This Week in Peterborough: 1942


Air Commodore Wilfred Curtis, during WWII. (Image Source)

On to February, and this month 74 years ago a Peterborian (well, a Peterborough Countian at any rate) was making a name for himself overseas.  RCAF Group Captain Wilfred Curtis, of Havelock, had just been promoted to Air Commodore, putting him second-in-command of Canada’s pilots in Britain.  The February 2nd Peterborough Examiner mentioned that Mrs. Curtis, his wife, had taught music in Peterborough, and that her brother owned Dunn’s Tailor Shop on George Street.

What else was going on?  Well, for Canadians worried about the men overseas, no news was bad news, as we shall see.  And there was also the matter I mentioned yesterday, into which Peterborough’s MP unfortunately wandered.  Read on…


Peterborough Examiner, February 5th, 1942.

The war-related headlines in the Peterborough papers at this time in 1942, and indeed the headlines generally, were very much focused on Eastern Front.  Germany had invaded the USSR in mid-1941, coming perilously close to taking the city of Moscow.  By winter, however, the Red Army was pushing back effectively, and the danger to the capital was largely past.  “Deep Snow, 30 Below Weather Crimp Nazis” (February 4th), and “Red Guerillas Create Panic Behind Lines” (February 5th) were among the headlines in the Peterborough Examiner concerning the war in the Soviet Union.  Things were not quite as rosy in actual fact as the news stories made out — there was a great deal of horrific fighting yet to come before the German armies were expelled from Russia — but the strategic situation was much improved from what it had been a few months previously.

At least it was on the Eastern front — elsewhere, the news was not so good.  December of 1941 had of course witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the U.S. into the war.  Shortly thereafter, Japan had attacked Hong Kong, which was defended by British, Indian, and Canadian troops.  The city fell on Christmas Day, but even as late as early February there was still uncertainty in Canada over what had become of the 1800 Canadians who had fought there.  On February 4th, the Examiner reported on a telegram from the British Embassy in China which read as follows:

“‘Guess but only guess one-third of (Canadian) fighting strength killed, wounded or taken prisoners during the fighting, remainder presumably taken prisoner on capitulation.'”

Minister of National Defence James Ralston, commenting on the telegram, added that “the casualties were very difficult to estimate ‘particularly due to the fact that communications had ceased…'”

The commencement of hostilities with Japan, and the fall of Hong Kong, led to a notorious episode in Canadian history, the early signs of which were apparent in February of 1941.  On February 3rd, the Peterborough Examiner noted that all of western British Columbia had been declared a “Protected Area.”  This meant, per the newspaper’s report, that “Certain Japanese nationals in the area are to be moved out.”  The article went to state that discussions were underway as to “where they will be taken and possible labor projects on which they may be employed.”


Gordon Fraser. (Image Source)

At this point, Peterborough’s Conservative Member of Parliament, Gordon Fraser, leapt into the fray and declared that he didn’t want any Japanese Canadians in Ontario, because “‘they would find Ontario is such a beautiful country they would want to stay in it.'”  Fraser went to suggest that they “be kept in work camps under close governmental supervision.”  He got his wish — by the end of the war, more than 20,000 Japanese Canadians had been interned in camps, with their businesses and properties sold off to fund the internment (German and Italian Canadians were also interned).  In 1988, the Canadian Government formally apologized for the policy, and made financial and other restitutions to the survivors.

In Peterborough itself, the fund-raising efforts for the war went on.  In February of 1942, the focus in this area was on the second nation-wide Victory Loan Drive, a war-bond campaign set to begin on the 16th.  The event would be marked, reported the February 3rd Examiner, by the lighting of beacons across the country, “a reminder and a warning that the enemy is approaching and all must gird on weapons, and do their bit in a financial way.”  Peterborough’s beacon was to be atop Armour Hill.

Peterborians were also looking forward to the arrival of the Canadian Army Exhibition Train, due to make its stop in the city on February 5th.  The 15-car train was a recruiting tool — essentially a rail-borne museum of militaria.  An article in the Examiner on February 4th stated that among its exhibits would be “Tanks, artillery pieces, rifles, tommy-guns, trucks, in short all of the tools of war.”


A soldier describes a munitions exhibit on the Canadian Army Exhibition Train, 1942. (Image Source)

Rationing had been imposed by this time, on sugar and some other staples, and agents of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board were on the lookout for hoarding and other violations of the rules.  The rationing, however, generally seems to have been accepted with equanimity, at least at this time, and the Examiner of February 3rd even found reason to be light-hearted about the situation:

“So, the probability is that the double-breasted suit will have to go!  Cloth, like good humor, needs to be preserved… [W]hat’s the difference?  Not very much except in the mind.  There were many fine looking and great men… before this fashion came in, before cuffs were added to trouser bottoms and before buttons were allowed to run races all over sleeves and coats and vests.”


Sir Frederick Haultain, who passed away January 30th, 1942.  (Image Source)

Quite apart from the doings of the war, this was a time of sad news in Peterborough, as the city mourned the recent deaths to two men with famous local connections.  One was William H. Bradburn, a former Mayor of Peterborough and representative of the city in the Ontario Legislature.  He was also the son of the Thomas Bradburn who had built the city’s first opera house in the late 19th century.  The other was Sir Frederick Haultain, formerly Premier of the Northwest Territories and an instrumental figure in the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Born in England, Haultain had come to Peterborough as young boy with his family; his father, Col. F.W. Haultain, had represented the then-town in the Canadian Parliament prior to Confederation.  Indeed, we have encountered the elder Haultain a number of times in this series — you may recall that he was on one occasion the subject of a local song.

We will finish up, as usual, with a quick look at what was going on in local sports, and here we find the war effort front and centre yet again.  On February 1st, an exhibition fund-raising basketball game took place in the city, pitting the Outboard Marine Co. team against the RCAF team from Belleville (Outboard won it, 47-43).  The game was part of a double-header, with the opening match featuring two women’s teams from the General Electric plant.  That game was won by the Generals, the top squad in the Ladies’ City League, who defeated the Electrics by 29-24.

The Senior ‘B’ Peterborough Hockey Club, meanwhile, was now affiliated with the Military Training Centre in the city, and had acquired the nickname “the Soldiers” (they were still known colloquially around town as “the Petes,” however).  This week in 1942 was a time of mixed fortunes for the team; on the one hand, a number of key players got sick, and the depleted lineup was beaten 3-1 by the Belleville Reliance.  On the other hand, results elsewhere clinched top spot in the regional group for the Peterborians, and they would eventually go on to win the 1942 Ontario Senior ‘B’ championship, defeating Merritton three games to one in the final.

And that was about it for early February of 1942.  Next week, of course, we will be into February of 1943, but in the meantime you can read up on what was happening around here in 1890!


Sugar ration chart, Peterborough Examiner, February 2nd, 1942.

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