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WWII soldiers arrive home - to no home

The Story

They're calling it "Operation Kildare." Twenty-one veterans and their families this week took over the Kildare barracks in Ottawa. They moved in because they couldn't find anywhere else to live. The group's leader says they were fed up with the "red tape and procrastination of officialdom." So far, military officials are respecting squatters' rights even though the veterans' neighbour is none other than Prime Minister Mackenzie King. 

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 5, 1946
Reporter: Don Pringle
Duration: 2:31
Photo: National Archives of Canada PA-116116

Did You know?

• A Sept. 16, 1946 story in Time Magazine said the Veterans' Housing League had threatened to occupy the Kildare barracks unless Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis promised to provide housing relief. When no promise was given, the league's leader, Franklyn Edward Hanratty, "a pint-sized pepper pot who flew 48 R.C.A.F. missions," ordered the occupation.

• According to Time, on Sept. 3, 1946 at dusk "eleven vets, their wives and 18 children rumbled out to Kildare Barracks in trucks. They unloaded beds, stoves, washing machines, etc., and set up house. By midnight, the children were tucked in bed, the parents tuckered out but determined to stay put." More families followed.

• The squatters won a victory when Prime Minister King met with Mayor Lewis and asked him to survey empty military buildings in the city and free them up for veterans' housing.

• Later that year, buildings on the site were leased by the Federal Emergency Shelter Corp. to the City of Ottawa for rental housing.

• The veterans' housing crisis was not limited to Ottawa. It had started during the war, when construction labour was scarce and work was geared to the war effort. A federal agency, Wartime Housing Ltd., tried to meet the demand by building 19,000 temporary rental homes between 1941 and 1945.

• But the housing shortage only got worse as men flooded home from overseas and started families. In early 1945, the federal government declared Toronto an "emergency shelter" area, forbidding people from moving there unless they were starting a job deemed essential.

• In January 1946, hundreds of homeless veterans took control of the vacant Hotel Vancouver as a protest.

• The comedy team of Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster addressed the issue in a March 1946 episode of The Johnny Home Show on CBC Radio. The show's characters noted that some veterans had been reduced to living in garages and even chicken coops. They urged Canadians to rent out rooms to ex-servicemen and their families.

• The postwar housing crunch is directly responsible for the creation in 1946 of the Central (later changed to Canadian) Mortgage and Housing Corp. Canada had no co-ordinated building industry at the time. The CMHC got involved with everything from servicing land to building and selling homes and arranging mortgage financing. The federal agency even helped create new communities such as Ajax, Ont. The growth of suburbs was also an offshoot of the veterans' housing crisis.

• One suggested remedy for the housing crunch that never worked out was to build homes in the shape of a geodesic dome. Watch the dome's inventor, Buckminster Fuller, sing the praises of his creation in 1957.



Welcome Home, Soldier! Life in Postwar Canada more