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Wartime Messages from Canada's Government, 1939-1945

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Roll back fifty years and more to see and hear the messages that mobilized Canadians and sustained collective energies throughout the Second World War.

Victory Bonding, an exhibition of wartime communications produced by Canadian government departments and agencies, draws on vivid archival treasures and our published heritage to bring back memories of Canada's war years - to remember homefront efforts along with sacrifices on the battlefields.


These are some of the messages that informed, encouraged and persuaded Canadians to participate in a national undertaking in support of the Allied effort. Official wartime communications took many forms ranging from standardized government directives to vibrant commercial billboards designed to grab attention and to stir emotions. Their language, visual styles and promotional strategies evoke the spirit of the times. Their recurring sounds and images are a vital part of Canada's history and our collective memory of the war years.

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Victory Bonding sets the government context for wartime communications - identifying the departments sponsoring the campaigns, the production units and agencies, and the creative talents of individuals. During the Second World War, public information became entrenched as an essential government function, required to realize massive national endeavours. public opinion polling techniques were used to determine needs and strategies, new public service units were established to manage public information initiatives, and the inventive skills of both government employees and private sector companies and individuals were engaged to produce the artwork, texts, scripts, music, and still and moving images.

Now fifty years have passed. The retrospective vantage point of history permits us to celebrate the hard-won victory, to assess the costly sacrifices, and even to admit to errors and injustices. We can open once singular interpretations and dominant readings to a new sensitivity that recognizes the multiplicity of views in a country as vast as Canada. Now let us look at wartime messages through many eyes....

As we walk through the exhibition, or reflect upon its contents, let us imagine if from the diverse perspectives of the many Canadians who experienced wartime

  • a prime minister and his elected colleagues, responsible for a nation's affairs in such time of stress, taking agonizing decisions that would be borne by all Canadians
  • mothers, torn with pride and emotion, who embraced departing sons in uniform knowing well that this might be the last time - and 42,042 Canadians lost their lives in service never to return to a home coming embrace
  • veterans, having suspended family and community life, careers and education, who came back from the battlefront with physical disabilities and emotional scars - and 54,414 were counted among those who suffered injuries, and many more must have endured invisible or uncounted wounds
  • those who suffered loss of citizen rights, targeted as enemies on the basis of race or nationality alone - including 21,000 Japanese-Canadians who were taken to internment camps
  • women who served in Canada's work force, responding to labour shortages that called on them to adapt to new roles outside the home - over one million working women at the peak of wartime employment - who, just as quickly, were expected to return to family roles as war drew to a close
  • those for whom this intense period meant new opportunities and experiences, including those who came to serve Canada as public servants - from administrators to artists and filmmakers
  • as well as those joyous individuals who made up the crowds in 1945 in communities across country celebrating

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This lasting legacy of wartime messages serves to remind us of Canada's proud contribution to the Allied effort. It also brings back a period when Canadians were striving to articulate a collective and inclusive identity that would mark Canada's maturity as a nation among nations.

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As we celebrate Canada's audio-visual heritage, and the centenary of cinema in 1995, this exhibition offers an appropriate occasion on which to acknowledge the significant role that radio and film have played in Canada - particularly in the government context. One of the agencies that flourished under the demands of wartime communications was the National Film Board of Canada, established in 1939 to consolidate and expand many of the activities of its predecessor, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau. Under the first Government Film Commissioner, John Grierson, the NFB undertook an ambitious production and distribution program for films intended to serve a public information and education function - striving to interpret Canada to Canadians and to those abroad. These war years launched the documentary filmmaking tradition for which Canadian filmmakers have been internationally recognized.

Wartime Messages from Canada's Government 1939-1945

This exhibition featured Second World War posters, films, photographs, artwork, publications, ephemera and archival documents from government files preserved by the National Archives of Canada including the Canadian Army Newsreels and films by the National Film Board of Canada and sheet music and publications from the collections of the National Library of Canada.

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The exhibition was organized by the National Archives of Canada, in cooperation with the National Film Board of Canada and the National Library of Canada with the generous support of Glogalmic Design.


As the designated repository for the archival records of the federal government, the National Archives of Canada preserves and extensive body of official documentation relating to Canada's participation in the Second World War and makes this available to researchers interested in studying this vast subject.

In addition to the records originally transferred from the Department of National Defence and its service units, there are numerous other relevant groups of war records such as those of the Privy Council Office; Parliament; the Departments of Munitions and Supply, Finance, National War Services, and Veterans Affairs; as well as various Boards, Offices and Commissions such as the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, the Wartime Information Board and the National Film Board.

While textual records predominate, government holdings exist in a range of other media and formats - photographs, posters, films, radio broadcasts, original artwork, maps and plans, ephemera, medals, philatelic and heraldic materials.

As well as federal government records, the National Archives of Canada also holds archival collections from private sources. These include the personal papers of veterans, politicians, community and business leaders, public servants, artists, and the organizational records of non-government bodies that may contain information on the Second World War.

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