By Kelsey Wiebe
“So you make a movie out of that, and we will all go to Hollywood,” Ed McFadden stated in a 2013 oral history, after recounting his experience of the Terrace mutiny.
The story of the Terrace mutiny during the Second World War is indeed filled with drama, suspense, and cinematic themes. We’re not quite at the movie level, but Heritage Park Museum is working to update and publish a book on the Terrace mutiny, using generous funding from the World War Commemorations Project.
The Terrace mutiny, while little-known and less-discussed, was the longest lasting mutiny in Canadian history.
Reluctant soldiers had been drafted by the Canadian government to patrol our national borders. Several thousand were stationed in Terrace, marching fruitlessly and waiting to respond to a Japanese invasion that had become increasingly unlikely by late 1944 when the mutiny broke out.
These men didn’t want to enlist because they were pacifists, or because they were French Canadian and didn’t want to fight an English war, or because they had watched their parents sacrifice their lives for a war that didn’t end all wars, or because they were bitter towards a government which hadn’t helped them when they were starving and desperate in the Great Depression and now wanted them to make the greatest sacrifice.
Overall, there were as many reasons for not volunteering as there were soldiers in Terrace.
After having been told by then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King that they would not be sent overseas, the soldiers heard on the radio that they were going to be shipped overseas after all. The men immediately began stockpiling ammunition. They refused all orders for about a week, instead marching with banners reading, “Down with Conscription” and turning back the trains of army officials sent in to talk them down.
The threat of violence was ever present: local residents spoke carefully to the mutineers, terrified of how they might react.
Air force men stationed at the airport trained a machine gun on the town, ready to shoot should the mutineers try to take the airport. Planes circled overhead, monitoring the movements of the men.
Army doctors ran out of their supplies of anti-psychotic medications for the nervous men who feared they would be shot or they would have to shoot someone.
Then, everything paused.
Mutineers cooperated with the army and agreed to lay down their weapons. Some escaped punishment by volunteering to go overseas after all. Others were sent to Ottawa on a train that slowed at every community. Most men jumped off and resumed their pre-war lives. Only a handful were ever punished. The government of the day wanted, first and foremost, to keep the incident quiet.
The Terrace mutiny is of critical importance in understanding Canadians’ view of the Second World War. It allows us insight into the conscription crisis, changing ideas of duty, and the government’s curiously lethargic response.
The World War Commemorations Fund, which has funded the project, was a one-time federal grant program for community-based projects commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War.
We felt it was a perfect fit for the manuscript about the mutiny which the then-District of Terrace commissioned in the 1980s.
Karen Goetz (nee Kuechle), a summer student at the time, compiled a comprehensive record of the mutiny.
She interviewed people who participated in the mutiny, found photos in people’s albums, posted ads in the Legion Magazine, researched in Library Archives Canada, and shaped everything she could find into a coherent narrative about what occurred in November 1944. Goetz was hired in response to queries to the city about the mutiny.
City council and city staff fielded many inquiries after the 1972 publication of Nadine Asante’s The History of Terrace, which included a short chapter on the mutiny. These included interest from Hollywood filmmakers.
Incidentally, this was before we had a museum or archives to field such inquiries and collect relevant material.
Goetz is now a vice-principal at Merritt Secondary School. When I emailed her to let her know about updating and publishing her manuscript, she was happy that the project was finally going to see the light of day.
“I wondered if that document was just collecting dust in a city vault somewhere,” she said.
We have hired Greer Kaiser as our mutiny research coordinator. She is compiling existing research, photos, and interviews in order to update Goetz’s manuscript. These include some very exciting photo collections, including photos from the Richardson family, the Chapman family, and the Nash family that depict life in Terrace from the perspective of soldiers as well as the community.
Through our recent oral history project, we interviewed Ed McFadden about his experience of waiting, under extreme tension, for the mutineers to try to take the Terrace airport. After a long, fruitless search, the museum located a radio recording about the Terrace mutiny from 1974 (thanks to Ed McFadden!). We have received several donations of photos of the mutineers marching along the streets of Terrace.
Kaiser has been sifting through this material, determining what will work well to expand Goetz’s manuscript. In addition, she will prepare lesson plans, coordinate the development of a website to share mutiny information and supervise publication of the book, which should be available in the fall.
Responses to our project range greatly from enthusiasm to curiosity to disgust that we would glorify the mutineers.
We are seeking to draw attention to an event of national importance that occurred in Terrace. We want people from Terrace to understand what occurred and why it was important. We want people from across the country, and perhaps across the world, to understand why Terrace was crucial in the conscription crisis and in the Canadian experience of the Second World War.
We want to take this small, anomalous incident and use it as a way to reflect who we are as Terrace residents and Canadians. The best history does this. It makes us see our place in the world through others’ experiences and points of view.
Did you witness or participate in the Terrace mutiny? Was your father or grandfather one of the soldiers? Did your mother spend the war years dancing with the soldiers who descended upon Terrace? Is there a photo album in your attic of Terrace in the 1940s?
Help us tell the story!
Kelsey Wiebe is the curator at Heritage Park Museum. Please email any information about the mutiny to firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone Greer Kaiser at 250-635-3807.