Most of Canada’s 48,000* World War II war brides (*scroll to the bottom of page to read comment about this figure ) came from Britain, with a few thousand coming from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, and Germany.
Many of the British women met Canadian soldiers who were stationed in England. In some cases, it was a whirlwind romance; in other instances, the women had known their Canadian husbands for a few years before deciding to marry.
The Canadian army officially discouraged such marriages, but nevertheless accepted the inevitable and assisted the newlyweds. The Canadian government set up a Canadian Wives’ Bureau in London to prepare the women for their eventual move to Canada.
Some came to Canada during the war years, crossing the U-Boat-infested waters of the North Atlantic in troop ships, but most arrived after the war, many of them with children in tow. Once in Canada, they boarded war-bride trains on journeys that could take several days.
Their new lives could be difficult. City-born women landed on remote farms on the Prairies; unilingual anglophones found themselves in French-speaking communities; eager new brides were sometimes not welcomed.
The Canadian government paid for their fares to Canada, but if the marriages didn’t work women had to find their own ways back. About five to ten per cent of war brides returned to their homelands.
Those who stayed often connected with other war brides in their communities. Chartered war-bride organizations sprang up across the country in the 1970s.
As Canada’s war brides grow old and pass away, the associations they formed have been closing their doors. Yet there is continuing interest in the war-bride phenomenon. Several books have been published in recent years and a number of provinces and communities declared 2006 the Year of the War Bride. Also, a Canadian War Brides Fonds has been established at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives in Fredericton.
— text by Nelle Oosterom
An excellent source of information on war brides can be found at CanadianWarBrides.com.