Three rare pictures unearthed this month in the basement of the Royal Canadian Legion are a reminder of what Nelson’s Canada Day — or rather Dominion Day — was like 98 years ago.
The two postcards and one shapshot show the Nelson Veterans Association’s horse-drawn float in a Baker Street parade on July 1, 1914. On board are seven men, including one clad all in white; a woman holding a parasol; the Union Jack; and a replica cannon.
On the back of one postcard is a message dated a few weeks later, signed by Thorvald Hansen, who might have been the photographer.
Perry Hale found an accompanying letter from 1950 by Charles J. Archer, past secretary of the veterans association, explaining what was going on.
“I forget the name of the member of the float in the Indian helmet, but our association obtained for him a delayed medal for serving in the Indian Mutiny, after a lapse of 50 years,” Archer said. “Other members on the float that I can recall are Bennett and Chatterton. The lady represented Brittania. The gun was made up of a pair of wagon wheels and a wooden pole.”
A handwritten annotation indicates the soldier in the Indian helmet was “Sutcliffe.” Indeed, according to his obituary in the Nelson Daily News of April 20, 1921, Christopher Sutcliffe enlisted in 1857 with the 24th regiment of Foot, served in India for four years, and received a medal. He came to Nelson in 1899 where he belonged to the Imperial Veterans Brigade and was an honourary member of the Great War Veterans Association.
World War I began a little over a month after the parade.
Archer, a recruiting officer, said he would “always remember the spontaneous response to the call for volunteers at that time. Men came not only from Nelson but from all the outlying districts, and a number came from across the line.”
Archer himself served in the Boer War with the 17th Lancers — known as the Death or Glory Boys — and found his experience helpful in convincing men to serve in the Great War.
“I have always entertained a very high personal regard for each individual recruit who joined up in Nelson,” he wrote, “and to those in Nelson at the present time I would like them to know how very deep is my appreciation of the splendid spirit which prompted them to do their bit.”