Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Circus Comes to Town (1891)

Found this ad in the Orillia Packet. It must have been quite a show - a $30,000 parade for such a small town financed by a 50 cent ticket. The biblical spectacle must be a pious way of featuring dancing girls since it includes the Queen of Sheba and - a Roman Hippodrome and three monster menageries!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Canadians! Look Out For the Man-Stealers.

    This was one of the headlines in the September 24, 1847 Barrie Magnet newspaper under a column called Colonial Items. Also in bold letters was the phrase 'IMPORTANT SLAVE CASE'. The article relates to an escaped slave case that began with a slave by the name of Brown who had been murdered by his owner Mr. Somerville of Maryland. Mr. Somerville was later also the victim of murder and the brother of the killed slave was accused and tried for the offence. Astonishingly he was acquitted but Somerville's family sold the brother into what was described in the Magnet as the "desolating bondage of the South". He then escaped and reached Philadelphia, where he expected to live in some safety. He also had a wife and seven children in Maryland that he was anxious to free as well and had assumed the name of Russell. Somerville's family learned of his whereabouts and sent men from New Orleans to claim that Brown was a murderer. "This is a favorite and hackney mode of seizing a victim" Two men showed up in Philadelphia at a magistrate's office and had the man put in prison but the Abolitionists succeeded in having him released as the warrant was improperly done.
     After such a narrow escape,  the man made his way to Canada accompanied by Rev. Young from New York.  They laid a case before Lord Elgin claiming the protection of the British crown, which the Governor General agreed to. On the next day, the two bounty hunters arrived in Montreal demanding Brown's surrender. They were turned away but the writer carried on saying "some magistrate, from ignorance of the facts, may possibly give him up on a charge of murder, although this is not likely. However to prevent it, we have to request our contemporaries, as an act of justice and mercy, to hand around this not of warning. Let it never be said that there is a single magistrate in the length and bread of British North America so ignorant, or so indifferent as to surrender a fellow man into the hands of the relentless slave holder - Globe"
     For good measure, the Magnet's editor added, "We have always been decidedly opposed to Lynch-law, and should deem it a very hard case if the above mentioned 'free and unlightened' citizens, during their 'n***** hunt' should happen to get unmercifully tar'd and feathered!" It is awkwardly worded but the editor is clearly outraged on behalf of the fugitive and his treatment.
     If only this had been the last time an American bounty hunter forgot that Canada is politically and legally separate from the U.S. and one cannot just come here and grab fugitives.
    Curious if there is any information on the escapee, I am delighted to find an article from the Maryland archives that the fugitive was named Isaac Brown and he escaped to Canada with his family.
Full article here: and there is more information included in this book: Fugitive Slaves and American Courts: The Pamphlet Literature, edited by Paul Finkelman. There are a large number of webpages devoted to the case which must have been very important in 1847. As well, a Canadian, researching his own family history with an ancestor also named Isaac Brown, wrote a book about the case and Brown's history. The book is called One More River to Cross by Bryan Prince. In it, he states that Brown kept his alias of Samuel Russell in Canada and eventually settled in Chatham, Ontario where he died. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

1956 News from the Elmvale Lance

     Spring makes people want to clean up their houses, garages, basements and sheds but what to do with all that garbage? As I drive around the countryside, I see that for many people the solution is to drive to the nearest farm and pitch it into the ditch by the side of the road. People use all kinds of excuses for that behaviour, such as they resent having to purchase tags for additional garbage bags or that tipping fees are too high. In 1956 garbage disposal was not the problem it has become and landfills were new and not full to bursting.  In the April 26th Elmvale Lance, Dr. P.A. Scott from the Simcoe County Public Health was quoted as 'deploring the garbage that was thrown along roadsides'.  Some things never change.
     While we are looking at the Elmvale news, in May 1957, there was a prediction by Billy Graham that the end of the world was in sight. He was quoted as saying, "I have not only God's word for it that the end of the world is in sight but I also have the word of the scientists." He cited the arms' race as the reason why and expressed the certainty that the end of the world would take place during the lives of the generation that was being born. Lucky for him that he did not give a specific date and thereby avoided the embarrassment that has followed other unlucky predictors of the end of the world.
    In the August 13, 1957 edition a Toronto judge, Fred Bartron was quoted sniffing at the 'people who would not think of getting drunk and disorderly near their own homes but don't mind going to Wasaga Beach and drinking themselves into a disgraceful state'. He added "I can't understand why all the people from Toronto come to Wasaga Beach to drink and get drunk." Indeed.
     The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Martello Towers

    I discovered Martello Towers years ago on a trip to the east coast of Canada. We were heading for the Saint John to Digby ferry and arrived a little early in the evening with nothing to do. So I suggested we go and check out the Carleton Martello Tower. I saw a sign for it pointing up the hill and I was wondering what it was. Since it was evening the tower was closed, but I was able to come back another time and visit it when it was open.
    The concrete structure on the roof was added during WWII. It is ugly and should be removed. This Martello Tower was built to defend the Saint John Harbour during the War of 1812-1814. Construction began in 1813 and, since it took two years to build, it was not completed until the war was already over. It has been restored now and is operated as a historic site by Parks Canada. I have visited almost every Martello Tower in Canada that survives and this one has by far the best museum, great location and might be a contender for the most attractive tower if it did not sport that ugly top.
Link to the Parks Canada page for the Carlton Martello Tower here.
     The best looking tower is the Prince of Wales Tower in Halifax. Originally there were five towers built here in 1794 by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Victoria's father. He named them all after family members. This is the only remaining tower in Halifax. The Prince of Wales Tower suffers from a bit of neglect. You may visit the grounds at Point Pleasant Park. It appears from the Parks Canada website that there is a display on the first floor now. There was no entry on the time I visited it.  This tower has the distinction of being the only tower that was part of a fight. There was a famous duel fought on the grounds in front of the tower between Father of Confederation, Joseph Howe, and the son of Judge Haliburton (of Sam Slick fame), John C. Haliburton. Haliburton had taken offence to an article that Howe had published criticizing his father. Haliburton fired first and missed after which Howe fired his shot into the air and said "Let the creature live.". It would be lovely to see more done with this very cool tower.
You may look at the pages on the Prince of Wales Tower at Parks Canada here.
     The third tower that I am going to write about is Tower #1 in Quebec City. There were four towers built here and none were given a name. The tower was designed to be built quickly and, with a very small garrison, be able to keep up a very spirited defence in an attack by sea. So the first tower is placed correctly on the heights of the Plains of Abraham, overlooking the St. Lawrence. The other three were built inland in a line facing west, which is where the British command thought an American attack might come from. They were not completely wrong; the Americans did come at Montreal from the west and, had they succeeded, would have attempted to take Quebec City from that direction.
     Tower 1 is a museum to the War of 1812-1814 and is nicely done and worth a visit. Tower 2 is now a mystery dinner theatre. Tower 3 was destroyed to make a new wing for a hospital that is now gone. The Mckenzie Pavilion of the old Jeffrey Hale Hospital is there but I do not know what it is used for. Tower 4 still exists but is vacant and not restored or visitable.
As an aside, Google Maps has placed the opera on the site of the second tower. Street view will show that this is wrong. The fourth tower is smack dab in the middle of Rue Lavigueur around 171.
     The photo of Tower 1 below was taken by my father in the middle of the usual blustery Canadian winter. He lived in Quebec City for years and like many, did not know there was anything special about this tower. You might notice the cone shaped roof on it. This feature was peculiar to the Canadian towers only. They had a foldable roof which they put up in the winter to keep the weight of the snow from collapsing the tower. These would be removed in the summer so that the cannon on top could fire freely at anything approaching by sea. All three Quebec City towers and all six in Kingston, Ontario have this roof permanently placed on them.
Gives you the chills just looking at that snow. The link to this tower's page is run by the National Battlefields Commission.