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History: Scots in Canada

"Operation Daddy": Canada's Scottish War Brides:

Amid the falling bombs, the tight rations, and the nightly blackouts, a generation of young British women found love. Between 1942 and 1948, war brides of the Second World War arrived in Canada by the tens of thousands. They disembarked at Pier 21 at Halifax, some on luxury liners, others on little banana boats, many with children in tow, and spread from there into every part of Canada. In the immediate post-war years, their numbers represented a huge proportion of the country's immigrant population. All in all, about forty-five thousand British women returned with their soldier-grooms to Canada, bringing with them fifteen thousand children. While it is impossible to know what percentage of these new arrivals were Scottish, it is safe to conclude that they constituted a sizable portion of the total.

War Bride en route to Canada
War Bride en route to Canada

During the course of the war, almost half a million Canadian servicemen eventually landed in Britain, where they would either remain stationed or use as a base before moving on to the Continent. The influx of men into a country with a rising population of young widows made love and romance inevitable: the first marriage between a Canadian serviceman and a British woman was celebrated in Farnborough Church near Aldershot in January 1940, just forty-three days after the first soldiers arrived. Often, these Canadian soldiers were the only men at the country dances or city pubs, their British counterparts on faraway fronts. With death and devastation looming behind every shadow, young couples married in haste as soon as love blossomed, determined to live in the fullness of the present moment.

As weddings started cropping up, the Canadian military began to require that a soldier first ask an officer for permission to marry and prove he was free of debts. The impromptu marriage rules required that brides be of "good moral character;" later the rules were changed to require a soldier to help pay for his wife's transportation to Canada. These new families made an indelible mark on contemporary Canadian society and culture - today, as many as one in every thirty Canadians hails from a war bride family. 1

During the last phase of the war in 1944-1945, war brides began coming to Canada in the thousands, prompting the Department of National Defense to take over responsibility for their immigration. Working through the newly-established Canadian Wives Bureau, which was dedicated to reuniting brides with their husbands, the government offered the women and their children immediate citizenship and free trans-Atlantic passage. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army, meanwhile, provided escort services on board the ships, attended to minor medical issues, and looked after the children. The influx to Canada was so massive that war brides constituted more than two-thirds of the country's immigrant population immediately after the war's end, with the majority coming over in 1946. Media reports dubbed their arrival "Operation Daddy," and affectionately nicknamed the trains that carried the women and children to their new homes across the country the "Diaper Special".

Mrs. Ivan McArthur, a war bride
Mrs. Ivan McArthur, a war bride

By November 1945, thirty-two war brides' clubs, sponsored by the Canadian Wives Bureaus, had cropped up across England and Scotland. In those settings, women could socialize and learn about what to expect from their new lives in Canada. Once they arrived, many war brides had to overcome desperate homesickness and culture shock before adapting to Canadian society. Some women returned to the United Kingdom after their marriages failed, while others returned with their husbands. While there is no way of knowing how many war brides went back to their homelands after coming to Canada, since statistically they were included among the lists of emigrating citizens, anecdotal evidence suggests that five to ten percent of the total war bride population returned to Britain. The vast majority, however, were success stories: they adapted to Canadian life, raised families, and passed on the heritage of one of the country's most unique chapters of immigration history.

War Brides and Children: Immigration to Canada

Year* Brides/
% of total annual
1942-32 188 2.4%
1943-44 1,255 14.8%
1944-45 6,442 50.3%
1945-46 16,133 71%
1946-47 39,092 54.5%
1947-48 1,336 2%
Totals 64,446** 34.3%
*Fiscal year 1 April to 31 March.
**British war brides and dependents constitute 93% or the total.

  1. According to Fredericton war bride historian Melynda Jarratt. Cf. CBC News In-depth: Canada's War Brides, "Love and war overseas." 3 November 2006.
The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and
do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.
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