“Once Again,” read a small blurb in the December 24th, 1884, edition of the Peterborough Times, “we heartily wish our many readers, “A Merry Christmas.” A fine sentiment indeed, and I would like to take this opportunity to express similar sentiments to all reading this!
And click on, of course, to read about what was going on at Christmastime in Peterborough one hundred and thirty years ago!
There was one little black cloud over the seasonal good feelings in Peterborough in 1884, and it had to do with the uncertain fate of the men on the Nile Expedition, several of whom hailed from Peterborough. The expedition, which we noted briefly last time out here, was by this time making its way up the Nile towards besieged Khartoum. The Peterborough Times, on December 24th, quote an un-named British Commander describing the mission as “the toughest job I ever undertook.” The Canadian boatmen faced difficulties both from the size and power of the Nile and from the activity of enemy soldiers under Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi. Interestingly, none of the Peterborough papers dwelt much on the presence of Peterborough men on the Nile Expedition, preferring to look at the broader situation. For our part, we will finish off the tale in the 1885 edition of this series.
Turning to the town, and to happier matters, the big non-Christmas excitement around the Peterborough area was the December 23rd appearance of the Prime Minister himself, Sir John A. MacDonald, whose train made a brief stop at the town station on its way to Toronto. Despite the brevity of the visit, a large number of people did turn out to greet the PM, who gave a brief speech described by the December 24th Peterborough Times:
“As soon as his voice could be heard Sir John addressed the assemblage. He asked them what had brought them there on such a piercing cold night. If they had no wives or sweethearts to amuse them at home. But whatever had brought them he was very glad to see them… He said that he had always done well in Peterborough in the past and he had no doubt of their future. He would call again.
Here ‘All aboard’ was cried, and the premier re-entering the car was whirled away into the darkness.”
The residents of Peterborough also got a special treat for Christmas in 1884, as the town’s first new indoor skating rink, located on Charlotte Street between George and Aylmer, was newly opened for business. Much of the structure was made up of the old rink from the village of Ashburnham, which was simply disassembled and transported across the river, but there were also considerable improvements made to the entrance-ways, dressing rooms, and so on, and an extra curling rink had been added. According to the Christmas Day edition of the Examiner, the new rink was also right up-to-date in terms of arena technology:
“The water supply for the formation of the ice is furnished from the mains of the Peterboro’ Water Company, and the lighting is done by six electric lamps, furnished by the Peterborough Electric Light Company, five to light curling rinks and one in the middle over the skating rink. The rink is lighted by day by numerous windows, which are provided with close board shutters. At proper distances, at the base of the walls, iron gratings are let in the masonry to admit of the frost doing its work.”
An ad in the same newspaper displays the cost to Peterborians to make use of the splendid new rink. A touch expensive maybe, given the value of a dollar in the mid-1880s, but it is worth noting that the Charlotte Street Rink may have been the second biggest public skating facility in all of Canada at the time, behind only the famous old Victoria Rink in Montreal. While recreational skating and hockey moved away from the Charlotte Street site in the early 20th century, curling continued to take place there, albeit in a number of different buildings, until 1984 when the final incarnation of the Charlotte Street Rink burned down.
And finally, the skating rink was not the only Peterborough landmark arriving on the scene at Christmastime in 1884 — The Murray Street Baptist Church also appeared at this time, with its official first service held on Sunday the 28th of December. That church, somewhat re-worked, is of course still there, opposite the Armoury.
We’ll echo how this post began, and turn over the last word here to the Peterborough Examiner for December 25th, 1884, with an appropriate piece of the newspaper’s annual Christmas column:
“Most cordially we wish our numerous friends and patrons the compliments of the season, and trust that they may experience for themselves and friends and families a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
Yes indeed (and next time – the look at the very end of 1885)!!