By Laurel Bishop and Kieran Delaney
The Archives receives many donations, but few as intriguing as the colourful rolled-up newsprint poster brought in to us last year. The owner, Dr. Charles Bateman, had found the poster among his belongings, but knew nothing of its provenance. Its origins were a mystery. When carefully unrolled, it measured 1.25 metres in width by 2.5 metres in length. It proved to be in a delicate condition—fragments of the poster had disintegrated, but one thing was clear—its message was to announce Belleville’s Coronation Day Celebration in 1902. The problem was the date: Thursday, June 26. Queen Victoria had died in January of 1901. The coronation referred to had to be that of her son, King Edward VII, and his wife, Queen Alexandra, but a quick check on the internet showed that the event occurred on August 9, 1902. What was Belleville planning when it commissioned this elaborate poster? We were interested in both restoring the image of the poster, while conserving the original and researching the circumstances of its publication.
The digital restoration process presented significant technical challenges. Scanning of the poster would have provided images that were consistent in scale and orientation. However, after the passage of 113 years, the poor quality of the newsprint meant that some disintegration had occurred and posed the problem of handling such paper without further damage to it. It was necessary to photograph what remained of the poster with the result that photos available for the restoration were neither consistent in scale nor in orientation. They had to be constantly adjusted for both size and alignment.
Image restoration of the Coronation poster was done using the software program Photoshop whereby separate images can be assembled into a single composite picture. Digital photos of the various pieces of the poster were assembled into a whole, similar to completing an electronic jigsaw puzzle on a computer screen. Where pieces of the coloured portions of the poster were missing, it was possible to use Photoshop to copy one part of an image to another. For example, if a fragment was missing from a flag, it was possible to copy a similar portion from the same or even another flag. Where a suitable portion was not available, it was necessary to copy one from the internet or from a like image.
Re-creation of the original text was difficult and time consuming. The fonts used were over a century old and quite unique, and there were a significant number of them. If a letter was missing in a line of text, it was sometimes possible to copy an identical letter from the same or another line. If copying was not possible, then it was necessary to create that letter from scratch in a size and style consistent with the rest of the text in that same font. This meant copying portions of other letters where applicable or producing them by freehand drawing.
While this time-consuming digital restoration was being carried out, the task of researching the historical background of the poster was in progress.
In 1901 it had been over sixty years since a monarch of Britain and her Empire had been crowned. In December of that year, an Executive Coronation Committee was formed in England to plan Edward VII’s coronation. In Belleville, on May 13, 1902, a public meeting was held with the purpose of planning a celebration in honour of the event. An article on page 1 of The Weekly Intelligencer on May 15, entitled: “You’re All Invited and the Band’s Engaged,” gives details of the early discussions and the appointment of various committees with their chairmen to handle such matters as finance, advertising, sports and music. A limit of $1,000 was established to cover expected costs.
On page 4 of The Weekly Intelligencer that same May day, in a column entitled “Timely Topics,” the anonymous writer pens these words:
“The Coronation Day celebration is off to a good start. Tell your country cousins there’s going to be ‘doings’ in Belleville on June 26. They can all come in and have the time of their lives. … The right men have got hold of the matter, it will be a success as sure as shooting, and we’re going to help crown His Majesty King Ned in up-to-date style.”
Two weeks later, a preliminary version of our poster appeared in The Weekly Intelligencer advertising the coming event. June 26 would be “One Solid Day of Amusements & Rejoicing.”
Finally, on June 5, 1902, The Weekly Intelligencer published the details of the programme planned for Coronation Day. Here we can read about the prospective activities which match very closely those listed on the poster in the Archives. The morning programme was to consist of a military and civic trades’ procession with the participation of the 15th and 49th Regiments. The afternoon would feature a balloon ascension, trick bicycle riding on a steel wire, races, Highland dancing and a lacrosse match. And finally, in the evening, a grand Kalithumpian parade would wend its way from the Market Square to the Agricultural Park where a fireworks display would take place under the personal supervision of Professor Hand.
For the uninitiated, in old Ontario, a Kalithumpian parade referred to a noisy, boisterous parade marked by discordant music and outrageous disguise and was often organized to celebrate the Queen’s birthday or Dominion Day.
The Professor Hand referred to in this article was not Professor William Hand, the founder of the Hand fireworks company, as he had died following an accident the year before, in October of 1901, but his son, Thomas William Hand.
The “Timely Topics” writer did his utmost to encourage participation: “We haven’t had a celebration of any kind now for some time, now let’s make up for lost time and have a memorable jollification on the day King Edward gets his crown. All together, now.”
But no one counted on the King getting appendicitis—just two days before his coronation, he underwent an operation to save his life. As the writer of “Timely Topics” put it, “Who can tell what a day will bring forth!” By mid-July, Edward had rallied sufficiently so that official notification could be issued to the effect that the Coronation of King Edward and Queen Alexandra would take place on Saturday, August 9th.
However, the Coronation Committee of Belleville decided to give a grand fireworks display and band concert at Corby’s Driving Park on Monday night, two days after the coronation. Belleville City Council referred in their Minutes to Coronation Day as being on August 11, 1902. The reason can be found in the words written by our “Timely Topics” columnist writing in The Daily Intelligencer:
“It is pleasing to note that Belleville is going to celebrate the coronation of King Edward. The gentlemen who had arranged the celebration for June 26 were hit pretty hard, and no one would have blamed them very much if they had fought shy of things of that kind for some time to come. However, like loyal men, they thought the city should do something to mark the recovering and coronation of His Majesty.
“Of course, nobody expected anything would be done on Saturday. It was hardly in reason to ask our merchants to shut up their stores on the night of the busiest day of the week. But on Monday evening next there will be a demonstration on the Corby Driving Park, when the band will give a patriotic concert, and the grandest display of fireworks ever seen in Belleville will be shown under the personal supervision of Prof. Hand, of Hamilton, the man who makes ’em. Turn out and show your loyalty, join in the chorus of the National Anthem and let out a whoop or two for Good King Ned and the British Empire, which never took a back seat for anybody yet and doesn’t mean to.”
As can be seen from the above, the men who invested in the originally planned coronation celebration lost a good deal of money. They had the sympathy of the “Timely Topics” reporter:
“The gentlemen who engineered the proposed celebration on June 26 went behind many dollars owing to the unfortunate postponement. If there is a good attendance at the Driving Park to-night it will, though not altogether covering the loss, go a long way towards it. Turn out and enjoy yourself and give them a hand.”
Although far below the hoped-for attendance, on a somewhat chilly evening, at least 1,000 persons witnessed the display of fireworks and enjoyed the musical selections by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Band. Belleville’s Coronation celebration was complete. “Timely Topics” writer felt “the show was a good one, and nobody got his whiskers singed, so let’s be thankful.”
The Community Archives possesses a number of City of Belleville minute books providing a written record of Belleville City Council meetings. During the research process, a number of entries in Book 3 were found pertinent to the investigation. An example from the meeting on January 23, 1901 follows.
“The citizens of Belleville Ontario join in the world wide sorrow felt for the death of the Empire’s beloved Queen, and wish in common with all Canadians to assure His Majesty King Edward of their fealty to His throne and attachment to His person.”
And finally, we come to the probable connection between our donor Dr. Bateman and the Coronation poster. Near the bottom is printed the name: Chas. Sulman, Chairman Finance Com., a man who became Mayor of Belleville from 1905 to 1908.
In The Daily Intelligencer of August 7, 1902, his generosity is recognized for having presented to the City of Belleville a Union Jack to be flown on the City Hall. Plans were for the flag to be hoisted for the first time on Coronation Day and Alderman Charles Nelson Sulman was to be asked to raise the flag. Dr. Bateman is one of Mr. Sulman’s grandsons.
After a year of work, the pieces of the digital puzzle that is the Coronation Poster (and the story behind it) have been put together and the end result can be shared with the citizens of Belleville again.