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Defence deal
Canada Corner, Home Front, Military History

Defence deal

The first Canadian-American defence alliance was born in menacing times After the German invasion of Scandinavia, the Low Countries and France in April, May and June 1940, the chances of Britain’s survival seemed very much in doubt. In Canada, there was consternation and fear, but the federal government dutifully sent every military resource it had at its disposal to bolster the United Kingdom’s defences. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division joined the 1st in southern England. A Royal Canadian Air Force fighter squadron helped the Royal Air Force resist the Luftwaffe’s onslaught. And the RCN’s four destroyers in the Atlantic proceeded overseas. Canada had promptly stripped itself bare to help the desperate mother country. Nonetheless, the astonishing Nazi conquests forced the Canad...
The last of the biplanes
Home Front

The last of the biplanes

It was 1939 and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company’s (Can-Car) new FDB-1 fighter-bomber had just demonstrated that it could out-climb a Hurricane or Spitfire.  After flying it, an RCAF test pilot extolled its dogfighting agilities, which he said would also challenge that of contemporary fighters. Aeronautical engineer Michael Gregor had earlier convinced Can-Car’s Montreal headquarters to hire him to design and build a new highly manoeuvrable fighter-bomber at their facility in Fort William, Ont. (now part of Thunder Bay). Gregor’s creation was somewhat radical: a biplane at a time when monoplanes were all the rage. But Gregor was a huge fan of biplanes and of enhancing their potential. “They’ll start the war with monoplanes but finish it with biplanes,” he said. Can-Car’s general ma...
Riot on Barrington Street
Home Front

Riot on Barrington Street

During the Second World War, Halifax quickly became overcrowded with tens of thousands of army, navy and air force personnel, as well as merchant seamen, civilian workers and their families. Newcomers competed with locals for goods, services and accommodation. All were in short supply through the war. Devious landlords overcharged for the smallest of inferior living space, which usually had shared toilet, washing and cooking facilities—if there were any at all. Sailors and civilians alike were frustrated by the poor level and range of services in the port city. “The city was just plain overcrowded,” said a Wren, one of nearly 1,000 Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members stationed in the Halifax area. “And it made for a lot of tension.” As the end of the war approached, the sen...
They were prepared
Home Front

They were prepared

The mottos of all factions of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements include pledges to help others. Wartime records show that contributions of the young members more than lived up to their mottos “Lend a Hand,” “Do a Good Turn Daily” and “Be Prepared.” In September 1943, 11-year-old Donald Penrose, a Wolf Cub in the 40th Deer Lodge Pack, received a 700-hour war service badge, setting a record for Cub war work in Manitoba and possibly all of Canada. He earned his badge by volunteering to do a series of war service tasks during the Second World War—collecting magazines, knitting, sewing quilts and making doughnuts. The Boy Scouts annual report noting his badge presentation also added that in addition to his volunteering, Penrose “still finds time to do piano practice daily.” Although t...
When Winnipeg erupted
Home Front

When Winnipeg erupted

In Germany I fed on grass and rats. I would prefer going back to eating grass than give up the freedom for which I fought so hard and suffered so much.”       This outburst, voiced by a First World War veteran in Western Labour News, captures all too well the disillusion and bitterness felt by him and many of his colleagues following the First World War. During the war, they had dreamed of finding a “brave new world” upon their return to Canada, a world in which they would find good jobs and a greater voice in decision-making. Instead, they found rampant unemployment, soaring inflation and widespread industrial unrest.    This labour unrest would reach a peak in Canada’s best-known and largest general strike, the Winnipeg General Strike, which crippled Canada’s third-largest city in M...
Coming Home
Home Front

Coming Home

Meticulously colourized images kindle a renewed appreciation of the burdens carried by homecoming soldiers   Winning wars lets countries tidy up some national stories, but losing wars often worsens domestic divisions. Winning certainly makes history appear neater: in the First World War, Canadians fought against tyranny for democracy and freedom—or so the story goes. But after a defeat, a nation can descend into social and political turmoil—that was Germany after the Great War. Soldiers returning from wars, both lost and won, unpack agendas, and it is often a challenge for a country to absorb hundreds of thousands of veterans for whom violence was their professional language. Germany in the 1920s was plagued by hyperinflation, threat of revolution and veterans who felt betrayed...