The second week of December, 1934, saw winter arrive in Peterborough — The December 8th Peterborough Examiner noted that “the thermometer went to seven below” the previous night — and that is in degrees Fahrenheit — and that it had not made it above old-fashioned zero when the sun rose. And what were chilly Peterborians up to? Well, there was actually good news from foreign parts, famous news from Canada, and political news from the city itself to keep people occupied. Read on!
Good news from abroad? Good news from abroad indeed, in the form of a dangerous crisis defused. In October of 1934, King Alexander I of Yugoslavia had been assassinated while on a visit to the French city of Marseille. The conspirators: Croatian separatists based out of, and allegedly supported by, Hungary. The king’s murder triggered a major diplomatic tiff between Yugoslavia and Hungary. With France, furious over having been the scene of the crime, backing the Yugoslavians, and Mussolini’s Italy supporting Hungary, for awhile it looked like war in the Balkans and perhaps even beyond was a real possibility.
Fortunately, a deal was reached. Hungary was held responsible for sheltering the assassins, which satisfied the Yugoslavian government. However, the sanctions were mild — the Hungarians were required to take steps against the Croatian group, and to report to the League of Nations on what those steps had been. That was acceptable to the government in Budapest, and for the time being peace was restored. “Big Powers Happy,” ran the headline in the December 11th Examiner.
The other major point of media interest in Europe at this point in 1934 was the Saar Valley, traditionally part of Germany but administered by the League of Nations since the end of the Great War. The League mandate had been scheduled for fifteen years, to be followed by a referendum set for January of 1935 in which voters would chose between reunification with Germany, annexation by France, or continuing with the League of Nations in charge. Fears of civil unrest, including provocations by Germany’s Nazi government, during the campaigning prompted a number of countries — Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands — to send troops to the area — one of the first examples of a multinational peacekeeping force.
In any event, the Saar referendum went off without a hitch, and Saarlanders chose overwhelmingly (c. 90%) to reunite with Germany. The reunification became official on March 1st of 1935.
In Canada, meanwhile, the big story of 1934 was the birth, on May 28th, of the “Dionne quintuplets.” The five Dionne girls — the first known quintuplets to all survive infancy — were delivered by Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, who in early December found himself still a major international celebrity as a result. During this particular week he was being fêted in New York City; in an amusing turn of phrase, the December 11th Examiner noted that Dr. Dafoe had been taken to see “the undressed ladies at the Club Paradise.” In the same article, he described delivering the quints as “a bad dream” — he, and everyone else, had been under the impression that Mrs. Dionne was carrying twins.
The city of Peterborough found itself, this week back in 1934, facing something of a dilemma regarding the the ongoing economic hard times. The issue was balancing the city’s need for tax revenue while avoiding losing one of its major industrial outfits. It was a tricky compromise, and so, on December 7th, city council decided to put to a referendum the question of whether to fix the assessment of Canadian General Electric’s Peterborough operation at one million dollars for the next ten years. That dollar figure would be well below GE’s actual value, thus giving the company a break on its taxes. On the other hand, it would represent a seven-fold increase in GE’s previous assessment; during the better economic times of the 1920s, the company had paid taxes on an assessment of $150,000.
Nobody, of course, wanted General Electric to fail, or leave town, but many Peterborian ratepayers were upset at the notion of large corporations receiving any tax breaks at all during the Depression (one Peterborough alderman, speaking to the Examiner on the 8th of December, estimated that fixed assessments cost the city about $118,000 per year). A hastily-formed coalition of local tenants threatened to withhold their rents if the deal with GE was approved by the voters (only landowners were eligible to vote in municipal elections or referenda at this time). The Examiner, however, in a December 11th editorial, commented that “a jump of $850,000 in assessment in a period of depression is about as substantial a gain as fair-minded people could look for or ask.”
The referendum was set for New Year’s Day of 1935, in conjunction with the annual municipal election. And on that note, this week 80 years ago Peterborough Mayor Roland Denne announced that he would be seeking an eighth straight year in charge. While the Depression years had been tough in the city, Peterborians had not seen fit to blame any of that on Denne, and a December 11th editorial in the Examiner expressed approval of his intention to run again:
“…Peterborough has been fortunate that the depression years found such leadership available when it was most needed, and is again fortunate in the decision of his worship to give the city he loves so well and for which he has done so much the benefit of his ripe experience and sound judgment for at least another twelve months.”
Voters of the city agreed with these sentiments; on New Year’s Day they re-elected Denne with 64% of the ballots cast to 36% for his challenger, T.W.H. Young. A majority of 54% also voted in favour of the GE fixed assessment plan. However, the rules for such referenda stipulated that a two-thirds majority was required, meaning that the proposal was actually defeated by a fairly significant margin. General Electric would have to pay full taxes, but the fears that the company would move away have, obviously, proved unfounded.
Finally, hockey season in the city was finally getting started, with the junior and intermediate teams of the Peterborough Hockey Club holding their try-outs. Wrote Cec Perdue of the Examiner on December 11th, after the first scrimmages: “[d]rug stores ought to do a good business for a few days as there’ll be more stiff guys around town than you’d find in a N’Yawk morgue.” Perdue also noted that about seventy players, total, had tried out for the two teams.
That should about do for 1934 — next time out, we’ll see what was happening in mid-December of 1935, as Christmas hove into view. In the meantime, you can read up on what was going on around here at this time of year in 1882 (including a funny story about a pig)!