‘A Giant Leap for Mankind’ – Oshawa Times and the Moon Landing

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With twelve words, Astronaut Neil Armstrong left his mark on 20th century history: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon, followed minutes later by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.  The crew of the Apollo 11 mission was rounded out by pilot Michael Collins, who remained in lunar orbit during the moon landing.

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Oshawa Times, 21 July 1969

The eight day mission of the Apollo crew was many years in the making.  The ‘Space Race’ competition between the United States and the USSR began in the 1950s, ramped up with John F. Kennedy’s promise in 1961 to put an American on the moon by the end of that decade, and was essentially won with the landing of Apollo 11.  The event was watched live by millions, the footage has been played and replayed countless times, and the events of this and other space missions have been dramatized through the years.  The lunar landing captivated those in 1969 and continues to inspire today.

The people of Oshawa were naturally caught up in the events leading up to the launch, and the Oshawa Times from that week show how it was being reported.  On July 14, along with an article about how the astronauts were feeling ahead of the mission, the Times reported how the mission was to be televised and what viewers could expect.  “More people throughout the world are expected to watch the Apollo 11 moon flight on television than any previous single event,” the Times stated.  “Virtually every country – including some Communist nations – has planned television, radio, and newspaper coverage of the event, and Venezuela has declared a public holiday because of the lunar landing’s ‘great importance for the history of mankind.’”  The article further warned viewers not to expect high quality images from when Armstrong first steps on the surface.  Another article which appeared later in that edition talked about the job for the medical doctor who was to monitor the health of the astronauts before, during, and after the mission, which included a 21 day quarantine after returning to earth, in case of ‘space germs.’

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Oshawa Times, 15 July 1969

On July 15, the Times reprinted a message to the astronauts sent by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, reading “Man has reached out and touched the tranquil moon.  Puisse ce haut fait permattre a l’homme de redecouvrir la terre et d’y trouver la paix (May this great feat permit man to rediscover the earth and to find peace there).”

“An aura of Buck Rogers surrounds the big news story of the week – probably the biggest news story of the century,” the Times reported in their editorial on July 15. “Never before have men set out on a more hazardous or complex mission… As we marvel at the courage and skill of the astronauts the wish can only be God speed and a safe return.”

When Apollo 11 launched on the morning of Wednesday, July 16, it dominated the front page of the Oshawa Times including one picture of the rocket taking off and one of Neil Armstrong.  An article also featured on the front page highlights a Canadian connection to the mission, “Apollo Astronauts to Land with Made-In Quebec Legs.”  Heroux Machine Shops of Longueuil, Quebec manufactured the landing gear for the lunar module.  Further in the paper was an amusing addition of tips for the astronauts from Edmonton Grade 4 students.  Anecdotes included: “If I go to the moon I would surely bring my records because there is a lot of dancing on the moon because there is no gravity,” and “I would bring a flag of Canada. And make a flag of the moon. And the designs will be a moon and me sitting on it. The moon would be yellow. I would be a stick lady and the sides would be black.”

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Oshawa Times, 16 July 1969

On July 18, a small article ran on the front page under the headline “62 Would Go on Moon Trip,” and the article reads as follows:

Montreal (CP) – Air Canada is accepting reservations for its first flight to the moon.

Sixty-two have been made so far, a spokesman said Thursday.

No price is quoted and no down payment requested but the airline is serious about the matter, the spokesman said.

All you have to do is make a reservation for the flight and let Air Canada know where you can be reached.  If you are high enough on the reservations list, the airline will contact you when the details of the inaugural moon flight are known to find out whether you still want to go at the price you will have to pay.

With 20/20 hindsight, we know that the mission was successful, but on July 18, the outcome of Apollo 11 was still unfolding; “Death Waits if Astronauts Become Marooned,” a headline on page 3, bleakly spelled out the worst case scenario for the mission.  “Death awaits the Apollo astronauts of they become marooned on the moon – and they know it for theses is no rescue vehicle that could save them.”

In that same edition, many notable Oshawa citizens shared their thoughts on the moon landing.  MPP Clifford Pilkey said “The tremendous technical repercussions should reflect a better life for all people; I hope that this much scientific know-how can be generated to attack problems in other areas too.”  A 97-year-old Col R.S. McLaughlin, although “keenly interested in the whole thing” didn’t think he should stay up after 2am to watch the landing happen live. Ald. Ruth Bestwick said, “I’m not against the moon landing, but I think the money could be put to better use,” while fellow Ald. Gordon Attersley said “The walk will prove to man that nothing is impossible.  Many of us place too many limitations on ourselves.”

The landmark event took place in the early hours of Sunday, July 20; the Oshawa Times did not put out a paper on Sundays in 1969, so the following day was filled with coverage of the landing.  In fact, the Times suggested its readers “file this copy of The Oshawa Times for reference in the years to come… Really, what else is in news today?”  They included photos from the surface of the moon, the entire transcript of the landing, reactions of Canadians to the event, local reactions, and more.

Said Mayor Hayward Murdoch: “Fantastic. Thrilling. The human aspect as well as the technological evolution that has gone on to bring this about is almost beyond the average person’s comprehension. The next big thrill is to see them get off there today.”

Finally, Oshawa was one of countless communities who sent congratulations to Washington.  Mayor Murdoch sent a telegram to President Richard Nixon, the text of which was printed in the Times on July 22. “We respectfully ask that you accept our congratulations for the tremendous human and technical accomplishments of Mr. Neil Armstrong, Col. Edwin Aldrin and Col. Michael Collins and their back-up crew.  Their contribution to world history has thrilled many thousands and we request you convey our gratitude for a job well done and a safe and speedy return home.”

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Oshawa Times, 25 July 1969

“Yesterday They All Went Gathering Maple Leaves” – The National Flag Turns 50

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Today, it is so synonymous with Canadian identity – wearing a maple leaf immediately identifies you as a Canadian.  It flies from sea to sea on flag poles, from masts, even on the sides of cars, and it has been sewn, adorned, and even tattooed.  It flies proudly in celebration, and is respectfully lowered in mourning.

From the Oshawa Times, February 15, 1965, page 1
From the Oshawa Times, February 15, 1965, page 1

The implementation of the Maple Leaf as the National Flag was not without controversy.  Canada had been a country for almost a century before we officially had a unique emblem of our own.  The flag was inaugurated on February 15, 1965, after years of heated and passionate debates.  Talks of a distinctive flag for Canada had been taking place for decades before Prime Minister Lester Pearson made it a priority, promising in the 1963 election to have a new flag for Canada within two years.  This promise placed a certain urgency on the issue, as no one before had placed a timeline on establishing a new flag.  John Diefenbaker, ousted as Prime Minister by Pearson in the ’63 election, was adamantly against the issue and proved to be the chief opponent throughout the Flag Debate.

PM Lester B. Pearson at a press conference for the flag, December 1964; from Library & Archives Canada
PM Lester B. Pearson at a press conference for the flag, December 1964; from Library & Archives Canada

Prominence was placed on the issue in mid-1964, and by that autumn, a committee was established to debate the issue and ultimately decide on a course of action.  There were thousands of opinions on what should or should not be included in the design, and several options were put forth.  Ultimately, it came down to two options: the ‘Pearson Pendant’ featuring three red maple leaves on white, bordered by two bars of blue, and a design by historian George Stanley.  Stanley’s design featured a single maple leaf centred in a white square, with two bars of red on either side.  It was Stanley’s design that was chosen by the committee, and on December 15, 1964, Parliament voted 163 to 78 in favour of adopting the red and white flag.  After Official Royal Proclamation on January 28, the new flag was raised for the first time at the Peace Tower at noon, February 15, 1965.

The Union Jack (above), and the Canadian Red Ensign, 1957-1965 (below), from Library & Archives Canada
The Union Jack (above), and the Canadian Red Ensign, 1957-1965 (below); from Library & Archives Canada

The Royal Proclamation described the new flag as such:

 “a red flag of proportions two by length and one by width, containing in its centre a white square the width of the flag bearing a single red maple leaf, or, in heraldic terms described as gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first”

As would be expected, the flag debate saw many come out in favour of the new design, and others were opposed to the change.  One of the strongest opponents, besides Diefenbaker, was the Royal Canadian Legion, who placed high regard on the traditions that were established with the Red Ensign design.

In Ottawa, at the official inauguration, Prime Minister Pearson expressed the following sentiments about the new flag, saying, “Under this flag may our youth find new inspiration for loyalty to Canada; for a patriotism based not on any mean or narrow nationalism but on the deep and equal pride that all Canadians will feel for every part of this good land.”

The first raising of the Canadian Flag at Parliament Hill, from Library & Archives Canada
The first raising of the Canadian Flag at Parliament Hill; from Library & Archives Canada

On February 15, while the new flag was being raised with the proper pomp and circumstance in Ottawa, similar ceremonies took place at provincial parliaments and local governments, Oshawa not excluded.  However, the ceremony at Oshawa did not go smoothly; it was unclear if there would even be a new flag to raise!  Due to high demand and low stock from suppliers, Oshawa did not receive its flag until 17 minutes before it was supposed to be raised!  In fact, due to the rush and uncertainty, two councillors were unintentionally uninvited to this ceremony.  Alderman Hayward Murdoch, Property Committee Chairman, took responsibility for this oversight, saying councillors were not notified on the Friday before because the flags had not arrived, and if there were not flags, there would not be a ceremony.  Ultimately, the flags arrived and were unfurled at noon.

Many schools and businesses may have been flying the Ensign or Union Jack on February 15 simply because the Maple Leaf flag was so difficult to attain because demand was so high.  Many banks commented that they were simply waiting for their flag to arrive and were flying the Ensign/Union Jack or leaving their poles bare until it did.  The Oshawa Times reported on who was flying what, and they remarked at the end of the article that the Oshawa Yacht Club at the lake had no flag flying, “nor did the Henry House Museum just up the street.”

The Union Jack flying in Memorial Park on February 15, 1965.  From the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965
The Union Jack flying in Memorial Park on February 15, 1965. From the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965

Perhaps the most endearing local story from February 15, 1965 came from Donovan Collegiate.  The art department ‘hastily put together’ a maple leaf flag that was proudly hoisted on the school’s flag pole; the following day, they were again hard at work, manufacturing a more sturdy flag that could replace the ‘rather flimsy original.’  Flimsy or not, instead of flying the Union Jack or flying nothing at all, Donovan students displayed the national spirit that Prime Minister Pearson hoped this new symbol would bring about.

Students at Donovan Collegiate raising their handmade flag, from the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965
Students at Donovan Collegiate raising their handmade flag, from the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965

As our flag turns fifty years young, it has given Canadians a chance to reflect on our country and what being Canadian means and represents.  The Maple Leaf is symbolic of so many things, including our history and heritage. Happy birthday National Flag!

Within my heart, above my home,
The Maple Leaf forever!

Remembering the Empress

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

You would be hard pressed to find someone who is not aware of the Titanic disaster.  If there was ever any doubt, a certain blockbuster secured its place in infamy.  However, mention the ship, the Empress of Ireland, and recognition typically decreases.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, a disaster which took the lives of 1,012 people, and it remains Canada’s worst maritime disaster to happen in peacetime.  Commemorations have been taking place this week to mark the anniversary and to remember those on board.  There are hundreds of stories that could be told about the ship and her passengers; today I would like to share three.

But first, background.  The Empress of Ireland first launched in January of 1906.  She was constructed in England by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. and was owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company along with her sister ship, the Empress of Britain.  She had made hundreds of trans-Atlantic crossings before May 1914 when she departed Quebec for her first voyage of the year.  On board, there was 167 members of the Salvation Army, actors Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney, and explorer/politician Sir Henry Seton-Karr.

The Empress of Ireland, photo from Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe au Pere
The Empress of Ireland, photo from Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe au Pere

In the very early morning hours of May 29, the Empress of Ireland collided with a collier, the Storstad, and sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River in only 14 minutes. There were 1,477 people on board; 1,012 did not survive.  The Empress is commemorated at the site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père, a museum in Rimouski, Quebec

The Irvings

Earlier this year, after perusing through our postcard collection, my attention was captured by a simple photograph of the profile of a man and woman, with the inscription, “Laurence Irving—Mabel Hackney in The Affinity (The Incubus).”

Laurence Irving (1871-1914) was a noted British actor and playwright, the son of Sir Henry Irving, who was also a noted actor and stage manager.  Laurence married Mabel Hackney (1872-1914) in 1903.  They would often appear on stage together.

Postcard of Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney
Postcard of Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney, Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Affinity, or The Incubus as it was also titled, was a play the pair toured with during the 1909/1910 season.  It was based on Eugène Brieux’s Les Hannetons, and Irving translated the play himself.  Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre advertised that they would be showing this production before the Spring of 1910, and it also showed in New York, with critics declaring it “one of the most entertaining plays of the season,” “well worth seeing,” and “punctuated by appreciative laughter.”

During the Spring of 1914, the couple embarked on a cross Canada tour, performing four shows: Typhoon, Unwritten Law, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Lily.  The tour wrapped in late May, and the Irvings, anxious to return home to England, booked passage on the Empress of Ireland; the majority of their company were to sail a few days later onboard the Teutonic. The Irvings did not survive the sinking.

Grace Hanagan

On July 7, 1906, Grace Hanagan was born in Oshawa, a daughter to Edward James Hanagan and Edith Collishaw.  The family was residing on Metcalfe Street at the time, but they would later relocate to Toronto.  Edward was the bandmaster for the Salvation Army, and their family was destined for England for the Salvation Army’s third International Congress. Edward made a stop in Oshawa and visited with friends on his way to Montreal to board the ship. Grace was the youngest person to survive the sinking, and she was one of only four children to survive.  Her parents both perished.  Grace became the last living survivor of the Empress of Ireland before she passed away in 1995.

The Hanagan Family. Grace Hanagan, left, was 1 of 4 children to survive the sinking. She was born in Oshawa in 1906. Photo from http://www.empress2014.ca/
The Hanagan Family. Grace Hanagan, left, was 1 of 4 children to survive the sinking. She was born in Oshawa in 1906.
Photo from http://www.empress2014.ca/

May Blakeburn

May was born in 1890 in Sunderland, County Durham, England, the youngest of three girls.  In 1912, she travelled to Canada to work for the family of Walter Black in Halifax.  She had been in Canada for 18 months when she boarded the Empress of Ireland to return home.  She was travelling 3rd class and did not survive the sinking.

The Empress of Ireland is often referred to as the Forgotten Empress as the story is not known to many, but I have known about this disaster for many years. I wrote many a research paper in University about the Empress.  In my research, I happened across a newsclipping in the Halifax Herald from after the sinking, profiling passengers on board the ship from Halifax and area.  May was mentioned in this article, and it was said that she was ‘much liked by those who knew her.’

The Blakeburn family, circa 1895.  May Blakeburn, right, was 24 when she was on board the Empress
The Blakeburn family, circa 1895. May Blakeburn, right, was 24 when she was on board the Empress

May Blakeburn is the reason why I am drawn to the story of the Empress of Ireland and why I have known about it for several years.  May Blakeburn was my two-times great aunt (my grandmother’s aunt).

Today, we remember the Empress.