The first item to be put into the restricted category was sugar. Beginning late January 1942, each person was allowed 12 ounces per week. By May it was down to 8 ounces and tea and coffee were also on the shortage list. Consumers were asked to cut tea consumption by ½ and coffee by ¼. Shortly thereafter coupon rationing for the above foods was introduced. Not only households were obliged to comply – restaurants and other places serving food also had to abide by the new limits.
Householders filled out applications and then waited for their ration books, which were mailed out across Canada on Monday 31 August 1942. Each book contained not only coupons for tea, coffee, and sugar, but also spare ones in the likelihood that other commodities would be placed under control. Butter was added to the list in December with each person being limited to ½ pound per week.
Islanders were slow to apply for their books. An article published in a local paper was titled “Local Ration Office Has its Troubles.” According to M. F. Graves, the Rationing Officer for PEI, “there are still a great many people just beginning to realize that they must possess a card before they can obtain sugar, tea or coffee.”
In November 1942, it was announced that Summerside would have its own rationing board. With headquarters in the Town Hall, it was to be headed by Mayor Lidstone with Neil Durant, the Town Clerk as secretary-treasurer. Ration Board No.C-3 began functioning at the end of January 1943 with J. M. Nicholson in charge. He was referred to as a retired businessman “who contributes his services purely as a part of his war effort.” The office opened just before the second ration book was issued. This time the books were to be given out via distribution centres.
The new ration book was described in the press as having 17 pages with sheets of green, pink, orchid, buff and grey paper. Each coupon resembled a stamp and would have a small maple leaf in every corner. An article noted if all the books for Canada were piled singly they would reach 11 miles. When later ration books were released, the design of the stamps changed.
As the first day of distribution approached –19 February 1943 – more details about the books were revealed. People were apprised that the serial number from the front cover of Ration Book No.1 was to be an individual’s identification for the duration of the war. These original books had to be shown before the second one could be issued. Members of the armed forces could apply for ration books while they were on leave or after discharge. Service personnel could also apply for liquor rations despite provincial prohibition.
The new books would be available over nine days at the Town Hall, which was also the distribution centre for Wilmot and St. Eleanors. The Board in Summerside was in charge of 11 distribution points in eastern Prince County. At the end of the distribution campaign, 6,829 books had been issued in Summerside. The success of the venture was credited to “the public spirited citizens who make up these Boards and on the many volunteer workers who gave so generously of their time in handling the job.”
Ration Book No.2 had dates printed on the back of every stamp, the first to become due 6 March 1943. The first ration book expired 31 March. The used ration coupons became the responsibility of banks across Canada. They were charged with “acting as an agent of the Ration Administration, Wartime Prices and Trade Board, under carefully defined regulations.”
The ration book contained an application for canning and preserving that had to be sent to local boards before 15 April. Extra sugar for the important household task of making jams and pickles was provided if an application was submitted.
Meat was the next food item to be controlled. A ration of two pounds per person per week became effective in May. Consumers needed to present small blue tokens to receive the rationed portion from a meat dealer. On 4 May “Meatless Tuesday” for public eating-places was introduced. Anyone keeping meat in a cold storage locker had to declare it by 30 June. On top of these controls, it became mandatory for butchers to follow new rules for cutting meat.
It wasn’t long before Ration Book No.3 was introduced, overlapping with the second book, which was to expire 31 December 1943. Book 3 was distributed from 25-28 August. Mr. Nicholson who had replaced the late Neil Durant as secretary of the local board had J. A. O’Holloran as his assistant. They were helped by a large number of local women.
Just two days after the distribution, more items were added to the list – maple syrup products, table syrups, molasses, apple or honey butter, and canned fruits. On 23 August, 1943 jams, jellies, marmalades, and honey were put in the rationed category. By October evaporated milk was just for priority use.
In November 1942, when the Summerside ration office opened, J. M. Nicholson’s assistant was named in the press as Mrs. A. M. Douglas. No doubt they were kept busy answering questions and solving problems. The government alleviated some of the confusion about the coupons by publishing a weekly “Ration News” in newspapers across Canada. The first time the series appeared in the Summerside Journal was on 18 March 1943. The government also developed the “Consumer’s Ration Coupon Calendar” to keep householders aware of which coupons became valid or expired on certain dates.
An amendment in November 1943 to the Wartime Prices and Trade Board ration order legalized the exchange of rationed foods. Small quantities could be traded among neighbours, something that probably had been going on undetected for quite some time.
On 17 January 1944, canned salmon made the ration list and on 1 July 1944, canned blueberries, blueberry pie filling, and canned crabapples were added. At some point cheese was also included.
Still more books were issued. Book No. 4 came into use 13 April 1944 and Book No.5 was distributed between 14-21 of October the same year. The latter was to cover a period of fifty weeks, the longest of any issue. Books 3 and 4 expired 31 December 1944.
Late in 1944, sugar rationing became even more stringent. An article in the press revealed the need for sugar in the production of shells and bombs and molasses for synthetic rubber. Molasses was a special food item for Maritimers. They had a long tradition of slathering it on bread and there was consternation when it first became short in 1943. A newspaper article written by the wife of an Air Force member in Summerside described her puzzlement and delight over the product.
Rationing continued after the war ended. Meat, which had been taken off the list in February 1944, was back on in September 1945. The need for an increased supply for devastated Europe was urgent. An editorial in the Journal stated – "Paradoxical as it may appear, peace has created a greater food problem than there was at any time during the war."
The last Ration Book was issued in September 1946.
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