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Forged in war

World War II, 1939-1945

The Second World War was a major turning-point for Canada. Changes occurred in Canada’s relationship with the outside world, in the role of government, in the nature of the economy and society, and in Canadians’ sense of themselves.

Memories of the slaughter of Canadian soldiers during the First World War and the conscription crisis made the Canadian government reluctant to commit manpower to the Second World War until after the fall of France in 1940. Nonetheless, in 1939 the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan established facilities in Canada to train much-needed aircrew for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The plan was a significant contribution to the Allied war effort, 45% of all Commonwealth aircrews receiving some or all of their training in Canada. This tie with Britain, however, retarded the development of a national air force. In 1944, 63% of the more than 27,000 members of the Overseas War Establishment of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) served in RAF squadrons.

On the naval front Canada provided corvette protection to vital convoys of war matériel and foodstuffs crossing the North Atlantic Ocean. Initially, the skeletal Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) lacked expertise and equipment but by October 1943 it had grown to include 85,000 men serving in 365 warships. By 1944 virtually all transatlantic convoys were sailing under RCN protection.

By the end of 1939 the first 23,000 men of the 1st Division of the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF) were in the United Kingdom. Although naval and air force personnel had been engaged since early in the war in Europe, it was not until 19 August 1942 that the CASF saw action in the disastrous raid on Dieppe; 18% of the 5,000-man force died in the raid and only 2,210 returned. The Canadian army made significant contributions to eventual Allied victory in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns in 1943-5 and in the North West European theatre in 1944-5.

Almost 2,000 Canadian soldiers were involved in the ill-fated defence of Hong Kong in 1941. After Pearl Harbour threats of Japanese invasion led to the establishment of operational bases in British Columbia, although none saw action. A Canadian infantry brigade and two RCAF squadrons served under American command in the Aleutian campaign (1942-3).

During the war more than a million Canadians served overseas. Although casualty rates were lower than in the Great War, more than 40,000 Canadians died in the conflict. High casualty rates in the First World War had contributed to post-war isolationism, but the sacrifices of the Second World War prompted Canada in the post-war period to take on the role of a middle power in world affairs. Dynamic economic growth was associated with post-war prosperity, and waves of immigration, population growth, and suburbanization changed the composition and distribution of the population.

Nonetheless, differences based on class, language, ethnicity, and region remained embedded in the very different society that emerged during the 1940s and 1950s.


This piece describes various aspects of the economic impact from WW II. Users can choose to learn about changes in employment structure, witness a breakdown of overall costs of the War, or learn about the Federal Government involvement in War industries. Users can click on a region on the map to access further details about War industries.


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Quiz :

When did France cede all its mainland possessions and rights in North America to Great Britain