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William N. Petch Fonds (P163)

Attack Plan of the Ice Palace by the Snowshoers (detail), 1910. Gift of Mrs. Irene Jensen, William N. Petch Fonds P163, P163/B,2.8 © McCord Museum

Montreal: Celebrating winter since 1883!

"Attack Plan of the Ice Palace by the Snowshoers. Carnival 1910. [...] NOTE. - Each club should be on spot at half past eight."

Quebecers enjoy having fun and are not going to let the cold stop them, as evidenced by the many activities organized each winter around the province, like Montreal's Fête des neiges and Igloofest, the Quebec City and Sherbrooke carnivals, and Les Nuits polaires in Trois-Rivières. These major winter festivals, though different in style, nonetheless share a common ancestor dating from 1883: the Montreal Winter Carnival.

In the late 19th century, Canadians fully entered the industrial era. Within decades, the growing railway system, the advent of the telephone and the popular press and the discovery of electricity had transformed the relationship between space and time. These innovations were a prelude to new lifestyles, which fostered both an increase in leisure time and greater participation in recreational and sports activities.

These circumstances gave rise to the idea of organizing winter festivities in Montreal. The brainchild of businessmen wishing to stimulate the economy during the off season, the plan was to schedule a week of events aimed primarily at rich American tourists. The ambitious program of competitive and friendly games included a number of sports -- skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing outings and races, hockey, and curling -- along with various entertainments like fireworks, masked balls, a dance, torchlight processions, a parade and a trophy ceremony. However, the highlight of the festival was the snowshoers' simulated attack on the gigantic Ice Palace.

Despite some success, the carnival's existence was relatively brief and marked by financial difficulties. There were five editions in all: 1883, 1884, 1885, 1887 and 1889. Preserved by William N. Petch, then president of the Canadian Snowshoe Union, this plan of attack is a rare memento of the attempts to revive the carnival in 1909 and 1910.


P163 William N. Petch Fonds. - [188-], 1907-1915. - 47 cm of textual records and other material.

Biographical Sketch

William N. Petch was born into the English-speaking community of Quebec City in 1875. In the late 19th century, he lived in Toronto, where he worked at the John Abell Engine Works as a milling machine operator. As a resident of Montreal from 1902 to 1915, he was a foreman, bookkeeper and secretary-treasurer for John L. Cassidy Co. Ltd, manufacturer and importer of glassware, crockery and china, located on St. Paul Street in what is now Old Montreal.

His interest in sports led him to become involved in various Montreal and Canadian clubs. He became a member of the Holly Snow-Shoe Club and was then its president from 1908 to 1909 and from 1912 to 1913. From 1910 to 1911, he was president of the Canadian Snowshoe Union, an association created to promote the sport of snowshoeing. Petch was also president of Cassidy's Athletic Club from 1909 to 1910.

Scope and Content

This fonds is composed of three scrapbooks and loose records assembled by William N. Petch when he lived in Toronto and then Montreal. While the fonds documents major military and royal events that marked the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its primary focus is the organization of Canada's first snowshoe clubs and the popularity of this sport in Quebec around 1910.

Dated 1902 and containing press clippings from English-language newspapers, the first scrapbook illustrates the contributions of Canadian soldiers to the South African Boer War and recounts the various celebrations surrounding the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to the Dominion. There are also articles about the 1901 assassination of U.S. President William McKinley during his visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

The second and third scrapbooks contain various textual records and iconographic documents illustrating numerous social and physical activities associated with the sport of snowshoeing from 1908 to 1914, such as correspondence sent or received by Petch when he was president of the Holly Snow-Shoe Club and the Canadian Snowshoe Union, as well as invitations, postcards, seasonal programs, menus, entry tickets and commemorative ribbons. There are several newspaper articles that report on competitions or announce the winners of various races. In addition, photographs and illustrations depict the logos and official uniforms of numerous snowshoe clubs in the Montreal region. By-laws, negotiable instruments, calendars, business cards and financial statements are also included in this fonds, along with three souvenirs and a map of the snowshoers' plan of attack on the Ice Palace during the 1910 Montreal Winter Carnival.

In addition, the three scrapbooks and loose records include numerous press clippings of social interest in the form of jokes, poems, editorial cartoons and opinions highlighting specific features of Canadian society.

Variations in title: Formerly known as W. N. Petch Fonds.

Source of title proper: Title based on the creator of the fonds.

Dates of creation: Several documents are undated.

Physical description: In addition to textual records, the fonds includes 22 iconographic documents (12 printed logos, 2 postcards, 6 photographs, 1 blueprint and 1 drawing), 3 souvenirs associated with the sport of snowshoeing and 1 cartographic record.

Physical condition: Many documents are fragile. The acid in the glue and press clippings has made the pages of all three scrapbooks brittle. The front cover of scrapbook P163/A.1.1 is almost entirely detached. The binding of scrapbook P163/B.1.1 is fragile. One commemorative ribbon has broken into several pieces. One souvenir is in a very advanced state of deterioration.

Immediate source of acquisition: The William N. Petch Fonds was donated to the McCord Museum in 1980 by Irene Jensen.

Arrangement: The fonds underwent treatment in 2015 and a new classification plan was adopted. The scrapbooks also contained several loose or unglued records inserted randomly among the pages. These loose sheets were removed and put together into files.

Language: The documents are in English and French, but primarily in English.


The fonds is divided into the following series and files:

  • P163/A Major military and royal events
    • P163/A,1 Scrapbook
    • P163/A,2 Press clippings

  • P163/B Snowshoe clubs and associations
    • P163/B,1 Scrapbooks. - 1908-1914. - 23 cm of textual records.
    • Scope and Content: This file is composed of two scrapbooks containing various records associated primarily with the sport of snowshoeing. Compiled between 1908 and 1914 by William N. Petch when he was living in Montreal, these scrapbooks document the popularity of this recreational sport in the early 20th century and the organization of Canada's first snowshoe clubs.

      The first scrapbook covers the period of August 1908 to October 1910. The memorabilia it contains -- correspondence, invitations, programs announcing upcoming activities and calendars -- illustrate Petch's interest in snowshoe races. Numerous newspaper articles about annual meetings and sports competitions indicate that William N. Petch was president of the Holly Snow-Shoe Club from 1908 to 1909. Commemorative ribbons also highlight his role as a judge at various races such as the Coupe de La Presse. Other illustrated press clippings report on events like the Montreal Winter Carnival and the attack on its Ice Palace, the big gathering of Canadian snowshoers in Saint-Hyacinthe and the Canadian track and field championships. An article published in La Presse on February 8, 1909, paints a positive picture of the Sherbrooke Snow-Shoe Carnival: "Sherbrooke envahie par les raquetteurs : brillant succès des fêtes du Carnaval" (Sherbrooke invaded by snowshoers: Carnival festivities a great success).

      The second scrapbook covers the period from October 1910 to July 1914. It primarily documents Petch's activities as president of the Canadian Snowshoe Union and the contacts he made with member clubs of this association. According to the by-laws preserved in this scrapbook, the Canadian Snowshoe Union was formed in Montreal in 1907 by Arthur Lamalice, with the mandate to promote the national sport of snowshoeing and unite many of the regional clubs located primarily in Quebec and Ontario. Accordingly, in a letter by William N. Petch that was published in 1910 in several newspapers and addressed to all snowshoe clubs, he discusses the efforts to regulate and promote competitions and standardize racing rules. There are also letters, invitations, postcards, programs and menus announcing competitions, annual meetings, dances and banquets organized by these sports clubs. In addition, illustrated press clippings show the logos and official uniforms of the various snowshoe clubs, e.g., the Club Canadien de St. Henri, Le National, the Y.M.C.A., the Club champêtre canadien, Le Montagnard, the Lachine Snow Shoe Club and the Emerald Snow Shoe Club. A blank registration form also provides information about the snowshoe racing schedule and the awards given out at the world championships at Montmorency Falls on February 17, 1912.

      Both scrapbooks also contain documents illustrating Petch's membership in various Masonic societies. They include, for example, portraits of members, death notices, directories, meeting notices and annual reports for the St. George and Browne lodges, as well as the Arab Patrol of the Shriners Karnak Temple. In addition, there are photographs, drawings and editorial cartoons highlighting the foibles of Quebec society. The collection of identified press clippings comes from both French- and English-language newspapers like La Presse, Le Soleil, The Montreal Daily Herald, The Standard, Saturday Night and The Quebec Telegraph.

      Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

      Physical condition: The acid in the press clippings has made the scrapbook pages brittle. The binding on the first scrapbook is fragile.

      Arrangement: The scrapbooks contained several loose records inserted randomly among the pages. These loose sheets were removed and put together into file P163/B,2.

      Language: The documents in the scrapbooks are written in English and French.

    • P163/B,2 Loose records

 

Last update: August 30, 2017