Ottawa’s working class and the First World War

While researching for the WHM’s upcoming exhibit on Ottawa’s working class during the First World War, I have been inspired by the way that people from various classes, religions, and races were able to come together as a community.

Ottawa is often described as a big city with a small city feel. The sense of community that exudes from it is one that is ever present; it is a part of its charm, its personality, and it is at the very core of Ottawa’s development. The research completed thus far only confirms this for me.

I hope that you enjoy taking a glimpse into the research that I have been conducting as much as I have enjoyed compiling it.

Hospital Ship Campaign

The first thing that caught my attention while I was looking for research topics was the nationwide Hospital Ship Campaign. It was organized by women to raise funds for the purpose of giving a hospital ship to the Empire.

The campaign was run by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) and had a goal of raising $100,000.00. In The History of the Hospital Ship Campaign, it is noted that it was seen as “an opportunity for every Canadian woman to show her loyalty and devotion to the empire [sic]” (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, n.d.a., p2). The 2-3 week campaign raised a total of $282, 857.77; a portion went to purchase motor ambulances, and the remainder was used to construct a building at the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar where the nurses would reside (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, n.d.a.).

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According to the records of the IODE, $19,541.14 came from Ottawa. Luckily for me, the IODE were not the only ones that kept records of the donations; The Ottawa Journal kept records in greater detail. They would print the names of the donors and the amount that they each donated. This list is key in examining how the various communities in Ottawa did their part at the onset of war.

There is evidence of girls from various companies pooling their money to donate, of others collecting donations at events, and many others donating what they could. From the working class to the elite, raising the money was a community effort. It is a perfect example of how a community like Ottawa can come together in times of need and go above and beyond.

One of the more notable stories that arose from the campaign was that of two little boys, Roland and Walter Garlick. Accompanying their $3.50 donation was the following letter: “Dear Sir:–We wanted to help to raise money for the Hospital Ship Fund. My brother is nearly blind, but he sold his bead work which he made at the Brantford Blind School while I have sold my manual training woodwork” (Ottawa Evening Journal, August 19, 1914).

Although the community came together on many occasions, there was still a lot of worry—especially within the working class—about job competition, dilution, and the ever-growing cost of goods.

“The May Day 18”

The second issue that caught my attention was the raid on May 1, 1918—when the Dominion Police force arrested eighteen men between the ages of 21-56 during a meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Nove Zhyttia at 268 Rochester Street.

The men were there to listen to a speech by Stefan Waskan, a Toronto-based IWW organizer (Hunchuck, Moore, May 2009.). During the raid they confiscated Austrian literature for translation purposes, and also found buttons that stated: “Social service independent workers world unite” (Ottawa Evening Journal, 2 May 1918, 1).

Internment campSeventeen of the eighteen men were sent to Kapuskasing and released on October 2, 1919. Waskan was the only one that was not interned; although he was Austrian-born, he was a naturalized British citizen, and the law stating that citizenship granted after 1902 could be revoked only applied to Canadians (Hunchuck, Moore, 2009.). Waskan was held for criminal idleness until the book and pamphlet translations were completed (Ottawa Evening Journal, 1918, p3).

Of the men that went to Kapuskasing, four returned to Ottawa and began the Ottawa Branch of the UK Labour Temple Association in 1920. Records of the other thirteen men post-internment have yet to be found. (Hunchuck, 2010)

Final thoughts

The issues surrounding Ottawa’s working class during the First World War provide a broader understanding of the struggles that were felt on the home front, while simultaneously portraying the sense of the community that existed.

The research that has been, and continues to be, conducted is a glimpse into Ottawa’s cultural past. We are looking forward to telling you more about Ottawa’s working class during the First World War.

Citations
Ottawa Evening Journal. 19 Aug 1914

Ottawa Evening Journal. 2 May 1918

Ottawa Evening Journal. 3 May 1918

Canadian Women’s Block, Royal Naval Hospital Haslar. [sketch]. Retrieved from Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. N.d.a. The History of the Hospital Ship Fund; Which was the Imperial Gift of the Women of Canada to the British Army and Navy 1914. Located at the National Archives MG28-I17 V33.

Haslar Hospital, Canadian Womens Wing. [photograph]. Retrieved from Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. N.d.a. The History of the Hospital Ship Fund; Which was the Imperial Gift of the Women of Canada to the British Army and Navy 1914. Located at the National Archives MG28-I17 V33.

Hunchuck, S.H., Moore, P.( May 12, 2009) 1918: Raid and Internment. Ottawa-Outaouais IWW. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from http://ottawaiww.org/?Page_ID=176

Hunchuck, S.H., (2010). ‘Of course it was a Communist Hall’: A spatial, social, and political history of the Ukrainian Labour Temples in Ottawa, 1912-1965. In J.Mochoruk, R.L. Hinther (Eds.), Re-imagining Ukrainian Canadians: History, Politics, and Identity. (403-435). Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. N.d.a. The History of the Hospital Ship Fund; Which was the Imperial Gift of the Women of Canada to the British Army and Navy 1914. Located at the National Archives MG28-I17 V33.

Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. N.d.b. The IODE in Wartime; A record of women’s work for King and Empire. The Bryant Press: Toronto. Located at the National Archives MG28-I17 V33.

“Inside the campground at Kapuskasing”. [photograph]. In fear of the barbed wire fence: Canada’s first national internment operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920. Ed. Luciuk, L. Kingston: Kashtan Press, 2001.

Author: Andrea Gonzalez

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