What Was Canada's Role in World War II

Canada, of its own free will, entered the war in September 1939 because it then realized that Nazi Germany threatened the very existence of Western civilization.

Almost from the beginning Canadians were in the thick of the fighting—in the air. In that element the Dominion made its most striking contribution to the general war effort. On the outbreak of hostilities, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was established in Canada to develop the air forces of Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as of Canada. It was under the direction of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and it cost the Canadian government well over 1.5 billion dollars.

Here it may be well to note that Canada’s population is only about one-eleventh that of our country. We have to multiply Canadian figures by eleven, therefore, to get the approximate American equivalent of Canada’s war effort.

By 1944, the Royal Canadian Air Force had a strength of more than 200,000. This was only a part of what Canada did in this line, for at the same time nearly half the ground crew personnel and more than a quarter of the air crew strength of the Royal Air Force were also Canadians.

The Royal Canadian Navy, which started from scratch in 1939, grew to 700 ships and 95,000 men. This force too was in the fight from almost the beginning. It participated in the daring rescue at Dunkirk, and it took over more and more of the Allied convoy work across the north Atlantic—half of it by 1943 and most of it by the end of 1944.

The Canadian army numbered in 1944 about half a million men, five-sixths of whom had volunteered for overseas service. Some of it formed most of the force that suffered disaster at Dieppe in the summer of 1942. Some fought alongside Americans and British in Sicily and Italy. But the main military effort of the Canadians began in June 1944 with the landing on the beaches of Normandy, and continued with the fight across France and into Germany.

Canadian units were out in Hong Kong when the Japs attacked it on Pearl Harbor Day, and the Canadian declaration of war against Japan was made the evening before our declaration. A battalion of Canadian troops took part in the landing on Kiska in the Aleutian Islands.

Canada did not receive a cent of lend-lease aid from us. Instead of receiving, she supplied it to the United Nations. The total at the end of 1944 was some 4 billion dollars, which is more dollars per capita than our lend-lease contribution. On the economic side, the war placed a more severe strain on Canadians than on us. The average Canadian citizen paid more taxes and, on the whole, was subject to more rigid controls. He knows what the war cost and, let us be frank, he knew it longer than we did.

Canada’s place in the world is much bigger than it ever was before. Though not a great power, Canada is no longer a small one. It is one of the middle powers—perhaps the strongest of them—and as such is bound to play an important part in the affairs of the world.

In the organization of UNRRA, the “world community chest,” Canada has stood next to the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Bretton Woods Agreement on international monetary stabilization embodies much of the plan submitted by Canada.

Canadians played a leading role in the Chicago conference on international civil aviation; and the conference selected Canada as the seat of the interim organization, which is to prepare the way for the new world organization that will regulate civil aviation.

Canada also left its stamp upon the work of the San Francisco Conference, particularly the constitution of the Economic and Social Council. The General Assembly of the United Nations Organization early in 1946 elected Canada a member of the Economic and Social Council.