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Museum (FSC) Introduction Page 1 of 11

Introduction: The End of an Era

When the First World War began in August 1914, many Canadians supported the federal government’s decision to follow the path of Britain and join the Allies’ cause. The general consensus was that the war would end in a few months, the Central Powers would be soundly defeated, and world peace would reign once again. Very quickly, Canadians realized this would not be the case. The First World War became a long and drawn out conflict, marked by the deaths of millions of military personnel and civilians worldwide.

After five years of intense combat, the war finally ended on Monday, November 11th, 1918. Though residents of Oxford County celebrated with passion and vigour, there was no doubt that this conflict had forever changed those who endured it. Emotions were high, the result of constant feelings of fear, anxiety, exhaustion, and occasional jubilation. Oxford County families whose fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers would be returning home after years overseas, wept with thankfulness. Others who had lost family members expressed gratitude that the killing had finally stopped. Finally, those who were greeted by veterans who had experienced intense mental or physical trauma, worried about their futures and financial survival. The armistice did not mean that the suffering had ended.

Tavistock - 1918 celebrations
Victory Celebrations in Tavistock at the five corners, Nov 14, 1918 (Credit: The Lemp Studio Collection – Tavistock & District Historical Society)

In the months leading up to the end of the war, and in the period immediately after the peace negotiations, Oxford County residents adjusted to a significant era of change. Wartime conditions meant major political issues were debated and new pieces of legislation enacted, altering the ways that citizens thought about war, citizenship, and social behaviour. The most notable ones to affect Oxford residents were the expansion of women’s voting rights and the passage of prohibition laws. Also important, especially for local military families, was the passage of the federal government’s Conscription bill, which provoked debates about the merits of mandatory military service.

When the armistice celebrations ended, Oxford County residents also initiated the important project of commemorating the efforts of local “boys” who had served honourably in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Thus, the immediate postwar period in Oxford County was marked by a monument-building boom, citizens eager to erect physical and visible reminders of what they had just endured. The hundreds of local soldiers returning home throughout 1918 and 1919 were also constant reminders of this sacrifice, and citizens welcomed them back with thankful hearts and open arms.

Postcards
WWI Postcard Set, 1917 C (Credit: Woodstock Museum National Historic Site)

One final and debilitating consequence of the war was the worst pandemic to hit Oxford County―the Spanish flu. Throughout October of 1918, as rumours of a peace settlement swirled, citizens at home fought a losing battle against an invisible foe. Hundreds in Oxford County fell ill, and dozens perished. The flu pandemic, however, did make local officials realize the importance of having a centralized public health commission that, in the future, could provide support and assistance should a similar crisis occur. The flu represented just one more way that Oxford County residents were not immune to the ravages of war.

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