CTA-721 | A recruiting sergeant seeks volunteers in Toronto

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A recruiting sergeant seeks volunteers in Toronto
1916, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © City of Toronto Archives, James Collection
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Keys to History

A soldier stands in an open touring car outside Toronto City Hall to persuade at least one more "good man" to leave the crowd and join up "For King and Country". It was an up-to-date mobile recruiting platform for one of the oldest appeals in human history. For any young man in the crowd, bored by his family or his job and easily shamed by suggestions of cowardice or even timidity, what could match the claims of actual heroic experience? Sending out recruiting sergeants was one of the oldest enlistment techniques in the history of warfare. In Toronto in 1916 a returned soldier was still a hero, to be emulated.

In 1916 Canada was struggling to meet the prime minister's New Year's Day challenge to recruit half a million soldiers for the First World War in Europe. This meeting was part of that effort. But scan the crowd for signs of eligible young men. By the summer of 1916, any young man who wanted to join up had already volunteered and any youngster who stood through a recruiting rally had either been refused several times before or was too fresh from the country to know what this kind of crowd symbolized.

  • What

    In 1914 volunteers crowded to militia armouries to enlist, and battalions were formed for the Canadian Expeditionary Force with little effort. By late 1915 all sorts of recruiting techniques were necessary, from posters, pamphlets and advertisements to band concerts and parades. This is a photograph of a recruiting rally in downtown Toronto.

  • Where

    The site is the square outside Toronto's second City Hall at the head of Bay Street. Toronto, Canada's "Queen City", was second in population to Montreal but it was a far more homogeneous community, with over ninety per cent of its rural population linked to the British Isles. In addition to Toronto's own units, many C.E.F. battalions from Ontario hoped to fill up their ranks with Toronto recruits.

  • When

    The photograph was taken in the summer of 1916.

  • Who

    The recruiter in the car is identified as J. W. Geddes. His Canadian-made uniform and his stiff peaked cap suggest that he may not be a returned soldier, but he is obviously a polished speaker. Toronto's mayor Tommy Church (in a straw boater) and Captain Rev. J. D. Morring wait their turn to add the arguments of politics and religion, while a Toronto policeman in a white helmet surveys the crowd for trouble-makers.