Home Front

Super Heroes
Home Front

Super Heroes

Wartime restrictions accidentally created a golden age for Canadian comic book heroes with patriotic messages Torontonian Leo Bachle was just 16 in 1941 when he created Canadian wartime comic book superhero Johnny Canuck.  “I didn’t see it as propaganda at the time,” he said in a CBC interview in 1995. “I created Johnny to give Canada a hero. I really believed in the war effort. I felt very nationalistic.”  With typical Canadian reserve, these heroes didn’t always possess Superman-like powers. Bachle was in the right place at the right time with the right talent. Canada’s War Exchange Conservation Act of December 1940 banning non-essential imports had an unintended benefit to the war effort. Among paper products it barred were pulp magazines and comic books. In blocking popular A...
Rugged Workhorse
Home Front

Rugged Workhorse

From the Sahara to Normandy, Canadian Military Pattern trucks kept armies supplied and moving The Desert Fox, General Erwin Rommel, had to make a decision. It was June 1942 and after mauling Britain’s Eighth Army in the Western Desert campaign, the commander of Germany’s Panzer Army Africa was at the end of his logistical support.   Rommel was a brilliant tactician, but his strategic vision was dulled by the defeat he inflicted on the British in Libya, forcing them to retreat to El Alamein, Egypt, a shot-up railway station along the Mediterranean coast. He decided to make one last effort to crack British defences and have his Panzer forces roll through Egypt to the Nile. But first he had to capture Tobruk, Libya, and gain the stores and petrol left by the retreating British—supplies...
Canada’s Bletchley Park
Home Front, Military History

Canada’s Bletchley Park

Ottawa had its own top-secret code-breaking establishment In 1942, David Hayne, a recent University of Toronto graduate, was undergoing artillery training at Camp Niagara in Ontario when he received two mysterious letters that changed the course of his life and helped place Canada in the forefront of intelligence gathering. The first was from a professor of French who asked Hayne if he would fill an opening at the National Research Council (NRC). There was no indication of what the work involved, only that it was connected with the war and that the letter writer found it absorbing. The young grad concluded that the job related to the French language, his passion. Still, he dispatched a cautious reply, saying he expected to begin his military career almost immediately. That letter...
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...

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.