Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 24 : 24


1939 1945 AFTER VICTORY THE LEGACY OF THE NECESSARY WAR The Second World War led to fundamenta­l changes to Canada, ushering in a new country forged by a generation’s service and sacrifice. by Tim Cook T he end of the Second World War in 1945 — first in Europe on VE day, May 8, and then finally in Japan on August 15 — was a time of relief and joy for some, unending pain and trauma for others, and for all a period of turmoil and uncertaint­y. Canada’s greatest challenge was to move from an economy geared to war to one that could provide the goods for peace. It did not have to rebuild its bombed cities, as did most of Europe. It did not have to deal with the legacy of an invading army passing through its country like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything in its path. And yet six years of war left Canadians anxious about many things, especially a feared return to the kind of economic depression that had marked the 1930s. Canada had helped to win the war; now it had to win the peace. The aftermath of the First World War had shown how not to move from war to peace. In late 1918, the Dominion’s munitions factories ground to a sudden halt, leaving tens of thousands of people without paycheques. Economic hardship, runaway inflation, and sorrow for the fallen were exacerbate­d by the terror of the Spanish flu that killed some fifty thousand Canadians. After defeating the German kaiser’s armies, several hundred thousand soldiers came home in 1919 looking for jobs that were not there. With little state interventi­on, veterans were left to fend for themselves. A generation later, under the cabinet of Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King — and especially the firm hand of Minister of Reconstruc­tion C.D. Howe — the government eased industry out of war production and into civilian goods. It also offered inducement­s in the form of tax cuts, monetary incentives, and the sell-off of government assets at low prices. These steps went a long way toward ensuring that Canada did not slip back into crippling financial depression. Widespread unease that unemployme­nt would bring mass discontent and unrest prompted the creation of a series of programs for the one million veterans who were returning to civilian life. There was also a desire to reward 24 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020 CANADASHIS­TORY.CA