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War brides celebrate 60 years in Canada

BY GIANNI UBRIACO In 1946 nearly 45,000 European women left their homes and followed their Canadian husbands to Canada in search of new lives.


In 1946 nearly 45,000 European women left their homes and followed their Canadian husbands to Canada in search of new lives.

Now, the Canadian War Brides of Ontario Association, a provincial group dedicated to remembering those women who married Canadian servicemen, is getting ready to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ship of war brides arriving in Halifax's Pier 21.

The founder of the group, Helen Shewchuk wants to mark the occasion by getting the local, provincial and federal governments to declare 2006 as the year of the war bride.

She's already been in contact with the federal heritage department and it is currently working toward a national  proclamation.

"We anticipate they'll be movement nationally before far too long to designate 2006 the year of the war bride," she says. "It's already been done in provinces like New Brunswick and Alberta."

Shewchuk has received a letter from the MPP for Sudbury, Rick Bartolucci, supporting the proposal. She's also received letters of support from Nickel Belt MP Ray Bonin and Nickel Belt MPP Shelley Martel.

The association also has other plans to mark the anniversary.

Shewchuk explains the Ontario minister of culture and immigration has indicated an interest in having a  ceremony at Queens Park for the war brides. However, no formal plans have been announced.

Other than that, the association plans on having a luncheon celebration June 19 at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Sudbury, and is inviting war brides from across the  north to attend.

Members of the association will also be on hand at Laurentian University for Heritage Day in May.

Shewchuk, who's mother was a war bride, hosts a meeting with the approximately 50 other group members on the third Thursday of every month at the Lockerby legion.

Often times, the sons and daughters of the war brides also show up.

"What makes me happy more than anything is to see the daughters and sons  participating," Shewchuk says. "It shows a regard and respect for what their parents went through."

War brides left their families and friends to come to a strange country where they didn't know anyone.

Ten years ago, Shewchuk wrote a book to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war brides' arrival titled If Kisses Were Roses.

"I just felt it was necessary because it was 50 years and Canada hadn't really acknowledged them to the degree that I thought they should be acknowledged," she says.

Her only fear is that as the war brides get older and pass away, they may be forgotten.

That's why she's working so hard to ensure the youth of today are educated on the topic.

"I feel that the children of today don't know enough about the war, veterans, war brides and their roles," she says. "The war brides are a special group of girls. They're in every province.

They're still going strong in most provinces."

In fact, there are reunions held in cities all over Ontario, including Cornwall, Peterborough and Orillia. Shewchuk is in touch with these war brides and others from across Canada.

"I'm very close to them," she says. "They've almost become an extended  family to me. I've got moms all over this country."