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.”
Every year new schools seem to be popping up in Grande Prairie to accommodate the needs of a growing city. In 1916, the plans for a new school for Grande Prairie were accepted by the Alberta Department of Education. At the time of its construction in 1917, the Montrose School was the largest brick building north of Edmonton and in every way a “credit to the north.”
Our most recent Telling Our Stories features the article, “Embroidered Cards: Unraveling the Past.” The article touches upon the history of these lovely and very personal mementos soldiers from the trenches of the Great War sent to loved ones back home. The three postcards from our collection are from two different soldiers but all of them are addressed to the same person – “Jeannie.” While we were able to determine that the two soldiers were most likely Private Robert Bruce Leslie and Lieutenant John Pringle, we could not figure out who was their “dear little friend, Jeannie.”
Luckily, good friend of the SPRA, Margaret Bowes, was able to tell us. “Little” Jeannie was Margaret’s mother, Jean Emilie Alexander O’Brien. Jean was born in 1906 and was one of five surviving children of William Alexander (originally from Scotland) and Emilie Dannhauer of Pembroke, Ontario. Jean was only ten when her mother died of Bight’s Disease and shortly after, watched as friends and family, including Bob Leslie, walked away from the family farm to enlist in the war. Jean later told her children, “My memory is one of sadness.” She knew she’d never see her friends again and she never did.
Little Jeannie became a teacher, married and had three children. Widowed at a young age, she taught at Appleton until 1942, when she moved to Grande Prairie. She then continued her career at Montrose School and the Grande Prairie Composite High School until retiring in 1975. Jean was also very involved in the Grande Prairie music festival and served as church organist for the United Church for many years. She died in 2001 and is buried in the Grande Prairie Cemetery. You can find out more about her and her family in the family papers held at the SPRA in the Alexander Family fonds 572. You can read more about the postcards in the September issue of Telling Our Stories, available on our website.
Thank you to Margaret Bowes for passing this information on to us, as well as a transcript of a letter from Jack Pringle to Bill Alexander (from The Trenches, Sept 12, 1915), and an explanatory Addendum written by Jeannie’s youngest daughter, Erin O’Brien Woolley.
Top image: An embroidered card from World War I, “To my dear little friend Jeannie from Bob Leslie with best wishes for a merry Xmas and Happy new year.” (SPRA 1996.5.3)
This card was sent to Jeannie from Jack P. (John Pringle) in France, 16 February, 1916. According to the message on the reverse, on October 2, 1916 word reached Spirit River of his death in action. (SPRA 1996.5.1)
An embroidered card from World War I. This card was sent from Belgium on 1 July , 1916, “with best love to Jeannie from R.B. Leslie” (SPRA 1996.5.2)
Ypres was the only significant Belgian town remaining in Allied hands, and it was here that the Canadians took part in their first major engagement. It was also at Ypres that the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. The Canadian troops earned the reputation of being staunch and stalwart soldiers, but at the cost of some 6,000 soldiers over the course of the four day battle. Also of note, In Flanders Fields was penned by John McCrae at the Second Battle of Ypres.
When the Canadian troops arrived to relieve the British, they found few trenches to occupy, but rather inhabited the enormous mud-filled mine craters. After two weeks under heavy enemy fire, aerial photographs revealed the unfavorable positions and the battle was halted. No progress was made in this atrocious attack where one man reported “we were walking on dead soldiers.”
In this battle, it was the Germans who attacked. Mont Sorrel was a strategic and commanding position overlooking the city of Ypres. The Canadian positions were devastated in the early days of the battle, and the Germans took over the hill. However, the Canadians were determined to gain back the ground they had lost, and with careful planning were able to do just that. The Battle of Mont Sorrel lasted almost two weeks and the Canadians suffered more than 8,000 casualties.
The Somme offensive lasted five months (though the Canadians were involved only in the final three months) and consisted of many ‘smaller’ battles, including Beaumont Hamel, Courcelette, Thiepval, Ancre Heights, and Regina Trench. The offensive ended in a complete stalemate in which each side suffered over 600,000 casualties.
For more information on the South Peace region’s contribution during the Somme offensive, visit Remembering the Somme
The first time tanks were used in World War I was at Courcelette, where they accompanied the Canadian troops to assist with cutting barbed wire and subduing enemy machine gun fire. Courcelette was a rare victory for the Allies at the Somme, and was captured in one day, but cost the Canadians several thousand casualties.
Canadian soldiers take cover behind a boiler as they storm the German stronghold at the sugar factory at Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Notice the close-quarters fighting, including the use of rifles, bayonets, and hand grenades.
Vimy Ridge (April 1917)
The Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered to have been a turning point in Canadian history. For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions were fighting together. And with meticulous planning and intense training, they were able to take the ridge that no other Allies had been able to capture. The Canadian Corps suffered close to 11,000 losses, but the victory inspired a new sense of independence and national pride that is still present in Canadians today.
Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge in France
Hill 70 (August 1917)
In August of 1917, General Currie and his Canadian Corps were ordered to attack the city of Lens, France. But Currie considered it a far better strategy to capture the high ground just north of the city – Hill 70. He was correct. The hill was captured on the first day of the battle, and in the following four days, the Canadians withstood twenty-one German counter-attacks and held onto the hill. Lens itself, however, remained in German hands until their final retreat in 1918.
Canadians take a break in a captured German trench during the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917. The soldiers on the left are scanning the sky for aircraft, while the soldier in the centre appears to be re-packing his gas respirator into the carrying pouch on his chest.
Passchendaele (October/November 1917)
Passchendaele was a horrible bog of shell holes, mud, and bodies. After months of fighting, and no success having been made, the British commander-in-chief ordered the Canadians to relieve the Australians and New Zealand troops. After careful planning, the Canadian troops attacked the ridge. The battle lasted more than two weeks and resulted in a staggering 15,654 casualties for the Canadians.
Construction of the Canal du Nord had begun in 1913, but was halted when the war began. During their retreat, the Germans flooded a large portion of the canal, leaving only a small dry section. But even that was a significant obstacle, with an embankment up to fifteen feet high. The Canadian Engineers spent almost a month building a bridge across the canal in preparation for the attack. The canal was captured, and the path was open for Allies to seize other strong points, sending the Germans into full retreat.
Canadians building a bridge across the Canal du Nord, France.
Mons (November 1918)
The day the Canadians liberated Mons also marked the end of the war. It was from this Belgian city that the British had staged a fighting retreat at the beginning of the war, and now the Canadians had the honour of taking the city back. Rumours abounded that the war was about to end, but the Canadian Corps had been ordered to attack Mons, and so they did. The troops fought their way through town – under constant machine gun fire – and when the battle finally ceased, the civilians poured out to celebrate with their liberators.
We all take for granted the ready availability of quality produce throughout the year, though we still look forward to the arrival of fresh Okanagan peaches, cherries, apples, and pears in the late summer and autumn months. In 1917, a refrigerator was secured to ensure “the quality of the fruit and the cheapest price yet seen in the North” for the first time. The Crummy Brothers, who would be receiving this shipment, expected the fresh fruits to be in great demand and advised that orders were placed ahead of time for the desired type and quantity of fruit. No doubt their expectations were proven correct – it was preserving season, after all!
Photograph: Andress family showing the results of a day of berry picking, 1919
The Great War Gala is now only a month away, so today we have ten trends from the 1910s to get you started on your wardrobe journey. Don’t forget to visit the Archives to purchase your tickets!
Lucky for our male attendees, men’s fashion has remained largely unchanged since the 1910s. Consider the Great War Gala the perfect opportunity to purchase the new suit you have been eyeing.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 2 April 1918
The men of Clairmont knew to visit Coblentz’s store for the most up-to-date hats. The Great War Gala takes place only a handful of weeks before Halloween – visit any costume to add a hat and cane to your evening outfit.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 9 April 1918
You may not be returning to Oxford in the fall, but you can still embrace the pastel summer tones, showcased here in Testament of Youth. Add a belt over a pastel top to create a low-effort 1910s look, direct from your wardrobe.
The fashionable folk of the 1910s purchased new shoes for sports and social outings. As leather prices increased during the war years, canvas shoes became a popular alternative. Many modern flats still follow these trends!
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 22 June 1917
Although it may be difficult to locate in today’s department stores, a straw hat would have been a staple in the fashionable man’s summer wardrobe.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 1 June 1917
Consider adding an Edwardian hat to your colourful frock. To DIY this look, purchase a large summer hat on clearance and cover it with inexpensive fabric. For extra flair, consider adding feathers, ribbons, or flowers.
Delaine is a lightweight fabric of wool or wool blend made in prints or solid colors. This fabric was ideal for creating clothing items from scratch. If you are feeling ambitious, consider visiting a local fabric store and purchasing materials to create your outfit “the old fashioned way.” You can find plenty of 1910s sewing patterns online.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 9 April 1918
“Sport Shoes with Sport Clothes… That’s the vogue.” Recreate this ensemble by wrapping a colorful scarf around a long jacket. Secure your new belt with a large broach and voila!
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 4 July 1917
No garden party ensemble would be complete without a pair of white gloves. Many costume shops stock these gloves for Halloween, so you can likely find them with little difficulty.
The 1910s upper class ladies began their day by donning numerous layers of undergarments. For true historical accuracy, be sure to don each undergarment (and a corset, of course). You’ll be classy, but not necessarily comfortable.
Last Thursday, the Grande Prairie city council unveiled a plaque to commemorate the historical significance of the Montrose site, home of the Montrose Cultural Centre. Grande Prairie Museum curator Charles Taws presented a brief history of the site, aided by records from the South Peace Regional Archives. The plaque features a photograph from the SPRA collections.
The Montrose site was donated by Rev. Alexander and Agnes Forbes, who were among the first settlers of Grande Prairie. Charles Taws celebrated their contribution at the plaque unveiling: “Rev. Forbes was a keen advocate of literacy and education. He always kept a shelf of books at the front of his church for parishioners to borrow… I think Rev. and Mrs. Forbes would be very proud to see how their gift of this land has developed and helped to make Grande Prairie the vibrant community it is today.”
In 1917, when the first Montrose School was built, it was the largest brick building north of Edmonton. In 1922, the building was was expanded using locally sources bricks from Dalen Brickyard. Montrose School served the entire student population of Grande Prairie until the Grande Prairie High School (now the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie) was built in 1929. The building continued as Montrose Elementary until ca. 1970, when it was torn down.
The architect and builder was Charles Spencer, a member of the Argonauts Company which established “Grande Prairie City.” His papers, including the original blueprints of Montrose School, are housed at South Peace Regional Archives. The Montrose School appears in many photographs in the SPRA collections.