Personalities: Otto Julius Klotz

Otto Julius Klotz, 1901

One of the pleasures of archival research is encountering people through the records they’ve left behind. In some cases, documents can give only brief insights, but in others, they can reveal fascinating personalities. Dominion Astronomer Otto Klotz is one of the latter.

Our research led us to Klotz because of his membership in the Advisory Technical Board (ATB), which had been created to consider complex or technical matters brought to the attention of the Department of the Interior. We were trying to reconstruct the events surrounding Stefansson’s warning of the (non-existent) Danish threat to Canadian arctic sovereignty, and the origins of the planned government expedition in 1920. Klotz had been a member of the Board (and, it turned out, of its Arctic subcommittee), so we turned to his papers at Library and Archives Canada. Fortunately for us, Klotz was an inveterate diarist, who penned daily entries from 1866 until his death in 1923. He recorded details of his daily life, including his official duties. Even better, he did so legibly and with a delightfully wry sense of humour, making him a very useful and eminently quotable source.

In October of 1920, for instance, Klotz reported on the rapidly developing plans to counter the perceived Danish threat:

In morning meeting of our Advis. Tech. Board and we learned that our memo of last Friday about the Arctic Islands was changed by the Gov’t to an immediate “land expedition” by the Mounted Police to be followed in the spring by one by vessel. — We all smiled. We can see the Mounted Police charging “overland & overice” from Winnipeg to Ellesemere Land — 2000 miles in an fair line — establishing posts, law and order among the musk ox, and above all establishing sovereignty against the wily Danes until the exploring ship arrives next year. We authorized our chairman Dr. Deville to discuss with the Deputy Minister the matter rationally instead of plunging blindly into a wild ill-considered scheme. We all believe in obtaining the sovereignty for Canada, but use reason & common sense to attain the end.

(Otto Klotz diary, 20 October 1920)

A week later, he noted further developments, including the proposal to use an airship to transport people to Ellesmere Land:

Advis. Tech Board meeting in morning. Another resolution about Arctic Islands — recommending immediate effort with a ship to reach Bylot Island; also for a dirigible to proceed from Scotland to Ellesmere Land — some 2000 miles — which it is supposed to do in 70 hours! — and then what? plant the British flag — and impress the Eskimos if there are any — and the musk ox! … — Our whole business is a comedy.

(Otto Klotz diary, 27 October 1920)

In addition to his reports on the ATB’s activities, Klotz’s diary also contains a wide range of observations about his experiences and life in Ottawa. He commented on many aspects of his day-to-day life, including Shakespeare (“I always feel when seeing Richard III played like going on to the stage & murdering the arch fiend — the Duke of Gloucester”), or the date for Thanksgiving (“a most commendable custom”), which was not yet fixed by law (“But as the day has no fixture in our calendar, one can not plan long in advance for the occasion”). The diary’s a fascinating document, and it was one of the many happy discoveries during our research.

As with so many of the other figures in Acts of Occupation, Otto Klotz is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, and we found his family headstone when we visited there towards the end of our research. One of his sons (Max) predeceased him by two years, and is buried nearby. As he did with so many other things in his life, Klotz wrote about the sad event in his diary.

To learn more about Otto Klotz, see his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, as well as his Wikipedia page. His papers, including the wonderful diaries, are held by Library and Archives Canada (R6645-0-4-E / MG30-B13), and there’s an online finding aid.

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