• Jared Warren

Galt Collegiate During World War I

Another school year had finished and the summer of 1914 brought with it new changes and possibilities at the Galt Collegiate Institute. By this time, the school had an average attendance of 300 pupils, and Thomas Carscadden, the school's principal since 1884, was happy with the growth and success of the school that he decided it was time for him to retire and resume duties as an English teacher for a further ten years.

Arthur Presland Gundry, the principal of the high school in Strathroy, was approached by the GCI Board of Trustees to succeed Carscadden as the school's principal. Gundry had begun teaching at the age of 17, and had plenty of years of experience teaching in schools across in Ontario. He was especially known for his efficiency as an administrator, and the Board hoped to use his talents to successfully introduce a vocational program at GCI.

A. P. Gundry, principal of GCI from 1914 until his death in 1925. (GCI Archives).

However, whatever plans Gundry had in place for vocational education at GCI came to a grinding halt as the summer of 1914 progressed and the attitude in Europe became increasingly volatile following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in far away Sarajevo. While waiting at the station in Strathroy for the train to take him to Galt, Gundry heard the news that Great Britain had declared war on Germany. Canada, a dominion within the British Empire, was pulled into the First World War.

Gundry, because of indifferent health, was unable to enlist for service himself, but took advantage of opportunities given him in helping those who were to fight overseas. He extensively used his gift of oratory—something to be reckoned with, apparently—in promoting Canada's contribution to the war and for eulogizing those who served. The school's assembly hall was decorated with Union Jacks and other items to encourage a patriotic fervour at the school. He mobilized the staff and students of GCI to raise money to support soldiers overseas. Several base hospitals and beds were supported from funds raised by GCI. Parcels with items such as yarn, gum, chocolate, maple sugar, handkerchiefs, and cigarettes were sent every Christmas to former GCI students and teachers serving overseas. The Red Cross and Patriotic Fund never saw a lack of commitment from the school.

The 111th South Waterloo Battalion marching on parade down Main Street in Galt, Ontario. (Courtesy of the City of Cambridge Archives).

As the needs of the war increased, changes were made by the Ontario Ministry of Education to have access to more men, as well as assert the nature of the war at hand. Students who were of age were assured that they would be given every opportunity to complete their secondary education if they dutifully served in the army. Teachers were directed by the Ministry to emphasize the war in their classes, especially in subjects such as History and Geography. Lists of course materials related to the war were provided as suggestions, most of which paid special attention to the war as a product of German aggression and the virtue of the British cause to combat German militarism. Meanwhile, university entrance examinations were drawn up to include writing essays on various topics related to the war.

Miss Kate Fleury Jaffray, who was GCI's first permanent secretary hired in 1911, diligently kept a record of each individual from GCI who served overseas, including military honours bestowed on each individual, and kept a book of newspaper clippings which detailed the exploits of each person as published by the local press. By the end of the war, various honours had been awarded to former pupils of GCI, including one Victoria Cross, two of the French Legion of Honour, sixteen Military Crosses (four of them with bars), two Distinguished Service Orders, one French Croix de Guerre, one Belgian Croix de Guerre, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, one Order of the British Empire, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Military Medals, and several mentioned in dispatches. By November 1918, 348 alumni and former teachers of GCI had enlisted for service overseas. Forty-eight of them had died or were killed while in active service.

George Fraser Kerr (left) with Canadian World War I flying ace Billy Barker. Kerr was a former GCI student and was one of only 73 Canadians to have been awarded the Victoria Cross during the war.

To commemorate the sacrifices and contributions that each man and woman from GCI had made in the battlefields of France, Belgium, and elsewhere, a marble tablet was erected by the Board of Trustees on the wall of the school's main corridor with the names of those who served etched onto into surface. It was unveiled on June 4, 1921, by Sir Edward Morrison, who served as the chief speaker in the ceremony. Regarding this tablet, Miss Jaffray wrote that it was "a silent tribute, yet eloquent with its message to future generations, that the GCI did not fail in the testing time of war; nor must they let it fail in that of peace."


K. F. Jaffray, "The Galt Collegiate Institute, 1914-1916," Reports of the Waterloo Historical Society, vol. 3: 1923-1927 (Kitchener: Waterloo Historical Society, 1927), pp. 179-181; Deane Panabaker, "Our Principal," Specula Galtonia 2.2 (June 1925), pp. 18-19; T. H. Wholton, One Hundred Years: An Outline of the History of the Galt Collegiate Institute (1952), p. 4.