As hinted at in yesterday’s brief post, 1904 in Peterborough saw the final completion and grand opening of one of the city’s great claims to fame: the Peterborough Lift Lock, then and now the largest of its kind in the world. The official event took place in July, but even in mid-May of that year it, and its implications, were very much on the minds of Peterborians. So read on for that story, a nasty war in the Far East, a man whose bicycle had no bell (or did it?), and other items…
On the front page of the Peterborough newspapers this week in 1904 were the grim reports of the Russo-Japanese War, which had broken out three months prior. Negotiations between Russia and Japan over control of Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula had broken down over the winter, and on February 8th Japan launched a surprise naval attack on Port Arthur (modern Lyushunkou, China), which had been leased to Russia for use as a base for her Pacific fleet. Although the May 12th Peterborough Examiner reported that railway communications with Port Arthur had been restored, the Russian forces were reeling — the same article noted that the Japanese were preparing an attack “whose probable purpose is the cutting off of Vladivostok.”
In fact, the Russo-Japanese War would prove a catastrophe for Tsar Nicholas II and his government. Russia’s Pacific Fleet was destroyed, and a U.S.-brokered peace treaty in September of 1905 saw parts of Manchuria ceded to Japan. More seriously, the defeat further angered already restive elements of the Russian population, and represented a large step along the winding road to the Bolshevik Revolution. As a further unpleasant note, the Russo-Japanese War, in its tactics, equipment, and casualty rate, provided a first macabre look at the nature of what was to come when the First World War broke out in 1914.
Back to Peterborough, and happier tidings! The Lift-Lock was imminent, and that meant another round of discussion of the Trent-Severn Waterway project. The Waterway — designed to provide a shortcut between Georgian Bay and the St. Lawrence River, passing through Peterborough on the way — was still not complete. It was now three quarters of a century after the idea had first been proposed, and Peterborians were getting impatient, especially as the flow of goods from the western parts of Canada increased. The March 13th Examiner contained a letter to some Montreal newspapers written by a Peterborough resident named F.D. Kerr, in which he stated:
“The greatest problem that is facing the people of Canada to-day is the transportation problem, and to no portion of the Dominion is it of greater importance than to the people of Manitoba and the Northwest.”
Kerr went on to argue for forceful lobbying of the Government to complete the Waterway, citing its benefits both to Peterborough and to the shipment of goods from the West.
Not all Canadians, however, were quite as enthusiastic. The May 16th Peterborough Review, which also ran Kerr’s letter, noted that sailors working the Great Lakes shipping routes were steadfastly against anything that might threaten their livelihoods. The newspaper further mentioned that the people of Port Hope, on the shore of Lake Ontario, were arguing vociferously that the Waterway should be abandoned (that town would be completely cut off from a great deal of shipping if the Trent-Severn went as planned). The Review was dismissive of both the sailors and the people of Port Hope, even taking the opportunity to make a small pun:
“Thus peeps out as usual the Port Hope that it is to be a port of call on a route to feed New York harbor…”
For once, Peterborough’s two main newspapers, usually bitter political rivals, were in agreement on something. The May 11th Examiner, equally dismissive of the Port Hope worries, went on to mention that American flour-millers were taking a deep interest in Peterborough as a place to set up shop, and that this was causing some consternation in the halls of government south of the border. With both sides of the political divide in Peterborough united, practically everybody was hoping that the town would become a major point on a vast transcontinental shipping route.
It did not, of course, worked out as planned in the end. When the Waterway was finally completed, in 1920, railways and larger boats on the Great Lakes had already rendered it obsolete as a big-time commercial route (improved Canadian-American relations had long ago put paid to any real military benefit to the canal system, although that had been a factor when the project began in the 1830s). While some shipment of goods through it did occur, the Trent-Severn’s main purpose was, and remains, recreational.
The Lift-Lock was not the only major Peterborough project moving along in mid-May of 1904. The reviving of the town’s streetcar system was proceeding apace, and the Examiner for May 12th reported eloquently on repairs and upgrades being made to the sheds “where the electric cars have stood for years patiently awaiting the time when they would be called upon to again spin about our town…” Within a year or so, the streetcars were indeed up and running (or perhaps spinning), and they were to serve Peterborough quite admirably until replaced by buses in the late 1920s.
On the athletic side of things this week in 1904, the Peterborough Review lamented that “Old Jupiter Fluvius was not inclined to be friendly to the devotees of sport.” The rainy occasion was a May 13th Midland League baseball game between Peterborough and the Toronto Pirates. Despite the conditions, it was a good match, won 5-2 by the Peterboroughs. “A sensational feature,” wrote the newspaper, “was Whitcroft’s swipe to right field in the second, with three men on bases and one man out, which brought in [two runs] and tied the score.”
I mention the ballgame only because the Whitcroft referred to, playing second base for Peterborough that day, was very probably Fred Whitcroft, a great name in early Peterborough sports (he was born in Port Perry, but his family moved to Peterborough when he was very young). Whitcroft was a superb baseball player, as we have seen, but he was probably even better on the ice. He was one of the first Peterborians to play professional hockey, and in 1907 he helped the Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles successfully defend their title against a team from Manitoba. Fred Whitcroft was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player in 1962.
And, finally, we have an odd note from the “criminal activities” file. In the Spring of 1904, police in Peterborough were cracking down on unsafe bicycling, with fines handed out for such things as riding on the sidewalks. Operating a bike without a bell could also get you in trouble, and the May 11th Examiner described one man’s rather ingenious attempt to avoid punishment for just such a charge:
“… a man named Bell was charged with riding a wheel on which was no bell. The defendant claimed there was a Bell on the bicycle… but the Magistrate ruled that the bell must be one that would ring, and he imposed a fine of $2.00 and costs, or $4.60 altogether.”
Next week, we will look at late May of 1905!