1874 could best be described as a quiet year, or at least it had turned into one by the time we got to mid-October. The newspapers contain barely a mention of foreign wars, the only electoral action in the Peterborough area was months away, and beyond the ever-present civic muttering about railways, the town itself was enjoying a period of relative peace and quiet. That does not mean, however, that nothing was going on…
Click on for railway matters, biblical revising, a terribly sad story from north of Peterborough, and other things!
It would not be a week in the history of 1870s Peterborough if there were not at least some mention of the ongoing railway situation, but this time the story is a tragic one. In the piece on 1873, we noted the struggle to keep the produce of the back country from being funneled out through Lindsay. By 1874 that battle had been lost, and the Victoria Railway was under construction. The primary workers on the project came from a group of Icelandic immigrants who had arrived in Canada in late September, and were being employed through the winter while the government tried to figure out where to settle them. The Peterborough Examiner, on October 8th, spoke highly of the plan, and of the new arrivals:
“The Icelanders are a well educated and moral people and will make good neighbours. They will find some difficulty at first on account of their language; but they will soon pick up sufficient English.”
It was, in the end, a complete disaster. The immigrants, many already suffering health issues as a result of the voyage to Canada, were housed in shacks on the railway works, and suffered terribly through their first winter. By the time the Spring of 1875 rolled around, roughly 25 of them them — at least half of those children — were dead. In the end, many of the survivors would settle further west, in the area of Gimli, Manitoba.
The other news from Peterborough in mid-October was not so dire, although it could hardly be called “good” either. The Wallace Point Road bridge over the Otonabee, south of Peterborough, had collapsed into the river in the early part of the month, prompting the locals to make use of a raft to move their harvested produce to market. Inevitably, this mode of transportation did not work every time, and in the October 22nd Examiner we find a report of a Mr. McKenna running into difficulties while trying to cross with a load of barley. “The barley was well wet,” reported the newspaper, “and the horses, but the latter were got out without damage.”
In other news from south of Peterborough, the Governor General of Canada was visiting the area, although he did not quite make it up to the town itself. Lord and Lady Dufferin were received in Port Hope, Cobourg, and the Rice Lake district, and also toured the Marmora area with its iron mines. These, too, were of great interest to the railwaymen of Peterborough, and as Fall of 1874 went on, there was considerable debate in town over whether to pay the Cobourg, Peterborough, and Marmora Railway and Mining Company to rebuild the bridge over Rice Lake, which had been in ruins since 1861. The Examiner, on October 22nd, called for this to be done (and for a connection with the new railway to the North):
“Let the errors of policy that has almost hemmed us inside of the lakes — to a district of two townships only — be remedied. The liberal offer of the company should be accepted… If some of our city fathers take this matter up they will deserve the gratitude of the ratepayers and people, and atone for some of their short-comings in other things.”
Despite the newspaper’s hearty endorsement, what would have happened had the bridge been rebuilt must remain a matter of speculation — it never happened, and the produce of the Marmora mines headed to the Great Lakes without visiting Peterborough.
Things were quiet on the Canadian scene as the Winter of 1874 approached. Ontario had a provincial election on the horizon, but only just — voting would take place in January of 1875, and Oliver Mowat’s incumbent Liberal party won itself another government, this time by a majority. However, that was a ways away in mid-October, and the only mention of it in the local papers is the October 15th Examiner‘s exhortation to local Liberal party supporters to pick good candidates.
Finally, we turn to the international scene, only to find not very much going on. The Summer of 1874 had seen the end of the Third Anglo-Ashanti War, in the region of what is now Ghana. British forces, under the leadership of General Garnet Wolseley, defeated the Ashanti in the conflict, and forced them to sign a fairly punitive treaty. The affair was long out of the newspapers by October, and I mention it only because of the presence of Wolseley – it was he who had been sent to Manitoba in 1870 in charge of the troops dispatched to deal with Louis Riel.
The big “foreign” story of October 1874, however, is of a different type than we are used to in this series. While relations between the United States and Britain (and thus Canada, even in the post-Confederation period) were fraught at times during the mid-late 19th century, in the early 1870s the two countries were working together quite amicably on a major project. This undertaking was the complete revision of the King James Version of the Bible, which had been in use in Anglophone, Protestant, Christianity pretty much unchanged since 1611. The revision process was only just underway in October of 1874, but it was already big news, as a lengthy article on the front page of the October 8th Examiner shows. The Examiner was generally in favour of the revision, although with some caveats:
“Its success will depend chiefly on retaining the idiom and (with the exception of obsolete or unintelligible words) the vocabulary of [the KJV], which have become sacred and so interwoven with the devotional habits and experiences of the English and American people that they will never give them up. The revised Bible must read like the old book or it will fail, no matter what its literary and critical merits may be… [The revision] should be done with the most scholarly care and conscienciousness [sic]… with constant regard to the best English usage, the wants of the church, the music and rhythmical flow of language.”
The eventual result of the trans-Atlantic collaboration began to be made public in 1881, with the publication of the New Testament books of what has become known as the Revised Version or the English Revised Version.
Join us next week, when we take a look at the happenings in and around Peterborough in 1875!