U.S. Courts its Neighbour
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U.S. Courts its Neighbour
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U.S. Courts its Neighbour
Canada develops a closer relationship with the United States as the Second World War rages overseas
As Hitler's air forces battered Britain during the summer of 1940, Canada began a dramatic political shift away from the mother country towards its powerful neighbour to the south.
On August 17, 1940, American President Franklin Roosevelt and Canada's William Lyon Mackenzie King signed the first joint defence pact between the two countries. (National Archives of Canada, C-016768)
On August 17, 1940, American President Franklin Roosevelt and Canada's William Lyon Mackenzie King signed the first joint defence pact between the two countries. (National Archives of Canada, C-016768)

On August 17, 1940, American president Franklin Roosevelt met with Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on a private railway car near Ogdensburg, New York.

King recorded the historic meeting in his diary:

"Roosevelt was sitting in a corner in his white suit enjoying soda lemonade. He looked exceedingly well. Was in a very happy mood. He greeted me with his usual smile and hearty handshake calling me Mackenzie."

Roosevelt wanted a closer relationship with Canada. The United States remained neutral in the war but Roosevelt feared a British defeat. He wanted to secure his northern flank and aid the Allies (countries fighting Germany) while keeping the illusion of neutrality. Canada could act as a perfect conduit between the United States and the rest of the world.

For his part, King worried that if England fell, Canada might be next target of an insatiable German Reich.

"There is a real possibility of invasion of our shores. We have, therefore, changed now to the stage where defence of this land becomes our most important duty. It will involve far reaching measures."

Roosevelt drafted an agreement for King to sign, establishing a permanent board responsible for the joint defense of the two countries. It became known as the Ogdensburg Agreement.

"I questioned him as to the significance of the use of the world permanent," King said. "He said at once that he attached much importance to it. I said I was not questioning the wisdom of it, but was anxious to get what he had in mind. He said it should not be designed to meet alone this particular situation but to help secure the continent for the future. "

Without consulting Cabinet and without the consent of Parliament, King agreed to the Permanent Joint Board on Defence. It was the first significant continental defense alliance between the two countries and marked Canada's move to the American sphere of influence.

In Toronto former Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen was disgusted by what he believed was Kings betrayal of Britain.

"Really I lost my breakfast when I read the account this morning and gazed on the disgusting picture of these potentates posing like monkeys in the very middle of the blackest crisis of this Empire. "

For Canada the world had changed. The balance of power had tilted away from the old world and towards the new. Britain could no longer guarantee Canada's security. King told Parliament the countrys future lay with America.

"The new arrangement is part of the enduring foundation of a new world order, based on friendship and good will. In the furtherance of this new world order, Canada is fulfilling a manifest destiny."

For decades, Canada's destiny had become more orientated to the North American continent and less tied to the mother country. Canada had gained much political autonomy from Britain in the inter-war years. And American pop culture such as radio and literature was drawing Canadians closer to their southern neighbour.

The 1940 Ogdensburg Agreement marked the first in a series of joint Canadian and American ventures during Second World War.

In 1941, the two countries signed the Hyde Park Declaration, a financial arrangement with the United States that helped Canada provide war materials to Britain.

A year later, Canada gave the United States permission to build a military road, called the Alaska Highway, through Canadian territory.

But a closer political alliance posed obvious problems. Lester Pearson, who was Canada's second highest ranking officer in Washington, articulated the delicate nature of the relationship with the U.S.

"When we are dealing with such a powerful neighbour, we have to avoid the twin dangers of subservience and truculent touchiness. We succumb to the former when we take everything lying down and to the latter when we rush to the state department with a note every time some congressman makes a stupid statement about Canada, or some documentary movie about the war forgets to mention Canada."

In the years to come, Canada would continue its shift away from Britain and toward the American sphere of influence. The task of finding a satisfactory partnership with the U.S. would become even more difficult in the post-war period when Canada became locked into the American military orbit during the Cold War.

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