Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Price, M.P.P.
204th (Beaver) Battalion
It seems to me to be a crying shame that having raised and trained this battalion at a cost of $2000, it should after a year need further training so men taken to reinforce units not from Toronto and its senior officers cast adrift as if they were useless.
(Price to Borden, 4 Apr 1917)
William Herbert Price was an Ontario lawyer and Conservative MPP for Parkdale (1914—1937). He was born in Owen Sound on 25 May 1877. In spring 1916, Price competed with multiple battalions in Toronto to gather volunteers for the 204th. Despite having no militia experience, the popular politician was well positioned to organize the recruitment campaign.
Rather than call on men to sign up, Price decided to appeal to the “conscience only.” The Parkdale MPP required each man who did enlist to secure another volunteer. Although the populist strategy produced results, sending hundreds of men across the city to find new recruits also led to occasional fights and violent confrontations.
My great-grand uncle, Harry John Barrett joined the 204th Beaver as a private in April 1916. However, his brother, George William Barrett ,signed up with Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lennox’s 208th Irish Fusiliers.
After arriving in England in March 1917, the 204th was broken-up to the resentment of its commander. Despite appeals to Prime Minister Borden, the unit was disorganized to provide reinforcement drafts for the 3rd and 75th Battalions. Frustrated by Borden’s responses, Price argued, “We drew on our resources in money and public esteem, telling our men we would be with them to the last. Now we are made to look like quitters.”
Private H. J. Barrett joined the 3rd Battalion in France in summer 1917. He was killed by a German sniper on 30 August 1918. Colonel Price served in France withthe Imperial Forces from June 1917 until demobilization.
When Price returned to Canada, he joined fellow Conservative MPP Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Pratt in criticizing the Government’s demobilization efforts. Referring to the two-day Rhyl riots on 4/5 March 1919 in Wales, Price denied the influence of Bolshevism or radical politics and blamed the mismanagement of headquarters staff at Argyll House.
During the 1920s and 30s, Price emerged as a powerful Ontario Conservative cabinet member; serving as treasurer (1923—1926) and Attorney General (1926—1931). Although widely rumored to be a leading candidate for premier, he retired in 1937 rather than pursue the party leadership. In March 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Price affirmed Canada’s commitment to the Empire:
I am in favor of Canada standing with Great Britain whenever and wherever she may need our aid. Most of us would be happier if we knew and felt the Old Land could always depend on us. Toronto’s three great newspapers agree that whenever Canada is at war, Britain is at war, I cannot understand why there should be so much subterfuge about it.
His son, Captain John Gentles Price, was killed in September 1944 while fighting in France.
Price died on 21 December 1963.