Friday, September 16, 2016

Stanley Bagg and the Montreal West By-Election of 1832

Stanley Bagg (1788-1853) was a successful Montreal merchant, but he is best remembered for his brief foray into politics. Unfortunately, he probably would have preferred that this chapter of his life be forgotten.

                In 1832, a by-election was held to fill a vacancy in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada seat for Montreal West, an area that included today’s downtown, from the St. Lawrence River to Mount Royal. Bagg, my three-times great-grandfather, was the candidate of the English party. His opponent was Daniel Tracey (1794-1832), an Irish-born doctor and journalist whose supporters included reform-minded members of the Patriote party.

Stanley Bagg (private collection)
 This was a period of increasing French Canadian nationalism and growing calls for responsible government. Although the elected Legislative Assembly debated and passed bills, the appointed Legislative Council had to approve them. That meant all decisions were effectively controlled by the colony’s British administrators. 

It was also a time when elections were rough affairs. There was no such thing as a secret ballot: voters announced their choices to the returning officer, who wrote them down. Each candidate could challenge would-be voters to ensure they met the legal qualifications to vote, and candidates routinely hired “bullies” to try to prevent their opponents’ supporters from reaching the polling station. Furthermore, an election could continue for days, as long as at least one vote was cast each hour until the daily closing time. 

Bagg probably did not expect a difficult race. Although he was born in the United States, he grew up in Montreal and knew the community well. He had the support of most of the city’s leading merchants. His platform included promises to promote the city’s prosperity and the cause of education, to improve communications, and to protect religion and the liberty of conscience. And although he was the establishment candidate, he spoke publicly in favour of political reform on at least one occasion.

As it turned out, neither candidate established a clear lead, and the voting process, which began on April 25, lasted for almost a month. Bagg’s supporters included American, English and Scottish merchants and some moderate French Canadians. Most of the city’s Irish residents voted for Tracey, as did both working class and well-educated French Canadians.  

The candidates’ bullies made trouble from day one. Magistrates and special constables were hired to maintain order, but as time passed, nerves frayed. In mid-May, several of the magistrates requested the assistance of the British army in case a riot broke out. The next day, May 21, there was a scuffle on the street near the polling station. Although calm was restored, one of the magistrates was concerned that Tracey’s supporters were planning violence, so he summoned the troops. Another of the magistrates read the Riot Act, meaning that the crowd in the nearby square had to disperse within an hour. Nevertheless, orderly voting continued. When the polling station closed at the usual 5 o’clock, Tracey had a three-vote lead. 

After the candidates started heading home, some of Tracey’s supporters began to throw stones. So did some of the constables and the Bagg supporters. The officer in charge of the troops ordered his men to open fire on the crowd. They fired one round and killed three people, all of them innocent bystanders.  

The following day, Bagg released a statement in which he announced his withdrawal from the election, and Tracey was pronounced the winner. Tracey died several weeks later, a victim of the cholera epidemic that swept through the city. 

Neither a coroner’s inquest, nor a grand jury investigation, nor a special inquiry by the Legislative Assembly found fault with conduct of the army or civil authorities on May 21. Meanwhile, the English party and the Patriote party continued to blame each other. Most history books repeat the conclusions of the inquiries: the three unfortunate deaths occurred when the army restored order. But there are questions as to whether there actually was a riot. From a 21st century perspective, it appears that several people made serious errors that day.

In 1837, a variety of factors, including the need for political reforms in Lower Canada, led the Patriotes to launch a full-scale rebellion. The violence that occurred in 1832 no doubt contributed to the buildup of tensions in the colony. Bagg served as a major in the 1st Batallion Loyal Montreal Volunteers during that rebellion. 

According to a family story, Bagg felt terrible about the deaths of those innocent people, and he never ran for political office again. My ancestor was not personally responsible for the deaths of the three bystanders, nor was he responsible for exonerating those who were at fault, but Bagg’s use of bullies to try to win the election did not make him look good.

My main source for this article is The Riot That Never Was: the military shooting of three Montrealers in 1832 and the official cover-up, by James Jackson (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2009). Jackson researched newspapers, documents and the testimony recorded in the inquiries that took place and he concluded that the riot never happened. Jackson did not, however, have much information about Stanley Bagg himself, and some of the details he gave about him were incorrect. In my next post, I will write an overview of Stanley Bagg’s life.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer at the Ocean View Hotel

I’m in vacation mode right now, taking a break from writing my blog and spending some time at Biddeford Pool, the Maine seaside community where my mother and her parents spent their summer holidays. This is an article my mother wrote in the 1980s in which she described her memories of those family vacations. It sounds pretty unsophisticated, but it also sounds like they had a lot of fun. By the way, she mentioned attending services at St. Martin’s in the Field Episcopal Church. This past weekend, that church celebrated its 100th anniversary. JH

Summer at the Ocean View Hotel
by Joan Hamilton (1918-1994)
In the twenties and thirties, my family spent summers at a hotel overlooking the beach in Biddeford Pool, Maine. The Ocean View was a family-type hotel catering to a great extent to Canadians, especially Montrealers, since it was only 300 miles from Montreal. In the early days, we used to take the overnight train to the city of Biddeford. Frank, the man of all work at the Ocean View, met us at the station and drove us to the coast. It was a banner day in the 1930s when the first person did the drive by car from Montreal in one day.
The Ocean View letterhead read, “Henry D. Evans, Prop.”, and a proper proprietor he was. Fully in charge of all that went on in the hotel, and knowing all of us children well enough to tell us off if we got out of hand, he nevertheless had a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I’ll always remember the time he answered the one and only public telephone in the front hall. The call was for a very popular teenage friend of mine who was being pursued by a number of boys, amongst them one named Black and another whose surname was White. Mr. Evans came to the dining room door and boomed out for all to hear, “Margot, it’s for you. I don’t know if it’s a Black or a White.”
The kitchen was supervised by Mrs. Evans, who managed to produce delicious meals in an antiquated kitchen with coal stoves and ice boxes. The ice came from an old shed down the road where it was stored under layers of sawdust. The fare was simple by today’s standards, but always fresh and perfectly cooked, and with choice enough to suit everyone’s tastes. How my mouth waters when I think of that Saturday night special, “Boston baked beans, brown bread.”
The Ocean View was far from luxurious. There were no elevators, few private bathrooms, no telephones in the rooms and wide, dark linoleum hallways that echoed to our footsteps. We quickly learned to recognize everyone’s individual pattern as they walked down the hall. If we were up to some mischief, it gave us lots of time to hide the evidence.
There were a lot of children at the hotel and many of us had nannies, so we ate in the children’s dining room. It was in a glassed-in area off one of the balconies, with a marvelous view of the dunes and the sea. Putting us in our own dining room was also an effective way of keeping us out of the hair of the adults at a time when children were supposed to be seen but not heard.
The balconies of the Ocean View, with their wood and cane rocking chairs, were ideal for children’s games. On rainy days when we could not get out of doors to play, we would pull the chairs into a long line for a game of trains, turn them upside down for hiding places or houses.
Sometimes traveling shows came for the evening. Usually they were magicians who made shredded newspapers whole again and pulled rabbits out of hats. The chairs in the lobby were pulled into rows and parents and children alike watched the entertainment. Afterwards, the hat was passed. This must have provided a pretty meager living for the entertainers.
Sunday evenings were hymn-singing time, with one of the guests playing the piano and a group of us children gathered around singing. “Now the Day is Over” and “For Those in Peril on the Sea” always seemed to me dramatically mournful and appropriate, while the fundamentalist fervour of songs like “Shall We Gather at the River” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” had us raising the roof with our voices. After this observance of Sunday as a special day, everyone played games again. That is, everyone but me. My strict Presbyterian upbringing meant no Sunday games allowed.
Sundays also included a morning walk across the golf course to St. Martin’s in the Field Episcopal Church. Straw hats and white gloves were de rigueur for the women and girls, while the men looked handsome in navy blue blazers and white flannel pants.