Shaping Toronto: The Old City Hall Cenotaph

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2015.

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When this photo appeared in the November 12, 1925 edition of the Globe, the caption read: “The picture was taken by the Globe staff photographer shortly after the cenotaph had been unveiled by his Excellency, and before the hundreds of wreaths which now cover the base of the monument had been deposited in token of remembrance by the relatives and friends of the noble dead to whom the memorial is erected.” City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 6584.

Noon, November 11, 1925: Governor-General Lord Byng of Vimy removes a Union Jack flag to reveal the city’s permanent memorial to the soldiers sacrificed during the First World War. As he unveils the granite monument outside Old City Hall, he looks, according to the Star, “not into a sea of faces but a sea of poppies. Miraculously in a few hours the restricted area that does duty as Toronto’s place d’armes had been carpeted with the fragile scarlet blossoms that are more imperishable than brass and marble associated with the glory and tragedy of the greatest of world conflicts.”

As the cenotaph marks its 90th anniversary this Remembrance Day, it’s worth reflecting on the role such monuments play, and, especially in light of current debates on appropriate memorials, what some people have considered to be desecrations.

When a city council special committee contemplated permanent sites for a monument in 1924, its members felt that erecting it in front of Old City Hall would render it inconspicuous due to space limitations and the height of surrounding buildings. While they preferred replacing an old bandstand in Queen’s Park, veterans felt it should remain at Old City Hall, where annual ceremonies had been held since 1920.

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Three of the potential designs for the cenotaph. Toronto Star, October 27, 1924.

A design competition attracted 50 entrants. The $2,500 prize went to architects/First World War veterans William Ferguson and Thomas Canfield Pomphrey (the latter would work on the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant). The cornerstone of the granite cenotaph was laid with a silver trowel by Field Marshal Earl Haig on July 24, 1925. As the unveiling neared, city council ordered a change to the front wording from “To those who served” to a phrase specifically geared to those who fell in battle, “To our glorious dead.”

When city officials arrived at the cenotaph at 6 a.m. on November 11, 1925, they found two memorial wreaths had been left overnight: an anonymous assembly of chrysanthemums and one in memory of Private William Bird from his children. During the ceremony, only wreaths presented by Haig (who, unable to attend, drafted Byng as his stand-in) and the city were allowed to rest on the monument. Dozens of others, representing everything from orphanages to Belgian soldiers in town for the Royal Winter Fair, were banked around Old City Hall’s steps.

“It is true that there is nothing we can do which will add to the honour in which their memory is held,” Mayor Thomas Foster observed during his speech. “But in performing the ceremony arranged for this occasion we follow immemorial usage, and we inaugurate a memorial to the lasting honour of the men of this city who left their homes and the pursuits of peace and gave up their lives for their country.”

One addition was made almost immediately. Members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers’ Association were upset that none of the seven battle names inscribed on the sides involved the Navy. Their suggestion of Zeebrugge was added to the rear.

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Macedonian parade, scene at cenotaph, September 1, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 17805.

The cenotaph quickly became the site of memorials by numerous groups honouring their war dead. Mohawk singer Os-ke-non-ton laid a five foot long “arrow of memory” in December 1925 to commemorate First Nations soldiers. The monument was an official stop during the annual July 12 Orange Parade. Few days went by where there wasn’t a fresh wreath lain upon it.

By the late 1940s, as the dates to another world war were inscribed into the cenotaph, some quarters felt the public wasn’t respectful enough. Letters to newspapers complained about workers resting on it for lunch or smoke breaks, drunks sleeping on it, and the occasional dice game at its base. Police placed “keep off” signs on the cenotaph, while some city councillors wanted to erect spikes to prevent anyone from leaning too close. Some of these efforts to turn the monument into an untouchable shrine echo current arguments on how displaying Christmas decorations too early offends the sanctity of remembering dead soldiers, even if they fought for the freedom to do such things.

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Toronto Star, October 29, 1956.

There’s also the question of whether the cenotaph should just honour the dead from the two world wars, or victims of battle in general. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a group representing 16 ethnicities laid a wreath during a 5,000 person march on October 27, 1956 to honour those killed during the uprising. The wreath was declared a desecration by the Civic Employees’ War Veterans’ Association (CEWVA), whose officials were angered that it represented citizens of a country which was our enemy during the world wars. CEWVA president Al Watson brought a letter to the Board of Control urging the city adopt stricter rules for who could use the cenotaph, preferably for the exclusive honour of Canadian and Allied troops. He didn’t face a receptive audience—controller Ford Brand noted that regardless of Hungary’s past allegiances, its citizens were currently fighting for democratic principles, then asked Watson “how can you distinguish just because of race?” Befitting his nickname of “Mayor of all the People,” Nathan Phillips declared that “the city hall is the centre of the city, a place where all citizens should be able to go express their sorrows.”

But this openness didn’t last long. Following a spat between Croatian and Yugoslavian groups over wreaths that may have honoured soldiers who died while allied to Nazi Germany, the Board of Control ruled in May 1957 that only dead Canadian military personnel would be officially commemorated at the memorial.

Who was considered appropriate to lead a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph service arose in 2013, when there were calls for Mayor Rob Ford to skip the ceremony a week after admitting to smoking crack cocaine. “That he thinks he has the moral authority to deliver a remembrance address,” observed the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, “is simply staggering.” Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly observed that it was important for the officeholder to show up regardless of their personal problems. Ford was booed as he took the stage.

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Cenotaph, City Hall, decorated with wreaths, Remembrance Day, view from southeast , November 11, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 549.

But booing figures like our former mayor should not be the point of attending a ceremony at the cenotaph. Standing in front of the site should rise above petty concerns like who can or can’t be honoured there. It provides an opportunity to think about military conflict in general, both in terms of the dead and the grey areas which are always present. Don’t restrict your moment of contemplative silence to November 11.

Additional material from the November 11, 1925 and November 16, 1925 editions of the Globe; the July 24, 1947, September 25, 1947, November 1, 1956, and November 11, 2013 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 27, 1924, October 27, 1924, November 3, 1925, November 11, 1925, November 16, 1925, December 4, 1925, October 29, 1956, Ocrober 30, 1956, and November 1, 1956 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Eaton’s Remembers

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2014.

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Globe and Mail, November 11, 1948.

They were Faithful unto Death
In proud remembrance of the two hundred and sixty-three members of the Eaton staff who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II, having gone forth valiantly to fight for the survival of freedom. Their names are here inscribed that all may read who pass this way. 1945
(inscription, Eaton’s war memorial plaque, 1948)

For Eaton’s employees, Remembrance Day held a special significance in 1948. The department store spent $25,000 installing bronze war memorials in Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg to honour its workers who died serving in the Second World War. Designed by sculptor Edward Watson, the plaque placed in the Eaton’s store on Queen Street West complemented a similar memorial erected years earlier to those who fell during the First World War.

During the fight against the Axis, Eaton’s president R.Y. Eaton revived the company’s policy of subsidizing enlisted employees, despite warnings that the model was financially unsustainable, given how many more employees would serve in the Second World War than served in the First. Married men were paid a salary that, combined with their military pay, equalled their regular income, while bachelors were compensated up to two-thirds of their normal salary. To comply with the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act passed in 1942, any employees honourably discharged were returned to their old jobs or given a suitable equivalent.

When the war ended, new company president John David Eaton ordered staff to organize a series of banquets across Canada to honour returning veterans. One of the first, held at the Eaton Hall estate near King City in September 1946, saw more than 2,500 vets bused in from the city. John David and R.Y. Eaton gave attendees 10-karat gold signet rings, replicas of which were later sold for $3.97.

Delayed due to a materials shortage, it wasn’t until November 10, 1948, that flying officer George Knox, representing the Eaton Veterans’ Association, unveiled the Second World War memorial. Reverend David MacLennan of the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church conducted the quiet ceremony; attendees included Eaton’s company directors, war veterans, and families of the fallen employees listed on the plaque.

Afterwards, veterans’ committees representing Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg decided to offer John David Eaton a token of their appreciation. More than 95 per cent of Eaton’s employees contributed to buy a large silver punch bowl crafted in Denmark, which was accompanied by 24 goblets and a tray engraved with military crests. The notoriously private company president declined the gift on the grounds that he wasn’t owed anything. “Father didn’t think he was deserving of any gift from them,” his son Fredrik later said. “Those guys fought in a war.” The bowl sat wrapped in cellophane on a storage shelf for years before the Eaton family accepted it.

The Toronto memorial moved to the Eaton Centre store when it opened in 1977. Several years after Sears took over the site, the Eaton family requested the plaque be returned to them. They donated the memorial and its First World War counterpart to the Canadian War Museum, where it remains today.

Additional material from Eatonians: The Story of the Family Behind the Family by Patricia Phenix (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002); the November 11, 1948 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the November 11, 1948 edition of the Toronto Star.

BEHIND THE SCENES

After a nearly two-year break, Vintage Toronto Ads returned to Torontoist with this post. The column was revived to help provide material during an editorial transition period. Unlike the first incarnation of the column, this version tended to see longer entries, akin to shorter Historicists. This incarnation, which ran until July 2015, also provided me something to work on as a grew frustrated with a 9-to-5 job I’d recently taken on, a position at a large financial institution where I was paid to do nothing for two months. One would think that would have been enjoyable, but the boredom was killing me. My other freelance work soon picked up, and I left the job.

A Wartime Letter

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2008.

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One activity that today’s remembrances of those fallen in war might prompt is a look through boxes in attics and archives for letters sent home by those on the front lines. As demonstrated in a series currently running in The Globe and Mail, these letters provide a snapshot of what it was like to be caught up in conflicts far from Canada. In these documents, the joy at receiving small pleasures of life from home stand out, whether it’s a shipment of candy bars or a newspaper clipping announcing a friend’s wedding.

Here is one of those letters, sent by a Toronto fighter pilot (my great-uncle) to his family during the early years of World War II.

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Douglas Morrison Waldon, known as “Morrey” to friends and family, was born in Deer Park in 1914, one of five children of a TTC conductor. After graduating from the Toronto Normal School, Waldon worked for Royal Trust for five years before his dreams of flying led him to sign up with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. After several months of training at Uplands near Ottawa, Waldon was sent over to England in February 1941 and served as part of No. 403 Squadron.

Waldon composed a steady stream of letters, including this one for his older sister Helen (my grandmother). Military censorship prevented any descriptions of his flying activities, but the letter is rich in details about items sent from home and hijinks that made life bearable. There is a strong sense of how he misses everyone at home, especially when he writes about the family garden back in Deer Park.

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Dear Helen, Lorne & all the family,

The weather here has been quite bad for the past few days, so we had a rest from flying. It is now 3:30 P.M. and I am sitting in our Flight Dispersal Hut as I write this letter. I had hoped by this time to have some pictures to send to you, but I have had only one roll developed as yet. However, I hope to have some ready for my next letter. The mailman was very good to me this past week and I received 4 letters from Phil, two from Dad and one from Jack [younger brother]; and last but not least an elegant parcel from Hartley [older brother]…In case the rest of you don’t know what was in the parcel Hart sent me, I will tell you. 20 packages of Wrigley’s gum, 25 chocolate bars, a case of Planter’s Peanuts, two films for my camera, razor blades, toothpaste, toothbrush, two pads of this writing paper and a lovely pair of socks which I think were Lot’s handiwork [Hartley’s wife]. Opening that parcel was almost as good as Christmas and I was certainly very, very grateful for it. The chocolate bars lasted for one afternoon and evening and were enjoyed by all. My roommate and I [and] a Scotch lad we call “Haggis” finished the peanuts and a box of marshmallows the same evening. As a result of my indiscretion and not controlling my fingers, I am sporting 3 lovely cold-sores, which would make Bea [older sister] very unhappy if she could see them.

I am glad that you reminded me about my Air Force Pin which I had quite forgotten, It is on my greenish shirt in the clothes closet of what was your room at home. I am not sure but I think that is on the trousers above the watch-pocket. It is also possible that it is on my sports coat. You are very welcome to it.

From all reports, the garden at home must be really something to see this year [and] I would like very much to be sun-bathing there right now. There are lots of delphiniums around here which remind me of home. We have several large beds of beautiful roses around our mess here and we have fresh roses on the mess dinner table each day. They certainly help to make the dining room pleasant, along with the W.A.A.F. waitresses. I was pleased to hear that the front yard has been freshly sodded & if it gets lots of water it should make a great improvement.
I don’t think you need to worry about me over-drinking but I do like to join the boys occasionally on a pub-crawl as often times there is nothing else to do. However, I am not a confirmed drunkard or anything like that.
Your good wishes for promotions for me are appreciated Dad, but from now on they are very slow [and] rather hard to get.

Last Wednesday, I was invited out for dinner and an evening of tennis, both of which were very enjoyable. As a result of meeting a very nice girl that evening I was invited to a super party on Friday night. The evening started with a cocktail party and then we went on to the home of a Lady Somebodyorother for dinner and it was the best dinner I have had since coming to England, bar none. After dinner we went to a lovely country club where there was dancing and supper until 12:30. The dance was a real good one and there was an outdoor swimming pool for those that became overheated. I got to bed around 1:45 and so I had to get up again at 4:30 that morning. I was very tired. I had also volunteered to do late readiness for one of the boys going on leave last night, so the inclement weather pleased me very much. The girl I was with is the daughter of a banker in a nearby town. She is tall, dark, devastating and very, very interesting. Perhaps she will want my picture. Woo! Woo! Dogpatch style [a reference to the popular comic strip L’il Abner].
My R.A.F. life has been much the same as in previous weeks so there is nothing new to report there. It is hard to believe that I have been away from home for five months and I must say that time is going very, very quickly.
It is time to say good-bye now. Best regards to all the family and lots of love.
Morrey

P.S. Thanks again for the parcel.

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This proved to be one of the last letters Waldon sent. Three days after his father received a note indicating that all was well, the family was informed that he had gone missing while piloting a Spitfire fighter over France on August 9. Cables from the International Red Cross over the next month indicated that he was a prisoner in a German hospital. In mid-September, the family was informed that Waldon had died of injuries soon after he was shot down over Gravelines.

When interviewed by The Toronto Star, his father noted that “it was a great disappointment to us. Douglas was a strong and healthy boy and after five weeks passed we had high hopes for his safe recovery.” Waldon was buried in the British Commonwealth section of the Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir cemetery. Back in Toronto, a service was held at Christ Church in Deer Park soon after his death was announced. He was one of six fallen parishioners remembered at the church’s Remembrance ceremony that November.

Additional material from the August 11, 1941 and September 13, 1941 editions of the Toronto Star and the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Douglas Morrison Waldon Air Force Portrait and Death Notice

The material I used for this story comes from a box which belonged to my paternal grandmother. It contains photos and newspaper clippings stretching from the 1920s through my first regular media gig, a monthly highlight column for my elementary school written for the Amherstburg Echo when I was in grade 8. Much of the material is World War II vintage and revolves around my great-uncle Morrey.

Pilot Officer from Toronto Listed Missing

This is the notice that appeared in the Toronto Star on August 11, 1941, when Morrey was reported missing. A similar story appeared the same day in the Telegram. The loss was devastating to the family. His name lived on among several nephews, including my father, who was given Douglas as a middle name when he was born the following year.

"They Died For Freedom's Sake"

The Telegram, November 11, 1942.

Morrey was one of 26 airmen honoured by the city in a Remembrance Day ceremony the year after he died.

Official Opening of Mountain View RCAF Station

Globe and Mail, July 21, 1941.

While he was overseas, it appears the family journeyed east to attend the opening of an RCAF station in Prince Edward County. My grandmother is getting a crash course in how to operate a plane in the middle picture.

The War is Over

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 12, 2011.

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Family reads Armistice Day headlines, November 11, 1918. Pictured left to right: Mrs. J. Fraser, Jos. Fraser Jr., Miss Ethel James, Frank James, and Norman James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 892.

2:50 a.m., November 11, 1918, the office of the Telegram newspaper on Melinda Street. An early morning full of anticipation as workers there and at Toronto’s five other daily newspapers waited for word sometime during the day that an armistice ending the First World War would be signed.

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Within 20 minutes of the wire notice, special editions of the Telegram and the other papers hit the streets of the city, ready for citizens roused from their slumber by church bells, fire sirens, factory whistles and other loud noisemakers. The war was over and, as the News noted, “Toronto went mad with glory.”

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The News, November 11, 1918.

The city needed to let loose after a recent spell of bad news. The influenza pandemic that ravaged the world hit Toronto hard in October 1918. Companies like Bell Telephone lost up to a quarter of their staff due to illness or care giving. Churches, entertainment facilities, libraries, and schools were closed, public gatherings were curtailed, and visitors were not allowed in hospitals. During the pandemic’s peak in mid-October, an average of 50 people a day succumbed to the flu, which ultimately killed around 1,300 Torontonians that month. Combine this with daily reports of the mounting casualties during the final month of battle in Europe and it’s easy to see how Toronto was ready to party.

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The Telegram, November 12, 1918.

News of the armistice spread quickly throughout the city. In the east end, residents along Bain Avenue were awakened around 3:40 a.m. by a trumpeter. Half-a-dozen windows opened and an equal number of heads stuck out, asking each other what was going on. “The armistice is signed,” somebody shouted. “The war is over—no fake this time!” Within 10 minutes, most homes in South Riverdale were lit up and pyjama-clad neighbours congratulated each other on the good news. By 4 a.m., as the News reported, “the streets, as a rule deserted and silent at the hour of coming dawn, were filled with quick-marshalled companies of girls and boys, all marching with waving flags and all equipped for carnival.” Traffic jams of cars formed as some revellers decided to head downtown.

The Telegram sent a car around the city to survey how celebrations were breaking out. Everywhere they found scenes similar to those in South Riverdale: people on the streets dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, clanging tin cans, and gathering in their nightclothes and raincoats around impromptu sidewalk bonfires. Streetcars were so packed that passengers sat on the roof.

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Streetcar on Spadina Crescent, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7110.

By dawn, streetcar service, apart from a few suburban routes, ground to a halt as conductors and operators abandoned their vehicles to join the festivities. Any driver who attempted to continue to head into the city was met with opposition by their fellow employees, as one determined Queen streetcar operator learned. Shortly after setting out on an eastbound course from Roncesvalles, he encountered a procession of 100 fellow Toronto Railway Company workers led by a Highland piper. When he failed to stop, the procession pulled off the streetcar’s pole and smashed its windows. Without streetcars, people wishing to head downtown jumped onto any automobile—the Telegram reported seeing as many as 28 people sitting in and hanging off one car.

Work was hardly on anyone’s mind that day. Few went to the office, and those who did didn’t stay long. City workers were told to take the day off. Bankers were obliged to stay on the job, but the only ticker tape flowing out of most financial institutions headed out windows onto the streets below. Courts were in session, but Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford gave clemency to anyone up on charges of drunkenness, gambling, speeding, or other minor offences. “This is not a day for punishment,” Kingsford told those assembled in police court. “It is a day for amnesty and pardon.”

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Girl celebrating Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 905.

Out in the streets, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. People draped in Red Ensigns, Union Jacks, and other Allied flags were among those who descended by the thousands onto Yonge Street and other crowded downtown arteries. Some descriptions paint a scene similar to Church Street on Halloween with revellers, in the words of the Mail and Empire, “bedecked themselves in the most grotesque costumes with false and painted faces.” One person dressed as the recently-abdicated German emperor wore a sign which read “I am the Kaiser, kick me.” Knowing people might deliver four years of pent-up frustration against him, the man padded his posterior to soften any swift kicks. Hopefully he wasn’t mistaken for the numerous effigies of the Kaiser burned with glee across the city.

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Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 891.

Celebrants along Yonge Street between Shuter and King found themselves in a war zone. The Mail and Empire reported that “for several hours the main thoroughfare presented the appearance of a region that had been subjected to a gas attack, because of the battle of talcum powder by the boys and girls who waged it with little relaxation.” Anyone who objected to being doused in powder was, with the approval of bystanders, showered with a double dose. Despite a few people who were hit square in the eye, people were generally amused by the battle or rolled with it. They had little choice—according to the News: “the crowds were so dense that escape was impossible, and the victims soon purchased and used supplies of their own.” Police directing traffic took the powder showers in stride, even if they “looked more like millers than officers of the law.”

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Float representing “In Flanders Field” at Victory Loan Parade, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1583, Item 161.

Officially sanctioned ceremonies began at noon on the steps of City Hall (now Old City Hall), where Mayor Tommy Church issued a proclamation. Following that was a previously scheduled Victory Loan parade that became a general celebration. Over 200,000 lined the route along University, Queen, Simcoe, King, Jarvis, Carlton, and College to watch the procession of soldiers and bond-promoting floats. Wounded hospital patients were chauffeured in automobiles. Airplanes dropped pamphlets urging spectators to “lend” to the loan drive. Music was provided by groups ranging from ragtag marching bands to the United States Navy Band led by, in possibly his only personal appearance in Toronto, John Philip Sousa. Of the floats, the most poignant was a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The women’s page of the News described the scene portrayed: “There was the grass of the fields, the vivid scarlet poppies and the charred crosses of the men who had fallen. A man in khaki standing looking down at the crosses carried out the picture in its last detail.” When the parade returned to its starting point at Queen’s Park, it was followed by a religious service.

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John Philip Sousa, University Avenue, November 11, 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2576.

The partying continued well into the night. Sousa conducted a concert at Queen’s Park. Dances were held at the King Edward Hotel and other venues across the city. Bonfires burned on, including a large one fuelled by old wagons across from the Albert Britnell bookstore at Yonge and Bloor. A parade through Chinatown (then centred around Dundas and Elizabeth) saw a truck carrying smiling deities wielding gongs. The Star, then based on King Street, ran movies and bulletins on the side of a neighbouring building. Amid the jovial spirit, the News noted that some members of the crowd remembered the costs of the battle just ended: “Mingling with the wild abandon of youthful rejoicing was the note of sadness among those who recalled all too vividly the poignant sacrifice of war, and here and there in the swirling, gleeful crowds were lonely individuals who looked at the people but saw a grave in Flanders.”

The next day, tired Torontonians dragged themselves back to work and settled back into routine. The city estimated clean-up would cost $1,000. Little damage was done, and few arrests were made during the celebrations (it seemed even pickpockets had taken the day off). As the week unfolded, the Victory Loan drive wrapped up and the first postwar contingents of veterans returned home. The uncertainties of what peacetime would hold were pushed aside as the afterglow of the armistice celebrations lingered on.

Additional material from Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War by Ian Hugh Maclean Miller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002) and the following newspapers: the November 12, 1918 edition of the Globe; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Mail and Empire; the November 11, 1918 and November 12, 1918 editions of the News; the November 12, 1918 edition of the Toronto Star; and the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This subject was also covered in an earlier installment of Vintage Toronto Ads, originally published on November 11, 2008.

Vintage Ad #653: Armistice Day, 1918

The Globe, November 11, 1918.

November 11, 1918: eager Torontonians, having seen several days of stories in the local dailies that the end of World War I was imminent, waited for word from Europe of the armistice that would bring loved ones home. The newspapers stayed close to their wires to put the presses into motion once the armistice was official. The Telegram described the wait:

The news during the night had indicated that nothing was expected to happen till this morning. But there was not let up in the eternal vigilance that is the price of efficiency. Jimmie Nicol, the Canadian Press operator, was eating his lunch and joining in the desultory conversation with one ear turned to the key. He had heard the declaration of war flashed into the office and had waited four years and three months to hear this click of the instrument that would tell that the slaughter had ceased. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of a bite and jumped to the wire. Then that crowd of weary waiters came to life as it electrified. Each man knew his work and did it.

Nicol received the wire at 2:50 a.m. The first edition of the Telegram hit the streets 20 minutes later. The paper used their speediness to take a potshot at the Star, who, “first in fake but last in reliability, put in a tardy appearance with the same news, accompanied by the morning papers.” Eaton’s used their regular advertising space to publish the official announcement and a blessing.

Vintage Ad #657: Drink to the Health of the Allies!

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

O’Keefe’s ad may have appealed to one group who welcomed the armistice, local drunks. The Telegram reported that inebriates around the city were “happy as larks” that not only was the war over, but that the city magistrate had declared a one-day amnesty on charges of public drunkenness, gambling, speeding, and other minor offences. The magistrate’s explanation for his actions? “We are doing it for our country.”

Vintage Ad #655: My Boy

Toronto Star, November 11, 1918.

Though the war was over, ads for Victory Bonds were published that day. Pitches soon switched from helping Canadians fight on to aiding returning soldiers and the citizens of countries devastated by the conflict. The city declared a half-day holiday for a bond drive, which quickly turned into a general celebration.

Additional material from the November 11, 1918 edition of the Telegram.