It’s been 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War and we’ve been busy researching how what was supposed to be the ‘war to end all war’ impacted Calgary’s Fire Department. We recently installed a temporary display Keep the Home Fires Burning (‘til the boys come home) in the Military Museums’ community exhibits area. The title and theme ties in perfectly with this postcard of Calgary’s 1918 Peace Celebrations, a parade that marked the day the boys could finally come home.
The postcard shows us Calgary’s official victory parade, which started in front of Fire Headquarters at 2:30 p.m. on November 11, 1918. At first all you can see in the postcard is a blur of activity, but if you look closely you’ll spot a fire truck, with its big loud bell and firefighters piled high.
Unofficial celebrations kicked off the day before and true to form, Fire Chief James ‘Cappy’ Smart was at the centre of the action. On Calgary Public Library’s blog, Christine Hayes described the role Cappy played in letting all of Calgary know the armistice had been signed:
“Immediately on the news that Germany had accepted the terms of surrender, the news desk at the Albertan alerted Mayor Costello and Fire Chief Smart and the church bells and fire bells began to ring. It was 1:30 in the morning. Cappy Smart threw open the doors to the fire hall and sounded the bells on the fire-fighting equipment for a full 15 minutes. This drew people into town and soon the War veterans had started a parade which grew in magnitude as the day progressed. They partied all night long.”
The Calgary Daily Herald reported on the victory celebrations and outlined the program of official ceremonies on the morning of November 11. They noted that firefighters had been kept busy during the “good-natured exuberances” of the night before:
“the firemen officiated at some real excitement as, in the tail end of the celebration, someone set fire to a heap of rubbish at the corner of Eight avenue and Centre street, and a big blaze resulted for a few minutes… The firemen also had to answer several false alarms caused by excited citizens “pulling” fire alarm boxes at various corners.”
The ‘Programme of Peace Celebration’ outlined in The Daily Herald, described your typical fanfare as well as a more sinister celebration. A float in the official parade resembled a gallows and mannequins, or effigies, of the German Kaiser and Crown Prince were hanged from it before being paraded through town and burned in front of city hall. If you squint you can see the float in the top left quarter of our postcard and you can see the gallows clearly in the picture Christine featured in her blog post. Ceremoniously burning effigies might seem a bit morbid, but a similar scene still unfolds every year on Guy Fawkes Night throughout the United Kingdom. We just hope the revelers paid enough attention to fire safety!
For more about firefighting and the First World War, be sure to check out our exhibit at the Military Museums in the hallway leading up to the Founder’s Gallery. And keep an eye out for a flag from our collection that was signed by Calgary’s firefighters and sent to the front, on display in the ‘Wild Rose Overseas: Albertans In The Great War’ exhibit at the Military Museums until December 15, 2014.