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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- “Naval reports of proceedings: SC 42,” 8280-SC42, MIKAN 4686204
- “Sub attacks – HMCS CHAMBLY,” NSS8910-331/21, MIKAN 901932
- Service File of William Irvin Brown, A4212, RG 24 29029.
Renaud Séguin is a military archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.
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.
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.
The archives not only document the company’s expansion, but also the development of several entire cities, towns and neighbourhoods.
Cities like Hamilton quickly became major industrial centres referred to as “steel towns.”
In the mid-twentieth century, the plants attracted many immigrants and the population in urban centres doubled in just a few short decades.
The Stelco archives bear witness to the working conditions of men and women who spent their whole lives in the plants.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the Second World War, Canadian women were mobilized to serve in the armed forces. Approximately, 50,000 women enlisted and a majority of them served with the Canadian Army. A variety of tasks were assigned to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) formed in 1941. These women enrolled from a sense of patriotism or a desire to see the world, no different from their male counterparts of the time.
However, they faced skepticism and harassment at home and abroad. Their perseverance coupled with wartime labour demands enabled women to work in numerous fields of work, such as mechanical and technical repairs, communications, drafting, or driving vehicles. The Canadian government and the Department of National Defence in 1943 started a recruitment drive and public relations campaign to support women contributing to the war effort. Over time their salaries increased, and public and military opinions began to change in favour of women serving in the armed forces.
The thousands of women who served their country during wartime gained new skills and expertise, confidence, and a much improved respect and support from Canadians. The CWAC was an opportunity and milestone for those choosing to step away from traditional gender roles in Canada.
By Laura Brown
On August 13, 1941, after many months of cross-country campaigning during the early days of the Second World War, women were given the opportunity to join the Canadian Army. Like the Royal Canadian Air Force, which created a women’s division a month earlier, the army recognized that women could be placed in non-combatant roles to release more men to fight overseas. At first the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) was not a formal part of the military and operated instead as an auxiliary organization. However, on March 13, 1942 the CWAC was officially integrated into the Canadian Army. Uniforms and insignia, including badges displaying the figure of Athena were issued to army women or “CWACs” as they were commonly called.
While many Canadians were supportive of women in khaki, some were apprehensive and even fearful, viewing the acceptance of female soldiers into the military as a disturbing lapse of traditional gender roles in society. In 1943 the government launched an extensive advertising campaign in an effort to address such concerns and to encourage enlistment. Recruitment materials, such as the poster above and the film Proudest Girl in the World presented female recruits as professional, respectable, and feminine, as well as eligible for various types of work.
Before commencing basic training at one of Canada’s regional training centres, recruits were given a test to determine the job for which they were best suited. In 1941 there were 30 different jobs or “trades” available and, by the end of the war, that number nearly doubled. Some positions open to CWACs were unconventional for women at the time (such as working as a mechanic) but the most numerous trades were those associated with traditionally female work, including cook, laundry worker, or typist.
During their war service, many CWACs hoped for a posting outside of Canada, though only a few thousand were successful in obtaining such positions. Among them was Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female war artist. In addition to her paintings and sketches created to document the contributions of the CWAC, Bobak produced an illustrated diary, which today is held at LAC and available in digitized format. Peppered with self-deprecating humour, this work provides a frank and funny view into army life. You can learn more about Bobak by consulting this blog post.
Out of the three branches of the military—army, air force and navy—the army saw the highest enlistment of Canadian women during the Second World War with a total of 21,624 recruits. The many documents related to the CWAC in LAC’s collection, some of which you can find below, help illustrate the important service of Canada’s first army women.
- Department of National Defence fonds, Canadian Military Headquarters, London Series. This series contains records about CWACs posted overseas and addresses topics such as training, accommodation, and publicity.
- Mary Bishop Rodrik Papers. Rodrik was the niece of First World War flying ace, Billy Bishop. Included in this series are documents related to Rodrik’s service in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War.
- View footage of CWAC activities, including ceremonies and training in Canadian Army Newsreels
- Find colour photos of Canadian Second World War soldiers.
Laura Brown is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.
By Laura Brown
When Canada entered the Second World War on September 10, 1939, Canadian women were not permitted to enlist in the armed forces. As in the First World War, nursing was the only opportunity women had to help in the war effort. Looking for other ways to “do their bit,” many women turned to volunteer work, paid labour, or joined unofficial military organizations that permitted members to wear uniforms and practice drills. By 1941, mounting pressure from women wishing to join up, as well as an impending shortfall of male recruits, forced the Canadian government to examine the potential role that women could play in the military. At the same time, the expansion of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada resulted in a need to staff ground positions at its newly opened centres across the country. The authorities, therefore, decided that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) should be the first service to begin accepting women. The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) was formed on July 2, 1941, its name changing to the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division (RCAF-WD) seven months later. By the summer of 1942, Canadian women were serving in all three branches of the armed forces – the air force, army, and navy.Despite their title of “airwomen,” the female members of the RCAF stayed on the ground during their war service. Women may have not been permitted to fly planes, but the messages in recruiting posters, newspapers and films, such as Jane Marsh’s National Film Board film, Wings on her Shoulder (1943), reinforced the idea that the roles women could play were every bit as important to the war effort. In fact, the jobs that women took on in the RCAF-WD, such as working as typists, cooks, and parachute packers, were essential, and recruits were reminded that every military support role taken by a woman would release a man to go and fight. The RCAF-WD promoted this idea with its motto, “We Serve that Men May Fly.” In total, 17,038 women donned the blue cap and uniform to serve in the RCAF-WD during the Second World War.
Two women who took on unique roles within the Women’s Division were Willa Walker and Jean Davey. Walker joined the service in 1941, excelled in her training, and eventually achieved the rank of Wing Officer, the commanding officer of the RCAF-WD. Jean Flatt Davey also joined the RCAF in 1941 and became the first female member of its Medical Division. She later attained the role of Chief Medical Officer of the RCAF-WD.
You can learn more about these women by exploring the Willa Walker fonds and the Jean Flatt Davey fonds. In these collections, as well as in other private and government collections at Library and Archives Canada, you can find a range of documents related to the RCAF-WD. This documentary heritage is a reminder of the remarkable contributions made by Canada’s first airwomen during the Second World War.
- Department of National Defence fonds, Directorate of History and Heritage Photograph and Illustrations Sub-series
- Royal Canadian Air Force second central registry and file classification system. This series contains a range of RCAF-WD records, including those related to policies on marriage, publicity, and recruitment
- Find colour photos of Canadian Second World War soldiers
Laura Brown is a military archivist in the Government Archives Division.
By François Larivée
If you were born before 1980, you may remember a picture of a large industrial complex on the back of the ten-dollar bill. An image of the Polysar (originally Polymer) plant in Sarnia, Ontario, was featured on the bill between 1971 and 1989. The company was created by the Government of Canada in 1942 as a Crown corporation, and its archives are held by Library and Archives Canada. Its history is nothing short of fascinating.
Born in Montréal on April 23, 1888, Georges Vanier would feel the influence of his bilingual parents throughout his life. After graduating from high school, he attended Loyola College and then the Université Laval where he received a law degree in 1911. He started practicing law thereafter, although priesthood was also on his mind. It was the outbreak of the First World War however, that eventually grabbed his attention and he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was a strong recruiter and played an important role in the creation of the French-Canadian 22nd Battalion. It was also during the war that he was injured and had to have his right leg amputated.
Wartime propaganda was not a 20th century invention. It has been around for many centuries in different formats. It was the advent of cheaper and quicker printing methods that made it possible to mass produce posters at the time of the Second World War. From recruitment, security and secrecy to patriotism, frugality and investments, there were posters created for every subject.
Recruitment posters, which until this point had been aimed solely at men, started to show signs of change as the war progressed. Although still often portrayed as fragile, women were becoming more and more important to the war effort. The pressure was on to enlist more men and women and the posters made it clear there was no excuse not to join.
Another new element to propaganda during the Second World War was the concern about security and secrecy. There were growing fears that spies were always listening to conversations and that a small detail could lead to a big disaster for the troops. The posters started off fairly simple but as time progressed, they became more dramatic, often portraying a sinister-looking man in the background with large ears and a group of civilians or army men in the forefront having what seems like an innocuous conversation. The colours and graphics for these particular posters were often quite bold.
The next phase was to target the men and women who were not able to enlist, to have them play a part in the war in a different way. They were called upon to work harder and produce more for the war effort. And when that was no longer enough, they were strongly encouraged to buy Victory Bonds to help fund the war. The tone of these posters evolved from the earlier tone of fear to something more hopeful—that by purchasing Victory Bonds, Canadians were ensuring a safe and happy future for their country.
Although there is no sure way of gauging the effectiveness of any of these campaigns, they remain an important piece of our history and a socio-economic, political look into the past.
Near the end of the Second World War, Canadian forces had the responsibility of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. During the fighting, civilians behind the German lines suffered from malnutrition, starvation, and the lack of proper shelter. Over the course of many months, approximately 18,000 civilians died, and over 6,700 Canadian troops lost their lives for the liberation of the Dutch.