Under Construction.

1939 to 1945 - Home Front

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 affairs.

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 Greencourt.

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 winter.

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 returnees.

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.