Welcome to Canadian War Brides of the First World War

It has been over ninety years since the end of the First World War, yet little is known about the war brides who came to Canada after the war. This web page was created to promote and preserve the history of the war brides who made Canada their home during this era.

The Journey to Canada

A handful of ships brought the war brides to Canada after WWI. Some of the transports include the smaller ships such as the Corsican, Grampian, Megantic, Melita, Metagama, Scandinavian, and the Tunisian to name a few, which could carry up to 2000 passengers. The Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic was by far the largest ship to bring soldiers and dependents to Canada. She could carry more than 5000 passengers. However, with a shortage of shipping after the war, a war bride might be placed on any ship that had space available.


The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada took 7 days on average. Most ships left from Princes Landing Stage at Liverpool. But with many dockyard strikes during 1919, a number also left from ports at Southampton and Glasgow. During the winter months the ships docked at the eastern ports of Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John, New Brunswick. Pier 2 in Halifax was kept busy unloading returning soldiers, while St. John tended to the ships that carried mainly families. As soon as the St. Lawrence River thawed in late April, the ships began landing at Quebec on a regular basis for the remainder of the year.


Most of these young women, many who were travelling with young children or infants, were given berths in steerage, which was a far cry from the comfort of second or cabin class. Seasickness was a common problem experienced by many on board the boat while travelling across the Atlantic. After the first few days of sailing most people found their sea legs and were able to look after themselves again. However, a number of passengers were reported to suffer for the duration of the trip.


The greatest risk of travelling to Canada during the winter of 1918/1919 was the Spanish flu epidemic. Medical officials at the port of embarkation checked passengers for symptoms of illness, but they had no way of knowing who had been exposed to the virus and would be contagious while on the ship. A number of war brides and their children succumbed to influenza on ships travelling to the Dominion during this time and were buried at sea, while others died shortly after arriving on Canadian shores. It seems so tragic that these war brides should perish before they had a chance to begin their new life in Canada.


My grandmother's voyage on the RMS Melita is well documented by the letter she wrote while on board. You can view the names of the soldiers’ dependents on board her ship and the returning soldiers, many whom had dependents on board at the following links:


Military Dependents
http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/ships/melita1919_part2.shtml
Canadian Expeditionary Force Soldiers
http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/ships/melita1919.shtml .

If you would like to add your war bride to a register of WWI War brides, please send me an email at wwiwarbrides@shaw.ca or avidgenie@hotmail.com . I'd also love to hear from you if you have questions about when your war bride came to Canada. Check out further blog entries at http://wwiwarbrides.shawwebspace.ca/blog/ .

© 2008 - 2012 Annette Fulford

War Brides from the First World War

During the war over 600,000 men joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and 424,000 went overseas to fight in Europe or were housed at military training camps in England. A large percentage of the wounded soldiers spent time at hospitals in the British Isles or travelled there while on leave. Many soldiers fell in love with the women they met during their extended stay. By war's end Canadian soldiers were marrying British and European women at the rate of 300 a week, over 1000 per month.

Thousands of war brides came to Canada after the First World War in an immigration scheme that was paid for by the Canadian government. In January 1919, the Government of Canada passed an Order in council offering the dependents of Canadian soldiers free third class passage from their home in Europe to their final destination in Canada. The majority of the dependents lived in the United Kingdom.

The Department of Immigration and Colonization repatriated over 54,500 soldiers' dependents to Canada in all. Approximately 17,000 returned to Canada between July 1917 and November 1918. After the armistice a further 37, 748 came to Canada by the end of 1919. Those who travelled between 1917 and mid January 1919 were not given free transportation but were offered a special rate on a secure ship. By the end of 1919 they could be reimbursed for their passage based on 3rd class rates by applying to the government.

These statistics, however, are for the number of soldiers' dependents that arrived in Canada after WWI. A large number of the dependents were the wives of Canadian soldiers who travelled to Britain to be near their soldier husbands. Many of these dependents were British born and had recently immigrated to Canada before the war. A number of Canadian wives also travelled to the UK after their husbands were injured.

There are no official figures given for the total number of Canadian Expeditionary Force soldiers who married abroad and returned to Canada with a war bride and/or children. A number of former soldiers returned to the British Isles or France to marry the women they met during the war. Also not included are the many young women who travelled to Canada after the war to be married at their own expense.

It has been difficult to ascertain just how many women came to Canada as war brides during this era. By November 1918 reports in the Canadian press estimated that there were at least 20,000 women who had never been to Canada before. By mid August 1919 that number swelled to 35,000.

Many families travelled to Canada together on troopships, known as dependents ships, but were berthed in separate locations on the ship. They would meet on deck in the morning, attend activities and if possible, take all their meals together. Later, if the weather permitted, they would spend time on deck. Many wartime romances were rekindled with dancing on deck "C".

My grandmother, Grace Clark was just one of the many war brides who came to Canada in 1919 on board a troopship. Each day she would write about the daily activities on board the RMS Melita. You can read the letter she wrote to her parents back home in England under links.

Was your mother, grandmother, or any other relative one of these courageous war brides who married a Canadian Expeditionary Force soldier during the First World War? What was her life was like after she set foot on Canadian soil? Do you have any documentation about her life such as photos, diaries, letters or stories that you would like to share? If so, please email me at wwiwarbrides@shaw.ca or avidgenie@hotmail.com . I'd like images and stories that I can used for articles, displays or presentations about these war brides. I plan to write a book about their experiences in the near future.

Sources:
Canada. Dept. of Militia and Defence. The Return Of The Troops : A Plain Account Of The Demobilization Of The Canadian Expeditionary Force. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1920.
Repatriation Committee. The Programme of Repatriation. Ottawa: Allied Press, nd, Issued by Department of Public Information.
"Troops Overseas Marrying Rate Three Hundred a Week." Toronto World, 09 December 1918, 1.
"War to Peace: Bringing Our Soldiers' Dependents to Canada." Toronto World, 23 January 1919, 10.

© 2007- 2011 Annette Fulford