Cranbrook's Wandering War Memorial
Great War Veterans' Association
When Canada entered the Great War in 1914 no substantial government form of support for war veterans existed. There were some private charities such as the Patriotic Fund, and there were the individual fraternal organizations such as the Masons, Foresters, Odd Fellows, etc. None of these sources were adequate to the needs of the returning soldiers, whether injured or simply unemployed.
The Military Hospitals Commission was created by the federal government in 1915. It was designed to address the needs of returning wounded soldiers and began to do things such as developing and producing artificial limbs. The MHC also attempted to recognize and address war-related diseases such as tuberculosis, and the psychological impacts of war. "Shell shock" was a common term and experience among returning soldiers.
Under increasing pressure from returned soldiers the federal government began to introduce programmes to assist war veterans and facilities to accommodate their needs. The Balfour Military Sanitarium established in 1917 in a C.P.R. tourist hotel at Balfour on Kootenay Lake was one local example.
Rehabilitation measures and training courses for the disabled were instituted in major urban centres such as Vancouver. The Soldier Settlement Act of 1917 started to look at locating returning soldiers on arable land. This became part of a proposal to reclaim 25,000 acres of Kootenay River delta at Creston and establish a returned soldiers' colony there.
The Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment was formed in 1918 to set pensions, approve loans for soldiers and administer hospital and medical care. The name says it all - the 'war to end all wars' disassociated young men from their communities and dislocated them from their former career paths. The undertaking of all these programmes was to return the soldier to his community in an active and sustained way. Most of the promises fell short and returned soldiers began to organize after the 1917 federal election campaign and the increased unemployment following 1918.
The most powerful organization of returned soldiers in Canada was the Great War Veterans' Association. Organized in Winnipeg in 1917 it soon claimed 10,000 members and topped out at over 200,000 members. The G.W.V.A. was a strong and integrated organization, with service badges and distinctive flags. It had an Application for Membership form which assigned member numbers and solicited a pledge to abide by the Association's rules. Among others, Edward Prince of Wales joined. Branches of the G.W.V.A. quickly formed in Nelson and Fernie as well as Cranbrook.