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.

Canada’s first declaration of war

By J. Andrew Ross

Among the rarest documents at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are those signed by Canada’s monarchs, and they represent some of the most important moments in the nation’s history. As part of our digitization programme, we recently scanned one such document that resides in the Ernest Lapointe fonds: a single sheet of paper that marks Canada’s entry into the Second World War.

A typed, one-page document asking the the king to authorize a proclamation of war on the German Reich on September 10, 1939.

Submission requesting the king’s approval to issue a proclamation declaring a state of war with the German Reich, September 10, 1939 (Ernest Lapointe fonds, e011202191)

Signed by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, the document is a request for permission to issue a proclamation declaring war against the German Reich. The king indicated his approval with a handwritten “Approved” and a signature: “George R[ex]. I[mperator].” Though a seemingly straightforward document, the date—September 10, 1939—raises a question. While this was indeed the day Canada declared war, as Lester Pearson (then working at Canada’s High Commission in London) observed, “some historian of the future will wonder how George VI and Mackenzie King could have been together on September 10th 1939.” (Pearson, Memoirs, 139) In the era before supersonic transatlantic air travel and the wireless transmission of documents it would have been impossible for Mackenzie King (in Ottawa) and the King George VI (in London) to have signed the same document on the same day.

The answer to this conundrum can be found in LAC’s collections, and further research shows that this document was just one of several that had to be created to resolve a problem Canadian officials had never encountered before: How do we declare war?

As the prospect of Germany invading its neighbours grew in 1939, Canada expected to have a role in the resulting conflict. Unlike the onset of the First World War, when British dominions like Canada had been assumed to be included in the British declaration of belligerency against the Central Powers, Canada now had the option of making its own decision. In 1926, the Balfour Declaration had established that the United Kingdom and the dominions were now autonomous in domestic or external affairs, and this had been formally enshrined in the Statute of Westminster of 1931.

Fast forward to September 1939. As the Blitzkrieg rolled across Poland, prompting the UK to declare war against the German Reich on September 3rd, it was now up to Canada to decide its own fate—to join in, or to stay neutral. Most Canadians generally understood that Canada would be involved, if not militarily then at the very least economically, but Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wanted parliament to formally endorse the decision to enter the war. It did so on Saturday, September 9th.

Major policy announcements such as declarations of war also required a formal proclamation to be issued by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet of Canada. This advice was in the form of a formal request signed by a cabinet minister, called a submission, to the governor general. To issue a proclamation in this case, there were two obstacles to overcome.

First, despite the independence given by the Statute of Westminster to Canada to make its own decision to go to war, it turned out that the Canadian governor general himself did not actually have the power to approve a proclamation declaring war, so the government required the permission of George VI himself, as king of Canada. After the House of Commons vote on September 9th, the Department of External Affairs asked Canada’s high commissioner to Great Britain, Vincent Massey, to arrange an audience with the king to get His Majesty’s signature on a document approving the issue of the proclamation. On the morning of September 10th, Massey hopped into his son Hart’s sports car and was driven to see the king at the Royal Lodge, the monarch’s country retreat on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Massey got the royal signature and cabled the news back to Ottawa, where Mackenzie King was anxiously awaiting the news and convincing himself that “the enemy” might have contrived “to destroy the [transatlantic] cable between Canada and England.” (WLMK Diary)

The other obstacle was that the two-page document that the king had approved had been written out in longhand from a telegram and was not signed by a cabinet minister, as was required. For this reason, External Affairs referred to this as an “informal approval” document and promised that a formal (signed) submission would soon follow.

Even before the king’s approval had been received, the proclamation had been drawn up and signed by Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir (in the name of the king), Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe.

A proclamation, bearing the Great Seal of Canada, announcing that Canada was at war against the German Reich.

Proclamation of war against the German Reich, September 10, 1939. Note that the day (“tenth”) is handwritten in the document (Registrar General sous-fonds, e011202192)

The staff of the Government Printing Bureau also produced a published version as an “Extra” edition of The Canada Gazette, the official organ for conveying government announcements. The Printing Bureau staff were locked into their office on Saturday and Sunday, to preserve secrecy, and were released only after the arrival of the published Gazette at the offices of External Affairs (then in East Block on Parliament Hill). The time of delivery was 12:35 p.m. EDT (another source says 12:40 p.m.), and by pre-arrangement this was agreed to be the moment that Canada could be considered to be officially at war against the German Reich.

But was it?

A printed, bilingual declaration of war against the German Reich bearing three signatures across the page.

The Canada Gazette “Extra”, September 10, 1939, the published version of the proclamation of war against the German Reich. Curiously, this copy is autographed by Tweedsmuir, Mackenzie King, and Lapointe (Arnold Danford Patrick Heeney fonds, e011198135)

On October 24th, six weeks after Canada’s announcement, Massey cabled External Affairs asking when the formal submission with a minister’s signature would be received, as had been promised. The king’s private secretary, Sir Alexander Hardinge, had told Massey he was concerned that “the document which the King signed on the basis of cabled representations may well have no constitutional validity owing the fact that it did not and could not bear the actual signature of the minister.” In other words, there was some question as to whether Canada was technically at war at all.

External Affairs went into action and sent a typewritten document signed by the prime minister and backdated to September 10th. King George VI signed this on November 27th and returned it to Ottawa. So it took two-and-a-half months after Canada had declared war for the official documents to catch up to the event!

In the end, there are four key items that document Canada’s first declaration of war: the informal approval created from a telegram and signed by King George VI; the proclamation issued by the governor general; the “Extra” of The Canada Gazette; and the backdated formal submission signed by both Mackenzie King and the king. Three of these documents reside in LAC’s collections and are reproduced above, but the whereabouts of the first—the informal approval from the King—is unknown. There is a clue, however: we know that over the fall and winter of 1939–1940 Massey had actually refused several requests to send the document back to Canada, saying that Buckingham Palace did not want it “embodied in the records of the Canadian government” because of its dubious constitutional status (Pearson, Memoirs, p. 140). Lester Pearson, who was second-in-command to Massey, later wrote that he understood that the document had remained in London, “though whether in the possession of His Majesty or the Canadian High Commissioner, I never learned.” (Ibid.)


By J. Andrew Ross, archivist in the Government Archives Division, with contributions from Geneviève Couture, archival assistant in the Private Archives Branch, Library and Archives Canada.

“My darling dearest Jeanie” The Joseph Gaetz fonds

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Katie Cholette

“My darling dearest Jeanie.” That’s how Joseph Gaetz began every one of the more than 530 letters he wrote to his fiancée, Jean McRae, during the Second World War. Stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during and after the Second World War, Joseph was, at times, desperately homesick. His deepest desire was for the war to be over so that he could return to Canada and marry his sweetheart. Between July 1943 and November 1945, Joseph wrote to Jean whenever he could, sometimes sending both an airmail and a regular letter in the same day. He also collected a number of souvenirs from German prisoners that he sent to Jean with his letters. In 2017, his three daughters, Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, Bonnie Gaetz-Simpson and Linda Gaetz-Roberts donated his letters and souvenirs to Library and Archives Canada.

A colour photograph of piles of letters, with one bundle held together by a red ribbon. Underneath them is a photograph of a young woman wearing a coat and stylish hat.

Letters addressed to Jean McRae of Turner Valley

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a military uniform with his arm around a young woman wearing a flowered dress standing in front of a clapboard house.

Joe and Jean on their first day of engagement. November 1, 1942, Turner Valley.

Joseph Gaetz was from the small community of Faith, Alberta. His parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up speaking English and German. On 13 May 1942, he attested in the Calgary Highlanders; five months later, he became engaged to Jean McRae of Turner Valley, Alberta. In early 1943, he shipped out to England with the Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of 18 soldiers in uniform in a tilled field.

Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Scout Platoon.

In August 1944, Joe was sent into action in France with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; he would soon move into Belgium and Holland. When his superiors realized that he spoke German, Joe became an interpreter with their scout platoon, going on a number of expeditions behind enemy lines to bring back German prisoners. In one letter to Jean from late 1944, he wrote, “My officer and I went a mile into the Jerry lines one night and took 52 prisoners to a barn…That was quite an experience.” In another letter, he told Jean how odd it felt to be capturing Germans who had lived in Canada before the war. In still other letters, he talks about picking up a pistol (one of several he acquired during the war) from No Man’s Land. Joe also told Jean how he got nervous before every patrol but learned to walk silently to avoid detection. He attributed his ability to avoid injury or capture to the photo of Jean that he kept in his breast pocket. He called it his “lucky charm” and said that all the other men had some sort of talisman.

Joe’s ability to speak German allowed him to converse with the men they captured. Although Joe had no particular fondness for Germans, he did recognize their humanity and common plight. While guarding captured prisoners, or bringing them back to camp, Joe often talked with them. Sometimes he challenged their convictions—in one instance, he asked a group of prisoners if they thought Hitler was still a god. One young soldier, who surrendered, told Joe he was afraid he was going to be sent back to Germany after the war and shot for being a deserter. Joe told the young man not to worry; there wasn’t going to be a Germany after the war.

A colour photograph of a book opened at the first page. A pamphlet has been glued on the inside cover which has a photograph on one side and an ode to the women who stayed home entitled “For Honour and for Her!”

Joe’s Service Book showing the poem and photograph of Jeanie glued on the inside cover (e011202230)

Like many other soldiers, Joe kept a photo of his sweetheart tucked in the front of his Service Book, accompanied by a patriotic and moralistic poem entitled For Service and for Her! After inquiring about Jean’s health, he would reassure her that he was fine, tell her whether he had received her most recent letters, and then discuss the weather or some other inconsequential details. He followed these pleasantries with observations on military life—the routine chores he had to perform, what his accommodations were like, the food, who he’d met from back home, and so on.

Conditions at the front were often harsh, but Joe rarely complained. In fact, he joked about sleeping in trenches he’d dug himself and constructing makeshift chimneys from empty tin cans. Joe had a strong sense of personal duty; he refused to send anyone else in to do his job, and he went for seven months without a single day of leave. In one letter, he stoically told Jean about spending Christmas Day 1944 on duty in No Man’s Land.

Sometimes Joe and his fellow scouts were billeted with local families. Joe quickly picked up enough Flemish to be able to communicate with the people he came into contact with, and he writes how the locals would often invite the soldiers to dinner or offer to do their laundry. In his letters, he describes the little children he met, and he occasionally included photos of them in his letters home.

He came back to Canada on November 1945 and was discharged in Calgary, Alberta, on January 18, 1946, at the rank of Sergeant. He worked his way up to manager of the Fort Macleod lumberyard and he and Jean were finally married on June 21, 1948. They had three daughters before he died at the age of 41 of chronic hypertension. Cathy Gaetz-Brothen, the youngest of the girls was only one-year-old when her father died. The letters he wrote to her mother are especially important to her because they allowed her to get to know a father she had no memory of.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in uniform.

Joseph Gaetz in uniform (e011202231)

Joseph Gaetz didn’t have a particularly heroic war. He wasn’t a high-ranking commissioned officer leading a battalion; he didn’t singlehandedly storm any nests of German snipers. Instead he did what thousands of other Canadian soldiers did. He joined the army and fought alongside his fellow soldiers in the hope that he would one day come home to his sweetheart. Joe was one of the lucky ones.

Visit the exhibition Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The exhibition, which runs until December 3, 2018, features our most recent acquisitions and celebrates the expertise of Library and Archives Canada’s acquisition specialists. A librarian or an archivist thoughtfully selected every one of the items in the exhibition and wrote the caption for the item that they chose. Admission is free.


Katie Cholette is an archivist in the Specialized Media section of Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Japanese-Canadians from the Second World War now on Flickr

Timeline:

December 7, 1941—Japan attacks Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, United States of America. Japanese forces also invade Hong Kong, Malaysia and surrounding areas, opening up the Pacific Front of the Second World War.

December 8, 1941—Canada invokes the War Measures Act and declares Japanese-Canadians and recent immigrants as enemy aliens to strip them of individual and property rights. Over 1,200 fishing boats owned by Japanese-Canadian fishermen are confiscated off the coast of British Columbia as a defensive measure against Japan’s war efforts on the Pacific Front.

A black-and-white photograph of six Japanese-Canadian fishing boats confiscated three days after Pearl Harbor and tied to a larger vessel.

Fishermen’s Reserve rounding up six Japanese-Canadian fishing vessels, British Columbia (MIKAN 3191747)

January 14, 1942—Canada orders the round up of Japanese-Canadian males aged 18–45 for relocation to the interior of British Columbia. Personal property, such as homes and cars are seized and sold to help pay for the camps. No one can have radios, buy gasoline, or fish during the war. People detained after the 14th are sent to internment camps in Alberta.

black-and-white photograph of three Japanese-Canadian men loading a rail car destined for an internment camp in the British Columbia interior.

Japanese-Canadian men load a train travelling to camps in the interior of British Columbia (MIKAN 3193863)

February 24, 1942—Whole-scale internment of people of Japanese descent starts. In total, 21,000 Japanese-Canadians and recent immigrants become internees at camps. Restrictions on rights and freedoms increase as the war drags on.

A black-and-white photograph of many Japanese-Canadian families at a staging area being loaded on the backs of trucks for relocation to an internment camp in the British Columbia interior.

Japanese-Canadians load into the back of trucks for relocation to camps in the interior of British Columbia (MIKAN 3193859)

September 2, 1945 to April 1, 1949—After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Japanese-Canadians are forced to remain at internment camps, or areas away from Canada’s coastal regions until 1949. There are some offers by the Canadian Government to repatriate individuals and families back to Japan, along with some exemptions on movement. Eventually all restrictions on movement are lifted. Japanese-Canadians can return to the coastal areas of British Columbia. No compensation is available for property seized or for forced internment.

A black-and-white photograph of Japanese-Canadian families buying supplies in an internment camp store in Slocan City, British Columbia, observed by a Caucasian man wearing an armband.

Japanese-Canadians buy supplies at the internment camp store, Slocan City, British Columbia (MIKAN 3193855)

September 22, 1988—Thirty-nine years of lobbying by Japanese-Canadians affected by the actions enforced under the War Measures Act during the Second World War result in an official apology and compensation package for families from the Canadian Government.

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The Raid on Dieppe, France, August 19, 1942

By Alex Comber

Warning: This article contains graphic images that may be disturbing to the reader; viewer discretion is advised.

Seventy-five years ago today, Canadian soldiers landed on hostile shores in France to conduct a “reconnaissance in force.” Despite careful preparations, an armada of naval support and squadrons of aircraft overhead, the landing was a failure.

A black-and-white photograph of the bodies of soldiers, a burning landing craft for tanks, and disabled Churchill tanks on a rocky beach.

Bodies of Canadian soldiers lie among damaged landing craft and Churchill tanks of the Calgary Regiment after Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942 (MIKAN 3192368)

Operation Jubilee was the code name for the Raid on Dieppe, an enemy-occupied port near Le Havre on the coast of France. The plan was for a large fleet of landing craft and other ships to depart from England at night and to land soldiers in the early morning of August 19. Destroying the port’s fortifications would help to evaluate the strength of defences along Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Other objectives included attacking a nearby German airfield and radar facilities, and seizing prisoners for interrogation. The force would then return to the landing craft in an orderly manner and depart from France.

A black-and-white photograph of a practice landing, with soldiers leaving the landing craft and walking on the beach in orderly groups.

Canadian infantrymen disembark from a landing craft in England during a training exercise before Operation Jubilee, the Raid on Dieppe, France, in August 1942 (MIKAN 3194482)

The main assault force was drawn from units of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, with British Royal Marines and commandos fulfilling specialized tasks, such as disabling coastal artillery that might target naval units and landing craft.

A colour photograph of Major-General J.H. Roberts, in uniform, examining documents on the hood of a staff car.

Major-General J.H. Roberts, who commanded the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division at the time of Operation Jubilee; a military censor has removed all unit markings from this photo (MIKAN 4232358)

Churchill tanks from the 14th Army Tank Battalion (Calgary Regiment) would land in several of the newly developed tank landing craft, to help overcome defences and support infantry battalions with their assignments. Squadrons of fighters and bombers, and a vast fleet of more than 230 ships, would support the landings. Aerial attacks and naval bombardment were expected to throw the defenders into disarray.

A black-and-white photograph of air force officers standing for a group portrait in front of a Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft.

Group photo of pilots for the Raid on Dieppe (MIKAN 3592320)

The mission began to unravel as the landing craft neared the beach. The formidable defences had not been destroyed in the preparatory bombardment, and the defenders were forewarned by their military intelligence services to expect an attack. Machine guns in pillboxes swept the beaches with devastating fire, and few Canadian units succeeded in advancing inland, over the seawall, into the town or toward other objectives. Soldiers sheltered where they could and awaited an evacuation. The materiel costs of the Dieppe Raid included all 29 tanks lost, 33 landing craft abandoned or destroyed, a British destroyer sunk, and more than a hundred Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft downed, with many of their crews killed.

A black-and-white photograph of soldiers, some wounded or with torn uniforms.

Soldiers who took part in Operation Jubilee, the Raid on Dieppe, return to England, August 19, 1942 (MIKAN 3193844)

Historians continue to debate the underlying reasons why Allied authorities approved this risky endeavour. The attack failed for a variety of reasons; the consequences of that failure were felt in communities across Canada. Out of almost 5,000 soldiers, just over 900 were killed, while almost 2,000 were captured. Many were wounded. August 19, 1942, was the deadliest single day of Canadian military participation in the war.

A black-and-white photograph of captured Canadian soldiers being marched in formation through an urban area, with German soldiers guarding them.

Captured Canadian troops (MIKAN 3195158)

News of the Dieppe Raid travelled quickly. The Department of National Defence sent out notifications to next-of-kin for the soldiers who did not return with the naval force. Families waited anxiously as survivors passed on information about the missing, and inquiries to the International Committee of the Red Cross led to lists of the dead whose remains had been located and buried, and lists of prisoners in German camps. One poignant example was the loss of Alice Montgomery’s sons Arthur and Ralph, who were twin brothers from Brighton, Ontario, serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Canada. Arthur was killed on Blue Beach near the village of Puys, while Ralph died of his wounds two days later, in England.

A colour photograph of a ceremony alongside rows of temporary grave crosses at the Dieppe Canadian Military Cemetery near Dieppe, France.

Dieppe Canadian Military Cemetery, September 1944 (MIKAN 4233242)

The majority of the Canadian war dead from August 19, 1942, are buried at Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-sur-Mer. This cemetery is unique: the wartime German layout, with its doubled headstones, was retained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the war. The image shows the cemetery in early September 1944, after the area was liberated from enemy control, and depicts units of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, the division that had been decimated in the Dieppe Raid, holding a ceremony to commemorate their fallen comrades.

Library and Archives Canada sources about the Raid on Dieppe

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many records relating to the Raid on Dieppe. In addition to photos from the Department of National Defence and other private collections, there are war diaries from army units that participated, including the Essex Scottish, Royal Regiment of Canada, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, 14th Army Tank Battalion (Calgary Regiment), Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada. LAC also holds the records of all personnel in the Canadian Armed Forces from the Second World War, including all those who died while serving.

One interesting and little-known visual record of Dieppe is a small collection of photos acquired from an unusual source. The widowed Mrs. Delabarre, a resident of Le Havre, France, kept a handful of photos of Dieppe that her employer had given her. These images show abandoned equipment, and preparations for burying Canadian soldiers. For the 25th anniversary commemorations in 1967, she decided to donate the photos to help tell the story of Dieppe to Canadians. Mrs. Delabarre sent them to a Canadian Army representative, Major-General Roger Rowley, who entrusted them to the care of the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History. Years later, they were transferred to the National Archives. These images in LAC’s collection, two of which appear below, offer a unique alternative to photos taken by the German Army to document the failure of the operation.

The first photo shows “Buttercup,” a Mk. 3 Churchill tank with B Squadron, 14th Army Tank Regiment (Calgary Regiment), abandoned on the beach.

A black-and-white photograph of disabled or abandoned tanks on the beach at Dieppe. One tank has “Buttercup” painted on its side, among other recognition markings.

Abandoned Churchill tanks including “Buttercup” on the beach at Dieppe, August 1942 (MIKAN 4969643)

Some of the Delabarre photos, like those taken by German Army photographers, include graphic images of dead Canadian soldiers on the beach, under the seawall and in the stranded vessels. The images can be difficult to look at, but they are important archival records of the event. For instance, this second photo documents a little-known aspect of the aftermath of the Raid on Dieppe. Instead of showing German military personnel inspecting derelict vehicles and landing craft, and viewing wounded and dead Allied soldiers, the photo shows teams of civilians moving and preparing bodies for burial, and they are performing this grim task in the confines of an assault landing craft.

A black-and-white photograph of civilians working amid deceased soldiers in a beached landing craft.

Civilians recover the bodies of soldiers killed in the Dieppe Raid and prepare them for burial (MIKAN 4969646)


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

75th Anniversary of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service

By Laura Brown

Seventy-five years ago today marks the creation of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS). Established on July 31, 1942, the WRCNS was the last of the three services to open its doors to women during the Second World War—the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division (RCAF-WD) and the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), having been created a year before. 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).

The women who joined the navy in Canada did so with the expectation that they would not serve on ships; rather, they carried out duties on shore so that more men could serve at sea. The need for women to staff positions on land became particularly important with the increased casualties that came with the Battle of the Atlantic. The first class of Wrens consisted of only 67 members, but by the end of the war, nearly 7,000 women had enlisted with the WRCNS.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of smiling <abbr title=

Wrens trained on “land ships” designated “Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship.” For example, HMCS CONESTOGA at Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario became the basic training centre for the WRCNS beginning in the fall of 1942. Other training locations included HMCS CORNWALLIS in Halifax, and HMCS ST. HYACINTHE in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, which hosted a communications school. Following training, recruits took on a variety of jobs, including work as cooks, mailroom workers, drivers, visual signalers, and plotters (locating and tracking the positions of vessels).

A black-and-white photograph of the interior of a brightly lit plotting room showing a large group of women and several men at work. Figures sit at desks on the left-hand side of the room, while women dressed in dark uniforms examine vast maps attached to the walls on the right-hand side of the room. One woman stands on a short ladder set against the wall and plots information on the upper portion of a map.

Operations Plotting Room, Naval Service Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario, December 1943. (MIKAN 3203640)

A Royal Canadian Navy press release from August 1943 noted that while not all of the tasks carried out by Wrens were glamorous, they were crucial for the success of Canada’s naval operations in the war: “Some of their jobs are routine, but they are jobs that must be performed efficiently to make sure that Naval personnel is well fed or paid on time; that Navy families are taken care of; that ships are built and ready for combat as soon as possible; that the men are trained to fight on these ships and that the ships are there to meet the enemy.” Whether working in a kitchen or in a secret position, many Wrens found that their service brought new opportunities and new friendships. This sentiment was echoed by Commander Isabel MacNeill at the end of the war when the WRCNS basic training centre at Galt was closed: “Most of us came here as strangers. We leave with many happy associations which we shall remember all our lives.”

A colour photograph of a member of the WRCNS sitting on top of a 16-pounder canon situated at the top of Signal Hill. Wearing a dark blue uniform, she is turned away from the camera as she gazes on the blue water of St. John’s harbour below. The city surrounding the harbour consists of buildings in muted tones and an expanse of low hills are seen in the background. The sky in the top third of the photograph is light blue with a haze of white, wispy clouds.

A Wren at Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland [ca. 1942–1945]. (MIKAN 450992)

Members of the WRCNS made important contributions to the war effort both in Canada and overseas. Approximately 1,000 Canadian women served with the WRCNS abroad during the war, of which half were posted to Newfoundland, a location that was considered an “overseas posting” as Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until 1949.

A black-and-white portrait of Adelaide Sinclair, seated with her arms resting on the back of a chair. She is dressed in her naval uniform, including a jacket with a white shirt and dark tie, hat and gloves. She gazes at the viewer with a slight smile on her face.

Commander Adelaide Sinclair, Director of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, July 1944. (MIKAN 3526940)

Library and Archives Canada has a rich collection of documentation about the WRCNS, including the fonds of Adelaide Sinclair, the Director of the WRCNS from 1943 to 1946, whose service was recognized in 1945 through the award of the Order of the British Empire. Check out the links below to learn more about the incredible stories of Canada’s first members of the WRCNS.

Related resources

  • Second World War military personnel files (MIKAN 158523)
  • Royal Canadian Navy Headquarters Central Registries (MIKAN 157647).This series in the Department of National Defence fonds contains includes a variety of documentation on the WRCNS, including information on recruitment and staffing.
  • Dobson family fonds (MIKAN 106782). This fonds consists of documentation belonging to a family that was highly involved in the WRCNS during the Second World War. Edith Archibald Dobson was one of the first women to join the WRCNS in August 1942, and eventually became a Lieutenant-Commander. Her twin daughters, Joan and Anne, also joined the WRCNS in 1942 and served as wireless
  • Isabel Janet MacNeill fonds (MIKAN 101945). A long-serving member of the WRCNS, Isabel MacNeill became the first woman to command a land ship in the British Commonwealth.
  • Katherine A. Peacock fonds (MIKAN 101865). Katherine Peacock served with the WRCNS during the Second World War and later became a federal public servant.
  • Colour photos of Canadian Second World War soldiers.

Laura Brown is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

Images of Canadian war artists now on Flickr

Canadian War Artists brings together the portraits of eighteen Canadian war artists who painted during the Second World War. These portraits, from the collections of Library and Archives Canada are accompanied by short biographies.

First German submarine sunk by the Royal Canadian Navy

By Renaud Séguin

On September 10, 1941, off the coast of Greenland, the crews of two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) corvettes, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Chambly and Moose Jaw, were able to locate and sink U-501 as the U-boat lay in wait to ambush Allied Convoy SC-42, sailing from Sydney, Nova Scotia, with supplies for Great Britain.

The two corvettes were to take part in training exercises at sea, so that their crews, largely made up of recruits, could become familiar with anti-submarine warfare. In the face of the growing threat from German submarines, the two vessels quickly ended their training to reinforce the Allied convoy.

Colour photograph of a Royal Canadian Navy corvette under way at top speed. Thick black smoke pours from a funnel. Number K145 is written in black on the grey vessel.

HMCS Arrowhead, a corvette of the same class (Flower) as HMCS Chambly and HMCS Moose Jaw (MIKAN 4821042).

An RCN expert in anti-submarine warfare, Commander James D. “Chummy” Prentice, Chambly’s captain and Senior Officer Corvettes, quickly decided that the best option would be to move ahead of the convoy to surprise any German submarines. The navigation skills of Mate A. F. Pickard made it possible for the two corvettes to reach the area identified by Prentice in less than six days.

At about 21:30, Chambly got an ASDIC (better known by its American name, “sonar”) contact. Quickly, Chambly’s crew began releasing five depth charges. Despite a few mistakes owing to inexperience, the first two charges caused enough damage to force the submarine to surface close to Moose Jaw.

Black-and-white photograph, showing two men in naval uniform posing in front of the nose turret of their corvette. Between the two men, an image painted on the turret shows a bulldog standing on his hind legs, wearing a sailor hat and boxing gloves.

Mate A. F. Pickard and Chief Engine Room Artificer W. Spence, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1942. The two men played key roles in the corvette HMCS Chambly’s sinking of the German submarine U-501 on September 10, 1941. (MIKAN 3576697)

Surprised by the appearance of the U-boat, the crew of Moose Jaw was unable to open fire immediately with either their rapid-fire naval gun or the machine guns. Lieutenant F. E. Grubb, commanding officer of Moose Jaw, rapidly gave the order to advance on and ram the submarine. Far from being a complete improvisation, this was a manoeuver often attempted by Canadian corvettes. At close range, it was the best option for sinking German U-boats which, at night, in rough seas, presented a small moving target.

Before the initial charge, Lieutenant Grubb was astonished to see the German captain abandon the submarine to leap onto Moose Jaw’s deck! However, it was only after being rammed by the corvette, under fire of its naval gun, that the U-boat halted.

Black-and-white photograph showing a submarine and a whaler side by side. Members of the submarine’s crew can be seen on the bridge. The people in the whaler are seated.

A boarding party from HMCS Chilliwack in a whaler alongside German submarine U-744, March 6, 1944 (MIKAN 3623255).

A boarding party from Chambly, led by Lieutenant E. T. Simmons, attempted to take possession of the submarine. The attempt had to be abandoned, because the U-boat was sinking rapidly. One member of Chambly’s crew, William Irvin Brown, drowned during the operation. Like the more than 200 crew members of the 15 merchant ships in the SC-42 convoy sunk by German submarines, the Toronto native, father of a one-year-old daughter, gave his life to supply Great Britain and the armed forces protecting it. Many other Canadians also lost their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Related resources


Renaud Séguin is a military archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Stelco archives now acquired

By Lucie Paquet

Library and Archives Canada is proud to announce that it has acquired the archives of The Steel Company of Canada, more commonly known as Stelco. These archives are now part of our national heritage. They include more than 100 metres of textual records, thousands of photographs, technical and architectural drawings, and over 200 film and sound recordings. The Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) fonds, currently in archival processing, documents all aspects of the evolution of the steel industry from the beginning of its mechanization in the 1880s through to the 1980s.

Black and white photograph showing an industrial complex for steel production and processing.

Aerial view of The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) mills in Hamilton, circa 1952. (MIKAN 4915715)

The Steel Company of Canada Limited was formed in 1910 as a merger of five companies that had previously taken over some 40 smaller ones, operating in various areas of Quebec and Ontario: Hamilton Steel and Iron Company Ltd., Montreal Rolling Mills Company, Canada Screw Company, Dominion Wire Manufacturing Company, and Canada Bolt and Nut Company. Each one had its own speciality, from the primary production of steel for the rail, agricultural and marine sectors to consumer products. This new, large company enabled the Canadian steel industry to keep pace with strong American and European competition.

The account ledgers, correspondence, management minutes, patents and photographs provide a detailed account of the beginnings of this industry, its development and its challenges.

Black and white photograph showing a mill beside a canal. Other factories and railway tracks for transporting steel materials can be seen in the background.

Saint-Henri steel mill, one of Stelco’s departments in Montreal, May 17, 1946. (MIKAN 4915716)

The archives not only document the company’s expansion, but also the development of several entire cities, towns and neighbourhoods.

Black and white photograph showing a close-up of blast furnaces on an industrial site.

Blast furnaces of The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) in Hamilton, circa 1948. (MIKAN 4915717)

Cities like Hamilton quickly became major industrial centres referred to as “steel towns.”

Black and white photograph showing men in a plant. A large number of workers manually operating the first mechanical machines can be seen in the background.

Interior view of workers at one of the steel processing plants in Hamilton, circa 1920. (MIKAN 4915719)

In the mid-twentieth century, the plants attracted many immigrants and the population in urban centres doubled in just a few short decades.

Black and white photograph showing employees packing products inside a plant.

Interior view of workers in the finishing and packing department in Hamilton, circa 1920. (MIKAN 4915720)

The Stelco archives bear witness to the working conditions of men and women who spent their whole lives in the plants.

Black and white photograph showing a group of people holding a flag with a V for victory.

Parade of Stelco managers and employees not long after the end of the Second World War, in 1945. In the foreground can be seen Stelco directors H.G. Hilton and H.H. Champ, and a military officer, among others. (MIKAN 4915722)

Stelco and its workers had important responsibilities during the First and Second World Wars, responding to the demand for military materiel from the Canadian and British governments and contributing to the Allied victory.

But success did not stop there. The phenomenal growth of urban centres during the 1950s, real estate, energy resources, means of transportation and various consumer products created strong demand for steel.

Black and white photograph showing workers operating a machine used to roll the steel and make it into panels.

Interior view of a more modern plant from the 1960s for producing steel in rolls and panels. (MIKAN 4915723)

There followed the creation of large industrial complexes and the introduction of a high-tech research centre, which enabled Stelco to develop new steel products and increase operations and production in all areas, both residential and commercial.

Black and white photograph of a man in a white lab coat taking a photomicrograph.

Engineer from the metallurgical laboratory testing the quality of the steel structure by means of “photomicrography,” circa 1960. (MIKAN 4915724)

A collage of coloured advertisements. The first image shows different residential products, including a wood fireplace for the living room, the second shows the manufacturing of steel panels, and the third shows several architectural drawings for building construction.

Collage of three advertisements from Steel in Homes (1967), Stelco Plate Products (November 1969) and Expanding the Markets for Stelco Steel, circa 1970. (MIKAN 4915725)

The Steel Company of Canada Limited (Stelco) exported its products worldwide, becoming one of the largest steel companies in North America. As an example, it was actively involved in the design and construction of the Expo 67 Steel Pavilion.

Black and white photograph showing several modern architectural structures.

In the background, the Canadian Steel Pavilion at the Montreal World Fair in 1967. This pavilion was built by the four largest Canadian steel companies: Algoma, Stelco, Dofasco and Dosco. They reproduced in miniature all the components associated with steel manufacturing. In the centre of the image, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Industry Pavilion can be seen. (MIKAN 4915727)

Over the coming months, we will introduce you to the world of Stelco—its plants, directors, employees, operations, innovations, products and challenges, as well as its social, sports and cultural activities.


Lucie Paquet is an archivist with the Science, Governance and Political Division of Library and Archives Canada.