Ep. 30: Queen's Park: Past and Present



Thursday, April 4, 2024

14 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament!



David: As always, April is a special month for us here at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.



Erin: Right David, because the Legislative Building opened its doors for the first time on April 4th, 1893.



David: That means that this year, the building will be 131 years old.



Erin: It’s not everyday that you turn 131 years old.



David: I can’t argue with you on that one Erin.



Erin: So in honour of this momentous milestone, we thought it would be neat to take a look back at what things would have been like in 1893 compared to today.



David: What, no game this time Erin?



Erin: I couldn’t leave you hanging without your favourite part of the episode David! Of course, I have a game ready.



David: Oh all right. What have you got in store for me this time Erin?



Erin: Well, to really set the tone and understand what things would have been like back in the 1890s, I thought it would be fun for me to give you a couple of phrases from the time and have you tell me what they mean!



David: How old do you think I am Erin?



Erin: I meant that you could guess their definitions. Not that you know them from personal experience.


David: Hmm. Well alright then. What’s the first example you have for me?



Erin: The first term is “go the whole hog.”



David: Can you use it in a sentence?



Erin: Sure. The townspeople went the whole hog for the celebration.



David: I think it means to do something wholeheartedly or to go all the way with something.



Erin: Correct! You really went the whole hog with that answer!



David: Ohh good one!



Erin: I try to make these games fun for us David.



David: I know you do! And so far, today I’m actually having fun too.



Erin: Let’s see if we can keep that up with the next term: boodle. As in, there was a whole boodle waiting for the celebration to begin.



David: Hmm it kind of sounds like that one might mean a big group of people.



Erin: Correct again! I have one last chance to stump you today.



David: I think that’s the real goal of these games. For you to pull the wool over my eyes as much as possible!



Erin: Ooh nice old-timey expression! But I had a different last term in mind for today.



David: Oh go on then.



Erin: What does it mean if I say that that man was some pumpkins.



David: Some pumpkins? Like the squash?



Erin: You betcha.



David: You know, I’ve never actually heard that one before.



Erin: No way! I managed to stump you!



David: Ha ha I guess you did! What does it mean?



Erin: It means something or someone really impressive.



David: In that case, your game today was some pumpkins!



Erin: Now you’ve got the hang of it!



David: I think you really set the stage for today’s episode.



Erin: That was the goal!



David: I’m sure back in 1893, the people in the city of Toronto probably thought that the new Legislative Building being built was some pumpkins too!



Erin: Now you’re just showing off! But you’re right David. Back then, the city of Toronto only had a population of less than 200,000 people. And all of Canada had a population of around 5 million people.



David: Contrast that to today, where Canada has a population of almost 40 million people and the city of Toronto alone has close to 3 million inhabitants.



Erin: It’s hard to imagine today with all of our skyscrapers and tall buildings, but back then, the Legislative Building was one of the taller structures in the city.



David: Fun fact: the building was actually constructed to utilize a natural rise from the shoreline of Lake Ontario which helped maximize the amount of natural light inside the structure, but it also would have made our Parliament Building appear taller than the buildings around it.



Erin: You also have to consider that the city itself was much smaller and more compact back then. In fact, it didn’t extend much farther north than the Legislative Building seeing as the lake and therefore much of the industry and commerce were to the south of the building.



David: Very true Erin. Because of these facts, and because it took about six years to construct the building, by the time it was finished, there was quite a buzz surrounding its grand opening.



Erin: By all accounts, a huge crowd turned out on opening day. They witnessed the Governor General opening the new building, got to visit the impressive Legislative Chamber, the “jewel” of the new structure, and even do some dancing in the first-floor hallways to end the day.



David: Sounds like a roaring good time!



Erin: I bet it was!



David: In 1893, the building complex alone covered roughly four acres and contained around 200 rooms. It was considered to be a massive complex with some, like the Premier at the time Sir Oliver Mowat, even commenting that it would be impossible to fill all of the rooms.



Erin: Fun fact: although not all the rooms were labelled, according to floorplans from 1893, there were at least 4 different rooms dedicated to storing hats and coats found throughout the building.



David: It may seem impossible to imagine how Sir Oliver Mowat feared filling the entire building back then, but it makes a lot of sense when you considered that the entire public service in Ontario at the time was limited to only a few hundred employees.



Erin: Today, the staff that are necessary just to make the Legislative Building function, not including any extra ministry staff or staff within the Ontario Public Service, is up to approximately 500 employees!



David: Mowat’s comment also makes a little more sense when you consider that in 1893, there were only 91 Members elected to Ontario’s Parliament compared to the 124 that we have today.



Erin: Also, back then individual MPPs didn’t have offices within the building. The offices were for Ministries and other groups like the Office of Surveys and Patents who seems to have had a large suite of offices on the first floor of the building.



David: Fun fact: some of the original offices had adjoining vaults, like the Office of Surveys and Patents, or the Office of Woods and Forests to store documents or samples. Because of the sturdy construction of the vaults, some of their original fixtures like doors and hinges, can still be found in the building today.



Erin: Seeing some of these original fixtures, like the windows and doorknobs with their engraved lions’ heads around the key holes, gives you a greater appreciation of the many uses and functions that the building has had over the years. And the need to repurpose spaces to accommodate the changing needs of the Legislative Assembly.



David: Speaking of which, the offices weren’t the only spaces that have had to undergo changes to accommodate the diverse needs of Parliament. The Chamber had also seen some big modifications over the years.



Erin: We’ve talked about the change in carpeting and the colour scheme of the room in previous episodes, but before that even, the Chamber had to be modified for acoustic reasons.



David: The 50-foot-tall ceilings in the Chamber led to an echo in the room if more than one person was speaking at a time. After many complaints from Members, extra curtains and fabric were added to the windows and the wall opposite to help dappen the noise, but it wasn’t enough.



Erin: The Press Gallery, the space located above the Speaker’s chair in the Chamber, was also lowered in an attempt to allow reporters to better hear what was happening on the floor and to also try to again dampen the echo. But it still wasn’t enough.



David: Finally, more drastic measures had to be taken and in the early 1900s, acoustic panelling made of horsehair was added to the entire ceiling and upper walls to lessen the sound bouncing around the cavernous space.



Erin: Fun fact: horsehair has been an extremely versatile material throughout history, being used to make everything from fabric to plaster to cover walls, from instrument bows to wigs. Although the horsehair used in the Chamber ceiling would probably most resemble the pink insulation that many of us are familiar with in modern construction projects.



David: Today, much of the horsehair remains on the ceiling, although some portions have been removed in renovations projects completed over the years to once again reveal the original ceiling designed by mural artist Gustav Hahn.



Erin: Modern acoustic panels have also been added more discreetly in the room to improve the sound while Members these days make use of microphones, speakers, and headphones to be able to better hear one another during the debates. You know David, MPPs aren’t the only ones that are important in the Chamber. Our key parliamentary figures like the Speaker, Clerk, and Sergeant-at-Arms have also seen a few changes to their roles since 1893.



David: Very true Erin. Back when the building first opened, the Speaker of the House, a man named Thomas Ballantyne from the riding of Perth South, would have been appointed by the Premier. This practice actually continued up until quite recently.



Erin: It wasn’t until 1990 when that practice changed. That was the first time that the MPPs were able to nominate someone and vote in a secret ballot election to choose the Speaker from amongst themselves.



David: Fun fact: the first Speaker to be elected by secret ballot vote was Speaker David Warner. He was the MPP for the riding of Scarborough-Ellesmere and served as Speaker from 1990 to 1995.



Erin: Today, the Speaker continues to be elected in the same way. Although something I’ve always found interesting is that there needs to be a majority vote towards one candidate which means that the MPPs will keep voting until that happens.



David: I’ve always found that interesting too Erin. Especially when contrasted with how the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms are chosen, which is basically like a typical job application – with approval by the House of course.



Erin: Great point David.



David: Both the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms apply for their roles like a regular job posting. They are expected to have relevant experience and expertise in their respective areas of focus.



Erin: That practice hasn’t changed either. So the process to choose Charles Clarke, the Clerk at the time when the building first opened – try to say that 10 times fast! – and Frederick Glackmeyer, the first Sergeant-at-Arms, would be very similar to how both individuals are still selected today.



David: Fun fact: Frederick Glackmeyer wasn’t only the Sergeant-at-Arms when the building first opened in 1893, but he had been the first Sergeant-at-Arms since the time of Confederation in 1867. In fact, he served in the role all the way until 1924 – that’s a total of 57 years!



Erin: Double fun fact!



David: Ooh another double fun fact! We had one not that long ago too! We’re on a role!



Erin: I know! Double fun fact: we still have the sword that Mr. Glackmeyer carried during his time as Sergeant-at-Arms. Although that isn’t the sword that the Sergeant-at-Arms carries today, they do still carry a sword as a traditional part of their uniform.



David: I wish there was a way to show Mr. Glackmeyer, or even the Clerk or Speaker from 1893 what our Parliament looks like today. I wonder what they would have to say about all the changes but also all of the traditions that have been maintained and help make our Parliament so special.



Erin: I know David, I wish we could show Mowat that the rooms did get all filled and that in fact, we could maybe use a few more rooms.



David: It would be interesting to know what their thoughts are about the present and future of the building going forward.



Erin: Agreed David. If you could only pick one of the people we mentioned today to talk to, who would it be?



David: I think I would have to go with Sir Oliver Mowat.



Erin: Why him?



David: Well, he was here for a really long time, first as an MPP, then as Premier, and finally as Lieutenant Governor. So, he would have experienced a lot of changes for the time but hearing his perspective on the changes afterwards, would be really interesting I think. His opening speech in the Chamber in 1893 was actually all about the changes that he had seen throughout the 19th century and especially how the Legislature had changed too.



Erin: All good reasons.



David: What about you Erin? Who would you pick?



Erin: You know, I was going to say Mowat too, but I think I changed my mind. I think I would want to talk to Frederick Glackmeyer since he was around even before Mowat. And because he didn’t have to participate in the debates, he would have gotten to experience just being in the Chamber a lot more. And I think I would want to know what that was like with the original fixtures compared to today.



David: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I would expect he would have some interesting things to say too.



Erin: I think we’ve had quite a journey today again David.



David: I would even say that we went for the whole hog today!



Erin: I knew you secretly loved the games! And great use of that expression by the way.



David: It felt only fitting to wrap up our episode with a little piece of the past.



Erin: Seems like the perfect ending to me!



David: Well not quite perfect yet! We haven’t done our fun fact count yet!



Erin: You’re right David! I think our double fun fact brought us up to seven today!



David: Wonderful!



Erin: Thanks for listening to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament. But we’ve got to go, I think I hear the bells.



David: Bye for now!



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.