Christmas a century ago, with war started, was subdued one

Christmas 1914 was a Christmas like none before it. The world was at war. Cowichan was at war. Although only into its fifth month, with more than four years of horror and millions of casualties to go, the First World

War already had touched upon the lives of many Valley residents whose fathers, sons and brothers had rushed to serve God, King and Country.

By the time it was over it was estimated that one in six Cowichan citizens had served in uniform. One in six – said to be the highest enlistment per capita in all Canada!

So what was Christmas like on the home front? In a full-page ad Cowichan Merchants Ltd. proclaimed 15-minute specials on everything from dry goods, clothing, gifts and groceries. For the lady of the house a highlight of the sale was a Bissell "Cyclo" ball-bearing sweeper – light to handle, simple to operate, and always ready, quote, unquote. (Even on Christmas Day, no doubt!) Varying models of these hand-powered sweepers ranged from $3.25-$4. For the man of the house (presumably) there was a rattan easy chair in brown and natural colours, $4.50-$5.25.

Not to be outdone, Bazett Bell Co. promoted their selection of chocolates (-10 per cent from Dec. 19 on). For Yuletide dining they had molasses (25 cents for 3 pounds), raisins, figs, dates, various nuts, popcorn, grapes and mince meat at prices that (strictly by today’s standards) appear to be ridiculously cheap. In the gift line they offered crockery, glass and chinaware, boys’ skates and hockey gear and jack knives, all with a five per cent discount for cash purchasers. There was nothing for the girls, it seems, but the family Dobbin wasn’t forgotten, a set of "non-skid" chains (I’m not making this up) costing $1.25 per set of four.

Clothiers Dwyer Smithson were more laid-back with their ad which, although prominent, merely suggested gifts in a price range guaranteed to fit most budgets: 25 cents to $25 (with specials on leather collar boxes.) Upper-scale competitors Kibler Truesdale were offering half-prices on their selection of fancy silk armbands, garters, ties, vests, shirts, slippers, etc. Gidley the druggist who candidly admitted he wanted "a share of your Xmas trade," had a selection of cut glass, leather goods, brassware, fountain pens, Kodak cameras, chocolates and Parisian ivory – everything, it seems, but pharmaceuticals.

Miss L.E. Baron’s Bon Ton Millinery Parlor was promoting silk and net waists, and ladies’ satin and silk underskirts. She urged shoppers to check out her 25-cent table and to get a ticket on a raffle for a doll. For the children, stationer and future mayor H.F. Prevost (he actually carried a little bit of everything over the years)

knew his way to their hearts: "We are proud of our stock of Toys, and justly so as we have been told by many people who are in a position to know, that there is not a finer stock anywhere in B.C. So make the children happy!" The Duncan Trading Co., sounding more like the Grinch, took an opposing tack to Prevost by urging parents to make their children’s Christmas "a different one from last year" by giving them something unexpected: clothes. They guaranteed that a new suit, coat or sweater would "give more pleasure than a carload of toys!" An unlikely vendor of toys and novelties, so one would think, was the Victoria Lumber Manufacturing Co. But, as Chemainus’ largest employer, it operated its own company store hence their half-price sale of items left over from 1913.

Such was the commercial side of Cowichan Christmas in 1914. Socially, there was just no ignoring the war, not with a front-page appeal by Lord Kitchener for another million men and another billion dollars. This was addressed to the British Empire as a whole; residents could respond, if not by offering themselves, by donating to the Cowichan Branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Chemainus students responded to the call with an impressive $32, half of which they wanted to be given for Belgian relief, tens of thousands of refugees having fled that hapless (and non-belligerent) country when it was invaded and occupied by the Germans in their rush to invade France.

Already, a second parcel of hospital slippers, wristlets and "other woollen comforts" for convalescing soldiers had been sent by the Shawnigan Lake chapter of the Canadian Red Cross Society. It would be the first of many to be sent overseas over the next four years.

Those still intending to mail letters or parcels to their menfolk overseas were reminded that postage rates had been doubled as part of Ottawa’s drive to finance the war.

To date, Cowichan had suffered a single fatality. Young Lt. Clive Phillip-Wolley’s death would be the first of hundreds and each succeeding Christmas, 1915, 1916 and 1917, would be in many respects more subdued, more sombre than that of 1914. Indeed, for many, no Christmas would ever be the same after the First World War.

www.twpaterson.com

Just Posted

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby attend opening of the first government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, Kamloops, Oct. 19, 2018. (B.C. government)
B.C. government to allow home cannabis delivery starting July 15

Added convenience expected to persuade buyers to ‘go legal’

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

Most Read