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A Brief History of the 1947 Chocolate Candy Bar Strike

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The year was 1947. World War II had come to an end, and nations across the globe were rebuilding. For Canada, that meant a return to free market capitalism after years of government-mandated freezes on wages and the price of goods and services. Looking to recover from nearly a decade of thin profit margins, companies began to raise the price on everything from vegetables to automobiles, sending inflation through the roof, and putting a crunch on everyone’s pocketbooks.

When kids in the small town of Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia wandered down to the Wigwam Café on April 25, 1947, they were surprised to find that the nickel they’d saved from their allowance would no longer buy the candy bar they craved. The price of chocolate had gone up 60 percent, quite literally overnight, from 5 cents to 8 cents for a 3-ounce candy car.

Rather than accept the price increase, the kids decided to do something about it. They hastily scrawled signs, and began marching up and down the street, singing an impromptu protest song:

We want a 5 cent chocolate bar
8 cents is going too darn far
We want a 5 cent chocolate bar
Oh, we want a 5 cent bar

Word spread quickly and soon nearly every kid in town had joined the “Chocolate Bar Strike.”

After the local paper snapped a picture of the little protesters in front of the Wigwam, kids across Canada began picketing their own corner stores carrying signs that read, “What this country needs is a good 5 cent bar!” and “Candy is dandy, but 8 cents isn’t handy!” One of the biggest protests occurred on April 30, when 200 kids marched on the steps of the British Columbia capitol building, shutting down government business for the day. In Burnaby, traffic was clogged for two hours as kids paraded on their bicycles down a major thoroughfare. Ten kids blasting bugles led 60 classmates in a march on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. Five hundred sign-carrying students from three area high schools gathered at the Christie Pits Park in Toronto. The movement continued with additional protests in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec City, and throughout the Maritimes, with police being called out to break up the larger gatherings. In all, over 3000 kids were said to have signed pledge cards promising to boycott candy until the price was brought down. Within days, the sale of candy bars in Canada had dropped 80 percent.

For the most part, adults saw the Chocolate Bar Strike as an amusing but profound metaphor for their own struggles with the new post-war economy. Many adult-led community organizations supported the candy strike by printing protest signs and pledge cards, bringing snacks for the kids on the frontlines, and by standing with the youngsters as they rallied against price gouging.

Naturally, candy companies defended the higher price, saying they too were feeling the pressure of post-war inflation. For them, raw materials such as milk, sugar, and cocoa bean processing had become more expensive since the government price freezes had been lifted. They also tried to convince customers that they were simply following the American market, where candy averaged between 5 and 10 cents for the same size bar; Canadian kids had it good at only 8 cents.

The movement continued to gain momentum until May 3, when a planned march on Toronto, meant to be the biggest protest yet, was thwarted by a story in the Toronto Evening Telegram. An anonymous source had informed the newspaper that the entire candy strike was being orchestrated by the National Federation of Labour Youth (NFLY), an organization that helped establish labor unions in Canada. While they were one of many groups to support the kids, NFLY had members affiliated with the Communist Party, which led the ultra-conservative Telegram to propose they were nothing more than a front for Moscow:

“Chocolate bars and a world revolution may seem poles apart, but to the devious, Communist mind, there is a close relationship. They don’t realize it, but the indignant students parading with their placards demanding a 5 cent candy bar have become another instrument in the Communist grand strategy of the creation of chaos.”

The paper claimed that NFLY was recruiting from the ranks of the kids, as well as using the children to further their own communist agenda. In a 2003 interview, NFLY co-founder Bill Stewart refuted these claims; the group simply wanted to encourage kids to speak out when they felt they’d been wronged. 

Whether these allegations were true or not, the candy boycott was now painted red.  Wary of being labeled “Communist,” supportive organizations disowned the strike, and parents forbade their children from attending any further protests. The candy strike fizzled, and the price of a chocolate bar remained 8 cents.

In The Five Cent War, a documentary about the candy strike, surviving members of the original Ladysmith protesters were interviewed about their part in the 1947 boycott.  Everyone agreed that communism was the furthest thing from their young minds.  All they wanted was for their voices to be heard, and to keep a little more allowance in their pockets.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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