Dressing the Troops: Knitting During the Wars

By Cara Downey

Canadian knitters played a significant role in outfitting those who served in various wars, including the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War. Knitters made socks, sweaters and other items for soldiers, pilots, sailors, merchant seamen, the sick and wounded, as well as prisoners of war and refugees. This work was encouraged by various volunteer groups: the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire (IODE), branches of the armed services and their auxiliaries (for example, the Navy League), and others. Special patterns were printed, and the required knitting materials were distributed to volunteers. (See Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, pages 32 to 39)

The patterns listed strict requirements for the garments, with knitters generally requested to stick to “plain knitting” (that is, stocking stitch), since unnecessary decoration decreased speed and increased use of yarn. (Shirley A. Scott, Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land, page 39) 

The book Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, issued by the Canadian Red Cross Society in 1940, provides further instructions:

  • Knit items in specific colours, for example:
    • Socks for the Navy were to be knit in navy blue or grey, Army socks in khaki, grey or “heathers,” Air Force socks in black or grey, bed socks for hospitals in white or grey;
    • Toques were to be knit in navy blue for the Navy and in khaki for the Army; toques were not required for the Air Force.
  • Join wool by splicing, not with knots;
  • Cast on all ribbing stitches loosely;
  • “Join two socks of pair together with light coloured wool pulled through two inside thicknesses of cuff. Do not knot, but tie in firm bow. Fasten one size label (on each pair of socks) on the outside on cuff, if size runs between sizes, label smaller size.” (Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, pages 3, 13, and 15).
    A black-and-white photograph of soldiers in uniform sitting outdoors while knitting.

    Resting but busy (e010963520)

    Knitting was generally performed by women on the home front (regardless of class), children (particularly girls), as well as the sick or injured. The photo Resting but busy (dated c. 1918–1925) shows convalescing soldiers knitting as a form of relaxation and therapy. 

    Knitting was encouraged through various means. One example is the printed posters exhorting people to “knit for the boys.” The American Red Cross produced the poster Our Boys Need Sox, Knit Your Bit during the First World War, and Canada’s National War Finance Committee published the poster Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory in 1942, which included a picture of a woman knitting.

    A poster that reads “Whoever You Are ... Whatever Your Job ... Here is What Canada Needs of YOU ... Work - Save - Lend for Victory” and features drawn portraits of two men and two women.

    Whoever You Are … Whatever Your Job … Here is What Canada Needs of YOU … Work – Save – Lend for Victory (e010695660)

    Knitting was so common during this time that it entered popular culture—in songs such as Knitting socks for Daddy’s men (published in 1915) and The pretty little mitt that Kitty knit (published in 1940)—and in books. Characters in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside (published in 1921) participated in knitting circles and knitted at home to contribute to the war effort. Katherine Hale dedicated the book Grey Knitting and Other Poems (published in Toronto in 1914) to “The Women Who Knit.” 

    The contribution of knitters should not be dismissed. While it is difficult to count the number of items given to the diverse groups that collected goods and to know the number of individuals involved, the Canadian Red Cross estimates that a total of 750,000 volunteers knit 50 million articles (for soldiers, the sick, refugees, and others) during the Second World War alone. (Halifax Women’s History Society, “The Monument Design: The Design for The Volunteers.”) For the Scotia Chapter of the IODE during this period, this meant a contribution that included 350 pairs of socks, 525 sweaters, 125 helmets, 50 pairs of mittens, 12 pairs of gloves, and 65 scarves. (Sharon M.H. MacDonald, Hidden Costs, Hidden Labours: Women in Nova Scotia During Two World Wars, page 141)

    Visit the Flickr album for more images of knitting!


    Cara Downey is a senior analyst in the Governance, Liaison and Partnerships Division. 

Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female official war artist overseas: A Co-Lab challenge

By Krista Cooke

Black-and-white photograph taken from the side showing a smiling woman in uniform sitting on a pier with a drawing tablet and pencil in hand. In the background, a young blond child is standing, and sailboats are docked nearby

War artist Lieutenant Molly Lamb, Canadian Women’s Army Corps, sketching at Volendam, Netherlands, September 1945 (a115762)

Molly Lamb Bobak, the first female official war artist overseas, is arguably the Second World War painter who best captured Canadian women’s experiences of military life. In 1942, Molly Lamb (later Bobak) was fresh out of art school in Vancouver. The talented young painter promptly joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) as a draftswoman—dreaming of one day becoming an official war artist.

Canada’s war art program, established during the First World War, resulted in a vast collection of artworks. Molly Lamb Bobak, who contributed to the Canadian War Records of the Second World War, was exceptional. She was Canada’s first female official war artist overseas. Works from her lifetime of painting and drawing are held at numerous institutions across Canada, including Library and Archives Canada (LAC), where a large collection of her works resides. One of the most compelling pieces, her wartime diary, is now more accessible: it has been digitized and can be transcribed through the collaboration tool Co-Lab.

Shortly after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak began writing a unique diary, which provides an invaluable record of the CWAC’s role in the war effort. Titled simply W110278, after her service number, it is a personal and insightful handwritten account of the everyday events of army life, accompanied by her drawings. Covering the period from November 1942 to June 1945, the diary contains 226 illustrated pages and almost 50 single sheet sketches interleaved among its pages.

A hand-drawn newspaper-style page with a column of text and illustrations of a woman in a military uniform and a diner scene. The titles “W110278” (Molly Lamb Bobak’s service number) and “Girl Takes Drastic Step!” are written at the top

Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary, amplified with colourful sketches (e006078933)

A hand-drawn page with text and illustrations of two women in military uniforms, women posing for images, women eating at a restaurant, a small pink pig, and women marching. The title reads, “Life Begins as Second Lieutenant!”

Another example from Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary (e011161136)

The diary’s first page (top) captures the humorous tone and unique approach of the diary, which is written in newspaper style, with the pages resembling big-city broadsheets. The first headline reads “Girl Takes Drastic Step! ‘You’re in the Army now’ as Medical Test Okayed.” What follows are handwritten news bulletins with amusing anecdotes and vibrant illustrations, revealing women’s experiences in Second World War army life. These comprise a personal daily record of Lamb Bobak’s time in the CWAC. She worked serving in canteens before being sent on basic training in Alberta, eventually being promoted to Lieutenant in the Canadian Army Historical Section, in 1945. Throughout her years of service in Canada, she captured the world around her, later using many of these sketches as studies for her paintings.

Three years after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak achieved her ultimate goal when she became the first woman to be sent overseas as an official war artist. She recorded her excitement in her diary, writing “Lamb’s Fate Revealed…To Be First Woman War Artist!” Despite her talent, Lamb Bobak’s appointment as an official war artist was far from a foregone conclusion. Women’s perspectives had not been a priority for the program. As she later recalled, “[B]eing the first female war artist, with 9 men [in my group] . . . was sort of a great thing to have happened to me . . . because I know the Army didn’t want women [artists], in those days.” She credited family friend and Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson with her success. Indeed, he had written on her behalf to the director of the National Gallery of Canada, who was involved in the war art program, stating “If she had half a chance, she could go places.” And go places she did!

A black-and-white photograph, taken from the side, of a woman painting at an easel, holding a paintbrush and palette

Molly Lamb Bobak paints #1 Static Base Laundry (shown completed below) (a188549)

A colourful painting depicting a building and women (some in uniform) in a line, with rolling hills and trees in the background. This painting is the completed version of the painting on which Bobak is working in the photograph above

#1 Static Base Laundry, a painting now in the collections of the Canadian War Museum Canadian War Museum 19710261-1617

After the ceasefire in 1945, the military sent Molly Lamb Bobak to England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. As one of almost 30 Canadian official war artists working during the Second World War, Lamb Bobak created works that are unique because of their focus on servicewomen. Roughly 50,000 Canadian women enlisted in the military during the Second World War, but their experiences were not generally of interest to male war artists or administrators of the war art program, who tended to focus on battlefield scenes and servicemen. As a CWAC herself, Molly Lamb Bobak had unparalleled access to her subjects and was able to capture the daily experiences of being a servicewoman. She later explained that “[T]he whole structure of army life is agreeable to a painter… and everywhere you turn there is something terrific to paint…. one could spend hours … drawing the C.W.A.C.s checking in and out, the new recruits, the fatigue girls in their overalls, the orderly officer.” During her time overseas, she produced dozens of paintings that today are part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum. Together with the material at Library and Archives Canada, it is possible to build a rich portrait of Molly Lamb Bobak’s military experiences and of her life as a painter. Following the war, she married fellow official war artist Bruno Bobak. Their assignment to a shared studio space in London, U.K., began a romance that lasted until their deaths (Molly Lamb Bobak died in 2014, and Bruno Bobak died in 2012). Their shared archival collection is housed at Library and Archives Canada.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records from our collection, such as Molly Lamb Bobak’s wartime diary.


Krista Cooke is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada. This blog post draws from an earlier version written by Carolyn Cook, formerly of LAC.

CIL: The story of a brand

By François Larivée

The CIL name is a commercial brand that immediately evokes something in the collective consciousness, namely paint. However, for those who explore the history behind this well-known brand, it probably comes as a surprise to learn that CIL’s origins are in the manufacturing of explosives and munitions.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large rectangular billboard anchored to an embankment and featuring an advertisement for CIL. The ad looks like a painting, with a house at each end, in a suburban landscape. Between the two houses, the oval CIL logo is visible, with the words “Peintures” in the top left and “Paints” in the bottom right.

CIL advertising billboard on Monkland Boulevard, Ville LaSalle, Quebec, circa 1950 (a069072)

Explosive beginnings

The origins of CIL can be traced back to 1862, before Confederation. That year, the Hamilton Powder Company was formed in Hamilton, Ontario. The company specialized in the production of black powder, which was then used as an explosive for a variety of purposes, particularly for railway construction, a booming industry at the time.

The Hamilton Powder Company’s activities culminated in 1877, when it was awarded a major contract to participate in the construction of the national railway linking Eastern Canada and British Columbia. (This railway was famously a condition set by British Columbia for joining Confederation.) The black powder produced by the company was then used to enable the railway’s perilous crossing of the Rocky Mountains in 1884 and 1885.

Following its expansion, the Hamilton Powder Company moved its head office to Montréal. It was also near Montréal, in Belœil, that from 1878 onward, the company developed what would become its main explosives production site.

In 1910, it merged with six other Canadian companies, most of which also specialized in the production of explosives. Together, they formed a new company: the Canadian Explosives Company (CXL). Although explosives remained the bulk of the company’s production, new activities were added, including the manufacture of chemical products and munitions.

One of the companies involved in the merger, the Dominion Cartridge Company, already specialized in the manufacture of munitions, particularly rifle cartridges (used mainly for hunting). It was founded in Brownsburg, Quebec, in 1886 by two Americans—Arthur Howard and Thomas Brainerd—and Canadian John Abbott, who would later become the country’s third prime minister. In 2017, Library and Archives Canada acquired a significant portion of CIL’s archival holdings relating to its Brownsburg plant.

World wars and munitions

During the first half of the 20th century, the company produced more and more munitions. Indeed, as a consequence of the two world wars, the demand for military ammunition in particular increased sharply.

As early as 1915, the Dominion Arsenal (responsible for the production of military ammunition in Canada) could not meet the demand on its own. The Canadian government therefore sought the help of Dominion Cartridge, then one of the largest private companies in this sector. The company thus obtained major contracts to produce military ammunition.

Order-in-Council approved and signed on May 4, 1915, by the Privy Council Office on the recommendation of the Department of Militia and Defence. It authorizes the establishment of a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company Limited of Montréal for the production of 100 million .303 Mark VII munitions, according to the specifications of the British War Office, at $36 per thousand pounds.

Privy Council Office Order-in-Council approving a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company for the production of munitions, May 1915 (e010916133)

To reflect the gradual diversification of its operations, the company changed its name to Canadian Industries Limited (CIL) in 1927.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, CIL further increased its production of munitions. In 1939, in partnership with the Crown, it established a subsidiary company dedicated exclusively to this sector of activity, Defence Industries Limited (DIL). The Crown owned the factories and equipment, but it delegated the management of operations to CIL. The Crown also provided CIL with the funds to operate the plants, although it did not purchase their production.

Given the considerable ammunition requirements of the Allied forces, DIL expanded rapidly. It opened many factories: in Ontario, in Pickering (Ajax), Windsor, Nobel and Cornwall; in Quebec, in Montréal, Brownsburg, Verdun, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite (Cherrier plant), Sainte-Thérèse (Bouchard plant), Belœil and Shawinigan; and in Manitoba, in Winnipeg.

Some occupied huge sites, turning DIL into one of the largest industrial complexes of the time. In 1943, at the peak of its activity, it employed more than 32,000 people, the vast majority of whom were women.

Black-and-white photograph of a female employee wearing a white uniform and cap, holding a projectile for presentation to the Honourable C.D. Howe. Behind them, several projectiles of different sizes are displayed on a table. In the background, a few civilians and military personnel are standing on a platform behind a lectern.

Edna Poirier, an employee of Defence Industries Limited, presents the Honourable C.D. Howe with the hundred-millionth projectile manufactured in the Cherrier plant, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, September 1944 (e000762462)

Black-and-white photograph showing employees in front of factory buildings, moving away from what appears to be a locker building. Most are seen from behind; others are facing the camera or talking to each other. In the background are a few train carriages.

Workers leaving the Cherrier plant of Defence Industries Limited to take the train, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, June 1944 (e000762822)

New products and a centennial

After the Second World War, CIL gradually reduced its production of munitions, which it abandoned definitively in 1976 to concentrate on chemical and synthetic products, agricultural fertilizers, and paints. It then began to invest a large part of its operating budget into the research and development of new products. Its central research laboratory, which was established in 1916 near the Belœil plant, grew in size, as evidenced by a large part of CIL’s archival holdings held at Library and Archives Canada.

The development of the explosives factory and laboratory in the Belœil region led to the creation of a brand-new town in 1917: McMasterville, named after William McMaster, first chairman of the Canadian Explosives Company in 1910.

Black-and-white photograph of a worker wearing protective equipment and a visor, pouring a white liquid from a machine. The liquid flows out as a uniform band into a cylinder that the worker holds in his right hand. Some smoke rises from the liquid.

Worker pouring liquid nylon from an autoclave, Canadian Industries Limited, Kingston, Ontario, circa 1960 (e011051701)

Black-and-white photograph of a worker filling a bag by holding it under the spout of a machine. A stack of empty bags sits next to him. The bags read “CIL Fertilizer.”

Bagging of chemical fertilizer at the Canadian Industries Limited plant, Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1960 (e010996324)

Although CIL was diversifying its operations, the production of explosives remained the company’s main driver of growth and profitability. These explosives were used in many major ventures, including mining projects in Sudbury, Elliot Lake, Thompson, Matagami and Murdochville, and hydroelectric projects in Manicouagan, Niagara and Churchill Falls. They were also used in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Highway.

To mark its centennial in 1962, the company had a major building constructed in downtown Montréal: the CIL House (now the Telus Tower). The work was carried out between 1960 and 1962 and is a testament to CIL’s growth.

Around the same time, the company bought a heritage house in Old Montréal, which it restored and named the CIL Centennial House initially, then the Del Vecchio House (in honour of the man who had it built). The company periodically exhibited collection pieces there from its weapons and ammunition museum in Brownsburg.

The company faded, but the brand endures

In 1981, CIL moved its head office from Montréal to Toronto. Its central research laboratory was moved from McMasterville to Mississauga. The McMasterville explosives factory remained in operation, despite the many workplace accidents—some fatal—that happened there. It gradually reduced its production before closing for good in 2000.

However, CIL’s heyday had long since passed. From 1988 onward, the company had just been a subsidiary of the British chemical company ICI (which was itself acquired by the Dutch company AkzoNobel in 2008).

But to complete the story, in 2012, the American company PPG purchased AkzoNobel’s coatings and paint production division, thereby acquiring the well-known CIL paint brand, which still exists today.

Related resources


François Larivée is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Archives Branch.

Japanese Canadian internment: Over 40,000 pages and 180 photographs digitized by the DigiLab

By Gabrielle Nishiguchi

The DigiLab has hosted many projects since its launch in 2017, two of which were carried out by Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes of Injustice is a major, seven-year humanities and social justice project led by the University of Victoria, joined to date by fifteen cultural, academic and federal partners, including Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this project is to research and make known the history of the dispossession—the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property made legal by Order in Council 1943-0469 (19 January 1943) during the Second World War.

In total, over 40,000 pages of textual material and over 180 photographs were digitized by the two researchers with Landscapes of Injustice. Some of the documents are now available online for all to consult, including photographs relating to the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Photographs relating to Japanese Canadian internment

These photographs are from three albums of photographs taken during inspection tours of Japanese Canadian internment camps in 1943 and 1945. The first two albums contain images of camps in the interior of British Columbia taken by Jack Long of the National Film Board of Canada Still Photography Division.

The third album contains twenty-seven images taken by Ernest L. Maag, International Committee of the Red Cross Delegate in Canada, in 1943. Among the Maag images are photographs illustrating the winter hardship of Japanese Canadian internment life. One photograph shows the International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour.

Another image shows snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of the internment shacks. There is tar paper on the outer walls for protection against the elements.

Three men and a car in a snowstorm: (from left to right) one man standing at the rear of the car, a second man bent over the back right tire, and a third man going towards the car to assist.

Picture No. 26 [The International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour] Credit: Ernest L. Maag (e999900382-u)

From right to left: Children in front of shiplap shacks with snow shovelled against walls. Internee in distance walking down makeshift “street.” Tar paper, to protect the shacks from the elements, is visible on the shack walls.

Picture No. 5 [Snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of internment shacks. Notice the tar paper on the outer walls of the shacks for protection against the elements. Credit: Ernest L. Maag] (e999900386-u)

All photographs digitized during the project are available in Collection Search under the key words “Photographs relating to Japanese-Canadian internment.”

A defective and prejudicial logic

It should be noted that the Long photographs were commissioned by the Canadian government during the Second World War to create the false impression that some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, whom it had forcibly interned in 1942, were being especially well treated and were, in fact, enjoying their lives in internment camps.

Bureaucrats employed the defective and prejudicial logic that there was an equivalence between Canadians of Japanese ethnic origin—75% of whom were Canadian citizens by birth or naturalization—and ethnic Japanese in Imperial Japan. The rationale behind this discriminatory belief was that, if these photographs were seen by the Government of Japan, they might secure favourable treatment for Canadian soldiers held captive by the Axis Japanese.

Original captions

The original captions reflect the purpose of the photographs and were a product of 1940s thinking. Internees are not referred to as Canadians. They are all “Japanese” or, in one offensive case, “Japs.” Non-Japanese are “whites,” “Occidentals” or “other racial groups.” The names added to the captions are for non-Japanese persons.

Euphemisms are employed, such as “space-saving” and “snug” for cramped, “evacuees” for internees, “repatriation” for deportation, “cottages” for internment shacks, and “settlements” and “housing centres” for the actual camps. There are “orderly rows of houses” and “tidy valleys.” The point is often made that the internees are being treated the same as other Canadians: “In camp hospitals, babies are born as in any other hospital. This happy mother chats with Dr. Burnett, director of the hospital” and “At the end of the school term Japanese evacuee students have a graduation banquet just as any other students in Canada would. Settlements are unguarded, and evacuees may visit between them, or go out for sports.”

There are descriptions such as “cheerful,” “modern,” “a fine place,” “well-equipped,” “well-stocked,” “clean,” and “as perfect as possible.” In one image of the women’s ward of the hospital at the New Denver, B.C., camp hospital, the caption writer senses “there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles.” In this case, the ribboned ornament that the internee patient has pinned in her hair is perhaps evidence that the photograph was staged.

From left to right: Hospitalized woman (internee) in bed. Nurse standing on the right.

In the women’s ward of the hospital at New Denver, there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles. [The photographer appears to have posed the internee patient. Notice the ribboned ornament she has clipped on the back of her head.] (e999900300-u)

Yet even though the Long photographs have been artfully and professionally staged, there is still no mistaking the posed, self-conscious smiles of people who are detained in internment camps.

When one bureaucrat in Canada’s Department of External Affairs saw Long’s images, he wrote on the file pocket: “These are excellent photographs.” However, the written comments of another bureaucrat, Arthur Redpath Menzies, dated April 26, 1943, appearing just below his colleague’s leave us with a stark reminder of the reality of the situation not revealed by the photographs themselves: “Understand from some who have been there that this spot is actually pretty grim — very cold — no work except sawing wood . . . in fact not a very pleasant spot — for Canadian citizens where only offence is their colour.” Menzies went on to become Canada’s Head of Mission in Japan in 1950 and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

View of a small town surrounded by mountains. In the foreground are multiple buildings, and in the background on the left are rows of smaller houses.

Evacuee homes in Lemon Creek, B.C., are built with enough space in between for comfort and a garden. Each cottage accommodates one family. [Internee shacks in the Lemon Creek, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900291-u)

A man is standing in front of a large, tilted shelving unit filled with Japanese characters used in a printing press.

Some of the thousands of Japanese typeface characters used for The New Canadian, a newspaper that was published every week in Kaslo, B.C. The offices are now in Winnipeg, Manitoba. [The New Canadian began publishing in 1939, in Vancouver. It was an English-language newspaper founded to be the voice of the Canadian-born Nisei (second-generation Japanese Canadians). After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, it resumed publishing in the Kaslo, B.C., internment camp. A Japanese-language section was added to better serve the Issei, or first-generation Japanese Canadians. In 1945, the paper moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and subsequently, in 1949, to Toronto, Ontario, where it continued publishing until 2001.] Credit: Jack Long (e999900358-u)

Three women, one of whom is a nurse, are standing around a kitchen island on which there are trays, dishes and bottles of milk. Utensils are hanging from the rack that runs down the middle of the unit.

The very modern kitchen of the Greenwood camp hospital. [Hospital kitchen at the Greenwood, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900255-u)

The original captions for these photographs expose vestiges of Canada’s colonial past. Library and Archives Canada continues to provide relevant context as a way of presenting a fuller and more equitable picture of our nation’s history. This is work of value. For, as written on the Landscapes of Injustice website: “A society’s willingness to discuss the shameful episodes of its history provides a powerful gauge of democracy.”

If you have an idea for a project like this one, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project.

Related LAC sources

Textual documents

Case files

Related links


Gabrielle Nishiguchi is a government records archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

The liberation of the Netherlands (1944–1945)

By Sarah Bellefleur Bondu

This year, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The cruel conflict lasted for six long years; it included battles, military offensives, restrictions and rationing for Europeans and North Americans alike, not to mention the heartbreak suffered by families who lost loved ones at the front. The war, from 1939 to 1945, also featured co-operation, goodwill and solidarity between the Allied forces and civilians who were enduring harsh conditions. The vital contribution of the Canadian Forces to the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944–1945 is a shining example of this spirit of caring.

On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked the Netherlands. A few days later, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina and members of the Dutch government fled the country, which soon fell to the Nazi forces. The Netherlands remained under oppressive occupation for four years.

Flooded village with rooftops and a church steeple protruding from the waters.

The dikes blown up by the Germans flooded a large part of the northern Netherlands. This photograph, taken from an aircraft on May 31, 1945, shows a small flooded village where a church steeple and rooftops provide refuge for seagulls. (a175772)

Launch of operations in the Netherlands

In September 1944, several weeks after their invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched operations against the German forces still holding the line in northwestern Europe. Many key positions, including a number of bridges that crossed major Dutch waterways, were taken by the Allied forces during Operation Market Garden. However, German troops still held the banks of the Scheldt River, which crosses the Netherlands and connects the port city of Antwerp in Belgium to the North Sea. This canal was vital for the Allies to access key seaports and resupply their troops.

The Battle of the Scheldt

In October 1944, Allied forces seized first the northern and then the southern banks of the Scheldt. On November 8, they successfully stormed the German stronghold on Walcheren Island.

n the winter of 1944–1945, the Allies carefully planned their next campaign, which could potentially end the war in Europe. However, the Dutch had almost run out of resources under German occupation; this was the tragic Hunger Winter. With food reserves depleted in the Netherlands, thousands of civilians died.

Operation Veritable was launched on February 8, 1945. Its objective was to help Allied troops continue their advance, cross Germany’s borders, push the enemy back across the Rhine and breach the famous Siegfried Line.

The campaign in northwestern Europe: final phase

As they gradually advanced through the Netherlands, the Allied forces liberated occupied towns one after the other. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was responsible for ending the Nazi occupation of the northeastern Netherlands, including the cities of Almelo (April 5), Zutphen (April 8), Deventer (April 12), Arnhem (April 12–16) and Groningen (April 16), as well as the German coast. Elsewhere in the country, the 1st Canadian Army Corps pushed the remaining Germans out of the western Netherlands, north of the Meuse, and liberated the city of Apeldoorn (April 17).

During these operations, the Allies were concerned that the Germans would destroy the dikes and that the high waters of the spring would flood Dutch cities. They were also aware that civilians faced starvation because of supply problems. On April 28, they entered into negotiations with the Germans, who accepted their proposal two days later. As a result, thousands of tons of food and coal were transported by plane, ship and truck to the Dutch people.

Several people unload food crates from the back of a military truck. Many crates are stacked in the foreground.

Dutch civilians load a truck with Canadian-supplied food following an agreement between the Germans, the Dutch and the Allies on providing food to the Dutch people, May 3, 1945. (a134417)

On May 5, 1945, the German forces occupying the Netherlands surrendered; the whole country was officially liberated. After enduring years of hardship, the Dutch people gave the warmest welcome possible to the Canadians when they arrived. The Dutch celebrated across the country as the occupation ended. Two days after the liberation of the Netherlands, the Second World War in Europe was officially over.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945. (a134376)

Since then, many of the Canadian soldiers who helped to liberate the Netherlands returned to attend commemorative ceremonies and maintained close ties with the Dutch people they had met. Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of archival material documenting the events of 1945 and the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands to the present day.

Several children standing in front of headstones, holding bouquets of daffodils.

Young children preparing to place flowers on the headstones of graves of Canadian soldiers in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, 1957. (e011176651)

Other resources


Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

A selection of records about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

With part 1 of this post, we marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day and commemorated Canada’s participation in the June 6, 1944, invasion of northwestern Europe, and the Normandy Campaign, which ended on August 30, 1944. In part 2, we explore some of the unique collections that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds about these events, and highlight some records that are the most accessible to our clients online. Through outreach activities, targeted and large-scale digitization, DigiLab and our new and Co-Lab initiatives, LAC is striving to make records more easily available.

A black-and-white image taken from moving film, showing soldiers exiting a landing craft.

A frame of Canadian Army Newsreel No. 33, which includes a sequence of film from the Canadian D-Day landings on June 6, 1944

LAC staff receive many reference requests about our collections of photos. Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFPU) personnel went ashore 75 years ago, on D-Day, filming and photographing as they landed. During the Normandy Campaign, they continued to produce a visual record that showed more front-line operations than official photographers had been able to capture in previous conflicts. Film clips were incorporated into “Canadian Army Newsreels” for the audiences back home, with some clips, such as the D-Day sequence above, being used internationally.

Photographers attached to the army and navy used both black-and-white and colour cameras, and the ZK Army and CT Navy series group the magnificent colour images together.

A colour photograph showing an armoured vehicle with a large main gun.

A British Centaur close-support howitzer tank assisting Canadians during the Normandy Campaign (e010750628)

Some of the most iconic imagery of the Canadian military effort in Normandy was incorporated into the Army Numerical series; by the end of hostilities, this had grown to include more than 60,000 photographs. The print albums that were originally produced during the Second World War to handle reproduction requests can help in navigating this overwhelming amount of material. Researchers at our Ottawa location refer to these volumes as the “Red Albums,” because of their red covers. These albums allow visitors to flip through a day-by-day visual record of Canadian army activities from the Second World War. LAC has recently digitized print albums 74, 75, 76 and 77, which show events in France from June 6 until mid-August 1944.

A page of black-and-white photographs showing photos of landing craft, destroyed enemy beach defences, and villages and landing beaches.

A page from Army Numerical print album Volume 74 of 110, showing the immediate aftermath of the landings (e011217614)

LAC also holds an extensive collection of textual records related to the events of June–August 1944. One of the most important collections is the War Diaries of Canadian army units that participated in the campaign. Units overseas were required to keep a daily record, or “War Diary,” of their activities, for historical purposes. These usually summarized important events, training, preparations and operations. In the Second World War, unit war diaries also often included the names of soldiers who were killed or seriously injured. Officers added additional information, reports, campaign maps, unit newsletters and other important sources in appendices. Selected diaries are being digitized and made accessible through our online catalogue. One remarkable diary, loaded in two separate PDF scans under MIKAN 928089, is for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the first Canadian soldiers in action on D-Day, as part of “Operation Tonga,” the British 6th Airborne Division landings.

A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

Daily entry for June 6, 1944, from the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, detailing unit objectives for Operation Overlord (D-Day) (e011268052)

War diaries of command and headquarters units are also important sources because they provide a wider perspective on the successes or failures of military operations. These war diaries included documents sourced from the units under their command. Examples that are currently digitized include the Headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, from June and July 1944.

: A colour digitized image of a typescript account of D-Day operations.

War Diary daily entries for early June 1944, including the first section of a lengthy passage about operations on June 6, 1944 (e999919600)

LAC is also the repository for all Second World War personnel files of the Canadian Active Service Force (Overseas Canadian Army), Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. The service files of approximately 44,000 men and women who died while serving in these forces from 1939 to 1947 are open to the public. These records include the more than 5,000 files of those who died in operations during the Normandy Campaign. As the result of a partnership with Ancestry.ca, a portion of every open service file was digitized. This selection of documents was then loaded on Ancestry.ca, fully accessible to Canadians who register for a free account. To set up a free account and access these files on Ancestry.ca, see this information and instruction page on our website.

These records have great genealogical and historical value. As the following documents show, they continue to be relevant, and they can powerfully connect us to the men and women who served in the Second World War, and their families.

Medical document that shows a schematic view of upper and lower teeth, with annotations indicating missing teeth and dental work.

Private Ralph T. Ferns of Toronto went missing on August 14, 1944, during a friendly-fire incident. His unit, the Royal Regiment of Canada, was bombed by Allied aircraft as soldiers were moving up to take part in Operation Tractable, south of Caen. Sixty years later, near Haut Mesnil, France, skeletal remains were discovered. The Department of National Defence’s Casualty Identification Program staff were able to positively identify Private Ferns. The medical documents in his service file, including this dental history sheet, were important sources of information. Ferns was buried with full military honours at Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in 2008, with his family in attendance

An official document written in French, dated July 1948, that responds to a family request to communicate with those caring for the grave of Private Alexis Albert, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

Private Alexis Albert, serving with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, was killed in action in France on June 11, 1944. Four years later, his father, Bruno Albert, living in Caraquet, New Brunswick, requested the address of the family that was tending his son’s grave at Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France, to thank them. The Director of War Service Records, Department of Veterans Affairs, provided this response, which helped to connect the grieving family in Canada with French citizens carefully maintaining the burial plot in Normandy.

These are only a few examples of LAC records related to the Canadian military effort in France from June 6 until the end of August 1944. Our Collection Search tool can locate many other invaluable sources to help our clients explore the planning and logistical efforts to sustain Canadian military operations in France, delve deeper into the events themselves, and discover personal stories of hardships, accomplishments, suffering and loss.

A black-and-white photograph showing many rows of Imperial War Graves Commission headstones, and a large Cross of Sacrifice.

Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which includes the graves of 2,000 Canadian soldiers who died during the early phases of the Normandy Campaign (e011176110)


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, June 6 to August 30, 1944

By Alex Comber

A colour photograph showing a landing craft approaching the beach, with smoke coming from a village and barrage balloons overhead.

Infantry landing craft at D-Day, June 6, 1944. (e010777287)

On this day 75 years ago, Canadian soldiers, sailors, pilots and aircrew were fighting in France in one of the largest military operations in history. Operation Neptune, or “D-Day,” was the first phase in the overall ground operations in Normandy, code-named “Operation Overlord.” Soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division conducted an assault landing on a stretch of French coast, in the massive Allied effort to establish a new theatre of operations in Western Europe. Canadian units were tasked with creating a beachhead on a section of coast code-named Juno Beach. The assignment for Canadian forces was considered an honour, as the other four beaches, code-named “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” and “Sword,” were earmarked for landings by units of the powerful Allied members of the United States and Great Britain.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer briefing a small group of non-commissioned officers with a map of a village.

Lieutenant R.R. Smith briefing the non-commissioned officers of the Regina Rifles with a sketch of their objective, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. (e011084119)

Senior Allied commanders and military planners at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had learned from previous operations, such as the failure at Dieppe two years before, and the successful landings in Sicily in July 1943. This effort to open a new front in the war would benefit from a coordinated approach between land, sea, and air forces, along with comprehensive planning, attention to logistics, a massive build-up of equipment and personnel, feints and decoys to keep the enemy guessing, and a steady flow of accurate intelligence about enemy strengths and dispositions.

An armada of naval vessels escorted the invasion forces across the English Channel, while the airspace was controlled by squadrons of Allied aircraft. A vast array of specialized landing craft transported personnel, tanks, and artillery. In the Canadian sector, craft deposited men and equipment near the villages of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.

A colour photograph showing soldiers, laden with arms and equipment, walking in shallow water towards a French village.

Canadian infantry going ashore at Bernières-sur-Mer in Normandy, France. (e010750646)

Tanks of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade struggled ashore and began supporting the advancing infantry soldiers by firing on reinforced enemy positions, while some units of the Royal Canadian Artillery had already been bombarding enemy positions from their landing craft on the final approach. Hours earlier, paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been dropped deep behind enemy lines as part of Operation Tonga, the airborne landings by the British 6th Airborne Division. Their mission was to destroy bridges, secure strongpoints, support a nearby attack by British paratroopers, and generally create chaos and hamper enemy efforts to counter-attack.

A black-and-white photograph showing a soldier in a paratrooper jump smock, holding a Sten sub-machine gun, sitting on a bicycle in a field.

Private Tom J. Phelan, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was wounded at Le Mesnil on June 16, 1944, rides his airborne folding bicycle at the battalion’s reinforcement camp, England, 1944. (a204971)

A black-and-white photograph showing a column of soldiers marching up a street in a damaged village.

Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière moving through Bernières-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 1944. (a131436)

The fighting on the ground was accompanied by more involvement from Canadians serving in other forces. Pilots and aircrew flying with many Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force squadrons provided air cover for the naval operation and ground fighting, patrolled the coasts, attacked enemy troops and armour, provided photo-reconnaissance, and served on bombing missions to support the landings.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of RCAF personnel posing beside and on top of a fighter-bomber aircraft, fitted with a large bomb.

RCAF 440 Squadron members pose with a Hawker Typhoon in Normandy, France. (e010775786)

On D-Day, Royal Canadian Navy personnel served in more than 70 naval vessels (landing craft, destroyers bombarding the coast, and minesweepers clearing the way for the invasion forces). In early July, a naval Beach Commando unit went ashore to direct forces and maintain order on the invasion beaches.

A black-and-white photograph showing two rows of sailors in battle dress, front row crouching, with a damaged fortified concrete structure behind them.

Personnel of W-2 Party, Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” outside a German fortification in the Juno sector of the Normandy beachhead, France, July 20, 1944. (a180831)

The first Canadian boots on the ground in France would be joined by an entire army in mid-July. The First Canadian Army would become the largest formation of men and women in uniform in Canadian history. Bitter fighting continued as the Allied ground forces resisted counter-attacks and pushed inland. Canadian army units would gain objectives in operations at Carpiquet, around Caen, and advancing towards Falaise, but at great human cost.

Approximately 350 Canadian military personnel were killed during the D-Day landings. By the end of August, Canadian land, sea, and air forces had suffered about 5,000 fatalities as a result of operations in France, while many more were wounded. Operation Overlord closed in late August, as opposition crumbled in Normandy and surviving German units withdrew to regroup.

A black-and-white photograph showing a long column of German soldiers being directed by Allied soldiers along a beach, with vehicles, a sea wall, and a prominent house in the background.

German personnel captured on D-Day embarking for England. (a132474)

Check back on July 4th to read Part two of LAC’s 75th Anniversary of D-day series, which will explore some of the unique collections LAC holds about these events.


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS)

We often receive reference requests for photographs of loved ones serving with the Canadian Forces. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a vast photographic collection, over 30 million images, a substantial portion of which is found within the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112). A project to survey accession 1967-052 “Canada. Dept. of National Defence collection” 1939–1953 and to index all photographs of servicewomen began in April 2018 and is well under way. I hope to see the work completed for all three arms of the service, Navy, Army and Air Force, by 2022. Representing all three branches of the armed forces and comprising over 500,000 photographs, this collection is one of my favourites and at the top of my list for review when a researcher requests photographs from the Second World War or the Korean War. It includes photographs from the home front and theatre of war, making it a rich, well-described collection.

My colleague’s post “75th Anniversary of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service ” published in 2017 serves as a perfect complement to this work and features many photographs, both colour and black and white, of servicewomen at work and play. To quote from the post, I want to highlight here that: “Those serving with the WRCNS were commonly called ‘Wrens,’ the nickname used by their British counterparts, who were members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).” Throughout the captions, I found both terms “Wren” and “WRCNS” used to identify servicewomen.

A black-and-white photograph of two members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service washing the front of a bus while their colleague sprays the side of the bus with a hose.

Personnel of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) washing a bus at H.M.C.S. CONESTOGA, Galt, Ontario, Canada, July 1943. (a108171)

The accession is broken down into prefixes, most often by location (such as base or city) or by ship. For example, the MAG prefix is comprised of photographs documenting “the HMCS Magnificent between 1948 and 1957.”

The finding aids for each prefix, also referred to as caption lists, are available for consultation in the second-floor reference room at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. They are also part of LAC’s initiative to digitize the majority of existing finding aids, ongoing until 2024.

A survey of the caption lists for each of the prefixes specific to naval photographs has been completed, and all those captions that mention servicewomen have been noted. The result is 2,652 photographs, or 1.3 percent.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform leaning across a counter to interview three women beside a sign that reads “Canadian Wives’ Bureau.”

Leading Wren Evelyn Kerr (right) of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) interviewing British wives of Canadian sailors, Canadian Wives’ Bureau, London, England, 30 November 1944. (a128179)

One of the pleasures of the project has been the exposure to the various trades and functions that the Wrens performed. From photographers and dieticians, to motor transport drivers and librarians, the servicewomen performed all sorts of valuable work at home and abroad to support the war effort. I also came across and included numerous images of Nursing Sisters.

A black-and-white photograph of a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service handing a man a tall stack of books beside a ship.

Leading Wren Ruth Church, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), delivering a supply of library books to Able Seaman Bill Swetman of the HMCS Petrolia, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, November 1944. (a189717)

How to Search for “Your” Servicewoman

You can write to us with information about “your” Wren or Nursing Sister to see if there are any indexed photographs that identify her by name. It would be helpful to know her maiden name, where and when she served, as this will help us narrow the search. Similarly, once you identify relevant records within a series, a review of those photographs by yourself or a freelance researcher may reveal additional photographs that did not identify her by name OR that did not indicate that any servicewomen were in the image. For example, many captions simply describe the photograph as “Christmas Dance” or “Holiday Party” and were not included.

To know more about “your” servicewoman’s time with the Canadian Forces, request a copy of her Military Service file.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service carrying a large bag on her shoulder.

Leading Wren June Whiting of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) disembarking at Liverpool, England, April 1945 (a142415)

Please feel free to visit us at one of our public service points in Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg or Vancouver or write to us with questions about LAC’s holdings, both archival and published.


Rebecca Murray is an Archivist in the Reference Services Division.

How archives can protect human rights

By R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi

When asked to name one of Canada’s fundamental democratic institutions, how many people would immediately say “Library and Archives Canada”? Yet, a nation’s archives preserves in perpetuity the evidence of how we are governed.

From the story of Japanese Canadian Redress, we can  learn how records held by Library and Archives Canada (LAC)—combined with crucial citizen activism making use of these records—have contributed to holding the federal government accountable for now universally condemned actions.

From silence to a movement

When the Second World War ended, devastated survivors buried their trauma out of necessity in order to focus on rebuilding their lives. Silence enveloped the Japanese Canadian community.

However, in the late 1970s and early 80s, at small, private, social gatherings where survivors felt safe to share their wartime experiences, a grassroots redress movement was born.

The Redress Agreement states that between 1941 and 1949, “Canadians of Japanese ancestry, the majority of whom were citizens, suffered unprecedented actions taken by the Government of Canada against their community.” These actions were disenfranchisement, detention in internment camps, confiscation and sale of private and community property, deportation, and restriction of movement, which continued until 1949. These actions were taken by the Government of Canada, influenced by discriminatory attitudes against an entire community based solely on the racial origin of its members.

A black-and-white photograph showing a Japanese-Canadian man, who is crouching, and four children in front of a store.

Sutekichi Miyagawa and his four children, Kazuko, Mitsuko, Michio and Yoshiko, in front of his grocery store, the Davie Confectionary, Vancouver, BC, March 1933 (a103544)

A black-and-white photograph showing twelve Japanese Canadians unloading a truck.

Arrival of Japanese Canadian internees at Slocan City, BC, 1942. Credit: Tak Toyata (c047396)

Citizen activism and declassified government documents

In 1981, Ann Gomer Sunahara researched newly declassified Government of Canada records made accessible by the then Public Archives of Canada. Sunahara’s book The Politics of Racism documented the virtually unquestioned, destructive decision-making with respect to the Japanese Canadian community of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, his Cabinet, and certain influential civil servants.

A black-and-white photograph of two men standing near a tall, iron gate. A London bobby (police officer) is visible behind them.

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King (right) and Mr. Norman Robertson (left) attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, London, England, May 1, 1944. It was during this time period that Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and his special assistant Gordon Robertson (no relation) developed the plan which resulted in the deportation of 3,964 Japanese Canadians to Japan in 1946. (c015134)

The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), which came to represent the views of the community concerning redress, astutely recognized the critical importance of having access to government documents of the 1940s, which could serve as primary evidence of government wrongdoing.

On December 4, 1984, The New Canadian, a Japanese Canadian newspaper, reported that the NAJC had “spent months digging through government archives” to produce a report entitled Democracy Betrayed. The report’s executive summary stated: “The government claimed that the denial of the civil and human rights [of Japanese Canadians] was necessary because of security. [G]overnment documents show this claim to be completely false.”

Citizen activism and the records of the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property

In 1942, all Japanese Canadians over the age of 15 were forced by the government to declare their financial assets to a representative from the federal Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Custodian “JP” forms containing a detailed listing of internee property formed the nucleus of 17,135 Japanese Canadian case files.

To further negotiations with the Canadian government to obtain an agreement, the NAJC needed a credible, verifiable estimate of the economic losses suffered by the Japanese Canadians. On May 16, 1985, the NAJC announced that the accounting firm Price Waterhouse had agreed to undertake such a study, which would culminate in the publication of Economic Losses of Japanese Canadians after 1941: a study.

Sampling Custodian records in 1985

A team of Ottawa researchers, primarily from the Japanese Canadian community, was engaged by Bob Elton of Price Waterhouse to statistically sample 15,630 surviving Custodian case files, held by the then Public Archives of Canada. These government case files contained personal information that was protected under the Privacy Act (RSC, 1985, cP-21). However, under 8(2)j of the Act, the files were made accessible to the team for what the Act deems “research and statistical purposes.”

On September 20, 1985, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported Art Miki, then president of the NAJC, saying that the “Custodian (case) files are the most valuable raw material for the economic loss study because they meticulously document each transaction whether it was the sale of a farm, or a fish[ing] boat, a house or a car.”

A black-and-white, head-and-shoulder photograph of Art Miki.

Art Miki, educator, human rights activist, and president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) from 1984 to 1992. Miki was chief strategist and negotiator during the Redress Campaign, which culminated on September 22, 1988, with the signing of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement between the NAJC and the Government of Canada. In 1991 he received the Order of Canada. Photographer Andrew Danson (e010944697)

Citizen activism: Molly and Akira Watanabe

In the final sampling, 1,482 case files were reviewed. It was grueling, painstaking work. Some researchers were unable to continue because of nausea and eyestrain induced by hours spent pouring over microform  images, some of very poor quality.

A superlative example of citizen activism is the dedication of Ottawa researchers Akira Watanabe, Chairman of the Ottawa Redress Committee, and his wife Molly. With several hundred files still unsampled, dwindling numbers of researchers and only four weeks remaining to do the work, the Watanabes went to Public Archives Canada after work for twenty evenings. Molly Watanabe died in 2007.

On May 8, 1986, the study was released to the public. Price Waterhouse estimated economic losses for the Japanese Canadian community at $443 million (in 1986 dollars).

Archival records alone do not protect human rights

Documents sitting in a cardboard box on a shelf, or microfilm sitting in cannister drawers, cannot protect human rights—people do. Japanese Canadian Redress showed Canadians that it takes dedicated activism to locate and use archival records.

Archival government and private records from the 1940s preserved by LAC and used by citizen activists were critical in building the Japanese Canadian case for Redress. By preserving the records that hold our government accountable in the face of injustice, LAC continues to be one of our country’s key fundamental democratic institutions.


R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi is an archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Government Archives Division, at Library and Archives Canada.

A deportation ledger and the story of a Japanese Canadian deportee

By R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi

A black-and-white photograph of a group of women with a child standing in front of luggage and crates.

A group of Japanese Canadian deportees, who had been interned during the Second World War, waiting for a train to take them to a ship bound for Japan. Slocan City, British Columbia, 1946. Credit: Tak Toyota (c047398)

For just one evening, on September 20, 2018, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will exhibit a bound, time-worn 1946 ledger with a blue cover. This small exhibit is part of “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress: Conference on the 30th Anniversary of the Agreement,” an event co-hosted by LAC and the Ottawa Japanese Community Association.

Why is this ledger so important? The pink pages, imprinted with fading purple Gestetner ink, show the names of 3,964 Japanese Canadians—among them almost 2,000 Canadian-born children—who were deported to war-ravaged Japan in 1946. The deportees represented about one fifth of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly removed from the West Coast in 1942. Each person’s entry includes the following information: registration number, date of birth, sex, marital status, national status, the place of departure, whether the person had signed the survey form (more about this below), and remarks such as “mental hospital,” “mentally unbalanced [and] unable to sign,” “New Denver Sanitorium,” “illeg[itimate],” “adopted,” “common law” and “Canadian Army.”

The word “Repatriates” is handwritten on the cover in fountain-pen ink. “Repatriation” is the expression used by the Canadian government to describe what scholarship and research have shown amounted to deportation. This term is often paired with the word “voluntary” (as we shall see, it was not). By definition, Canadian-born children whose only connection to Japan was their racial origin could not be “repatriated” to Japan.

Beside certain names are handwritten ballpoint and fountain-ink annotations. LAC has other copies of bound ledgers similar to the one on display, but what makes this particular copy so valuable are the handwritten annotations it contains. These annotations appear to be citations from statutes or Orders in Council (e.g., Privy Council Order 7356, December 15, 1945) that indicate how Canadian immigration officials would be able to prevent certain deportees from returning to Canada.

Recognizing the value and the historical significance of the ledger, LAC immediately scanned the pages to preserve the information they contained.

By doing so, LAC took steps to preserve the power of a name in our country’s memory. The names and information about the deportees bear silent but powerful witness to the suffering of those 3,964 men, women and children who ended up in a defeated and starving Japan and who were effectively barred from returning to Canada solely on the basis of their racial origin.

A black-and-white photograph of three men lifting a crate.

Three Japanese Canadian men, one of whom could be 42-year-old Ryuichi Hirahara (Registration Number 02553), loading a crate. Mr. Hirahara and his 40-year-old wife Kazu Hirahara (Registration Number 02554) were both Japanese nationals and interned in Slocan City, British Columbia. The shipping label is addressed to “Ryuichi Hirahara” at an address in Wakayama City, Japan. Mr. Hirahara requested that his belongings be held for him at the Wakayama Train Station, since he could not be sure that his ancestral home had survived the war. He did know that train stations would be among the first buildings to be rebuilt, since trains were critical to rebuilding Japan’s infrastructure. The Hiraharas were deported to Japan in 1946. Credit: Tak Toyota [Translation: Dr. Henry Shibata] (c047391)

The deportee: Henry Shibata

At the “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress” event on September 20, participants not only will be able to view the ledger, but also can meet 88-year-old Canadian-born Henry Shibata, who was deported to Japan in 1946 and whose name is inscribed in the ledger on display.

In the ledger, beside his name and the names of all six of his Canadian-born siblings, we find handwritten annotations (which appear to be statute citations). If these citations are indeed equivalent to the annotations referring to Privy Council Order 7356—the order that barred the return of any deported naturalized Japanese Canadians—then the Canadian government’s intention was to bar Henry and his siblings from returning to Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of two men standing in front of an iron gate, with a London police officer behind them to the left.

The Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King and Mr. Norman Robertson attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, London, England, May 1, 1944. Around this time, Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and his special assistant Gordon Robertson (no relation) developed the deportation plan approved by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. (c015134)

The survey that would change everything

In the spring of 1945, the government of Canada surveyed every Japanese Canadian 16 years or older, including those in internment camps and even patients being treated in a psychiatric hospital, and compelled each person to choose whether he or she would go to Japan or east of the Rockies. Signing a form—which was part of this massive survey—and choosing to go to Japan was treated as prima facie evidence of disloyalty to Canada by the federal government, and an automatic cause for segregation and deportation. This information was expressly not provided to the Japanese Canadians forced to make this life-altering choice.

They did not understand what they were signing: in effect, their application for deportation. In fact, several of the annotations in the ledger, written by a bureaucrat, even include the phrase “app[lication] for deportation.” The survey was conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Japanese Canadians who had been interned in detention camps in the interior of British Columbia, who found themselves forced to work on Prairie sugar beet farms to keep their families together, who were forced to work in isolated road camps, or who had been interned in prisoner-of-war internment camps for protesting their separation from their wives and children, were discouraged and afraid for their futures. Many had survived three long years in internment camps, where they could not move beyond camp boundaries without a pass.

A black-and-white photograph of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer seated at a table examining papers with many men around him

Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable checking documents of Japanese Canadians being forced to abandon their homes and go to internment camps, 1942. Credit: Tak Toyota (c047387)

A black-and-white photograph of rows of internment camp dwellings.

Internment camp for Japanese Canadians, Lemon Creek, British Columbia, June 1945. Credit: Jack Long (a142853)

Why did the deportees sign to go to Japan?

Pressure began with the community’s forced relocation from the West Coast in 1942. Then, starting in 1943, their property—held in trust by the federal Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property—had been auctioned off without their consent. Internees had been forced to live off the monies realized from these sales, essentially paying for their own internment. Moreover, internment camp supervisors were graded on how many signed forms they could obtain.

Those Japanese Canadians who ended up signing were the most vulnerable internees: persons with family trapped ‎in Japan, single-parent families and psychiatric patients (some of whom were too sick to sign). Some with limited English-language skills felt that they were too old or too destitute to start their lives over in typically hostile communities to the east. There were also some older Canadian-born children who felt compelled to accompany their aging or sick parents to Japan.

In the case of young Henry Shibata’s family, interned in Lemon Creek, British Columbia, parents Hatsuzo and Tomiko had family in Hiroshima and had not heard whether anyone had survived the atomic bomb. Henry’s father, Hatsuzo, also felt that his own lack of written English would make it next to impossible to start over at the age of 52 in Eastern Canada. With the birth of his child Hisashi in the Lemon Creek internment camp, Hatsuzo Shibata now had a wife and seven children to support.

During the “Revisiting Japanese Canadian Redress” event on September 20, the deportation ledger will be opened to page 394, the page with the Shibata family entry. At this event, Dr. Henry Shibata will see his name in this ledger for the very first time, 72 years after he sailed to Japan on the SS General Meigs. Now 88 years old and a renowned Canadian surgical oncologist, he will see the original ledger page recording his family’s deportation.

A black-and-white photograph of three men standing in front of a ship.

Japanese Canadians being deported to Japan after the Second World War on the United States Army Transport SS General Meigs at Canadian Pacific Railway Pier A in Vancouver, British Columbia. Left to right: Corporal R.A. Davidson, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; C.W. Fisher; T.B. Pickersgill, Commissioner of Japanese Placement, Department of Labour, June 16, 1946. (a119024)

Despite the brutal and unspeakable hardships endured by Henry and his family in Hiroshima—a city turned to cinders by the first atomic bomb—Henry managed to graduate from Hiroshima Medical School. Dr. Shibata returned to Canada in 1961, after spending four years in the United States studying to become a surgeon. Through his expertise, Dr. Shibata has helped save many Canadian lives. He retired as a Professor Emeritus of McGill University in 2015.

The above-mentioned ledger, with its annotations, was the practical means of barring the return of the deportees. A senior civil servant succinctly expressed the intention of the annotations. On May 4, 1950, Arthur MacNamara, the Deputy Minister of Labour, wrote to Humphrey Mitchell, the Minister of Labour: “The External Affairs Department seem inclined to agree that men who were born in Canada and who … were sent to Japan might now be allowed to come back. This seems to me a matter on which there should be masterly inactivity. Even in the case of men or women born in Canada it does seem to me that they should be ‘allowed to suffer for their sins.’ After all they chose to go to Japan; they were not compelled.” (RG27, Volume 661, File 23-2-18, Deputy Minister of Labour Arthur MacNamara to Minister of Labour Humphrey Mitchell)

Co-Lab challenge

LAC’s new crowdsourcing tool, Co-Lab, gives Canadians the chance to collaborate with LAC by using their personal computers. LAC plans to host the ledger images in a Co-Lab challenge in the coming months, but you can see these images right now using Collection SearchBeta.

Canadians who have been moved by the story of the deportations and who wish to help keep the names of the deportees alive will have the opportunity to collaborate with LAC and transcribe the 3,964 names and the associated information. LAC hopes that a searchable transcription of the ledger will enable reseachers to decipher the critical handwritten annotations and compile more statistical information on the deportees.

We cannot change history and prevent those deportations, but we can solve the mystery of the annotations. We can also make sure that each entry remains accessible to the deportees, their families and researchers around the world, so that all of us can experience the power of these names; so that we shall never forget the human suffering embodied in them or the talent and promise we prevented from enriching Canada.

In the meantime, LAC has compiled photographs of Japanese Canadian internment in a Co-Lab challenge and is seeking your help to write descriptions and add keywords that further contextualize these historic photographs and increase the “discoverability” of these records. Try the challenge now!

Know more about the Co-Lab tool and the Collection SearchBeta by reading this previous blog post: Introducing Co-Lab: your tool to collaborate on historical records

More on LAC’s website

Learn about the deportations, the internment camps in Canada and the Redress campaign, or consult our major collections, by visiting the Japanese Canadians web page.


R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi is an archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section of the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.