OPINION: Sarnians were grave, confused just before WW2 broke out

Phil Egan

Seventy-eight years ago this week the subject of war was on the lips of everyone in Sarnia.

The crisis in Europe seemed to be the only subject of conversation among family, friends, and even strangers on the street, the Canadian Observer reported in its Aug. 24, 1939 edition.

“What do you think of it?” was a question asked all across the city, and residents were bewildered as to how to answer it, the paper reported.

One day prior to the article appearing on city streets Germany and the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The non-aggression treaty between the two nations was widely viewed as a prelude to war.

In preparing the article on the city’s mood, the paper interviewed various downtown grocers. It noted that, despite the widespread fear of war breaking out, there had been no rush to hoard food.

City housewives, who handled “90% of the family shopping” and knew food prices would rise in the event of war, were nevertheless not yet stocking up.

Most people in Canada believed the nation had lots of food, but the grocers felt most people didn’t realize the cost of imported foods and goods would likely rise.

The situation in Europe caused people on the street to “seem graver than usual,” and the newspaper said most residents as displayed a “greater degree of seriousness about the present situation than there was ever concerning the crisis of last September.”

The writer was referring to the Munich Agreement, which had been hailed by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as an agreement that avoided war and heralded “peace in our time.”

History has shown that act of appeasement by the major European powers emboldened Adolf Hitler.

One week after the Canadian Observer article appeared, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War was underway.