BY MARK WEBER
Two Central Alberta men have played a part in bringing local and provincial history – in connection to the First World War – to life.
Local historian Michael Dawe and Dr. Bob Lampard each wrote chapters for newly-released The Frontier of Patriotism – Alberta and the First World War.
A Red Deer book launch was held recently at Sunworks, with co-editor Adriana Davies in attendance as well.
The book, which was also co-edited by Jeff Keshen, provides an in-depth look via 40 essays at all aspects of Alberta’s involvement in the war, reflecting Albertans’ experiences both on the battlefield and on the home front.
The Frontier of Patriotism has been described as the most comprehensive treatment of Alberta during these critical, transformational years.
“The war galvanized the province – which was just nine years old,” explained Davies. “We went from small towns and cities and basically an agricultural society to one that became intensely urban with all of those preoccupations – the growth of the universities, the growth of legislation around medical care — all sorts of areas.
“If you focus only on the battles – Vimy, Passchendaele, the Somme – you get that aspect, and the aspect of world politics. But you don’t understand what happened at the local level. So in terms of the historiography of Alberta, it’s a really significant book because you understand at the community level what happened. The suffering but also the rising to the challenge, and the innovation.
“We wanted to talk about the experience on the front, but through the perspectives of letters sent home, diaries, memoirs which really make it come to life. You still learn about the various battles, you know which Alberta battalions fought where, and that comes in various ways.”
The roots for the book itself stretch back a couple of years.
“I got a call in December of 2014 from the dean of arts at Mount Royal University in Calgary – Jeff Keshen,” recalls Davies. Keshen asked Davies to write and to also recommend other authors who could contribute to a book that would reflect the impact of the First World War on Alberta in general.
She knew right off who would suit the chapters that focused on this area during those years (Dawe) and who would be able to provide an overview of the province’s medical history at the time as well (Lampard). Keshen also asked Davies to co-edit the volume as well.
“I think that’s also what is significant about this anthology is that military history often comes from the national international levels. But this is also social history, and we were interested in the war’s impact on community,” she explained. “So the first section deals with the battlefront – we draw on letters, memoirs, diaries – so you really get that sense of the hell that it was over there and the extraordinary bravery as well.
“We deal with communities at war – Red Deer clearly is part of that. There are these different perspectives. And then finally in the last section, we look at the whole post-war period,” she added, including a look at the horrendous impact of the influenza epidemic.
“For Bob, I think his range is very broad because he also looks at the post-war medical scene and the implications of that.”
Lampard agreed. “It was an opportunity and a challenge to go back and research it and pull together what I could. So that’s really how it began for me, and I must say it turned out to be a fascinating topic,” he said.
“The First World War really catapulted Alberta from a young, nine-year-old province to being one of the leaders in health care – if not the leader in healthcare in Canada.”
Dawe, who as mentioned, provided the Central Alberta perspective, was also pleased to be part of the project.
“The First World War really reshaped Alberta and Red Deer and really all of Canada,” he said.
“It was the point where the great settlement of the late 19th century and the early 20th century came to a halt, and this event really transformed the economy, social attitudes, and in some respects we lost a generation from it because of the huge losses of life.
“We went from a period of incredible prosperity – the turn of the last century – to the generation after the First World War where Alberta really struggled. We were a ‘have not’ province. The economy was in bad shape.
“There were so many things that worked against the province, and it pretty much took a generation to work through a lot of the deep-rooted problems and for people to adjust to the fact that the world they had known didn’t exist anymore.”
Copies of The Frontier of Patriotism – Alberta and the First World War are available at Sunworks.