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The Bond of Victory
Photo courtesy of University College archives

The Bond of Victory

U of T students celebrate triumph in Europe during the Second World War

On May 8, 1945, the Globe and Mail trumpeted words that Canada and other Allies had been waiting for since 1939: “This Is Victory.” Germany had surrendered the day before, and Allied conquest in Europe was complete.

Swaying gracefully in front of University College, serenaded by music from speakers strapped to the roof of a car, U of T students paid elegant homage to VE-Day. Their education, until now, had transpired against a backdrop of compulsory military training for male students, national service training for women and regular listings in the Varsity of students killed or missing in action.

The photo predates the famous Life picture, taken on VJ-Day three months later, of a sailor buoyantly kissing a nurse in New York’s Times Square. Both photos capture the same optimistic aura. In natty overcoats and polished oxfords, the students cast a lightness of step and spirit that only the very young – those with more future than past – can project. But, of course, the war in the Pacific continued, and another kind of innocence would end that August with Hiroshima’s nuclear dawn.

U of T would soon experience a post-war boom: enrolment catapulted from 7,000 in September 1944 to 17,000 in September 1946. Almost half of all students were veterans – returning after having learned far too much in a different sort of classroom.

Note: The print edition of this article stated that the speakers were strapped to a Volkswagen. However, the first Volkswagens were not sold in North America until 1949. In fact, the car is a Buick from around 1936.

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  1. 18 Responses to “ The Bond of Victory ”

  2. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    So here I am, idly skimming through my latest edition of U of T Magazine, when I reach the Time Capsule photo on the back page.

    “That’s Dad!”

    I peer at it a little closer, just to be sure. Yup, that’s Duncan Smith, all right: tall, even gangly; crisply profiled; a touch jug-eared; elegantly caught mid-dance stride, he and his partner (not my mother) perfectly framed before the carved stone portal of University College.

    How wonderful to see him again, 27 years after his death. Even more wonderful to see him when he was just 19 years old, fresh in the first flush of froshdom, as it were, exuberant about the war’s end.

    I show the picture to the electrical contractor working on my house.

    “That’s your dad? Why that picture is famous – I have a framed copy of it up at my cottage!”

    Who knew? Certainly we didn’t, and I don’t think Dad did either. But we know about it now, and my family is very grateful for the chance you’ve given us to reconnect with him.

    Leslie C. Smith
    BA 1978 Victoria

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Stacey Gibson, more than somewhat ironically, states that the dancers in the photo taken on VE Day 1945 are “serenaded by music from speakers strapped to a Volkswagen." That’s an American car, not a Volkswagen!

    In Germany, Adolf Hitler had been responsible for the birth of the “Beetle.” When Hitler became the chancellor of Germany in 1933, he promoted the idea of a car affordable enough for the average working person. The Volkswagen, which means “people’s car,” was the result. Hitler met with automotive designer Ferdinand Porsche and by 1939 a few cars were produced. However, the war ended the production of civilian automobiles. After the war, the factory ended up in West Germany and reopened as Volkswagen. Not long after that, the iconic “Beetle” made its first Canadian appearance.

    David MacLellan
    BA 1974, BEd 1975

  4. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    You describe the students pictured as dancing to "speakers attached to a Volkswagen." I suspect that this cannot be accurate as the Volkswagen did not make an appearance in Canada until the late 1940s (unless it was captured in the war and secretly brought over). What we're looking at here is probably a 1941 or '42 Dodge or Plymouth. Do you see the little hump at the back partially covered by the soldier's backside? The Volkswagen never had such a hump but North American cars did.

    Thanks for the nice picture, though; I was just starting high school when it was taken.

    Harold Strom
    DDS 1955

  5. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I heard first-hand accounts of VE-Day day in England where my mother, a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, celebrated it in front of Buckingham Palace.

    Although the car in your picture resembles a Volkswagen, to the best of my knowledge the "People's Car" was not manufactured (other than as a prototype) until after the Second World War, and did not arrive in North America until the 1950s. Many Germans bought one before the war, but few, if any, ever actually got one.

    I am not enough of a car buff to positively identify the car in the picture. The style is typical of many North American models of the late 1930s and early 1940s. From some quick research on the Internet, my best guess is a 1938 Plymouth, which has a close match of shape, trim, rear-opening door, and door hinge position. Perhaps a true automobile aficionado could do better.

    Thanks to and, which provided pictures for comparison and a history of the Volkswagen respectively.

    Brian D. Miller
    BASc 1972
    Brantford, Ontario

  6. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I leafed through my wife’s U of T Magazine this evening and I was astonished to read that there was a Volkswagen in Canada in May of 1945.

    Did Hitler win the war, and immediately send over Volkswagens to pacify us? Is that why the students are dancing in the street? In fact, the first Volkswagens came into North America about five years after the picture was taken.

    The car had to be pre-war, because in wartime new passenger cars were made for the military. Some were made available to civilians, such as rural doctors, who had an essential need for a car. But if you didn’t need a car, no amount of money could buy a new one in wartime.

    An Internet search would have indicated that the car in the picture is probably a 1939 Plymouth P8 model. The rear portion of the car shares many of the styling features of that make and model.

    Calvin Strong
    Oakville, Ontario

  7. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I appreciated the picture of ever-so-decorous students dancing in front of University College in May 1945. My own memory of that day as a seven-year-old featured a much more boisterous explosion of schoolchildren - and adults - into the village streets of Waterford, Ontario.

    But in neither case, I assure you, was there a Volkswagen on the street. Even if the juxtaposition of 1945, VE-Day, Germany, U of T and Volkwagen did not give you pause, a moment's examination of the car on which the speakers are mounted ought to have: four doors, a bulging boot, sweeping fenders.

    I cannot be sure of the actual make and model, but the car most certainly is not a Volkswagen, the first of which reached these shores several years later. Had it indeed been a German car, I venture that the students' reactions would have been slightly less decorous.

    Ronald Vince
    Flamborough, Ontario
    ThM 2008

  8. Patrick Tanzola says:

    It's no Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, that's for sure. Looks pretty beat up.

  9. Greg Hancock says:

    I have just received my mail copy of U of T Magazine, which I generally like but: No, it is not a Volkswagen.

    As previous correspondents have pointed out Volkswagens were started by Hitler, but very few civilian versions were produced during the war. By 1945 the factory was in rubble because Canadians, British, Russians and the United States had been fighting Germany (where VWs come from) for six continuous years since 1939.

    The car is a cute rounded early 1940s type car, whether it is Plymouth or not is irrelevant. What is important is what it is not. For someone to have identified it as a Volkswagen draws into question the whole education system at U of T. I know that Canadian history is not compulsory any more, and that what happened 69 years ago probably isn't seen as relevant. But surely students and graduates should be subjected to some sort of course that explains the top 10 events that shaped the destiny of Canada and the world within living memory.

    Am I being old fashioned and pedantic? Probably so, but shouldn't the U of T hold itself to a higher standard?

  10. David A. Smith says:

    My father tells me of dancing in the streets of Long Branch, and celebrating no school that day. He would have been 13.

  11. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    The mention of the famous photo taken in Times Square reminded me that in Sarasota, Florida, where we spend the winter months, there is a “sculpture” of that photo called "Unconditional Surrender" situated downtown.

    It has been very popular, if controversial. Some people feel the sailor is forcing himself on the young lady; others scoff that, whatever it is, it certainly can’t be called “sculpture.” Most people, however, just enjoy the nostalgia it brings.

    And by the way, the car in the picture might be a pre-war Dodge or Chrysler. It is definitely not a Volkswagen.

    Allan McIntosh
    BA 1962 Victoria
    Westmount, Nova Scotia

  12. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    The photo from VE-Day shows the "sound truck" my friend Bob Duncan (BASc 1947), now deceased, and I used to advertise upcoming campus events. It was his mother's Buick, not a VW, dating from about 1936. Bob passed away some months ago.

    We graduated from the School of Practical Science (now the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering) in 1947, with a note from the University of Toronto Caput - that all powerful collection of honoured and aged U of T functionaries that ruled supreme - about being a "big noise." Happy days. Thanks for jogging my memories.

    Gordon B. Thompson
    BASc 1947
    Stittsville, Ontario

  13. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Thanks to Stacey Gibson for the nostalgic picture and accompanying text. We who celebrated on May 8, 1945 were full of joy, optimism and high expectations. Among us were parents and siblings of those who would not be returning from the killing fields. A 13-year-old, I had a difficult time holding back tears as I witnessed sobbing mothers whose sons had given their lives that we might celebrate victory, peace and freedom.

    The car to which the speakers were strapped was not a Volkswagen, of course. The brand was launched before the war, and no models would reach Canada for a few years after VE-Day.

    Frank Turner
    MEd 1968

  14. Glenna Will says:

    I remember the day the war ended. I was 12 years old and a neighbour ran up the street yelling that the war was over. Irene Everingham was the mother of three young children and her husband was a chief petty officer. He had been away for four years and Irene had suffered as much as he, I believe. She was so ecstatic we threw our arms around her and wept. The day was sunny and warm and wonderful. Too bad we did not take a lesson from that experience, isn´t it?

  15. Barbara Selley says:

    I'm sure this was a test to see if we read attentively to the very last page.

  16. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    The first VW model sold in Canada was the original Beetle, which looked quite different from the car in the photo. A fellow student I knew at the time got a part-time job selling them at one of the first Canadian dealerships, on the west side of Yonge just south of St. Clair, back in 1953 or '54.

    Michael Rochester
    BA 1954, MA 1956
    St. John's

  17. Glenn H. Carter says:

    Your photo and article highlight a number of things that are part of the ongoing display program at Soldiers’ Tower.

    The photo is interesting from a number of perspectives. The relief and joviality contrast with the solemnity of what took place only some 20 years previously: the dedication of the Tower in 1924. At that time, more than 600 members of the university had died in active conflict out of almost 5,700 who served. Many more were to continue suffering afterwards from illness and disabilities. Other archival photographs in our possession show men and women in uniform working towards the war effort on a number of fronts. Quite a contrast from those seen dancing on the UC steps in 1945!

    During the Second World War, U of T once again made an unparalleled contribution, with 15,000 personnel in uniform, a remarkable achievement for any one institution in Canada, when you think that enrolment was only 7,000 in 1944.

    The university continues through its Soldiers’ Tower to present our country’s pre-eminent recognition of those who served. We can only hope that the number of conflicts will be reduced in future years.

    This year marks the 90th anniversary of the laying of the Tower’s cornerstone.

    Alumni are welcome to visit the Soldiers’ Tower and view our new installations, which include more examples of “then and now” photographs.

    Glenn H. Carter 6T5
    Member - Soldiers’ Tower Committee

    P.S. The identification of a Volkswagen in the photo is an error. Sanctioned by Hitler several years before the outbreak of hostilities and never marketed in Canada, it certainly would never have made it to King’s College Circle. The SPS Skulemen would have quickly turned into it something useful, such as paper clips!

  18. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Although I was still a third-form student at Lawrence Park Collegiate on May 8, 1945, my memories of that day remian vivid. Every classroom in the school had a radio tuned to the news, and when the great announcement came we poured out of the school onto Chatsworth Drive. I walked to Yonge Street and headed south as far as I could go. At Heath Street, it was impossible to keep walking because of the crowds. People were dancing on the roofs of stopped cars.
    This was a few years before I graduated and headed for Trinity College.

    John M. Longfield

    ps I am certain that the car in the picture was a 1937 or 1938 Dodge or Plymouth.

  19. Josh Rachlis says:

    I originally read this article in the print version, and this sentence has continued to haunt me for months: "the students cast a lightness of step and spirit that only the very young – those with more future than past – can project." Is it true that after a certain age we can never feel a lightness like that? What age is the limit? I keep trying to calculate how much time I have left, and if I'm past the mid-point.