A moment in history: Aug. 3, 1942

A moment in history: Aug. 3, 1942

· The Pulse

On this day in 1942, Edmontonians were waking up to rations of coffee and tea.

"The ever-tightening pinch of war" led to the additional restrictions, which took effect Aug. 3 across the country. Adults would be allowed up to either one ounce of tea or four ounces of coffee (but not both) per week — about enough for 12-and-a-half cups. As the article announcing the rationing notes, the tea restrictions were tighter than those in Britain, although Canadians were allowed the same amount of sugar.

Tea, coffee, and sugar were far from the only items rationed in Canada throughout the Second World War: meat, butter, dairy, and flour were also restricted. While the rationing was done partly to keep calories flowing to Canadian troops overseas, many supplies were also sent to feed Britain, which was starved by German attacks on its food imports.

The rations put a strain on a population already struggling to feed itself after the economic collapse during the 1930s. In 1941, before rationing began, a dietary survey suggested that most families in Edmonton were not getting the amount of food they needed. Mothers and teenage children often were the ones to go without.

Edmontonians dealt with the rationing orders in a variety of ways. Victory gardens were common in the city's backyards and vacant lots during the First World War, and became known as relief gardens during the Great Depression. The practice saw a resurgence during the 1940s, with more families relying on growing their own vegetables to supplement their rations. Hunting and canning also became vital. In addition, some companies, such as the Woodland Dairy in Edmonton, created cookbooks with recipes designed around a family's weekly rations.

Others turned to less-than-legal means. Black markets flourished in cities across Canada due to rationing, but they were especially prevalent in Alberta. Food was traded illegally, but the black market also gave people access to other rationed goods such as gasoline, car tires, and ammunition. In particular, Edmonton became a hotbed for illegal cigarette sales, many of them supplied by the flood of Americans coming to the city to support supply routes to Alaska and the Soviet Union. Penalties for breaking the restrictions could be harsh — an Edmonton couple was caught hoarding tea and coffee in 1942 and fined $60 (the equivalent of about $1,050 today).

With the end of the war, trade restrictions eased. Many of the victory gardens that had been an essential part of wartime life fell out of favour.

While we haven't seen rationing, supply chain disruptions have led to modern-day shortages, both in Edmonton and worldwide. This time, the leading cause is not war (although it likely plays a part) but rather the global pandemic that has affected everything from food to computer parts to medical supplies.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.