Dominion Day in Ottawa, July 1, 1867

The sentiments are the same, only the times change.

By: Grant Vogl 

As we prepare to celebrate “Canada’s Big Year” on July 1, 2017, one cannot help but wonder how Canadians marked that very first day of Confederation – known as Dominion Day until 1982 – back in 1867, when our country marked its official birth at Parliament Hill in Ottawa and across the country.

While conducting research on one of the Museum’s most prized photographs – one of the only surviving images of the Dominion Day celebrations at Parliament Hill on July 1, 1867 – we came across the account of an unidentified “elderly gentleman” who remarked on the occasion in great detail. It is worth sharing his memories in their entirety here:

For many citizens and visitors the celebrations start at midnight, when a huge stand of brushwood and logs is set ablaze on Major’s Hill, soon followed by fireworks and much singing and merriment. At seven o’clock in the morning hardy sportsmen turn out to play cricket and lacrosse, setting the stage for a program of events that is to last until well after dark.

The Monday holiday is bright and warm, with the sun shining from a clear sky. At 11 a.m. the Hon. Chief Justice Draper C.B., administers the oath of office to Viscount Monck, who becomes Canada’s first Governor General. The Ottawa Field Battery fires a 101 gun salute from Major’s Hill, the thunderous charges crashing across Parliament Hill as a welcome to the new Dominion.

In the afternoon there is a military parade to Parliament Hill, canoe and boat races, a cricket match and a much publicized Grand Game of La Cross on Major’s Hill, sponsored by the Ottawa La Crosse Club.

Towards the evening citizens flock again to Parliament Hill. Families and friends dance and sing on the expansive lawns applaud the speeches of statesmen and politicians. As dusk falls the Parliament Buildings shimmer in the soft glow of gas lamps. A large fireworks display draws excited exclamations; the night closes in to end the festive and memorable day.

Many prayers are offered this day on Parliament Hill. The same prayers are to be heard in this historic setting on every First of July; the sentiments are the same, only the times change.

Our amazing photo was taken on that historic first day of Confederation by early Ottawa photographer Elihu Spencer from his “Daguerean Saloon” on Sparks Street. It shows an honour guard composed of members of the Carleton Blazers (progenitors of the 43rd Battalion of Infantry, Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) firing “un feu de joi” at Parliament Hill in celebration as the crowd looked to the future of their brand new nation. Currently on display on our 3rd floor, we are honoured to hold this rare and telling photograph in trust for all Canadians to enjoy.

Happy 150th Birthday Canada!


Old Parliament            old document

Image Credit:
Elihu Spencer, Regulars at Ottawa Firing the ‘ten-des-jours’ on Dominion Day, July 1, 1867, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 1867, print: albumen with hand-painted details, Bytown Museum, P2877.