A late, and somewhat short, edition of “This Week in Peterborough” this time! The waning days of winter in 1945 found Peterborians looking forward to war’s end, considering what to do with a local relic of the conflict, and saying “good-bye” to a Peterborough sporting institution. Read on!
It was now pretty much clear to everyone that the Second World War was going to end victoriously for the Allies (or “United Nations,” as they were interestingly termed), and soon. The newspapers noted the presence of Red Army units within 50 miles of Berlin, with the western Allies were also pushing through Germany and the low countries. Only two months later, on May 8th, Germany would surrender unconditionally. In the Pacific, meanwhile, American forces landed on Iwo Jima on the 19th of February; the island, and the famous photograph, would both be taken by the end of March.
Canadian troops at this time were engaged in “Operation Veritable,” the invasion of the Rhineland from the Netherlands. As February closed, the fighting was mostly going on in the area of Kalkar (spelled “Calcar” in the news reports), a small town just east of the German-Dutch border. On the 26th, the Peterborough Examiner reported on a pre-dawn advance by Canadian tanks near the town, and reassured its readers that “Opposition was not particularly strong as the attack got under way and Canadian casualties were light.”
Casualties may have been light on that day, but reports of them were still coming in steadily to Peterborough, and they were not all related to local men and women in uniform. The Examiner of the 26th contained a story about about local restaurateur John Stamatis, who owned the Churchill Restaurant on George Street. Stamatis had lost contact with family members in Greece when Germany invaded the country in 1941; with its liberation, he received the sad news that his mother and sister had both perished — the former of natural causes and the latter at the hands of the Germans — while the country was occupied. There was, however, also happier-if-still-bittersweet news to be had, as illustrated by the picture to the right.
With the war now in its closing stages, much of the local debate had to do with what was going to come next. Among the ideas being bandied around for post-war Canada was the notion of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. A February 24th article in the Examiner expressed cautious approval of the idea, stating that “more than years is required to make intelligent voters and on reaching the age of 21 a young man or young woman does not suddenly acquire more common sense or public spirit.” The editorialist did feel, however, that it was more important to increase the percentage of voters of all ages turning out, an opinion that is still often heard around election time today. At any rate, the voting age in Canada was indeed lowered to 18, but not until 1970.
As far as Peterborough’s own preparations for the post-war era are concerned, up for debate this week in 1945 was the fate of the city’s Air Raid siren — it had been proposed that the horn be sold to a small town or village for use as a fire alarm. However, the Fire, Water and Light Committee recommended that Peterborough keep the siren, and the February 26th Examiner concurred in an editorial:
“…we are very much in favor of leaving it [in place]. There it will be a relic of Hitler’s threat to the freedom of Canada and particularly Peterborough. It can both be a souvenir and reminder of the war years.”
The editorial went to recommend that the siren be sounded a couple of times a year, to further drive home the lesson.
The end of February, 1945, also marked the end of a sporting era in Peterborough. On February 24th, the Examiner reported the sale of the city’s Turf Club, for the princely sum of $6500, to Toronto horse-racing tycoon Fred Orpen. The Peterborough Turf Club had been putting on horse races at Exhibition Park since 1903, prompting the Examiner’s writer to wax nostalgic about the “recollection of a small boy’s thrill at burrowing under the fence and watching goggle-eyed the performance of a group of bookies calling their odds…”
And it was indeed betting that lay behind the sale of the Turf Club. Orpen was interesting in getting his hands on the club’s provincial charter, which allowed it to hold horse races at which wagering took place. The charter was transferable; Orpen could take it and put it into effect at one of his Toronto racetracks (he owned the Long Branch and Dufferin Park facilities), and thus get around the virtual moratorium that the Province of Ontario had enacted on the handing out of new charters. Horse-racing at Peterborough would go on, of course — races without wagering had been held at the Exhibition grounds for years — but would do so without the presence of a city club to run it.
And that is about all for the end of February, 1945. Next week (and back on schedule), we will take a look at early March of 1946, and see what the early post-war era had in store for Peterborough. In the meantime, however, you can check up on what was going around here back in 1893. Thank you for reading!