This Week in Peterborough: 1949


Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent officially welcomes Newfoundland as the tenth province of Canada, April 1st, 1949. (Image Source)

So many things to cover — late March of 1949 was an interesting time for Peterborough’s readers of the newspaper.  Without further ado, then, read on for international alliances, a whole new province for Canada, margarine, squirrel soup, and any number of other interesting items!

We will start, as usual, with international news, which this week in 1949 saw a new phase of the Cold War open up.  This was the signing, by a number of countries including Canada, of the North Atlantic Treaty, which created the organization now known as NATO.  The Peterborough Examiner was generally positive about the new alliance: “Canadians can be thankful that the Treaty is now in form and will shortly become effective,” wrote the newspaper in a March 22nd editorial.  However, the editorialist also warned that NATO membership should not be used as an excuse to interfere in other member’s internal politics.

And it was a momentous time in Canada itself, as well — this week, 67 years ago, would be the last in which this was a country of two territories and nine provinces.  As we noted last time, Newfoundlanders had recently voted in a two referenda on the subject of confederation with Canada, and had approved it in the end.  On March 31st, 1949, the region officially joined Canada as a tenth province.  On that day, the Peterborough Examiner sought out some local folks who had relocated from Newfoundland, and asked their opinions of the merger.  As the paper reported, the response was a positive one:

“Interviewed individually, they all agree that the union is a step forward, intimately beneficial to both Canada and Newfoundland which with the dawning of April 1st, will be as Canadian as Ontario.”


1949 Canada Packers ad for Margene-brand margarine. (Image Source)

The Ontario Legislature, meanwhile, was busy passing a number of laws about margarine.  The oil-based spread had actually been banned in Canada by the federal government earlier in 1949, in order to protect the dairy industry, but the Supreme Court threw out the act on the grounds that it fell under provincial jurisdiction.  And so, as the Examiner reported on March 24th, Ontario’s Ministry of Welfare drafted some new rules.  Margarine would be legal, but had to be ivory-coloured to differentiate it from butter (this law would be in place until the mid-1990s, in fact).  Furthermore, restaurants that served margarine had to advertise the fact.  The tale of margarine in Canada is actually an interesting one, but too long to delve into here; I refer you instead to this 2008 CBC article, which contains among other things the story of the connection between margarine and the union of Canada and Newfoundland.

In Peterborough — city and region — it was an odd sort of news week.  The oddness began when a local woman, Mrs. Beverly Crerar, heard a programme on the CBC about racial discrimination.  Her interest piqued, and having heard rumours that a Peterborough by-law prohibited people of colour (specifically black people) from spending more than 24 hours at a stretch within city limits, she phoned the police to discover if those rumours were true.  According to the police, there was indeed such a law on the books, and Mrs. Crerar promptly wrote a letter that was printed in the March 21st Examiner.  An excerpt:

“I wonder how many of us who live here know about this?  For a city that prides itself on being many things that it should be, it appears to me it is falling very short of impartial and just by-laws.  Why doesn’t Peterborough begin to treat people as equals, instead of just thinking they do?”

The very next day, as reported in the Examiner, the police issued a statement to the effect that the answer to Mrs. Crerar’s question about the by-law had been “given in error,” and that there was in fact no such law at all.  In this, the City Clerk backed them up, stating: “there is no such bylaw and never has been in either the city or county of Peterborough.”  Left unexplained was why, exactly, Mrs. Crerar had been told the opposite.


Peterborough Examiner, March 22nd, 1949.

Meanwhile, north of Peterborough just across the border in Hastings County, a major child welfare scandal had been uncovered.  As the March 22nd Examiner reported:

“Five small children, all under the age of seven, have been living in appalling squalor, with practically no clothing and very little food in a backwoods shack in Mayo township… since February 1st.”

The problem had begun when Mr. Allen Turncliffe took his wife to the hospital in Belleville to give birth to the couple’s sixth child in early February (Mrs. Turncliffe, incidentally, was all of 25 years old at the time).  The Turncliffes left their children in the care of Mrs. Turncliffe’s brother, William Landry, who lived in the aforementioned shack in the woods.  Uncle William did his best, but he was ill-equipped for babysitting.  The children, when the authorities stepped in, were sleeping in in the shack’s attic, “with only a part of one blanket, two old coats and some rags serving as bedclothing.”  As for food, Uncle William hunted rabbits and squirrels, and police found some flour and potatoes in the hovel.  And that is how they had all been living for the previous six weeks (it was never satisfactorily explained why the parents had stayed away for so long, although complications in the birth of the new baby is a plausible explanation).

Mr. Turncliffe was arrested in Belleville and charged with failure to provide support — he had been back to Mayo only once during the six weeks, to collect the family allowance cheque (none of which he saw fit to share with his brother-in-law for the upkeep of the children).  Mrs. Turncliffe was discovered convalescing with the newborn, also in Belleville, and was not charged.  The youngsters, meanwhile, were taken to hospital for a checkup and a thorough bath before being turned over to the care of the Children’s Aid Society.

We must, however, give some credit to Uncle William, who was also not charged with any crime.  Apart from a case of impetigo afflicting one of them, the children were in decent health despite the rudimentary living conditions.  And contrary to the newspaper’s report about “very little food,” none of them were found to be at all malnourished.  Indeed, the eldest child, seven-year-old Carol, was quoted in the March 23rd Examiner stating that her uncle made a pretty good squirrel soup, although she also expressed no desire to return to the shack.


George Newcombe, c. 1929. (Image Source)

Back in Peterborough, a major local figure had passed away.  George N. Newcombe had been the Liberal MP for Peterborough West in the early 1920s, and held the distinction of being the city’s first ever federal cabinet minister (he was Minister of Immigration and Colonization for a few months in 1925).  The Examiner‘s March 23rd obituary of him painted an interesting picture; “neither friend nor enemy will quickly forget him,” quoth the article, which went on to say:

“…he was a kindly man in his private life, but in public controversy he spared no one; a principle was always more to him than a man, and it must be said that he loved controversy for its own sake; the heat of battle was his native element.”

On the sports side of things, 1949 was a big year for local hockey fans, as the Peterborough Legionnaires were a force to be reckoned with on the Senior ‘B’ side of things.  In late March, they were in the process of dismantling the Kingston Nylons in the provincial semi-finals.  Already up one game to zero in the best-of-five series, the Legionnaires won the second match on March 21st by 13-2 (“It was a fine bit of work by the squad” under-stated Examiner sports-writer Cec Perdue the next day) before completing the sweep a few days later.  In mid-April, against the Sarnia Sailors, the Peterborough side would win the provincial crown, the city’s last in Senior hockey.

This has already been a long edition of this series, so we’ll call a halt to 1949 at this point.  Next week, it will be late March and early April of 1950, but in the meantime, do check up on what was happening in Peterborough and elsewhere at this time in 1897.  Thank you for reading!


As a child, I listened to a lot of Spike Jones and his City Slickers, so I was a bit tickled to see this ad in the Examiner for March 22nd, 1949!

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