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The Host that Could and the Country that Would: Canada and the Quebec Conferences, 1943-44

For the week of Monday August 7, 2006

On August 10, 1943, the first Quebec Conference, codenamed "Quadrant," began at the Quebec Citadel and the Château Frontenac in Québec City as part of Allied strategic planning during the Second World War. Evoking the romance and grandeur of a French château, Château Frontenac provided a picturesque backdrop to "Quadrant." The conference lasted until August 24 and was followed by a second Quebec Conference, at the same locations, from September 11 to 16, 1944.

Château Frontenac National Historic Site of Canada was originally constructed circa 1892 as a château-style railway hotel.
Château Frontenac National Historic Site of Canada was constructed circa 1892 as a château-style hotel.
© Parks Canada / P. St. Jacques / 1995
At the first conference, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt met to discuss the proposed invasion of Europe through France. On the directives of the leaders, the Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC), Lieutenant-General F.E. Morgan, produced a plan to relieve the over-burdened eastern front in Europe by invading France through Normandy in the spring of 1944. The plan was accepted and codenamed "Operation Overlord."

Despite being held in Québec and hosted by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada did not participate in either conference. As Churchill represented the Commonwealth, representation from individual Commonwealth nations was unnecessary. Although uninvited, Canadians were certainly involved. The Quebec Conferences determined the course of the Allied war, of which significant contributors were the Commonwealth nations, including Canada. For instance, "Operation Overlord" resulted in the Canadian assault on “Juno” Beach on June 6, 1944 that began the Normandy Campaign. While pushing into Normandy, battles including Caën and Verrières Ridge, took the lives of nearly 12,000 Canadians. Canada was also a great producer of war supplies for the Allies. Among other items, Canada produced tanks, large aircraft such as the Lancaster bomber, and munitions. In addition, Canada provided financial assistance to Britain, amounting approximately $3.1 billion. Despite greatly contributing to the war effort,

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Citadel during the Quebec Conference of 1943.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Citadel during the Quebec Conference of 1943.
© National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / C-031186 / August 1943
Canada was not a great power and thus did not belong at the conferences. Canada never played a leading role in the direction of the war. As a middle power, such a role would have been nearly impossible to obtain. This suited King who insisted that Canada not overplay its international role.

The significant world conferences set in Québec determined the course of the Second World War. For this reason, the Quebec Conferences became a National Historic Event in 1947. The Quebec Citadel and the Château Frontenac, the sites of these summits, became National Historic Sites in 1980 and 1981 respectively. For serving his country for almost 22 years as Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King became a National Historic Person in 1967.

To learn more about William Lyon Mackenzie King, please read this story on the Parks Canada Web site: A King is Born! 

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