When we look at our remote little city, it’s hard to think of this sleepy patch of rainforest as having any particular significance or affect on what goes on in the world.
The challenges the globe faces are so large, nuanced and intimidating; and we are so small and just trying to keep dry most of the time. How could a small group of a couple thousand people ever make an impact on global issues that seem so far out of our control?
But, it seems that every time this town finds itself needing to step up to the plate, the people here pull together and achieve things that people who might judge us on our size and remoteness may not think us capable of. Today we stand at the precipice of a colossal change in how the world’s economy works. The Asian economies are on the rise and the people here have jumped head first into this brave new reality and sometimes there’s a very real sense feeling that if we fail we could take down the community with us.
But before we were trading with those across the Pacific, we were at war with them.
Before the Second World War, Prince Rupert was little more than a large fishing community nestled in a corner of the world that was of little consequence to anyone other than those who lived here. Then Pearl Harbour happened. Because of our proximity to Japan, what was once an anonymous community of 6,000 people quickly grew into a small fortress of 35,000 people.
For those living here before the war the change must have left their own town unrecognizable to them in just a few short years.
Nine different forts complete with ant-aircraft guns sprouted around the community. The city’s waterfront was turned into essentially a floating factory complete with its machine shops dry dock and supply depots.
The main supply warehouse and its rail yard had to be camouflaged so that ships at sea couldn’t see it and fake trees were placed on top to hide it from enemy bombers.
There was a real fear that the Japanese would send hydrogen-filled paper balloons armed with incendiary bombs to fly across the ocean and cause forest fires wherever they landed.
With 19,000 new people coming into the city for the war effort, infrastructure and housing had to be built with lightning speed – with 1940’s technology and our weather, no less – many of which is still being used or lived-in today.
The transformation from quiet fishing town to a strategically important military shipyard almost six times the original size, on the front line of a war that everyone was afraid of losing would have overwhelmed a lesser community. But we pulled our selves together and we did it.
And when the war was over and we weren’t as important anymore, the military either tore-down their buildings or left them to rot. People left town and we were left to pick up where we left off after the city had been changed forever. And we managed to do that too. The town went on to prosper until the mill closed and the town fell into the slump that we are now pulling together to get ourselves out of.
On Remembrance Day, a lot will be said about what was done overseas. But what is not talked about is the communities back home that had to “keep calm, and carry on” (to borrow the famous British war-time slogan). Communities like Prince Rupert that held public concerts and bake sales to raise money for victory bonds, who had to see their boys go away to fight other boys while being a strategic military base on the front line of a war with a far from certain conclusion.
Prince Rupert may have had its problems and its challenges but it will survive, because that’s what we do – We pull together in times of adversity and we prevail.
If every community in Canada could be this strong we would have nothing