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In Depth

Canada's war brides

Love in war

Last Updated November 4, 2006

On Nov. 6, 2006, a Via Rail train will carrying a group of war brides to Halifax to revisit the site where they landed in Canada 60 years ago. CBC will be covering the trip from Montreal to Halifax. CBC's Brian DuBreuil will be on that trip and wrote this column.

Brian DuBreuil's parents, Ruby and Jean-Paul, in an undated picture. Brian DuBreuil's parents, Ruby and Jean-Paul, in Aldershot, England, on their wedding day in May 1945.

It was an unprecedented event. During and after the Second World War, thousands of young women and their children left their homes and families to come to Canada to be with the Canadian servicemen they loved.

The numbers are staggering: more than 44,000 women and nearly 21,000 children arrived in Canada between 1942 and 1948. Most came from Britain.

The first wave docked at Pier 21 in Halifax on Feb. 10, 1946. About 950 women and children stepped off RMS Mauretania to begin a life in their new country. Canada's war brides had arrived.

Ruby Ladner was one of those women who left home to follow a dashing young Canadian soldier. I know her story well. Ruby is my mom.

She was a staff car driver in the British military. My father, Jean-Paul, was a staff sergeant in Le Régiment de la Chaudière. They met at a British army dance in December 1944. Five months later, they married.

When mom finally arrived in Canada on board the Queen Mary in August 1946, she had a child, my sister Diane.

'Homesick, seasick and lovesick'

Brian DuBreuil's parents, Ruby and Jean-Paul. Brian DuBreuil's parents, Ruby and Jean-Paul.

They used to have a saying about those war bride ships. They said the women were "homesick, seasick and lovesick." I think all three applied to mom.

Her first days and weeks in Canada weren't exactly a honeymoon, either. With the post-war housing shortage, mom, dad and the baby moved in with my dad's mother in Montreal. Grand-Maman didn't speak any English and mom didn't speak any French. So there was a lot of sign language going on.

Then came the bitter cold and snow that we like to call a Canadian winter. It was almost too overwhelming for a young woman from Penzance, Cornwall. But 60 years, six children, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren later, Ruby and Jean-Paul are still together, living out their retirement in British Columbia.

My parents' story is familiar to thousands of Canadian families. The war brides settled in cities, on farms, in logging and mining towns from coast to coast. Some got homesick and returned to Britain, but most stayed, becoming an integral part of the country's fabric.

Back to Halifax

Brian DuBreuil and his mom, Ruby. Brian DuBreuil and his mom, Ruby.

This year is the Year of the War Bride. Before Remembrance Day, several hundred are preparing to make the trip back to Halifax — back to the port that welcomed them 60 years ago.

On Nov. 6, a group of war brides and their families will board a special VIA train in Montreal. The train will stop to pick up more brides in towns and cities like Campbellton, N.B., Bathurst, N.B., and Truro, N.S.

In Halifax, the brides will be feted at Pier 21 — now a museum dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who helped build this country.

Unfortunately, my mom and dad won't be on the train. Mom's health isn't as good as it could be. But I will be on board with a CBC-TV crew to document this journey back to the place it all began — the place were thousands of young women took a chance on love.

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