St. Catharines Collegiate During the First World War

November 11th marked Remembrance Day, the 101st anniversary of the end of the Great War.  When I was told that the St. Catharines Museum Collection had over 250 yearbooks spanning back to 1913, I was immediately curious as to what the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute yearbook would look like in the war years. So, I flipped through the Christmas 1917 edition of the Vox Collegiensis.  

By 1917, war had been waging for a very long three years and I expected that there would be a lot of mention of the devastation of war. I was surprised to find that wasn’t really the case. Instead, there were publications like “Terry”. This short story was written by a student with the initials D.Y. and tells the heartfelt tale wherein Terry, a one-eared Irish terrier, is left dejected when his owner Mike leaves for France upon declaration of war. Terry ends up being sent overseas as a Red Cross dog and when he ends up caught in a horrible situation, he is saved by his best friend.

The short story, “Terry”, was written by a student with the initials D.Y. and was published in the Christmas 1917 edition of the Vox Collegiensis.

This was the first time I had ever heard of Red Cross dogs and I wondered if these dogs were used for soldier support, as messengers, or as rescuers. Turns out it was all of the above! One of the most famous Red Cross dogs in Canada was Muggins, who fundraised on the Home Front in Victoria, British Columbia.

A glimpse into teenage flirting in 1917 suggests that not much has changed…

Aside from the mentions of war, I was struck by the allusions to gender in the Vox. From offering talks on manliness and manners, to a “misfortune” in Chemistry class where a girl’s hair went “kerflop” because the boy behind her took out her thirteen hairpins. In line with the light-heartedness of the issue, the 1917 Vox further published rumours of romance between teachers and even romance jokes.

I was also struck by discussions on the patriotism of the girls. The magazine claims “Not only have the boys responded to the call of the volunteers to work on the farms, but the girls also have done admirably well in answering this appeal. During the peach season this fall some of our girls offered their services to pick for one day”. I was expecting the patriotism discussions, but I was pleasantly surprised that they mentioned the work of female students as well.

Cheesy romance jokes also haven’t changed all that much!

It is clear from the material published in the 1917 Vox, that the students of St. Catharines Collegiate were aware of the heaviness of the war and the responsibilities placed on young people to contribute to the war effort. However, the attempts at light-heartedness and humour throughout the publication were also stark reminders that the writers were young students; they were teenagers who flirted, joked, and who all looked towards a bright future. They believed there was a peace in sight.

Amanda Balyk was the Summer 2019 Program Assistant at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre and is completing her M.A. in History at Brock University. Sara Nixon is a public historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.

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