Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Agnes Macphail Becomes First Woman Elected to House of Commons, 1921

Today in 1921, in the first Canadian election in which all women were allowed to vote, Agnes Macphail became the first woman to be elected as Minister of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons in Ottawa. She represented the riding of Grey South East until she was defeated in the 1940 federal election.

As a member of the United Farmers of Ontario party, Agnes originally planned to represent the farmers of her riding but decided to take up the cause for the rights of miners, immigrants, and of course women.

In 1923, after a prison riot in Kingston, Agnes went to investigate and was astounded by the poor conditions. It became one of her greatest accomplishments that after arguing years for change, from one of punishment, to one of reform and education in the Canadian penal system which also included a reduction of corporal punishment, that in 1939 the Penitentiary Bill finally recommended 88 changes to the penal system

Agnes Macphail passed away on February 13, 1954.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Canada's First Electric Car Unveiled 1893

Today electric cars are becoming the rage in North America but in this date in 1893, William Still and his patent lawyer Frederick Fetherstonaugh (pictured below) introduced Canada to the countries very first electric car. It also is noteworthy of being just the second car produced in Canada.

Known as the "Still" electric car, named for the inventor, it could travel 15 miles (24 km) between charges. As steam powered cars were considered too dangerous with all the high pressures involved and the gasoline engine was still in it's infancy and was noisy and smelly, the electric car looked as if it were the future of the automobile industry.

The car was built in Toronto at John Dixon’s carriage works located at Bay and Temperance Streets. Due to it's success, a group of businessmen bought into the car and created the Canadian Motor Syndicate. By 1902, improvements to the gasoline engine as far as smell, noise and power put the company out of business.

Fetherstonaugh happily drove his original model for 15 years. What happened to it or any other model car the company produced is unknown.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Queen Victoria's Daughter Princess Louise and Canada

Today in 1939, Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, died in England at the age of 91.

When she was 23 she married John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne who was at the time a member of Parliament in the UK. As his position as the Queen’s son-in-law limited his activities in the UK, in 1878 he was appointed the Governor General of Canada.

In a speech he said of Princess Louise being in Canada, “Although the sons of the sovereign have before this day visited these shores, this is the first occasion on which a daughter of the reigning house has seen the New World.” and went on to add “The presence of the Princess in Canada… will arrest our drifting into the Republic of the United States.”

The couple were well liked by Canadians, and the two enjoyed popular Canadian activities such as skating on the Rideau Canal and held tobogganing and curling parties at Rideau Hall, which is the official residence of the governor general.

So what is her significance to Canada besides being the wife of the Governor General? Her full name was Princess Louise Caroline Alberta and while she was alive, the newly formed Province of Alberta was named after her, as was beautiful Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

T. Eaton Company's First Santa Claus Parade, 1905

Today in 1905 the T Eaton Company held it's first Santa Claus Parade which took place in Toronto.

Santa's arrival that first year was actually not a parade but kids were invited to come to watch as Santa walked with the Eaton family from where he arrived at Union Station, to their flagship Eaton Store. Thousands showed up.

It was the following year that trumpeters and others were added to the event. By 1917 seven floats also heralded his arrival to town.

Eaton's sponsored the parade up until 1981 when it pulled it's funding. fearing the event would die, twenty firms got together to sponsor the 1982 parade and save the event, which is almost twenty years old than the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Since 1905 there has never been a year that the Santa Claus parade has not taken place.

Ho Ho Ho!

Friday, 1 December 2017

"The Canada Spelling Book"" Becomes First Canadian Copyrighted Book Published 1840

Today in 1840, Alexander Davidson published the first Canadian copyrighted book, The Canada Spelling Book. Davidson did not like the amount of use American textbooks had in Canadian schools and in 1828 he commented that nine out of every ten books came from the United States.

That same year in a note to George Hillier, the civil secretary at York, he wrote “for several years past no English Books could be procured . . . so that I am led to believe that the supply from England is precarious, and not at all equal to the growing demands of the Province.” His note continued that "unless some proper elementary books be got into general circulation, common school education will continue to be little better than a mere farce, and an useless expenditure of public money.”

He also thought that spelling-books from England were “to us necessarily defective, not being suited to our scenery and other localities.” The lessons in his speller were illustrated by references to Canadian places, and the necessary connection between religion and education was maintained by ensuring that each reading lesson would “subserve the interests of religion and morality.” It was common for spellers of the day to provide moral lessons.

Davidson passed away on 23 Feb. 1856 at the American Hotel in St Catharines at the age of 62. The St. Catharines Journal wrote in his obituary that “He was a man of superior talent, as many articles of his plainly demonstrated: could grapple with most subjects, and evinced an acute and logical mind in their treatment.”

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book Review - Calvary of the Air

There is something romantic, frightening and daring about the men who flew in air combat during the first world war. That's why Calvary of the Air by Norman S. Leach of Calgary appealed to me so much.

In the clinging mud and trench warfare of WWI, it was soon clear that the cavalry — the elite of the elite — would be of little use.

The dashing men and officers of the cavalry searched for a way to be front and center in the conflict, and found it in the new air forces being established on both sides of the Western Front. Soon lances and sabres were replaced by silk scarves and machine guns. Combat on horseback was replaced by dogfights in the air — one-on-one and in great flying formations — always between warriors. No technology changed more in the five years of the war, and none would have a bigger impact.

From Great Britain to Canada to Australia and New Zealand, new heroes took the honour and dash of the cavalry to the air in flying machines — which would change the face of war forever.

I thought the book is well thought out and put together. The first chapter is on the Allied Aces including Canadians Billy Bishop and Raymond Collishaw who were two of the top ten pilots in air combat victories. Donald MacLaren, Billy Barker and Wop May's stories were also covered.

The second chapter features the German aces of the day including, of course, the famous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen.

No pilot can fly without a plane and the third chapter is all about those great old flying machines. Some looked so rickety that they didn't look road worthy, let alone being able to fly in combat.

The book goes on to tell the stories of some of the more famous dogfights and what happened to the surviving pilots after the war.

All in all, a very interesting book, on a very interesting topic.

The First Welland Canal Completed in 1829

Today in 1824 George Keefer, the president of the Welland Canal Company, made a ceremonial first turning of the sod to signal the start of the building of the first Welland Canal which would bypass Niagara Falls and provide a waterway between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Five years to the day, November 30, 1829, the canal opened for business with two lake schooners, the Annie and Jane of York, and the R.H. Boughton of Youngston, New York made the first 2 day trip through the 40 locks to Lake Erie.

Three more Welland Canals were built as construction materials and technology improved through the years. The fourth Welland Canal was completed in 1932.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Book Review - The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

A year or so ago I went to a lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an Astrophysicist who when he lectures is as entertaining and humorous as he is informative. At times during his talk, when the subject of Pluto came up, there would be some booing in the crowd.


He was part of the decision to reclassify Pluto and remove it's status as a planet. Actually he might be considered the catalyst of bringing the issue of Pluto being a planet to a head.

When I saw that he had written a book The Pluto Files about the discovery of Pluto and the decision making process to "downgrade" the planet from the nine we currently know of, I had to read it.

When the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History reclassified Pluto as an icy comet, the New York Times proclaimed on page one, "Pluto Not a Planet? Only in New York." Immediately, the public, professionals, and press were choosing sides over Pluto's planethood. Pluto is entrenched in our cultural and emotional view of the cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, award-winning author and director of the Rose Center, is on a quest to discover why. He stood at the heart of the controversy over Pluto's demotion, and consequently Plutophiles have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third-graders. With his inimitable wit, Tyson delivers a minihistory of planets, describes the oversized characters of the people who study them, and recounts how America's favorite planet was ousted from the cosmic hub.

The book is so well done. It could have been a very dry read but with deGrasse's humour and writing style, it comes off as anything but. Not only does he write about Pluto, he also covers the other planets and how they can be classified, and even has Pluto cartoons scattered throughout.

In reading The Pluto Files I learned so much about Pluto, our solar system and was highly entertained in doing it. I highly recommend it.

Note: After reading The Pluto Files I still and always will consider it a planet!