Winnipeg’s IF Day
An incredible event that took place in Manitoba on February 19, 1942. 2022 will mark the 80th Anniversary of that special day when the question of “What If” was posed to the citizens of Manitoba.
The day was referred to as If Day.
On that day in 1942, a mock invasion of Manitoba took place. Dressed in uniforms rented from Hollywood, citizens dressed as German forces approached the city of Winnipeg from the northeast. Aircraft simulating Luftwaffe planes were first spotted over Norway House 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Selkirk, 35 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was the first to fall but by no means the last.
With the temperature below 0 Celsius, in the early morning hours of February 19, 1942, the silence of a prairie morning was shattered by the air raid sirens blaring out their warning to the citizens of Winnipeg.
To stave off the advance of the Germans, Canadian troops set up a defensive perimeter five miles from city hall. By 7:00 am, the Nazis arrived at the first line of defence. Defensive artillery batteries opened fire as the Germans approached. Due to overwhelming forces, the Canadian defenders were forced to retreat after only forty-five minutes. Retreating Canadian soldiers used smoke bombs were set off on the bridges crossing the Red River. This gave the impression of these bridges being blown up. However, German forces still managed to cross the river and advance toward the city’s centre.
Over the next several hours, the Canadian troops managed to push the invaders back two more times. However, by 9:30, it became evident that the Germans would win the day. Having no alternative, the Canadian troops unconditionally surrendered. By this time, the invading forces had overrun other Manitoban cities, including Brandon, Flin Flon and other small towns comprising most of Manitoba. The entire province was now under the control of the Nazis.
The Mayor of Winnipeg and the Premier of Manitoba were arrested and imprisoned in the Nazi internment camp at Lower Fort Garry. The Union Jack flying over Fort Garry was lowered, and the Nazi Swastika was raised in its place.
German troops paraded down Portage Avenue, Winnipeg’s main thoroughfare. After the capitulation, the Nazis renamed the city Himmlerstadt.
The local paper ran a special edition. The Winnipeg Tribune’s name was changed to Das Winnipeger Lugenblatt. The front page carried a decree from the new Nazi Government a list of activities that were now forbidden, and listed the penalties for not complying.
Fortunately, for Manitoba and the rest of Canada, If Day was a well-organized and executed simulated invasion.
There were many warnings of the coming events in the local newspapers, but some residents hadn’t seen the advance publicity. They were shocked by what they witnessed, which only added to the realism of the event.
This incredible publicity stunt was coordinated with the Victory Loan Campaign. Manitoba’s goal was to raise 45 million dollars. Six days after the events of If Day, Winnipeg had raised over 23 million dollars. By March 3, twelve days after the simulated invasion, Manitoba had reached its objective of 45 million dollars. This would be equal to over 750 million dollars in 2022.
Major newspapers and newsreel companies covered the event. It was estimated that 40 million people saw Manitoba fall under the hands of Nazi occupation. At the end of the day, one comment that was reiterated repeatedly was, “IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HERE.”
Here are other sites where you can find out more about this incredible day.
Our Fathers’ Footsteps will be available soon on Amazon, Kindle and by order at your local bookstore.