November 8, 2012 7:06 am

Grief’s geography: Interactive map of Toronto’s First World War dead

When Britain declared war in August of 1914, Canada, as part of the empire, entered the conflict automatically and with a minimum of debate. In the bloody, miserable four years that followed, 60,000 Canadians died and many more emerged broken in body, mind or both.

While the war was never framed as a war for Canada’s independence from Britain, to a large extent it had that effect. (In 1939, Canada had a full debate and free vote in Parliament before finally declaring war on Germany, ten days after Britain.)

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In retrospect, there is a clear line from the maturity and self-confidence that the war gave Canada to our practical and symbolic separation from Britain, leading to steps like the hoisting of the modern Canadian flag in 1965, and our decision not to join the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After 1918, Canada would only go to war firstly, after a real national decision, and secondly, as an ally among allies.

Part of what motivated Canada toward independence is an awareness of the suffering that four years of war had brought to our doorsteps: in Toronto, about 2 per cent of the total male population was killed in the war.

Suffering on a historic scale easily becomes abstract, but was experienced at the time as personal and intimate, as households lost specific husbands and fathers to bullets, shells, gas or disease. Many lost more than one person: a couple living at 113 Langford Ave., north of Pape and Danforth, lost three sons, aged 28, 30 and 31. One died at Ypres in 1916, another was killed by a shell during a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in 1917, and the third, gassed in 1915, lingered on to die in Toronto a few weeks before the end of the war.

The Canadian Great War Project, a volunteer organization that assembles publicly available data about Canadians who served in the First World War, supplied Global News with details of 4,035 people who died in the First World War and appeared to have a Toronto connection. The data included people from villages that have since become part of the city, like Weston and Swansea.

After we screened all the names, 2,910 (totals updated November 14) had next of kin at a Toronto address that could be geocoded: at the moment, these are the people on our map. A further 124 have addresses that no longer exist in modern Toronto (these can be placed in the modern city, with more research) and a further 299 have evidence of a Toronto next of kin address, but not precisely enough to be mapped without more research. More will be added as time goes on. Enter an address to search the map.

Visit the updated 2013 map here

FINDING OUT MOREWant to research a soldier? The Canadian Great War Project link on the map is a good starting point. “Attestation papers” (enlistment paperwork) for Canadian soldiers of the First World War have been scanned and are available on line. The forms documenting a soldier’s circumstances of death and final burial are often also available scanned on the Library and Archives Canada site, but the system for finding them is very nonintuitive – I strongly recommend having a look at the finding aids on this site first.

Shannon Street

On Aug. 8 1918, artillery gunner Richard Ellis Peacock was standing by his horse team at the wagon lines at Beaucourt-en-Santerre in Somme, France, when an enemy shell exploded close to him, killing him instantly.

Peacock’s parents, Richard and Frances, lived at 33 Shannon St., a one-block street that runs just south of College between Ossington and Dovercourt.

Then there’s Private William Henry Bird, who died of wounds in January of 1917 at the age of 23. His wife Rose lived at 65 Shannon.

Private Thomas William Sharp was evacuated from the trenches in July of 1918, and died a few days later from pneumonia at the age of 37. His wife Ellen lived at 41 Shannon.

Peacock, Bird and Sharp are all buried in France, all within about 100 km of each other. But in Toronto during the war, their families lived on the same street.

In total, 10 soldiers who died in the war listed a house on Shannon Street as the address for their next-of-kin. Shannon serves as a microcosm of the impact soldiers’ deaths had on their families and the city they inhabited.

5 Shannon: William Edmund Fry died of unknown causes on Feb. 10, 1920, at the age of 22.

46 Shannon: James Ross Shephard was killed in action following a trench raid near Lens, France. His body was never identified; his name is on the Vimy Memorial in France.

54 Shannon: John Reid was in the 10th Battalion of the Canadian Engineers regiment. He died at the age of 28 of unknown causes and is buried at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.

59 Shannon: Elmer Wadham was a soldier in the Canadian Mounted Rifles regiment. He died on June 2, 1916, eight days shy of his 19th birthday.

60 Shannon: David Johnstone worked as a stonemason before enlisting in the army. He died in Belgium on April 12, 1916, at the age of 31, after being shot in the abdomen.

62 Shannon: Emerson Crosby listed as missing and presumed dead after fighting at St. Julien in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. He was 23 years old.

76 Shannon: George Herbert Brown went missing and was presumed dead on April 24, 1915, at the age of 24. His name is on the Ypres Memorial in Belgium.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Time-based animation of Toronto’s 3,200 Second World War casualties
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