WINNIPEG – Century-old streets become fields of poppies on a map of Winnipeg’s First World War fallen.
Hidden in the sea of red are stories of young lives lost, with next-door neighbours gone. Poppies cluster on some streets, and there are many homes where more than one man was killed.
Brothers James, George and John Aitken, Scottish immigrants living at 178 McIntosh Ave. in Elmwood, were all killed in the First World War.
James, who was a 19-year-old blacksmith’s helper, and George, a 21-year-old railway conductor, both enlisted in Valcartier, Quebec, on Sept. 23, 1914, in the early days of the war. John, a 31-year-old mechanic, enrolled a month later, on Oct. 24, in Winnipeg. All three were privates.
James and George did not fight long. Both young men died on April 23, 1915, on the second day of the Second Battle of Ypres. The battle tested Canadians’ military mettle, but it came at a cost: 6,000 soldiers over four days in April, including the two Aitkens. Both men were killed in action.
John died just under a year later, on April 6, 1916. He was listed as missing and presumed killed.
None of the three have any known grave, but all are memorialized at the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.
Each listed their next of kin as living at 75 Grace St. in Winnipeg, with James and George listing their father, Johnston or John, and James listing his mother, Mrs. J. Aitkens. That is the address that would have received news of their deaths as Winnipeggers began to realize how many men they would lose as the war dragged on.
The Aitkens are just three of the 934 deaths marked by poppies on the map; another 235 dead men couldn’t be mapped because there was no address or the address no longer exists.
The address of each fallen soldier is marked with a poppy on the map. Zoom in on neighbourhoods or enter addresses in the search bar and click on individual poppies to bring up the name, address, date of death, rank, occupation, burial location and links to more information about each soldier.
Do you know the stories of any of the men on this map? Share them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.