Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/1/2017 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Another new year has begun and once again it is the perfect time to start afresh and to try to better our lives. It is also the perfect time to reflect on the past to see how far we’ve come.
Are we happier today than say a hundred years ago? What was it like in Winnipeg in 1917?
Most significantly, 1917 was a dark and difficult year for Winnipeggers, as the First World War was still raging and had been since 1914.
Newspapers in early 1918 reported that casualties in 1917 were greater than in previous years. The human toll of Winnipeg’s killed, wounded and missing was reported to be 18,278 persons.
Jim Blanchard tells us in his book, Winnipeg’s Great War, that after battles like the Somme and Vimy Ridge, "the number of recruits from all parts of the country consistently fell."
Canada passed a conscription act in August 1917 but the debate divided the country.
Prohibition was another hot issue of the time according to James H. Gray in his book The Boy from Winnipeg.
"I needed neither the temperance lectures nor the prohibition campaign to inform me about the ramifications of the liquor problem in Winnipeg."
Drunkenness on the streets was common, he wrote. His own father was an alcoholic. As a child he regularly witnessed the poverty, violence and hunger that plagued many women and their families when husbands blew their paychecks in taverns and beer parlours.
Prohibition was adopted in Manitoba in 1916.
"It had one great benefit," wrote Free Press historian Edith Paterson, "most men brought home their pay envelopes intact, or nearly so, instead of emptying them at bars and saloons on the way from work."
For Gray, who lived in the North End for some time, life as a young boy during the Great War era was not all misery. He enjoyed many outdoor sports.
"Hockey was truly the national outdoor sport in those years," he wrote. "It was played under street lights at practically every residential intersection where a dozen boys could be gathered together all winter long."
There were snowshoeing clubs, baseball, swimming, soccer and cricket teams. There were picnic excursions to the beaches along Lake Winnipeg and picnics in Kildonan Park on Sundays.
But mostly, Gray wrote, "the fun we had growing up in Winnipeg was mostly the fun we made for ourselves."
Idyllic it may have been for children but, unlike the Winnipeg of today, too many lives were lost, too many families were broken and too many suffered. It would be almost another whole year before peace would come to what Gray once called a "lusty, gutsy, bawdy frontier boom-town... the Winnipeg of my boyhood".
Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for West Kildonan. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org