My name is Holly Peterson, and I am a third-year undergraduate History Major at the University of Calgary. I have been the City of Edmonton Archives’ clerical assistant with the Young Canada Works program for the summer of 2015. History has long been a passion of mine, so being able to play a role in the preservation of Alberta’s heritage has been a fascinating and invaluable experience.
One of the projects I completed this summer was a finding aid designed to provide researchers with resources on the First World War. As I perused government records, manuscripts, photographs, and newspaper clippings related to this event, I was impressed by just how much Edmonton had contributed to the war effort on the home front. The example I found the most notable was that, a century ago, the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds – famous as the home of K-Days – was used not only for fun and games, but as a training ground for soldiers.
The 1914 City Council Meeting Minutes book records that, on October 20, Alderman Driscoll asked on behalf of the 101 Regiment Edmonton Fusiliers if the Stock Pavilion at the Exhibition Grounds could be used as a drill hall during the winter. A week later, City Council not only approved this motion, but extended their invitation to cover the entire Exhibition Grounds and all other city property. On December 1 of the same year, the City pledged to provide the Stock Pavilion with as much free light, water, and heat as Calgary was supplying to its own troops. It seemed that Edmonton refused to be outdone by its southern rival even in matters of war!
By January 14, 1915, according to the Edmonton Bulletin, around 2,500 men of the 49 and 51 Battalions and the 101 Fusiliers called the Exhibition Grounds home. More regiments would join them over the course of the war. A formal agreement between Brigadier-General Cruikshanks, head of Military District 13, and Mayor Henry of Edmonton lent the grounds to the Militia Department “for as long as the present war, in which the Empire is engaged, shall last.” The Exhibition’s stables, poultry, and dog buildings became barracks, the dining hall an officers’ mess, and the livestock area stables for the Fusiliers’ horses. Colonel Griesbach of the 49 Battalion reported that the troops themselves – many of whom were carpenters, architects, or engineers – were responsible for making and moving the bunkbeds, tables, benches, and other furniture necessary for their stay. Cruikshanks arrived from Calgary the next morning to inspect the fair grounds and recruits.
A series of letters (MS-322.6) between various commanding officers and W.J. Stark of the Exhibition Association, all dating from 1916, reveal interesting tidbits of day-to-day life for the troops. For example, the 194 Battalion was granted permission to hold sports competitions and bet on horse races as a Victoria Day celebration. The 233 Battalion was allowed to use a corner of the pavilion as a pool room, provided it first moved the “poultry equipment” housed there to a new location! The letters also divulge mishaps like a late payment for horse feed, the theft and damage of two fire extinguishers, and the vandalism of a roller coaster. In spite of this, it seems that the soldiers greatly appreciated the Exhibition’s hospitality, with several battalions sending letters of thanks.
Want to see more pictures of the military at the Exhibition Grounds? See our catalogue.
Working at the Archives these past three months has been an amazing opportunity. I am very grateful to have learned so much about Edmonton’s exciting history.