This Week In Peterborough: 1909


Delegates to the 1909 meeting of the International Council of Women, while on a visit to Montreal. (Image Source)

As spring turned into summer in 1909, we look upon the Peterborough newspapers and find… well, not much, really, at least compared to some years!  It was a fairly quiet time in the city.  “Not much,” however, is not the same as “nothing,” so read on for trips to the movies, the immigration debate, a landmark meeting in Toronto, and even (perhaps) talking to Martians…

On the international scene in mid-June of 1909, most of the attention was being paid to a diplomatic meeting in Finland between the monarchs of Russia and Germany.  During the talks, a passing British steamship wandered a little bit too close and was fired upon by a Russian cruiser.  No one was hurt, and although the June 17th Peterborough Examiner warned of “international complications,” things were quickly smoothed over.

Peterborians, meanwhile, were eagerly anticipating an ambitious early attempt at space exploration — or at least space communication.  A certain Professor Todd, of Amherst College in Massachusetts, was proposing an ascent in a balloon (piloted by the famous balloonist A. Leo Stevens) to take a wireless set to an altitude of 10 miles.  From there, it was hoped, communication could be established with Mars, without the Earth’s atmosphere rebounding the Martians’ messages into space.  The June 15th Examiner explained the problem:

“Out there, beyond this air cushion, there may be a veritable clamour of messages from Mars.  For centuries these messages have been beating against this cushion… In vain the Martians may have strengthened their wireless message machines…  Each time their messages have been unanswered because the earth’s cushion of air has kept them from us.”

Sadly, if Professor Todd’s ascent ever did occur, the Martians remained silent.


Postcard in honour of the 1909 ICW meeting. (Image Source)

The big national news in June of 1909, and it was big news indeed, was that Canada was hosting the quinquennial meeting of the International Council of Women — the first international organization devoted to women’s rights.  The ICW was also worked as an environmental and anti-war organization, and among the resolutions made by the international delegates at the 1909 meeting in Toronto:

“…to secure the inclusion of women on all… authorities or special commissions dealing with public work.

…to promote the use of such text-books and reading-books in schools as will present historical facts with the least possible bias, and to endeavour to arouse a living interest in the modern methods of peaceably settling international difficulties.

…to consider what action can be taken to discourage the destruction of harmless and beautiful birds… and to develop a healthier public sentiment in regard to those wanton forms of sport which involve cruelty to birds or other animals, and needless wastage of life.”

You can read the full program for the meeting here.  The Peterborough Examiner, on June 15th, declared that the ICW meeting “will be well worthy of the attention it will draw; and the fact that it is held under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Canada, is a practical recognition of the admission of Canada to the sisterhood of nations.”  On the other hand, the newspaper also sought to reassure any worried readers that the ICW was entirely free of “the rabid intensity of the extravagant suffragettes.”

Elsewhere in Canada, there was not a whole lot going on politically, with a simmering dispute about immigration being the biggest item on the political agenda.  The Canadian government had recently put in place some fairly strict new regulations, requiring prospective immigrants to have either guaranteed employment or a certain amount of money.  These rules were aimed squarely at immigrants from Britain, as the June 17th Examiner explained: “…if British magistrates and philanthropic societies try to unload their feeble and criminal classes on us, we certainly do not want them…”


Hazelbrae, Peterborough, in 1913. (Image Source)

This may seem a tad hypocritical coming from a Peterborough newspaper, given the prominent position in town of the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home for destitute young women from Britain.  However, the articles in the various newspapers make it fairly clear that adult immigration was at the heart of the issue — poor homeless children were still to be taken in in the name of charity.  In any case, British authorities were less than pleased with the new rules, and were warning that “instead of Canada remaining a British country the time will soon come when the majority of [Canadians] will be of foreign birth or descent, and that the Dominion will actually become Americanized” (Peterborough Examiner, June 17th, 1909).  Canadian newspapers did not seem particularly worried.


Peterborough Review, June 16, 1909.

Apart from that debate, most of the activities in Peterborough had to do with the imminent beginning of summer.  On the 15th of June, the fishing on the river and Little Lake began, and the next day’s Peterborough Review described the scene:

“Some good catches were made but the fish were not nearly as numerous as the canoes or if they were they were not in a biting mood.  Some wild rumors are going around the city, concerning the big catches made and the tales of the heavy ones landed place some of them in the 20 pound division.”

The June 18th Review also noted that the Peterborough Normal School had just finished first year of classes, and the students and teachers were celebrating by making an expedition to Stony Lake.


Peterborough Examiner, June 17th, 1909. (Click to see larger version)

Peterborians who were not in their canoes at this time in 1909 could take in a movie or four, all for the price of a nickel!  The city now had several “theatoriums” and the June 16th Examiner spoke glowingly of the opportunities for cinematic entertainment:

“The theatres are conveniently situated, well looked after, and so conducted that they are places of thorough enjoyment to all who patronize them.  The pictures shown by the local houses are clean, entertaining and instructive.  Nothing that could offend the most fastidious mind is displayed and the quality of the entertainment given is so high that the theatres are patronized very largely by the ladies of the city.  The moving picture theatre has solve a great problem in providing cheap and beneficial entertainment for the great mass of citizens and as long as the theatoriums are as excellently conducted as they are at present, will be popular with everyone.”

We will take a closer look, sometime in the next week, at exactly what was on offer for movie-goers in June of 1909, but the newspaper ad to the left should give you a bit of an idea!

And that was about it for mid-June, 106 years ago.  Next time out, we will check in with late June of 1910, and a milestone here at the blog!

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