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Grande Prairie

In spite of its relatively small population and remote location, Grande Prairie, like other communities in Alberta, was directly affected by the Second World War. The United States and Canadian armies used Grande Prairie as a transportation hub for the construction of the Alaska Highway; equipment and workers passed through the city daily. Although Dawson Creek, British Columbia was technically the starting point of the highway, Grande Prairie benefited economically from its close proximity to that community. The Grande Prairie airport was well situated to serve as a connecting point for personnel being transported between Edmonton and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Construction of the Alaska Highway directly benefited many citizens of Grande Prairie and the surrounding community. Recognizing the newfound strategic importance of this community, the Alberta government committed to improving the Edmonton-Grande Prairie highway, thus creating more jobs for locals. The improved infrastructure stimulated growth in the region during and after the war. The economic prosperity brought to the region as a result of the war intensified the longstanding rivalry between Grande Prairie and other regional centres such as Peace River and Dawson Creek.

The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (LER) was the first unit to hold a recruiting drive in Grande Prairie; this took place on 2 April 1940. Of the first 50 recruits, 31 immediately left for Edmonton to begin training. A further 104 recruits left for Edmonton in June, followed by 90 more during the latter stages of the summer. The LER would eventually establish a training centre in the community, which, in turn, became the regimental headquarters for “D” Company. The centre provided members (militia) with basic military skills and knowledge in an effort to prepare them for what they would face when they signed on with the regular forces.

The influx of young men into Grande Praire underlined the need for adequate policing. Members of the Legion attempted to placate local citizens by forming the Legion of Frontiersmen whose role was to aid the local detachments of the Mounted Police. Members of the Frontiersmen were primarily concerned with fifth column dissidents. In Grande Prairie and surrounding communities, several Nazi sympathizers were arrested. Halvor Frantzen was one such individual; he was sentenced to nine months' labour for uttering the following pro-Nazis comment "Germany would blow England off the map."

Like many other Alberta communities, the citizens of Grande Prairie had to adapt to a host of measures imposed by various levels of government. As items such as tires, firewood, and basic food supplies became scarce, rationing was imposed. In 1941, the Grande Prairie Salvage Committee was formed in an effort to collect scrap iron, rubber, and rags. A Farm for Victory committee was organized to maintain vital food production throughout the war. Support for the war was evident all over the town. For example, Grande Prairie's Kinsmen Club raised $11,000 for the Milk for Britain campaign.

After the war, a new Veteran Affairs Office was established in Grande Prairie. The Soldiers' Reestablishment Committee provided advice to ex-servicemen and women. Meanwhile, the Government of Alberta surveyed and divided nearly 100,000 acres (247,105.38 hectares) of land in the Peace River area to provide veterans with resettlement options and opportunities.

Reference

Leonard, David W. The Grande Prairie of the Great Northland: The Evolution of a County, 1805–1951. Grande Prairie: County of Grande Prairie, 2005.


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