This Week in History
This story was initially published in 2001
On February 10, 1946, the S.S. Mauretania docked at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, carrying 943 British war brides and their children. Their arrival in Canada marked a new policy developed during a time of military crisis. For the first time, the Canadian government ensured the welfare of Canadian soldiers' foreign brides.
In 1940, 1,222 Canadian soldiers married in Great Britain, and the rate of weddings increased annually. The Armed Forces officially discouraged overseas marriages; however, the number of romances obliged the military to work out new policies. Regulations were put in place to ensure that soldiers' wives would follow them home, and the men were told that wartime marriages were serious, not affairs of convenience. In 1942, the Canadian government established the Canadian Wives Bureau at its military headquarters in London. Its function was to register war brides and assign them a priority transport to Canada. In fact, immigration approval occurred before the marriage could take place. After the wedding, the Canadian government became responsible for securing the brides' transportation and seeing to their welfare. Special War Brides' Clubs gave lectures to acquaint soldiers' wives with Canadian life.
Between 1942 and 1948, about 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children left countries such as Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and France to resettle in Canada. Although almost 16,000 came before 1946, most made the journey after the end of the war. In many cases, the soldiers were waiting in Canada by the time their families arrived.
The transition to life in Canada was difficult for many war brides. They were not used to the harsh climate and isolated areas. They also received a cold reception from some young Canadian women who saw them as rivals. A few brides decided to return to the world they had left behind. Most, however, stayed to raise their families and participate in post-war Canadian society.
In 1996, War Brides became an event of national historic significance, and a federal plaque has been erected at Pier 21 National Historic Site, an important immigration port during the 20th century.
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