Wednesday, April 1, 2015

World War Wednesdays: How High Were the Stakes?

World War Wednesdays: How High Were the Stakes?
     We've all heard the phrase, "If we hadn't won the war, we'd all be speaking German". It is usually said to emphasize the contributions of our veterans in the great effort to halt Nazi Germany's conquer of foreign territory. Never once have I ever doubted the significance of our veterans in this effort, but one really cannot help but wonder if this was in fact a real possibility had their efforts been unsuccessful. I've decided to compile the absolutely true, proven with documentary evidence plans that the Axis powers had for North America during the Second World War (and exclude any conspiracy theory, "what if" history) in the hopes that we can gain a better understanding of just how high the stakes really were when it came to defending our home territory.
Hitler and his generals planning strategy

     First off, I'd like to discuss the big myth: did Hitler really want to convert North Americans into a satellite population of his sea of blonde-haired, blue-eyed followers? Were we really destined to learn German and change our way of life if he conquered our country? What is essential to remember when considering this issue is that the essence of Hitler's plans when he began conquering territory and thus beginning the war was his desire to control Eastern Europe and Eurasia. His focus was on conquering the territory in the east, exterminating its existing populations, and using the land to resettle German people in order to repopulate the German race. This is evident in the way that Hitler insisted that  forces be focussed on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union for the majority of the war (to his detriment). Thus, western Europe did not even rank high on his scale of importance, much less North America. In typical Hitler fashion, he still made sure that his opinion was known on both Canada and America. He certainly had stronger feelings about America and actually held the American society in contempt, stating that the United States (which he consistently referred to as the "American Union") was "half Judaized, and the other half Negrified". While he had no love for America, there was never an actual plan to act on that, and geography played a major role in the fact that no plans for a German invasion of America were ever evident to have existed. However, there were naval expansions reportedly for targeting the Western hemisphere, as well as long-range bombers that were designed to reach American cities. Another interesting fact is that Hitler believed the North American aboriginals to be Aryans, and Nazi propagandists even went so far as to declare that Germany would return expropriated land to the native tribes.
     In regards to Canada, Hitler had even less of an interest than with the United States. In general, he associated the two countries as being one continent of America, though our natural resources were recognized. While none of these things are favorable to North America, there does not appear to be any reason to believe that Hitler had any plans for the U.S. or Canada.

    However, this does not mean that nobody had plans for this massive continent. It seems that most people associate the threat of the Second World War to be related to Germany, when Japan was the nation with actual plans for destruction. In the same way that Allied propaganda always portrayed the Japanese enemy as apelike, inhuman, and with poor eyesight, Japan believed themselves racially superior to the incapable Whites.
     The first stages of the war in the Pacific, after Japan  had bombed the Americans at Pearl Harbor, marked enormous and quick victories which made its leaders dizzy with success. Extravagant plans were created for a massive Pacific empire including the already-conquered Southeast Asian and South Pacific areas, as well as Alaska, the western provinces of Canada, the northwestern United States, and large portions of Central and South America. Thus, in reality, Japan was the only power whose included the conquest of North America, and specifically made mention of Canada.

     Geography again played a major role in how this was to be carried out, and the Japanese developed innovative methods to cause destruction in North America. One strategy that was developed was the harnessing of air currents to send paper balloons equipped with incendiary material which would be caught in North American forests to burn down the continent's natural resources. Experts estimate it took between 30 and 60 hours for a balloon bomb to reach North America's West Coast.

The first balloon was launched on November 3, 1944. Between then and April 1945, experts estimate about 1,000 of them reached North America; 284 are documented as sighted or found, many as fragments. Records uncovered in Japan after the war indicate that about 9,000 were launched. While the balloons failed to achieve their intended purpose of massive destruction, they did have one lethal consequence: on May 5, 1945, five children and local pastor Archie Mitchell's pregnant wife Elsie were killed as they played with the large paper balloon they'd spotted during a Sunday outing in the woods near Bly, Oregon—the only enemy-inflicted casualties on the U.S. mainland in the whole of World War II.
     The Canadian War Museum has an interesting display on these balloons, should you ever find yourself there.
     In conclusion, I take it as an extremely fortunate thing that Hitler never got the chance to make plans for North America. None of this information discounts the efforts made by Canadian veterans during the war, but instead demonstrates that they were so significant that we never truly had to fear an invasion here at home. These stories are just a fraction of the crazy and mind-boggling things which came of the Second World War.
         Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 30, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Last Monday in March!

Owl Nesting Boxes 

I have noticed that a popular sighting at the Backus-Page House Museum are a variety of different types of owls in the surrounding forested areas. I have completed Saturday Sighting posts on the owls we have either heard or saw here on the property. 
In completing some research on the different populations of owls I came across an Owl Nesting Box project that I think would be an excellent Summer Workshop to have here at the museum! 
No date has been set for the idea and the donation of scrap barn-board would need to be made in order to make it possible. However the nesting boxes that we could make would positively influence the owl populations in our area. 
The first nesting box plans I came across are intended for the Eastern Screech Owl - this species of owl is a common sight/sound around our area. They make a very distinct sound that I have heard early in the morning and around dusk. 
Below are the plans that I intend to use for building a nesting box for the Eastern Screech Owl. 

Another owl that desperately needs nesting boxes around our area are Barn Owls. These owls can be found in our area but a rarely spotted - sadly they are in significant decline in population. They tend to make their homes in vacant barns, church steeples, dead wood etc. all things that we seem to demolish. Therefore, many of their homes have been destroyed and they move away to find new places to nest. Barn Owls sound very different than the Eastern Screech Owl. 
Nesting boxes for Barn Owls are also very different than those intended for Eastern Screech Owls. I have looked at a variety of different styles of nesting boxes. Below is the link for the plans I believe would be the most successful. 
These plans allow for the boxes to be built on the side of a barn or the ladder of a silo. 
The link below offers a plan that would allow for a nesting box to be mounted to a tree.

Overall, I find these species of bird to be the most interesting and beautiful. I intend to attempt making each of these nesting boxes and if they are successful (which I hope they are) I will ensure posting images and the plans I followed. 

For more information on birds in general please visit the following website - I found it to be increasingly helpful when doing my research, finding nesting plans, and any information about bird species in our area.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sightings

Pileated Woodpecker 

The evidence of the Pileated Woodpecker can be seen all around the forests of the Backus-Page House Museum. Trees with large, rectangular or circular holes reveal the presence of the Pileated Woodpecker foraging for food in the surrounding area. Even if you cannot physically see the bird you may be able to hear its incessant drilling sound that echoes through the trees. 

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the larger species of woodpecker that we see along the lakeshore. This bird is about the size of a large crow. Its colouration is a mixture of black, red and white. Pileated Woodpeckers enjoy foraging for carpenter ants which usually take hold in dead trees or stumps. Sometimes these birds can create such large holes in trees that it can cause them to die or even collapse! 

For more information about the Pileated Woodpecker please visit the following website:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Foodie Friday- Celery Soup

Celery Soup
  • 9 heads of celery
  • 1 tsp salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 1 lump of sugar
  • 1/2 pint of cream
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • Cut the celery into small pieces; throw it into the water, seasoned with nutmeg, salt and sugar. Boil it till sufficiently tender; pass it through a sieve, add the stock, and simmer it for half an hour. Now put in the cream, bring it to the boiling point and serve.
Serves about 10 people.
Backus-Page House Museum

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

World War Wednesdays: WWII German Prisoners of War... In Elgin County?!

World War Wednesdays: WWII German Prisoners of War... In Elgin County?!
A soccer team of German POWs in Canada, courtesy of the Canadian War Museum
     Hold onto your hats! This week's story seems so unbelievable to me. Researching local Second World War history has unearthed some crazy stories, and this is definitely one of them!
     The vast majority of local history pursuits I undertake start from little tidbits I hear amongst people's stories (usually my grandpa), which make me want to run to the archives and get the full scoop! I remember hearing a while ago that  groups of German Prisoners of War (POWs) came to work on local farms, and that a number of these men ultimately decided that they liked it so much in Elgin County that they stayed (of course, it wasn't hard to see what a great place Elgin County is to call home!) When I was at Library and Archives Canada the other day I came across a book written by Winston St Clair which included an interesting section on how the No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal was used to house these POWs, and how this affected the surrounding area.
     In March and April 1945, after the School had been officially shut down following the end of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the potential of POW labour for Elgin County was raised frequently in the local newspapers. On 10 March, The St. Thomas Times-Journal published a story which stated that the county would be receiving such assistance. Another story in that paper from 6 June announced that POW help would be available after 15 June and that the men would be housed at the Fingal RCAF station.
     The cost to the farmer would be thirty-five cents per hour per man, in minimum groups of five. The farmer could receive the men at Fingal, or they could be delivered to the farm at a cost of forty cents per POW, per day. They would be guarded at all times and both the POWs and guards would bring their own lunches.
     Of course, this idea was not entirely welcomed since many people imagined the camp to be filled with hardened Nazis ready to rape and pillage their way through the township. In actuality, the prisoners who were sent for agricultural work were classified into security colours of "white" or "gray". These men were for the most part non-combative with no desire to escape into a strange and hostile land. Given the conditions in Germany at the time it is probable that their only desire was to return to find their loved ones alive. It is also probable that less anxiety would have been related to the topic if the media had used the proper term "POW Hostel" to describe the Fingal facility instead of "POW Camp". The Hostel was intended to host up to 150 POWs.
     On 4 July, two Army Officers and thirty-five members of the Veterans Guard reported to Fingal for guard duty, and ten days later a group of 107 prisoners arrived. By the end of the month, fifty more prisoners arrived. The farmers were generally satisfied with their work, and the only complaint was of a bureaucratic nature (the farmers were not completing the necessary paperwork). By mid-August, the guards at Fingal contained some WWII veterans and recently-trained soldiers.
     The POWs were supposed to have been returned to their permanent camp at the end of the fall harvest season, but Daily Diary records indicate that this was not entirely the case, as a prisoner was killed by a truck while performing maintenance work on the station in March of 1946. In April, the Elgin County farmers awaited news on the possibility of POW labour before deciding whether or not to plant sugar beets. They considered the POWs to be reliable and experienced workers and the Germans preferred farm work to the industrial labour which would have been required of them in the United Kingdom. In early May, the Department of Labour advertised in the papers that POWs would again be available.
     In June, the Army assumed control over the Fingal Hostel. However, before this was made official, the Department of Labour assumed control of the facility. Although the POW agricultural labour project had been successful, the United Kingdom (which actually "owned" the prisoners) requested that they be returned for industrial work. The German POWs then left Fingal in late 1946.
     To me, this story symbolizes the remarkable idea of looking past political and ideological differences and collaborating in a way that benefits everyone. The farmers received a helping hand when demand was high and help was scarce, and the prisoners were able to experience all the bounty that Elgin County had to offer. I'm sure that a number of families' stories became intertwined with these workers, and their interactions not only influenced perspectives at the time, but even up to the present day.
Credit and recognition for the material used in this blog go to Winston St. Clair, "What Place Was This?"
Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 23, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Monday!

For this Media Monday post I would like to add onto my post from last week - discussing Lake Erie. Through reading parts of Ron Brown's book - The Lake Erie Shore: Ontario's Forgotten South Coast, I came across some information regarding the various shipwrecks that can be found at the bottom of Lake Erie. I did some research and came across a few interesting websites and documents that showcase some of these shipwrecks. The first website had 4 very plain maps that listed numbers that coincided with shipwrecks described below the map. I used these maps to figure out what areas were close and researched the numbers that were close on the map.
The above link will take you to Map B - which is the closest to our area.
Numbers that I researched are as follows: 130 and 131. 
The first listing at 130 is the shipwreck - "Groton" which was a 136ft Schooner which sank on November 11th, 1897. This ship was said to be at anchor outside Talbot, Ontario and sank during a storm. All crew were rescued. 
Another interesting one was 131 - "Mountaineer" which was a 2 masted schooner that was 58ft which sank July 31, 1882 near Port Glasgow, Ontario. The ship was said to have ran aground and was smashed by gales during a storm. 

In researching these and other shipwrecks I have discovered various websites that have given me extra information. The first website is:
This will take you to shipwrecks starting with "M," at the bottom of the webpage you can navigate through different letters to discover different shipwrecks. 

Another interesting website that offered me primary resources during my research process was:
This website will take you to information regarding the Groton that I discussed briefly above. It will show you the various newspaper clippings from the year that discuss the shipwreck! 
You can navigate through this website using the search bar at the top of the webpage. 

Overall, my investigation into the shipwrecks that are close to our location has just begun. I plan to research more thoroughly and discover more about the shipwrecks in Lake Erie! 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sighting

Wild Turkeys 

Recently along the tree line in our back field we have spotted a large number of wild turkeys congregating together. Turkeys are normally spotted in flocks and together they search the ground for nuts, berries, or insects. They are a common game bird in our area, however because the Backus-Page House Museum is part of the John E. Pearce Provincial Park we have NO hunting permitted on our grounds. This allows for us to see a variety of animals in our surrounding area. 

Wild Turkeys are known for the common gobbling sound that we hear during early spring as part of the turkey's mating rituals. Males puff themselves us and strut in order to impress their female counterparts. These birds are also known for their great size which can range from 5 to 18 lbs on average. Turkeys are covered in brown feathers and have a thin neck and small head that is normally red or blue in colour. Female turkeys lay between 4 - 17 eggs, young turkeys are fed for the first few days but then are meant to fend for themselves as part of the flock.

For more information regarding Wild Turkeys please visit the following website: