On the evening of July 13, 1915 the Port Arthur City Police and the Ontario Provincial Police arrested three men in a cooperative sting operation which captured the attention of the Lakehead. Barney Bell, Fred Volkman and Benjamin Renshaw were all charged with treason as they attempted to transport ‘enemy aliens’ across the border into the United States. Using a motorboat which left the Fort William Harbour, the transport carrying eleven Austrian citizens was apprehended after being chased by police. The three men were charged with treason by endeavoring to assist ‘enemy aliens’ out of the country. Thankfully for the trio, the charges were reduced to ‘assisting enemy aliens at war with His Majesty to leave country without consent of the crown’. The charges would later be dropped by Judge O’Leary, who reasoned there was no evidence which showed the Austrians being transported into the United States actually intended to join and fight for enemies of Britain. The judge also interned the Austrians who were initially charged with attempting to leave Canada while under parole as ‘enemy aliens’.
This story is one of many that exemplify the fear of domestic threats that ran rampant during the First World War. This theme will be the focus of the 2015 History Symposium on November 14 at the O’Kelly Armoury and hosted by the Lakehead University Department of History. The World War One Thunder Bay Centennial project will also be present with a display area and keep an eye on the website for regular updates (www.tbayworldwarone.com).