This Week in Peterborough: 1918


Making shrapnel shells at the Renfrew Manufacturing Company plant in Peterborough, 1918. (Library & Archives Canada, MIKAN #3193555)

And so to the summer of 1918, the last, we can but hope, in which headlines would be dominated by the doings of the First World War.  Were Peterborians aware of the impending end of the hostilities, and if so, how were they reacting?  Read on for more stories from the front, more casualties, and events both sad and not at home!


Peterborough Examiner, August 16th, 1918.

It is actually very difficult to see any sign, in the Peterborough newspapers for this week in 1918, of the fact that the Great War was coming to an end.  Certainly the headlines from the front were very positive, but they had been so in previous years during such horror stories as the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.  There was little mention, yet, of anything that might be construed as a peace process.  That said, in this case the headline-writers had some reason to be optimistic.  The Hundred Days Offensive, the last major action of the war, was just underway, and it would end with the German army expelled from France, and with the armistice of November 11th.

There were worries, meanwhile, that Canadians would soon find themselves fighting on a different front.  The August 20th Examiner noted, very briefly, the creation of what would become the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.  That conflict, which had begun after the October Revolution of the previous year, would see massive foreign support of the anti-Communist White Army as it tried to retake Russia from the Bolsheviks and the Red Army.  Canadian troops would be involved in large numbers, although they saw little action.


Peterborough Examiner, August 20th, 1918.

One thing that Canadians at home were starting to do, with regards to the Great War, was tot up the human cost of it to the country.  On August 16th, the Examiner reported that Canadian losses, or “wastage” as it was known, had reached about 100,000 people, including 50,000 dead and another 50,000 “incapacitated by wounds, illness or by other causes.”  The current official Canadian Government figure for deaths overseas in the war is 59,544, but that is open to some interpretation.

And the casualty reports continued to roll into Peterborough as well.  The August 19th Examiner noted five local men wounded, one killed, and one suffering from “burns” and listed seperately from the other injured.  There were other, individual notices as well, such as the one to the right.

We turn now to local affairs, where at least some of the news was depressing in its own right.  One of the major causes of accidental death in Peterborough in the early 20th century was drowning, particularly on hot summer days when people took to the river in boats or just for swimming.  On August 19th, the city witnessed a particularly tragic example of this phenomenon when seven-year-old Gerald Healey drowned while swimming under the Parkhill Road Bridge, just by Inverlea Park.  The next day’s Examiner recorded that:

“Sergt. Cooper, who is in charge of the bathing facilities of the park, did all in his power to save the boy’s life… He dived again and again after the boy about ten minutes after the boy disappeared under the water.” 

Young Healey was finally pulled from the river an hour and a half after he was noticed missing, and a pulmotor — an early form of resuscitator — was deployed, but to no avail.  We recall here that a couple of summers previously, there had been an outcry over the lack of supervised swimming spots in Peterborough.  Sgt. Cooper’s presence suggests that City Council had listened, but the river remained a dangerous place (public service announcement: it still is).


Peterborough Examiner, August 20th, 1918.

Despite all of the sadness at home and abroad, the daily routine in Peterborough went on as the summer drew towards its close.  The big event in town this week 97 years ago was shopping-related; August 22nd was the date of the annual Dollar Day sale in the city.  Merchants up and down George Street, and elsewhere, slashed prices on just about every imaginable product.  A look through the ads in the papers reveals the sorts of deals on offer.  Ladies’ corsets, regularly $1.50, would be on sale for the promised dollar at the Peterboro Bargain House, where another dollar would get you three pairs of mens’ suspenders.  Furniture, flooring, carpets — nearly everything was on sale.  Even the groceries at the P. Connal and Son store could be had cheap; one dollar spent there would acquire you three pounds of green tea, or six tins of Campbell’s soup.  A big day, and people appear to have been genuinely looking forward to it.

We will finish off here with a musical note!  The August 16th Examiner devoted some column inches to lamenting the state of affairs regarding the city’s bands and orchestras, and the civic support for them.  The newspaper expressed envy of the local band in Huntsville, Ontario, which received financial backing from the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company and was reckoned “one of the best concert bands in Canada” (it had recently succeeded in luring Herbert L. Clarke, a truly world-class cornet player, away from John Philip Sousa’s concert band).  The Examiner stated that “the music lovers of Peterborough must be impatient with the apathy that is exhibited in this city,” and proceeded to set the bar fairly high:

“Peterborough’s ambitions should be a band of forty or more pieces capable of playing music that is better than the ephemeral fluff that pleases for the moment and then is heard no more.”


Herbert L. Clarke (left) and C.O. Shaw in the uniform of the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band, between 1918 and 1923. (Image Source)

I confess to a personal connection with that story.  The Anglo-Canadian Leather Company at that time was run by a fellow by the name of Charles Orlando Shaw, who was also my great-great-grandfather (he’s the gentleman on the right in the picture to the left), so I was tickled to come across a mention of the company in a Peterborough newspaper!

Next week, we will pass beyond the Great War and take a look at late August in 1919!  In the meantime, you can read about this week in 1866, when the Fenians were about…


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