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War brides: 'Homesick, seasick and lovesick'

Surrounded by falling bombs, strict rationing and nightly blackouts, a generation of young women found love. They were the war brides: British and European women who married Canadian servicemen in the Second World War. After tearful goodbyes to their families, they embarked on a grueling journey by ship and train to join their husbands and in-laws in a new country. Once they arrived, many war brides had to confront culture shock and desperate homesickness before embracing their new lives in Canada.

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Landing at Pier 21 in Halifax was a landmark event in the life of every war bride who came to Canada. On Canada Day 1999, some war brides are reliving that time as Pier 21 celebrates its official opening as a museum celebrating Canadian immigration. As over 100 war brides gather to take in the exhibits, one woman tells a CBC reporter what all war brides had in common on the journey. "We were homesick, seasick and lovesick," she says with a laugh. 
. Between 1928 and 1971, Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million new Canadians, including war brides.
. According to Maclean's magazine for July 12, 1999, the shed at Pier 21 for customs and immigration inspections was a "dank, dark and filthy place." Dutch war bride Maria Ring told a reporter: "I remember it was awful. But we were just so happy to be on land and what we left behind was so much worse."

. One war bride remembers a group of young women greeting returning troops on the same boat as it docked at Pier 21: "[The troops] were, of course, loudly cheered. When [the girls] saw us, they very loudly booed us."
. There was always a brass band waiting by the pier to meet the war brides' ships at Pier 21. Among the songs they played were Here Comes the Bride and Nights of Gladness.

. After so many days at sea, war brides were glad to get a glimpse of land as they sailed towards Pier 21. One woman recalled "little white houses dotted on the hillsides." Another said: "The sight was hard to describe. there was a fairy mist. and all appeared to be floating in a rosy, misty glow. It was exquisitely beautiful and unforgettable."
. On Aug. 26, 2000, Pier 21 erected a plaque dedicated to the war brides.

. In 1994, war bride Eileen Gillies found herself in a pinch when she applied for a passport to visit England. She had never applied for Canadian citizenship after coming to Canada and due to a natural disaster in 1991 she had lost all her British citizenship documents. The story had a happy ending when she was able to prove she was a war bride.

. The year 2006 was named Year of the War Bride, marking 60 years since the majority of war brides reached Canada. Pier 21 was to host a celebration of war brides on Nov. 8, 2006, and Via Rail announced a special "War Bride Train" that would take war brides and their families from Montreal to Halifax for the celebration.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 1, 1999
Reporter: Laurie Graham
Duration: 1:56

Last updated: November 5, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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