Way back in the day we used to get - beamed into the Wordwide Headquarters from the Great White North - the CBC. Now for those of you who are not hip and young and into abbreviations that is the Canadian Broadcasting Company. And one day as I was flipping channels there was some sort of show on the CBC geared towards teens, and the reporter was out and about asking Canadian teenagers what city they would most and least like to live in. Now, the cities they wanted to live in were pretty varied - Toronto, Vancouver, there was even an Edmonton in there (for God's sake why I don't know) - but one city came up over and over on the list of places the Canadian youth would not want to live: Winnipeg.
Situated at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, Winnipeg has always been a location that has been more strategic and effective than it is good. While the city is pleasant enough, it is mostly flat farm county around the area, and it is noted for it frigid, windswept qualities. Not the kind of place that gets a great rap as being a place where people want to go. So when I heard that on February 19, 1942 the leaders and citizens of Winnipeg held an event called "If Day" that simulated a Nazi invasion of the city, I thought "That was a waste of time."
If Day was really just a stunt to raise war awareness and help sell war bonds during World War II. And in that way it was spectacularly successful, so much so that many other Canadian cities and locations held similar events. Over eleventy billion dollars worth of war bonds were sold (that is an estimated amount, or course) and everyone had a nice time. But there is one problem. One major problem. Everybody knows that the Nazis would never invade Winnipeg.
If the Canadians don't really want to be there all that much - or at least so it seems - what would make one think that the Nazis would? There is no reason why they would expend the time and resources to take the city. Why would they? To cut off all that American commerce flowing north from Pembina? To float lazily down the Red River of the North in the finest of German innertubes? For that Golden Boy statue on top of the Manitoba capitol? No. For none of the above. The Nazis would take Toronto because it is Toronto, Ottawa because it is the capital, maybe Montreal for the baguettes, Calgary for the oil for sure, and I would guess Vancouver for the port. And the Canucks. But Winnipeg? Really? No. They wouldn't waste their time.
The Germans were pretty smart. In early 1942 they were racing into the Soviet Union at a pretty rapid rate, and hadn't yet learned about how awful it is to invade cold, flat, agricultural areas in the middle of huge continents, but I still don't think they would have made a move on Winnipeg. I am sure that the Luftwaffe would have dropped some bombs on the city on its way past, but I am not thinking that there would have been a large scale invasion of the city by German troops.
"But what if the Nazis took the country and set up a new government there? Wouldn't If Day have been a good preparedness activity for that?" I can hear no one asking. I suppose that you can make that point, but I wouldn't. I don't think that Canada was ever in danger of being invaded by the Germans. The Japanese maybe, since they did invade Alaska and had this hard on for conquering the Pacific Ocean, but the Germans didn't care about Canada. Just like they don't really care about it today.
What the folks in Winnipeg should have been preparing for was an invasion by America. I am sure that the United States would be happy to have Winnipeg. Hell, we would be happy to have all of southern Manitoba. They could have made everyone listen to Brooklyn Dodger games and put up posters of Uncle Sam all over the place. That would have been a more productive use of their time and resources. Then again, so would have been building a wall to the north to keep out the cold Arctic air or installing some hills around town. Instead they rounded up their own leaders and wrote the newspaper in German. Oh silly Winnipeg.