This Week in Peterborough: 1888


Canadian journalist and social activist Thomas Phillips Thompson, probably in about 1920 or so. (via Wikimedia Commons)


Mid-January of 1888 was a bad time to find yourself suddenly needing a cigar in Peterborough!  On the night of Thursday, January 19th, several thousand of them were burgled from W.J. Minore’s Confectionary; the next day’s Peterborough Daily Evening Review gave a concise breakdown of the losses:

“…3000 of the Mrs. Langtry brand and 1,000 each of the My Own, Cupids and Ramblers and a quantity of Creme de la Creme, Jersey Beauties, and Flor de Beatrice.” 

Dire news, particularly for the poor shop owner, described in the Review as “a young man not long started in business.”  And what else was going on?  Well, click on for warlike rumblings in Europe (again), political tumult in Manitoba, and several types of get-together in Peterborough!


Alexander III’s lack of comment on the Balkan crisis was viewed by most as a bad sign. (Peterborough Daily Evening Review, January 16th, 1888)


When last we checked in, the news from overseas had been very dire, with war appearing to be imminent.  Things were somewhat better in January of 1888, but there were still disturbing noises coming from the European continent.  The focal point of the crisis was, again, the Balkans, and in particular the newly-created Principality of Bulgaria.  To make a long story somewhat shorter, concerns over who was to lead Bulgaria were causing friction between Austria and Germany on one side, and Russia on the other, to the point that the Russians were amassing troops in Romania.  “Will Russia Fight?” asked the Review in a January 18th headline — the answer turned out to be “no,”  and the crisis eventually blew over.

The main Canadian news event of this period was the collapse of the provincial government in Manitoba.  Conservative Premier John Norquay had resigned in December of 1887 after losing support of his cabinet, and his replacement, David Harrison, was unable to form a majority.  The Examiner reported Harrison’s resignation, and the near-certainty that Liberal leader Thomas Greenway would replace him, on January 16th.  Greenway did, in fact, become Premier, handily winning an election on July 11, and would become the key figure in the mid-1890s  national crisis usually referred to as the “Manitoba Schools Question.”


Thomas Greenway – an imposing figure! (via Canadian Heritage Gallery)


Closer to home, the Trent-Severn Waterway was once again in the news, and not for good reasons.  A government engineer’s report had both sharply criticized the costs of the project and also stated that the Welland Canal route would provide quicker transport of goods to the East Coast (part of the problem being the number of locks needed).  In response, the Trent Navigation Association, comprised of a number notable Peterborian supporters of the waterway (including the Mayor), was holding meetings to determine a response.  Despite the unfavourable report, the January 18th Review saw some reasons for optimism:

“There is no danger of anyone reading the reports falling into the error of believing that the officials of the department are biased in favor of the Trent Valley Canal.  There is this reason for satisfaction, however — the promoters of this waterway now have before them the most formidable weapons of opposition that government engineers will supply, and they can form a better idea of the nature of the facts…”

The Waterway did, of course, get built in the end, but did not fully open until 1920 – too late for it to be of any real commercial use.

One of the most interesting happenings around Peterborough this week in 1888 was the lecture given on January 20th at the Opera Hall.  The speaker was Thomas Phillips Thompson, a Toronto journalist who had visited Ireland while writing for the Toronto Globe and become a devout supporter of the struggle for Home Rule.  His talk in Peterborough was titled “The Cause of Ireland,”  which he argued was “one of freedom, and one in which the people of Canada had a sympathetic and material interest” (Peterborough Examiner, January 21st).  By all accounts, Thompson was extremely well received by his Peterborian audience, including some who might have been expected to be on the opposite political side.  Again from the January 21st Examiner:

“Mr. James Stratton, in seconding the resolution [of thanks to the speaker], said he had the cause of Ireland, the home of his childhood, at heart.  He was a Protestant and an Orangeman, an Irish Orangeman, but he did not think that because of that he was in favour of injustice to the land of his birth.”


James Robert Stratton, in about 1900 (via Wikimedia Commons)

James Stratton was, at that time, Peterborough West’s representative in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.  In addition to the remarks by Stratton and others, a motion expressing Peterborough’s support for the cause of Irish Home rule was passed once the lecture concluded.  As for Thompson, he continued to work on a number of Canadian social justice causes, particularly organized labour, and was eventually one of the organizers of the Canadian Socialist League.

The life of Peterborough went on in other ways as well.  The Winter conference of the local Farmers’ Institute was going on at the Courthouse, with papers given on such topics as “Farming as an Occupation,” “Mixed Farming,” and “The Merits of Clover.”  One of the main points of discussion was how to improve education in agriculture throughout the province.  Mr. Stratton (the same one quoted above – he was having a busy week!) proposed a 25-cent per year tax on farmers to establish schools of agriculture, and this idea seemed to meet with general approval.

And finally, preparations were underway for a costume ball to be held at the skating rink on Charlotte Street on the 27th.  The caterer had been hired, and the rink was to be “handsomely decorated with lanterns, banners, festoons, evergreens, etc.” per the January 19th Examiner.  The January 18th Review was also enthusiastic about the coming festival, writing that “[s]tudies of garb and fashion of foreign lands will be seen amidst the glittering glim of the electric light.”

You might want to remember the bit about the electric light; electricity will shortly become very important in the history of Peterborough.  In the meantime, the next edition of this series will take a look at late January of 1889!


Peterborough Examiner, January 16th, 1888.


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