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Calgary

Calgary came to be known as Alberta's garrison city during the Second World War. Currie and Harvie barracks, Mewata Armouries, and Sarcee Camp housed thousands of troops while they completed their training. Sarcee Camp, located on the Sarcee reservation immediately to the southwest of the city, was one of the oldest military training centres in the province; it was established prior to the First World War. The Calgary Highlanders mobilized on 1 September 1939 and joined the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, moving to Shilo, Manitoba in the summer of 1940 on the way to overseas deployment. By the end of the Second World War, regular battalions of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) and Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) were quartered in the city, thus establishing a strong garrison presence.

Calgary, much like Edmonton, addressed potential security concerns at the outset of the war. When the federal government announced Canada's declaration of war against Germany, a volunteer-run constabulary was organized in Calgary to protect nearby dams, electrical installations, and bridges. The Army provided them with saddles, blankets, and weapons. These volunteers would work at their regular jobs during the day and patrol their designated areas at night. Other civil defence practices included routine gas decontamination drills.

Calgary, much like other communities across the province, was united in the war effort. Streetlights were dimmed in the evenings to conserve power. Blackout drills were practiced on a weekly basis in the event of Luftwaffe attack. Most households switched to natural gas to reduce consumption of coal. The rationing of food and drink was inaugurated in 1942. Coffee and tea were consumed sparingly so that ample shipments could be sent overseas. Starting in 1943, meatless Tuesdays and Fridays were observed in local restaurants. Other items rationed included gasoline, sugar, and butter. During 1944, the consumption of liquor was strictly monitored, and strict limitations were imposed on bars, restricting the amount of liquor they could serve their patrons. Farmers, in spite of their struggles, were urged to produce more bacon, beef, butter, cheese, and eggs. Calgary's Burns and Company converted an old creamery into Alberta's first producer of dried eggs. By June 1942, with the war in full swing, the plant was producing the dried equivalent of 210,000 eggs daily. Its 30 workers, during the balance of that year, were able to convert 360 million eggs into powder form for use by the Allies’ food industry.

Calgary benefited from an improved economy in much the same way as other communities across the province: unemployment dropped, businesses flourished, and welfare (social assistance) roles shrank. These same factors resulted in the same types of problems other communities faced: shortages of affordable housing, an increased crime rate, and public angst over numerous social and moral issues. Calgary's housing problem was described by some as "hopeless". In at least one case, a family was reported living in a refurbished chicken coop; another family was found living in the basement of a school. Rent gouging was common, and authorities seemed powerless to remedy the situation.

With an influx of servicemen arriving in the city, social activities increased immensely. Servicemen spent considerable time in Calgary’s parks and green spaces and participated in physical activities or flirted with local women. However, with few exceptions, many of Calgary’s dance halls and bars were off limits to servicemen. Opened in 1914, the Palliser Hotel, also known as the Paralyzer was a lively and popular destination for servicemen. Another popular destination was Penley's, owned and operated by Jack Penley, a talented ballroom dancer. Both halls featured live music and spacious dance floors. From 1912 to 1964, Penley’s was Calgary’s premier ballroom dancing venue, a fact well known by servicemen stationed in Calgary during the Second World War.

On 6 June 1944 (D-Day), 15,000 Calgarians (more than one-sixth of the entire population) gathered at First Street, between 7 and 8 Avenues, to demonstrate their support and to offer prayers. That day, stores closed and a military band led the crowd in a rendition of O Canada. On 15 August 1945, Calgary City Council sponsored a large outdoor gala to celebrate victory in Europe. Held at the Exhibition Grounds, the event was attended by over 20,000 Calgarians. Those present enjoyed music, dancing, and other entertainment. A huge bonfire followed at Scotman's Hill.

Reference

Shiels, Bob. Calgary: A Not Too Solemn Look at Calgary's First 100 Years. Calgary: The Calgary Herald, 1974.


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