This Remembrance Day marks the 75th anniversary since the end of World War II. Today is an important time to honour the sacrifices that Canadians have made for the betterment of our nation and our world.
Recently, stories of the unsung heroes from the Canadian forces have become more widely available. Out of the one million Canadians who served in WWII, over 3,000 soldiers were Indigenous and more than 50,000 women worked in various roles. On this Remembrance Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase contributions from different communities across Canada.
Canadian Indigenous Veterans
The exact number of Canadian Indigenous soldiers is unknown, but it is reported to be quite significant. Many Indigenous soldiers had to overcome language barriers, adapt to cultural differences, and even travel large distances to enlist in the Canadian forces. But, these soon-to-be soldiers persisted and became some of the most decorated members of the army.
Indigenous soldiers possessed valuable skills — patience, stealth, and marksmanship — from their upbringing and were placed in key positions within the army, such as sharpshooters, scouts, and code talkers.
Locally, two Indigenous Veterans are well known for their military contributions in the early 20th century. Albertan Métis sharpshooter Henry Louis Norwest rose to prominence during WWI for his successful sniping record. Unfortunately, he passed away in combat in August 1918 but was awarded the Military Medal and bar for his courage during battle.
Tsuu T'ina Veteran Harold Crowchild, known as the "Iron Shield," was a member of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division during WWII where he operated tanks and guarded German prisoners-of-war. For his service, he received the Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, France and Germany Star, as well as the War Medal 1939-1945.
You can read more about the contributions from Indigenous soldiers during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War here.
Sikh Immigrants in World War I
Unbeknownst to many Canadians, the troops who served in WWI and WWII included many immigrant volunteers who had only just arrived in Canada. Many of these immigrants were facing discrimination, were unable to bring their families to Canada, and were having a hard time gaining citizenship, yet they still decided to fight for this country.
Filmmaker David Gray decided the document this neglected part of Canadian history through a documentary called Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A Little Story in a Big War (2012) where he uses interviews with family members, archival footage, military records, and war diaries to weave together the story of 10 Sikh soldiers who enlisted in the Canadian army during WWI.
You can watch the entire documentary here.
Canadian Women Involved in War
The Canadian forces was predominantly made up of men during WWI and WWII. And, to make up for the large hole within the workforce millions of women took on civilian jobs during this time. From working in factories and farms to airfields and public offices, thousands of women demonstrated that they had the ability to work within the civil sector.
As the wars continued on, women's involvement began to shift from our home soil to the front lines. Over 50,000 women during WWII took on positions in the army, air force, and naval divisions, as well as roles in medicine. Quite a few of these women got caught in enemy crossfires and lost their lives while serving Canada.
Heritage Minute released a clip on Elsie MacGill, known as "Queen of the Hurricanes." MacGill was the first woman in the world to receive an aeronautical engineering degree and the first Canadian woman to receive a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. She was instrumental in developing Canada's Hawker Hurricane fighter planes during WWII. You can watch the clip below.