North Sydney marks its unique place in WW1 history

Janis and Richard Rose entertained the crowd in period costume, talking about what it was like in North Sydney 100 years ago.

Wet and wild weather Saturday may have cancelled a parade in North Sydney, N.S., to mark 100 years since the First World War ended, but a special commemoration went ahead.

North Sydney knew the end of the war was coming on Nov. 10, well ahead of the rest of North America.

The news got out and, a century ago, the whole community celebrated in a big way.

“The party would have gone on and on and on,” said Richard Rose of North Sydney’s historical society. “You wouldn’t have had to ask, ‘Can I join in?’ You would have been dragged in.

“It would have been a great time for everybody.”

About 75 people crowded into the museum for the armistice celebration.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Rose said he’s disappointed the parade was cancelled. He said army, sea and air cadets were going to take part along with pipers and drummers from the Cape Breton Highlanders and members of the Royal Canadian Legion.

He said the society acquired uniforms from the First World War that cadets would have worn during the parade.

“So that they would been able to effectively be a flyer or a soldier or a sailor from the First World War.,” he said. “They were really looking forward to being able to do that because that was exciting, something they hadn’t been able to do before. Unfortunately, the rain washed us out.”

Royal Air Force veteran Simon Jones with his son Matthew and wife Jennifer Lemoine Jones. Jones is originally from England, but now lives in North Sydney.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

But that didn’t stop people from coming out to celebrate.

About 75 people crowded into the small North Sydney Heritage Museum for a re-enactment of the moment when a telegraph operator learned an armistice ending four years of war would be signed the following day.

Janice Harris played Annie Butler Smith, the telegraph operator who was the one who received the message that the war was over.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Janice Harris dressed as Annie Butler Smith, the telegraph operator at the Western Union office.

“I’m sure she was a precocious lady who couldn’t keep that to herself. And I think that’s how all of North Sydney found out what was going on,” Harris said.

Simon Jones, originally from England but currently a resident of North Sydney, attended the event with his wife and son.

Jones is a veteran of the Royal Air Force. He served for 18 years all over the world.

“I came out today because today is a unique day for the world — 100 years since the end of the First World War,” he said.

“As a veteran, I feel very deeply about commemorating and celebrating and passing down information with regards to any commemorations of sacrifices that were made by millions of people over the years for peace.”

Jones said the event was special to see. He only recently learned how North Sydney had been the first to learn that was ending.

“I remember learning Morse code as an air cadet years ago … it was great to see and pass down that information to my son that this is how messages were transmitted and received.”

Western Union staff photo in 1915. When the war ended in 1918 there were 375 people working at the North Sydney office.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Alex Gilchrist, a member of the celebration committee, said he was happy with the turnout.

“We’re very encouraged with the number of people that are here and they seemed to have certainly enjoyed the program,” he said.