William Smith and the Conservative Demonstration of 1911

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In 1911, Canada was a much different place.  Our Prime Minister was Wilfrid Laurier, a PM who when faced with large national issues, attempted to find middle ground between the expectations of English Canada and French Canada.  Often, the end result was displeasure by both sides.  Laurier faced many issues during his 15 years as Prime Minister that found him trying to maintain peace between the two passionate groups, including participation in the Boer War, the Manitoba Schools Question, and the Naval Service Bill, and ultimately it was the issue of reciprocity with the US that saw a change in government, bringing the Conservatives to power in 1911.

William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada's Website

William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada’s Website

For the riding of Ontario South, William Smith was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament.  William, or Billy, Smith was a Columbus native who worked as a breeder, farmer, and importer.  His farm in Columbus was 267 acres, and Smith was regarded as a progressive and prosperous agriculturalist, not afraid to engage with the ‘improved methods’ of farming.  The south wing of the main house was originally an old inn known as the ‘West Country Inn’ and was a halfway house for farmers and traders.

When he was elected in 1911, he was no novice when it came to politics.  Smith was first elected as an MP in 1887 and was re-elected in a by-election 1892.  In the 1911 election, the main issue was reciprocity, or free trade with the United States.  The Conservative Party, led by Robert Borden, was staunchly against this, and fear of American influence and/or annexation was one argument they used against the Liberals.  The Conservatives won the election with a majority government, and a Conservative Smith won the local riding of Ontario South.  As reported in the Whitby Chronicle, the election of Smith and the Conservatives was indicative that “so far as this riding was concerned reciprocity had received a knock-out blow.”

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative victory was celebrated throughout the riding.  Election night saw celebrations in Whitby, and the following day, “an automobile procession left Oshawa for Pickering, Brougham, Claremont, Ashburn and Port Perry.”  The parade in Oshawa was complete with the motorcade, men on horses, and bands, and the event was photographed as it made its way eastbound along King Street.  A number of the images were in turn made into postcards, five of which are part of the Oshawa Community Archives’ Postcard Collection.

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Interestingly enough, the Oshawa Community Museum has an artifact in its holdings related to WIlliam Smith: this butter paddle, engraved with “John Smith’s Print, 1808,” owned by William’s grandfather.

960.54.2 - Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808

960.54.2 – Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808

The Conservative Demonstration postcard, and other postcards from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection will be on display in Guy House in April 2015 in celebration of Archives Awareness.  Be sure to visit!

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