On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Britain
declared war on the Nazis. Canada follow suit on September
10. By war's end, 78,000 men and 4,500 women would enter
the forces from Alberta. John Dougan, a Military Cross winner
with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, cited the motivation of
many as "an opportunity to get out of the terrible
trap in which they found themselves" due to the Great
Depression. Fifty-four men and one woman from the hamlet
of Whitecourt joined in the stream of enlistees, even though
this area fared so well during the economic downturn that
its population had increased during the time in question.
The bravery of the recruits was apparent in that most were
personally acquainted with townsfolk who had fought in WWI
and thus had no romantic notions about what lay ahead. Historian
Ric Dolphin writes "there was scarcely an Albertan
alive who was unaware of the terrible cost of the first
victory against Germany 21 years ago".
Of the thirty-six Whitecourt residents who signed up for
WWI, five were killed or missing in action. John Torgerson
is described in Graham's Salute to the Pioneers as being
seriously wounded. Doc Wellwood never recovered from the
poison gas he had inhaled and died in the 1920's.
In addition to physical wounds, many suffered psychologically
from their service. Sid Skogman was shell-shocked to the
point that he eventually had to be escorted to Ponoka for
lifetime hospitalization. The Whitecourt Honour Roll for
WWI and WII veterans can be found on the Internet at www.whitecourtweb.com/seniors/honour_roll.htm
John Dougan goes on to state that the quality of the recruits
was high as "we'd all had experience back in Alberta
in getting acquainted with land and moving through land
and moving through the country." Additionally, farming
and logging were physical work, so that "these people
who went into the battalions during the war were a pretty
tough and pretty reliable bunch".
In the Italian campaign, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, along
with the Calgary Tanks and Seaforth Highlanders, played
a pivotal role, particularly in the fierce battle for Ortona.
The Germans referred to this Ortona as Little Stalingrad,
such was the intensity of the fighting. Ted Byfield writes
in Alberta in the 20th Century that "Canadian soldiers
regained the reputation as shock troops that their fathers
won in the Great War. 'If there really are Canadians we
will have to adopt other measures,' said a German staff
officer in Italy. 'For it will be a truly major operation'.
Back in Whitecourt, civilians rallied to the support of
the troops in many ways, even while the town itself underwent
no dramatic changes. In 1939 Ralph and Mollie Hawes, who
was the niece of Whitecourt's first teacher Gertrude Atkinson,
bought the livery barn and draying business from Herb Wilson
and Mr. Olson. Ralph sold out in the early 40's and joined
up to go overseas. Roy Reeves bought the business and would
go on to purchase the Whitecourt Hotel in a few years,.
Whitecourt Lumber expanded its operations in 1940 when
Matt Roosa became a partner in the firm. Unfortunately,
William Torgerson did not have long to enjoy this association.
He died in 1942. Pioneer Jerry Graham had described the
senior Torgerson as someone who might be considered the
Father of Whitecourt by 1920, when Graham had arrived in
Whitecourt. Graham goes on to say Torgerson was "a
'touch' and one can only hope his abiding faith in humanity
was not misplaced, although he would not have survived long
as Credit Manager for any corporation."
Frank Ogden came to town in 1942 as the accountant for
Whitecourt Lumber. He was later instrumental in the formation
of the Whitecourt Lions and Golf Clubs. Frank, along with
his wife, Lies, was also active in many other community
A small coal-mining business was carried out by Dick Pritchard
and son. The activity was located along the Athabasca just
east of Whitecourt. Coal was delivered to Whitecourt and
On April 19, 1940 the Athabasca River once again overflowed
its banks due to an ice jam. In the tragic flood of '27,
Chris Presthlien and his wife and four children had drowned
on the Whitecourt Flats. This time an emergency situation
had a happier ending. Bertha Karlzen, who would later remarry,
had given birth the night before the flood hit. The rapidly
rising water forced Mr. Karlzen, with her newborn and two
other children, up to the attic bedroom. There they watched
the water climb halfway up the legs of the bed they were
huddled on. A rescue party in a horse drawn boat came to
their aid. The team, led by Ralph Hawes, took the family
to higher ground at Oskar and Grace Kallbom's.
Across the road from the Karlzen's those in the Frank
Wagoner homestead were in a similar predicament. Leo and
Harold Baxter took a high wheeled wagon and team down a
flooded road to help this family to safety. Leo Baxter writes
"the water was well up in the wagon box, but the Wagoners
did not mind that!".
Irene Stewart, the District Nurse, and Raymond Wagoner
had also been on their way to Karlzen's. They had to abandon
their horses, and Irene determinedly pulled her way forward
along a barb wire fence, half swimming and half walking.
It was only when she became very cut and scratched that
Raymond could persuade her that Bertha Karlzen would be
okay with her newborn.
In 1943, yet another flood was experienced. This time the
townspeople were hit. Water ran right down Main Street and
washed the train track right up against the station platform.
A valiant effort got the train out of town before it was
swamped. As Fred Harrison put it "we got the passenger
train out before the track washed out, by the section men
going ahead in water up to their waist, pushing logs and
lumber off the rails ahead of the train."
In the '40's the government of the hamlet was still administered
through the Department of Municipal Affairs in Edmonton.
Without adequate representation, Whitecourt was left to
do many of its own improvements. Grading the streets was
done by volunteers on donated 'cats'. Western Lumber also
had a fire engine and hose at the mill that was made available
to the hamlet's volunteer firemen. Nine street lights were
set up and powered by the mill plant.
In 1943 Western received a contract to build an electric
plant on the hill. It was designed to be big enough to power
the lights for an airplane landing strip. However when the
airstrip failed to materialize, Western formed a subsidiary
to purchase the excess power and offer it for sale to more
Whitecourt householders. The electricity was used mainly
for lighting, with coal and wood stoves still sufficing
for heat. Plumbing was such that the modern Whitecourt resident
should think twice when complaining about the cold weather
In 1943 Laura Attreaux took over for Irene Stewart as District
Nurse and displayed similar dedication to the wellbeing
of her charges. Fred Harrison related that when a farmer
kicked by a mule took a turn for the worse, a trip to Edmonton
became necessary. Laura accompanied the patient to meet
an ambulance. When snow blocked the car in Sanguodo, there
was an attempt made to order a special train to continue
the trip. When this failed, a railway crew was tracked down
and Laura helped pack hot water bottles around the injured
man to continue on for another 60 miles to meet the ambulance
via railway push car and speeder.
On the home political front, there had been a provincial
election in 1940. Premier William Aberhart and the Social
Credit government were predicted to lose. They party had
many small successes, but were deemed to have lost out on
the bigger issue of monetary reform. However, the Socreds
won 43 per cent of the vote, which with its heavy rural
representation and a split opposition allowed it to form
a safe majority government of 36 seats.
In the same year, the newly re-elected federal government
of William Lyon Mackenzie King broke a promise to let the
'Alberta experiment' proceed, and refused to grant a charter
to the provincial bank that Social Credit had promised during
its election campaign. Journalist Steve Weatherbe wrote
that "the federal government said that the chartering
of a provincial bank would be beyond the powers of Parliament,
a patent falsity that even the Liberal Edmonton Bulletin
denounced". Nonetheless, one more attempt to decentralize
power was stymied by the feds.
Aberhart and other social crediters were staunch backers
of the war on Nazism. Any form of totalitarianism, whether
it be fascism or communism, is anathema to social credit
philosophy. As such, federal Socreds were agitating that
Canada do more to prosecute the war at its outset. WWII
had started off with a very inactive period known as the
Phony War. However, the relative quiet didn't last. Historian
Ted Byfield writes that after the quick takeover of most
of Europe in the Nazi blitzkrieg of 1940, it was "suggested
that Social Credit had been right all along: Canada could
not remain half at war and half at peace."
Aberhart took ill and died on May 23, 1943, at the age
of 64. During his monetary reform efforts, he had been subjected
to some tough treatment by strong forces. His embittered
family refused to hold a state funeral in Alberta, and instead
had the premier buried in B.C. Acting premier Ernest Manning
took over. In short order the more radical monetary reform
ideas were put on the back burner. Manning negotiated with
New York securities dealers and central Canadian creditors
to arrange to pay off the provincial debt. The annual cost
to service and retire the debt would be 14.5 per cent of
the provincial budget, a substantial improvement on the
47 per cent the first Social Credit government had faced
when attaining power.
The Whitecourt soldiers slowly returned to a town that
was little changed on the outside. Although Germany surrendered
on May 8, 1945, it took a while to restore order and set
up the logistics to repatriate the Canadian soldiers. It
wasn't until early October that the bulk of the Loyal Eddies,
or Loyal Edmonton Regiment came home. 50,000 people, or
half of the population of the city turned out to greet the
The shame over how WWI veterans had been dealt with helped
spur better treatment for the returning WWII soldiers. As
reiterated in last month's history, some WWI Vets had their
pensions cut off during the Great Depression and it was
not unusual for men who had made great sacrifices for the
country to live and die in poverty. The Social Credit government
had been planning since 1943 on "Alberta's Post-War
and Reconstruction Projects and Problems". There was
a list of development projects drawn up that included roads,
forests, schools, oil, coal and agriculture. The Veteran's
Land Act through Ottawa allowed veterans to set up a farm
or acquire a home.
With the renegotiated debt, and astute governance, the
province had turned the corner on its debt problem of the
30's. What is more, the start of an oil boom was just around
the corner, so that Aberhart's husbandry, and Manning's
negotiations became simply the icing on the cake, once the
petrodollars began to flow. Whitecourt was about to start
its growth towards Village status, and then Town.