From Spenders to Savers: Thrift, Saving, and Luxury in Canada during the First World War

Title: From Spenders to Savers: Thrift, Saving, and Luxury in Canada during the First World War
Authors: Madeleine, Kloske
Date: 2017
Abstract: This thesis focuses on wartime thrift and patriotic consumer campaigns as central features of the Canadian home front experience during the First World War. Using records from government officials, federal departments, and volunteer service organizations, as well as examples from newspapers, magazines, and other wartime publications, this study explores the ways in which wartime standards of acceptable consumption and patriotic spending and saving were developed, challenged and negotiated. It traces a shift in sensibilities from a spending to saving ethos through the lens of the Business as Usual and Made in Canada campaigns which, by mid-war, gave way to the thrift and food conservation campaigns. Notions of wartime patriotism demanded that every Canadian “do their bit”; thus, public participation in wartime thrift and saving was encouraged through widespread organized campaigns and enforced through informal surveillance networks. This study argues that wartime calls for thrift and sacrifice, meant to support a national project aimed at ensuring victory, were undermined by an apparent and persistent inequality; many Canadians perceived wartime policies as protective of the wealthy and business-owning minority at the expense of the working and agricultural majority. Moreover, as the war continued, it became clear that some Canadians refused to “do their bit” and continued to make unpatriotic consumer choices; this gave rise to an outspoken anti-luxury and anti-wealth movement. This study further argues that wartime scrutiny of individual choices, as viewed through the lens of wartime spending and saving, revealed a great concern over the moral integrity of Canada and its citizens. Many Canadians viewed the war as an opportunity to revisit and instill those moral habits of thrift and self-sacrifice that appeared to be startlingly absent from the current generation – an absence they blamed on both the perils of modern consumerism and the general ineptitude and selfishness of the masses. Thus, the government, in collaboration with large service organizations, launched a national project of social engineering aimed at instilling Canadians with a proper sense of thrift and saving that would not only aid in the war effort but could be carried forth into the postwar world. As such, this thesis illuminates the tensions between the individualism inherent in modern capitalism and the communalism demanded by wartime patriotism. While the market became subordinate to the government and the widespread spirit of self sacrifice, federal officials and patriotic proponents struggled to rein in the overwhelming desire of Canadians to participate in the market economy unfettered by the moral restraints of wartime.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -