The day the bells rang out across the city
Together with factory whistles, they signalled the war was over
By this time in 1918, it was clear the First World War — the Great War, the bloodiest war in human history to date — was about to end.
At the end of September the German high command had recognized no hope of victory. Discussions about this began within the German government, and soon German representatives began discussions with the Allied powers (Britain, France, the United States and Italy) to determine the basis on which peace could be achieved.
The war-weary public was eager for news that the fighting would stop. A Nov. 7 report that a ceasefire had finally been arranged resulted in widespread public rejoicing. But that was a false alarm.
Four days later, in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, 1918 — 100 years ago this weekend — a real armistice agreement was finally signed. The event was announced by the French authorities at approximately 9 a.m. Paris time, and with surprising speed the news reached all the way to St. Catharines.
Standard editor W. B. Burgoyne learned of it at 4:05 a.m. local time, he immediately passed the news on to Mayor James Wiley, the mayor ordered that the bell in the courthouse tower be rung, the whistles of the local factories soon sounded out, and the church bells joined in spreading the news.
And then the fun began. People began to flood into the streets of downtown, led by night-shift workers at the Steel & Metal Co. plant on Geneva Street, soon
followed by workers from McKinnon Industries. Someone contrived an effigy of the hated German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II,
attached it to the rear bumper of an auto, and began dragging it around town. It ended up being burned in the street in front of The Standard’s offices.
As people awoke to the news the crowds began to fill the streets, carrying patriotic signs and waving flags.
And that was the scene for the rest of the day. At 10 a.m. the biggest parade of the day stepped off from the market square and wound its way around the city centre, eastward almost all the way to the General Hospital, and back again, ending in the broad square at the intersection of St. Paul and Ontario streets.
One of our old photos this week, taken from atop an Ontario Street building overlooking that intersection, shows a huge crowd gathered in front of an improvised stage, listening to speeches from the mayor, the member of Parliament, the local head of the IODE, and the pastor of St. George’s Anglican Church, along with patriotic music from the 19th Regiment Band.
Our other old photo gives a closer view of the crowd that day, milling about St. Paul Street just west of James, looking skyward as an airplane circled above them.
Local churches held services giving thanks that peace had finally come, and the staff at The Standard produced a series of special editions recording the events of that memorable day .
So, the fighting ended, the warring nations hammered out a formal peace settlement early in the following year, and the dead and wounded were returned home.
As bells ring out, people begin to flood into downtown St. Catharines, led by night-shift workers at the Steel & Metal Co. plant on Geneva Street, soon followed by workers from McKinnon Industries.
The city crowds into the street, milling about St. Paul Street just west of James, looking skyward as an airplane circles above them.