Home Front

Riot on Barrington Street
Home Front

Riot on Barrington Street

During the Second World War, Halifax quickly became overcrowded with tens of thousands of army, navy and air force personnel, as well as merchant seamen, civilian workers and their families. Newcomers competed with locals for goods, services and accommodation. All were in short supply through the war. Devious landlords overcharged for the smallest of inferior living space, which usually had shared toilet, washing and cooking facilities—if there were any at all. Sailors and civilians alike were frustrated by the poor level and range of services in the port city. “The city was just plain overcrowded,” said a Wren, one of nearly 1,000 Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members stationed in the Halifax area. “And it made for a lot of tension.” As the end of the war approached, the sen...
They were prepared
Home Front

They were prepared

The mottos of all factions of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements include pledges to help others. Wartime records show that contributions of the young members more than lived up to their mottos “Lend a Hand,” “Do a Good Turn Daily” and “Be Prepared.” In September 1943, 11-year-old Donald Penrose, a Wolf Cub in the 40th Deer Lodge Pack, received a 700-hour war service badge, setting a record for Cub war work in Manitoba and possibly all of Canada. He earned his badge by volunteering to do a series of war service tasks during the Second World War—collecting magazines, knitting, sewing quilts and making doughnuts. The Boy Scouts annual report noting his badge presentation also added that in addition to his volunteering, Penrose “still finds time to do piano practice daily.” Although t...
When Winnipeg erupted
Home Front

When Winnipeg erupted

In Germany I fed on grass and rats. I would prefer going back to eating grass than give up the freedom for which I fought so hard and suffered so much.”       This outburst, voiced by a First World War veteran in Western Labour News, captures all too well the disillusion and bitterness felt by him and many of his colleagues following the First World War. During the war, they had dreamed of finding a “brave new world” upon their return to Canada, a world in which they would find good jobs and a greater voice in decision-making. Instead, they found rampant unemployment, soaring inflation and widespread industrial unrest.    This labour unrest would reach a peak in Canada’s best-known and largest general strike, the Winnipeg General Strike, which crippled Canada’s third-largest city in M...
Coming Home
Home Front

Coming Home

Meticulously colourized images kindle a renewed appreciation of the burdens carried by homecoming soldiers   Winning wars lets countries tidy up some national stories, but losing wars often worsens domestic divisions. Winning certainly makes history appear neater: in the First World War, Canadians fought against tyranny for democracy and freedom—or so the story goes. But after a defeat, a nation can descend into social and political turmoil—that was Germany after the Great War. Soldiers returning from wars, both lost and won, unpack agendas, and it is often a challenge for a country to absorb hundreds of thousands of veterans for whom violence was their professional language. Germany in the 1920s was plagued by hyperinflation, threat of revolution and veterans who felt betrayed...
After the wildfire
Home Front

After the wildfire

Fort McMurray rebuilds after a devastating forest fire that caused the largest evacuation in Alberta history   Two years after the devastating wildfire that forced 88,000 residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., to flee their homes, the city has made great progress in its recovery. Along Highway 63, which runs through the city, the trees in June were bare with no green of their own, but grass and low-lying brush were returning. The city itself is in a building boom, caused not by growing fortunes in the nearby Athabaska oil sands, but by insurance claims settled and homes being rebuilt. It is a story of survival and recovery, of military assistance, of co-ordination between municipal, provincial and federal agencies and of neighbours helping neighbours. In many ways, it is a home-f...
Our American airmen
Home Front

Our American airmen

As Canada rushed to find instructors and aircrew for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, many Americans flocked north.   It was 1941 and Britain and the Allies were losing the war. German Panzers were sweeping across Russia and there seemed to be little to stop them. At home, the United States had not entered the war or even seriously rearmed. Some Americans took note that Canada, not the United States, was the arsenal for democracy. The British Eighth Army was transported on Canadian-made vehicles, and the same army fired Canadian 25-pounder shells from Canadian-made artillery. But the most significant contribution to the Allied victory was not munitions and equipment, it was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), which President Franklin Roosevelt acknowle...

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.