Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Storm Begins

The calm before the storm  - Muskoka - copyright Melanie Wills

The summer of 1914 was stiflingly hot, punctuated by the occasional violent storm. People sweltering in Toronto could cool down at the local beaches, Toronto Island being a favourite spot that also included hotels, an amusement park, and a stadium where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in 1914.

People with time and money escaped to the tranquil northern lakes, the majestic Muskoka region being popular with Americans as well as Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was enjoying a holiday at the grandest of the many resorts, the Royal Muskoka Hotel (mentioned in a previous blog). He was to award the prizes at the annual Muskoka Lakes Association Regatta on the Civic holiday weekend. But a couple of days before, he was hastily recalled to Ottawa. Canada and the world were suddenly bracing for the worst storm of all in that feverish summer.

It’s hard now to believe that there was cheering in the streets when the Toronto Star headline blared “WAR” on August 5th. Within weeks, 33,000 eager and naïve young men had volunteered to fight. They were farm boys and factory workers, professionals and adventure-seekers, university students and those barely out of elementary school. Several of my characters in  The Summer Before the Storm are among them.

Interestingly, a married man had to have his wife’s permission to join up. This regulation was later rescinded when more manpower was desperately needed. Altogether over 600,000 Canadians enlisted and 68,000 never returned.

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