Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.
Neither Victory in Europe Day nor Victory over Japan Day took place on November 11th. Today’s date belongs to the anniversary of the end of World War I. By the time World War II ended, Armistice Day had been observed by Canada since 1919. It was formally renamed “Remembrance Day” and placed on November 11th back in 1931. For Remembrance Day in 1945, Canadians had much to be grateful for as not one but two chapters of war had come to a close earlier that year.
Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day) – May 7-8, 1945
The German Instrument of Surrender ended World War II in Europe. The first was signed on May 7 in Reims, France and the second on May 8 in Berlin, Germany. Numerous reporters attended the Reims signing, but were placed under a 36-hour embargo when it became apparent a second signing was going to be needed to placate the Soviets. (They disagreed with the wording of the original document and wanted the war to end where it started: Berlin). Not surprisingly, word of Germany’s surrender leaked and celebrations sprang up across the world. May 8th was the day the news became official and public holidays were announced. Reportedly, people celebrated even harder on the second day.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King was in San Francisco at the time. He was at the founding conference of the United Nations. King gave a radio address on the 8th. “Let us rejoice in the victory for which we have waited for so long and which has been won at so great a price.” A great price it was indeed. By the end of World War II, 42,042 Canadian lives had been lost and 54,414 had been wounded. 1,086,343 out of a population of 11.5 million had served and countless Canadians contributed to the war effort from the home front. King went on to remind the Canadian public that although “the Nazi beast has been slain […] we must fight Japanese militarism until total victory is achieved.”
Victory over Japan Day (August 15, 1945)
Canadians participated in every theatre of war during World War II, but due to the fact that the bulk of our battles occurred in Europe and the Northern Atlantic, less attention is paid towards our efforts in Asia. However we were there since 1939 and by the war’s end 10,000 Canadians had served or were serving in the Far East. With our soldiers no longer tied up in Europe, there had been plans for a major expansion of the Canadian military effort in Asia. Those plans ended up being unnecessary however, as the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th resulted in a much earlier end to the war. Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan to the Allies in a radio address on August 15th. The formal end came on September 2nd, when the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed.
When the news broke that Japan had surrendered, just like on VE-Day Canadians poured out of their offices and homes to celebrate in the streets. Cities that held large Chinese populations such as Montreal and Vancouver were even more enthusiastic given the extra attachment to the war effort (much of China had been occupied by Japan since before the war). Parades were later held by these communities to mark the war’s end and honour those who never got the chance to come home and celebrate with their loved ones.
Gervais, Dale, “Meet Sgt. Karen Hermeston,” Canadian Film and Photo Unit. November 2012. Accessed from: http://www.canadianfilmandphotounit.ca/karen_hermeston.html
Keery, Paul, Canada at War: A Graphic History of World War Two. D & M Publishers. Vancouver. 2012.
“Remembrance Day,” Canadian War Museum. Accessed from: http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/remember/remembranceday_e.shtml
“VJ-Day (Victory over Japan)” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed from: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/vj-day-victory-over-japan/