This week’s photograph appeared in the Journal Argus, Sept. 17, 1942. The occasion was the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Town of St. Marys. The Right Honourable Arthur Meighen, former prime minister of Canada, can be seen at the microphone on a platform set up in front of the grandstand on the Flats.
Choosing the year 1942 to mark the town’s centenary was rather arbitrary. The town site had been surveyed in 1839 and by 1840 James Ingersoll and members of his family were negotiating with the Canada Company to acquire property at the heart of the new settlement. In 1841, John Ingersoll was living in a log house, building both a grist and saw mill where the Trout Creek met the Thames River. By 1842, these mills were running and the first settlers already in place. It was as good a year as any to designate as the official beginning of the town.
A century later, September 1942 had enhanced significance. World War II was underway and many St. Marys men and women were in uniform; many were overseas. This was a source of community pride but also of great anxiety, especially as the entire nation had been shaken by terrible Canadian casualties at Dieppe just a few weeks earlier. There was uncertainty about what would happen next.
A centennial committee, led by Mayor David C. White, realized that an elaborate event would be inappropriate when resources were focused elsewhere. But committee members saw the value of marking the occasion by reflecting on the heroic struggles of early settlers, affirming community values that seemed currently under threat, and looking toward a positive future. The celebration, Sunday, Sept. 13, began with special services in all local churches. In the afternoon, the Perth Reserve Battalion Band led a small parade through downtown St. Marys to the Flats.
The weather was perfect. According to newspaper reports, the crowd at the Flats was “perhaps the largest in history.” Guest speakers with appropriate messages were Meighen and renowned elocutionist Agnes Knox Black, almost hidden in this photograph behind Lieutenant-Colonel Lincoln Rice on the left. Perth MP Fred Sanderson (in a top hat, back centre) also spoke. Mayor White, in a reservist’s uniform on the right, was chairman. Seated beside him was F.E. Butcher, the oldest surviving previous mayor of St. Marys.