This Week in Peterborough: 1953

catpole

Cat!  (Peterborough Examiner, April 20th, 1953)

History repeats itself!  In February of 2014, Peterborians were transfixed for a few days by the story of a cat that had gotten itself to the very top of a hydro pole and seemed unwilling to come down.  It was not the first time this had happened; 63 years ago this week, residents of our fair city opened their newspapers to see news of… a cat that had gotten itself to the very top of a hydro pole and seemed unwilling to come down.  That was not all that was catching the public attention, of course, so read on for labour strife in Peterborough, promising developments abroad, and of course what happened to the cat up the pole!

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The Quaker Oats picket line on the Hunter Street Bridge. (Peterborough Examiner, April 22nd, 1953)

Exciting though it may have been, the cat on its high-altitude perch was far from the biggest story in Peterborough this week in 1953.  On Sunday April 19th the members of Local 293, United Packinghouse Workers of America (CIO-CCL), which represented production employees at the Quaker Oats plant, voted 96% in favour of giving their leadership a strike mandate.  While the next day’s Peterborough Examiner noted that the vote “does not automatically mean a strike at the plant,” the picket lines went up nonetheless and production ceased at Quaker Oats at 10:00 on the morning of Wednesday the 22nd.  “I think it’s going to be a quiet strike,” said UPWA representative and Peterborough Alderman William Beggs to the Examiner the next day, although he conceded that “it may be long drawn-out.”

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Peterborough Examiner, April 22nd, 1953.

The Quaker Oats workers had three basic demands.  They wanted a ten-percent increase in wages, to $1.395/hour, which would bring them into line with what was being paid to Maple Leaf and Robin Hood workers in Port Colborne.  The workers also wanted the work week reduced from 44 hours to 40, and finally they wanted those forty hours to occur between Monday and Friday with no swing shifts.  The company, on the other hand, was willing to go along with 40 hours per week but wanted swing shifts and and a Monday to Saturday schedule.  Furthermore, the company was offering only $1.335 per hour as a wage.  “This strike has been brewing for the last five years,” said Beggs, and as the week ended there was no sign that it would be over soon — a negotiation meeting on the 27th ended in a stalemate, and the picket lines stayed up.  We shall revisit this story anon.

Strife there may have been in Peterborough, but this was a time of some optimism for the prospects of international peace.  Iosef Stalin had died a month and a half earlier, and there was much hope that new leadership in the Soviet Union would lead to a lessening of Cold War tensions.  On April 16th, newly-elected U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous “Chance for Peace” speech, in which he railed against the arms race.  Said the Examiner in an April 18th editorial about the speech:

“President Eisenhower’s speech… had a nobility of phrase and purpose which scoffers can deny only be demeaning themselves and their own intentions.”

However, on a chillingly ironic note, the April 18th newspaper also included a story that began as follows:

“Twenty-two hundred U.S. marines crouching in trenches today witnessed the most spectacular atomic blast of the spring series — a shot that flashed blinding white then turned a beautiful rose orange during an unusually long-linger afterglow.”

U.S. military spokesmen refused to say how close the marines were to the bomb test, which took place in Nevada, but did note that there had not been any casualties.  The glow from the blast was visible 250 miles away in Los Angeles.

griffiths

Pte. Griffiths. (Peterborough Examiner, April 21st, 1953)

That aside, there was good news from the Korean War.  That conflict was coming to, if not an end, at least a temporary cessation that more or less continues to today (the armistice would signed in July of 1953).  Peace negotiations were far enough along that prisoners of war were starting to be released by both sides, and that process led to some good news for a Peterborough-area family.  As the April 21st Examiner reported, A newly-released Canadian soldier revealed that Private George Griffiths, from Orland (near Brighton, about 50 miles southeast of Peterborough), was alive and in captivity; he had been reported Missing in Action in 1952.  However, the same day’s paper did find one small fly in the ointment; an editorial fretted that “not all of [the released Allied soldiers] seemed as overjoyed at their return as one might have expected,” and worried that China was doing a better job of indoctrinating POWs than were the western powers.

Back in Peterborough itself, the strike (and the cat — we’re getting to her) dominated the headlines, but there were a few other items of note as well.  Mayor H.F. Waddell was heading out of town — he was off to England to represent Peterborough at the June 2nd Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (the April 20th newspaper mentioned that a going-away party was to be held for the Mayor on the 28th).  And the Outboard Marine Company, whose factory was on Monaghan Road in the building now occupied by the Canadian Canoe Museum, was celebrating its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner at a local club on May 5th.  The guest speaker for this event was to be a big one; Minister of External Affairs (and future Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Prime Minister) Lester Pearson would do the honours.

As for sports, the hockey season was over, and the summer sports were revving into gear.  The week’s newspapers contained various reports on the preparations of the city’s Senior baseball, soccer, and lacrosse teams for action.  This was something of a golden age for Peterborough’s lacrosse fans, as the Peterborough Timbermen came into the season having won the Mann Cup, the prize given to Canada’s national Senior lacrosse champions, in both 1951 and 1952.  They would extend their run to three by taking the 1953 championship, and cap it off with a fourth straight title in 1954.

And, the cat!  I am pleased to report a happy if somewhat hair-raising ending to that story, after the cat had spent several days atop the pole.  From the April 20th Peterborough Examiner:

“Finally Saturday night a Utilities employees, Murray Todd, had to help her out.  He battled the cat amid the high tension wires, hoping to carry her down, but after a claw slashed through his rubber gloves, Todd had to drop the cat.  She flew through the air and landed on her feet.  After a few seconds she ran off home.”

The adventuresome feline’s 2014 imitator also achieved terra firma safely, although without human aid in that case.

And that will be enough for 1952, I think.  Next week, we shall look at late April of 1953, but until then you can also get caught up on what was happening around here at this time of year in 1901.  Thank you for reading!

quakeroats

The Quaker Oats plant in April of 2016.  (photo by Patrick Conway)

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