June 10, 2011

A look back at the Canadian ration coupon books of WW2


Day 161 of Vintage 365


In this era of Walmart Super Centers, football field sized Costco stores, and seemingly endless sources online from which to purchase groceries with the mere click of a mouse, it can be easy to forget that once, just a few decades ago, our foremothers and fathers had to contend with the wartime necessarily of food rationing.

Canada was one of the first non-European (ally) countries to enter the second world war, however we were spared rationing for a time. It wasn't until January 1942 when sugar was restricted to 12 ounces (340 grams) per person per week (as the war continued on, that quantity was later further slashed), that Canadians of the day got their first taste of war rationing.

Most people were happy to oblige with the new regulations, knowing full well that the foods they gave up (and/or ate less) of could then go towards the troops overseas. Yet, one has to imagine that it was unpleasant at times to go without some of the most basic culinary and household staples for several years in a row.

As '42 wore on, other foods - such as coffee and tea – made it onto the ration list. Within a matter of weeks of these two staples being rationed, coupon books began to be issued to Canadians from coast to coast (citizens filled out applications and were mailed ration books in the post, the first wave of which was sent out on August 31, 1942).

Perhaps foreseeing that the end of the war was still quite far in the future, the ration books contained coupons for other foods that had not yet even been restricted (such as butter, which, come December of that year, was added to the list of rationed foods, each person being allotted just 1/4 of a pound per week).


Over the course of the second world war, more than 11 million ration books (like the one pictured above, which comes by of the genealogy site Rootsweb) were issued to Canadians - who, like those in the UK and later the US, also saw dairy and meat rationing. At times however, stores were unable to supply citizens with the small allotments of rationed foods they were permitted to have, as supplies simply weren't available to the merchants.

While other day-to-day products (like gasoline, certain items of clothing, alcohol, even maple syrup!) were rationed as well, Canadians suffered less in a sense than those in Europe in this regard. That wasn't to say however, that Canadians were flush with extra clothing (not at all!) during the war years or that it was easy to get your hands on a bottle of whiskey, because it certainly wasn't.

Optimistic and determined by nature, many Canadians stretched their war rations by planting Victory Gardens, canning and preserving foods (interestingly, Canadians could apply for an addition "canning ration" of sugar), fishing, hunting for game, mending and restyling their existing clothes, and driving their cars far less (or not all) all in the name of the war effort.

These efforts, much like those of other allied nations, paid off in the end and helped the war effort immeasurably. Even though the war officially came to an end in 1945, rationing continued in Canada late in the 1940s (due in part to the fact that Canada was shipping a lot of food and other goods to help out in post-war Europe), with the last ration book being issued in September 1946.

On this date (June 10)  in 1947, dairy was taken off of the ration list by the government and Canadians could once again enjoy larger quantities of foods like cheese, milk and ice cream once more. Having read this interestingly tidbit of history recently, I began to reflect on the fact that my grandparents experienced rationing, as did all Canadians of the day.

Which takes me back to my initial point. We have such an abundance of food at the ready today that it can be hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, the world was in such peril that staple foods - like meat, milk and sugar - needed to be strictly limited for the goal of achieving an allied victory.

I have a great of respect for those who made due, stretched their rations, grew their own gardens, and worked together as a nation to ensure that as many of our resources as possible could be rationed and put towards the war effort.

No matter how many aisles in the grocery store or how many restaurants dot the landscape, I try never to forget that part of the reason those shelves and restaurants can be so abundantly full is because people like my grandparents – our grandparents – lived through wartime rationing.

Just a little (un-rationed) food for thought the next time you pick up a double-double* on your way home from grocery shopping.


*A "double double" is a Canadian term for a coffee, often one purchased from a Tim Horton's doughnut shop, containing two creams and two sugars.


  1. Wonderful post. We always have some small idea of what our grandparents (and more) have gone through but never know all the details. This helps remind us of the sacrifices that were done for us and brought more details to light.

    Always a pleasure reading :)

  2. When I saw your ration books I hunted mine down. They belonged to my grandparents and my Mom. I had forgotten about them. I love your blog and all the vintage items so close to my heart. Thanks for the memories.

  3. Jessica: We've a Series 6 book which belonged to a local resident. Thanks for the information you've given here - it will help in our interpretive signage and our "Narrative" section for the entry on http://novamuse.ca/index.php/Detail/Entity/Show/entity_id/6300 when we get it up there. Can you help with the food products or other goods that were associated with the letters on the coupons? I'm guessing B = butter and M = meat; S = Sugar. But what products were assigned to V; X; and Y? The real topper on your reply to those questions would be the quantities allocated to each. Alternatively, could you point us to a url which has this information?
    Many thank, John Wood for the MacPhee House Community Museum, Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia.

    1. Hi John,

      Thank you very much for your comment, it's lovely to resist this post and import chapter in Canada's history again. I am not an expert on Canadian war ration books, I'm afraid - and as you've likely discovered yourself, there seems to be considerably more information out there on rationing in countries such as the UK (I could go to my bookshelf right now and pull out a title that would answer the equivalent question about UK ration book) and US. I do know though that series 6 was the last set of ration books to be produced in Canada (in September 1946, I believe).

      Your guesses for those letters would mirror my own ("m" could also be margarine or milk though), and I can't help but wonder if the v, x and y are simply the same words in French (as "viande" is meat", though butter is beurre and sugar is sucre). Another possible explanation is that those letters were "spares", as spares were issued with most (all?) Canadian ration books, to cover miscellaneous items and others that stood to possibly become rationed at a later point in time after the book had been rationed.

      Though the following links do not answer your queries exactly, they do provide further (highly interesting) information on Canadian WW2 rationing:





      I hope this is able to help a little - should I come across further information that may help, I'll be sure to post it here in the comment section of this post.


  4. Born during the war and growing up in Scotland, postwar, I remember rationing well. The to us kids, candy was likely our biggest peeve. It was not always available, and you needed points. Rationing was lifted briefly during coronation year and we received four little sticks of chocolate. But almost immediately it was on again. The first thing I remember to be available was butter which came to the grocer'sin big barrels

  5. My mother used to talk about rationing during the War in Canada. She had three young children by 1942. I was born after the War. She said it was very difficult at times and she would trade ration points for more meat and milk with other women who had no kids. Fats of any kind were scarce and she saved any fat from meat and used it to make biscuits and that kind of thing. It had to be clarified first. She had a "sympathetic" butcher who gave her odds and ends of liver and kidneys, even heart. She sent food parcels to relatives in England right up to the early 1950's. As a very young child I remember those parcels. They always contained small tins of salmon and fruitcake that travelled well.