This Week in Peterborough: 1954


Outboard motors on the new assembly lines at the Outboard Marine factory on Monaghan Road. (Peterborough Examiner, April 28th, 1954)

Late April of 1954 was a time of mixed tidings for residents of Peterborough.  The Quaker Oats workers were back on the job, the strike that we discussed last time having been settled, and the local manufacturing sector was enjoying some exciting developments.  On the other hand, Peterborough was experiencing an outbreak of heavily-armed school-children, and — much more seriously — there were very ominous doings in southeast Asia.  Read on…


Viet Minh soldiers at Dien Bien Phu. (Image Source)

“Peace in Korea is a fait accompli,” wrote the Peterborough Examiner on April 26th, but that was about the only good news on the international scene this week 62 years ago.  The Great Powers were meeting in Geneva to discuss the situation in south-east Asia, and the situation was very tenuous indeed.  While the fighting in Korea had stopped, it had sprung up over in French Indochina — a.k.a. Vietnam — where the left-wing pro-independence Việt Minh forces, under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh, were besieging a French colonial army at the fortress of Điện Biên Phủ.  The fighting there had begun in mid-March, and it would end with a decisive Việt Minh victory in early May, while the Geneva Conference was still going on.  The result of it all would be the complete withdrawal of France from Indochina, and that partition of the country in North and South Vietnam.  And it goes without saying that there was much more to come in that particular story.

As for the Geneva Conference, the April 26th Examiner spotted one problem with it right away:

“The problems before Geneva are Asian, and yet the only Asian power to be represented at the Swiss conference is Red China, which is not to have a ring-side seat.”

While the conference did achieve a temporary ceasefire in Vietnam, via the afore-mentioned partition of the country, but failed to reach any firm decision on how to re-unify Korea.

Canada was represented at the Geneva Conference, and in fact would end up as one of three nations on International Control Commission set up to monitor the peace in Vietnam.  Canada represented the western nations, while Poland did the same for the eastern bloc.  India, as a neutral country, would chair the Commission.


Peterborough Examiner, April 28th, 1954.

Apart from the diplomatic doings abroad, there was very little of newsworthy note in the Dominion this week in 1954, so back to Peterborough we go.  Here we find some disturbing news from the city’s schools, although one suspects that the public response would be a little different if such tidings arrived today.  City police, investigating a report of a broken window, discovered that a fair number of schoolboys had been making crude but functional handguns at home and bringing them to school.  Roughly a dozen of the devices were confiscated, amid concerns about the dangers they posed not only to the general public but also to their wielders.  The April 28th Examiner called the guns “the dangerous fruits of comic books, boys’ novels and movies,” and further went on:

“It might seem incredible that one of these “Toys” would be dangerous, but they have been known to kill men.  Due to their rugged design, they are just as liable to blow up and injure the person doing the shooting.”

Despite the worries, police chose to take a fairly laid-back approach with the juvenile gunsmiths.  “So far none of the boys have received more than a stern lecture,” noted the newspaper, although the possibility of criminal charges was put forward if more of the weapons were found.  Police also tracked down a local garage mechanic who had been helping the boys make their guns, and here too a mere warning was deemed sufficient.  Quoth the Examiner: “Detectives had a fatherly chat with [the mechanic], and he will not be doing any more assisting.”

In terms of non-ballistic local news, there was expansion going on at the Outboard Marine factory on Monaghan Road, with the opening of a new building containing four assembly lines for the construction of outboard motors.  The April 28th Examiner praised the facility’s “ingenious design” and further noted that “any combination of the company’s 16 types of motors can be assembled” (Outboard Marine built, among other brands, Evinrude and Johnson outboard engines).


Life, April 26th, 1954.

One of the neat things about researching a series like this one is watching new technologies — the sorts of things that are now commonplace — first appear on the scene.  On that note, also in the new Outboard Marine building was a production line for Lawn Boy lawnmowers, of which Outboard had just become the Canadian manufacturer.  Gasoline-powered rotary lawnmowers had been around since the early 1930s, but had not really become a generally-available consumer item until the 1950s, by which time advances in engine design had made them light enough to be truly practical.  And so the Examiner devoted a couple of paragraphs to describing the Lawn Boys:


Lawnmower chassis on the assembly line at Outboard. (Peterborough Examiner, April 28th, 1954)

“The main parts of Lawn-Boy are its rotary cutting blades, revolving in a horizontal plane, parallel with the ground and grass, their housing, and on top of it, the gasoline motor that supplies the power.  

That power revolves the cutting blades.  Rubber-tired ball bearing wheels, removable handle and other parts are also integral in the final stage of assembly of the finished machine.”

The Outboard Marine factory on Monaghan, including the part that opened in 1954, is now the home of the Canadian Canoe Museum.

The big sports news at this time in 1954 had to do with baseball, as the city’s Senior ballclub (the Petes, of course) was looking to enter the Toronto Viaduct League.  The hitch, as reported in the Examiner on April 27th, was that the other clubs on the circuit wanted to be reimbursed for travel to and from Peterborough (a similar demand was made of Belleville, also looking to join the league).  Particularly irritating was the fact that one of the clubs demanding payment was based in Oshawa, not so very far away.  However, “They have us over barrel” admitted one Petes executive, and the Peterborough club agreed to pay up and joined the league.  Catcher and outfielder Bill Huntley hit .418 for the Petes during the 1954 season, but the championship would go to Oshawa in the end.


Peterborough Examiner, April 27th, 1954.

And finally there was some further civic pride being taken in the hockey exploits of Peterborough-born George “Red” Sullivan.  Sullivan, whose NHL playoff debut we noted in this post, was coming off a season with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in which he recorded 119 points in 69 games, and the April 27th Examiner noted that he had been an unsurprising pick for the league’s All-Star team.  Sullivan would spend the next seven seasons in the NHL, with the Blackhawks and Rangers, and Peterborough’s main softball park now bears his name (Sullivan was also an accomplished baseball and softball player).

And that should about do it for 1954!  Next week, we will look at early May of 1955, but in the meantime you can get caught up on what was happening around Peterborough at this time of year in 1902.  Thank you for reading!

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