75 Years: United Way Ottawa's Story

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1940s / THE RED FEATHER

Before the Second World War, Ottawa is still somewhat of a frontier town. But when Canada joins the war effort, the city sheds its frontier skin. Ottawa is not only the seat of the federal government, but it becomes the secret holder of much of Europe’s wealth. In fact, in an action dubbed Operation Fish, gold and securities are transferred by unmarked ship to Canada, with 60 million ounces of gold held in the vaults of the Bank of Canada in Ottawa.

The city becomes a magnet for the unemployed. With people flocking to the capital by the hundreds, the number of civil servants soon swells and the population grows from 206,367 in 1941 to more than 246,000 by the beginning of the next decade. These factors transform the capital and the government. Now a provider of social services for Canadians, the government finds itself in new territory: setting an economic direction for the country. It enacts the Unemployment Insurance Act in 1941 and the Family Allowance Act in 1944. This is the beginning of developing a country in which all citizens have the opportunity to reach their full potential and share in the wealth they produce.

Although Ottawa is booming in some ways, the demand for assistance grows. A 1942 survey by the Catholic Family Service points to 88 cases where more than two people were living in one tiny room; the worst case reported was of a family of 14 living in two rooms. Housing is scarce, especially given the influx of workers into the capital from other parts of Ontario and Quebec. The exploding population also creates a need for day nurseries and volunteers.

UW/CO lends its support to the Victorian Order of Nurses and Sisters of Service to fill the first need, while the newly opened Women’s Volunteer Service Centre fulfills agencies’ volunteer requirements.

Near the end of the decade, in 1947, UW/CO adopts the red feather as its campaign logo — joining hundreds of community chests across the United States and Canada that had already done so. Originally used as a badge of courage, the red feather symbolizes voluntary giving and community-building. Long-time donors wear a red feather during campaign to show they are participating in a united humanitarian movement.

UW/CO's reach during the decade: • places more emphasis on establishing and strengthening partnerships within the community

In its 1946 annual general report, UW/CO states: “Good partners are those who work together with faith, frankness and fair dealing to achieve a common purpose. Our aim has been to strengthen the association between the Chests, our member agencies and the people of Ottawa for their mutual benefit.”


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