Episode Two: Sites of the Second World War
This 16-part series features stories from sites of memory in Canada related to the Second World War. Conversation kits that include discussion questions and activities for students and the public, along with web links and ideas for additional resources are available for each story and accessible online.
Please note, each vignette opens with 20 seconds of silence.
2. Mobilizing for War
In the late-1930s, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment of St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake consisted of part-time soldiers who trained a few days a year. By 1939, when Canada joined the Second World War, the regiment needed several hundred more soldiers. It began recruiting in earnest. Men from all walks of life, with a variety of work experience and levels of education volunteered to join the regiment.
3. Aerodrome of Democracy
Some 130,000 pilots and other aircrew through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) trained in Canada during the Second World War. Because of the wide-open spaces, proximity to American technology, and that it wasn’t a combat zone, Canada was an ideal place for flight training. Servicemen from Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand trained at 151 different BCATP bases across the country.
4. Coast Defence
5. The Longest Battle
Built in 1940 as a convoy escort ship, HMCS Sackville is the last of a fleet of 123 Canadian corvettes. In 1985, the HMCS Sackville was restored to its original condition and docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia and thus made Canada’s official naval memorial.
6. Japanese Canadian Internment
Mary Kitagawa was seven years old when she was detained in a livestock barn at Vancouver’s Hastings Park. She remembers the stench of the buildings when she dragged her suitcase through the barn door in April, 1942. Mary and her family spent a month at Hastings Park before they were relocated to the BC interior. They were eventually moved to a sugar beet farm in Alberta until well after the war ended. Approximately 8000 other Japanese Canadian women and children were held at Hastings Park before being sent to farms and camps across Canada.
7. The Great Equalizer
Over 7300 Métis men and women who contributed to Canada’s war efforts from the First World War to the present day, are commemorated at the Métis Veterans Memorial Monument in Batoche in Saskatchewan. Specifically, during the Second World War Métis volunteers enjoyed the equalizing effects of a nation working together for a common cause. Unfortunately, their efforts were largely ignored after the war when a return to daily life also meant a return to racial discrimination. The monument at Batoche serves as a celebration of the Métis contribution to Canadian and world history, adding to a site already rich in historical and cultural significance.
8. Canadian Women’s Army Corps
Lougheed House, in Calgary, Alberta holds the story of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Formed in 1941, thousands of women served in the CWAC both in Canada and overseas. The Corps provided a significant contribution to the war effort and toward gender equality.
9. Mennonite Conscientious Objectors
As a young teenager, Mennonite conscientious objector, Don Regier, read the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which solidified his belief that war could never be justified. When called to fight in the Second World War, Regier could not agree to pick up arms, no matter how great the cause.
10. One Name on a Memorial
Across Canada, lists of names are carefully carved into memorials. Russell McConnell is such a name and researching his story and those of others allows us to reveal who these men and women are, and what we might share in common with them. Sub Lieutenant McConnell was serving with the Royal Canadian Volunteer Naval Reserve was aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Raccoon when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on September 7, 1942. Today Russell’s name is found at a number of sites across Canada. These include the cenotaph at Royal Roads University, the Sailors Memorial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at Forillon National Park in Gaspé, Quebec.
11. Where the Decisions were Made
William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister. He led Canada for a total of twenty-one years over three terms: 1921-26, 1926-30 and 1935-48. King conducted most of his parliamentary work from his library on the third floor of his home. Today, visitors can tour the library exactly as it was during King’s lifetime, and discover clues about the man who led Canada through the aftermath of the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War.
12. German Prisoners of War
In Canada, 37,000 enemy soldiers were interned across 40 Prisoner of War (PoW) Camps during the Second World War. About 440 of those prisoners stayed at the Whitewater PoW Camp, located 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, prisoners worked in the forest six days a week, harvesting wood for fuel. The camp had no fence, and no guard towers. Prisoners often snuck out at night to visit local towns, but returned in time for morning roll call. Today, the site of the former PoW camp is part of Riding Mountain National Park.
13. Next Steps to Win the War
In August 1943, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill held a weeklong conference that ultimately changed the direction of the Second World War. Together with the host, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie, the top-secret discussion sessions were held in Quebec City.
14. 28-29 April 1944. HMCS Haida
HMCS Haida is one of 27 tribal class ships built for the British, Canadian, and Australian navies in the 1930s and 1940s. It is the only one that survives today. The ship is now the focal point of Parks Canada’s HMCS Haida National Historic site in Hamilton, Ontario.
15. Remembering the Holocaust
The Jewish Cemetery in Victoria, BC is the resting place for a dozen survivors of the Nazi Second World War concentration camps. In addition to the commemorative markers of the Holocaust survivors buried in the cemetery, there is a memorial, built in 1981, to remember the victims who died in Nazi concentration camps.
16. Machines of the Air War
Two sites of memory dedicated to keeping the memory alive of the Royal Canadian Air Force are the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta, and the Vintage Wings of Canada in Gatineau, Quebec. The planes themselves, rather than a battlefield, stand as the site of memory. The commitment to restore these aircraft brings these objects back to life and with them the stories of the air crew that flew during the Second World War.
17. Royal Canadian Legion
To support veterans and their families the Royal Canadian Legion was established in 1925 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as an advocacy organization. The Legion expanded its membership to include female veterans, family members of Canadians who served, and eventually, the general public. 360,000 members are apart of the 1500 legion branches that are scattered across Canada today.