It is unclear from the newspapers whether March of 1894 came in in a particularly leonine way, but come in it did. And of course it brought with it the usual roster of interesting stories, both at home and abroad. So click on, for a new Prime Minister in Britain, the debate over women’s suffrage in Ontario, and interesting — if eventually disappointing — entertainment in Peterborough!
The big international issue in the newspapers of Peterborough as February of 1894 turned into March was the political upheaval in the Mother Country. On March 2nd, the 84-year-old Prime Minister of Britain, William Gladstone, met with Queen Victoria and tendered his resignation. Amid fierce controversy — there were important factions in the British House of Commons who very badly wanted a commoner appointed Prime Minister — Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery, was named as Gladstone’s replacement.
The Peterborough papers, for obvious reason, were most interested in the effect the change in British executive power would have on Ireland’s push for home rule. The March 5th Peterborough Examiner expressed some pessimism on that question, stating that “Lord Rosebery… has never been an ardent home ruler, [and] is likely to have trouble with the Irish members…” Indeed he did. The very next day’s Examiner reported that John Morley, whom Lord Rosebery had tapped to be Secretary of State for India, had rejected the position, “not wishing to take an office that will separate him from the cause of Ireland.”
The departing Gladstone himself had further muddied the waters by delivering, the day before his resignation, a ferocious address in the House of Commons in which he inveighed against the whole institution of the House of Lords on the ground that it was deliberately obstructing the work of the lower House. The March 1st Examiner described the speech as nothing less than “a declaration of war” — at the very least, Gladstone described the previous half-century of political activity on the part of the Lords as “grievously unsatisfactory.” War it may have been, but little came of it immediately; reforms to the House of Lords had been going on, in fits and starts, for some time well before Gladstone spoke up, and have continued since.
The Canadian Parliament was not in session, so most of the political action in the Dominion in early March of 1894 was taking place at the provincial level. And action there was, with the major issue being women’s suffrage. Unmarried, property-owning, women had been enfranchised for municipal elections in Ontario for about a decade, but now there was a growing push to extend that right to all adult women at the provincial and federal levels. On March 2nd, a delegation of women met with Ontario Premier Sir Oliver Mowat to argue the case. Mowat, while generally sympathetic on the issue, felt that women’s suffrage was a political fight he simply could not win at that point in time. Quoted in the March 3rd Peterborough Review, he lamented the state of the political landscape:
“It is understood that there is something like unanimity on one side of the House [i.e. on the opposition Conservative side] against the relief you ask for, and on my own side of the House, both in the Government and out of it, there is a difference of opinion on this subject.”
Despite his inability to promise any immediate progress on the matter, Mowat included an optimistic note in his remarks to the delegation. From the same article in the Review:
“…I have no doubt that a great many of you who are here to-day will be alive and give your votes before a great while has expired; though whether in my time or not I cannot say.”
In the end, it was not until 1917, well after Mowat’s time (he died in 1903), that the full franchise was extended to the women of Ontario.
We get an interesting look at the contemporary arguments for and against women’s suffrage thanks to an event this week in the history of Peterborough herself. On March 2nd, 1894, Bradburn’s Opera House played host to a public debate on the issue, although the next day’s Examiner noted that “it did not attract a very large audience for some reason or other.” In favour of women having the vote were speakers from the St. Alphonsus Catholic Club, of Toronto, while opposing them were members of the Peterborough-based Catholic Literary Association.
The “pro-” side argued that anyone who could own property or enter higher education could surely be trusted with the franchise as well, and attacked the “ancient and barbarian idea that only those who were capable of fighting should have a voice” (Peterborough Examiner, March 3rd 1894). In the other camp, the speakers worried that giving women the vote could potentially drive a wedge between wives and husbands, and thus threaten the whole idea of the family. At the end, Mr. Dumble, the presiding judge, decided that the pro-suffragists had carried the day with their arguments. Only the Review, in its March 3rd issue, noted the irony that both in the legislature and the in Peterborough debate, “gentlemen were allowed to do all the talking.”
Early March was not all political debate around Peterborough, however. Theatre-goers in the town were treated, on March 1st, to a production of Lincoln J. Carter’s special-effects stage melodrama The Tornado at the Opera House. Sadly, it does not seem to have been a real hit. The next day’s Examiner described the acting as “only average,” and went on to criticize the “coarse jests, indelicate suggestions and the too much admixture of profanity in the dialogue, which at times shocked the audience.” The newspaper did concede, however, that “[t]he steamship collision was exciting.”
And of course, there were also sporting events to keep folks entertained. It was a quiet week in terms of hockey — the Peterborough Hockey Club was attempting to negotiate terms for a game against the Kingston Limestones, with both towns wishing to host it — but there were interesting doings on the curling front. The Peterborough Curling Club was in need of a new desk, “properly equipped with drawers, pigeonholes, fyles [sic] etc” (Peterborough Examiner, March 1st 1894). And so two of the town’s pre-eminent cabinet-makers, Misters Belleghem and Clegg, were engaged to curl against each other at the Charlotte Street rink, with the loser to craft the desk free of charge. The match was a tight one, tied at 13 after 16 ends of play. The March 1st Examiner reported what happened next:
“Matters now stood at a standstill, and to the onlookers it appeared a case of the proverbial ‘one afraid and the other dare not,’ for both skips refused to play another end to settle the right as to who should supply the table and consequently as a result of their timidity it is probable the club will have to go another year without this very necessary present.”
Whether the Peterborough Curling Club ever did get its desk, and if so who made it, remain unknown.
Next time out, we will look at mid-March of 1895!