History column by Ed Coleman
Kings County News
“Indignant school children in Kentville struck back last week at what they envisioned as a threat to their juvenile rights,” blared a front page story in the May 8, 1947, issue of the Advertiser.
It was a kids’ uprising, in other words, and they were protesting the demise of the five cent chocolate bar. Hundreds of kids noisily rallied in the streets of Kentville after it was announced chocolate bars would increase in downtown stores to eight cents. The kids picketed up and down the streets of the town for two days, carrying signs reading “Don’t buy chocolate bars at eight cents,” chanting slogans and urging passersby and merchants to support them.
The Advertiser reported that, even though business was interrupted by the protesters, Kentville merchants “accepted the picketing in good grace.”
While it was raucous while it lasted, the strike fizzled out in a couple of days. However valiant, the effort by kids of the town to hold the price of chocolate bars at five cents was an exercise in futility; the price went up and five cent chocolate bars were no more.
But there’s more to the story.
To start with, the kids of Kentville didn’t come up with the idea of protesting the price hike on their own. Adults obviously were behind it.
Earlier that year, the federal government published notices across the country warning the public there would be no price gouging and the War Measures Act was still in force. In the notice, the government published a list of goods and services “on which a legal maximum price remains in force under the provisions of the Wartime Prices and Trade Regulations.”
Guess what was on the list of goods with fixed prices? Sugar, candy, confectionery and caramel; cacao beans, cocoa butter; cocoa and chocolate.
It’s an easy step to surmise that any product containing sugar and cocoa was subject to strict wartime price controls, which were still in effect in 1947. This would include chocolate bars that had been selling all through most of the war years for five cents each. So, increasing the price of chocolate bars might have seemed illegal, or at least borderline illegal.
Anyway, youths in Kentville were riled up over the price increase, and reports the Advertiser, “there was no atmosphere of kidding on the part of the youngsters.” They were deadly in earnest, the paper says, and weren’t appeased, even when a notice appeared in a provincial daily explaining why the price of bars had increased. “They did not want reasons,” said the Advertiser; “they wanted five cent bars.”
Who rallied the kids? Probably it was adults smarting from wartime rationing and wartime price fixing. What better and what sneakier way to stir up the public over rationing and firmly set prices by rallying the kids? The war was long over but, gas, sugar, butter, etc., were still being rationed and merchants still had to follow government guidelines on what they could charge for their merchandise.
Need evidence that adults were behind the protest? The Advertiser noted that the idea of a “candy buying strike” had started in Vancouver a few weeks earlier and had spread across Canada. In other words, the youths of Kentville were participating in a nation-wide protest.
The protest rally that started in Kentville soon spread to other Valley towns. The Advertiser noted that, following the protest rally in Kentville, youths in the towns of Middleton and Windsor followed suit and held their own protest parades.
I have firsthand memories of the Kentville protest, by the way, since I participated. I was in the first year of my teens at the time, when a 25 cent piece would get you into an afternoon matinee and include a chocolate bar and a drink.
P.S. Two years later the price of chocolate bars went up to ten cents. No one protested - not out loud anyway.