Sunday, November 11, 2012

# 34 ~ Toronto Remembers, Then and Now

Every November 11th, in schools, near civic memorials and Cenotaphs, and in many private observations across Toronto and throughout Canada, life comes to a stop in a moment of solemnity, to mark Remembrance Day.  Every year, the city holds a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Toronto Cenotaph, located on the front steps of Old City Hall - this year, I had the honour of laying one of the wreaths, as I have done from time to time before.  A service is held every year at Soldiers' Tower, at the University of Toronto - this year, it was conducted on Friday, as Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday, when many students might be off campus.  I've attended that one in the past, too, and you can see the related photographs on my post from November 12th, 2010 (# 11 ~ Remembrance Services at Soldiers' Tower, Then and Now).

In addition to these annual services, there have been a few landmark years in Toronto's history, where events associated with the commemoration of our veterans have coincided with November 11th.  It was on November 11th, in 1918, that the First World War ended, and of course this is why it's embedded and set aside as a day of observation.  Hopeful rumours of the end of the war had circulated for some time, though, and on November 7th, 1918, the Toronto Daily Star prepared to publish the headline "WAR HAS ENDED!".  The editor had the story wrong, and the war continued for another few days.  Although the newspaper's editorial staff discovered the mistake before going to print, it was too late to prevent a few jubilant staff members of the paper from starting premature celebrations.  A member of the paper's editorial staff ran out of the Star's offices, then located at King and Bay streets, and into the street, blowing a trumpet.  Another reporter from the newspaper convinced the great American band leader, John Philip Sousa - who was in town appearing at Massey Hall - to lead an impromptu parade to the newspaper's headquarters.  A few hours later, word got out that it was all a mistake, and the grim visage of conflict continued until November 11th.

But a few days later, on November 11th, the First World War was really and truly over.  Nearly 620,000 Canadians fought in the First World War, and almost 67,000 of them died.  Of this number, about 70,000 from in and around the Toronto area served, and about 10,000 of those were killed during the conflict.  Toronto had put forward a considerable sacrifice during the conflict, and the city was ecstatic that the war was finally over.  As more legitimate rumours of the end of the conflict started to run through the city, and as they become more and more undeniable, crowds began to pour out in to the streets to celebrate what was originally known as "Armistice Day" - November 11th, 1918 - the end of the Great War and the foundations for today's Remembrance Day.

These photographs, below, have preserved how the streets of Toronto looked on that November 11th of 1918, nearly a century ago now, when residents first got the news and began to pour out on to the city streets to celebrate.
THEN : Rumours of the end of the First World War break out among riders on the Queen Street streetcar.

THEN : Jubilant Crowds on Yonge Street.

THEN : An impromptu peace parade at Queen Street West and Terauley (now Bay) Street.

THEN : Peace celebrations take over Yonge Street.

THEN : King Street West.

THEN : A family reads the newspaper headlines together, and learns of the German capitulation and the end of the war.

THEN : Queen and Yonge streets.

THEN : A crowd gathers outside the Toronto Star building at King and Bay streets.  Not a week earlier, they had incorrectly reported that the war was over, but fortunately, this time, it was.

THEN : A streetcar on Spadina Crescent is packed with revellers.

That great outpouring, a mixture of relief and grief and gratitude, would continue for a number of years after the end of the First World War, and would be solidified and enshrined in the various monuments around Toronto.  November 11th, 1919, would see the opening of Hart House, at the University of Toronto. Themes demonstrating the influence of the First World War, so recent in memory when Hart House was opened, can be found throughout the building.

 On either side of the Great Hall at Hart House are heraldic representations of universities either within the former British Empire - now the Commonwealth of Nations - or, on the other side of the hall, those universities that existed within allied nations.  America, Russia, Japan, France and many other nations are represented amongst those who were our allies, and nations like Canada, England, Scotland and Australia are represented within those "closer to home".  The centrepiece of the collection of what is today a testimony to the bonds among the Commonwealth are the Royal Arms of King George V, grandfather of the present Queen, who served as our Head of State during the war.

NOW : The Royal Arms of His Late Majesty, King George V, Canada's sovereign through the Great War. These arms are found in the Great Hall of Hart House, which opened in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War.
NOW : Some of the Canadian universities represented in the Great Hall at Hart House.  Top row from left to right, the University of Toronto, McGill University, Queen's University.  Bottom row from left to right, Dalhousie, King's College, and Manitoba.

Within the chapel of Hart House there is a curious collection of stained glass, salvaged from the destroyed churches of Belgium and France and brought back to Canada.  They were newly placed within the windows of the chapel, as a commemoration of the bravery of local soldiers, and a reminder of the ravages of war.

NOW : The chapel at Hart House.

NOW : Chapel windows, Hart House.
NOW : This photograph, and the three that follow, show some of the salvaged stained glass in the chapel windows at Hart House, salvaged from destroyed windows in Belgium and France.

Immediately adjacent to Hart House stands the previously alluded to Soldiers' Tower, the cornerstone for which was laid in 1919, with the tower completed and opened in 1924.  Again, for a more detailed history of the tower, visit # 11 ~ Remembrance Services at Soldiers' Tower, Then and Now.

Today, there are plaques and monuments to veterans of any number of conflicts from the past two-hundred years, scattered around Toronto. In churches and cemeteries across the city, we find tombstones and plaques that commemorate individuals that fought and died.  In banks, stores, schools and other places of business, we find those who were brought together by their education or profession as well as by their loyalty and patriotism and devotion to duty.  There are statues throughout the city, but perhaps the one most central to the commemoration of Remembrance Day in Toronto is the Cenotaph that stands in front of Old City Hall.

The cornerstone for Toronto's Cenotaph was laid in the summer of 1924, by Field Marshal, the Earl Haig, and the Cenotaph itself was dedicated on November 11 of the following year, 1925.  Inspired after the style of the Cenotaph in London, England, and carved out of granite from the Canadian Shield, Toronto's Cenotaph holds the name of nine battles of the first world war in which those from Toronto played a part - Ypres, Somme, Mount Sorrel, Vimy, Paaschendaele, Amiens, Arras, Cambrai and Zeebrugge.  A generation later, when commemoration was needed for those who fought and fell in the Second World War, additions were made to the Cenotaph and it was again unveiled in December of 1947.  Toronto's Cenotaph was updated, again, to commemorate the Korean War.

I conclude now with an illustrated history of Toronto's Old City Hall Cenotaph down through the years.  For an inventory of Toronto's war memorials, as kept by the City of Toronto on the website, visit here.

THEN : A makeshift resting place for wreaths outside City Hall in 1922, before the current Cenotaph was built.

THEN : The Cenotaph in its inaugural year, 1925.

THEN : The Cenotaph in its inaugural year, 1925.

THEN : A service in the front of the Cenotaph, on the steps of City Hall, in 1929.

THEN : Dwight Eisenhower (left) and Toronto Mayor Robert Saunders (right) lay a wreath at the Cenotaph.
NOW : The Cenotaph today, after the 2012 Remembrance Day ceremony.
NOW : Dedication Plaque, Cenotaph, 2012.


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