Whoops, False Armistice

tely 1918-11-08 celebrating crowd

The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Having endured over four years of war, Torontonians were ready to cut loose as November 1918 dawned. As the Central Powers collapsed, there was a feeling that the Great War could end at any moment. The recent wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic had curtailed public gatherings, keeping people at home. All everyone needed to hear was that an armistice had been signed.

tely 1918-11-08 afternoon spectacle

Around noon on November 7, the Toronto Star posted a bulletin in the window of its office at 18 King West based on a United Press report that the war was over. Within an hour, people poured into the streets to celebrate, making as much noise as possible. Workers left their posts. Streetcar conductors barely made attempts to collect fares. Courtrooms emptied. Preparations were made to burn effigies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1918.

Problem was, an armistice had not been signed. The city’s other newspapers took a more cautious approach and waited for further confirmation. By the time the Star’s 5 p.m. edition hit the streets, it noted that earlier reports were unofficial. Though the news that it was a false alarm filtered to the streets, the celebrations continued. If the war didn’t end that day, reports that Germany was collapsing into chaos gave the impression it wouldn’t last much longer.

As the Mail and Empire framed the day:

Dame Rumour has been responsible for numerous announcements in the past four years of bitter struggle with Germany that have brought anxiety and anguish to many hearts, but none has had more widespread results that that which emanated from the office of an evening newspaper yesterday and placed Toronto in the midst of a torrent of frenzied celebration…Never before in the history of Canada has such a scene of indescribable exultant frenzy occurred as that which reigned in the streets of Toronto for more than ten hours. Judges of the Supreme Court, men learned in the law and staid and sober-minded businessmen discarded decorum and reserve in the contagious whirl of joy and joined in the universal paean of victory. The streets presented the appearance of a mammoth carnival with multitudinous vari-coloured streamers and ribbons hanging out from the windows of skyscrapers and adjacent buildings and showering onto the heads of cheering and jubilant humanity below.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

At least one death was attributed to the excitement. William Gloyns had finished stringing flags onto the the front of the D. Pike Awning Company’s office at 122 King East when, according to the News, “heart failure, accentuated by the excitement of the hour, seized him and he fell in a heap.” He was rushed to St. Mike’s, but died soon after. His wife told authorities that Gloyns had a long history of heart trouble, so no inquest was called.

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Toronto World, November 8, 1918.

Among the other stories that day:

  • In the Beaches, two Boy Scouts organized a victory parade, gathering over 200 children. At Waverley Road, a confectionary owner tossed candies to the kids, while a grocer gave them apples.
  • In Earlscourt, a window sign in a grocery store read “The Kaiser and his breed are beaten. We are so excited about it we cannot sell groceries. We will perhaps open again tomorrow morning.”
  • People who were ill left their sick beds to join the celebrations downtown. I’m a great deal healthier than Germany is at present,” one man told the Telegram.
  • At least one car was seen dangling a dead turkey from the top of its windshield.

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The Globe, November 8, 1918.

The Star’s competitors jumped on the paper for sharing the United Press bulletin. Here’s how the News presented the initial report…

news 1918-11-07 front page

..and how it framed the story the next day.

news 1918-11-08 front page how toronto was fooled

Toronto Daily News, November 8, 1918.

The News‘s editorial page stated that “The Toronto Star boasts that its special dispatches appeal to the imagination” The paper also wondered if “unreliable news agencies” would be banned from Canada as the Hearst chain’s had been earlier in the war.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

The Telegram tore into the Star, with two editorial pages blasting the paper for perpetrating a cruel hoax. The excessive degree of outrage reflected the near-pathological hatred editor-in-chief John “Black Jack” Robinson displayed towards the Star. Throughout the main editorial, “counterfeit news” appears repeatedly, and the piece goes as far as to suggest the incident would give German leaders a boost.

The editorial begins with an itemized tally of the number of soldiers from Toronto who had died (4,585 total), been wounded, or gone missing since July 18. It initially shares blamed for the cruel fake armistice story among several competitors and United Press.

Toronto’s broken hearts and mourning homes were the victims of an unexampled cruelty. That cruelty had its primary origin in the cold-blooded sensation-mongering of the United Press News Service. That cruelty was perpetrated upon the people of this city by the news columns and bulletins of the Toronto Star, aided and abetted by the bulletins of the Mail and Empire and the Globe.

Next, an argument that was the incident was a blot on the good name of the newspaper industry:

ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE PRICE OF ACCURACY. The United Press and the Toronto Star have made the newspaper business look like a disreputable trade. A newspaper should be diligent in the effort to verify the foundations of its statements as an individual is diligent in the effort to tell the truth.

Given the number of dead/injured soldiers from Toronto, the Telegram felt that:

A combination of stupidity, negligence and cupidity must explain the Toronto Star’s cruel and heedless circulation of the “news” manufactured in the counterfeiter’s den that calls itself the Paris headquarters of the United Press.

The final paragraph screams a torrent of anger, that may have been a wee excessive, if only for the use of all caps.

A true newspaper is not immune from HUMAN ERROR. THE ARMISTICE HOAX WAS AN EXAMPLE OF INHUMAN ERROR. The perpetrators of that cruelty and stupidity have made decent newspapers ashamed to be published in the same country as the sensation mongers and rumour pedlars who TORTURED THE HEARTS OF WOMEN, DEFILED THE HOLY ALTARS OF TORONTO’S GRATITUDE, AND SPOILED THE MOST SACRED MOMENT OF TORONTO’S LIFE.

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The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Another half page was devoted to criticizing the Star and further editorializing, as well as showing how the Telegram was only interested in printing facts.

tely 1918-11-08 economic cost of fake news

The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

Here’s a surprise: if you think “fake news” is a term from the Trump era, here’s a sidebar showing how the “fake news” destroyed productivity for the day. Elsewhere in the paper, an account of how the story broke in New York used the headline ‘STORY OF NEWSPAPER CRIME” and subhead “COLD-BLOODED CRUELTY.”

tely 1918-11-08 womens page on false alarm

The Telegram, November 8, 1918.

There was even coverage on the women’s page.

Methinks the Telegram protested too much, and this incident presents a good example of the holier-than-thou attitude it often displayed in its war with the Star. Besides, compared to newspapers which published the United Press bulletin, the Star’s presentation was muted. Compare the Star’s front page on November 7…

star 1918-11-07 front page

….to the New York World….

new york world 1918-11-07 front page

…or, closer to home, the Hamilton Spectator.

hs 1918-11-07 front page

In the end, the citizens of Toronto had some fun while letting loose pent-up frustrations, and the false armistice served as a dress rehearsal for when an agreement was signed four days later.

Buy Victory Bonds

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2011.

War is costly. In addition to the horrifying human toll, conflicts rack up a financial bill that needs to be paid one way or another. As the First World War neared its end in the fall of 1918, Torontonians and fellow Canadians were urged to perform their patriotic duty during Canada’s second Victory Loan campaign (and fifth wartime fundraiser) to vanquish Kaiser Wilhelm II and his evil Huns and help smooth the transition to peacetime.

The local campaign was launched in Queen’s Park on October 27, 1918. The Sunday afternoon crowd, which was estimated at between 25,000 and 35,000, heard pitches delivered by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, Ontario Premier Sir William Hearst, and other officials. Out of the $500-million national fundraising target, Torontonians were given a goal of $80 million. According to federal President of the Privy Council Newton Rowell, “The Victory Loan affords the Canadian people an opportunity to show their appreciation of the great and unselfish service of our army during recent months, and their faith in the cause for which that army is so valiantly fighting; an opportunity to demonstrate to Germany and the world that Canada is in this war until Prussian military autocracy is completely overthrown and liberty and peace are assured to the freedom-loving people of the world.” To anyone having doubts about purchasing a bond, Borden reassured the crowd that they were “not asked to give. You are asked to lend, but to lend upon the security of your country and the world doesn’t offer any better today than the security which is given by this fair land of Canada.”

“Lend” was the buzzword of the campaign during its early days, and it was placed on banners adorning buildings, fire wagons, and streetcars. A sign placed in front of City Hall tracked Toronto’s progress in reaching its assigned goal. The city was divided into five districts to which 380 salesmen were dispatched to sell the bonds. As you will see in the gallery of Victory Bond advertisements, there was no soft-pedalling when it came to pushing the public to purchase—if you didn’t shell out for a bond, you shirked your duty to the British Empire and disrespected the bravery and sacrifice of Canadian soldiers. Daily updates in Toronto’s six daily newspapers urged readers to purchase more bonds not only to aid the cause but to beat Montreal in the race to win a flag awarded by the Governor-General to the city that sold the most.

The end of the war on November 11, 1918, gave the campaign a final boost. A Victory Loan parade scheduled for that afternoon turned into a mass celebration of the end of four years of conflict (and an event we will cover in tomorrow’s Historicist column). Images of the Kaiser disappeared from advertising as the focus switched to aiding soldiers who would soon be home and remembering those who wouldn’t return. When the numbers were tallied up after the last bond was sold on November 16, government officials smiled. Nearly $145 million worth of bonds were sold in Toronto, which beat Montreal by just over $1 million.

Additional material from the October 28, 1918 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I’ve added to the gallery several ads that didn’t make the original final cut.

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Here’s what one of the Victory Loan flags looked like, as it was being placed on display prior to the opening of the Peel 150 exhibit at PAMA in Brampton in 2017. It is believed that this flag was awarded to Chinguacousy Township (present-day Brampton and a portion of Caledon).

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Brampton Conservator, November 14, 1918.

Among the discoveries I made while researching the Victory Loan drives in Peel County was a series of limericks published in the Brampton Conservator on November 7, 1918.

In Caledon lived a wise man.
For the future he mapped out this plan:
I’ll provide for old age–
I’ll save at this stage;
I’ll take all the bonds that I can.

A young lady who lives in the Gore
Was anxious in riches to soar.
She took all her funds
And put them in bonds,
Then borrowed to purchase some more.

There was a young man in Port Credit–
Saving with him was a habit–
Having gathered much coin
Which he wanted to loan,
He bought Victory Bonds to the limit.