Search for "World War II"

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Second World War (WWII)

The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the air war over Germany, and contributed forces to the campaigns of western Europe beyond what might be expected of a small nation of then only 11 million people. Between 1939 and 1945 more than one million Canadian men and women served full-time in the armed services. More than 43,000 were killed. Despite the bloodshed, the war against Germany and the Axis powers reinvigorated Canada's industrial base, elevated the role of women in the economy, paved the way for Canada's membership in NATO, and left Canadians with a legacy of proud service and sacrifice embodied in names such as Dieppe, Hong Kong, Ortona and Juno Beach.

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Wartime Home Front

The two world wars of the 20th century were total wars that involved the whole nation, and the "home front" became a critical part of Canada’s effort.

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Remembering D-Day: The Making of a Heritage Minute

On 6 June 1944, Canadian Forces landed on Juno Beach. D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion of all time and marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. In 2019, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute telling the story of 47-year-old Major Archie MacNaughton, a First World War veteran and leader of the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment’s A Company. In this article, Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of Historica Canada, reflects on the making of the D-Day Minute.

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Veronica Foster

Veronica Foster Guerrette, Second World War icon, model, vocalist (born 2 January 1922 in Montreal, Quebec; died 4 May 2000 in Toronto, Ontario). Foster worked for the John Inglis Company assembling Bren light machine guns during the Second World War. She was featured on propaganda posters that encouraged women to serve Canada by working in munitions factories. Foster became a Canadian icon representing female workers in the manufacturing industry. After the war, she was lead singer with the dance band Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen.

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Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund

While they may not have had access to the battlefields, a number of Canadian women artists made their mark on the visual culture of the First World War by representing the home front. First among these were the women affiliated with the Canadian War Memorials Fund, Canada’s first official war art program. Founded in 1916, the stated goal of the Fund was to provide “suitable Memorials in the form of Tablets, Oil-Paintings, etc. […], to the Canadian Heroes and Heroines in the War.” Expatriates Florence Carlyle and Caroline Armington participated in the program while overseas. Artists Henrietta Mabel May, Dorothy StevensFrances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.

Editorial

Canadian Soldiers and the Liberation of the Netherlands

In the final months of the Second World War, Canadians were tasked with liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. In April 1945, the First Canadian Army began clearing the northern and western Netherlands, where many had suffered from food and fuel shortages in what became known as the “Hunger Winter.” Over 1,000 Canadian servicemen died in April 1945 during the last push to liberate the country. The Dutch people greeted their Canadian liberators with cheers and gratitude and continue to honour their sacrifice today.

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Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong

Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. From 8 to 25 December 1941, almost 2,000 troops from Winnipeg and Quebec City — sent to Hong Kong expecting little more than guard duty — fought bravely against the overwhelming power of an invading Japanese force. When the British colony surrendered on Christmas Day, 290 Canadians had been killed in the fighting. Another 264 would die over the next four years, amid the inhumane conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

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Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain (10 July to 31 October 1940) stopped the German air force from dominating the skies over England early in the Second World War, preventing a planned invasion by Germany. Hundreds of Canadian air and ground crew participated in the battle.

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Canada and the Dutch Hunger Winter

The Dutch Hunger Winter was a severe food crisis that took place in the Netherlands in 1944–45, during the Second World War. By the time the country was liberated by Canadian and Allied forces in May 1945, around 20,000 Dutch people had died from the famine. With liberation came an influx of food and other provisions for the starving population. The Canadian role in liberating the Netherlands resulted in a lasting relationship between the two countries.

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Chinese Canadians of Force 136

Force 136 was a branch of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Its covert missions were based in Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia, where orders were to support and train local resistance movements to sabotage Japanese supply lines and equipment. While Force 136 recruited mostly Southeast Asians, it also recruited about 150 Chinese Canadians. It was thought that Chinese Canadians would blend in with local populations and speak local languages. Earlier in the war, many of these men had volunteered their services to Canada but were either turned away or recruited and sidelined. Force 136 became an opportunity for Chinese Canadian men to demonstrate their courage and skills and especially their loyalty to Canada.

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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Canadian War Art Programs

Since the First World War, there have been four major initiatives to allow Canadian artists to document Canadian Armed Forcesat war. Canada’s first official war art program, the Canadian War Memorials Fund (1916–19), was one of the first government-sponsored programs of its kind. It was followed by the Canadian War Art Program (1943–46) during the Second World War. The Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artists Program (1968–95) and the Canadian Forces Artists Program (2001–present) were established to send civilian artists to combat and peacekeepingzones. Notable Canadian war artists have included A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, Lawren Harris, Alex Colville and Molly Lamb Bobak.

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Canada and Gas Warfare

Poison gas was used throughout the First World War by almost all armies. The various types of gas, delivered by canisters, projectors, or shell, killed, maimed, denied ground and wore down morale. By 1918, soldiers of all armies encountered gas frequently while serving at the front. Canadian soldiers were among the first to face the death clouds, at the Second Battle of Ypres, and they would have a fraught relationship with gas throughout the war. This article will examine the interaction of Canadian armed forces with poison gas, with a focus on its use in attack, the development of a defence doctrine to protect against it, and its impact on individual Canadians. It will also look at how gassed veterans fared in the war’s aftermath and the creation of chemical weapons in Canada during the Second World War.