Lieutenant Colonel W.R. Smyth, MP
238th (Canadian Forestry) Battalion
Am extremely sorry that certain cables crossed and I inadvertently accepted nomination. I wired Robb withdrawing my acceptance … Please convey this to electorate at first opportunity. I depend on all loyal Canadians to support the Union Government and thereby help win the war. We need men and must have them.
(Smyth to G.B. Nicholson, Nov 1917)
William Ross Smyth was a lumber tycoon, Conservative MPP in the Ontario legislature (1902—1908 and federal MP for Algoma East (1908—1917). He was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on 3 January 1857. He was one of several sitting MP selected to recruit an overseas battalion.
Although he rarely spoke in the House of Commons, Smyth became involved in a heated debate with the Liberal Opposition on 25 January 1916 over partisanship in the CEF. Referring to the large number of Conservative appointments to high ranks in the military, MP Frank Carvell protested, “The Liberals are allowed to fill up the ranks, but that is as far as they are allowed to go in the defence of the Empire.”
Smyth interrupted, “That is not correct.”
“Is it not?” Carvell continued, “I will discuss that with my hon. friend the Minister of Militia; I am not going to discuss it with any back-bencher…”
“That is absolutely false.” Smyth shot back.
Quebec Liberal Charles Arthur Gauvreau interjected: “You are paid to tell that.”
“That is absolutely false, too.”
After Speaker Albert Sévigny reprimanded Smyth for “unparliamentarily language,” the Algoma MP persisted in his disruptions. An exasperated Carvell advised, “Let it go, Mr. Speaker, it is another case of a man who forgets to be a gentleman.”
Several months later, Smyth was selected to command the 238th Forestry Battalion, based in Ottawa. The appointment of Smyth, one of a dozen Conservative MPs to receive a command, perhaps indicated that there was some truth in Carvell’s accusation of partisanship in the CEF.
Raised from eastern Ontario and Quebec, the 238th recruited over one thousand men, many of whom were experienced lumbermen and loggers. The battalion was absorbed into the Canadian Forestry Corps after arriving in England in September 1916. Smyth became Deputy Assistant Director of Timber Operations to General Alexander MacDougall. He did not contest the December 1917 election in favour of George Brecken Nicholson.
For his stepping aside during the contentious 1917 election, a fellow MP promised Smyth “we will look after you.” Although supporters pushed for an appointment to the Senate, Smyth was passed over. He died on 7 September 1932.