Mapping Toronto’s First World War dead (updated)

One of the Atlantic’s blogs recently linked to work by the Dutch artist Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, who among other things overlays images from Second World War-era Europe (mostly the Netherlands, but also Belgium, France and Italy) on modern streetscapes. In the photo below, modern passerby in Amsterdam unknowingly walk past the recruiting centre for the Dutch SS, covertly photographed during the occupation (“There is some great film footage of someone climbing onto the lower roof there and smashing the SS windows with great pleasure and so much force,” Teeuwisse writes.)





Teeuwisse’s work (as the Atlantic noted) has a lot in common with Shimon Attie, who among other things has projected images of prewar Jewish life on the sides of buildings in modern Berlin at the sites where the photos were originally taken:





The common thread is the recovery of lost urban memory, one element in the map I published today on the Global Toronto site covering Toronto First World War deaths (linked image at left), which forms a bookend of sorts to the original Poppy File project.

At the moment we map about 2,800 people – it should be possible to add several hundred more with some further research. (About 2.8% of Toronto’s male population died in the war, a statistic I wasn’t aware of until I saw it in a spreadsheet just now.)

If we want to visualize it in Attie’s aesthetic, our version would involve a bay-and-gable house and a black-and-white overlay of a man in puttees, or maybe a boy in a flat cap with a Canadian Pacific telegram. The tool we have in this case is a map overlay, imposing a new and alien knowledge on an apparently familiar place.

Suffering on a vast scale easily becomes abstract, but was experienced at the time as personal and intimate, as households lost specific husbands and fathers to bullets, shells, gas or disease. Many lost more than one person: a couple living at 113 Langford Ave., north of Pape and Danforth, lost three sons, aged 28, 30 and 31. One died at Ypres in 1916, another was killed by a shell during a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in 1917, and the third, gassed in 1915, lingered on to die in Toronto a few weeks before the end of the war.

The Canadian Great War Project, a volunteer organization that assembles publicly available data about Canadians who served in the First World War, supplied Global News with details of 4,035 people who died in the First World War and appeared to have a Toronto connection. The data included people from villages that have since become part of the city, like Weston and Swansea.

After we screened all the names, 2,870 had next of kin at a Toronto address that could be geocoded: at the moment, these are the people on our map. A further 164 have addresses that no longer exist in modern Toronto (these can be placed in the modern city, with more research) and a further 299 have evidence of a Toronto next of kin address, but not precisely enough to be mapped without more research.


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