Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mental States and Discipline in 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 1942-43

Second World War psychiatric evaluation in the Canadian Army exposes the institution as an modern disciplinary apparatus where the lines between medical evaluation and criminal sentencing are blurred.  A number of medical evaluations in the Army were directly linked to crimes, the most obvious being self-inflicted wounds.  Medical officers were always on the watch for malingering, balancing the age old tension of care for their soldier-patients and supplying the military machine with healthy manpower.  In the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, a number of letters in February 1943 show how personnel testing and medical evaluation could greatly influence a soldiers' disciplinary outcomes.
3rd Canadian Infantry Division Shoulder Patch

Recruit Undergoes Medical Examination,
 Saint John, New Brunswick - 1939-1945
New Brunswick Museum
Louis Merritt Harrison Collection (1989.83.1165)

Large numbers of men were allowed to enter the army that never should have been enlisted in the first place.  Before the 3rd Division left Nova Scotia, it was estimated that around 10% of personnel needed to be medically boarded and downgraded out of fighting units which demanded high grade personnel.  As the division set sail in July 1941, however, it is clear that this process was not complete.  The medical war diary wrote that "All soldiers not showing definite disability will be categorized A." (3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Assistant Director Medical Services, War Diary, Library and Archives Canada, RG24 Vol. 15,660)
More than a year later, men who were not fit for army life remained.  One soldier who had lost his kit and gone away without leave several times was judged in the psychiatric lingo of the day, a "low grade moron".  He was sentenced to serve 21 days detention, but due to the psychiatrist's report, medical officers recommended that he be struck off strength.  The officer commanding a Field Dressing Station wrote, "he seems totally unfit to look after himself."
Maj. TC Gibson, OC 5 Field Dressing station, RCAMC to [...] Cdn Detention Barracks, “F 88716, Pte. Maclean, G.A. – Disciplinary Action”, 3CID ADMS War Diary Appendix, 25 February 1943.

 Other soldiers had mental difficulties and neurological disorders with more grave and violent consequences.  It was not uncommon for epileptics to conceal their symptoms so that they could join the army.  One soldier who appeared to be having a manic episode or seizure had to be forcibly removed from his home.  His wife had called the authorities when the private had been knocking his head on the floor and kitchen sink and pulling handfuls of hair from his head. She had to trick him into believing they were going for a walk, so that provost and ambulance staff could seize him. 

The details of a another tragic case are few, but clearly indicate signs of mental collapse.  Jonathan Scotland has indicated (on the Active History blog) that soldier suicide is an important field hardly explored by historians.  The case of a suicide in the Regina Rifle Regiment in July 1942 shows strong connections between mental instability and suicide in the army.  The verdict of the coroner's report stated, "Death from [Gun Shot Wound] of head by own hand while of temporarily unsound mind."
Capt. RE Ralph, MO, Regina Rifle Regiment to Col. LH Leeson, ADMS 3CID, “REPORT ON FATALITY L28177 Rfn. Gilliland, A.”, 3CID ADMS War Diary, LAC RG24 Vol 15,660, 4 July 1942.

Tapscott, Globe and Mail,
17 December 1941, p. 5

One final case from February 1942 shows a unique example of what today would be called post-traumatic stress disorder.  The soldier in question was serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, but had come to that service through a tragic mishap at sea.  Private Robert G. Tapscott was originally from Bristol, and had served in the merchant marine until August 1940 when his ship was sunk through enemy action.  With six other survivors, he managed to find a life-boat which went adrift for two months in the South Atlantic.  When they were found by a native of the Bahamas, only Tapscott and another man were alive.  Tapscott subsequently was shipped to Halifax and found his way into one of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division's petrol supply companies.

After arriving in England, Tapscott overstayed his leave to visit his family in Cardiff, and racked up a series of away without leave charges along with one for theft of an army truck.  His medical examination suggests that he had not recovered from his harrowing experience after the Atlantic sinking.  "He is a very nervous individual and states that he has been so since his experience at sea.  He states that he is afraid of the dark and, especially when he is left alone, this dates back from the time of the sea incident."  Tapscott had problems with his officer commanding, who insisted on putting him on night sentry duty, despite his lingering phobias. 

2001 edition of Two Survived
Interestingly enough, Tapscott's story was turned into a book by Guy Pearce Jones called Two Survived (Macmillan, 1941).  A review of the work in the Globe and Mail of August 23rd 1941 (p.10) wrote, "Tapscott, a stolid type, was plunged into melancholia after his rescue and took far longer to recover."  The book itself highlights other items regarding mental health.  The Globe columnist notes that in the life raft the "mentally deficient cook had gone insane and finally tumbled overboard. Twice Widdicombe and Tapscott had decided to end it all together, but in them the love of life was strong and each time they lowered themselves into the sea they felt so refreshed that they climbed back aboard to struggle further."  Another newspaper account suggested that two other men in the life raft were, "crazed by the heat and thirst, jumped overboard.  They were left with a companion who finally committed suicide by cutting his throat." (Globe and Mail, 14 January 1941, p. 9)

Mental health and discipline,then, were connected in important ways in Canadian Army administration during the Second World War.  While the army had ramped up its attempts to "weed out" formations of those that were considered too mentally unstable, or unintelligent to soldier, the 1942-43 records of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and indeed the later reports of psychiatrists from active theatres of war, show that there were still a number of men in the Canadian Army who, for a variety of reasons, could not handle the strains of army life.  Many of these men would not receive a medical diagnosis, and would be simply recorded as disciplinary statistics, and sent to the detention barracks.  Others would be medically down-graded and sent to a pioneer company which sought to harness their labour away from the stresses of combat.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Drugging Soldiers: Bennies and Battle

Using mind-altering substances to promote combat motivation and performance has been a longstanding feature of warfare.  While the practice of drugging soldiers wasn't widespread until the Second World War, the use of alcohol to boost morale and calm nerves long precedes modern drug use.  Pharmaceutical amphetamines, however, were an innovation of the interwar years.  In 1933, Benzedrine, was first marketed as a nasal decongestant.  The euphoric effects of "Bennies" were quickly seized upon by recreational users, and it did not take long for military forces to consider their use in battle.

Vendel Era Bronze Plate
Precedents certainly exist for  non-pharmaceutical military drug use. If one expands beyond the amphetamine category, lore has it that mind-altering "drugs" go back at least to the middle ages.  The most popular legend of  stoned soldiers tells of blood-crazed Viking beserkers eating dried fly agaric (the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria) to inspire their savage attacks.  While drugging a medieval warrior and inciting him to behave like a bear might improve his will to fight, one has to wonder about the effects on hand-eye coordination.  Instead, the adrenaline-like effects of therapeutic doses of amphetamine, such as wakefulness, increased muscle strength, improved memory, and cognitive control, made the drug much more useful on the modern battlefield than hallucinogens.

Use of amphetamines by the military, then, began in the Second World War.  Richard Holmes, in Acts of War: The Behaviour of Men in Battle (1985), writes that in that conflict, Benzedrine was commonly administered to soldiers of various nations, noting ten percent of American soldiers used amphetamines in the conflict. 

An excellent treatment of Allied research and use of amphetamines is found Nicolas Rasmussen's 2011 article "Medical Science and the Military: The Allies' Use of Amphetamine during World War II" Journal of Interdisciplinary History 42:2 (Autumn 2011) Rasmussen suggests that despite the popular conception that drugs were prescribed by the Allies as physically performance-enhancing, the reasons behind amphetamine distribution was based on mood-altering effects such as "increased confidence and aggression" and the promotion of morale.  Until very late in the war, research had yet to conclusively prove the physical effects of the drugs.

Amphetamine Molecule
Nazi Germany was the first state to embrace military amphetamine use, to keep soldiers awake.   Rasmussen notes that during the Blitzkrieg of 1940, the German's took the lead in methamphetamine distribution to soldiers, with 35 million tablets distributed in three months from April-June 1940, and a sharp decline in use thereafter.  

As Adam Tooze wrote in  Wages of Destruction (2006), the intense operational tempo during the Fall of France led to the need for stimulating expedients.  With the call for German armoured forces to push constantly for three days and nights, armoured crews needed "uppers" to continue operating.  As Tooze writes, "to ensure that the drivers could go without sleep, the quartermasters of the advanced units stocked up with tens of thousands of doses of Pervitin, the original formulation of the amphetamine now know as 'speed', but more familiar in the 1940s as 'tank chocolate' (Panzerschokolade)."  Amphetamine use was reported in the press which intensified research interest for the Allies.

Rasmussen records that General Bernard Montgomery was an early enthusiast for amphetamine prescription after observing the results of field trials.  A drugged ambulance unit had proven quicker on the march when administered Benzedrine, and an infantry squad had not only won a race against a "sober" squad in a variety of military tasks, but had also proven to have a certain "snap and zest". (Rasmussen, p. 216) For the 1942 Battle of El Alamein, large quantities of amphetamine were authorized.
Benzedrine advertisements, 1943 & 1944.
Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 123, No. 10; Vol. 124, No. 12.

In 1943, the Americans came to the same conclusion on Benzedrine sulphate "pep pills" as a boost to morale and alertness and began to distribute them widely to all services. When Eisenhower learned that 100,000 six-tablet packages of "Bennies" were available for the North African theatre, he immediately requested 500,000. (Rasmussen, p. 226)  Rasmussen suggests that the drugs were widely abused for recreational purposes and may have been the cause of battlefield atrocities in the Pacific theatre.  (Rasmussen, p. 230-32)

Remixed Propaganda by Micah Wright
The use of drugs by the military continues to the current day.  The American practice of popping amphetamines like candy was continued in Korea and Vietnam, where soldiers were administered Dexedrine before action.  More recently, lawyers for two American pilots who bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, argued that errant judgment may have been impaired by amphetamines.

Drugs, then, have a long relationship with the military, especially in years after 1940 as the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacological practice expanded at pace.  Beyond stimulants for combat, medical use has been made of barbiturates, sedatives and pain-killers.  Illicit, recreational drug use extends beyond amphetamines as well, with marijuana and heroin use in Vietnam as the most notorious example.  One need not look too far to find accusations regarding the negative effects of this military narco-love-affair.  

A version of this page was first posted on 28 July 2011.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monumental Sherman

Mewata Barracks,
 Calgary, Alberta
If you are a Canadian, whether you know it or not, you have likely had a run-in with a Sherman tank.  The Sherman tank was ubiquitous on the battlefields of the Second World War.  With over 50,000 tanks produced during the war, and a bad reputation for losses when going head-to-head with those big German cats (Tigers, and Panthers, and Nazis oh my!) the Sherman has been used as an example proving the Brute Force concept of Second World War historiography, associated with John Ellis' book of the same name.   This line of reasoning claims that while the Sherman was inferior to the later model panzerkampfwagens, the Allies eventually used their sheer numbers to overcome the Wehrmacht. A handful of historians challenge this popular version of the Sherman's failings and claim that in certain terrain, and commanded by skilled operators, the Sherman could best the hallowed panzers.  Like the armoured fighting vehicles that they defend, these revisionists are facing an uphill battle.

A Sherman Firefly at
 Trois-Rivieres, QC

Shermans are also ubiquitous in Canadian memorials across the country and overseas.  The vast majority of these memorials are not, however, the M4A4 model Sherman, which was widely used by British and commonwealth formations during the second world war, but M4A3E8s, used in the closing months of the war by Americans and in the post-war era by Canadians.  The so-called "Easy Eights" had a smoother suspension and larger gun than the early 6 pounder or 75mm variants.  Giveaways for later model identification, include muzzle-breaks on 76mm guns and the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS).

HVSS was used on later model Shermans, while
 Vertical Volute Spring Suspension was used on models
 used by Canadians in the Second World War.  Image
"Athena" Memorial in Ortona, Italy. 75mm gun
There is an interesting story behind one of the more well-known Canadian tank memorials found in Italy.  The "Athena" tank memorial is situated in the town of Ortona, where the Three Rivers Regiment's (TRR) troopers helped the infantry regiments of the 1st Canadian Divisions take the town in house-to-house fighting in December of 1943.  The tank, while being the correct model that the TRR fought with, is not a relic of the street-battle of Ortona.  A few years ago, members of the regiment shopped around looking for a suitable tank, and purchased "Athena", previously dubbed "Cookie" from the Dutch War and Resistance Museum in Overloon, Netherlands.  The tank had served with the 7th American Armoured Division until turning over in a ditch.  In 2006 the tank, freshly painted with Canadian insignia, was presented to the town of Ortona.  As reports, 
The installation of the tank in the Piazza was intended to be temporary, pending the creation of a suitable site. This was planned to be on a pedestal north of the Piazza, overlooking the beach. In the meantime the tank has been moved to a grassy area nearby.
Most origins of memorials are likely lost to the public record, squirreled away in Legion Branch filing cabinets or fading with the memory of the "Greatest Generation". An interesting image in the Library and Archives Canada shows men preparing a Sherman as a memorial in "Fort Garry Park, Doetinchem, Netherlands" in late 1945.

Trooper J.L. Dumouchelle and Corporal W.L. Corn cleaning a Sherman tank of The Fort Garry Horse used as a monument in Fort Garry Park, Doetinchem, Netherlands, 22 November 1945. Photo Credit: Capt. Ken Bell / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-131691
The tank still remains in what is now known as "Canada Park" in the town.  The name change is interesting, in that what once was a tribute to a specific action by a specific regiment has now been nationalized using a name that the average Dutch citizen is much more likely to identify with.  It is hard to say how the troopers polishing the tank back in 1945 would react to the removal of the regimental name.  Did they invest great importance in the notion that the tank would stand as a memorial to their specific regimental family?  Who knows, they may have just been tasked with polishing up the tank due to some minor disciplinary infraction and were looking forward to attending a dance with local Dutch women.

M4A3E8 in Kelowna, BC. 76mm gun
That Sherman tanks are popular as memorials speaks both to their widespread availability after the war, and their iconic appeal as one of the quintessential Allied weapons of the Second World War.  It certainly is not hard to find them across Canada.  The use of these machines as memorials, however, seems to draw away from their purpose.  These memorials are to the soldiers who fought and died for their various regiments, yet there is little to remind one about the human experience of war in the display of a vehicle.  True, dedication plaques often mention those that served in the vehicles, but to often form their crews appear in the histories as silent ghosts in the machine.  Like Cartesian body and mind, it is difficult to determine where and how the two interact. 

Charlottetown, PEI. 76mm gun
M4A4 in Normandy. 75mm gun
[A previous version of this post was originally published on 22 August 2010]


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Two Siksika Soldiers and the Second World War

Of the around 3000 First Nations that fought for Canada in the Second World War, a number hailed from the Siksika (Blackfoot) First Nation, east of Calgary.  Their stories reflect the tragedy, loneliness and heartbreak of war.

A list of men enlisted from the district in the Gleichen Call during the war notes the names of Mark Wolfleg, C. Olds (Veterans Guard), Charlie Royal, Gordon Yellowfly, and Ed. Manybears as hailing from the Blackfoot Reserve.  To add to this list, the Aitsiniki Siksika newspaper lists Clarence McHugh, LF McHugh, Joseph Snake-Person, F. Turning-Robe, and A. White Pup as soldiering in the Second World War.

We know of the personal effect of war on one of these men, Mark (Ninnonista) Wolfleg, as he gave an 1983 interview to the University of Regina.  Wolfleg spoke of the happenstance behind his signing up in Calgary. 
At the time I was working at the mines, at the east end of the reserve, and I had gone up to Calgary for shopping and the next day I was still there, and I was walking up 8th Ave. heading west and I looked across the street and I saw a sign that, a recruitment sign.  So out of curiosity, I went across, went upstairs in a three story building on the top floor and I came in and there was sergeant there and he was really glad to see me and really friendly so he asked me if I wanted to sign up so just on impulse I said, "Yeah, I came to sign up." I came just by chance.  It wasn't a conscious decision.

The personal effects of war and army life on Wolfleg were  profoundly negative.  He spoke of how he was changed by the experience: 
When I first joined the army, when I first joined, enlisted, I did not really know what it was all about, the war and everything, but slowly I began to change.  I noticed a charge in my thinking, the life was very different from what I knew and back home in the Indian way of life, my outlook was a lot different then and it changed radically, especially when I went overseas.  My outlook on life became more harsh, a harder outlook.  There was anger in my life that wasn't there before and through all of the experiences I experience over there, when I came back, I had become a much angry person, a person that got angry a lot faster whereas before I never had the experience of experiencing anger...through the years I got over this.  Especially when I got into the spiritual life more and more.  I became more kindly to the elders and the youngsters because these were the ones that I saw suffer the most in the war, the older people and the children.

Mark Wolfleg Sr, visits the grave
 of Gordon Yellow Fly in 1983.
Photo: Handout/Mark Wolfleg Sr.
Reflecting on the experience of war, he claimed that, "Seeing war does not bring out any outstanding experiences.  It is all lonesome and that is what war is, it is lonesome, so I cannot really see what was very outstanding and none of the experiences stand out as being outstanding, it was all lonesome, loneliness."

When Wolfleg returned from the war, his Indian Agent told Ottawa that the First Nations veterans were being taken care of, and so he was denied benefits.  Wolfleg passed away in January 2009 at the age of 89, his obituary notes that the "old cowboy" fought with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in Italy and that "his most treasured adventure" was a trip to Ortona, Italy, when he visited the grave of "his dear old friend" Gordon Yellow Fly.

Signature from Yellowfly's Will on his Service File
Gordon Yellowfly was known in the 1930s and 1940s as an excellent athlete.  He won third place in the Calgary Herald Road Race the year before he shipped overseas, and was active in hockey and boxing.  He had played hockey with Mark Wolfleg in the 1930s and 40s.

 His transition to army life, and army discipline was not smooth.  His service file, digitized with many others in the Killed in Action database at Library and Archives Canada, shows numerous crimes for drunkenness and being away without leave after he was taken on strength in June of 1942.  By the end of the year he was headed overseas.

Gordon wrote home on the 31st of July from Sicily claiming that it was great that he was "in the big show", but that he had to flee from German bombs.  On the 27th of December 1943, Yellowfly was killed by a sniper's bullet at the age of 27.  He was carrying two new testaments, a prayer book, his Seaforth Highlanders Glengarry, a whistle, and a few other effects.  His father was to write the Department of National Defence in July 1945: "Will you be kind enough to find out for me what became of the personal effects of my son.  Gordon. who was killed in action at Ortona Italy Dec 27 1943.  Heretofore I could not gather enough courage to enquire, but now for sentimental reasons I would certainly be glad to get his personal effects."

Adding to the sad tragedy of Yellowfly's story, he was undergoing divorce proceedings with his wife, which had not yet been finalized when he was killed.  His service file lists Winston, George and Donald Yellow Fly as his children.  Donald's name was scribbled in in March 1943, suggesting that this was a child that he never met.  The bitterness of Gordon's father Teddy is suggested in the following excerpt from a letter to the Canadian Legion in March 1944:

Like many Canadians that fell in the Moro River and Ortona conflicts, Yellowfly is buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery.  His epitaph is particularly interesting, yet obscured in the photograph at [link].  It reads in part, as the treaty promises of old started, "The Sun Shines, the Waters Flow, the Grass Grows.." There was clearly a feeling, both from Mark Wolfleg and TeddyYellowfly's testimony, that the promises of the Canadian state had not been honored in the Second World War, which echoes contemporary criticisms of treaty promises.
Gordon Yellowfly is memorialized by the Gordon Yellowfly Piiksa-pi Memorial Arbour on the Siksika reserve.  The dedication from Donald and Alphina Yellowfly reads, "We submit that my father gave the ultimate sacrifice not only for his king and country of his time, but more importantly for his people of Siksika, and since the time of his death this Nation has never given him the proper acknowledgement.[...]
My father's Blackfoot name was PIIKSA-PI; and using original Blackfoot translation his name was "Sacred Visionary""

These two Siksika men's service experience, are well worth considering for their personal insight into the lived experience of warfare.  War for these men was not that of heroism or glory.  It was the stuff of tragedy and loneliness.  Wolfleg took years to get over the anger that war brought him.  War shattered Yellowfly's life and left his children without a father.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Community, Piety, and Nationalism: St. Patrick's Day in Toronto during the nineteenth century

The Irish have long been considered a key component of Canadian society.  Their population base was firmly entrenched as the largest immigrant group in the first half of the nineteenth-century.  Today,  the majority of Canadians celebrating St. Patrick's Day find an excuse to have a drink, wear some green, and proudly state one's Irish heritage, no matter how distant or diluted.  In earlier times, however, much more was at stake during St. Pat's celebrations.  Historians have shown that the meanings associated with St. Patrick's feast day varied a great deal during the nineteenth century, ranging from a sense of community, to Catholic piety, to Irish nationalism.  With its large population of Irish Catholics, Toronto offers an interesting perspective on the changing nature of the day's celebration in Canada.

From 1825 to 1845 nearly half a million Irish immigrants came to British North America, many of whom were escaping the plight of mono-crop failures as tenant potato farmers.  In 1845, a new strain of potato blight spread through Ireland, and in three years nearly 800,000 people were dead.

An officer wrote to London Times reporting the grisly details of the brutal conditions found in Ireland,
Great Famine 1847. Illustrated London News
Fever, [dystentry], and starvation stare you in the face every-where - children of ten and nine years old I have mistaken for decrepit old women, their faces wrinkled, their bodies bent and distorted in pain, the eyes looking like those of a corpse.  Bodies are found lifeless, lying on their mothers' bosoms.  I tell you one thing which struck me as particularly horrible: a dead woman was found lying on the road with a dead infant on her breast, the child having bitten the nipple of the mother right through in trying to derive nourishment from the wretched body.  Dogs feed on the [half-buried] dead, and the rats are commonly known to tear people to pieces who, though still alive, are too weak to cry out....Instead of following us, beggars throw themselves on their knees before us, holding up their dead infants to our sight. (Cited in Donald Mackay, Flight from Famine, 1990, p. 245)
From 1845 to 1850 another 300,000 Irish refugees arrived in British North America.  When the first few "coffin ships" arrived, great pity was expressed by  British North Americans towards the suffering of the Irish, yet these sentiments were quickly replaced by  fears of the effects of great numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants on colonial society.  

Nativism against Irish Catholics, saw their religion as corrupt and conspiratorial, and their race as barbaric, ignorant and intemperate. (Scott W. See, "An unprecedented influx": Nativism and Irish Famine Immigration to Canada", American Review of Canadian Studies (December 2000), p. 437)  At times the idea that the Irish would spread communicable disease was extended to the moral realm, with one newspaper noting that the Irish should be sent to the countryside as soon as possible to avoid "moral contamination" in the cities. (See, p.442)  In 1830, the Orange Order came to Canada. Started by Ogle R. Gowan, the fraternity was dedicated to Protestant dominance over Roman Catholics, and giving patronage to its own members.  In the later nineteenth-century violent clashes came to typify relations between Orange and so-called Green groups on important religious days.

By 1851, Irish Catholics comprised one quarter of the Toronto's population. (Scott W. See, "An unprecedented influx": Nativism and Irish Famine Immigration to Canada", American Review of Canadian Studies (December 2000), p. 434)  Irish Protestants could at times out-number Irish Catholics in the city that was known to some as the "Belfast of North America".  Racist responses grew with the great influx of poor Catholics in the 1840s.  In 1847, over 1,000 Irish Catholics died in the shanties built in the feverish poor district of Toronto called Cabbagetown.

St. Patrick's Society, Toronto, Speech. Internet Archive

In his 1992 Social History article "St. Patrick's Day Parades in Nineteenth-Century Toronto: A Study of Immigrant Adjustment and Elite Control", Michael Cottrell notes that parades and processions for the commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne and the feast day of St. Patrick were linked to ethnic political and economic struggles.  Cottrell suggests that from the forming of the St. Patrick's Society in Toronto in 1832, the celebrations grew from "low-key affairs - concerts balls and soirees - which brought together the Irish elite to honour their patron saint and indulge their penchant for sentimental and self-congratulatory speeches", to more sectarian public rituals of the 1860s. (Cottrell, p. 60)  St. Patrick's day increasingly became associated with Irish Catholicism, as Protestants expressed nativist sentiments after the 1840s, and in the 1850s the Catholic Church itself focused the celebrations around the church mass. 
"St. Patrick's Day Arch", Quebec City.  Andrew Merrilees, LAC

Church services did not remain completely apolitical.  In 1855, Father Synnott pleaded to his Toronto congregation,
Go on then, faithful, noble and generous children of St. Patrick, in your glorious career...keep your eyes ever fixed on the faith of St. Patrick which shall ever be for you a fixed star by night and a pillar of light by day - forget not the examples and memorable deeds of your fathers - be faithful to the doctrines of your great apostle.  A voice that speaks on the leaf of the shamrock - that speaks in the dismantled and ruined abbeys of lovely Erin - yea a voice that still speaks on the tombstones of your martyred fathers and in the homes of your exiled countrymen - be faithful to the glorious legacy he has bequeathed to you. (Mirror, 23 March 1855, cited in Cottrell, p. 62)

Coat of arms of Young Men's St. Patrick's Association
 John Henry Walker (1831-1899)Museum McCord
With the influence of the Young Men's St. Patrick's Association, a fraternal organization which sought to provide a social life and connections for Irish immigrants, in the 1860s a more secular bent was added to the processions. "Religious hymns were replaced by popular tunes and secular emblems such as shamrocks, harps and wolfhounds were now more prominent than Catholic icons."  (Cottrell, 63)  The wishes of temperance from the clergy also gave way to the alcohol soaked festivities that the day is still associated with.

It may be that the growing scale of parades as well as their tendency towards drunkeness provoked the Orange Order to clash with the parade in 1858, which resulted in violence and the death of a Catholic man from a wound by a pitchfork.  This incident prompted the creation of the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Canada, whose mission was "assisting...their distressed members, attending them in their sickness, and, in case of death, defraying their funeral expenses." (WS Niedhardt, DCB)  By 1863, they had also organized for paramilitary self-defence.  

St. Michael's Cathedral, TO, 1887
Credit: Canada. Patent
 and Copyright Office / Library
 and Archives Canada / PA-028762a
Cottrell writes that the largest of St. Patrick's Day parades during this period in Toronto was that of 1863.  The celebrations began the previous night with the Hibernian Benevolent Society's band playing Irish music on the march.  The next morning, around two thousand persons marched to St. Michael's Cathedral and attended a sermon which reached its crescendo with the telling of the exploits of Saint Patrick and the need of the Irish to spread Catholicism globally.  Cottrell writes that hereafter, "Religious obligation having been fulfilled, the procession then reformed and paraded through the principal streets of the city." (Cottrell, p. 58) 

Here another speech was delivered, by the president of the Hibernian Benevolent Society, denouncing the British government in Ireland.  He told the crowd that, "three-fourths of the Catholic Irish of this country would offer themselves as an offering on the altar of freedom, to elevate their country and raise her again to her position in the list of nations.  Nothing could resist the Irish pike when grasped by the sinewy arm of the Celt." (Irish Canadian, 18 March 1863, cited in Cottrell, p. 58)    After all of this formal speechifying, the main procession broke up "into smaller parties and soirees which lasted late into the night."  Cottrell emphasizes that St. Patrick's Day was the one day a year which Irish Catholics could "claim the city as their own and proudly publicize their distinctiveness on the main streets." (p. 59)  In the process, Irish identity was reinforced, and associated with Home Rule or Catholicism depending upon the times and circumstances.

Despite these large processions in the early 1860s, the links between the Hibernian society and the Fenians, who sought Irish independence through attacks on British North America, resulted in several years without parades.  The violence of the late 1850s had seen previous events cancelled, and with the Fenian raids of  1866,  suspicion of the Irish community, and incarceration of suspected Fenians, many Irish-Canadians wished to maintain a low profile.  (Cottrell, p. 69)  The rounding up of Fenian sympathizers within the Hibernian Society further reduced their stature within Toronto's Irish-Canadian society.
Historians disagree as to the nature of the decline in St. Patrick's day parades in Toronto.  Rosalyn Trigger has taken issue with Cottrell's suggestion that 1877 was the last public celebration of the day for more than a century.  Noting that several large parades in the 1890s occurred, Trigger questions the argument that the decline of parades from the 1870s represent Irish assimilation.  Drawing on American research, Trigger notes that while anti-Catholicism was a factor, the desire to send money to those suffering in Ireland prompted some Irish to abandon the parade out of frugality. (Rosalyn Trigger, "Irish Politics on Parade: The Clergy, Naitonal Societies, and St. Patrick's Day Processions in Nineteenth-century Montreal and Toronto", Social History, 37:74, 2004, p. 196)    Trigger agrees, however, with Canadian researchers who argue that in the 1880s and 1890s, Irish nationalism was diminishing in Toronto as Irish-Catholics hoped to participate in society, but retain their faith.  Hopes were turned from Home Rule for Ireland to greater rights for Catholics in Canada.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1984-4-849

The meaning behind St. Patrick's day in Canada certainly fluctuated with the circumstances of Irish-Canadians, and was adapted to the needs of the community, and altered by international events.  The day was central to Irish-Canadian identity, with themes of Irish Home Rule, or rights for Catholics in Canada entering into the discourse when these issues were imminent.  On the 17th of March 2014, Canadian pubs will be abuzz with glossy-eyed Canadians in emerald attire, perhaps swaying to a Irish reel or two.  Few will consider the historical context of the Irish in Canada: the flight from famine; violent nativist resistance; and interesting ways that Saint Patrick's Day has changed over the years.