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War Brides and Children

Canadian military personnel serving in Britain and Europe spent more time away from home than any other troops involved in the war. Half a million Canadians were stationed in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, some for only short periods of time, others for months and years at a time.

This lengthy stay in Britain prior to the D-Day invasion in June 1944 presented Canadian troops with considerable time to fraternize with local women. Many of these relationships resulted in marriages. By August 1947 the Canadian government had provided passage to Canada for 41,000 servicemen's wives and 19,000 children. This work was carried out by the Canadian Wives Bureau of London which was established by the Canadian Department of National Defence in 1942.

Courtships between Canadian servicemen and British women were often brief; several dates over the course of a few months. Many war brides were totally unprepared for their new lives in Canada. Harsh living conditions in rural regions, punctuated by isolation and a dramatically different climate made the adjustment all the more difficult.
Alberta's severe housing shortage added to the difficulty of those trying to adjust to a new environment. Alberta's houses, for the most part, paled in comparison to English homes. Those expecting picturesque settings as portrayed in land settlement and transportation company brochures were thoroughly disappointed. Many young couples could not afford to purchase new homes so they made do with whatever accommodation they could purchase or rent. At times this meant making considerable sacrifices. Such was the case with one couple in Raymond, Alberta who could not afford the materials to complete the roof for their new home. Most servicemen came from modest backgrounds and could not afford much more than a basic one- or two-bedroom house with few, if any, amenities.

For those war brides settling in urban centres the adjustment was just as dramatic. Most were taken aback by the small size of Alberta’s towns and cities in comparison to Britain’s larger centres. The relative lack of services, retail stores and entertainment options in many communities also came as a shock.

Some of these women experienced severe homesickness, or depression, and yearned to return to Britain. Those who could afford to make the return trip did so often during the early years. Being accompanied by their husbands and children eased the difficulty of leaving the familiarity of Britain when it was time to return to Canada.

Neighbours did their bit to welcome the new arrivals and to help them settle in to their adopted home. Many war brides proved eager to tackle the challenges presented by their new lives in Canada, learning how to garden, hunt, and operate machinery and other skills required for those living in rural Alberta.

To help cope with the isolation and homesickness, war brides living nearby would visit and reminisce, host events for one another and they formed associations. Most of the war brides of the Second World War came to Canada with nothing more than hope for a better life and a sense of determination to make their new relationships work. In spite of the rigours of adjusting to a new country and marriage they raised families and contributed to the development of prosperous farms, businesses and communities. 2006 marked the sixtieth year since many of these individuals first travelled to Canada. To mark this anniversary, some provincial governments, including Alberta, and war brides' associations declared 2006 The Year of the War Bride.

Reference

Tyrwhitt, Janice. “Alberta Women went to war too, some just behind the front line”, Alberta in the 20th Century, ed. Ted Byfield. Edmonton: United Western Communications, 2000.


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