A look back at Revelstoke in 1915

1915 was a year of transition for Revelstoke, with life continuing in town and war raging in Europe.

  • Feb. 5, 2015 5:00 p.m.

1915 was a year of transition for Revelstoke. It was the first full year of the First World War, and enthusiasm for the war was high, while life continued apace in town.

“The war was very much on people’s minds,” said Cathy English during a Brown Bag history talk on Revelstoke in 1915 last week.

1914 closed with fire works, an Italian band in the city centre, and ski, snowshoe and ice skating parties. 1915 began with a call for peace during Sunday service on Jan. 3.

Of course, the war dominated the news. Early in the year, the 30th battalion, which included four local men, passed through town on its way from Victoria to the battlefields of France. On Jan. 23, Major-General Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia, visited Revelstoke. All the school children came out to wave the flag in a war-boosting effort.

“He knew that those from Revelstoke who had gone or would go to the front would do their duty nobly and be a great credit to the city,” the newspaper reported.

On March 6, the Red Cross Society was formed. The society played a big role in the war effort sending care packages to soldiers in Europe and raising money for Belgian refugees.

On May 26, the community celebrated the entry of Italy into the war on the Allied side. Revelstoke’s Italian community, led by the Italian band, marched down Mackenzie Avenue, accompanied by the Rocky Mountain Rangers, 54th battalion recruits, the boy scouts, high school cadets and school children.

In June, the town bade farewell to 53 recruits from the 54th Kootenay Battalion. They went to Vernon for training and on July 17, they left on the long trip to the front.

Nine Revelstokians died in the war in 1915. On April 22, Leonard Carver, James Kenneth Forbes and Walter Ernest Robinson died during the Second Battle of Ypres. John Boyle died on April 24, Cecil Roy Brown on May 21, Walter Sydney Cowling on September 27, John Dochard on October 8, David Pyper on November 17, and William McInerny on December 28.

The deaths brought the war home to Revelstoke.

The other major war event of that year was the establishment of an internment camp on Mount Revelstoke. Many citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire, mostly of Ukrainian descent were interned there for several months.

***

Life didn’t stop because of the war. The city held elections on Jan. 16,, with William Foote elected mayor and EA Mackenrot, HJ McSorley, WA Smythe, GW Bell, FH Bourne and LC Masson elected Aldermen. More than 90 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot. Foote was a prominent builder responsible for the courthouse and several Mackenzie Avenue buildings, amongst others.

There was a political squabble early in the year when the city let go of its plumbing inspector in a belt-tightening move. It was a controversial move, with Smythe asking: “Did mayor know that sewer was plugged at present?”

The inspector was axed anyways.

The biggest political story of the year was at the school board, who decided to exert their influence over Central and Selkirk Schools. The reason? They felt the students were out of control and didn’t show enough respect to their elders. The board wanted to appoint monitors to watch over students, who they said were using language that was “frequently disgusting in the extreme.”

The principals resigned in protest, and many teachers followed them. A petition demanding the principals be reinstated was signed by 480 people, to no avail.

***

Revelstoke held its first winter carnival in February. The carnival began on Feb. 8 with the unveiling of the Snow King, a behemoth 12-metre tall snowman carved by C.F. Tweedale of Salmon Arm. Mayor Foote delivered a supposedly endless speech about the Snow King.

“He stands to us for all the blessings of Heaven’s own irrigation system, for our grand forest system, for our great white-coal or electric energy system, and for in large part the attractiveness and scenic beauty of this favored mountain home of ours,” Foote orated.

The carnival’s highlight was the ski jumping competition, which turned into a contest between local hero Nels Nelsen, and Canadian Champion E. Engen. Nelsen emerged victorious, and afterward the two jumped hand-in-hand, “which excited the admiration of the spectators,” the newspaper wrote.

The town also hosted Nordic ski races, snowshoe races and a costume contest. Engin beat Nelsen in the eight mile Nordic race, while Anna Gunnarsen won the women’s race. Jack McCarty, F. Fleming and Dick Lawrence won the costume contest by dressing up as an elephant.

The other big sports event of the year was a charity baseball game between the Fats and the Leans. The Fats won 16–12, with a scout for the Detroit Tigers in attendance. The newspaper noted that some players had never played ball before. The game raised $102 for the Red Cross.

***

There were other noteworthy events in 1915. Construction of the Connaught Tunnel went ahead full steam and on Jan. 6 it was reported that a record was set by boring 342 feet in one month. Six men died that year during construction of the tunnel, including two that died when the fan that ventilated the tunnel burned out while the watchman was asleep.

On April 4, much of the community of Comaplix set fire when someone set fire to the mill. The fire destroyed 14 million feet of lumber, the Comaplix hotel, store, machine shop, stable, warehouse, dry kilns, lumber sheds, 17 homes and the steamer SS Revelstoke. The total damage was estimated at almost $500,000. The fire was started in three or four places across the lumber yard while the watchman was having dinner. Arson was suspected, but no one was ever charged.

On August 17, a rock slide east of Golden smashed into a CP Rail engine. The fireman William Thomas McLennan was killed by the slide. CP Rail fought an attempt by the man’s widow to be re-imbursed for the cost of returning his body to his home of Montreal. After a lengthy dispute, the company paid out her $224.30 in travel expenses.

This article is based on notes from Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.

 

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