Sunday in the park

1916 05 01 headline
After “ravaging” High Park in yesterday’s manoeuvres, you might think that Percy and his pals deserved a day of rest. You would be wrong. Someone decided that an unprecedented open-air church parade should take place in Queen’s Park, north of the Legislature. More than 17,000 soldiers lined up in nine brigades “forming a square in front of the pulpit.”(1) The Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughter, Princess Patricia, occupied a special enclosure, and a bank of seats was provided for the city’s dignitaries. The soldiers, of course, stood for the duration, but so, it must be added, did the Duke of Connaught.

At least the weather was good:1916 05 01

Nature had decorated the surroundings with all her early beauty, leaves were showing on the trees, the sward had taken on an early green shade. The elements were in a happy frame of mind; a cool breeze swept the landscape that added to the delightfulness of the surroundings. It was an ideal day for an outside service.(2)

The Globe reported “a scene magnificent, inspiring and memorable.” In addition to the 17,679 soldiers, many thousands of Torontonians gathered to watch the troops “joined in supplication for help as in ages past,”(2) and to catch a glimpse of the King’s uncle. The preacher,  Major G.H. Williams, Senior Chaplain of the Exhibition Camp, took for his sermon text Matthew 10:34 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to 1916 04 30 preachersend peace but a sword.” Though some (by which he clearly meant pacifists and conscientious objectors) claim that “Christianity is the embodiment of a love that is passive and submissive,” Major Williams told the assembly that they were engaged in a holy war:

1916 04 30 preaching caption

We admit that the essence of our Christian faith is love, but we deny that it is submissive.  Love is a vehement passion that demands the protection of the weak and helpless; that defends women and children. This is a holy crusade because love and righteousness sent us the call. With this conviction, fellow-soldiers, we can march as duty calls.(2)

He concluded with asking God’s blessing on the men, and challenging the civilians present to “lay down all selfish things.”(2)

So reported the Globe, which also noted that “on account of the immensity of the parade,” the chaplain “was forced to address himself to the privileged people who occupied seats nearby.” (2) In other words, Percy heard nothing of service but the “sweet and solemn music of the hymns chosen for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.”(2)  And the Royal Anthem, God Save the King, which marked the close of the event.

John Boyd called it a “monster military church service.”

(1) The Globe (1844-1936). April 28, 1916. 8. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(2) The Globe (1844-1936). May 1, 1916. 9

The images and the descriptions are from John Boyd’s First World War Photographs, City of Toronto Archives. Emphasis added in the last quotation.


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