AT THIS TIME, it is poignant to inaugurate a new section of the University of St. Michael’s College / St. Michael’s College School web sites, for it is a significant anniversary in world history – the 90th Anniversary of the end of the ‘Great War’. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the ‘war to end all wars’, World War I, came to a close. Some of you who read this have grandfathers, great grandfathers and great uncles; fathers and uncles, who served in Canada’s military in that appalling and bloody conflict.
Over 3401 St. Michael’s Alumni served in the military in the ‘Great War’; 32 died in the line of duty. These numbers may not seem remarkable until one reads the ‘Honour Roll’ in the SMC Year Book of 19182. It is there that Fr. Michael J. Oliver, CSB, 1T0 (BA), teacher and administrator of the high school, and Secretary of the ‘Honour Roll’ tells us some rather astonishing figures. From the school’s inception in 1852, the student body was relatively small, usually numbering 100 to 150 in total. Fr. Oliver states, “only recently, (1910?) owing to an increase in the number of Toronto students, has the number exceeded 200” – now remember this was written in 1918, so even if we extrapolate growth we probably would not exceed 225-235.
As well, again quoting Fr. Oliver, “St. Michael’s students/graduates were to a great extent prevented from enlisting by reason of their ‘office’. This affected only college students who, as priests and theological students, had taken ‘orders’. Yet Fr. Oliver says, “we have no hesitation in saying that the following list is not more than half the full number because no organized effort was made to make the list complete.”3
We must also bear in mind another major fact – up until probably 1900-1910 the student body had significant numbers of Americans. Fr. Oliver says, “In 1905, 30% were from the U.S.; in 1895, 50% and prior to that even a larger number”.
It is important here to note therefore, volunteers to the U.S. military are, in the main, not included in the data presented. It was on 2nd February 1917, that President Woodrow Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany et al. Subsequently, when the Germans promised aid to Mexico should the Mexicans attack the United States (and British intelligence ensured that the Americans would see this), President Wilson and the U.S. Congress declared war on the 7th April 19174. We shall come back to this matter further on.
No form of remembrance for the fallen was provided, until in 1945, St. Michael’s and the Basilian Fathers decided to erect a memorial to all Alumni killed in the Great War 5. Time passed, but nothing really happened for nearly 40 years. In 1921, The University of Toronto published a Roll of Service 1914-1918 and a ‘Roll of Honour’ for those ‘Killed in Action’ or ‘Died in Service’, but this only encompassed those enrolled in University / College – our High School volunteers and those who died in service received no equal remembrance. As well, Hart House Soldiers Tower on the University campus created its ‘Memorial Archway’ where the names of the known dead from all colleges and faculties are enshrined. (Newman Chapel [St. Thomas Aquinas] also has a small remembrance plaque).
However, in late 1985 Fr. William H. O’Brien CSB, 4T3; Lieutenant (Rt’d) Royal Canadian Artillery, decided that such a remembrance had to come to fruition (See Appendix ‘A’). He became the moving spirit that culminated in the memorial carved into the stone of the ‘slype’ between More and Fisher Houses and dedicated to the memory of the 32 alumni of both College and High School who died. It was completed in the November 1988 in time for the Remembrance Day service on 11 November.
Subsequently, Fr. Bill, who in retirement had become the archivist at St. Michael’s College School, had a similar ‘Remembrance Wall’ put in place on the outside west wall of the College School chapel. It was dedicated in 2000, a year and a half after his death.
If you were to travel to Northern France and Belgium you would find the many memorials in the hundreds of cemeteries that dot the countryside. They hold the graves of most of the more than 66,6556 Canadians who never returned from the ‘Great War’ - with close to a third resting in unidentified or unknown graves. The names of those known are cut into their headstones; others show ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ above the cross, and below ‘Known Unto God’. All with no known graves have their names incised in the newly refurbished main memorial at Vimy Ridge (approx 19,000+)7. As well, there are many war dead, including Canadian, who are buried in multicultural, local church cemeteries and cemeteries of many other mid and northern European countries.
We know that the compilation of such records as these often leads to unintentional omissions. (See Fr. Oliver’s comments & fn 3). We invite all alumni and friends who may have had family members, who, as St. Michael’s Alumni, served in the Great War, to provide any information / pictures on these men. We particularly address this to our American Alumni and families for it seems all too obvious we must be missing numerous names. Any photos / vignettes would be welcome and will become a part of the web site.
NOTE: Some information and data in the foregoing introduction will be found in a coauthored article by the editor of this site, in the 2007 fall edition of St. Michael’s School magazine, The Blue Banner, Vol. 3, pages 32-33. The research by Fr. William A. Brian, CSB, was prominent in the initial ‘profiles’ of the 32 alumni KIA.
In the preparation of this website, significant amendment/additions were made to the Profiles which were sourced by the site editor from Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Commonwealth War Grave Commission, SMC Yearbooks, Torontonensis, The Honour Roll UofT 1914-18 and family members, along with pictures taken by the editor of various memorial/cenotaphs.
The editor was, in the preparation of the site, eminently assisted by Mrs. Evelyn Collins, Archivist University of St. Michael’s College, and Richard McQuaig, Archivist St. Michael’s College School, along with the much appreciated ’input ‘ Stephanie Hung 0T8.
There is a diary, now in the possession of the Canadian War Museum, written by Fr. Bill’s father, William J. O’Bien (Cap’t. Ret’d.), a teacher at SMC, which if filled with the joys of comradship as well as the tears of tragedy of death. The names of a number of the fallen, appear showing how closely the alumni of the University of St. Michael’s College shared their lives together.
However if there are any errors or omissions please advise, and send any pertinent new information as described to: The Alumni Association University of St. Michael’s College, 81 St. Mary Street Toronto, Ontario M5S 1J4
1 SMC Year Book 1919, page 58.
2 SMC Year Book 1918, page 55 para 1&2.
3 SMC Year Book 1918, page 55 para 3.
4 Marching to Armageddon, pages 123-124. Desmond Morten & J.H. Granatstein; 1989.
5 College Year Book, ‘The Thurible’, 1945, Bottom of page 9.
6 Numerous sources show in excess of 66,555 – Globe & Mail ‘Focus’ 7th April 2007 page 4; Globe & Mail Editorial Column 9th April 2003.
7 Globe & Mail 20th May 2000, Jack L. Granatstein; Globe & Mail 13th May 2000, Page A23 shows: “11,284 at Vimy for those killed in action in France”; the ‘Menin Gate’, of Ypres, Belgium shows 6,994 names for the ‘Flanders Fields’ killed in action.