The first Armistice Day in Kelowna almost saw war break out between veterans and would-be settlers.
A formal event to mark the one-year anniversary of the end of the First World War was a dance, presented by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Great War Veterans Association.
The attendance was “very large,” the Kelowna Record newspaper reported on Nov. 13, 1919, and a total of $360 was raised for the Victory Loan campaign.
While the first Armistice Day was held across Canada in 1919, Nov. 11 wasn’t named Remembrance Day until an act of Parliament in 1931.
Perhaps that’s because it didn’t take any special act of remembering to relive the passions and sorrows of the First World War so soon after its conclusion. One hundred years ago this week, the war’s shadow would have been felt everywhere in Kelowna, which had lost a staggering 12% of its entire male population to the four-year conflict.
And many of those who had come home to Kelowna from overseas were not quite ready to forgive and forget, as evidenced by the longest and most detailed story in the same issue of that particular newspaper.
“Alien Settlers Are Refused Admittance — Veterans Resist Landing of Party from Saskatchewan,” was the top headline.
The story details the determined effort by those who had fought in the war to prevent a group of 29 Hungarians from landing at the Kelowna dock.
Hungary had been allied with Germany in the First World War, and the prospect of seeing Hungarians move into Kelowna was too much for many locals. Word came down to Kelowna from Vernon on Nov. 10, 1919, that the Hungarians were en route.
“The war veterans had been warned of their advent and were on the look-out for them and presented such an unfriendly attitude that the would-be settlers remained on the boat,” the paper reported.
“They continued to travel up and down the lake until Wednesday, the CPR making strenuous efforts each trip to unload their embarrassing passengers,” the paper reported.
On that first Armistice Day, the boat returned to Kelowna. Townsfolk had heard a contingent of police were coming down from Vernon to ensure the Hungarians could get off the boat.
“The boat arrived about 1:30 and the wharf was crowded with people anxious to see what would happen,” the paper said.
Although they were determined to keep the Hungarians from getting ashore, the local war veterans were not willing to fight with police.
“There was a feeling even amongst the veterans that to clash with the police would be carrying the protest further than was wise,” the paper said.
Arrangements had been made between the leaders of the war vets, town worthies and the police to let the Hungarians land, then escort the group, which included 17 children, to the War Veterans Room for further discussions on their settlement plans.
But that didn’t happen. An unidentified Scotsman, whom the paper described as being “fortified with something stronger than two per cent,” positioned himself on the dock’s gangway and refused to budge.
His resistance inspired others and a “menacing spirit” took hold of the crowd, the paper reported.
“The landing party finally turned tail and returned to the boat, the leader an old man declaring they would not now come to Kelowna for a thousand dollars,” the paper said. “The crowd cheered loudly when they saw the victory had been won and the hero of it all was lifted shoulder high and carried off.”
The Kelowna crowd’s victory, however, had been won over their fellow citizens. At the bottom of the story, the paper reported all the adults on the boat had become naturalized Canadians many years earlier, and all the children had been born in this country.
The affair at the dock, therefore, had been “strictly illegal,” the paper acknowledged.
Nevertheless, a few days later, another big crowd of Kelowna citizens gathered at the theatre to reaffirm their opposition to any more “enemy aliens” arriving in town. Citizenship should be granted only to those of “Anglo-Saxon origin and ideal,” stated a resolution proposed by Rev. E.D. Braden and supported by those attending the meeting.
That same week, a crowd also gathered in Kelowna to discuss erecting a memorial in Kelowna to the city’s war dead.
“This is the first opportunity for the people of Kelowna to show their appreciation of what their boys had done in the great war,” the paper reported.
That meeting demonstrated a spirit of gratitude, respect and honour that, fortunately for us all, has prevailed over the uglier emotions on public display during Kelowna’s first Armistice Day.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter. Phone: 250-470-0750. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.