This Week in Peterborough: 1899


From the Peter Hamilton Company’s 1899 catalogue. The firm’s factory was located on George Street, just south of King. (image via Lang Pioneer Village).

Spring, or at least the first signs of it!  In early April of 1899, the townspeople of Peterborough were looking forward to the new season, and the April 8th Peterborough Times waxed eloquent on the subject:

“The birds have returned, the first of the feathered minstrels that will inhabit the trees and shower melody from their branches.  The marshes may be silent now, but the time is advancing when they will once again resound with nocturnal murmurings of the hoarse-throated frogs.”

Click on, for unpleasant doings in the U.S. and further abroad, but not much doing at all in Canada, in Ontario, and in Peterborough!  Quiet, yes, but was it too quiet?

If matters were calm in Canada, that state of affairs did not, unfortunately, hold elsewhere. In its April 7th issue, the Peterborough Examiner described and lamented a horrendous series of lynchings in the southern United States, an outbreak that had seen more than 30 black men killed in a few days across parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia.  The newspaper, which tended to report international news in a fairly straightforward way, showed unusual vehemence in this case, employing phrases such as “brutal and cowardly,” “murderous brutality,” and “savagery of the most cruel and infamous kind.”  The article closed, again with abnormal anger, by advising that “Uncle Sam had better call off his Philippine army, and send them south…”


The waterfront of Manila in 1899. (Image Source)

And that brings us very neatly to the other big piece of international news attracting attention in Peterborough: the opening days of the Philippine-American War.  The U.S. had acquired the Philippines from Spain in the course of the Spanish-American War, but immediately faced a rebellion by Filipinos looking for outright independence.  By early April, there were hopeful signs of imminent peace.  The April 6th Examiner reported that an American commission had circulated a proposal on the subject of responsible government for the islands, and that this “most politic” document had “been approved by a number of representative Manilans,” and seemed “bound to convince the wavering of the folly of further hostilities.”  Sadly, this turned out to be a bit of a false dawn.  The conflict continued until 1902, and even well beyond then in certain parts of the Philippines.

In Canada, as noted, things were indeed pretty quiet.  “The Usual Dullness of Friday in the House Intensified” read the parliamentary news headline in the April 8th Examiner.  The only issue there that was attracting much attention had to do with the Yukon, and specifically the performance of NWMP Major James M. Walsh, the region’s first Commissioner.  Walsh had had a frustrating time; due to logistical difficulties, it took him  a year from the date of his appointment to even reach Dawson, and he had resigned shortly thereafter, in 1898.  Opposition Conservatives alleged that Walsh had been a corrupt incompetent drunk during his tenure in the Northwest, a charge that Walsh himself refuted in a letter published in the April 4th Examiner:

“I labored earnestly and conscientiously to the best of my ability to do my duty to the Government, and returned at the end of the time, bringing nothing except the consciousness  of having done my best to perform a difficult and a trying duty.”


Walsh, seated, with some companions at Bennett, British Columbia in 1897. (Image via the Yukon Government)

The governing Liberals supported Walsh, noting that “there had been no accusations against [him].”  The attacks on Walsh in Parliament seem to have been nothing more than partisan bickering to pass the quiet Spring days.

At the provincial level, meanwhile, there was so little of note going on that the Ontario Educational Association had decided to rename the letters of the alphabet and their more commonly-occurring combinations, a project on which the April 8th Examiner reported at length.  It is a fascinating article, one which deserves its own post, and presently it will have one.  However, in the meantime, an example of what they were talking about will suffice:

“H begins about four thousand words and not one of these begins like the name aitch.  We should get a name for this letter as we got one for b, by adding e to it.  This will give the name he.  Every word in the language beginning with this letter when it is not silent begins like he.  Haste, heal, hire, hope, hut.”

On to Peterborough herself!  Here things were, in keeping with the general state of affairs, placid.  Even the criminals seemed to be taking time off, as was officially noted by the Grand Jury of the High Court of Justice.  From the April 6th Examiner:

“Your Grand Jurors… unite with you in congratulating the County of Peterborough on the freedom from crime, as evidenced by the meagre criminal docket presented for our consideration.  This is a condition of affairs that speaks well for the good and law abiding character of the people of this community.”

The local public lectures — a very common form of entertainment at this time — also had a restful sort of theme to them in early April of 1899.  On April 5th, a large crowd attended St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church to hear the Rev. J.G. Shearer, a Minster from Hamilton, speak on “Sabbath Observance and Preservation.”  Among his observations, as described in the next day’s Examiner, was the comment that “[t]he radial railway to Grimsby campgrounds issued church-goers tickets and since these were issued there had been a suspiciously sudden increase of church goers, who were in reality largely pleasure seekers pure and simple…”    Reverend Shearer might have had other cause to be concerned; the April 10th Times noted that the previous day had seen the first Sunday editions of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspapers in Britain.

However, we must close with an unfortunately ominous note.  On April 7th, the Examiner reported on the visit to Peterborough of Mr. Will H. Crowe, a former townsman who had taken up residence in the area of South Africa.  Crowe reported that, yes, “[t]imes are dull there at present,” but that state of affairs would not last.  Little more than six months later, Canada would be embroiled in the Second Boer War — no doubt we will hear about that as this series moves into the twentieth century!


Peterborough Examiner, April 5th, 1899.


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