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Rural

Rural Alberta was not immune to wartime change. Some towns, like their urban counterparts, hosted military bases and personnel. Town charters across the province had to be reviewed and updated to account for the new activity. Between 1941 and 1946, Alberta's rural population dropped from 489,583 to 485,119. One of the key reasons for this change was the availability of new jobs in the larger centres; many rural residents flocked to the cities in search of better paying work than that which was available in small towns. At the same time, the average size of farms expanded from 175.6 to 187.7 hectares (433.9 to 463.8 acres), and their total value of output climbed from $711 million to $958 million, equating to a two-thirds increase in production during the Second World War.

Many of the young men and women enlisting in Canada's military came from farms and small communities like Claresholm, where farmers and ranchers had been devastated by the Great Depression. Here, young men saw enlistment as an opportunity to escape this plight. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, for example, signed up numerous farm boys eager to leave behind the difficult and labour-intensive work of their family farms and start anew.

Agricultural production was crucial to Canada's war effort. Coarse grains, processed meats, butter, cheese, and eggs were needed to feed the troops. As the young men of rural Alberta and Canada left for overseas, an increasing proportion of the operation of the nation’s farms was left in the hands of women and children. Women and children had always participated in the operation of farms, but now they were taking over the duties previously deemed men's work: chopping wood, milking cows, ploughing fields, caring for animals, seeding and harvesting crops, and operating large pieces of equipment. One such example is the story of a 19-year-old woman from a farm north of Lethbridge who took over the dairy farm when her father joined the army in 1942.

To compensate for the decrease in the number of able-bodied men, an increasing level of cooperation and teamwork was required to ensure that the fields were maintained, crops planted, and harvest completed in time. These were not new practices to those within the farming community, but it became all the more critical as both manpower and supplies dwindled.

Rural organizations like the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) made their own unique contributions to the war effort. Members of the UFWA knit and sewed clothing for the Canadian Red Cross which shipped it to England to be used by Canadian troops overseas. Many women, whether aligned with a given organization or not, participated and contributed in similar fashion.

Faced with immense pressure from various levels of government to increase agricultural production, Alberta's rural community was faced with continual labour shortages and inadequate farm machinery. Schoolchildren frequently had to leave their studies in order to assist on the farm. Farming during the Second World War was a labour-intensive and time-consuming commitment. In an attempt to maximize production, a few smaller farms closed their enterprises to focus all of their efforts on a larger farm nearby. Alberta's rural communities met these challenges head on, demonstrating a united and dedicated belief in the war effort.

Reference

Keshen, Jeff. “Morale and Morality on the Alberta Home Front,” ed. K.W. Tingley, For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War. Edmonton: Provincial Museum of Alberta and Reidmore Books, 1995, 147.


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