A Year of Canadian History – August

This month’s Canada 150 post is about Emma Lajeunesse Albani, the first Canadian international superstar.

I have to say that I had never heard of Ms. Albani before this, but she came up in a search for notable mid-19th century Canadians so I decided I would do a little research into her life.  I have not had much exposure to opera but I find the story of Ms. Albani’s rise to fame to be a fascinating one.

Gérard Dicks Pellerin  a-1640xl pc065135Collections Canada – The Virtual Gramophone

She was born Emma Lajeunesse, in Chambly, Lower Canada (now Quebec).  It is interesting to note that some sources report year of birth as 1847, 1848 and 1850; however, her autobiography begins by noting her birth date as November 1, 1852.  (I am inclined to believe the latter date but a part of me does wonder if  she misreported her birth date to be later so as to appear younger?)  Her father was a musician and took on her musical education.  Even at the age of five or six, she studied music for four hours per day.  In fact, she remarks in her autobiography:


…the editor of one of our magazines which was publishing articles describing the dolls of celebrated women wrote to ask me to tell then “about my dolls.”  I was obliged to reply that “I never had a doll.”  (Forty Years of Song, p. 13).

Emma’s first performances were in the Montreal area at the age of 8 years old and she was instantly recognized as a child prodigy.   At this early age, Emma sang, composed, and played the piano and harp.  At the age of 14, her voice was described as being “sent from heaven.”

Gérard Dicks Pellerin  a-1640xl pc065135Collections Canada – The Virtual Gramophone

In 1868, Emma went to Paris to study with Gilbert-Louis Duprez (a famous French tenor). Duprez reportedly said, “She has a beautiful voice and ardour. She is of the kind of wood from which fine flutes are made.”  Soon, it was suggested that her last name (Lajeunesse) was not suitable for the stage and she adopted the stage name, Albani.  She made her debut in Europe in 1869 and was received with great enthusiasm.


I was literally loaded with flowers, presents, and poetry, the detached sheets of which were sent fluttering down in every direction on the heads of the audience; and among the numberless bouquets of every shape was a basket in which was concealed a live dove. They had painted it red, and the dear little bird rose and flew all over the theatre.  (Emma Albani, on her debut performance,

Collections Canada – The Virtual Gramophone

In 1878, she married Ernest Gye in London, England.  She took a year off from performing in operas the year that her son was born, 1879, but by the spring of the following year was back on the stage.

Throughout her forty year career, she had many fans and became a personal friend to Queen Victoria.

It was always one of my greatest pleasures to sing for the Queen.  She was so appreciative and in the little conversations I had with her ever showed herself so interested, not only in the music, but in many of my private affairs.  It was always said of Queen Victoria that she know all about everything and everybody; and, from my experience, I believe she did.  (Forty Years of Song, p. 250).

When Queen Victoria passed away, Emma sang at her funeral.

Unfortunately, when Emma retired from the stage, she and her husband had financial difficulties due to poor investments.  She began teaching and wrote her autobiography but by the mid-1920s was in a desperate financial situation.  Benefit concerts raised enough money to allow her to live in comfort until her death in 1930.


Forty Years of Song

The Canadian Encyclopedia



A Year of Canadian History (July’s Post) 

Well, I’m not sure what happened to July but it just flew by!  So here it is, a few days late, the July post for my year long project looking at some of the interesting historical figures who were around at the time of Confederation in 1867 here in Canada.

This month, I have decided to talk about Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Pauline Johnson or E. Pauline Johnson), a writer and performer who was popular in North America in the late 1800s.  She wrote this lovely poem describing Canada, which I think fits in nicely with my theme for this year’s set of historical posts about Canada:

Crown of her, young Vancouver; crest of her, old Quebec;
Atlantic and far Pacific sweeping her, keel to deck.
North of her, ice and arctics; southward a rival’s stealth;
Aloft, her Empire’s pennant; below, her nation’s wealth.
Daughter of men and markets, bearing within her hold,
Appraised at highest value, cargoes of grain and gold.

(Canada, by Pauline Johnson)

Pauline was the youngest of four daughters of a Mowhawk hereditary clan chief, George Henry Martin Johnson and Emily Susanna Howells Johnson, an English immigrant.  She was born in 1861 at the Six Nations of Grand River, just six years before Confederation. Her Mohawk name was Tekahionwake, which translates to double wampum or double life.  She lived a life that was strongly influenced by both her English and her Mowhawk heritage.


Source:  Collections Canada

Pauline began to write poetry in her teens and continued through her life.  She wrote to support herself financially and toured Canada and the United States for seventeen years, reciting her poetry. She was reported to be very beautiful and had great stage presence, which made her a popular performer.  She was best known later for how she portrayed indigenous culture and I believe she has a unique approach to using the English style of poetry to portray aboriginal beliefs and legends.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.

(Excerpt from The Song My Paddle Sings by Pauline Johnson)

Pauline Johnson died from breast cancer in 1913.  She wrote the following poem after being told that her disease was terminal:

Time and its ally, Dark Disarmament,
Have compassed me about;
Have massed their armies, and on battle bent
My forces put to rout
But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,
Talk terms of Peace?  Not I.

(Biographical Sketch, page xxx, Flint and Feather, by Pauline Johnson)

If Pauline’s writing speaks to you, take a look at her book Flint and Feather, which is available on the Internet Archive.



A Year of Canadian History – June


Tomorrow is July 1, 2017 and Canadians officially celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the beginning of our country as we know it today.   150 years ago, at noon, the Dominion of Canada was proclaimed, including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec).  This is a celebration worth having, I believe, even though our past has not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  The Canada of today is a great country and we are trying to make amends for the errors of the past.  I really do love this country and I am so proud to be Canadian.  I love the people, the landscape and our welcoming attitude to other cultures.


There are big celebrations planned across the country and I am sure that the celebrations in Ottawa this year will be a sight to see!  I will be celebrating as we always do, watching the local parade, listening to music and ending with a BBQ with good friends.

It makes me wonder how Canadians celebrated the beginnings of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867?

Church towers and bell towers rang out across the new country at midnight.  The Queen’s proclamation was published in the news and read out loud in the major cities.  Towns across the new dominion celebrated with military displays, brass bands, illuminations and fireworks.

In Toronto, there were extensive celebrations as described in this article:

At 6 o’clock a.m. an immense ox will be roasted by Capt. Woodhouse, of the barque Lord Nelson, at the foot of Church street. The animal, which was a very fine one, was purchased by subscription from Mr. Joseph Lennox, of Yorkville. The roasting will occupy a large portion of the day, and the meat will afterwards be distributed among the poor of the city.  (The Globe, 1867)

There was great optimism about the new country, as this article from the Globe attests:

We firmly believe, that from this day, Canada enters on a new and happier career, and that a time of great prosperity and advancement is before us.  (The Globe, 1867)

The day was memorable, as a girl in Hamilton described:

There was the dark and then there was the light of a candle … then there was the opening of the great door, and the rush of cool, fresh air, and the deep darkness.  ‘Oh look,’ said a voice.  The sky was suddenly full of shooting stars.  There were fountains of stars, coloured red and green and blue … ‘This is the First of July in the year eighteen hundred and sixty seven,’ (my) father said, ‘always remember this day, and this night.  You are a very lucky little girl, to be a child in Canada, today.’ (Unknown, 1867)

And from the perspective of Agnes MacDonald (the wife of Canada’s first prime minister):

This new Dominion of ours came noisily into existence on the 1st, and the very newspapers look hot and tired, with the weight of Announcements and Cabinet lists.  Here – in this house – the atmosphere is so awfully political that sometimes I think the very flies hold Parliaments on the kitchen Tablecloths. (Agnes MacDonald, 1867)

Things did not go perfectly though.  Apparently, in Ottawa, the military fired a 101 gun salute on Parliament Hill but they forgot to take the ramrods out of their rifles and the rods flew over Sparks Street!  That would have been an exciting but dangerous start to our country!

Happy Canada Day!  Celebrate the past, present and future of our country and the remarkable people who have lived here.


Canada – A People’s History (CBC)

Canada History – July 1, 1867

Confederation Day! (The Globe)

Confederation Day in Toronto – The Program of Rejoicings (The Globe)