War Brides in New Brunswick

Our War Brides exhibit is a favorite with visitors at the York Sunbury Museum and a favorite of mine as well. It’s hard to resist a good love story.

The exhibit, which has been on display for the past 2 and a half years, will soon be leaving us as we set up for our new war bride 001Anniversary exhibit. However, the exhibit, curated by the wonderful Melynda Jarratt, author of several books on the subject including Captured Hearts: New Brunswick’s War Brides, tells an incredible story which many have never heard before and is more than worthy of a blog tribute!

 Canada joined the British war effort against Germany on September 10th, 1939. It wasn’t long after that and our servicemen were overseas training for the fight. As Canadian servicemen and British women began to meet a local dancehalls and theatres, it was only logical that romances would blossom. Only forty-three days after the first Canadian servicemen arrived in Britain, the first marriage between a British woman and a Canadian serviceman took place. As the war continued, Canadian servicemen began to meet, fall in love with, and marry women from countries all over Western Europe including Italy, France, Holland and Belgium.

 Of course, as the war appeared to be nearing its end, Canadian servicemen and their new brides looked to set up homes for their families here in Canada.  In the six years between 1942 and 1948 more than 40,000 women and 20,000 children made their way to Canada and approximately 2000 War Brides settled in New Brunswick.

war bride 002This move was facilitated by the Canadian government, which established the Canadian Wives Bureau in 1944, was deemed “Operation Daddy” by the press. At its height in the summer of 1946, around 6000 dependents were arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax each month waiting to be reunited with their husbands, fathers and new extended family.

 Beyond its responsibility to arrange transport for the War Brides, the Canadian Wives Bureau established wives clubs in cities throughout Europe where brides could prepare for the huge transition they faced by learning about their destination, its culture and by meeting their fellow war brides.

 Even with all this preparation there was still a lot to get used to when these women arrived in New Brunswick. Many of these women came from big cities, and adjusting to rural New Brunswick was no small feat. On top of this, many women had to get used to a brand new culture, language and even in some cases religion.

 The story of Jean Paul (nee Keegan) is a great example. Jean Paul married an Aboriginal soldier in 1943, and when she moved to New Brunswick they established their home on the Tobique Indian Reserve outside Perth. Jean had a lot to get used to, she came from a fairly well off family back home so she wasn’t used to the struggle to make ends meet but she was determined to make it in her new home. Jean worked hard to became fluent in her new family’s Maliseet language and customs.

 There are many more incredible stories like this one featured in the exhibit and in Melynda Jarratt’s books!

 Jennifer

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