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World War II Impact on Family and Community Life in Canada

Introduction

The Second World War is the biggest war to ever have been waged by nations against nations to this day. Almost all nations in the world were involved in the war either directly or indirectly in WWII leading to an unprecedented large-scale loss of life and rampant destruction of property. The war was fought on various fronts; from the European countries, the Asian continent to African soils. Although most of the fighting was confined to the European fronts, World War II had a significant effect on the North American continent in general and Canada in particular. It is acknowledged that the involvement of Canada in the Second World War was pivotal to the eventual winning of the war. Canada supplied its allies with much-needed weaponry as well as soldiers to fight alongside the allied forces. Despite the various positive effects that the war efforts had on the Canadian economy, its effects on the family setup and community life were mostly adverse.

As has been suggested, the war had far-reaching effects in all the countries that were involved. The focus of this paper is on the effects that the War had on family and community life in Canada. It is proposed that the war led to a weakened family and community. This paper sets out to underscore the negative effect on Canadian families and Communities that the Second World War had. A brief overview of the war shall be given and an in-depth analysis of the effect of the war on Canada given to show how family life which was strong pre-war was significantly weakened due to involvement in the war by Canada.

World War II: A Canadian Perspective

The Second World War was caused by the aggression of Nazi Germany in Europe. The Nazi’s expansion ambitions made the country lock horns with most of the European nations. The invasion of Poland by German forces marked the official start of WWII and resulted in the declaration of war on Germany and His Allies by Britain. WWII was a truly global war and involved nations from all corners of the world. The war had the nations of the world pitted against each other in two major opposing military forces. These military alliances consisted of two protagonists; Britain and her allies who made up the Allies and Germany and her allies making up the Axis. Both alliances were powerful and wreaked havoc on each other’s land throughout the war period.

Canada had been involved in the First World War and as a result of the losses suffered by that venture, the country was keen to avoid another war. However, the Canadians had agreed with Britain that should Britain be drawn into a European war through extreme provocation, Canada would be obliged to come to Britain’s aid. The increasing Nazi aggression in Europe forced Canada to take part in the war due to the close ties that the country enjoyed with Britain. At the onset of the war, Canada’s Prime Minister, Mackenzie King envisioned only limited participation in the war efforts as can be articulated by the limited military deployments made by Canada to aid the war effort in the European front for most of the first years of the war. Most of Canada’s military efforts were aimed at defending its shipping routes and its fleet of merchant ships which were key to the propagation of trade with her European allies throughout the war period.

Economically, the Second World War led to significant growth in the Canadian economy. The pre-war Canadian community was mostly rural-based and did not exhibit high levels of mechanization in farming. Due to the war efforts, the country developed into an urban-based manufacturing economy which led to the mushrooming of urban settlements all over the country. The war led to an increase in demand for both weaponry and food by the European nations which could not sustain themselves. Canada, therefore, emerged as a powerhouse in munitions manufacturing because it had been one of the leading manufacturers of weapons for the allied nations in Europe. Large-scale operations by the government in war-production plants led to munitions exports amounting to one-third of Canadian exports. This economic boom enabled Canada to reverse her international credit position from a net borrower to a net lender. Existing industries expanded and new ones were formed as demand for commodities increased due to the heightened consumption as a result of the war.

European citizens were living in uncertainty due to the constant bombardments they were subjected to by enemy forces in their home countries. Most of them opted to immigrate to the safer American North. The Second World War thereby led to an influx of immigrants to Canada mostly from Europe. Due to Canada’s relatively low population, the Federal Government greatly encouraged the immigration efforts thus leading to a multicultural society in Canada. The immigrants greatly influenced the social aspects of Canadian life by passing on traditions from their motherlands.

The Allied forces required a huge army to defend their territories and decisively defeat the enemy. The European nations could not muster these forces on their own. As such, they had to seek the contributions of their allies who were obligated to contribute as many troops as they could spare. Canada contributed to this cause by sending Her soldiers to fight alongside the allies in Europe. In addition to this, Canada played a great role in the training of Airmen through various Air Training programs. Canada is accredited as having undertaken the largest air force training effort in WWII.

Positive effects of WWII on families

Economically, Canada was one of the major beneficiaries of the war efforts. The war led to economic prosperity that had not been experienced since the World Economic depression of 1930. The demand for Canadian goods meant that the rate of unemployment went to an all-time low as the manufacturing companies sought new employees to ensure that the production efforts proceeded undeterred. Decreased unemployment meant that majority of the population could afford a decent livelihood. This strengthened family ties since the disputes that arise between members of the family due to lack of finances were non-existent due to the prosperity that Canada enjoyed as a result of her war efforts.

These economic gains meant that the federal government’s reserves were increased. Due to the surplus amounts of money at the government’s disposal, the government could implement social reforms for the good of the citizens. The introduction of the Family Allowances Act in 1944 called for the payment of benefits to families in Canada. This provision of supplementary income greatly assisted families which were hitherto earning limited income. These generous acts by the government were partially motivated by the need to increase the consumption power of the citizens to lead to an even stronger economy. This policy of making universal payments also had the effect of strengthening families since nobody was marginalized in the government supplementary income schemes. Parents could therefore comfortably provide for their family’s needs and involve themselves in community activities which further bonded the society.

Before WWII, women in Canada were mostly confined to a domestic life where their primary input to society was raising families. The contribution of women in the armed forces was also greatly inhibited majorly as a result of the disbanding of women’s armed forces at the end of the First World War. The Second World War saw a significant shift in this status as reforms opened up all the military divisions for women to join. Reforms saw the widespread training of women in the agricultural, automobile, and building industries to free the male workers who could then join the army to assist in the war efforts. These undertakings led to more empowered female members of society. Barriers that had been placed on women in the pre-war era were broken as women enrolled in the army together with the men and undertook jobs that were up to then men dominated. Due to these occurrences, women began playing a more pivotal role in society. They no longer had to rely on men as the sole breadwinners of the family. This greatly relieved the pressure that society had up to then placed on men. Family life was therefore greatly strengthened since both the husband and wife made their contribution in the building of the family leading to better relations.

Negative effects of the war

The war effort led to the mass enrolling of the youth male population to serve in military services. This was a result of the demand for military personnel by the allied forces to serve in the front line. The high casualty rates experienced in the front line meant that the demand for fresh soldiers could not be satisfied and hence more and more soldiers kept being called for. These recruits created voids in the family settings from which they originated. This created a significant balance in society as the womenfolk moved in to fill in this void left by the males. The traditional family setup was greatly flustered by this leading to disharmony and weakening of long-established family ties.

As has been previously alluded, most of the soldiers ended up being killed on duty or maimed. The majority of these soldiers had families back at home who were greatly affected by their loss. It is approximated that Canada lost over 60,000 soldiers to the war. This loss disrupted family life as wives were turned into widows and children turned into orphans. Some of the soldiers who made it back home suffered from psychological disorders as a result of the extreme conditions they had been subjected to during the war. They were, therefore, unable to relate normally with their families leading to disputes which were at times irreconcilable.

As of 1940, Canada’s population consisted of English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. These two groups held differing opinions concerning the war. Due to their close ties with Britain, English Canada was adamant that the country should take on a more active role in the war. The rest of the population was not keen on either conscription or sending their armies overseas due to the financial cost and human life risks involved. This greatly affected the relations of French Canada and English Canada. Families that had relatives across the divide had their ties severed and the common brotherhood held by Canadians was greatly damaged as communities became resentful of each other.

Due to the war efforts, communities that had once co-existed in harmony began to be alienated. Ethnic minorities in Canada who had been naturalized into Canadian citizens began to experience hostilities from their once amicable neighbors. The minorities, mostly of Japanese and Ukrainian origin began to be marginalized since they were perceived to be “enemies” due to their race and original nationalities. They were henceforth viewed with a lot of suspicions and even relocated from their homes to ghost towns and other unproductive lands. This effect of the war was greatly detrimental to a community that had co-existed in harmony for many years. The marginalized groups were also refused admission into the military services since the rest of the community could not trust them. The fabric of community which had been so tightly woven began to break due to these suspicions and ill-treatment of perceived “enemies”.

Most Canadian families were characterized by a dominant patriarch. This perception was further reinforced by government policies. Any rights that women had to federal government aid were derived from their roles as wives. Despite the apparent unfair nature of such a system, these policies strengthened family relations since the family had to stick together if only for financial considerations. The earnings of the male members of the family were also high and hence there was no pressure for the female members to work to supplement the family’s income. The war led to a change in this status as women’s employment began to take root. The women thus neglected their traditional roles greatly destabilizing the family setup that had been enjoyed for many years. This led to a weakening of the family structure.

Conclusion

Canada’s contribution to the war efforts was monumental and came at a cost both in terms of lives lost, monetary expenditures, and effects on a family that stretched on long after the dust in the battlefields had settled. An examination of the effects of WWII in Canada on the context of family reveals that the war greatly destabilized the family and community setup that existed in Canada. This reality can somehow be accommodated bearing in mind the numerous gains that the society made due to their contributions to the war efforts. About family and community, steps were made which lead to both the strengthening and the weakening of the family structure.

From the above discussions, it can be convincingly stated that the war efforts of Canada led to the destabilization of the family and led to its weakening. However, Canada was honor-bound to defend her allies in the face of war and the enhanced position as a medium power in world affairs and the increased respect that the country gained was a worthwhile prize for the war efforts.

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