The 1950s were an era of armed peace. Canadians had not yet retreated into their customary indifference to things military. The Second World War was still vivid in most minds; there was a police action in a far off land called Korea; and Communist aggression, real and perceived, had to be checked. In 1951, Canada announced five billion dollars for defence over three years, a significant sum. Although small compared to the American force, Canada had the third largest contingent of troops in Korea. In Calgary, the military presence was celebrated. The manoeuvres, parades and drills of both regulars and militia were front-page news. Units embarking on active service created poignant images of leave-taking, those returning, of joyous reunion.
Visiting military dignitaries were big news. A visit by "Monty" - British war hero Field Marshal Montgomery - was a major social event and a moment of high excitement for the local garrison, with a full review of regulars and militia at Harvie Barracks. While a military celebrity coming to Calgary would excite interest today, they might not rate a full page of pictures dedicated to soldiers on parade, trooping their colours for the dignitary of the moment.
The remembrance of past victories - and sacrifices - loomed large. There was a Battle of Britain Day, a Navy Day, a Battle of the Atlantic Day, and even a special ceremony for the Battle of Frezenburg from the First World War. All were celebrated with a parade of veterans and servicemen to the Cenotaph in Central Park, which was frequently bedecked in wreaths. Remembrance Day overshadowed the rest. The sacrifices of loved ones and comrades were still fresh, and services were held in Corral Stadium to accommodate mourners.
Perhaps nothing shows the respect for the military in the Fifties more clearly than the popularity of cadets. Boys and girls flocked to air cadets, navy cadets and the less glamorous army cadets. Martial virtues were seen as valuable for the proper deportment of the young. As one contemporary remarked:
"A lot of boys, when they were, say, thirteen and up, would join the Army or Air Cadets. In my case it was the Army Cadets. I really enjoyed it. It was something that I think a lot of kids now miss out on. It taught you to be a little disciplined, to look after yourself, to take your hat off when you go into a room, good manners."
Cadets learned marksmanship, went sailing and learned to tie knots, or went camping and learned how to build fires. It was scouts and guides with drill and polished boots.
Calgarians also shared the national preoccupation with civil defence. Before the advent of intercontinental missiles, authorities believed civilian populations could survive a nuclear war and energetically planned for this eventuality. In Calgary, a civil defence headquarters was built on the Shaganappi Golf Course and a full time co-ordinator was hired. Training exercises culminated in a full-scale evacuation of Calgary's north side in the fall of 1955. Operation Lifesaver required thousands of Calgarians to leave their homes and businesses and drive to Drumheller, Innisfail and other points, where they were given a warm lunch. To our distant eyes, there was element of farce inherent in the operation: some soldiers and reporters nearly blew themselves up with smoke bombs adding verisimilitude to the exercise. While perhaps more reasonable than the notorious "duck and roll" of American civil defence propaganda (which featured school children hiding under their desks in case of nuclear attack) Operation Lifesaver probably did not bring much peace of mind to Calgarians.