For the summer months, we are thrilled to present a series of blog posts by Collections Intern Rebeka Beganova. Rebeka (she/her) is a post-secondary student with a passion for research, literature, and history. Having completed an Associate of Arts Degree at Okanagan College, she is glad to be joining the MAV team during her last summer in Vernon before heading off to UBC Vancouver. There is no better way to say goodbye to her hometown than to explore its local history!

A sepia snapshot of a butter rationing form from WWII. The title of the form reads "butter declaration for the month of"
Butter declaration form used in WWII, exact year unknown. Like the canning sugar forms, they resemble our current-day tax returns.

Every so often, Vernonites may get the feeling that their city is somewhat sheltered from the goings-on of the wider world. Living in the shadow of Canada’s largest metropolises – especially Vancouver – seems to soften the blow of international events. However, some events are so large-scale that they inevitably seep into even the most secluded kitchens of our city. World War II was one such event.

The Mechanics of Rationing

On November 4, 1942, the President of the Vernon Board of Trade announced the formation of a local ration board. It was high time for this development: 32 of the 33 BC municipalities had already formed theirs. Ration laws themselves were not established immediately, and meat rationing actually began half a year later, in May of 1943. News articles throughout April mused about what the future policies would look like; each person (and baby) was estimated to receive two pounds of meat per week, and rationed meat was to include beef, pork, and “the lowly but popular sausage, in all its forms.” The BC Loggers Association was already up in arms, advocating for a greater allowance for labourers. Café proprietors rightly predicted ‘meatless days’ for their businesses.

The eventual rationing regulations were perhaps stricter than some were imagining. Ration books and coupons basically became the new currency: as such, they were treated like true treasure. It was illegal to possess a ration book belonging to someone outside your household, and retail food operators were required to open Ration Bank Accounts. Those tempted to dodge around these laws were threatened with up to two years’ imprisonment, as well as up to $5000 in fines.

A spoonful of sugar, an ounce of beef

Sugar and meat quickly became two of the most precious resources in Vernon. The prior remained on the rationing list for two years after WWII ended and for five years in total. It was possibly the hardest ingredient to limit, as evidenced by the fact that canning sugar and sugar for cooking rhubarb were subject to separate policies. Applications for canning sugar resembled our current tax return forms and surely provoked just as much stress. Icing recipes were released across Canada that minimized the use of cane and beet sugar.

Meat rationing was pushed equally as hard. The newspaper predictions from 1943 proved largely accurate in terms of the severity of meat cut-downs. 40% of Canada’s meat production was shipping overseas – but civilians were encouraged to send their food waste as well. Ads appeared in papers urging readers to “save all waste, fats & bones” because they were used in the production of explosives. Taglines like “Out of the frying pan and into the firing line” accompanied unsettling cartoons. These ads were generally produced by the Department of National War Service.

The bureaucracies and restrictions that formed in Vernon during this time demonstrate the invasive nature of large-scale war. Those hoping to lead a private life found regulatory fingers reaching into their cupboards and pantries. If our troops are fighting overseas, they said, then you have your own part to play.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Rebeka Beganova, Collections Intern