“Every citizen of Peterborough has a natural pride in the beauty and progressiveness of the city, as every Canadian has a similar pride in the present position and promise of future greatness of the Dominion.” So wrote the Peterborough Examiner on May 26th, 1906, and indeed, that week found residents of the city in a fairly chipper mood — at least on most fronts. So read on for a holiday, a prediction of disaster, and some “big city” issues for Peterborough!
One of the reasons that Peterborians were cheerful was that they had just had a holiday. Victoria Day, at that time, was celebrated on May 24th whatever the day of the week, which meant that residents of the city in 1906 got Thursday off. As you can see from the headline above, people took the opportunity to make short trips to their cottages or to the countryside, and they also partook of activities such as golf, baseball, and letting off firecrackers in the park. “[A] number of young ladies… had their dresses badly burned, if not completely destroyed” reported the May 25th Examiner about this latter activity, although it seems that nobody was actually hurt. The newspaper went on to proclaim that “the day was one which was thoroughly enjoyed by the citizens of Peterborough, and no serious incidents are recorded to mar the pleasure of the participants in the day’s festivities.”
There was further good news on the national scene. On May 23rd, Finance Minister William S. Fielding delivered what the May 25th Examiner described as “one of the most favourable financial statements ever presented to the House of Commons.” For the ninth year in a row, the country was in the black, this time to the tune of 7.9 million dollars. Debt, both public and private, was down, trade was up, and it was, all in all “a pleasant and prosperous story,” as the newspaper described it. We do need to keep in mind that the Examiner was a staunchly Liberal paper at this time, and of course the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in power (Peterborough’s Conservative newspaper, the Review, remained silent on Fielding’s announcement). However, there was little denying that the financial picture looked very rosy indeed.
Even the news for foreign parts was less dire than it had been in previous years. The Russo-Japanese War was over, although the political unrest in Russia was still simmering. “The spirit of absolute revolution is in the air,” reported the Review on May 28th, “and a conflict between the crown and the nation now appears to be inevitable.” Such a conflict would indeed arrive, although its climax was still nearly a decade away.
There were potentially ominous tidings from the United States, however — a doomsday preacher named Lee Spangler, from York, Pennsylvania, issued a prediction that New York City — “the worst city in this world for high crimes” — would be destroyed in an earthquake. In a newspaper article that the May 26th Examiner ran in its entirely, Spangler described what would happen:
“Wall Street will be laid in the dust. Skyscrapers will settle into the earth, and fire will sweep the island of Manhattan as it swept San Francisco. The Statue of Liberty will be thrown down like the great “Colossus of Rhodes,” because it is a mockery.”
Of course, New Yorkers turned out to have little to worry about, at least as far as Spangler’s prediction was concerned. However, it is worth remembering that the San Francisco earthquake, and resultant fire, had occurred only a month previously. While that tragedy had faded from the daily Peterborough news cycle by this time, the fact that the Examiner chose to run Spangler’s entire article suggests strongly that it was still on peoples’ minds to a certain extent (the Examiner had never previously shown any real inclination towards End-Times evangelism).
Back in Peterborough, even with the holiday that week, there was a great deal going on. Among other things, the automobile had recently appeared in the city, and a certain adjustment period was underway. On May 25th, the Examiner reported the complaint of a local citizen that he had witnessed a car being driven down George St. “at a speed certainly not less than 15 miles an hour, and he thought nearer 20.” The hazards of early automobile traffic were real; the very next day’s Examiner contained news that six teams of horses had been spooked into stampeding by a car being driven “at a Barney Oldfield clip.” Although the paper reported that “[t]he men had a lively chase after their fleeing animals,” no one, human or equine, was seriously injured on this occasion.
The arrival of the automobile brought with it the need for some rethinking of the map of the city, and that too was on the agenda this week in 1906. Specifically, City Council was debating whether to extend Aylmer Street southward. At this time, there was no connection to the Southern Road (now Lansdowne Street) between Park St. and Lock St., so an Aylmer extension was a reasonable project. However, Mayor Henry Best, who had opposed the incorporation of Peterborough as a city the previous year, was against this idea as well, at least if George St. was not to be similarly extended. In the end, of course, both roads would be expanded south to meet Lansdowne.
The eyes of Peterborians were also on the state of the city’s waterways, particularly the river and Jackson Creek. A recent piece of provincial legislation had prohibited the dumping of raw sewage, wastewater, and industrial waste into rivers and streams, and the Peterborough Council was eager to get residents who were doing that to stop. A report in the May 28th Examiner noted 12 homes or businesses that were dumping into the creek, and any number that were using the Otonabee River for such purposes. Plans were afoot to get these operations hooked up to the city sewer system, with hefty fines — $100 per week was the proposed number — for non-compliance.
It was hot in Peterborough this week in 1906, which which was nice for the holiday festivities but not so much for the city’s athletes. The May 25th Examiner described a lacrosse match between the Peterborough Shamrocks and the Toronto Victorias as “somewhat listless,” saying that “the heat [told] badly upon the players” (Peterborough won, 7-1). Things were better on the soccer pitch, where the Peterborough Quakers defeated Harwood 4-0 in a game described by the May 28th Examiner as “at times rather fast and interesting.” 1906 would be a tremendous season for the Quakers, who would go on to win Midland League championships at both the Junior and Intermediate levels (in those days, “junior” and “intermediate” referred to the level of competition, rather than to the age of the players).
To end off, the quote at the very beginning of this piece is from an article about a then-elderly fellow by the name of Thomas Rountree, who had first arrived in Peterborough as a child way back in 1834. In the Examiner piece, he spoke of the city in its early days, and it is a fascinating article. Fascinating enough, in fact, that I will get the full text of it up here in due course. Next week, however, we’ll look at early June of 1907!