More than 1.1 million Canadians donned a military uniform and fought for the allies in World War II, and during that time thousands of them fell in love and were married. As a result, many soldiers brought home more than their kit bags; they brought new wives as well.
In the period during and just after the war approximately 43,000 to 48,000 women came to Canada to be with their Canadian husbands.
Most of these women were from England, where the Canadian troops were stationed prior to D-Day, but many were from the Netherlands or other countries in Europe.
At the time, a grateful and war weary nation responded by welcoming the war brides to Canada with open arms. There were settlement programs for these new families, and even “War Bride Trains” that helped these young women and their children make their way to their new homes across the country.
Most importantly, the federal government passed an Order in Council that automatically made all of these war brides Canadian citizens, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King even welcomed them to the country as “new citizens.”
In a bizarre twist, it was Mackenzie King himself who pushed for the creation of Canada’s first comprehensive Citizenship Act, and in doing so insisted that there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen prior to the passage of the Act in 1947.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now known as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or IRCC) took the view that under the Act these women were no longer citizens, unless they took steps to reaffirm their citizenship.
Unfortunately, very few people were informed of this requirement, and if someone failed to reaffirm, they were stripped of their citizenship without a hearing.
That’s exactly what happened to Gwen Zradicka of Richmond, BC.
“In 1967, my husband and I divorced, and this is what caused the whole trouble,” said Zradicka in a 2007 CBC interview.
“In 1969, my daughter and I were going to go to England, so I took all my papers … went down to the passport office, and this woman said, ‘How do you claim to be a Canadian?’”
“She said, ‘You’re not a Canadian, and if you want a passport you’ll have to apply for citizenship.’ Boy, I had no idea I wasn’t a Canadian!”
It took 10 months for Zradicka to regain her citizenship. And over the past 30 years, the majority of war brides have reaffirmed their citizenship. Others who did not, or who may have gotten bad advice, failed to do so, and like Zradicka were stripped of their citizenship.
This particular situation was corrected when the federal government, under intense public pressure, amended the Citizenship Act to retroactively grant citizenship to all War Brides.