Wartime Victory Gardens were popular food source - except in Waterloo region
Waterloo region's robust farming industry helped feed local families
While beautiful public gardens are not unheard of today, in the past, some gardens served a higher purpose than just looking lovely.
Victory Gardens were part of the war effort during the Second World War to help reduce pressure on food production in several countries.
But a robust economy here in Waterloo region meant the public plots of vegetable, fruit and herbs weren't as necessary as in other areas.
"We've probably got more community gardens now than there were during the war," Kitchener historian Rych Mills said.
Gardens bound the nation
In a way, the gardens have bound the nation.
The Canadian Pacific Railway started planting flower beds around their newly built train stations in the late 1800s, and they spread across the country as a nationally organized initiative. Many of the gardens existed until the advent of the automobile when they were torn up to build parking lots.
During wartime, the flower beds were converted into small food-production gardens known as "Victory Gardens."
During the Second World War, government-mandated Victory Gardens were popular in Great Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada.
Between 1939 and 1945, vegetables, fruits and herbs were planted at private residences and in public parks as a patriotic duty on the home front.
In England, for instance, where the need for food was most critical, unused land was turned into gardens and even sports fields were commandeered and used to graze livestock before slaughter.
Local farming met need
So, why weren't Victory Gardens a big part of life in this area?
"Victory Gardens in England [were] a huge thing and I think in all of the countries involved in the war, simply because they could not import their food," Mills said. "Because we had such a wonderful farming area around here – probably the second best land in all of Ontario for farming and producing – there was no need to create government-run Victory Gardens."
What was then Waterloo County had a robust and diversified manufacturing sector that boomed during the war as local industry built parts for the war machine with its rubber, felt and leather companies.
Land mines and bombs were also made here, and all those factory jobs required labour.
We've probably got more community gardens now than there were during the war.- Kitchener historian Rych Mills
Hundreds of workers left area farms in the outlying regions and came into the cities to get well-paying jobs, but even this agrarian exodus didn't hamper food production, Mills said.
"What's amazing is that even though these farms had lost so many people, their production increased during the period of the war, probably because of higher prices, new production techniques, and focussing on one or two crops," Mills said.
Relatively few people in Waterloo region went hungry during the Second World War, Mills noted. While the government did encourage people to grow food in their backyards, there were no government-initiated gardens planted in Victoria or Breithaupt parks.
"The economy was great," Mills said. "When men and women came back from the war, they were staggered by the changes in the city. Setting aside the fact that people lost loved ones, the war gave Kitchener-Waterloo an impetus that lasted for decades."