About the Archival Materials
During the Second World War, the staff of the century-old The Hamilton Spectator kept its own monumental record of the war. It included news stories and editorials from newspapers documenting virtually every aspect of the war, with subject files on each participating country, each armed force and each major campaign, as well as information on the political, economic and social life of Canada. It is hard to imagine a more penetrating or interesting way into Canada's war.
The materials come not only from The Hamilton Spectator, but also from the Toronto newspapers, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Telegram and The Toronto Daily Star and from foreign newspapers such as The New York Times. The Hamilton Spectator gave the archive to the Army Historical Section of the Department of National Defence in 1952 and it was subsequently transferred to the Canadian War Museum, its present home.
In 2008, the Museum received a collection of the Montréal daily newspaper Le Devoir. Unlike the Hamilton Spectator clippings, little is known about the history of this collection, which the donor acquired at a garage sale. The newspapers, bound into books, cover events from 1940 to 1945. They are chronologically arranged, and were not indexed like the Hamilton Spectator archive.
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The Hamilton Spectator 100th anniversary edition,
Research and the Newspaper Articles
This collection of more than 140,000 articles offers wonderful opportunities for research into Second World War topics. Nowhere else can such a wealth of newspaper coverage be found so conveniently grouped by subject. All the major news stories are there, as well as many smaller ones which can be revealing nevertheless. There are also a wide variety of editorial opinions from The Hamilton Spectator, Le Devoir, and other newspapers.
But there are some pitfalls. The English collection consists chiefly of the Toronto and Hamilton newspapers, giving English Canadian, Eastern, and urban points of view. There is little to reflect the thinking of Quebec, of the West, of the rural population, or of Canadians who were not from the half of the population that the national census called "British." The French collection consists of articles from Le Devoir, giving an urban, Francophone point of view from one of Canada's major cities. In addition, censorship and propaganda often prevented a full or candid account of events and gave an overly-optimistic flavour to news stories. Keep in mind, then, that the media was chock full of propaganda generated to help win the war. Censorship and propaganda put a premium on the positive.
Newspapers, moreover, are "of the moment." They report and react. They do not usually reflect deep thought and analysis, or a broad perspective. Occasionally, it is true, today's readers will discover a story or editorial which seems to demonstrate surprisingly deep wisdom about a war topic, but there are many more articles which now can be seen as completely wrong. Use the archive with caution, keeping in mind the limitations of newspaper articles produced in a particular time and place without the benefit of hindsight or the long view. Read this newspaper coverage in combination with other parts of the historical record, such as books and articles, public and private documents, and other material of the kind that can be found in museums, from clothing to military equipment to the perspectives of Canada's adversaries in the war.