Visit this blog for regular posts about records at the Archives of Manitoba that date from the time of the First World War. Visit the Archives of Manitoba to see the records in person.

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17 December 2018

“Such an employment would be not only unseemly, but abhorrent”: Controversy and the Winnipeg Cenotaph

The Winnipeg War Memorial Committee was established to oversee the City of Winnipeg’s Cenotaph dedicated to those who died in the First World War. Created in 1924, the Committee’s mandate was to hold a design competition, select a building site for the monument, secure building funds, and to oversee the erection of the cenotaph.

It completed its first competition in 1926 and selected Toronto based sculptor Emmanuel Hahn as the winner. While Hahn had been in Canada since 1892 and was a naturalized Canadian citizen, he was born in Germany. This sparked outrage among many citizens in Winnipeg as they believed Hahn’s German heritage made him a disrespectful choice for veterans and families of fallen soldiers.

Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg War Memorial Committee fonds, Executive Committee 1925-1926, P8079/2.

The Amputations’ Association of the Great War sent a resolution to the Committee on February 4th, 1926, stating the following:

“Therefore be it resolved that we, the officers of the Winnipeg Branch, Amputations’ Association of the Great War, representing three hundred men who suffered the loss of a limb or limbs in this said war, and feeling that the adoption of this design is adding insult to injury, do strongly protest it being carried out, and strongly urge the War Memorial Committee to reconsider their action in this matter.”

While some citizens believed the Committee should still employ Hahn since he was a naturalized Canadian citizen, others did not agree with this sentiment. In a letter dated May 19, 1926, from judge Galt of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench, he believed that:

“The argument in favour of Mr. Hahn is put on the ground that, although he is a German by parentage, he has become a naturalized Canadian or British citizen.  Now it seems to me that this question of citizenship is beside the mark.  A man whose son had been killed by a member of a Canadian family, while all the other members except one, who was away at the time, approved of the deed, would surely never employ the innocent member of such a family to design and erect a monument to his son’s memory. To my mind, such an employment would be not only unseemly, but abhorrent.”

(2 images)
Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg War Memorial Committee fonds, Executive Committee 1925-1926, P8079/2.

After severe public backlash, the Committee awarded Hahn his $500.00 prize money, but refused to use his design.

The Committee then started a second competition to find a designer. The winner of this competition was Elizabeth Wood, who was born in Orilla, Ontario but resided in Toronto. Even though she won the competition, she was also Hahn’s wife. This caused even more controversy and in November 1927, the citizens of Winnipeg rejected her designs as well.

The Committee awarded Wood her $500.00 prize money and chose the runner-up of the competition, British born sculptor Gilbert Parfitt, to design the cenotaph. He was acceptable to the citizenry and the cenotaph was unveiled to the public on November 7, 1928. The cenotaph still stands in Memorial Park, on York Avenue.

Search Tip: Search Keystone to find out more about the records of the Winnipeg War Memorial Committee.


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10 December 2018

HBC and the re-instatement of discharged service men into the workforce

The end of the war meant that enlisted men returned to Canada’s cities and towns ready to re-enter the workforce. The issue that many faced was that their previously held positions had been filled or job expectations had changed. Five hundred and twenty-five Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employees enlisted for overseas service; 81 of these lost their lives. Before the war even ended, HBC faced the issue of reinstating returned soldiers into its workforce. After a former Calgary store employee was denied his position after his return in July 1918, HBC’s Governor and Committee was compelled to consider the future and what to do with the return of its enlisted employees once the war was over.

On 22 October, 1918, Governor Robert Kindersley wrote to Sir Augustus Nanton, chairman of HBC’s Canadian Committee in Winnipeg:

letter with 3 pages (3 images)
Hudsonís Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Sir Augustus Nantonís correspondence, Retirement of Companyís Servants, Pensions, Enlistments of Staff, etc., 1913-1919, HBCA RG2/2/40.

 “…it is a matter of vital importance that there should be no delay in placing returned soldiers, whose previous record with the Company is satisfactory, on the pay roll of the Company, even if for the moment no suitable employment can be found for them. The difficulty which is going to face all nations on demobilization is the fact that the majority of discharged or demobilized soldiers do not possess the means to enable them to sustain themselves and their families even for a few weeks without employment, and promptitude of re-employment is therefore the essence of the problem.”

Kindersley also addresses potential public relations issues:

“I need not dwell on the injury that bad treatment of old employees returning from the War may have on the Company’s reputation, and indirectly therefore on the popularity of its Stores.”

On 30 November 1918, only a few weeks after the Armistice was signed, Kindersley drafted a letter that was sent to all demobilized HBC employees. In it, he outlines the terms by which the employees will be rehired. He writes:

letter with one page
Hudsonís Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Sir Augustus Nantonís correspondence, Retirement of Companyís Servants, Pensions, Enlistments of Staff, etc., 1913-1919, HBCA RG2/2/40.

“Although demobilisation cannot be completed until Peace conditions have been formulated, agreed upon and complied with, the cessation of hostilities naturally brings us to the consideration of your future, and we take this early opportunity of informing you that should you wish to do so, you are at liberty to rejoin the Company’s service at any time within three months after the date of your discharge.”

Kindersley goes on to say that employees’ pay would commence on the day they were ready to resume work, even if suitable work was not available for them at that time. Moreover, they would receive the same rate of pay that was given for the job they left before enlisting, which also factored in the increased cost of living.

Kindersley concludes:

“Much of course will depend upon the nature of the problems arising during the difficult transition period following the establishment of Peace, but you may rest assured that both the Directors and your colleagues will be glad to welcome your return and to assist you in every way in your plans for the future.

With our Greetings for Xmas and best wishes for the coming year and a safe return,

Yours faithfully,

(sgd) R. M. Kindersley


Search Tip: Search “Sir Augustus Nanton’s correspondence” in Keystone for more correspondence between the HBC’s London and Winnipeg offices during the war years.


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3 December 2018

The Spanish Influenza, a visit from the U. S. President and a party with the Queen: Col. R. M. Dennistoun’s report from London

page of diary of Robert Dennistoun
Archives of Manitoba, Robert Maxwell Dennistoun family fonds, Robert Maxwell Dennistoun diary (volume 9) – London, England, 30 April 1918 to 12 February 1919, P7905/9.

Colonel R. M. Dennistoun remained in London after the Armistice to complete his work as Deputy Judge Advocate General at Canadian HQ. He continued to keep a diary of daily news and his own work and social activities.

On 18 December 1918, he wrote about the “Flu”:

6 million people have died during the last 12 weeks of influenza and pneumonia throughout the world.
20 million have perished in the 4½ years by reason of the war.
This plague has been much more deadly than the war.
Never since the Black Death has such a plague swept over the world (Times).”

On 23 December 1918, Dennistoun wrote about U. S. President Wilson’s visit to France and England. He records that Wilson had a great reception in France and that he and his wife would be arriving in London on Thursday 26 December as guests of the King:

“He is looked on with a good deal of suspicion as his attitude in regard to the freedom of the seas may not be concurred in by us.
He has spoiled everybody’s holidays by selecting Boxing Day as the date of his arrival.”

Nevertheless, Dennistoun and his family – his wife Mildred and two young daughters (who had lived in England for the duration of the war) and youngest son Peel who served with the Royal Air Force – had a “very good Xmas”. In the afternoon of 25 December, there was a “great party” for overseas Officers at the Royal Albert Hall.

“The Queen was present and gave us a souvenir medal and her Xmas card. The place was full probably 8000 present.
In the evening we danced and sang at the hotel and the children were in great form.
The awful weight of apprehension that hung over us so long is gradually lifting and we can enjoy things with a really light heart.”

R. M. Dennistoun returned to Manitoba in March 1919, and was sworn in as a Court of Appeal judge but then went back to London to complete his work at headquarters. He finally returned to Winnipeg in September 1919 and was demobilized in October 1919. He was a Court of Appeal judge until his retirement in 1946.

Search Tip: Search “Dennistoun” in Keystone for more information.


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26 November 2018

“Hurrah for the Allies”: HBC post journals and the end of the war

On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed between the Allied forces and Germany, ending the Great War. The news spread quickly and was jubilantly celebrated throughout Canada. The journals kept at HBC posts during this time offer a glimpse into, not only how the news was celebrated, but how long it took the news to reach Canada's more remote corners, relying on sporadic mail delivery to hear about it.

Many of the post journals kept in 1918 don't report on the end of the war at all. Their focus remains on detailing the day-to-day business taking place at the posts. Others are more concerned with the desperate situation caused by the outbreak of Spanish Influenza.

The writer of the journal kept at HBC's fur purchasing agency in St. John's, Newfoundland naturally got the news right away. His somewhat subdued entry for November 11 reads:

“Fair & Cold: Mr Taylor at books. Mr Carson Labrador Accounts. Leo typing & messages. Miss Grimes & Dawson typing & filing. L.C. typing. (Peace Proclaimed).”

(St. Johnís Agency post journal, HBCA B.476/a/1)

In northern Saskatchewan, the journal writer in Ile-a-la-Crosse appeared to have followed the news of the war quite closely and received the news as it broke, despite being far more remote than his colleague in St. John's. On November 5 he writes:

“War Reports Austria has surrendered unconditionally”

Two days later:

“Word over the Wire today ‘Unconditional surrender of Germany’ ”

Then, on November 11:

“War News ‘Bill fled into Holland serious Riots in Berlin Ė ’ “

(Ile-a-la-Crosse post journal, HBCA B.89/a/40)

Other journal writers heard about the end of the war a few days after the signing of the Armistice.

The post manager at Buffalo River, Saskatchewan, got the news on November 14:

“Abraham [Maurice?] arrived from Isle ala Crosse & has reported the war is Finished & that the German Emperor has quit his job & ran to Holland. Very Good News ‘Hurrah for the Allies.’ I wouldnít like to be a German to-day.”

(Buffalo River post journal, HBCA B.225/a/2)

Fort Alexander, Manitoba, received the news on November 16:

“We heard about Peace being declared today and put up the flag.”

(Fort Alexander post journal, B.4/a/9)

However, the posts to the north of Fort Alexander only got the news in the middle of December. On December 3, the Norway House post manager writes:

“I walked over to Rossville and visited Dr. Norquay and Const. Durant to ascertain if there is any truth in the rumor that the War is over. Word was apparently sent from Cross Lake to this effect, but I was unable to assure that the source of the rumor is anything more than an Indian Story. ‘Spanish Flu’ was also reported at an Indian camp at Clearwater Lake, some two or three days north of Cross Lake. It is to sincerely hoped that the latter is not correct, but if the former is true, and we can only hope that it is, the Lord be praised!”

This rumor is only confirmed on December 13:

“Heard the news today that the war is over! Went over to Rossville to carry news there. Thence to the Marshalls to give them the news.”

(Norway House post journal, HBCA B.154/a/87)

The manager in York Factory had to wait until December 16 to hear about peace:

“Mail arrived from end of steel @ 12 oc. Great News Germany surrendered on Nov 11th, the ‘___ & ___’ combination [past?]. The whole staff walking on air.”

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Post journals, York Factory post journal, 1917-1922, HBCA B.239/a/190

This writer also went back to his entry for November 11 to add in bold letters:


Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Post journals, York Factory post journal, 1917-1922, HBCA B.239/a/190

For Moose Factory, it wasnít until Christmas Eve that the news reached them through their mail delivery. Their previous mail had arrived on November 11, so the news had just missed them.

The entry for December 24 includes a newspaper clipping that sums up how the nation was feeling:

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Post journals, Moose Factory post journal, 1917-1922, HBCA B.135/a/191

Search Tip: To find post journals, search “post journal” in Keystone.


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