1879 Campaign Ribbon for Essex South Riding:
This week’s ephemera piece hails from a time when the political landscape was vastly different; a time before radio broadcasting, televisions, computers, internet, facebook and twitter; indeed before public street lighting, when torch-light parades were still a popular election activity.¹
In addition to riding through the darkened city streets in carriages with crowds of people cheering and holding up flaming torches, news of the electoral candidates spread by word of mouth, through posters, and newspapers. It was a time when the strategic placement of a campaign ribbon on the jacket of an influential community member, or the creation of a good, catchy song or slogan, would have been powerful campaign tools.
With the role and configuration of nineteenth century government in a state of near-constant fluctuation, the political agendas of electoral candidates tended to be rather loose, with campaigns focusing instead upon the personal narrative of the person running; their perceived leadership skills, establishment of good character and basic attractiveness to the citizens.²
As for the personal narrative of William Douglas Balfour, the fellow whose campaign ribbon now sits in Juniper Books: Balfour moved from Scotland to Upper Canada at six years old, where he became a newspaper man, working as the proprietor of the daily and weekly editions of the St. Catharines News.³ At twenty-three he moved to Amherstburg, became co-founder of the weekly Amberstburg Echo which was an important source of news for Essex and Kent counties, started the Echo Printing Company and was elected as a school board trustee.³
Four years later, in 1879, (the year he had our featured ribbon created) Balfour tried his hand at a political election, running on the Mowat (premiere of Ontario) ticket contesting the provincial riding of Essex South.³ Despite being unsuccessful in 1879, Balfour was elected three years later when he ran again and won his seat in a by-election.³
During his time in parliament, Balfour helped to expose a conspiracy in the works which sought to buy votes away from the government of Oliver Mowat. He presented, “to the speaker of legislature the $800 bride he had been offered by John A. “Big Push” Wilkinson, a former newspaper editor.”³
As for the ribbon, after it outlived its usefulness spreading the word of Balfour’s campaign to become an MPP, it remained in Amherstburg for another one hundred and twenty-seven years. Its exact trails are shrouded in mystery, but one thing we do know for certain is that at some point it ended up employed as a bookmark, as it arrived at Juniper still tucked between the pages of a book included in an Amherstburg collection.
For an interesting slide-show on some memorable political campaigning throughout the years including the source of the expression “Gerry-mandering” click here.
1. Elections Canada. A History of the Vote in Canada. 13, July, 2012. web. 3, November, 2012. http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=his&document=chap1&lang=e
2. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Political Campaign. 2012. web. 3, November, 2012. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/political-campaign
3. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Balfour, William Douglas. web. 3, November, 2012. http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=5944
Check back for a new ephemera feature next week!!