In recognition of the centennial of the Armistice of World War One, it seems fitting to highlight a small selection of the buildings that were impacted by the war here on the homefront. Overseas, Winnipeg would face massive losses. The Provincial Archives of Manitoba have identified 1,092 casualties from the First World War alone. As devastation raged in Europe, Winnipeg was facing it’s own struggles with the war. Scarcely anything in the city was left untouched by the Great War, impacting both the use of public spaces and the day-to-day operations of our smaller businesses.
Winnipeg’s original market square stood where the Public Safety building now stands today. Since it opened in 1877, the Market Building was a space for public gatherings in Winnipeg’s history.
During World War One the Market Building grounds served as a meeting point for rallies, political speeches, and military parades. In this picture you can see the 27th Battalion being presented their badges in April of 1915. The 27 th would ship out just a month later, on May 17th. While in Europe, the 27th Battalion would join the 2nd Division and took part in such battles as The Battle of Flers–Courcelette, The Battle of Ypres, and the Somme.
In 1917, on May 10th, Market Square was used as the meeting place for what the Manitoba Free Press called “the most impressive military spectacle ever seen in Winnipeg.” Organized by Harriet Walker and Harriet Lily Waugh, The Foundation Tribute Night was a fundraising effort to construct a long-lasting monument to Manitoba’s war heroes. The night kicked off with a military parade, which began in Market Square. Led by three military bands, over 3,000 uniformed men and women marched from Market Square past City Hall towards Portage and Main. Behind the parade of marching soldiers came a full motorcade which carried prominent locals and wounded soldiers, as well as banners proclaiming “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
The group then made their way towards The Walker Theater (now the Burton Cummings), where the crowds would hear music and speeches and collect funds for the proposed war monument. By all accounts, the event was a success. The Foundation Tribute Night raised $7,000 in pledges and a promised $9,503.75 in pledges.
Kings Head (120 King Street)
In 1906, the upper floor of the King’s Head building was rented out to Der Nordwestern, a German-language newspaper.
Der Nordwestern had been in print since 1889, and though there were other German-language papers in Manitoba, Der Nordwestern was one of the largest and most influential. At its peak, between 1909-1914, Der Nordwestern employed 30 people and circulated 20,000 papers weekly.
Interestingly, Der Nordwestern encouraged its readers to assimilate to their new country – an attitude that likely helped them at the onset of the First World War. The Canadian government, concerned about foreign-language papers secretly spreading anti-Canadian rhetoric, hired a Chief Press Censor to closely monitor what German papers were publishing.
As tensions grew during the war, the Canadian government pushed for increased censorship and on the 16th of October, 1918 Der Nordwestern was forced to publish in English. It would do so until operations shut down during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. Der Nordwestern was comparatively lucky, as the Chief Press Censor would outright stop the publication of 255 papers throughout between 1914-1918.
Publication of Der Nordwestern resumed in 1920 under new management, and it would continue publishing until 1969.
Portage and Main
Portage and Main today is a gathering place for locals to celebrate Canada Day and the Winnipeg Jets wins, but this isn’t anything new. When the armistice was announced on November 11th 1918, citizens of Winnipeg flocked to this iconic intersection to rejoice in the end of the Great War.
News that the war was over reached Winnipeg early in the morning on November 11th, before the sun had even risen. In fact, celebrations reportedly began as early as 3 a.m. when a lone Scotsman took to the streets to play marching tunes on his bagpipe. Not long after this, word reached Winnipeg’s factories and railyards, who would let their steam whistles blow to notify the city of the good news.
And while the Free Press had mistakenly announced the Armistice several days earlier on November 7th, Winnipeggers still had enough pep to flood the streets yet again. Braving cold wind and an early morning, boys and girls commandeered pots, pans, and garbage lids, anything noisy, and paraded down the streets making no small amount of noise.
As the announcement spread, many businesses announced closures for the day so employees and employers alike could celebrate the Armistice. The Winnipeg Tribune declared the day a “day of carnival,” with scores of people singing, dancing, and even setting off fireworks in the streets. Storefronts had been decorated with bunting and allied flags, and some enterprising hucksters had started selling flags on street corners. By noon, full parades were underway down Portage Avenue and Main Street, complete with decorated floats, and traffic had all put slowed to a crawl.
A band had set up shop on the steps of the Bank of Montreal at the corner of Portage & Main. A crowd of almost 5,000 gathered to watched and joined the band in singing the national anthem and patriotic songs.
This celebration lasted well into the night, and in the days to come there would be organized celebrations and memorials for those we lost, but November 11th, 1918 was a day of celebration in Winnipeg.