100 YEARS SINCE THE END OF FIRST WORLD WAR
City celebrated Armistice as a ‘triumph for democracy’
Before dawn, 100 years ago Sunday, the howls of steam whistles on ships in the Detroit River, soon joined by scores of factory horns, sent Windsor area residents tumbling out of their beds and into the streets to join the biggest, loudest party this region has ever seen.
The announcement of an Armistice, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ending the Great War, the tragically misnamed “War to End all Wars,” unleashed waves of euphoria among border area residents exhausted by four years of bloody sacrifice of their Canadian “boys” overseas and relentless belt-tightening on the home front. “From 4 a.m. Monday the din has never ceased,” reported the Border Cities Star, forerunner of The Windsor Star. “Mighty bedlam. Noise, noise and still more noise. Words cannot paint the picture of the scene — Windsor and her four sisters (Ford City, Walkerville, Sandwich and Ojibway) on this sacred Monday — that spells autocracy’s final doom and the greatest celebration of joy that has roused these border cities,” the paper proclaimed. It described how “tens of thousands,” in a border area with a population of only 35,000, swarmed downtown streets shouting, cheering and wielding pots, pans and other noisemakers.
A service of thanksgiving at the downtown Armouries was followed by a massive parade, led by the Border Cities Kilties Band and returned veterans from the battles in France and Belgium, down Ouellette Avenue to Sandwich Street (Riverside Drive) and out to the east end and then back to the west end. Employees of Toledo Scale Co., now a medical centre at Howard and Memorial, marched out of the plant in unison and joined the “peace parade” with a banner that announced “We made the scale that weighed the shell that blew the Kaiser all to hell.”
Impromptu floats bore caricatures of “the Kaiser and his Fallen Pirate Crew.” Brass bands, including the Salvation Army and Polish bands, played patriotic tunes while the throngs roared their approval. But this was only round two of a massive party that began on the Saturday, Nov. 9, when word came that the German Army was collapsing and armistice terms had been reached.
That prompted what the newspaper described as “a carnival of merrymaking,” a “parade that made the pavements of Windsor groan,” and “the biggest, wildest celebration this side of the river has ever witnessed.”
The Saturday festivities included a huge bonfire on Ouellette Avenue next to a gallows from which dangled effigies of the German Kaiser, two field marshals and an admiral. They were pounded with bricks and rocks and then burned to ashes while the crowd warbled God Save the King, Rule Britannia and the French anthem, the Marseilles.
The newspaper noted that a truckload of beer went missing when its driver made a wrong turn into a thirsty crowd. It also frowned that “slackers were out in grand style to celebrate — probably that they will not be called up for service.” Hovering over the festivities was news of a pandemic, the Spanish Influenza, spreading across “the civilized world” that would eventually claim as many lives as the Great War. The Star reported 49 new cases and warned that Ontario’s death rate had doubled. An ad for “Riga” purgative water, alongside pitches for “Turnbull’s unshrinkable wool underwear” and the 10-cent “smart” burlesque matinee at the Cadillac, reassured readers “the surest way to prevent it (influenza) is to keep your bowels active.”
The following day, with the fun and games over, the newspaper reported the war’s staggering cost: a nation of fewer than eight million had suffered casualties, dead, wounded and missing, totalling 211,358, equivalent to more than a million in today’s Canada. The pain and sorrow hit homes in every corner of this largely rural country. Yet there was immense, nation-building pride in what Canada, particularly the four infantry divisions of the elite Canadian Corps which played a pivotal role in achieving victory on the Western Front, had accomplished.
As the Border Cities Star proclaimed: “Canada’s record in this war has given her a place in the sun of nations. Canada is a nation in every sense of the word. This great war and her brave sons made her so.”
Crowds celebrate the signing of the Armistice, signalling the end of the First World War, in Windsor on Nov. 11, 1918.