Tuesday 31 October 2017

The Royal City and the Royal Coronation, 1911

Any year has its beginnings and its endings and 1911 was no exception. In the British Empire, it was perhaps most noted for the beginning of a new era with the return of a King George to the British throne. The previous year had seen the death of King Edward VII and, with it, the end of the brief Edwardian era. Edward was succeeded by his son, King George V, whose coronation was set for 22 June 1911.

Naturally, the loyal city of Guelph was eager to celebrate the new king of the House of Guelph. In 1902, Guelph had sent some dignitaries and military men to England to take part in the coronation of King Edward. So, it was thought fit and proper that the same should be done for the coronation of the new King George.

In the end, 706 Canadian dignitaries and military men were rounded up and shipped across the pond by the Dominion. They went in style aboard the Empress of Ireland, a cruise ship of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. This ship was the one that would sink to the bottom of the St. Lawrence on 29 May 1914, taking 1,012 lives with her. However, she sailed from Quebec City on 2 June and arrived in Liverpool without incident.

The SS Empress of Ireland from a contemporary postcard/Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Similar groups arrived in Britain from all over the Empire. The military men bivouacked at the euphonious Colonial Coronation Contingents Camp, Duke of York's School, London.

The contingents were assiduously recorded in photographs that were printed up as postcards. Happily, a postcard probably featuring the visiting Guelphites was sent back from the old country.

The card was printed by Gale & Polden, Ltd., Aldershot, Portsmouth, & Chatham. The caption says, "Canadian Artillery // Colonial Coronation Contingents Camp, Duke of York's School, London. 62."

The message on the back reads simply, "Certainly a fine trip & lots of spare time. // B B Mc." The addressee was "J. Vertigan, Esq // The Armouries" in Guelph.

Here is another beginning, for the Armouries in Guelph had been officially opened only two months earlier! Joseph Vertigan is listed in the city directory as a caretaker there. It seems the postcard was addressed to him by the cryptic Mr. B B Mc.

The Armouries, Guelph, Canada, published by Rumsey & Co., Toronto (as seen from Jubilee Park).

The bad thing is that Guelph newspapers for this event are missing, so our information about the contingent is limited. The good thing is that the passenger manifest of the Empress of Ireland still exists and lists the points of origin of its passengers, including those from Guelph! They are as follows:

Saloon passengers
Mr. Hugh Guthrie, M.P., Mrs. Guthrie
Mr. E. Harvey, Mrs. Harvey.
Major D.M. Foster, 16th Battery, C.F.A., Guelph, Ont.
Sergt. A. Anderson, 11th Battery, 1st Brigade, C.F.A.
O.R. Sergt. B. McConkey, 1st Brigade, C.F.A.
C.Sergt. O. Wideman, 30th Regiment
Departmental Corps
Sergt.-Major C.T. Lark, C.A.S.C., No. 1 Co.
The saloon passengers were the civilian dignitaries, who, therefore, spent much of the voyage in the saloon.

It was quite an honour to be selected for this event, so it is interesting to find out about the people who were picked.

  • Mr. & Mrs. Hugh Guthrie: Hugh Guthrie was a local boy and a barrister in the city. He was elected M.P. for South Wellington with the Liberals in 1900 and represented the riding federally until 1935. It would be distracting to attempt to summarize his political career; suffice it to say that he held numerous Cabinet posts and was one of the most prominent men of the town for many years. His inclusion in the coronation party was surely a no-brainer.

  • Mr. & Mrs. E. Harvey: Edmund Harvey was born in Galt in 1844 (Mercury, 3 July 1923). His family had the good sense to relocate to Guelph in 1850, where he remained for most of his life. He became a prosperous pharmacist but later turned to oil, real estate and finance, where he made a tidy fortune. He was City Treasurer and Paymaster of the 30th Wellington Battalion of Rifles from 1884 until 1896. His obituary fails to mention that he was charged with embezzlement of at least $12,000 from the City treasury at that time (Globe, 27 Aug. 1896). In the end, he pled guilty to reduced charges and, evidently, remained a respectable town patrician. He later got into lime manufacturing in Rockwood and was still president of E. Harvey, Ltd., when he died suddenly of a heart attack on 29 July 1923. His grave in Woodlawn cemetery is marked by an impressive obelisk.

  • Douglas Mortimer Foster was born in Guelph in 1878 and became a dentist. He served 14 years with the 16th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery, beginning around 1900. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Guelph on 13 Dec. 1915, in the Canadian Army Dental Corps with the rank of Captain. He served in France until he came down with a case of appendicitis in 1917. It appears that he travelled to Canada briefly to recover and then returned to France in 1918. Evidently, he remained with the military and was promoted to Major with the Wellington Rifles in 1924. He died on 13 Nov. 1962.

  • Sergt. A. Anderson: I have not found out much about Andrew A. Anderson except that he was born about 1869 somewhere in Ontario to Scottish parents. He worked in the printing business in Guelph. He died 17 Oct. 1933.

  • O.R. Sergt. B. McConkey: Benjamin Bertram McConkey was born in Guelph on 8 Dec. 1890 (Mercury, 3 June 1918). He had served three years with 16th Battery under Major Foster when the coronation beckoned. He graduated from McGill University in 1914, apparently having studied architecture there. He had little time to practice his profession: Upon the outbreak of the Great War, McConkey immediately joined up with the artillery as a Lieutenant. He was later promoted to Captain and won the Military Cross for his performance at the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He died on 29 May 1918 from wounds to his right hand and shoulder. He is buried in Doullens by the Somme in northern France. He is also evidently the sender of the postcard above: "B B Mc"!

  • C. Sergt. O. Wideman: Orrie C. Wideman was born on 7 July 1884, the second son of Louis Conrad Wideman (so, "Orrie C." probably expands to "Orrie Conrad") and Jeannie Wideman. Louis Wideman was an important builder in Guelph in the Victorian era and was a Captain of the 30th Regiment. It seems that the apple did not fall far from the tree: Orrie joined the 30th Regiment as well, rising to the rank of Colour Sergeant in 1906. Around (after?) the coronation, Wideman moved to Toronto to pursue the building trade there. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 17 Sep. 1915 and served until the end of the war. The 1921 Ontario Census shows him living in Toronto, working as a contractor (with an income of $1400), along with his wife Henrietta and children Lily and George. He died in Toronto on 5 May 1958.

  • Sergt.-Major C.T. Lark: Charles Thomas Lark was born in England in 1879 and immigrated to Guelph in 1907 (Mercury, 19 Oct. 1953). He seems to have felt very comfortable in uniform! He served in London's First Dragoons from about 1895 until 1903. His unit participated in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and fought in the Boer War. After that, Lark joined the London Metropolitan Police until he upped sticks for Canada. His move was precipitated by a desire to join the Royal North-West Mounted Police. It seems, though, that he took an understandable liking to Guelph and remained in the Royal City instead, taking work at the Standard Valves plant and joining the Canadian Army Service Corps (now known as the militia), in which capacity he participated in the coronation. After the coronation, Lark decided on another change, joining the Guelph Police Department, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. During the Great War, Lark joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 12 June 1916 as a Lieutenant. For reasons that are not explained in his records, Lark did not depart with his regiment and was demobilized instead in April, 1917. He resumed his role in the Guelph police. In 1921, the restless Lark then became a guard at the Ontario Reformatory ("prison farm"), where he remained, as a sergeant, until 1937. Finally, Lark retired and, naturally, became a night clerk at the Wellington Hotel until 1951. He died on 17 Oct. 1953.
Mayor and Mrs. George Thorp also attended the coronation as part of a European tour they went on. However, they were sent by the Town of Guelph instead of the Dominion, and so did not voyage with the others.

I presume that many or all of the Guelph military party is present in the postcard above. However, I do not presently have any other photos of the people involved, so I am unable to say who is which or which is who. Perhaps some educated guesses could be made by matching people's ranks to the insignia on their uniforms. If you can shed any light on the subject, please do so in the comments section below!

The coronation went off on 22 June without a major hitch. The colonial contingents marched in the procession before the royal couple, assumed positions near Westminster Abby, and stood to attention as the royals entered and later exited.

The coronation ceremony marked a number of firsts. For example, it was the first coronation in which the service within the Abbey was allowed to be photographed.

King George V and Queen Mary seated on the Chairs of Estate in front of the royal box at their coronation in 1911. By Benjamin Stone/Wikimedia commons.

The event was also extensively recorded in moving pictures. Coronation Of King George V (1911)/British Pathé.

My favourite technological first for this coronation would have to be how the newly anointed monarch contrived to the lay the cornerstone of the Fisherman's Institute in St. John's, Newfoundland (Globe, 22 June 1911):

In spite of the pressure of the Coronation ceremonies, King George will find time Thursday to participate in the laying of the corner stone of the new Fisherman's Institute to be erected here by Dr. Wilfrid T. Grenfell. It will be at His Majesty's word, sent over the cable, that Governor Ralph Champney Williams, of Newfoundland, will place the stone in position. Arrangements have been completed for special telegraph and cable connection between Buckingham Palace and the site of the structure in St. John's.
Huzzah! What a signal demonstration of the electrical sinews of the Empire!

In the Royal City, the coronation was celebrated in royal style. A series of athletic contests were held in and around Exhibition Park (Globe, 23 June 1911). The Guelph Shamrock lacrosse team was narrowly exceeded by the Brampton Excelsiors, 3–4. A series of races were held, including sprints, races for whippets, boys on ponies, and a five-mile motorcycle race. The Guelph baseball team travelled to Berlin (now Kitchener) and spit a double-header against the Dutchmen.

A first for Guelph was the inauguration of the city's first, incandescent street-lighting system. The Fire, Light and Markets Committee of the City Council teamed up with the Light and Heat Commission to install the system. At 10pm sharp on coronation day, the downtown was lit up as never before (Globe, 23 June 1911):

Wyndham, Carden, Macdonnell, Quebec, Norfolk and Woolwich streets were made as light as day by the fine lights, and, the effect was very pleasing. Citizens generally expressed their entire satisfaction and approval of the new system, which will hereafter be lighted every night and all night.
Thanks to Niagara Power, courtesy of the new Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario set up by Sir Adam Beck, the future of the new era seemed bright indeed.
Since posting this piece, I came across the following information about B.B. McConkey, which clarifies the circumstances of the action that earned him the Military Cross at Vimy Ridge (Mercury, 12 Dec 1918):
Mrs. B.R. McConkey has received the Military Cross awarded to her son, the late Capt. B.B. McConkey, M.C. The statement of the award, which came with it, is as follows: “Lieut. B.B. McConkey, C.F.A. as F.O.O. for his battery with two N.C.O.s this officer laid a telephone line from Lichfield Crater through Volker Tunnel to Thelus Mill, during the operations against Vimy Ridge, on the 9th of April, 1917. Getting ahead of the mopping up Bn. they were held up by a barricade and a machine gun in the tunnel. They overcame this opposition and after handing over 12 prisoners to the infantry, they established an F.O.O. station in Goulot Wood in time for the next attack. When their lines were cut they continued to send back timely information by runner, showing initiative, perseverance and gallantry.”