Ep. 23: All about the Page Program with Dan Chikane


June 21, 2023

25 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast where we help spread the word on Parliament. Now, today's episode is gonna be a little different in format. I'm actually gonna have a special guest joining me, but not quite yet. First, I wanted to talk a little bit about some very important people that we have in Parliament who we get asked lots of questions about first, the Legislative Pages. Today, when you watch a session of Parliament, the Pages are an integral part of the proceedings. Honestly, it's hard to take your eyes off of them. Those professional looking kids in the suits moving around the Chamber seamlessly, like a well choreographed routine. It's difficult to imagine them not being there.



Erin: But where did the Pages come from and what's the history of the Legislative Page Program in Ontario? Well, that's exactly what we're gonna discover today. The exact origin of the Pages is a little hard to pinpoint. This may be in part because there doesn't seem to be one name used to describe them for quite some time.



Erin: The first recorded reference to what we can only assume was a Page dates all the way back to Upper Canada in 1834. The record states that, and I quote, "a little boy was running about bringing plates of sandwiches to the Members." End quote. No name was used to describe the boy, but we can probably assume that the reference of a child working in the Chamber would likely be one of the early Pages.



Erin: After that, things get a little bit tricky. In the United States, they began using the word "Runner" to describe similar positions as early as 1827, however, they switched to using the title of "Page" during the 26th Congress between 1839 and 1841. Also in 1841, the term began to appear in the journals of the province of Upper Canada, although it wouldn't appear regularly in records until the 1850s and 60s, when it becomes a regular fixture on the list of employees at the Assembly. But by 1867 and the first Parliament of the Province of Ontario, Page duties included carrying messages, running errands, and fetching water for the elected Members. Considered to be "servants of the House" along with the Messengers, they all reported directly to the Sergeant-at-Arms.



Erin: In a previous episode, we talked about the Sergeant-at-Arms and their very important role at the Assembly. Now you might be thinking, what's the main difference between the Messengers and the Pages? And honestly, that's a great question. Well, the simplest answer is the Messengers were adults. While the Pages were and remain to this day to be children.



Erin: Pages at the time were usually young boys between the ages of 10 and 14. By 1893, the Pages were earning 75 cents a day compared to the Messengers who were making $1.50 a day. Fun fact: in today's dollars, that's about $24 a day for the Pages and close to $50 a day for the Messengers. Now, by the 1940s, very little had changed for the Pages except for their pay and their uniform.



Erin: By 1946, the Pages were earning a daily wage of a whopping $2.75 with an extra allotment of 75 cents for supper if the House sat late. Now, in terms of their uniforms, early Pages wore a black Eton jacket, formal white shirt, black bow tie, black short pants, long black stockings and patent leather shoes, quite the snappy outfit.



Erin: But by the late 1920s, regular length pants had replaced the short pants and the Pages were allowed to wear their own shoes, provided that they were black. Fun fact: during the Second World War, the most important requirement for Pages was actually their physical size. They had to be able to fit into one of the already existing uniforms since all of the fabric at the time was going towards the war effort.



Erin: Now, 1952 saw the first tutor for the Pages hired a Mr. JB Davies, taught the Pages two afternoons a week, and on Saturdays. By this time there was usually between six to 11 Pages at any one given time. And this number actually increased in the 1960s up to roughly 15 Pages at a time. By this point, they were paid $5 a day and were also required to be in grade seven or eight. And they had to demonstrate a minimum average of 80% or higher to be considered for the program. Talk about having some good marks. By this point, serving as a Legislative Page really began to be viewed as a valuable immersive learning experience for the students chosen to participate.



Erin: Now the 1970s saw even more changes to the Page Program in large part thanks to the Speaker at the time, a man named Fred Cass. Speaker Cass relocated the Page quarters in the Legislative Building to be on the fourth floor. And this new space provided them with a schoolroom, a rec room complete with table tennis, a lounge, and a small kitchen. One of the biggest contributions though to the Page Program that Speaker Cass made was expanding the catchment area for Pages to include the entire province.



Erin: Before Speaker Cass, Pages were mostly selected from the Metro Toronto area. Not only that, but in 1971, the first female Pages were accepted into the program as well. Four girls from Durham County were chosen to work in the Chamber. Fun fact: the fall session of 1980 saw the first time that only female Pages were selected. In large part because of the number of girls that were on the waiting list as applicants that year.



Erin: Between 1967 and 1971, the number of Pages selected for the program nearly doubled jumping to a total of almost 100 Pages per year. Each session had an average of 22 Pages with up to five different sessions per year. Now that was quite a bit of history and I love talking about the Pages, but I'm sure that someone who's actually been a Page could do a much better job than me, and I'm very happy to say that today, I have a former Page who's gonna be on the podcast with us, but I'm gonna let him introduce himself.



Dan: Okay. Good afternoon. I, I just wanna introduce myself. My name is Dan Chikane, and I live in a reserve called, North Caribou First Nation, which is located in Weagamow Lake, Ontario. It's about two hundred miles from Sioux Lookout, Ontario.



Dan: That's our first town closer, closer to us. Yeah. And I've lived here in my community all my life. I haven't gone out anywhere to live somewhere else other than a few years in Alberta. But I, I work for our First Nation as a overseer, I guess, or supervisor for our local infrastructure - water, sewage stations and roads and what have you, we have in the community. That's what I do.



Erin: I'm assuming that keeps you pretty busy then.



Dan: Yeah, I kind of just, oversee our young people that work with me. I have a couple young men plus different places that work. They do the job, so I kind of just oversee, make sure everything is done when it's supposed to be done.



Erin: That's great. And before this job, I mean, I'm gonna go back a few years now, but you were actually one of the very first Indigenous Pages to serve in Ontario's Parliament. What was your experience like being a Legislative Page?



Dan: Yes. I was one of them. There was I don't know if I was the first one or if we were the first one, but we have someone else that's from a different community that went with me. We both went together to Toronto, Queen's Park. When Leo Bernier was a MPP for Kenora district area. That's how we, we ended up in Toronto.



Erin: So, the MPP, was it Leo Bernier, he came to see your family or, or how did you get involved in the program? How did you hear about it?



Dan: Well, Leo Bernier was a Member, Member of Provincial Parliament. He used to visit the northern communities in his riding. At that time, I, when I think back now. He used to visit. And then I guess what happened was, I think if, if I recall correctly, if my memory should strike that he introduced the program through a superintendent, district to superintendent that that oversaw the schools up north.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: In our area. And that's how this program was introduced to me through, through our school, our local school then.



Erin: Okay. So, you were the only one from your school that got to go though?



Dan: Yes. I was the only one. I was selected, I guess from the, from the principal at that time and talked to my parents maybe. Going to this program, I guess they talked about it, and they asked me and told me about it and if I wanted to go or not.



Erin: And how old were you when you got to be part of the Page Program?



Dan: I believe I was 12 years old at that time. I think I was 12 years old at the time. I don't have my, I, I, I lost my photographs that I got from Bernier at that time, and there was some, there was some dates in the back of those photos.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: I think it was, I was 12 years old then.



Erin: So, you got to come to Toronto and work in the Legislative Building as a Page. What was it like the first time that you got to come into the building and sort of see everything that goes on at Queen's Park?



Dan: Well, it was, it was very different cause where I came out of, out of, was this just a small community. There was no cars, there was no, there was no bikes. I don't think, I don't remember if we ever had a bike.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: There was nothing like that. And then when I got picked up early spring by a small aircraft out in the ice there and in our community. And we, we left to Sioux Lookout where the first time I saw a train and cars and what have you time and then going to by train to Toronto and then, getting into a hotel, Royal York Hotel and all the tall buildings and stuff like that. And the Queen's Park itself, it was a different community. I, I don't know how to call it. It was so different. It was just different.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: The buildings are high and, you know, cars and everywhere. At that time.



Erin: That sounds amazing. Do you remember what the first thing you did when you went into the Chamber was, or what your, one of your first duties as a Page was in the Chamber?



Dan: Well, we were, we had to be oriented where we, where we were going to stay, and then we had to be oriented where, how we're going to the Queen's Park and, and our landlords, or land lady showed us around. And then we went to the Parliament where we were supposed to work, and we got introduced in there what, what we were supposed to be doing. And, and they showed us where we're going to be in the mornings and, and they gave us our outfits. They were already there.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: They were already made for us to wear; shoes and shirts and vests and collars and whatever, you bow tie, what have you.



Erin: Yeah. I think they were bow ties back then for sure.



Dan: Yes. Yeah.



Erin: And then what did you do once you had your uniform, and you sort of, knew where you were going, what were some of the responsibilities you had as a Page?



Dan: The program that I was in, in, and the person that looked after us I guess I can just refer him as our boss. He told us what to do, what he expected us when we got there, and then he showed us around Legislature and then showed us what, what we were supposed to be doing inside where the Members are sitting and debating, filing stuff and, and whatever they said yesterday was printed out the next day. And we had to file everything and deliver messages for them. Or whatever errands they had for us to do.



Erin: Okay. So that's fairly similar to what the Pages still do today. So, the program hasn't changed too much in terms of the scope, but I don't know. Do you have any favorite memories or memorable moments from when you were a Page or from when you were a Page?



Dan: The longer I stayed there, the more I enjoyed working at the Parliament with, with the other boys.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: And, and the favorite times that I had was when, when we used to work after hours. I think it was a Thursday, we had to work in the evening, and then a driver or a taxi driver used to take us home and drip us off where we lived.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: And then he used to, to take us on Yonge Street and show us around. In those days where the hippies were and all that stuff.



Erin: Yeah. Haha.



Dan: That was where the taxi driver used to go. He used to stop by a place there and he would grab us some snacks and give us. Of course, we used to mess around inside the cab and whatever.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: Fighting. Yeah. That's one of my favorite memories. We had to discipline ourselves or to discipline, to really shine our shoes. Our boss used to say, I wanna see my face on your shoe. Shine it nice.



Erin: Oh wow.



Dan: That, that was something that we had to do.



Erin: Okay. What kind of impact did the Page Program have on your sort of path in life after you finished in the role? Or did it have an impact on the path that you sort of chose afterwards?



Dan: To, to, to work as a young boy at that time, I've learned to, to be able to work and to respect my work and to try and be on time for work at all times and to try and hold on to my work as much as I, as long as I can, whatever work that I, I'm able to do.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: That's what I learned over there when we were working together. We worked together and enjoyed doing things together as a team.



Erin: And how long were you actually in Toronto for? Do you remember?



Dan: Well, I actually, I left the middle of April. It was in the spring. There was still ice on, on the lake here, and I believe I came back. We came back the middle of June when the water was already open with the float plane. Yeah.



Erin: So, a couple months then probably.



Dan: Two months. Yeah.



Erin: And did you have any challenges that you faced while you were Page during that time?



Dan: Yeah, for, well, for me, I guess for the first time, I mean, being out there 12-year-old and without any communication at that time, like today, it's just a push of a button to talk to your mom or dad. I, I couldn't. I couldn't be in contact with my mom or my dad unless if I wrote a letter.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: But sometimes it took about two weeks to get here at that, in those days.



Erin: Wow.



Dan: That was a challenge, challenging part. And then they never, I don't recall if they called me or anything because at that time there was only one radio communication in, in this community at that time.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: That was the one challenging thing that I, that I, that I faced. But there were times I was homesick.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: But, but other times I went out weekends. My friends who would invite me to different, different towns there, like Hamilton or Burlington or wherever they lived, they would invite me on weekends to go and visit them.



Erin: That sounds like it would've been fun.



Dan: Yeah, it was fun, and I mean, I was allowed to go and visit my friends when they wanted visit them.



Erin: That's great. And do you have any advice that you'd give someone who is thinking about maybe applying to become a Page?



Dan: Well, if, if, if any of the young people are interested in the Page Program, like for myself, it was hard. It had to go through a, a school principal.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: But nowadays it's just on, on you can just access it on the internet, whatever your website, whatever you wanna call it, you can easily access it there. And apply for it, ask for it, and if they'll accept you or not. You know, that's, that's their program. And then the parents have to really support their children or grandchildren if they're going to be in the program, whether it's financially or accommodations, et cetera, and all those things that come with it.



Erin: Mm-hmm.



Dan: And it's, it's a learning experience for me at that time. I'm able to, thinking back, it helps me today, in my work, and it kind of gives me an idea what's going on at Queen's Park or even in Ottawa, how they, how they debate and what they do there today. I, I have fond memories of Queen's Park. You know, they used to have those 21-gun salutes too. We used to enjoy those things too. Watching at that time.



Erin: The different ceremonies and events at the building, you mean?



Dan: Yes, yes. We used to watch those different activities that was going on there. When we were allowed to go there, there were only some places we were allowed to go.



Erin: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions today. I would really enjoyed hearing about your experience as a Page and just learning a little bit more about you and you know, what it was like for you when you were a Page too. And I just wanted to say thank you again so much for taking the time.



Dan: Yes, thank you for having me to be in the podcast.



Erin: I know lots of new technology and new things these days, but it's really great to be able to share stories with some of these newer technologies as well, which is I think one of the best parts of this job.



Dan: I'm, I'm hoping someday I wanna come down there with my grandkids and show them where I, where I worked at one time.



Erin: That would be amazing. Maybe they can be a Page too.



Dan: Yes. Yeah. But they're growing up fast so.



Erin: Well, they might still have time continue on, continue on the family legacy perhaps.



Dan: Yes. Okay. Thank you very much for having me.



Erin: What a journey we've been on today and honestly, I've learned so much about the Page Program more than I even knew to begin with.



Erin: It's such an amazing opportunity for all of the students in Ontario who get to participate and those who apply as well. I can't imagine what it's actually like working on the floor, but it sounds like it would be very memorable. A very, very special thank you to Dan Chikane for taking the time to talk about his experiences and to tell some of his amazing stories to us on the podcast today. Thank you so much, Dan. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. And that about wraps up our episode for today. I could honestly go on and on about the Page Program. It's one of the more interesting and rewarding programs that I think that we have at Ontario's legislature.



Erin: Now in typical podcast fashion, we couldn't end today without a fun fact count. I know today was fairly light with only three fun facts, but I'm sure we'll have more in the next episode. Tune in next time to learn more fun facts about Ontario's Parliament. Thanks again for listening to ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament. But I've gotta go, I think I hear the bells.



Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @onparleducation. Et en français : @parloneducation. Thanks again and see you next time.