This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.
When hostilities broke out in September 1939, the Canadian government sought early on to centralize and manage the stream of propaganda messages that would bombard the Canadian public. Indeed, government officials consulted old First World War posters and other materials housed at the Public Archives to determine the best means of influencing public opinion and morale. The Bureau of Public Information (BPI) and its successor, the Wartime Information Board (WIB), would coordinate the creation of war posters, working with designers, artists, and printers to create colourful, eye-catching works. Private companies and organizations such as the Red Cross sponsored some posters, as they had in the First World War. But this time, the federal government managed the production of a far greater range and number of propaganda posters than it did in the previous conflict, taking advantage of cheap offset lithography technology.
The Second World War poster collection at LAC was started with contributions from the war government's departments and agencies heavily involved in the war effort. Beginning in December 1940 these groups, in particular the WIB, regularly transferred copies of posters to the Public Archives. In addition, a large number of items were likely sent to the Archives at war's end for preservation. Over the years, the collection has also been supplemented by donations from private individuals, including poster designers, such as Harry Mayerovitch and Hubert Rogers, and collectors, including Morris Norman. While there are also a few examples of Second World War posters from Britain, the United States and other countries; the Second World War collection consists mostly of Canadian materials produced by the federal government.
The Minister of National Defence worked with the BPI and the WIB to produce recruiting posters such as this one designed by Eric Aldwinckle, which linked the new Canadian soldier with the valiant knight of the past.
Figure 21: Recruitment poster mirroring the image of a modern soldier with a knight
Figure 22: Recruitment poster, "Stop Waiting. Get Ready to Beat Hitler. Go. Enlist Now"
Figure 23: Recruitment poster, "Venez, les gars... l'armée vous attend!"
Pressure tactics were once again used to encourage men to sign up. Directly appealing to the viewer and implying that there was no excuse not to join targeted men who might have had doubts about fighting in the conflict.
The Second World War saw the active recruitment of women into the armed forces. Although women were still portrayed in some posters as delicate figures in need of protection, in many other instances they were pictured playing an active role in every aspect of the war effort, including the Canadian Army.
Figure 24: Recruitment poster, "Shoulder to Shoulder," Canadian Women's Army Corps
One feature that distinguished Second World War posters from those of the First World War was the concern about security and secrecy. Second World War posters are evidence of the concerns of government and military leaders that spies were in the country and that otherwise loyal and patriotic Canadians might inadvertently leak vital information.
This early example of a security poster used lots of text and has a crest as its only image.
Figure 25: Notice warning against discussing war efforts, ca. 1940
Later security posters used dramatic images and minimal text to convey the need to avoid careless talk.
Figure 26: Poster warning against discussing war efforts
A number of Second World War propaganda posters addressed the issues of morale and dissent, and sought to reassure Canadians of the necessity of the war and the need to maintain their support for it.
This poster was one of a series that highlighted the bravery of Canadian servicemen.
Figure 27: War propaganda poster, "Ce qu'il faut pour vaincre," designed to increase morale and support for the war, featuring Capt. Fred Slocombe, 1943
Harry Mayerovitch created this dramatic image to promote the National Film Board's Coal Face, one of a series of documentaries showing the activities of Canadians supporting the war effort.
Figure 28: Figure 34: Advertisement for the film Coal Face: Canada Carries On, produced by the National Film Board
Mayerovitch also designed this haunting image of a dead soldier clutching his dog tags. Although the viewer cannot make out the name on the piece of metal, the caption explained that no matter the background of the man, he was a Canadian. The Dominion government sought unity among Canadians and hoped that works such as this would reduce tension among ethnic groups.
Figure 29: Poster illustrating that all war dead are Canadian citizens, 1944
Engendering support for the military and the war effort in general was only one aspect of the propaganda campaign. Posters also encouraged all Canadians to play an active role in the war.
Increased productivity was an essential element of the war effort, and this poster asked workers to make sure airmen were supplied with planes.
Figure 30: War production poster for the air force
While the war was a very serious matter, humour was employed occasionally in propaganda posters. In this poster Canadians were urged to dedicate themselves to their work to beat Hitler.
Figure 31: War production poster against Nazism, 1941 - 1942
This Hubert Rogers poster showed three determined Canadians-a soldier, a factory worker and a farm worker-committed to action in their own areas.
Figure 32: War production poster representing the military, manufacturing and agricultural sections of the war effort, Wartime Information Board, 1943
In addition to contributing their labour, Canadian men and women (and even children) could show support for the war through demonstrations of thriftiness.
Figure 33: War production and savings poster against unnecessary purchases
Everyone-men, women and children-was encouraged to avoid unnecessary expenditures, to conserve food, fuel and other essentials, and to save and recycle things like bones, metal and paper.
Figure 34: War production and savings poster regarding the conservation of coal
Figure 35: War production and savings poster regarding waste paper for ammunition and other vital needs
Figure 36: War production and savings poster regarding a variety of goods for reuse or repurposing
Figure 37: War production and savings poster regarding a variety of goods for reuse or repurposing as war supplies, 1940 - 1941
Once again, the federal government turned to the Canadian people for loans, in the form of Victory Bonds, to finance a major war. Propaganda posters played a key role in attempts to convince men and women to invest in the military campaigns conducted from 1939 to 1945. The War Finance Committee, which engineered the propaganda for the Victory Loan, appealed to Canadians' sense of patriotism, their fears of the enemy, and their future hopes and dreams in hundreds of posters that were tacked up in practically every public place.
Designed by Group of Seven member A.J. Casson, this poster won first prize in a 1941 design competition. Against a backdrop of factories and military equipment, the heraldic lion symbolizes strength and determination.
Figure 38: Victory Bonds poster, "Donnez nous les outils et nous finirons la tâche -- Il faut en finir!"
In 1941 the War Finance Committee printed small posters in a variety of languages including Chinese, Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian and Icelandic as part of a plan to persuade immigrant groups to invest in the war effort.
Figure 39: Victory Bonds poster in Chinese, 1941
This poster played on stereotypes of the enemy and suggested that the Japanese and Germans were approaching both coasts to instill fear in citizens and convince them to buy Victory Bonds.
Figure 40: Victory Bonds poster, "They Menace Canada on Both Coasts," 1942
Figure 41: Victory Bonds poster, "For Sale / Canada's Children / Will You Outbid the Axis?," 1942
Figure 42: Victory Bonds poster, "Qu'ils ne leur touchent pas!", 1941
The threat to women, children and families was made very clear in these posters. Dire consequences would result if Canadians did not invest in bonds.
Figure 43: Victory Bonds poster, "Speed the Victory... Buy Victory Bonds," 1943
Billboards such as this one made emotional appeals, highlighting not only the need to protect family, but also the urgency of ensuring victory so that mothers and sons could be reunited forever.
Figure 44: Victory Bonds poster, "Soyez rusé comme un..."
Figure 45: Victory Bonds poster, "Sit Tight on Them... and They Hatch," 1944
Figure 46: Victory Bonds poster, "Notre avenir sera heureux et prospère"
Figure 47: Victory Bonds poster, "Hold Hard", April 1945
Along with using themes of patriotism and fear, the War Finance Committee also raised the issue of the future in their advertising posters. Partway through the war, poster designers sensed that Canadians needed a sense of hope. Citizens needed to believe that the war would serve some future purpose. Hence, the appearance of posters such as these, which encouraged clever Canadians to sacrifice and save for a bright and prosperous future.
War posters provide an important window on Canadian society and development, and offer insight into how political, military and business leaders sought to shape the war experience. Whether looking at the lithographs of the First World War or the offset lithographs of the Second World War, these visual artifacts will continue to catch the eye of all who view them.
Archivist, Art Acquisition and Research
Library and Archives Canada
Canadian Archives and Special Collections