This Week in Peterborough: 1921


St. John’s Anglican Church, Lakefield — site of the funeral of a famous local figure in September of 1921. (Image Source)

The years roll by in this series, and so we have arrived at mid-September of 1921.  In this post, we find the residents of our city beginning to step away from the horrors and sadnesses of the First World War, but not without some backward glances nonetheless… Read on, then, for a notable funeral, the first stirrings of an election campaign, tragedy in Tinseltown (and near-tragedy in Campbellford), and other things.


Virginia Rappe. (Image Source)

For evidence that the Great War was now a thing of the past in the minds of many Peterborians, we have the fact that in early September of 1921, the major foreign news story had to do not with precarious situations overseas, but with a scandal in Hollywood.  The situation making headlines concerned the death of young actress Virginia Rappe, and the subsequent arrest, and trial on charges of rape and manslaughter, of major film comedy star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.  I will spare you the details of the crime — they do not make for pleasant reading — but this week 94 years ago the Grand Jury phase of Arbuckle’s trial was just beginning.  In the end, he would be tried three times, resulting in two hung juries and finally an acquittal.  The scandal, however, more or less cost him his career.


Peterborough Examiner, September 10th, 1921.

There was a federal election coming in Canada, and it would turn out to be a big one.  However, that affair did not take place until early December, and in our time period of interest the campaign was not yet in full cry in the Peterborough area.  There were a few bit of news however, including the story that Mrs. H.S. Laws would be a candidate for the Progressive Party in the riding of Haldimand, south of Hamilton, thus becoming the first woman to contest a Canadian parliamentary seat.  So, at least, reported the September 10th Peterborough Examiner, which noted approvingly that “[Laws] is a good politic speaker, with a knack for making bulls’ eyes.”

The Examiner was a little bit premature with this announcement; Mrs. Laws did not end up running in the election (The Progressives in Haldimand were represented by Samuel Adam Beck, who lost to the Conservative candidate).  However, the 1921 federal election would see the first female candidates for the Canadian Parliament.  Five women stood for election, and one of them, Agnes MacPhail in the Ontario riding of Grey Southeast, won her seat to become the nation’s first female MP.

The election would also end the ten-year reign of the Conservative Party, as the Liberals, under William Lyon Mackenzie King, won a slim majority government in the early December vote.  The Progressive Party finished second, while out-going Prime Minster Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives fell to third.  Peterborough County would elect one Liberal (George Gordon in the West riding) and one Progressive (George Brethen in the East).  All that, however, was for the future.


Peterborough Examiner, September 13th, 1921.

Back to early September, and Peterborough and the surrounding area were mourning the death of a major local figure.  On Monday, September 12th, in Lakefield, there took place the funeral of Katherine Agnes Strickland Traill, who had passed away at the age of 86.  Miss Traill, who was born in Douro and lived her entire life in the Peterborough area,  was the daughter of the famous writer Catharine Parr Traill.  In a lengthy obituary on September 13th, the Examiner described Katherine Traill’s “sweetness of disposition” (inherited from her mother, according to the paper), and further noted:

“Miss Traill… was a veritable mine of information about the early days of the village [of Lakefield] and enjoyed very much telling of the early settlers and the difficulties and dangers of life in the pioneer days.”

The dangers of life in the pioneer days, particularly those related to public health, had been much on the minds of the people of Peterborough through the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In the 1882 and 1906 posts in this series, we noted civic efforts related to improving the sewage situation of the town, and this project was still ongoing in September of 1921.  Progress had been made, but many houses in the city were still not connected to the sewer system, and the local Board of Health had ordered that this problem be rectified as soon as possible.  The writers of the Examiner, too, urged prompt action on the issue in a September 13th editorial:

“Conditions that could not be avoided twenty years ago are, under modern circumstances, a reproach to the community, and no one who has the interest of the city at heart can fail to endorse the beginning of what appears to be a business-like effort to grapple with the problem.”


South-western Peterborough from air, in the early 1920s. Note the GE plant at centre-right. (Image Source)

On the sports side of things, most of Peterborough’s attention was directed eastward towards Campbellford, where a playoff lacrosse game between that town and Oshawa had taken a turn for the serious.  “A few minutes after Campbellford scored their first goal,” reported the September 10th Examiner, “an ominous rending of timbers sounded above the cheering.”  The cause was the collapse of part of the lacrosse field’s wooden bandstand, which the newspaper described as “weather-beaten and ancient looking” and which was probably over-crowded with spectators as well.  Two brothers, aged 8 and 11, had been sitting in the shade of the structure when it collapsed, and were injured.  Somewhat miraculously, however, their injuries were not deemed terribly serious.  A collection for the two boys was immediately taken up among the other spectators, and reportedly raised “a considerable sum.”

There was little happening on Peterborough’s sports fields this week in 1921, but in the boardrooms were signs that winter was approaching.  On September 10th, the Examiner reported on the “big hockey meeting” held the previous night, to discuss the Peterborough Hockey Club and the upcoming season.  “The attendance was large, representative and enthusiastic,” reported the Examiner, which went on to state that “[a] splendid start was made and at the present time there are no signs of cross currents.”

All of those matters aside, however, the big excitement around town involved the upcoming Peterborough Industrial Exhibition, scheduled to open on September 14th.  That day’s Examiner called it “biggest fair in Peterboro’s history,” and described its displays, related obviously to local industry and commerce, as “splendid.”  Entertainment would also be on the bill, with a full range of fascinating vaudeville acts scheduled to perform:


Peterborough Examiner, September 14th, 1921.

I do have to wonder a little bit what is meant by “grotesque acrobatic novelties.”

I noted, at the beginning of this post, that World War I was now a thing of the past for Peterborians, but one should not get the idea that it was ever far from their thoughts.  Indeed, the September 14th Examiner contained the following passage, describing the planned layout of the Industrial Exhibition:

“Just inside the gate a memorial to the departed soldiers will catch the eye of every visitor.  It has the appearance of the solidity of concrete and on its broad faces are superscribed the message “Lest we Forget.”

A few days before that article, on September 10th, the Examiner had reported on an international convention of chemists being held in New York City.   The article digressed into an admonitory discussion of mustard gas, and ended with this quote by English industrialist Baron Moulton:

“Another such war as this has been would wreck all that humanity has built up through long ages past with so much toil and patience and would create a well-founded despair of any enduring future.”

On that somewhat sombre note, we will call an end to this week’s post.  Next time out, we will take a look at mid-September of 1922, and see if the Twenties had started roaring yet!

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