Armistice Day

Banner photo is of Armistice Day celebrations at Bay and King streets on November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

From the distance of nearly a century, it’s hard to imagine the tumult of emotions unleashed by the armistice which ended the First World War on November 11th, 1918.  After four long, grim years of war and an incomprehensible number of dead, the overwhelming feelings of joy and relief – and likely a fair dose of disbelief – must’ve been dizzying.

In Toronto, as in countless cities around the world, the release from war had a geyser-like effect on the population and people poured onto the streets to celebrate en masse.

And so, to celebrate this Remembrance Day, I thought we might travel back to November 11th, 1918 and stroll through the city to see if we can capture even an ounce of the experience…

part-1-toronto-outdoes-itself-toronto-world-nov-11-1918
Headline from The Toronto World, November 12th, 1918.

News of the armistice had come in the pre-dawn hours and Torontonians tumbled out of their beds to mark the momentous occasion.

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Toronto World, November 12th, 1918.

A view of Yonge St from the third floor of City Hall:

Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41 - Miscellaneous photographs
Yep, I’d say that’s good and jammed.  That car was going nowhere. Queen and James Street, November 11th, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.
suddenly-awake-half-dressed
There aren’t many times in life when being ‘suddenly awake and half dressed’ is a good thing – but this would be one of them.  From The Toronto World, November 12th, 1918.

These would be some of the aforementioned can-beaters:

Armistice Day. - 1918
I love the kid with the cigarette in his mouth.  He has a “George Bailey-before-everything-went-south” thing going on.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

As for that fire truck with the clanging gongs, well, it wasn’t just sounding off for fun:

part-3-toronto-outdoes-itself-toronto-world-nov-11-1918
Burning effigies and starting bonfires?  Making a racket?  This was clearly Toronto at its most fun.  From The Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

But wait, there was more …

burning-fire-sprinkling-maidens-1
I get the fire, I guess, though I feel for the poor baker – but talcum? From The Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

From there things got a little more, uh  artful…

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The ability to quickly slap together a casket and effigy  is pretty impressive.  From The Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

Sadly, I’ve yet to find any photos of these fiery celebrations, but I can certainly show you the great, joyous crowds that flooded the city’s main streets:

Armistice Day, Terauley and Queen streets. - 1918
Questionable driving at Terauley and Queen.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

The driving may have been all over the place, but the Torontonian’s natural gift for lining up was in evidence:

Armistice Day, Adelaide Street West. - November 11, 1918
“Hey fellas – what gives?  I thought we were banging cans?”  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.
Armistice Day, Yonge and Queen streets. - 1918
Not much doing here, but enjoying doing it together.  Yonge and Queen streets.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.
Streetcar on Spadina Crescent. - November 11, 1918
Revellers riding atop the Spadina streetcar at Spadina Crescent.  These days this is probably your best bet for getting a seat.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.
Armistice Day. - 1918
I’ll bet these kids never forgot this.  It’s a wonder that car could move.  November 11, 1918. From the City of Toronto Archives.
Armistice Day celebrations. - November 11, 1918
At this moment, everything is right in her world.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.  

And of course, it wouldn’t be a celebration without these guys:

Armistice Day, King Street West. - November 11, 1918
There is palpable glee in this bunch.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

As the city celebrated, work of every description ground to a halt – except for firefighting, of course:

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Even stock brokers feel joy. From the Toronto World, November 12th, 1918.

Here’s one factory closing everyone can feel good about:

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From the Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

Of course, with all the roads jammed, many across the city couldn’t make it out of their neighbourhoods – so they started up their own parades:

part-2-earlscourt-and-the-east-end-the-toronto-world-november-12-1918
… I’d never really thought about it before, but I’m starting to regret that, as a city, we’ve lost our yen for effigy-burning. From The Toronto World, November 12th, 1918.

Meanwhile in the rhyming East End …

part-1-east-end-the-toronto-world-november-12-1918
This is always the way – it’s all great fun until some poor kid gets knocked under a milk wagon. From the Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

Yes, happiness and mayhem seems to have suffused the city – also, apparently, some booze:

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It’s hard to make out but it says “All of the drunks and minor offenders in the police court were given their freedom yesterday on account of the peace celebration. Magistrate Kingsford stated that he was loth to punish anyone on a day on which everyone should be thankful.”  From the Toronto World, November 12, 1918.

Magistrate Kingsford sounds like a decent man.  I’d imagine it was the one day in police court when everyone walked out smiling.

Armistice Day, Bay and King streets. - November 11, 1918
Merrymakers at Bay and King.  November 11, 1918.  From the City of Toronto Archives.

Today, of course, we celebrate November 11th very differently.   Once the thrill of war’s end was realized, the anniversary became the solemn commemoration of those who gave their lives in service.  Which is as it should be.  But it’s wonderful to go back to that very first day of peace and find a city not yet thinking of what tomorrow would bring, but being grateful that yesterday was behind them.

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7 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. I’ve been kind of immersed in WWI with all my volunteering projects for the past couple of years, but we’re going chronologically through the old newspapers, to match with the centenary, so aside from my combatant research, I’m still stuck at the Battle of the Somme! Which means it’s nice to skip to the end of the war and read something about the Armistice for once! I think the point at which people start burning and hanging things in effigy is where I would beat a hasty retreat, but I do understand the motivation behind it. What great old photographs though! I especially love the one of the girl straddling the old Ford; I’d totally wear her boots!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m so glad it gave you an early taste of the Armistice. I have to admit I’m envious of your centenary project – besides the fun of sifting through old newspapers (which really is my idea of fun, obviously), it must be satisfying work, compiling a fuller picture of the war. And yeah, I think I would’ve found the endless effigy burning a bit disconcerting. Just this morning, I happened on an account of the Armistice celebrations by a man who’d been a small kid at the time and he said watching an effigy of the Kaiser burning was one of the strangest things he’d ever seen. So not everyone took to it, I guess. I think I’d have been even more distressed by that fake casket the students were parading around – I get the symbolism, I guess, but you’d think they’d have had enough of death at that point. I confess when I first read it I thought ‘ah, art students.’
      So pleased you enjoyed the photos! I love that little girl and her great boots too. I’d definitely wear a pair myself. Also, I love her glazed look of too much excitement and candy.

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      1. Well, it’s not as exciting as all that…the vast majority of our newspapers are on microfilm, which despite being better for my allergies, doesn’t thrill me (it’s hard to get excited about microfilm), and it’s not really a fuller picture of the war so much as a Merton-centric picture of the war! I know way more about shopkeepers being fined for lighting their shops at night and soldiers from Wimbledon Camp being detained for public drunkenness than I do about key battles! But yeah, effigy burning freaks me out for real. It’s the main reason I’ve never been to Lewes for Bonfire Night; something about it seems a little too animalistic! And the casket thing is for sure a weird one too.

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