The morning the guns stopped
One hundred years ago this Sunday, there was cause for jubilation across the country as the guns were silenced across Europe, signalling the end of the Great War.
And despite the news reaching this side of the Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of the morning, Alexandria residents nonetheless took to the streets to revel in the Allied Powers’ victory after four bloody years of fighting.
“About half past three Monday (November 11) morning, the news was flashed over the wire that the Germans had signed the armistice and accepted all the allied terms,” stated a front page story in the Nov. 15, 1918 edition of The News entitled ‘Genuine Glengarry Demonstration.’
“A few moments later the fire alarm commenced ringing and shortly afterwards the chimes at the (St. Finnan’s) Cathedral and the bells of the other churches joined in the chorus of sound.”
But the celebration was just beginning, as Alexandrians began pouring out of their homes and gathering in Mill Square, where a large bonfire “was hastily arranged,” and the buildings lining the nearby streets were bedecked with bunting, flags, and other “holiday attire... transforming the town before six in the morning.”
As the day unfolded, impromptu bands and choirs joined in the festivities, Mayor George Simon declared a public holiday, schools were closed, “and everyone who could do so participated” in the revelry.
By mid-afternoon – commencing around 2:30 – a parade formed, snaking down the town’s principal streets and picking up steam along the way, before ending up back at Mill Square.
The procession, “headed by one of our local boys, arrayed as General (Ferdinand) Foch (Supreme Allied Commander) and mounted on a spirited charger,” included the town police chief, the Highland Pipe and Drum Band, the Alexandria fire brigade, returned local soldiers and nursing sisters, and Mayor Simon. It was augmented by “a number of beautifully decorated automobiles and carriages followed by numerous pedestrians.” According to The News article, festivities – which also featured special thanksgiving church services – continued until shortly after 11 p.m., when “the crowds dispersed after a day of general rejoicing.”
Glengarry County sent an estimated 1,600 of its young men to fight in the trenches of France during the First World War, with more than 170 of them, plus Nursing Sister Janet McIntosh, paying the ultimate price. Given the degree of sacrifice and suffering endured by county families during the war, one could hardly blame the local populace for the unbridled exultation and relief that erupted in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 11, 1918 in Alexandria.
“The unconditional surrender of Germany... produced a wave of enthusiasm among young and old such as we have seldom, if ever, witnessed,” stated The News.
“Monday... was a red letter day in Alexandria, a day which will not soon be forgotten by those who participated in the activities.”