Author: Debra Nash-Chambers

Publication Date: 2015

Edited: 2023



Historian Jonathan Vance notes that while Canada did not declare war against the German and Austro-Hungarian empires independently in August of 1914, the First World War is viewed as marking Canada's progress from colony to nationhood. Vance supports the contention that the participation and courage of Canadians in key battles like Ypres in 1915, Vimy Ridge in 1917, and the Hundred Days before Armistice in 1918 precipitated this evolution in our sense of national identify and our post-Confederation relationship with England.1 When England declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Canada and the rest of the British Empire were at war along with the mother country and her allies France, Serbia and Russia. Apparently, "[A] huge crowd in Guelph celebrated the outbreak of the war as the first news of it was posted in front of the Guelph Evening Mercury newspaper office on Macdonell Street, in the heart of the Downtown core."2 On the first Sunday of good weather after war was declared, the Guelph Rifle Club trained men to form a short-lived home guard unit.3 In Guelph and Wellington County, volunteers for the first contingent of overseas expeditionary forces began to enlist in the weeks that followed. Before these enlistees boarded a train to begin their journey to Valcartier, Quebec for military training, Guelphites organized a parade and concert to show their support for the troops.4 The recruits' experiences overseas were chronicled in the Guelph press. Local efforts to express patriotism and offer public service in support of the war effort were recorded for posterity on the pages of the 1915 editions of the Guelph Evening Mercury.


Historic Guelph Recruitment Poster V53P24

Figure 1: World War I Group System Recruitment Poster.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - Guelph Civic Museum (1952.82.3)).


In 1915, Guelph had two newspapers, The Guelph Evening Mercury was the local Liberal Party organ whereas the Guelph Herald offered the Conservative viewpoint on events. With an average daily circulation of 3, 049 papers, the Mercury was the paper of choice for roughly 20 percent of the residents of Guelph.5 Despite its smaller circulation,6 the Herald undoubtedly played a role in educating the public, shaping public opinion in favour of the war effort, and helping to announce and orchestrate events in support of recruitment and the local efforts to offer benevolence, charitable funding, and clothing and personal items for the men serving in the military. Guelph women expressed their patriotism through public service early in the war. Within weeks of war being declared, "Middle-class women met at the Macdonald Institute, across from the Agricultural College to raise funds and procure medical supplies for families at home and men overseas. At the Collegiate Institute in the city's west end, working-class men met to drill for the short-lived home guard."7 The Mercury monitored wartime events at home and abroad.


Historic Guelph John McCrae on Bonfire V53P25

Figure 2: John McCrae on Bonfire.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.358.1)).


The January 1915 issues of the Mercury provided columns detailing European politics, the German invasion of Belgium and then France, and the allied efforts to regain cities, towns, villages, forests and farms under the control of enemy forces. The reports of the British-led engagements with the enemy and the graphic depictions of the consequences of prolonged war on the civilian populations of Belgium and France evoked fear and horror. These and later editions of the 1915 Mercury offer insights into the interests and pre-occupations on the local home front. In an earlier edition of Historic Guelph: The Royal City, Jenn Annis notes that few issues of the Herald remain, but surviving issues of the Guelph Evening Mercury offer, "A window onto the town of Guelph during the Great War," and reveal, "The views of the citizens, the politicians, soldiers and its own staff through its feature articles, letters, photographs, editorials, cartoons, advertisements and society columns."8


Historic Guelph Red Cross Ambulance V53P26

Figure 3: Wellington County Red Cross Ambulance Overseas, circa 1916.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - Guelph Civic Museum (Grundy 161)).


The surviving copies of the 1915 Mercury present an odd assortment of articles, pictures, cartoons, and editorials related to the Great War. These often share pages with the accounts of local social events, summaries of Sunday sermons, municipal council news, advertisements for local businesses, crime stories and sports scores still deemed relevant to trying to maintain an air of normalcy in day-to-day life in Guelph. For example, the January 2, 1915 issue of the Mercury presents a disturbing column on the near starvation of seven million civilians of occupied Belgium titled, "Begs America to Save Little Nation from Stark and Icy Clutch of Starvation," juxtaposed with a more banal report on a recent dance at Tovell Hall, a large ad declaring the need for the People's Store to sell goods below cost due to the economic dislocation of wartime, fashion news from the New York Horse Show, and political advertisements for the upcoming municipal election sponsored by supporters of candidates Harry Mahoney and T. J. Hannigan.9 In her study of the Mercury as a recruitment tool, Jenn Annis argues that early in the war the Mercury's, "Primary role was to inform readers."10


Historic Guelph Military Drill V53P27

Figure 4: Military Drill at Exhibition Park Military Drill at Exhibition Park.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - Guelph Civic Museum (Grundy 158)).


The public information role the Mercury assumed early in the war allowed its readers to keep up with the federal government's wartime needs and policies, follow troop movements, learn the geographical locations of battles, and assess the conditions faced by Canada's fighting men at the front. Like the Mercury and the Herald, local newspapers across the province, "Were important educational tools reporting on the engagements with the enemy" and,  "Describing the new type of warfare," experienced by Canada's expeditionary forces.11 On January 19th, the newspaper depicted the heavy losses and deplorable conditions of trench warfare. A 'Report from Ottawa' dated the previous day revealed that the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry's first action overseas at the front resulted in 400 dead, 14 wounded and the great cost of facing the enemy just 50 yards away over five days of intense fire, while sodden with mud and having to make advances on the enemy through barbed wire.12 Readers scrutinized the information provided about trench warfare and the technological advances at the heart of the land, air and sea components of modern combat. In January 1915, the Mercury provided details about the fear and destruction caused by the use of Zeppelins in the German air offensive against Britain.13 Guelph readers were appalled by German submarine attacks on British ships. They read the notices warning that German submarines, known as U-boats, would attack so-called neutral ships if they were enroute to Britain or sailing from Britain.14 Locals followed the transatlantic crossings of the Lusitania for weeks before the May 7, 1915 sinking of the vessel off the coast of Ireland with over 2,000 on board. The passengers included American socialites and British reservists as well as Canadian and American businessmen, "Who dealt in war materials." Just 658 people were rescued.15 On September 7th, Guelphites were relieved to learn that a more successful rescue followed a German U-boat attack on a ship carrying wounded Canadian soldiers.16


A new horror, born of scientific advances in weaponry was communicated via reports on Canadian participation in the Second Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915. Historian Timothy Winegard notes, "The first gas attack of the war began the Second Battle of Ypres," and this battle was, "The first major action for the inexperienced Canadian 'civilian' soldiers."17 Initially the greyish-green cloud of mustard gas wafted over Algerian and French soldiers searing their lungs. Two days later, Canadian forces faced the double indemnity of the second gas attack of the war and an, "Intense ten-minute artillery barrage aimed directly at Canadian forward positions."18 The May 5th 'War Summary' in the Mercury reported on the use of weaponized gas at Ypres and in other battles.19 Gas attacks remained a risk for Canadian servicemen throughout the war. Casualty records for the 16th Battery Canadian Expeditionary Force (C. E. F.) Guelph indicate that Sgt. W. Schofield of Guelph was gassed and among the 13 men wounded at Cagincourt in November 1918.20 Back home, as civilians learned that local men died fighting at Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and in other enemy encounters as the war continued year after year, the human tragedy of the war became increasingly personal as families received notices of the illness, injury, status of missing in action, or verified deaths of loved ones.


The human cost of Ypres and other battles in the First World War was immortalized in the poem ln Flanders Fields, written by Guelph-born Dr. John McCrae. Following the publication of the poem in London in Punch magazine in December 1915, the image of blood-red poppies amid crosses row on row caught hearts and minds among the Allied countries and in the years to follow the war the poppy became an international symbol of remembrance.21 McCrae served as a soldier in the South African War. However, he was 41 years of age when he enlisted in 1914 so he was assigned to service as a military doctor and not as a soldier. On May 3, 1915, when McCrae composed In Flanders Fields, he held the rank of Major and was Second-in-Command & Brigade Surgeon, First Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae suffered the loss of his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer, "At the height," of the Second Battle of Ypres and a grieving McCrae was inspired to create his poem in response to Helmer's death.22


"[Before his own], death of pneumonia in January 1918, Lt.-Col. McCrae served for three years as the chief medical officer of the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) and was the first Canadian appointed consultant physician to the British Army."23


The tragic deaths of Helmer, McCrae and others who perished overseas became statistics in the published tallies of death and injury issued by the Minister of Militia and Defence in Ottawa and reprinted in the Mercury. Presumably, readers were shocked by the staggering numbers and angered by reports of the scandalous inadequacies of the footwear and weapons to Canadian servicemen deployed overseas. On March 5, 1915, the paper distributed a report from the Ottawa Board of Inquiry into defective boots. Titled 'The Boots Bad in Every Section,' the article confirmed that war profiteers were selling substandard combat boots that were so shoddy that they were endangering the health and military fitness of the troops.24 Five days later, a further article reported on testimonials by soldiers at the front confirming that boots issued to both the First and Second Contingents of Canada's volunteer soldiers were taking as little as ten days to wear out.25 On September 27, 1915 the Mercury published a letter sent from Britain by Private "Grit" Callender to his brother who lived in Guelph. The Mercury was given permission to print the letter by the recipient Mac Callender. The private expressed concern that his brigade, made up of the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st Battalions, was heading to France equipped with Ross rifles. Callender and the other servicemen were worried because they were receiving reports from men at the front line that the Ross rifles were, "No good," because they kept jamming.26 Ironically, the Princess Patricia's had already abandoned the use of Ross rifles after repeated mechanical failures at Ypres in April 1915.27


Along with the grim reminders of the perils faced by Canadian fighting men stationed in Europe and defending the allied cause in the air and on the high seas, the Mercury promoted home front efforts in support of the war. A review of the 1915 issues of the paper reveals that home front coverage showcased two local developments that would become sources of immense local pride and civic debate - the establishment of Guelph as a regional recruitment centre for men to enlist and join the Second Contingent of the overseas expeditionary forces, and, the choice of Guelph as a training centre for recruits.28 Beginning in early January 1915, issues of the newspaper presented a mounting pre-occupation with providing evidence of local expressions of patriotic support for the war effort. Additionally, the Mercury echoed the desire of members of the community to be good hosts to the military men occupying the converted Winter Fair premises and training at the Guelph Armoury.29 Intermittent copies of the newspaper provide observations of the fund-raising activities of local men and women in support of Canada's war needs. Local middle-class women willingly accepted their role as a volunteer support system for multiple fund-raising campaigns, knitting circles, and collection points for the medical and personal goods needed beyond Guelph.30 In contrast to the paper's coverage of these positive local developments, two more controversial stories were followed closely: the unwelcome presence of enemy aliens in Guelph and the national campaign against the sale of alcoholic beverages to military recruits. 


Historic Guelph Military Review V53P30 Figure 5: Military Review at Exhibition Park.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - Guelph Civic Museum (2009.32.1991)).


The growing concern for the prohibition of sales of alcohol to military trainees still in Canada became a pre-occupation of the Mercury early in 1915, when troops were sent to Guelph for training in February 1915. From the start of the year, James Innes Mclntosh, Mercury Editor, and the newspaper rallied support for government programs designed to aid the war effort. The Mercury provided a platform for the federal government to entreat local men to answer the call for patriotic service to the nation and the British Empire by enlisting in the military. The paper announced the location of area recruitment drives and the physical requirements for acceptance. In August 1914, the newspaper published the requirements of the Department of Militia and Defence for all recruits - "Height for gunners 5 ft. 7 in. and over; height for drivers 5 ft. 3 in. and over. Chest measurements must not be less than 34 1/2 in."31 Like drivers, infantry men could be 5 feet 3 inches or more and their chest measurement could be an inch less at 33 and a half inches.32 Those who decided to come to the Guelph Armoury to be screened for enlistment were advised that preference would be given to single men followed by married men without children and then married men with children. The Mercury provided a platform for disseminating government information and building consensus in support of Canadian participation in the war.


According to Annis, the more pedestrian 1914 informational stance of Mercury editor J. I. McIntosh turned into a more strident call for patriotism. The paper became a more obvious propaganda organ in 1915.33 When soldiers from Canada joined battles at the front in France by the spring of 1915, the tremendous death tolls and the further pressure on troop strength due to injury and illness strained the ability of Canada to meet overseas manpower needs. New home front enlistment campaigns to provide trainees to address the overseas demand for Canadian reinforcements were often disappointing. In 1914, British immigrants and those of English, Scottish and Irish heritage readily answered the call to sign-up for military service.34


Historic Guelph V53P31

Figure 6: Salvation Army Red Shield Auxiliary, Guelph.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums- Guelph Civic Museum (1955.31.2)).


War propaganda controlled by the government and promoted by the military establishment helped to reinforce fears for the future of Christendom causing Ontarians to respond emotionally. Enthusiasm for the war quickly rose as the religious press, including the Canadian Baptist, the Anglican Canadian Churchman, the Presbyterian Record, the Presbyterian Witness, and the Methodist Christian Guardian, declared the war to be a righteous cause.35 In 1915, the initial fervour to enlist waned despite the concerted efforts of the federal government and religious leaders to promote patriotic service to the nation and empire. Consequently, Mclntosh became dedicated to a strident effort to boost Guelph and area recruitment statistics. The editor did not refrain from shaming shirkers when national recruitment tallies waned a year after the war began.36


"The war was portrayed as an epic battle between good and evil and those who were not actively fighting for the Empire were aiding the Germans through their indolence."37


Local members of the militia gave ready support to the war-town and gown, Known in military circles as 'gunner's town,' the city contributed, "Individuals, sub-units or units to every campaign of the Canadian army since the founding of this nation," including the Northwest Rebellion, the South African War and the First World War.38 Identified as the 16th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery when mobilized in the fall of 1974,39 initially they were known as the Wellington Rifles and inaugurated in 1866. Twelve years later they became the 10th Field Regiment, 1st Provincial Brigade of Field Artillery, under the command of Capt. David McCrae, father of Guelph's favoured son, Lt.-Col. John McCrae. Militarism was a proud tradition in Guelph. The Guelph Collegiate had a respected cadet corps, the local home guard drilled at the school shortly after Guelph and area began to mobilize for war, and both the municipality and the Agricultural College had militia corps.40 Local students answered recruitment drives but larger universities sent enough enlistees to be identified by the educational institution. While it was initially rumoured that the 34th from Guelph would go overseas to give support to the Princess Patricia's, the Mercury informed its readers that this task was assigned to troops from McGill University. The McGill volunteers were deployed to France on June 20th, 1915, and four days later, just 40 of the 280 men from McGill survived.41


Historic Guelph Soldiers Leaving V53P32

Figure 7: Soldiers leaving Guelph on train for WWI.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums-Guelph Civic Museum (2009.32.1996)).


Throughout 1915 the government, the military and the Mercury urged men from Guelph and area to do their patriotic duty and sign-up to meet the enlistment targets promised to British commanders by Prime Minister Borden to fill depleting military ranks. The 1911 census profile for Guelph indicates that 80 percent of Guelph's 15, 175 residents, "Registered British heritage."42 Most of those who answered the call in the first five months of the war were recent English, Scottish or Irish immigrants or claimed British heritage.43 Germans with skilled trades were sought by local industries in the late nineteenth century and Guelph was close to Berlin, Ontario with a decided Germanic population so it is not surprising that 8.3 percent of the population were German.44 A mere 0.1 percent of the population had ethnic roots traceable to parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire.45 Despite the low threat level of these groups, chief Randall had the police round up 50 of the, "Austrians, Poles and Austrian-Poles in town to be taken to detention camps in Toronto by armed guards."46 Timothy Winegard acknowledges that, "Unnaturalized enemy aliens," from Germany and Austria-Hungary were detained and assigned to 26 camps created across Canada.47 The small Italian population in town was under suspicion like the Germans, Austrians and their allies until Italy became their enemy in 1915. In 1911, just 2.3 percent of the residents were Italian.48 Prior to Italy's official affiliation as a combatant allied with Britain and France in 1915, local Italians tried to avoid public condemnation by giving to civilian fund-raising campaigns in support of the war. On September 28, 1914, the Mercury published confirmation that $68 had been donated to the Canadian Patriotic Fund by the Standard White Lime Co., which had both German and Italian employees.49

 Historic Guelph Harry Mahoney V53P33Figure 8: Harry Mahoney Mayor of Guelph, 1915-1916, 1935-1936.

(Photo courtesy of the City of Guelph).


To promote local recruitment, McIntosh used the Mercury to capitalize on the rancour of Guelph's citizens that, "Enemy aliens," were in their midst. McIntosh knew that enlistment had fallen off in late 1914 and enlistments in early 1915 did not meet expectations, so he wanted the Canadian-born to know that they, too, were needed to meet the winter 2015 call for 200 enlistees from Guelph and Wellington County.50


"Recruiting for the 34th Battalion was an uphill battle only six months after the war had begun. Less than a week after the battalion's first volunteers had signed on in mid-January 1915, enrolments collapsed to about one a day. The tendency for British-born men to dominate many rolls also continued."'51


To counter these trends, the newspaper reprinted horrific stories of German atrocities overseas and reports of possible interlopers in Canada. In January 1915, the newspaper reported on the Germans armed detainment of a Belgian Cardinal in his residence.52 It was followed by reports on a teacher in Toronto, Mr. Lee, who was forced to take a leave of absence from his position at an elementary school and enlist to dispel accusations by a School Trustee that the teacher held pro-German views.53 In February, the paper printed stories recounting the use of civilian women and children and priests and nuns as human shields to protect Belgian bridges from British forces trying to liberate Belgium.54 This gambit continued. In May, the press raised fears of spies in their midst when George Kimmel and his son Arthur of Preston, Ontario, were arrested and sent to an internment camp for uttering pro-German statements.55


Historic Guelph V53P34Figure 9: St. George's Square, Military Parade, circa 1914.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums-Guelph Civic Museum (1983.24.2)).


Try as he might, McIntosh could not apply sufficient shame or fear to bring forth the steady stream of volunteer soldiers needed from Guelph to meet his or the government's expectations. In 1915, recruitment quotas for Guelph and area were unrealistic.56 Posters were circulated in Guelph and the rest of Military District 2 as military recruiters and civilians attempted to stem the tide of enlistment malaise. A recruitment office was opened on Upper Wyndham Street to attract men for the 34th, 29th and 71st Battalions, and 100 men already training in London were sent to Guelph, "To parade and generate enthusiasm."57 Local veteran Cpl. Joe Fitzgerald was sent to Guelph to inspire men to join up, but recruits did not come in droves like they did in the first months of the war. Even more disappointing, not all men reporting to enlist could pass the military medicals to become citizen soldiers. In May, a letter from the front from Lt.-Col. Currie calling on men to, "Do their duty," was printed in the Mercury in a desperate attempt to draw the 500 men needed for reinforcements overseas.58 Despite disappointing figures from Guelph, in August 1915, the 71st was to recruit, "An unrealistically high quota of 280 men from Guelph."59 When a Labour Day parade of soldiers on September 3rd failed to garner a significant recruitment response, a rally was scheduled to be held at the Guelph Opera House on Monday, September 13th. The prominent speakers invited to sway the audience included Messrs. Hugh Guthrie, M. P.; Sam Carter, M. P. P.; and T. J. Hannigan, former alderman. Local clergyman Rev. Buckland of St. James' Church chaired the rally.


Mr. Guthrie, County Solicitor, was elected Liberal M. P. for Wellington South in 1900. His presence at the rally gave the event a high profile. He reminded the audience that 300 local men were needed overseas to support the efforts of the 150,000 men already shipped overseas by the nation. Even though he was a member of the opposition party in Ottawa, Mr. Guthrie repeated the federal government's stance that far more Canadian-born men needed to volunteer. He noted that just 30 percent of the fighting men already serving were Canadian.60 He remained sincere in his support of meeting overseas manpower quotas as the war continued. In 1916, his sons received their certificates of graduation from the Royal School of Artillery in Kingston, Ontario.61 While Lt. Hugh and Lt. Donald Guthrie awaited overseas assignment, they trained men for military duty. Hugh's appointment was Instructor, C Battery, permanent force, Kingston, Ontario.62 When Donald recovered from diphtheria, he assumed his appointment as Instructor, C Battery, Toronto.63 He was transferred from 11th Battery to the 64th and went overseas with seven other Guelph men later that year.64 In the fall of 1917, his father, the Hon. Hugh Guthrie, was the Solicitor General of Canada and served in the cabinet of the wartime coalition government of Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden.65 "In 1917, as Canadian casualties mounted, and the need for reinforcements increased, Borden's government introduced conscription, calling up younger men via authority of the Military Service Act."66 Guthrie supported Borden's decision to introduce conscription to seek victory overseas.


Historic Guelph V53P35

Figure 10: City Hall and Winter Fair Building, Guelph.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - Guelph Civic Museum (1986.18.202)).


Before conscription was introduced in 1917, creative approaches to enlistment were implemented and changed several times. In 1915, the militia approach to recruitment utilized for the First Contingent C. E. F. was replaced with the community recruitment strategy that so perplexed Mercury editor McIntosh and those chosen as recruiters in Guelph.67 When local clergy implored mothers and girlfriends not to interfere with the duff of their sons and beaus, ironically 29 men signed-up in the next few days.68 In its desperation, the military changed the physical requirements for service and Bantam units for men less than 5 feet 2 inches tall were created.69 Beyond Guelph, large numbers of First Nations volunteers were sought and in 1916 the military reluctantly accepted the creation of a Black battalion. Local optimism was renewed in late November of 1915 when David McCrae, father of Lt.-Col. John McCrae, began to recruit men for a 43rd Battery Canadian Field Regiment. The regiment was to include men from across Canada under the elder McCrae's command and trained in Guelph. A number of the 100 men, "Waiting accommodation to train," on December 30, 1915, were from Guelph.70 In 1916, Lt.-Col. David McCrae sailed for England with the battery but at age 71, he was ruled too old to accompany his men to France.71 A year later when conscription replaced volunteerism, it was discovered that Guelph was not as delinquent in providing recruits as assumed. Just 350 men from Guelph received conscription notices from the National Service Board in 1917.72

 Historic Guelph V53P36Figure 11: Col. David McCrae in uniform, circa 1915.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.332.1)).


The local consternation regarding fluctuating enlistment figures was offset by the euphoria in the press and within the community when Guelph was selected as a military training centre in January 1915. Unfortunately, this excitement was short-lived. Guelph became the regular camp for the 34th Battalion and the 16th Field Battery from late January to May. The Winter Fair Building was converted to a military function with dormitory spaces, a large kitchen, mess hall, lavatories and stables for the batteries' horses included in the conversion.73 Overall, 1,200 to 1,400 men were to be transferred from the London Ontario regional training site and training in Guelph was anticipated to cost the military $10,000 to $15,000 a month.74 Local vendors submitted successful tenders to supply bread, meat, hay, oats, straw, and wood to the troops. Major Simpson was in command, assisted by four other officers, and while some of the men being trained were from Western Ontario, many enlistees were from Guelph and Wellington County as well as from Berlin, Galt, and Walkerton. The community quickly embraced its role as host. The recruits and their officers were invited to attended services at St. James the Apostle Church, the Catholic men were invited by the Knights of Columbus to an evening of, "Games, euchre, dancing, music and refreshments." The YMCA operated a 'dry' canteen at City Hall, an intramural sports league for the soldiers was hastily arranged, and a successful Soldiers' Ball was held in Singular's Hall.75 Local bars and hotels were asked not to serve liquor to servicemen to meet military directives to ensure sobriety. Mayor Mahoney and the City Council were overseeing construction of a free parade ground and free light and power were on offer to the military when official notice came from the Ministry of Militia and Defence on May 3rd that the 34th was to return to London. Soon, Guelph had totally vacated training facilities. The Winter Fair Building briefly housed the 2nd Canadian Pioneer Battalion from October 25th to November 3rd when they were recalled to London for deployment overseas.76 In December community leaders anticipated an Australian cadet corps or McCrae's 43rd might arrive for training in the New Year.77


While the hope that Guelph would be a permanent military training centre fell short of expectations, local efforts to raise funds in support of the war often exceeded targets. Often men occupied the executive level of war relief organizations. Women did most of the frontline work. In Guelph, as elsewhere in Canada, women were actively collecting cash donations and sourcing the medical and personal supplies to be sent to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and medical personnel overseas. "In 1915, Guelph's Fireside Club was re-named the College Heights Relief Organization and the women dedicated themselves to raising money earmarked for the purchase of medical supplies for wounded Canadian soldiers in English military hospitals."78 The Women's Institutes of Ontario agreed to take on 'temporary work' in support of the war effort by raising money and providing goods for the Red Cross.79 The Red Cross in Guelph sent supplies overseas and accumulated $2,426.41 toward a motor ambulance fund from August 1914 to May 1915.80 In conjunction with the local YMCA, the local Red Cross sent two cases of supplies that included socks and 'knitted comforts' to the troops every week.81 


Historic Guelph V53P38Figure 12: 16th Battery C. F. A., 2nd Overseas Expeditionary Force, Guelph 1915.

(Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums- Guelph Civic Museum (1981.289.4)).


"War relief embraced a myriad of charitable funds and other projects in support of the Canadian and Allied effort, from IODE projects to the Canadian Patriotic Fund, established at the beginning of the war to supplement the loss of a male breadwinner at home. Appeals for war relief were constructed as a special circumstance and response."82


Unemployment remained a sustained problem in 1915 and families who did not have a serviceman absent from the household lined up at City Hall on Relief Day to make personal appeals for food and wood to Capt. Clark, Relief Officer. Those who needed assistance and had a family member in the armed forces were visited by Misses McTague and Clark of the local Ladies Auxiliary of the Canadian Patriotic Fund (CPF).83 Over the course of the war, 465 Guelph families received short-term or long-term assistance from the CPF and the City insured the lives of local enlisted men at a rate of $500 for the loss of a single man and $1,000 to $2,000 for the death of a married man depending on circumstances.84 When other municipalities dropped their insurance coverage of local enlisted men, the CPF became a fallback fund to continue the insurance premiums. The Guelph city council gave generous support to the Red Cross because they felt those men who were not in the military should do their part through local taxes. In October 1915, the City increased the grant to the Red Cross to $5,000.85


Historic Guelph V53P39Figure 13: 'D' Company, 71st O. S. Battalion, C. E. F., Marching Down Wyndham Street.

(Photo courtesy Guelph Civic Museum (1986.74.1)).


These 1915 municipal tax-funded initiatives complemented a joint municipal-volunteer venture to establish a CPF office in Guelph in 1914. In addition to free electricity from the municipally-owned Guelph Light and Power Co., the Herald Publishing Company donated office space, the Bell Telephone Co. provided free telephone service, a local merchant provided office furniture and equipment, a financial institution provided stationery and citizens-at-large offered motor cars for door-to-door canvassing.86 Other citizens' fund-raising efforts that caught the attention of the press were a Belgian War Relief Fund that reached $1,705 of its $4,000 target for the year by January 6th.87 Students at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and the women of the IODE contributed to a machine gun fund in the summer of 1915 in response to press reports that Canadian forces lacked guns.88 In August 1915, students and faculty of the OAC forwarded $2,500 to the Receiver General of Canada to be, "Used at the discretion of the Department of Militia and Defence."89


Student or permanent resident, male or female, Guelphites expressed their patriotism and call to public service in 1915. Local residents and students at the OAC answered the call to sign-up for batteries and battalions of the CEF, many pleased to have even a short training experience in Guelph. Local politicians like Hugh Guthrie, M. P., Sam Carter, M. P. P. and Mayor Mahoney joined the clergy and military officials in periodic rallies to boost enlistment numbers. Civilians offered financial support and in-kind contributions to a variety of civilian causes championed by the large organizations like the IODE, the Women's Institute, the CPF, the Red Cross, and the Belgian Relief Fund. Individual churches and women's groups in the city were smaller fund-raising outlets or supported the war with knit goods, rolled bandages and personal items for the, "Boys overseas." Throughout 1915, McIntosh, Mercury Editor, was the arbiter of the successes and shortcomings of the citizens' responses to the needs of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. The articles, pictures and columns in his newspaper informed the populace of events overseas and government mandates at home. The local news coverage and advertising revealed an urban home front trying to adjust to a prolonged war and create some semblance of normalcy as the year progressed.



  1. Jonathan F. Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War (Vancouver: UBC, 1997), p. 10.
  2. Robert Rutherdale, Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada's Great War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004), p. 22.
  3. Ibid, p. 217.
  4. Ibid, p. 49.
  5. Jenn Annis, "The Royal City Goes to War: How the Guelph Evening Mercury Covered the First World War," Historic Guelph, The Royal City,Vol. XLVIII (2008), p. 30.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Rutherdale, p. 22.
  8. Annis, p. 29, 10.
  9. The Guelph Evening Mercury, January 2, 1915.
  10. Annis, p. 34.
  11. Annis, p. 29.
  12. Mercury, January 19, 1915.
  13. Mercury, January 6, 1915.
  14. Mercury, January 6, 1915.
  15. Mercury, May 8, 1915.
  16. Mercury, September 7, 1915.
  17. Timothy C. Winegard, For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press), p. 4
  18. Ibid.
  19. Mercury, May 5, 1915.
  20. Centennial Year, 1866-1966, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, Saturday October 1, 1966. Archives of Guelph Museums, p. 12-22.
  21. Bev Dietrich, "John McCrae and McCrae House: Keeping the Faith for Those Who Died," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, Vol. XLV (2006) p. 55-56 & p. 64. The scrapbooks kept by McCrae's aunt Mrs. Jeanie Matthews McCrae, and his father, David McCrae, are bulging with pamphlets and newspaper clipping about John's death and the impact of his poem. Many amateur poets wrote so-called 'reply poems' in response to ln Flanders Fields and John's demise that were published in Canadian and American newspapers. The official Canadian response poem by Frederick J. Scott (Canon F. G. Scott, C. M. G, D. S. O., Senior Chaplain C. E. F.) was written in Quebec in December 1920 and titled, "The Unbroken Line." It accompanied McCrae's poem on commemorative pamphlets for 'Wear the Poppy' campaigns in the 1920s. The 'official' American response poem was 'America's Answer" by R. W. Lillard dated 1918. Like Scott's 'reply poem' it accompanied McCrae's poem on commemorative fliers distributed in the United States.
  22. C. L. C. Allinson, "John McCrae, Poet, Soldier, Physician," Unpublished manuscript, n. d., Hugh Guthrie Archives, Guelph Civic Museum, "lntroduction," p. v. and "Dedication."
  23. Profile of Dr. John McCrae, Press release sent to Bev Dietrich, Curator, GCM, re the 2015 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Inductee Ceremony to be held in Vancouver, B. C. on Thursday, April 23rd at 5:00 P.M.; press release dated October 7, 2015.
  24. Mercury, March 5, 1915.
  25. Mercury, March 10, 1915.
  26. Mercury, September 27, 1915.
  27. Canadian Encyclopedia Online (http//:www.thecandianencyclopedia.calen/article/first-world-war-wwi/). 
  28. Mercury, January 4, 1915.
  29. Mercury, January 25, 1915.
  30. Rutherdale, p. 22.
  31. Annis, p. 32.
  32. lbid.
  33. Annis, p. 33-34.
  34. Rutherdale, p. 16.
  35. Lise Hansen, "Friends and Peace: Quaker Pacifist Influence to the Early Twentieth Century," Quaker Records. (http://quaker.calrecords/articles/friends-and-peace-quaker-pacifist-influence-in-ontario-to-the-early-twentieth-century/.)
  36. Annis, p. 34.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Centennial Year, 11th Field, p. 1, 11.
  39. War Record of the 16th Battery Canadian Field Artillery From the Date of Mobilization in Guelph, Ontario (September 21, 1914), to Crossing the Rhine (December 13th, 1918), Archives of the Guelph Civic Museum, p. 1.
  40. Leo A. Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827-1927 (Guelph: Guelph Historical Society, 1977), p. 244; C. L. C. Allinson, "John McCrae, Poet, Soldier, Physician," Unpublished manuscript, n. d., Archives, Guelph Civic Museum, p. 2; and Rutherdale, p. 22.
  41. Mercury, September 15, 1915.
  42. Annis, p. 30.
  43. Rutherdale, p. 16.
  44. Ibid, p. 17.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Mercury, May 15, 1915.
  47. Winegard, p. 82.
  48. Calculated from the published 1911 Census returns for Guelph, Ontario.
  49. Rutherdale, p. 107.
  50. Mercury, January 20, 1915.
  51. Rutherdale, p. 78.
  52. Mercury, January 8, 1915.
  53. Ibid, January 8 & February 18, 1915.
  54. Ibid, February 3, 1915.
  55. Ibid, May 10, 1915.
  56. Annis, p. 38.
  57. Rutherdale, p. 79.
  58. Mercury, May 4, 1915.
  59. Rutherdale, p. 79.
  60. Mercury, September 13, 1915. 
  61. Clipping dated December 29, 1916. Scrapbook, 1915-1918, Guthrie Papers, Private collection accessed with permission of family.
  62. Ibid, clipping dated January 12, 1917.
  63. Ibid, clipping dated January 11, 1917.
  64. Ibid, clippings dated May 1, 1917.
  65. Ibid, clipping dated October 4, 1917.
  66. Military Service Act, Canadian Encyclopedia online.
  67. Rutherdale, p. 81.
  68. Mercury, October 18, 1915.
  69. Rutherdale, p. 81.
  70. Mercury, December 14 & 30, 1915.
  71. Allison, p. 2.
  72. Annis, p. 38.
  73. Mercury, January 25, 1915.
  74. Ibid, January 22, 1915.
  75. Mercury, Issues February 1-16, 1915. Knights of Colombus report: February 13th.
  76. Ibid, November 3, 1915.
  77. Ibid, December 11, 1915.
  78. Rutherdale, p. 93.
  79. Andrea Gale, "The Role of Education in the Early Years of the Women's Institutes," Historic Guelph, The Royal City, Vol. XLVIII (2009), p. 58.
  80. Mercury, May 5, 1915.
  81. Ibid.
  82. Rutherdale, p. 91.
  83. Johnson, p. 307.
  84. Ibid, & Mercury, September 18, 21, & 30.
  85. Mercury, October 26, 1915.
  86. Rutherdale, p. 104.
  87. Mercury, January 6, 1915.
  88. Rutherdale, p. 115.
  89. Ibid.