The Death of Wilfrid Laurier

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Toronto World, February 19, 1919.

“When the hour of final rest comes, when my eyes close forever, if I may pay myself this tribute, this simple tribute of having contributed to healing a single patriotic wound in the heart of a single one of my compatriots, of having thus advanced, as little as may be, the cause of unity, concord and harmony among the citizens of this country, then I will believe that my life has not been entirely in vain.”–Wilfrid Laurier, 1887.

On February 17, 1919, Toronto’s morning newspaper readers were informed that Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s health was declining following a series of strokes. Regardless of political affiliation, the early papers wished Laurier a speedy recovery.

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The Globe (Liberal-leaning paper), February 17, 1919.

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Mail and Empire (Conservative-leaning paper), February 17, 1919.

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Toronto World (“independent” Conservative leaning), February 17, 1919.

The most pessimistic was the Daily News, which declared “NO HOPE HELD OUT FOR THE RECOVERY OF LIBERAL CHIEF.” The paper’s early afternoon update indicated that as of noon, doctors gave the federal opposition leader two hours to live. Another story speculated on who might replace him as Liberal leader after 32 years in charge, leaning toward Saskatchewan premier William Martin thanks to his support of Robert Borden’s Union government, which might help him woo fellow Liberal Unionists back into the fold. Among the other possibilities, former Renfrew South MP George Graham “proved such a wobbler last election that his name does not arouse enthusiasm” while William Lyon Mackenzie King “although able, was never popular and does not appeal to the rank and file of the party.”

Yup, Mackenzie King will never lead the Liberal party.

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Toronto Daily News, February 17, 1919.

By the time the evening papers hit the streets of Toronto, Canada’s seventh prime minister (and then current leader of the opposition) was dead.

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Toronto Star, February 17, 1919.

Among the tidbits the Star included was a column listing 30 titles Laurier had held during his life, from the federal seats he represented to numerous honorary degrees.

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Toronto Star, February 17, 1919.

You may have noticed that the Telegram hasn’t been mentioned yet. Unless there was a special edition published which was not microfilm, the paper had very little to say. Given the rage the Tely had shown Laurier over the years, especially during the 1917 federal election, this isn’t surprising.

Over the next few days, there was little about Laurier’s passing in the Telegram. February 18’s front page editorial cartoon was about the League of Nations, while the following days returned to the usual gripes about local issues, politicians, and rival newspaper publishers. On the editorial page, Laurier isn’t mentioned until the fourth item, via a tribute which attacks his anti-conscription stance in 1917 by mentioning the sacrifices of those who died during the First World War. It was probably written by editor-in-chief “Black Jack” Robinson, one of the angriest, hyper-imperialist editorialists in Toronto history.

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Evening Telegram, February 18, 1919.

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The Globe, February 18, 1919.

If the Telegram attacked, then ignored, Laurier, the Globe praised his career with many pages of tributes. One article even praised his love of children.

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The Globe, February 18, 1919.

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Mail and Empire, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto Daily News, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto World, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto Star, February 18, 1919.

The Star published numerous tributes from local dignitaries ranging from Chief Justice of Ontario Sir William Meredith (“he possessed to a remarkable degree the confidence of a century”) to University of Toronto president Sir Robert Falconer (“his personality was most charming”).

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Toronto Star, February 18, 1919.

As with the passing of any major figure of the era, poems, such as this one by cartoonist J.W. Bengough.

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The Globe, February 21, 1919.

The final word goes to the Mail and Empire‘s “Flaneur,”  who brings up a term often used in association with Laurier: “the first Canadian.”

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Mail and Empire, February 22, 1919.

Additional material from Wilfrid Laurier by André Pratte (Toronto: Penguin, 2011).

 

Goodbye 1918, Hello 1919

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Toronto World, December 31, 1918.

As 1918 ended, Torontonians contemplated a year which had seen the First World War end, celebrate what would hopefully be a cheerier year ahead, and engage in the usual political bickering which accompanied the annual voting rites of a municipal election on New Year’s Day.

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The Globe, January 1, 1919. Unfortunately, chunks of the rest of this editorial are missing. 

The Globe‘s New Year’s editorial spent the most time on any of Toronto’s opinion pages contemplating the general state of the world now that the war was over.

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Mail and Empire, January 1, 1919.

The Mail and Empire expressed hope for the future, and encouraged everyone to help with the reconstruction of the post-war world.

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1918.

The Star‘s editorial looked back to the genteel customs of New Year’s Days of yore.

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Toronto World, January 1, 1919.

The World‘s editorial focused on the top story item as the old year gave way to the new: the municipal election. Mayor Tommy Church ran for his fifth one-year term against Board of Control member John O’Neill, former city councillor William Henry Shaw, and York East MP Thomas Foster.

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Mail and Empire, December 31, 1918.

Long before Rob Ford preached zealous penny-pinching, Thomas Foster took frugality to extremes. A self-made millionaire known for visiting tenants in person to collect rent or fix problems, Foster spent two decades as an elected official at the federal and municipal levels. It would also appear, based on this campaign ad, he dabbled in post-war xenophobia. While Foster finished a distant fourth in this campaign, he retained his federal seat. He narrowly won the mayoralty in the 1925 municipal campaign over W.W. Hiltz, and served three terms. His legacy is the giant mausoleum he built for himself near Uxbridge.

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Toronto News, December 31, 1918. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of candidates vying for council seats. Three of the four Board of Control winners (Charles Maguire, Sam McBride, and William Robbins) later served as mayor.

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Toronto Star, December 31, 1918.

Church’s campaign appealed to returning soldiers and their families. During the war, the mayor saw off as many departing soldiers as possible. “For many soldiers,” historian Donald Jones noted, “the last thing they remembered about Toronto was the sight of their mayor running beside the train shouting goodbye and wishing them good luck.” After the war, he welcomed them back and championed various measures to provide vets with financial benefits.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

As it would several times during Church’s career, the Telegram supported his re-election campaign with ridiculous zeal. Editorials blasted anyone who criticized Church, especially the Star.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

One of many Telegram articles extolling the virtues of Tommy Church. The key issues the paper was concerned about was public ownership of the hydro system and the ongoing battles with the Toronto Railway Company as the end of its 30-year franchise to run many of the city’s streetcars neared its end.

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Evening Telegram, December 31, 1918.

Even the women’s page turned into pro-Church propaganda.

Church received his fifth term, beating O’Neill by nearly 10,000 votes. He remained in office through 1921.

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Toronto News, January 2, 1919.

Election day was a good one for female candidates for the Toronto Board of Education, as four of the five who ran became trustees.

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The Globe, January 1, 1919.

The Globe ran an interview with the outgoing year before it disappeared for good.

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Toronto News, December 31, 1918.

The most covered party to welcome 1919 was held at the King Edward Hotel. Wonder how that meeting of the Canadian Society for the Protection of Birds went.

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Toronto News, January 2, 1919.

This would be the last New Year’s celebrations the News covered, as the paper rebranded itself as the Toronto Times in March, then folded for good in September.

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Evening Telegram, January 2, 1919.

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The Globe, December 30, 1918.

The city’s Protestant ministers had plenty to say about the events of the past year, and looked forward to the momentous events they felt would come in 1919.

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Mail and Empire, January 1, 1919.

How people reverently celebrated New Year’s…

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Evening Telegram, January 2, 1919.

We’ll end with a hint of the year to come, with this tiny item about the distribution of “Bolshevik pamphlets” in the west end.

***

And so ends 2018 for this site. Thanks for reading and supporting my work over the year, whether it’s here or for the many clients I’ve produced material for. The major (and minor) events of 1919 will play a large role in my work for 2019, so stay tuned here and elsewhere for how those events happened, and what their long-term legacies were.

Reckless Driving, Nineteenth Century–Style

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2010.

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Is the cop on the right watching for speeders? King Street at Yonge Street, looking east. Toronto, c. 1875. Wikimedia Commons.

Cabbies who execute U-turns with no warning. Drivers who refuse wait two seconds at a pedestrian crossing. Hotshots who think nothing of showing off their ultra-cool set of wheels by shifting into warp drive without any care about anyone else sharing the road. Car owners who ignore the existence of turn signals. Cyclists riding on the sidewalk who hurl obscenities at pedestrians minding their own business.

It can be a jungle on Toronto’s roads thanks to reckless drivers of all stripes, but this isn’t news to anyone who’s lived here for a while. The types of vehicles some of our citizens probably shouldn’t be operating matters little, as crazy drivers in Toronto were a problem even before the automobile arrived. We recently unearthed an editorial from the nineteenth century which proves that there has always been a risk of being mowed down by anyone in a hurry, even at eight miles an hour.

Under the title “Reckless Driving,” the lead editorial in the May 5, 1881 edition of the Toronto Evening News traces the history of crazy drivers back to Greek mythology:

That son of the immortals who was cast out of Olympus through his reckless management of the celestial chariot was served quite right. The pity is that he did not alight upon some other planet than ours, which seems to have been selected by the aristocracy of mythology as a fit receptacle for all the rubbish they had to dispose of. The bad example set by him has only been too closely followed, and the result is that the old, the infirm, and unwary are liable to be knocked down and run over in our street upon any time/day which woos the furious driver to his pleasant pastime.

The editorial writer then presents scenarios that make one wonder if pedestrian accident/fatality statistics were as high as those seen in the city earlier this year:

The little girl on her way to school is not an imposing personage, but she has, or ought to have, a right to go to school without being frightened out of her wits at every street crossing. When THE EVENING NEWS takes its walks abroad these bright May mornings having, like Gilpin’s wife, “a frugal mind although on pleasure bent,” it often observes that the little ones on their way to school are perplexed and bewildered by the furious manner in which various vehicles are driven down upon them. School going children are not the only victims. Old men and women, the halt, the lame and the blind, are sometimes knocked down and run over as though they were mere bundles of old rags. By what right does a coachman, or cabman, or a butcher’s boy do this sort of thing? If THE EVENING NEWS is not misinformed there is a city ordinance against furious driving, but furious drivers seem not to care for the city ordinance. It is, we understand, the duty of the police to see that the limit of eight miles per hour is not exceeded by any vehicle with a horse at one end of the rains [sic] and a fool at the other end. The limit is not limited enough, and ought to be circumscribed, but is exceeded every day in the week without fear and without penalty.

Unfortunately for the police, the radar gun had yet to be invented. We imagine that unless a constable was already mounted, chasing after the speeders would have been next to impossible. The solution? Drop the speed limit.

The police have failed to perform their whole duty in this respect. It is true that it is difficult for a constable to tell whether a horse is being driven at the rate of more than eight miles an hour or not, but there are flagrant cases which not even a constable can mistake. Eight miles an hour is altogether too fast for our more crowded thoroughfares. If our constables cannot tell when that pace is being exceeded, and when people are being placed in danger of their lives, perhaps a reporter of THE EVENING NEWS, stop-watch in hand, can. Anyhow, this reckless driving must be checked.