Fonds - Hamilton Active Service Canteen fonds

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Hamilton Active Service Canteen fonds

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  • 1941-1946 (Creation)

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Physical description

13 cm of textual material.
1 photograph: b&w

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Administrative history

As World War Two raged across the globe, thousands of men and women were stationed in Hamilton throughout the conflict to train for military service overseas. Many of them were far from home and didn’t know anyone in the city. Seeing the need to ensure that military service personnel were supported and entertained during their stay, volunteers from the Hamilton Citizens' Committee for War Services helped to establish the Active Service Canteen. The first meeting was held on May 2, 1941 whereby the logistics of operating a canteen came into fruition, including the formation of various committees, the creation of rules and regulations and volunteer duties, the purchasing of supplies, equipment and food, as well as determining the types of entertainment for the visitors. The Active Service Canteen opened its doors on May 17, 1941 and was located right downtown at 20 King Street East, just east of James Street, occupying the entire second floor of the building. In the early days of the canteen, attendance was low, so financing came from various sources including donations from local clubs. After one year in operation, the canteen was so successful that over 160,000 servicemen had visited and by April of 1943, the canteen recorded a one-day attendance record of 1,377 men. With the massive increase in attendance, the canteen became self-sufficient and even opened another location specifically geared to female service members at 10 James Street North.

The Hamilton Active Service Canteen was staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom were women, who served in the kitchen, the games room, and as dancing partners for the servicemen. Although the canteen did not serve main course meals, it did serve light refreshments with a menu including salads, soups, sandwiches, bread, pies, ice cream, coffee and cokes, all at reasonable prices. Entertainment included a games room with card tables, ping pong tables and a billiards table, along with a few pianos. There was also a reading room that was stocked with books, magazines and local newspapers, as well as notepads for writing home to family and friends. For those in need of a dance lesson, the canteen also provided a dance instructor to teach the men in preparation for the weekly Saturday night dances. When the war in Europe ended, the canteen was no longer needed, so it closed its doors on November 17, 1945. Over the 5 years the canteen was in operation, it served close to 1 million service members, and provided a comfortable, sociable and entertaining home away from home for those who served their country during the war.

Custodial history

The material was donated to the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives in February of 1982, by Mrs. W.A.T. Gilmour, former board member of the Hamilton Active Service Canteen.

Scope and content

The material in the fonds pertains to the Hamilton Active Service Canteen, run by volunteers for service members stationed in Hamilton, or on leave from active duty, during the Second World War. The material consists of meeting minutes, canteen administrative logbooks, financial records, including a few annual reports and an auditor's report, various types of correspondence, as well as a few notices, one of which advertises the closure of the canteen at the end of the war. The fonds also contains one photograph of an R.C.A.F. member who visited the canteen on leave from active duty.

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The material is open to researchers. There are no restrictions on access.

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Records are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on reproduction for research and private study.
Preferred citation: Hamilton Active Service Canteen fonds, 00604, Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton, Ontario.

Finding aids

Associated materials

The following related material can be found in the Local History & Archives (LH&A) department at the Hamilton Public Library pertaining to the Hamilton Active Service Canteen fonds:

Houghton, Margaret. Hamilton at War on the Home Front. Burlington: North Shore Publishing Inc., 2005, pp.70-72. – Library Call Number: 940.5371352 HOU

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Further accruals are not expected.

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The fonds was processed in November of 2023 by Archives Technician Kelly Bucci.

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Script of description


Houghton, Margaret. Hamilton at War on the Home Front. Burlington: North Shore Publishing Inc., 2005, pp.70-72. – Library Call Number: 940.5371352 HOU

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