This Week in Peterborough: 1878


Ned Hanlan, in his office (via Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame)

Last time out, we dealt with a Peterborough in some tumult, with civil disorder in the streets, shouting in the newspapers, threats of horse-whipping, and so on.  So what shall we find in November of 1878, as the community adjusts to its new status as a “dry” town?  Well, there was a lot less chaos, but some interesting things nonetheless…

Click on, for a new government, athletic prowess, theatrical young love, and an update on how Peterborough was dealing with Prohibition!

Early November of 1878 found Peterborough a much quieter place than it had been a year earlier — not at all surprising given 1877’s furor over the passage of the Dunkin Act.  It should also be no surprise to learn that Prohibition was not working out the way its adherents had hoped.  The sale and consumption of alcohol in Peterborough had both continued merrily, if illegally, while a movement was afoot was to repeal the Act itself.  Those opposed to the booze trade were scrambling to find silver linings in the situation; as one member of the local Temperance movement, in a letter to the November 14th Peterborough Examiner, put it:

“Why, even in Peterborough, where the Dunkin Act has failed (not simply because of inherent defects, either), episodes in connection with the liquor traffic are now pointed to with detestation and remonstrance which formerly passed without comment…  It is this healthy education which will, if perservered in, eventually work the full cure, even to the overcoming of the loss of municipal revenue.”

It is, of course, that last factor — the effect of Prohibition on the town’s coffers — that eventually contributed heavily to the repeal of the Temperance laws in Peterborough.


1891 anti-Liberal editorial cartoon showing “American Competition” flooding “Canadian Industry.” (Source: Collections Canada, MIKAN #122153)

The country at large had just come through a federal election in September, so there were certainly political matters to be discussed.  The result of the vote had been the return to power of Sir John A. MacDonald’s Conservative party, with Alexander MacKenzie’s Liberals defeated largely on the grounds of tough economic times.  One of the new Prime Minister’s first major policy initiatives was the institution of high tariffs, in the hopes of encouraging people to buy Canadian-manufactured goods.  It was not a move that was sitting well with the merchants of Peterborough, or at least not with the one who wrote to the Examiner on November 14th:

“What is Sir John A. about?  We merchants are in despair.  Soon many of us have to take orders for Spring importations.  At what price are we to take them?… Ah! that some prophet would foretell.  The manufacturers have been jobbing our stocks at lower prices than ever, tempting customers to speculate by over-stocking themselves, in prospect of the rise to ensue when the new tariff steps in and shuts out all foreign competition.”

The merchant’s concerns are understandable, but given the fact that Canada’s exports to the United States were facing enormous tariffs of their own at the time, the government had to do something.  In any event, the new Canadian tariffs, once in place, proved so popular with manufacturers in Ontario and Quebec that they helped keep the Conservatives in power until 1896 (see the editorial cartoon above).

Apart from the political doings, there was much discussion in the Peterborough newspapers at this time of the exploits of one of Canada’s first superstar athletes.  The great rower Ned Hanlan had added the title of Champion of the United States to his Canadian belt in October.  In fact, he had won that race, a five-miler against Charles E. Courtney, with such ease that Courtney was obliged to testify under oath that he had not lost deliberately.


Peterborough Times, November 9th, 1878.

In any case, Hanlan now set his sights on Britain, with the November 14th Examiner speculating that his next opponent would be John Hawdon.  And so it indeed turned out; Hanlan defeated Hawdon in May of 1879 in Newcastle-on-Tyne.  A month later, on the same course, he would win the Championship of England by defeating the renowned William Elliott.  Hanlan then reached the pinnacle of his sport in 1880, when he won the World Championship over Australia’s Edward Trickett.  That title remained in his grip until 1884.

Apart from Hanlan’s impending arrival there, overseas news was a bit thin at our time of interest.  As had been the case a year previous, the negotiations over the end of the Russo-Turkish War were still going on, as the Great Powers made, re-worked, and broke agreements among themselves.  While far too complex to examine here, it is worth noting that a line can be drawn between these machinations, and the eventual outbreak of the First World War in 1914.  However, there was little sign of that in November of 1878; the newspapers were content to note that the negotiations were ongoing, without getting into detail about them.


Yes, that is an extra ‘L,’ not to mention some other odd spellings! (Peterborough Examiner, November 7th, 1878)

We will close off here with an entertainment note from Peterborough.  In the week of November 11th the Bradburn Opera House at George Street and Simcoe hosted performances by talented American actress Helen Blye, who was then only 16 or 17 years old.  In addition to the plays mentioned in the ad above, Blye headlined The Lady of Lyon at the Opera House, and her performances drew rave reviews.  From the November 14th Examiner:

“Miss Blye is a young actress of real merit, and her delineation of several very difficult characters assumed met with such approval that each evening she was repeatedly called before the curtain.  Mr. Brian, the principal male character, in his representations, ably seconded Miss Blye’s efforts.”

There is an interesting anecdote about Helen Blye, from a couple of years after her appearance in Peterborough.  The afore-mentioned Mr. Brian and Miss Blye were, or became, romantically involved, and this relationship clearly did not sit well with the young lady’s father, a certain Colonel Blye.  In fact, he objected so strenuously that the whole affair ended up in court, not to mention in the pages of the National Police Gazette (New York) of June 26th, 1880 (link is a PDF).  The elder Blye laid charges of kidnapping against Brian, but also incurred his own summons for assault when he laid into his daughter’s paramour.  The two men were hauled before the judge, and young Helen summoned as a witness.  I will let the Gazette take up the tale from here:

“The impression was… given by both Miss Blye and Mr. Brien [sic] that they were warmly attached to each other, and the judge proposed to end all scandal by marrying the couple then and there.  The lady was apparently willing that such a consummation should be reached at once, but Brien remained silent.  Seeing his unwillingness, Miss Blye said: ‘Well, Judge, I guess I’ll tarry a little longer,’ and there the matter dropped.  Colonel Blye was released in bonds to keep the peace, and that phase of the scandal came to an end.”

Whether Helen Blye ever did marry J.F. Brian remains a mystery, at least to me.  However, she does appear to have had a respectably lengthy career as an actress; her name appears, albeit in a minor role, on the playbills for an early 20th-century Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz.

We are a long way from the early 20th century in this series, however — next time, we will take a look at mid-November of 1879!


Peterborough Times, November 9th, 1878.




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1 Response to This Week in Peterborough: 1878

  1. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1930 | Peterboriana

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