Servicemen from Powell River, B.C. paper town, don’t worry about postwar jobs — Here’s a company community which plans futures and counts good citizenship a business asset
UP ALONG the rim of Germany Canuck airmen held for weather were shooting the breeze. When would the war end? As civilians, who of them would be going where to do what? One asked, “How about you, skipper?”
The pilot grinned, his eyes suddenly dreamy. “I guess I’ve kind of got the edge on you birds,” he said. “I come from Powell River.”
There were appropriate stares. “A jerkwater British Columbia papermaking town. So what?”
“So I’m being looked after. We all are: 700 of us. We got letters about it.”
“Letters are cheap,” someone grunted. “They roll their own paper.”
“Okay, okay,” the pilot said amiably. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. You just aren’t from Powell River.”
Citizens like the skipper, dotted throughout the world, and the home folks at Powell River are equally proud of their town’s record this war, last war, and in the handling of veterans between wars. Each month hundreds of letters roll home saying so, just as each month 1,000 letters go from the Powell River Company to all the district’s sons and daughters in the services. The plant magazine, the home town weekly paper, and 300 cigarettes a month go to each of the 700 absent employees. In addition, local Red Cross, veterans’ clubs, service clubs, and women’s societies are active in their usual roles as elsewhere in Canada.
Then the special letter went out, the one the skipper was so proud of. It was the result of much planning, and based in large part on the town’s wide experience with returned soldiers since the last war. In it the paper people told what they were doing to “have a
suitable job, with security and prospects for advancement” ready for each returning warrior.
Fighting men found it a heart-warming letter to get. And it was more than a good will gesture. Many of them had reason to know that. They remembered how it had been with their dads at Powell River since the last war.
In looking after its’people at war, and planning for their welfare after the war, Powell River not only seems to know how, but admits frankly why. In the past 25 years a policy giving last-war veterans a break has paid off handsomely, for the Powell River Company, for the community it supports, and for the vets themselves, physically, financially and socially. The town is out to see that history has a chance to repeat itself.
The Powell River area, including three small outlying suburbs, is a modern community of 7,000 people, rising in tiers to overlook the Strait of Georgia, 80 miles upcoast by boat from Vancouver. The place was not established in 1912 for hunting, fishing, and as a summer resort, but it could have been. Instead it’s a compact, busy paper town that gets power from its own dams.
“Big Little Town”
TT’S A community that fighting men like the skipper JL have earlier helped put on the map. Known as “the big little town that cops the cups,” its hot-shots in golf, lawn bowling, basketball, baseball, swimming,
boxing, wrestling—and especially track—have kept the town’s name Well up front, not only on the west coast but in Dominion athletic circles. The arts, the theatre, and education haven’t been neglected. “Expert instruction, for the right people,” has been the town’s policy.
A big percentage of the right people have been war veterans and sons and daughters of veterans. times during the 15 years following World War I paper town’s payroll of 1,400 carried from a third to half returned soldiers. Today, after 25 years of ageing and retirements, more than 250 employees are World War I servicemen, including scores who have risen be key executive and plant men.
The returned men of the last war have produced fine breed. In World War II practically every veteran’s son of fighting age in the district has volunteered active service. Local casualties have been heavy. Up till recently, of 400 men in actual combat areas were killed or missing, 50 wounded, and seven prisoners of war. Already 80 have been discharged from the services. Those who have returned to I’owell River, together with 50 additional veterans of this war, have been taken into the paper plant.
When in September, 1939, the boys downed tools and reached for weapons Powell River officials once guaranteed all those going to war their jobs and seniority upon return. As time and enlistments go they realize it will be no simple thing to reinstate]
Continued on page 37
Continued from page 13
group representing roughly half the payroll. Jobs today are filled in part by out-of-town veterans and by men found unfit for military service, worthy men entitled to retain their jobs. These and other complications demand careful study and planning.
There’s the universal problem of
how, in one flip, to make an office boy an executive. Local lads, who once rated the paper mill equivalent of office boys, after five years of war not I only are mature men but men of the 1 world. Scores who volunteered as Army bucks or Air Force joes will return with commissions, with wives and families. To offer them the old job would be a grim joke. For them to fill a better one would require new training.
Some men already have new training, fine technical skills or trades acquired in the forces, and are hoping to fit in higher up. Others, whose old ordinary jobs are available, may since have blossomed as leaders, keen and capable organizers of men. Some will want a university education rather than employment.
Powell River figures the boys are entitled to considerable. Officials have gone to much trouble and expense to keep detailed track of their doings, ¡ their triumphs and their hard knocks. | To stay hep with 1,000 mailing addresses in an ever-changing world scene is a chore. And there’s a remote control yell if someone misses his copy, for here is one monthly letter that is not dull. It carries rapid-fire news of the troops, enlistments, promotions, marriages, and letter excerpts from abroad. There’s the kind of home town chat the boys want to hear, all about hunting, fishing, sports, elections, or briefies, such as the one on the Annual Paper Makers Ball with the cheery tag line: “Everybody toted their own and nobody touched the punch.”
Reunion in London
A general company policy of having the right man in the right place accounts for the breezy letter. Jock Lundie, its editor, peacetime director of sports and welfare, knows what the boys want. He learned by crashing World War I as a kid of 16. He is helped by other veterans. The news letter has brought about scores of impromptu reunions. Three boys in India, each ignorant of the others being there, got their copy. Two months later a hilarious epistle arrived back home, cosigned during their threeman conquest of Calcutta.
The reunion idea grew. In June, 1942, arrangements were made through the company’s overseas liaison officer for a general rally. All employees in the United Kingdom got a special air-mail letter with time, date and | place. So did commanding officers, ,
requesting co-operation in granting leaves. More than 100 Powell River service guys and gals startled London by parading through its streets to the Beaver Club, bearing the home town banner.
There was a day! One airman was late. His Beaufighter had been fiakked over France and dunked in the Channel. With his gunner, after a long swim, he was picked up by a freighter and landed in hospital, tagged “exposure.” It took a fast recovery, fast talk, and fast travel, but he made the show.
At the January, 1944, repeat gettogether, the paper people cooked up a morale booster not only for their employees abroad but for the home crowd. When a proposed three-way radio broadcast, England, Italy, Powell River, flivvered because of security reasons, a more permanent idea was rung in. A sound film was made of the reunion so that sons and daughters overseas could send a personal sight, song, and say greeting to the folks back home.
The idea was a roaring success. The film was flown from London, England, to a small Canadian paper town that its citizens wouldn’t have traded right then for any town in the world. To prevent overflow crowds and disappointment, invitations were issued for different showings and local theatres were packed. Later the film was viewed in Vancouver by 700 former paper town residents. At Powell River there was one sad private showing, held for the mother and family of a boy killed shortly after the reunion.
Powell River’s fighting men of this •war have received inspiration from those of the last. The most famous is a Victoria Cross winner, once in the ranks, today Lieut.-Col. John MacGregor, V.C., M.C. and bar, D.C.M., in command of a western Canadian regiment. In peacetime he works on the millwrights’ staff. His son has completed at least one tour of 30 sorties over Germany, been wounded once, and won his commission. Land, sea, and air, the town boasts plenty of ribbons for this show. Decorations and mentions in dispatches are piling up.
The kids have one thing on their veteran dads. They have something definite to come home to. The special letter was designed to let them know that. It outlines many phases of postwar plans, and promises co-operation in every way with Canada’s official rehabilitation scheme. In drawing up the plan the Powell River Company asked the advice of many veterans, both of last war and this, including the district’s Ottawa member, Fit.-Lieut. James Sinclair.
The boys are reminded that the men who may now hold their jobs have backed the fighting front with heavy production of war materials; that they have more than rung the gong on every Victory Loan and Red Cross drive. The reminder states: “In addition to
fulfillment of our responsibility to you, we will therefore endeavor to handle the readjustment and relocation in a manner which will be most helpful to you, the community and the country at large.”
Plans are announced for plant expansion, involving the expenditure of several million dollars, that will provide many immediate jobs and a wide variety of employment later. “We hope some of you may help us build the new plant extensions before you go to work in them.” Disabled veterans and their future are discussed, trade school and university training for those who want it, and a scheme for placing men “not necessarily in their old jobs but
in jobs where new training and talents can be best used.”
A full-time personnel counsellor—a local man with service in World War II and a specialized training in job placement—will handle all returned men. An advisory committee representing all phases of community activity will assist him.
Those who prefer a business life to a company job will receive help. Students hoping to use the Government educational plan are assured, “We want to I see you get ahead and will help with summer employment when we can.”
Men returning from a war, many of them newly married, have problems other than landing a suitable job. Where will they live? At what cost? With what security?
Powell River has the answers. A five-roomed house, including water, light and garbage collection service, rents to an employee at $28 a month.
: A new subdivision is planned. Assurance of a good home and job, with the usual group and unemployment insurance, sick benefits, modern hospitalization, library, recreational and educational facilities, makes a nice postwar dream picture for fellows like the skipper.
Yet it’s no dream, and they’re assured of modern permanency. The mill is being enlarged. Wood for pulp and paper is brought by sea. Anywhere for hundreds of miles up or down the west coast is a potential supply area.
Officials who have pushed the homecoming plan know firsthand about switching from military to civilian life. Harold Foley, president of the Powell River Company, was in the U. S. artillery. Robin Bell-Irving, vicepresident, was four years in the last war with the Royal Engineers and the R.F.C. They are backed throughout the organization by ex-warriors who know men, especially returned men. They know from experience that men getting home want no hero’s halo; that they don’t want sympathy, or paternalism, or patronage.
The special letter to the boys offers the right he-man kind of help, and in a final paragraph the Powell River people are proud to admit why:
“Why are we doing this? First, in gratitude for what you have done for us. You volunteered to fight for the security of Canada—we feel it is our duty to help provide security for you in return. Our second reason is a purely selfish one. We think Powell River is a good community now, but we want to make it still better and we can think of no finer group of citizens to settle in our town than you who have fought for it.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.