It was 75 years ago last month that Winnipeg staged an event known as If Day.
This long forgotten stunt was during the war and the theme of it was what would happen if the Nazis should invade Canada.
Nazi tanks rolled down Portage Avenue as the largest military event staged in Winnipeg got under way.
It was in reality a fundraiser for Victory Bonds, to encourage the public to loan money to the government to fund the war effort. And it did it by scaring the pants off every Winnipegger by giving them a glimpse of what life could be like should the Nazis have won the war.
It was very successful too, raising more than $60 million province wide, way above its target of $45 million.
And it wasn’t just Winnipeg that witnessed this. Global media coverage, even in those days, saw Life Magazine, the New York Times, Newsweek and the BBC all cover it with an estimated 40 million people worldwide witnessing the events on the streets of Winnipeg that day.
Troops of actors wearing Nazi uniforms rented from Hollywood hit the streets at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1942.
RCAF aircraft posing as dive bombers came from the north, they were sighted at Norway House. Selkirk fell first and by 6 a.m. they all converged on Winnipeg.
Sirens rang out. Gunfire erupted in East Kildonan, bridges were blown up and fighting on the streets began.
Local defense forces, which were in fact our army, fought well, stymieing the Nazi advance twice but by 9:30 a.m. it was all over and Winnipeg had surrendered along with Brandon and Flin Flon. Manitoba was now a German province.
All of city council including the mayor were imprisoned at Lower Fort Garry where the union flag was replaced by the swastika.
They took over the police station but luckily the chief, George Smith, had gone out for lunch and evaded capture.
There was a book burning in front of the old library.
The principal of Robert H. Smith School was arrested and a radio play, “Swastika over Canada” was broadcast from there.
They took over the newspapers, the Tribune ran propaganda articles, mostly in German.
Henry Weppler was attacked for selling the Winnipeg Free Press and all his papers were destroyed.
Yet, at the end of the day with Winnipeg renamed Himmlerstadt the only injury was a reported sprained ankle suffered by a soldier.
And at 5:30 p.m. there was a ceremonial release of all prisoners followed by speeches from civic dignitaries and a huge banquet at the Hudson’s Bay store on Hitlerstrasse, as Portage Avenue had now been named.
Sixty-five years later, local film maker Guy Maddin even included an old newsreel clip in his film “My Winnipeg”.
Seems like it was quite a day.