Cool Canadian History: Turn-of-the-century Canadians were getting up to stuff you aren’t going to read in history textbooks

Courtesy of the National Post

Who says Canada Doesn’t have an interesting history?

Tristin Hopper | July 1, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 24 10:55 PM ET

Christ nailed to the cross. Sechelt Indians.

On about 15 metres of shelving at the British Library in London is a collection of Canadian images that curator Philip Hatfield calls “one of the most wonderful, idiosyncratic and personality-filled sets of photographs I’ve ever seen.”

Dating from about 100 years ago, the collection features scenes of spectacular destruction from the frontier, some of the last images of First Nations struggling to maintain a traditional way of life and hundreds of photos of tough, corn-fed Canadians doing battle with everything from moose to bears to Germans to winter.

Altogether, “you get a really strong sense of what it means to be Canadian,” said Mr. Hatfield, a Briton who wrote his PhD on the collection.

For Canada Day, the National Post presents these “greatest hits.” The featured image, by the way, depicts early 20th century members of the Sechelt Indian Band performing a Passion Play.

Henry S. Henderson / British Library<br /><br /><br /><br />
Despite his doughy appearance, Canada’s Sir Arthur Currie is generally recognized as one of the most capable commanders on the Western Front of the Great War. There are arguably thousands of Canadians alive today who would not be around if their ancestors had gone to battle under a less skillful commander. Here, Sir Currie is being forced to pose with an adorable dog.


Henry Charles White / British Library

Henry Charles White / British Library“Cheerful sufferers.”

The one major thing left out of historical photos and paintings is just how sick and injured everybody was all the time. These two men in 1920 are no exception, but at least they put on a smile.

Fred L. Hacking / British Library

Fred L. Hacking / British Library

In this photo set from 1900, one man races towards the “20th century” on a children’s tricycle, before it collapses. It is unclear what the photo was used for, aside from the fact that it was meant to be played for laughs.

Frederick George Goodenough / British Library

Frederick George Goodenough / British LibraryHMS Olympic under way, 1919

It’s not quite the Titanic, but in this 1919 photo, the Titanic’s near-identical sister ship, the Olympic, is photographed steaming out of Halifax harbour. The Olympic’s hardier older sister actually has a prominent role in Canadian history: By war’s end, it held the record for carrying more Canadian troops to Europe than any other.

Photographer unknown / British Library

Photographer unknown / British LibraryAvalanche clearance

In 1908, Canada fended off avalanches much the same as it does now: By firing artillery shells at snow. This photo, presumably taken near the Rocky Mountains, shows the dramatic aftermath of one such attack on the Canadian wilderness.

Alfred Steadworthy / British Library

Alfred Steadworthy / British LibraryRivals, 1916

This doctored photo of a speeding locomotive surrounded by lightning bolts, carries the vague caption of “rivals.” Perhaps the photographer was trying to convey the battle between steam power and electrical power, or he was hinting that the awesome power of Canada’s rail system had come close to rivalling that of the heavens themselves.

British Library

British LibraryThis commercial image from 1898 Toronto is captioned “All Coons Look Alike to Me” and even includes a couple of bars of music inviting the viewer to sing aloud about their inability to differentiate black people.

Among comparable multicultural nations, Canada has a pretty admirable record on race relations. Of course, this only came after many, many decades of surprisingly blatant discrimination. This commercial image from 1898 Toronto is captioned “All Coons Look Alike to Me” and even includes a couple of bars of music inviting the viewer to sing aloud about their inability to differentiate black people.

Canadian Northern Railway Company / British Library

Canadian Northern Railway Company / British LibraryCanoe man stepping on back of bull moose, 1914

This photo was taken several decades before the advent of Canadian Medicare, but that didn’t stop this unidentified man from jumping out of his canoe to attempt to ride a 600 pound moose. For the record, riding wildlife is now illegal.

John G. Dickson / British Library

John G. Dickson / British LibraryA sleigh motor cycle, 1914

Before snowmobile inventor Joseph-Armand Bombardier had even picked up his first wrench, Canadians were already recklessly slapping skis on anything with a motor. In this 1914 photo, a moustachioed man proudly displays his “sleigh motor cycle,” complete with a fur-wearing lady in the sidecar. It is worth noting that there is almost no way to stop this thing.

William Elisha Maw / British Library

William Elisha Maw / British LibraryMy hockey queen. Canadian hockey girl series. No. 1, 1903

In an era when Europeans were lusting over fragile, pale-skinned ladies in bone-crunching corsets, it is good to know that Canadian men appreciated a woman who knew her way around a pair of skates. This 1903 photo from the “Canadian Hockey Girl Series” shows a female hockey player known to history only as “My Hockey Queen.”

Stone Limited / British Library

Stone Limited / British Library“Picture illustrating man in overalls making shells.” 1915

A century after the Great War, citizens in Northern France are still regularly killed by long-buried artillery shells worming their way to the surface and exploding. Chances are good that a fair number of these antique munition had their origins in a Canadian factory. During the latter stages of WWI, the largest business in all of Canada, with 250,000 workers, was the Imperial Munitions Board. In this 1915 photo, a Canadian craftsman calmly puts the finishing touches on a shell that most Canadians hoped would soon be killing as many Germans as possible.

B. W. Leeson / British Library

B. W. Leeson / British LibraryThe evening of his race. 1913

In the early 20th century, it was a common belief among Canadian white society that the country’s Aboriginal culture would soon be completely extinct. Some even appeared to romanticize the notion, as evidenced by this photo illustration entitled “The Evening of His Race.” Created by West Coast photographer B.W. Leeson, the elder and village depicted are likely those of the G̱usgimukw peoples of northern Vancouver Island.

Edwin Clay Blair / British Library

Edwin Clay Blair / British Library“Monsters of the deep cast ashore at River John, Nova Scotia, 1918. No. 4.” 1918

If the recent whale hubbub in Newfoundland is any indication, a few beached whales is always a surefire way to liven things up in a Canadian coastal community. That was surely the case in 1918 River John, Nova Scotia, where dozens of beached pilot whales prompted locals to head down to the shore and take turns standing on the “monsters of the deep.”

William J. Carpenter / British Library<br /><br /><br /><br />

William J. Carpenter / British LibraryVancouver firemen jumping into life net. 1910

Vancouver, like virtually every other major settlement in North America, was destroyed by fire early in in its history. In this 1910 photo, Vancouver firefighters show their readiness for future conflagrations by catching a colleague in a life net.

Canadian Postcard Company / British Library

Canadian Postcard Company / British Library“German Submarine, Toronto, from an Aeroplane.” 1920

With WWI over, hundreds of seasoned Canadian airmen returned home to become bush pilots and begin conquering the most remote reaches of their sprawling homeland. But first, they had aerial photos to take. This 1919 photo is one of a massive post-war series and captures the Toronto waterfront, where a gaggle of people have gathered to check out another prize of the First World War: A captured German U-Boat.

William Notman and Son / British Library

William Notman and Son / British LibrarySir Charles Tupper and Hugh John Macdonald. Photo B. 1900

Hugh John Macdonald served in both the North-West Rebellion and the Red River Rebellion, he was a premier of Manitoba, a federal member of parliament and if his gangly physique didn’t tip you off, he was the only son of inaugural Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Here, he smiles warmly while Sir Charles Tupper, the shortest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history, scowls at something in the distance.


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Louis Cyr…

The strongest man in the world!

louis cyrLouis Cyr (born Cyprien-Noé Cyr, 11 October 1863 – 10 November 1912) was a famous French Canadian strongman with a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His recorded feats, including lifting 500 pounds (227 kg) with one finger and backlifting 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg), show Cyr to be, according to former International Federation of Body Building & Fitness chairman Ben Weider, the strongest man ever to have lived.

Cyr was born in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Canada. From the age of twelve Cyr worked in a lumber camp during the winters and on the family’s farm the rest of the year. Discovering his exceptional strength at a very young age, he impressed his fellow workers with his feats of strength. After learning of the tale, Cyr attempted to mimic the practice of legendary strongman Milo of Croton, who as a child carried a calf on his shoulders, continuing to carry it as it grew into a full-grown bull and he into a grown man. Cyr’s calf, however, bolted one day, kicking him in his back, after which he instead began carrying a sack of grain 1⁄4 mile (0.40 km) every day, adding 2 pounds (0.91 kg) each day

In 1878 the Cyr family immigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts in the United States. It was in Lowell that Cyr changed his name from Cyprien-Noé to Louis, as it was easier to pronounce in English. Again his great strength brought him fame. At seventeen he weighed 230 pounds (104 kg). He entered his first strongman contest in Boston at age eighteen, lifting a horse off the ground; the fully grown male horse was placed on a platform with 2 iron bars attached enabling Cyr to obtain a better grip. The horse weighed at least 3⁄4 short tons (0.68 t).

While several of Cyr’s feats of strength may have been exaggerated over the years, some were documented and remain impressive. These included:

  • lifting a platform on his back holding 18 men for a total of 1976 kg
  • lifting a 534-pound (242 kg) weight with one finger
  • pushing a freight car up an incline

At 19 years old, he lifted a rock from ground up to his shoulder, officially weighted at 514 pounds.

He beat Eugen Sandow’s bent press record (and therefore the heaviest weight lifted with one hand) by 2 pounds (0.91 kg) to a total of 273 pounds (124 kg).

Louis Cyr ready to restrain horses, 1891
Louis Cyr ready to restrain horses, 1891

Perhaps his greatest feat occurred in 1895, when he was reported to have lifted 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg) on his back in Boston by putting 18 men on a platform and lifting them. One of his most memorable displays of strength occurred in Montreal on October 12, 1891. Louis resisted the pull of four draught horses (two in each hand) as grooms stood cracking their whips to get the horses to pull harder, a feat he again demonstrated in Bytown (now Ottawa) with Queen Victoria’s team of draught horses during her ‘Royal’ visit. While in Bytown (Ottawa) he volunteered with the police when they took deputies to round up a local gang of miscreants; they turned him away claiming he would be too slow due to his bulk. He challenged the regular officers to a foot race, beating the majority, and they took him on.

Monument to Louis Cyr by Robert Pelletier in Place des Hommes-Forts in Montreal
Monument to Louis Cyr by Robert Pelletier in Place des Hommes-Forts in Montreal

He patrolled as a police officer between 1883–1885 in Sainte-Cunégonde, known now as Petite-Bourgogne (Little Burgundy) in Montreal. Both the Parc Louis-Cyr and the Place des Hommes-Forts (“Strongmen’s Square”) are named after him. Statues of him are located at Place des Hommes-Forts and the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City. The highschool in his hometown of Napierville is also named after him.

At his peak Louis was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) in height and weighed 310 pounds (140 kg), with a 21-inch (53 cm) neck, a 54-inch (140 cm) chest, a 45-inch (110 cm) waist, 22-inch (56 cm) biceps, 19-inch (48 cm) forearms, 11-inch (28 cm) wrists, 33-inch (84 cm) thighs, 23-inch (58 cm) calves.

In The Strongest Man in History, Ben Weider says that Cyr’s records remain “uncontested and incontestable.”

Cyr died in 1912 of Bright’s disease (now known as chronic nephritis).

He was portrayed by Antoine Bertrand in the 2013 biographical film Louis Cyr, “l’homme le plus fort du monde.”

Source: Wikipedia

Be an ‘angel’  …

swisssh - orillia theatre

Theatre Orillia is a community based theatre company located in Orillia, Ontario – the setting of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town. As is not unusual for community theatres, it could use a helping hand, financially. If you would care to be a theatre ‘angel’, just navigate to the following URL:

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The Rogers Pass Avalanche – March 4, 1910

The worst avalanche disaster in Canadian History –

The wreckage following the disastrous, Rogers Pass Avalanche that killed 56 men.
The wreckage following the disastrous, Rogers Pass Avalanche that killed 56 men.

Yesterday (March 4th) marked the 105th anniversary of the 1910 Rogers Pass Avalanche that killed 62 men who were clearing a railroad line near the summit of Rogers Pass. It is Canada’s worst avalanche disaster.

Rogers Pass

The Canadian Pacific Railway’s line through Rogers Pass completed its transcontinental railroad through to Canada’s west coast, and at the time was the only such link. It was therefore of vital importance to keep it open through the winter months. Although completed in November 1885 it was soon abandoned as throughout that winter, up to 12 metres of snow buried the line and avalanches tore away newly-laid sections of track. A costly system of 31 ‘snow sheds’ was constructed to protect the most vulnerable sections of line, covering 6.5 km (4.0 mi) in all. However, most of the route through the pass was still unprotected, meaning that men and equipment were often called upon to clear the track.

March 1910

A map showing the 'snow sheds' and where the avalanche struck.
A map showing the ‘snow sheds’ and where the avalanche struck.

The winter of 1909–1910 provided conditions particularly conducive to avalanches; many slides being experienced during January and February. On March 1, 96 people had been killed further south in the Wellington avalanche in Washington State. Three days later on the evening of March 4th work crews were dispatched to clear a big slide which had fallen from Cheops Mountain, and buried the tracks just south of Shed 17. The crew consisted of a locomotive-driven rotary snowplow and 59 men. Time was critical as westbound CPR Train Number 97 was just entering the Rocky Mountains, bound for Vancouver. Half an hour before midnight as the track was nearly clear, an unexpected avalanche swept down the opposite side of the track to the first fall. Around 400 metres of track were buried. The 91-ton locomotive and plow were hurled 15 metres (49 feet) to land upside-down. The wooden cars behind the locomotive were crushed and all but one of the workmen were instantly buried in the deep snow. The only survivor was Billy Lachance (translation: “The Fortunate”) the locomotive fireman who had been knocked over by the wind accompanying the fall but otherwise remained unscathed.

When news of the disaster reached nearby Revelstoke a relief train consisting of 200 railmen, physicians and nurses was sent to the scene. They found no casualties to treat; it became a mission to clear the tracks and recover the bodies beneath 10 metres (40 feet) of snow. Many of the dead were found standing upright, frozen in position, reminiscent of Pompeii. 58 workers were killed. Among the dead were 32 Japanese workers.


The disaster was not the first to befall the pass; in all over 200 people had been killed by avalanches there since the line was opened 26 years previously. The CPR finally accepted defeat and in 1913 began boring the five mile long Connaught Tunnel through Mount Macdonald, at the time Canada’s longest tunnel, so bypassing the hazard of Rogers Pass. It was opened on December 13, 1916, and the railway abandoned the pass.

Source: Wikipedia.

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