Tag Archives: Victoria

British Columbia: Two Capitals?

British Columbia has a fascinating history, as do all of Canada’s Provinces and Territories.  For today’s post, however, please let me acquaint you with some of B.C.’s history.

Photo of Songish village, Brithish Columbia, prior 18634

Songish village opposite Victoria, B.C., before 1863. from

There are two parts that make up British Columbia: the mainland and the island, until they both united in 1866.

For a while there wasn’t agreement between the ex-colonies about which of their capital cities would serve as the seat of government.  Islanders wanted Victoria, and the mainland argued for New Westminster.  For years, the cities alternated.  Eventually, Victoria became the permanent capital of the colony.

Have you heard of Bill Smith?  He was a newspaper editor and politician, If you haven’t, you may have heard of what he called himself: Amor de Cosmos (<–  you can read my earlier post about him by clicking on his name). One of his greatest achievements was his hard work to get British Columbia to join Confederation, and later became Premier of the province.

Vancouver acquired the nickname “Terminal City,” because the terminus of the transcontinental railway was there.  A chief financier of the railway, William Van Horne, had chosen the site  and he also insisted that the new city be named after the explorer George Vancouver.

Photo of Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert from Turquoise Lake, the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains

I cannot write of British Columbia without mentioning the Rocky Mountains. It is Canada’s largest mountain range as well as the largest in the western hemisphere. While it runs nearly the entire length of British Columbia, it also forms part of the border with Alberta.  The economic resources of the Rocky Mountains are varied and abundant. Minerals found in the Rocky Mountains include significant deposits of copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, silver, tungsten, and zinc.

Every year the scenic areas and recreational opportunities of the Rocky Mountains draw millions of tourists and it’s easy to see why.

Map of the Rocky Mountains

Map outlining the Rocky Mountains, in both Canada and the United States.


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Alice Munro

Canada has the privilege to acknowledge some of the world’s best authors.  As such, I would like to introduce you to Alice Munro today.

She was born on July 10, 1931, at Wingham, Ontario.

She’s won so many awards for her short stories.  A few are: Governor General’s Literary Award for English language fiction (1968, 1978, 1986); Canadian Booksellers Award for Lives of Girls and Women (1971); The Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Marian Engel Award (1986) for her body of work; Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (2004) for Runaway; Trillium Book Award for Friend of My Youth (1991), The Love of a Good Woman (1999) and Dear Life (2013); And the list goes on.

Munro began writing as a teenager, publishing her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow,” in 1950 while studying English and journalism at the University of Western Ontario.  During this period she worked as a waitress, a tobacco picker, and a library clerk. In 1951, she left the university to marry fellow student James Munro.

Munro married James Munro in 1951. Their daughters Sheila, Catherine, and Jenny were born in 1953, 1955, and 1957 respectively; Catherine died 15 hours after birth.

In 1963, the couple moved to Victoria, where they opened Munro’s Books, which still operates.  In 1966, their daughter Andrea was born. Alice and James Munro divorced in 1972.

In 1976, she married Gerald Fremlin, a cartographer and geographer. The couple moved to a farm outside Clinton, Ontario, and later to a house in Clinton, where Fremlin died on April 17, 2013, at the age of 88.

At a Toronto appearance in October 2009, Munro indicated that she had received treatment for cancer and for a heart condition requiring coronary-artery bypass surgery.

In 2002, her daughter Sheila Munro published a childhood memoir, Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro.

On learning she had been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature,

“I am dazed by all the attention and affection that has been coming my way this morning. When I began writing there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world. Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe. I’m so thrilled to be this year’s recipient [and] hope this brings further recognition to the short story form.”

To learn more about Munro, I can suggest a few sites: World Cat Identities offers a list of her stories with descriptions; The Canadian Encyclopedia; and Open Culture. Finally, I highly recommend you visit Munro’s Books site!




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May Two-Four?

Tomorrow, May 19, is Victoria Day, acknowledging Queen Victoria’s birthday. So for today’s post, allow me to introduce you to Alexandrina Victoria.

Queen Victoria

Photo of Queen Victoria; Photo de la reine Victoria. Date: 18 August 2007, Ottawa, by abdallahh. Source:

She was born on May 24, 1819 (Kensington Palace, London), and died on January 22, 1901 (Osborne House, Isle of Wight) at the age of 81.

The official name for this annual celebration is Victoria Day, and in French it’s called Fête de la Reine. Some also call it May Long Weekend, May Long, May Two-Four, or May Run. It is also informally considered as the beginning of the summer season in Canada.  It is celebrated every year on the Monday preceding May 25.  This year, it falls on May 19th.

Canada started celebrating the Queen’s birthday on May 24, 1845, when the legislation first passed by the parliament of the Province of Canada.

One year, however, the celebrations were marred by tragedy.  In 1881, a passenger ferry named Victoria overturned in the Thames River, near London, Ontario. The boat departed in the evening with 600 to 800 people on board—three times the allowable passenger capacity—and capsized part way across the river, drowning some 182 individuals, including a large number of children who had been with their families for Victoria Day picnics at Springbank Park. The event came to be known as the Victoria Day disaster.

The holiday is colloquially known as May Two-Four in parts of Canada.  It’s a double entendre that refers both to the date around which the holiday falls (May 24) and the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a “two-four”), a drink popular during the long weekend.

When  Alexandrina was but a year old, her father died.  Consequently, she was brought up by her mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.  She later described her childhood as “rather melancholy.”  Her mother was extremely protective.  Alexandrina was raised largely isolated from other children. She lived by an elaborate set of rules and protocols.  Her mother hired an ambitious and domineering comptroller, Sir John Conroy, for her.  Together they prevented the princess from meeting people whom her mother and Conroy deemed undesirable, which included most of her father’s family.  She shared a bedroom with her mother every night, studied with private tutors on a rigid timetable, and spent her play hours with her dolls and her dog, Dash.

In October 1835,  Alexandrina contracted a severe fever, which Conroy dismissed as a childish pretence.  While she was ill, Conroy and her mother unsuccessfully badgered her to make Conroy her private secretary.  As a teenager,  Alexandrina resisted persistent attempts by her mother and Conroy to appoint him to her staff.  Once queen, she banned him from her presence, but he remained in her mother’s household.

Her mother’s brother, Leopold, had been King since 1831.  Leopold arranged for  Alexandrina’s mother to invite her relatives to visit her in May 1836.  It was at this time that she first met Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, as possible suitors.

According to her diary, she enjoyed Albert’s company from the beginning. After the visit she wrote, “[Albert] is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful.”  Alexander, on the other hand, was “very plain”.

Victoria turned 18 on May 24, 1837.  On June 20 that year, William IV died at the age of 71, and Victoria became Queen.

In her diary she wrote, “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.”

Official documents prepared on the first day of her reign named her as Alexandrina Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her own wish and never used again.

She inherited the revenues of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and was granted a civil list of £385,000 per year. Financially prudent, she paid off her father’s debts.

At the start of her reign Victoria was popular, but her reputation suffered in 1839 because of an incident involving one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings.  She developed an abdominal growth that was widely rumoured to be an out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Sir John Conroy.  Victoria believed the rumours.   At first, Lady Flora refused to submit to a naked medical examination, until in mid-February she eventually agreed, and was found to be a virgin.  Conroy organised a press campaign implicating the Queen in the spreading of false rumours about Lady Flora.  When Lady Flora died in July, the post-mortem revealed a large tumour on her liver that had distended her abdomen.  At public appearances, Victoria was hissed and jeered.

Though queen, as an unmarried young woman Victoria was required by social convention to live with her mother, despite their differences, and exasperated with her mother’s continued reliance on Conroy.  Her mother was consigned to a remote apartment in Buckingham Palace, and Victoria often refused to even meet with her. Victoria complained of her mother’s close proximity,  expecting “torment for many years”.  It was proposed that could be avoided by marriage.  She thought of Albert’s education for the future role he would have to play as her husband, but she resisted attempts to rush her into wedlock.

Victoria continued to praise Albert following his second visit in October 1839. Albert and Victoria felt mutual affection and the Queen proposed to him on October 15, 1839, just five days after he had arrived at Windsor.  They were married on February 10, 1840.  Victoria was besotted. She spent the evening after their wedding lying down with a headache, but wrote ecstatically in her diary:

“I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert … his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!”

Albert became an important political adviser as well as the Queen’s companion. Through Albert’s mediation, relations between mother and daughter slowly improved.

Edward Oxford shooting at Queen Victoria, June 10, 1840

Edward Oxford shooting at Queen Victoria, June 10, 1840.  (19 April 1822 – 23 April 1900) He was the first of eight people who tried to assassinate Queen Victoria.

During Victoria’s first pregnancy in 1840, 18-year-old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her while she was riding in a carriage with Prince Albert on her way to visit her mother. Oxford fired twice, but either both bullets missed or, as he later claimed, the guns had no shot.  He was tried for high treason and found guilty, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity.  In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Victoria’s popularity soared again.  Her daughter, also named Victoria, was born on 21 November 1840.

The Queen hated being pregnant.  Nevertheless, over the following seventeen years, she and Albert had a further eight children: Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (b. 1841), Alice (b. 1843), Alfred (b. 1844), Helena (b. 1846), Louise (b. 1848), Arthur (b. 1850), Leopold (b. 1853) and Beatrice (b. 1857).

In 1845, Ireland was hit by a potato blight that became known as the Great Famine.  In the next four years over a million people died.  She personally donated £2,000 to famine relief, more than any other individual donor, and also supported the Maynooth Grant to a Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland, despite Protestant opposition.

In 1853, Victoria gave birth to her eighth child, Leopold, with the aid of the new anaesthetic, chloroform. Victoria was so impressed by the relief it gave from the pain of childbirth that she used it again in 1857 at the birth of her ninth and final child, Beatrice.

In March 1861, Victoria’s mother died, with Victoria at her side. To relieve his wife during her intense and deep grief,  Albert took on most of her duties, despite being ill himself with chronic stomach trouble.

By the beginning of December, Albert was diagnosed with typhoid fever.  He died on December 14, 1861. Victoria was devastated.  She entered a state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of her life. She avoided public appearances.  Through the 1860s, Victoria relied increasingly on a manservant from Scotland, John Brown.  Before long, there were slanderous rumours of a romantic connection.  The story of their relationship was the subject of the 1997 movie Mrs. Brown.

Victoria’s self-imposed isolation from the public diminished the popularity of the monarchy.  On the last day of February 1872, 17-year-old Arthur O’Connor (great-nephew of Irish MP Feargus O’Connor) waved an unloaded pistol at Victoria’s open carriage.  Brown, who was attending the Queen, grabbed him and O’Connor was later sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.  As a result of the incident, Victoria again became popular.

Following a custom she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent the Christmas of 1900 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs had rendered her lame, after a fall years earlier.  Her eyesight was clouded by cataracts.  Through early January, she felt “weak and unwell”, and by mid-January she was reported to be “drowsy, dazed, and confused“.  She died on Tuesday, January 22, 1901, at half past six in the evening, at the age of 81.  Her son and successor King Edward VII, and her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, were at her deathbed.  Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turri, was laid upon her deathbed as her last request.


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Happy 91st Birthday, Madeleine!

English: Screenshot of Madeleine Sherwood and ...

Screenshot of Madeleine Sherwood and Jack Carson from the trailer for the film en:Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you watch The Flying Nun (1967 to 1970)?  Remember Sally Field as Sister Bertrille? And finally, do you remember Reverend Mother Placido, her Mother Superior?  I don’t think I ever missed an episode.  One of the better TV shows then, I believe.

Today’s post is about Madeleine Sherwood , who played Reverend Mother Placido.

She was born on November 13, 1922 in Montreal, Quebec, as Louise Hélène Thornton.

Sherwood began her career, some have said, at the age of four, when she performed in a church play. In 1950, she moved to New York City.  She made her first Broadway performance in Horton Foote’s, The Chase, replacing Kim Stanley.  That was just the beginning of her career in Broadway.  She became a member of the Actors Studio in 1957, working with Lee Strasberg, and is now a life member of the Studio.

During the McCarthy era, Sherwood was blacklisted.  During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, she met and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late 50’s and 60’s.  Then she went south to join CORE (Congress on Racial Equality). She was arrested during a Freedom Walk, jailed and sentenced to six months hard labour for “Endangering the Customs and Mores of the People of Alabama”.  Another very interesting titbit of her life at that time, her lawyer, Fred Grey, was the first African-American lawyer to represent a white woman south of the Mason–Dixon Line. Unfortunately, during this period, she lost most of her hearing.

In the early 1990s, she returned to Canada and resettled in Victoria, BC, and Saint-Hippolyte, Quebec. Although she was a longtime resident of the United States, she has remained a Canadian citizen all her life. She has one daughter, two grandchildren and six great-grand children.

Besides her many roles on Broadway, she’s been in films and on many shows on television.  Just a few are:

Danger (1 episode, 1953)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Mae Flynn Pollitt
The Edge of Night (1964) Ann Kelly #1
The Flying Nun (1967–1970) Reverend Mother Superior Placido
Pendulum (film) (1969) Mrs. Eileen Sanderson
The Guiding Light (1970–1971) Betty Eiler
The Secret Storm (1972–1973) Carmen
Wicked, Wicked (1973) Lenore Karadyne
Columbo (1 episode, 1974) Miss Brady
The Changeling (1980) Mrs. Norman
One Life to Live (1980) Bridget Leander
Nobody’s Child (1986) Nurse Rhonda
Dynasty (1 episode, 1987)
Cagney & Lacey (1 episode, 1987)

At 91 years young, she is getting a virtual Thank You and a Happy Birthday wish from the author of this blog!


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“For God’s sake, come and save us.”

English: Princess Sophia (steamship) on Vander...

One of the worst sea disasters on the Pacific coast took place on October 25, 1918.  The Canadian Pacific Steamship Sophia left Skagway, Alaska, bound for Victoria and Vancouver.  On board were 343 people “going outside” for the winter.  Some of them were characters from Klondike gold rush days, and they formed a happy crowd of travellers.  They gathered in the Sophia‘s lounge to sing the old dance hall songs and listen to the stories of William Scouse of Seattle, who had hoisted the first bucket of gold at Eldorado Creek twenty years earlier.

The ship was commanded by Captain Louis P. Locke, formerly of Nova Scotia.  As the Sophia steamed through the night, it suddenly struck a hidden rock known as Vanderbilt Reef.  The ship did not sink, but was listing badly.  Captain Locke sent out an S.O.S. which brought the U.S. steamer Cedar and a number of small boats to the Sophia’s assistance during the day.  Unfortunately the wind was gale force and it was impossible to take off the passengers; so the captain of the Cedar decided to stand by until the wind moderated.  The passengers were brave, and as happy as possible under the circumstances.  They continued their songs around the piano, defying the storm and their thoughts of dying.

Suddenly, about five o’clock in the afternoon, Sophia began to founder.  Captain Locke sent out a wireless signal:  “For God’s sake, come and save us.”  Cedar tried to come close but could not make it because of the high seas and a snowstorm that reduced visibility to nil.

The last that was heard from Sophia was a wireless message:  “Just in time to say goodbye.  We are foundering.”  All the passengers and crew, 343 in all, were lost.  When the bodies were recovered many of them were carrying valuables.  One black woman had $80,000 in bills sewn into her clothing.  Another victim was carrying $40,000.  Several had gold dust with them, while another woman was carrying diamonds and rubies in a bag tied to her neck.  The only survivor was a brown and white English setter that somehow swam to shore.  It came into Tec Harbour two days later, its coat greasy with oil.

To read more about this tragedy, I suggest going to Find-a-Grave for a list and a few words for each of the passengers, and then Doctor Grumpy in the House blog, and then Atropedia – a new site I just found that is a global accident database. The Stories in the News has a comprehensive article. Finally I suggest reading a two-page .PDF Mountain View Cemetery for interesting reading.


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Through Kicking Horse Pass

Painting of the Kicking Horse Pass in British ...

Painting of the Kicking Horse Pass in British Columbia, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British Columbia has contributed some of the most unusual stories to Canadian history.  How Victoria became the capital was recounted on April 2 (Now Where Was I … ?), the use of camels on the Cariboo Trail, on May 29 (Two Wild Beasts With Humps On Their Backs!).  In 1859 George Barston was elected member of the legislature for Nanaimo, but only one vote was cast.  Guess who voted?  The story of Topping’s buying one of the world’s richest gold mines for $12.50 was told on July 21 (Gold Mine Sold For Just $12.50!).  The Hudson’s Bay Company’s purchase of Vancouver Island for seven shillings a year was related on January 13 (Vancouver Island Leased).  Here is yet another remarkable story from beyond the Rockies.

On September 20, 1882, Governor-General the Marquis of Lorne arrived in Victoria to attempt to solve the serious railway problem.  There was not only the delay in getting the C.P.R. through to the Pacific, but also the question of who would build a railway on  Vancouver Island.  There was great unhappiness in British Columbia as suggestions were received that the province should secede from Canada and join the States.

The Governor-General’s visit was almost too successful.  The vice-regal tour was supposed to last two weeks, but the Marquis and his wife, Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, stayed three months.  While her husband was touring the interior of British Columbia, watching André Onderdonk build the railway through Fraser Canyon, Princess Louise remained in Victoria.  She would walk along the streets visiting bazaars, examining needlework displays, and shopping.  On one occasion, a baker, not knowing who she was, ordered her to come out from behind a counter where she was looking at something.

When the Governor-General arrived back in Victoria, he found that a telegram from William Van Horne of the C.P.R., had arrived, stating that a route had been found through Kicking Horse Pass, and that the railway would be completed from Montreal to the Pacific by January 1, 1887.

The announcement was not greeted with as much joy in Victoria as might have been expected.  Instead, Premier Beaven asked it Vancouver Island could become a separate kingdom with Princess Louise as its Queen!

Many people on Vancouver Island were beginning to fear that the completion of the railway would make the mainland too strong, to their disadvantage.  Of course no such step was considered, but Vancouver Island was promised that it could have a railway of its own and a dry-dock at Esquimalt.

As I’ve only written the basics here, I can suggest a few sites to visit to learn more. I suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and there’s an interesting page at Old Time Trains as good places to start.


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“Bird Man”

The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy ...

The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy at the controls, c. 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the anniversary of perhaps the biggest hoax in Canadian aviation.  J. A. D. McCurdy had flown the first airplane in Canada on February 23, 1909, at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.  Later in 1909, it was announced that Reginald Hunt of Edmonton had accomplished an even more remarkable feat.  Working alone, and without financial backing, he had built his own airplane and flown it over Edmonton for half an hour on September 7.  Newspapers published stories and pictures of Hunt’s exploit.

Actually, Hunt had made a balloon shaped like an airship, and not an airplane.  However, airplanes were so little known in 1909 that reporters called the airship an airplane, and the mistake was not discovered until years later when the National Research Council investigated.  There was also a picture of Hunt standing beside an airplane, but it turned out to be a French Farman, and not the balloon Hunt had flown.

McCurdy’s Silver Dart was built in the Curtiss bicycle workshop in Hammondsport, New York.  The honour of building the first airplane in Canada should go to William Wallace Gibson who was brought up on a farm near Regina.  He began building model airplanes in 1903 after reading that the Wright brothers had flown in the United States.  He devised a motor from the spring of a window-blind roller!

Gibson moved to Victoria, British Columbia, when he was twenty-seven and found a gold mine which he sold for $10,000.  He used this money to build a full-sized airplane, making every part by hand and using his own plans, although he had never had a lesson in drafting or engineering.  He even designed an unorthodox 50 horsepower engine and had it built by a Victoria machine shop.   It weighed 95 Kg (210 lbs.)  There were two propellers, one behind the other.  The pilot’s seat was an ordinary horse saddle!  Gibson’s plane took to the air on September 8, 1910, flew 60 Meters (200 feet) and crashed into an oak tree!  It was no mean feat.  The Wright brothers had flown only 64 Meters (210 feet) in their first try, and A. V. Roe in England flew less than one hundred.

If you would like to read about William Wallace Gibson, I highly suggest going to aumkleem’s blog for a comprehensive article.


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