Canada & The Cold War: Timeline & Facts

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the role Canada played in the Cold War. We will highlight key themes and developments, and explore Canadian foreign policy in the context of the Cold War.

The Cold War: A Struggle Beyond Just the U.S.A vs. the U.S.S.R.

Imagine that you are the captain of a sports team that is competing against another sports team that has a formidable captain. It might be easy for analysts to label this competition as merely a struggle between you and your opposing captain, but in reality it is a broader struggle between one set of players and another set of players.

Sometimes we make this mistake in thinking about the Cold War. Sometimes we tend to think of the Cold War in simplistic terms. We sometimes think of it as a conflict involving only the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In fact, many other nations played important roles. We need to understand that the Cold War was a broader conflict, into which many nations were caught up. Some nations choose to ally themselves with the United States, some with the Soviet Union, and others sought to maintain strict neutrality (as difficult as this would prove to be).

In this lesson we will be discussing the role of Canada in the Cold War, but first, just by way of review, let's refresh. The Cold War was a period of intense rivalry between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies, lasting from the end of World War II in 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Cold War was not an actual ''war'' fought with men, guns, and tanks; this we call a ''hot'' war. Instead, the Cold War was a war of ideas and a period of tense competition. The U.S. and the Soviet Union competed with one another for power, prestige, and influence. Similarly, capitalist and communist countries competed with one another for power. At various times, Cold War rivalry led to regional ''hot'' wars that we call proxy wars. Examples, include the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Where Does Canada Fit in the Cold War Context?

Okay, back to Canada. Where does Canada fit in the context of the Cold War? Canada was one of the major allies of the United States. Sometimes the allies of the Unites States are referred to as the Western Democracies. Canada, like France, Great Britain, and other Western Democracies were opposed to Soviet expansion in Europe and to the spread of communism throughout the world. Canada was an important power in the Cold War. It was one of the founding members of NATO. NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was a military alliance formed in 1949 by nations opposed to the Soviet Union and its allies. NATO was established as a collective defense. The idea is that the member states pledge to defend one another from an attack from an external state. Basically, the idea is: strength in numbers.

This image depicts the founding of NATO. Canada was founding member of NATO.
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In response to the creation of NATO, the Soviet Union and its allies formed its own military alliance in 1955 called the Warsaw Pact. Poland, East Germany, Hungary, and other nations made up the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union plus its Warsaw Pact allies are often referred to as the Eastern Bloc or the Communist Bloc.

Canada During the Cold War

While Canada was firmly in the camp of anti-Soviet nations, it was not nearly as fearful of communism as the United States. During the 1950s, anti-communism reached a fever pitch in the United States when it was characterized by the hysterical Red Scare. The Red Scare was a frenzied and irrational fear of communist infiltration of in American culture and government that peaked between 1947-1957. Although Canada maintained a more moderate approach, the Canadian government did develop a top secret plan that became known as PROFUNC to find and arrest leading communists. The plan consisted of a list of leading communists, and in the event of a war or major crisis, these communists were to be arrested and interned. PROFUNC was never carried out, and its existence was not even revealed until 2010.

Canada was allied with the United States and other Western Democracies during the Cod War.
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