Peace Celebrations in Calgary, 1918
Postcards from the Past, PC 1378
I am always looking through our photograph collections to find pictures that capture moments in Calgary’s history. November is the month when we celebrate our veterans, and the sacrifices they made. We have lots of really great photographs of camps and soldiers and parades but the one that most intrigues me is the one at the head of this entry. It is from the end of the First World War and in many ways the times were similar to now. There was a great influenza pandemic that was sweeping across the world, brought home with the returning soldiers who had been made vulnerable by malnutrition and stress. People were jubilant, though, because the war was over and the boys were coming home. The evil Kaiser had been vanquished and peace was upon the land. But first, we needed to celebrate. And how better to do that than with a parade and a hanging? Immediately on the news that Germany had accepted the terms of surrender, the news desk at the Albertan alerted Mayor Costello and Fire Chief Smart and the church bells and fire bells began to ring. It was 1:30 in the morning. Cappy Smart threw open the doors to the fire hall and sounded the bells on the fire-fighting equipment for a full 15 minutes. This drew people into town and soon the War veterans had started a parade which grew in magnitude as the day progressed. They partied all night long. Some of the “horseplay indulged in by the jubilating throng” included starting a fire in a pile of rubbish and overturning garbage cans. As the Herald noted the “alarm raised over the alleged shortage of liquor in the province was somewhat premature.” The revelers had no trouble finding spirits to fuel their jubilation.
The official celebration took place the next day, November 11, which Mayor Costello had declared a half-day holiday. The day included a parade, which formed up at the fire hall and was led by “massed bands of the city”, followed by veterans of the war, who were followed by the piece de resistance, the float containing the effigies of the Kaiser and Crown Prince, which were to be burned later at City Hall. Guards had to be placed so the excited crowd didn’t torch them before dark. At 8:30 in the evening bonfires were lit on the North Hill and the hill overlooking Elbow Park and the effigies were burned with due ceremony.
You will notice in this picture that a very few people are wearing the mandated ‘flu masks. Announcements in the paper insisted that the mask rule would be enforced, but special permission was granted to churches who wished to celebrate the end of the war. Short services could be held as long as they were held outside and not in the church building. The joy of the war news was interspersed with articles about deaths from the influenza and the severity of the outbreak and the need for volunteer nurses to help with the ‘flu cases. As many or more people would die of the 'flu as died on the battlefields of Europe.
You can access newspaper accounts of the end of the war and of the influenza epidemic through the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project's Early Alberta Newspapers. There is also a very interesting book on the subject of the Spanish influenza in Canada, The Silent Enemy.