This Week in Peterborough: 1907


A 1906 Ford Model F autmobile, containing Henry and Edsel Ford. Just such a car was (probably) making its debut on the streets of Peterborough in June of 1907. (Image Source)

June of 1907 saw the summer season about to swing into gear in Peterborough.  Despite the pleasant weather, the news was somewhat mixed — cheerful in some quarters, and not so much elsewhere.  Read on, for “A Pathetic Death,” a whole lot of silver, the garbage question, and other items!

As far as international news was concerned, Peterborian eyes were fixed on a peculiar story from the United States.  This tale was not a huge item in and of itself, but a local connection meant a great deal of interest in our city.  A certain Dr. Robert E. Campbell had died in his room at a hotel in Buffalo, where he been living for some time as a recluse.  Doctor Campbell passed away “with only a bell boy at his bedside,” reported the June 1st Peterborough Examiner, but he had been a famous man not so long before, married to an heiress named Helen Thornton and enjoying a lucrative medical practice.  The same newspaper article described his former offices:

“Dr. Campbell practiced his profession in quarters such as no other physician in Buffalo, before or after, has been able to boast of.  His offices, separate from the household rooms, consisted of five expensively furnished apartments.  There was a first reception room, then a boudoir for women patients, with a maid in attendance.”

That boudoir turned out to be problematic, and Dr. Campbell was sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery.  After the breakup of his marriage he retreated into obscurity, as noted, at the Park Saloon Hotel in Buffalo.


Peterborough Examiner, June 1st, 1907.

As for the local connection, Dr. Campbell was a native of North Monaghan, and still had numerous relatives around Peterborough County.  Despite his apparent annual visits, the Examiner stated that his life post-Peterborough was “more or less a mystery to those left behind,” but he nonetheless bequeathed some money in his will to a brother who lived on a small farm in Douro.  “There is nothing,” wrote the newspaper, “in the comfortable and hospitable but unostentatious farmhouse and its surroundings to suggest a connection with the most famous doctor the city of Buffalo has ever known.”

In Canada, meanwhile, attention was focused on northern Ontario, and the mining centre of Cobalt.  The town was brand-new, incorporated only a year previously, but it was already one of the world’s top silver-mining sites.  The June 1st Examiner described the “unprecedented rush of prospectors, capitalists, labourers, soldiers of fortune and men of every calling” to the area.  On June 4th, the newspaper went even further, comparing the new town, literally, to Heaven in a report on a visit by some Peterborians to one of Cobalt’s mines:

“To walk along a vein of silver, extending 1,500 feet, is by no means an everyday experience.  In fact, it is generally supposed that mankind enjoys riches in that measure only when he will have passed from this troublesome sphere to Kingdom Come, where, we are told, the streets are paved with silver and gold.”


Cobalt, Ontario, looking every bit the hastily-constructed boom town, in about 1907. (Image Source)

Staying with the religious theme, the Examiner also noted that Cobalt’s church had needed to be moved to allow miners to get at one of the veins of silver.

The other bit of national news in the papers was of the ominous variety: there were serious outbreaks of smallpox in at least two different parts of Ontario (near Sarnia, and further off to the East).  Ignorance was making matters worse — On June 1st, the Examiner quoted a Provincial Health Inspector lamenting that “[m]en actually sick with the dread disease, were at work in the fields and did not know what their trouble was.”  Peterborough itself had not seen a smallpox outbreak since 1883, and even that had involved only a small handful of cases.  Fortunately, any local worries about the 1907 epidemic making its way to the city proved unfounded.

The early twentieth century in Peterborough was clearly a time of immense growth (if not to a Cobaltian extent), as the city became a manufacturing centre of some note.  The June 5th Peterborough Review proudly announced that the city now ranked seventh in all of Canada in that sector — “[o]nly Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and London lead [Peterborough] in point of value,” declared the newspaper.  However, with that sort of growth came added responsibilities for the city, and in early June of 1907, the main issue confronting residents was garbage collection.  A proposed bylaw would see homeowners and businesses charged the princely sum of 15 cents a month for weekly curbside collection.  One Peterborian, whose letter was printed in the June 1st Examiner, even put forward the now-familiar notion of separating the garbage for possible recycling:

“It would be an advantage to have householders provide two receptacles, one for garbage that can be disposed of for feeding purposes, including kitchen refuse and decomposable matter; the other for ashes, general refuse, etc.”

Quite apart from its obvious benefits in terms of public health, regular garbage collection would reduce the risk of fire in the city.  In a Review editorial on June 5th, the newspaper declared it “satisfactory to learn that the civic authorities will put a stop to the dangerous practice of burning rubbish near business premises.  It is a practice which should have been checked long ago.”

However, despite the enthusiasm of the newspapers and the letter-writer quoted above, the garbage bylaw did not meet with universal approval.  Some felt in unfair that all — businesses and residents, rich and poor — were to be charged the same fee, with a few even arguing that it was wrong to charge any money at all.  In the end, the City Council deferred the issue to a plebiscite to held as part of the municipal elections at the end of the year.


Peterborough Examiner, June 5, 1907.

As we discussed last week, automobiles had appeared in Peterborough by this time, and 1907 saw their number increasing.  However, cars were still not so common that the arrival of a new one could be ignored by the newspapers.  On June 5th, the Examiner mentioned that a Mr. Neil Cameron, of the Ontario Wind Engine and Pump Company, had acquired “a Ford, twelve horse-power, two-cylinder engine” vehicle and had brought it up from Toronto.  Mr. Cameron intended to use his new purchase “largely for pleasure excursions, though he may occasionally use it on some of his short business trips.”  There was no word, unfortunately, on the exact type of car it was, although given the specifications there is a decent chance that it was a Model F, as pictured at the top of this post.

And new buildings were going up in downtown Peterborough!  The June 1st Examiner announced the imminent construction of “a three story brick building, 50 feet by 68 feet, on Simcoe street,” to be occupied partially by the Adamson and Dobbin hardware store.  The building would be, said the newspaper, “a handsome and substantial structure… [and] a credit to the mercantile section of the city.”  The building still stands today, just west of George Street, with the Adamson and Dobbin sign also still visible on the west side of it:


The Adamson & Dobbin, and its sign, as seen in 2015. (photos by Patrick Conway)

Finally, summertime was indeed approaching in Peterborough, and residents were eagerly awaiting the June 4th opening of Jackson Park for the season.  The previous day’s Examiner declared the park to be “Peterborough’s Coney Island,” and promised that “a five cent theatre, a shooting gallery, ‘Ocean Wave’ machine, moving pictures, photographing machine, automatic vaudeville theatre, [and] a miniature railway” would be among the attractions.  The Review, meanwhile, reminded Peterborians that the Quaker soccer team was once again in the championship running, describing a June 5th game against Omemee as “stubbornly contested, and… exciting from a spectator’s point of view” (the final score, incidentally, was 1-1.).

And that was about it for early June of 1907!  Next time, we’ll take a look at what was going on a bit later in the month in 1908.


Jackson Park in 1907 — not, obviously, the bit with all the listed amusements! (Image Source)


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