This picture was taken in 1933, in the depths of the “Great Depression” which lasted from 1929 to 1939. The hardest-hit cities in Canada were in the heavy industry centers of western Ontario. In Windsor unemployment had skyrocketed to almost 45%!
So who were these well-fed men in top hats and don’t you think they might have felt a tad embarrassed parading around in top hats, spats, white gloves and canes when there were tens of thousands of their fellow Windsorites surviving on bread lines and soup kitchens?
And who were those extremely earnest looking boys in pillbox hats from St. Marks Church’s Boys Brigade?
This surreal clipping was provided by a reader several years ago with no accompanying information other than the caption and writing above the photo.
Lo and behold, the Boys’ Brigade (BB) still exists. It is an interdenominational Christian youth organisation, created in 1883 by some Scottish fellow named William Alexander Smith “to combine drill and fun activities with Christian values.” It became a worldwide organisation by the early 1890s and in 2003, there were 500,000 Boys’ Brigade members in 60 countries.
The purpose of the Boys’ Brigade was, “The advancement of Christ’s kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.”
Initially, a simple rosette was worn as an identifying uniform, then replaced by a belt, haversack and pillbox cap (a popular military cap of the day) worn over the boys’ everyday clothing. The pillbox cap was used into the 1960s.
The movement also pioneered camping for leisure in Britain, previously rarely used outside the military.
I could not find out when the Boys Brigade was discontinued in Windsor but I have a hunch it may have been replaced by the Boy Scouts.
And who knows where all those pillbox caps ended up, not to mention the shiny top hats.
Stan Scislowski was a regular contributor to The Walkerville Times and The Times Magazine. He grew up in Windsor during the Depression and submitted many stories to us about those difficult days. Here’s one about his adventures as an 8-year-old at the old race tracks, Devonshire and Kenilworth, called:
And They’re Off!
At noon people started making their way down Parent Avenue singly, in twos and threes and in larger groups. It was a good three-mile hike to the track so any adults willing to walk that far had to have betting blood in their veins.
Canada was in the depths of the Depression and few people had money to scrape together to buy the necessities of life or a car let alone for luxuries like gambling on the ponies, yet many people still scrounged up a buck or two to bet on the nags…