75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War
Navy ships, explosions in the ocean and people on board ships.
Sailors of HMCS Saguenay look on as depth charges, one type of weapon used to destroy enemy submarines, detonate below the surface. In the distance, a convoy can be seen.
© LAC, PA-116840

Within hours of Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, a Nazi submarine torpedoes SS Athenia, a passenger liner bound for Montreal from London. Among the 112 victims are Canada’s first casualties of the Second World War. The sinking sets the stage for the Battle of the Atlantic, a grueling six-year struggle for the survival of Britain, the liberation of Europe and to help supply the Soviet Union.

Canada and the colony of Newfoundland play crucial roles in protecting, manning, and supplying Allied convoys. Rapid expansion of Canada’s navy, merchant marine, and air force bolster this lifeline: everything necessary for the war in Europe must arrive by ship. In recognition of Canada’s significant contribution, Rear-Admiral Leonard Murray becomes Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Northwest Atlantic region in 1943, the only Canadian to hold such a command during the war.

Withstanding enemy action from the sea and sky combined with extreme weather, Canadians and Newfoundlanders are relentless in securing Allied victory on the Atlantic, a feat that cost the lives of nearly 1,990 from the Royal Canadian Navy, 752 Canadian airmen and 1,629 Canadian and Newfoundland merchant sailors. Without their sacrifice, determination and courage, the war would have been lost.

Victory in Europe (VE) Day, 8 May 1945
Soldiers and civilians smiling.
Canadian soldiers, such as these two men of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, are cheered by grateful and newly liberated Dutch civilians.
© LAC PA-134390

Canadians were at war for nearly six years when news came of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. More than one million Canadians, including 50,000 women, served in the military on the ground, at sea, or in the skies throughout the conflict. Millions more men, women and children enthusiastically added their efforts on the home front.

For a country so deeply immersed in total warfare for so long, emotions were running high. In cities and towns across Canada, news of peace in Europe brought cheering crowds into the streets. But along with thanksgiving religious services and parades, there were some darker incidents, notably in Halifax, where rowdy festivities degenerated into violent riots.

As our servicemen and women celebrated overseas in Paris and London, they were also hailed as heroes by the Dutch for liberating the Netherlands from nearly five years of famine and Nazi oppression.

The guns in Europe and on the Atlantic may have now been silent, but war was still raging on the other side of the world in Asia and the Pacific. Much remained to be achieved for total victory, but for the present, at least, the strain was eased as Canadians were celebrating the beginning of the end.

Victory over Japan (V-J) Day, 15 August 1945
Two young ladies and a young man smiling and lifting a hat in the air.
Canadian troops at home and abroad, such as these soldiers in London’s Piccadilly Circus, rejoice upon learning of the war’s end.
© LAC PA-152103

Just as when Germany had capitulated months before, Canadians once again poured into the streets, this time to celebrate the news that Japanese Emperor Hirohito had agreed to an unconditional surrender in August 1945. With Imperial Japan’s formal capitulation on 2 September, the country breathes a collective sigh of relief as the Second World War comes to an end.

Canada had been at war with Japan since December 1941. At home, western coastal defenses were reinforced, while all three of Canada’s fighting services, along with the Merchant Navy, participated in the Pacific war theatre, albeit in a limited capacity. As the war came to an end, Canada’s military personnel in Asia began coming home, including more than 1,400 Canadians who had survived internment in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps since the disastrous Battle of Hong Kong in 1941.

For Japanese-Canadians who were targeted by racist government policies, the end of hostilities did not bring immediate relief. Nearly 4,000 would be deported to war-torn Japan while thousands more faced the difficult task of rebuilding their lives shattered after their relocation to internment camps and confiscation of their possessions.

For many Canadians, both civilian and returning veterans, a new optimism emerges, but others face a long road to recovery and healing.