In love after war:

Their stories read like something Hemingway may have penned if his own wartime romance had endured. Canadian soldiers overseas, courting women they fell in love with during the turmoil of World War II.
What it did was bring love in the midst of war, and hope in a time when many didn’t know how long the fighting would last–or if they would even make it through to see its end.
“You cannot compare meeting and romancing in peace time to war time,” noted Jean Boileau, who was in the communications department of the British air force when she met Lin in January, 1942 while they were on a course together.
They married in November of that year.
The couple planned to take a few days away for a honeymoon but her husband got called back to go to North Africa. And she noted they never knew if the men were going to make it back alive.
Hilda Main agreed. She married her husband, Canadian pilot Bud Main, after almost two years courtship, and moved to the airdrome where her husband was when she was pregnant. She recalled lying in bed counting each plane that went out, and each that landed, rushing to see if her husband had made it back.
Monica Hanzuk met her husband, Pete, before a general dance. They were married 15 months later when her husband had a 72-hour pass. It was her parents’ concern that delayed their wedding, worried their daughter may end up moving so far from home.
“I didn’t even think about coming away from my family at the time we got married,” Hanzuk admitted.
During the war, Hanzuk worked in the women’s land army with radar identifying planes coming in. But when the couple was expecting their first child, she moved back with her parents, and laughed at how spoiled she was because her mother did much of the looking after her son.
“I saw very little of Pete really,” she admitted, noting her husband was able to see the baby briefly when he was born but then they didn’t see each other again until almost two years later.
When the war ended, Canadian servicemen returned home, bringing their “war brides” with them. And while they admit it wasn’t an easy transition to make, these women made Fort Frances their home.
The move meant dealing with the paperwork, and travelling across the ocean aboard ships–without their husbands–to a foreign land. They then travelled by train from Halifax, often arriving in Fort Frances in the middle of the night.
But toughest of all was leaving family and friends behind, not knowing what kind of life they were heading to. Main noted her father worried about what she might be getting into, and put enough money into an account to buy her passage home.
“He said, ‘If you don’t like it when you get to Canada, and your husband doesn’t treat you proper, there’s a home here for you, you get back.’ That was my dad’s last words,” she recalled.
It was the last time she saw her father because he died the following year.
Like Main, many of the other war brides brought children across with them. Married to Clarence in 1943, Jean Gadd came over with their 18-month-old son. And the trip over was difficult. The ship was docked for four days as they swept for mines.
“I was seasick most of the way,” she admitted, noting the trip to Fort Frances was “quite an experience.”
And because there still were mines in the water, it meant daily emergency drills on the ship. Main said the whistle would blow, and people would scramble to get themselves and their children into life vests.
Boileau and their two-year-old son came over in May, 1947, two years after her husband had returned to Canada. She laughed at how “Here Comes the Bride” was playing to welcome the war brides as they left the ship. Many of them already had at least one child.
Their husbands were not allowed to come to Halifax to meet them, she added. Most had to travel to Winnipeg, then on to Fort Frances by train.
It was a different situation for Hanzuk. At the urging of her husband’s family, she brought her son over on April 15, 1945–three months before her husband came back.
It was a tough move to make, leaving her close-knit family behind and coming to a place where she didn’t know anyone. And she felt very isolated.
“I found it very hard. I shouldn’t have come then because Pete didn’t get here until July,” she noted, but with the baby, she wanted to get away from the bombing.
< *c>Culture shock
Coping with homesickness was something many “war brides” could relate to, especially when they had to adjust to such a different way of life.
“It was a big culture shock, there’s no getting away from the fact,” admitted Boileau, but also stressing her husband never exaggerated about what life was like in Canada.
“When I think back, I had many, many a good cry,” echoed Main, but stressed her husband’s father, the only family here, had been very good to her.
The big difference was the size of the land, and adjusting to a small-town way of life for those accustomed to living in the city.
“It was a big shock to come over and find that Fort Frances was almost isolated,” Boileau said.
Even the way of dressing was different. Boileau recalled how her son came over in shorts, white socks, polished shoes, and looked smashing by British standards, she enthused. But the first thing her husband said was that they’d have to buy him long pants, she smiled.
For some, there also was a language barrier. Boileau’s in-laws were French, and though they didn’t speak French in front of her, her strong accent made it difficult for her father-in-law to understand her–something she found embarrassing.
Others came into families where English wasn’t spoken at all.
But there were advantages, too, like being able to go to the store and find items on the shelf. Things had been hard to come by in war-torn Europe.
But though it was a difficult time at the start, these war brides made it–and the love that carried them through the war grew to carry them through their lives.
And as they look back over the years, they sing praises of their lives in Fort Frances, and have contributed much to the community through their involvement in various activities.
Now many consider Canada as their homeland, the homeland of their children and grandchildren.
“After I went back the first time, I knew I belonged here,” Gadd noted. “Canada is my home.”
“This is home now,” echoed Main, whose husband passed away 22 years ago. “It’s a different way of living. And I think it’s just what you get used to.
“It’s been a good life. I had a good husband,” she added.
While they agree Canada has become their home, and their ties here to their husband’s family and their own children and grandchildren are strong, both Boileau and Hanzuk agreed the draw back to their birthplace is still very strong.
Hanzuk didn’t get home to see her mother for 16 years. But to this day, she is still very close to her brothers and sister, and she now she makes a point to try and get back “home” each year.
“When you transplant somebody, you’re supposed to have all their roots with you. Well, I didn’t bring all mine with me. There’s still some over there and it just pulls you back,” she explained.
“There were many girls that came over here and didn’t look back once, and that’s good. But you have to adjust,” she added.
But for most, it was the love of their Canadian servicemen and their children that kept them going, especially through the tough times.
“He must’ve been really good to put up with me at the beginning because I was miserable, I’ll be honest,” Hanzuk smiled.
“[It’s] a wartime romance that has lasted 50 years,” Boileau added. “We’ve had a wonderful, wonderful marriage and we have wonderful, wonderful kids.
“You don’t do that on your own, though. You work at it. You really, really work at it,” she stressed.