MY OTTAWA MEMORIES, 1866—
GEORGE C. HOLLAND
Mr Holland was Senate reporter for almost half a century, starting with Confederation, and witnessed personally all the events described but one. This is the first of two articles.
WHEN Ottawa was selected to be the capital of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada its unsuccessful competitors for the coveted honor described it as a lumbering village in the backwoods, and the description was sufficiently accurate to arouse resentment among the
people at the new seat of Government. The population was small and most of it was distributed along the highway which extended in an irregular curve from the Rideau River in the East to the suspension bridge over Ottawa in the West. On this long highway there w-as a street railway, the service being furnished by horse-drawn cars on rails in summer, and by cars on runners in winter.
on rails in summer, and by cars on The only protection against freezing in the latter was a layer of straw on the floor of the enclosed conveyances. At all times, especially in winter, the company's vehicles were in an unsanitary condition and the service was slow and unreliable.
Hotel accommodation was limited and of inferior character even for that day. Access to the town from every direction for a great part of the year was confined to the old Bytown and Prescott Railwaynow the St. Lawrence and Ottawa branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which furnished a dailyservice to connect with the Grand Trunk trains at Prescott. The only available fuel was firewood and, unless the stoking was in the hands of an expert, the journey of fifty-two miles from Ottawa to Prescott was slow, occupying some hours at best. Connections with trains were, therefore, a matter of chance: in winter they were rare exceptions.
The public buildings stood in isolated majesty on Parliament Hill, forming three sides of a square the south side of which was framed with a cedar log fence. The square
itself was striking only for its ugliness. The stunted cedar shrubs and sickly wild grass which, prior to the erection of the buildings, partially covered the shallow soil, had disappeared and the débris inseparable from the work of construction had been only partially removed.
Such were the conditions at the capital when the Parliament of Old Canada opened its first and last session in the new Parliament building on June 8, 1866. Prominent in the Legislative Assembly were John A. Macdonald, George Brown, d’Arcy McGee, Cartier, Langevin Sandfield Macdonald, Dorion, Holton, McKellar, William Macdougall, Alexander Mackenzie, Howland and Dunkin (the pioneer in temperance legislation in Canada), all of whom have passed into history. It was a time of great popular excitement, owing to the Fenian Raids, and the first legislation of the session was an act to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, which was introduced, passed through all its stages and assented to, all on the same day.
In the debate on the address many complimentary references were made to the magnificent structures in which the public offices and Parliament were housed. There were some criticisms, however, which were amply justified by subsequent experience. Mr. Mackenzie, in particular, said the buildings afforded the greatest illustration ever known of “magnificence without convenience.” He found fault generally with the arrangement of the interior details, especially the ventilation which, subsequently, when he became premier of the Dominion, he improved. He complained also of the cost of heating the buildings. It took no less than seventy cords of wood per day, he said, to heat the eastern departmental block.
The last session of the Parliament of old Canada was also the last appearance of George Brown in the elective branch of the legislature. The union of the provinces having been accomplished, he resigned from the cabinet and took his place on the opposition side of the House. There was not room for him and Premier Macdonald in the same administration.
The First Press Gallery
DURING the season of 1866 the Fenian raids overshadowed all other questions, and there was little evidence of party warfare on the surface in the House of Assembly. No doubt this was due also, to some extent, to the coming internal change brought about by the union of the provinces, necessitating a re-alignment of parties. The following session was the first meeting of
the Dominion Parliament. It brought to Ottawa some strong men from the Maritime Provinces among whom Tupper and Howe, from Nova Scotia, and Tilley and Mitchell, from New Brunswick, wenmost prominent.
In the press gallery the Toronto Globe was represented by Edwards and Coldwell, with Huburtus as resident correspondent; the Toronto Leader by Gregg; the Hamilton
Spectator by Thomas White who later represented the Montreal Gazette until he was elected to the Commons and became Minister of the Interior in the Macdonald Cabinet; the Montreal Herald by Penny, later appointed to the Senate; La Minerve by Tasse, afterwards Senator Tasse; and other papers by Dansereau, Sam Watson, Isaac Watson, Sam Hutcheson and Livingstone. Anglin, a New Brunswdck member who subsequently became Speaker of the Commons, sent very full summaries of the debates daily to his own paper, the St. John Freeman, and Ellis, also a member who was later appointed to the Senate, represented his own-paper, the St. John Globe.
The session cf 1873 opened auspiciously foi the Government. They had a comfortable majority in the Commons and controlled the Senate. It had not advanced far, however, before ominous rumors of a big scandal circulated in the corridors and the press gallery. On April 2 Lucius Seth Huntington, an Eastern Townships member of the Opposition, rose to a question of privilege.
He was one of the most striking figures in the House -tall, with a well-proportioned body and the head and features of a Greek god. He had a ready command of language and his voice was spoken music. He lacked but one quality to be an orator—ideas and ability to express them in a concise form. His voice and his presence lulled the critical faculties of his hearers; it was only when they saw his speeches in print that they could realize how little argument or information his melodious voice conveyed.
He charged the Government with having entèred into an agreement with Sir Hugh Allan and certain United States capitalists whereby the latter agreed to furnish all the funds necessary for the construction of the Pacific Railway; that Sir Hugh and his friends should advance a large sum of money for the purpose of aiding the election of ministers and their supporters and that Sir Hugh should receive a contract for the construction of the railway; that, accordingly, large sums were so advanced
and were paid to Sir Hugh by the United States capitalists as part of the expenses of obtaining the act of incorporation under their agreement with him. He wound up by moving for a committee of investigation. The Government made no reply. A vote was taken immediately and the motion was defeated by a major-
ity of thirty-one. Throughout the country immense interest was aroused.
Then the Government at once gave notice of a motion for the appointment of a committee to investigate the charges, its members to be selected by the House. It was to be armed with the powers of a Royal Commission in order to take evidence under oath and continue its
sittings if necessary after prorogation. Sir John Macdonald and the Minister of Justice had doubts as to whether such powers could be conferred by Parliament. Confirmatory legislation was therefore introduced and passed rapidly through both Houses and the Governor-General was brought down for the express purpose of giving it the royal sanction. Parliament then adjourned to August 13 when they were to meet pro forma to receive the report of the committee and prorogue. The disallowance of the Act passed so hurriedly prevented the committee taking evidence.
WHEN the House met on August 13, of one hundred
and twenty members present very few were Government supporters, but the Opposition were there in full force. There was a good deal of whispering and suppressed excitement among the members, which ceased as the Speaker entered at the
usual hour of opening and took the chair. Mr. M ackenzie rose promptly to speak on a question of privilege. In the grave position of t h e country, he said, and the
extraordinary circumstances under which Parliament was called together, he felt it incumbent upon him to move a motion.
At this point he was called to order by the Speaker.
“I claim this as a question of privilege,” said Mr. Mackenzie, and his supporters cheered and cried, “Privilege, privilege!”
When a lull in the commotion permitted, the Speaker explained that the doors-were still closed and he thereupon ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw them open. Never in the history of the country had there been such a rush for seats in the gallery. Men and women, their faces flushed with the heat and dripping with perspiration, elbowed each other as they crowded through the narrow entrances and rushed for front seats.
Below, the scene was even more exciting. Before the Sergeant-at-Arms could resume his seat Mr. Mackenzie was again on his feet, but his remarks were drowned by the babel of voices. He proceeded to read a resolution calling for an immediate and full parliamentary inquiry into the charges against the Government, declaring that failure to do so would be a flagrant violation of the privileges of the House. He contended that it would be highly reprehensible if anyone should presume to advise His Excellency to prorogue Parliament before it was given an opportunity for action, since it would render abortive all the steps that had been taken and inflict unprecedented indignity on Parliament and produce great dissatisfaction in the country. The resolution was greeted with thunders of applause, which were repeated when Mr. Holton rose to second the motion.
Mr. Mackenzie began to speak, but had not uttered more than a dozen words when three loud knocks on the door interrupted him. The Speaker called him to order and announced that there was a messenger at the door. This was greeted with loud cries from the Opposition of “Privilege, privilege.”
Mr. Mackenzie, his face blazing with indignation.
shouted, “No messenger shall stop me in my duty. I stand here representing a county in this province.”
At this point the Speaker called him to order, amid a tumult from the Opposition and cries of, “Privilege, privilege.”
When the tumult had subsided sufficiently Mr. Mackenzie who was still standing said, “I propose to call the attention of the House to circumstances that affect the independence of Parliament.”
The Speaker again called him to order and announced that he had a message from his Excellency informing him that he was ready to prorogue Parliament.
At this announcement there was an uproar. Amid cheers, hisses and disturbances the Sergeant-at-Arms took the mace from the table, proceeded towards the door and met the Usher of the Black Rod who advanced with the usual elaborate bows and delivered his message. What he said was inaudible, being completely drowned by the noises from the Opposition benches. Above the din could be heard the stentorian voice of Mr. Mackenzie announcing that he had been informed on the most conclusive authority that His Excellency had been advised to prorogue the House.
Lord Dufferin’s Tactics
npHE Sergeant-at-Arms shouldered the mace and pro -*■ ceeded toward the door, the Speaker donned his cocked hat and followed him, the Ministers and most of their supporters rose in a body and the whole party with much dignity marched from the Chamber, followed by a storm of hisses, hooting and howls from the Opposition while the dense crowds in the galleries cheered until the building trembled, apparently in sympathy with the stand taken by the Opposition. The storm soon spent itself but the excitement continued. A caucus of the Opposition leaders was at once held. Some urged the appointment of a President of the Chamber. Mr. Blake and others, cooler and more tactful, warned the crowd to do nothing that would prejudice their cause in the eyes of the'public. In the Senate also excitement was at a high pitch but nothing unseemly occurred.
A caucus of the Opposition members of both Houses wás held the following morning in the Railway Committee room and a vigorous remonstrance was drawn up protesting against the prorogation of Parliament until provision could be made for a full investigation under its own control of the charges against the Government. The memorial was signed by about ninety members including the Manitobans and the recently arrived Prince Edward Island representatives, and a deputation of four, headed by Mr. Cartwright (afterwards Sir Richard) was appointed to present it to the Governor-General.
At that time I was editor of the Ottawa Citizen and was busy preparing for the afternoon edition when a messenger from Lord Dufferin called and asked me to see him without delay. I went to the Governor-General’s office in the Eastern Block and he requested me to take down in shorthand and publish his answer to the memorial which had been presented in the morning by the deputation from the Opposition. In his reply he expressed regret at the unfortunate delays in proceeding with the investigation, the more so as they had given rise to an impression that they had been unnecessarily interposed by the action of the Executive, but the delays had resulted wholly from the operation of law and were beyond the control of anyone concerned. While a searching investigation was necessary he was not prepared to drive from his presence
men in whom Parliament had repeatedly expressed its confidence. He had decided to act on the advice of his ministers and appoint three gentlemen of such legal standing, character and authority as would command the confidence of the public, competent to take evidence under oath. After the investigation, Parliament would be called for an autumnal session to take supreme and official cognizance of the case pending between his ministers and their accusers.
The prompt publication of this reply had the effect of immediately calming the popular excitement.
The three members of the Royal Commission, Judges Gowan, Day and Polette, began their investigation on September 4 and examined several witnesses, but Mr. Huntington and those associated with him refused to appear.
The commission having completed its inquiry, Parliament was called in extra session on October 23. The address in reply to the speech from the throne was taken up the following Monday. On the second paragraph.
relating to the report of the Royal Commission, Mr. Mackenzie submitted a want of confidence amendment.
The galleries were thronged to capacity from day to day as the debate proceeded and great excitement prevailed everywhere. It became evident that the government was weakening as their supporters one after another deserted them. The final blow was the defection of the six Prince Edward Island members who had been elected as supporters of the Government. When the House met on November 6 excited crowds were pouring into the galleries as Sir John Macdonald rose and announced the resignation of the Government. The announcement was received by the Opposition in silence which lasted for some minutes. Then some feminine whispers broke the spell and there was a storm of cheers from the Opposition in which the throngs In the galleries joined. The noise and excitement did not abate for hours on the floor of the Chamber where the members were massed. Mingled with them were large numbers of the spectators who had descended from the galleries. There was no regard for order; all, members and outsiders alike, shouted and gesticulated and crowds wandered where they pleased, the doorkeepers
and messengers being powerless to prevent them. Very many remained in the galleries watching the extraordinary scenes on the floor below them.
When the noise had subsided somewhat a voice called, “Change seats.” Immediately there was a rush for desirable places, Opposition members carrying their stationery and papers in their arms to desks they had selected on the ministerial side. Before dark the disorders subsided and the crowd dispersed.
When Sir John Wanted to Resign
' I 'HE formation of the Mackenzie Administration and the winter general election are matters of history. The defeat of the Conservative party was overwhelming, a mere handful of stalwarts being left. For once Sir John Macdonald seemed to lose his usual jaunty manner, and it was rumored that he was drinking heavily. After the change of government and before the election he had frequently dropped into my office, but his visits ceased for some time after the election. One day shortly before the meeting of the new parliament he called and asked me to announce that he had resigned the leadership of the Conservative party. I looked at him in astonishment and said, “You surely are not in earnest.” He replied that he was, that it was the best policy in the interest of the party. I expressed my doubt on that point and added, “if you insist upon it I shall publish the announcement but beside it will appear one of our own—that the Citizen no longer supports the Conservative Party.”
After some further conversation, as he rose to leave, I ventured the suggestion that as Parliament was soon to meet it might be better to postpone his announcement until he could submit the matter to a caucus of the Conservative members of the two Houses. To this he assented. What occurred at the party caucus is known to everyone: his offer to resign was rejected and his leadership was confirmed unanimously.
The sittings of the Senate are usually marked with all the decorum of an exalted court of justice plus a dignity and stateliness all its own. In the ’eighties, however, it was subjected to many shocks and thrills through the eccentricity of one of its members, Senator Alexander, who was known in the House as the Honourable Gentleman from Woodstock. It was his custom when he wished to create a scene to notify the press gallery in advance, and the Senate could always foresee fireworks when the newspapermen, who usually shunned the Senate as if it were a pest house, appeared in force below the Bar. They were an irreverent breed and delighted in poking fun at the “first body of gentlemen legislators in the land,” and otherwise giving them annoying pub-
Through the failure of the Bank of Upper Canada Senator Alexander had lost a considerable fortune, a disaster which, he contended, was due to the criminal mismanagement of the directors, among whom were three who happened to be his fellow-members in the Senate. They were Sir Alexander Campbell, Leader of the House, Sir David Macpherson and Hon. Mr. Allen. As the portraits in the corridors show, each of the latter two had occupied the position of Speaker in the Upper House.
Called To Order 26 Times
FROM long brooding over his wrongs, real or imaginary.
subject and he thirsted for revenge on the three senators
Continued on page 63
Continued from vage 23
who, he alleged, had caused his financial loss. He was a tall and rather fine-looking man, Scotch by birth. With his ability and experience he might have been a useful member instead of an irritating nuisance. On several occasions he endeavored to bring up for discussion the matter of the failure of the Bank of Upper Canada, but always defeated his purpose by his utter disregard of the rules and procedure of the House. He was open and unqualified in his expressions of contempt for the important body of which he was a member, a sentiment which was heartily reciprocated by them.
In one session he was called to order twenty-six times, his offences taking a wide range which included speaking twice on the same subject, making irrevelant, sharp and taxing remarks, using improper language, making untrue statements, referring to what had taken place behind closed doors, and flagrantly disregarding the ruling of the Speaker.
It has been the invariable custom in both Houses when a Speaker’s term expires to have his portrait painted in half length and hung in the corridors. When Sir David MacPherson’s occupancy of the chair in the Senate terminated he had his painted full length at his own expense by a celebrated English artist. Sir David was a very large, well-proportioned man, and when dressed in the Speaker’s costume with flowing robe and wearing the costume of his office which showed his finelymoulded calves, he was a subject that any artist would rejoice to paint. A life-sized portrait of such a man, magnificently framed as Sir David’s was, would be welcomed in any art gallery, but it was too large to take its place with the portraits of his predecessors. It was, therefore, suspended in a most conspicuous position at the east end of the spacious lobby where only one other was to be seen—a fulllength painting of Queen Victoria in her royal robes. This afforded Senator Alexander a chance to attack Sir David.
In the session of 1885 he moved that in the opinion of the House the portrait should not be allowed to remain in the Senate conidor. In his remarks on his motion he said that Sir David was virtually pronouncing his own eulogy, that every man with proper instincts must regard it as a simple outrage on common decency, that it was evidence of the honorable genteman’s inordinate vanity.
“What are we to do with this work?” he asked. It had been suggested, he said, to cut the painting in two and put the handsome legs in another frame, and in this manner the size of the frames would be uniform with those of former Speakers. If he had to choose between the two, he would select the portrait of the legs since they were shapely and reaily the best part of the man.
DURING his speech he was called to order twice for making unfounded charges against the leader of the House md Sir David. Senator Alexander would nave been glad to let the matterdrop t here, nut several members insisted on a vote. Ct was practically unanimous, Mr. Alexinder being the only member to vote for Ms own motion. Sir David asked to be îxcused from recording his. The other ifty-two senators voted “Non-content.”
One would imagine that such an emphatic expression of the feeling of the House would put an end to the incident—and it did for a time. In the session of 1888, however, Senator Alexander returned to the attack. He gave the following notice of motion:—
“That he will call attention to the extraordinary painting of the Hon. Sir David Lewis Macpherson placed in the corridors of the Senate, which is not calculated to increase the respect for him while it is very damaging to the reputation of the Senate permitting such an unseemly departure from the usual size of Speakers’ portraits.”
Next day when the doors were opened a suspiciously large crowd entered the galleries and a number of press reporters occupied the seats outside the Bar. When Senator Alexander rose to make his motion Senator Abbott (afterwards Sir John Abbott) who was Leader of the House called attention to the fact that it was out of order, an opinion in which Senator Miller, an authority on parliamentary procedure, concurred. There were cries of, “Withdraw, withdraw.” This Senator Alexander refused to do, and the Speaker ruled the motion out of order. “God help the Senate: what is it coming to?” said the disappointed senator as he left the Chamber.
When the Parliament Building was destroyed by fire in 1915 all the paintings in the Senate were saved and stored away until the new building was ready for occupation, when they were put in their appropriate places in the corridors of the Upper House—all but Sir David’s. No place could be found for his with the portraits of the other Speakers. Even in the corridors of the flat above there were only two spaces large enough for such a big canvas and these two were needed for the portraits of King George and his Queen. Finally, it was hung in a committee room which is locked the greater part of the year, and during sessions is only occasionally used
This was not the only occasion on which Senator Alexander’s carefully-laid plans to obtain the co-operation of the press in his attacks on his three hated colleagues were frustrated. Once he gave notice of a motion to appoint a select committee to inquire into and report on the “disposition of the remaining assets of the Bank of Upper Canada.” Therewas a conspicuously large attendance of newspapermen when the order was called and Senator Alexander rose to submit his motion. Before he could begin his address, however, Senator Abbott rose and said he had observed during the session, and it was a matter of history in connection with the Senate, that motions of this description had on more than one occasion been made, apparently with a view of placing upon record charges against gentlemen whom all held in the highest respect and esteem and of causing circulation of those charges by means of reports of the debates. Such facilities should not be given, and he therefore called attention to the fact that there were strangers in the Chamber.
The Sergeant-at-Arms was instructed to expel the “strangers” and, in company with the disappointed newspapermen, we retired.
(The second and concluding article will appear in the June 1 issue.)