Supporting the war abroad, rebuilding at home

Photo: Men collecting salvage to help the war effort, April 23, 1942. Credit: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Winnipeg Free Press Collection. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.

The first five years of the 1940s saw Winnipeg once again plunged into the darkness of world war, which no doubt seemed familiar to many. The period from 1945 to 1950 was spent struggling to recover from the horror and loss of the great conflict. Many Winnipeggers had been through it before and this time it can be said the recovery was better planned.

In the early years of the war, business was slow, although in Winnipeg and similar centres, business reaped benefits from the large expenditure of public funds in connection with the Empire war effort.

By the end of 1940 close to two million Canadians were listed in the “reserved occupation” class, working in occupations concerned with war-time industries and therefore not expected to volunteer for the fighting forces.

Canada’s most important contributions to the war were in the area of resources like the 10 million barrels of crude oil being pumped out of the Turner Valley oil field in Alberta. A lot of this oil went to fuel the planes of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan which was training air crew from Britain and Commonwealth countries at fields across the prairies.

Local Winnipeg groups worked hard to provide entertainment and good food for the young men training here. One of many such projects was the Airman’s Club where 150,000 meals were served in 1943 alone. The club was operated by the 370 women of the Air Force Auxiliary. They also arranged visits with Winnipeg families for thousands of homesick young men.

The end of the war brought thousands of men home, many suffering from wounds, both physical and emotional. Large numbers wanted to marry and secure a home for a family. The cost of building materials rose year by year as did the wages of people in the construction trades. Costs began to level off in 1948. The number of new houses started and completed slowly increased in the post war years. Facilities like the Crescentwood Community Club were also considered necessities by families with young children and that building was erected in 1948-49 with largely volunteer labour.

Veterans were paid re-establishment grants by the government. About 20 per cent of this money was used to make down payments on houses. Some veterans went to university – United College graduated 30 United Church Ministers in 1949. Some used the credits as working capital for a new business.

Construction that had been put on hold during the war started up. In 1949 work was underway on a new hydro dam at Pine Falls, slated for completion in 1952. The railroads were busy switching from moving troops to moving raw materials. Both railroads were converting from coal to diesel in the post war years. Some new diesel electric engines were bought, and many old steam engines were converted, providing work for the men in the Weston shops.

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