October 29, 2015

The Great War Open House

On Thursday, October 29, 2015, I made a presentation at the Great War Open House hosted by the Town of Erin Heritage Committee, held in the Council Chambers. It attempts to show what life was like in Erin in 1914 and 1915, and the role that the Erin Advocate newspaper played at that time.

CLICK HERE to download the images from that presentation as a single PDF file (33 MB).

My thanks to

- Chair Jamie Cheyne and members of the Heritage Committee.

- Councillor Jeff Duncan, who provided enthusiasm and research help.

- Doug Kirkwood, Service Officer for the Erin Legion, who shared some of his extensive research on local people involved in the war.


- Looking Back at the past is fascinating, not only because we see how different things were. When we get a glimpse of the lives of real people, we can imagine ourselves living at that time.

- The No. 7 Company of the 30th Battalion of the Wellington Rifles was based in Erin. They were formed in 1866 after the scare of the Fenian raids and eventually became part of 153rd Wellington County Battalion during World War One.

- Erin’s soldiers came from all walks of life, and enlisted in many different places. A cenotaph to help us remember our fallen was not dedicated until 1956.

Arthur Berry

- The first name on the list is Arthur Berry, a farmer from Orton, the son of George and Annie Berry of Orton, a member of the Disciples of Christ. The Canadian Great War Project is an on-line database. It says he enlisted at age 18, served with the 153rd Wellington Battalion and was killed in action at age 20. His body was not recovered.

Arthur Berry Vimy Memorial

- His name appears on the Vimy Memorial

Arthur Berry plaque

- And on a plaque at Orton United Church, formerly the Methodist Church

Population Chart

- In 1914, Erin Village had about 500 people. Erin Township including Hillsburgh and the other hamlets had a total of 3,000 – less than they had 50 years earlier. The combined Erin population would dip as low as 3,100 in World War Two. It would not pick up until 1961, after our water works were installed, and it soared to 11,000 by 2001.

- We’d had the railroad for 35 years – great for shipping out potatoes and bringing in tourists to Stanley Park. There were two trains a day to Toronto and two returning, plus regular bus service to Guelph.

Going West this Spring?

- At World War One, Erin Township had been settled for almost a hundred years, but there was no fire department, the roads were dirt or gravel, and there were no sewers.

- Life expectancy was mid-50s, many women still died giving birth and over 10 per cent of babies didn’t live until their first birthday.

- Erin was already past its peak as an industrial centre. Our water-powered mills were still operating, but steam turbines at big town factories were driving the economy.

- Rural areas like Erin were being depopulated as farming became more mechanized. People were moving to the cities and to the fertile farmland of the Canadian Prairies. Canada’s population was growing, but the immigration from Europe was being directed to the West.

- The Canadian Pacific Railway was urging people to go West, and many Erin residents did. Though many returned during the prairie drought of the 1930s.

Archduke’s assassin

- Community newspapers in those days were often the only source of news – international, national, provincial, local events and social gossip.

- The Advocate reported that Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip appeared before a magistrate in Sarajevo, expressing no guilt for assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914. It was treated as far-away political upheaval.

- And even once the war was on, many people expected it would be over by Christmas of 1914. Canadians realized only gradually that they would have to change their way of life.

King George

- King George in his uniform, ready to fight.

- Canada’s identity, outside Quebec, was embedded in the British Empire. Once England was at war, Canada was at war – no questions asked.

Mother Britain poem

- Every week, there was a poem on Page 1 – like this one, warning the bally Huns, that those who strike at Britain, must reckon with her sons.

Uniforms at Salisbury

- The Canadians looked quite spiffy in their uniforms, while training in England.

Ford car

- A few people could afford the new automobiles, but horses and buggies were still the norm. And the cars weren’t much use in the winter, so cutters or sleighs were a necessity.

Magic Baking Powder

- Here are some other examples of ads in the Advocate. Magic Baking Powder, made by the Gillett Company.

Corn Flakes

- No comment needed

The Darkest Hour novel

- Every issue of the paper had the next chapter of a serialized novel – usually a mix of romance and melodrama.

Fashion news

- And even with a world war raging, the Advocate carried the latest fashion news from Paris. This hat, with rabbit ear bows of black velvet, was considered one of the smartest creations of the season.

W.A.R. Store

- Merchants were not above using the war for commercial promotion – like this ad from W.A. Ramesbottom.

Columbia Records at Bell’s store

- Robert Bell’s store carried the latest music from the relatively new recording industry. The 3rd last song on the list: Cows may come, Cows may go, but the Bull goes on forever.


- The newspaper was packed with ads for dubious medicines, and testimonial articles claiming miracle cures. Perhaps a pre-cursor of today’s info-mercial.


- Castoria promises to contain no opium or morphine – which tells you something about other medicines on the market.

Advocate prints butter paper

- The war drove up the price of butter wrapper paper – but the Advocate was selling it at the old price. We would print almost anything.

Wellington Hull

- The publisher of the paper was Wellington Hull, a master of multiple revenue streams. Before buying the paper in 1894, he had been a farmer, a butcher, a village councillor and the reeve. He owned land in Erin village, just west of what is still known as Hull’s Dam.

- He was a Wellington County Constable, and later a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace.

- He was the official starter at local horse races

- He was a car salesman.

Advocate – Union Bank building

- Hull built a solid building and leased the ground floor to the Union Bank, later the Royal Bank.

- Wellington Hull passed the paper on to his son Roy, who passed it on to his son Charles. The family operated The Advocate for 78 years. The great thing about owning a newspaper, is that you can run free ads for yourself every week.

Farms for sale

- If you couldn’t get a loan downstairs, you could always try upstairs at the Advocate office.

Real estate agent

- He was a real estate agent and farm equipment dealer.


- An auctioneer

Marriage licenses

- And the issuer of marriage licenses. Note the cost of an annual subscription – $1 per year, which is probably why he needed other sources of income.

Bombs on Dunkirk

- The paper normally had two full pages of war news, like this story of a dirigible air raid. It was a constant narrative of heroism, foul deeds by the enemy, glorious victories and human slaughter.

War news – Nerve pills

- For those who were depressed by the war news, there were Milburn’s Heart and Nerve Pills, designed to build up the unstrung nervous system.

Pleasant pellets

- It appears some women were having crying spells. They were starting to feel old and look old – due to some weakness or derangement. Fortunately, Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets could be ordered by mail to restore youthful vigour.

German guns seized in Toronto

- There were frequent stories of German spies. Canadian transport ships had been the target of mines and submarine attacks in the Atlantic, and it was widely believed that spies had fed critical information to the enemy.

- The United States was not in the war at this stage, and there were millions of Germans living there. Canada feared those Germans might invade Canada, so as a precaution, police confiscated all firearms belonging to Germans in Toronto.

Wellington raises half-regiment

- In 1914, Wellington County was planning to raise half a regiment of 500 men. It would cost $90 to outfit each soldier, for a large expenditure of $45,000.

Acton Tanning Co. busy

- In Acton, they were working day and night to supply leather for war horses.

Cavalry horses painted blue

- The French had a novel idea – they would paint their horses blue so they would blend in with the horizon and not be noticed by the enemy.

Four horses in a shell hole

- George Arnett of Erin was a member of the Royal Horse Artillery. He said the artillery shells would make a hole large enough to put four horses in. A later letter said six horses.

Canada makes shells

- The British War Office had placed orders for $154 million worth of shells – and every machine shop or factory capable of making shells was busy. Canada was shipping out 10,000 shells per day, and hoped to push the average to 40,000 shells per day.

Drawing of barn being shelled

- There was very little action photography, but survivors would describe battles, and artists would create drawings for the newspapers – like this barn being hit by a shell.

Drawing of air battle

- Air battles caught the public’s imagination, with the exploits of flying aces like Canada’s Billy Bishop and Germany’s Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron).

Sgt. Frank Belway

- Frank Belway didn’t move to Erin until later, but he was well known as the manager of Stanley Park, owner of a grocery store and the third President of the Legion.

Distinguished Flying Cross

- In World War One he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying low over enemy lines under heavy machine gun fire, to get exact information on the positioning of their troops.

German albatross forced down by Belway

- He also had the rare distinction of forcing an enemy pilot to land behind the Allied lines.

Carmichael ad – Shot to Pieces

- The Carmichaels were a prominent Hillsburgh family with a prosperous store. The website carmichaelfamilyonline is an excellent source of information on Hillsburgh history.

John and Grace Carmichael

- Portraits of John and Grace Carmichael.

Marjorie visits

- The Advocate social notices reported a visit by their daughter Marjorie, who was about to leave for France.

Nursing Sister Marjorie Carmichael

- At the age of 29, working in Toronto as a nurse, Marjorie had enlisted as a nursing sister.

Open Letter to Women

- The Advocate carried an open letter from the most powerful women in Canada – the National Committee for Patriotic Service:

- The President was Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Connaught. That was Louise Margaret, a German princess who was married to the third son of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur – who was Canada’s Governor General. Her daughter was Princess Patricia, who had her own Light Infantry Regiment in the Canadian army. Then you had the wife of Prime Minister Robert Borden, the wife of Opposition Leader Wilfred Laurier, and a long list of upper class ladies.

- The message was simple: Canadian women must “ungrudgingly” give up their sons and husbands for this struggle.

- A side note about the Duchess – she died of influenza during the war, at a time when there was no vaccine for the flu, and doctors didn’t even know it was caused by a virus. The flu pandemic in 1918 would infect 500 million people and kill at least 50 million – 3 per cent of the world’s population. That was far more than the 11 million soldiers and 7 million civilians who died in the war.

Patriotic Concert by Brisbane students

- Student concerts and many social events were raising funds for aid to the Belgians, who were being allowed to starve to death after their country was invaded.

- Erin Township Council voted to start a Patriotic Fund to assist in the war effort. Councillors were assigned areas and would canvass every resident.

- There was also a Patriotic Association that helped out the families of soldiers. Many children did extra work in the farm fields while their fathers were away. Farmers who had not enlisted were under extreme pressure to increase food production.

W.C.T.U. knits socks

- The Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Erin was busy knitting socks for soldiers, and collecting material for bandages.

Teachers donate ambulance

- Wellington teachers decided to donate one per cent of their salaries to buy a motor ambulance for the front.

Red Cross fundraising

- The cost of treating the wounded was very high, so the Red Cross launched a major fundraising campaign.

Machine gun drawings

- It cost $1,000 for each machine gun, and the federal government appealed for public donations. In 1915, communities across Canada gave over $1 million for machine guns.

War Tax Stamp

- The federal government brought in new taxes to help pay for the war effort, including an extra one cent for every telegraph message, a one-cent war stamp on every letter (regular postage was two cents), two cents for every bank cheque, five to ten cents on train tickets, five cents on every pint of regular wine, and 25 cents on each bottle of champagne.

Surcharge on property taxes

- The provincial government brought down a special surcharge on property taxes that would raise $1.8 million.

Pensions for wounded

Severely wounded survivors were entitled to a monthly pension that ranged from $264 for privates, up to $2,100 for brigadier-generals.

Parliamentary propaganda

- News or propaganda: “Canada’s loyalty to the great struggle of the Motherland for the cause of right was again manifested in the vote of another $100,000 for the war fund by the absolutely unanimous voice of the members of the House of Commons.”

Soldiers’ fountain pens

- Soldiers were urged to buy good quality pens that would last for years after the war.

Hugh McMillan photo

- This is Hugh McMillan. When the war broke out, Prime Minister Borden promised Britain 20,000 troops. Within a month, 30,000 had enlisted at an army camp in Valcartier, Quebec.

- Travelling to Valcartier to enlist were Erin boys: Hugh McMillan, Albert McBride, Elmer Green, Horace McArthur, Alan and Ernie Royce, Howard Cox, Gordon McRae and Laurence Tarzwell.

- When Hugh McMillan signed up, he listed his occupation as “Chauffeur”, and that’s what he was assigned to do. He was a truck driver supplying the trenches, an ambulance driver, and a chauffer for senior officers.

Hugh McMillan pennant, and Marjorie

- McMillan was a prolific letter writer, and quite proud of his home. He raised the Hillsburg Pennant not far from the front lines in France.

- He also mentions Marjorie Carmichael from Hillsburg, working in a nearby hospital, keeping in touch with the local boys.

Hillsburg pennant

- Image from the Wellington Museum and Archives

- The “H” at the end of Hillsburgh did not come into common use until the Second World War

McMillan – shell didn’t burst

- McMillan was very casual about the dangers, saying his house had been hit by a shell, but it didn’t burst.

McMillan – respirators issued

- Or that he’d been issued a respirator for poison gas

- “The Germans will pay for this.”

News from Ypres

- Ypres was Canada’s first major battle. Chlorine gas was used for the first time by the Germans.

- Listen to the news language used about Canadian soldiers: “Though reduced in the lines, and with dispositions made hurriedly under the stimulus of critical danger, they fought through the day and though the night, and then through another day and night; fought under their officers until, as happened to so many, these perished gloriously, and then fought from the impulsion of sheer valor, because they came from fighting stock.”

McMillan – under fire at Ypres

- Ypres was the battle during which Doctor John McCrae of Guelph wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields.

- From the same battle Hugh McMillan wrote of rescuing a comrade whose truck had stalled, with shells falling all around. There was a German aviator overhead sending signals to the artillery. The road was filled with women and children running from the shells. “You have no idea what it was like, and I couldn’t explain it in writing”. In fact, he was having trouble writing because the guns were making the ground shake. “Bye, bye dear mother. Write soon, and oftener.”

McMillan – souvenirs

- McMillan lost a batch of letters during the Battle of Ypres, but another soldier found them and forwarded them to his parents. He sent some souvenirs, including a piece of the Yres cathedral, and a “Housewife” – a string shopping bag he picked up from a German soldier.

McMillan – if my turn comes

- “If my turn comes, it will be no worse than hundreds of other poor fellows who have fallen. The only way to do out here is to do your best and trust to God to bring you through safely.”

- “I’ve only been off duty half a day since coming to France, and that day I had a headache.

McArthur gets Advocate, congratulates hockey team

- Horace McArthur was very glad to receive copies of the Advocate at the front. He congratulated the Erin Hockey Team and wished them a successful season.

- His job was to dig trenches on the night shift, ducking out of sight when the German flares went up.

McArthur has close calls

- He too was very casual about danger, reporting that a shell had fallen four feet away from him, but that the explosion had only covered him with mud. After a bullet went through his hat, he said, “That was close enough for me”.

McArthur believed dead

- It was rumoured that Horace had been killed, and The Advocate wrote to his father, a minister, for information. Rev. McArthur reported that Horace’s letters had suddenly stopped after the Battle of Ypres. He was with the 48th Highlanders, 15th Battalion, three fourths of whom were lost.

McArthur in prison camp

- Finally a letter arrived from Horace. He had been captured, sent to a German hospital, treated for gas poisoning and appendicitis, and sent to a prison camp where he was allowed to receive mail, as long as it had no reference to the war.

- Horace later escaped from that prison camp.

F.W. Wood funeral director

- Typically, the local furniture maker would be the casket builder as well, in this case F.W. Wood.

High school debate

- His son Arthur was a senior high school student, and was involved in a Literary Society debate, arguing that the United States was morally obligated to join the war on the Allied side.

New recruiting drive

- At that time there was a new recruiting drive, and Arthur Wood was one of two high school students who signed up.

Jolly good fellows recruited

- Principal Tomlinson held a big party at his house, and the boys were each presented with a gold ring. They were also rewarded with a rendition of the song, “For They Are Jolly Good Fellows”.

Twenty volunteers

- The goal was 25 recruits and they got 20.

- Notice the wording from the editor at the end – “Keeper up the good work boys. You Country needs you now.”

35,000 more men needed – now up to 150,000

- Stories in the newsapaper could seem like a country talking to itself, reassuring itself that it was doing the right thing: “Canada is surely measuring up to her duty in her contribution of men to the war.”

- Today, it would be controversial front-page news. In 1915, it was one paragraph on an inside page – 35,000 more men needed for the firing line in France. That would bring the total so far to 150,000, but even then, we were just getting started.

- Canada had a population of 8 million in 1915. Eventually, she would have 650,000 men and women enlisted, 8.3% of the population. The casualties would total over 65,000 dead and 172,000 wounded.

- Erin Township and Village had a combined population of 3,500. From that we had 228 volunteers and 97 draftees, for a total of 325. That’s 9.3% of the local population. Of those, at least 28 died.

- As we promise every November, they have not been forgotten.
Erin is still proud that we did our bit for King and Country.

- And that’s the story so far.