Saanich Archives pieces together memories of First World War

Volunteers are needed to help complete a World War One commemorative project as the centenary of Armistice Day approaches

As the centenary of Armistice Day (Nov. 11) approaches, Saanich Archives are busily adding names to an honour roll remembering Saanich residents, who had served during the First World War.

“It’s important to remember our history and to remember the people, who served,” said Evelyn Wolfe, Saanich archivist. “Everyone who lived in Saanich a 100 years ago was affected by the war.”

Saanich Remembers World War One has been collecting and commemorating their collective contributions since 2012 and always welcomes additional volunteers, who can help flesh out and expand the list of service personnel from Saanich that includes three women.

It currently includes 452 names — up from 355 when the project first started — and Wolfe estimates that as many as 800 Saanich residents fought in the First World War between 1914 and 1918. With the centenary of its end little more than six months away, Saanich Archives are now looking for additional assistance.

“Of the ones that we have researched, we have discovered that 27 have died in action, five died of wounds later, [and] 124 survived and returned,” said Wolfe. “We have 19 names where the research is in progress, and still 277 names out of 452 to be researched.”

In short, much work remains to be done, and thanks to modern technology, would-be volunteers can do the research from their homes.

“They can do the research online,” she said. “They don’t have to come into the archives.”

The project dates back to 1912 when Wolfe’s predecessor Caroline Duncan started to think about ways to remember the approaching centenary of the end of the First World War. During her research, she stumbled across a handcrafted list of names, who had served during the First World War.

First started in 1917, the pencil-and-ink document drafted by Saanich resident and war veteran R.G. Rice had passed through various private and public hands before ending up in the Saanich Archives mislabeled as a document from the Second World War.

Once the true nature of the document had become apparent, it has grown to its current number as archival staff and volunteers have added to it over the years with the assistance of various official resources, as well as a touch of detective work, matching addresses on attestation papers with maps from the era or the addresses of post offices.

Wolfe said volunteers have come from a range of backgrounds. Some have had family members, who had served, she said. “Others are just people, who are interested in history, or World War I in particular,” she said.

Saanich Remembers has also tried to add more context to the period through a series of history talks and teaming up with other World War I events through the Greater Victoria area like last year’s Vimy 100 at the Bay Street Armoury and the University of Victoria memorial project titled A City Goes to War.

So far, this work has uncovered some previously unknown gems. They included Muggins, a dog, who served as a sort of mascot for the Canadian Red Cross. His owner was from Saanich, and he and his pet would stand near the Legislative Assembly to collect contributions, Wolfe said.

“He was credited for raising thousands and thousands of dollars,” she said. “He was quite famous at the time. He was photographed with very important people like the Prince of Wales, and General Arthur Currie [the commanding officer of the Canadian Expeditionary Corps].”

Research efforts are ongoing and the archives are planning a major exhibition later in the fall at the Arts at Cedar Hill. For more information, see here.

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