CBC Digital Archives

European Crisis as war looms

"Germany has invaded Poland." With those words spoken on Sept. 1, 1939 on CBC Radio, listeners knew the Second World War had begun. While this was distressing news for worried Canadians, it wasn't a surprise. For more than a year, it had become increasingly clear that war was on the horizon. CBC Digital Archives presents several radio broadcasts chronicling the coming of the Second World War, from Neville Chamberlain's hopes for peace in 1938 to Canadian troops departing for Europe in December 1939.

Europe is not technically at war, but neither is there peace. Even as people continue to go to the theatre and to football games, there is an underlying tension and questions about what the near future holds. Observing it all is Graham Spry, one of the founders of CBC Radio. In this excerpt, Spry says the British face is as impassive as ever, but its heart and mind are troubled.
• Graham Spry was one of Canada's first champions of public broadcasting. In 1927 he suggested celebrating Canada's Diamond Jubilee by creating a coast-to-coast broadcast of Dominion Day events from Parliament Hill.
• The success of the broadcast led Prime Minister Mackenzie King to set up the Aird Commission on broadcasting. One of its recommendations was that Canada set up a publicly owned system rather than leave the radio waves to private interests.

• In late 1930 Spry founded the Canadian Radio League with Alan Plaunt to lobby the government (by then led by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and the Conservatives) to adopt the Aird Commission's proposals. Two years later the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) was established. The CRBC began broadcasting in February 1933. Three years later it became the CBC with the passing of the Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1936.


• That same year, Spry ran as a provincial candidate for the Canadian Commonwealth Federation.
• Spry's run for office was unsuccessful and he had difficulty finding work in Canada due to his CCF activities. He landed in London as an executive with Standard Oil, directing operations in the Middle East, and began his weekly CBC commentaries in the fall of 1938.


• In early 1939, Spry said of his broadcasts: "(T)hey seem to have had an enormous audience. The CBC is simply delighted and I have scarcely met a person who has not mentioned them."
• In 1968 Spry moved to Ottawa to head the Canadian Broadcasting League, an organization that opposed increased commercialization of Canadian airwaves.


• Graham Spry died in 1983. He is memorialized by the Graham Spry Theatre at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto. The theatre, adjacent to the CBC Museum, exhibits films from the CBC's archives.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: Dec. 23, 1938
Reporter: Graham Spry
Duration: 6:53

Last updated: May 22, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps

While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners...

1941: Churchill's 'chicken' speech

Winston Churchill delivers an electrifying address to the Canadian Parliament during the Secon...

1939: King George VI's Christmas message

The King broadcasts a message of hope to the Empire in the early months of the Second World Wa...

1942: War effort spreads to butter

Government adds butter to the growing list of rationed food.

1941: Japanese attack Canadian troops in Hong...

Outnumbered and outgunned, Canadian soldiers are overwhelmed in their first major battle of th...

1941: Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor

American President Franklin Roosevelt addresses the nation following the attack on Pearl Harbo...