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

Cynthia Cooper, 1997,  185 Pages    (Goose Lane Editions)


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 national unity by making the French and English haut monde celebrate each other's history on the balloon 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 Notman 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.

Magnificent Entertainments, by Cynthia Cooper (1997)

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