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Jeff Keshen
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Sylvie Perrier

13 – Reporting the People’s War

Ottawa (1914-1918)

Jeff Keshen

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Ian H.M. Miller, Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War (Toronto: University (...)
  • 2 W. John McDermott, Review of Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Major, eds., “Capital Cities at War: Paris, (...)

1It was Canada’s first total war. It defined politics, economics, and the ideological milieu. But until recently, nearly all works on Canada’s home front in the Great War have kept analysis to the macro level, removing the conflict from day-to-day life to focus on matters such as the war’s role in building Canadian nationalism, as well as, conversely, national cleavages. This is now changing as demonstrated by recently published works on World War I Toronto and a comparative study of the Great War experience in Guelph, Medicine Hat and Trois-Rivières.1 Still, as historians Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Major wrote in 1999 in an international context: “Whereas the history of nations at war has produced a literature of staggering proportions, the history of communities at war is still in its infancy.”2 This paper examines Ottawa. Despite being Canada’s capital, it remains a blank slate when it comes to local wartime analysis. And in telling some of that story, my aim is to demonstrate the potential of the popular press as a historical source.

  • 3 Canadian Printer and Publisher (1914): 56-57; City of Ottawa, Annual Report (1914): 27-33.
  • 4 John Taylor, Ottawa: An Illustrated History (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1986), 164-66, 211, (...)

2Incorporated as a city in 1854, by the time of the Great War Ottawa remained a modest place of just under 6,000 acres and some 100,000 souls. It had 16 lumbering firms - reflecting its economic roots - but its largest employer was the federal government with a payroll of approximately 5,000.3 Its population was nearly half Catholic, and that group divided roughly two to one in favour of French over Irish, though both nationalities were congregated in the working-class slums of Le Breton Flats and, especially for the French, Lowertown. Those of Anglo-Protestant, Scottish, and Irish-Protestant background lived in more genteel areas, namely the districts comprising Upper Town, or, if part of the elite, the village of Rockcliffe Park.4

3Yet, despite these, and other, divisions, more people came to feel part of a holistic community during the crisis of war. In describing this process, and the tapestry of other forces on the local scene, the historian could turn to numerous sources such as church, municipal government, school board, and private organizational records. But in gauging dominant opinions and trends, especially before the appearance of public opinion polls, the mainstream press trumps all.

  • 5 Robert S. Prince, “The Mythology of War: How the Canadian Daily Newspaper Depicted the Great War” (...)

4Over the late nineteenth century, newspapers transformed from rather modest tracts financially supported by political parties into independent big businesses. Between 1908 and 1914, the combined circulation of Canadian dailies soared from 1.073 million to 1.744 million. Readership expanded with a burgeoning urban population - increasing from 2 to 3.2 million between 1901 and 1911 - and a more educated public - by 1911, 85 per cent literate. Also critical was improved transport by road and rail, cheaper postal rates, the introduction of high-speed printing presses, and new wire services like Reuters and the Canadian Press.5

  • 6 Sotiron, From Politics to Profit, 4, 71-72, 77-80; Prince, “Mythology of War,” 12; George Fetherli (...)

5Increasingly, newspaper publishers focused on building circulation to attract advertising. By the Great War, advertising constituted more than half the revenue of major circulation-based Canadian dailies, especially since their price was kept low to maximize readership. Also to attract customers, what became the mainstream, or popular, press adopted attention-grabbing headlines, shorter stories, easier-to-read fonts, more photographs, and specialized features such as sports and women’s pages.6 By no means did such newspapers shun partisanship, but this moderated by the early twentieth century, often being confined to the editorial pages so as not to alienate large numbers of potential readers. This is not to suggest that the mainstream press captured the views of all. To the contrary, by virtue of what they covered and/or how they covered it, they often further marginalized or discredited ideas, voices and groups, namely those considered unconventional, dangerous, or destabilizing. Also, the popular press sometimes sought to mould public opinion. But such influence – if it did exist – derived from already having successfully connected to, and then utilizing, ideas and assumptions permeating the community.

  • 7 The Ottawa Free Press had been in business since 1869, but was a victim of rising wartime costs. I (...)

6In describing Ottawa’s wartime’s story, this paper relies on the two major English-language sources, the Citizen and Journal, and the principal French-language newspaper, Le Droit.7 These tracts sought out a mass audience. Except on the basis of language, they were not designed for a particular constituency, as would be smaller-scale, specialized publications put out, for example, by a religious group, or trade or fraternal association.

  • 8 Sotiron, From Politics to Profit, 94; W.H. Kesterton, A History of Journalism in Canada (Toronto: (...)

7The Journal, started in 1885, was owned and published - ultimately for more than 60 years - by the wealthy and well-connected P.D. Ross, once vice-president of the Ottawa Board of Trade. The Citizen was part of Canada’s first newspaper chain, started by William Southam and that, by 1914, also included the Hamilton Spectator, Calgary Herald, and Edmonton Journal8 The Journal was originally Liberal in its perspective, but by the Great War had given that mantle over to the Citizen, and increasingly leaned Conservative. But these were not political tracts of the last century. Neither received funding from political parties. Indeed, the Citizen made a point on its masthead each day with the quote: “An Independent, Clean Newspaper for the Home, Devoted to Public, Not Party Service.” Their circulation numbers were impressive: in 1914, the Citizen distributed 17,923 copies daily and the Journal 12,553, and by 1918, with hunger for war news, those figures reached 28,526 and 27,884 respectively.

  • 9 Canadian Newspaper Directory, 1914-1919.

8On the French side, Le Temps, which was supported financially by Ontario’s Tory government (and even justified its introduction of Regulation 17 in 1912 that banned French-language instruction past grade two in publicly-financed schools) was disregarded by francophones as a party tract. After a precarious seventeen-year existence, it went bankrupt in early 1916. Le Droit better reflected this constituency. Started in March 1913 largely to protest Regulation 17, within two years it had built a readership of 7,000. In attracting advertisers, it emphasized its strong roots in the community with some 300 shareholders “recruited among the most influential [francophone] business men,” as well as, in reflecting a religious population, its ownership by the Pères Oblats d’Ottawa.9

  • 10 See Jane Stokes, How to do Media and Cultural Studies (London: Sage Publications, 2003), 68-69; Su (...)

9In analyzing newspapers, one could adopt a quantitative approach, classifying and then counting the number of times various topics are addressed. However, this is not well suited to such a vast domain as the Great War that involved a tremendous array of crucial subjects first appearing at different times, in various-sized stories and on front and inside pages. As such, this paper adopts what communication theorists refer to as a “qualitative” approach, where the researcher, presented with a mass of evidence, uses their judgment to identify dominant patterns, factoring in not only the frequency of topics, but also their prominence in newspapers and the descriptive language used.10

  • 11 Among the literally countless articles in major Ottawa newspapers exemplifying these, and similar, (...)

10Ottawa newspapers, particularly the Anglo press, projected a just and popular conflict. Germany was “militaristic” and “unchristian”; its leaders bent on a mad desire for worldwide conquest; while its soldiers who committed all manner of atrocities also revealed the Teutonic character on the battlefield. By contrast, Canadian, and Allied, troops acquitted themselves “bravely,” and always according to civilized, if not gentlemanly, standards of warfare. Battle, though perhaps frightening and certainly deadly – as could readily be discerned from long casualty lists – was also “dramatic,” “vivid,” and “thrilling.”11

  • 12 Le Droit, 13 nov. 1917, 6; Ibid., 18 dec. 1917, 1, 6.

11Such themes appeared as often in news stories as editorial pages, reflecting the fact that romanticized and patriotic notions about war were widely accepted as truths. The Citizen and Journal differed on many political issues, but not when it came to the war. For instance, both supported Robert Borden’s Union, or coalition, government in the December 1917 federal election to secure the passage of conscription. As for local francophones, it is important to keep in mind that there were no violent protests against the draft, and rioters in Quebec City were sharply criticized by clergy and in the pages of Le Droit. Also local francophones were heavily involved in volunteer patriotic campaigns. This is not to deny tensions and anger. Le Droit vociferously denounced what it saw as Anglo bigotry symbolized in Regulation 17, and like an estimated eighty per cent of local francophones, backed anti-conscription Laurier Liberal candidates in the 1917 federal election. Yet, equally prominent as a theme was the need to defeat the “monstre Teuton,” though not by compelling people to serve overseas.12

  • 13 See Jeffrey A. Keshen, Propaganda and Censorship in Canada’s Great War (Edmonton: University of Al (...)

12Official censorship certainly factored into what was presented. Yet, most Canadian newspapers, including Ottawa’s main three, accepted the suppression of information that could conceivably hurt the war effort. Some dissenters were kept in line by the threat of a $5000 fine and/or five years in jail as stipulated in the War Measures Act, but Canada’s Chief Press Censor was not being disingenuous when claiming that he perceived most of those running major Canadian newspapers as allies in the fight against Germany. Moreover, the fact that the war was overwhelmingly popular made it good business for the press to plug patriotism.13

  • 14 See Paul Maroney, “The Great Adventure: The Context and Ideology of Recruiting in Ontario,” Canadi (...)

13In reporting on its locale, nothing was more front and centre in major Ottawa newspapers than the multitude of volunteer activities people undertook to support the war. Certainly portrayals could be exaggerated, though one must conclude that generally people made considerable sacrifices given the amounts raised for numerous patriotic drives, combined with the context of growing inflation and an average annual income of just $1,000. Yet in Canadian historiography, the only aspect of wartime volunteerism that has received significant attention is recruitment, no doubt because it was so central to the war effort and strongly linked to conscription. Here, literature shows that military regiments enjoyed significant autonomy in terms of how they attracted recruits, that is until volunteers dried up and lack of controls precipitated serious labour imbalances.14 This pattern reflected a society where localism rather than centralized control was the norm, even well into the war effort - a pattern also evident with myriad other citizen-run patriotic initiatives that remained pervasive on the local scene.

  • 15 Philip H. Morris, The Canadian Patriotic Fund – A Record of its Activities from 1914 to 1919 (Otta (...)

14Among the first launched was the Canadian Patriotic Fund. A national private charity with local branches across the country, it was to provide financial support to wives, parents, and/or families with a principal breadwinner in the military. The press emphasized that its campaigns spoke to both patriotism and community responsibility, and, as such, heralded the fact that in terms of what they were asked to do, Ottawans never proved wanting. Only weeks into the conflict, the national Patriotic Fund committee sought $350,000 in Ottawa, but collected $380,000. In 1915, there was no drive, but in 1916, with pressure building on the fund, Ottawa’s target was raised to $400,000, and it delivered $525,000. In 1917, the numbers were $500,000 and $661,000 respectively, and in 1918, $500,000 and $580,000.15

  • 16 Citizen, 25 Jan. 1916, 1; Journal, 31 Jan. 1916, 1; Le Droit, 6 mars 1918, 8.

15The famed Montreal financier and philanthropist, Herbert Baxter Ames, managed the national Patriotic Fund executive on which sat a “Who’s Who of Canadian society.” This was replicated on the local scene where stewardship fell to business, professional, church, and municipal government leaders, people who provided prestige, contacts, and often substantive donations. For instance, the 87-year-old lumber baron, J.R. Booth, was named Honorary President of the first Ottawa campaign and donated $20,000. Fundraising teams were created: a dozen for the 1914 campaign, and twenty-five, containing more than 300 people, for the second drive. A prominent local citizen led each team, such as, for the first drive, local labour leader D.J. O’Donoughue and francophone alderman J. A. Pinard.16

  • 17 Taylor, Ottawa, 140.
  • 18 Journal, 26 Jan. 1916, 1; Citizen, 27 Jan 1916, 1.
  • 19 Journal, 24 Jan. 1916, 2; Ibid., 27 Sept. 1915, 12; Le Droit, 22 jan. 1916, 7.
  • 20 Citizen, 25 Jan. 1916, 1.

16The success of Patriotic Fund campaigns was built not only upon promoting self-sacrifice, but also by providing community entertainment. Besides grand and colorful parades to open each drive, public rallies and fundraising shows filled places like the Russell Theatre that, until appropriated by the Federal District Commission in 1928 for the Confederation Square development, was the largest and premier venue for live entertainment.17 Ottawa’s mainstream press, particularly Anglo newspapers, became one with the Patriotic Fund campaigns. The Citizen and Journal printed pledge cards for people to cut out and send to local headquarters committing themselves to a one-time, quarterly, or monthly donation. Through each of the four campaigns the press created a sense of drama to get people involved with front-page headlines like: “Hurrah for the Capital! At 2 pm. $350,000 [of the $400,000 target for the second drive] Was in Sight.”18 Newspapers printed the names of donors and the amount they gave and often made special mention of minority groups to promote the idea that this was a drive uniting all. Among those quoted was Father E.J. Cornett of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, who proclaimed: “If we cannot go to the front the least that can be expected of us is to do our share towards providing for the wives and children of the brave men taking our place in the trenches.”19 Also frequently cited and praised as a community leader was the Jewish department store owner, A.J. Frieman, a team captain for the second Patriotic Fund drive - this in a city where Jews were barred from numerous social clubs.20

  • 21 Citizen, 2 Sept. 1914, 11.
  • 22 Journal, 25 Sept. 1915, 4.
  • 23 Citizen, 9 Sept. 1914, 10; Ibid., 6 Nov. 1915, 10.
  • 24 Journal, 21 May 1915, 12.

17With the profusion of war charities, starting in 1917, the annual drive of the Patriotic Fund was combined with an appeal from the Red Cross, the latter receiving twenty per cent of the total. The Red Cross was well established, well known and well respected as a philanthropic organization, its roots stretching back more than a half-century to the Crimean conflict. Before the end of August 1914, an Ottawa Branch of the Red Cross was established in an Upper Town house made available by Canada’s High Commissioner to Britain, Sir George Perley, next to his own. The Governor-General served as the branch’s honourary patron and its executive included the likes of Senator James Robertson and the department store owner A.E. Rae.21 The branch attracted assistance from Ottawans of myriad background; in September 1915, the Journal identified volunteers linked to 84 local organizations, including churches of every Christian denomination, the Murray Street Synagogue, the Ottawa branch of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Royal Ottawa Golf Club.22 A local Women’s Red Cross Auxiliary was established by the end of 1914, and organized sections for fundraising; to buy and provide material for volunteers to make clothing; and to collect, sort and pack items for shipment abroad.23 Ottawa’s popular press strongly promoted these efforts, on several occasions even listing contributions such as: “Mrs__, 2 grey shirts.”24

  • 25 Citizen, 12 Sept. 1914, 12.
  • 26 Citizen, 19 Oct. 1915, 2; Journal, 27 Oct. 1915, 13.

18Like the Patriotic Fund, the Red Cross developed a variety of fundraising techniques. Starting in October 1914, it initiated Red Cross Relief Days, essentially a one-day blitz in which volunteers went out into the community to collect cash and in return provided donation tags. For one such day, A.E. Rae of the branch executive offered five per cent of Saturday sale receipts, and prominent local women, such as Mayor McVeity’s wife, acted as store department managers, an event that raised $1,800.25 Starting in 1915, Red Cross volunteers directed their energies into two annual four-day nationwide drives in the spring and autumn, the latter being co-ordinated throughout the Empire by the British Red Cross and ending on Trafalgar Day - October 21 - which commemorated Nelson’s naval victory over Napoleon in 1805. For the first Trafalgar Day campaign, Ottawa met its goal of $50,000 out of the national target of $1.5 million, a ratio 2.5 times greater than its percentage of Canada’s population. The grass roots - even if led by local elites - helped ensure that virtually no one escaped the call to give. Local Boy Scouts, some 350 strong by 1915 - the membership growing by twenty per cent in wartime due to the group’s quasi-military appeal – blanketed city streets. Once again, teams solicited funds door-to-door. In churches, special Red Cross envelopes were handed out, and in school classrooms, Red Cross coin boxes were passed around.26

  • 27 Citizen, 18 Dec. 1915, 5; Journal, 7 Jan. 1916, 1.
  • 28 Journal, 13 Oct. 1915, 8.

19Other fundraising strategies relied as much on creating an atmosphere of fun as sacrifice. Over the winter of 1915, Ottawa’s Red Cross benefited to the tune of nearly $3,000 from a new, lighted, toboggan chute that cost five cents per run, and a nearby teahouse.27 Other undertakings were more exclusive such as “Red Cross Bridge” parties that became something of a craze among middle- and upper-class women. One such event in 1915 at the prime minister’s residence hosted by Lady Borden netted over $500.28

  • 29 Le Droit, 9 mars 1915, 3; Ibid., 6 mai 1915, 3; Journal, 23 Nov. 1915, 10.
  • 30 Journal, 23 April 1915, 10; Ibid., 10 Sept. 1915, 14; Citizen, 18 Feb. 1915, 1; Ibid., 9 April 191 (...)
  • 31 Citizen, 20 July 1916, 8; Ibid., 27 July 1916,8; Journal, 3 Aug. 1918, 4.
  • 32 Journal, 15 April 1916, 24.

20Ottawa’s community war effort revolved not only around helping men overseas and their families at home. There were also thousands in khaki training in their midst, principally at the Lansdowne Park fairgrounds about a thirty-minute walk from the central core. While the press acknowledged problems such as drunk and disorderly conduct by men on leave,29 this barely registered compared to reports on positive interaction between civilians and trainees. Stories described Ottawans thronging city streets to cheer military parades or going on a day’s outing to witness training exercises and sham battles.30 Military sporting teams participated in city baseball, soccer, rugby/football, and hockey leagues.31 Military bands played in venues such as public parks. Trainees organized and starred in often elaborate live shows, typically to build up regimental funds. For instance, the April 1916 “Assault-at-Arms” performance by the 77th Regiment included soloists and a military chorus, vaudeville skits, fancy drill (including with bayonets), and various feats of physical prowess, such as gymnastics displays.32

  • 33 Citizen, 17 May 1916, 9; Ibid., 20 May 1916, 10; Le Droit, 23 mai 1916, 2.

21The press highlighted community generosity toward trainees. Amongst the most active in this regard, namely in furnishing recreational equipment, was the Ottawa Branch of the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association. Started in November 1915, it grew to 2,000 members, in part because its initiation fee was only twenty-five cents. Its press accolades also reflected its very popular and successful community fundraising events, including, starting in 1916, its annual Victoria Day Grand Military and Athletic Carnival at Lansdowne Park. For an entrance fee of fifty cents, visitors were treated to a “monster parade” of soldiers; inter-regimental track and field competitions; competitive pontoon building; and evening dances with prizes awarded for the “best one-step, two-step and waltz.”33

  • 34 Citizen, 30 Aug. 1915, 5; Journal, 8 Oct. 1915, 9.

22Also very much involved in entertaining and servicing soldiers was the Salvation Army, the Knights of Columbus and, most prominent with its 18,000 members nationwide, the YMCA. For trainees in Canada, and Canadians in khaki overseas, the YMCA arranged live shows and movies, and provided sporting equipment, dry canteens, and mobile refreshment booths serving tea and coffee. At Lansdowne Park, the Y’s recreational tent also provided board and card games, stationary for letter writing, and books, magazines and newspapers.34

  • 35 Miller, Our Glory and Our Grief, 134.

23So critical were citizen-run ventures in supporting the war effort that in the opening stages of the Second World War, the federal government created a new Department of National War Services (NWS), one of whose main goals was to coordinate the activities of citizen volunteers. Also, reflecting the leading role women volunteers had played during the Great War, in 1940, as part of NWS, a Women’s Voluntary Services Division was established. Indeed, this leadership role women assumed was another theme clearly articulated in the pages of Ottawa’s popular press in the Great War. Yet, in much of the historiography, women’s volunteerism is downplayed for being non-threatening to patriarchy because the tasks - besides being unpaid - often connected to traditional domestic roles (such as knitting) and reflected the stereotype of women as self-sacrificing and nurturing. But it was also the case that volunteerism got many women out of the house more than ever and instilled within them a sense of pride and importance from running extensive operations and in providing services presented as critical to the war effort. Ottawa’s two major Anglo newspapers introduced a special page detailing women’s wartime voluntary services. And though newspapers noted many factors linking to the achievement of female suffrage during the Great War - namely the federal government’s desire to increase the pro-conscription vote, women’s performance of new, and demanding, paid work, and their leading role in the successful campaign for wartime prohibition - it was through patriotic volunteerism, in which women made up some seventy-five per cent of participants, that they achieved greatest acclaim.35

  • 36 Nancy Sheehan, “The IODE, the Schools and World War I,” History of Education Review 13, no. 1 (198 (...)

24Some women’s groups seemed everywhere, generating extensive and laudatory press coverage. One was the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). A nationwide organization founded in 1900, and united ideologically by a pro-British and Imperialist ethos, it increased from one to two branches in wartime Ottawa. Its mostly middle- and upper-class membership was fast off the mark when it came to war-related volunteer work. In the opening weeks of the conflict, the Laurentian Chapter, whose Honorary Regent was the Governor-General’s daughter, Princess Patricia, played a leading role in raising three times more than the $100,000 sought nationwide for the Duchess of Connaught’s Hospital Ship Fund.36

  • 37 Journal, 1 Nov. 1915, 9; Ibid., 9 Nov. 1915, 9; Citizen, 24 Feb. 1915, 11; Ibid. 21 Feb. 1917, 13.

25Growing in popularity from its wartime activities, in 1915 Ottawa’s IODE opened a new Madeleine de Verchères branch under the directorship of Mrs. Thomas Casgrain, the wife of Canada’s Postmaster-General. Named to encourage the participation of French-Canadians, it set up operations in the Banque Nationale building, encouraged its members to take French lessons, and convinced Lady Laurier to serve as Honourary Regent. Although inroads among francophones remained modest, such was not the case when it came to the branch’s impact on the war effort. In a typical month, it shipped overseas over 5,000 rolled bandages, 3,200 surgical sponges, 1,200 surgical masks, and 7,000 cigarettes.37

  • 38 K. Weatherbee, From the Rideau to the Rhine and Back. The 6th Field Company and Battalion Canadian (...)
  • 39 Journal, 14 Nov. 1916, 5; Ibid. 6 Dec. 1916, 7; Citizen, 31 Oct. 1917, 5.

26IODE fundraising efforts also provided many social activities. Some were exclusive such as a 1915 gala dinner and dance to raise money for the 77th’s regimental fund where Ottawa’s “finest” young women, as well as Prime Minister and Lady Borden, joined officers in full dress uniform.38 Probably the IODE’s most prominent event, aimed at the general public and started in 1915, was its annual Christmas bazaar held in the cavernous Arcade Building where shoppers could purchase a wide variety of new and used items donated by individuals and area merchants, all at booths manned by IODE members and society leaders, including Lady Borden. Browsing shoppers were entertained by local glee clubs and could partake in games of skill such as “Kill the Kaiser.”39

  • 40 Citizen, 5 June 1918, 5.
  • 41 Journal, 10 Dec. 1915, 2; Ibid., April 1918, 5; Citizen, 21 April 1918, 28.

27Yet, among community organizations, press reports leave the unmistakable impression that when it came to volunteer patriotic work, the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club was perhaps the most important group - male or female - on the local scene. Founded in 1904 and with nearly 1,300 members by 1918,40 its leadership and membership, like the IODE’s, was mostly drawn from the middle- and upper-class. Its president was Mrs. W.T. Herridge, wife of the moderator of Canada’s Presbyterian Church. Whatever other groups were doing to do to help win the war, the Women’s Club seemed to be doing more, raising as much as $50,000 per year.41

  • 42 Citizen, 26 Oct. 1914, 11; Ibid., 31 Dec. 1914, 2; Ibid., 18 Jan. 1915, 10; Journal, 23 April 1915 (...)
  • 43 Journal, 29 Sept. 1915, 8; Ibid., 26 Oct. 1915, 2; Citizen, 2 Dec. 1915, 13.
  • 44 Citizen, 13 July 1915, 11; Journal, 26 Oct. 1916, 5.

28Before the end of October 1914, its members were assisting soldiers’ wives making claims from the Patriotic Fund, providing them with short-term emergency financial assistance, and, to alleviate loneliness and strain, arranged entertainment for them and their families.42 Also in the opening months of the war it established a Soldiers’ Comfort Committee that sent gifts overseas, particularly to formations with a concentration of Ottawans.43 Perhaps its most prominent activity - at least in terms of the press coverage generated - was the provisioning of comforts for Canadian POWs. Started in 1915, volunteers were soon preparing thousands of packages each month. Much of this was financed through the Club’s “adopt a POW” campaign which cost contributors $2 monthly. Newspapers assisted by printing donor lists, detailing how many POWs people adopted, and for what duration.44

  • 45 Journal, 1 Nov. 1915, 8.
  • 46 Citizen, 16 Oct. 1915, 13.
  • 47 Citizen, 28 June 1916, 14.

29The Club also raised money through lectures and luncheons. Among sell-out performances for its 1915 season was an address by Major Stetham, an Ottawan who returned home legless, but nevertheless provided a “rousing” address on “Canada’s heroes” in action.45 Among Club events that year with particular appeal to Ottawa’s social set was a Japanese night at the swank three-year-old Chateau Laurier hotel. Japanese lanterns lighted the hall leading into the main ballroom where “ladies were fetchingly attired in dainty Japanese costumes.”46 The Club also organized events for the entire community, most prominent, starting in June 1915, its annual three-day street bazaar. Stretching for three blocks, the first installment had twenty booths where people could sample national dishes of the Allied nations, while watching military bands and jugglers, and at night participate in a lighted street dance.47

  • 48 Citizen, 23 Aug. 1917, 7.

30Mainstream newspapers detailed the fact that prior to large-scale state intervention, citizen groups had mobilized thousands behind myriad patriotic causes. The spirit forged by these activities would prove indispensable to government as it became obliged to introduce new, and significant, obligations upon citizens. Among the more prominent examples was food conservation, which in June 1917, came under the direction of a new Food Controller’s Office. Soldiers and civilians overseas had to be fed but the war had devastated European crops, while at home, military recruitment and the lure of well-paying urban war jobs had created, by mid-1917, agricultural labour shortages of some 36,000 in Western Canada, and nearly the same in Ontario.48

  • 49 Le Droit, 14 mars 1917, 6; Citizen, 13 July 1917, 5, 14; Ibid., 14 Sept. 1918, 12; Journal, 20 Sep (...)
  • 50 Journal, 22 Jan. 1918, 2.

31There can be little doubt about the enthusiasm to pitch in, including by the press. Ottawa’s main newspapers printed instructions on how to can food and “patriotic recipes” that eliminated the use of scarce items. Rule-breakers were publicly shamed in newspapers,49 while those like Ottawa’s Local Council of Women were praised for actions such as resolving to no longer serve meals larger than three courses.50

  • 51 Citizen, 16 Aug. 1916, 2.
  • 52 Citizen, 7 May 1917, 2.
  • 53 Ottawa’s municipal government also adopted this policy. See COA, City Council Minutes, BOC Report (...)
  • 54 Citizen, 28 March 1917, 6; Ibid., 26 March 1918, 3; Journal, 15 April 1918, 8.

32The flip side to conservation was production. By 1917, over 200 Ottawans had headed West to assist on wheat fields, though economics, not just patriotism, played a part as the federal government heavily subsidized transport, and wages at $75 monthly plus room and board, was some fifty per cent higher than local agricultural labour rates.51 Still, there was also plenty of local need and Ottawa newspapers seemed to adopt the role of recruiting agent, stressing that “unless some measures are taken to relieve the situation, many a farm will go untilled.”52 In 1917, 350 federal civil servants got involved, something also encouraged by the federal government which provided an extra week’s paid holiday if it was used to supply farm labour.53 Young people also pitched in, most as Soldiers of the Soil, a federal-provincial program established in early 1918 to attract 25,000 high school boys to assist on farms during the spring through autumn period. Within a few days of the program being announced, Ottawa met its quota of 250 lads, some of whom, no doubt, were enticed by the fact that those approved often started in April and were given credit for the full school year as long as they had been passing to that point.54

  • 55 Citizen, 8 March 1917, 10.
  • 56 Citizen, 5 April 1917, 10, Journal, 8 April 1918, 4.
  • 57 Citizen, 8 Aug. 1917, 2.

33Closer to home, thousands of Ottawans, particularly women, cultivated backyard “war gardens.” Larger initiatives came from churches and schools, and the Ottawa Vacant Lot Association organized a city-wide effort. Founded in advance of the 1917 growing season, its directors mostly came from the Ottawa Horticultural Society, though also included W.E. Harper, Secretary-Treasurer of the Ottawa Land Association, a property development firm that provided much of its 300 acres of vacant land in the city.55 Application forms for lots were printed gratis by Ottawa newspapers. Demand consistently exceeded the supply of lots, which peaked at 300 in 1918, but this still left a waiting list of 400.56 Preference was given to those who provided revenues to war charities. For example, in 1917 about thirty members of the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club tended three vacant lots that returned several hundred dollars for its Soldiers’ Comfort Committee.57

  • 58 J.C. Hopkins, Canada at War: A Record of Heroism and Achievement, 1914-1918 (Toronto: The Canadian (...)

34Patriotic volunteerism was not only crucial in helping to win the war, but also in preparing for the transition to peace. To provide medical care and retraining, and to decide upon appropriate pensions for veterans, the federal government created a Military Hospitals Commission (MHC) in July 1915. In February 1918, the MHC became part of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment that also devised strategy to aid veterans who were physically fit. However, government welfare was still managed with frugality in mind so as not to further drive up a war debt that ultimately reached $1.3 billion, and, as often said, to prevent excessive dependency upon the state by the repatriated.58

  • 59 Citizen, 15 March 1916, 12; Ibid., 26 March 1917, 9.
  • 60 Citizen, 6 Jan. 1917, 16; Journal, 15 Jan. 1917, 16.

35Ottawa newspapers gave extensive coverage to the development of policies, and initially accepted the government’s line on their generosity and effectiveness. But as programs were increasingly tested and found wanting, the message changed to the idea that those who had sacrificed for Canada deserved better. One major area of grievance was pensions. Although improving over the course of the war, they remained cast as inadequate, especially in light of rising inflation. In 1916, the Citizen used the phrase “mean and insufficient” to describe government support of $216 per annum for a totally disabled, noncommissioned single soldier.59 When it came to providing preferences to veterans for employment in the federal civil service, newspapers noted that many ended up as messengers, receiving what the Journal cast as the “misery” salary of $41.66 monthly.60

  • 61 COA, City Council Minutes, BOC Report #42, 8 Dec. 1916, 429, item 4; Citizen, 13 Feb. 1917, 5; Ibi (...)
  • 62 Citizen, 28 Jan. 1916, 13.
  • 63 Journal, 3 Sept. 1916, 5; Ibid., 19 March 1917, 3; Citizen, 27 April 1917, 15; Ibid., 8 May 1918, (...)
  • 64 Citizen, 5 June 1916, 15; Ibid., 14 March 1916, 14; Ibid., 8 May 1918, 5; Journal, 5 Jan. 1918, 4.
  • 65 COA, By-Laws of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the Year 1917, By-Laws 44 (...)
  • 66 Citizen, 23 March 1918, 13, Journal, 8 Aug. 1918, 2.

36The flip side to such shortcomings, however, was that citizen groups again took on added importance and prestige. In late 1915, Ottawans formed a Citizen’s Repatriation Committee with representatives from, among others, the Board of Trade, Allied Trades and Labour Association, Société St-Jean-Baptiste, and the St. Patrick’s Society, to help arrange “welcome home” ceremonies for the wounded, and eventually multitudes demobilized with peace.61 Early the next year, a local branch of the Soldiers’ Aid Commission appeared. Although created out of a 1915 federal-provincial conference to encourage greater “provincial involvement in matters arising out of the war,” it received only modest funding and administrative support from the Ontario government.62 But Ottawa’s branch remained significant, its members having links to 106 local clubs, charitable and fraternal societies, and professional, occupational, labour, and political groups. They assisted veterans in accessing federal programs; coordinated with schools and vocational institutes to arrange re-training; offered emergency financial support; and helped men find decent employment and accommodation.63 The branch also organized picnics, concerts, and ceremonial dinners for returned men and often their families.64 Moreover, in a major and ultimately successful campaign enthusiastically promoted in Ottawa newspapers, it played a leading role in mobilizing support to have a question placed on the January 1918 municipal ballot asking if the city government should devote as much as $40,000 to acquire a building to serve as national headquarters for the Great War Veterans Association and a veteran’s club house-a hefty sum considering that a stately home in Rockcliffe Park then cost half that amount.65 The vote was decisive, and in August, following remodeling, the twenty-two room stone mansion in Upper Town, purchased for $35,000, opened its doors in a grand ceremony that included military bands and honour guards.66

  • 67 Sandra Gwyn. Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War (Toronto: HarperCollins (...)

37A few months later, on Monday, 11 November 1918, Ottawans awoke to church bells proclaiming the Armistice. Quickly they thronged city streets, lit bonfires, set off fireworks, blew whistles and horns, banged on tin pans and wash boilers, sang patriotic songs, danced with strangers, and gleefully burned the Kaiser in effigy. According to newspapers, things did not peter out until 4 a.m. on Tuesday.67 Ottawans celebrated, and soon in official ceremonies would bereave, as a community, because in so many ways they had fought the war as a community.

38Nowhere is that process better captured than in the daily descriptions carried in the popular, or mainstream, press. Ottawa’s major newspapers demonstrate that despite local divisions, including those created or exacerbated by the war, patriotic volunteerism linked social classes and ethnic groups; provided people with direction, purpose, and a sense of importance; enhanced the status of women; and for many, despite the stress of this period, generated considerable excitement and even fun.

39Of course, historians must recognize the limits of newspapers as evidence, and use them appropriately. It is critical to determine exactly whom the source targeted, and by virtue of its circulation, if it had legitimacy in reflecting that community. It is also important to remember that mainstream newspapers marginalized or distorted voices, such as, in wartime, those of enemy aliens, pacifists and socialists. But it was also the case that Ottawa’s major newspapers - that, as businesses, sought to reflect their community and build readerships - enjoyed a connection with multitudes on the local scene. Le Droit circulated 7,000 copies daily and was challenged by no other French newspaper, and the Citizen and Journal each distributed more than 25,000 copies in a city whose population barely topped 100,000. This does not equate with accepting the veracity of what these sources printed. Here, context again becomes crucial. For instance, censorship and patriotism played key parts in producing pages containing gross inaccuracies about the war, something the historian could verify by consulting other sources, such as unit war diaries. But on the other hand, patriotism and jingoism, which also encouraged the acceptance of censorship, reflected a wider milieu, something that can also be verified by turning to additional types of evidence.

40As such, by linking newspapers with their appropriate context - namely their audience and what can be reasonably accepted as part of that group’s perspective - they can provide a treasure trove of details, and, despite being a rather traditional source, often shed new light on old topics. Indeed, Ottawa’s mainstream press underscores the fact that patriotic volunteerism has not been given its proper due in the historiography. It was not only fundamental in helping to win the war, but also in making, for many Canadians, the war the best years of their lives.

Notes

1 See Ian H.M. Miller, Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), and Robert Rutherdale, Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada’s Great War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004).

2 W. John McDermott, Review of Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Major, eds., “Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919,” Urban History Review 27, no. 2 (March 1999): 72.

3 Canadian Printer and Publisher (1914): 56-57; City of Ottawa, Annual Report (1914): 27-33.

4 John Taylor, Ottawa: An Illustrated History (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1986), 164-66, 211, 214.

5 Robert S. Prince, “The Mythology of War: How the Canadian Daily Newspaper Depicted the Great War” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1998), 42; Minko Sotiron, From Politics to Profit: The Commercialization of Canadian Daily Newspapers, 1890-1920 (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997), 39; Canadian Printer and Publisher (1914): 278.

6 Sotiron, From Politics to Profit, 4, 71-72, 77-80; Prince, “Mythology of War,” 12; George Fetherling, The Rise of the Canadian Newspaper (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990), 108.

7 The Ottawa Free Press had been in business since 1869, but was a victim of rising wartime costs. In late-1916, it was absorbed by the Ottawa Journal. Prince, “Mythology of War,” 59; J. Brian Gilchrist, Inventory of Ontario Newspapers, 1793-1986 (Toronto: Micromedia Ltd., 1987), n.p.

8 Sotiron, From Politics to Profit, 94; W.H. Kesterton, A History of Journalism in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), 95-96.

9 Canadian Newspaper Directory, 1914-1919.

10 See Jane Stokes, How to do Media and Cultural Studies (London: Sage Publications, 2003), 68-69; Susanna Horing Priest, Doing Media Research: An Introduction (London: Sage Publications, 1996), 181; Erica Burmen and Ian Parker, eds., Discourse Analytic Research: Repertoires and Reading of Texts in Action (London: Routledge, 1993), 1; and Roger Fowler, Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press (London: Routledge, 1991), 1-3, 52.

11 Among the literally countless articles in major Ottawa newspapers exemplifying these, and similar, themes, are: Le Droit, 1 dec. 1914, 6; Ibid., 27 mars 1917, 6; Ottawa Citizen (hereinafter Citizen) 12 March 1915, 1; Ibid., 26 June 1915, 1; Ibid., 20 April 1917, 9; Ottawa Journal (hereinafter Journal) 2 June 1915, 7; Ibid., 17 Feb 1916, 1.

12 Le Droit, 13 nov. 1917, 6; Ibid., 18 dec. 1917, 1, 6.

13 See Jeffrey A. Keshen, Propaganda and Censorship in Canada’s Great War (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1996), chapter 3.

14 See Paul Maroney, “The Great Adventure: The Context and Ideology of Recruiting in Ontario,” Canadian Historical Review 77, no.1 (March 1996): 62-98.

15 Philip H. Morris, The Canadian Patriotic Fund – A Record of its Activities from 1914 to 1919 (Ottawa: The Mortimer Company, 1919), 150-51.

16 Citizen, 25 Jan. 1916, 1; Journal, 31 Jan. 1916, 1; Le Droit, 6 mars 1918, 8.

17 Taylor, Ottawa, 140.

18 Journal, 26 Jan. 1916, 1; Citizen, 27 Jan 1916, 1.

19 Journal, 24 Jan. 1916, 2; Ibid., 27 Sept. 1915, 12; Le Droit, 22 jan. 1916, 7.

20 Citizen, 25 Jan. 1916, 1.

21 Citizen, 2 Sept. 1914, 11.

22 Journal, 25 Sept. 1915, 4.

23 Citizen, 9 Sept. 1914, 10; Ibid., 6 Nov. 1915, 10.

24 Journal, 21 May 1915, 12.

25 Citizen, 12 Sept. 1914, 12.

26 Citizen, 19 Oct. 1915, 2; Journal, 27 Oct. 1915, 13.

27 Citizen, 18 Dec. 1915, 5; Journal, 7 Jan. 1916, 1.

28 Journal, 13 Oct. 1915, 8.

29 Le Droit, 9 mars 1915, 3; Ibid., 6 mai 1915, 3; Journal, 23 Nov. 1915, 10.

30 Journal, 23 April 1915, 10; Ibid., 10 Sept. 1915, 14; Citizen, 18 Feb. 1915, 1; Ibid., 9 April 1915, 6; Ibid., 14 May 1915,2; Ibid., 29 July 1915, 2.

31 Citizen, 20 July 1916, 8; Ibid., 27 July 1916,8; Journal, 3 Aug. 1918, 4.

32 Journal, 15 April 1916, 24.

33 Citizen, 17 May 1916, 9; Ibid., 20 May 1916, 10; Le Droit, 23 mai 1916, 2.

34 Citizen, 30 Aug. 1915, 5; Journal, 8 Oct. 1915, 9.

35 Miller, Our Glory and Our Grief, 134.

36 Nancy Sheehan, “The IODE, the Schools and World War I,” History of Education Review 13, no. 1 (1984): 37-38.

37 Journal, 1 Nov. 1915, 9; Ibid., 9 Nov. 1915, 9; Citizen, 24 Feb. 1915, 11; Ibid. 21 Feb. 1917, 13.

38 K. Weatherbee, From the Rideau to the Rhine and Back. The 6th Field Company and Battalion Canadian Engineers in the Great War (Toronto: The Hunter-Rose Co., Limited, 1928), 33; Journal, 17 Dec. 1915, 8.

39 Journal, 14 Nov. 1916, 5; Ibid. 6 Dec. 1916, 7; Citizen, 31 Oct. 1917, 5.

40 Citizen, 5 June 1918, 5.

41 Journal, 10 Dec. 1915, 2; Ibid., April 1918, 5; Citizen, 21 April 1918, 28.

42 Citizen, 26 Oct. 1914, 11; Ibid., 31 Dec. 1914, 2; Ibid., 18 Jan. 1915, 10; Journal, 23 April 1915, 8.

43 Journal, 29 Sept. 1915, 8; Ibid., 26 Oct. 1915, 2; Citizen, 2 Dec. 1915, 13.

44 Citizen, 13 July 1915, 11; Journal, 26 Oct. 1916, 5.

45 Journal, 1 Nov. 1915, 8.

46 Citizen, 16 Oct. 1915, 13.

47 Citizen, 28 June 1916, 14.

48 Citizen, 23 Aug. 1917, 7.

49 Le Droit, 14 mars 1917, 6; Citizen, 13 July 1917, 5, 14; Ibid., 14 Sept. 1918, 12; Journal, 20 Sept. 1917, 8.

50 Journal, 22 Jan. 1918, 2.

51 Citizen, 16 Aug. 1916, 2.

52 Citizen, 7 May 1917, 2.

53 Ottawa’s municipal government also adopted this policy. See COA, City Council Minutes, BOC Report #3, 17 June 1918, 214, item 3.

54 Citizen, 28 March 1917, 6; Ibid., 26 March 1918, 3; Journal, 15 April 1918, 8.

55 Citizen, 8 March 1917, 10.

56 Citizen, 5 April 1917, 10, Journal, 8 April 1918, 4.

57 Citizen, 8 Aug. 1917, 2.

58 J.C. Hopkins, Canada at War: A Record of Heroism and Achievement, 1914-1918 (Toronto: The Canadian Annual Review Limited, 1919), 214.

59 Citizen, 15 March 1916, 12; Ibid., 26 March 1917, 9.

60 Citizen, 6 Jan. 1917, 16; Journal, 15 Jan. 1917, 16.

61 COA, City Council Minutes, BOC Report #42, 8 Dec. 1916, 429, item 4; Citizen, 13 Feb. 1917, 5; Ibid., 18 June 1918, 7; Journal, 3 Dec. 1918, 1.

62 Citizen, 28 Jan. 1916, 13.

63 Journal, 3 Sept. 1916, 5; Ibid., 19 March 1917, 3; Citizen, 27 April 1917, 15; Ibid., 8 May 1918, 5.

64 Citizen, 5 June 1916, 15; Ibid., 14 March 1916, 14; Ibid., 8 May 1918, 5; Journal, 5 Jan. 1918, 4.

65 COA, By-Laws of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the Year 1917, By-Laws 4475,4476, 3 Dec. 1917; Journal, 15 Dec. 1917, 5; Ibid., 5 Jan. 1918, 1.

66 Citizen, 23 March 1918, 13, Journal, 8 Aug. 1918, 2.

67 Sandra Gwyn. Tapestry of War: A Private View of Canadians in the Great War (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1992), 483-84; Le Droit, 11 nov. 1918, 1, 4; Citizen, 12 Nov. 1918, 1.

Auteur

Professor in the Department of History at the University of Ottawa. Among his publications are Propaganda and Censorship during Canada’s Great War and Saints, Sinners and Soldiers: Canada’s Second World War

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