1905 was a momentous year in the history of Peterborough, as she prepared to be a town no longer. On May 17th, the Peterborough Review reported that a bill before the Ontario Legislature had received its third reading, “and now only awaits the assent of the Lieutenant Governor. The bill provides the Peterborough shall become a city on July 1st.” It should have been a time of celebration, but there was a political fly in the ointment…
Read on for that story, dramatic events in the Pacific, and a truly heartbreaking crime in Toronto. (I’m not kidding about the crime, by the way)
Despite impending city-hood, the front pages of the Peterborough newspapers in mid-May of 1905 were still dominated by the events of the Russo-Japanese war, now in its closing stages. On May 17th, the Peterborough Examiner reported that Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, who had led a Russian fleet all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan, was sailing into what would be the war’s climactic battle. Opposing him was the Japanese fleet under the command of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō.
As noted in the previous post, the Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for the government of Tsar Nicholas II, and by May of 1905 the Russian people were in full foment. Social-democratic revolutionaries had indeed issued a document calling on “all liberal and patriotic Russians” to hope for the destruction of the Russian fleet, and they got their wish. At the Battle of Tsushima, on the 27th and 28th of May, Rozhestvensky’s fleet was destroyed, earning Tōgō the sobriquet “the Nelson of the East” from the British press and leading to a peace treaty a few months later. In Russia, a period of political turmoil known as the Revolution of 1905 quickly followed, and that resulted in a new, less autocratic, constitution and the creation of a parliamentary body, the Duma. Nicholas, however, eased back towards more despotic government in the subsequent years, and the reforms of 1905 were not enough to stave off the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.
In Canada — Toronto to be precise — the big news involved an incident which the May 22nd Examiner described in a headline as “The Saddest Criminal Tragedy on Record,” and it was indeed a horrendous one. The crime was the murder of nine-month-old William Murray, whose body had been discovered in a culvert. Almost as shocking as the killing itself was identity of the murderer — a 13-year-old girl named Josephine Carr confessed to the crime after being confronted by the police. Apparently, Carr had been in the habit of stealing baby carriages from outside department stores, and had made off from an Eaton’s with the one in which William Murray was sleeping. Upon discovering the baby, she committed the murder and hid the body. Carr then reported the “discovery” of the body some time later, this aroused the suspicions of the police, and a confession soon followed.
I was not able to discover what became of Josephine Carr, although she was almost certainly charged with murder. Her name does not appear on a list of Canadians sentenced to death, and indeed it would have been very odd, even then, for a 13-year-old to receive the ultimate penalty in Canada. There was certainly some sympathy for her, even in the immediate wake of the crime, and not least from the father of the victim. As the May 22nd Examiner reported:
“When… the manner of the baby’s end as confessed to by the juvenile abductor, was made known to [Mr. Murray], he was silent for a time. Then he said simply, “Poor little girl,” and in his after references he showed no other spirit than one of pity for the misguided little Carr girl, whose mind, he declared himself convinced, was not wholly sound.”
A tremendously sad affair, all-round.
At home, meanwhile, Peterborians should have been preparing to celebrate taking up what the May 17th Examiner called “the dignity of cityhood.” However, the festivities had been derailed by a bizarre political dispute. It seems that Henry Best, Mayor of Peterborough, was actually opposed to the town gaining the status of city, presumably as it would incur some increased costs and responsibilities. In fact, he had argued against Peterborough’s incorporation as a city to the Provincial Government while on a trip to Toronto. Worse, the whole purpose of Best’s trip had been to lobby in favour of incorporation, and he had been accompanied by number of town councilors who had done just that.
This seeming betrayal by the Mayor was not well-received by the Peterborough council, as you can imagine, and the whole thing flared up at a meeting on the 16th of May. A certain Alderman Hall called the Mayor a coward, for not making his views known earlier, to which Best responded that Hall would be “afraid to say that outside” (Peterborough Examiner, May 17th, 1905). When the dust had settled, it was agreed that Peterborough’s celebration of incorporation, scheduled for July 1st, should be cancelled in light of the political bad feeling. The incorporation itself, however, went ahead without much more fuss, and hereafter we talk of the City of Peterborough, rather than the Town. The new ‘burg included not only the old Town of Peterborough, but also the Village of Ashburnham, which had been amalgamated in 1904.
Aside from the political wrangling, it was turning into a pretty good Spring in Peterborough. Not only was cityhood impending, celebration or no celebration, but the city was looking forward to a new Opera House, which would open on George St. later on that year. And the city’s YMCA was opening its first dormitory. The frantic preparations for this latter event were described in somewhat jocular tones in the May 17th Examiner:
“To the average masculine mind, nothing probably, affords more terror than the annual housecleaning operations, yet a look-in at the Dormitory Section of the Y.M.C.A. would have convinced the casual spectator that something still more strenuous was in progress… [However], this impression is not at all likely to be widely circulated by reason of the fact that there was no room for any casual observers in the whirlwind of action presented.”
And there were technological wonders to be enjoyed. On May 18th, the Examiner reported on the completion, at the Peterborough General Electric Works, of Canada’s first “turbo-generator,” a Curtis Steam Turbine destined for a power company in Montreal. Peterborough’s telephone system was getting an upgrade too, in the form of what the May 16th Review described as a “Lorimer automatic system of telephony” — an automatic switchboard, in other words. The newspaper took a balanced view of the new installation, noting that “the machine does away with the personal equation, solving all the difficulties inherent with this element,” but also warning of “an infinite number of parts presenting a wonderful opportunity for breakdown and disorder.” Peterborough seems to have had about 500 telephones operating in 1905, so some sort of improvement in the system was probably in order.
Finally, there was baseball, with the 1906 Midland League season well underway by this time. On May 20th, the Peterborough Baseball Club defeated the Toronto Sherburnes by a score of 7-4, having defeated another Toronto team, the Progressives, earlier in the week by 4-3. The May 22nd Examiner described the win over the Sherburnes as “a good exhibition of baseball… what little loose play there was being accounted for by the fact that the diamond was slow…”
Next week, we’ll look at late May of 1906!