Hi! My name is Donna Richards and I am the new Archives Technician at South Peace Regional Archives.
I was born in Grande Prairie and have spent most of my life in the Peace River regions of Alberta and British Columbia, except for four years when I attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Education degree, I was offered my first teaching position with Peace Wapiti School Division #76 at Sexsmith Elementary School. Three years later I transferred into Grande Prairie. I taught at Harry Balfour School, which was only two shorts blocks from my childhood home, for three decades. After 33 years in the teaching profession I retired in 2014.
After retiring, I felt I needed to keep myself active and engaged. The past three plus years I’ve been busy substitute teaching at local schools and facilitating student teachers from Grande Prairie Regional College. Now I can add Archives Technician to the list! I am thrilled to be given this opportunity and look forward to learning and working at South Peace Regional Archives.
On June 7, 1933, Olwen Sanger-Davies boarded the train in her home town of St. Leonard’s on Sea in East Sussex, England to begin a long journey. The first leg was to the port of Southampton by train, then to Montreal, Canada, aboard the SS Montrose, by Canadian Pacific train across Canada to Banff, and up to the Peace River Country on the Northern Alberta Railway. The purpose of her trip was to visit her younger brother Morgan, who lived just outside the Town of Grande Prairie…
Olwen documented her journey and time in the Peace Country in two scrapbooks, containing approximately 500 drawings and paintings. Published by the South Peace Regional Archives, Olwen’s Scrapbook captures her story in Olwen’s own words and illustrations. It is a nostalgic, educational, and artistic gift.
Olwen’s Scrapbook: A Journey to the Peace Country in 1933 can be purchased from the South Peace Regional Archives for $40.00 + GST. Cash and cheques are accepted. Limited copies are available.
After great success at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, the Canadians were called upon to relieve the Australian and New Zealand troops in Flanders, Belgium. Many preparations were made under the careful eye of General Currie, and on October 26th the attack was launched. The Battle of Passchendaele lasted until mid-November, at the expense of 15,654 Canadian lives. Following is an except from the memoir of a South Peace soldier, Lance Corporal Edward Joseph Heller.
It seemed to be the policy then and there to have comparatively few in the front line, for if the enemy counter attacked he would probably overrun it anyway. We did some digging during the night, connecting shell holes, deepening ditches that were supposed to be trenches, etc. to make room for the extra men… The ground, as at Vimy Ridge, was all torn up. I am sure not a square foot being in its original condition or position. We suffered a few casualties during the night, subjected to what was called a harassing fire: the artillery mow and then dropping a shell here, one there. Our artillery did that too. When morning came, we settled down into the ditches… We lay where we were, in the mud of course, all day of the 29th. If one wanted to change position, get a hard tack out of the haversack, or move for any reason at all, one had to move very slowly… Of course we couldn’t move very fast anyway, as we were chilled to the bone.
There was a sort of step at the dead end of this ditch, so I sat upon the step. I probably dozed off (for we hadn’t had much sleep for some time), for the next thing I knew, I was laying in the mud up out of the ditch, in a sort of bewildered way, thinking perhaps something had happened, for it seemed the right half of my head had been shot off (how I thought I could still be alive after that?) and 72 bones (that’s about 1/3 of them, isn’t it?) were broken. Apparently a shell passed just in front of me… and exploded. How deeply I was buried or how long it took to dig me out was not thought of then, so I never found out, which never worried me any… Two fellows helped me start walking… perhaps to some dressing station… there is a flash of a few seconds of memory… there was this railway car, low sides but no top. How and why I and others were there, I didn’t know or care… Next I was lying on a stretcher in a large marquee. By evening I was in a cot, nice white sheets, hospital pyjamas so clean and dry.
Edward Heller had in fact sustained a gunshot wound to his left leg at Passchendaele. Later in the war, his right leg was also wounded. Heller survived the war and returned to his homestead near Beaverlodge.
Photograph: SPRA 194.03, from Edward Heller’s fonds, likely taken at Passchendaele
To get an idea of the devastation they fought through, consider attending the Passchendaele movie screening at the Grande Prairie Regional College on Friday October 27 at 7:00. We will also have a small display honouring our South Peace veterans who played a role in this important battle. Click here for more information on this event.
Photograph: South Peace Archives, Edward Heller fonds, SPRA 194.01 [cropped]
The Battle for Passchendaele was the final victory in the larger British offensive in Flanders to drive the Germans from the essential Channel Ports and to eliminate their coastal U-boat bases.
The offensive began on 31 July 1917. Despite the constant rain, the British managed to obtain most of their objectives by October. Most but not all: Passchendaele, just east of Ypres, remained in German hands. With the Australian and New Zealand troops exhausted, Sir Douglas Haig, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force ordered in the Canadians.
Appalled at the battlefield conditions and despite limited preparation time, Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the Canadian Corps, carefully planned the upcoming battle and ordered vital improvements to gun pits, road, and tramlines.
The battle commenced on 26 October. By mid-November, the Canadians reached their objective. The cost was high: nearly 16,000 Canadians dead or wounded. Among those were men from the South Peace Region.
Some of those men include D.W. Patterson (fonds 152), Edward Heller (fonds 194), John Thomas (Digby) Smith (fonds 367), Arthur Buck (fonds 298 ) Walter Spry (fonds 559), and Herman Klukas (fonds 635). Others, for whom we have few or no records include Harold Hugh Black, William Andrew Cowan, John Proctor, John Francis McLeod, Frank M. Longair, William G. Longhurst, Walter Emerson Eaton, William George Hodges, Frederick C. Keith, and Gustaf “Smithie” Listhaeghe. You can view their stories at SPRA’s online Soldiers’ Memorial.
To get an idea of the devastation they fought through, consider attending the Passchendaele movie screening at the Grande Prairie Regional College this Friday. We will also have a small display honouring our South Peace veterans who played a role in this important battle.
Last Friday, the Friends of the Archives Society welcomed guests to its Great War Gala. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to all those who attended the event, donated to our auction, and supposed our cause. Take a look at some of our favorite photographs from the event…
Considering the many new developments in weaponry, equipment, and military tactics during World War I, it is certainly not surprising to see how many new words and phrases that were coined during this time. Some of them were based on words from other languages as men representing various cultures and backgrounds rubbed shoulders on a day to day basis, others were made up and offer a glimpse into the humor that the soldiers employed to face the horror of life in the trenches. Enjoy this selection of ten slang words from the Great War, and be sure to check out the sources below for more.
Napoo derived from the French term “il n’y a plus”, which the Canadian and British soldiers took to mean ‘finished’, ‘dead’, or ‘completely destroyed’
Pogey-bait the Canadian and American term for any sweet snack
Spike-bozzled usually used to describe completely destroyed aircraft
Potato Masher slang for German hand grenades
Whizz Bang nickname for a small-calibre shell
Barkers trench slang for army sausages, which soldiers believed contained dog meat
Thingamajig a made-up trench word used to refer to the new devices invented during the war
Bumf originally slang for toilet paper, but later on referred to any communication from headquarters
Blighty another word for “England”; a ‘blighty wound’ would be wound that got a soldier sent back to England
Strafe this could mean anything from bombardment to a severe reprimand; it came from the German propaganda slogan “Gott Strafe England”, meaning “God Punish England”
The South Peace Regional Archives has curated a new exhibit for the Community Room at the Grande Prairie Museum. The new exhibit features ten photographs from the SPRA collection that tell the story, “The South Peace Goes to War.” The ten photographs were chosen by SPRA staff from a variety of collections, including the Edward Heller fonds, Turner family fonds, and Harry Tuffill family fonds.
Beginning with the first enlistments of 1914 making their way down the Smokey on the Beaver to the celebration of war’s end at Bear Lake, these ten photographs lead the viewer on a journey through the social history of the Great War. Below is a brief description of the exhibit. For more information, feel free to visit the exhibit in person.
OFF TO WAR
The Beaver Carrying Freight and Men To Enlist, 1914.
The Beaver river boat is carrying freight and men who are going to enlist. Three men are sitting on the bow of the boat, another is poling and the rest are standing on the boat.
Sir Samuel Hughes was Canada’s Minister of Militia & Defense until November 1916. While some of his equipment choices ended in embarrassing fiascoes, he was the driving force behind Canada’s war effort early in the war.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was the Canadian physician who penned the iconic war poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae suffered greatly, both physically and mentally, as a result of his war experiences, and died as a result of fatigue and pneumonia in 1918.
General Sir Arthur William Currie became commander of the Canadian Corps after his success at Vimy Ridge, and he held that position for the remainder of the war. Currie’s fastidious planning in preparation for battle led to him being known as one of the finest generals of the war.
Private John Chipman Kerr of Spirit River, Alberta, was awarded the Victoria Cross at Courcelette for single-handedly capturing 62 prisoners. There is a mountain named after Kerr in Jasper National Park.
Pte. Price was a Canadian soldier in the 28th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment. During the liberation of Mons, Price was shot in the chest by a German sniper and became the last Allied soldier to be killed before the Armistice. He died at 10:58am, November 11, 1918.
Though not a Canadian, Edith Cavell was a figure who received international attention during the war. The courageous British nurse aided some 200 Allied soldiers in escaping from German-occupied Belgium and was shot by a German firing squad as a result. Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park is considered to be one of the greatest climbs in North America.
William George Barker was Canadian flying ace who achieved the status of “ace” during a 10-month stint on the Italian front. But it was on the Western front, near the end of the war, that Barker won a Victoria Cross for shooting down three of fifteen enemy aircraft that attacked him. Billy Barker is to this day the most highly decorated serviceman in the British Empire.
Although Arthur Roy Brown had only ten aerial victories during the war, he was officially credited with having shot down the Red Baron. It remains controversial to this day whether it was in fact Brown who downed the Red Baron, or if it was ground fire. Regardless, the gallant manner in which he defended his friend Wop May in the dogfight earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.
Major Margaret MacDonald was the Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Service. She was one of the founding members of the CAMC’s nursing service, and by the end of the war, more than 3,000 nursing sisters had served overseas.
This week, the South Peace Regional Archives is celebrating Archives Week 2017: Alberta and the Great War.
The Archives staff have been hard at work curating a new display for the community room of the Grande Prairie Museum. This display features documents and photographs from the Archives collections and represents many aspects of the war, from recruitment and enlistment to discharge and celebration. It will adorn the community room for months to come and enhance the educational programming provided by the Grande Prairie Museum staff.
Meanwhile, Archives staff and Friends of the Archives volunteers are also busy preparing the finishing details of the upcoming Great War Gala. Archives staff created ten different displays featuring reproductions of archival records from our collections. Friends of the Archives volunteers designed tabletop decorations and silent auction displays. Both staff and volunteers are looking forward to the musical performances from GPRC’s Fine Arts students and faculty, including: Kristina Alexander (mezzo-soprano), Jeremy Thielmann (piano), Brad Luna (trumpet), Breanna Girvan (soprano), Mackenzie Lowen (soprano), Kyle Friesen (baritone), and Mark Woodman (tenor).
Don’t miss out on your chance to celebrate with us; purchase your tickets for the Great War Gala today!
Above photograph: H.P. Keith sitting in front of his tent, reading, ca. 1915 (SPRA 282.13, cropped from original)
Hindsight is 20/20, or so the old saying goes. Here are ten books about the Great War experience. Some are general histories while others delve into specific aspects of the war. The authors used a variety of documents to explore a wide range of ideas and topics related to the period. Most of these books are available at the Grande Prairie Public Library, and the call number is listed at the end of the title.
Canada’s Great War Album: Our Memories of the First World War
edited by Mark Collin Reid, Canada’s History Magazine, 940.371 CAN
This is an intensely beautiful book and not just because of the large collection of personal photographs and documents prominently displayed throughout. In 2012, Canada’s History Magazine called for contributions from the public for their stories and photographs about the Great War. Organized by topic, each chapter features an essay by an established historian, writer, or journalist, including Charlotte Gray, Tim Cook, and Peter Mansbridge along with accompanying images. While the book does provide a brief timeline of major events, this is really the story of the people who lived through this terrible conflict.
For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War
by Timothy C. Winegard, 940.3089 WIN
Timothy Winegard chose the word “Indian” carefully in this text. Noting that it was the common terminology of the time, used by Whites and Indians alike, Winegard also makes clear that this history does not include non-status Indians, Métis, or Inuit Canadians, all communities now contained within the terms Indigenous or Aboriginal. Nor does it include many status Indians who “snuck into” the army in the early days of the war or Indians from the Northern Territories. As he clearly lays out, Indians were not initially welcomed with open arms and when they finally were, they were carefully documented. But only status Indians. For this reason, Winegard limits his analysis to the experience of “Indians.”
Winegard explores the racism, acceptance, and mythology surrounding Indian soldiers and their shameful treatment upon their return home from the war. He does this with an examination of official documents and personal stories. The many images featured throughout help personalize the story of these men and certainly helped me to better visualize and conceptualize the contributions they made in the war effort. It also sheds light on the beginnings of Indian activism following the war. This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of both Canada’s role in the Great War and the conflicted relationship between White and Indian Canadians.
Three Day Road
by Joseph Boyden, FNMI BOY
The main narrative of this novel takes place after the war as a physically and spiritually wounded Xavier recounts his war experiences on a three-day healing journey. Xavier’s narrative shows two extreme reactions to the horrors of war: his growing dread and his friend Elijah’s growing relish for the death and destruction. The novel was inspired in part by real-life aboriginal World War I heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak.
In the course of the novel, Xavier’s aunt Niska recounts her own tale of the death and destruction of her way of life. I would highly recommend reading both For King and Kanata and Three Day Road for a better understanding of the war and its aftermath in Indigenous communities.
A Doctor in the Great War
by Andrew Davidson, 940.40092 DAV
Based on three photo albums left to the family by his grandfather, Andrew Davidson presents a beautiful written account of Dr. Frederick Davidson’s experience as a doctor in the British Army. Davidson never met his grandfather, who died shortly before his birth. Bequeathed the albums, along with a set of binoculars, Davidson was prodded for years by friends to do something with them. That something was this book. Lacking his grandfather’s personal testimony, beyond the photographs, Davidson turned to official government records, secondary sources, and published and unpublished memoirs, letters, and diaries, to piece together this beautifully crafted account of one man’s life in the Great War.
Of course, like any life story, it contains many life stories intersecting throughout and Davidson takes pains to include many anecdotes about the men his grandfather befriended. Along with the images, this is a very personal account of the war in the trenches through the eyes of a man not there to take lives but to save them.
by Timothy Findley, CLA PB FIN
Written by thespian turned author, Timothy Findley, this is one of my favourite books. The narrative is told in first, second, and third person and moves back and forth in time as a historian tries to piece together the story of Robert Ross, a physically capable but emotionally scarred young man who enlists in the First World War. Ross, like many of his contemporaries, does not weather the war well, breaking down fatally and tragically. The novel examines the traumatic effect the war had on his already troubled psyche and challenges assumption and universality of military comradery. My favourite line in this book, which I’m going to paraphrase, comes from one of Ross’s friends while visiting him at his trench: “I retain the human right to be horrified by all that I see.”
The Journal of Private Fraser, 1914-1918: Canadian Expeditionary Force
by Donald Fraser, 940.4817 FRA
Private Donald Fraser writes vividly of his wartime experiences in this war diary. Like most soldiers of the initial Canadian Expeditionary Force, Fraser was an immigrant who enlisted early to fight for King and country. He served until wounded at Passchendaele. This is a no-holds-barred first person account of training and life in the trenches.
Drawing Fire: The Diary of a Great War Soldier and Artist
by Len Smith
Note: this book is not available through the library, but used copies can be purchased at reasonable prices through Bookfinder or AbeBooks and it is a worthy addition to your personal collection – too good to miss!
This is probably one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Illustrated by Len Smith, a British soldier and artist, the book features exact reproductions of his handwritten memoirs. Most of the handwriting is replaced by a regular font but some pages are reproduced in the original to get a feel for his style of writing. The book is interspersed with Len’s original drawings and memorabilia.
Len kept his diary on scraps of papers hidden in his pants, which he later collected and wrote out in long hand. Len notes in his introduction that he made no corrections or additions, wanting the reader to feel the immediacy of his original words. And you do. With his sense of humour and his generous understanding of the emotional toll on his fellow soldiers, Len comes across as a gentle and practical person. He was also ingenious, as his artwork sprinkled throughout and accounts of creative endeavours for the war effort will testify. My favourite inventions are the two-yard panoramic map of the enemy troop lines at Vimy Ridge which he created while dodging front-line enemy fire; and the fake, hollow spy tree. Len had crawled within yards of the enemy line to draw a real dead tree in exact detail. He recreated the tree with stairs inside and a window for the observers. During the night, the real tree was removed and the fake tree installed, along with an underground tunnel leading to the tree.
What Len has produced here is nothing short of miraculous and it is baffling that he is so relatively unknown and undecorated. The best way to rectify this injustice is to read this book.
inside “Drawing Fire”
In Fear of the Barbed Wired Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920
While Canadians were fighting the good fight for democracy overseas, fear led to some very undemocratic activity against one particular group of Canadians. Luciuk illuminates this dark chapter of Canada’s war experience largely through the judicious use of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and official documents. The actually text in the book is fairly brief, with the images and the footnotes taking up the bulk of the book. The footnotes, however, pack a lot of informational punch. For me, the most telling testament of the prejudice of the time occurs on page 98: “… as many as 10,000 Ukrainian Canadians volunteered for service…From among the Canadian volunteers, all men with German names were, on orders received from the War Office, placed under arrest…” This seems like duplicity of the worst kind. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand how fear compromises our democratic ideals.
First World War for Dummies
by Dr. Seán Lang, 940.4 LAN
I guess there really is a Dummies book for everything. For those of us who are chronologically challenged, this is a great starter book. It is based on the British and European experience, but it lays out concisely and in an easy to follow format the events and issues leading up to the war, social changes during the war, the experience of women and civilians, the aftermath, and finally, how we remember the war. The book is text heavy but still an easy read. The format lends itself to quick dives in and out so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The last chapter includes four top ten lists for generals (including our very own Sir Arthur Currie), films, wartime writers, and enlightening places to visit.
Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars
Okay, I’m fudging a bit here on the book part. Cook’s book examines the why and how of what we know about both World Wars. The first two chapters of this book are relevant to the First War. They explain the great chain of activity set in motion largely by two men – Sir Arthur Doughty, First Dominion Archivist, and Max Aitken, First Baron of Beaverbrook – that led to the intense document creation and collection researchers rely on today to study the Great War. Cook’s book places more emphasis on Aitken’s contribution to our military documentary heritage while McIntosh’s essay gives both men fairly equal weight. Besides helping us to understand the fluid role of archivists, document creation, and historical activity, these two works also help us to understand why and how World War I helped forge our distinct Canadian identity.
On a side note, McIntosh writes absolutely the best sentence to sum up the Great War: “The war’s most immediate consequence was mass bereavement.”