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Maritimers and Newfoundlanders at war: The sympathy, the pride and the patriotism

As the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War nears, Canadians are reminded of the loss of thousands of young lives from their home communities and provinces.
As the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War nears, Canadians are reminded of the loss of thousands of young lives from their home communities and provinces. - 123RF Stock Photo

It’s difficult to comprehend the immense, unimaginable impact.

As the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War nears, Canadians are reminded of the loss of thousands of young lives from their home communities and provinces.

  • In Newfoundland and Labrador (then the Dominion of Newfoundland), 12,000 from a population of 240,000 joined up.
  • In New Brunswick, population 370,000, about 27,000 soldiers enlisted and 17,000 went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).
  • Prince Edward Island sent 3,000 to 4,000 from a population of about 100,000.
  • In Nova Scotia, there were about 95,000 men at that time who were of military service age, according to historian and author Professor Brian Douglas Tennyson, and about 35,000 joined up, including a couple of hundred women who served as nurses. “About four and a half thousand of them died,” he says.

The collective residue of the war for many was, of course, grief.

One can only imagine the anguish of Hubert Gagne.

As others around the world were still celebrating the end of the First World War in November 1918, the man from New Mills, N.B., was learning he had lost another son – his youngest boy – in the conflict.

The telegram from Ottawa arrived Nov. 23, 1918.

Pte. John H. Gagne had been killed in action Nov. 6, just five days before the Nov. 11 Armistice was signed.

His brother, Louis, had been killed in action the year earlier, on July 8, 1916.

In announcing the news of John Gagne’s death, the headline in the local newspaper of the day, the Campbellton Graphic, read: “Lost two boys in Great War; Fine New Mills Lads Give Their Lives for King and Country.” It mixed the sentiment of sympathy with the theme of pride and patriotism, two key elements that had drawn many young Atlantic Canadians to enlist in the “war to end all wars.”

Like the Gagne family, thousands of families from Atlantic Canada and in Newfoundland and Labrador, received those dreaded telegrams from 1914 to 1918.

Full series: ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet

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