From Cold War to Present Day

NORAD (North American Air Defence Command)

Continental Defence

Avro CF-100 Mk 4b fighter-interceptor

Caption: Avro CF-100 Mk 4b fighter-interceptor

The military aspect of Canada-U.S. animosity tended to disappear in the 20th century. During the 1930s, in anticipation of the impending world upheaval, the defence of the western hemisphere became a concept to be reckoned with.

In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt let it be known that the defence of Canada formed part of United States defence policy. Two years later he stated, this time very clearly, that the United States would not stand by if Canadian territory was threatened with invasion. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King replied that his country would do everything in its power to shield itself against attack or invasion; Canada would ensure that if such an occasion arose, its enemies would be unable to pursue their route through Canadian territory to the United States, whether by land, sea or air. The two countries then held secret discussions to develop common defence measures in the event of attack.

In August 1940, two months after France's defeat in Europe and while the United States was still neutral, Roosevelt and King met and agreed to an American proposal to establish a Permanent Joint Commission for Military Planning. This advisory body held closed meetings and prepared recommendations for both governments.

A dynamic collaboration began. It dropped off after 1944 to re-emerge in 1946 as the Cold War approached. The technological innovations of the period 1939-45 combined with the appearance of the Soviet enemy to make the whole North American continent highly vulnerable. Common defence measures were now imperative.

Between 1950 and 1954 three radar networks, including the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line, were built in the northern reaches of the continent largely on Canadian territory. In the event of any threat from that quarter, they would alert the American air forces earmarked for atomic defence and reprisals. In 1956 a Canada-U.S. task force focused on the air defences of the two countries and in December recommended the creation of an integrated binational structure as the most effective method for ensuring this defence.

On 10 June 1957 the Conservatives formed a government after 22 years in opposition. Almost immediately Canada s military leaders submitted to defence minister George Pearkes a draught agreement, already accepted by the Americans, that would establish a Canada-U.S. operational command for continental defence. On 24 July, Pearkes and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, without consulting any other member of the cabinet, approved the agreement.

Additional Images

McDonnell CF-101B Voodoo fighter, 425 'Alouette' All-Weather Fighter Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, circa 1974
Avro CF-105 Arrow Mk.1, on its first flight, 1958
De Havilland Vampire Mk.III fighter, Royal Canadian Air Force
Avro Lancaster MK.10MP maritime patrol aircraft, 107 Rescue Unit, Royal Canadian Air Force