“Yesterday was a dull day,” said the February 17th, 1892, Peterborough Examiner, referring to the previous afternoon’s doings in the Ontario legislature. And indeed, February of 1892 found not much of great note going on in and around Peterborough. “Not much,” however, is not the same as “nothing,” so click on for (yet more) annexation talk, a debate over booze, and the people of Peterborough checking out this newfangled sport that everyone has been talking about!
February 16th may have been a dull day down at the legislature, but the day before had been not much better. “The debate… at the legislature yesterday afternoon was about the tamest circus that has been in town since incorporation,” complained the Examiner on the 16th, noting that only a brief exchange on the subject of the annexation to the United States relieved the tedium. This issue, which had been a major one in the previous year’s federal election, was still in the public eye to a certain degree. In fact, mid-February of 1892 saw a delegation from the Canadian Parliament visiting Washington to talk about reciprocity in trade, and many people on both sides of the debate saw free trade as an inevitable precursor to political union with the U.S.A.
The negotiations, however, came to nothing, in part because of questions over whether the Canadian group had actually been given any power by the British Government to conclude an agreement (Britain, even a quarter century after Confederation, still controlled a large part of Canada’s foreign policy). The Examiner, which was generally in favour of free trade, felt that the fix was in. From the February 17th issue:
“But [the negotiations] have accomplished one of their objects, namely, the making of a demonstration by which they hoped to deceive the people of Canada into the belief that they had been invited to Washington to consider the subject of reciprocity, and that there was a prospect that they would be successful.”
The newspaper’s suspicions are understandable, given that the party of government, the Conservatives, was staunchly opposed to reciprocity and yet had allowed the negotiations to go ahead. The Conservative newspaper in Peterborough, the Review, focused its commentary primarily on the social events surrounding the negotiations, while being fairly silent on the particulars, and that too is interesting.
There was one other matter in front of the Ontario Legislature that week that deserves a mention, if only because it sheds a bit of light on social conditions in the province in the early 1890s. The City of Waterloo had applied for an amendment to the law on the use of human remains for anatomical research. The reason for the application? It seems that Waterloo had recently opened a workhouse for the city’s poor, but was having trouble attracting tenants. From the February 16th Examiner:
“Their [i.e. prospective workhouse inhabitants’] objection is that when they shuffle off the ghoulish inspector of anatomy will pounce on the remains… Waterloo wants the Anatomy Act amended so that it can keep its own skeletons.”
The newspaper also quoted from English poet Thomas Noel’s poem “The Pauper’s Drive“: “Rattle his bones over the stones/He is a pauper, whom nobody owns.”
There was little enough drawing attention from overseas, so we can turn now to matters in Peterborough itself. Here, too, it was a quiet sort of week, with the main topic of discussion being the Town Council’s decision not to reduce the number of liquor licenses handed out in Peterborough from 22 to 16. The Peterborough Review for February 16th gave a lengthy summation of the debate, noting that the town had the highest rate of liquor licenses per capita in the province — one for every 444 inhabitants (next was Hamilton, with one license per 540 residents). However, a certain Councillor Dennistoun, speaking in favour of keeping the licenses at 22, complained that “[t]he reduction meant the depriving of six citizens of their legal business which they were carrying on under the law.” In the end, he spoke for the majority of councillors, and the licenses remained at 22.
There was another piece of business in front of the Town Council that needs mentioning. The February 16th Examiner noted that Mr. George Hilliard proposed “putting in machinery for supplying light and power” for “an electric railway” in the town. Peterborough’s streetcars were only a year or so away from being up and running, and they would continue to operate into the early years of the 20th century.
So, with nothing major on the go, what were the people of Peterborough up to? Well, on February 17th, they turned out to witness a hockey game, played between the Edison Hockey Club (employees of the General Electric Works) and some of their colleagues “who in their youthful days took pleasure in shinney, and never heard of its modern parody — hockey” (Peterborough Examiner, February 18th, 1892 — “shinney” here refers to an earlier version of ice hockey). Indeed, hockey had been a somewhat late arrival in southern Ontario, with the first organized game in Toronto not taking place until 1888.
However, Peterborough was in the process of embracing the game fully, with the Examiner describing the clash between the two sets of Electric Works employees as “barrels of fun” and “a memorable game.” The Hockey Club, unsurprisingly, won by a resounding score of 9-1. Even at that early date, there was humour to be found in the roughness of the sport; the Examiner, in announcing the game in its February 16th issue, had jested that “[m]edical men are particularly requested to be present, and will be admitted free of charge.” The newspaper went on in the same vein on the 18th, describing the state of shinney players after the game:
“They are expected, by the help of the most skilful medical attendance, abundant arnical ablutions,* careful nursing and perfect quiet, to be out again in about a week to take their places in the grand-stand, with the rest of the I-told-you-so’s, where hockey is much easier to play than on the ice.” [*”Arnical ablutions” refers to a contemporary medication for sprains and the like.]
There was supposed to be even greater hockey excitement in Peterborough this week in 1892, with a game scheduled between the Peterborough Hockey Club and the Toronto Granite Club (the Granites had been one of the teams that played in that inaugural Toronto match in 1888). The Granites, however, cancelled at the last minute, sending a telegram to the effect that they were unable to attend. Perhaps they had heard about what happened to the shinney players…
Next time out, we’ll look at late February of 1893!