

Following the war, Parsons and her husband were reunited after four years apart. He had dealt with his own imprisonment and he would never fully recover from it, passing away in 1956. Upon his death, Parsons found out that one-quarter of his estate was left to his mistress, and under Dutch law the other three-quarters was left to his biological son, whom he had with his mistress and who Parsons did not know about. In the end, she was left with nothing despite a legal battle that lasted for years.

In 1957, she returned to Canada with nearly nothing but she would reconnect with Major General Henry Foster, who had commanded two Canadian divisions during the Second World War. The pair had been friends earlier in life and upon meeting again, fell in love. They would marry in 1959 and live at Lobster Point, Nova Scotia. Foster would pass away in 1964 and Parsons moved back to her hometown of Wolfville, where she stayed until she died on Nov. 28, 1976.

For the rest of her life, until she died of pneumonia, Parsons would deal with nightmares from her time in the prisons and her daring escape.

On March 2, 1901, George Dawson passed away. Born on Aug. 1, 1849, George Dawson developed Pott’s Disease at the age of 11. It left him with a deformed back & stunted growth. His parents provided his education during his slow recovery from the disease. Attending the Imperial College London, where he studied geology & paleontology, he graduated with the highest marks in his class. From 1873-1875, he surveyed the International Boundary & his subsequent report established him as a respected scientists in Canada. Beginning in the 1870s, Dawson worked for the Geological Survey of Canada, during which time he mapped out passes, mountains & rivers in the Canadian Rockies. He also studied the languages & cultures of the Indigenous people. In 1887, he explored and surveyed the headwaters of the Yukon River, travelling by boat and foot to map an area of 164,000 square kilometres. This produced some of the 1st maps of the Yukon. For that work, Dawson City, Yukon & Dawson Creek, B.C. were named for him. In 1895, he became the director of the Geological Survey of Canada. His collection of Indigenous artifacts & photos formed the basis of what is now the Canadian Museum of History.

On April 15, Thomas Ricketts is born in Newfoundland. He will enlist to fight in the First World War at the age of 17, and on Oct. 14, 1918, he will earn the Victoria Cross when he attacked the Germans by himself at a machine gun post, helping his fellow troops secure ammunition that was desperately need. He was the youngest person to receive the Victoria Cross for a combat role, which was presented to him personally by King George V. The King said during the ceremony,

“This is the youngest VC in my army.” The oldest Victoria Cross winner, General Dighton Probyn, was also at the ceremony.

He returned to Newfoundland after the war, and when he passed away in 1967, was given a state funeral.

Lionel Conacher was born on May 24 in Toronto as Lionel Pretoria Conacher, with his middle name coming to him because the British were fighting in that city during the Boer War at the time of his birth. The third of ten children, the family often struggled to have enough money to support everyone.

As a teenager, Conacher played on 14 different teams, winning 11 championships. When he was 16, he won the Ontario Lightweight Wrestling Championship, and at 20 won the Canadian amateur light-heavyweight boxing championship.

In 1923, Conacher played for the North Toronto Seniors, including on Feb. 8, 1923 in the first hockey game broadcast on the radio. After the season was offered the chance to play for the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the United States Amateur Hockey Association. This allowed Conacher to retain his amateur status. He would lead the team to two league titles in 1924 and 1925. In 1925, the team went professional as the Pittsburgh Pirates and joined the NHL. At this point, he chose to go professional as a hockey player.

On Nov. 26, 1925, Conacher scored the first goal in Pirates history in a game against the Boston Bruins. Through that season, he had nine goals in 33 games. Many were surprised that he chose to go professional in hockey, as his first love was always football. Both of his brothers, Charlie and Roy, would also go on to play in the NHL and, along with Lionel, all three would find their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 1926-27, Conacher came back to the Pirates, but found himself dealt to the New York Americans early in the season. This was not a good trade for Conacher. His production stayed steady, recording eight goals in 1926-27 and 11 goals in 1927-28, but he was playing for Bill Dwyer, the owner of the team. Dwyer was a known bootlegger and the ready access to alcohol resulted in Conacher becoming a heavy drinker, which would see his production dip. In 1928-29, he had only seven points in 44 games, and in 1929-30, he was only improved slightly with 10 points in 39 games. After that season, two things would happen that would change the life of Conacher for the better. The first was the birth of his first child, upon which he swore he would never touch alcohol again. The second was having his rights sold to the Montreal Maroons.

At first, his production suffered playing for the Maroons and at one point was nearly traded but no team wanted his large contract. Thankfully for the team and Conacher, he steadily saw improvement. In his first season with the Maroons, he had only seven points in 35 games. In the next season, 1931-32, he doubled his production with 16 points in 46 games. He improved yet again in 1932-33 when he had 28 points in 47 games, the highest total of his career. In that season, he was named to the Second All-Star team but then found he was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks following the season. In his one and only season with Chicago, he would capture his first Stanley Cup, and the first for the franchise, and finished second in Hart Trophy voting. He was also named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team.

On Oct. 3, 1934, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, but that was only part of the story. In what was the largest transaction in league history at the time, and is still one of the biggest trades in NHL history, through a series of trades involving four teams. By the end of the day, he found he had been traded from Chicago to the Montreal Canadiens and from the Montreal Canadiens to the Montreal Maroons.

Conacher would remain with the Maroons for the remainder of his career, capturing his second Stanley Cup in 1935. His production would peak in 1936-37 in his second stretch with the Maroons when he had 25 points in 45 games. That proved to be his last season as he retired following the team’s loss to the New York Americans in the playoffs.

Following his retirement from professional sports, Conacher decided to try his hand at a new game arena, the arena of politics. His interest in politics came from sports as well. He wanted to get government aid for community parks in poor areas of Toronto. This prompted him to run for the Legislature to do it himself. He ran as a Liberal in the 1937 Ontario general election and was elected to the Legislature that year, defeating the incumbent who had served there for 11 years. Conacher would represent the riding until 1943. During that time, he had an office over a service station and worked directly with people in his riding. One time he found out that a woman had lost her husband and he told the undertaker that he would handle the funeral expenses. He would also pick up the fuel bills each month for the poor families in his riding.

On May 26, 1954, Conacher was playing in the annual softball game between MPs and the press gallery. In the sixth inning, he hit a drive to left field, stretching a single to a triple. When he arrived at third base, he collapsed head first into the dirt, as blood came out of his mouth. A few innings previous, he had been hit in the head with a pitch. An MP who was also a doctor came to assist him but within 20 minutes Conacher was pronounced dead. It was the day before his daughter’s graduation from the University of Toronto.

There have been several honours bestowed on Conacher both during his life and after his death. In 1950, he was chosen as Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century. In 1981, he was called Canada’s Answer to Jim Thorpe by the Pro Football Researchers Association. In addition to being a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, he is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and is one of only three players to have his name on the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup. Of the three, he is the only one in both hall of fames.

Every year, the Canadian Press awards the Lionel Conacher Award to the best Canadian male athlete of the year. Rocket Richard was the first person to win the award three times, and Wayne Gretzky has won the award more than any other person, six times. The award has been presented to a hockey player 26 times, more than any other sport.

On June 13, Montreal was shocked upon hearing the news that Ada Maria Redpath and her son Jocelyn Clifford, part of the upper class that had helped to build the Lachine Canal and founded Redpath Sugar, had been shot dead in their mansion.

Upon discovery of their bodies, the bodies were buried within 48 hours and there was little in the way of investigation, which has allowed rumours to swirl around the mystery. Some say that the mother murdered the son, others that the son murdered the mother. Many researchers have looked at the story of the Redpath Mansion murders, going through diaries, photos, reports and more to figure out what exactly happened.

It is likely that we will never know who committed the crime, and the mansion itself was torn down after being in disrepair in 2014.

Frank Boucher was born on Oct. 7, 1901, in Ottawa, the youngest of six sons to Tom and Annie Boucher. Tom was highly skilled in athletics and had played rugby football for Ottawa College and the Ottawa Rough Riders, winning the Canadian championship in 1894, 1896, 1897 and 1901.

Dropping out of school at the age of 13, Boucher worked for the federal government in the munitions department during the First World War.

After the war, he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and moved west to Lethbridge where he started to play for the Lethbridge Vets.

Boucher then spent a year in Banff and in 1921-22, he came home and started playing for the powerhouse Ottawa Senators, alongside his brother George. In his first game, Boucher would score in the closing minutes of the match.

On Nov. 16, 1926, Boucher took the opening ceremonial face-off, the first face-off in Rangers history, against Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons. The puck was dropped by Lois Moran, a silent film star.

Boucher, a player known for his exceptionally clean play, something I will talk about later, ironically had a very penalty-filled game for his first in the NHL. He would get into a fight with Jack Phillips, earning a major penalty and a $15 fine in the process. Boucher would be cut on the head during the fight.

Through much of his career with the Rangers, Boucher would play on what was called The Bread Line with Bill and Bun Cook. In 1927-28, that line combined for 87 points, impressive considering teams played only 44 games at the time. In 1932-33, the line would score 122 points in 48 games.

Through his career, Boucher was known for being one of the classiest players on the ice. When Lady Byng donated a trophy for gentlemanly play after seeing a vicious game of hockey, Boucher would win the Lady Byng Trophy seven times in eight years. It got to the point that he was given the trophy outright, and Lady Byng donated another trophy to the NHL. His clean play earned him the nickname of Raffles, after a fictional gentlemanly thief.

With his last Lady Byng award in 1935, Lady Byng herself stated she wanted him to keep the trophy. NHL President Frank Calder would say quote:

“I did not know when I presented the cup to Frankie Boucher at the Lions’ Club banquet a short time ago that it was soon to be his for all time and if I had, naturally, there were other things I would have liked to say on the occasion but, he deserves it.”

Sadly, that original Lady Byng would be lost in 1962 when a fire destroyed Boucher’s farm.

Boucher would retire in 1937-38. Over the course of his NHL career, including 15 games I will talk about later, he had 423 points in 557 games. His best season was in 1929-30, when he had 62 points in 42 games.

He would die on Dec. 12, 1977, in Kemptville, Ontario at the age of 76.

On Dec. 6, 1901, Lord Minto held a skating party on the Ottawa River. During the party, Bessie Blair, the daughter of Andrew George Blair, the former premier of New Brunswick, fell through the ice. Henry Albert Harper would dive into rescue her but sadly lost his life in the process, as would Bessie. His last words were apparently quote:

“What else can I do?”

The Calgary Herald reported quote:

“The remains of H.A. Harper, the young man who lost his life in an attempt to save Miss Blair, was discovered under the ice about 10 feet from the spot where he went into the water…Lord Minto arrived on the scene a few minutes after the bodies were found.”

Harper was the best friend of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the future prime minister of Canada.

King would write in his book The Secret of Heroism quote:

“the man I loved as I have loved no other man, my father and brother alone exempted.”

The loss of his friend deeply impacted King who became the head of a government committee tasked with finding a way to honour his friend’s sacrifice. In 1905, a statue of Sir Galahad was commissioned outside of Parliament to honour Harper. It is the only statue not portraying a politician or monarch at the main entrance. In 1909, before King’s first speech in the House of Commons in a career that would last nearly 40 years, he laid ten white roses at the base of the statue.

On Dec. 12, Guglielmo Marconi would receive a signal from Cornwall, Ontario at Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Using a 500-foot kite-supported antenna for reception, the signal arrived from Cornwall, England over a distance of 3,500 kilometres. This was heralded as a major scientific accomplishment and helped begin the era of radio in the world.

Finally, on Dec. 29, Arthur Peters became the premier of Prince Edward Island. He will serve as premier until 1908. During that time, he will attempt to renegotiate the island’s representation in the House of Commons. He also negotiated an increased federal subsidy to the province.

Some things happened this year that didn’t have a date.

Harriet Brooks became the first woman to graduate from McGill with a Master’s degree. following finishing her degree, Brooks would begin to do a series of experiments to determine the nature of radioactive emissions from thorium. Her experiments would serve as one of the foundations in the overall development of nuclear science. Her contributions to the work on Rutherford’s work on radioactive decay would help Rutherford win the Nobel Prize in 1908. Rutherford always gave credit to Brooks for making the discovery, but over time it would become associated exclusively with him. In fact, during a presentation at the Royal Society of London, Rutherford specifically gave credit to Brooks and her contributions.

The Laura Secord statue was dedicated at Queenston Heights this year. It stands seven feet tall and honours the heroine of the War of 1812.

Eva Tanguay found her way to Broadway this year. Born in Quebec, she eventually became one of the biggest stars of the early vaudeville era. She would first appear in newspapers at the age of 19 when she appeared in a production of Hoodoo and a cast mate accused her of hot-dogging on stage, which resulted in Tanguay turning and choking the girl until she passed out.

Beginning in 1901, Prince Edward Island would enact prohibition and while the rest of the country would follow years later and repeal it soon after, Prince Edward Island doubled down. The last major province to repeal prohibition was Nova Scotia, which had it in place for nine years from 1921 to 1930. Prince Edward Island would continue for nearly two decades after that.

It would not be until 1948 that the province finally repealed prohibition.

Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were given the vote this year, but soon after it was taken away and would not return for another four decades.

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