Friday, March 3, 2017

A special night for Hintonburg in 1898 - the Klondike Gold Rush

Life in Hintonburg in 1898 of course cannot be compared to 2017. Whereas today Wellington Street West offers an abundance of restaurants and pubs, shopping and entertainment options, 119 years ago the options would have been very minimal. Aside from the odd tavern or two, the local post office and a few shops selling the necessities of life, it was a pretty quiet village. The West End Park on Holland Avenue added a little life to the area in summer evenings, but for the majority of the year, entertainment in Hintonburg would have been hard to come by. In fact, if not for the relatively newly-installed streetcar tracks connecting Hintonburg to Ottawa, life probably was quite isolated. 

Thus, when the occasional event would be held in the village, the residents would come out in droves. This was especially true on a cold February night in 1898, when the Hintonburg Town Hall on Parkdale Avenue played host to a prominent explorer and lecturer for one rare evening. 

The Town Hall was located just south of where the old fire station now stands, and was the Nepean Township Town Hall until Hintonburg severed itself from Nepean in 1893. A lack of large gathering spaces essentially meant the Town Hall was the place for popular events in Hintonburg during this era. 

On February 15th 1898, the residents of Hintonburg were likely joined by many from the surrounding area who traveled through a particularly windy and snowy evening to take advantage of a rare opportunity to hear famed Canadian explorer William Ogilvie present stories of the Yukon Gold Rush.

William Ogilvie

The Yukon Gold Rush was just entering its peak in popularity, and Ogilvie had been at the center of it all. Gold had been discovered in August of 1896, creating a mad rush of people from all over North America to the northwest corner of the continent, in the mad dash for riches. Ottawa was not immune to gold rush fever; many citizens left the city in 1897 and 1898 to stake a land claim and try their luck.

A little biographical info on Ogilvie from Wikipedia: Ogilvie was born on a farm in Gloucester Township, in an area now known as Glen Ogilvie. He articled as a surveyor with Robert Sparks, qualifying to practice as a Provincial Land Surveyor in 1869. He married Sparks' daughter Mary, a school teacher, in 1872. He worked locally as a land surveyor, qualified as a Dominion Land Surveyor in 1872 and was first hired by the Dominion government in 1875. He was responsible for numerous surveys from the 1870s to the 1890s, mainly in the Prairie Provinces. From 1887 to 1889, Ogilvie was involved in George Mercer Dawson's exploration and survey expedition in what later became the Yukon Territory. He surveyed the Chilkoot Pass, the Yukon and Porcupine rivers. Ogilvie established the location of the boundary between the Yukon and Alaska on the 141st meridian west. During the Klondike Gold Rush, he surveyed the townsite of Dawson City and was responsible for settling many disputes between miners. Ogilvie became the Yukon's second Commissioner in 1898 at the height of the gold rush, and resigned because of ill-health in 1901. He was the author of Early Days on the Yukon (1913), which is still available in facsimile reprints. The Ogilvie Mountains, Ogilvie River and Ogilvie Aerodrome in the Northern Yukon Territory along with Ogilvie Valley in the Southern Yukon Territory are named after him.

Back to 1898, Ogilvie was on a book tour of sorts, promoting his recent publication "The Klondike", a detailed book for those who were travelling (or considering travelling) to the Yukon, with advice on what prospectors could expect, tips for survival, maps and other gold-hunting advice! (The book, which is actually quite an interesting read from the exciting period of time during the gold rush craze, can be read in its entirety at 

Ottawa Journal, February 10, 1898

The Gold Rush had not hit its zenith yet in early 1898, but its allure was strong, even in Ottawa. Many newspaper ads of this brief era targeted those travelling to the Yukon. Apparently there was quite a local commercial industry for it. Here are just a couple I quickly snipped from the old paper from the same week Ogilvie visited Hintonburg. These are true actual ads run by companies in downtown Ottawa!

Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1898

Ottawa Journal, February 16, 1898

Ogilvie had made a presentation in Ottawa a week prior, to a large crowd at the Russell Theatre. His audience there included Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier who introduced Ogilvie, as well as the Governor-General. Other attendees included many Ministers, Senators and members of the House of Commons, as well as a large crowd of the general public. Laurier introduced Ogilvie as "a man who had not only served the government and the people, but had served the nation and the empire, and had made Canada known from one end of the world to the other." Hintonburg was certainly fortunate to host Ogilvie the following week. It was well advertised, and I am sure much anticipated by the locals.

Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1898

The presentation in Hintonburg was organized by the Bethany Church, and the large audience ensured a successful evening for the Church that night. Rev. Eadie from Bethany Church hosted the lecture, which Mr. Ogilvie  titled "Klondike Reminisences". 

In his speech, Ogilvie warned local citizens against going to the Yukon. "You had better not go to the Klondike this year. There will be gold found there for years to come yet, but this year will be a bad year in that country because too many people are going and they will not be able to endure the hardships" he stated.

He opened his talk in describing the Yukon geographically, illustrating with the use of a map the location of the Yukon River, its tributaries and the gold fields. He then detailed his experiences in the Yukon. "Men cease to be like themselves in that country", he said. "As the result of the lust for gold and the hardships endured, they forget they are friends and will even curse each other and part". He spoke of groups of friends who started out together but "in a short time the altered circumstances and surroundings have so changed them that they will separate one by one until each man is parted from his friends."

He also related his experience with real estate agents in the Yukon: "The country is exceedingly rich. Many claims will return millions of dollars. There are 30 of them in a row that will do it. Some 3,800 claims are now recorded and a good many of these are staked simply to take advantage of ignorant people. You should be very cautious about investing. I give you fair warning, for I anticipate some nasty work next year."

Another highlight of the presentation was the display of photographs from the Yukon. Keep in mind in 1898, photographs were still a rare thing, and for most in the crowd, viewing images of far away Yukon would have been an exciting event all on its own. It was reported that Ogilvie at the close of his speech, "exhibited some very fine views of scenes in the mountains, on the rivers, at the mining camps, and in the towns of the far of land. His descriptions were clear and very brief as he had some 60 pictures to present." He afterwards also unfurled the first Union Jack flag ever flown in Dawson City, which he had made himself. The paper reported it would soon be placed in the museum in Ottawa.

Ottawa Journal, February 16, 1898

What is also interesting about the descriptions of the evening, is the technology involved. The photographs exhibited were known as "limelight views", projected onto a canvas by a stereopticon. 

Example of a "Stereopticon", an early version of a
slide projector.

The article also makes mention that the projectionist Woodruff played music during the intermission on the autoharp, which appears to be this popular 19th-century instrument below:

An interesting and significant night in early Hintonburg for sure, and very likely one the highlights of the year for many. I wonder how many local residents Ogilvie managed to talk out of (or into) taking their chances and chasing the Klondike gold rush?

William Ogilvie and his party in the Yukon in 1895
(Ogilvie is bottom row, second from right)

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