Monday, July 27, 2015

Hi Ho! Off to War We Go!

This Queen Anne style home was built in 1907 for Dr. Thomas Jeffs and Minnie Jeffs. The Jeffs came from Ontario to Vancouver in 1890.

When World War I was declared, Vancouver and the rest of the province were alarmed with the presence of the German cruisers Leipzig and Nuremberg off the coast. Bank gold reserves were sent to Seattle and to Winnipeg and arrangements were made to buy all stocks of currency if the city was raided. Armed protection was demanded for the harbour, which was eventually made a closed port. Small coast defence guns were mounted on concrete emplacements at Siwash Rock in Stanley Park.

August 8, 1914, the BC militia was placed on active service - two days after the rest of Canada. Vancouver's first contribution to the war effort was a detachment of 350 men sent to guard the port of Prince Rupert.

Local units were held under arms until September 12, when British naval forces arrived in the North Pacific. The emergency was over.

Dr. Jeffs was a physician and coroner who also served as an alderman in 1906 and the police commissioner in 1907. The Grandview neighbourhood features many houses like this but this one is unique because the turret is on the inside of the lot rather than on the corner. This allows for a spectacular view of the city, mountains and harbour.

Recruiting for the 1st Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force continued during this time. In 10 days, Vancouver contributed its full share. British Columbia had more officers on the rolls than any other province and more men than any other military districts except the 2nd Divisional Area (central Ontario) and MD No. 10 (Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined). Throughout the war, BC contributed more volunteers in proportion to its population than any other province.

The first detachment, 75 British reservists, left Vancouver on August 19 for active service. Three days later 46 officers and 1022 men left in two special trains. There were 25 officers and 516 men from the Seaforths, 14 officers and 350 men from the Fusiliers, two officers and 50 men from the 18th Field Ambulance, one officer and six men from the Corps of Guides. August 26, 20 officers and 350 men from the 6th Regiment, DCOR and a detachment of the 6th Field Company of the Engineers left with a large number of Victoria volunteers.

This house was divided into suites as early as 1922 - a year before Thomas Jeffs died - and the construction of larger homes was occurring in Shaughnessy. 

These detachments included the bulk of the peacetime militiamen and almost all the militia officers. What remained was a recruiting cadre who were funnelling volunteers into the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) where they were trained and assigned to battalions. Little concern was made when organizing these groups as to where the men were originally from.

In the 1st Contingent, most of the Vancouver men found themselves in either the 7th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hart-McHarg with Major Victor W. Odlum second-in-command, or the 16th Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. Edwards Leckie. 

The restoration of the exterior as well as the development of the townhouses, was completed in 2013.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Friday, July 24, 2015

First and Second

World War I had a great impact on the world, including Vancouver.

It had been a century, since the wars of Napoleon, since the world had seen a conflict of such magnitude. The American Civil War may have been bitter and destructive but it couldn't compare to this.

War had become a gallant, occasionally fatal game to the British. These clashes were directed by professionals in an atmosphere of pageantry and hero-worship. The threat was never more than the possible collapse of a single nation. The episodes weren't as drastic as the threat of ending an entire civilization and way of life.

For the next five years, 1914-1915, this threat was real to every citizen of the Western World.

This was an immensely personal conflict to the people of Vancouver, even more so than World War II. Canada's casualties in 1914-18 were greater than those in the entire United States forces.

There were streets in Vancouver where every house had a man overseas and every block mourned two or three dead. The First World War was sheer grinding, continuous, merciless slaughter - something the second war never approached.

It wasn't a matter of if a loved one would be killed or maimed but rather when. Battalions were made up of approximately 1,100 officers and men and could be "used up" in two battles.

The 7th Battalion spent 3 years on the front and 9,000 humans went through its ranks. 1400 were killed, 7000 wounded.

The last original officer of the 16th Battalion was killed two years after the battalion arrived in France. In two years, the 47th Battalion lost 22 officers and 639 men killed, 2000 wounded. These were local units made up of local men.

Reading the paper was a horrifying experience after a battle. Casualty lists filled long columns in the papers day after day.

World War I was a war that struck home struck hard. Whereas the Second World War was a war of anxiety and frustration, had been anticipated and was never quite as bad as expected; the First World War was a war of sorrow and hatred, an unparalleled nightmare. People were unprepared for it and it struck a new terror almost daily into the hearts and minds of the people.

 Thank you to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Standoff

On May 26 and June 9, 1914, examiners allowed 34 "return men" - previous immigrants returning from visits home - to come ashore from the anchored Komotaga Maru. The Board of Trade asked for assurance on May 28 that the remaining Sikhs aboard the ship would be excluded. Ottawa had given assurances that these British subjects would not be discriminated against and an examination of a single applicant took three days. Perhaps the examiners were torn between the orders from above and the displeasures of the locals.

The examinations continued. All applicants were rejected. The Sikhs of Vancouver raised $70,000 to fight each case in court by June 1. On June 3, immigration officers were removed from the ship from protection. The passengers were held incommunicado.

That same day, Gurdit Singh refused to pay 8,000 yen due the owners of the Komotago Maru until he and his men were landed. On June 4, the Sikhs appealed to King George V personally. They refused to allow Immigration Superintendent Malcom J. Bird aboard, and the patrol launches arrested two Vancouver Japanese and two local Sikhs trying to board the ship.

For three weeks this standoff continued. The immigrants were starving, yet they refused to allow immigration patrol launches to put stores aboard. On June 25, a test case was brought before Mr. Justice Murphy, who upheld the ban. So the case taken before the full Court of Appeal and the decision was upheld in a ruling delivered on July 5. The city's East Indians then withdrew their support of the immigrants.

The following day, the immigrants attempted to kidnap an immigration officer and hold him captive in exchange for food and water. This attempt failed. On July 18, the Japanese master and crew tried to set sail and the Sikhs took over the ship. They locked the master in the cabin and threatened to slit the throat of any stokers trying to get up steam. Immigration authorities tried to board the vessel but was repelled.

Now the police were brought in. July 19, 150 city police under Chief M. B. McLennan (read about this brave officer here) and 50 special police under Captain Warden, attempted to board the Komogata Maru with the intention of provisioning her for the return voyage.

A grappling hook was thrown aboard the vessel and police with a firehose prevented the Sikhs from casting it off. The police then tried to board but were held off with a barrage of coal, bricks and old iron. Eleven policemen were seriously injured and even though all were armed, they obeyed orders not to fire on the Sikhs. 

The next step was to call for the aid of military authorities.

Assistance came immediately. In Victoria, the dismantled cruiser Rainbow was re-gunned and supplied with a crew of sailors and Garrison Artillery gunners; in Vancouver, 100 men of the Irish Fusiliers and 40 each of the Rifles and the Seaforths were called out. The Komogata Maru was overwhelmed by the troops on the wharf and the Rainbow beside her and the immigrants surrendered. The day was July 23, 1914. The ship hoisted anchor and sailed away.

Eleven days later, Canada was at war and the Komogata Maru was forgotten. But for the immigrants returning home, their journey was far from over. I wrote about this sad piece of history in a 2012 entry.

July 6 marked the fifth anniversary of the Vancouver Vagabond. What a fun five years it has been, filled with discovery, meeting new people and gaining a new respect for the city I live in. The blog has reached over 200,000 page views and I want to thank all my readers for taking the time to share this passion with me. Here's to another five years!

I also thank Alan Morley and the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill