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The Vaniers take on the world...together!

For the week of Monday, January 12, 2015

On January 13, 1921, Pauline Archer and Georges P. Vanier became engaged – the first of many adventures for this committed couple. Georges’ diplomatic career kept the family moving – to England, to Switzerland, and in 1939 to Paris when he was appointed Canada's Minister to France. 

Photograph of the couple while Georges served as Governor General of Canada
© Estate of Yousuf Karsh

On September 3, 1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany. The Vaniers remained in France until May 10, 1940, when Germany began to invade France and the Low Countries. Pauline had to lead her mother and children along refugee-packed roads to southwestern France, where they boarded a ship for England. Once reunited with Georges in London, Pauline began working for the Red Cross, which needed francophone volunteers. She visited French refugees and injured servicemen, helping them contact their families and offering a sympathetic ear.

The couple worked together in London, with Pauline as Georges’ secretary, until the fall of 1940 when they were asked to return to Canada. Back home, they travelled throughout Quebec sharing their experiences, warning of the dangers of a German victory, and encouraging support for the war effort.

Georges was appointed Minister to the allied governments in exile – those governments forced to flee the Nazi war machine – and, in May 1944, he became Canada's Ambassador to France. After the liberation of Paris, Pauline established herself as a representative of the Red Cross in order to accompany her husband. They arrived in Paris on September 7, 1944, where she co-ordinated relief efforts, notably distributing much-needed supplies to refugees. Georges was the first diplomat to enter the newly liberated city.

The Vanier family sledding
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-127233

Regarding his wife, Georges once wrote in a letter to the Department of External Affairs, “We work as a team.” In 1959, he became Canada's first French-Canadian Governor General, bringing his 'team' to Rideau Hall. Georges P. Vanier has been designated a National Historic Person and the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall and Landscaped Grounds, is a National Historic Site.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. To learn more about Canada in the war, please read the following stories in the This Week in History archives: Enemies in our Waters!, Queen of the Hurricanes! and “None is Too Many”: Cairine Wilson’s Fight to Liberate Canadian Immigration Policy.

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