Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 26 : 26

TRADING POST

those who had served during the war and to ease their transition to peace. Prime Minister King, whose beloved nephew with the same name was killed during the Battle of the Atlantic, believed in “giving first place in everything to the man who was offering his life voluntaril­y for the service of his country.” He lived up to his promise, including to the fifty thousand women who served in the armed forces. Cash payments were issued for length of time in uniform (on average about five hundred dollars per person), along with retraining programs and loans for purchasing farms, starting businesses, and buying homes. Where access to universiti­es before the war had been denied to all but the most affluent — except for the occasional scholarshi­p winner — now it was opened to veterans. Enrolment more than doubled from pre-war years as universiti­es expanded rapidly to meet the rush of fifty-four thousand new veterans turned students. One of them, Flight Lieutenant Douglas Humphreys, was unsure of his own future at the age of twenty-five. His enrolment at the University of Toronto was, in his words, “a dream that was finally coming true.” He settled into his studies and believed that “the future would take care of itself.” It did — for him and for hundreds of thousands of others. This state support — in the form of the many programs, grants, and educationa­l opportunit­ies — became known as the Veterans Charter. And yet not all veterans prospered in the immediate postwar years. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, seem to have known little about the charter’s programs. And Indigenous veterans, who numbered more than 4,300, faced systemic barriers if they returned to reserves. There they were usually physically isolated, and Indian agents often blocked them from participat­ing in the programs. But most returned men and women were not abandoned to their fate. The Veterans Charter was a legacy that would shape the postwar years in Canada. As one veteran remarked: “There were opportunit­ies for everyone.” The state also sought to care for wounded veterans, of which there were around fifty-five thousand — with more than half of them badly injured and requiring prolonged medical assistance. While there was no universal medicare coverage in Canada, the government did provide health care for veterans similar to what had been offered after the First World War. Dozens of new hospitals and treatment centres staffed with doctors, nurses, physiother­apists, and other specialist­s treated thousands of wounded veterans. With some two thousand Canadians suffering wartime amputation­s, there were prosthetic limbs to be fitted and glass eyes to be issued. Grafts were needed to repair burned, rubberlike skin. Horribly disfigured veterans underwent multiple operations so that they might once again return to society. While many veterans recovered from their wounds, others never did. The latter lived in hospitals for the rest of their lives. Other combatants appeared to have escaped without 26 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020 CANADASHIS­TORY.CA