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Canada and the Manhattan Project

Canada helped develop the world’s first nuclear reactors and nuclear arms. During the Second World War, Canada participated in British research to create an atomic weapon. In 1943, the British nuclear weapons program merged with its American equivalent, the Manhattan Project. Canada’s main contribution was the Montreal Laboratory, which later became the Chalk River Laboratory. (See Nuclear Research Establishments). This Allied war effort produced the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It also led to the development of Canada’s nuclear energy industry.

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Canada and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Canada has a long, complicated history with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Canadian soldiers have been attacked with chemical weapons and have used them offensively. (See Canada and Gas Warfare.) Canada has researched chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; but also, ways to defend against them. Some chemical weapons were tested in Canada and against Canadians with long-term consequences. Canada played a crucial role in the development of nuclear weapons. (See Canada and the Manhattan Project.) The country employed nuclear weapons primarily as defensive weapons during the Cold War. Canada signed international documents limiting the use of these weapons. Canada no longer has weapons of mass destruction. However, Canada is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and NORAD — alliances that employ nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

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Canada and the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted from 16 to 28 October 1962. The Soviet Union stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba, which posed a threat to the United States and Canada. It brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. Canadian armed forces were placed on heightened alert. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s hesitant response to the crisis soured already tense relations between Canada and the US and led to the downfall of his government in 1963.   

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Exercise Tocsin B

Exercise Tocsin B was a nationwide nuclear preparedness drill that lasted 24 hours between 13 and 14 November 1961. It was the last of three national survival exercises named Tocsin in 1960–61. It was also the largest and most widely publicized civil defence drill ever held in Canada. This Cold War exercise run by the Canadian Army simulated the impact of thermonuclear warfare in Canada. Its goals were to show how the state would warn Canadians of such an attack and how government would continue during the crisis. By raising popular awareness of the potential for a devastating nuclear attack, Tocsin B showed Canadians what was at stake in the Cold War.

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Brock Chisholm

George Brock Chisholm, CC, CBE, psychiatrist, medical administrator, soldier (born 18 May 1896 in Oakville, ON; died 4 February 1971 in Victoria, BC). After earning honours for courageous service in the First World War, Brock Chisholm became an influential psychiatrist. He introduced mental health as a component of the recruitment and management of the Canadian Army during the Second World War. He directed the army’s medical services, served in the federal government as deputy minister of health, and became the founding director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO). His vocal attacks on methods of indoctrinating children with societal myths made him a controversial public figure. He was an often provocative advocate of world peace and mental health.