Bea Alerte and Justin Case - Communicating Citizenship

Justin Case warns a sleeping man that a coconut is about to fall on his head.

Disasters Occur in Peacetime Too. Don't Wait For War

Figure 3. Source: Department of National Health and Welfare, “… Disasters Occur in Peacetime Too. Don’t Wait For War…,” Poster, 1950s, Library and Archives Canada/Civil Defence, Dept. of National Health and Welfare/OCLC 1007743754

In postwar Canada, citizenship was a highly contested category.[27] The Bea Alerte and Justin Case campaign provides a perspective into how Canadian civil defence programming imagined and produced good citizenship: it was a lesson in obligation to collective security as nation building. This approach has a precursor in World War I propaganda campaigns where the relationship between nation building and militarization became cemented. As argued by James (2009), in his comparative study of visual culture and World War I propaganda posters, graphic messaging reflected new developments in military technologies while persuading and cultivating public support of war efforts. Visual communication reflected national interests but also drove modernization via preparedness activities. The message of war was one of economic development and nation-building: “through the viewing of posters, factory work, agricultural work, and domestic work, the consumption and conservation of goods, and various kinds of leisure all became emblematic of one’s national identity and one’s place within a collective effort to win the war. It was in part by looking at posters that citizens learned to see themselves as members of the home front”.[28] Modernity married nation building with good citizenship in the pursuit of the war effort. Graphic messaging in Canada during the Cold War similarly reflected and produced particular social, cultural, and political norms. One can analyze the Bea Alerte and Justin Case posters for the visual metaphors that reveal identity formation as elements of modern state building.  

Citizenship is not a static category and during the intense period of post-war modernization in Canada, national belongings were constituted at the nexus of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The white, middle-class, nuclear family, was the imagined household ideal, headed by the working man as universal citizen. Despite the many women who had taken on factory work in World War II due to men’s conscription, the Cold War period of modernity returned the belief that a woman’s sphere of influence was in the home.[29] Critically, however, women were still considered key to state building through their domestic activities, including preparedness work, which both reflected and cemented racialized and gendered relations.[30] As Flynn describes (2011) in her study of Black Canadian women in professional roles in the post-war period, legal ordinances prevented Black families from owning land and purchasing homes, which along with other forms of structural and symbolic racism, left Black people disenfranchised from the full privileges of citizenship.[31] With preparedness activities focused so keenly on the domestic home front, communities barred from property ownership were left out of the equation.

F.F. Worthington, the lead civilian advisor to Civil Defence Canada beginning in the late 1940’s, was a retired Major General and thirty plus year veteran of both World Wars`[32]. Some scholars have argued that he and his wife Clara - known as “Larry” Worthington - were the archetypes for the creation of Bea Alerte and Justin Case characters[33]. Certainly, the Worthington’s were a typical example of the kind of family who embodied the ideals of the white nuclear family, fulfilling postwar expectations of Canadian citizenship. Worthington conformed to culturally determined perceptions of the military veteran as the embodiment of the ideal male citizen.[34] His spouse Clara embodied the feminized ideal: she was a mother, homemaker, and military wife, maintaining the domestic sphere while Worthington dedicated his service to the country.[35] 

While the link between the Worthingtons and the cartoon mascots of Civil Defense Canada are speculative, one can analyze the posters for how Bea Alerte and Justin Case represent and reproduce certain citizenship roles. The purposeful naming of the characters is the first indication of what these roles might be - Justin Case’s activities are more action oriented - his motto is to “be ready”, whereas Bea Alerte’s message is one of watchful caution. The visual address of the poster campaign is one of pedagogical instruction - the correct behaviour is modeled for the viewer, invoking an identification with the characters who sign off their exhortations with their names in handwritten font. The subtle appearance of the Civil Defence Canada logo on Bea Alerte’s handbag [Figure 1, 8] and Justin Case’s sweater [Figure 1, 2, 3, 6] literally brands them as representatives of the nation. Given that propaganda borrows logics from modern advertising, such as personal identification with the product being sold,[36] we might interpret that Justin Case and Bea Alerte emulate the model citizen of the time. It is equally important to recognize who may be left out of this address. Communicating the values of good citizenship, as well as to whom this status might be conferred, involved promoting desired behaviours while “unselling” objectionable conduct.[37] These undesirable attributes are visually represented through the trope of the blond woman and the red-haired man, who regularly appear in the posters as bumbling, disheveled and self-indulgent [Figures 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8]. The offensive qualities of these characters are further reinforced via their clothing, activities, and facial expressions.


27 Burtch, 4 and Catherine Carstairs, Sara Wilmshurst, and Bethany Philpott. Be wise! Be healthy!: Morality and Citizenship in Canadian Public Health Campaigns (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018).
28 P. James, Picture This: World War I Posters and Visual Culture (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 2.
29 Kristina Llewellyn, Democracy's Angels: The Work of Women Teachers (Montreal: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2012), 5.
30 Llewellyn, 78.
31 Karen C. Flynn, Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 21.
32 Larry Worthington, Worthy: A Biography of Major-General F.F. Worthington (Toronto: Macmillan, 1961),
33 Burtch (74) argues that Justin Case was modelled from F.F. Worthington and while there is no confirmation on Larry their appearances do resemble each other.
34 Chris Dummitt, The Manly Modern: Masculinity in Postwar Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007), 30 and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 4.
35 Worthington.
36 Marguerite Hoyt, "You Have a Date With a (Blond) Bond: Women in Anglophone World War II Poster Art," (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2003), 3.
37 Paul Rutherford. Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 5.