Creating space for transformative conversations

Canada's World: Historic Timeline (1931-1945)


To fulfill the project’s goal to create a new story for Canada’s role in the world that reflected historical experiences, Canada’s World included an historic timeline exercise in many of its dialogue events, including the national dialogue. This exercise invited participants to document moments in Canada’s history that have contributed to the story of its role in the world.

Below are some major initiatives and events that participants included in their timeline activities that have affected Canadian foreign policy and Canada's role in the world from 1931 to 2009.

Browse the timeline by historical period:

You can also contribute to the Canada’s World citizens’ timeline here.

Historic Timeline:


  • The Great Depression saw Canada continue to cut defense spending through most of the 1930s. The government was more concerned with domestic problems than foreign affairs and remained isolated from ominous developments in Europe and Asia.

September 18, 1931

  • Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Canada does not oppose the aggressive expansion of Japan when it successfully invades the Chinese territory of Manchuria in 1931. Canada follows the lead of other nations in appeasing Nazi Germany.

December 11, 1931

  • The Statute of Westminster confirms the right of dominions to independent conduct of their external relations. This makes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, and Ireland “fully independent dominions equal in status to but closely associated with the mother country” as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. (CWV).

    This meant that:
  1. A Canadian ambassador (then called a minister) no longer had to be introduced by a British ambassador when presenting credentials to a host government.
  2. Canada could now be invited to join some international organizations that did not recognize dependencies or colonies, i.e. the Pan-American Postal Union.
  3. Canada's right to conduct independent external relations was confirmed.


July 25, 1932

  • Canada hosts the first Imperial Economic Conference ever held outside London. A system of preferential tariffs are established for the Empire. As a result, Canada maintains considerable market share in Britain and throughout the Empire during the Great Depression.




October 3, 1935

  • Ethiopian Crisis. Italy invades Ethiopia. Canada opposes a 'forward' policy against Italy. Canada readily accepts the sanctions applied to Italy in November 1935 but her government was not prepared to take the initiative in proposing further sanctions, such as the embargo on oil which her own delegate had suggested.


September 1936

  • Prime Minister Mackenzie King goes to Geneva where he renounces the notion of collective security, asserting that the League's role should be one of conciliation and mediation, not punishment. In the same year, King signs a three-year, most-favoured-nation trade agreement between Canada and the United States. This would form the basis for increasingly close relations between the two countries later on.




September 10, 1939 

  • Canada declares war on Germany seven days after Britain and France. The first Canadian troops leave for England in December. Although "obliged to go to war at Britain's side," King's delay of a week was a symbolic gesture of independence. In 1939, the defense budget totals just $36.3 million. The next year, it reaches $64.7 million, with almost half going to the air force. The permanent army, with approximately 4,200 officers and partially trained men, has little or no modern military equipment.

    Religious intolerance is a feature of Canadian society during WWII: permission for Jews to enter is almost never given. Despite mass protests and continuous lobbying by political and community leaders throughout the Depression and war years, pleas on behalf of the trapped Jews of Europe go unheeded. Canada takes in proportionately fewer Jews than any western country. In 1938-39, Canada accepts only about 2,500 Jews, one of the worst records of the Western countries.

    Canada is home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners during the Second World War. With Britain fearful of a possible invasion, more than 37,000 of their PoWs are transported to remote camps across Canada.

December 17, 1939

  • The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is established — a decisive Canadian contribution to victory in WWII. Run by the Royal Canadian Air Force it assures the production of war material and foodstuffs.


  • Throughout the 1940s Canada expands its diplomatic service and reaches out to Latin American markets: Argentina and Brazil (1940), Chile (1941), Mexico and Peru (1944), Cuba (1945) and Venezuela (1946)

May 1940

  • International Labor Organization's (ILO) headquarters is temporarily moved to Montreal.

August 17, 1940

  • The Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD) is created by Canada and the United States. It is the senior advisory body on continental defence and is composed of military and diplomatic representatives from both nations. Its meetings have served as a window on Canada-U.S. defence relations for more than five decades.


April 1941

  • Hyde Park agreement is signed between Canada and the U.S. to coordinate economic war mobilization between the two countries.

December 7, 1941

  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong. Canada declares war on Japan. Twelve weeks later the Canadian federal government uses the War Measures Act to order the removal of all Japanese-Canadians residing within 100 miles of the Pacific coast, for reasons of "national security". Over 20,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes. They are processed through a temporary camp at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in Vancouver and shipped to detention camps in the interior of B.C., or to sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba.



January 21, 1942

  • Canada and 25 other countries sign the United Nations Declaration.

August 19, 1942

  • Canadian and British troops raid the French port of Dieppe to test German defences. The raid lasts only 9 hours, but of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers involved, more than 900 are killed and 1,874 taken prisoner.

Autumn 1942

  • A decision was made jointly by the Canadian and British governments to set up an atomic laboratory at the University of Montreal, and to move the British heavy-water research project to that location: the task was to design a heavy water plutonium production reactor. The project, which operated under the National Research Council (NRC), became known as the "Montreal Laboratory". Throughout the 1940s Canada was a participant in the Anglo-American project to build an atomic bomb, and provided uranium and plutonium for its development.


July 9, 1943

  • In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announces a new foreign policy doctrine entitled "functionalism," based on the principle that the involvement of countries in different international activities should vary in accordance with their contribution to those activities, and that the largest countries should not dominate or smaller ones insist on an equal voice in all affairs.

July 19, 1943

  • Canadian participation in Allied landing in Sicily, Italy.

August 17, 1943 

  • The so-called Quadrant Conference takes place at the Chateau Frontenac and the Citadel of Quebec. The main political participants are Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King, accompanied by their principal advisors in navy, army, and air force matters. The allies agree to increase the bombing offensive against Germany and continue the buildup of American forces in Britain prior to an invasion of France. In the Mediterranean (a theatre on which Churchill was very keen) they resolve to concentrate more force to remove Italy from the alliance of Axis Powers and to occupy it along with Corsica.

November 20, 1943

  • A Canadian Gallup poll indicates that 78 per cent of Canadians support active peace involvement in maintaining world peace.


June 6, 1944

  • Normandy Landings (D-Day). The 3rd Canadian Division and 2nd and 3rd Armoured Brigades land on the beaches at Courcelles, St Aubin, and Bernières-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast as part of the invasions that lead to the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.

July 1-23, 1944

  • Based on American, British, and Canadian plans, the Bretton Woods Conference on International Economic and Financial Co-operation agrees on the establishment of two institutions: the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).


May 5, 1945

  • Canada plays a key role in the liberation of Holland.

June 26, 1945

  • Canada signs the United Nations Charter.

September 5, 1945

  • Canada's first nuclear reactor the Zero Energy Experimental Pile (ZEEP) project sustains its first reaction at Chalk River, Ontario, becoming the first nuclear reactor in the world designed and operated outside the United States. The same autumn, Canada renounces any intention to build atomic bombs. Not long afterwards, responsibility for the Chalk River complex was transferred to the civilian National Research Council, which funded the project until 1952, at which time it is turned over to the newly created crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

December 28, 1945

  • Canada signs the Bretton Woods Agreement Act, thereby joining the Intentional Monetary Fund, and later the World Bank