August 9, 2016
Chronicle Journal (A3)

Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.

During the First World War the Canadian military actively recruited and trained over 6,000 men and women in the Northwestern Ontario region. In addition to training and administrative offices, three infantry battalions, plus numerous smaller detachments were recruited in the region.  In many ways the Lakehead was the hub of this military activity.

Starting in August 1914 the 96th Lake Superior Regiment was ordered to post guards on the grain elevators and the Kakabeka Falls power plant to thwart sabotage attempts. This home defense duty was taken over by No. 10 Special Service Company from 1916 to June 1918 when it was replaced by B Company, from the 10th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment.

The first large contribution overseas came from the over 300 men transferred to the 8th (Winnipeg Rifles) Battalion at Camp Valcartier, Quebec in August 1914. The 8th Battalion formed part of the 1st Canadian Division, and the men from NWO were among the casualties suffered during the first use of poison gas by the Germans at the 2nd Battle of Ypres 22-25 April 1915. They were followed by individuals and small groups who left the region to join units recruiting elsewhere. This included people like Elizabeth Smellie who volunteered to be a Nursing Sister in the medical service. Another contingent of roughly 230 left to join the 28th (Northwest) Battalion in Winnipeg. At various times during the war you could also find recruiting parties, sent by units from other parts of the country, setting up shop in the community.

The first full unit raised here was the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion. Mobilized at the end of March 1915, it recruited over 1,000 men from the region. It was noted there were a number of men who moved to the region simply to join the unit. In June and September separate drafts of 255 men were sent overseas as reinforcements for the front. They bivouacked and trained at Gresley Park until November 1915 when the battalion left for Europe. There they became part of the 3rd Canadian Division.  The 52nd was a diverse group, including a large group of First Nations soldiers and eventually as replacements from other parts of Canada were received, roughly 30 Japanese Canadian soldiers were added to their number. Though there were numerous individuals and groups of men and women serving overseas from the Lakehead, the 52nd would be the only fully formed unit from the region at the front.

Two other battalions, the 94th (New Ontario) and 141st (Bull Moose) were raised here in the fall of 1915. The 94th managed to find roughly 1,000 volunteers by the time it left for Britain in June 1917. The 141st was less successful, plagued with administrative problems and a shrinking pool of recruits it only managed to find about 500 volunteers by April 1917. Neither of these units would fight at the front and instead were broken up to provide reinforcements.

Following the introduction of conscription in 1917, all the men of military age in the region had to register and be screened for enlistment. The military records are not very accurate and it is unclear how many were registered. The newspapers reported many were granted deferments and exemptions. Despite this by January 1918 several hundred conscripts were being trained at the Lakehead and sent overseas as reinforcements.

This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. David Ratz is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.