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The Jubilee Illumination

My drawing of a 1897 Queen Victoria Jubilee memorial flag

Previously, I posted an article entitled “Southern Manitoba's Most Recent Volcanic Eruption.” Together with it was a picture of the hole made in the top of one of the hills of the Pembina River Valley (some 100 miles southwest of Winnipeg) resulting from this explosion. Since that eruption took place 119 years ago last June, I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in knowing a few more details about this rather unusual landmark.

For well over 100 years, sharp-eyed visitors to my parents' farm remarked on what appeared to be a large hole in the highest hill directly behind our home. Although almost an eighth of a mile away, it was quite noticeable from most corners of our house yard. Others had an opportunity to see it close up. Some of these were the numerous hunters who tramped through our bush each fall in hopes of placing a Virginia Deer in the sights of their rifles. Never having seen anything quite like it before, they were especially curious as to what had caused this massive crater.

As youngsters, my younger sister and I regarded ourselves authorities on its origin because we often visited it in our rambles through the hills. A large, flat stone on the very edge of this great depression was one of our favourite picnic sites. Even without the covering of a luncheon cloth it served admirably as our table. This, of course, was only during the more temperate seasons of the year. During the winter months this boulder was a favoured lookout point for the golden eagles who found it a most convenient perch from which to survey the adjacent hillsides for tasty small game.

Generally, our picnics were under the direct supervision of our aunt, Miss Maggie Young, who was actually our great aunt, one of our Grandpa Young's older sisters who lived with us. A half century before, this location had been the site of many picnics set out on this same stone which she had enjoyed in company with her best friend, Miss Jessie Jardine. Miss Jardine was the daughter of the owner of the farm at the time, Mr. Jack Jardine, proprietor and namesake of the Jardine Ranche. As a young girl, from time to time, Aunt Maggie made her home at the Ranche where she was a “companion” to Miss Jardine who was being educated at home by a governess.

As Aunt Maggie explained to us, neither she nor Miss Jardine had actually been a witness to the creation of the opening on the hilltop. However, as they sat on “the picnic stone” admiring the vast expanse of this hole (some 40 feet across), its genesis was elaborated upon by the third member of their picnic party, Mr. Hubert Nicholl, the manager and - as they teasingly called him - the “gentleman butler” of the Ranche.

On 22 June 1897 he had been among the hundreds of neighbours entertained at a magnificent celebration hosted by Mr. Jardine's predecessor. Mr. Eustace Henry Curtis, Esq., was previously of Kearsney Abbey, located near Dover, Kent, England. Mr. Nicholl explained that the hole in front of them was the result of the “Jubilee Illumination” honouring the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascent to the British throne on 20 June 1837 at the age of 18. In Canada, Mr. Nicholl continued, Tuesday, 22 June was the day designated for the official celebrations of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee.

According to newspaper accounts, that gala day had included a football match, various other sports and contests, a monster picnic attended by over 2000 people, a band concert, and bonfires laid out on the hills overlooking the valley. One of these articles noted that Mr. Curtis had spent over $1000 on fireworks and decorations for this celebration. (This was at a time when labourers working for the city of Winnipeg were receiving as much as 21 cents an hour!) No doubt this sum also included the cost of the barrel of dynamite and the dozens of fireworks which had replicated “Southern Manitoba's Most Recent Volcanic Eruption.”

Contemporary newspaper articles also note that among these decorations were hundreds of flags, some of them lining the hillside road down to the Ranche for over a mile. Fortunately, one of these was saved by a neighbour, Mr. Lorne Dougall. Fifty-five years later, he passed it on to Aunt Maggie, who then gave it to me. Naturally, it was a Union Jack, but one featuring the likeness of Queen Victoria surrounded by a wreath and ornamental ribbons, as included at the top of my first sketch. I based the border decorations on England's rose, Scotland's thistle and Ireland's shamrock. These elements are from the official booklet published by King George's Jubilee Trust commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953.

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