World War II was a total war, which meant that everyone, including civilians, was affected by the conflict. Many Canadians served overseas, and those at home went in droves to new wartime industries. However, Canadians felt the effects of war in other ways as well. Every Canadian, regardless if they worked in a wartime industry or had a loved one overseas, was impacted by rationing. During the war, supplies like food, fabric, metals, and rubber, were in high demand for war material or feeding soldiers and allies. For example, gasoline was rationed and the purchase of gasoline required coupons from the ration booklet. This blog series will focus on rationed goods, how Canadians supplemented their personal food sources, and how Canada organized supplies to provide relief to their allies.
As the war progressed, food and other daily necessities became less available. Beginning in 1942 food rationing was forced upon Canadians. It began with sugar, but soon also included coffee, tea, meat, butter, and alcohol. People came up with and were encouraged to use alternatives for rationed products. For example, people were encouraged to use margarine instead of butter. Instead of meat, Canadians used other sources of protein in their meals, including beans and eggs. Though rationing was introduced, many, including Bev Falconer from Powell River, remember that there were no serious shortages. However, Ruth Allan remembers that when rationing was introduced she was caught off guard and was running very low on a number of staples that became rationed. Allan also reported that families were only allowed 2 oz. of tea (10-24 cups of tea) and 3 oz. of coffee per person per month.
Rationing certainly affected all Canadians, and some were more impacted than others. However, there were not serious widespread shortages of necessary foodstuffs. Shortages were also allayed through careful consumption and the use of alternatives. Actually, after the years of the Depression, many Canadians were eating better during the rationed years of the war than they were before. The ration system also ensured that foodstuffs were more equally distributed throughout the population.
Books of ration coupons were given to each family. Stamps or coupons were colour-coded and numbered depending on the item for which they were designated. At the back of the booklet there were undesignated coupons, and this had Canadians concerned that new items would soon be added to the ration list. In addition to the coupons, for meat rations there were also small blue circular tokens. These were used as “change” if someone purchased a smaller portion of meat than the ration coupon designated. The token could be used later to receive another portion of meat.
Though there were laws in place to ensure booklets were only used for the individual or family they were assigned, coupons often changed hands as they were given and traded away. Giving unneeded coupons to neighbours was common during rationed periods. Frank Haslam from Powell River recalls that their next-door neighbours did not use much butter, so they gave their extra butter coupons to Frank’s family. Trading ration coupons was also common. People who didn’t drink would give or trade way liquor coupons to those who did. Ruth Allan remembers that people who did drink alcohol often traded coffee or tea coupons with those who did not need their liquor coupons.