This Week in Peterborough: 1927


The road to what was once Peterborough County’s House of Refuge. (Image Source)

At long last, the fabled 1927 post!  Mid-fall of that year was a bit of a varied time, in terms of what was interesting Peterborians.  Feats of aviation were always big news, so we will hear a bit about an ill-fated aviatrix (but not that ill-fated aviatrix).  Also there will be news from Chicago, from Ottawa’s rugby or perhaps football field, and — on a grimmer note — from Peterborough County’s home for the elderly and indigent.  So read on!


But first, a quiz! Answers are at the end of this post. (Peterborough Examiner, October 24th, 1927)

There was not, to be honest, much going on in Canada that was particularly gripping at this moment in the year 1927, so most of the non-local news was coming in from abroad.  There was fighting in China — the very beginning of the struggle that would lead to the creation of the Peoples’ Republic of China — garnering a headline or two, although nothing beyond that.  And from the U.S.S.R., in ominous foreshadowing of Josef Stalin’s Great Purge of the late 1930s, came news of a number of “show trials” of people accused of spying for Britain.  However, in terms of media interest, those stories seem to have lagged well behind two items originating in the United States.

First of all, there was the entertaining spectacle being provided by notorious Chicago mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson.  Thompson had sought a scapegoat  to distract the voters of his city from the “moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and… dejected citizenship” (Chicago Tribune) that characterized his time as mayor, and for some reason had settled upon King George V, and upon Britain generally, for the role.  In particular, Thompson railed against works of “British propaganda” in Chicago schools and libraries, and pledged to root them out and burn them.  Declaimed the Peterborough Examiner in an October 24th editorial:

“The task of American stage comedians in trying to produce anything funnier than Mayor Thompson’s shadow warfare with His Majesty King George makes them subjects for general pity.

Chicago’s Mayor is out-burlesquing burlesque.”


Peterborough Examiner, October 24th, 1927.

Nor, as you can see from the headline above, were Chicagoans particularly inclined to go along with Thompson, particularly as many of the books against which he inveighed had been gifts from Queen Victoria to help rebuild the city’s libraries after the great fire of 1870.  Despite, or perhaps because of, support from the likes of Al Capone, Thompson would be defeated in the election of 1831.


Frances Grayson (centre) and her aircraft. (Image Source)

Elsewhere in the United States, a woman by the name of Frances Grayson was preparing to attempt to become the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean.  On October 23rd, she and her crew set out in their Sikorsky S-36 amphibious craft, The Dawn, from Maine en route for Denmark.  However, near Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, engine trouble struck, and The Dawn was forced to dump fuel and turn back towards the U.S.  It made it, but barely, as the October 24th Examiner recorded in one of its numerous stories about Grayson:

“‘Did you use any of your soup or coffee?’ Mrs. Grayson was asked.

“‘Did we?’ she chuckled.  ‘We had to pour it all into the hydraulic apparatus in order to force the landing gear down for the landing.'”

Early transatlantic aviation was a dangerous activity, and Frances Grayson’s attempts to cross the ocean in The Dawn unfortunately came to a tragic end later in 1927.  On December 23rd, Grayson once again set out across the Atlantic; however, The Dawn apparently went down somewhere near Newfoundland, and no trace of it or its crew was ever found.  Grayson Lake, in north-western Ontario north of Lake Nipigon, is named after the pioneering pilot.

Notwithstanding the perils, aviation was a popular activity in the 1920s, and Peterborians were not about to buck that trend.  The October 21st Examiner reported the founding of the Peterborough Aero Club:

“The objects of the club will be to foster an interest in flying, bring together those who were previously airmen, promote commercial navigation, and to form an air force reserve.”

For its flying stock, the club would acquire two surplus aircraft from the Department of National Defence.  “Only British subjects may belong” to the organization, noted the newspaper.

It was otherwise a sombre week in Peterborough, as residents mourned the deaths, within a few hours of each other, of three “of the city’s most widely known and honored citizens,” as the October 20th Examiner described them.  The three were George H. Duncan (Alderman from 1912-1917 and Mayor in 1918-1919), Joshua D. Collins (a resident of Peterborough since 1857), and Douglas J. Lundy (a notable longtime citizen, although he never served in municipal government).  The newspaper eulogized all three men together, saying:

“They had seen Peterborough grow from a small town to its present status as a prosperous and flourishing city and toward that growth all three had contributed in their own spheres… [A]mong older residents particularly the sense of a heavy personal loss is acute.”


Another view of the former House of Refuge. (Image Source)

And there were once again unpleasant doings on display at the Courthouse, this time involving the Superintendent of the Peterborough’s House of Refuge.  That institution had opened its doors in 1907 as a home for the elderly who had no other means of support.  Before the House of Refuge came along the practice had often been to house such individuals in the County jail; this situation, viewed by most as deplorable and barbaric, had been an issue in civic politics going back at least to the early 1880s.

The House of Refuge was an improvement, but not a perfect solution; abuses could and did still occur, as the courtroom events of this week in 1927 illustrated.  On trial was Mr. John Maize, the above-mentioned Superintendent, on charges of having struck one of the home’s inmates with a rake, blacking both her eyes and injuring one her arms.  In his defense, Mr. Maize argued that he had acted out of self-protection, and that he had used his fist, not a garden implement.  The victim, Mrs. Sabina Carberry, was described in testimony as “very vicious,” foul-mouthed, and violent.  She had, according to the October 21st Examiner:

 “…at different times threatened to burn the building down and… also chased [Mrs. Maize] from the men’s dining room, threatening to throw the hot dish water over [her].”

It was, it must be said, a sad and pathetic sort of case, made all the more so by the difficulties experienced in examining on the witness stand the House of Refuge inmates, “all of whom were elderly and more or less deaf” (Peterborough Examiner, October 21st, 1927).  On October 22nd, John Maize was found guilty of the assault, although the court reached no conclusion on whether a weapon had been used.  The judge, citing Maize’s own age (he was 60), his clean record, and the “extreme provocation” under which he had acted, forbore to jail him, assessing a $200 fine instead.  Maize was also, obviously, removed as Superintendent of the home, and the judge warned that “county officials should exercise great wisdom in choosing a man for this position” (Peterborough Examiner, October 24th, 1927).


A newspaper typo adds a bit of unintended dark humour to the sad courtroom doings. (Peterborough Examiner, October 21st, 1927)

As an interesting side-note, the Peterborough County House of Refuge eventually evolved into a more “modern,” pleasant, retirement home, in which role it remained until very recently (and which it may yet take up again).  The building itself, now known as Rosemere Manor, still stands, on Young’s Point Road near where the Otonabee River flows out of Clear Lake, and it is apparently for sale.  You can read more about the structure’s history here.

With the baseball over for the year and the hockey not yet begun, there was not too much on the local sporting scene to catch the attention this week in 1927.  However, there was some “Rugby” being played, in this case referring to the sport now known as “Canadian football.”  The October 24th Examiner carried a long report on a game between the Hamilton Tigers and the Ottawa Senators, played at old Lansdowne Park in front of 10,000 spectators including the Governor General; the visiting Tigers won it 14-7, and the newspaper described the contest as “one of the finest games of Rugby seen in Ottawa for some time.”  The Hamilton team, in the end, would go on to lose that year’s Grey Cup final to Toronto Balmy Beach.


Quiz answers — click to see larger version! (Peterborough Examiner, October 24th, 1927).

And that will do it, I think, for our look back at the autumn of 1927.  Next week, hopefully back on schedule on Wednesday, we will investigate the very end of October in 1928.  In the meantime, you can read up on this time of year’s happenings back in 1875!



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