August 28, 2017
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.
August 1917 marked the third year since Britain declared war on Germany. During those three years the Canadian Forces had distinguished themselves as a superb fighting force. This continued through August 1917 as they played a significant role in the capture of HIll 70, a large German stronghold located northwest of Lens. On August 3rd, both King George of Britain and Sir Robert Borden of Canada sent out messages of support to the population. Their statements focused on the “proud but solemn memories” of the previous three years, as well as the “intense realization of all the sacrifice and sorrow entailed on our people”. Premier Borden called upon Canadians to “nerve ourselves for another year of struggle”.
That struggle was indeed being felt at home in the Lakehead with food control and conscription at the forefront of local conversation. Reports of labour shortages were cause for concern, especially in the agricultural district. The harvest season was quickly approaching and workers were needed to help. This led to the organization of school aged youths to assist with crop harvesting, as well as a request that Port Arthur city employees be temporarily released from their regular duties in order to help. Further measures were implemented during the first half of the month to address food preservation and waste. Residents of the Twin Cities were encouraged via newspaper headlines and public meetings to be as economical and thrifty as possible to prevent food wastage. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Organization of Resources Committee formed and played a central role in educating the Thunder Bay area in food preservation methods. Further, the Port Arthur City Council passed a resolution on August 8 on food economy, specifically regarding the sole use of grain in food production, not alcohol.
Other matters occurring at the time included a request by the Port Arthur City Band to have their musical instruments returned to them following use by the 94th Battalion, a request from the Canadian Aviation Fund to the City of Port Arthur to donate aeroplanes, and a real estate development project named in honour of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The Fort William City Council minutes make mention of a ‘war bonus’ awarded to Mr. H.J. Paddington, Superintendent of the Cleansing Department. It is unclear what a “war bonus” was, but it may have been a bonus for staying with the City in an essential service when he could have left and enlisted in the war. Anyone reading this article who might be able to shed light on this particular item is encouraged to contact the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communities across the country were by August 1917 talking about the news and speculation regarding conscription. The topic dominated the local newspapers and an anti-conscription meeting was scheduled in Port Arthur. Anti-conscriptionists from across Canada planned to travel to the Twin Cities to attend this meeting. There was heated debate on both sides of the conscription debate, including the local chapter of the Great War Veterans Association and religious leaders. The Military Service Act was passed and made law on August 29, 1917 however, which rendered it impossible to hold the scheduled meeting without committing treason.
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.