St. Catharines suf­fered in si­lence

Hun­dreds of lo­cal men killed in First World War, but few records ex­ist of com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tion

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Front Page - GRANT LAFLECHE

By Nov. 11, 1918 St. Catharines was a city that suf­fered in si­lence.

At least 1,000 men shipped off to fight in the First World War. Like many men across the coun­try, the first troops that left in 1914 boarded ships with no­tions of ad­ven­ture and glory for king and coun­try. It would all be over by Christ­mas, they said.

It wasn’t.

Four years later, at least 324 of those sol­diers from the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of St. Catharines, Port Dal­housie, Gran­tham and Mer­rit­ton had been killed in ac­tion. How many of the sur­vivors were wounded re­mains an open ques­the tion.

“The num­bers are a lit­tle hard to pin down,” said Kath­leen Pow­ell, cu­ra­tor at the St. Catharines Mu­seum. “Those num­bers (1,000 ship­ping out and 324 killed) are prob­a­bly low.”

Pow­ell said the mu­seum pulled to­gether es­ti­mates based on pas­sen­ger man­i­fests from ships trans­port­ing troops from Canada to Eu­rope. But be­cause en­list­ment records show where a per­son en­listed, not nec­es­sar­ily where they were from, a per­son who was from the area who en­listed else­where isn’t in­cluded in the fig­ures.

For those for com­mu­ni­ties — now all in­cluded in the ur­ban bound­aries of St. Catharines — losses must have been deep, she said.

For the aver­age Cana­dian com­mu­nity, one in five men who fought in the war were killed. In the St. Catharines area, that ra­tio is one in three, she said.

“It hit ev­ery­where in the coun­try,” Pow­ell said. “But no one talked about it.”

Pow­ell said she hasn’t been able to find records of how St. Catharines re­acted to the loss of so many young men.

“The news­pa­per wasn’t look­ing how the loss of life im­pacted the com­mu­nity, peo­ple were not re­ally writ­ing about it. There re­ally don’t ap­pear to be sto­ries about the men suf­fer­ing from what we would call post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der.”

Pow­ell said vet­er­ans and cit­i­zens alike ap­pear to have just wanted to move on from the hor­rors of the war, which claimed the lives of nearly 620,000 Cana­dian sol­diers.

Nev­er­the­less, clues to how Cana­di­ans felt in the af­ter­math of the war can be found in lit­er­a­ture.

“You will find books be­fore the war about, for ex­am­ple, the Boer War. And those books are about go­ing to fight for coun­try and hon­our and fight­ing for some­thing larger than your­self,” Pow­ell said. “Post­war books are about ‘Why did we do this?’ and has a much more somber view of war.”

While there may be few lo­cal doc­u­ments that record how St. Catharines was im­pacted 100

years ago, Pow­ell still found a way to drive the point home.

In 2014, she was part of a group that pro­duced a Google map marked with pins for each of the 1,000 sol­diers who fought in the war. The green pins are for ser­vice­men. The reds one for ca­su­al­ties.

“It is very strik­ing when you can see it all vi­su­al­ized like that,” she said. “You can see how en­tire neigh­bour­hoods were wiped out.”

She points to the neigh­bour­hood around Yates Street, which would have been home to more af­flu­ent young men who be­came part of the ju­nior of­fi­cer corps.

“Th­ese were the men lead­ing the charges in bat­tle,” she said. “They had a much higher causal­ity rate than other groups in the armed forces.”

The an­nual Re­mem­brance Day ser­vice is be­ing held Sun­day at 11 a.m. at the St. Catharines ceno­taph in Memo­rial Park on Vet­er­ans Way (for­mally St. Paul Street West) by the Bur­goyne Bridge.

The map can be found on­line at stcathari­nes­mu­se­um­


The front page of the St. Catharines Stan­dard from Nov. 11, 1918. De­tails about lo­cal re­ac­tion can be found in Yes­ter­day & To­day on page D3.

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