“Brief Vodka Honeymoons”: Strategic Canadian Estimations from Moscow, 1943-46

By Elisabetta Kerr, University of Toronto |

This blog post accompanies the release of a digital briefing book, created in May 2018 by a team of University of Toronto undergraduate students participating in the Jackman Humanitie’s Institutes Scholars-in-Residence research program. Part of an ongoing series, Canada Declassified‘s digital briefing books include key documents from recently declassified government files released by Library and Archives Canada via the Access to Information Act. This project was supported, in part, by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, “Canada in the Atomic Age: Unlocking the Nuclear Vault,” 430-2018-00291.

Dana Wilgress’s letters from the Canadian Embassy in Moscow clearly showed progression in Canadian opinion on Soviet policy between 1943 and 1946. As the international context tended more towards tension and conflict, the Canadians quietly formulated their thinking on relations with the Soviet Union, especially vis-à-vis the United States, from the vantage point of Moscow.

These documents dispel the myth that the relatively limited scholarship on Canada during the Cold War is because Canada was inactive or absent. Even further, there is still a common assumption that the Department of External Affairs (DEA) followed whatever policies were dictated by the United States. Wilgress’s dispatches illustrate that the DEA carefully, albeit quietly, observed their wartime allies and were hardly passive in their formation of opinion. The Canadians were initially opposed to Washington’s hawkish approach toward the Soviet Union. However, as the Cold War conflict began to take shape, Wilgress conceded that Canada had little choice but to fall in line with the Americans as they emerged as the leaders of the Western bloc.

The documents in this digital briefing book demonstrate the arc of Canadian observations of Anglo-American policy. The briefing book is divided into three main sections to reflect these shifts: fluctuating estimation, 1943-1944; critical assessment, 1945; and qualified agreement, 1946. Wilgress and the Canadian diplomats spent the first period observing and reporting on the oscillating relationships in the wartime Grand Alliance. The second phase of critical assessment included more conscious criticism of US policy regarding the Soviet Union, and, by 1946, the dominant conclusion was the Canadians’ somewhat-begrudging concession to the US approach.

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