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Canada and the Cold War

The Cold War refers to the period between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this time, the world was largely divided into two ideological camps — the United States-led capitalist “West” and the Soviet-dominated communist “East.” Canada aligned with the West. Its government structure, politics, society and popular perspectives matched those in the US, Britain, and other democratic countries. The global US-Soviet struggle took many different forms and touched many areas. It never became “hot” through direct military confrontation between the two main antagonists.

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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Camp X

Camp X — a popular name that reflects the secrecy surrounding its activities — was a training school for covert agents and a radio communications centre that operated close to Whitby, Ontario, during the Second World War. It was the first such purpose-built facility constructed in North America. Known officially as STS (Special Training School) 103, Camp X was one of several dozen around the world that served the needs of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the British agency created in 1940 to “set Europe ablaze” by promoting sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. The radio communications centre, with its high-speed transmitter known as Hydra, was closely linked with British Security Co-Ordination (BSC), the New York-based agency directed by the Winnipeg-born businessman William Stephenson. Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko was hidden there after his defection in September 1945.

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Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)

Since its inception in 1924, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has served Canadians in peace and war. It played a vital role in the Second World War, becoming the fourth-largest Allied air force, and reached its "golden age" in the late 1950s, with dozens of combat squadrons on the front lines of the Cold War. The term Royal, dropped from the name in 1968, was returned to the air force in 2011.

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Governor General of Canada

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. As such, there is a clear division between the head of state and the head of government. The head of government is the prime minister, an elected political leader. The head of state is the Canadian monarch. Their duties are carried out by the governor general, who acts as the representative of the Crown — currently Elizabeth II — in Canada. (Lieutenant-Governors fulfill the same role in provincial governments.) The governor general performs a wide array of ceremonial duties. They also fulfill an important role in upholding the traditions of Parliament and other democratic institutions. Inuk leader Mary Simon was formally installed as Canada’s 30th Governor General on 26 July 2021. She is the first Indigenous person to hold Canada’s vice-regal position.

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Hawker Hurricane

The Hawker Hurricane was a combat aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s, designed by the British aircraft manufacturer Hawker Aircraft Ltd. The Hurricane was one of the principal combat aircraft that defended the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain. This fighter plane played a pivotal role in the Second World War, primarily serving with the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Soviet Air Force. The Hurricane was mass-produced, with over 14,000 examples manufactured from 1937 to 1944. The Hurricane was produced in the United Kingdom and in Canada, with 1,451 examples built at the Canadian Car & Foundry plant, which was located in Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. Hurricane production in Canada lasted from 1938 to 1943 and was overseen by Elsie MacGill, the first woman in Canada to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. MacGill was popularly known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes” for overseeing the rapid production of the aircraft. At the height of production, the Canadian Car & Foundry plant produced 15 new aircraft each week. 

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War of 1812

The War of 1812 (which lasted from 1812 to 1814) was a military conflict between the United States and Great Britain. As a colony of Great Britain, Canada was swept up in the War of 1812 and was invaded several times by the Americans. The war was fought in Upper Canada, Lower Canada, on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, and in the United States. The peace treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the war, largely returned the status quo. However, in Canada, the war contributed to a growing sense of national identity, including the idea that civilian soldiers were largely responsible for repelling the American invaders. In contrast, the First Nations allies of the British and Canadian cause suffered much because of the war; not only had they lost many warriors (including the great Tecumseh), they also lost any hope of halting American expansion in the west, and their contributions were quickly forgotten by their British and Canadian allies (see First Nations and Métis Peoples in the War of 1812).

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HMS Shannon

HMS Shannon was a fully-rigged, 38-gun Leda-class frigate, one of the largest frigates built for the Napoleonic Wars. It had two decks, with the main armaments on the upper deck, and could take on a complement of 330 men.

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Canada and the Battle of Passchendaele

The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was fought during the First World War from 31 July to 10 November 1917. The battle took place on the Ypres salient on the Western Front, in Belgium, where German and Allied armies had been deadlocked for three years. On 31 July, the British began a new offensive, attempting to break through German lines by capturing a ridge near the ruined village of Passchendaele. After British, Australian and New Zealand troops launched failed assaults, the Canadian Corps joined the battle on 26 October. The Canadians captured the ridge on 6 November, despite heavy rain and shelling that turned the battlefield into a quagmire. Nearly 16,000 Canadians were killed or wounded. The Battle of Passchendaele did nothing to help the Allied effort and became a symbol of the senseless slaughter of the First World War.

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Canada and Peacekeeping

Peacekeeping is the term usually applied to United Nations (UN) operations in countries affected by conflict. Peacekeepers work to maintain peace and security, protect human rights and help restore the rule of law. Peacekeepers can be members of the armed forces, police officers or civilian experts. As a result of Lester Pearson's leadership in the 1956 Suez Crisis and Canada's role in the UN Emergency Force he helped create, many Canadians consider peacekeeping part of the country's identity. However, since the 1990s Canada's reputation as a peacekeeping nation has been affected by scandal and by the failure of some overseas missions. Although Canada’s contribution to peace operations has declined since then, Canadian peacekeepers continue to serve overseas in such places as Mali. In total, more than 125,000 Canadians have served in UN peace operations. Canadians have also participated in UN-sanctioned peace operations led by NATO and in missions sponsored by the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). Approximately 130 Canadians have died in peace operations.