Christmas dinner at the Hadden house, 1910, located in Cloverdale on Old McLellan Road. From left: Dave Hadden, Jean Hadden, Patsy Hadden, Emma Hadden, Archie McGregor, Sonny McGregor, Doug Hadden, Tini Prophet, Gertie Hadden, Willie Hadden, Laura Hadden, Louie Hadden, James Hadden. (Courtesy City of Surrey Archives / 170H06)

HISTORY: December of 1917 a time of social change in Surrey

Some women allowed to vote for first time, Halifax explosion reverberates through Surrey

By Sue Bryant,

Cloverdale Reporter

When the First World War broke out in the summer of 1914, many Canadian men enlisted because they had a romantic notion of war — many thought that they would travel to the battlefront, defend their country and its way of life, and return home by Christmas as celebrated heroes.

By December 1917, men and women on the battlefront and the home front knew a different reality. December 25 fell on a drizzly, sleet-filled Tuesday, and marked the fourth Christmas since the Great War had begun.

That month of December brought significant changes to the social landscape of Canada, and they were felt on both the national and local level.

A federal election was held on Dec. 17, and the two new candidates vying for the New Westminster riding based their campaigns around the war raging in Europe.

One of the candidates, Reverend Duncan Archibald McRae, initially threw his hat in the ring as a Liberal but later separated from the party to run as an Independent due to his strong support for conscription — an issue that was not part of the Liberal Party’s platform.

McRae’s son had volunteered for the U.S. Navy, and many of his parishioners were overseas. He was a staunch defender of conscription, which had been made compulsory in August after much debate across the nation.

The year of 1917 had been especially bloody; Canadian soldiers had laid down their lives at the Battles of Ypres, Passchendaele, and Vimy Ridge and many others. The Military Service Act was enacted in an effort to supplement heavy casualties and dwindling volunteer numbers.

To drum up support for conscription, Prime Minister Robert Borden extended the vote to overseas soldiers and nurses, and, for the first time, some women on the home front were provided the right to vote. If a woman had a husband, father, brother or son in the military, they could cast their ballot.

The female voters were almost all white, middle-class women, but the Wartime Elections Act of 1917 also extended the right to vote to black women who were related to servicemen.

Around 950 eligible voters cast their ballot across the municipality, and White Rock resident Edith Mary Hughes had the distinction of being the first woman in Surrey to vote.

McRae lost the election to Unionist William G. McQuarrie, who won with 60 per cent of the vote, and Sir Robert Borden was re-elected as Prime Minister. The Surrey Gazette wryly noted, “Not a single spoiled ballot proves that the ladies know how to use their newly formed franchise.”

McRae suffered a far more profound loss that day; his son was killed in a training exercise off the coast of California. The younger McRae’s name is memorialized on the Cloverdale Cenotaph to this day.

Halifax Explosion sends reverberations through Surrey community

Despite the contentious political climate and the difficulty of having loved ones far from home at war, one didn’t have to look far to see the spirit of the community still shining brightly.

On Dec. 6, 1917, the tragic Halifax Explosion had occurred. A fully loaded munition ship bound for the war theatre had collided with another ship in a tight harbour, resulting in the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb. Several thousand people were killed or wounded and the city was completely devastated.

Across the country in Surrey, community and church groups banded together to raise funds to help the City of Halifax. The children of Surrey Centre Christ Church contributed $5 to the fund and the schoolchildren of White Rock went without their usual Christmas celebrations to donate funds in honour of the Halifax children who were affected. Surrey Council voted to send $200 – not a small sum at the time – to help their neighbours on the east coast. The local Red Cross sent socks, shirts and pyjamas.

It was the first year of Prohibition, which had come into effect in October and local Christmas celebrations were small and subdued. Many families enjoyed a meal of goose or turkey with vegetables grown in their gardens. Small homemade presents were exchanged.

With a new government elected and much uncertainty in the war, the Christmas of 1917 may have not been as merry or even as happy as years previous. But it was full of joy and quiet appreciation for the important things in life: a strong example in the resilience, fortitude and strength that is often shown in challenging times.

Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and a volunteer at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives.

 

John Quible and Dolph Biggar in the snow, South Westminster, ca. 1915. (Courtesy City of Surrey Archives / SMA89.021-03)

C. Naganulius’ house on Old Yale Road in 1912. Shown are Grandma Edwards, A.W. Holland and the horse “Old George,” R. Holland, Forlence M., and dogs Flossie and Bob. (Courtesy City of Surrey Archives / 170E19)

Just Posted

Craft beer obsession profitable for Langley charities

The 17th annual Rotary Club Tip ‘n’ Taste attracted almost 500 and fundraised about $16,000.

PHOTOS: Fathers, grandfathers flying high after discovering Langley flight museum

More than 300 visited the open house at the Langley Regional Airport Sunday.

UPDATE: All lanes open after crash closed Sea-to-Sky near Lions Bay

Hwy. 99 not expected to re-open until 2:30 p.m.

LETTER: Excited NOT to have world-class artists coming to Langley

One letter writer from Langley has just discovered Bez Art Hub and reluctantly shares her discovery.

BC Lions defensive back Marcell Young levels streaker in home opener

Young hit the fan near one of the 45-yard lines

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

B.C. NHL prospect expected to make ‘full recovery’ after an incident in Calgary

Jordy Bellerive was injured in a reported house fire Saturday night

Police: Taxi driver who hit 8 Moscow pedestrians fell asleep

Two Mexican World Cup fans were among those hit

B.C. VIEWS: Orphans of our urban drug culture neglected again

Child advocate Bernard Richard leaves B.C. with harsh message

From marijuana beer to pot cookies, Canadian companies creating cannabis edibles

Manufacturers think that edibles will do well with users who don’t want to smoke or vape

Privacy lawyer warns against victim blaming in recent sextortion scams

Perpetrators get sexual photos of the victim and threaten to share them with friends and families

Motorcycle crash sends man to hospital with life-threatening injuries

Rider collided with a car near Edmonds SkyTrain in Burnaby

QB Jennings leads Lions to 22-10 win over Alouettes

B.C. wins CFL home opener over Montreal

Most Read