From One World War to Another (1919-43)

Canada’s Military between the Wars

Canada at War Again

However, the world continued its inexorable journey to catastrophe. On 25 August 1939, Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression pact. Canada proceeded to take immediate pre-mobilization measures, including protection for strategic sites, with two partial divisions of auxiliary troops. On 1 September, Germany invaded Poland. On the 3rd, Britain and France declared war on Germany, followed on the 10th by Canada - though 303 Germans on Canadian soil had already been arrested, on 4 September. The country's glaring unpreparedness, however, would not prevent it from playing a major role in crushing the Axis forces.

The national census of June 1941 counted 11,506,655 Canadians, approximately one quarter and one twelfth of the populations of, respectively, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1939, after a few years of very slow recovery from the Great Depression, Canada had 530,000 jobless. Two years later, the figure had dropped to 200,000, GDP had risen 47 percent, iron and steel production had doubled, and Canada had resumed its march on the road to industrialization. In 1941 military manufacture occupied a prominent place: light armoured vehicles and airframes (in both cases without motors), munitions, corvettes and frigates. Having increased its cash inflow sixfold in under two years, Canada was able to cover 70 percent of its wartime spending from its current account. This was made possible to a large extent by increases in personal and corporate taxes under an agreement with the provinces that was to end one year after the end of the war. This federal tax bite had other effects: It lowered purchasing power and partly controlled competition and runaway prices, two areas that were also regulated by the Wartime Trade and Price Commission. Canada s significant financial effort would take various forms: interest-free loans and large gifts to Britain as well as war expenditures that by 1945 would total $21,786,077,519, over and above the medical services and disability pensions provided to veterans.

On the international stage Canada played a very modest part. It did not have a place on the Allied Chiefs of Staff Committee and was forgotten when the United Nations Declaration was proclaimed. And although Quebec City was the site for two major strategic meetings attended by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in August 1943 and September 1944, the prime minister of Canada stayed away. However, Canadians would sit on Allied committees for munitions, transportation and natural resources.

It should be mentioned that in the period 1939-45 the basis of Canada's current social-welfare system was broadened by the institution of unemployment insurance and family allowances. Many Canadians are unaware of the fact that the society they live in today was substantially shaped in the years of the Second World War.