Questions to ask yourself:
How did events of the inter-war years lead to the Second World War?
What were the elements of Canadian autonomy prior to the war?
What were the effects of the war on Canadian society and on Canada’s autonomy?
What you will be able to do:
Characterize the situation in Europe before WW2.
Identify and explain the causes of the Second World War.
Explain Canada’s growing autonomy prior to the Second World War, and characterize Canada's active role during the War.
Characterize the issues and realities on the Canadian Wartime Home Front.
Explain the impact of WW2 on the society, economy, and politics in Canada.
Image source: Lieut. Donald I. Grant, Infantrymen of the Régiment de la Chaudière sitting on an M-10 A1 armoured vehicle during the attack on Elbeuf, France (1944), Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3520748. Licence: Public Domain.
Life in the 1930s
Engage Phase: What do you think life was like in the 1930s?
What do you know about life in Canada and the United States during the Economic Depression era of the 1930s? Now think about what you know about what was happening in Europe. Before overviewing and then mapping key events and locations leading to World War 2, imagine yourself in one of the European countries about to be involved in war.
Choose one of the following countries to learn more about it, by watching one of the videos in the list below. (Or if you are curious about somewhere else, research another place in the world during the 1980s on your own.)
Use the "Imagine what it was like in Pre-War Life in the 1930s" tool
Take notes about the film and explain what you got out of it and how it made you feel. Share what you learned with your classmates. Do you think people in those countries knew that war on a world scale was on the horizon?
Germany (Life under the Nazis) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ydo5ktHR2Kk
Italy ( Life Was Like In Fascist Italy) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmZDvy3JiB0
Russia (Stalin's USSR in the 1930s) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MubgAdrFU5c
France (World War 2: Free and Vichy France) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bqWm3DLcYk
Spain (The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQYDbtY8aNU
England (Poverty in 1930s Britain) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqpNcHTG4uM
Canada (Canada Between Two World Wars) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HZosXqCXEU
USA (Daily Life in the 1930s) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkAfjRolNCI
The Second World War broke out in September 1939 when France and Britain declared war on Germany after the latter had invaded Poland.
Canada, which had been autonomous since the Statute of Westminster in 1931, and who had a choice in which position to take, decided to assist their ally Great Britain, by joining the war on 10 September 1939. Canada, at the time, was in an economic depression, so the decision made sense because it created jobs as well.
Whatever the reasons for joining, a large number of Canadians ended up taking part in the war, whether they were members of the armed forces or citizens who had stayed at home. This six-year conflict, described as "total", involved Canada economically, militarily and socially.
Texts adapted from French original texts by RECITUS, with additions by C. Clarke
WW2 Overview video
This video is part of the online course on the History of Quebec and Canada by the RÉCIT Univers social. You can view the original French version at “Seconde Guerre mondiale (1939-1945)”
Video contains graphic images. If video is not playable, a downloadable version is available here.
The Situation in Europe in the 1930s
The Situation in Europe in the 1930s
In the 1932 election in Germany, the Nazi party won the most seats, but not a majority in the parliament. Adolf Hitler was offered the chancellorship, and following a fire at the parliament in early 1933 that was blamed on the communists, Germany declared emergency powers and the Nazis quickly consolidated their power. They put their political enemies in concentration camps and began their persecution of Jewish people in Germany.
Adolf Hitler's foreign policy was based on reversing the Versailles treaty, uniting German-speaking peoples in one country, and in finding living space for Germans in Eastern Europe. In defiance of the treaty, Germany began to expand its military. In 1936, the Germans reoccupied the Rhineland, between France and Germany which had been demilitarized under the Versailles treaty. Despite these violations of the treaty, neither France nor Britain did anything to stop Hitler.
Germany and Italy became emboldened. Germany intervened in the Spanish Civil War by providing air forces to help the fascist government of General Franco. Italy, under Benito Mussolini, wanted to expand its empire and attacked Ethiopia. The governments of France and Great Britain did little to stop them. France and Britain had little appetite for war in the 1930s. For both countries, the horrors of the First World War were still too painful for many to consider stepping in against Germany or Italy at this time.
Hitler, who was born in Austria, dreamed of uniting Germany and Austria together as one country. The unification of Austria and Germany was called the Anschluss. When the Germans entered Austria, they immediately began their persecution of the Jewish people in that country. Hitler's next target was Czechoslovakia. He wanted to bring in the German-speaking people of the Sudetenland (the area bordering Germany) into his new empire. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain travelled to Germany to negotiate a settlement. The Munich Agreement of 1938 would allow the Germans to annex the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. In return, Hitler promised not to attack the rest of Czechoslovakia. A few months later in 1939 Hitler broke his promise and took over the remaining parts of the country. The British and French then proclaimed that if Germany would invade Poland that would mean war with France and Great Britain.
During this time, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a nonaggression treaty that had a secret provision to split up Poland between them in the event of War. The Germans wanted to attack Poland so they could have the return of the city of Danzig that had been lost to them by the Versailles treaty, along with the so-called Polish corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. Hitler also envisioned that Poland would eventually become an area of colonization for Germans. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain and France declared war on September the 3rd. Canada would declare war for the first time on September 10, 1939.
Texts by Matt Russell
Sherbrooke daily record, 25 August 1939, Friday 25 August 1939, page 4. https://collections.banq.qc.ca/
Larger document collection: World War Two: Part 1 on Situation in Europe:
Competency 1 Task idea: Map Key Locations
Use the text above as a starting point to explore and locate key locations prior to WW2, and to explain their significance leading up to the Second World War. Dig deeper user our larger document collection entitled: WW2 Part 1 The Situation in Europe before WW2.
Use the Google Slide Deck entitled: Mapping The Situation in Europe in the 1930s for instructions and questions on mapping key locations.
Note: Cartograf could also be used while following the same guidelines, and individual student maps could be shared using links or the ShareCode feature.
Quick knowledge checker (Sample evaluation!)
A four-question sample evaluation practice document called The Situation in Europe in the 1930s - Checking what you know is available for you to check your knowledge.
You can copy it all to use as is or it can be printed to arrange answers on the back of the page.
U.S. Navy Task Force 38, of the U.S. Third Fleet maneuvering off the coast of Japan, 17 August 1945 https://commons.wikimedia.org/ Public Domain.
Briefly: Japan and WW2 in the Pacific
Why Did Japan attack Pearl Harbour?
"Japan attacked the U.S Pacific Fleet at its base at Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December 1941, ... Japan had been modernising its economy throughout the 20th century and wanted to build an empire of its own. However, Japan lacked the natural resources to make it a reality, with all but 6% of its oil supply being imported. After capturing Manchuria, Japan became bogged down in a full-scale war with China in 1937 and had to look elsewhere for the resources it needed to fight. Meanwhile, the USA was slowly awakening from its isolationism.
When Japan occupied French Indochina in 1941, America retaliated by freezing all Japanese assets in the states, preventing Japan from purchasing oil. Having lost 94% of its oil supply and unwilling to submit to U.S demands, Japan planned to take the oil needed by force. However, striking south into British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies would almost certainly provoke an armed U.S response. To blunt that response, Japan decided to attack the U.S Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, hoping that the U.S would negotiate peace.
The attack at Pearl Harbor was a huge gamble, but one which did not pay off. Though Japan took its objectives in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, the U.S did not respond as expected. Instead of reverting to isolationism, the U.S geared up for total war and Japan's fate was sealed." Source: Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor? (iwm.org.uk)
"Taking a global view leads to a different picture of the war. .. By 1939 Japan had already been at continuous war with China for two years and had violently conquered Beijing, Shanghai, and the Chinese capital of Nanjing. ...Only by sidelining Asia can you claim that the Second World War ran from 1939 to 1945."
Source: A New History of WW2... conflict was a battle for empire.
"Why were Canadian troops sent to Hong Kong?
"Canadian forces were involved in the war in Asia from its outset. The fighting in the Pacific did not begin only with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; at the same time other Japanese forces attacked the British colonies of Hong Kong and Malaya (now Malaysia) as well as several other American bases in the Pacific. In Hong Kong, the small British garrison included 1,975 Canadians."
Source: Canada and the War in Asia and the Pacific
"By late 1941, relations between Japan and Britain had deteriorated. There was fear among British government and military officials that Japan would declare war on them and attack their colonial possessions in East Asia. Many in the British military believed that sending reinforcements to their colonial garrisons would deter Japan from starting a war in the Pacific. Most government officials were against such a course of action but later changed their minds as the situation changed in late 1941."
Cmdr. Peter MacRitchie of HMCS Prince Robert with liberated Canadian prisoners of war at Sham Shui Po Camp, Hong Kong by Flickr user LibraryArchives under by-nc-nd
World War II Map - 1 - The Mediterranean https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_War_II_Map_-_1_-_The_Mediterranean.jpg Public Domain
Focus on Causes of WW2
Document collection on Specific Causes of the Second World War
"The major causes of World War II were numerous. They include the impact of the Treaty of Versailles following WWI, the worldwide economic depression, failure of appeasement, the rise of militarism in Germany and Japan, and the failure of the League of Nations." (Source)
A separate document collection is now available that more clearly lists several specific causes of the Second World War. Click here to open the collection in a separate window.
This document collection features many news clippings of the times, and a complimentary student task is available below!
Competency 1 and 2 Student Task:
Considering Causes and their Significance for Canadians.
Considering Causes and their Significance for Canadians.
Use our separate document collection World War Two: Part 2 on Causes to choose a cause to summarize, explore and research further. Follow the links provided, especially those to various primary source articles from newspapers of the times!
Use this separate collaborative student organizer, to respond to questions like:
How did this fact or event or person eventually cause all of Europe to go to War?
From your research, do you think that Canadians of the times saw that these events could lead to a full-out war in Europe? What were the main concerns of Canadians of the times?
Is this event one that did or should have led Canada to join the war effort?
Canada's Role in the Second World War
Canada's Second World War Roles:
Beginnings of the Second World War: The Second World War began on September 1 1939, when Adolf Hitler ordered the German invasion of Poland. By that point, it seemed like war was inevitable, and Canada had begun the preparations for a potential conflict. On August 25, 1939, the Canadian government under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie-King invoked the War Measures Act, a law that could give the government sweeping powers to regulate and control society.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, Canada did not follow at first. Instead, the government put into effect a number of measures using the power of the War Measures Act. The Canadian government did not declare war until the following week, followed by a debate and vote in Parliament. It was the first independent declaration of war by Canada.
Battle of the Atlantic: After the fall of Western Europe to Nazi Germany in the spring of 1940, Britain and her empire (including Canada) stood alone against the Germans. Since Britain is an island, it was imperative for the war effort that supplies could arrive from overseas. The Germans tried to cut Britain off and starve the population into submission with their feared submarine fleet of U-boats.
The Royal Canadian Navy and the merchant marine tried to keep Britain supplied with food, weapons and fuel. At first, the losses were catastrophic as the U-boats hunted allied ships in “wolfpacks” and used encrypted radio communication to coordinate with each other. Gradually, the Allies were able to get the upper hand as they adopted convoy tactics, expanded the protection of aircraft, and cracked the German’s secret codes.
Battle for the Skies: One of the reasons for the German’s success at the beginning of the war was their ability to win the war in the air. The Germans tried to knock Britain out of the war in 1940 by bombing British cities into submission and destroying the Royal Air Force. The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above England and the English Channel to prevent the Germans from having the opportunity to eventually launch an invasion of Britain. A number of Canadians participated as fighter pilots in this battle.
Canadian aircrews also flew bombers as part of the air war over Europe. The bombing campaign was designed to affect German war production and morale. But it came at a terrible cost. Being part of a bomber crew was incredibly dangerous. Of the 50,000 Canadians who served on bombers, almost 10,000 lost their lives. As well, the bombing campaign inflicted major casualties on German civilians and cities.
Hong Kong: Great Britain was concerned about the defence of Hong Kong from possible Japanese attack. Canada wanted to be involved and volunteered to send soldiers to defend Hong Kong, however, these soldiers were ill-equipped and under-trained. When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor at the same time they launched the invasion of Hong Kong. Even though the Canadians fought valiantly they were overwhelmed by the superior Japanese numbers. The Canadians surrendered and spent the rest of the war in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps where they were mistreated and malnourished.
Dieppe: In 1942 the Allies launched a raid on the port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France. The force was mostly Canadian but also included Americans and British commandos. The raid itself was a disaster, and many Canadians were either captured or killed. However, a secret motive for the raid, which was known as a pinch raid, meant that the British commandos were also trying to capture a four-cylinder Enigma machine. This was very important to the war effort because it would allow their codebreakers to break the German navy’s secret codes so the Allies could avoid the U-boats.
Sicily and Italy: In 1943 the Allies launched an attack from North Africa on what they referred to as the soft underbelly of Europe - Sicily and Italy. Soon after the Allies had gained control of the island of Sicily, they launched an invasion of mainland Italy. They fought their way further north and faced some heavier resistance than when the Italian government fell and German troops moved to prevent the Allied advances. Canadians played an important part in the Italian campaign and faced heavy fighting in the town of Ortona, where they were forced to fight the Germans street to street and house to house.
D-Day: In June 1944 the Allies launched their long-awaited invasion of Northern Europe. The invasion happened along the Normandy coast of France. Planning for the invasion had begun in Quebec City in 1943, where British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the American President Franklin Roosevelt were hosted by the Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. For the invasion, Great Britain, the United States, and Canada were each assigned different beaches. The Canadian beach was code-named Juno. The invasion force was massive and combined naval, air and ground units. Paratroopers and airborne soldiers in gliders landed behind the German lines, while on the beaches infantry and tanks deployed off landing craft. After the landing on Juno Beach, the Canadians were able to break out into the countryside. French civilians in the area were amazed to see the Canadians, especially the Francophone soldiers from the Régiment de la Chaudiѐre on French soil. While the attack had taken the Germans by surprise, the following day they were able to reorganize and launch counterattacks against the Canadians.
Liberation of the Netherlands: After the breakout from Normandy, the Canadians fought along the northern coast of France throughout the summer of 1944. Re-supply was an issue, as the Germans had destroyed many of the French ports. Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, was a large port that could be used to re-supply Allied armies in northern Europe, but the port was 80km inland and the Germans controlled the river access. The Canadians were assigned to clear the Germans so the port of Amsterdam could be opened. After hard fighting amongst the canals and dikes, the Canadians were able to free the Dutch people from the Germans. To this day there continues to be a strong link between the Dutch people and Canada.
Texts by Matt Russell
Washington, D.C. The Honorable MacKenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada. No known restrictions at https://loc.getarchive.net/
View from HMCS Assiniboine of an unidentified Royal Navy destroyer… by Flickr user BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives under CC BY
"In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for the preceding three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. ... Every year, Canada receives tulip bulbs in recognition of our war effort."
Source and image source: en.wikipedia.org/
Competency 1 and 2 Task idea: Identifying and Explaining Involvement By Canadians
Each group can choose and research a role of Canada in WW2 as described in the documents in our separate document collection here.
Use this Google Slide deck organizer to choose and focus on one role for Canadians. Videos are available for each role as well.
Report back to your class on the facts of the role and events you researched:
Consider questions like:
What were the elements of Canadian autonomy prior to the war?
Why did Canada join the war effort?
Did you feel that Canadians needed to join the war and made a difference?
How do you think the war experience affected and changed Canada's "autonomy" and identity as a country of its own?
Competency 1 Task Idea #2: Mapping Involvement By Canadians
To compliment or replace "roles activity" above:
Map the various involvements by Canadians in the Second World War Use a mapping application like Cartograf or Google My Maps to indicate the locations of various key areas mentioned above. (Local history possibilities also here, to map individuals, home towns, etc.)
Issues in Canada During the War
Overview of INTERVENTION OF THE CANADIAN STATE
Even before Canada officially entered the war, the federal government prepared for the conflict by passing the War Measures Act on 25 August 1939. This Act, which had also been used during the First World War, gave special powers to the State.
Throughout the six years of the conflict, the Canadian government intervened on a massive scale to orchestrate a vast war effort that mobilised a large number of human and material resources. To finance this war effort, the federal government adopted the War Tax Act, version 1941. This income tax was maintained after the end of the conflict to finance the Canadian state.
Texts adapted from French original texts by RECITUS,
After a decade of economic crisis, industrial activity was experiencing a period of unprecedented productivity in Canada. War requires the manufacture of large quantities of weapons and munitions, as well as a whole range of combat and transport vehicles. The Canadian military industry produced around a million rifles, 16,000 aircraft, 65,000 tanks and several thousand ships.
The resumption of production significantly reduced the unemployment rate, which fell from 11% to 4% among unionised workers between the start and the end of the world conflict. Agricultural activity followed suit and the civil service increased its workforce to meet the growing needs of the state. The outbreak of war soon brought Canada out of the Great Depression.
Source: From French original texts by RECITUS
Plebiscite and Conscription
As a candidate for Parliament during the First World War, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had witnessed firsthand how the issue of conscription not only divided the country but also his Liberal Party. King was opposed to conscription in 1917 and lost the election as a result. More than twenty years later, as the wartime leader during the Second World War, he was resolved that the issue of conscription would not drive the country apart during a time when unity was needed the most.
In the year before the Second World War, when it became clear that Canada might have to fight alongside Great Britain, opinion in Québec was against participation in a European war. King and the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe turned the debate from one of participation to one of conscription. In 1939, King vowed that there would be no overseas conscription in Canada. Lapointe repeated this during the debate on Canada’s participation in the war, declaring: “my colleagues and I in the Cabinet from Québec declare that we would never consent to conscription, that we’d never be part of a government that would try to apply conscription…” Many in Québec saw the war as Britain’s war and the military as an Anglophone institution. Despite the pronouncements of the Liberal government, the majority of Francophones in Québec were suspicious about the war effort and feared that once again, the government would impose conscription. However, by 1940 mandatory service in Canada was accepted by some in Québec. This form of conscription only for home defence was permitted under the National Resources Mobilization Act that was passed after the fall of France. Initially, registered men would be required to train for one month, which was extended to four months in 1941 and then potentially for the duration of the war. During the war, some 60 000 men were registered, but many in society viewed them derisively and they were known as “zombies” because they were unwilling to serve at the front.
In December of 1941, the war escalated with the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour and on the Canadian garrison at Hong Kong. Despite Canada’s whole society being almost totally directed towards the war effort, Conservative politicians and other English Canadians began to advocate for conscription. Unlike the First World War conscription crisis, Canada at this point was not facing a manpower shortage, but the political winds had turned. King decided to remove the decision from parliament and have the population decide on the conscription issue in a plebiscite - a vote on a question. The vote was held on April 27, 1942. Canadians were asked:
“Are you in favour of releasing the government from any obligation rising out of the past restricting the methods of raising men for military service?”
The results were clear. The nine English-speaking provinces voted “yes” by 80%, while Québec returned a “no” vote of 73%. The government then proposed and passed Bill 80, which authorized the deployment of men registered under the National Resources Mobilization Act for overseas service. However, King refused to concede that Canada would even use this power stating, “Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary.”
After the D-Day landings in June 1944 and heavy losses in the fighting in Italy, calls began again for the government to impose conscription under Bill 80. At first, King resisted, even replacing his pro-conscription Minister of Defence. But the pressure was too much and King relented in November. In the end, only some 12 000 conscripted soldiers were sent overseas and of those 2463 fought in the front before the end of the war in 1945.
By taking away the decision from Parliament, King was able to maintain party unity, something that was important because the issue of conscription had torn the Liberal Party apart during the First World War. However, the national vote exposed deep divisions within the country; all of the English-speaking provinces voted for conscription with only Québec voting against. In the end, of the over 1 million Canadians who served in the war, only a small percentage were conscripted. Historians have credited King with keeping the country unified during the war when the issue of conscription once again exposed deep divisions between Anglophones and Francophones.
Texts by Matt Russell | LEARN
Graphic provided by the RECITUS under licence (BY-NC-SA) via LEARN version at Impact of Second World War on society, economy, politics
Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King and members of the Cabinet broadcasting messages to the Canadian people following the special emergency Cabinet meeting following Great Britain's declaration of war. https://recherche-collection-search.bac-lac.gc.ca/ by National Film Board of Canada. Copyright: Expired.
Canada declared war on Japan on December 7th, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbour. (Source) Though Pearl Harbour is the most notorious, that same month Japan also launched offensives against a variety of targets in Southeast Asia. 📷 Victoria Daily Colonist on December 8, 1941, via https://twitter.com/
Note: Not all English Canadians supported conscription!
"In 1941 in Terrace, B.C. they protested the government's efforts to send them overseas. Photo from Heritage Park Museum via https://www.cbc.ca/
Document Collection: World War Two: Part 4 on Issues and Impacts
Student overview texts for this section are not yet complete. Use instead our separate document collection for more information on the learning intentions: to characterize homefront issues; and to explain impacts of the war on Canadian society, economy and politics.
Student Final Task: Identify and Interpret Impacts of the Second World War
What was the impact of the Second World War on society, the economy and politics in Canada?
Consider aspects like the Society, the Economy and the Politics in Canada at the time.
Use this separate (and different!) student workbook and document package to identify different issues and impacts, then create your own propaganda poster to highlight one of the effects of the war on Canada.
Note that this task is also available in the original French by RECITUS at 2e cycle - Les impacts de la Seconde Guerre mondiale)
Document Collection: World War Two: Part 1 on Situation in Europe.
A separate document collection is now available for the first learning intention targetted by this student page, namely to characterize Europe during the pre-war period. Click here to open the collection in a separate window.
Competency 1 Task idea: Map Key Locations
Mapping The Situation in Europe in the 1930s for instructions and questions on mapping key locations.
Quick knowledge checker:
Evaluation practice document called The Situation in Europe in the 1930s - Checking what you know
Document Collection: World War Two: Part 2 on Causes
A separate document collection is now available for the second learning intention targetted by this student page, namely to identify and explain the causes of the Second World War. Click here to open the collection in a separate window.
Document Collection: World War Two: Part 3 on Canada's Role
A separate document collection is now available for the third learning intention targetted by this student page, namely to identify and explain the causes of the Second World War. Click here to open the collection in a separate window.
Google Slide deck organizer to choose and focus on one role for Canadians. Videos are available for each role as well.
Document Collection: World War Two: Part 4 on Issues and Impacts
A separate document collection is now available for the fourth learning intention targetted by this student page, namely to characterize homefront issues and explain impacts of the war on Canadian society, economy and politics. Click here to open the collection in a separate window.
Local History Project ideas:
Investigate local participants in the Second World War. Follow an art process to create portraits of individuals from your community.
For a related example, view the WHS WWII Fallen Alumni project with posted portraits of local soldiers from their school! https://westmount.emsb.qc.ca/whs/about/memorial-project
See also the Western Quebec Soldiers Stories project described here.
Padlet of key resource sites for all learning intentions in this section.
While we were working on the main document collections for these topics, a monster Padlet of key sites was constructed. It is available below and to view in a large separate window here. As usual, text sources were gathered to the left, while media like videos and image collections are gathered on the far right. This one is divided into "sections" based on the learning intentions.