January 23, 2017
Chronicle Journal (A2)

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.

January 2017 is focused on some fairly significant world events, and January 1917 was no different. The First World War had entered its third calendar year with no end in sight. The battles continued and the world remained caught in its grip. At home in Fort William and Port Arthur the effects of the war were felt daily and influenced every aspect of life in the Lakehead. Local newspapers released information related to the confirmed or assumed deaths of no less than 21 men. The newspapers also published eleven letters received from soldiers at the front line. Those letters describe matters such as conditions on the firing line in France, the tragic loss of friends and loved ones, sentiments about Canada being the best place on earth, adventures had while on leave in England, personal opinions of future peace, and much more.

The City Council issues in discussion that month varied widely from the billeting, training, and movement of the 141st Bull Moose Battalion to the Patriotic Fund and other fundraising efforts, Women’s Suffrage (more in Port Arthur than Fort William), and military recruitment. Another topic that came up in the Port Arthur City Council minutes (which are accessible through the City of Thunder Bay Archives on Vickers St. N) had to do with the Khaki Club. Operated by the Y.M.C.A, the Khaki Club offered a place for soldiers to relax and socialize in their time off. The Club originated in London, England and quickly established itself in cities across the British Empire. Every man in khaki and blue was to be welcomed, including those visiting or passing through the city. The Club boasted 55 bedrooms, a large dining hall, and recreation rooms to provide all the comforts of home. An announcement in the Port Arthur News Chronicle from late 1916 claimed the Club to be (quote) considered a public utility. It will at once give all the men a rallying place. Somewhere to go and feel at home. Will be hailed with joy as a relief from heavy drill and daily discipline so necessary to efficiency. The club can entertain officers and men from the front and hear just how the war is carried on (end quote). This same announcement listed the names of the members already registered.

Other leisurely pursuits included hockey and film. In January 1917, the Thunder Bay Hockey League began a new season with three teams competing for the championship and the right to play in the Allan Cup. Again the Fort William and Port Arthur Hockey Clubs would compete, but this year would see a team comprised of soldiers from the 141st Bull Moose Battalion making up the last team. While the 94th Overseas New Ontario Battalion played valiantly in the previous season but did not win many games, the 141st Battalion hockey team would shock citizens of the Lakehead with their skill and ability on the ice. The Battle of the Somme film was presented to audiences in Fort William and Port Arthur in mid-January and was said to depict the real warfare that played out during the Battle of the Somme starting in July 1916.

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