Fort Saskatchewan was home to about 900 people during World War One, some of them the wives, mothers and fathers of local soldiers fighting overseas.
Over 100 years later, the stories of the soldiers and their families still linger in the city, some of them about to be brought to life again by staff at the Fort Heritage Precinct.
Precinct staff have been busy tracking down details about the lives of the men and women who fought in the war or supported Canada’s efforts from back home. Staff will be sharing what they’ve learned at two upcoming tours of the Fort Saskatchewan Cemetery.
“What we'll be doing is walking around the cemetery and making several stops along the way at various gravestones where we know that there are individuals buried who were somehow involved in the war effort,” said Jessica Weller, programs coordinator at the heritage precinct.
Fort Saskatchewan sent about 50 soldiers to fight in the 1914-18 war, back when the young city was still a jail town and agricultural community. Kyle Bjornson, curator of the heritage precinct, said family members on the home front would have felt the absence of the local men.
“It would have been probably a labour shortage obviously on the farms, family farms, where it would have been probably more difficult for them to bring in the next year's harvest,” he said. “So it does have that kind of effect on local labour supply as well as the families are potentially losing their sons and husbands.”
Many of the young men were killed in action. In tracing their stories, precinct staff worked to piece together the sometimes fragmented details of local war history.
“It's just one of the problems of the story and dealing with sources that have their limitations, that sometimes you have to kind of read against the grain, kind of contextualize things and understand how these would have had an effect on the community and the individuals involved,” Weller pointed out.
At home, members of the local Women’s Institute, including secretary and treasurer Marion Rogers, worked with the Red Cross to make care packages of food, tobacco and hygiene supplies to send to distant soldiers. The group also took on the job of keeping the cemetery clean and orderly.
The precinct still has room available in its two tours, planned for the evenings of July 26 and August 15. Anyone wanting to sign up can use the city’s online registration portal, e-connect, or drop by the Dow Centennial Centre to register in person.