If Day

If Day was a mock occupation of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 19 February 1942 during the Second World War. The occupying Nazi force was portrayed by volunteers from the Young Men’s Section of the Winnipeg Board of Trade. If Day was intended to demonstrate what life under Nazi occupation might be like, and consequently, encourage people to buy war bonds (also called Victory Loans), which generated millions of dollars for the war effort. If Day was also a military exercise involving approximately 3,500 personnel, the largest in the city’s history to that date

Bonds or Bondage

War Bonds or Victory Loans

War bonds, Victory Bonds, or Victory Loans are all names for debt securities issued by governments to raise funds for a war effort without increasing taxation. The basic idea is that individuals purchase bonds in various denominations that would mature either in 2.5, 6 or 14 years. There were 10 bond drives in Canada during the Second World War, all of which were quite successful. The popularity of bonds was partly due to appeals to patriotism, but also because they were low-risk investments with guaranteed rates of return.

Planning for If Day

If Day was part of the second round of the Victory Loan campaign during the Second World War. Previous efforts involved public events like concerts and rallies, and the use of themes and promotional materials, such as posters, developed by the federal office.

For the second round, the Manitoba wing of the National War Finance Committee decided to try something different. Their goal was to raise $45million (approximately $800million in 2023, when adjusted for inflation). Working with John Draper Perrin, the leader of the Greater Winnipeg Victory Loan committee—they came up with the idea of a simulated invasion and occupation of Winnipeg and the surrounding area that would double as a military exercise. The name came from questioning what would happen if the Nazis were not defeated in Europe.

The Battle of Winnipeg

Although the exercise was announced in local newspapers, many people were still surprised when it started. On 18 February, airplanes painted with German air force insignia were spotted flying low over towns north of Lake Winnipeg. Later that night, the town of Selkirk was ordered into blackout when explosions were heard, simulating an air raid by German bombers.

The next morning, the city of Winnipeg awoke to attack by both air and land. Air raid sirens sounded at 6:00a.m., as RCAF planes imitated dive-bombing fighter-bombers of the Luftwaffe. By 7:00a.m. the “blackout” sirens sounded. Citizens turned off their lights and the streetlamps were extinguished, reminiscent of blackouts in the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain. Radio stations played emergency messages warning citizens of the raid and encouraging them to observe the blackout.

At the same time, regular and reserve elements of the Canadian military staged a defence of Winnipeg and the surrounding area, including the communities of Brandon, Selkirk, and Flin Flon. Though it was a fake invasion, the “Nazis” used real military equipment, carried working rifles, and wore authentic-looking uniforms. Realism was vitally important to encourage Manitobans to donate to the war effort. The defending force comprised infantry and artillery units positioned roughly three miles outside the city in a ring; The soldiers fired (blank) artillery and anti-aircraft rounds as though it were a real battle. Dynamite and coal dust was used to simulate damage from the bombers, while bricks and other debris were strewn over the bridges to suggest their destruction. Military ambulance units were dispatched to pick up soldiers pretending to be wounded.

As the invaders made their way towards the city centre, radio stations began broadcasting in German. By 9:30a.m., Winnipeg had fallen, to be occupied and governed by “Nazis” for the rest of the day. In a proclamation read in front of city hall, the city was renamed Himmlerstadt.

Arrest at Winnipeg City Hall 1942


The occupation of Winnipeg was intended to portray what life might be like under Nazi rule. The sounds of snipers and anti-aircraft fire continued through the day. Premier John Bracken and seven of his ministers were arrested, as was the mayor, John Queen. They were then marched down to an internment camp at Lower Fort Garry.

The mock Nazis set up barricades, renamed streets, manned roadblocks, and conducted patrols. They also stormed public transit, demanding people’s identity cards. They infiltrated public schools and arrested one of the principals, insisting that only “Nazi truths” could be taught. Churches were closed, and the owners of some coffee shops gave out change in Reichmarks instead of Canadian dollars.

The Winnipeg Tribune’s morning edition was replaced by a German-language four-page edition of Das Winnipeger Lugenblatt, which included a 10-point proclamation detailing the new rules of martial law. Books already slated for disposal were burned in front of Winnipeg’s Carnegie Library, a simulation of the book-burning ceremonies that followed the Nazis across Europe.

Masthead of the Winnipeg Tribune on 19 February 1942


At 5:30p.m. local time, organizers and participating groups marched down Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue, signing people up to buy war bonds. Prisoners were released and joined the march, carrying banners stating that “it must not happen here.” It is estimated that $3 million worth of war bonds were purchased that day. By the end of the second national war financing campaign, Manitoba surpassed its goal of $45 billion. The military gained valuable training in urban warfare, and the exercise made international headlines.