It was hot in July of 1912, as it had been in 1911. Once again the papers were reporting record temperatures, and the water level in the Otonabee was low enough to cause trouble for the steamships. However, for both Peterborough and the country, the heat may have been the least of the problems with the weather… Read on, for tornadoes, lightning, elections, and other stormy things!
In the early days of July, 1912, Canada was still reeling from the news of one of the young country’s worst natural disasters. On June 30th, a tornado had ripped through the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, destroying hundreds of buildings and killing 28 people. Among the houses demolished was one belonging to the Guthrie family, “late of Peterborough, Ont.” according to the July 4th Peterborough Examiner. The house was “literally crushed down within its foundations,” killing 29-year-old Etta Guthrie and seriously injuring her sister Mollie and her mother. A Mrs. Harris is also listed as having died at that address.
Saskatchewan likely would have been in the national news even without the tornado, as the storm occurred in the middle of a ferocious provincial election campaign. “Saskatchewan has had bitter campaigns, but none ever to equal the present fight,” noted the July 9th Peterborough Review, which went on to predict “whosesale arrests on election day.” Part of the problem was that the campaign was also being waged by Alberta politicians, as that province would face its own vote the subsequent year (Per the Review: “As Saskatchewan goes, so will Alberta, is the general feeling.”). Coming not long after the 1911 Canadian federal election, the Saskatchewan result would serve as a sort of straw poll on the new government of Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden, which only added to the tension.
The politics of Saskatchewan had something of a Peterborough connection, too. The recently departed leader of the provincial Conservative Party, who had resigned that year to become a judge, was Frederick W.A.G. Haultain. He was the son of Col. Frederick W. Haultain, Peterborough’s representative in the Provincial Parliament in pre-Confederation days, and whom we have already encountered in these pages.
The younger Haultain may have judged himself lucky to be out of it when election day rolled around on July 11th — the incumbent Liberal party under Thomas Walter Scott won 45 out of 53 seats, continuing a political dynasty that would last until 1929. And the Review’s prediction about the neighbouring province turned out to be correct. As Saskatchewan had gone, so subsequently went Alberta, with the Liberal Party of Arthur Sifton winning a large majority there in March of 1913.
An election campaign was also the big news internationally for readers of Peterborough newspapers in the summer of 1912. In this case it was American voters who would be going to the polls, and while the election would not be held until November, the campaign was already turning into an odd one. The Republican Party of incumbent President William Howard Taft had essentially split in two at its nomination convention. While Taft “won” the nomination, a large number of Republicans chose to support ex-President Theodore Roosevelt and his newly-founded Progressive Party. As far as observers in Canada, or at least in Peterborough, were concerned, either the Democrats or Republicans would do, as was explained in a July 5th Examiner editorial (interestingly, the paper made little mention of Roosevelt):
“Canadians have no cause to dislike President Taft; he has dealt fairly with this country in matters of diplomacy; he has been reasonable and courteous in the conduct of international negotiations; he has shown a kindly interest in the Dominion’s welfare. Canadians have every reason to expect from [Democratic Party candidate Woodrow] Wilson a like friendly appreciation, if he has the good fortune to be chosen President… We can all welcome the coming President, whether he is re-elected or merely elected.”
In any case, Wilson did indeed have “good fortune” on election day, winning the presidency resoundingly. Taft actually ended up in third place, behind the Roosevelt.
The city of Peterborough herself was free of visits by tornadoes, literal or electoral, at this time in 1912, but the weather was still causing some difficulties. With the summer heat came summer thunderstorms, and a particularly nasty one rolled through the county on the evening of July 4th, burning a number of barns and killing livestock in the countryside. The next day’s Examiner described the “several blackened heaps of smouldering ruins [that] mark the spot where the lightening had made a landing, to the elimination of the building that had dared to block its progress to earth.”
In Peterborough herself, the Children’s Shelter was the only building to suffer a direct hit in the storm. Although no serious damage was done, it proved a frightening experience for the occupants, as the Examiner vividly reported:
“The structure was filled with sulphurous fumes, and upon the lights going out, pandemonium reigned supreme. Sixteen terrified children huddled together, almost paralized [sic] with fear… The lightning entered the building by the verandah and followed the electric wiring, smashing the telephone… and disorganizing the lighting system. Fires broke out in two places, but were easily extinguished… Beyond the fright sustained by the inmates, no bad results were incurred.”
Leaving aside the lightning, there was an interesting note in the July 8th Review, one that can be filed under “Growing Pains of an Early-20th-Century City.” Peterborough’s ever-increasing population of automobiles was leading people to realize the need for actual traffic laws, as opposed to simply long-standing customs such as keeping to the right as much as possible. Left turns were becoming particularly hair-raising, as the newspaper explained:
“The custom seems to be for vehicles to cut a corner in any way that suits the driver when turning from one street into another… Every vehicle should travel on the right side, and when about to turn onto another street should keep to that side until the machine is on the same side of the street on which it is to go before making the turn.“
Perhaps not the clearest explanation, but that is pretty much what we do now, when you think about it!
And of course, there were sporting endeavours, here, there, and everywhere. The Olympic Games were going on in Sweden, although with no Peterborians taking part, the newspaper coverage was scant. The July 8th Examiner did report that “Canada’s little squad of athletes have made a most creditable showing,” noting that several Canadians had won their heats in various events, but that was about the extent of it.
Of more interest to Peterborians was the heavyweight boxing match between Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, and “Fireman” Jim Flynn, which had taken place in New Mexico on July 4th. Johnson won it in the eighth round, when local police intervened after repeated head-butts by Flynn. The July 5th Examiner described it as a “rough, bitter, fight.” Interestingly, while the Peterborough newspapers noted the racial aspect of the fight, little more was made of it than that, and all agreed that Johnson was clearly and fairly the victor in the bout.
At home, sadly, things were not so good on the athletic front, as the city’s baseball team, known variously as the “Petes” or the “White Caps”, was struggling along in last place in the Canadian League. “The Peterborough club is surely in bad shape at the present moment,” stated the July 5th Examiner, after the team had been blown out in both halves of a double-header by the league-leading Ottawa Senators.
We will end with an interesting note on the newspaper front. By the summer of 1912, Peterborians could enjoy a daily syndicated comic strip with their news, at least if they were reading the Examiner. The newspaper was running the famous strip Mutt and Jeff, by Bud Fisher, which at the time was mostly interested in Mutt’s attempts to get himself nominated as a candidate for President of the United States:
Next time, we’ll check in with mid-July of 1913! In the meantime, here is our look, from a year ago, at the early part of the month in 1860.