Precautions in case a war broke out in Europe began in April-1939. All fully-fit unemployed war veterans were to report to the Canadian Legion. Men would be needed to guard the Brant Hydro sub-station between Brantford and Paris, the sewage treatment plant, armoury, and the Canadian National Railways track infrastructure. However, most were confident that war would be averted.
Canada declared war on Germany on 10-September-1939. When war was declared, the mood was sombre, there was no euphoria like there was in 1914; city life would be disrupted. Veterans started to report for active duty. In response to the call for service, the City and Board of Education guaranteed that anyone leaving for the war would have their job to return to. The Brant-Norfolk Aero Club was conscripted for the training of pilots for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The first unit from the 54th Battery at the Brantford Armoury arrived in England before the end of 1939, the only local unit to land overseas as a separate entity. The 69th Battery was mobilised in May-1940 and the Dufferin-Haldimand Rifle in July. Men were not eager to enlist because the stories of the horrors the fighting men of the First World War experienced were well remembered, so the federal government announced conscription for home defence as of 15-July-1940. This announcement was accompanied by a sharp increase in marriage licence applications because married men could avoid overseas service. Enlistments in Brantford remained low throughout 1940 compared to other centres cause jobs were plentiful and because of the First World War horror stories.
Training Camp and School
In 1940, No. 20, Canadian Army Basic Training Camp, was established on the Glebe lands where Pauline Johnson Collegiate now stands. As of 1942, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps were also stationed here. In April-1940 the federal government announced the establishment of No. 5, Service Flying Training School, as a part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the site of the present Brantford Airport. In January-1942 the Canadian Women’s Air Force joined the men at No.5 school. The school graduated over 2,000 pilots in four years of operation.
These bases had their own dance bands, drama leagues, cricket, hockey, and baseball teams, wrestling and boxing matches. Service personnel assisted in harvesting local crops and digging out the city after particularly heavy snow storms. These camps were a boon to local merchants given the payroll of service personnel. The City ensured that the men and women of the camps were made to feel welcome by organising clubs for them, providing free bus rides, raising money for camp improvements, and acquiring books for camp libraries.
Notably, Percy Nelles, who was born and raised in Brantford, rose to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy; Canada’s first full Admiral. At the outbreak of WWII, Nelles held the rank of Rear Admiral and was chief of the naval staff. During the war Nelles rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral and was promoted to full Admiral upon his retirement from the navy. Nelles also served with the Royal Navy during his career.
The government decided to name destroyers after Canadian rivers and corvettes after Canadian cities and towns. On 6-September-1941 HMCS Brantford was launched in Midland, Ontario. Local organisations supplied the ship with knitted articles, books, records, and a loud speaker system. HMCS Brantford began her service as an escort ship and ended the war as a training ship. The ship had a range of 3,500 nautical miles and a complement of 61 men and 5 officers. The ship was decommissioned on 17-August-1945 and was sold off for conversion. In 1950, the ship became a whale-catcher. In 1972 it was converted to a tugboat. The ship was broken up in 1976.
The government’s initial position was that there would be no conscription as this was a divisive issue in the First World War. The government then modified their position and adopted compulsory training for home defence, however a faction of the population wanted conscription for overseas service as well. Brantford’s M.P. W. Ross Macdonald favoured conscription for overseas service as did Brantford City Council and the Canadian Legion. In April-1942 the government held a national plebiscite on overseas conscription and it was supported by two-thirds of the voters in nine provinces. Quebec voted against the measure. Even though overseas conscription was supported by the majority of Canadians the government was hesitant to reinforce Canadian units with conscripts until near the war’s end when the final push to defeat the enemy was on, after the D-Day invasion.
In order to protect the war supply lines, the government encouraged citizens to reduce their consumption of staples. This request went unheeded by the populace and as a consequence the government imposed rationing in 1942. Staples such as sugar, flour, meat, butter, tea, coffee, evaporated milk, silk stockings, tires, and gasoline were all subject to rationing and available only by presenting the merchant with the appropriate ration coupon. In order to celebrate a special occasion like a wedding, family and friends would contribute ration coupons to the bride’s family so a wedding reception could be held. Silk stockings posed a particular challenge because when Japan entered the war, the supply of silk was almost entirely cut off, and bare legs for women at the time was not fashionable. Tires and gasoline also posed problems as the availability of new or used tires was restricted to essential war work. These restrictions led to a spike in the theft of tires and gasoline. Bicycle use surged during this period.
Fundraising for countless war-related causes was continuous throughout the war years: Victory Bonds, War Savings Certificates and Stamps, milk funds, and British air raid victims to name a few. The Victory Bond drives in Brantford (there were 10 drives over the course of the war) raised over $775,000, the equivalent of over $10 million today. During these bond drives, the Expositor noted that citizens could either pay increased taxes to support the war effort or buy Victory Bonds and earn interest on their money. Equally important to the various fundraising drives were the scrap collection drives; rubber, metal, glass, newspaper, and rags were all scavenged. The rail and bridge of the old Great Western Railway mainline between St George and Paris was scavenged, melted and used for war purposes.
As happened during the First World War, paranoia and fear swept through Brantford. In May-1940, City Council passed a resolution to establish a Citizens’ Committee that would identify subversive elements. The government established the Home Guard to keep an eye on these subversives. The Guard were volunteers, WWI veterans under the age of 50. The Board of Education required all staff to take the pledge of allegiance and threatened to expel students that refused to salute the flag. In June-1940, the Police investigated over 100 reports of disloyalty. Most complaints were from anonymous sources. The Police attributed the reports to petty jealousies, fights between neighbours and spite. Spies were regularly reported to be working in the City. When Italy joined the Axis alliance in 1941, the Italian community in Brantford came under suspicion and scrutiny.
In February-1941, the City was designated as a vulnerable point because of its wartime industries and because it was within range of German bombers. 400 volunteers were recruited and air raid preparations were organised and practised. However the designation was suddenly withdrawn without explanation in September. The City was aghast. The designation was reinstated in January-1943. Censorship and government controls and restrictions were imposed. Mail could be opened and read by government agents. In 1941, City Council asked the library to remove all books by Charles Lindbergh, a known pacifist and admirer of Hitler. No action was taken on this request.
The factories in the Brantford had largely recovered from the depression when WWII broke out. Although Brantford had the industrial infrastructure for wartime production it lacked adequate human resources. Workers flooded in from across the country and women returned to the factories. By 1942, Brantford factories were operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week turning out gun mounts, munitions, truck cabs, boilers, and aeroplane wings. Cockshutt and Massey-Harris produced war supplies alongside their regular products. In 1940, Sternson and Sonoco enlarged their facilities, Brantford Cordage announced a record output and in 1941 Harding Carpet achieved record profits. Cockshutt opened Cockshutt Moulded Aircraft Ltd in December-1942 producing moulded plywood for the fusages of Avro-Anson multi-engine trainer. In 1944, Waterous Ltd. turned 100, the first Canadian company to achieve that milestone.
The demand for labour and the resulting surge in workers and their families moving to Brantford resulted in a severe housing shortage. Since demand outpaced supply, evictions became common as landlords were able to increase rents faster than the occupants were able to meet the increases. This especially affected the families of service men. Even though the federal government imposed rent controls in December-1941 many landlords ignored the regulations and evictions continued.
City Council asked the Crown Corporation, Wartime Housing Ltd., to help alleviate the housing shortage. Even with the help of Wartime Housing, construction of new houses could not keep up with demand because the company was faced with material and labour shortages. Originally the intent was to construct temporary structures that would be dismantled after the war but Council felt that this would likely never occur, once built, the houses would remain. Many were built on slab foundations without basements. Over the ensuing decades most of these home owners would dig out a basement. Wartime homes can be found in Holmedale, Eagle Place, and along Elgin Street west of Arrowdale Golf Course. These houses provided little relief for the housing shortage and people lived wherever they could find a place: in spare rooms, empty factories, and camping in Mohawk Park. Living conditions during this time were crowded.
In 1941, Brantford’s population was 32,660; two years later it had grown to 35,000. The sudden increase in factory production due to the war combined with the closing down of the street railway on 31-January-1940 led to a crisis in public transportation. The new buses did not have the capacity of the street cars, nor did the City have enough buses to meet the demand for service so buses were often crowded, all the time. And with production focused on the war, the acquisition of new buses was a slow process, and even as the bus fleet was expanded, overcrowding persisted throughout the war. Oddly enough, Sunday bus service did not prove popular when it was added in December-1942, even though the factories were working seven days a week and the public had clamoured for Sunday service. Sunday service ended in May-1943. Sunday service was re-introduced after the war and proved to be very popular.
During the war, labour stoppages were rare. The Ministry of Labour had little patience for labour disputes if wartime production was impacted. Because of the demand for labour, the workers’ bargaining position improved. Regarding labour relations, management preferred the use of Industrial Councils to settle labour disputes. Industrial Councils were company controlled bodies comprised of management and workers. Unions continued to try to organise workers but management made it difficult. In 1943, the United Auto Workers (UAW) were successful in organising Canadian Car & Foundry, but Cockshutt workers voted to continue using the Industrial Council. In 1943, the Provincial legislature outlawed the use of Industrial Councils because they lacked the separation between management and labour. By the end of the war, the UAW represented workers at Cockshutt, Massey-Harris, Brantford Cordage, and Robbins & Myers.
The labour shortage was acute in Brantford throughout the war. Retired workers were asked to return to work, farmers were conscripted in the winter months, and BCI opened vocational classes geared to war work. Workers could be moved from jobs the government deemed non-essential to those supporting the war effort and were fined if they refused to move. As war production declined, the need for farm implements to repair war damaged units took up the slack and labour needs remained high with hundreds of positions going unfilled. Between September-1942 and June-1945 14,371 women were in the workforce. The first day care nursery in Ontario opened on Charlotte Street in November-1942 to accommodate the working mothers.
The labour shortage had far reaching consequences, tradesmen were difficult to find, gas meter readers could not get into residents houses to read their meters because residents were at work, the City was seriously short staffed, the hospital suffered a nursing shortage and curtailed visiting hours, farmers could not recruit enough able bodies to bring in the harvest, and students left school before graduation to take on factory jobs; my father being one of them.
In 1939, the province tried to change the terms of municipal politicians from one year to two years or until the end of the war, as a cost savings measure but this was rejected by voters. City Council continued their pay-as-you-go philosophy adopted during the 1930s, and avoided capital expenditures. This was to allow taxpayers to spend money supporting the war effort. This resulted in tax reductions, debt reduction, and budget surpluses. Because of the industrial boom, the need for relief payments was virtually eliminated. One of the most contentious municipal issues during this period was where to locate the garbage dump. As you can imagine all suggested locations were soundly rebuked by the various neighbourhoods adjacent to the recommended sites which included West Brant, Eagle Place, and the North End; the North End being the area just north of Grandview. Street name signs were problematic for the City. They were not installed at each corner or even adjacent corners making Brantford resemble a labyrinth rather than an organised community for visitors.
The daylight savings time issue did not disappear. Brantford held fast to standard time all year long even when neighbouring municipalities adopted daylight savings time; even the Army camp and Air Force school adopted daylight savings time. In January-1942, the federal government made daylight savings time mandatory for the whole country.
The Queen Elizabeth pavilion at the Brantford General Hospital opened in October-1940 but the city’s rising population and nursing shortage continued to strain the abilities of the hospital to meet the demand for services. In 1940, Brantford became the first city in the world, with a population over 25,000, to be diphtheria free for ten years. This was the result of the immunisation programme instituted by the Board of Health in 1928. In June-1945, Brantford added sodium fluoride to its drinking water becoming the first city in Canada, and the second city in the world to do so.
Earl Haig pool, closed since 1930, reopened in 1942. Jennie Steer became the first woman elected to Brantford City Council in 1942. Plans for a new arena were revived in November-1944. Earl Haig Park was the preferred location. When the Civic Centre was finally completed in 1967, it was built on the site of the former Massey-Ferguson complex on Market Street South, adjacent to Earl Haig Park. The City wanted the federal government to ensure that the airport built to serve the flying school would remain open as a commercial facility. The training school site airport on Burford Road replaced the St. George Road airport. On 27-April-1970, the airport was transferred from the federal government to the City.
The Brantford Catholic High School opened in September-1941, becoming Brantford’s second high school. Victoria School on Richmond Street, now Victoria Academy, was gutted by a fire in February-1944. It would be rebuilt and reopen two years later. Over 1,800 students from BCI joined the armed forces during the war years. 135 never returned from battle.
Recreation and Entertainment
During the war, the recreational needs of the community and the service men and women stationed in Brantford were coordinated by the Community Wartime Recreational Council, formed in 1942. The council organised dances, special events, social clubs, baseball and hockey leagues, and popularised basketball.
Because of the shortage of players, senior hockey and baseball suffered. The Brantford Jr. B Lions won the provincial championship in 1940-41, the first Ontario hockey championship for a City team in 51 years. Fred Hunt went on to play with the New York Americans and New York Rangers, Leo Reise played for the Chicago Black Hawks and won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, and Tommy Ivanoff, later known as Tommy Ivan, went on the become the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings and later General Manager of the Chicago Black Hawks. In 1945, the Waterous Ladies’ basketball team won the city, intercity, and provincial championship and then won the Dominion Intermediate A crown.
Dancing and going to the movies were popular pastimes. The dance pavilion at Mohawk Park attracted over 15,000 people in 1942. Popular entertainers like the von Trapp Family Singers, Gene Autry, and Gracie Field appeared in Brantford. The Canadian Choir disbanded because of a significant decline in its membership and the Schubert Choir delivered their final concert on 23-April-1941 because conductor Henri K. Jordan was retiring.
End of Conflict
On 7-May-1945, Brantford went wild with the news that the war in Europe was over. Stores, factories, and government buildings shut down for two days of merry making. Only the Bell Telephone offices remained open handling a record number of calls. This scene was repeated on 14-August when news of Japan’s surrender reached the city.