April 9th, 1917: The day that changed the history of Canada


There were few local families that felt the affects of WWI more than the family of Archie and Mary McIntyre.

Archie and Mary had arrived in Bruce Township around 1870 from Scotland and farmed on the 10th Concession between Port Elgin and Underwood. Here they raised their family of 5 boys and 4 girls. Archie died in 1902 leaving Mary with children aged between 29 and 10 years of age. Sometime after that Mary moved into Port Elgin. One of the older sons took over the farm.

Mary was still living in Port Elgin in 1915 and 1916 when four of her sons enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI. They all indicated her as their Next of Kin on their Attestation documents. And all four went to England and then to the Wars front in Belgium and France.

The oldest son, John, enlisted in the 195th Battalion in Regina Saskatchewan on March 10th, 1916. In June of 1917 he was sent to France. That November he was hospitalized with contusions to his right knee and his neck. His recovery took until December, and he then went to a Convalescent facility in Trouville France until May of 1918 when he was sent to the Canadian main base in England at Bramshott. On discharge in 1919 he returned to Port Elgin. He died in 1945.

Son James enlisted in the 71st Battalion out of Woodstock Ontario. There was an enlistment campaign in Port Elgin on October 19th, 1915, that James attended. He went to England and in July of 1916 he was transferred to the 14th Field Artillery Howitzer Brigade and landed in France on August 22, 1917. He remained there for the duration of the war. In the days before the war ended in November 1918, he became quite ill with myalgia and influenza. He was hospitalized there until January 1919 when he returned to England. It took him until July of 1919 before he was discharged and he then returned to Port Elgin. He married and lived in Southampton until his death in 1928.

The youngest son was Angus who had been born in 1890. He enlisted in the 160th Bruce Battalion when they were formed. He had originally enlisted in the 18th Battalion 6 months earlier but transferred to the 160th to join with the other local boys. He and the 160th men arrived in England in October 1916.

They remained there for more than 18 months before they were disbanded and became a reserve recruit group. Angus had trained as a Driver and he was assigned to 51st General Hospital Ambulance Column and spent his service time in France transporting wounded soldiers from the front trench lines back to the treatment hospitals on the English Channel coast. His duties kept him in France into early 1919. It was May 31, 1919, before he returned to Canada and was discharged and returned to Port Elgin. He died in 1961.

Son Donald, called Dan, was born on September 10, 1882. Like his older Brother John, Dan had gone west. There he found work as a railroad man. With the war raging in Europe, he enlisted in the Canadian Army in Calgary on October 4, 1915. He signed up with the 82nd Battalion, which was a Reinforcement Battalion. They sailed from Halifax on May 20th, 1916, aboard a luxury passenger ship, The Empress of Britain. They arrived in Liverpool on May 29th and immediately went to the large Canadian staging base at Shorncliffe near Cheriton in Kent. Canadian troops were held here in preparation for assignment to the War’s front in mainland Europe.

On August 20, 1916, Dan was transferred to the 54th Battalion as part of the 11th Infantry Division of the 4th Canadian Division in Flanders and in France. Initially they fought in Belgium, near Ypres, before crossing into France and fighting in the Somme that October. The fighting there was in awful conditions with mud, rain and the cold winds well into November.

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In December of 1916 the men of the 54th arrived at Vimy. They spent their time in the trenches facing the enemy. This went on into January when the weather turned cold and wet making life miserable for all. Relief rotated with billeting at homes well back from the lines. In February preparations begun for a gas attack and cylinders were brought to the front. The plan was for the gas to be released when wind conditions were right and then the soldiers were to go over the top and raid the German trenches. On March 1st, this attack started. But the wait between the gas getting to the enemy trenches, with the wind, before the Canadians attacked was so long that the Germans were well prepared and heavy losses were taken by the 54th. Of close to 500 participants, there were 13 officers and 189 other ranks that were wounded or killed.

These losses greatly weakened the Battalion for the big battle that came five weeks later. Final preparations for the start of the battle of Vimy Ridge were completed and on April 8th and the 54th moved close to Berthonval Wood and later in the day they moved forward to their jumping off trenches by the Cavalier Tunnel.

At daybreak on April 9th, the battle started. There was a very heavy barrage on the Germans from the Allied heavy guns. The attack called for 4 areas of attack with battalion units lined up behind each other and then they were to leapfrog each other towards the German positions. This strategy kept maximum pressure on the German defenders. In one of the 4 areas, the 102nd Battalion led the way, closely followed by Dan McIntyre and the men of the 54th. Battalion. Initially they moved quite swiftly but then they encountered stubborn German defences on their left and endured heavy casualties before they were able to continue to move forward. All along the ridge the battle was fierce with gains being made and then retreats being forced.

At the end of the first day of the fighting Dan McIntyre did not return and he was initially reported as missing. A short time later his body was brought in. He had died in the early stages of the battle.

By days end on April 12th, the Canadians had captured the Ridge which had been held by the Germans since 1914, in the early stages of the war. But the cost was significant. More than 150,000 Canadian soldiers had fought in the battle and 3,599 had died and another 7,004 had been wounded.

Dan’s body was taken to the #2 Canadian Cemetery at Neuville St. Vaast in Pas -de-Calais, just 3 km from Vimy Ridge. He is buried in Section 3 Row C, Plot 9.

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In our four local communities, 58 men lost their lives fighting in WWI and Donald (Dan) McIntyre is the only one that died at Vimy.  A new Commemorative Banner to Honour Donald (Dan) McIntyre has been ordered and will hang in Port Elgin.
Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the 9th Day of April will be known as              “VIMY RIDGE DAY”



Researched & Written by
G. William Streeter