Win­nipeg his­tory ex­am­ined through Sec­ond World War fil­ter

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Dou­glas J. John­ston

TPa­tri­otic Con­sen­sus is a work of lo­cal his­tory fil­tered through the larger geopo­lit­i­cal events of the Sec­ond World War. The re­sult is a fas­ci­nat­ing look at Win­nipeg’s re­sponse to na­tional wartime poli­cies.p Univer­sity of Win­nipeg his­tory pro­fes­sors Jody Per­run’s ac­count is un­abashedly com­mu­nity-fo­cused. “Most peo­ple’s daily rou­tines are not con­ducted as mem­bers of this ab­strac­tion we call the state, but are ex­pe­ri­enced most di­rectly as mem­bers of smaller com­mu­ni­ties, ei­ther in­di­vid­u­ally or in the vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tions of civil so­ci­ety,” he writes. “This is the level at which the majority ex­pe­ri­enced war on the home front.” The book has its gen­e­sis in Per­run’s PhD. the­sis. Books rooted in a dis­ser­ta­tion of­ten don’t lend them­selves to a wide au­di­ence, but Per­run’s depth of re­search, cou­pled with an ease of telling, makes for en­gag­ing so­cial his­tory. At the out­break of the Sec­ond World War, Win­nipeg was the fourth-largest city in Canada. Though the majority of its res­i­dents were of Bri­tish eth­nic ori­gin, it con­tained size­able pop­u­la­tions of Fran­co­phones, Ukraini­ans, Jews, Ger­mans, Poles and Scan­di­na­vians. The city’s poly­glot makeup is the spring­board for his anal­y­sis. “How united was the re­sponse to war in a city as so­cially and eth­ni­cally di­verse as Win­nipeg?” he asks. “The ques­tion de­fies easy an­swer, given the po­ten­tial so­cial and ide­o­log­i­cal fault lines among the city’s pop­u­la­tion.” To that end, he ex­am­ines lo­cal re­ac­tion to ev­ery­thing from war-bonds drives and the in­tern­ment of “aliens” (mostly Ja­pane­seCana­di­ans) to gov­ern­ment fi­nan­cial and hous­ing support to sol­diers’ fam­i­lies and the so­cial prob­lems en­gen­dered by long-term sep­a­ra­tion of sol­diers and spouses. The book fea­tures some 30 ter­rific black and white wartime street-scene pho­tos (troops march­ing down Memo­rial Boule­vard, V-E cel­e­bra­tions at Portage and Main, sal­vage-corps trucks col­lect­ing scrap metal in the sub­urbs) and re­pro­duc­tions of jazzy war-bonds promo posters. The best pho­tos are of “If Day,” a bit of early street the­atre de­signed to en­cour­age the pur­chase of war bonds and il­lus­trate what Man­i­to­bans stood to lose if the Axis pow­ers won the war. On Feb. 19, 1942 the Nazis (played by 40 young mem­bers of the Man­i­toba Board of Trade in rented-from-Hol­ly­wood Wehrma­cht uni­forms) in­vaded Win­nipeg, com­plete with guns and rid­ing in cap­tured Bren gun car­ri­ers. The book in­cludes pho­tos of vic­to­ri­ous Nazi troops parad­ing down Portage Av­enue (re-named Adolf Hitler Strasse), Man­i­toba premier John Bracken and his cab­i­net be­ing marched off for in­tern­ment un­der armed guard, the swastika flag be­ing raised over Lower Fort Garry and a Nazi book-burn­ing bon­fire out­side the Carnegie (Wil­liam Av­enue) pub­lic li­brary. The fake Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of Himm­ler­stadt, as the city was re-named, was so suc­cess­ful it made news around the world and re­sulted in other North Amer­i­can ci­ties ap­ing the idea. An aca­demic his­to­rian writ­ing for the popular mar­ket has to steer a care­ful course, chart­ing a route mid­way be­tween the haz­ards of rarefied schol­arly re­search on one side and an ac­ces­si­ble but over­sim­pli­fied ac­count on the other. Per­run largely avoids both per­ils. And though he some­times gets bogged down in stats and tech­ni­cal data, and oc­ca­sion­ally fails to op­ti­mally con­dense his pri­mary sources, on the whole he gets high marks as a pop­u­lar­izer with a keen an­a­lyt­i­cal bent. Dou­glas J. John­ston is a Win­nipeg lawyer

and writer.

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