Canada was thrust into the Cold War world quickly and unexpectedly. In September 1945, a young Russian named Igor Gouzenko walked into the newsroom of the Ottawa Citizen and announced he had proof of a widespread Soviet spy ring operating in Canada.Gouzenko’s allegations were a wake up call for Canada and the rest of the world. The event would cause a chain reaction of anti-Communist sentiments throughout the West.Canada had little chance to choose sides in the Cold War. The country was seated beside the United States, one of the two superpowers defining the post-war world. During the Second World War, Canada had already traded some of its sovereignty in a series of political and military pacts with the U.S.
In the post-war era, Canada moved closer to the American sphere of influence as international tensions escalated. In 1949 the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb and in reply Canada’s military spending soared.
In 1950, Communist North Korea invaded the U.S. backed South Korea adding further pressure on Canada to build up its armaments. Canada took part in a United Nations force deployed to the area.
The country also became caught up the communist paranoia in the post-war era. Canada joined its southern neighbour in an effort to unearth homegrown communists, real or imagined during the early 1950s. The anti-Communist investigations left a trail of destroyed careers and ruined lives.
The chill between the two superpowers left little room for Canada to have a voice in international relations. But in the mid-1950s events would unfold in the Middle East that finally gave Canada a chance for a stronger voice in the new world order.
In 1956, Egypt seized control of the Suez Canal and soon Britain, France and Israel became embroiled in a conflict with Egypt. The world seemed on the brink of war.
At the United Nations, Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson proposed deployment of an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the situation while Britain and France withdrew their forces.
Pearson emerged from the Suez Crisis as hero, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the conflict.
Although Canada made other attempts to have a voice in international matters, for the most part, it was drawn into the American sphere for much of the Cold War.
In the fall of 1958, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker agreed to accept 56 Bomarc missiles from the United States and deploy them in North Bay, Ontario and La Macaza, Quebec.
Canada soon discovered the type Bomarc missiles it received was designed to hold nuclear warheads. The missiles touched off anti-nuclear protests in the country, although Canada eventually accepted the nuclear warheads on New Year’s Eve 1963.
Canada’s political landscape underwent dramatic changes in the post-war years as Canadians demanded more from government and Quebecers challenged the iron authority of their political elite.
During the Second World War, Canadians had increasingly accepted the expanded role of the state in economic and social life and expected this to continue after the war.
The expanded role of state was based on a new premise – adopted throughout the Western world – that governments owed their citizens a reasonable standard of living and access to basic services.
The Canadian government had already introduced such pillars of the welfare state as old age pensions in 1927, unemployment insurance in 1940, and mothers’ allowances – the so-called baby bonus – in 1945.
Birth of Medicare
In the post-war years, Canada’s welfare state continued to grow. In July 1962, Saskatchewan became the first province to implement a universal health insurance plan. Within ten years, the entire country was covered by medicare.
As Canadians demanded more from government, Quebecers were beginning to challenge the authority of their political elite.
On February 14, 1949, 5,000 miners in Asbestos and Thetford, Quebec began an illegal strike for better wages and working conditions against their American-owned company, Johns Manville.
The strike was a milestone in Quebec politics and society because it challenged the iron-fisted authority of Premier Maurice Duplessis, who welcomed American investment and opposed any public dissent.
In the years that followed the strike, the voice of the French Canadian workers and the public would continue to rise heralding in a new era of Quebec nationalism.
As Quebecers were beginning to challenge the authority of the state, Newfoundlanders were debating their own political future.
A Tenth Province
Joey Smallwood, a diminutive, bespectacled man, emerged as singular political force, convincing many Newfoundlanders that their best choice lay in confederation with Canada.
On July 22, 1948, a hotly contested referendum settled the matter. The option to join Canada won by the narrow margin of 7,000 votes.
On March 31, 1949, Newfoundland entered Canada as the tenth province.
Canadians embraced the good life in the post-war years. They had lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War, and were now enjoying the economic prosperity and unbridled optimism of a new era.
Canada was in a good economic position in the post-war years. It had built up its manufacturing sector during the war and was able to export a plethora of goods to European countries rebuilding after the devastation.
The country’s primary resources were also in demand. Indeed, the most dramatic symbol of the post-war boom came in Alberta.
For years, Alberta had only hinted at the riches that lay beneath its earth. People believed there was a wealth of oil but no one had found it. There had been false finds and minor strikes, but it was an industry defined more by possibility than reality.
On February 13, 1947 Imperial Oil drilled a last chance hole in a farmer’s field near Leduc, 17 miles southwest of Edmonton. It was the most significant field yet discovered, eventually supporting 1,278 wells and yielding 200,000 barrels of oil.
The housing boom was one of the most visible examples of the post-war heyday as Canadians embraced a consumer age like never before. Residential construction, which had been dormant during the Depression and then through the war, suddenly boomed as returning veterans married and had families.
New homes had all the latest conveniences including the latest rage called television. On September 4, 1952, Canada officially entered the television era when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) went on the air.
But most of the drama and entertainment the CBC carried, and Canadians watched, were from the United States. American pop culture had begun a concentrated invasion of Canada and it came to symbolize the freedom and carefree living of the post-war era.