One hundred years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (i.e. Nov. 11th, 1918), the horrific First World War finally came to an end. It was one of the most momentous events in history.
The four years of the Great War had been a searing experience for Central Alberta and for Canada as a whole. One hundred and eighteen young men from Red Deer and district had lost their lives in the conflict.
A great many more had suffered terrible wounds, to their bodies and their minds.
Hence, the community greeted the pending news of the end of the War with as much of a sense of relief as one of rejoicing. The profound mourning over the terrible toll of the War was amplified by the fact that several of the returning veterans were bringing home a new scourge, the Spanish Influenza.
The first cases in Alberta of the pandemic ‘flu appeared on Oct. 2nd, 1918 in Calgary. Within three weeks, there were thousands of cases across the province and several deaths. On Oct. 28th, the ‘flu claimed its first Red Deer victim, William Werner, a local farmer and father of 11 children.
In the meanwhile, public meetings were banned, church services were cancelled and schools, theatres and pool halls were ordered closed.
The houses of the afflicted were put under strict quarantine. A special isolation hospital was set up on Victoria Avenue (43rd St.)
Nevertheless, there was a deep pride over the key role that the Canadians had played in finally bringing the War to a rapid end.
The Canadians had been central to the great victory at the Battle of Amiens in August 1918, which had shattered the German frontal defenses and, more importantly, German morale.
This had been followed by a rapid chain of Allied victories, generally referred to as The 100 Days.
The Canadians were now some of the very best assault troops on the Western Front. Consequently, they were front and centre in the advance.
By early November, the Canadians were advancing towards the Belgian city of Mons, where the fighting for the British forces had commenced in August 1914. It was a highly symbolic objective.
On Nov. 7th, the local C.P.R. employees were given a half-day holiday on the rumour that a cease-fire agreement had already been signed. On Nov. 8th, one of the local weekly newspapers printed two editions in order to keep up with the rapid succession of announcements and rumours.
On Monday, Nov. 11th at 1:30 a.m., word was received that all hostilities would cease on all fronts at 11 a.m., London time. Just as the fighting came to an end, the Canadians captured Mons.
Thus, the War ended where it had begun.
The local papers quickly printed a special issue with the news.
Mayor G. W. Smith declared a half-day public holiday. Plans were also quickly made for a civic celebration despite the Board of Health’s injunction against any public gatherings.
At 12:30 p.m., all the bells and whistles in the City broke out in a 30-minute peal of rejoicing. Patriotic songs were played on a special calliope that had been set up at the Western General Electric steam plant.
A crowd of returned veterans, local dignitaries and ordinary citizens paraded through the streets with the Red Deer Community Band and the local Fire Brigade taking the lead.
The throngs then gathered in what is now City Hall Park for a ceremony of celebration and thanksgiving.
There were numerous speeches and choruses of songs.
Helen Moore Dawe and Ruth Locke led the crowd in the singing. A gramophone was used to broadcast a special address by Sir Thomas White, the federal Minister of Finance. Mayor G.W. Smith asserted in his speech that this was, “The most important day in history since the death of Jesus Christ.”
In the evening, there was a huge bonfire on the City Square accompanied by the shooting of fireworks.
City council also treated a large number of veterans to a special civic banquet.
Tragically, the joys over the end of the War were quickly dampened by a renewed outbreak of the ‘flu caused by the large public gatherings.
By the time that the great pandemic abated towards the end of the year, the ‘flu claimed 54 lives locally.
Nevertheless, people fervently prayed that they had just witnessed the end of “The War to End All Wars”.