By Sue Bryant,
CLOVERDALE, 1941—As Christmas approached, a change in the tone of the community was palpable. The threat of the Second World War seemed closer than ever as residents faced increased rationing and the beginning of nightly blackouts.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, the Air Raid Patrol wardens were ordered to initiate mandatory blackout procedures.
People were required to darken their windows no later than 5 p.m. using blackout blinds. Homeowners were reminded that ordinary blinds and light-coloured materials were “practically useless” and ordered to use black paper cut to size to ensure no light could be seen by the street.
Streetlights were turned off and if driving was required after dark, vehicle headlights had to be concealed with covers open with a vertical slit of 3” long by ¼” wide for the front, and tail lights covered save for a small ¾” disk in the centre.
All stores and businesses had to be closed by 4:30 p.m. and schools were dismissed half an hour earlier than usual so the children were home before dark.
The first official blackout came on Dec. 8, and it didn’t go smoothly. Word came that enemy planes were flying near the coast, and so a blackout would commence, but Surrey was a small community and Vancouver A.R.P. headquarters did not telephone as was expected. Instead, local authorities heard about the blackout from the radio.
Reports later showed many people disregarded that first blackout. In the Surrey Leader that week, residents were reminded that locals must guard against the tendency to think they were a long way from the bright lights of Vancouver, and that a light or two didn’t matter. Every light had to be thought of as a beacon for a marauding bomber and readers were reminded to think of the nightly bombings that occurred in cities overseas.
There were also other challenges. When the streetlights were darkened in White Rock, they were unable to be turned back on, as the switch could only be operated by an engineer located in Vancouver. It was a week until the engineer could attend to pull the switch back on manually and relocate it so the local authorities were able to operate it as required.
A major concern Surrey faced was the question of how to manage an influx of residents from other communities should there be a bombing in Vancouver or New Westminster. A citizen’s committee was set up by Surrey council to commandeer cabins in White Rock and Crescent Beach to be ready in case of mass evacuations.
Rations and wartime shortages were felt deeply by the Cloverdale community. Butter, gas, clothing, tea and coffee were just a few of the normal staples that were restricted.
Liquor was also rationed to no more than one quart of spirits or one gallon of wine per day. Non-compliance was not taken lightly. A Vernon man who was convicted of supplying liquor outside the rationing program was fined $300 and 3 months in jail under hard labour.
Instead of allowing these dark days to challenge the Christmas spirit, the community came together stronger than ever before.
Shoppers spent their money for their Christmas presents locally, rather than travelling to New Westminster or Vancouver. An advertisement from the local business association told residents that the local shopkeeper was able to render greater service to his customer, because he knows his patrons and their needs. They further reminded that a local shopkeeper would stand behind the goods he sells, because he is in business to stay and can’t afford to sell “shoddy” goods.
There was no greater example than that of Duckworth’s Department store in Cloverdale. They were the central shopping destination for gifts of flannelette pyjamas for $1.95 or boy’s ties adorned with Royal Canadian Air Force planes for 29 cents. They took pride in their Christmas decorations in their windows that many attended during the day to view.
It was also the destination to purchase war bonds, savings certificates and stamps to support the war effort. Many people growing up in this time remember receiving these instead of toys, in an effort by their family to instill a sense of patriotism and pride.
Dann’s Electronics was another local store who catered to the local community in a unique way. As the trusted serviceman of radios and other electronics, Ernest Dann provided repairs to radio parts to allow his customers to keep up with the news reports and radio programs, an important part of daily life at the time. An advertisement for Dann’s reminded people to register their radios with his store, to ensure he could keep inventory under the challenge of rationing so no one would need to go without their radio for any length of time.
Other wartime efforts were initiated such as the Red Cross “V for Victory” knitting program which made dressings, socks and other items to be sent to the military personnel serving overseas. There was also a “No Christmas Card” club, where people could have their names published in the paper and those wishing to send cards could donate to the Red Cross instead.
It was a challenging time, full of uncertainty. But there was also a strong community connection. It was a lesson in appreciating the small things and in triumphing over challenges.