Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.
The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.
The visitor was smiling broadly.
“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”
“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:
“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”
Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:
“What’s yours, sir?”
The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:
“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”
And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.
But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.
Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.
Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:
“What have you been doing?”
“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.
“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“
“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.
“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.
“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”
“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“
“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.
“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”
“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”
At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.
For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.
Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?
Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.
Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.
In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.
“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.
“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“
And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.
“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”
“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”
“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”
“Prohibition has hit you hard?”
“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”
Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.
A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.
One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.
But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.
“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”
“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”
“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”
Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.
Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.
These illustrations by Jim accompanied an article by Fred Griffin on female baseball players. One of the unexpected delights of reading pre-World War Two newspapers is the emphasis on amateur sports in the Sports section, often giving near-equal time to women’s sports. From the article:
Consequent upon witnessing the game of baseball described below, the Canadian National Exhibition authorities made arrangements to have the leading teams of the Toronto Major Girls’ League and other crack teams from other parts of Canada play off for the dominion championship in the Coliseum. The games will be played on the evenings of Sept. 1, 3 and 5. Three games will be played each evening. This will give Exhibition visitors an opportunity of witnessing the newest and most interesting sporting development of recent years.
“Be sure,” ran the memorandum, “to wear your old clothes for a rough time will be had by all.”
Chess is only one more of the innumerable games which has a big following in Toronto. And a chess tournament is a memorable sight. The tournament we witnessed was between forty members of the Toronto Chess Club and a single international expert and former world champion. To come to this scene in the Central Y.M.C.A. fresh from a baseball game touched the gamut of sport in one of the liveliest sport cities in the world.
The tables were laid in a hollow square. At each table sat a player with a friend at each elbow with whom he might consult. Around the inner side of the ring of tables walked the international expert, stopping a brief moment at each player to make his move and then on to the next. He played forty games against every other player’s one.
The large Y.M.C.A. room was crowded. Densely packed in back of the players were several hundred people, almost exclusively men, with eyes glued on to the nearest board. A complete silence reigned.
The players were of all ages. There was one old gentleman from Hamilton in his seventies. There was a boy of thirteen! There were university professors and mechanics, men run all to head and men all run to body, florid beef-eating men and pallid, biscuit eating men. But one thing they all had in common from the little boy and the very young men right through to the greyest head of all, and that was a peculiar air of contemplation which was fortified by a common mannerism-head rested on the hand and eyes glued to the board.
There is a stance in chess as there is in golf, tennis, bowling or anything else. Slightly sunk in the chair, each player sits forward enough to rest one elbow on the table, so that he can support his head on his hand.
As the great international expert arrives at his table the chess player does not look up. He wears a conscious, secretive expression, perhaps gently rubbing his head. The great expert looks at the board, glances shrewdly at the player’s downcast face, and then with a sudden, almost contemptuous gesture, makes his move. The player, his face unmoved except rarely by a faint smile that might reveal chagrin, never lifts his eyes from the board, but broods on and on, preparing for his next move.
Chess is a brooding, contemplative game. There appears to be hypnotism in it. The intensity of the attention which is directed down on that board for motionless minutes at time appears to be an effort to read some immense riddle, as if from some slight psychic gesture of the chessmen some hint could be got.
All the faces, after a little while, take on a blank expression as if the spirit had retreated to some far inner secret place. Hours and hours pass. The tournament started at 8 o’clock at night and the last of the games was not played until between 2 and 3 the next morning.
They say there is a peculiar type of mentality required for success in chess. In checkers, which is an infant’s game, there is life, movement, triumph, humor, action. It is a skirmish. Chess is a battle on a grand scale. The players try to read the riddle of enemy’s moves. Time does not enter into it. You could not dream of one of these players saying to another, “Come on, hurry up!” The players, for a fact, do not seem to be aware of each other at all. There is no human element visible. Abstraction settles down like winter night.
You can still see ping-pong played at the Y.M.C.A. There is still a lively trade in croquet sets at the big stores. Badminton – batting feathered shuttlecock across a net – takes up large space at the Armories. Every known form of card game has its devotees in Toronto, down to the queer fan-tan with buttons counted out from under an inverted saucer in the Chinese kitchens on Elizabeth street.
But for the remote extreme from those games of which huge grand stands and uproarious yelling is perhaps the most essential factor you must go to the brooding, contemplative, timeless abstraction of the ancient game of chess.
Editor’s Note:Fan-Tan is a form of a gambling game long played in China. It is a game of pure chance which has similarities to roulette.
For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance
“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”
“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”
“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”
“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”
“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”
“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”
“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”
“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”
“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”
“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”
“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”
“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”
“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”
“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”
“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”
“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”
“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”
“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”
“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”
“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.
“Goats,” grated Billings.
“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”
“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”
“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”
“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”
“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.
“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”
“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”
“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.
And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.
“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”
“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”
“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”
“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.
And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.
Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.
Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.
They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.
They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.
“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”
“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.
“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.
“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”
“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”
“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.
As If Old Muscles Stirred
They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.
“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”
“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.
And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.
They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.
“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.
The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.
“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”
“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.
“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”
He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.
“Budd, sir,” said Budd.
“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.
They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.
“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”
He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….
The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.
“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”
They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.
“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”
They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:
“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”
There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.
“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”
“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.
The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”
And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.
“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”
Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.
“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.
In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.
“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”
One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.
“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”
They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.
They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.
Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.
“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”
He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.
Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.
“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”
“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”
And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:
“Let me give you a hand, major.”
And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:
“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”
And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.
Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.
Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.
An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.
This image by Jim accompanied an article by Fred Griffin about the proliferation of gas stations cropping up in Toronto. It is a statement not just on the number of gas stations, but on the number of cars in the city. He states that 25 stations were built in 1927, and 38 were built in the first 6 months of 1928. The article indicated that Toronto only had 15 gas stations in 1915, the first year they were built, with 72 built between 1915 and July 1926, followed by 12 in the last half of 1926.
“[Gasoline’s] earliest distribution was in sealed five gallon cans. You bought it and filled your own, after the fashion of filling your own lamps. After that came distribution in steel barrels equipped at first with spigots and later with pumps. Then was evolved the self-measuring automatic pump. And from that grew the modern service station.”
As for how many more gas stations Toronto could support:
“He arrived at Toronto’s need of 300 stations, or twice the present number, in the following way. Toronto has some 90,000 cars of all sorts. Each uses an average of 300 gallons of gas per year. Toronto’s total gallonage would be there fore 27,000,000 gallons. A selling capacity of 100,000 gallons per service station per year should satisfy. This would call for 270 service stations. Since this calculation took no recount of visitors and tourists, he thought that 300 service stations was very modest estimate Indeed of Toronto’s ultimate needs.”
The photo included with the illustration shows one of the oldest stations from 1915 at the corner of Queen and Davies Street. A gas station is no longer at the site, but you can see where is stood based on the street view today. Even the light post is in the same spot.
Therefore The Maple Leaf, Borne Through Blood and Death, Has The Right to Its Place On The Flag of Canada – And The Spearhead That Foch Spoke About! – Here Is The Stuff of Which Flags Are Made and Tradition Is Perpetuated
Moved and seconded that the Canadian flag be the Union Jack with the Maple Leaf in gold emblazoned in the midst and the flag then mounted on a staff with a spear-head.
Fifty-seven thousand Canadian men lie on sundry half-forgotten hillsides of France and the low country with the maple leaf in brass on their breasts, though they be dust, enduring still.
Half a million Canadian men, with the maple leaf bright on their foreheads and on the collars, for four years made themselves known and marked in all of Britain, France, Belgium; in parts of the East, Saloniki, Egypt, Russia; and known, too, to every German.
In the Strand, on Princess street, Grafton street, the Rue da la Paix. Fifth avenue, the crowds would come alert and nudge one another when a plain figure in khaki, distinguishable from the hordes of brown only by brass maple leaves on brow and breast, went by.
“There!” they would say. “A Canadian! The fortress of Vimy – the quagmire of Passchendaele – the great spear-head of Amiens – the wolf pack that went with such a vengeful cry out from Arras, to Cambrai, Valenciennes, to Mons! A Canadian!”
We were known in every city and every village of more than half of Europe by a symbol, the maple leaf. Our clothes differed in no way from those of the British army, in which we served as a distinct corps. The Australian you could recognize a block away. We had only the little brass leaf. So we kept it very bright. There is no denying it: we were intensely proud of that small symbol. Men’s eyes, lighting on it, snapped swiftly to our faces. And we, conscious, stared back: conscious of fifty-seven thousand comrades left behind, on unfailing storied ground, near Ypres, on the Somme, on a certain impregnable ridge, in marshes by Passchendaele, and far and wide over a mighty battlefield of a hundred days, the hundred days of the spear-head, the days when we led the whole pack.
So the maple leaf, whatever shortcomings as a national emblem it might have had ten years ago, has no shortcomings now. It is hallowed and sanctified. Hall a million men went forth to give it meaning. Fifty-seven thousand men – and oh, that is many men! – wear it in their lonely graves.
If Canada’s performance in the world war has any meaning, national, international, imperialistic, political, then the maple leaf is important exactly in proportion to the importance of Canada’s entry on to the world stage.
When, at the Somme, we became a corps, and when, at Vimy, we got a commander of our own blood and bone, and the pride of our performance cost us no man knows what in life and death, we began to notice things. When we entered a soldiers’ hostel in the Strand, there over the central place hung all the flags of the British nations – the southern cross of Australia (and they with their distinctive, rakish uniform to boot!) – the flag of Africa, of India, even – and nothing for Canada save an ordinary marine ensign in error – we began to wish for something, too, of our own, that would symbolize the long miles between us and our home land, and the long generations far from the comfort and safety of these isles.
In the big canteens, back of the lines, again the flags of all the British nations, in each case the Union Jack with the marks of still further and greater unions on it – but nothing for Canada.
In the zone of battle a regiment goes by, columns of transport, of guns, and there, fluttering, the stars of Australia, and our guns bare and hard with never a shred of meaningful bunting on them, though their voices had as much meaning as any guns that faced the east.
The Meaning of Tradition
The Union Jack symbolizes the union of British races which founded the empire. The flags of the other nations that are growing up upon that foundation are, in every case, the Union Jack with certain further marks upon it to symbolize still further union and still wider empire. If Canada has been waiting for the right occasion to add her mark of union and of empire to the Union Jack, it has come. The maple leaf in gold emblazoned on the heart of the Union Jack.
The birth of a flag usually coincides with wars and conquests. Poetry and tradition are woven into it, if possible. Every old regiment in the world has certain honors and customs which it cherishes above all things. The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, for example, as a unit, salutes nobody but the King. That special privilege dates to the day King William’s horse ran away with him at a certain battle, and charging away from the firing line carried his majesty with great indignity through and scattered the King’s Own, which was marching to the fray. Recovering control of his steed, the king rode back and jokingly chided the colonel for not saluting the king as he passed; and he said: “From now on, this regiment salutes nobody but the king.”
And so it is. Another regiment drinks the king’s health standing with one foot on the mess table. Another breaks the glasses when the toast is drunk. The army and the navy are full of customs and special etiquette based on some treasured incident or precedent or privilege accorded in olden time.
Canada has just such a priceless incident to treasure if she has the imagination. Flags that have no tradition and symbolism in their weave are not flags but bunting.
After the great advance of the Canadian Corps at Amiens, when, with the crack French Tenth Army on their right and the Australians on their left, they thrust a great point into the German defenses towards Roy, Generalissimo Foch, the supreme commander, said: “The Canadians are the spear head of the allies.”
This is the stuff of which flags are made. If Caesar had said to one of his legions: “You are the spear-head of my army,” they would have passed those words to the ages, would have emblazoned spear-heads on their cuirasses and have worn spear-heads on their helmets. If a modern king had said those words to one of his regiments it would have been taken and treasured in symbolic form for all time.
Why not take the magnificent and historic compliment of the supreme commander of all the armies of the allies for a legend?
Let it be laid down officially as flag etiquette that in remembrance of Foch’s words, the Canadian flag, born out of that great conflict, be unfurled always and only on a staff with a spear head!
In every land, wherever the Union Jack of Canada be flung to the breeze, it must be on a staff with a gilded spear head, as part and parcel of the symbol. A hundred years from now, when other flags are flying, with whatever tradition their colors and devices portray, the Canadian flag shall fly on its spear-headed staff to remind all men and inspire our children with the historic statement of Foch on the occasion of Canada’s first appearance on the stage of the world as an entity and as a whole.
Here we have the material of tradition. There is this consolation. If we do not grasp it, probably our children will.
At the Olympic meet at Wembley last year, it was suggested by the British committee that all the empire contestants, in the great parade of all nations before the opening of the contests, be grouped together behind the Union Jack. The United States had hundreds of athletes in their section of the procession. Britain thought how fine and significant it would be to place the contestants from Canada, Australia, Africa, India and every corner of the empire in one grand and overwhelming battalion. The committees of the dominions thought differently. They decided definitely to march each behind its own flag in proper alphabetical order, in amongst all the other nations.
Canada Entitled to a Symbol
And they were right. The effect was this: A the procession of athletes of all nations, starting with A and passing through the alphabet, went by, nation by nation. And every few moments a British flag went by. Not one British flag but a score were in that great parade. One by one, the flags of the world went by the international throng, and first Australia with a splendid regiment of men carried the Union Jack and its marks of union and empire by. Then some more nations, and the British Isles went past, a great showing behind the Union Jack. Still more nations of the world, and then Canada. So the nations went past, one by one, and at the beginning and at the end came the flag of Britain with the escutcheons of her sons added. How Infinitely more imposing – this recurrence of Britain throughout that review of the nations -than had all the dominions followed under the one flag, the British committee realized fully as the moment passed.
But the flag the Canadians bore that day was not an official flag. Nor did it strike instant recognition by some symbol already known and respected from the eyes of the beholders from all parts of the world.
The objection raised to the use of the Union Jack with a device laid in the midst of it is that governors-general, lieutenant-governors’ and governors’ flags, from olden time, are the Union Jack with the coat of arms of the colonies they govern set in the middle. In the case of the Union Jack with the gold maple leaf emblazoned boldly in the centre, there can be no confusion with the governor-general’s flag, since his is the Jack with the Canadian coat of arms in the centre. The gold maple leaf without inscription of any sort laid in the heart of the Union Jack could have only one meaning, either here or in most of the countries of the world.
Artists must come into the discussion when the subject is a matter of color and form such as a flag. And the Group of Seven, intensest of all Canadian artists, might be expected to have some thought on the question of a Canadian flag.
“It is merely a question of time until we have a flag of our own in Canada,” said Lawren Harris, of the Group of Seven. “Canada is entitled to a symbol, because Canada is already as entity. The idea of the maple leaf, simply emblazoned, without scroll or legend, on the heart of the Union Jack appeals to me immensely. And the conception of the spear head appeals to me even more. For it is sentimental symbols of that sort which the inarticulate mass of people may take for their means of expression of the love of their country, above all others.”
And if there is any means by which Canada’s exploit in the world war can be preserved and brought to the notice and remembrance of all nations of the world could there be a more picturesque and romantic one than that flag etiquette should demand that flag to be flown only on a staff with spear head?
Editor’s Notes: This rather flowery article from 1925 was part of a movement for a distinct Canadian flag that developed after the First World War. Greg uses the term “ordinary marine ensign in error” to describe the use of the Red Ensign, Canada’s unofficial flag.
Ferdinand Foch was Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.
Greg mentions the “Olympic meet at Wembley last year”. I believe he mixing up the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 held in Wembley, England, and the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Maybe the committee met at the Exhibition before the Olympics.