— By Neil Whaley, Guest Blogger
‘Tag days’ were one-day fundraisers held in Vancouver before, during and after WW1. Volunteers canvassed on street corners for a particular cause, and donors received a tag on a string they could wear around a button to show that they had done their part.
The tags shown in this post were found together and look to be from Vancouver circa WW1. The ones which can be more precisely dated are 1916-18.
Vancouver’s first tag day was held in 1902 and by WW1 there were about a dozen tags a year. Their popularity exploded during the Great War — 33 tags in 1917 raised $124,000 and 37 tags in 1918 raised $105,000. Tag days dropped to six a year by 1923 but continued for decades, eventually morphing into tagless poppy days (Canadian Legion) apple days (Kinsmen) and carnation days (Lions).
The volunteer labor to run tag days was overwhelmingly female, even when the benefactor was an all-male group. Newspapers ran long lists naming each canvasser and her street corner. One rare time in 1916 when a significant number of canvassers were male, organizers offered prizes — kids were canvassers and the boy with the highest donation total won a bicycle (which would have been a big prize at the time), the second highest boy got a wristwatch and the top girl got an umbrella. I bet she would have preferred a chance at the bike.
City Council had to approve each event, and generally rejected political causes. Vancouver Island coal mine strikers in 1913 were forbidden to canvas to get workers out of jail but were allowed to have a tag day to support the jailed unionists’ destitute wives and children. In the 1930s, unemployed men were turned down for a tag to fund the On to Ottawa Trek but a leftists theatre group got a tag to finance a trip to Ottawa to perform “Waiting for Lefty” in the Dominion Drama Festival.
The quantity of tags printed ranged from 15,000 to 175,000, and was typically 50,000. Donations were often 10 cents, and it was not unusual to raise $3000.
In 1916, Vancouver’s Nicholson Printers advertised that they could print a two-colour tag on both sides with rounded corners and a string hole, all in a single pass through the press.
Most (if not all) of the tags shown below are from before spring 1919, when at least one printer started offering a tag with a buttonhole slit so that no string was needed. Before then, volunteers spent hours adding the strings.
The tags were found glued to black pages.
Belgium Relief tag days were held in 1916, ’17, and ’18.
Serbia July 21, 1917: A tag for Serbian relief was held in Vancouver that day.
Italia: Italian Red Cross tags were held in 1916, ’17, and ’18.
VGH Infants Hospital Save the Babies: “‘Save the Babies’ is a motto of the Infants Hospital Committee which will make its public appeal on Saturday when a tag day is to be held to provide . . . for furnishing with needed linen and blankets the hospital on Haro Street, where the little ones that are too ‘seeck’ to be taken home by their mothers are tenderly nursed back to health and strength . . . The hospital is a public institution, one of the branches of the Vancouver General Hospital . . . and its continued and efficient existence is necessary if all that is possible is to be done to conserve human life in Vancouver to make up for the terrible losses sustained beyond the seas” (Vancouver World newspaper, Oct 8 1918).
The first tag day for the Infants Hospital was in 1918 and others were held after the war.
Vancouver BC Children’s Home: Vancouver held tags before, during, and after WW1 for three organizations that operated children’s homes: the Children’s Aid Society, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, and the Alexandra Orphanage. The color and shape of this tag are consistent with the Catholic group’s “Shamrock” tag day, which was held each year near St. Patrick’s Day.
United Auxiliaries: United Auxiliaries only tag day was in 1918. Auxiliaries of various battalions raised money for soldiers comforts for: University Battalion, Seaforths, 29th Battalion, Forestry Battalion, 158th Battalion, 7th Battalion, 68th Battery and Engineers. “Comforts” was a common term for such items as tobacco, food, rubber boots, and hand-knit gloves, scarves, and sleeping helmets.
Prisoners of War: A Prisoner of War tag day was held on Oct 6 1916. Felix Penne wrote a poem for that day’s World newspaper to encourage people to give. The poem said the event was using a “little tag that is shaped like a loaf of bread”.
Hart McHarg Auxiliary Soldiers Comforts: “Those who gave a contribution on Hart McHarg day will be interested to know what has already been done with the money. It is only two weeks since tag day, but the Auxiliary has already purchased comforts and filled 1200 boxes for the men of British Columbia battalions at the front . . .” (Vancouver World, Sept 25 1918). The auxiliary was named after a Lieutenant-Colonel from Vancouver who was killed in battle in 1915 at Ypres.
Jewish War Sufferers: “The committee in charge of the tag day for relief of Jewish sufferers report an exceptionally busy day . . . Out of 15,000 tags, there were only 1,500 in stock at noon . . . The tags, badges, and boxes all bear the Shield of David with the words ‘Jewish War Sufferers’ inscribed.” (Vancouver World Sept 15 1917), A tag day was also held in 1915 to aid four to five million Jews suffering or made homeless in Russia and Poland as a result of the war.
Alexandra Non-sectarian Orphanage: The orphanage opened in Vancouver in 1892. It held annual tag days from 1918 onward.
Help Red Cross Today: Red Cross tags were numerous during WW1.
Food for our Prisoners of War: Tag days were held in 1915-18 to fund food parcels for BC soldiers who were PoWs in German camps.
Vive la France: Tags for the French Red Cross were held 1916-19.
Vancouver Sailors’ Home: The British and Foreign Sailors Society held a tag day in 1917 for a Sailors’ Home on Alexandra Street. Shown on the tag is Admiral David Beatty, who became commander-in-chief of the British Grand Fleet in late 1916 and served as vice-president of the British and Foreign Sailors Society.
M.A.M.W.S.S. Boys Comforts: The Mainland Association of Mothers and Wives of Soldiers and Sailors of the Army and Navy held their only tag in 1918. In addition to providing “comforts” for soldiers, the group “was instrumental in securing the release from the army of a few soldiers whose wives had died during their absence, leaving children to be cared for.”
Our Red Cross Day and Red Cross Material Fund: Before and after the war, a local organization would hold no more than one tag day a year. The exception was the Red Cross during WW1, which was allowed to hold tag days as frequently as six weeks apart.
Our Blinded Heroes: “The tag that will be used in Saturday’s collection for the blinded men of St. Dunstan’s Hostel has been specially designed by Miss Nan Miller, who has expressed artistically and with dignity the raison d’etre of the collection. Encircled by a wealth of laurels are a pyramid of canon balls and two pieces of field artillery, above which the words ‘Our Blinded Heroes’ are boldly inscribed. The design in black shows very effectively on a small colored card. Miss Miller is to be congratulated on her very artistic work” (Vancouver World June 15 1917). St. Dunstan’s was a facility in London, England.
Shell Shock Installation: “The Great War Veterans’ Tag Day on Saturday is one which should appeal to each and every person in Vancouver. The proceeds of this tag day will pay for the installation of ‘shell shock machinery’ in a wing of the Vancouver General Hospital to be called the Military Hospital. There are many returned heroes who will benefit by this apparatus . . . .” (Vancouver World Sept 21 1917). VGH’s new wing was created without government funding after private citizens raised $75,000. The tag was held to raise $3000 to install hydro-therapy equipment.
Victorian Order of Nurses, St. Paul’s Hospital, SPCA, and Catholic Children’s Aid (CCA): Military charities drew money away from regular annual tag days for local organizations. Of 33 tags in 1917 for all causes, the SPCA attracted the lowest total, $1400.
Vancouver General Hospital: VGH held the city’s first ever tag in 1902. The annual event was known as Hospital Saturday, an idea borrowed from “the old country”. Local Chinese and Japanese had a reputation for giving generously to it, even though VGH segregated Asian patients in the hospital basement at the time. For the earliest Hospital Saturdays, street canvassing was supplemented by donation cans that were left in saloons for a day. Although saloons had a tawdry reputation, saloonkeepers were portrayed as good citizens for their promise to do all they could to see that donations were strong.
For a few years until 1916, donors for the VON’s “Rose Day” received hand-crafted paper roses instead of tags.
Army Chaplain’s Emergency Fund: December 1917 tag day
Help Red Cross Today: Numerous tags were held for the Red Cross during WW1.
Returned Soldiers Club: “Miss Nan Miller has designed a very distinctive tag for next Saturday’s collection in aid of the Returned Soldier’s Club. On a primrose-colored card a black shield serves effectively as the background for a bayonet surmounted by a victor’s crown — the bayonet being emblematic of the fighting at close grips, so characteristic of the great war. The nationality of our soldiers is symbolized by maple leaves and above the script ‘Returned Soldiers Club’ a Victoria Cross and a Military Cross appear in token of the glory with which our forces have covered themselves on the battlefields of France and Belgium” (Vancouver World, Nov 22 1917).
Nan R. Miller was a teacher at Braemar private girls’ school before heading an 18-person staff which taught wood-carving, basket-weaving, embroidery and leatherwork to soldiers convalescing at local military hospitals. Needlework was said to soothe soldiers’ nerves.
YMCA Military Department: The Military Department of the YMCA held tags in 1916 and ’17. Money was raised to help ordinary Canadian “rankers” overseas as well as in training camps from Victoria to Halifax. In 1919, the department opened Red Triangle Club on Cordova Street to temporarily house 180 returnees at a time, serve meals and provide recreational activities. The department also handled recreation at various local military hospitals.
Central City Mission: Tag days were held 1917-19. Central City Mission started as an interdenominational organization to provide food and lodging to destitute men. Shown on the tag is 233 Abbott Street, its home from 1910-1989. When BC undertook Prohibition in 1917, the mission sought to provide more of a social venue. Today’s Central City provides social housing, addiction treatment, health care and youth services.
Patriotic Guild Sock Fund: “The proceeds of the tag day . . . of the Women’s Patriotic Guild will be used entirely to buy a supply of socks to be sent directly to the Canadian soldiers in France. The guild is the parent, so to speak, of several well organized leagues, the membership of which is made up exclusively of the wives and dependants of men of the military and naval forces, their meetings being held solely in the interest of Red Cross and soldiers’ comfort work . . . . During the three years of its existence the Women’s Patriotic Guild has mainly concerned itself with the interests and welfare of soldiers’ dependants and families, varying its function as circumstances changed the needs . . .” (Vancouver World Oct 20 1917).
Army Chaplain’s Emergency Fund: December 1917 tag day.
Our Sailors: Tag days were held in 1916, ’17 and ’18 for “Our Sailors”.
Vive la France: Some of the most successful WW1 tag days were for the French Red Cross. The 1917 day raised $6588, double what tags often raised at the time. Of 33 tags that year, the French drew the second highest response. Only Vancouverites’ outpouring of support for victims of the unparalleled Halifax Explosion exceeded it, raising $8400 to be sent to Nova Scotia.
Returned Soldiers Club: The Returned Soldiers Club was one of the few local WW1 organizations which continued after the war — it was still operating into the 1960s. The club held tags from 1917 to at least 1923.
Its original purpose when formed in December 1915 was to provide aid to soldiers and sailors who were returning from battle in Europe. Returnees were offered one week’s free accommodation, subsidized meals, job placement assistance, emergency funding and social activities including free billiards. All were welcomed: Vancouverites (including wives and kids), men passing through on their way to BC towns and soldiers from other countries.
St. Paul’s Hospital: St. Paul’s held annual tag days from 1916 onward.
Overseas Nurses Fund: “The Local Council of Women has organized a tag day for nurses who have become ill or unfit for further duty while serving in overseas hospitals. Many nurses have been caring for the sick and wounded of all nationalities for two or three years, giving not only their time and strength, but often providing much needed comforts or necessities from their own purses . . . The public will be asked to show its appreciation of the noble work these women are doing” (Vancouver World, Aug 6 1918).
Our Sailors: Tag days were held in 1916, ’17, and ’18 for “Our Sailors”.
French Red Cross Society: Tag day was held in 1916.
Plaid & Union Jack: There is more than one possibility for these two.
When a tag day drew a stronger-than-expected response, “hurry up orders were sent to printers to print flags or any old thing that would answer the purpose . . . ” (Vancouver World, May 15, 1915).
The plaid swatch appears to be the Seaforth Highlanders’ tartan. Seaforth cadets held a tag in 1916 to buy uniforms.
There was a tag day variation called Flag Day, where the International Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) sold large and small Union Jacks near July 1 to encourage people to decorate their homes with full-size flags or wear the smaller version.