Last year at this time, I posted about James Morley’s wonderful mapping project, A Street Near You, and how I used the map to find out about men with connections to my own street, Perth Avenue in Toronto, who’d died in the First World War. Remembrance Day has rolled around again, but what a different world we find ourselves in. COVID-19 means that my house is busy during the day, whereas before I had it gloriously to myself to work away on my writing. But it also means that my friends work from home, and I’ve developed a nice routine with one of them, walking most lunchtimes.
My friend and I thought we might extend our walk for Remembrance Day, and visit Prospect Cemetery, but because of COVID, the cemetery has asked that the public stay away, so instead we’ve turned to A Street Near You, and will walk by a few of these addresses to acknowledge the people who once lived there.
A little icon on the map tells me that Stanley Arthur Price lived at 346 Wallace Avenue, between Perth Avenue and the West Toronto Railpath, and died on November 10, 1917. A quick google of his name shows that the map should actually hold two icons at that same address: Stanley’s brother, Jack, was killed in action in May of the same year.
When Jack died, the Toronto Star ran a picture of him, and an article that said, “He was 27 years old, and employed with the Canadian Kodak Co. He enlisted with his brother, Pte. Stanley Price, who went overseas with the same battalion, and is now on the reserve in England after getting trench fever in France. Pte. Jack Price was at one time a conductor on the Toronto Street Railway Co. Besides his father and mother, he leaves a 16-year-old brother, Charles, and an older brother, William, who has been rejected several times as unfit for service in the ranks. The family came from London, England, ten years ago.”
According to Stanley’s record, he too worked for Kodak, and was a tinsmith by trade. He recovered from his bout of trench fever, and returned to fighting shortly after Jack died. By November, he was engaged in the Battle of Passchendaele. His death must have been a horrible blow for the family, having already lost one son — and his service record suggests additional anguish: Stanley was reported “wounded and missing” in November, and the amended status “killed in action” came almost a year later. Many families held out hope that a man labeled “missing” would eventually return.
A Street Near You says that Frank Hamilton Fish lived a few doors west of Stanley and Jack Price, at 358 Wallace, and that he died in France in April 1918, just 19 years old. But once again, a bit of snooping reveals even greater losses. On May 10, 1918, an article headed “Second Son Killed” appeared in the Toronto Evening Telegram:
“Word has reached his mother … that her son, Pte. Frank Fish, 709466, died of wounds April 24, in No. 6 Field Ambulance Depot. He was nineteen years of age and enlisted in St. John three years ago with his two brothers. Sergt. Fred Fish was killed July 23, 1917. The third, Pte. Harry Fish, served twenty-six months and was invalided home.” The article goes on to say that the boys’ father had died a year earlier, and their sister’s husband was wounded the day Frank was killed.
Did the Fish and Price families know each other? What was it like for communities like ours to deal with such horrible losses?
A map icon for John William Smith sits at 31 Macaulay Avenue, a block north of Wallace. Smith was older than the Price and Fish sons — a 42-year-old husband and father, listed as a decorator in his record. At the time of his death, four brothers were serving in the army, as well as a son. He had a baby daughter who he’d never met, and a bit of genealogical sleuthing turns up a photograph of her that was apparently in the pocket of his uniform when he was killed in action in November 1917.
James Edward Webster was a “press operator in can factory” when he enlisted in 1916. He was married and had two little boys at that time. The family was living on King Street and only later moved to 71 Edwin Avenue. He first fell sick at Vimy Ridge, where doctors decided he had pneumonia caused by exposure to cold and dampness. “Took cold in the head in December 1916,” his record reports, “with slight hacking cough and pain in the chest. Stayed in the trenches two weeks before reporting sick.” Later it became clear he had pulmonary tuberculosis, and he was invalided home. A 1918 letter from the Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton is included in his file, and after almost nine months of treatment there tells us that, “His condition has assumed a chronic, stationary type, with temperature normal, moist sounds and sputum cleared up, probably as much as they will ever be. He will get along as well at home, living carefully, as in a Sanatorium. … His lung tissue is so much impaired that he will always be totally disabled from earning a living in the general labour market.” He died in Aurora in January 1920.
A little north and east of the Edwin address is a short street called Hugo Avenue. When my daughter was little, it always seemed that Hugo had extra spirit, and was splendidly decorated at Christmas and Halloween. What it was like 100 years ago, I don’t know, but the map suggests George Gladman had some connection to 2 Hugo, and that he died in France in September 1918. His record says that when he enlisted in 1916, he was a 29-year-old munition worker with young children and a wife named Kate. Like John William Smith, at the time of his death he had a child he’d never seen. When George died, Kate was on her own with four young children. But by 1921, the census shows her at Hugo, remarried and with a fifth child. The words “deaf mute” are scrawled beside her name. Kate’s new husband Ernest Buxton also served in the war. He suffered severe burns from mustard gas in 1917. When he died in the 1940s, the family was still living on Hugo.
These are just a few WW1 stories from addresses between my house and my friend’s, and a tiny selection of the families who lived in our community a century ago.