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Manitoba History: Armistice Day in Winnipeg, 1918, by Miss Taylor

edited by William J. Fraser

Manitoba History, Number 3, 1982

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Miss Taylor, a secretary at the law firm of Pitblado & Hoskin, recalls Winnipeg’s celebration of the end of the First World War on 11 November 1918. Mr. Siddal, referred to in this letter, was a lawyer employed by the firm. The letter was one of several included in Learned Friends Reminiscences Pitblado & Hoskin 1882-1974, published in 1974. Anna Tillenius was commissioned by C. R. Hunter, a partner in the firm to write this history. She was recognized for her achievement with a Margaret McWilliams Award from the Manitoba Historical Society.

15 November 1918:

“Three cheers, boys, and a ‘Tiger’! Shortly after two o’clock Monday morning the 11th of November, whistles started to blow, bells rang, the ‘newsies’ yelled ‘Extra!’—and we knew without a doubt that the war was over! It was a glorious night for all, and Winnipeg made an early start in the celebrations.

Vainly we tried around 3:30 a.m. to shut our ears to the sounds without; but when a group of newsies organized an impromptu fife and drum band in front of the house and almost on our veranda, it was more than a human being could stand! There was no sleep for us after that.

On the 7th, a rumour got us all worked up, (we had a half-holiday as did everyone else), and Winnipeg celebrated with all the vim, vigor, and vitality of which it was capable; but this only served to prepare us for the Big Event when it came, and was a short of ‘dress rehearsal’ for the 11th.

Much against the advice of our respective landladies, relatives, and friends, we determined to come down to the office, just to give it the ‘once over.’ We had a suspicion there would be more fun down town than at home, so we beat it down at 9 a.m. as usual.

A wild throng filled the streets! Horns were tooting, bands playing, people yelling, and flags waving.

Arriving at work, the office boy met us with a doleful smile. ‘What did you come down for?’ he asked. ‘To see the fun!’ we answered. But at the foreboding expression on his face, a tiny doubt crept into our minds as to the wisdom of our appearing at the office.

Removing our wraps, we sat down to scan the headlines of the papers. As one by one the rest of the staff drifted in. it began to look as though we’d have to stay around for a little while. Meantime, the crowds on the streets became greater, horns tooted louder, sirens shrieked; and we were becoming reduced gradually to a state of mental excitement closely bordering on insanity.

Eaton’s, Robinson’s, Hudson’s Bay, and all the little shops and stores were closed for the day; and their respective employees filled the streets, carrying flags, blowing horns, and generally carrying on in a most undignified manner. Early in the morning the bagpipes appeared on the scene, and war-like strains sounded, while crowds followed the piper. Bugles and fifes, drums and tambourines combined in the general pandemonium.

When Mr. Siddall rang his bell, I was speechless with surprise. However, there was no way to avoid his call, so I grabbed a book and pencil. To my delight, I found that Mr. Siddall was as incapable of dictating (with any degree of coherency), as I was of taking it down, and before five minutes had passed he gave up the lob in despair.

Contrary to our hopes and expectations, we were not allowed to leave the office; and when we heard we would have to work until one o’clock, we were nearly reduced to tears. Bewailing our fate as we looked down on the enthusiastic crowds below, someone remarked that she ‘wished we worked at Eaton’s.’ Mr. Louthood, with nose in the air, remarked, ‘Surely you don’t want to be with the common rabble!’ We valiantly tried to shut our ears to the sounds without, and apply ourselves to business—but without success.

When twelve o’clock came, we weren’t sensible human beings any longer. We let caution and dignity fly to the winds, as we raced madly down to the library where we could get a splendid view of the excitement below.

Every day at noon since the Victory Loan started, the soldiers have fired a shot at the big map of Europe. On top of the map in big letters appears: ‘HELP CHANGE THE MAP OF EUROPE.’ We were determined not to miss the shot, and despite frowns from the bookkeeping department, we stepped out on the window ledge. We heard the shot fired and saw the soldiers pass down Main Street on horseback, and then in the pitch of excitement we so far forgot ourselves as to yell in an unladylike manner. It wasn’t any dignified ‘Hurray’ it was plain SHRIEKING! We were sure our little voices wouldn’t be heard, we could scarcely hear them ourselves. But ye gods!—when we came out of the library the faces that met us told their own story. We most certainly had been heard! We slunk quietly down the aisle to our desks.

At half-past twelve we were unable to sit still, and rushed from window to window as various bands passed. Then my bell rang again! Mr. Siddall had been compelled to attend that morning at the Court House where the Court of Appeal was sitting, and on his return wanted to get a letter out. I must admit, he did very well, but before he got half way through the letter we were both hanging out the window watching a band passing. Imagine our consternation when the door suddenly opened and Mr. Haig enquired of Mr. Siddall as to the success of his visit to the Court House.

After all my years of office experience, when I began to transcribe my notes, I found I couldn’t read them. I had to go back to Mr. Siddall with notebooks in hand and a vacant expression on my face, and ask him for the words I had missed or couldn’t read.

At ten minutes to one, we made a mad dash for the elevator. What an afternoon and evening we had! Crikey! It was good to be alive! We shouted and yelled and blew horns till our cheeks threatened to burst. Tirelessly we went up and down Portage and Main yelling at our friends and acting generally as though we’d taken leave of our senses.

Eaton’s decorations were easily the best; every window had a flag hanging out, and the front of the store was draped from one end to the other with bunting. In the centre of the store front was a huge yellow and white shield showing King George on horseback in full regalia. On either side of him were: Albert, King of the Belgians, General Foch, Admiral Beatty, and Generals Haig, French, and Pershing.

Wood Valiance Company had a big truck crowded with their people, and they had a jazz band. Talk about ‘Jazz’ say! it had Sophie Tucker’s beaten to a frazzle!

Wood, Vallance Wholesale Company Employees, 1918.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The Stock Yards and Swift’s had cow-punchers on ponies, with wide cowboy hats and all sorts of fancy trappings. They too, had a jazz band.

One float had a big cage in which someone dressed like the Kaiser sat with head bent in a most dejected attitude. No one envied him his position of prominence in the parade for the people hissed at him, and yelled as he passed. On another float was John Bull, and beside him, Uncle Sam.

At 8:30 the Salvation Army Band held a Thanksgiving Service in front of the Bank of Montreal, and they played ‘Rule Britannia,’ ‘The Marseillaise,’ ‘O Canada,’ ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow’ with a prayer between each selection, ending with ‘God Save Our Men.’

Amidst all the yelling and shouting a silence fell for a few minutes after the band stopped playing, and then the air was rent with cheers.

As soon as darkness fell, the fireworks began, and the display made up for all the time that fireworks were banned. Portage Avenue was a scene of wild tumult as the rockets rose high into the sky and then burst in a shower of beautiful colors.

During the evening the centre of attraction was the Free Press Building where huge crowds listened to addresses given by the Hon. T. C. Norris, Brig. Gen. Ketchen, and Colonel Woods (one-time Rector of St. Margaret’s). After the speeches, the band played old favourites like ‘Annie Laurie; ‘Home Sweet Homel’Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty,”Rule Britannia,’ `The Fighting Navy,’ ‘The Marseillaise’ and many others. The crowd was happy, but not too boisterous, and kept yelling for pieces they wanted. On the outskirts of the crowd couples were waltzing. Sometimes people joined in the music singing softly, and it was soul stirring to listen and raise our eyes to the great flags that hung over the front of the whole building—the flags of the Allies.

As we watched and listened to the band, a strange thrill rang through us as we realized it was a Day of Days. Never while we lived would there be another like it. Yet, amidst all the cheering, and happy as we were, our hearts went out to the lads whose sacrifice made possible the new day that has dawned. The cheer was hushed on our lips, and a prayer came instead. As the band played ‘God Save the King’ and ‘God Save Our Splendid Men,’ the scene changed before our eyes; the crowds faded away, and all became quiet as we remembered the lads sleeping where the white crosses gleam in the star light. Ah! Canada will never forget!

It will likely be some time before we see you home again; but until then, our thoughts are with you. We hope you will all have good luck and a happy time, and that from now on life will give you the good things to make up for all the hardship and suffering you have endured.”

Signed: Miss Taylor

Page revised: 10 February 2015

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