Vancouver GWVA members with Governor General Byng in 1922. By then Rufus was no longer a member but extracts from his 1919 diary tell us:
May 1 “To GWVA meeting at night. Made first speech opposing the formation of a ‘soldiers political party’. My views carried overwhelmingly and I got much applause although I got a bit tangled up in spots. About 500 men there.”
The GWVA – the Great War Veterans Association, I presume?
That’s right. It was very democratic – open to all ranks.
But why was Rufus opposed to forming a ‘soldiers political party’ – wouldn’t that be a good way for the veterans to get things done ?
Many of them thought so – especially left-wing types, guys who believed in socialism or communism. But any hint of that would have been a poison pill at the ballot box. It would have seemed revolutionary to the Canadian government, as Rufus surely pointed out. This was Canada, not Russia. Canadian troops, men these veterans knew well, and who had been with them in France, were still in Siberia, fighting Bolsheviks!
What did Rufus advise instead?
To come up with a list of reasonable requests and present it, in a reasonable way, to the Borden government. Anyway, a week later his diary tells us – “May 8 – to GWVA meeting in evening. Elected by acclamation as delegate to Dominion Convention.”
It sounds as if his views were popular
It does. Anyway before the GWVA National Convention assembled in Vancouver, we hear more of those Siberian troops. On July 20 Rufus wrote: “Down to Monteagle in am. Saw Gen Elmsley, Stayner, Everett and Cartwright on return from Siberia.“
Is that Monteagle arriving in Vancouver?
Well, it’s Monteagle alright, but somewhere else and with a peacetime paint job. Here she is again in June 1919, leaving Vladivostok for Vancouver, with Canadian soldiers.
What were Canadians doing in Siberia?
That’s a good question. There was general sympathy with the Bolsheviks among Canadian soldiers, as there was among Canadian workers. Here’s a map showing where a few of them went – up the Trans-Siberian Railway as far as Omsk, where they set up a headquarters. The Borden government hoped to deny Siberia to the Bolshies but when it became obvious that Trotsky had beaten the pants off the Whites, orders came to leave the Russians to it and come home.
This is what some of them got up to.
Did they do any fighting?
Only a little, protecting their trains running to and from Omsk. A few of them died doing it – and there’s a Canadian war memorial in Vladivostok.
So when did the GWVA Convention begin?
According to Rufus’s diary it ran 30 June – 4 July, with a day off for 1 July. His diary for June 30reads: “Lovely hot day. Street cars again running. Opening of Dominion GWVA convention. Luncheon at Hotel Vancouver. Premier (John Oliver), Bowser (Tory leader), and Major Gale spoke.”
Were these the delegates?
They were – and most of them were pretty grim-looking – they really do look as if they’ve been to hell and back. Rufus isn’t in either part of the picture – at least, I can’t find him. He didn’t ‘do’ conventions very well – just liked to pop in when something interesting was happening. He probably missed the picture. His diary for the rest of the week was not very chatty – “July 2 GWVA convention. July 3 Convention. Worked until 2.30am and walked home with Fitzmaurice and McKelvie. Stayed at Abbotsford (Hotel). July 4 convention – took pm session.”
What did he mean on 30 June by ‘streetcars again running?’ Had there been a streetcar strike?
There had been more than that. This was the summer of the Winnipeg General Strike. It started on 15 May, then spread right across the country with general strikes in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto – and finally Vancouver on 3 June. Rufus’s diary tells us: “June 3 General Strike commences at 11am – street cars run till midnight. June 4 Street cars still running – no disorder. “Strike bulletin No 1” issued. Small riots in W’peg. June 5 No street cars running and metal workers all quit work. Censorship in newspaper offices! June 6 Little change in strike situation. Typographical Union made public “explanation of censorship”.
Is that Vancouver during the strike?
Yes, that’s Hastings, looking west from Cambie. As Rufus said, the streetcars were running but jitneys were also running – to undercut them! You can see them in the photo.
It strikes me that 1919 was a pretty chaotic year.
It was indeed – even the Province got caught up in it, as Rufus tells us: “June 16 Province printers on strike on refusal to print an editorial. June 17 Did not go to office. Picnic on sands with Paul and Deirdre Phelan – lovely day for all of us. Hitchen drove them down to ferry in his car and here to supper. June 18 Province issues ‘Bulletin No 2’ in am and regular editions in pm. Sun still out of business.”
I presume the Strike Bulletins were put out by the striking printers. And I suppose on 18 June Walter Nichol had made a deal with the printers’ union – ‘we’ll let you print your strike bulletin, if you’ll print our newspaper.’
It must have been something like that. And Rufus did the right thing by taking his family to the beach instead of getting uptight about it all. It was a difficult year to navigate for people with good jobs. Meanwhile all those different grievances seemed to feed on each other. The general strikes undercut the GWVA. And the Siberian expedition increased the distrust felt by working people for the government and encouraged the strikers.
How were the GWVA grievances resolved in the end?
The main issue was settled early in 1920 – an unmarried private soldier with three years service received a payment of $420, the amount to increase with rank and be reduced for less time served. Rufus was reappointed a delegate to the 1920 convention in Montreal and, in his diary for 25 March that year, he wrote: “Convention passed resolution asking for a minimum cash bonus of $1000 with which I disagree entirely, and which means, in my opinion, that the GWVA forfeits all right to public confidence as a sane and reasonable body of men.”
And I suppose that’s why he wasn’t with the GWVA to meet Lord Byng.
It was. But he’d already seen Byng – the day before he’d written: “Went to smoker in his honour at night at (Denman) Arena – 3000 ex-servicemen there – a remarkable demonstration of affection.”