We have arrived at the week of the July 1st holiday, and I think it is fair to say that we would expect reports of fireworks, parades, speeches, and general merrymaking. Which makes it somewhat odd, when we look at Dominion Day in 1911, to find very little of the sort. What was going on in Peterborough, that its inhabitants would pass up the opportunity to celebrate the nation’s big day in style? Read on for the answer to that question, some election talk, gunboat diplomacy, and other things…
One of the reasons why July 1st of 1911 was celebrated in such a low-key fashion may have been that Peterborians were still recovering from a previous large party. On June 22nd, King George V had been crowned at Westminster Abbey (Edward VII had died on May 6th), and that, as you can imagine, was huge news in Peterborough. A week or so later, city residents were looking forward to seeing footage of the coronation — in fact, the appropriately named Royal Theatre was featuring a film devoted entirely to the preparations for the ceremony:
Coronation hangovers aside, however, the main problem with Dominion Day in 1911 was that it was just too hot. “The temperatures recorded at different points are the highest in years,” recorded the July 3rd Examiner, which attributed a number of deaths in Ontario and the northeastern United States to the heatwave. And so it was no surprise that keeping cool, or trying to, was the main activity for Peterborians on the day. Again from the July 3rd Examiner:
“Peterborough spent Dominion Day in a vain effort to escape the sweltering heat. Naturally the Otonabee River came into mind… and probably there were never so many people down the river on one day before… Thousands… went down in canoes, skiffs, and launches, in fact in almost anything that would float, and every little grove for miles on each side of the river had its group of picnic parties. There was absolutely nothing in the way of entertainment in the city itself…”
That last statement was not quite true, of course. Despite the heat, the Roman Catholic Diocese hosted a well-attended athletics tournament and picnic, with events for participants of all ages. The newspapers also reported Peterborians escaping in large numbers to Stoney Lake, or to Toronto to take in some lacrosse or baseball.
Besides the celebrations, there was a lot to talk about in Canada in the early summer of 1911. Although no official word had come yet, a federal election was widely expected for later in the year, and it was destined to be a fierce one. There were two major issues dividing Canadians, the first of them being the situation of Canada’s fledgling Navy (the new monarch would officially christen it the Royal Canadian Navy on August 29th, 1911). Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal government, had, in 1910, passed legislation to create the fleet as an alternative to contributing large amounts of money to the Royal Navy’s ship-building projects. The compromise please nobody. English Canadians saw it as evidence of insufficient loyalty to the Mother Country, while French Canadians objected to the fact that the new force could be placed under British control should the need arise.
The other big election issue, and it was the one getting the most ink in the press in early July, was the familiar one of free trade with the United States. As in previous election campaigns, the Liberal Party supported free trade as having vast economic benefits for Canada, while the Conservatives opposed it on the grounds that such “continentalism” was a likely precursor to the annexation of Canada by the Americans. The Peterborough Review, which as always firmly backed the Conservative position, summed up the anti-continentalist viewpoint succinctly in a June 28th editorial:
“The contiguity of the two peoples constitutes a menace to Canadian national life, but not to the United States. Canadian safety lies in the British connection; for once loose from that firm anchor we would ultimately drift to what even now would appear to be our natural destiny — geographically.”
The election was duly called, and voters went to the polls in September of 1911. When all was tallied up, Laurier’s Liberals had been swept away after 15 years in power, replaced by the Conservatives under Robert Borden. While Borden was unable to reverse course on the question of the Navy (his legislative attempt to do so died in the Senate), he was able to put free trade on the back political burner, where it would remain for quite some time.
Internationally, the big story this week 104 years ago was developing on the Atlantic Coast of Africa — in Morocco, specifically. A rebellion against the country’s Sultan had prompted France to send troops to help suppress the rebellion. This move alarmed the Germans, who saw it — correctly, as things turned out — as a French attempt to gain control over the country. “She Wants Her Share,” declared the Examiner on July 3rd, as the headline to a story about the arrival of the German naval vessel Panther at the port of Agadir. Britain, through alliance with France, was reluctantly drawn into what became known as the “Agadir Crisis,” and for awhile things looked quite precarious. However, calmer heads prevailed, and the matter would be settled at least temporarily through negotiation (the main result was that Morocco became a protectorate of France).
Back in Peterborough, meanwhile, there was one more bit of celebration that bears mentioning. On June 29th, the cornerstone of the new Murray Street Baptist Church was laid, and on hand for the ceremony was a truly Big Name from England, in the person of the Rev. Dr. John Clifford. In addition to being a Baptist minister, Clifford was a politician, and he was among the pioneers of passive resistance as a political tool — in that regard, he would later be cited as an influence by no less a figure than Gandhi. While in Peterborough, Clifford was invited to give a talk at the Opera House, which he did on the evening of the 29th. The speech, which was very well-received by those who heard it, was entitled “Social Evolution in Britain,” but Clifford closed with some advice for the youth of Canada (as reported in the next day’s Examiner):
“‘…it is necessary that you should have a large heart, live nobly, live high, get into parliament if you can, get into the Council if your fellowmen so desire, and by all means gird on your sword of righteous judgement, conquer and overcome those difficulties which will constantly beset your path, endeavour to infuse the self same spirit into your fellow men, and by a centralization and concentration of united effort, endeavour to advance this new era of social evolution.’ (Applause)”
On that note, we will finish off! Next time, of course, we look at early July of 1912, but in the meantime, here is the post from this time last year, when we checked in with the very beginning of the month in 1859!