An aging photograph in a scrapbook kept by Connie Filmer

Remembrance: Nanaimo citizens celebrated surrender

NANAIMO – Pit head lit on fire to mark war victory caught coal slag and sent smoke over harbour for years.

The Japanese had accepted surrender terms, and at the Nanaimo police station, the radio had been kept wide open, as a crowd of people listening at the doors waited for the formal declarations.

The Imperial Laundry, local mills and boards in the harbor were minutes ahead of the official signal – an air raid siren at the police detachment that signaled victory. Celebration was spontaneous at 4:15 p.m., Aug. 14, 1945, the Nanaimo Free Press reported.

Stores were emptied, automobile horns blared, people cheered, business suspended immediately and young people “snake danced” around Commercial Street. Everybody was “hopping happily around, grinning and joyous.”

After six years of war, Nanaimo and the rest of the country were celebrating a second victory. Victory Europe happened several months before in May.

There wasn’t a family who didn’t have someone involved in war, according to Brian McFadden, vice-president at the Vancouver Island Military Museum, who said one in 10 Canadians were in uniform and those not in the war, were at home collecting food, writing to troops overseas or collecting scrap metal.

It was a relief when the war was over and surrender documents were signed, McFadden said.

“They just poured out of offices. Work stopped … because no one could think of anything other than, my God, we had four or five years of war and all of a sudden it’s no more. It’s over. I can go back to living a normal life,” he said.

For more than a week, the newspaper was full of Victory Japan celebration stories. There were dances and a parade, the Cedar Women’s Institute made blackberry jam for Great Britain, and there were thanksgiving services for victory.  Nanaimo Community Archive photos show Spencer’s, a chain department store, took part with V-J window displays with signs of “Thank God for Victory” and “Peace, long years of suffering over at last” with costumed mannequins, such as a samurai warrior.

Christine Meutzner, archives manager, said two windows devoted to victory in Japan was a big deal because it hit home.

“That was a genuine fear that the Japanese were going to attack,” she said.

She also said the windows show what people here understood of the Japanese culture then, harks back to older stereotypes and has nothing to do with modern Japan.

On Sept. 12 the Gyro Club held its total victory celebration, reviving an annual picnic that had been abandoned during the war years. More than 2,000 school-aged children got a half-holiday to participate and a number turned out looking like  “men from mars” thanks to respirators now longer needed and given to them as souvenirs of the war, said a Nanaimo Free Press article. In the evening, people watched from Dallas Square as a giant victory torch was lit.

With permission of Canadian Colliery Ltd, an 85-foot high coal mine pit head on the southern tip of Protection Island went up in flames. The Nanaimo Free Press said the pit head ranked second only to the historical Bastion as a distinctive Nanaimo landmark.

The burning, however didn’t stop after the celebratory day. The newspaper reported more than a week later that the structure had crashed into a burning heap over an abandoned shaft and was smoldering in a slag pile. A historical timeline on the city website says the tailings fire sent smoke over the harbour for several years.

The Japanese had accepted surrender terms, and at the Nanaimo police station, the radio had been kept wide open, as a crowd of people listening at the doors waited for the formal declarations.

The Imperial Laundry, local mills and boards in the harbor were minutes ahead of the official signal – an air raid siren at the police detachment that signaled victory. Celebration was spontaneous at 4:15 p.m., Aug. 14, 1945, the Nanaimo Free Press reported.

Stores were emptied, automobile horns blared, people cheered, business suspended immediately and young people “snake danced” around Commercial Street. Everybody was “hopping happily around, grinning and joyous.”

After six years of war, Nanaimo and the rest of the country were celebrating a second victory. Victory Europe happened several months before in May.

There wasn’t a family who didn’t have someone involved in war, according to Brian McFadden, vice-president at the Vancouver Island Military Museum, who said one in 10 Canadians were in uniform and those not in the war, were at home collecting food, writing to troops overseas or collecting scrap metal.

It was a relief when the war was over and surrender documents were signed, McFadden said.

“They just poured out of offices. Work stopped … because no one could think of anything other than, my God, we had four or five years of war and all of a sudden it’s no more. It’s over. I can go back to living a normal life,” he said.

For more than a week, the newspaper was full of Victory Japan celebration stories. There were dances and a parade, the Cedar Women’s Institute made blackberry jam for Great Britain, and there were thanksgiving services for victory.  Nanaimo Community Archive photos show Spencer’s, a chain department store, took part with V-J window displays with signs of “Thank God for Victory” and “Peace, long years of suffering over at last” with costumed mannequins, such as a samurai warrior.

Christine Meutzner, archives manager, said two windows devoted to victory in Japan was a big deal because it hit home.

“That was a genuine fear that the Japanese were going to attack,” she said.

She also said the windows show what people here understood of the Japanese culture then, harks back to older stereotypes and has nothing to do with modern Japan.

On Sept. 12 the Gyro Club held its total victory celebration, reviving an annual picnic that had been abandoned during the war years. More than 2,000 school-aged children got a half-holiday to participate and a number turned out looking like  “men from mars” thanks to respirators now longer needed and given to them as souvenirs of the war, said a Nanaimo Free Press article. In the evening, people watched from Dallas Square as a giant victory torch was lit.

With permission of Canadian Colliery Ltd, an 85-foot high coal mine pit head on the southern tip of Protection Island went up in flames. The Nanaimo Free Press said the pit head ranked second only to the historical Bastion as a distinctive Nanaimo landmark.

The burning, however didn’t stop after the celebratory day. The newspaper reported more than a week later that the structure had crashed into a burning heap over an abandoned shaft and was smoldering in a slag pile. A historical timeline on the city website says the tailings fire sent smoke over the harbour for several years.

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