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Old Home Week Celebrations as Tourism Promotion and Commemoration: North Bay, Ontario, 1925 and 1935

  • Françoise Noël

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Across Ontario in the 1920s, cities and towns organized “Old Home Week” celebrations, which incorporated elements of traditional holiday celebrations—including parades, sports, fireworks, and entertainments—with aspects of ritual, public drama, commemoration, and pageantry.[1] Strategically placed in the summer calendar to include a holiday such as Dominion Day or the August municipal holiday, these events were designed to attract tourists, especially “Old Boys,” for the holiday as well as celebrate an anniversary or other event. Old Home Weeks were not new in the 1920s. Greencastle, Pennsylvania, claims to have held the first Old Home Week in 1902,[2] and a very similar event was organized in Toronto to celebrate its “Semi-Centennial” in 1884.[3] A large celebration called “Founders’ Week” in Philadelphia in 1908 was also similar.[4] Petrolia held its first Old Home Week in 1908 to celebrate its oil town origins shortly after losing control of the oil industry, with similar events in 1925 and 1946. As Christina Burr argues, these public spectacles and festivals helped to forge connections between memory and place.[5] Old Home Week celebrations proliferated in the period before the First World War at much the same time as the pageant movement emerged in England and spread to the United States and Canada. There was a close relationship between the two, as many Old Home Week organizers incorporated a pageant or a pageant parade into their celebrations. Both continued after the war, especially through the 1920s and into the 1930s. Pageants then largely disappeared while some communities continued to hold Old Home Weeks occasionally throughout the twentieth century.

It is the pageant rather than Old Home Week that has drawn the attention of historians thus far. A few great pageants have been studied in detail, as well as the pageant “movement” of the Progressive era in the United States.[6] Pageants, like parades, have been of interest to historians because they can be studied as “symbolic statements about the current state of the local social order.”[7] In Canada, a great Parkersonian pageant was held in Quebec City in 1908 to celebrate the tercentenary of its founding.[8] Governor General Earl Grey, who promoted the pageant, hoped that it would provide Canadians with “a nobler image of themselves as a new nation, fused from two races, united within a grand empire.” Local politicians were more pragmatic and viewed this grand event as a vehicle for stimulating tourism and reviving the local economy.[9] Nelles’s study of this pageant, The Art of Nation-Building,[10] illustrates well the complexities and thorny negotiations between groups and individuals that were involved in the production of such an event. The pageant movement that emerged in the United States differentiated itself from the anti-modern Parkersonian tradition by including scenes from the recent past and presenting an ideal future. Such pageants were particularly popular in rural New England, which was undergoing a period of decline at the time. Reformers promoted pageantry as way to accentuate social harmony and develop community identity as well as tame public holidays.[11] In 1927, Canadian promoters of Canada’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations saw pageantry as an appropriate way to celebrate and to “encourage the growth of a ‘national feeling’ that would transcend old sectional differences.”[12] The national organizers who provided promotional material for local groups placed more emphasis on the years after Confederation, but also presented figures such as Cartier, Champlain, La Vérendrye, and Mackenzie as suitable for representing the heroic age.[13] Although many communities joined in the celebrations, in most cases they presented the past with a regional flavour. Some, like Toronto, focused more on the heroic than the recent past in their pageantry. Cupido argues that this was not a reaction against modernism but served “to make the new acceptable by associating it with the old.”[14] As “public drama,” pageants engage the public in a performance, as spectators or participants. Historically, Michael Woods points out, public drama was used to confirm the social and political order, especially in times of turbulence.[15] That pageants were used to celebrate the local in Ontario at a time when large numbers of the Ontario-born population had moved to the United States and the West or had been displaced from the countryside to the large cities is therefore not surprising.[16] That these pageants were incorporated into Old Home Week celebrations and that “Old Boys” and “Old Girls” returned in large numbers to celebrate these events, however, also suggests their significance as a form of tourist promotion.[17]

This study examines the first and second Old Home Week celebrations held in North Bay in 1925 and 1935,[18] from both the perspective of tourist promotion and the public use of the past to promote community spirit in the form of pageantry, commemorative events, and souvenir booklets. These celebrations generated an extensive promotional literature, including articles in the local newspaper, the North Bay Nugget, a two-page advertisement in the Toronto Globe, two English and one French souvenir booklet, and other ephemera. City Council minutes also contain information relating to the events, but little detail. Unfortunately no documentation from the organizational committees involved is known to have survived, but the diary of one spectator and participant provides a contemporary view of the events.

Founded in 1882 when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Lake Nipissing, North Bay was a railway town surrounded by largely French-Canadian agricultural and lumbering communities and did not have the large foreign-born populations often associated with the mining and resource towns of Northern Ontario. Many of its pioneers and lumbermen had followed the railroad as it proceeded up the Ottawa Valley from places like Renfrew, Pembroke, and Mattawa before arriving in North Bay. The majority of the population was of British origin (75 per cent in 1901 and 62 per cent in 1931), almost evenly divided among English, Irish, and Scots. French Canadians were also present in North Bay, comprising 19 per cent of the population in 1901 and 23 per cent in 1931. The largest European immigrant group, the Italians (5 per cent of the population in 1931), did not arrive in North Bay until after 1901 and thus would not have been part of any founding mythology. In 1925 North Bay’s population had just surpassed the 12,000 people required for city status. It remained just over 15,000 for the next two decades. Although North Bay’s settlement was recent and part of Ontario’s expansion into “New Ontario,” therefore, much of its population was from “Old Ontario.” As a railway town, much of its population was transient. In 1925, the new city faced the future with optimism and promoted itself not only as a tourist destination, but as a choice location for industrial investment. By focusing on its founders, the 1925 celebration was able to promote community harmony and minimize the diversity of its population. In 1935, the optimism of 1925 had been largely subdued by the effects of the Depression, but with the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets in nearby Corbeil, North Bay found a new basis on which to market itself as a tourist destination. The more decentralized organization of the 1935 event allowed the French-Canadian population of the city and surrounding countryside to participate more actively in the celebrations than they had in 1925, thanks partly to the rise of new, more politically oriented, community organizations.

Tourism Promotion

In the early twentieth century and especially in the interwar period, increased leisure time, growing prosperity, better roads, and the greater affordability of motor cars led to the growing popularity of motor touring in North America.[19] The greater flexibility of travel that this afforded opened up many more regions as potential destinations. Quebec and Nova Scotia drew tourists because of their rural settings and folkloric qualities.[20] Others were drawn to the wilderness as an antidote to city life.[21] Ontario, advertised as a “Lakeland Playground” in the 1920s and 1930s, drew over 3 million cars from the United States in 1934.[22] In British Columbia, as Michael Dawson has shown, tourist promotion was still closely linked to boosterism in this period. He does not see a contradiction between tourists travelling to escape the stress of modern life, and being interested in the economic potential of the areas they were visiting. Tourism promoters “advertised their towns and cities as wilderness preserves in the hope that deep-pocketed eastern investors would be convinced to settle in the west.”[23] This expectations is not surprising, for promotion was still largely conducted by individual towns and cities, and only slowly did regional or international organizations for tourist promotion emerge.

Figure 1

North Bay ca. 1931, from a tourist promotion pamphlet.

Source: J.L. McEwen and Russell S. Huntington, illustrator, The Key to the North: A Book of Information and Entertainment for Tourists, 1931 (North Bay: Board of Trade Information Bureau, 1929–1931).

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The promotion of tourism by North Bay’s 1925 Old Home Week committee had much in common with the trends that Dawson found in British Columbia. The advertisement that ran on Saturday, 25 July, in the Toronto Globe is a good example of the kind of promotional material they produced.[24] Although much of the advertisement was about the entertainment that would be provided to those who made their way north, the next most important message was that North Bay, now joining the ranks of Ontario’s cities, had made great progress in recent years and was a good location for industry. This booster message was found in several small articles. North Bay’s advantages included “a reasonable assessment, every educational advantage,” and “an extremely clear atmosphere, and an almost entire absence of fog.”[25] Industries using wood products and those manufacturing apparel or blankets for work in the lumber and railway industry were identified as those that would find North Bay particularly advantageous. Road access was considered good—North Bay was only fourteen hours away from Toronto. The growth of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway was also cited as an engine of progress. North Bay’s image of itself was inextricably linked to its role and title as the “Gateway City.” Because of its central location and advantages in transportation, it had become the distribution centre for New Ontario, the vast region beyond its gates that had been opened to development by the construction of railways. “Through it pass all the supplies in a never-ending stream which are required to serve the vast district to the north, where busy miner, lumberman and farmer are carving out a new Empire.”[26] This message was reinforced with a photograph of Main Street with its “smooth pavement and excellent sidewalks.” For those who knew North Bay before the First World War, this would indeed be an indication of progress, as Main Street used to have a rock quarry connected by a short spur line to the Canadian Pacific tracks.

The 1925 souvenir book ‘Back to the Bay” [27] delivered much the same message. Although the articles in it appear to be an eclectic collection of facts, figures, and stories about the history of North Bay, the underlying message is that North Bay is not just a town that emerged after 1882, but a location with far older and greater significance. Samuel de Champlain camped on the shores of Lake Nipissing, almost on the spot of North Bay itself, in 1615. Its significance is its location on a transportation route that links the Great Lakes to Lake Nipissing. North Bay was well connected by rail to the south and east. If the time-proven route of the voyageurs could be adapted by modern technology and a canal built around the obstructions in the French River, North Bay would become a lake port. This is clearly a reference to the Georgian Bay Ship Canal, even if it is not mentioned by name. The idea of such a canal was first proposed in the 1820s and did not disappear completely until the 1970s. There was enough support under Laurier for the government to conduct preliminary surveys, but in 1912 it was decided to improve the Welland Canal instead. In 1926 the Georgian Bay Canal charter lapsed, but advocates continued to support the idea as late as 1970.[28] A tourist brochure issued by the North Bay Board of Trade in 1931 explained the project:

North Bay is the logical shipping point to the North. North Bay, when it can supply power (which it will shortly) will be the natural manufacturing headquarters for this great and ever-increasing market [Northern Ontario]. When the French River is opened to Great Lake freighters, and that project is, by no means, a dead issue, as many influential men will testify, North Bay, in a few years after the unloading of the first boat at its dock, will be one of the busiest and most thriving cities in the Dominion.[29]

In the souvenir book, North Bay was presented as a central location in Ontario, a potential industrial city, and a transportation hub of national significance. North Bay was the gateway to the resources and products of the “golden north.” Far from having met its potential in economic growth, its rapid strides over the last forty years were an indication of the strength and enthusiasm of its people and of the further progress it was capable of. These pioneers were described as hardy strong types, northerners by adoption, who—although they could brave the hardships of pioneer conditions—had also helped to propel North Bay into a more modern and progressive era measured in miles of sidewalks, paved roads, and sewer pipes. The railways were the key to this transformation, and many of the pioneers were railroad men. These pioneers also had a strong civic consciousness and were upright citizens who built churches and schools, founded service clubs, and supported the war effort with both men and home front volunteer work. They were also almost exclusively of British origin.

Both the Toronto Globe advertisement and Back to the Bay also include the message that the Nipissing district was a vacation paradise, especially for the sportsman. Its unspoiled scenery, bountiful fish, and game in season made it a perfect choice for an anti-modern holiday that started in North Bay. In 1925, however, the promoters of tourism, as in British Columbia, still saw tourism as an opportunity to draw potential investors to the area.

In 1935 boosterism had largely disappeared from the advertising for Old Home Week. The English souvenir book still linked North Bay to the great French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, but their association now seemed to be a romantic one rather than relevant to the present. Even the railways, whose contributions to the early growth of North Bay were undeniable, were not emphasized to the same extent and they were no longer portrayed as representing its future. Roads were clearly taking on a greater significance. The beauty of Lake Nipissing and the French River and their attraction as a healthy vacation destination away from the challenges of the modern city were pointed out. The topic that received the greatest coverage in the 1935 English souvenir book, however, was that of the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets and the very recent history of their lives to date.[30] Born 28 May 1934, the Quintuplets were made wards of the state for two years in July 1934. The Croll Act of March 1935 extended warship to their eighteenth birthday. The nursery, known as the Dafoe Hospital, was built in September 1934 and they were moved into it on 21 September by Dr. Dafoe. Public viewings of the Quintuplets began in June 1935. The parents’ difficulties with Dr. Dafoe and with access to their children dated from their move into the hospital.[31] The souvenir book, however, presented the “facts” of their situation in such a way as to make it appear that their living arrangement had saved their lives and that the government was acting in their best interests. This perspective was reinforced by photographs of the home they were born in and their current home, the much larger “Dafoe Hospital.” The beginnings of what would become the much commercialized Quintland attraction can also be seen in the photograph of the souvenir shop operated by the two midwives who had attended the birth. The souvenir book allocated very little space to North Bay’s recent progress and hopes for the future—subjects covered instead by the local paper.[32]

The link between the Dionne Quintuplets and Old Home Week was made well in advance of their public viewings, which began in June. Organizers used the slogan “Five reasons to visit North Bay—Gateway to the Land of Gold,”[33] along with a photograph of the five young girls on the envelopes and letterhead of the organizing committee that were used for the invitations to Old-Timers. Sales of the stationery in 1935 at one cent per sheet earned $150,[34] which means that as many as 15,000 pages and envelopes might have been in circulation. Those who received them may not have attended, but the circulation of the envelopes themselves helped to advertise North Bay as a tourist destination. A news clipping shows a picture of the envelope, with the caption “Even the Post Office lends itself to ‘Quint-Mania.’”[35] An estimated 250,000 visitors came to see the Quints in 1935 and that number continued to increase every year until 1938.[36] Once people came, however, the task was to get them to stay and to enjoy other attractions. The Old Home Week celebrations of August 1935 did just that for the estimated 20,000 visitors who responded to the call. The success of the festivities in 1935 owed much to the power of the Dionne Quintuplets to draw visitors, a phenomenon for which North Bay could take no credit, but which it could and did capitalize on.[37] This turn of events was fortuitous for North Bay and the entire region, since tourism, by the late 1920s, had become an industry in its own right and its economic impact was increasingly felt in the tourist dollars spent in the area rather than the potential for investment later.[38] Although the region still had much to offer in a wilderness or anti-modern holiday, the “Quints” were a far stronger draw and the organizers of the 1935 Old Home Week were aware of this from the beginning.


There are many similarities between the celebrations of 1925 and 1935, especially in the types of activities and entertainment provided. Parades, bands, fireworks, a midway, street dancing, and sporting events made up the bulk of the entertainment in both years. While it was undoubtedly at this level that most people experienced Old Home Week, the focus here is on the commemorative aspects of the celebrations, especially the historical pageant parade on Civic Day in 1925 followed by the granting of the city’s charter, the opening parade in 1935, and the French-Canadian Day celebration with its patriotic parade and dedication of a monument to Jacques Cartier.

In 1925, plans for an Old Boys Reunion in the first week of August were already under way when the city learned that the earliest date it could receive its charter of incorporation coincided with the start of the Old Boys Reunion. A much more elaborate celebration, soon referred to as an Old Home Week, was planned once this was realized. The city created its own committee to work with the organizers and provided $3,000 in funding.[39] Although Old Home Week in 1925 did not originate with town council, it did receive its enthusiastic support and a generous contribution from the town treasury. Those involved in its organization were from North Bay’s civic elite, including nine former or future mayors. The expenditure of several thousand dollars for these celebrations was considered a worthwhile investment by business leaders who anticipated benefits from the advertising.

While many centres incorporated full pageants into their celebrations, North Bay opted for a “Grand Street Pageant,” which would use floats and people in costumes to display North Bay’s past since 1615 as well as the “Pioneer Past and the Progressive Present.”[40] The production of such tableaux vivants on floats took fewer resources than a pageant, which could involve hundreds if not thousands of participants and required adequate space for its presentation.[41] Like a pageant, however, it involved making choices on what aspects of the past to represent and extensive popular participation. The parade committee worked with community organizations and businesses to provide these special floats. A Toronto expert was hired to oversee their design, construction, and painting, and costumes were provided by the committee.[42] Whether or not these organizations had the choice of what scenes they could portray is not clear. Only the float by the Masons of King Cole did not fit into the chronology of historic themes related to North Bay. The list of floats released in July indicated that there would be an Indian camp, three scenes from the French fur trade era, three from the lumbering era, the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), prospecting, the Victorian period, the Queen of the Carnival, and the Canadian National and Temiskaming & Northern Ontario railway floats. The Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club, the Oddfellows, the Elks, the Rotary, the Masonic lodges, and the Orange Lodges were already recruited, and the “French Society” was asked to provide one of the floats. As well as the railways, A. B. Gordon and Company, Canada Timber Company, and Norbay Silver Mining Company each provided one of these key floats.[43]

Figure 2

Samuel de Champlain gazing over Lake Nipissing on the cover of the 1925 Old Home Week souvenir booklet.

Source: J. B. MacDougall et al., ‘Back to the Bay’: Souvenir of Old Home Week, North Bay, August 2nd to August 8th, 1925 (North Bay: Nugget, 1925).

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These pageant floats were the highlight of the parade held on Monday, 3 August, and repeated again on Wednesday. The Native village was manned by members of the Lions Club, and although it was reportedly “an intimate and true conception of the home life of the Indian,” its description indicates that it was a highly stereotypical rendition of such a scene:

There was an Indian teepee concealed in a background of small evergreens while the door of the teepee was guarded by a squaw with a circle of Indian braves, highly painted and in full regalia, squatted in a circle about her, with bows and arrows by their side, peace pipes flourished incessantly and a small camp fire smouldering inconcernedly. In a cage at the side was a small doe, while the Lions took advantage of the opportunity to proclaim their identity by having a small lion concealed in the tent, the roars of which may or may not have been magnified by some contrivance of human design.[44]

Played by Charles St. Germain, a prominent member of the Knights of Columbus, Champlain was portrayed as “the first of the party and was shown as gazing from the top of a hill over the surrounding country while his companions were landing the rest of the flotilla.” This was considered to be one of the best designs. Father Le Caron was portrayed by a prominent member of North Bay society, T. J. Bourke. “James Nicolet the first white man to set foot in North Bay,” “Father Claude Pijart, the first priest to the Nipissing Indians,” and a band of coureurs des bois and fur traders were also represented, probably by members of the club responsible for each float.[45] Because of North Bay’s location on the historic voyageur route, the heroic period of Canada’s history could be presented with scenes bearing directly on the local place. By choosing 1615 as the starting point of North Bay’s history, the organizers underlined the historic association of Samuel de Champlain to the city.[46] The lumbering era was also represented, and the three railways that had contributed greatly to North Bay’s more recent history each provided a very elaborate float.[47] The Temiskaming & Northern Ontario float depicted the “advancement of Northern Ontario” in three scenes consisting of farm life, mining, and sport life, showing hunting, boating, and fishing. Frank Commanda, Nipissing chief, depicted himself as a guide in the sport camp scene. The CPR was represented by a model of the Lucy Dalton, “the first railway engine in Northern Ontario, drawing a miniature caboose with the conductor and the brakie in uniform on the steps.” Pioneer employees of the CPR in North Bay played these roles, making the display even more realistic. The Canadian National float, with its floral message, “From coast to coast,” was also impressive.[48] These floats reflected not only the railways’ importance in the founding and growth of North Bay as the “Gateway” to the North, but their continued significance in the economy.

Other businesses large and small also represented “the progressive present” in the parade, and a total of fifty to sixty floats were expected.[49] Along with bands, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, clowns and numerous others, the parade took up six city blocks and made quite an impression. Hartley Trussler, who worked at North Bay Garage, was pleasantly surprised. “The parade was about eleven and say it was great. It was really a wonderful spectacle and very much better than I ever thought possible. It was a fitting start to the week it ushered in and everything seemed to be on the move and in good spirits. There are about five times as many people on the street as generally and everybody is dressed up and in holiday mood. The town is full of flags and bunting and it is really pretty,” he recorded in his diary.[50] This grand parade marched through the downtown on Main Street before turning north on Fisher and west on First Avenue to end at Memorial Park, just before the official ceremony for the granting of the charter, the second but most important act of opening day.

Monday had been declared a civic holiday by Mayor MacDonald, and a crowd of several hundred gathered on the spacious grounds beneath the Great War Monument in anticipation of the crowning event. A speakers’ platform assured that the ceremony would be visible from a distance. The charter was granted to Mayor MacDonald by the minister of mines, Charles McCrea, who paid tribute to the pioneers of the city and asked residents to remember and emulate their contributions. He also spoke of the privilege of city status, saying, “By your works in the future you shall be known among your sister cities, and it is my hope, my wish and my prayer that the escutcheon of this charter will be kept as clean in the future as it is on this the day of its birth.”[51] Cannon fire signalled the creation of the city. Reverend T. J. S. Ferguson, formerly of St. Andrew’s Church, and Reverend J. Chapleau of Saint Vincent de Paul formally blessed the city. Mayor McDonald then addressed the crowd and spoke of the contributions that industry and the railroads had made to North Bay. He offered the freedom of the city to the “Old Boys” and “Old Girls” who had returned to North Bay and presented the key to the city to the Carnival Queen, Nellie Baxter. Harry Morel, MLA for Nipissing, and Senator Gordon also addressed the crowd. John Ferguson, president of the Old Home Week executive, made his address and formally opened the week-long carnival. He also asked for an orderly celebration.[52] Other dignitaries present included E. W. Beatty, president of the CPR, James Lyon, minister of lands and forests, George S. Henry, minister of public works and highways, and E. A. Lapierre, MP.[53] This impressive ceremony can be seen as a public drama. It showcased the relationship between the provincial and municipal levels of government and through ritual, especially the cannon firing and the spiritual blessing, transformed the granting of city status into a moment of dignified significance. The prominent place given to Beatty suggests a special tribute was being paid to the founding role of the CPR in North Bay’s history. A modern addition to moments of ritual is the taking of a photograph. In this case, at noon, just moments after the presentation of the charter, a photographer from Adamson Studio of Toronto took a panoramic photograph of the historic gathering, which ran on the front page of the next issue of the North Bay Nugget. Copies were available thereafter and several originals photograph still hang in public places in North Bay today. Long-time residents can immediately identify it as a photo of the Old Home Week of 1925 and the granting of the charter. Thus the commemoration of North Bay’s past and present in the grand pageant parade was fused together with the ritualized moment of history, the granting of the charter, and has become linked in public memory with this iconic photograph.

Civic Day was followed by Soldiers’ Day, New Ontario Day, Children’s Day, Pioneer Day, and Railroad Day.[54] For the remainder of the week, entertainment dominated. As the Toronto Globe advertisement had promised, “Carnival Spirit Will Reign.” There was lacrosse, baseball, horse racing, children’s races, street dancing, bands, music, fireworks, and more parades. The Old-Timers, many of whom had not seen each other for years, traded stories and remembered the old days. Irene Pappas was only ten at the time but she remembers it well: “Oh it was just something wonderful. All the original people came back. And there were so many parades and fun and oh! it was just a wonderful time.”[55] The North Bay Nugget played an important role throughout the week, featuring stories about Old-Timers, articles about the history of North Bay, and publishing the names of the Old-Timers who were in town. Newspaper images of North Bay in the old days made progress that much more evident. Visitors could see for themselves that North Bay had prospered and was worthy of being a city.

Figure 3

Panoramic view of the crowd gathered at Memorial Park for the presentation of the city’s charter to Mayor MacDonald by the minister of mines, Charles McCrea, and the official opening of Old Home Week, at noon, 3 August 1925.

source: Adamson Studio, Toronto.

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The idea for an Old Home Week celebration in 1935 to mark the tenth anniversary of the city of North Bay originated with the 1934 City Council. It appointed a special committee to look into the feasibility of putting on an Old Home Week in 1935 and contacted the Board of Trade, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Motor League, and Great War Veterans, “advising them of the setting up of this Special Committee of Council and the purpose, requesting that they in turn, appoint representatives from their various bodies to confer with this Special Committee with a view of setting up a General Committee, to plan and develop the undertaking.” They further recommended “that the City Council of 1935 place the sum of Five Thousand Dollars in the current Estimates of that year, to cover expenses, and that the dates for the ‘Old Home Week’ shall be set so as not to conflict with any convention that may be coming to the City in 1935.”[56] The new City Council, faced with the incredibly high cost of providing relief during the Depression, however, did not agree with their predecessors and placed only $1,000 for Old Home Week into the estimates.[57] By February they decided even that was excessive and voted to cancel the allocation of this money.[58] Without this backing, the eleven-member Executive Council that had been overseeing the organization resigned.[59] City Council was not opposed to the event, but if it was to happen, private money would have to fund it. Although organizers felt that it would be impossible to continue without a guarantee from the city, cancelling the event was an unattractive option, since “upwards to 125,000 envelopes [had] been circulated to all corners of the continent to announce North Bay’s Big Week in 1935.”[60] A meeting of local organizations was called to see if they could take on the organization of a week of celebrations without public support. In the end, with one or more groups each taking on a day, Old Home Week went ahead. The claim made on the title page of the souvenir book of 1935, “A Community Festival Backed and Supported by Every North Bay Citizen,” was therefore quite justified.

An Old Home Week Central Committee with representatives from the participating groups was created, and Dan Barker was chosen as general chairman.[61] The Central Committee asked groups to have their program ready by early June. They also worked on a plan for a parade and established an Old-Timers Committee to greet arrivals.[62] Responsible for the overall events, they worked with the city to arrange venues for sports and other activities, planned the routes of parades, and saw to the myriad details that would make the event a success. This new funding structure allowed each sponsor to largely determine its own program. Sunday and Monday were sponsored by the 159th Battalion, who were planning a reunion at the same time as Old Home Week, Tuesday by the Motor Club, Wednesday by the Cercle canadien français and the North Bay branch of the Fédération des femmes canadiennes-françaises (FFCF), Thursday by the Knights of Columbus, Friday by the Shriners, and Saturday by the Associated Canadian Travellers.[63]

Coordinated by the Central Committee and bringing together all of the groups, the grand parade on Monday was the most important event of the celebrations, was viewed by an estimated 20,000 people and reported to be “one of the greatest in the history of the city.”[64] A mile and a half in length, it took twenty minutes to pass by and included floats, veterans, dignitaries, comedians, and oddities. The policemen led the parade, followed by the veterans, led by their band. Although not a pageant parade as in 1925, it included a few historical scenes. The veterans float reproduced a dugout with sandbags and a battle scene. The city’s float followed. A historical panorama built on the firemen’s ladder truck, it showed surveyors arriving in 1882 and a hunting and fishing scene. It also carried Miss North Bay, 1935, and the two children born during the 1925 Old Home Week. A “tableau depicting the landing of Jacques Cartier on Canadian soil, planting of the cross, and welcome by the Indians” was entered by the Cercle canadien français. It was received enthusiastically with clapping when it appeared and won first prize, thanks to its realism and great attention to detail. The Travellers’ battleship float of HMS Traveller directed by Pilot Paddy Petch took second prize, and third prize went to a car decorated in orange advertising Spirella corsets. Fourth prize went to a float depicting a miniature Italian city entered by a group of Italian merchants. A miniature planing mill sponsored by Standard Planing Mills won fifth, and a float showing a cook at work in a kitchen entered by the catering company of Crawley and McCracken also received attention. Hartley Trussler, a member of the Motor Club, worked on getting floats, cars, and trucks ready for the parade early on Monday morning. He took the time to watch it with his wife and children, however, and also took pictures. His verdict was that “the parade was splendid and the crowd was good too.” Too busy to take in the afternoon entertainment, he nevertheless felt that “everybody was in good spirits. At night everything was hilarity personified.”[65]

The 1935 parades and program presented a more diversified view of the North Bay community than those of 1925. The French Canadian, Italian, and Native population were all more visibly present. The Italians, as well as their entry in the main parade, were also represented in the Motor Club parade by the Italian Boys’ Band OGIE, conducted by N. Cangiano.[66] In sports, “local hero” Italian boxer Dom Scappatura was a feature event on the Tuesday.[67] Coach Dom Cangiano[68] was also mentioned. As for the local Native community, the swimmer Liza Commanda, referred to as “a buxom Indian girl from the French River district,”[69] received high billing in 1935, and the North Bay lacrosse team included some players from the reserve.[70] Others participated in at least two of the parades in Native costume. On Motor Club Day, “The early days of the district were recalled by the two Indian guides carrying packsacks and canoe as they marched and other Indians marching in their traditional costumes.”[71] According to the Toronto Globe, “District Indians joined in the parade, lending color to the celebration with their native costumes” on French-Canadian Day.[72] Interpreting the inclusion of Natives in traditional costume in the parades, however, is somewhat problematic. It could have been motivated more by tourist demand for an authentic Northern experience, gazing at “real Indians,” than respect for their place in society.[73] While these groups were more visible in the 1935 program than they had been in 1925, it is the inclusion of a whole day devoted to French Canadians that stands out from the rest of the 1935 program and to which we now turn.

The two organizations that sponsored French Canadian Day had not existed in 1925. The local section of the FFCF was organized only in 1930. It functioned as an auxiliary to the parish, but also as an overtly French-Canadian organization, as opposed to a religious one, it was political by its very nature. Its contribution to the Jacques Cartier monument was one of its major achievements in 1935.[74] From its origins in 1926 as a hockey club, the Cercle had become openly political; members wished to promote the well-being of French Canadians in the city of North Bay and worked at doing so by providing them with information about what was happening in municipal politics and at the school boards.[75] At least one, and probably more, of its members belonged to the more radical secret society devoted to the “defense of French-Canadian linguistic, economic and political rights,” L’Ordre de Jacques Cartier.[76] Its efforts were beginning to bear fruit, as it was at about this time that French Canadians began to elect representatives of their community to City Council for the first time. Although they were few in number and there was never a French-Canadian mayor, they were no longer completely excluded.[77] Given the strong prejudices against the French-Canadian community in North Bay and opposition to better funding for Catholic schools in the 1930s,[78] the presence of these French-Canadian organizations at the table as equal players with groups such as the Shriners and the Motor Club reflected a small but significant shift in the social order of North Bay. French-Canadian Day was a public performance that confirmed it.

A separate souvenir book for French-Canadian Day was issued in French by its organizers.[79] It included a full list of the executive of the Cercle and the FFCF, the members of the organizing committee, and a brief history of the Cercle. Parishes from Sudbury through North Bay contributed to the souvenir book with photographs, usually of their parish church, a history of their parish, and advertisements from businesses owned or managed by members of the French community, or at least friendly to it. Lefebvre’s Sport and Tobacco Shop in North Bay, for example, was identified as the location where one could procure French newspapers. “Encouragez l’achat chez vos co-paroissiens” before a list of Sudbury businesses openly proclaimed the political aims of this rising French-Canadian bourgeoisie. A short history and photograph of the Collège Sacré-Coeur of Sudbury, which took in boys from throughout this region was also included, as well as a photograph of the Hôpital Saint-Joseph in Sudbury. An even larger number of French-Canadian communities throughout the area[80] joined with North Bay on 7 August to celebrate their heritage in a self-contained patriotic festival, which in many ways resembled a Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebration.[81]

Like most French-Canadian community celebrations, the day began with a high mass. The parade formed in the morning before the mass and marched participants from downtown to Saint Vincent de Paul church. Hartley Trussler did not participate in the events of that day, but he did see the parade: “It was Frenchman’s Day today and we didn’t take part in any of the parades or affairs today. The Frenchmen had a real good Parade of about half a dozen floats depicting old French Historical Things.”[82] The theme of the floats was patriotic, and prizes were awarded to the best entries.[83] North Bay’s Jacques Cartier float was judged superior, but North Bay as host withdrew from the competition, thus allowing Warren’s Jacques Cartier float to win first prize. Other contributions included Sturgeon Falls’s portrayal of Champlain paddling across Lake Nipissing and featuring one of his descendents, Verner’s Evangeline, “shown as portrayed in the famous painting standing in a blue gown,” Noelville’s “Angelus,” Sudbury’s “slaying of the Canadian Martyrs” tableau, and Chelmsford’s “Louis Hebert” float.[84] Perhaps the most unusual float was that from Astorville and consisted of Mr. and Mrs. David Turgeon and their twenty-one children.[85] Such a large family, although rare, would have been seen by French Canadians as a shining example of their traditional values. With the exception of the latter float, these themes celebrated a larger “imagined” French-Canadian community rather than focusing on the local place.

Figure 4

Le Cercle canadien français’s Jacques Cartier Float in the 1935 Old Home Week celebrations.

source: Hartley Trussler. Courtesy Paul Trussler.

-> See the list of figures

The dedication of a monument to Jacques Cartier to mark the 400th anniversary of his arrival in Canada (1534) took place in the afternoon at McMurchy Park on the outskirts of the city. The monument, a large white cement cross on a rectangular base, was inscribed “Jacques Cartier 1534–1934. Erigé par le Cercle Canadien-Français et la Fédération des Femmes Canadiennes-Françaises. North Bay, Ont” and decorated with maple leaves and a fleur-de-lys. Judge J. A. Valin and E. M. Regimbal, president of the Cercle, presided. The monument was blessed by Father Chapleau of Saint Vincent de Paul Church, North Bay’s French-Canadian parish. Speeches were made by J. R. Hurtubise of Sudbury, MP for Nipissing, and J. Harry Marceau, MLA for Nipissing. According to the French program, Senator G. Lacasse was to have given the major speech,[86] but he was unable to attend. Mayor Bullbrook spoke, stating that “French Canadian citizens in Canada and Northern Ontario in particular were carrying out the old French traditions inaugurated in Canada with the early settlement of their country by Jacques Cartier.”[87] The program continued that evening with a banquet attended by about five hundred people, including the mayor. A series of toasts were made and answered in the following order: “Le Pape,” “Le Roi,” “La Patrie,” “La Paroisse,” “Le Cercle,” “Les Anciens,” “Les Visiteurs,” and “Les Dames.”[88]

Because the speeches at the commemoration ceremony and at the banquet were not reported on in detail, it is difficult to know with certainty the motivation of the organizers in erecting a monument to Cartier. They were not alone in doing so, and many other communities chose to recognize this 400th anniversary. As Alan Gordon has pointed out, monuments to Cartier could represent different things to different people and at different times. In the nineteenth century, Cartier had come to be viewed by conservative thinkers as the embodiment of “the link between their French ethnic roots and their religious origins.”[89] Given the sponsors, it seems likely that those responsible shared this perspective. The monument later became the destination of St Jean-Baptiste Day parades and remains a symbolic reminder of the presence of a French-Canadian community in the city.


North Bay is the “Gateway” to the North. In both 1925 and 1935, that message was clearly articulated in the promotional material for the Old Home Week celebrations. Yet in 1925, when North Bay was looking to celebrate its elevation to city status, promote the city as a tourist destination, and boost its industrial potential, it chose Samuel de Champlain as its major symbol. He dominated the cover of the souvenir book and appeared as a main character, along with other French travellers, in the historical pageant parade. Although Champlain was readily appropriated throughout Canada as a symbol of its heroic age, he held a special significance for North Bay because he had actually spent the night on the shores of Lake Nipissing while travelling along the ancient voyageur route that linked Georgian Bay to the Ottawa River via the French River and Lake Nipissing. Boosters believed this route would soon be improved with the construction of the Georgian Bay Ship Canal. Champlain was therefore a logical choice. In 1935 the basis for tourism promotion to North Bay had changed dramatically, thanks to the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets. Only a year old in 1935, they were already drawing thousands of visitors. North Bay was close enough to Corbeil to capitalize on this influx of visitors, and the organizers of Old Home Week used images of the Dionne girls to link in people’s mind a visit to North Bay with a visit to the “Quints.” It is unlikely that the 1935 Old Home Week could have been a success in the middle of the Great Depression without the drawing power of the Dionne Quintuplets. Both Old Home Weeks were very successful as tourist promotion campaigns, as thousands of visitors came to enjoy the celebrations, the entertainment, and the sportive competitions provided.

The 1925 Old Home Week was a seminal event in North Bay’s history. The community celebrated its pioneers and, with them, witnessed the formal birth of the city that had grown out of the settlement in the wilderness they had created. They saw a bright future ahead. The Old Home Week celebration of 1935 lacked such a focus, despite the grand opening parade. The reunion of the 159th Battalion and French-Canadian Day had limited appeal outside their constituent groups. Michael Woods has pointed out that the strength of public drama lies with its “performativity”: “People can be drawn into participating in the performance . . . and directed towards responding positively to the ideas presented to them.”[90] The pageant of 1925 and the public drama associated with the granting of city status were more successful at enlisting broad public participation than the events of 1935. Nonetheless, the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada in North Bay in the context of a community-wide celebration was a “commemoration of assertion.”[91] The fact that French Canadians in North Bay sought greater participation in the civic realm and were at the table with groups such as the Motor Club and the Shriners to celebrate Old Home Week in 1935 is an interesting local manifestation of the political involvement of the Franco-Ontarian community in the 1930s. This examination of the Old Home Week celebrations in North Bay in 1925 and 1935 suggests that such celebrations, like parades, can profitably be used to study the social order of the city in the past, and that their considerable significance in the area of tourism promotion should not be neglected.