Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Edmonton in Time of War

When Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, thousands of men across
Canada rushed to enlist as troops prepared for mobilization. 2000 men in Edmonton
were prepared to join the First Canadian Contingent. Many people believed the war
would be over by Christmas--they were tragically unprepared for the harsh realities of trench warfare, which dragged on four long years. 

Edmonton Bulletin, August 4, 1914 courtesy of University of Alberta's Peel Prairie Provinces Collection

The 51st. Battalion ca. 1914 Courtesy of The Provincial Archives of Alberta (A7313) 

As the war continued and casualties rose, it became necessary to assemble fresh troops. Eminent Edmontonion, Major William Antrobus Griesbach (1878-1945) was sent back home to command the 49th Battalion. Recruiting began on January 4, 1915. Men lined up in the cold for hours, ready to enlist. In a matter of months they departed for further training in Britain and were shipped to the front in October of 1915.

 Edmonton Bulletin, January 4, 1915 from the Peel Prairie Provinces collection


There was much community support for the Edmonton Battalions. Composer Jean Atkinson wrote a song called "Soldier" for the departing troops, which will be performed at our concert.

Jean Atkinson lived in Edmonton from around 1915 to1922. She taught piano at the Associate Music Studios on Jasper Avenue and served as president of the Edmonton Women's Musical Club, which put on several concerts a year. The club helped raise money for the Red Cross during WW1.

A photo of Jean Atkinson from a brochure for the Associate Music Studios, 1917. (Courtesy of Edmonton Archives A78-116)

     A "glimpse" of Associate Music Studios in 1917 (Courtesy of Edmonton Archives A78-116)


Clint Hagel, Faye Stollery, and Emily Grieve currently work at Alberta College Conservatory of Music; they wanted learn about the role of their institution in WW1 and how the conflict shaped the lives of students and faculty. Alberta College was founded in 1903 by Dr. T.C. Buchanan, pastor of McDougall Methodist Church; it was the province's first post-secondary institution. In 1904 it moved into a new building on 101 St, on the grounds of McDougall Church, where it exists today in a newer building as one of several campuses of MacEwan University. Arts, commerce, and music were the first subjects taught at Alberta College, but it soon expanded and opened its South Campus (now St. Stephen's College of the University of Alberta), where theological subjects were taught.

Alberta College North in the early 1900s (courtesy of Provincial Archives of Alberta: A3716)

During WW1, the South Campus was used as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers, so all classes were consolidated into the original North Campus in downtown Edmonton.
Miss Nettie Burkholder was the secretary at Alberta College during the war, and she corresponded with many students and graduates serving in the armed forces overseas. The boys' letters to her are kept at the University of Alberta Archives. Many of the letters still have envelopes which bear the censor's stamp:

Courtesy of University of Alberta Archives (Acc. No 88-66)

The boys were happy to hear from a friend back home. Their letters are optimistic and brave: most are looking forward to the end of the war and returning to Alberta College, only complaining of the bad weather in France, which may have been a metaphor of sorts for the severe hardship they were facing. Here is the first page of a letter from Frank Hustler, a theological student writing from a hospital in England where he was recovering from shell-shock. His writing is funny and matter- of-fact despite his obvious suffering:

Courtesy of University of Alberta Archives (Acc. No 88-66)

At our concert, we have chosen to read a letter to Miss Burkholder from J.W. Bainbridge. Bainbridge was a theology student serving as a machine gunner at the time of writing. According to historical records, Bainbridge was awarded a medal for his service; after the war he became a minister and lived in Medicine Hat, Alberta. 

Bainbridge is pictured fourth from the left in the back row of this photo of the Alberta College Glee Club from 1914:

 Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta (A16354)


The City of Edmonton Archives directed us towards the diary of Mary Capling-Hyde. She married Matthew Hyde on December 30th, 1891. In 1900 she started a diary in which she recorded the daily activities of her family and the neighbourhood. She had three children, Alice, David and Robert. In May 1911 her family moved to Edmonton where she resided on 117 ave and 83 street for the rest of her life. 

Matthew Hyde joined the 66th Battalion at 46 years of age, and was killed in action on Sept. 26, 1916. 

Mary obsessively repeats certain phrases in her diary--"war as bad as ever” and “Mat no more” run throughout her writing as constant reminders of her loss.

Several entries and a poem from Mary's diary will be read at our concert.


Picture of the Hyde family
Back: David, Mary, Alice
Front: Matthew, and Robbie 
(Courtesy of Edmonton Archives A2002-67)

Diary entry from October 12, 1916, the day Mary found out Mat had been killed: (Courtesy of City of Edmonton Archives A2002-67)

Concert Announcement

On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Canada joined the allied forces as the the
world plunged into a bitter conflict in which close to 10 million people were killed. To
acknowledge the centenary of the First World War, baritone Clint Hagel, actor Faye Stollery,
and, pianist Emily Grieve will present "Songs and Letters of WW1: 1914-2014," a recital of
classical art-song, poetry, and prose from and about the war. Most of the pieces to be performed
are by composers and writers who witnessed WW1 first hand--these are the stories of average
soldiers in the trenches, worried wives and mothers, nurses, the bereaved, and survivors whose
lives were changed forever. Alongside works by well-known artists like George Butterworth and
Wilfred Owen, we will present pieces from the local archives which poignantly illustrate how the
people of Edmonton were affected by the war. We will conclude the recital with contemporary
reflections, including a poem by Emily Grieve and a song-cycle by award-winning Alberta
composer, Jesse Plessis.

"Songs and Letters of WW1: 1914-2014" will take place on November 8, 2014 at 7:30pm in
Muttart Hall at MacEwan University (Alberta College Campus). We are also looking to expand this project, so we'll keep you posted as to additional dates and venues.

This concert was inspired by an online WW1 centenary project based in Britain called 'Letter to an Unknown Soldier.' Thousands of letters were written to the Unknown Soldier statue in Paddington station and posted on the project's website. Check it out here