100 bells for 100 years

Historical WWI graves at Union Cemetery in Oshawa. Photo credit: Jackie Graves

“At the end of World War One church bells rang across Canada,” says Ron Goebel, the chairman of Ontario Command for the Royal Canadian Legion.

This year on the 11th of November, the Royal Canadian Legion is hosting a national event called the Bells of Peace, to commemorate the signing of the Armistice. A hundred years after the date the war ended, Canada still remembers.

Communities like Oshawa, Bowmanville and any town with a Legion will ring 100 bells at sundown in remembrance of those who fought and died. The initiative also asks people to decorate First World War graves in their community with Canadian flags.

“It would be similar to what transpired at the end of World War One since this is the centenary,” says Goebel.

Letters were sent to branches of the Royal Canadian Legion across Canada wanting full participation in the commemoration, according to Goebel.

The idea for the Bells of Peace Initiative was brought forward in April of this year during a Dominion Executive Council meeting and after being voted in, planning began he says.

“I think we can anticipate a strong representation of bells ringing across Ontario,” says Goebel.

According to Jennifer Weymark, archivist at the Oshawa Museum, Oshawa helped in the war efforts through supplying woollen underwear, leather for boots, building the R.S. McLaughlin Armoury and housing the Ontario Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces.

There is a section in Union Cemetery where First World War veterans are buried and the Oshawa Museum has an exhibit in their archive called Letters From the Trenches, which is a series of letters written by William James Garrow Jr., an Oshawa resident alive during the First World War.

The letters were written by Garrow and sent home to his sisters here in Oshawa.

The First World War began in 1914 after the assassination of an Archduke named Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The war killed about 38-million people in the military. According to a war memorial in Oshawa, 183 were from Durham Region and about 13-million civilians in total died.

Although Canada did not get involved in the war right away, we took part in two “pivotal” battles according to Ben Lukow, a Grade 10 history teacher at St. Stephen’s Secondary School in Bowmanville.

Lukow says the battles Canada is most remembered for are The Battle of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

The Bells of Peace Initiative represents the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, a document which ended the fighting of the First World War until the Treaty of Versailles was signed six months later.

“On Nov. 11, there are ceremonies taking place across the country at 11 a.m. because it was on the 11th day of the 11th month on the 11th hour that the Armistice was signed back in 1918,” says Goebel.

He says the initiative also aims to get youth involved in Remembrance Day by having students and cadets across the country research both First World War history and veterans.

Goebel says his local sea cadets are getting involved by hosting an all-night vigil and assisting with the ringing of the bells.

“It was at sunset back then when church bells were being rung as well so I think it is very significant that we do the same thing that they did back in 1918,” Goebel says.