“Surrounding the cenotaph, the citizens of Peterborough and the war veterans in particular, gathered on Sunday afternoon to do honor to the memory of those legions who sleep their last sleep on the battlefields of Europe and elsewhere…”
So wrote the Peterborough Examiner on November 11th, 1930. Then as now, Peterborians were engaged in solemn recollection at this time of year, with the observance of Armistice Day. That was not all; there were important — vastly important — developments occurring for Canada at a conference in London, while the bite of the Great Depression was beginning to make itself felt. But to distract oneself from that, there was also football, as the local Collegians were once again sweeping all before them. Read on!
The officials ceremonies for Armistice Day were held on Sunday the 9th, and included the above-mentioned gathering at the cenotaph, a parade down George Street, and speeches at the Opera House. With the Great War still relatively fresh in the memories of most, it was a very solemn and even sad occasion, and not just for the veterans themselves. As the same day’s newspaper reported:
“[The members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary] were attired in deep mourning, and brought to one’s vision the distressing thought of the vast number of war widows, and bereaved mothers and sisters to whom the anniversary of armistice has an added significance.”
On November 11th itself, at the appropriate hour of 11 o’clock in the morning, two minutes of silence were observed across the city. “Whistles of factory sirens announced the time for silence to busy workers in shops,” wrote that day’s Examiner, “and the chiming of the city clock automatically stopped movement on the business streets.”
There was some public debate going on at this time about the proper date upon which to observe Armistice Day. In 1930, it was customary in Peterborough to observe the occasion on the Sunday closest to November 11th, while some other cities observed it on the closest Monday, which was the official holiday. Many, including the editors at the Examiner, felt that Armistice Day should be observed on the 11th itself, whatever the day of the week, and this point was illustrated with an anecdote in the November 12th newspaper:
“Yesterday a visiting war veteran visited the local war memorial at Confederation Square expecting to participate in ceremonies appropriate to the occasion, and was surprised to find himself alone in front of the memorial when the eleventh hour came…”
Peterborians were not alone in their desire to see November 11th as the official Armistice Day, and in 1931 the federal government amended the legislation to make it so. At the same time, they changed the name of the occasion to Remembrance Day.
One other small controversy related to Armistice Day raised its head in Peterborough in 1930, and that had to do with the poppy. The November 11th Examiner included an angry letter from a Peterborian who had witnessed a Public School Assistant Principal refusing to buy a poppy from a Boy Scout. The school official apparently had given as his reason the notorious symbolism of the flower as it relates to China, where it was and remains to this day a reminder not of fallen soldiers but of the opium trade and the serial humiliations suffered at the hands of Western powers (including Britain) during the 19th century. “I would not wear one of those if you paid me, it is England’s disgrace,” the man reportedly said.
The letter-writer, himself a veteran of the British Expeditionary Force in the Great War, was having none of it, accusing the school official of simply trying to get out of paying ten cents, and asking “why should we tolerate such an individual on our Peterborough teaching staff, and pay him good Canadian money?” If it were up to him, went on the correspondent, the Assistant Principal “would not have time to get his hat.” Amusingly, the letter-writer also noted with disapproval that the official had “something of a Teutonic sounding name.”
Canada had a new government in the fall of 1930, as the Conservative Party under R.B. Bennett had defeated William Lyon MacKenzie King’s Liberals in the August federal election. The onset of the Great Depression was one of the major reasons for the Liberal defeat; unemployment in Canada was rising into the double-digits, percentage-wise, accompanying drops in productivity, wages, and even the birth rate. In a November 13th editorial, the Examiner deplored the particular plight of older single men during times of economic hardship, writing that “such men are the last to be taken on, the first to be laid off, and again the last to be considered in any relief scheme.” The newspaper called for special programs for “many individuals who will soon be forced to seek a bed at the police station and beg for their meals unless their plight is recognized.” Sadly, things would get much worse before they got better.
Prime Minister Bennett himself, meanwhile, was overseas at this moment, at the Imperial Conference in London. While not largely recognized as such these days, it was in fact a watershed moment in the history of both the British Empire and Canada herself. The main item on the agenda was the agreement of the Statute of Westminster, replacing the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865. To make a long story short, the Statute of Westminster removed the ability of the British Parliament to enact legislation for the Empire’s various Dominions, including Canada. Essentially, it formalized the Dominions’ status as independent nations. That is, of course, something of an over-simplification, but it will do for our purposes.
In any case, the Conference did mark an important adjustment in the relationship between Canada and the mother-country, and that was always likely to provoke some consternation at home. Speaking at an Armistice Day gathering, Ontario’s Conservative Premier G. Howard Ferguson took pains to reassure his listeners, mostly veterans of the Great War, that the bonds between Canada and Britain remained strong. As quoted in the November 12th Examiner:
“No matter what is the outcome of the Imperial Conference, it cannot shake the determination of the Canadian people to live under the Union Jack.”
The other major point of interest at the Imperial Conference was the presence of India among the delegations. It was the first such official meeting between British and Indian statesmen (previous Indian delegations had been made up of British officials), and it came as the latter country’s independence movement was swinging into full gear, and issues such as self-government, the rights of Muslims in India, and the nascent civil disobedience movement of Mohandas Gandhi were very much on the table. A Canadian Press report in the November 12th Examiner recognized the importance of the proceedings, saying the “India turned a new and fateful page in her momentous history to-day.”
Finally, we shall return to Peterborough, and the pleasures of the local sports scene. Hockey was just about to begin for the season, but in the meantime, the football team of Peterborough Collegiate Institute was in the hunt for its third straight Dr. F.C. Neal Cup, awarded to the Central Ontario High School champions. The “Garnet and Grey,” as the team was known were facing Belleville Collegiate in a two-game total-points final, with the first leg played at Peterborough on November 8th. The locals won it, 12-8, to take the early lead in the series, but the game was not without controversy. After a close call by the referee had led to a Belleville touchdown, a few fans invaded the field and surrounded the officials, and for a moment it looked like something very serious would occur. Fortunately, as the November 11th Examiner put it, “[p]olice and cooler heads prevailed.” And in the second game, in Belleville on November 12th, the team from Peterborough locked up the trophy once again with a 17-10 win.
That will probably do for early November of 1930! Next time, we’ll check out what was happening in the middle of the month in 1931, but in the meantime you can also read about what was going on around here at this time of year in 1878!