Cedarvale war games

Cedarvale ravine was an imaginary battlefield for several thousand men in the first months of 1915. The hills, creek, woods and open fields provided an ideal setting in which to instruct recruits in the coordinated actions essential for war. The attack styles with shoulder to shoulder troop advances and exhilarating running attacks would later be bitter sweet memories for the trainee soldiers. As it turned out, their real test would come in enduring bombardment, poison gas and disease while stuck in trenches on the Western Front.


On the last day of 1914 after more than a month of drilling on the CNE grounds, the men of the 19th and 20th Battalions entered a new stage of preparation for combat.

Cedarvale Ravine Scene of Sham Fight, Globe, December 31, 1914 p.6 b “Cedarvale Ravine Scene of Sham Fight” Globe, December 31, 1914 p.6

Cedarvale 1914 CedarvaleSoldiers at Cedarvale Soldiers at Cedarvale

Charged with their training was Boer War veteran officer Major H. C. Bickford.  On a website documenting his war experiences with numerous photographs and letters his descendant, Tim Bickford, identifies him as a living link to 19th century military traditions

General Bickford’s travels to England, South Africa, India and France at the turn of the century clearly shaped his world view and most soldiers of the British Empire. It shows how they were living under the 19th century romanticized illusion (largely from the Boer War) that horses and cavalry charges could somehow compete with armored tanks, mustard gas and machine guns. The horrible atrocities of World War I exposed this grand illusion.  General H.C. Bickford Memorabalia


Judging by a photograph posted on the same site, in a photo in the city archives

Bickford  General Bickford, 1919 Russian Civil War

Major Bickford seems to be the central figure with his eyes cast down.

P.S.I. officers of staff, Cedarvale P.S.I. officers of staff, Cedarvale

The infantry maneuvers he designed took full advantage of the ravine’s geographical features and new bridge.

Cedarvale bridge 1915 Cedarvale bridgeCedarvale Ravine Scene of Sham Fight, Globe, December 31, 1914 p.6 c “Cedarvale Ravine Scene of Sham Fight” Globe, December 31, 1914 p.6

It was also a natural amphitheater for the demonstration approach to training devised by Major Bickford.

… The system of teaching the troops … is to take one company and perfect its training as a model company. Under the eyes of the whole battalion, which is posted in a suitable position, the model company carries out an attack on an entrenched position, held by the enemy, special attention being directed to teaching the men how to proceed under artillery fire.  The attack thus illustrated is then carried out by each company in turn…

“Eager Young Canada Rushes to Volunteer” Globe, Jan. 8, 1915 p,6

P.S.I. officers of staff, Cedarvale 1915 P.S.I. officers of staff, Cedarvale


Semaphore flags, signal lamps, and heliographs were considered essential for the battlefield and to alert the home front of invasion. The latter also came in handy to alert the cook at the CNE headquarters when  the recruits would be back.

Signalling by the hand or semaphore system... Boyd John Boyd Sr Toronto Military Training Photograph Album

Heliographed Orders for a Hot Dinner, Globe, March 3, 1915 p8 “Heliographed Orders for a Hot Dinner” Globe, March 3, 1915 p8

Heliograph Boyd Heliograph Boyd 2


Maneuvers in the Dark

After learning how to work collectively under the command of officers in different conditions and over varied terrain the recruits were given their next challenge. The district around Cedarvale held farm fields and brush with isolated farm buildings and some suburban development. Far from city lights, it was the ideal place to practice a night attack.

19th Battalion pipers Boyd

the Star Feb. 11, 1915 p.5

Cedarvale “Taken” and “Enemy” Routed—Two Battalions Figure in “Run and Duck” Charge Over Snow—SNOW IS CRUNCHED—But That Was the Only Noise Made by the Attacking Force

At seven o’clock last night, when the day’s work was done at the Exhibition camp, a sudden bugle sounded “fall in,” and the 19th and 20th battalions, 2,200 strong, with bands to tune them up, set out on a night march.  Up Dufferin they marched, dropping their bands at St.Clair avenue, and the word spread along the column that an enemy was approaching from the north, and a night attack was to be made on the enemy’s encampment.  At Eglinton avenue that column turned east and halted at Kennedy avenue, which is several blocks east of Dufferin. (Area Map, Goad’s Fire Map 1910) Here the column was deployed into the bare fields of Cedarvale, lying south of Eglinton avenue, and formed in two lines, the 19th battalion of 1,100 men in front, and the 20th equally strong, supporting one hundred yards to the rear.  This made five solid lines of soldiers, 500 men to the line shoulder to shoulder. Col. W.A. Logie commanded the attack, with Major H.C. Bickford as second in command.

 Ha!, the Enemy!

 In the meantime, under cover of darkness, Lieut. W. Ford Howland and a small detachment had taken up a position on a brush-covered hill, just south-west of the corner of Bathurst and Eglinton—they being the “enemy” in camp.

The attack was to cover over a mile, on fields covered deep with snow and brush, the snow having a crust on it that made walking hard and silence impossible.

20th Battalion Boyd

400 Yards to Charge.

From the hill where they first appeared, the soldiers had 400 yards to go before they reached the hill where the enemy were encamped. It was done in 50-yard sprints. The whole 2,000 would drop as if shot. At a sharp command, they would leap up and dash 50 yards, like wolves in the night, and then, at another order, drop, and completely disappear. From the point of those who were being attacked, this sudden cessation of sound and the disappearance of 2,000 men out yonder in the dark, was decidedly exciting.

On they came, and when at last within 100 yards of the hill, there was an ominous clicking sound. And when the attackers leaped to their feet for the final charge on the hill, 2,000 steel bayonets shone coldly, grey in the night.

…That was the final touch. The hill was then taken. But the detachment of the “enemy” on the hill had “vamoosed” towards Bathurst street, as had been pre-arranged.

20th Battalion a long sturdy line... Boyd

1915 Night Attack Cedarvale Location of Maneuvers in the Dark Google Maps

Friends of Cedarvale Park New plantings beside dog park by Friends of Cedarvale Park members. Photo: John Cummings

Cedarvale Park is still noted for its hillside borders, however they now serve as excellent vantage points from which to watch dogs in the off-leash area, cyclo-cross competitions and the unfolding romance between a city park and its neighbors.


Further Reading & Viewing

Explore the closely documented training of World War I recruits in familiar Toronto settings through John Boyd’s album of World War I training camp photographs.

The heliographs shown are probably Mance Mark V heliographs. A copy of the (1922) heliograph training manual, and detailed color photographs of the heliograph components (many in even more detail when clicked on) see:
Mance Type Mk V Heliograph

“The eager doomed: The story of Canada’s WWI recruits” is a feature article published by The Globe and Mail and written by noted World War I historian and Canadian War Museum curator, Tim Cook.

A Pictorial History of Toronto’s Cedarvale Neighborhood by Edward Skira, Urban Toronto.

Video glimpses of the Cedarvale Park’s wetland.