The 48th Highlanders


With a largely British population, Torontonians were eager to join World War I in 1914. Despite vast food and fuel shortages, people whole-heartedly supported the military effort. Downtown transformed into a focal point for military recruitment with schools, businesses, and clubs encouraging young men to join the cause. By the end of World War I, over three-fourths of Toronto’s eligible men volunteered to serve their country.

Even major Toronto institutions contributed to the war effort. Commercial factories repurposed their machines, producing munitions and war vehicles. City of Toronto officials loaned Exhibition Park to the cause, converting the space into a key training ground that housed over ten-thousand Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) troops throughout the War.

48th Highlander Regiment at Valcartier before leavng for World War I.

48th Highlander Regiment at Valcartier before leaving for World War I. Courtesy of Archives of Ontario. Fonds 2. Series 411. Item 35. 

Prior to the War, Union Station was regarded as outdated and inadequate. However, a remodel would have to wait. The city's most significant transformation was here, at Union Station. The station was badly in need of an update. This would have to wait as the station was needed for the war effort. It became a hub for military transportation. Tens-if not hundreds- of thousands of troops passed through on their way to Nova Scotia, where they boarded ships headed for the front lines. Mayor Tommy Church saw off all troops leaving Union Station. Some soldiers' last memory of Canada was their mayor running beside the train shouting goodbyes and wishing them luck.

One Toronto regiment that did not receive this send off was the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. On August 6, 1914, the 48th Highlanders received orders to assemble as many men and equipment as feasible. Instead of leaving to the hurrahs of their Mayor at Union Station, the regiment boarded trains at Don Station and reported to Valcartier, Quebec to join the rest of the CEF.

48th Highlander Recruitment Poster

48th Highlander Recruiting Tent Toronto. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1244. Item 735. 

Enlistment skyrocketed with the start of the Great War, as the 48th Highlanders grew into three full regiments. Many of the regiments' new  recruits were trained at Exhibition Place. Once they completed their training, many soldiers would board trains at Union Station that began their trip to the front lines.

48th Highlander Recruitment Poster. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. Call Number: 1914-1918. Recruitment. Item 9. L. 

On January 21st, 1917, Colonel and Brigadier of the 1st Canadian Training Brigade, Wiliam Campbell MacDonald, a 48th Highlander before his promotion, was crushed to death at Union Station by a train engine. MacDonald was seeing off a Canadian Air Support Control regiment when the train engine suddenly reversed into the crowd.

Overall, the 48th Highlanders fought in many major battles including Ypres, Festubert, Mont Sorrel, Somme, and Vimy Ridge. Throughout the war  the regiment lost a total of sixty-one officers and one-thousand four-hundred and seventy-three non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

48th Highlanders Rest in a Field During World War I. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1244. Item 831. 

After the war, most of the Highlanders made their way back to Toronto via Union Station. As a major military transfer point, Union Station transformed from an inadequate building to a logistical military hub. It not only helped transport thousands of troops to the front line, but also provided a home that soldiers returned to.

48th Highlanders Return Home to Union Staton. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1244. Item 814. 

48th Highlanders Returning from World War I to Union Station. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1244. Item 823. 

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