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WWII soldiers return to Canada

War is over, victory savoured. Now what to do with jobless soldiers streaming home? And how to get women out of the factory and back to the hearth? Such postwar fears evaporated as the economy boomed, a surge of immigrants transformed an increasingly confident nation and the social safety net began to take shape. In what's now viewed as a golden age, modern Canada was born.

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It's a grand day as CBC Radio waits with eager wives, friends and families for a troop train to arrive in Toronto. After begging listeners to keep sending cigarettes to the soldiers still overseas, the radio show host describes the "great crowd" and the band waiting to play. Cheers erupt when the train finally pulls in and the host can't stop himself from shouting "Hurrah!"

After the hugs and kisses, a few soldiers answer questions. Their low-key answers are in contrast to the clamour around them. "Just go home and have a beer," is one soldier's plan. The soldiers politely turn down the reporter's offer of ice cream - most ate their fill on the train from Halifax. 
• In the months before and after the end of the war, scenes like this were repeated at train stations and ports across Canada. Local officials and volunteer agencies organized civic welcome ceremonies. Citizens were urged to give every soldier a hero's welcome and many did, often armed with apple pies and tubs of ice cream.

• As mentioned in this clip, soldiers weren't discharged immediately but given a 30-day furlough. They then reported back for processing, either a discharge or voluntary redeployment to the Pacific war theatre or to occupied Europe.

• In their 1995 book Victory 1945: Canadians from War to Peace, historians Desmond Morton and Jack Granatstein say some cities welcomed soldiers home better than others. Halifax, which saw ship after ship arrive at its docks for a year, was known for its "shabby welcome," they wrote. In other cities, including Windsor, Ont., the reception for locally based regiments was so warm that soldiers had to fight through adoring crowds to get off the train.

• Toronto boasted the largest and most efficient discharge depot. Volunteers were on hand to give them a lift to lodgings, to help them find a place to stay, to offer them cigarettes and to help soldiers call home. Each soldier was allowed to make a call from one of about 10 phone booths at the station on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. The Ontario government paid for long distance calls anywhere in North America.

• In July 1945, CBC broadcaster John Fisher talked of the extraordinary work of the Toronto Volunteer Reception Committee. He described phone operators going to great lengths to track down soldiers' mothers and wives. Also, of volunteers driving one man home and helping him talk his wife out of divorcing him. To hear the clip, go to 'Step this way, soldier.

• Despite the warm welcomes, there was a strong fear in 1945 that the trainloads of young jobless men would translate into an instant crime wave. According to the authors of Victory: 1945, it was more perception than reality. The number of indictable offences in Canada did show a small spike between 1945 and 1946 but, a year later, had dropped to pre-1945 levels.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Sept. 1, 1944
Reporter: Joe Keenan
Duration: 14:23

Last updated: September 16, 2013

Page consulted on September 3, 2014

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