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The Five Cent War

Spring 1947. The long struggle of WWII was over. But just as Canada began to enjoy the peace it had earned, a new conflict erupted when children across the land rose to fight for their birthright---the five cent candy bar.

The Five Cent War is the incredible story of a 1947 revolt by Canadian children against a rise in chocolate bar prices from five to eight cents. Sparked in one sleepy Vancouver Island town, the protest proved as addictive and heart-warming as chocolate itself, igniting a campaign that swept across Canada.

"We suspect that Canada's youngsters have hardened their hearts against the eight-cent bar and will not be moved by any array of statistics."
--Calgary Herald, 1947

For one hot summer, mini-malcontents played David against corporate candy Goliaths-until cold war hysteria intervened to arrest their sweet-toothed quest. The kids' national boycott of more expensive candy was no laughing matter for stunned proprietors who watched their sales fall eighty percent overnight. Child pickets besieged storeowners with whistles, armbands and placards bearing slogans like "Don't be a Sucker! Don't Buy 8 Cent Bars!" In Victoria, the legislature was shut down when hundreds of children swarmed its hallowed halls demanding the return of nickel bars.

Perplexed manufacturers argued that the end of lucrative wartime contracts and the elimination of labor and price controls meant they had no choice but to raise the price of candy bars. As the candy makers were pilloried in the daily press and the public cheered the children, the battle came to symbolize the national frustration with rising postwar prices.

Organizing chocolate boycotts in every major city across Canada, kids hoped their coordinated demonstrations would deliver a knockout punch to the nefarious eight-cent bar. But at the zenith of its popularity, the inspiring movement fell victim to the times. In a widely circulated attack, the sour-grapes Toronto Telegram blasted the youthful dissidents as stooges of Moscow. The paper labeled candy strikers "another instrument in the Communist grand strategy of the creation of chaos," and charged that "Communist youth organizers have been instructed to use every possible means of developing and encouraging the chocolate bar agitation." Cheaper candy, some thought, was just the first step on the path to communist tyranny.

Such cold war paranoia defused public support for the children. Cowed by allegations of communist involvement, grown-ups worked to short-circuit the drive for the nickel bar. In Vancouver, the 2,500 member Sat-Teen Club caved in to pressure from priests, parents, teachers and city officials to terminate the group's involvement with the candy boycott, glumly declaring that "mob demonstrations and strikes are not consistent with the ideals of the club." As similar scenes were replayed across the land, the demoralized movement melted away like so much chocolate in the summer sun. Bedtime had come early for the nickel bar war.

Canadian children, idealistic and innocent in pursuit of a just cause, had been undone by powers beyond their understanding or control. Today, the average candy bar costs more than a dollar.

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