As you can see from the image above, this week 68 years ago found Peterborough dealing with a real, actual, UFO — or at least with the mysterious trail it had left across the sky. Did this indeed portend the end of the world, as some feared, or was it just a matter of jet aircraft being a rather new thing? Read on to find out, and also for dire news from various parts abroad, hand-wringing over Communism at home, and the triumphant return of a national heroine!
The mystery of Peterborough’s UFO was quickly solved — if only partially. As the newspaper went on to report:
“A call to the air control tower at RCAF air station, Trenton, revealed that it was cloud vapor laid down by a high-altitude aircraft, but whether or not it was a jet job or something experimental, no one but RCAF headquarters will ever know, for they are not prone to talk about such things.”
The news, even incomplete, doubtless reassured Peterborians, who had been entertaining hypotheses ranging from “the end of the world” to “an odd cloud formation.” “Others,” stated the Examiner, “were too stunned by the sight to hazard a guess.” And one “nervous woman” whom the paper interviewed opined: “Keep your eyes peeled — maybe the Commies are coming.”
We can chuckle now, but this happened in a week in which the Prime Minister of Canada stated bluntly that “the international situation [has] never been worse,” as quoted in the March 17th Examiner. The Cold War, as it came to be known, was in its infancy, and at this point there were some doubts about whether it would remain cold for long. February of 1947 had seen the overthrow of the government of Czechoslovakia, and the introduction of a Communist regime in that country. In response, President Harry Truman was calling for the institution of universal military service in the United States, and things looked very dire indeed.
In an attempt to prevent further Communist expansion in Europe, the United States and her allies were in the process of introducing the Marshall Plan, which saw the funding of a massive reconstruction plan for parts of the war-ravaged continent. On March 15th, the Examiner reported that the U.S. Senate had approved 5.3 billion dollars for the Plan, and the very next day, the newspaper reported that the British-, French-, and American-occupied areas of western Germany would be eligible to receive money under the program; this, essentially, marked the division of Germany into two separate states. Part of the reason for the haste with which the Marshall plan was introduced was the desire to forestall a possible Communist government in Italy, where voters were to go to the polls on April 18th. It worked, too — the centre-right Democrazia Cristiana party would win a majority in the election.
And there was also news of the non-comforting variety from the Middle East. Wrote the March 16th, Examiner: “The United States, Russia and France agreed in principle today that a threat to peace exists in Palestine” — and we must say that they had accuracy on their side on that one. The British mandate for the government of the region was to expire on May 14th, and that immediately led to the proclamation of the State of Israel, with David Ben-Gurion as its first Prime Minister. In the meantime, however, civil unrest and other such violence was going on in sporadic fashion in Palestine, and nobody seemed particularly able to bring it to an end.
Back in Canada, meanwhile, the population seems to have been in the grip of what would become known as the Red Scare. “How serious is the Communist threat in the Canadian labor movement?” asked the March 15th Examiner in alarmist fashion, before quoting a union executive saying that “some of our biggest and potentially best unions are likely to be either totally Red or hopelessly ruined.” That article was part of an ongoing series on Communism in Canada, and two days later the reporter turned his beady eye on community newspapers, particularly those published in languages other than English or French. Garnering particular suspicion were the small weeklies published in Ukrainian or Finnish, up to a fifth of which were said to be Communist. The Examiner also claimed, in the same piece, that the “hard revolutionary core of the Communist movement in Canada” numbered about 25,000 people, with its “borderline friends” amounting to “many times that.” With reports like that circulating, it is perhaps little wonder that the woman mentioned above interpreted Peterborough’s mysterious vapour trail the way she did.
There was also big national news this week in 1948 regarding Newfoundland, which was set to vote in a referendum on its future form of government (the colony had been governed by a commission of locals and British officials since getting into dire economic straights during the Depression). Originally, there had been plans to include only two choices — return to responsible government or a continuation of the “rule by commission” — on the ballot, but in mid-March the British authorities decreed that confederation with Canada should also be an option. In an editorial on March 15th, the Examiner argued that the final decision should be left entirely in the hands of the voters in Newfoundland:
“Most Canadians would welcome the inclusion of Newfoundland in the Dominion, but officially or popularly there should be no Canadian campaign to influence the decision of the Newfoundlanders.”
In the summer of 1948, Newfoundlanders went to the polls twice, after the first referendum failed to produce a clear winner from among the three options. In the second vote, the confederation proposal won out narrowly, and on March 31st, 1949, the region officially became a province of Canada.
In Peterborough itself, apart from the excitement over the vapour trail, it was a week without huge news stories. Lots of things were GOING to happen: the city was negotiating to annex 300 acres in North Monaghan Township for future expansion, and there was a proposal under debate to extend George Street south of Lansdowne, for similar reasons. The second did indeed become reality (I am not sure about the 300 acres), although that stretch of road is now called Roger Neilson Way.
Even the sports scene was fairly quiet, as the local hockey and basketball seasons were mostly wrapped up. The big news on this front was taking place in Toronto, where 19-year-old Barbara Ann Scott was welcomed home after winning the gold medal in Ladies’ Singles Figure Skating at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Scott was the first, and so far only, Canadian to win an Olympic title in figure skating. 1948 would be her only Olympic appearance, as she turned professional that summer.
And what of St. Patrick’s day, in this city with its deep, deep, Irish roots? Interestingly enough, there was barely a mention of the holiday in the papers. The March 17th Examiner did run an editorial on the historical St. Patrick, describing him as “a fine man of Christian zeal” but noting, accurately, that he was not in fact Irish. The editorial closed with this somewhat glum statement:
“Canada has no patron saint for neither the dollar nor domestic dullness have been canonized.”
On that low-key note, we will finish off with 1948. Next time, we’ll look at the latter part of March, 1949, but until then you can catch up on what was happening around here in 1896 (and there were some St. Paddy’s Day fireworks in that year…). Thank you for reading!