Monday, April 22, 2024

The time we virtually misplaced our mayor to a pile of burning Christmas timber

From the arrival of the Iron Horse, to Winston Churchill’s go to and the debut of the ‘Talkies,’ Ottawa has skilled some memorable Yuletime occasions. Take a tour by way of historical past with us.

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Many Ottawans spent Christmas Day 1923 on native golf programs and tennis courts, as a uncommon inexperienced Christmas — the primary within the reminiscence of most who lived within the space, the Ottawa Citizen contended — greeted residents. In actual fact, 17 of the primary 25 days of December that 12 months had been gentle and clear sufficient to encourage such out of doors actions, at the least in accordance with the then-20-year-old document ebook.

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100 years in the past, greater than 8,000 individuals, together with Governor Basic Viscount Byng and Girl Byng, crowded into the downtown enviornment often known as The Auditorium on Boxing Day to look at the defending Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 in extra time.

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The retail adage, in the meantime, that “a inexperienced Christmas is a jeweller’s Christmas” — suggesting that the absence of snow and chilly is especially laborious on those that promote furs and woollens — proved unfaithful a century in the past, as retailers reported wonderful Christmas gross sales in all areas. In accordance with the Submit Workplace, Christmas parcel deliveries had been up 25 per cent from the earlier 12 months.

Judging by the newspaper adverts main as much as Christmas 1923, jewels and furs weren’t the one presents competing for house underneath Ottawa’s xmas timber. Pocket watches from $10 (girls’s) and $12.50 (males’s), candies, skates, fits, sweaters, vehicles, pianos and cigarettes (25 cents for 20) all made their pitches, as did such “electrical presents” because the made-in-Canada Hoover vacuum cleaner. “An Eternal Reward,” is how the Charles Ogilvy division retailer on Rideau Avenue described it. “Wouldn’t you want to provide ‘her’ one thing this Christmas that may endure all through her lifetime and regularly make her completely happy?”

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As regards to happily-ever-after, Lois Sales space, granddaughter of Ottawa lumber baron J.R. Sales space, on Christmas Day 1923 introduced her engagement to Denmark’s Prince Erik, Rely of Rosenborg. Admittedly, the couple separated a decade after their nuptials, however allow us to hope that the homes of Sales space and Glücksburg had been completely happy ones on this Christmas Day a century in the past.

Not less than as completely happy, that’s, as spirits at one other Ottawa home, the Nicholas Avenue jail, the place in 1923 the Girls’s Christian Temperance Group donated a goose; a gaggle of Roman Catholic nuns despatched a big roast beef; and the Salvation Military Band confirmed up within the jail yard on Christmas morning to carry out for the three dozen inmates. In accordance with the Citizen, Christmas dinner on the jail that 12 months consisted of tea, milk, sugar, Irish stew, bread, butter, potatoes, nuts and sweet, whereas the eight feminine prisoners had been additionally served plum pudding.

(For the non-incarcerated, by the way, a full-course turkey dinner may very well be had on the Ontario Café on Rideau Avenue for simply 35 cents, the equal as we speak of $6.)

Avoiding jail was presumably uppermost within the thoughts of 1 man. Whereas Gatineau Level Roman Catholic Church priest Rev. Father F.P. Beauchamp was officiating midnight mass on Christmas Eve, an unidentified burglar broke into the church’s presbytery by way of an attic window. Passers-by sounded the alarm, nonetheless, and the would-be thief escaped.

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Social companies and community-minded companies and teams plied their goodwill all through town. Santa Claus, within the corporeal type of Robinson’s Garments Store supervisor Charles Tanner, appeared at three Ottawa avenue corners on Christmas Eve handy out “at the least 5,000 toys for little girls and boys.” And for individuals who couldn’t make it in particular person, a Christmas handle by St. Nick was broadcast courtesy of the Ottawa Novice Radio Affiliation. Santa reportedly arrived in Ottawa by aircraft for that one, what with the absence of snow hindering his sleighing plans.

Choirs sang in hospitals and a band performed within the streets. 100 Boxing Days in the past, between 1,200 and 1,500 Ottawa orphans and underprivileged children had been handled to free lollipops and flicks at Loew’s theatre (that includes Pollyanna, starring Mary Pickford). The children sang “Barney Google” and “Sure, We Have No Bananas,” shouted “Lowe’s reveals are good reveals,” and watched a vaudeville efficiency of ladder stunts by The Breakaway Barlows.

“No measure of fine cheer was missing the place need threatened final week,” the Citizen reported, “and it’s uncertain if there was a household within the metropolis that went with out some type of Christmas consolation.”

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There have been, nonetheless, a few Christmas Day fires, together with one on the Rideau Membership at Wellington and Metcalfe Streets that triggered between $3,000 and $4,000 in injury ($50,000 to $70,000 as we speak), however all in all, the Citizen reported, 1923 was a reasonably quiet Christmas.

They’re not all so restful. Listed here are some important Christmastime occasions that occurred in Ottawa:

The first train to reach Ottawa arrived on Christmas Day, 1854.
A portray by Andrew King of the primary prepare to reach in Ottawa, in 1854. Picture by Andrew King /Ottawa Citizen

Dec. 25, 1854

The iron horse arrives in Ottawa

The primary prepare, known as The Ottawa, reportedly arrived on the town on Christmas Day 1854, marking the completion of the 84-km Bytown & Prescott railway that ran from Prescott to Ottawa by way of Spencerville, Kemptville, Osgoode and Manotick. The rail line was used to ferry passengers, but additionally items, together with lumber from Ottawa to Prescott and the St. Lawrence. From the late 1850s to the mid 1860s, it carried stone, from Cleveland, used to assemble the Parliament Buildings. It could have been a piece prepare that accomplished the run that Christmas day, ending on the Rideau River in New Edinburgh, the place Stanley Park is as we speak. Common service on the road reportedly commenced 4 days later, on Dec. 29.

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On New 12 months’s Day, when Bytown modified its title to Ottawa, the railway firm additionally modified names, to the Ottawa & Prescott Railway. It will definitely went bankrupt and was taken over by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Thousands gathered at Elgin and Sparks streets on Christmas Eve, 1896, to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve 1896, Ottawa industrialist Warren Soper appeared atop a streetcar as Santa Claus. Picture by Metropolis of Ottawa Archives /CA-2988

Dec. 24, 1896

A go to from St. Nick

Santa Claus’s pending go to was introduced in a front-page letter within the Dec. 22, 1896 Ottawa Journal, from the person himself: “I’ve organized to go to Ottawa on Thursday, the day earlier than Christmas, and want you’ll let all of the little kids know that I shall seem on the principal streets on Thursday afternoon on high of an electrical automobile,” learn the letter, dated Dec. 15. “I shall cross by way of Sparks avenue and different streets three (or) 4 occasions in the course of the afternoon, and can disappear about half previous 4, and put together for the visits I intend to make that night time to the properties of all Ottawa kids who’re good. I’m simply beginning for Ottawa, and can telegraph you from daily throughout my journey.”

The Citizen acknowledged on the identical day that the go to was by no means linked with any promoting scheme, “however is just the result of a want upon the a part of an Ottawa gentleman that the youngsters of town may even see Santa Claus in particular person.”

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True to his phrase, Santa (bearing a resemblance to Ottawa industrialist and Ottawa Electrical Railway co-owner Warren Soper) arrived on the nook of Elgin and Sparks Streets at 2:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve, atop a streetcar adorned for the season with a sleigh and reindeer, the place he was met, the Journal reported, by “a howling crowd of little of us.” White-whiskered and sporting a fur cap and coat, Santa handed out toys and three,500 oranges.

“And no wretched doubter,” the Citizen wrote in an editorial, “will ever once more be capable to maintain his head in Ottawa and say that good, kindly Santy didn’t exist.”

A young Winston Churchill during the Boer War.
Sir Winston Churchill as a lieutenant within the Boer Conflict. Picture by File picture

Dec. 27, 1900

Churchill visits Ottawa

An Ottawa Journal headline dubbed Winston Churchill’s go to to Ottawa over Christmas 1900 the “EVENT OF THE SEASON,” though the Citizen’s evaluate following the 26-year-old British MP’s lecture on the Russell Theatre was as middling as they arrive, with, in accordance with the paper, nearly all of the crowded home expressing “some disappointment in addition to a substantial amount of pleasure.”

Churchill — the longer term prime minister of Nice Britain — was in Ottawa as a part of a 50-city talking tour about his experiences as a struggle correspondent within the Boer Conflict. His lecture was titled The Conflict As I Noticed It, however that hardly dissuaded a Citizen reporter from taking Churchill to activity for leaning an excessive amount of into his experiences. “An incredible a part of Mr. Churchill’s remarks was taken up with an account of his seize by the Boers and escape from Pretoria,” the paper famous. “Dramatic options weren’t wanting on this recital, however the viewers would virtually have most popular to listen to rather less in regards to the lecturer’s experiences in getting away from the clutches of the Boers, and an ideal deal extra about Basic Buller’s marketing campaign in Natal.”

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The Journal additionally felt that there have been “quite a few options of the marketing campaign that will have stood elaboration,” and famous, with out elaboration, that “Churchill has been ridiculed for his alleged egotism and lots of who heard him final night will agree that his critics weren’t with out some justification.”

Churchill made additional headlines when, citing exhaustion, he determined to remain an additional night time at Rideau Corridor, the place he was a visitor of Governor Basic Lord and Girl Minto, slightly than seem at his scheduled lecture the subsequent night in Brantford. Though Churchill denied it on the time, the Citizen alleged that he and his supervisor, Main James B. Pond, whom Churchill as soon as described as a “vulgar Yankee impresario,” had “a distinction” over how a lot every was incomes for the lectures.

It’s additionally doable that Churchill’s unscheduled layover was by some means linked to the truth that Pamela Plowden, with whom Churchill had an early romantic attachment, was additionally a visitor of the Mintos. In accordance with the Worldwide Churchill Society, issues went swimmingly between Plowden and Churchill, with the latter writing his mom: “We had no painful discussions, however there isn’t any doubt in my thoughts that she is the one girl I may ever dwell fortunately with.”

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An ad for Street Angel, Ottawa's first 'talkie.'
An advert from the Citizen in December 1928 publicizes the primary ‘talkies’ in Ottawa. Postmedia

Dec. 26, 1928

The talkies come to Ottawa

“The movement image display screen broke its lengthy silence for the primary time in Ottawa final night time when earlier than a specifically invited viewers within the Regent theatre the preliminary ‘sound’ program offered by that playhouse was projected,” introduced the Ottawa Citizen following the Dec. 26, 1928, arrival within the metropolis of “talkies.”

Avenue Angel, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, was the primary occasion on the 11 p.m. invitation-only screening on the Regent Theatre at Financial institution and Sparks Streets, following a pair of speaking newsreels and two shorts, all boasting sound. (Though the newsreels and shorts had been talkies, Avenue Angel itself was extra of a hybrid, with the brand new Movietone sound-on-film course of offering a musical rating performed by a 110-piece orchestra, in addition to singing and sound results, however no precise audible dialogue.)

“Speaking Films Make Debut for Ottawa Individuals,” was the Citizen’s considerably understated headline, whereas the Ottawa Journal’s was additionally muted: “Premier Exhibiting Of Speaking Movie A Notable Occasion,” including that the screening “delighted and amazed” the spectators. “(T)listed here are occasions when one finds problem  in believing that the actors will not be actually earlier than the display screen in particular person,” it reported, “and when tones and inflections appear too completely good for mere replica.”

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One of the worst Christmastime tragedies in the Ottawa area took place in Almonte in 1942.
Th Ottawa Journal’s entrance web page on the day following the Almonte prepare wreck of 1942. Picture by Bruce Deachman /Courtesy of the North Lanark Reg

Dec. 27, 1942

The Almonte prepare wreck

Tragedy marred the Christmas season of 1942, when Canadian Pacific Railway prepare No. 550, a.okay.a. the Sunday Night Particular, was struck from behind by a particular troop prepare as the previous began pulling out of the Almonte prepare station. It stays one of many worst rail disasters in Canada’s historical past.

Many of the passengers aboard No. 550 had been returning to Ottawa after spending the vacations with their households within the Valley. It was snowy and icy that night time, making it much more tough for the rickety passenger prepare to maintain to its schedule. As a result of it was wartime, the crew of the 550 didn’t know that the troop prepare, on its manner from Purple Deer, Alta. to Halifax was shut behind. The crew of the troop prepare, in the meantime, was properly conscious of the prepare in entrance of them, and had directions to keep up a 20-minute hole between the 2, however the troop prepare didn’t have a velocity gauge, making the duty unimaginable.

Thirty-three individuals died within the crash, with three extra dying en path to the hospital. Three others died from accidents within the following days. Between 150 and 200 others had been injured, many significantly.

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Go to for a full account of the incident.

For a few years in the 1950s, a popular pastime was to watch the Burning of the Greens.
On January 22, 1959, 1000’s of Ottawa residents gathered to look at the ‘Burning of the Greens,’ as tens of 1000’s of Christmas timber had been burned. The Ottawa Journal

Jan. 22, 1959

The Burning of the Greens

For some time within the Nineteen Fifties, one very talked-about and public post-Christmas exercise in Ottawa was to go to the dump to look at what was described as the most important purposefully set bonfire in North America. For a half-dozen years, from 1954 to ’59, 1000’s gathered yearly to witness tens of 1000’s of discarded Christmas timber set alight, accompanied some years by a festive environment that included meals distributors, fireworks and hit-parade tunes.

Whereas the custom of Christmas tree bonfires continued sporadically into the Sixties,  a number of the shine wore off once we virtually misplaced a mayor and fireplace chief to the inferno.

In accordance with Dave Allston’s Kitchissippi Museum weblog, town didn’t actively start amassing discarded Christmas timber till the mid Nineteen Forties, when the timber had been merely buried on the dump. Quickly after, officers started burning them. A pair of images revealed within the Jan. 20, 1953 Citizen reveals the pile of 10,000 timber earlier than and in the course of the blaze. A lone teen appears on. “Only one small boy, remembering the cheer certainly one of them introduced into his residence not way back, stands by to look at the execution,” the caption learn.

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A 12 months later, the general public was invited, with about 3,500 individuals exhibiting as much as see Mayor Charlotte Whitton and different officers set torches to the 50-foot pile of 40,000 timber. “The night time is yours,” Whitton introduced in a quick speech. “Town is yours. Take pleasure in your self.”

And they also did, singing and dancing — CFRA radio station offered a truck with music — and getting a fireworks present to enhance the tree-burning. “Homosexual Throng Dances to 40,000 Flaming Bushes” learn the Citizen’s headline.

The occasion grew in reputation, and by 1959, the pile of timber had grown to greater than 50,000. That 12 months, nonetheless, gaseous swimming pools from the varsol and oil used to soak the timber triggered a “flashback explosion” when Mayor George Nelms and Hearth Chief Maynard Dolman lit the timber. The mishap value Nelms his eyebrows and eyelashes, with the left facet of his face blistered, his left eye swollen virtually shut, and his hat, overcoat and gloves burned. Dolman suffered related burns to his face. “All of it occurred so quick I used to be dazed,” Nelms reported the next day. “I do know now how all of the sudden one could also be burned to demise in a flash fireplace.”

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Go to for extra on the temporary custom.

In the meantime, the world in 2023 has been one thing of a bonfire itself. Let’s hope that this 12 months’s vacation season is a bit more like that of 1923 — minus the tried housebreaking. Be part of a choir. Donate meals or cash to somebody in want. Give away some toys. Announce your engagement.

Above all, no matter you do and nonetheless you do or don’t have a good time the vacations, keep secure and keep heat. However not too heat.


Born in Fort William, Ont., a metropolis that not seems on maps, Bruce Deachman has known as Ottawa residence for many of his life. As a columnist and reporter with the Citizen, he works at protecting Ottawa on the map. You’ll be able to attain him at

The Citizen newsroom is proud to report tales that matter to you. To assist Bruce Deachman’s work and our mission to share info that retains you plugged into life in Ottawa, take into account buying a digital subscription.

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