Victory for Victoria: 100 Years After the Peace Parade

I wrote this speech in 2018 for the Coursera course Speaking to Inspire: Ceremonial and Motivational Speeches. July 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the Peace Parade in Victoria following WWI. I was hoping to have the opportunity to see this speech delivered, either by me or someone else, but unfortunately there were no commemorative events held in the city. I share the speech now as we approach Remembrance Day, and hope that it will give you a picture of Victoria in that period immediately after the war and impress upon you the importance of one specific event in bringing our city together.


Postcard of Peace Parade, with the Red Cross float followed by Muggins, the Red Cross dog on top of an ambulance, July 19, 1919 (Saanich Archives 2015-028-012)
Postcard of Peace Parade, with the Red Cross float followed by Muggins, the Red Cross dog on top of an ambulance, July 19, 1919 (Saanich Archives 2015-028-012)

“Victoria Celebrates Victory Today”.

This was the headline that residents woke up to one hundred years ago.

An illustration of Winged Victory, palm branch in one hand and shield in the other, dominated the front page of the Daily Colonist newspaper.

Below her, a list of the afternoon and evening events:

swimming gala,
“daylight shells”,
peace concert,
singalong,
evening cabaret,
Parliament light-up,
harbour fireworks.

But the morning was reserved for what the paper called the “grand parade”.

The “monster parade”.

The parade announced by the explosion of sky bombs just after 10 a.m. on July 19th, 1919.

For four years, residents had lived under the dark cloud of the Great War.

About ten per cent of those who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force were killed, and that number was similar locally.

The population of Greater Victoria at the end of 1918 was less than 60,000. With an estimated 6,000 dead and many more injured, everyone in this city was affected in some way by the war.

Everyone knew someone who had gone overseas.

Everyone knew someone who didn’t come home.

We’ve heard the stories of tragedy, and it’s important to remember them.

But that day was not about loss. Today is not about loss.

July 19th, 1919 was about celebrating. Celebrating peace. Realizing hope. And coming together as a community.

What did peace mean to the citizens of Victoria and the surrounding municipalities?

For many, it was the idea of going back to normal life, as much as possible.

Governments had already begun efforts to help returned and injured soldiers retrain and reintegrate into civilian life.

CHARLES FREDERICK DAWSON, a contractor from neighbouring Saanich, worked for the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment.

In 1917, PREMIER HARLAN CAREY BREWSTER had awarded FRED DAWSON a Distinguished Conduct Medal for getting an injured comrade to safety while injured himself. Now, he was teaching soldiers trades like boat- and furniture- building.

The Saanich Reeve wrote in his 1918 report: “It behoves public bodies to do all that is possible to enable the soldier to settle down into his civilian position as easily, quickly and comfortably as possible.”

GENERAL SIR ARTHUR CURRIE expanded on this idea when he wrote in 1919: “The Canadians who have been spared in the providence of God are going home to their loved ones better equipped than ever to assume the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.”

Of course life would never be the same as it had been before 1914.

But the Peace Parade was the first step forward, the first step towards normalcy.

But the Peace Parade was the first step forward, the first step towards normalcy.

During the war years, the people of Victoria turned everyday actions to the cause.

Hope endured through those that kept the home fires burning for their family, friends, and neighbours overseas. Mothers, wives, and daughters kept time by knitting, what poet KATHERINE HALE of Toronto described as

“A tiny click of little wooden needles,
Elfin amid the giant hood of war;
Whispers of women, tireless and patient,
who weave the web afar.”

In Gordon Head, the women of the Athletic Club turned their attention to patriotic work. They held fundraisers, and sent parcels to soldiers on the Front: little pieces of home in the form of “good eats”, smokes, and city news.

Even animals did their bit and helped to lift spirits. MRS. BEATRICE WOODWARD regularly brought her Spitz dog MUGGINS from their house on Gorge Road to downtown.

He would then walk his route solo, with small white coin boxes strapped to his back. Well, you know how much people in this town can’t resist a cute dog. Soon his boxes were full, and MUGGINS returned to the Red Cross office to unload and head out once again.

He raised over $21,000 for the war effort and received medals for his service.

The day of the parade, MUGGINS happily rode on top of a Red Cross vehicle. For him and for the crowd surrounding him, the Peace Parade represented the realization of hope.

Our community came together that day. It was a noisy day. It was a release. It was the day that the people of this city fully exhaled after holding their breath for four long years.

From early morning until the last bomb was fired after midnight, tens of thousands of residents filled the streets with pure joy, loud cheers, and full hearts.

Poet WILSON MACDONALD of Ontario captured this feeling in his poem called Peace:

“The upturned faces of the world today
Are like the laughing waves of a sea in May.
Tears are a lost art of a hateful dream;
Laughter is King, is King.
Blow, bugles, blow; let the wild sirens scream
Let the mad music ring,
Until the very flowers shall nod and sing.”

Victoria was reunited, even if it wasn’t whole.

Coming together that day was vital. And a symbol of the community’s vitality.

The strength of the whole came from the mutual support of the many in a very difficult time.

This city will have to face adversity again.

Like the residents of 100 years ago, unaware that the Great War would not be the “war to end all wars”, we don’t know what lies ahead. We do know that there will be more uncertainty, more tragedy, and more pain.

But,

Victoria will once again persevere.

Like they did 100 years ago, we are holding on to this moment, right now, together.

Peace is fleeting so we must clasp it as tightly as we can, as long as we can.

I close with the words of Nellie McClung in her book “Next of Kin”:

“There is shadow and shine,
sorrow and joy,
all the way along.

This is inevitable, and so we must take them as they
come, and rejoice over every sunny hour of every day,

or, if the day is all dark,
we must go hopefully forward through the gloom.”

In those times of gloom, together we will remember to celebrate, to treasure, and to hold close to our hearts the moments of peace, hope, and community as we do here today.

Published by Sonia Nicholson

Sonia Nicholson is an archivist, executive assistant, and writer. She was born and raised in Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada and studied French and Spanish at the University of Victoria. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her husband, two children, and two rescue dogs. Follow her on Twitter @nicholsonsonia_

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: