This Week in Peterborough: 1956


Peterborough Examiner, May 11th, 1956

On to another edition of This Week in Peterborough, and this time we are checking in with what was happening here exactly six decades ago, in mid-May of 1956.  Read on, for a civic debate that will be very familiar to Peterborians today, as well as for other items including real James Bond stuff going on in Britain!

In mid-May of 1956, newspaper readers in Peterborough (and elsewhere) were thrilling to a tale of Cold War espionage gone wrong.  In April, an MI6 frogman by the name of Lionel Crabb had vanished while on a dive in Portsmouth Harbour in England.  His mission, allegedly, had been to observe the new propeller design of the Soviet Navy cruiser Ordzhonikidze, which was in Portsmouth to deliver Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to a peace conference.  A couple of weeks after Crabb’s disappearance, word of the incident leaked out, and a full fledged diplomatic and political kerfuffle was underway.


Lionel Crabb. (Image Source)

In Britain, the opposition Labour Party demanded that British Prime Minster Anthony Eden come clean about Crabb’s mission, and the press followed suit.  According to the May 14th Peterborough Examiner, “The Daily Express says ‘Eden should reveal the full circumstances, discreditable though some of them may be.'”  And of course the Soviets were furious, rejecting MI6’s claims that Crabb had acted on his own initiative, without official sanction; “…that reservation by no means seems convincing” was how one Soviet naval officer put it.

Britain eventually apologized to the Soviet Union, and the incident blew over, but what actually happened to Crabb has never been confirmed.  A year later, a body pulled from the harbour was identified as that of the frogman, but the corpse was in such bad shape that the identification has long been called into question.  Other theories — that he died of “misadventure,” that he defected to the USSR, that he was captured and died in Soviet Custody, or even that British Intelligence had him killed for intending to defect — have abounded.  In 2007, a man claiming to be a retired Soviet Navy diver said that he had encountered Crabb in the waters of the harbour, and killed him, but this too is far from confirmed.  I mentioned James Bond above, and there was indeed a connection; the Lionel Crabb incident is said to have served as inspiration for the plot of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, which prominently features frogmen.

It was a tough time for Anthony Eden and his government — the other big international story at this time had the British embroiled in an uprising on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which in 1956 was a British crown colony.  An underground Greek Cypriot group, EOKA, had taken up armed struggle against Britain in the hopes of uniting the island with Greece, and that conflict had now been underway for about a year.  On May 10th, 1956, the Examiner reported the executions of two EOKA members by the British authorities; in retaliation, EOKA executed two British soldiers whom it had captured, and anti-British and anti-American rioting broke out in Athens.  Cyprus would attain independence, although not the hoped-for union with Greece, in 1960, although a Turkish invasion in 1974 would lead to the island’s current partitioned state.

Back home in Canada and in Peterborough, meanwhile, there was ample time to pay attention to the international tidings, as things were fairly quiet around the city.  However, if you look at the map at the start of this post, you can see the beginning of a civic debate that continues to this day.  In mid-1956, planning for the Parkway and Queensway routes through the southern and western part of Peterborough was underway, and it seemed a necessary thing at the time.  As the Examiner reported on May 11th:

“‘Many people do not realize that there isn’t a through street west of Monaghan Road in a north and south direction,’ city engineer A.E. Chalmers explained,’ and to the city, this is not a super-highway or anything, but merely another city street.”


Jackson Park. (Image Source)

In the end, the southern part of the Parkway, as illustrated on that map, was built, connecting to the then-planned Highway 115 south of the city.  The Queensway, which would have crossed Lansdowne Street, followed the CPR tracks north-east and then connected to Lake Street, was not — or at least not very much of it.  And debate continues to this day over the planned northern extension of the Parkway, which is intended eventually to link up with Cumberland Avenue in the city’s north end.  That extension was part of the 1956 plan, but the problem is that it requires the road to cross Jackson Park, one of Peterborough’s most beautiful areas, via a massive bridge.  Reasonable fears of damage to the park (and of the destruction of the walking trail north of there) have led to considerable opposition to the plan, and it has not yet been carried out, although it has been very much on the table in recent years.

Reaction to the proposed new roadways was somewhat guarded, although, as the quote above shows, the need for better transportation in the growing southern part of the city was acknowledged.  So too, however, were the dangers of urban sprawl.  A May 11th editorial in the Examiner viewed with alarm plans to build up 10,000 acres west of Toronto, describing them as “a Toronto future of which Peterborough can be glad it will have no part.”  Fortunately, noted the editorial, Peterborough was far enough from Toronto “that in the forseeable future there will still be meadows and woods between it and the sprawling metropolitan giant.”


St. Alban’s Anglican Church (and its floating spire).  (Image Source)

Speaking of developments in the south of Peterborough, this week in 1956 also saw the opening of the new St. Alban’s Anglican Church on Monaghan Road at Cameron Street (the parish had been in operation since 1914).  The new building, as reported in the May 10th Examiner, “is the only church in the city with a ‘floating’ spire.”  The St. Alban’s congretation worshiped in the 1956 building until the parish was dissolved and merged with several other churches in 2013.

Finally, it was a hum-drum sort of time for local sports fans, with nothing much going on at all.  At least the Senior ‘A’ lacrosse season was on the horizon, as the schedule for the 1956 campaign arrived in the May 12th newspaper.  Peterborough would commence the season by hosting the team from Long Branch on May 25th, then go on the road to play Hamilton on the 28th.  St. Catharines and Fergus were the other two teams with which Peterborough would have to deal.

And that will do for 1956!  Next week, we will look at mid-May of 1957, but for now, you can read up on what was in the news around here at this time back in 1904.  Thank you for reading!

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