This is the fourth installment of the We Did Our Bit WWI exhibit-closing series. Click to read the earlier posts in the series here.
This post was contributed by Des Corran, volunteer docent at the St. Catharines Museum.
The “Doing our Bit: WWI from St. Catharines to the Western Front” has meant a great deal to me. Though I connect with the exhibition in many ways, what resonates with me most is that the stories explored in the exhibit are truly local. Each story shared delves even deeper into personal impact the First World War had on the people of St. Catharines.
In particular, I’m struck by how much differently news (both the good and bad kind) was spread 100 years ago, compared to today. At the time of the First World War, communication moved slowly. Families and communities back at home waited days, sometimes weeks for updated news of the war. Nowadays, thanks to social media, breaking news comes to us within minutes – immediate access to news from all around the world. And that’s a good thing. We now live in the Age of Information. I often wonder what it would have been like if we had access to our current communication resources back in 1914. How would the people have reacted to the outbreak of the First World War and the subsequent horrors that followed for the next four years? Would life back at home be more bearable, or much more difficult?
A strict look at the numbers exposes the tragedies of the First World War. In 1914, Canada’s population was 7.8 million. During the war, our forces grew to 619,636, and 424,000 of those were sent overseas. Canada lost 58,544 in Europe. According to the 1911 Census, St. Catharines had a population of 12,484. Over 1000 of our men were sent overseas during the First World War. 324 didn’t return home.
Every St. Catharines citizen in 1918 must have personally known at least one, or several, of the young men who did not return home from the war. There was no television coverage, no breaking news of the causalities – just many broken families who, in some cases, waited days, even weeks, for confirmation of the tragic news.
As the Doing Our Bit exhibit nudges towards closing, I am going to miss the stories shared in its displays. I’ll list of a few of those that stick with me: the story of the Adie family, where three of the four brothers sent overseas were killed in action; the Welland Canal Force and its objective to protect the Welland Canal from the threat of enemy sabotage; the stories of two recipients of the Victory Cross, the highest and most prestigious award of the British honour system, Lance Corporal Fred Fisher and Lieutenant Graham Thomas Lyall; the bullet taken from Percy Bradshaw’s hand; and the experiences of Lieutentant Colonel Frank Case McCordick, of whom I’ve had the honour of portraying in the St. Catharines Museum’s Guided Spirit Walks. The letters, pictures, and music from our Stories From The Front program have further added powerful emotional annex to our WWI exhibit.
Each of these stories reveal the deeply nuanced impact the First World War had on the people of St. Catharines. The war consumed the entire city, every community member contributed the war effort in their own individual way. If you were not serving overseas, you likely knew someone who was and showed your support by serving in some way at home. From these personal narratives, I have gained a richer understanding of what happened between 1914-1918, both here in the city, as well as overseas at the war front – and, more than ever, I have gained an appreciation for the St. Catharines I live in today.
We encourage you to visit the St. Catharines Museum to discover these stories and more from the First World War. Doing our Bit: WWI from St. Catharines to the Western Front officially closes on Friday, November 30. Please join us as we close out this exhibition with a 1918 Victory Party celebrating the end of the First World War. Enjoy live jazz music, swing dance lessons, food, and drink throughout the evening.
Friday, November 30, 8pm-midnight | $10 per person | Tickets online or by calling the Museum at 905-984-8880| Visit our website for more details |