Opening New Caledonia - Opening New Caledonia - Timeline 1939
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1939

As reports of military aggression in Europe reached Prince George, citizens became defense-minded that spring. The idea of forming a militia was discussed and promoted with military officials. A survey was taken in the City and district to determine interest, and more than 100 young men between 18 and 35 turned out for an organizational meeting. By June, the Department of National Defense put out a call for recruits to train for the City's militia unit. The first unit was designated the "Second Searchlight Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, Coast Defenses." The world went to war on September 1, 1939. With training completed, the first militia formed on September 5 under the command of Lieutenant W. H. Crocker. The new recruits expected to be moved to Prince Rupert to guard that coastal city on a special wartime assignment. At the same time, Prince George continued to be guarded by regular militia troops - the B.C. Dragoons - deployed from their headquarters in Kelowna. Their duty in Prince George was to maintain the security of communications and transportation links like the bridge over the Fraser River.

When Canada declared war on September 10, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that there would be no need for conscription or draft. In the House of Commons, he stated, "The present government believes that conscription of men for overseas service will not be a necessary or an effective step. No such measure will be introduced by the present administration. We have full faith in the readiness of Canadian men and women to put forth every effort in their power to preserve and defend free institutions, and in particular to resist aggression on the part of a tyrannical regime which aims at the domination of the world by force." The message resonated with the citizens of Prince George, numbering then only about 3,000 people. Men turned out to enlist even before the rifles and uniforms arrived.

Industrial Arts and Home Economics were new subjects introduced during the 1939-1940 school year. At the Connaught School, Miss Walker taught young girls home management, decorating, cooking and needlecraft. Mr. Mathews taught the boys draughting and wood and metal work, as well as electric wiring. In that first year, the craftsmanship was considered of such a quality that the school held an open house to show off the students' work.

The Prince George Symphony Orchestra was organized in August by a man of considerable musical talent - A. Manzinoja. A prolific composer with more than 400 original pieces to his credit, he attracted a group of enthusiastic musicians. After four months of diligent practice, they considered themselves ready for a public performance. The debut for the Prince George Symphony Orchestra occurred December 1 at the Princess Theatre. They played to a capacity crowd of over 200 people. With Canada at war, the rendition of the national anthem was particularly stirring. Most of the program incorporated patriotic pieces and marches. Following their success, the orchestra commenced another four months of rehearsal before their next performance.

The City purchased the Ritts-Keifer Hall at 434 George Street to turn it into a fire hall. Fire Chief D. G. Fraser and his men moved in after renovations were completed at the end of November. Double doors were installed facing onto George Street, and also at the rear of the building opening out to the alley. It was then possible to drive in from either side. At the rear, builders constructed a thirty-two foot hose-drying tower. During winter months, the heat of the building dried the hoses to ready them for their next use. Fire fighting equipment of the day included a motorized truck and a chemical wagon, two hand hose reels and two chemical tank reels. Upstairs, the former dance hall was converted into a gymnasium and dressing rooms.

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