Events in Manitoba History: Peace Day in Winnipeg (19 July 1919)
by Ian Stewart
The 11 November 1918 Armistice, fighting ceased on the Western Front. However, the official end to the war was not until 28 June 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris, France. To celebrate the day, King George V declared that Saturday, 19 July 1919 would be a public holiday across the British Empire. On 9 July 1919, the Government of Canada confirmed that the holiday would also be held in Canada. Winnipeg’s city councilors said that, although nothing had been finalized, Winnipeg would “stage a celebration equal to any in the country.” The city needed a holiday, it had just recovered from the flu epidemic, Winnipeg’s war-weary battalions had returned home to dismal public receptions, jobs were few and far between and labour strife continued. Peace Day was an opportunity for rejoicing, as Canada’s Acting Prime Minister George Foster said, “to close the long and terrible chapter of the Great War.”
On the holiday, parades and concerts were held across the country, but the West clearly outshone the East in celebrating the peace. The Vancouver Sun banner headline declared the giant party at Vancouver’s Stanley Park the “Greatest Fete In City’s History.” The Saskatoon Daily Star proclaimed their Peace Day bash brought out “The Biggest Crowd in the History of Saskatoon.” However, “Saturday Celebrated Quietly in Ontario,” wrote the Manitoba Free Press; “The peace celebrations in Halifax and across that province produced little enthusiasm,” said the Ottawa Citizen and “Montreal Did Not Celebrate,” declared the Vancouver Sun.
Page one of the Friday 18 July Winnipeg Tribune told Winnipegers to “Cut Loose Folks, Joy unconfined and unrefined will reign in Winnipeg Streets on Saturday morning.” On a lovely summer day, thousands of jam-packed Winnipegers joined the giant Jazz parade that started at Market Square and snaked through the city streets “like a Bolsheviki convention, start no place and end no place.” For those not interested in a rowdy parade, events were planned for all ages: children’s activities, as well as cricket and baseball and tournaments were held at the city parks or a family could get on a train and enjoy a day at Grand or Winnipeg Beach. For those looking for something more private, “motorists whizzed to their favorite resorts where the crowds and the din and the jazz can’t penetrate and after the lunch basket has been rifled a person can lie on the grass and fight the mosquitoes.”
“It is a hopeless task,” the Winnipeg Tribune proclaimed, “to attempt to describe the joy, the life, the happy crowds, the flying confetti, the street decorations, the gaily decked motors, the bands, the thronging parks—everything.” Winnipegers filled the parks: over 6000 enthusiastic fans watched Brautigan’s Quakers play Sheehan’s Maroons at River Park’s ball diamond, 25,000 people, in 6000 cars, crowded into Assiniboine Park for the band concerts and the evening fireworks, 12,000 visited Kildonan Park and over 4,000 crammed into Central Park for the day’s events. When it was all over, the usually staid Manitoba Free Press penned, “From dawn to dusk—24 hours of the greatest joy possible for human beings to experience—was the extent the population of Winnipeg indulged in the peace celebrations.
“Empire Celebrates Peace Day,” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 July 1919, page 2.
“Cut Loose Folks, Joy Unconfined,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 July 1919, page 2.
“Empire Celebrates Peace Day,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 19 July 1919, page 1.
“Peace Fought For, Longed For and Prayed For By War-Torn Millions Will Be Celebrated Today,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 July 1919, page 1.
“Joy Unconfined at Peace Celebration,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 July 1919, page 1.
“Greatest Fete In City’s History,” Vancouver Sun, 20 July 1919, page 1.
“Saturday Celebrated Quietly in Ontario,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 July 1919, page 2.
“The Biggest Crowd In Saskatoon History,” Saskatoon Daily Star, 21 July 1919, page 1.
“Winnipeg Crams Sacrificed Fun,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 July 1919, page 1.
“Canadian Cities And Towns Rejoice During Peace Day,” Calgary Herald, 21 July 1919, page 1.
“Winnipeg Broke Loose with a Vim Worthy of a Momentous Occasion,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 July 1919, page 1.
“Cities And Towns Across Canada Joined In Celebrations,” Ottawa Citizen, 22 July 1919, page 2.
This page was prepared by Ian Stewart.
Page revised: 14 April 2020