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I think of the station platforms in the various towns and villages across the county, from where soldiers bid farewell to loved ones on route to war.

The Great War’s legacy in Kawartha Lakes

in Just in Time/Opinion by

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year, Canadians from coast to coast will pause for two minutes’ silence to remember those who died during the First and Second World Wars; the Korean conflict; and various peacekeeping operations in which Her Majesty’s armoured, naval, and air forces have been involved over the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

The statistics are staggering: nearly 70,000 Canadians died during the First World War (1914-1918); nearly 50,000 gave their lives during the Second World War (1939-1945); 516 died during the Korean War; and over 1,800 have paid the supreme sacrifice in various operations at home and abroad over the course of the last 70 years.

This year’s Remembrance Week commemorations will be especially significant in that exactly 100 years have passed since the Armistice was signed in a French railway carriage, drawing to an end the so-called “War to end all Wars.”  Actual peace would not be completely ratified until 1920, but November 11 quickly became the day on which millions of people across the British Commonwealth gathered around war memorials in cities, towns, and villages to pause and reflect upon the terrible cost of war.

Throughout the City of Kawartha Lakes, veterans; schoolchildren; cadets; and various civic leaders will gather around one of nearly a dozen cenotaphs scattered throughout the municipality. Bugles will sound forth the Last Post and Reveille; the skirl of bagpipes will raise up a lament to the fallen; hymns and anthems will be sung; In Flanders Fields will be read; and wreaths will be laid. The local war memorial is the most recognizable place in which the legacy of the First World War is brought sharply into focus – long litanies of young men, cut down by shellfire and bullets in the prime of life, are permanently etched in stone.

And yet, there are other places in our community that also evoke the legacy of that 100-year-old conflict – places we pass almost every day without giving much thought to the fact that here, too, walk the forgotten ghosts of the Great War.

I think of an overgrown brownfield at the southeast corner of Mary and Albert Streets in Lindsay, once home to Trent Rubber, and before that, the sprawling Dominion Arsenal complex. During the First World War, this massive facility in Lindsay churned out small arms ammunition by the thousands. Over 260 women from Lindsay and surrounding area were employed here by the end of 1917, with many more hailing from as far away as Kingston and Ottawa. These young women, wrote one correspondent, “…take pride in its growing efficiency, and are giving the same enthusiastic service that is characteristic of the women workers in munition plants, in other parts of the country and the Allied Nations.”

I think of the beautiful piece of property at the northeast corner of Kent and Angeline Streets, on which the Ross Memorial Hospital has been situated for over 115 years.  Turning back the clock over a century, we would no doubt see aspiring nurses like Winnifred Hardy, Katherine McKinnon, and Olive Williamson dashing between the old hospital building and the Annie Ross Nurses’ Home. Soon after graduation, these women would find themselves in Canada’s many military hospitals throughout France and England, the excellent training they received in Lindsay being put to use in bringing hope and healing to those wounded on active service.

I think of the countless church basements, community halls, and farmhouse parlours still standing across our pastoral countryside which once saw enthusiastic “worker bees” knitting socks, mufflers, mittens, and other items for care parcels assembled under the auspices of the Red Cross, the Women’s Institute, the Women’s Missionary Society, the Lindsay Saturday Sewers, and other such organizations. These volunteers earnestly kept the home fires burning, and were critical to the war effort.

Finally, I think of the station platforms in the various towns and villages across the county, from where soldiers bid farewell to loved ones on route to war. A stroll along Caroline Street in Lindsay will bring one to the site of Lindsay’s Canadian Pacific Railway station and gardens, long since succeeded by a string of bungalows and well-manicured lawns. On this site, in 1916, the 109th Battalion of Victoria and Haliburton Counties boarded two troop trains bound for a training camp in Barriefield, Ontario.

“Mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts crowded around the brave defenders and many a tear was shed as a last good bye was said and the parting kiss given,” we read in eyewitness accounts of the day. “Proud fathers gripped the hands of departing sons, the band played stirring airs while citizens and soldiers cheered.”

Over the last century, the places I have just mentioned have been abandoned, redeveloped, or repurposed for other uses. Commemorative plaques indicating their erstwhile purpose between 1914 and 1918 are nowhere to be found. While the physical and psychological toll war work took on those in the employ of the Dominion Arsenal; those serving as nurses with the Canadian Army Medical Corps; and those who gave of their time as volunteers with patriotic organizations might have faded into history, “their names liveth forevermore.”  Remember them, too, as you make your way to the Cenotaph on November 11.

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Ian McKechnie is a graduate of Trent University (B.A. Hons. '13) and a lifelong resident of Lindsay Ontario. He presently works as an assistant manager at the museum here in town, and is secretary of the Kawartha Lakes Heritage Network.

1 Comment

  1. Re: The Great War’s legacy in Kawartha Lakes

    Another well-written, thoughtful article by Mr. Mckechnie.

    Your point about the lack of commemorative plaques is well – taken. Our area would be enhanced by having more historical facts on display.

    It was appropriate that you sidestepped the subject of Sam Hughes’ irresponsible behaviour during WW1 on this, a day of remembrance for the true heros.

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