On Nov. 11th, 1918, the First World War came to an end.
This brutal four year conflict had shattered the lives of millions of Canadians. Nearly 61,000 lives had been lost. A great many more of those who had served returned with serious wounds to their bodies and/or their minds.
Many families faced severe financial hardships because of the loss of the bread-winner during the War, or the inability of many returning veterans to find jobs, due to ill health and/or high unemployment.
There were not the government social assistance programs that exist today.
As it was, most levels of government were essentially bankrupt due to the costs of the war effort and the shattered economy. It therefore fell to private charitable groups to provide some relief to the widespread distress.
The main charity which provided support to families of those serving overseas, and later to the returning veterans, was the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
This charity held a centralized fund of donations, which were then administered in the various communities across Canada by local volunteer committees.
The key promoter of the C.P.F. was Sir Herbert Ames, a Montreal industrialist and Conservative Member of Parliament. With his political influence, Ames was quickly able to get the Canadian parliament to pass the necessary legislation to establish the C.P.F.
The residents of Red Deer responded quickly and warmly to the initiative.
A local Patriotic Committee was in place by mid-September 1914, just six weeks after the outbreak of the War. Edward Michener, Red Deer’s MLA and the leader of the Conservative Party in Alberta, agreed to be the Committee’s local president.
The secretary-treasurer was J.E. Cunningham, the local manager of the Cunningham Land Company (formerly the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company), which owned tens of thousands of acres of land in and around Red Deer.
A large patriotic rally was held at the Red Deer Armouries on Sept. 26th, 1914 to get the local fundraising launched. Sir Herbert Ames attended as the featured speaker.
An enormous crowd turned out. Ironically, part of Ames’ address had to be moved to the smaller Lyric Theatre as there was no projector available at the Armouries for his slide presentation.
Nevertheless, the Red Deer Branch of the C.P.F. was off to a strong start.
In accordance with the guidelines set by the provincial coordinating body, wives of men serving overseas were to be given $36 per month, with $5 to $9 for each child, depending upon their age. The maximum pay-out per family was set at $60 per month, or roughly $2 per day.
As the War dragged on, and more and more men left for service overseas, the Red Deer Branch of the C.P.F. often found itself running a deficit as more was being paid out that was received in donations.
Fortunately, the national and provincial C.P.F. acted as a funding back-stop so that no local became insolvent. In mid-September 1915, Ames returned to Red Deer to help rally more donations to the Fund.
The crowds were noticeably smaller than had turned out for his first visit.
By the latter part of the War, increasing inflation and growing numbers of returning disabled veterans put huge pressures on the C.P.F.
Pay-outs to eligible recipients were adjusted. However, with the rising cost of living, these amounts were now much less than had been paid in 1914 in terms of ‘real-time’ dollars.
Finally, in 1918, the provincial government brought in a Patriotic Fund Tax on property owners to help keep the Alberta C.P.F. solvent.
The federal government made donations to the C.P.F. tax deductible under the newly enacted federal income tax.
The post-War period brought an enormous increase in claims for assistance, along with increasing difficulties in fundraising.
The federal government made an emergency appropriation to cover payments to returning veterans. Organizations such as the Great War Veterans Association and the City of Red Deer made special relief payments in cases of real destitution.
The Canadian Patriotic Fund was largely wound up by early 1920. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, support for the dependents of those serving in the military was primarily covered by government programs rather than a charitable organization.