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Celebrations and major events

The period following the end of the Second World War was a time of change, both on a local and national level. The Commonwealth welcomed a new monarch, a vaccine was discovered for polio, Newfoundland joined Canada, the Progressive Conservatives returned to office, the annual Canadian Tulip Festival began and a fire broke out at the Soviet Embassy.

International tensions were flaring as the fallout from the Cold War was felt around the world. The post-war political landscape had split along two sides: Western European and North American countries, and the Communist Soviet Union and Eastern European satellite countries under Soviet control. The Suez Canal Crisis and the Hungarian Revolution brought these tensions to a head in the fall of 1956.

Commemorations of the Battle of Britain on Parliament Hill, with planes flying over the Peace Tower.

Title/Description: Commemorations of the Battle of Britain on Parliament Hill, with planes flying over the Peace Tower. This large scale commemoration of a Second World War battle brought the Ottawa community together.
Photographer: Frank Barber.
Date: September 16, 1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN 045489-002.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Governor General's Foot Guards rehearsal for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Foot Guards practicing manoeuvres.

Title/Description: Governor General's Foot Guards rehearsal for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Foot Guards practicing manoeuvres.
Photographer: Unknown.
Date: May 24,1953.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-SC-027131-007
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

King George VI was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 1951. He had been recovering from a surgery that saw one of his lungs removed when he suffered a fatal heart attack on February 6, 1952. A young Princess Elizabeth, who was on a Royal Visit to Kenya at the time, was among the last to learn of her father’s death.

During a time of unbelievable sorrow, the young princess was faced with taking on the most important role of her life. On June 2, 1953, the world watched as Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Queen Elizabeth II.

An estimated 100,000 people attended a celebration on Parliament Hill. The Governor General’s Foot Guards trooped the Queen’s colour, with Governor General Vincent Massey watching from a stand in front of the Peace Tower. 145 planes flew over the Peace Tower and spelled out “E II” in giant letters. Celebratory silver spoons were sent to all the Canadian children who were born that day.

Governor General's Foot Guards rehearsal for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Child standing in front of guards with camera.

Title/Description: Governor General's Foot Guards rehearsal for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Child standing in front of guards with camera.
Photographer: Unknown
Date: May 24, 1953.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-SC-027131-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Polio vaccinations

Polio was one of the most serious public heath concerns of the twentieth century. The virus itself was isolated in 1908, and in 1945 researchers discovered there were three different types of polio virus.

The virus was common during the summer months, and targeted mainly children. Polio often developed very quickly, starting with flu-like symptoms, but its effects varied with each case. Some people recovered completely. Other patients, who started with the same symptoms, developed paralysis. Because the early stages of polio were similar to the flu, doctors weren’t always able to diagnose patients properly.

The polio virus attacks the motor neurons, which control muscle movement. It could leave a person unable to use their arms or legs, or in severe cases, lungs. The iron lung, a pressurized box that forces muscles to expand and contract, became one of the most vivid images of the effects of polio.

While treatment methods improved during the 1940s, the goal for many researchers was to prevent people from ever catching polio. Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine using inactive polio virus and on April 12, 1955 the vaccine was declared as effective. The next day the Ontario Provincial Government announced that all children and students would be vaccinated for free. By April 18, mass vaccination campaigns started in Ottawa for elementary school students. Free vaccinations were offered to all Ontario residents in 1957.Overall the vaccination program was a huge success and the number of polio cases dropped dramatically.

Polio Vaccinations at Elgin Street Public School. Marcel Hue was the first child to receive the new vaccine at this school.

Title/Description: Polio Vaccinations at Elgin Street Public School. Marcel Hue was the first child to receive the new vaccine at this school.
Photographer: Doug Gall.
Date: April 18, 1955.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393- AN-036093-003.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Hungarian anti-Soviet demonstrations

Hungarian anti-Soviet demonstration.

Title/Description: Hungarian anti-Soviet demonstration. This group of demonstrators, some of whom came from as far away as Toronto and Montreal, gathered to protest the Soviet Union's actions in Hungary in the fall of 1956. Over 2,500 people attended.
Photographer: Gerry Donahue, Ted Grant and Cliff Buckman.
Date: October 27, 1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-046353-012.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Anti-Soviet tensions had been building since the Soviet Union began to occupy Hungary in 1948. In October 1956, the Association of Hungarian University Students re-banded and prepared a document known as the Sixteen Points. It outlined many goals including: a return to democracy, economic reform, freedom of the press, and Hungarian sovereignty.

On October 23, the students held a peaceful march in Budapest to support protests occurring in Poland. But, after criticism from Communist official Erno Gero, the group soon became hostile, arming themselves with weapons from soldiers and a local munitions plant.

When Soviet troops arrived in Budapest in the early morning hours of October 24, 1956, they were completely unprepared for what was waiting for them.“...Straight away they found themselves in an urban guerrilla war against a determined and inventive enemy...” (Sebestyen 126-127).

Internationally, some fear grew that involvement of western countries could lead to a global conflict.

In Ottawa, a convoy of protestors drove past the construction site of the new Soviet Embassy, and a crowd gathered at the war memorial on October 28, 1956. The groups carried signs and banners and placed wreaths at the war memorial. An estimated 2,500 people attended.

On October 31, Soviet troops appeared to withdraw their forces from Budapest. But the retreat was short-lived, as on November 4, 1956 the Soviet military attacked Hungary with 150,000 troops. Budapest was bombarded for two days, and whole sections of the city were destroyed. Hungarian military leaders were taken prisoner by the Soviet Army as they were meeting to discuss the withdrawal of Soviet forces. The international community was shocked at the turn of events. Lester B. Pearson expressed his views during his speech to the United Nations on November 4, 1956:

[…] In Hungary the mask of a “people’s democracy” was stripped away; the myth of the monolithic unity of the Communist empire was destroyed (“Pearson” 21).

Hungarian refugees crossed the border into Austria and a massive international relief campaign began. By the middle of December, refugees began to arrive and settle in and around Ottawa. Following the Hungarian uprisings in 1956, 35,000 refugees came to Canada.

Arrival of Hungarian refugees.

Title/Description: Arrival of Hungarian refugees. The Hungarian revolution caused many citizens to flee the country. Many arrived and settled in the Ottawa area.
Photographer: Unknown.
Date: 1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-047473-001
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Pearson wins the Nobel Peace Prize

In the summer of 1956, Egypt was looking for help to finance the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile. They had arranged to borrow money from Britain, France, and the World Bank. During that same summer, Egypt bought military supplies from Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite country, in response to an ongoing conflict with Israel. For Britain, France, and the World Bank buying from Czechoslovakia was as good as making a deal directly with Moscow, and they withdrew their financial support.

Egypt responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal, the main trade route used to supply oil to most of Western Europe. Britain and France quietly started a plan to attack Egypt and regain control of the canal. France made a deal with Israel, with Britain later joining the discussion and the three countries came up with a plan. Israel would attack Egypt at a predetermined time, and during the attack it would appear that the Suez Canal would be in danger. Britain and France would then send troops and air support to protect the canal. Although it was not generally known at the time, the entire incident had been planned in advance.

The Israeli attack began overnight on October 28 and 29, 1956, with the British and the French joining them a few days later. The Soviet Union supported the Egyptians and made it clear that if the United States military became involved, or Britain and France did not withdraw, that the U.S.S.R. would deploy nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile at the United Nations in New York, Lester Pearson proposed to send a team of neutral military personnel, (i.e. peacekeepers) to supervise troop withdrawals and separate the two sides. A cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. on November 7, 1956. The first peacekeepers to arrive were Norwegian, who landed in Egypt on November 21.Canadian peacekeepers followed a few days later.

Pearson, previously a career diplomat and then the Minister for External Affairs, had pulled off what seemed to be impossible. On October 13, 1957, it was announced that Lester B. Pearson had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in resolving the Suez Canal Crisis.

Lester B. Pearson, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Mrs. Pearson.

Title/Description: Lester B. Pearson, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Mrs. Pearson. Pearson would later lead the federal Liberals to power in 1963.
Photographer: Unknown.
Date: November 15, 1955.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-039859-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Newfoundland Becomes a Province

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada on March 31, 1949. There were many concerns to be addressed both by the British and Canadian governments, and the people of Newfoundland. Newfoundland, an independent colony since 1855, ran into difficulties during the mid 1930s and the British government put a commission in place to run the affairs of the colony.

During the Second World War, Canada began to understand that a well-defended Newfoundland was vital for the protection of the Canadian east coast. But, the colony, which housed military personnel for both the U.S. and Canada during the war, also had strong ties to the United States, causing concern that Newfoundland may solidify a relationship with the U.S.

A National Convention was elected in Newfoundland to investigate options for a new form of government in 1946. From the very beginning there were two distinct sides: those in favour of Newfoundland remaining independent, and those in favour of Confederation with Canada.

In 1947, delegations were sent to Ottawa and London to see what offers the Canadian and British governments would be willing to put on the table. The information the delegation received from Ottawa indicated that Newfoundland would have the same rights and programs as the other provinces. Any revenues would go to Ottawa if Newfoundland joined Canada. Canada proposed a series of transitional grants, and suggested that a Royal Commission be held within eight years to reassess the situation, as it was uncertain what the financial costs would be to manage the new province.

Newfoundland had experienced economic difficulties during the 1930s, and many people were concerned that history would repeat itself if they were to remain separate from Canada. However, the anti-confederation movement had support from a significant proportion of the business community in Saint John’s and the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church was concerned that the financial incentives of Canadian social programs would make the people of Newfoundland forget their traditional values, while the business community worried about the economic impacts.

Two referenda were held in 1948. Although it was a close vote, the second of which, led to Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada. Joey Smallwood, a journalist and promoter of Confederation, went on to become the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Arrival of Premier Joey Smallwood at Union Station.

Title/Description: Arrival of Premier Joey Smallwood at Union Station. Smallwood was the first Premier of Newfoundland. He was in Ottawa to attend a meeting of the provincial Premiers.
Photographer: Pete.
Date: April 7, 1959.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-A001617-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives. new form of government in 1946. From the very beginning there were two distinct sides: those in favour of Newfoundland remaining independent, and those in favour of Confederation with Canada.

Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention

After George A. Drew retired as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1956, the Tories began looking for a strong leader who could regain power in the House of Commons. Saskatchewan MP John Diefenbaker, with his “preacher-style rhetoric and a well-publicized devotion to the underdog” (Morton 222), soon became the favourite candidate.

In December 1956, Progressive Conservatives from around the country flocked to Ottawa to choose their new leader. When the Progressive Conservative convention began at the Ottawa Coliseum on December 13, it became apparent that this would not be like previous conventions. Mayor Charlotte Whitton opened the convention with a speech and the Premier of Nova Scotia was the keynote speaker. After the formalities, the convention took on a decidedly party-like tone. A reporter from The Ottawa Citizen described the festivities:

Over 1,300 delegates to the Conservative leadership convention last night discovered that politics can be fun. With pretty drum majorettes, kilted pipers, popping balloons, an apparently inexhaustible supply of high spirits, they turned nomination night into a rollicking Mardi-Gras (Hardy 31).

Diefenbaker needed 649 votes to ensure a win. He ended up receiving “774 votes out of a possible total of 1,296” (“Diefenbaker Wins” 1). While at the convention, the party also unrolled a new platform, which promised changes to taxes, pensions, and benefits. These changes, both in platform and leadership, played a major role in the 1957 election of a Progressive Conservative Prime Minister.

 ballot collection.

Title/Description: Progressive Conservatives National Convention: ballot collection.
Photographer: C.A.
Date: December 14, 1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-NP-047308-057.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

The first Canadian Tulip Festival

The Canadian Tulip Festival began after the Second World War, when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs as a token of friendship. Canada had provided asylum for the Dutch royal family during the war and played a strong role in the Netherlands’ liberation. While the royal family sought refuge in Ottawa, Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. The Canadian government temporarily declared the room “Dutch soil,” to ensure that the Princess would remain in line for the throne.

Ottawa’s first Canadian Tulip Festival took place in May 1953 and opened with an inauguration ceremony at Parliament Hill. It was sponsored by the Ottawa Board of Trade and was the conception of the photographer, Malak Karsh. Over 750,000 tulips bloomed throughout the Nation’s Capital. Visitors flocked to view the stunning array of tulips. The festival was a hit, and it became an annual celebration.

The Netherlands continues to give Ottawa 20,000 tulip bulbs every year. The Canadian Tulip Festival has grown into the largest annual display of tulips in North America.

Tulip time in Ottawa.

Title/Description: Tulip time in Ottawa. The Canadian Tulip Festival was inaugurated when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands sent the City 100,000 tulip bulbs in recognition of providing the Dutch Royal Family sanctuary during the Second World War.
Photographer: D. and M.
Date: May 10, 1955.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-NP-036510-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Soviet embassy fire

A fire broke out at the Soviet Embassy on Charlotte Street on January 1, 1956. When the fire began, Embassy staff attempted to put it out themselves. 40 minutes later, the fire department was called in.

Firefighters who came to the scene experienced a new challenge. They were not allowed to enter the building and could not bring their equipment very close to the fire because of a large fence, and the police had no authority to help them gain access. Meanwhile, embassy staff were ferrying documents, furniture, and other valuables from the building while dodging pieces of falling debris.

Mayor Whitton and Paul Martin Sr. rushed to the scene as representatives of the City and the Department of External Affairs. After tense negotiations with the Russian Ambassador, the fire department was finally granted access. By this time, the fire had been burning intensely for over an hour and it was too late to save the building. It took almost six hours and the entire fire department to put it out.

The embassy was destroyed. Besides illustrating the tensions of the Cold War, for many people in Ottawa it was a lesson in the extra-territorial rights of embassies and their staff. The land that embassies are located on is technically considered the territory of that country. The only way the fire department could have forced their way in that night was if the fire posed a specific risk to Canadian life and property. Laws remain the same today.

 aftermath.

Title/Description: Russian Embassy fire: aftermath. The fire at the Russian Embassy illustrated the tensions between North America and Russia during the Cold War. The Ottawa fire department was not allowed onto the Embassy grounds to put the fire out. Rather, the firefighters had to watch the building burn while the Russians removed furniture and documents.
Photographer: Unknown.
Date: January 2,1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-NP-040708-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.