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Canada and the Korean War

For the week of Monday June 21, 2004

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War (1950-53). Canada took part in this conflict as part of a multinational response by the United Nations.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations (UN) was created to keep international peace. Canada adhered to the UN’s founding principles. A major problem, however, rendered this organization ineffective. With their opposing ideologies, the United States and the Soviet Union, both of whom had veto power as permanent members, paralyzed the UN Security Council’s operations. They wanted to expand their influence in the world and clashed in a conflict called the Cold War.

Map of North and South Korea
© Parks Canada / Tanya Dazé

The Soviet Union and the United States, the two new superpowers, had split Korea at the end of the Second World War. Korea was thus divided at the 38th parallel, with the United States administering South Korea and the Soviet Union, North Korea. When North Korean forces attacked South Korea, advancing quickly towards the capital, Seoul, the international community was taken by surprise. Shortly afterwards, the UN decided that stability had to be restored to that part of Asia and a United Nations Command was formed. Canada participated in this security exercise by sending military forces into Korea. Close to 27,000 Canadians took part in the war, making Canada the country with the largest contingent per capita.

The honourable Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan, at that time Veterans Minister and State Secretary, and M. Kim Jong Sung, Korean Veterans Affairs Vice-Minister, unveiled the plaque of the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada at the Canadian commemorative garden at Gapyong (July 29, 2003)
© Parks Canada

The Canadian navy provided a sustained effort throughout the war. It conducted numerous patrols, participated in various operations and, more importantly, destroyed military infrastructures in cities and towns that had fallen into enemy hands. The Canadian Air Force transported thousands of tons of supplies, equipment and mail, as well as soldiers and civilians. Many Canadians also volunteered to become ground troops. In April 1951, the soldiers with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry fought in the Battle of Kapyong with tenacity and bravery. They received the Presidential Citation, a U.S. decoration, for this military achievement, which made them the most honoured battalion in all of Canadian history.

In 2000, Canadians’ participation in the Korean War was designated an event of national historic significance.

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