Dominion Day

Banner photo is of fireworks at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1905.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

Working on a new post, I’ve been up to my eyeballs (literally, because I use them to read) in old newspapers and documents.  But I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a happy Canada Day.  So, Happy Canada Day!

My earliest memory of celebrating Canada Day is being about 6 or so and going to the neighbourhood park with my Mom.  There was a makeshift stage with balloons on it and someone made a speech about it being the country’s birthday.  For whatever reason, the number 100 was mentioned.   And because I was young, impressionable and my brain was a fairly blank slate, I took it to mean we were, right then and there, celebrating its 100th birthday.  Which would’ve meant it was 1967.  Which it wasn’t – it was sometime in the ’80s.  But the memory of that day – the bright sun streaking through the trees, the balloons, holding my mom’s hand, having no concept of time – was so strong that I’m a little embarrassed to tell you how long I held onto that belief.  And I had a silly,  solemn attitude about it too, like “Ah yes, the Centennial – I remember it well.”

Anyhow, as I wasn’t actually celebrating in ’67 – or happily, 1867 – I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at how early Torontonians marked the occasion.

Well first off, it wasn’t always called “Canada Day.”  Up until the late date of 1982 it was known as Dominion Day.  Here are some of the amusements the city offered a hundred years before that:

Dominion Day July 1 1881 Fireworks Horticultural Gardens Toronto Daily Mail
Oh boy! Dominion Day fireworks by Professor Hand.  …That it’s “Hand” singular, makes me think he wasn’t always so expert in his field. From the Toronto Daily Mail, July 1, 1881.

On a side note, the Hand brand became a big name and is actually still around.

Today the Euro Cup is playing on every TV in every pub in the city, but in 1881 it was all lacrosse, baby.

Lacrosse Match Dominion Day Toronto Daily Mail 1881
I’m familiar with the term “Montrealers”, but “Torontos” is a new one by me. From the Toronto Daily Mail, 1881.
Dominion Day July 1 1881 Chicora
Nothing says “I love my country” like “How much for a ticket to Buffalo?” Toronto Daily Mail, 1881.
Here we see the Chicora in action in 1910.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

If a boat ride wasn’t your idea of fun, there was always the racetrack:

Dominion Day July 1 1881 Woodbine Races
“Strict enforcement of order.  First Race at 2:30. …Oh yeah, and God save the Queen.” Toronto Daily Mail, 1881.

The original Woodbine Racetrack is no more – the new one shares the name, but is on the complete opposite end of town.  Here’s a look at the original:

Ontario Jockey Club, Woodbine Racetrack. - 1907
The Jockey Club at Woodbine, 1907.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

Here are a couple of ladies who’ve spent the day at the races:

Two women, Ontario Jockey Club. - 1912
The one on the right is in shock over how much she’s lost. Her friend is not-so-secretly pleased. Woodbine, 1912.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

If horse-racing was a little old-fashioned for your tastes, you could instead take in the hot action of bicycle racing:

Wheelmen 1884 Programme
From the Canadian Wheelman’s Association tournament program, 1884.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

These were some seriously mean-machines:

Dominion Day Wheelman 1884
I’m sure it’s obvious to many, but I really can’t fathom how you were supposed to get up there.  From the Canadian Wheelman’s Association Tournament program, 1884.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Here we see an illustration of the kind of action you could expect:

1884 Wheelman's Dominion Day Bike Race
Ever had one of those dreams that someone is chasing you and you feel like you’re running in slow motion? That’s the feeling I get from this.  From the Canadian Wheelman’s Association Tournament program, 1884. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Light entertainment aside, Dominion Day didn’t seem to take up a lot of space in the local papers.  Even this article, which appeared on Dominion Day 1881, was far from a featured item – it was tucked amongst the death notices towards the end of the edition:

Toronto World Dominion Day 1886 Gods footstool
“God’s footstool”? I love that it ends on such a strong note – 200 men are attending a convention. … Vive la Canada! From the Toronto World, July 1, 1886.

But in 1890, things got really exciting.  It was Carnival time:

Carnival Dominion Day Toronto Daily Mail Jul 1 1890 part 1
“Thank you Venice for giving us inspiration – now here’s how we’re better than you.” Personally I don’t think they helped their argument by noting the lack of “dark-eyed senoras” or “jasmine wreathed balconies.” Toronto Daily Mail, July 1, 1889.

But look at the turnout!

Promenade Concert 1
Because it’s an illustration, we’ll have to take their word for it – but I wouldn’t doubt it.  Hot, summer weather, live bands and … you know, streets to walk along.  Pretty enticing stuff.  From the Toronto Daily Mail, July 1st 1890.

Of course, local businesses would’ve rubbed their hands together excitedly and dreamed up ways to siphon off a bit of the traffic:

Great Parade 1890 Toronto Daily Mail
Front and Sherbourne to King to Spadina to Queen and Strachan to the Exhibition Grounds? … If you don’t live in Toronto, I have to point out that this was a heckuva parade route – that is a lot of ground to cover. You’d have plenty of time to think about that old, heavy hat you’re wearing. Toronto Daily Mail, 1890.

As you’d imagine, the biggest Dominion Day celebrations came in the Centennial year, 1967.  For this milestone, there were events held throughout the year.  New coins were minted, a Centennial flame was placed on Parliament Hill and a Centennial Train crossed the country.

And while I now understand that I was not present for any of these events, my mother certainly was.  As part of Canada’s most popular (and in my opinion, best) folk group, The Travellers, she recorded This Land, The Travellers Centennial Album in 1967.   The record featured what has become the country’s unofficial anthem – the Canadian version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land.

My lovely mother with her fellow Travellers:

The Travellers performing at the Riverboat Coffee House in 1965. Photo reproduced for bassist Joe Hampson’s obituary in the Globe and Mail, November 2006.

Happy Dominion – I mean, Canada Day everyone!  However you’re celebrating, I hope it’s grand!

13 thoughts on “Dominion Day

  1. On the subject of penny farthings…they actually had one in the Oamaru (Steampunk HQ town) tourist centre that you could climb on for pictures. And it literally had a small staircase next to it so you could climb up. Even though it was mounted to the ground, I was still scared to climb on all the way, so I just swung a leg halfway over for a picture. So I have no idea how people actually got on ones with moving wheels and rode them.
    Anyway, happy belated Canada Day! I meant to make ice cream Nanaimo bars again for it (I made them last year and they were delicious) even though I am not Canadian, because I will use any excuse to make ice cream, but this year I forgot. And your mom and her band look very rad; I wish my mom was that cool!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy belated Canada Day and Fourth of July to you! I love that you’ve celebrated Canada Day – and even more that it involved Nanaimo bars. That’s genius. And now I’m sorry I don’t have one.
      I’d love to have seen the penny farthing pic. I don’t blame you for not getting on it completely. I feel like I’d have managed to fall off of it somehow. How they managed in actual use is beyond comprehension. The tiny wheel at the back for balance (?) seems awfully iffy.
      I’m glad you got a kick out of the bit on my Mom’s band. She had a great career and some really incredible experiences (if you’ll excuse my boasting) but mostly I love her flippy blond ‘do in the photo. I’m sure your mother’s plenty cool too!
      By the way, your “tentacley” comment on Steampunk keeps popping into my head and cracking me up. So perfect!


      1. Thanks! I did make strawberry chiffon cake for the Fourth of July…and will probably make friands for Bastille Day next week…what can I say, I like cake! P.S. I posted the penny farthing picture link under your comment on my Steampunk post. If you’re interested!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is pretty genius – I’ve never thought about expanding my celebrations dessert-wise. Bravo! And I love the penny farthing pic. You actually look like you might survive a ride 🙂


  2. Fascinating look at the celebration-and the documents and images you found are terrific. Clearly a labor of love at work here-I worked as an architectural surveyor and I share your love of the older buildings and their ornaments-Thank you too for visiting Little Dogs Laughed-we appreciate your interest and look forward to seeing more of your work-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it and to know we share a love of architectural history. Your work as a surveyor must’ve been fascinating! Little Dogs Laughed is an absolute treasure – your photography and writing are wonderful. I have a bottomless love of dogs and so your work does my heart a lot of good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful, treasure of a post! And great photos, Kate. The ladies at Woodbine looked fabulous in their long dresses and hats, and your mother was a complete goddess — a beautiful woman and talented. I’m fond of that song This Land is Your Land. A lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whenever I look at something from the Toronto Archives, I feel like I want to live in those times! Apparently, 1900’s Torontonians knew how to have a fun! So much interesting stuff in this article. I wish Happy Canada Day Weekend to everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

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