Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada s Governors General, 1876-1898

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9780864921871: Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada s Governors General, 1876-1898
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The awestruck press thrilled all of Canada with reports of the Earl of Dufferin’s 1876 fancy dress ball at Rideau Hall. Twenty years later, the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen not only topped Dufferin’s extravaganza and catered to a new taste: at their Historical Fancy Dress Ball, guests promenaded as important characters from Canadian history. The next year, in Toronto, their Victorian Era Ball feted Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee by celebrating in costume the progress of her reign and the technological wonders of the century to come. In 1898, the Aberdeens induced Montreal’s French and English high society to act out the ideal of national unity. Cynthia Cooper tells the stories of these four vice-regal balls, the costumes, and the optimistic nation-builders who disguised frivolity as historical research and chose costumes that allowed sexual display scandalous in any other setting. The reporters on the fringes of each event form a gushing Greek chorus, and photos by Notman and Topley show la crème de la crème of young Canada in all its finery.

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From the Back Cover:

In February, 1876, the Earl of Dufferin gave a Grand Fancy Ball in Ottawa, the most splendid event the muddy colonial capital had ever seen. Twenty years later, the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen hosted three even more dazzling events that catered to a new taste: guests at their Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal fancy dress balls arrayed themselves as characters from the history of Canada, Britain, and the Empire. Magnificent Entertainments tells the stories of these four balls: the costumes, the nation-builders disguising entertainment as historical research, and the excitement of otherwise-forbidden sexual display. Lady Aberdeen enacts national unity by making the French and English haut monde celebrate each other’s history on the ballroom floor, and reporters lovingly describe the rich accuracy of the costumes and the kaleidoscopic effect of a fur trapper dancing with Britannia, a rough Viking with a Watteau shepherdess. The Norman and Topley photography studios took the opportunity to supply ball guests with mementos of their social triumph. These photos helped Cynthia Cooper find ball costumes in museums and pin down the identity of more than one historic garment adapted — perhaps several times — into fancy dress. Magnificent Entertainments contains over a hundred of these excellent photos, a graphic record of young Canada dressed as the Empire’s dream.

About the Author:

Cynthia Cooper, curator of costume at the Musée Marsil in St. Lambert, Quebec, teaches costume and fashion history at LaSalle College. She is curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibition Dressing Up Canada, which includes some of the actual costumes described in Magnificent Entertainments, plus photographs and memorabilia. Magnificent Entertainments is a co-publication with the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

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