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.