July 24, 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.

In June 1917 the Prisoner’s Aid Society and the Great War Veterans’ Association (GWVA) began planning a carnival to be held at McKellar Park in Fort William from July 2-4 1917. Promotion for the event appeared in both Fort William and Port Arthur newspapers in the days leading up to the carnival. The carnival was held in support of the Canadian Prisoners of War and the GWVA and boasted a “monster stupendous program” and “monster, massive fireworks”. The festivities were also tied to general celebrations in honor of Canada’s fiftieth birthday.

The first day of the carnival was faced with poor weather, summer had clearly not yet arrived. The cool temperatures and bleak skies did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm though; the variety of activities was enough to provide ample distraction and entertainment. The day began with a parade involving 1100 school children and the crowning of the carnival king and queen – Sergeant Elms, a returned soldier noted as being one of the first to enlist and Miss Hilda Richardson, whose grace and queenly qualities won the hearts of those in attendance. According to the Fort William Daily Times Journal, the parade route went along Arthur (now Red River Road) to Water, Van Norman, Cumberland, Cameron, Court, Pearl, and back to Waverley Park.

The remainder of the three day event included everything from games and competitions to displays and more. War veterans and school cadets were on hand to help out in whatever way the organizers deemed necessary. The dance pavilion was a popular spot throughout the carnival, as was fortune telling. The newspaper accounts state that the war seemed to make fortune teller more popular than ever and their tent was always surrounded with anxious, curious people ‘wanting to know’.

A shooting gallery was set up near a replica of the trenches around Ypres as constructed by returned soldiers. Additionally, those soldiers put on a display of front line souvenirs collected from various battlefields. Other notable features of the carnival included a children’s show called the Baby Doll Minstrels, movie gallery, fish pond, telegraph booth, races, a football game, and a women’s baseball game that proved “a revelation to many fans who went there expecting to see a burlesque on the national game”.

Additional events were held in the same week at King George Park and at Kakabeka Falls. All in all those celebrations and the Fort William carnival were deemed to be a great success with large numbers of people and high levels of enjoyment all around. Unfortunately, they may have been a little too ambitious in the number of activities and attractions. The Prisoner’s Aid Society and the Great War Veterans Association had to ask Fort William City Council for a rebate on the rent charged to them “on the grounds that the Carnival was not a financial success.” The Fort William City Council did not give them a full rebate, but reduced the rental fee to $25.00.

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.