By Terry Hughes
It’s 1939 and Canada which had just shaken its colonial bonds with Great Britain was about to embark on a six-year journey. It would make us a nation that would gain the respect of the world for our contribution during the Second World War. For a nation of a little over ten million we would contribute over a million participants to this conflict and end up with the third largest navy, the fourth largest air force and fifth largest army on the planet. We would serve as the birthplace for America’s CIA known at that time as the OSS, train ten of thousands to fly in the Commonwealth Training Program and act as a clearing house for aircraft headed to Great Britain coming from a neutral United States until Pearl Harbour.
A war cannot be won without the home front and an industrial base to support it. Like a lot of towns and cities in eastern Canada, Welland had the beginnings of a strong industrial base that had started when Byron “Byde” McCormick had initiated growth here in the early 1900s and promoted us with the slogan, “Watch Welland Grow!”. Add a healthy manpower base from across Europe before this conflict and you have a community ready to respond to this effort. Along with expanding the size of factories like Atlas Steels, it was at this time that we see government funding for wartime housing south of Lincoln Street in both Welland and Crowland.
Maps of the city show industrial development on the east side of the city along the CNR tracks and “French Town”but predominantly in Crowland Township. And every facility used coal, coke and a few natural gas as energy sources in manufacturing. With the war in progress production increased significantly particularly when items were made for military purposes. It was at this time that air pollution became part of daily living. All the factories were producing smoke but winning the war was more important.
With the end of hostilities and a temporary shift to peacetime needs the economy picked up again. Smoke emissions were still tolerated but were becoming an irritant. But a new pollution source came with the rapid increase in the number of cars.
Our first picture (all three photos are from Celebrating 150 Years, Walking Through Welland) taken from the Broadway lift bridge shows a heavy blanket of smoke moving to the north-east while smoke plumes rise from the ovens of the Union Carbide. In the second aerial photo smoke can be seen from all of the chimneys heading in an easterly path towards the Maple Leaf / Mathew School areas. Until the cessation of production at Union Carbide and Page Hersey, they remained a major source of pollution. Even the last photo shows a couple standing along the canal looking at the smoke plumes coming from the furnaces at the Carbide in the 1970s.
Today our industries along with the coal-fired furnaces in our homes are just a memory and with their demise, the air pollution they produced.
Next Column: Making Welland Feel Good About Itself.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)