THE DAY CANADA WENT TO WAR
No day within living memory has done more to change the destiny of Canadians or their nation. And yet memories of it are hazy —clouded by time itself and by the years of bloody combat that followed. Now, on the twentieth anniversary,
A MACLEAN’S FLASHBACK
recalls the incidents—tremendous and trivial —that shaped the Canadian character during the nation’s most fateful hours
SEPTEMBER 10, 1939
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“Syl Apps was Mr. Hockey, the big movie was Mr. Chips, and 450,000 were unemployed”
It was a day that was to change the lives and the fortunes of Canadians more than any other day since Confederation, and most Canadians preserve a memory (sometimes a little illogical, often a trifle hazy) of Sunday. Sept. 10. 1939 — the day Canada went to war.
Time has divided Canadians into two groups, as far as recollection of the fateful events of that late-summer day is concerned. A whole generation of two million grown-up Canadians, now aged twenty to thirty, have little or no recall because they were under ten years of age at the time. And even those old enough to remember have difficulty in pinpointing Canada's entry into the war because that came as an epilogue to ten days of earth-shaking history.
F or a tense year Canadians had watched World War II loom closer, like a nightmare in slow motion . . . the abject failure of appeasement at Munich, the seizure of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s snarling declaration that his patience was ended, Stalin's final liquidation of Western hopes for a balance-of-power peace by his signing of a pact of neutrality and non-aggression with Hitler on Aug. 25, 1939.
Then, at dawn on Friday. September 1, Hitler’s armies marched into Poland. Under the screaming headlines in the Canadian newspapers of that day. the despatches were sprinkled with strange terms that presently would become grimly familiar: Blitzkrieg tactics. Panzer divisions, Stuka dive-bombing. That same day Canada took her
first tentative step toward participation in war: a government order put the army, navy and air force on an active-service footing.
On September 2 the black news from the Polish battlefields was overlaid by word from London: The British Government had sent Hitler an ultimatum: Unless he was prepared to withdraw from Poland by eleven o'clock on the morning of Sunday, September 3. Britain would be at war with Germany. The hour came and went without reply. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wept, then went to the BBC to broadcast to the world that war was declared.
Another event of September 3 brought the war even more closely home to Canadians. The liner Athenia was torpedoed in the Atlantic off the Hebrides, with hundreds of Canadian and United States passengers aboard. Early reports gave few details, and all across Canada families and friends waited anxiously for word of the fate of passengers.
One dramatic incident was the rescue of three hundred and eighty Athenia passengers by the yacht Southern Cross, owned by the mysterious Swedish multi-millionaire financier. Axel WennerGren. It was the beginning of an up-and-down relationship between Canada and Wenner-Gren that has been pursued to this day. Even at the time of the rescue, gratitude was mixed with suspicion and some newspapers openly asked what WennerGren. a close friend of Hermann Goering. the No. 2 Nazi, was doing in his yacht so close to
the Athenia while the U - boat lurked nearby.
In February, 1942. Wenner-Gren was to be blacklisted by the Canadian government as a person “deemed to be an enemy.” Fifteen years later Wenner-Gren was granted development rights to one tenth the land of British Columbia.
The Athenia disaster became symbolized for Canadians in the death of one passenger, Margaret Hayworth, a ten-year-old Hamilton, Ont., girl. All Canada mourned her as the nation's symbolic first victim of the Hitler war. The day after the Athenia went down — and with Canada still not at war with Germany — RCMP officers raided a German Bund headquarters in Montreal and took sixty suspected Nazi sympathizers into custody.
A week of tension and bafflement still separated Canadians from a formal state of war. There were two chief reasons why Canada did not declare war until seven days after Britain. This was to be Canada’s first declaration of war as a fully sovereign nation in total control of her destiny, under rights granted all commonwealth dominions by the Treaty of Westminster eight years earlier. And Mackenzie King had vow'ed publicly that if ever Canada had to fight, the declaration of w;ar would come by decision of parliament. Such a decision by the elected representatives of all the people would also provide less cause for complaint from anti-war advocates, chiefly in Quebec.
The second reason is cited by Bruce Hutchison in his biography of King: “In the twilight period of technical neutrality King was called to his pri-
At the summit, a cautious prime and the single troubled political
minister, a veteran commander leader who orated against war
COMTMJIT) ON M X I TWO l»A(.»S
vate telephone. The voice of Roosevelt in Washington asked him if Canada was at war. King replied that it w'as not. Turning to his own advisers in the White House, Roosevelt exclaimed: ‘You see, I was right!’ Being legally neutral. Canada could receive American war supplies despite the Neutrality Act, w'hich forbade such shipments to belligerents.
“During the next week the United States rushed across the border what munitions it had to spare, including some airplanes invaluable for training purposes in times when any plane or the oldest gun was w'orth a hundred later on.”
(Before long, however, the two countries worked out a tongue-in-cheek plan for sending planes to Canada. Planes from the U. S. landed on an
airstrip that straddled the border near Coutts. Alta. The U. S. crews w'ould leave them a few feet from the international line. Whereupon Canadian airmen would lassoo the planes and drag them across, without servicemen from either nation setting foot on the opposite side.)
During the week of decision between September 3 and 10, a visitor to Ottawa called it “the quietest w'ar capital in Christendom.” Prime Minister King, swallowed in the big chair of Sir John A. Macdonald, was closeted with his cabinet behind locked doors. Once King emerged to tell reporters who kept vigil, “Well, we’re not at war yet.”
Members of parliament, summoned to Ottawa, marked time awaiting the special session King had
called for Thursday, September 7. Ottawa’s political complexion w-as very different from that of today. The Liberals had one hundred and seventyone seats and an over-all majority of ninety-seven. Mackenzie King was in his twentieth year as Liberal leader, and the Liberals had another eighteen years of rule ahead of them. Only nine of the 1939 MPs are still in the house — Paul Martin. Howard Green, Lionel Chevrier, A. J. Brooks. Lari Rowe, (now dean of the House with thirty-four years of service), R. H. McGregor, Rodolphe Leduc, of Maniwaki. One., Frank E. Lennard, of Dundas, Ont., and Azellus Denis, of Montreal.
In September 1939, the men who make today's political news were far from Ottawa, in thought and in person. In Prince Albert, Sask.. a forty-four-
At Halifax, where convoys formed, landlords charged navy families the then-brutal rent of $60 a month
year-old lawyer named John Diefenbaker had just announced he was through with politics forever, after five straight defeats — twice in federal elections (once by Mackenzie King), twice in provincial elections, and once for mayor of Prince Albert. Before the year’s end, though, his followers would trick him into accepting yet another nomination, which would take him to Ottawa and the prime ministership nearly two decades later.
In Toronto Donald Fleming, a thirty-four-yearold lawyer, had served his freshman political year as a school trustee and was running for higher office as a city alderman. In the foothills of the Rockies. Brigadier G. R. Pearkes, who had won the VC in World War 1, was leading a militia force in military exercises. Lester Pearson was a fortytwo-year-old secretary in the office of Canada’s high commissioner to Britain, Vincent Massey.
In that time of waiting, tension overlaid the accustomed activities of Canadians, but did not change them. The big-league football teams w'ere in training (typical pay of a star backfielder in 1939 was the choice of a signet ring or a suit of clothes at season’s end). The top eastern-league all-star was Joe Krol, who had played his rookie year with the University of Western Ontario to launch an amazing fifteen-year career. With him on the all-star team were Red Storey, who still makes news, and Bill Stukus of the Toronto Argonauts’ three Stukus brothers. It was the year Winnipeg dominated Western football and had six men on Maclean’s Western all-star team, selected by league officials and sports writers. The team included such still-remembered names as Jeff Nicklin and Greg Kabat.
National Hockey League teams were mustering
After a single month’s recruiting, Canada’s armed forces jumped from ten thousand to seventy thousand
for training camp. The hockey name that dominated the sports pages was Syl Apps. unanimous choice on every all-star team. Hockey writers were close to unanimous in calling Apps the greatest hockey player of all time. (A boy just turned eighteen, by name Maurice Richard, signed that year for his first season of junior hockey with the Verdun, Que., team. The few' sports writers who gave this event passing notice decided that he was “too brittle” to go far in the rugged game of hockey.)
The baseball Leafs of Toronto were in the International League cellar. The woman athlete of the year was Mary Rose Thacker, a seventeenyear-old skater from Winnipeg w'ho, on September 3 had reached London on her way to compete in skating championships at — of all places — Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.
The Canadian National Exhibition was drawing bigger crowds than either the New York World’s Fair or the San Francisco World’s Fair. It w'as the year of the big dance bands, and the CNE offered a huge dance pavilion on the lakeshore and the bands of Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, each came to play a three-night stand.
The fall Paris fashions were on show' — the last out of the French capital for the duration. The styles were almost dead ringers for those of today, w'ith tucked sleeves, velvetand fur-trimmed collars on coats, medium-length skirts and waistlines just where they belong. A postwar fashion expert who recently looked at 1939 fashion pictures for the first time exclaimed, “Why, w'e’ve gone full cycle in twenty years. We’ve gone through the new look, the A and H lines, chemise, empire, sack, baby doll and balloon dresses and come right back where we started.”
Some other things w'ere as they are today: An art show at the Canadian National Exhibition had started a modernist versus traditionalist” controversy. In the comic strips continued on page 62
continued on page 62
The day Canada went to war continued from page 17
continued from page 17
The CBC was roasted for sandwiching the news we were at war between dance band sessions
Little Orphan Annie was in deep trouble, as usual. She had been bound and gagged and hurled from the deck of a ship in mid-ocean. Li'l Abner, in 1939 as in 1959. was having mistaken-identity trouble with his gangster double. Gat Garson.
Some major factors of the life of 1959 were, in 1939. but small clouds on the far horizon. The public got its first view of a gadget still in the experimental stage— a rotary power mower, numberless descendants of which now provide a stac-
cato background for suburban living.Television — dubbed by one newspaper “the rotogravure section of radio"—was demonstrated for the first time at the CNE at ten cents a peek. Moviegoers were watching films that twenty years later
they would see again on TV's late shows: Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever; The Wizard of Oz; Goodbye. Mr. Chips; Stanley and Livingstone; I Stole a Million. Canadians were reading The Grapes of Wrath; Black Narcissus; Mr. Emmanuel: Life's a Circus; Wind. Sand and Stars and Not Peace But a Sword.
Economically. Canada was still struggling out of a decade of depression. In a nation of eleven and a half million, four hundred and fifty thousand workers were still unemployed. A million men, w'omen and children w'ere living on relief allowances that averaged one dollar a week for food.
This was the Canada that stood on the verge of war in the first days of September, 1939. When the declaration came, it was no ringing proclamation, but a piece of routine parliamentary procedure. On Saturday, September 9, the House passed the reply to the Speech from the Throne in which the government sought "power to defend Canada and to co-operate in the effort to resist further aggression."
Prime Minister King delivered a lengthy speech, later described by his biographer, Bruce Hutchison, as "bumbling and lamentable . . . the endless citation of documents, the fussy recital of details that no one cared to hear."
Paradoxically, it was the man who delivered the only anti-war speech who emerged as the most dramatic figure of the session.
“I have hoys of my own”
Prime Minister King and everyone else who knew James Woodsworth. founder and leader of the CCF party, were aware that he was unalterably opposed to war. and that he would speak out in words that from others would be deemed subversive and disloyal. Yet it was King himself. immediately after committing Canada to war. who introduced Woodsworth with words of praise.
“There are few men in this parliament for whom I have a greater respect than the leader of the CCF.” said King. "I admire him in my heart because time and again he has had the courage to say what lay on his conscience, regardless of what the world might think of him. A man of that calibre is an ornament to any parliament."
Woodsworth s bitter, melancholy, lastminute demand that Canada stay out of war could be epitomized in one passage: "1 have boys of my own and I hope they are not cowards. But if any one of these boys, not from cowardice but through belief, is willing to take his stand on this matter and if necessary to face a concentration camp or a firing squad, I shall be more proud of that boy than if he enlisted for the war.”
Parliament heard Woodsworth in respectful silence. The slender, bearded exclergyman. who did not have the support of other CCF members, later tried to resign as leader. The party would not accept his resignation, and Woodsworth spent the three years of life that remained to him as a sort of leader emeritus, with M. J. Colduell assuming the actual duties.
On Sunday. September 10, to judge by their own recollections, most Canadians were outdoors for the last warm weekend of the year, picnicking within sound of
car radios. When the news of Canada's entry into the war came over the CBC it was an unemotional statement read by a disc jockey between musical numbers.
This earned the CBC (then three years old) a public blistering not unlike Premier Leslie Frost's recent blast at its coverage of the Ontario election. "Incredible stupidity," declared The Financial Post in describing the C'BC's war announcement. It added:
"On Sunday morning everyone from coast to coast was tensely expectant, waiting for the word that His Majesty had approved the proclamation declaring that Canada was at war.
"No sense of the sober gravity of the moment seized the CBC. Raucous swingband music continued. Suddenly the music stopped. The blare of the clarinets and the saxophones were stilled while the news was announced that C añada had formally declared war. And then without a second's silence came the announcer s voice: ‘Molten mellow tones poured into a mold ..." while the government's radio sw'iing back into the utterly inappropriate Broadway dance tune 1 Poured My Heart into a Song."
But if the young CBC was inept, the mature daily press of C añada clicln t consider the nation's formal entry into the war to be the day's top news, either. Most papers gave it secondary position to what they considered the big news of the day. The Poles were lambasting the Germans on three fronts. Poland was actually only •ox days away from a total, crushing defeat, but there was no hint of that in the optimistic reports of September II.
Only the Montreal papers used their largest type for Canada's entry into the war. It w'as top news in Quebec because only in that province was there a significant sentiment against entry into the war. and because Quebec s leading statesman. Justice Minister Finest Lapointe, had staked his political future in support of the declaration of war.
In Newfoundland, geographically part of Canada but ten years removed from political union, the mainland's declaration of war was an anti-climax that rated modest space on page four of the St. John’s Evening Telegram. Newfoundland had already been at war for seven days, had already been the scene of the first "act of hostility" in North America: The German ship Christoph V. Doornum had been seized at Botwood and thirty German prisoners w'ere taken. The V MCA in St. John's w'as converted into a prison.
Newfoundland had declared war by proclamation on September 3 and was already on a war footing, complete with
ration laws and dimouts. Wireless telephones and private radio stations were silenced, mail and cables were being censored. aliens were registered and their movements controlled, and insurance premiums on waterfront property had gone up in less than a week from one dollar to five dollars for each thousand dollars of coverage.
The transformation of Canada into a country girding for war came swiftly. A few days before the declaration of war commanding officers of militia regiments all across Canada received telegrams
bearing a one-word message: "Mobilize.” They did not have to go looking for recruits. Men of all ages flocked to the armories and recruiting centres—veterans of World War 1 and even earlier wars, high-school boys eager for adventure, and above all unemployed men.
When recruiting started in Canada in September 1939. only near-perfect specimens were accepted. The medical officers rejected far more applicants than they passed. Even in the militia regiments (he semi-professional soldiers who had drilled regularly and considered themselves fil
for immediate action were ruthlessly weeded out. Dental defects were one of the chief reasons for rejection. During the depression many a Canadian had not been able to afford dentists' bills — or had used that excuse for neglecting his teeth. Now dentists were besieged by men who had been turned down with the advice “Get your teeth fixed and try again."
Later the manpower shortage would •reach a state of acuteness where cripples and hunchbacks in uniform were put to work in army camps to free able-bodied men for active service. But in September
1939 the high ratio of rejections actually increased the unemployment problem.
The soup kitchen of the Scott Mission in Toronto found one hundred additional hungry men in its line-up immediately after recruiting started. “They had left their jobs to join up," said Rev. Morris Zeidman, director of the mission, “and they weren't wanted.”
In an overheated Calgary recruiting office a straight-backed veteran with jetblack hair sat waiting for his turn to enlist. When at last he stood before the recruiting sergeant his hair was white and his face was streaked with black from the shoe polish he had used to darken his hair. Reluctantly he admitted he was seventy-seven years old and a Boer War veteran. In Winnipeg a young man with imperfect eyesight memorized the optical chart in the RCAF' medical examiner’s office and got into the air force. Today he is Premier Duff Roblin of Manitoba.
In spite of wholesale rejections, in a month of recruiting Canada’s forces grew from a professional nucleus of fewer than ten thousand — forty-five hundred in the army, eighteen hundred in the navy, and thirty-one hundred in the RCAF — to a respectable total of seventy thousand. The number would mount to more than half a million by 1941 and to a peak of seven hundred and forty thousand in 1944. Women w-eren't being enlisted at all in 1939, but thirty - seven thousand would be in uniform by October, 1944.
Among the earliest enlistments were some very average men in very average occupations who later would make headlines.
Aubrey Cosens, an eighteen-year-old railway section hand who worked beside his father on the tracks of the Ontario Northland Railway at Porquis Junction, left home on the day war was declared to join the RCAF, He was rejected and later got into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and eventually the Queen’s Own Regiment.
Sixteen Canadian VC’s
John Mahony. a New Westminster carrier boy who graduated to newspaper reporting. was one of the first in his community to enlist. Later Ernest (Smoky) Smith, an unemployed construction worker who lived a few blocks from Mahony’s home, enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders.
In Mimico, Ont.. Dave Hornell. who worked for the Goodyear Rubber Co., taught Sunday school at Wesley United Church and was one of the founders of the Knights of the Round Table boys’ club, got into the RCAF at the outbreak of war. Robert Gray graduated from the University of British Columbia into the navy as a fieet-air-arm pilot. John Foote, a thirty-five-year-old minister of a Port Hope. Ont.. Presbyterian church, was one of the first to join the chaplain corps.
These men were typical of the three quarters of a million Canadians who were to serve in World War II. They were also among the sixteen Canadians who won the Victoria Cross.
Canada's 1939 servicemen started from scratch. "The greatest single point of weakness in 1939 was equipment," states Col. C. P. Stacey in his official historical summary of the Canadian army in World War IL "Arms available were almost entirely 1914-18 pattern. The units possessed virtually no transport whatever although the war now' beginning would clearly be the most highly mechanized in history. Until 1938 Canada possessed not a single tank. In that year two light tanks were received from Great Britain. Fourteen more arrived from England on
the eve of the declaration of war."
To civilians w'atching their countrymen make ready for w'ar, the lack of uniforms was even more noticeable. Describing the mustering of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in his book, The Regiment. Farley Mowat writes: “What uniforms were available came out of damp storage bins where they had lain since 1919. They w'ere moth-eaten and shabby
— and they never fitted. Some men w'ere issued khaki breeches w'hile their comrades received the tunics. They took these relics to the local tailors and had miracles worked over them. But on parade they still looked like a motley collection of comic-opera soldiers from a third-rate vaudeville production."
Canadian soldiers got out of nondescript clothing quickly, how'ever, as the nation’s first “war industry” got into emergency production. That was Tip Top Tailors’ uniform plant near the Toronto waterfront. Tip Top, which had made most of Canada’s World War 1 uniforms, put one hundred thousand dollars into converting the company’s cafeteria, bowling alleys and auditorium into a uniform factory before a single government order w'as received. The company's production men were taken aback when they saw the first uniform patterns. "We don't make windbreakers,” they objected.
But those were no windbreakers. They were the top half of the efficient new battledress—“battle rompers” the soldiers promptly dubbed them. Soon Tip Top was turning them out at the rate of twenty-five thousand a week, faster than the government could enlist men.
Convicts asked to fight
More than half the uniform makers were women, and often they slipped a note saying "God bless you” into the pocket of a new uniform. Not many were found by the wearers, though. Most were found and removed by government inspectors who feared the pious wish might be a coded spy message.
There were other ”,spy scare” incidents. In Victoria a twelve-year-old girl making a sketch of government house w'as chased away by guards when she couldn't produce a written permit to do so.
In Toronto motorists driving past the hydro-electric substation at Leaside were stopped by police and their cars searched; the authorities had been tipped off that there would be an attempt to blow up the power plant. In Montreal the planned tour of the city's waterworks by delegates to a convention of waterworks inspectors was called off because the installations were being guarded against sabotage. Near Red Deer, Alta., the engineer of a northbound freight train on the CPR Calgary-Edmonton line sighted a barrier of heavy timbers across the track just in time to avert a wreck. The RCMP recorded it as the first attempted sabotage by enemy sympathizers in the province.
On the other hand, patriotism cropped up in unusual places. Rocco Perri. selfstyled "king of Canadian bootleggers.” asked to he released from jail, where he was awaiting trial on a charge of bribery, so that he could join up. Harry Baldwin, a German air ace and Iron Cross winner of World War I, enlisted in the RCAF. Three youths who escaped from Toronto's Don Jail were quickly recaptured by police who guessed where they would go
— to the nearest recruiting office. The inmates of several prisons petitioned the government for a change to a nobler uniform. Members of nearly all German clubs across Canada pledged loyalty to their adopted country.
Ottawa, slowly beginning to burst at
the seams as the centre of Canada’s war effort, erected huge new wooden ‘‘temporary buildings” to supplement the ‘‘temporaries’’ of World War I, and both eras of architecture remain part of the capital’s scenery to this day.
Hundreds of Canadians who had no hope of getting into uniform deluged Ottawa with inventions they were sure would help win the war. The defense department. unwilling to miss a long-shot bet. set up a board to investigate all suggestions.
One man was convinced that he had a war-winning device — a ray that would turn clouds into stone. If it were beamed on clouds over the enemy lines it would rain annihilating boulders on the Germans. Another suggested shooting clouds of dust into the path of enemy planes "to wear out their engines quickly.” A suggestion that intrigued the investigators was for a tank trap in the form of a treadmill. Once a tank rolled onto the treadmill it would thrash helplessly, unable to move forward or backward, a sitting duck for anti-tank guns.
Other war-borne ideas blossomed, too. Temperance forces seized the opportunity to demand prohibition. Or. A. J. Irwin, of the Ontario Temperance Federation, declared that “there should be no delay in imposing liquor restrictions; liquor drinking at such a time is a disturbing influence."
The prohibitionists did not quite succeed in making Canada dry. as they had in World War I. But they came close. In Ontario liquor rationing reached a low of twelve ounces — one “mickey” — ot spirits a month, a drought that was partly offset by the fact that in some cities more than ninety percent of the adult population who were not in jail bought permits. Some thirsty businessmen kept their cellars reasonably well stocked by having a do/.en or more employees contribute their monthly ration.
War watered the liquor
ll wasn’t "pre-war stuff.” however. At the request of Prime Minister King all provinces watered their liquor down to thirty-under-proof strength. Cynical drinkers referred to this dilution as "Mr. King’s built-in chaser." This durable emergency measure is still in force in 1959.
Canadians were afflicted with that inevitable accompaniment of war: rumor. Directors of the Canadian National Exhibition. who had been pointing out proudly that the Canadian fair was outdrawing both the New York and San Francisco World’s Fairs, bought space in U S. papers to deny that the CNE had closed with the declaration of war. The only part closed was the German exhibit. The German representatives departed philosophically, but were unhappy at the use of Hitler’s portrait as a target in midway shooting galleries.
German agents in the United States retaliated, again via rumors. From the day war started, tourist traffic from the United States decreased noticeably. Convention and tourist associations and the Canadian government became concerned about the loss of revenue and its effect on the country’s trade balance.
Investigation showed that German agents were planting rumors with U. S. hotel clerks, travel-agency employees and gasoline-station attendants in an effort to scare off tourists. Canadian authorities were seizing cars driven across the border by visitors, one rumor went. Another said tourists were kept under police surveillance. and the most damaging rumor of all said Canada was confiscating all
U. S. money brought into the country and repaying only fifty-nine cents in Canadian currency. (Actually the U. S. dollar was worth $1.10 Canadian.)
Canadian authorities asked the public to take countermeasures: "When you
write to anyone in the United States, in every possible business or private letter, contradict these rumors and tell of the absence of restrictions or difficulties. You'll be doing Canada a good turn."
A rumor that caused housewives to leap into action was that sugar would be scarce. They went on a sugar-shopping spree, clearing grocers’ shelves and emptying storerooms of hundred-pound bags. Grocers tried to stem the panic by selling sugar only to customers who bought other groceries. That would seem a pleasure to 1959 housewives, since chain groceries were advertising hamburg at thirteen cents a pound, steak twenty-nine cents, apples ten cents a basket and peaches at nineteen cents a basket. Simpson’s had hand-dipped chocolates at twenty-five cents a pound, and Eaton’s offered broadcloth shirts for eighty-four cents and men’s three-piece botany-wool suits for $9.98.
Probably the most fantastic rumor was one that spread through Toronto; it said that no more marriage licenses would be issued for the duration of the war.
Anxious couples swarmed into the city hall. As more and more arrived, the lineup blocked the wide corridor outside the marriage-license bureau and backed up into the main lobby almost to the big front doors. The half dozen frantic clerks in the bureau couldn't attend to the throng at the wickets; they were too busy answering incessant telephone calls from worried would-be brides and grooms. It was mid-afternoon before the beleaguered clerks could convince all the applicants that marriage wasn't banned.
Even without such false stimulus, though, the urgencies of war brought a boom in marriage across Canada. The parade to the altar that started in September added up to thirty thousand more Canadians in 1939 than in the year before; eighty thousand more than in 1932, the deepest year of the depression.
The marriage rate rose most sharply in coastal British Columbia and Nova Scotia, where the navy was rapidly mobilizing and expanding. Navy brides who moved to Halifax from the interior became the first Canadian victims of that classic cliché. “There's a war on. you know." Back home, even in high-priced cities like Toronto, apartments rented for twenty-five dollars a month (house prices started at twenty-five hundred dollars, and a Forest Hill mansion with two baths and conservatory could be bought for eight thousand). But in Halifax, a city already beginning to strain at the seams under an influx of servicemen and civilian administrators, many navy wives started housekeeping in a couple of dreary rooms for which they paid the then-outrageous rent of fifty or sixty dollars a month.
At that, they were the lucky ones. Later arrivals had to settle for any accommodation they could find at any price (rent controls were nearly two years away). As Halifax, under the pseudonym "an eastern Canadian port." became the Western Hemisphere's busiest naval and air station, point of embarkation anti starting point of Atlantic convoys, even high-priority visitors found it difficult to secure a bed. Many a Canadian still has in his anecdotal repertoire a story of sleeping in the ladies' washroom of the Nova Scotian Hotel. And. in fact, a dozen beds in the ground-floor powder room off the lobby served relays of male sleepers for most of the war. Among the
shocks experienced by dozens of servicemen’s wives in Halifax was being accosted on the streets by men. Actually, Halifax was no more hazardous for respectable women than any other seaport in wartime, and the explanation was simple:
While overshoes were fashionable that year, and many a bride packed a pair in her trousseau. Unfortunately, the less virtuous women who flocked to Halifax to entice lonely sailors, airmen and merchant mariners had chosen while overshoes as their trade-mark. The service wives soon caught on. and thereafter passed on to new arrivals the cryptic but useful advice: "Don’t wear white overshoes."
After the first period of frenzied activity. Canada with the rest of the warring world settled into seven months of "phony war." Canada's first division sailed safely to England and spent a colderthan-Canada winter whipping itself into a tough fighting force. For the first division. and for the second division and the two armored brigades that followed, there lay ahead the realities of Dieppe, North Africa and Sicily. D-Day, France. Holland, Belgium and Germany—altogether the Army lost twenty-three thousand men.
For the Royal Canadian Navy there was to come the prolonged, bitter Battle of the Atlantic and participation in other theatres that cost the lives of two thousand navy men: for the RCAF, countless missions on all fronts, with a loss of seventeen thousand.
For the civilians in Canada, the six years ahead would bring shortages of most things they ate and wore and used, but without real hardship; they would bring weeks and months of ominous war news and lengthy casualty lists; taxes eleven times higher than in 1939. But they would also bring full employment, a minimum rise in the cost of living under strict price controls, greater national unity; and above all the emergence of the nation as a major member of the middlesized nations, a significant factor in world polities and trade.
War filled (he cifies
In 1939. the changes that six years of war would make in Canada’s way of life were beyond the boldest estimates of the most farsighted Canadians. In 1939 Canada’s economy was still two fifths primary products, chiefly agriculture. The industrialization brought by war changed that into a three-to-one preponderance in favor of industrial products.
In the last census before the war. Canadians were divided almost equally into rural and urban dwellers. In the first postwar census, three million more Canadians lived in towns and cities than in villages or on farms.
Canada more than trebled her exports during the war. to become for a time the world’s second-greatest exporter. National income went up from four billion dollars in 1939 to nearly ten billion al war's end. Salaries and wages of Canadians jumped from two and a half billion to five billion; the nation's gross national product leaped from five and a half billion to twelve and a half billion: manufacturing increased from a little over three billion to over nine billion.
The war put to work eight hundred thousand more Canadian men than were employed in 1939. and three hundred thousand more women. Above all, it made Canadians familiar with big figures and big ideas — of a magnitude undreamed of on that day in 1939 when, for the first time on her own initiative, Canada went to war. -fc