Last Week in Peterborough: 1959


Peterborough Examiner, June 2nd, 1959

We’re back (and a little behind schedule, as I’m sure you’re aware)!  Our period of interest for 1959 is actually the very beginning of June, and here we find Peterborians talking missile defence systems, provincial election politics, and — loudly and often — issues related to local traffic.  Read on, for those matters and also an outbreak of Greek gods in Peterborough’s lacrosse scene!


The Bomarc missile. (Image Source)

The main geopolitical issue as May of 1959 turned into June was actually a Canadian one; we were in the early days of what would become known as the Bomarc Missile Crisis.  This affair would later turn into a national debate over Canada’s willingness to host nuclear weapons on her territory, but at this point most of the talk was over whether the missiles represented an improvement, in capability and cost-benefit ratio, over the controversially-cancelled Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow interceptor aircraft.  The Peterborough Examiner, in a fiery June 1st editorial, held firmly to the notion that the Arrow was the preferable option.  This was a most interesting period in the history of the Cold War in Canada, but to explore it in more depth is beyond the scope of this particular post.  We will look at the situation, and that Examiner editorial, more closely another time.

The Province of Ontario was in an election ferment as June of 1959 got underway, although there does not seem to have been a lot of doubt about who was going to win.  The Progressive Conservative government of Premier Leslie Frost held 83 out of 97 seats in the Provincial Parliament at dissolution, and the only question was whether the popular Frost would maintain that size of majority when the votes were counted on June 11th.  Nonetheless, there was some interest to be found in the campaigning, as the Peterborough Examiner editorialized on June 2nd:

“The campaign is a lively one.  Mr. Frost is obviously worried that his record is not enough to win his Party the number of seats it held…  Otherwise, his tactics would not include the making of personal attacks in an attempt to discredit the opposing parties.  [CCF leader] Donald McDonald is desperately trying to retain the few seats he has… by attacking without caution, the actual and imaginary shortcomings of the Frost Cabinet.  [Liberal Party leader John] Wintermeyer, who has put forward a detailed platform, is doubtless making capital out of his opponents’ excesses.”

As matters turned out, the Examiner was pretty much on the mark with that analysis.  Frost’s Progressive Conservatives did indeed win another majority in the 1959 election, but it was somewhat reduced: only 71 of 98 seats went to the PCs.  Wintermeyer’s Liberals went from 11 to 22 MPPs, and the CCF actually gained seats as well, moving from three to five.  In Peterborough, Keith Brown won the seat for the governing party and held it until 1967.

Apart from the election, the big issue around Peterborough at this time in 1959 was… traffic.  The city had adopted, in 1957, the current system of one-way streets downtown in an effort to get the traffic moving better, but local merchants were unhappy with the results and were calling for a re-think of the whole business.  The Examiner felt they were barking up the wrong tree, as the newspaper discussed in an editorial on June 3rd:

“No, the problem will not be solved by tinkering around with traffic flow.  Motor vehicle traffic has grown alarmingly; it will continue to grow and as it does… motorists will avoid the downtown section for their weekly shopping; even Friday night opening will not correct the loss of business to peripheral supermarkets.”

Increased attention to the issue of off-street parking, the newspaper felt, was the solution to the downtown woes.


Peterborough Examiner, June 3rd, 1959.

Speaking of peripheral supermarkets (although not terribly peripheral in this case), the brand new Grand Union grocery store opened its doors in early June of 1959, at the Market Plaza on George Street across from the marina.  It was to be a technologically advanced operation; the June 3rd Examiner glowingly described the Grand Union’s Food-O-Mat, “a device which stocks shelves from the rear of the counter.  Gravity feed conveys tins and packages to the customer.” The new supermarket would also include a snack bar and a “cosmopolitan section with a large range of specialty foods.”

choateThe Grand Union’s parking lot was in the news as well this week 57 years ago, and here we return to the issue of traffic.  On May 31st, the supermarket lot hosted a driving skills competition for local motorists.  Drivers faced an obstacle course, and were graded on “acceleration and braking… and serpentine control and garage parking,” as the next day’s newspaper reported.  Mr. Barry Philp, driving an Austin Healey Sprite, won the men’s competition, while the women’s honours went to Mrs. Jill Choate (at right) in a Mercury Minor.  The Examiner also felt that some of Peterborough’s younger drivers could have used a run through the obstacle course, as the paper argued in an editorial on June 3rd:

“We refer to the young drivers of chromium-plated, raccoon-tail-decorated recent-model cars, who consider the one-way street system to be their own especial obstacle course early in the evening and late at night…  [N]o other motorist in the vicinity is willing to put his faith in the skill of a driver with his engine racing and his brakes screaming at every stoplight.  Consequently some young motorists fancy themselves as daredevils to whom all must yield.”

It was not just motorists who were coming for scrutiny from the press and others.  “City policemen have been given orders to start thinning out the bad cyclists from the horde now swarming the streets of Peterborough,” wrote the Examiner on June 3rd.  Measures up to and including confiscation of bicycles were to be the tools employed by the police in this campaign.

Away from the two- and four-wheeled perils of the city streets, Peterborians were taking in the beginning of the Ontario Lacrosse Association season.  The local side, formerly the Petes, were now known as the Peterborough Petes’ Mercurys, and sportswriter Cec Perdue waxed mythological on the topic in his June 1st column in the Examiner:

“The Petes’ Mercurys move about on winged feet, they have plenty of skill and dexterity, they carry the message, tote those sleep-producing wands and produce music with those corded sticks along the pattern of the ancient lyre.  Whether they will prove to be gods among the mere mortals who inhabit such centres as Welland, Brampton and Long Branch only time and the senior OLA schedule will disclose.”


Peterborough Examiner, June 2nd, 1959.

So far, at least, the Petes’ Mercurys were living up to the divinity of their name.  On June 1st, they defeated the Long Branch Dixie Castrols 16-9 to take over first place in the OLA.

That will do, I think for the beginning of June in 1959.  As noted, we are a bit behind in this series; Monday will see our look at early to mid-June in 1960, and on Wednesday, all being well, we will catch up with the middle of the month in 1961.  In the meantime, however, you can catch up on what was happening around here at the beginning of this month back in 1907, when motor traffic was so light that every new car in town warranted a newspaper story.  Thank you for reading!

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