This Week in Peterborough: 1955

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Peterborough Examiner, May 4th, 1955.

It was hot, unseasonably so, in Peterborough when May of 1955 opened; as the Peterborough Examiner reported on May 5th, only Toronto and Hamilton surpassed our city’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit (about 29 Celsius).  And what else was hot around here?  Well, there was a provincial election to come, and Peterborians were also reading about major developments in the post-war situation in Europe.  At home, a major national award had come the way of one local figure, but on the downside, people were also starting to worry quite a lot about what would happen if one of those newfangled hydrogen bombs came Canada’s way… Read on.

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Leslie Frost. (Image Source)

Election time in Ontario!  On May 2nd, 1955, Progressive Conservative Premier Leslie Frost (later the first Chancellor of Trent University) dissolved the legislative assembly and announced a June 9th election date.  The next day’s Peterborough Examiner asserted somewhat sardonically that the omens of an impending vote had been visible in the Provincial Legislature’s recent actions:

“The signs were unmistakable: a five-year tenure of Government running out next year…; a cabinet shake-up; a spring bustle in agriculture and industry which is making everyone feel brighter…; a budget in which holes were plugged and hopes kindled…; and, finally, the special unconditional grants to every municipality in the Province.”

The May 4th Examiner went on to report that Harold R. Scott, the Progressive Conservative representative of Peterborough since 1943, would likely accept the nomination to run again, and indeed he did.

The PCs came into the 1955 Ontario election with a massive majority; they held 79 out of 90 seats at dissolution.  After the June 9th vote, their majority remained, albeit ever-so-slightly reduced.  Frost’s party was re-elected with 83 of 98 seats, and the Liberals under Farquhar Oliver made up the Official Opposition with a mere 11.  Scott was duly re-elected in Peterborough as well, although it would be his last electoral fray; he did not run in the 1959 Ontario election.

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Peterborough Examiner report on the effects of a “small” 40-kiloton atomic bomb on the city. (May 4th, 1955)

In the world at large, meanwhile, we were well into the era of the hydrogen bomb, and a terrifying thing it was, too.  On May 3rd, the Examiner ran an article on the effects of a 20-megaton H-bomb attack on Canada, one excerpt of which read:

“If a super-bomb were dropped on Hamilton and the debris were blown in a 20-mile-wide belt toward Toronto, there would be 100-percent casualties as far west [sic*] as Belleville, an air distance of 140 miles.”

It hardly needed mentioning that Peterborough would lie well within that fall-out zone.

The other big development internationally this week 61 years ago was a very big one indeed.  On May 5th, the Examiner contained the following notice:

“The Allied high commission today proclaimed an end to the 10-year occupation of West Germany… The proclamation, almost a decade to the day after Germany’s surrender May 7th, 1945, moves West Germany formally into line as a sovereign state in the Western world.”

East Germany, meanwhile, was still under the control of the Soviet Union, and would remain so until the reunification of the country in October of 1990.

Still under Allied occupation was Austria, but that situation was also coming to an end in May of 1955; the Examiner reported on May 3rd that there was “new hope that a Big Four [Britain, the U.S., France, and the U.S.S.R.] ambassadors’ meeting may reach basic agreement this week on freedom for occupied Austria.”  The treaty was duly signed on May 15th, and Austria was officially de-occupied in July of 1955.

Cairine_Wilson

Portrait of Cairine Wilson, c. 1930. (Image Source)

Back in Canada, the May 4th Examiner noted a historic moment in Canada’s parliamentary history: the previous day, Senator Cairine Wilson had become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the upper house, when she deputized for the Senate’s regular Speaker, who was ill.  Wilson had, in 1930, become Canada’s first female Senator, and she was also the first Canadian woman to serve as the country’s delegate to the UN General Assembly.

In Peterborough, meanwhile, the big news apart from the election involved a national honour being given out to a prominent local citizen.  Robertson Davies, editor (and soon to be publisher) of the Peterborough Examiner, had won the 1954 Stephen Leacock medal as the nation’s best humourist.  However, Peterborough City Council found itself at something of a loss when it came to figuring out how to bestow fitting civic recognition on Davies for his accomplishment.  As the Examiner noted on May 3rd, “…Peterborough lacked appropriate awards for cultural achievements”:

“Alderman Burrows said this was the first such cultural recognition to come to a Peterborough citizen.  The city crest was hardly an appropriate award he said.”

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Robertson Davies in 1954. (Image Source)

Why would the city crest be inappropriate?  Well, it was generally handed out to national- or provincial-champion athletes, and, as the newspaper went on to describe, “athletic competition is grimly serious and often enough painful business.”  And so the crest was deemed not suitable for a writer of humour.  At press time, the Council had pretty much determined to write a formal letter of congratulation, with further honours possibly to come if the Aldermen could figure something out.

And, speaking of that grimly serious and often enough painful business, the city’s summer sports leagues were swinging into gear.  And in this regard Peterborough’s mid-20th century growth was causing something of a problem for Examiner sports editor Cec Perdue.  On May 5th, he wrote:

“It used to be comparatively simple to cover most of the summer athletics, but that was in the days before boundary expansion and increased population made this a sort of Greater Peterborough.  Now, one can only handle some of the major sports in person and arrange coverage or pick up a lot of the other contests.  Co-operation of the various clubs in this respect is again asked for the summer months.”

And that do for early May of 1955 in Peterborough!  Next week, we will of course look at the middle of the month in 1956, but until then, you can catch up on what was going on around here at this time back in 1903.  Thank you for reading!

* I assume here that the newspaper meant “east.”

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