Love During Wartime

Originally published on Torontoist on February 14, 2008.

star 1945-02-13 cooper florist ad

Toronto Star, February 13, 1945.

While some may scoff at modern rituals surrounding Valentine’s Day, simple expressions of love and sentimentality held a deeper meaning in Toronto towards the end of World War II. Tucked amidst the newspaper coverage of the Yalta Conference during the week of Valentine’s Day in 1945 were stories on how Torontonians expressed their admiration towards each other and loved ones fighting overseas.

A sense of nostalgia for peaceful times affected the valentine cards that were available. Top sellers were Victorian-inspired combinations of lace, paper and ribbons. The Daily Star noted that “with the opening guns of battle a revival in romanticism swept the western world resulting in the current mode for ornate Victorian furniture, nostalgic literature…hearts and flowers were the order of the day for thousands of Canadians seeking in old-fashioned sentimentality some escape from the stark realities of the wartime world.”

star 1945-02-12 simpsons ad

Toronto Star, February 12, 1945.

Those realities may have reined in a trend that a Globe and Mail editorial found disturbing. “Not so many years ago valentines were taken rather seriously. The date was made the occasion of proposals and for beginning courtships. Then there intervened a lamentable era where insulting and abusive valentines were sent anonymously to less fortunate young women, as if their plain face were a personal fault.” The paper was relieved “that era seems to be passing…Valentines are more sentimental these days…a little present, a card, or even a phone call to some one loved can never be amiss.”

The most welcome greeting was delivered to Cathie Conlin of Harvie Avenue, who received belated Christmas wishes from her brother Patrick, a POW in Japan. The cable Mrs. Conlin received was the first message to arrive in Toronto under a Red Cross arrangement with the Japanese to allow one return communication between prisoners and their families per year. Mrs. Conlin told the Globe and Mail that it was “the best Valentine I ever got.”

star 1945-02-12 reitmans ad

Toronto Star, February 12, 1945.

Servicemen on leave in Toronto were provided with a number of Valentine’s Day-themed dances to go to. These events ranged from a gathering of navy veterans at the Royal York to a joint collaboration between Simpson’s and the Toronto Conservatory of Music at the College Street YMCA. Older women were encouraged to attend morale-boosting teas and luncheons thrown by the likes of the Kiwanis Club.

Society editors felt that despite all of the good feelings circulating around the city, something was amiss. The Star‘s “Over the Teacups” column was not impressed with the new language of love, which failed to meet certain requirements.

Today was the day for lace and ribbons and sentimental poetry. Doves were supposed to come down out of bell towers and coo in public places. Everywhere were to be happy dreams, tranquility and love. We didn’t see any. The day was a flop. No doves nested in our hats. All we saw to come anywhere near it was a tall sailor walking hand in hand with his girl. He was saying, “Listen, did you remember the razor blades?” And she was saying “As soon as you go, I’m going to have my hair cut-short.” Well, that’s the way love talks nowadays. We’ll just have to be content with that.

Sources: editions of the Globe and Mail and Toronto Daily Star published February 10-16, 1945.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1945-02-13 wartime valentines

Toronto Star, February 13, 1945.

gm 1945-02-14 editorial

Globe and Mail, February 14, 1945.

gm 1945-02-15 be my valentine picture

Globe and Mail, February 15, 1945.

gm 1945-02-15 conlin story

Globe and Mail, February 15, 1945.

star 1945-02-15 a man talks to women

The flipside of a wartime Valentine’s Day (with harsh feedback from “Uncle George”), Toronto Star, February 15, 1945. 

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