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…
News of the armistice had come in the pre-dawn hours and Torontonians tumbled out of their beds to mark the momentous occasion.
A view of Yonge St from the third floor of City Hall:
These would be some of the aforementioned can-beaters:
As for that fire truck with the clanging gongs, well, it wasn’t just sounding off for fun:
But wait, there was more …
From there things got a little more, uh artful…
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:
The driving may have been all over the place, but the Torontonian’s natural gift for lining up was in evidence:
And of course, it wouldn’t be a celebration without these guys:
As the city celebrated, work of every description ground to a halt – except for firefighting, of course:
Here’s one factory closing everyone can feel good about:
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:
Meanwhile in the rhyming East End …
Yes, happiness and mayhem seems to have suffused the city – also, apparently, some booze:
Magistrate Kingsford sounds like a decent man. I’d imagine it was the one day in police court when everyone walked out smiling.
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.
I'm a Toronto gal, born and raised, and I love my city. But more than the Toronto you find today - with its spiky glass towers scratching at the sky - I love the bones of the place it once was. The human sized buildings, closer to the ground and shaped from brick, wood and stone, decorated with tile, columns and gargoyles and claimed by names etched deeply to fend off the ages. They're becoming rarer than their bland, glass brethren but there are still many of these beauties to be discovered. Finding them and rooting out the names of the men, women and industries once housed within gives me the greatest thrill - and that joy of discovery is what I hope to share with you here.