The early 20th century Vancouver cartoonist James Fitzmaurice is not well known. I first encountered his cartoons while researching the history of baseball in Vancouver in the decade before the First World War. Local historians spend, by necessity and choice, large swaths of time reading old newspapers, most of which are preserved on decaying rolls of microfilm. It is hard work, unforgiving on the eyes, but filled with the delights and mysteries of uncovering lives lost and worlds forgotten. It is the closest historians come to time-travel, and most historians – amateur and professional – are addicted to it. Go to any library that houses old newspapers on microfilm and there you will see us hunched over the microfilm readers with only one foot in the present.

On my journey into the world of professional baseball in 1908 Vancouver, I often would stop to read the political cartoon that predictably adorned the front page of the newspaper. All three Vancouver dailies, the Province, News Advertiser, and the World, experimented with editorial cartoons in the pre-war years, but it was the Vancouver Province, the newspaper that claimed the largest circulation of any in British Columbia, that made cartoon images a regular feature on the front page. And in 1908 the paper settled on a regular cartoonist who signed his name as Fitzmaurice. I began to collect copies of these Fitzmaurice cartoons while ostensibly working on the baseball history project, and by the end of twelve months of newspaper research I had over four hundred cartoons in my possession. Who was this guy? What were these cartoons about?

It turns out that James Brian Fitzmaurice worked for the Vancouver Province off and on over an eighteen year period from 1908 to 1926. He left the city in 1910 to head back east for reasons that are not clear, but returned to the Province in the midst of war in the summer of 1916, and for the next two and a half years Fitzmaurice produced what amounts to a visual narrative of Vancouver’s experience during the Great War. The sheer volume of drawings is impressive. Fitz, as he was known at the time, drew just over 500 cartoons between July 1916 and December 1918, and that does not count the illustrations and graphics he produced to support local news reports and advertisements.

Fitzmaurice’s topical breadth is equally impressive. Given the context of a total war we might expect a steady output of propaganda cartoons vilifying Germany or those promoting the Allied cause, and certainly Fitzmaurice satisfied readers (and watchful government authorities) on that count. But the Vancouver cartoonist did much more. This was the era of the all-purpose staff cartoonist-illustrator, an emerging mainstay of the newspaper business in both Canada and the United States from the 1890s onwards. As such, Fitz provided cartoons on federal, provincial, and municipal politics, the wartime economy, local efforts to support the war effort, a variety of reform causes, the drive for women’s suffrage, and the prohibition of alcohol. Most of his wartime cartoons directly supported the war effort, but not all. Some images questioned wartime state authorities and official directives, and some reflected the prevailing war fatigue with mocking caricatures of the earnestness of local citizens. Some Fitzmaurice wartime cartoons had nothing to do with the war at all. These images provided a break from the tensions of war to poke fun at the burgeoning moving picture entertainment scene, the chaotic revolution brought on by the automobile, and the penetration of American-based spectator sports, all elements that expanded relentlessly during the war. It is this eclectic mix of topics and themes that allow us to see, with certain obvious race, gender, and class caveats, Fitzmaurice’s cartoons as a representative window into Vancouver experience during the war.

This website showcases the variety of cartoons Fitzmaurice produced during the Great War. It is roughly divided into two main thematic areas. The first three pages looks at his wartime propaganda images focussing on Germany, Britain, and the United States. The next three pages highlights his cartoons on the thoughts and activities of Vancouverites on the home front. As mentioned, Fitz produced a wide variety of cartoons on city life during the war. Examined here is a sample of home front themes directly related to the context of the war. These include cartoons to promote wartime initiatives and public fund-raising, efforts to encourage local food production through backyard gardening and stock-raising, the achievement and impact of women’s suffrage, and the troubled imposition of provincial prohibition. The last page, “Fitz Ends the War,” rounds out this visual parade with a brief look at his cartoons on the effects of peace in the immediate post-war period. Fitzmaurice had an opinion on everything, but the cartoons presented here represent, I believe, the very best and most important of his Great War cartoons. First, however, is a short review of Fitzmaurice’s life and career, followed by some thoughts on how to “read” editorial cartoons from this era, and finally a few words on the nature of the war itself.


Fitzmaurice produced over 2100 cartoons for a Vancouver audience in a professional career that lasted from 1908 until his sudden death in 1926. While many of the cartoons have survived, details about Fitzmaurice’s life are rather sketchy.[i] We know he was born in England in 1875 and at the age of sixteen, made the journey to Canada in hope of work and adventure, finding a little of both in ranching on the old “Assiniboia” Territory (present day Alberta) and on the Coldstream Ranch in the Okanagan Valley in south-central British Columbia. Fitzmaurice eventually drifted into Vancouver around 1900 and, because “times were hard and employment was scarce,” he took up a number of odd jobs, including piling lumber in local sawmills, clearing building lots and house painting. One of the odd jobs Fitz found was writing and drawing sidewalk showcards for the local theatre houses in town. According to friends, Fitzmaurice had no previous formal art experience but proved to be a quick learner—it was working on the street with chalk and boards that Fitz served his apprenticeship as a topical cartoonist. His talent at caricature soon caught the eye of the Province’s editorial staff—especially sport’s editor James Hewitt, with whom Fitzmaurice had formed a friendship—and the newspaper hired the cartoonist on full time in January 1908.

While Fitz might have unexpectedly fallen into the newspaper cartoonist business, the fortunate timing of his new career was no accident. Vancouver in the two decades before the First World War experienced spectacular population growth and this had an obvious impact on the city’s economy and employment market. Historian Robert McDonald has shown how the city became a metropolitan centre for a provincial economy that expanded with resource extraction, railway construction, and high levels of immigration to the province. By the turn of the century Vancouver contained the wholesale, retail, and business and professional services needed to dominate that regional economy. It is not surprising that Fitzmaurice came to the city at the beginning of this period of growth—he was not alone. The city’s population grew rapidly after 1897—more than 150,000 in the region of “Greater Vancouver” by the end of the period—and helped to drive real estate and construction activities to unprecedented heights. A kind of speculative ethos gripped the city at this time, which McDonald argues was felt across social classes and was built on the belief that “riches could be had quickly through the buying and selling of land and other natural resources.” A proliferation of speculative businesses, such as trust companies and real estate and resource brokerages, encouraged the hysteria, as well as enough success stories to demonstrate the efficacy of speculative investment. Accompanying the speculation boom was an equally hyperbolic climate of city and regional boosterism. Urban boosterism was common in the Canadian and American west and was not new to Vancouver in the boom period. However, the heightened economic activity and acquisitional fervour encouraged the forces of boosterism, which included newspapers and the cartoonists and sketch artists on their payroll. One of Fitzmaurice’s purposes at the Province was to feed the booster machine with cartoons that uncritically promoted Vancouver and British Columbia as destinations for both new white settlement and new sources of capital investment.

Another piece of good timing for Fitzmaurice was the rise to prominence of the Vancouver Province newspaper as the leading daily in British Columbia. Englishman Hewitt Bostock began the paper as a Victoria weekly of mostly critical political comment along Liberal party lines in 1894. Early on the weekly showed an interest in British Columbia empowerment issues, such as calling for a British Columbia-centred trade policy and more rigorous representation of British Columbia interests in the Federal parliament. These issues would become prominent in Fitzmaurice’s work before the war. When Walter Nichol joined the Province as managing editor in 1897 and soon moved with the paper to Vancouver, it became a daily in competition with the News-Advertiser (Conservative) and the World (Liberal). Ontario-born Nichol had worked for newspapers in Toronto, Hamilton and London, and in 1901 financially reorganized the Province according to eastern practices. He then bought control of the paper from Bostock.

Figure 1: Fitz Has Come Back (Province 16 August 1916)

Nichol’s business approach to the paper determined its content and success, and this was part of a wider transition then in print media that saw a greater emphasis on business practices and profit-making and a subsequent decline in newspapers as mere tools of political partisan forces, what media scholar Minko Sotiron has called the “old journalism of political advocacy.” Under the innovative circulation management of future Vancouver mayor, Louis D. Taylor, the Province cut its subscription rates to increase distribution and entice advertisers. Nichol then expanded the scope of reporting beyond the traditional content of electoral politics and business by widening its sport and social affairs reporting and placing more emphasis on entertainment than dailies had in the past. Nichol demanded reporting be “written brightly and lightly” and that the paper connect with readers through humour: “if there was any humour in an incident,” McGregor writes of Nichol, “he wanted that humour brought out.” Also under Nichol the Province changed its political colours by supporting the Conservative party and its business allies. While Douglas Fetherling notes how the frequent overlaps between press baron and politician in British Columbia contributed to the heightened politicization of its press, the Province was less obviously connected to political parties and more modern in this sense than its rivals—for instance, Nichols did not run for political office, as did his publisher counterparts Carter-Cotton (News-Advertiser), McLagan (World), and Louis D. Taylor (World). The most overt political comment in the paper was in fact the partisan messages of it political cartoons, especially Fitzmaurice’s stinging images of Liberal party leaders and candidates in these early years. Still, the appeal to readers of cartoon images and Fitzmaurice’s wider interest in political and non-political humour fit nicely into the Province’s popular and more modern editorial style.

For reasons that may have been connected to Nichol’s enthusiasm for emergent newspaper photography and the subsequent decline in advertising illustration that had augmented the cartoonist’s work, Fitzmaurice left Vancouver at the height of the city’s boom period in 1910 to draw for, among other eastern dailies, the Montreal Herald. The cartoonist stayed in the east until 1916, when he returned to Vancouver and re-joined the art department at the Province. To mark his return, the Province published a Fitzmaurice self-caricature, one of only a handful that exists (Figure 1). The cartoon reveals aspects of the man that were born out by press comments. Fitz was an unusually thin and lanky man—uncomfortable in his clothes, quipped one press colleague—and a man who spoke infrequently, and then only in droll, usually cynical remarks. However, Fitzmaurice was serious about his craft. While completely self-taught, he worked hard on improving his drawings and became noted for his knowledge of modern visual art trends. After his return, Fitzmaurice settled into a decade of newspaper work that saw him win international reputation as a caricaturist – much of it built on his wartime cartoons – respect in the city’s art community, and a comfortable middle class family life.

Fitzmaurice died suddenly in 1926 at the age of 51. The Province ran what turned out to be his last cartoon without knowing the cartoonist had expired the night before, but the newspaper was filled with accolades the following day. One eulogy called Fitzmaurice “one of the outstanding cartoonists in Canada’s history,” while another reminded readers that Fitzmaurice’s cartoons had been frequently reproduced in Canadian and American newspapers, winning the cartoonist an international reputation. Vancouver Sun columnist Felix Penne broke ranks in the local newspaper war to write a long tribute to the cartoonist that emphasized his talent as an artist, reminding collectors that his “paintings and watercolours will be prized.” Others emphasized Fitzmaurice’s place in British Columbia history. Vancouver Mayor, Louis D. Taylor, wrote that the cartoonist had considerable political power during his tenure at the Province and “a distinct influence in setting some issues right.” Fitzmaurice’s funeral turned out to be a large public affair, the location of which had to be changed to accommodate the hundreds of admirers, including civic leaders, businessmen, and members of the press.

Friends and colleagues commented that Fitz’ strength was his humour rather than the sting of his sarcasm. Said one: “He was one of that very rare species, a born cartoonist. He could seize the point of any situation, especially politically, and had an uncanny knack of spotting the weak point of an argument or the chinks in the armour of a particular public man.”  Another Vancouver Sun tribute claimed his images were “entirely free of ill nature.” Close friend James Butterfield, author of the long running Province column “the Common Round”, wrote that in “all the heat of the greatest political battles that engaged Fitz’ attention he was never known to hit a man below the belt. His humour was always the dominant feature, his attack was secondary.”  Another Province editor called Fitzmaurice “always apt, often brilliant, but never bitter — his cartoons won smiles and approval even from those they caricatured.”

From our perspective today, almost a century after his death, Fitzmaurice’s cartoons do have a certain gentleness. There is also a formal quality to them; they lack the colloquial style of most editorial cartoons today. However, his images also contain ethnic, racial and gender ideas that most of us find offensive. Reading the cartoons for all of these meanings – most of which were commonly held and unquestioned by Fitzmaurice’s readers – is what makes the work of historians of such images important, fun, but also perplexing at times.


Intended Versus Unintended Meanings

The job of making sense of old editorial cartoons can be a complicated one. Old cartoons like Fitzmaurice’s are full of historical meaning. Historians who explain their methods around interpreting primary sources talk about “intended” meanings, those that were consciously proposed by the creator of the source, versus the “unintended” meanings that flow from the source without the intention of the creator of the source. With the passage of decades, even more so centuries, it is usually the intended messages or overt contemporary content of an editorial cartoon that is immediately unfamiliar to our modern eye. This is the point where the researcher in all of us must leap into action to hunt down references to obscure public figures and now-unknown historical events. Fitzmaurice’s pre-war cartoons were full of such content mysteries. For instance, the series of cartoons Fitz produced in 1908 that focussed on the foreign policy of Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro and the brief war between Venezuela and the Netherlands would take any reader today some time to unravel – after several days of research I could at least appear to know something about the context of Venezuelan politics and the personalities featured in the cartoon frame.

Of course, the newspaper itself can be an excellent source to inform ourselves on the intended content of an old editorial cartoon. Newspaper cartoonists often based their ideas on the reports published in the paper itself. For many newspapers this was the whole point of the editorial cartoon: to support the written editorial position of the paper. In the case of making sense of the Venezuelan crisis of 1908, the Province news reports, which were themselves reprinted from an American syndicated news service, were essential. Modern histories, including books, articles, encyclopedia entries, are also important to understanding content. Good histories will attempt a mediated distance from the events and provide a wider understanding of context, all of which can help with our deciphering of a cartoon’s position on an issue. And of course the Internet is a crucial research tool. Academic historians are quick to caution students on the uncritical uses of Wikipedia and other internet sources that have escaped the gatekeeping process of academic knowledge production. But let’s come clean here; we all use the Google search as an initial entry into the unknown. And the research work of local historians and enthusiasts, much of it only available online, is indispensable to unpack of some of Fitzmaurice’s more unclear historical references.

The “unintended” meanings of cartoons lie hidden beneath the artist’s intended messages within the frame. For historians, these comprise the image’s deeper, more enduring ideas, characteristics or messages that have been shaped by a particular historical context. “Unintended” is probably a poor term to use; from our distant vantage point we really cannot claim with any surety what was in the mind or not in the mind of anyone in the past. Intentionality is a very slippery aspect of historical study. The late Arthur Marwick, British historian and staunch critic of more recent post-modern assaults on traditional historical methods, used the terms “unwitting testimonies” to describe the process of “cutting against the grain” of a primary source to reveal “the attitudes and values of the author, or the culture to which he/she belongs.”  Marwick provided a concrete example:

In Canterbury Cathedral the tomb of the Black Prince with his imposing effigy and surrounding paraphernalia wittingly indicates what an important personage he was; the representation of the dog nestling at his feet unwittingly indicates that the notion of ‘man’s best friend’ was prevalent among the then nobility, an impression confirmed in several of the surrounding tombs.

There are then ideas, practices, attitudes, ways of being, and patterns of language that were so commonly understood and unquestioned at the time that they can only be seen by outsiders – either across great cultural distance or, in our case, across time. And, to be fair, the deeper meanings we identify might simply be the inventions of the outside, modern viewer. We have our own set of unintentional ways of seeing that cannot help but inform how we view others. In other words, “reading” the unintended, historical meanings of an old editorial cartoon has far less to do with uncovering a set of unchanging truths about that time than identifying elements we believe, right now, are important.

Figure 2: Need New Bars Against the Orientals (Proviince ??? March 1908)

Fitzmaurice’s pre-First World War cartoons on race and white supremacy offer up some good examples of the interplay between intended and unintended meanings. His cartoon “Need New Bars Against the Orientals” (Figure 2) from March 1908 was published in the wake of an anti-Asian riot in Vancouver seven months previous. Here we see a Mountie-like figure labelled “B.C.” who Fitzmaurice used to represent the province’s collective interests standing in front of a break in the wall that had been unsuccessfully repaired with a series of ineffective boards or barriers. Looming outside is a turbaned figure and others we will assume are the “Orientals” referred to in the title. The intended meanings of the cartoon have been shaped to support the racist white audience of Province newspaper readers who wanted to bar the entry of Chinese, Japanese and South Asian immigrants to British Columbia, a key socio-political issue at the time. The efforts to repair the exclusionary wall by the federal government have all failed, in part because of the senior government’s reluctance to act against Japan, which was a rising power in the east, or India, which was after all a member of the British Empire. A frustrated Mr. BC sighs, “Oh well, we will just go ahead and build something that will stop them.”

The intended content of “Need New Bars Against the Orientals” is simple enough to track down. However, the overtly racist position of the cartoon, part of its unintentional messaging, is what jumps off the page to a reader today. Fitzmaurice assumed his readers would support Asian exclusion without question. In their minds, British Columbia’s destiny was as a “White Man’s Province,” and Fitzmaurice contributed to that goal by graphically visualizing insiders and outsiders in ways that seemed natural and legitimate.

Visual Rhetoric:  Condensation, Domestication, Opposition

In addition to recognizing the distinction between intended and unintended meanings, scholars working with old editorial cartoons have identified specific tools used by cartoonists to carry their message. These graphic tricks or strategies are known collectively by scholars as the tools of visual rhetoric, and are used to reduce the infinite detail of public issues and events down to a visually pleasing, yet limiting, frame for common consumption.  Canadian sociologist Raymond Morris has identified some of the tools common to visual rhetoric, including: condensation, the compression of the complex into a single embodiment such as Miss Canada or Uncle Sam; domestication, the placement of foreign or strange concepts, situations, or people into “something close, familiar, and concrete,” often within a family household, common workplace, or familiar street scene; and opposition, the construction of binary opposites, in the face of more complex realities, to more bluntly carry the meaning and humour of images.  Fitzmaurice made full use of these three tools of visual rhetoric, and no better example exists from his early pre-war work than his series of comic caricatures of Liberal leader and then Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

Figure 3: A House Divided Against Itself (Province  18 June 1908)

Fitzmaurice’s use of condensation is most often seen in allegorical figures, such as Uncle Sam, John Bull, and Miss Canada, to represent the will of nations, but also other condensed symbols to represent values, policies, ideals, actions, and outcomes – anything really. Take Fitzmaurice’s 1908 Laurier cartoon “A House Divided Against Itself” (Figure 3).  Fitz has filled the frame with symbolic figures. We see a reluctant father Wilfrid taking abuse from his adopted infant “Aylesworth Bill,” while his wife the “Liberal Party” looks on concerned. The political issue behind the cartoon had to do with the controversial Bill introduced by Minister of Justice Allen Aylesworth to rather underhandedly exempt Liberal Party contributors from a number of controls placed on political party financing during federal election campaigns.  Fitz has taken the opposition conservative position here, and done so with a cast of symbolic characters – even the larger public issue, “Business” and its cozy relationship with the Liberal Party, is literally spelled out (in wool) for the reader.

There were no real limits to the use of condensation, although certain visual rules had to be followed. Well-known public figures had to readily recognizable in caricature and the best known of these, like Laurier and later during the war Kaiser Wilhelm, could escape labelling. If in doubt, Fitzmaurice might remind readers of the notables’ identity through a descriptive caption, as is the case in “A House Divided Against Itself,” or through suggestive labelling of objects within the frame. But the best caricature could stand on its own. And Fitzmaurice’s Wilfrid Laurier was excellent. A consistently negative villain, Fitz’s Laurier had his hair pulled to the rear of his head, his face pinched, eyes reduced to black slits, and his body made thin, ungainly, and brittle. All of this indicated to readers a devilish, grasping, and untrustworthy character. The cartoon “Another Case of Collapse from the Heat” (Figure 4), drawn in the midst of the hot Vancouver summer of 1908, presents this unsavoury Laurier in yet another ethical dilemma. 

Figure 4: Another Case of Collapse from the Heat (Province 9 July 1908)

All the defining features of Fitzmaurice’s Laurier are here as the Prime Minister attempts to rescue Madame Liberal Party from the opposition heat wave he is responsible for creating. It is significant that Fitz would use the same general characteristics in his caricature of the arch villain Kaiser Wilhelm during the First World War.

A second feature of cartoon visual rhetoric is domestication. As mentioned above, domestication refers to the comic placement of public figures in common settings to which most readers would easily relate. The use of everyday situations was a defining feature of Fitzmaurice’s work – he used this visual structuring more than most cartoonists of his era – and the juxtaposition created by the mashup of the powerful and the banal formed the basis of the humour in these drawings. It’s easy to see that Fitz enjoyed the creative process of dreaming up new settings for his public figures.

Figure 5: Election Signs (Province 17 July 1908)

In “Election Signs” (Figure 5) from July 1908, Laurier plays the part of the shopkeeper opening up his patronage shop to children representing “Doubtful Constituencies.”  “Cinch!” says an “Office Seeker” who grabs a “Government Position” on the run, while in the lower right of the frame a “Doubtful Constituency” hauls away a “$50,000 Public Grant” in a wagon. Laurier would in fact call a federal election that fall and win it, to the dismay of Fitz and the Province newspaper.

Fitzmaurice used a wide variety of common settings and situations to place his characters, including street scenes, restaurants, middle-class parlours and dining rooms, and outdoor settings such as farmyards and cross-country treks through the British Columbia wilderness. 

Figure 6: Has His Eye on the Coop (Province ???)

Figure 6:  Has His Eye on the Coop (Province, ???)

In “Has His Eye on the Coop (Figure 6), Fitzmaurice reinforces the colour line in casting the Prime Minister as the racialized stereotype African-American “Deacon Laurier” attempting to steal chickens from the “Conservative Hen House.” “Ah must hab dem chickens, ‘deed ah must,” muses Laurier in the racist dialect of what historian William Wiggins calls the stereotypical “coon song dialect.”  Unlike his American counterparts, Fitzmaurice rarely used demeaning African-American stereotypes in his cartoons. But he was quick to turn to them when needed; the famed visit to Vancouver of African-American boxer Jack Johnson in March 1909 immediately after becoming the first black heavyweight champion was chronicled by Fitzmaurice in a series of offensive and defensive cartoons.

Domestication allowed cartoonists like Fitzmaurice to play with gender norms and inversions. In many cartoons, Laurier is presented as a woman, and in doing this Fitz followed an old practice of putting public men in women’s clothing that goes back to earlier artists like the 18th century English caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815), the 19th century American Thomas Nast (1840-1902), and Fitzmaurice’s elder and better known Canadian contemporary J.W. Bengough (1851-1923). In her study of Bengough, Christina Burr argues that gender-bending in political cartooning was based on “separate spheres” ideals that defined women as outside of public life – to put a politician in women’s clothing indicated his unworthiness for office. And it is this crossing of the border between public and private that lies at the heart of domestication as a visual strategy. In the cartoon “Won’t Wash Out” (Figure 7) from April 1908, we see Mrs. Laurier attempting, unsuccessfully, to clean the stains of corruption from her laundry.  Fitzmaurice used the common setting of hanging laundry as a metaphor for inauthentic political reform many times over his career. Washing away sins and wrongdoings was a powerful metaphor in this period of Christian-based social reform, and Fitz uses that diffuse understanding here. During the war he would dip into the same metaphoric well to condemn German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Figure 7: Won’t Wash Out (Province 2 April 1908)

A particular favourite image from the pre-war period is of Laurier the ballerina “In the Green Room” (Figure 8).  Fitzmaurice spent several years drawing show cards for the vaudeville houses in Vancouver before working as a newspaper cartoonist. After 1908, he continued to frequent the vaudeville and theater productions, but this time to contribute illustrations of the shows for the entertainment section of the Province. Fitz had an intimate knowledge of theater life, and it showed in many of his cartoon settings. Here we see Laurier the ballerina preparing for a performance. In her tutu marked “Laurier Policy”, the Prime Minister applies makeup in the form of “Election Promises,” “Honesty Powder,” and “Integrity Rouge.” Below Fitzmaurice sums up the Liberal government deceptions: “Little puffs of powder, Little pots of paint, Make the chorus lady look like what she ain’t.” Fitz’s fondness for vaudeville and the theatre influenced his images in other ways as well. The series of cartoons he produced during both federal and provincial election campaigns frequently took on a vaudevillian character, as the non-Conservative candidates moved as a group through a host of ridiculous episodes that highlighted the negative qualities of each. Once the war was in full swing, Fitzmaurice borrowed liberally from his vaudevillian playbook to characterize the Kaiser and his central power allies as bumbling idiots on the world stage.

Figure 8: In the Green Room (Province 4 May 1908)

A final strategy of cartoon visual rhetoric is opposition. Along with condensing concepts and collectives through identifiable symbols and placing these figures in common and comic settings, cartoonists like Fitzmaurice simplified their messages by presenting only two sides of issues. These deliberately constructed binary oppositions reduced all public issues to simple choices that often came down to right versus wrong. When we dig deeper we see a more detailed set of dichotomies, such as honesty versus deception, principles versus opportunism, popular-support/consensus versus motivation for personal gain, and moral determination versus ungrounded indecisiveness. There were no grey areas in Fitzmaurice cartoons. In “Nothing Doing” (Figure 9) from May 1908, the reader is transported to the Political Fair and given the easy choice of Professor Borden’s (Conservative leader Robert Borden) “Practical Politics” versus the “Political Jugglery” of the unethical carny Laurier.  Laurier is presented as a low-life urban ‘rake’, wearing a worn checkered suit (not in fashion in respectable society), a two-tone top hat, too large a buttonhole flower, and smoking a cheap cigar. Such loud visual display was considered inappropriate masculine presentation; respectable middle-class manliness of the period avoided any clothing fashions that might obscure the true worth and character of the man. To draw such attention through adornments could mean a gentleman lacked character, or worse, he was covering up questionable intentions—or worst still, he was displaying ‘feminine’ qualities. In any case, the public onlookers drawn here are able to see through Laurier’s finery and have abandoned him and his policies to irrelevancy.

Figure 9: Nothing Doing (Province 11 May 1908)

The oppositional focus during Fitzmaurice’s first stint at the Province in 1908 was to show how the Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier was detrimental to British Columbia’s interests. Most of his Laurier cartoons had this underlying purpose, but none better than “Political Thugs” (Figure 10) from the spring of 1908.  Set on the city streets at night, Laurier and Aylesworth are two street toughs who plan to assault Mr. BC. Armed with “Laurier’s Methods” and the previously mentioned “Election Bill,” the two thugs appear unaware of the size and strength of their victim, who has his own club dubbed “Public Sentiment.” The caption reads: “But it won’t be such an easy task as they thought.” Cartoons like this one argued that British Columbia’s electoral politics were firmly behind the Conservative Party. That might have been true twenty years before, when the Conservative government of John A. Macdonald used railway politics to his advantage in the province. But that began to change significantly after the election of the Laurier Liberals in 1896, and in the most recent federal vote in 1904, the Liberals held every seat in the province on the basis of 56 per cent share of the popular vote.  In fact, Fitz’s claim of British Columbia as a Conservative stronghold was never very accurate, even in the Macdonald era when a significant independent/labour and socialist vote was lost to our first-past-the-post electoral system. The Conservatives would do much better in the 1908 election, taking five of seven ridings, but only on the strength of 46 per cent of the vote.

Figure 10: Political Thugs (Province 8 May 1908)

The construction of stark binary oppositions as a visual tool in political cartoons can be persuasive because it appears to offer clarity on public issues. But, as in the case of Fitzmaurice’s political cartoons before the First World War, oppositional rhetoric obscured reality more than revealed it. When Fitz returned to Vancouver in 1916 and to a city focussed on the war overseas and total war at home, these tricks of the cartoonist’s trade were demanded and unquestioned.
Editorial cartoonists across the country became some of the most powerful propaganda voices during the Great War. Their job was to remind Canadians of the black and white moral choices before them and to build support for the war effort through the persuasive rendering of cartoon images. And experienced artists who knew their craft like James Fitzmaurice had the tools to do it.


The Great War that consumed the creative energy of Fitzmaurice and hundreds of similar newspaper artists across the globe is considered a formative event in modern human history. Historians from all national backgrounds began to document and interpret the war even before the fighting stopped in 1918, and through a century of writing the First World War remains a vital and much debated topic in world history. Making sense of the war and the full reach of its effects is an enormous challenge. In a recent edited collection of essays to mark the centenary of the Great War, one of the most respected First World War scholars, Hew Strachan, presents three words or “epithets” in an attempt to capture the enormity of the war: global, total, and modern.  All three, Strachan laments, are clichés that error as much as they explain. For instance, the war began as the third Balkan war, and even at the height of the wider conflict, the fighting on land was concentrated in Europe. Some historians reject the global descriptor for new titles that reflect the actual epicentre of the war, such as “Great European War” or the “European Civil War.”  Strachan rejects this limitation because of the hegemonic weight of European power at the beginning of the twentieth century; given the reach of Imperialism, the rest of the world was either under European political, economic, or military control or were compelled to become involved in the war to ensure their own national interests. Official neutrality was impossible for most countries to sustain, as the United States discovered at the end of 1916.

The Great War has also often been seen as the first total war in human history. This totality is usually measured by the degree the conflict reached into the lives of everyone in the societies of belligerent countries. For most civilian populations directly involved, the war was devastatingly physical in its effects. The mass slaughter of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks is the most striking example of this, but so too stand the physical hardships on Russian, Slavic, German and Jewish civilians as the eastern front collapsed in 1917. Other countries whose civilian populations were not involved directly in the conflict, like Canada, felt the effects of total war in a more psychological and behavioural way. The combined impact of widening and invasive military recruitment, the mobilization of the population through propaganda, and the totalizing effects of a directed wartime economy on employment and lifestyle patterns altered the lives of civilians like no other war in history, and certainly no other event in their lifetime. The impact was deep and formative, some even say traumatic. A powerful sense of duty and self-sacrifice, driven by a collective sense of guilt and need to participate, permeated the wartime home front, in effect creating two distinct Canadian First World War experiences: that of the fighting men overseas and that of the men and women left at home. As we shall see, the cartoons of James Fitzmaurice most accurately reflect the perspective and experience of total war on the home front.

The third term raised by Strachan to define the Great War was its modern character, a term that is difficult to separate from the idea of total war because we usually measure modern warfare by levels of technological sophistication and industrial mobilization.  The First World War saw numerous new or recently-created wartime technologies, including the submarine, the aeroplane, new forms of high explosives, lightweight machine guns, poison gas and perhaps most significant in terms of their impact in the field of battle, a new generation of heavy field artillery. Strachan and other First World War historians link the direction of the war at its tactical, operational, and strategic levels to the steep learning curve military commanders faced in how to use these evolving military technologies effectively. Today’s generation of military historians tend now to empathize with the once-condemned Generals responsible for such horrendous battles on the western front, such as Verdun (1916), the Somme (1916), and Passchendaele (1917), because of the inevitable disconnect between untested military technology and unproven tactical planning and implementation. In this school of war millions died. By the final eight months of the war, commanders on both sides had worked out how to use their tools of war more effectively, allowing for greater movement with the German Spring Offensive, which began in March 1918, and the responding Allied Hundred Days Offensive that would eventually lead to German defeat in November 1918.

Of course Strachan is the first to admit that the epithets global, total, and modern are incomplete and do not encompass every meaning and every experience associated with the Great War. For a century, historians of all types and from every perspective have turned their attention to the war, uncovering an eclectic array of First World War topics. The cartoons of James Fitzmaurice reflect many of the well-worn issues raised by historians – Fitz was, after all, a product of late 19th century British Imperialism, so his images contain and promote values that were common to British-born Canadians at the time. 

However, Fitzmaurice was not exhaustive in his topic selection either. While he engaged with the big issues related to the great powers and the conduct of the war, and just as often turned his focus to the experience of war on the streets of Vancouver, Fitz almost entirely ignored Canadian national wartime stories. And there were many Canadian issues to choose from that received ample textual coverage in his newspaper, including Prime Minister Robert Borden’s controversial dismissal of Canadian Minister of Militia, Sam Hughes, in 1916; the rise of national state-run bureaucracies in the final two years of the war to replace the perceived failures of voluntary management of the war; the emergence of Canadian military heroes such as flying aces Billy Bishop and William Barker or the commander of the Canadian Corps by 1917, Lieutenant General Arthur Currie. And of course there was the Conscription Crisis in 1917, the resulting fallout in Quebec, and the manipulative federal election staged by Borden’s “Union” government to ensure the passage of compulsory enlistment. And let’s not forget the distinguished role played by Canadian soldiers in key battles such as Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge, and the triumphant final push in the Last Hundred Days. These Canadian national stories and many more could easily have been rendered in cartoon form by Fitzmaurice, but they were not. It may be that Fitz, as a propaganda voice, avoided controversial topics like conscription in fear of undermining the national war effort. But that fails to account for the absence of positive national wartime stories and personalities.

In fact, over the course of his career, Fitzmaurice rarely acknowledged Canada as a formal political entity or Canadian identity as something to promote or defend. To him, British Columbia was the primary political state, and beyond that was the rest of the world. Canada as a nation was unimportant to him and most frequently was an annoyance that had to be endured. Perhaps this is evidence of the lack of Canadian nationalism in British Columbia at that point in time. It is no surprise then that Fitz’s wartime cartoons fell into two broad and distinct categories: the war at the level of the great powers; and the war as experienced by British Columbians on the home front.

This website study mirrors that bipartite focus in presenting a sample of his Great War cartoons in two sections:

The first section presents three webpages that look at Fitzmaurice’s single frame propaganda cartoons on the great powers, beginning with a page – Fitz & the Kaiser – on his anti-Germany images that ridiculed the enemy primarily through demeaning caricatures of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The second webpage – Fitz & John Bull – examines Fitz’s handling of the British war effort, with a focus on the rise of British Prime Minister Lloyd-George and the effects of the German blockade on British morale. The final page in this section – Fitz & Uncle Sam – presents Fitzmaurice’s interesting take on American neutrality, the trials of American President Woodrow Wilson, and the move towards belligerency in the spring of 1917. 

The second section examines Fitzmaurice’s cartoons of life on the home front. The first webpage – Fitz Fights the War at Home – offers up his propaganda images promoting local wartime recruiting, various wartime charities and causes, and his cartoons in support of the Victory Bond programs. The second page – Fitz Gets the Kaiser’s Goat – takes a slight detour to explore the dozens of cartoons Fitzmaurice produced on the wartime Victory Garden initiative, the unforeseen difficulties of backyard urban farming, and the inevitable silliness of wartime urban stock-raising. The page on the home front – Fitz and the Politics of Women and Drink – reviews the cartoons Fitz produced on two important socio-political events during the war: the imposition of prohibition of alcohol in 1916 and the victory of women’s suffrage at the provincial and federal levels between 1916 and 1918. 

In the last content page – Fitz Ends the War – we wrap up this look at Fitzmaurice’s Great War cartoons with a survey of his images on the troubled peace process in Paris in 1919 and some final comments on the significance of his work during these years.

Finally, we would love to engage visitors while on the Fitz and the Great War website! So… we have built the Pick Your Fitz! activity centre as the last webpage. In Pick Your Fitz! you can produce a short research project on three of the over two dozen wartime Fitzmaurice cartoons located on the webpage. Have fun!!