Thursday, 11 September 2014

War Fever Strikes Lethbridge

As 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War, two exhibits at the Galt Museum & Archives will examine the impact of the war on the homefront, and the contributions of people in Lethbridge and area.

The first of these, Lethbridge's Experiences in the First World War (1914-1915)—currently on display until September 29—examines the beginnings of the war and its impact on the community and its citizens. Stories include initial response and mobilization efforts, Lethbridge's militia history, the spread of patriotism and the rise of xenophobia, recruitment, and the life of Lethbridge's most well known soldier: General J.S. Stewart.

Over the next five weeks we will share this exhibit research by guest curator Brett Clifton here on the blog, starting with War Fever Strikes Lethbridge.

August 1, 1914 Lethbridge Daily Herald cover

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist. A world away, the nearly 9,000 people who lived in the little prairie city of Lethbridge had no idea that this single act was about to touch off a series of events that would lead to the brutal conflict known as the Great War.

The Dominion of Canada officially joined when the British Empire declared war on Germany and its allies on August 4, 1914.  Since the majority of the citizens of Lethbridge claimed to be of British descent, there was little question as to the direction public opinion would take.

The much anticipated declaration of war lead to an outpouring of patriotism in communities across Canada.  War fever struck Lethbridge immediately, as frenzied citizens crowded around the offices of the Lethbridge Daily Herald.  The local paper reported that news of the war declaration was announced by megaphone to the eagerly awaiting crowds, who responded by cheering wildly and throwing their hats into the air.
Galt Archives 19891049200

Galt Archives 19752201394
In the hours that followed, the newspaper received continual updates by wire and telephone, publishing several special editions, which were quickly snapped up by the crowds in the street.  The Starland Theatre was packed with excited citizens who raised loud cheers as each new bulletin was flashed across the screen.

Later, the throngs of citizens outside the Herald office marched with flags, gathering at the bandstand, where members of the Citizens' Band had assembled to entertain the happy crowd with a wide array of patriotic music interspersed with fireworks, rockets and a water hose display offered by the Lethbridge Fire Department.

Galt Archives 19760220030

Galt Archives 19861078012
Mayor W.D.L. Hardie voiced the sentiments of the majority of those gathered in a rousing speech, proclaiming:
Ladies and gentlemen and fellow subjects of the British Empire, you are assembled now at the most momentous event in the history of the British Empire, to which it is our proud privilege to belong.  The war has been thrust on us, we have not sought it.  But now it has come we are ready and I know that every citizen of the City of Lethbridge is ready to do his duty at any sacrifice to himself.  The German Kaiser has been going around for some time with a chip on his shoulder and the time has come for us to knock that chip off.  The Kaiser has been seeking trouble and has now started something, and I tell you, citizens of Lethbridge, that by the time the trouble is over, there will be no Kaiser and we will have put the "Dutchman" where he belongs.
The next installment will look at The Early Days of War. The second exhibit, Lethbridge's Experiences in the First World War (Local Contributions), runs OCT 11-FEB 8.15.

Guest Curator Brett Clifton was born and raised in Lethbridge, attending local schools as well as the University of Lethbridge. Graduating in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education, he now teaches Grade 7 and 8 Social Studies at G.S. Lakie Middle School. He has published two books documenting the lives and service of local men commemorated on our cenotaph, and is contributing a section on Lethbridge's war time experiences for an Alberta centennial publication coming out this year.  

19891049200: The Lethbridge Daily Herald Offices at 323 - 6 Street S, August 1914. In the days before television, radio and the internet, newspapers were the primary resource of public information.

1975220139: The printing room at the Herald worked overtime during the early days of the First World War. In addition to the regular daily issue, several special editions were printed during the first weeks of August 1914, bringing news directly from the telegraph wires to the citizens of Lethbridge.
19760220030: As war fever swept into Lethbridge on August 4, 1914, members of the Citizens' Band gathered at Galt Gardens to entertain the growing crowd. The band played stirring renditions of popular favourites, like "The Maple Leaf Forever", "God Save the King", and "Rule Britannia".
19861078012: Hardie served as Mayor of Lethbridge throughout the Great War and was an active supporter of the war effort. His own son, W.E.G. Hardie, joined hundreds of other local men in enlisting for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

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