CBC Digital Archives

Welcome to the Canadian Wives' Bureau

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.

There's a little piece of Canada on an upper floor of a posh London department store. It's the headquarters of the Canadian Wives' Bureau, an office charged with reuniting war brides and their husbands. In the bureau's comfortable lounge, the women can learn about what life will be like in Canada by viewing films and reading magazines. Maj. Brian Meredith of the Canadian Army talks with bureau staff about the brides' most pressing concern: when can I go to Canada? 
. The earliest known club where British wives of Canadians could share their questions and concerns was the Maple Leaf Club, founded in September 1941 by a Canadian chaplain with the 3rd Field Regiment. The Princess Alice Clubs, named for the wife of Canada's governor-general, followed in 1943.
. Until August 1944 the Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources was responsible for arranging dependents' travel to Canada.

. That duty then shifted to the Department of National Defence. It set up the Canadian Wives' Bureau in 1944 to arrange for war brides and their children to travel to Canada by ship and to their husbands' homes by train.
. The bureau was a joint effort among Canadian immigration officials, the military and the Canadian Red Cross.

. According to the Globe and Mail of Sept. 1, 1943, Canadian officials recognized the need for such a service after many requests from war brides. "[Officials] decided spasmodic series of talks were inadequate to deal with the situation, and that an information bureau should be established with a staff competent to deal with individual problems."
. One suggestion was that a Canadian kitchen be set up to demonstrate wood stoves, iceboxes, refrigerators and even kitchen cabinets.

. To help familiarize war brides with Canadian practices, the Canadian government distributed booklets such as Welcome to War Brides, Canadian Cook Book for British Wives and How to Deliver Your Own Baby.

. Besides planning the war brides' travel to and within Canada, the Canadian Wives' Bureau arranged for them to travel from their homes in the United Kingdom to the port city from which their ship sailed. The wives were lodged in hostels overnight before sailing.
. The war brides were also given travel allowances to pay for meals on the ship.

. Discharged soldiers were given priority over war brides when travelling back to Canada, but some war brides travelled before soldiers. Mrs. Mary May wrote of the unfairness of the system in a letter to the Globe and Mail on Aug. 16, 1945: "And also these war brides coming this month? They have seen their husbands since I've seen mine and yet they come over here where there are not enough houses for them, and my husband still stays until next March."

. Because Canadian servicemen were based in Britain, the vast majority of war brides - about 94 per cent - were British. Others came from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and other European countries.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: April 12, 1946
Guests: Jean Dunlop, Gladys Pearce
Interviewer: Brian Meredith
Duration: 2:24
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-128179

Last updated: October 21, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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