by Jessica Weirmier for the Sarnia Observer
(2003) Progress was the defining word for Sarnia in the decade following the Second World War.
By the time Sarnia hit the 1950s, no one doubted that it had established itself in the modern age. Heavy optimism reflected throughout the pages of what was then The Canadian Observer, as just about every day there were stories about Sarnia’s growth. The Feb. 27, 1951 Progress Edition, a precursor to today’s yearly Scope edition, summarized the postwar years:
“New homes, schools, churches, business establishments, extended municipal services and enlarged hospitals are signs of Sarnia’s progress, just as much as new and enlarged industry reflect the prime sources of this city’s generally high earning power.”
Sarnia, of course, was not immune to the baby boom phenomenon. “And in Sarnia the baby carriage retains the right-of-way,” continued the Progress Edition.
With that right-of-way came a shortage of space in Sarnia’s schools. In September of 1951 The Observer ran a story that poked a little fun at the overcrowding situation. The story, titled “Old Lady in the Shoe Had Nothing on Schools,” said officials from both Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, as well as school board members could sympathize with that fabled old lady. It was reported that accommodation was “bursting at the seams” and classes were allocated to the stock room, auditorium, stage and dressing room. It was so full that The Observer reported as many as four different classes were held at one time in the gym.
One of four photos that ran with the story illustrated the overcrowding situation. There were two children sitting per seat in a SCITS music class.
Overcrowded schools were added to coverage of a housing shortage expected in Sarnia as the city’s industries grew. In February 1951, The Observer wrote that under normal population growth, 450 new houses would need to be built each year. However, because of rapid industrial growth being experienced in the 50s, the article continues that, “on a five year program, Sarnia should produce between 2,300 and 2,400 houses and apartments, a building authority has stated.” Sarnia’s population jumped from 18,000 in 1940 to 40,000 in 1951, and those numbers continued to grow as the decade followed. By 1959, the headline “Even Greater Growth Predicted for Sarnia,” from a speech by Imperial Oil president J.R. White signalled a continued optimism for Sarnia’s future.
In White’s speech to employees, pensioners and company officials in a local arena, he said continued advances in the petrochemical industry meant “the horizon is bright. We expect to attract a number of other industries.”