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Towards Greater Canadian-American Co-operation

For the week of Monday April 18, 2011

On April 20, 1941, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and American President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Hyde Park Declaration. This accord paved the way for economic co-operation between Canada and the United States during the Second World War. It was also symbolic of Canada’s weakening ties with Imperial Britain, and its strengthening relationship with its North American neighbour.

The Permanent Joint Board of Defence between Canada and the United States, established in August 1940. Mackenzie King is centre front
© Library and Archives Canada / C-005767 / 1940
From July to December 1940, the Battle of Britain, an air war between Great Britain and Nazi Germany, had left the British in a dire situation. By the autumn, the British government was in danger of going bankrupt and losing the war. Both Canada and the United States had been assisting the British by lending them money and producing military equipment on credit. However, Great Britain continued to go into debt. In March 1941, the United States passed the Lend-Lease Act, which empowered the U.S. president to have war materials produced for Great Britain and given to them free of charge.

Canada continued to assist the British, but faced the possibility of losing their business, with potentially devastating consequences to Canada’s economy. Compounding this problem was the fact that in order to continue producing airplanes, bombs and munitions for Great Britain, Canada needed specialized parts and equipment from the United States. As a result, Canada’s debt with the U.S. quickly spiralled out of control.

William Lyon Mackenzie King talks with Franklin D. Roosevelt
© Library and Archives Canada / C-016768 / 1936

In April 1941, Mackenzie King met with Roosevelt at his home in Hyde Park, New York, to discuss a solution to Canada’s problem. Two skilled negotiators who knew each other well, they quickly came to a friendly agreement based on three principles. First, Canada and the United States would co-ordinate their production so that each country would provide the other with the war materials it needed. Second, the U.S. would purchase certain items from Canada such as munitions, ships and aluminum, and pay cash for them. Third, the specialized parts and equipment that Canada needed from the U.S. would be purchased by Great Britain, free of charge under Lend-Lease, and turned over to Canada for inclusion in finished products.

The Hyde Park Declaration was a huge success. By 1942 Canada’s economic crisis had ended. More importantly, the joint production efforts of the two countries provided vital assistance to Great Britain in its darkest hour, and helped prevent a German victory.

Thanks to Mackenzie King’s personal diplomacy with Franklin Roosevelt, the Hyde Park Declaration laid the foundation for greater Canada-U.S. economic cooperation after the war. William Lyon Mackenzie King was designated a national historic person in 1967.

To read more about Mackenzie King, see A King is born! and The “Lyon” and the End of the British Empire in the This Week in History archives.

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