This Week in Peterborough: 1897


Parliament returns to session, from a story in the March 26th, 1897, Peterborough Examiner.

After the angry yelling that characterized March of 1896, you will be happy to know that, a year later, things were much quieter in Peterborough and in Canada, if not in a couple of other places.  Things were also much wetter, both here and in the near abroad.  Click on for floods here and there, preparations for a party, and a new civic jewel in Peterborough!

“Only those who have experienced the horrors of escaping with their lives can understand the situation,” wrote the March 22nd Peterborough Examiner about the calamity in the Midwest and South of the United States.  The Spring snow-melt, compounded by unexpectedly heavy rains, had caused the mighty Mississippi to break its banks and inundate a swath of territory that was up to 40 miles wide in some places.  Other rivers were in flood as well, and the newspaper went on to report that practically everywhere from Minnesota and Michigan down to the Gulf of Mexico was under threat.  In the end, somewhat miraculously, the death toll was estimated at only about 70.


Shades of Thermopylae, from the Greco-Turkish War of 1897!

Another international crisis catching the attention of Peterborians this week in 1897 was going on in the Mediterranean.  Britain, France, Italy, and Russia were in the process of intervening in an uprising by the Greek inhabitants of the island of Crete, which up until then had at least nominally been part of the Ottoman Empire.  On March 23rd, as the next day’s Peterborough Review described, “[t]hree hundred French troops, the first of the reinforcements ordered to Crete for service, landed at Suda…”  However, unbeknownst to the newspapers, on March 24th, Greek partisans crossed the mainland border into what was Ottoman territory to stir up trouble, and this led to a brief war between Greece and Turkey.  The Turks, by every military standard, won it resoundingly.  However, back on Crete, the intervention of the big European powers was able to bring about the creation of the short-lived independent Cretan State, which formally united with Greece in 1908.

There was little of massive note going on in Canada itself at this time, with the ceremonial opening of the new session of Parliament probably tops on the list.  This particular session had added interest for the people of Peterborough, thanks to this notice in the March 24th Examiner:

“The councils of the town of Peterborough and the County of Peterborough, and of several of the municipalities in the county, will send deputations to Ottawa to wait on the Minister of Railways and Canals, on April 6th next, to urge the Government to push forward the completion of the Trent Valley Canal from the Georgian Bay to the Bay of Quinte.”


The Peterborough Lift Lock under construction. (Image Source)

It was a familiar issue for Peterborians, but this time around it had an added urgency.  Construction had recently commenced on what is still Peterborough’s best-known landmark: the Peterborough Lift Lock, which would open for boat traffic in 1904.  Doubtless we will revisit its construction in the next few editions of this series!

It did appear that the Trent Canal was not likely to be the big issue for the government in the short run.  The newspapers in Peterborough were reporting that the first major item on the parliamentary agenda was to be some sort of response to protectionist legislation proposed by newly-elected American President William McKinley.  There is some irony in the fact that Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, himself in office less than year, would be immediately faced with demands for retaliatory protectionism on Canada’s behalf, as his Liberal Party had long been advocates of free trade.

Whatever the state of political relations between Canada and the U.S., people in Peterborough may have had some sympathy for the victims of the floods in the U.S., as there was a considerable amount of extra water around the place here as well.  As the March 22nd Examiner reported:

“The usually modest and staid little town creak [sic, i.e. Jackson Creek] went off on a rampage on Saturday, and swollen to a rushing torrent through the recent heavy rain storm, and the numerous accessions gained from every cross street ditch, it seriously threatened the property along its banks below Brock Street.”

Several bridges and small buildings were damaged by the creek’s “rampage,” and there were difficulties elsewhere as well.  On the 25th, the Examiner noted that melt-water had accumulated in places on Water Street (an appropriate enough name in this case) “to the depth of 2 or three feet.”


Peterborough Examiner, March 24th, 1897.

On a happier, or at least drier, note, preparations were underway in Peterborough for a major celebration.  1897 marked the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria — the sixtieth anniversary of her reign, and would thus obviously warrant major festivities.  The party was scheduled for the late May, around what would become known as Victoria Day, but things were still very much in the early planning stages.  Sports and military demonstrations were among the events being discussed, but the first matter at hand was to convince the Canadian Order of Foresters, who were considering a Jubilee celebration of their own, to give the town precedence in the use of the Fairgrounds.  Fortunately, as you can see from the headline above, the Foresters were amenable, and preparations for the big day were underway.

Peterborians also had another big event to look forward to, in the creation of a new local civic institution.  Through a bequest, the Peterborough Historical Society had come into possession of Inverlea House, situated near the river where Inverlea Park is now, and plans were already underway to open the town’s first museum.  Among the necessary preparations, of course, was the acquisition of artifacts, and the March 23rd Review described some of the treasures being accumulated for the new collection (sic‘d throughout):

“Mr. Aunger also sent several curios, a piece of the car in which P.P. Bliss, the famous singer was killed in a railroad accident at Asthabula, Ohio, where four hundred people lost their lives*; piece of bayonet used in the Battle of Waterloo, and recently in the possession of a family in Belmont; pieces of brass off the hand rail of the old “Pioneer” engine; the sign board of the same engine, bearing the words “Pioneer;” old Indian tools; the star bit of the old Burleigh steam drill at Blairton, and a rare globular shaped iron pyrides, from Belmont.”


Sketch of Inverlea House, Peterborough. (via the Peterborough Historical Society)

Note to self for future research: find out, if possible, what became of those artifacts!  In any case, next time out we will look at the end of March and beginning of April in 1898.

* The Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster, on December 29th, 1876, in fact killed “only” 92 people.  Among them, as noted in the Review piece, were noted hymn-composer and Gospel singer Philip Bliss and his wife Lucy.

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