Clarington and the First Canada Day
Every July 1st Clarington residents have a host of different activities to take part in to celebrate Canada Day. It is a busy day and parties, fireworks and barbeques are popular. But, in days gone by Canada Day, or Dominion Day as it was known until 1982, was a much quieter affair. To be true much fuss was made in 1867 and again in 1917 and 1927 (to celebrate the golden and diamond anniversaries of Confederation), but it wasn’t really until 1879 that the day became a statutory holiday and even then it often passed quietly. It was in 1958, coincidently Bowmanville’s Centennial year, that the celebrations we know today first took shape. The Centennial anniversary in 1967, with the World’s Fair in Montreal, really cemented the day in Canadians minds and it has become a major holiday ever since.
What we are celebrating on July 1st is the beginning of a union that lead to the creation of Canada as we know it today. On July 1st 1867 the British colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada (Quebec and Ontario) merged to form a new country. It was a momentous occasion for it meant greater control, prosperity and progress to the young colonies and one can imagine that its impact was felt here in Clarington.
Larger centres celebrated the first Canada Day with bell ringing, bonfires, fireworks, train and steamship excursions, military exercises and musical entertainments. All of this is duly recorded and these larger centres are lucky that their newspapers of the time have survived. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Clarington. Except for a few sporadic issues no newspapers exist from before 1868. Lucky for us that the Bowmanville correspondent for the Orono News, David Morrison Sr, recorded his memories of that glorious day 63 years later.
The field that is today north of the Canadian Pacific tracks was used for the grand celebrations. In 1867 this was just north of the Bowmanville Furniture Factory which produced the cane seated chairs so prized by antique collectors today. A grandstand and bandstand were erected for the occasion which Mr. Morrison relates was “celebrated in Royal style”. Sporting events were held in the afternoon and again Mr. Morrison writes that, “The band held forth at intervals during the vaulting and hurdle races and other doings of a like nature.” The No. 1 Company of the 45th Battalion, our local militia unit, paraded downtown around the Market Square (Temperance Street today) and fired a salute of several rounds with blank cartridges. In the evening a bonfire of tar barrels, boxes and anything that could be found to burn augmented by a few fireworks ended the celebrations on that day. No doubt speeches by notable men were also given.
Mr. Morrison also pointed out that, in those days, no permit was needed for large gatherings so celebrations often sprang up with very little notice. He also noted that Bowmanville went dry in 1909 but in 1867 the town boasted 9 bars and 3 liquor stores. Also, there were two inns between Bowmanville and Oshawa, and one between Bowmanville and Newcastle all dispensing liquid refreshment, as well as a distillery in the valley south of the Vanstone Mill. Mr. Morrison tells in detail where the alcohol was available as apparently many a local citizen, caught up in the festive atmosphere, imbibed “not wisely, but too well.”
Such was the first Canada Day in Clarington. People from the smaller communities came to Bowmanville for the event, but no doubt larger centres such as Orono, Newcastle, Hampton and Newtonville may have held their own celebrations.
For over 25 years the Bowmanville Museum has been the site of Canada Day celebrations in Clarington. This year’s event begins at 10:00am with old-time races. The band “Friendly Fire” will be playing from the front veranda, there will be horse drawn carriage rides through town; and both the Bowmanville Museum and the Sarah Jane Williams Heritage Centre will be free to visit. Flag raising, speeches and free birthday cake begin at 1:00pm. Hamburgers and hotdogs will be available along with other treats like cotton candy and sno-cones. Games, crafts and face-painting for the kids will also be featured. For more information visit the Clarington Museum web-site at www.claringtonmuseums.com or call us at 905-623-2734.
Caption For Photo:
No image of Clarington’s first Canada Day are known to exist, but this photo taken 30 years later for the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee will give you an idea of what it might have looked like. It is taken from the Temperance and King Streets intersection in Bowmanville, looking north. To the left is the east side of the Town Hall (not the current one) showing the Market Square where the local militia paraded and saluted with their rifles on July 1st 1867.