- For Al l We Have and Are: Regina and the Experience of the Great War
Despite sustained interest in the First World War among Canadian historians, there are few books that examine that war's home front experience in depth. James Pitsula's history of Regina during the war can now be added to a short list of book-length studies of this topic highlighted by John Herd Thompson's The Harvests of War: The Prairie West, 1914-1918, Ian Miller's Our Glory and Our Grief: Torontonians and the Great War, and Robert Rutherdale's Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada's Great War. His book should be welcomed, for it provides a wealth of information about the ways the war affected ethnic and class relations, gender identity, Canadian citizenship, social movements, and politics. For All We Have and Are contextualizes these issues in a regional centre and provincial capital convinced its success depended on a wheat economy sucked dry by the 'Big Interests' in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. The Anglo-Canadian majority in the city of 30,000 were also convinced of the superiority of the 'British civilization' to which they belonged. Pitsula's exploration of the way the war emboldened this ethno-cultural bias and its consequences for the large proportion of non-British immigrants in the city (many of whom lived in Regina's 'Germantown') and province is one of the book's major strengths.
Pitsula's narrative is organized into twelve topical chapters that deal with the challenges of organizing and sustaining the war effort, the wartime history of reform movements, including the achievement of the vote for women and prohibition, the increasing extremism of home front patriotism, and the growing autocratic style of governance in Ottawa. Another important theme is the extent to which people in the city were connected to the Western Front. As is the case for other sections of the book, Pitsula's discussion of the 'flow of goods and information [End Page 379] [that] moved back and forth between home front and battlefront' relies largely on Regina's daily press. As many historians have shown, newspapers are a rich source for social history and public opinion for this period, offering in their pages a variety of texts for researchers. Pitsula makes full use of Regina's major daily publication. Writing in a direct and lively style, he often uses quotations that provide evocative insight into the nature of the times.
For example, on a particular day in late 1915 newspaper readers would likely have come across one soldier's letter home that spoke of rats at the front that were 'as big as bulldogs,' growing to such monstrous sizes by eating 'the dead bodies of fallen soldiers.' Serving as an example of the correspondence between the men 'over there' and those at home, the letter is also evidence that Canadians were informed about the nature of the fighting on the Western Front. Returned soldiers receive considerable attention in this history too. Their collective influence in the city's and province's public affairs is concisely described in one chapter, and they crop up in many other places as well. The presence of veterans on the home front tied Regina, and the rest of Canada, to the war overseas even more tightly and, as Pitsula shows, they pushed a pro-Anglo-conformity agenda.
After discussing reactions to victory in the final chapter, the book ends with an epilogue that focuses on the official memorialization of the war in Regina. This demonstrates one of the significant ways that a positive myth of Canada's Great War was created but it also narrows the book's conclusion to the linked themes of sacrifice and nation building. While clearly important to contemporaries, the legacy of the Great War went far beyond remembering the dead. It includes the conflicts and changes of wartime described in For All We Have and Are, as well as the increased antagonism of French and English Canada that echoed...